When Jade’s suspension ended, she couldn’t be happier. Rising extra early, she took her regular jog without any interruptions and appeared at the dragon paddock before any of the other riders did. Jumping over the fence, she jogged happily over to her dragon. She wrapped a long arm around his neck as he lowered his head to hers. Patting his muzzle she affectionately cooed, “I missed you too, Costel.”
“He’s been more than a handful for the past two weeks,” Charlie announced as he walked over.
Jade grinned as she gave Costel an appreciative pat on the side. “Has he now?” she questioned in amusement.
“He wouldn’t let anyone get near him, except me,” Charlie stated. “It seems he’s grown quite fond of you.”
“And I of him,” Jade replied. “Now, if you’ll excuse us we’ve got work to do.” With little trouble Jade stuck a foot in a stirrup and rose into the saddle. She gave Charlie a small salute before they took off in flight.
As they drifted through the sky, Jade realized that flying a broom could never compare. She’d never feel the same about it again. It was a natural high knowing that she could rise thousands of feet above the ground on the back of a wild beast. The feeling, Jade decided, was more than that. She felt in control, she felt alive, she felt powerful. Feeling powerful, Jade considered, was good.
Jade hadn’t felt this in control in years. “Let’s be honest, Jade,” she thought bitterly. “You haven’t felt in control since they died.”
Considering she had been only twelve when it had happened, she couldn’t have been in control. She couldn’t have even helped. Memories long suppressed came bubbling to the surface of her mind.
It had been a cold night in December when it happened. Christmas was just around the corner and the entire family was gathered in the parlor decorating a tree. Jade was standing next to her brother Nathaniel who was ten years old. They were arguing over who was going to hang the pretty red crystal ball on the tree. A struggle ensued and Jade knocked the ball free from her brother’s hands. It rolled across the wood floor and into the vent in the floor. Her father turned then, eyes ablaze and scolded her, demanding that she go and fetch the ball from the vent.
At the age of twelve, Jade knew the venting system better than any service man that came to fix the air cooling system. Jade’s father was a Muggle and he liked Muggle inventions, in fact, he prided himself upon them. There were many things that Muggles invented that Wizards could not comprehend. After finding the entrance duct, Jade crawled into the venting system. She made her way toward the parlor and could see the light through the grate shining down onto the red crystal ball. The vent seemed to be illuminated by bright red specks of light that reflected off the ball.
In wonder, Jade reached out toward the ball when she heard sounds from above that startled her. She couldn’t see what was going on through the grate. The noises turned into frantic shouts. Jade ducked down and continued further up into the vent system. There was a grate up ahead that was positioned on the far wall of the parlor. As she reached it, the shouts turned into sobs and pleas. Jade looked through the grate to see her father lying on the floor with her mother sobbing over him. There were figures huddled around them dressed in black.
“Please, no, not my baby too!” her mother screamed in terror.
There was a flash of green and Jade blinked against the sight. When she opened her eyes, she saw her mother was kneeling on the floor with Nathaniel draped across her arms. His expression was blank and his body was stiff. Jade felt her breath catch in realization.
She couldn’t tear her eyes away, she could breathe and she couldn’t move. It was as if her mother had sensed her presence and she looked up across the room. Her eyes settled on the vent and Jade felt as if she was staring straight into her. A tear fell down her cheek and her mother raised a finger to her lips in silent warning to remain quiet. Then it happened. A figure stepped toward her mother with a wand raised.
Jade’s mother looked up and sneered, “You’ll never win. As long as there are those who oppose you and can love, you’ll never succeed.”
She was then silenced with the same blinding green light that had made Nathaniel unnaturally stiff and his expression vacant.
Jade gasped as the memory stung freshly in her heart. She felt the tears rise to her eyes and fought to keep them down. Clearing her eyes, she saw that the sun had already begun to set. She had stayed in the air far too long. Directing Costel toward the camp, they began to fly at breakneck speeds.
Twenty minutes later they were landing in the paddock. Jade slid down from the saddle and tossed the reigns to the dragon keeper that approached. Briskly, she began to walk toward the gates. All she wanted was to retire to the solitude of her cabin. The memory had shaken her badly.
Just as she exited the paddock, Charlie Weasley caught up with her.
“You’re extremely late,” he stated in irritation.
Coldly she replied, “I know, it won’t happen again.”
Charlie furrowed a brow in question as he tried to keep in step with her. “Is something wrong?”
“No,” she replied laconically.
Charlie reached out and pulled her back by the arm. “What happened?” he asked in a tone that was more of a demand than question.
She looked down at his hand on her arm icily, and he quickly retracted it. “Nothing,” she said in a dark tone. Her bright emerald eyes had turned as dark as a forest in the thick of night.
“What is it, Jade?” he asked more sincerely.
The warmth of his voice seemed to crack the dam she had built to protect herself. Her eyes rose and met his.
There was pain there, Charlie recognized. There was pain, loss and anger. Underneath it all was fear. “Jade, tell me,” he said softly.
It was too much, Jade realized, knowing what he was asking of her. Like a beaver who could sense the weakness in its dam, she wedged another layer of protection against the penetration of the flood. “I’m fine,” she snapped before turning and leaving Charlie completely speechless.
He’d seen it, he was sure of it. He’d seen her completely defenseless and he was certain that there was something deep and dark that was eating her away on the inside. For those few seconds, Charlie had a glimpse of what really made Jade tick and it was devastating. There was a past there that Charlie couldn’t deny was dark and full of pain. Now he understood the exterior. Her constant need to be strong and protect herself was a defense mechanism. The need to stay aloof and unconnected to others, Charlie realized, was because something had happened. He didn’t know what, but he was determined to find out.
Avoiding Charlie Weasley, Jade realized, was a hard feat. He was everywhere on the camp grounds. The fact that he ran the entire reserve did little to convince her that he wasn’t watching out for her specifically.
She was walking away from the camp and toward the mountain even though it was past curfew, but she decided she needed to run. She wanted to run from the memory that had stormed into her mind. Jade wanted to run from the past and from her demons; demons that wore black capes and hoods so low that their faces seemed to be a hollow void of nothingness.
She was running up the mountain already and she didn’t even realize it. A cold sweat covered her body causing her to shiver, but she urged herself onward. In her wake the demons chased after her. If only she could get a little farther away then she could outdistance them. Glancing over her shoulder she looked back.
The trail was dark and cast with shadows from the trees. They were out there, the demons. The past was behind her, but not gone. Running onward, she desperately sought a way to outrun it.
A large hand landed hard on her shoulder. Jade screamed in terror and whirled around blindly swinging an arm at the dark shape.
A grunt and a curse was the response before Jade realized she hadn’t assaulted a demon, but Charlie Weasley.
“Bloody hell, Jade,” Charlie groaned clutching his ribs. “You hit hard.”
“I was scared, you scared me,” she retorted angrily. He’d nearly given her a heart attack.
“I’m sorry,” he mumbled as he rubbed the spot she struck.
Running a hand through her tangled hair and pulling it away from her face, she asked, “Charlie, what are you doing up here?”
“I could ask the same of you,” he replied.
“I was jogging,” she answered. “I suppose you were following me.”
“Yeah, I was,” he barked. “Do you have any idea what time it is?”
She shrugged. “Not really, but it’s late.”
“It’s past curfew,” he snapped. “You’re out after curfew on a mountain. Let me remind you, a mountain that is potentially full of deadly creatures.”
She sighed in disinterest. “What’s your point?”
Coloring, Charlie snarled, “What are you doing, Jade?”
“I said I was out running,” she replied evenly.
“No, that’s not what I meant. What I mean is what are you doing running out here like this? It’s dangerous and unless you have a death wish-”
She breathed in deeply, making a hissing sound. “Look, you want to punish me go ahead. I broke curfew, what is that two days suspension? Do what you have to, Charlie, but don’t…and I mean don’t, start making assumptions on what my motives are.”
“You don’t get it,” he stated in a hard tone.
“Oh, I get it Charlie,” she snapped. “You want to make sure I’m safe. You want to make sure I’m not taken advantage of. What you want Charlie is a babysitter for me. And what you don’t want is for me, a woman, to tarnish what you’re doing here.
“I get it, Charlie, I’m just a gimmick. Having me here meets the Ministry’s quota for female employees. I’m pretty to look at, but I can’t defend myself. Why bother, just let me go back to running and if a Chimaera jumps out and eats me so much the better for you.”
She turned and began to jog then, but Charlie descended upon her like a hawk. He had her pinned against a tree in seconds. “I’m tired of this,” he snarled.
“Tired of what exactly?” she asked calmly.
He threw his hands up in frustration and turned away to pace. “I’m tired of you and this façade. You’re so bloody cool, so in control and so independent.” He stopped pacing and whirled around to her, fire leaping to his eyes. “For once, can’t you let someone who is trying to help you actually in?”
She was speechless and she was shocked. He had her number and she knew it.
He straightened then, the look in his eyes burning out, and murmured bitterly, “You’re right. You can take care of yourself all by yourself. I’m sorry I even bothered.”
She watched as he receded into the shadows and listened as his footsteps faded away. She would have cried if it weren’t for the truth. He called her on her bluff and she was mad as hell about it. Defense number one: never let them see your hand. Jade had blown it, she had shown her cards to Charlie Weasley and she was sure that folding was no longer an option. All she could do now was play out the round and pray that she didn’t bust.
Ignoring Charlie this time around was a great deal easier for Jade. He simply seemed to have disappeared from sight. Jade was beginning to wonder if he was even at the camp. Bristling at the thought of worrying whether she had chased him away, Jade reminded herself that she had other things to worry about. The first was that she needed to get to the paddock for her first shift of the day. When she arrived at the gate, she noticed Jared standing with a clipboard checking things off.
“What’s that?” Jade asked casually as she strode over to him.
He mumbled something to himself as he pressed his quill down to the paper. He looked up then and spotted her. With a quick smile he answered, “It’s a check list. I have to go over everything in the camp and make sure we have everything accounted for.”
“Sounds like a lot of counting,” she murmured in response.
“Yup,” Jared answered absent-mindedly as his eyes returned to the pad.
“Well, I’ll see you later,” Jade stated as she entered the paddock and went in search of Costel.
Her ride, she found, was terribly uneventful. Even worse, she spent it thinking of Charlie. “Bugger him,” Jade thought bitterly, “if he hasn’t gotten into my head.”
When Costel landed in the dragon paddock, she was in a foul mood. She stormed into the mess hall and served herself a plate full of food that she later refused to even touch. Even her appetite was gone. When Mac and Brendan sat down next to her she barely spoke. After several minutes of prodding, both men gave up and left her to her own devices. Devices, that was considerably dangerous now that she was completely worked up. Finally deciding that she’d had enough for one day, she went straight to bed.
The next morning was no better than the first. The reason why was Charlie. To Jade’s surprise he was in full gear in front of the paddock. She hustled over to the gathered crowd of riders in front of him and carefully listened.
“I’m sorry to interrupt your daily schedules, but we have different plans for today. You’ll all be working your regular shifts, but a slot of that time will be allotted to new defensive moves. I’ve found that we’ve covered the basics and a few of the advanced moves but there are more offensive as well as defensive maneuvers we need to cover,” Charlie stated.
“Charlie and I will be teaching these moves to you and I have the list here of what time you’ll be taking your course. Why don’t you come up and take a look at it?” Jared offered.
Jade stepped out of the way as everyone formed a line to check the list. She was too busy watching Charlie as he moved toward Jared and spoke in a hushed tone. When he began to walk away, Jade found herself moving after him.
“What sorts of moves are left to learn when riding? I thought we’d covered everything.” She stated as she followed in his trail.
He stopped and turned to her. His face was set in a grim expression. “I’m afraid that there’s more to than just rolling around in the air on the back of a dragon. We’re going over how to properly dismount in the case of emergency.”
“Is that all?” she asked.
“No, there’s plenty more as well,” he answered in a clipped tone.
Jade nodded her head complacently. He’d answered her question. “I noticed you weren’t here at all yesterday,” she mumbled. She hadn’t meant to really say that.
Charlie studied her for a moment before saying, “It’s really none of your business where I go.”
Jade colored immediately from both embarrassment and fury.
Charlie sighed heavily and stated, “I was out riding and learning what I’m about to teach today.” In a frustrated tone he continued, “Don’t ask me questions you don’t want me to ask of you in the future. Being a hypocrite is something I’m sure you’d like to avoid.”
He turned then to walk away when she found her voice again. “I’m not a hypocrite! Furthermore, I merely said that I had noticed you were gone. I didn’t ask you.”
Charlie whipped back to her and snapped, “Don’t be stupid, Jade. You may have very well asked the question rather than beat around the bush.” Charlie’s name was called out by someone waiting on the line and the color from his face drained. In a strained voice he stated, “I’m sick of playing games. I don’t have the time or the patience, and I believe there are too many women inside of you for it to even be fair. Figure out which one you truly are, Jade, because I’m tired of guessing.”
He walked away and this time she didn’t stop him. She was hurt and angry. “What was he talking about,” she thought heatedly. She was only one person not several. “And what did he mean by playing games, because she wasn’t playing games,” she recalled in irritation. Why would she ever want to play games with Charlie Weasley, the most frustrating, annoying, and damning person? Every time he was near, her blood would boil. He made every cell in her being stand on end. He was cutting it too close and Jade had to do something to push him away.
Her mood had not improved after her usual shift and worsened after her training course with Charlie. He was short tempered, icy, and tight lipped. Even the other rider who was with her at the time noticed his disposition. By the time she sat down next to a crackling fire on the camp grounds her frame of mind had hit rock bottom.
Brendan and Mac came over and joined her but retired early because they had early wake up calls. Jade lingered near the dying fire, hoping to smooth over the frazzled ends of her nerves. She was sure that if the atmosphere continued to be tense, she’d die from anxiety or worse, frustration.
“You look mighty upset,” Jared said as he settled down across the fire.
She glanced over and frowned at him. “I’m fine,” she answered none-too-honestly.
He smirked and asked, “So what’s eating you alive? Is there something going on with your dragon?”
“No,” Jade replied. “Costel is fine.”
Jared waited a beat and smiled when Jade said, “I can’t stand him.”
“Who else?” she snapped. “He’s become such a prat. I thought Charlie would be better than all that, but he’s just like the rest of the lot. He’s another sexist-”
Before she could continue her tirade, Jared cut her off saying, “Whoa, let’s slow down there. Those are pretty fierce words to say about Charlie. I know for a fact that he-”
“That he what?” Jade interrupted. “That he’s fair and respectful. It’s a load of garbage if you ask me. He’s been doing nothing but breathing down my back since I got this job. He’s always checking to see if everything is in order with me…wants to know if I’m okay. I feel like I’m being watched over like a hawk!”
“He’s concerned, that’s all,” Jared explained.
Jade gave him a cold look. “He’s not concerned, Jared. I would know concern from this. I bet he’s never had a woman in his life. He doesn’t really understand and I’m sure that he’s doing what he thinks a man should do.”
Jared snorted. “You’ve got him all wrong. He isn’t like that at all. In fact, he has a younger sister and five brothers. He knows all about looking out for someone and caring about them. At least get to know the man better before you go passing judgment on him.” Jared got up then and brushed his pants off. “He’s a good chap and if you gave him half a chance you’d see that.”
Jade wanted to hear what he said, but she already had a block against it. She didn’t want to hear and know that Charlie had a younger sister or that he had five brothers. All that information made her judgment on him all the more inconsistent. In fact, it made it impossible to believe. Grumbling to herself about men, she got up and went off to bed.
All that week Jade watched Charlie. She watched him work, watched him talk and even think. It was hard to deny after spending so much time watching him that his heart wasn’t in the right place. She came to realize that Charlie was passionate, charismatic, and among all things, fair.
During the week Charlie had worked doggedly to make sure everyone knew the techniques and skills required to successfully ride dragons. He had gone out of his way to personally show proper techniques to a rider who was struggling with a particular maneuver.
Charlie had also cared for a terribly sick dragon with ease. The beast had been rampaging in the paddock and with Charlie’s patience and care he had been able to subdue the creature with the help of other keepers at the camp. He made sure the dragon was nursed back to health before it was able to fly again.
Single-handedly, Charlie had broken up an argument over scheduling. He’d given each rider what they wanted with a compromise. He also had a talk with Jared about scheduling and times.
It was easy to see what Jared had meant when she allowed herself to be open to him. It was terribly hard to throw away the first image she had of him. She was sure that it would be easier to just block Charlie Weasley out altogether, but something inside of her told her that would be a mistake. At the end of the week, Jade made a promise to herself that she would try to make peace with Charlie. He deserved a second chance, and she deserved to feel comfortable around him. She would befriend Charlie, and she’d show him that she could be just as fair as he was.