Percy Weasley's feet pounded heavily into the ground as he ran as fast as he could towards the group of hooded figures. Screams of terror filled his ears in the darkness, and people were running desperately in the direction of the woods. Percy could see his older brothers, Bill and Charlie, running further ahead of him, and he silently cursed his unathletic figure. We could have Apparated, he mused, but I guess running is more dramatic. He shook his head free of such frivolous thoughts and concentrated on ignoring the growing stitch in his side. His eyes nearly adopted tunnel vision as he approached his goal, and he wondered to himself, what am I going to do when I get there?
These thoughts, too, were quickly wiped from his mind, but not by his rational side. A blurred figure entered his vision momentarily before Percy felt himself collide, face first, with another person. Both bodies were quickly toppled over and sprawled on the sparse grass. Pain swept through Percy's body, starting at his nose and travelling swiftly across his face. He grabbed his nose and closed his eyes in pain. The other body slowly pulled itself into a sitting position and looked at Percy.
"Percy?" A ragged voice called through the screams and shouts of other fleeing witches and wizards. Percy opened his eyes with difficulty and looked at the figure sitting across from him. A burst of light came from the direction of the hooded mass and momentarily lit the other boy's features.
"Oliver? Oliver Wood?" Percy knew Oliver Wood as the strong, athletic Gryffindor Quidditch captain from his recently terminated days at Hogwarts. Though sometimes maniacal when it came to Quidditch, Oliver was a hard worker and an invaluable role model for his team- and Housemates. The boy Percy saw before him now could only be recognised as Oliver Wood by the contorted features on his face. The boy shook with fright as a loud noise erupted from the crowd, and Percy wondered where the brave Gryffindor Keeper had gone.
"Percy, do you know what's going on here?" Oliver's large, blue eyes widened - if that was even possible - and he scurried towards Percy along the ground.
"No, not really, I was just -" Percy stuttered, finding it difficult to talk from shock and the pain in his nose.
"Percy! My God!" Oliver yelped, seeing Percy's face properly in the feeble moonlight. "Your nose! It's bleeding!" Percy reached for his nose and felt the thick, sticky liquid between his fingers.
"So it is."
"Percy, why are they doing this?" Oliver's voice broke painfully, and he gripped onto Percy's arm. "Do they think it's just some sick joke?"
"Oliver, I really don't know," Percy said, rather shaken at Oliver's outburst. "You should probably leave, though, this is hardly the place for -"
"I lost my mother and father, Percy, I don't know where they've gone." Percy sighed. He couldn't leave Oliver alone; he didn't really look stable enough to be left to his own devices.
"Alright, come on," Percy said, clambering to his feet, "I'll take you to the wood and you can hide in there until it's over." Oliver, now at his feet, nodded and followed Percy away from the hooded group towards the forest. Other witches and wizards hurried alongside them, dragging what personal belongings they could carry behind them. The two boys staggered into the woods, dodging low branches and high roots, and both were soon breathless from the exertion. The hooded figures and their thundering flares seemed to be marching towards the wood, bulldozing over tents and campfires, and Oliver - who was now leading Percy due to his natural stamina - grabbed Percy's elbow and dragged him forward. Percy clutched at the stitch in his side but pressed on despite it.
After a few minutes of frantic running, a raised root stopped Oliver short. He toppled over himself, landing face-forward in the scrub, and pulled Percy down with him. Percy was unharmed - apart from his still-bleeding nose - and hurried to help Oliver to his feet. Oliver, however, was writhing in pain and clutching at his right leg, which seemed to be sticking out at an odd angle.
"Merlin, Oliver, are you okay?" It seemed a stupid question to ask, but Oliver barely noticed. Oliver extracted his leg from the root with a howl of pain - Percy looking on, stunned and pale-faced - and propped himself up against a tree.
"I can't move, Percy, my leg is broken."
"Don't worry, I'll go get someone," Percy said breathlessly, turning to leave.
"Percy!" Oliver grabbed Oliver's arm. "Please don't leave," he implored, and Percy felt compelled to stay by the panic-stricken look on the other boy's face.
Before either of them could speak again, loud screams of terror - louder than before - erupted from the woods around them. They caught sight of some witches huddled nearby, who were casting their eyes skyward and shrieking in fright. They both looked up, and there, in the sky, was the Dark Mark.
It hovered, gleaming, in the night sky, as menacing and fear inspiring as it had ever been. Percy had never seen the Dark Mark during Voldemort's reign, and he could only sit, goggle-eyed and open-mouthed, and stare at the eerie green skull. Oliver, on the other hand, screamed loudly and violently and covered his eyes as though they were burning. Percy turned to Oliver and put a hand on his shoulder.
"Oliver!" he said firmly, trying to shake the other boy's fears away. Oliver stopped screaming quickly, but began to whimper very softly, his eyes still covered. "Oliver," Percy softened his tone, "it's okay."
"Okay?" Oliver spluttered, tearing his hands from his face and staring wildly at Percy. "Okay? Percy, that's the Dark Mark! How can it be okay?"
"Oliver, calm down."
"Percy!" Oliver whined, his eyes wild but imploring. "The men... they're Death Eaters, aren't they?"
"Probably," Percy answered truthfully, "but they're just trying to frighten us by calling the Dark Mark." He didn't know how else to comfort the petrified boy. The Death Eaters probably were the ones who were taunting the Muggles, but it couldn't possibly mean that You-Know-Who...
"Percy, the Dark Mark is a serious matter," Oliver said frantically, his eyes seeming more lucid.
"Yes," Percy agreed, "but I'm sure the Ministry will sort it all out. They'll catch whoever conjured it." He tried to sound convinced, but he knew that whoever hadconjured the Dark Mark probably would have Disapparated shortly thereafter. "Besides," he said, looking out towards the campsite, "it looks as though the Dark Mark scared off the people who were torturing the Muggles."
"But the Dark Mark, Percy," Oliver's voice was shaky, but insistent, "it means they've killed someone."
"Oh, don't be silly," Percy said dismissively, "nobody's died, Oliver. It was just a scare tactic."
"Have you ever seen the Dark Mark before, Percy?" Oliver asked, wide-eyed. "I mean, when You-Know-Who was still in power?"
"No," Percy admitted, wary of the frightened look in Oliver's eyes.
"I have," Oliver said in a hushed, awestruck tone. His grip around Percy's arm tightened and he gulped noticeably before continuing. "I was about three at the time; it was just before You-Know-Who fell. I was over at my best friend's house to play when the Death Eaters came in. Luckily for me, we were playing Hide-and-Seek, and I was hiding in the kitchen cupboards, but Jake... he was being Seeker, and..." Oliver's voice cracked, and Percy's hand was draining of blood. "I saw his whole family get killed, Percy. His mother, his father, his baby sister, and him. It was just... terrible." He drew in a shaky breath. "And then those bastards send up the Dark Mark." Oliver's voice broke completely at the end of the sentence, and tears began to well up in his eyes.
Percy, unable to react to such an emotional confession, merely gripped Oliver's shoulder more firmly, in what he hoped was a comforting manner. Oliver's blue eyes sparkled as they turned tentatively skywards. The sight of the Dark Mark seemed to push Oliver, in his fragile state, too far, and he flung his arms around Percy's middle and wept with reckless abandon. "Oh, Percy!" He cried, unable to control himself.
Percy, still reeling from Oliver's story, put his arms gingerly around the other boy's neck, drawing him into an awkward hug. He momentarily wished for a kettle, but soon realized that this situation probably wouldn't be ameliorated even by Mrs. Weasley's tea. Percy fought the urge to cry along with Oliver; Oliver's shattered fortitude, coupled with stories his parents had told him of the terror of Voldemort's reign, made Percy's tough veneer fray a little. Without thinking, Percy kissed the other boy's head.
Then, as if being awoken from a dream, Percy noticed a man was shaking his shoulders. He looked over at the wizard, and noticed that his black robes had a patch sewn into the corner with a bright red heart with a silver star in the left ventricle. A mediwizard, Percy thought vaguely.
"Is this boy hurt?" The man shouted at him, and Percy quickly let go of Oliver.
"Yes," he said brusquely," yes, he is. Tripped over a tree root and broke his leg." Oliver's sobs had reduced to sniffles, and Percy looked sadly over at him as the mediwizard examined Oliver's leg.
"Yes, it's broken alright," the mediwizard affirmed. "What's your name, boy?"
"Oliver," Oliver replied, sniffing miserably, "Oliver Wood."
"Well, Oliver," the mediwizard continued, "there's not much I can do here for you, but if you follow me back to the campsite, I can fix you up right."
Oliver looked over at Percy. "Okay, sure."
"Ferula," the mediwizard said, waving his wand at Oliver's leg. Bandages tied Oliver's broken leg to a splint, straightening it with a sickening crack, and the mediwizard helped Oliver to his feet. "Right, then, this way."
"Oliver," Percy said, standing up and walking alongside the hobbling boy, "I have to get back to my tent now, but..." he didn't quite know where he was going with his statement, but Oliver didn't mind.
"It's okay, Percy, I'll be okay. Get back to your family, and say hello to Harry for me." Percy grinned.
"No worries." He turned to leave, but then turned back. "And I'm sorry about your friend, Jake. Don't worry about the Dark Mark, I'm sure the Ministry will be able to find whoever invoked it tonight." Oliver smiled sadly at him and nodded.
"Thanks, Percy," he said, wincing in pain as he stubbed his right big toe on a rock. Percy nodded and, in a momentary lapse of self-control, leant forward to embrace Oliver once more.
"Well, bye, Oliver," he said awkwardly, stepping back and ignoring the odd stare the mediwizard was giving him. Oliver smiled.
"Keep in touch, Percy," he said, and Percy flashed him a grin before turning and hurrying off into the night.