“Oh! Charlie, dear, you’re home!” Mrs. Weasley’s voice rang through the kitchen of The Burrow as she stepped forward to help her son out of the fireplace.
“Hello, Mum,” Charlie said, leaning down to embrace her. “How are you?” he asked, looking her straight in the eye.
She sniffled; if any of her sons could press her to answer truthfully the moment they saw her, it was Charlie. He would look her straight in the eye, his blue ones piercing her brown, and ask her, and there would be no escape from telling the whole truth.
“It’s been terrible, dear,” she said, leaning her head on his shoulder. “Your father’s gone from home for hours at a time. He goes early in the morning, and doesn’t come home again until after everyone’s asleep. I’m just so worried that this isn’t going to be like last time. He was with me then, but now I just can’t be sure where he is. Even the clock doesn’t know.” She glanced at the clock, now sitting on the mantelpiece. “It hasn’t moved from ‘mortal peril’ since that night in the Ministry.”
Charlie looked at the clock. All of the hands currently pointed to mortal peril, even the shortest one of them all. Ginny’s. He sighed; he couldn’t do anything about that, even though it went against his every instinct to just stand there looking at it, not being able to do anything.
A loud clanking of pipes brought him out of his reflections, and he glanced at the ceiling. His mum looked up as well. “The ghoul’s been acting up quite a bit lately. I’ll tell Arthur to have a stern talking to with him once he comes home tonight.”
Charlie smiled. His father having to reprimand anyone – or rather anything – would be a funny sight indeed. He sighed. Good old Dad. “Well, I’d better take the trunk out before someone else decides to use the Floo,” he said, moving towards the fireplace. “Locomotor trunk!” And with that he floated the trunk to the corner of the sitting room.
His mum had returned to the kitchen, to make him something to eat, no doubt. And as he looked around the unchanged sitting room, he noticed that The Burrow seemed quite empty. The lack of noise and bustling movement in the house was astounding. It didn’t feel happy anymore – on the contrary, there was a penetrating tenseness that was unsettling, alien even.
As he walked into the kitchen, he saw the platter of biscuits that his mum had made, clearly out of nerves. He smiled; some things would never change. She would always bake her biscuits when she was restless. And with the wedding coming up, he knew she wouldn’t be relaxed again for a very, very long time. It was all the better for him, really, he was going to be very well stocked up on his mum’s chocolate-chip biscuits by the time he left.
“Where is everyone, Mum?” he asked, snatching a biscuit from the platter. They tasted the way he remembered them – sweet, warm, and oh, so chocolaty. The familiar taste of home.
She sighed once more. “Fred and George are at their shop; it’s working quite well, you know,” she said, though she didn’t as much as swell with pride. It was obvious she still disapproved, if only a little. “Ron and Hermione are off with them as well, helping them stock their new products, and Harry’s out in the garage looking for the extra chairs we’ll need at the table for dinner.”
“Why’s Harry still home?” Charlie asked, pausing on his way for more biscuits.
“Well, dear, you know what happened with Mad-Eye,” she paused, wiping her eyes on her apron. “The last thing he mentioned to Harry was that his staying within The Burrow’s wards was imperative. Harry really took those words to heart after Mad-Eye’s death, and so he agreed to stay home for the day.” She sniffed.
“Anyway, enough talk about Mad-Eye, we thought you were coming this evening, Charlie. If you had let me know that you were coming early, I would have had lunch ready for you!” she added, shaking the wooden spoon at him. He marveled at her; his mum could really change topics in a snap.
“Don’t worry about it, Mum. Where’s Ginny though, did she go with Ron as well?” Charlie asked, taking a few more biscuits from the plate his mum was levitating to the counter.
“No, dear, Ginny should be upstairs in her room,” she sighed. “Merlin knows, that girl never comes out anymore. She’s still sulking that Fleur’s going to be spending the days before the wedding here. I honestly don’t understand why; Fleur’s a fine girl for Bill,” she paused, thoughtfully, “As a matter of fact, they should be coming home quite soon. They’re deciding what kind of cake to have at the wedding.” Her eyes sparkled. “My little boy is getting married.” Then she fixed Charlie with a beady stare. “It’s high time you settled down as well, Charlie. Find a nice girl like Fleur, and I would be so happy. Although with hair as long as that, it’s not surprising you haven’t made any proposals.”
Charlie shifted uncomfortably, ruffling his hair and inching his way to the kitchen door. He hated when his mother started to talk about “settling down”. It was worse this time, because he actually had someone in mind. Well, not to marry exactly, but ever since he first saw her, he couldn’t quite forget the way she smiled, or talked, or how her sleek, russet hair moved while she walked…that walk. He shook his head. His mother would definitely find out about her if he kept daydreaming like a sappy old sod.
A sudden loud clanging of pipes overhead caused his mother to shoot the ceiling a murderous look, one which he never liked being on the receiving end of. He was actually surprised the ceiling hadn’t begun to smolder yet.
“MUM! That stupid ghoul is just about ready to face the wrong end of my wand!” Ginny Weasley was thumping down the stairs in a rage. “If he doesn’t stop, I’m going to give him a taste of the worst jinx he’s ever –” She had finally reached the bottom landing and stood stock still, staring at Charlie, her mouth a perfect ‘o’.
She threw herself at him. “I can’t believe you’re finally here! It’s been such a long time since the World Cup!” She looked up at him, a bit teary eyed. “I missed you.”
“I missed you too, Gin,” he said, placing a kiss on her head. “You’ve grown. A full inch taller than last time, if I remember correctly.”
“Shut up, Charlie,” she growled as she grabbed a handful of biscuits, “just because I’m short, doesn’t mean I’m any less magical than you are.”
“Ginevra Weasley! Put those down this instant, they’re for after dinner,” Mrs. Weasley scolded as she moved the platter closer to the counter next to her where she could keep her watchful eye on them.
“Sorry, Mum,” Ginny said, not sounding sorry at all, and then turned back to Charlie to say, “Why did you come early? I thought it was going to be one more day at least.”
“I wanted to come home early, and they said that they were going to be fine while I was gone anyway,” he said, shrugging. “What?” he blushed as he saw her shrewd gaze regarding him closely.
“Mum, I want to go swimming, could Charlie and I please take a picnic to the pond?” Ginny asked suddenly, turning to her mum.
“Of course, dear, let me pack it for you in the basket. Charlie, why don’t you go and get settled in your old room while I pack your lunch?” she said as she started bustling around the kitchen. “Oh, and don’t forget to put some sun-blocking charms on, you two!” she called as they went up the stairs, “You don’t want to look sunburned on the wedding day!”
“So, how are the dragons?” Ginny asked as they made their way to the small stream that passed through The Burrow’s estate. Although the house was quite small and cramped, the land that surrounded The Burrow was all theirs. His parents had never had the heart to sell it off, poor as they may be, and just as well, because they all loved the land dearly.
“They’re fine. You remember that Hungarian Horntail that Harry fought in the Triwizard Tournament?” he asked, feeling slightly flushed from excitement. Ginny nodded. “Well, we just found out that she’s part Ridgeback, and that’s why she was so dangerous. Two dragon species, when mixed, can be volatile. The traits of each try to fight the other to be shown. I can’t believe we didn’t see the signs earlier; she had always been a little nitpicky, but we never suspected it. I mean, how could we? Dragons don’t generally interbreed like that. Anyway, we just figured out that she was laying eggs in a nearby meadow. We’ve been trying to get an egg to study, to see who she mated with, but she’s just as fierce as she was with Harry,” he finished, slightly short of breath from the long speech.
“Oh,” she responded faintly, after a moment.
He shot her a sidelong glance. She didn’t seem to be as keen to talk to him as she did just five minutes ago. Was it something he said? He thought back to his speech on the Horntail. Then he remembered; Bill had written to him about this. He felt like he kicking himself.
“Things going that bad with Harry, then, eh?” he asked, as they reached the dock at the edge of the pond.
She paused for a moment before answering him. “Yeah,” she said, looking into his eyes. “Things are that bad.” He suddenly realized how much she had grown. He hadn’t thought of it when she had come down the stairs, but now as he looked at her, he could see that she had become a young woman.
“Why?” He looked into her eyes, the way he did with their mum.
“I think he’s afraid,” she said in a whisper. “I think I am too. I… I think I love him, Charlie.” She said the last part so softly that he had to strain his ears to hear it. Her eyes showed her fear, yet at the same time, her determination to keep that love strong. This was the one trait he knew that his family held above any other; their ability to love one another.
She was looking at him with hope and trepidation in her eyes, and he saw that she was asking for an answer, one where he would tell her she was not wrong, that she wasn’t too young or too naïve to be in love.
“I believe you, Ginny,” he said, and wrapped his arms around her. “Just don’t give up on him. He needs your love just as much as you need his.” He realized his words were true as he spoke them; even though he had not been there to witness their relationship, he knew. Bill had written to him quite a bit about how Ginny was growing up; he just hadn’t wanted to believe it. And now, as he held her in his arms, as he felt her relaxing, he knew that whatever happened, he was going to have to make it all right for her. She was his little sister. How could he let her be afraid?
They stood like that for a few minutes. Just stood, saying nothing, but instead savoring each other’s presence. He had been apart from his sister for far too long. Why had she grown up so fast? Why couldn’t she have waited for him? Why had he been such a fool to leave his family?
He felt her pulling away, and attempting to surreptitiously wipe some tears from her eyes. “So, who’s the girl, Charlie?”
He blushed. “What girl?” he asked as he put the basket down and reached to take his shirt off, so that he would not have to meet her eyes.
“The one that’s got you twisted around her finger. She told you to come back home, didn’t she? Don’t worry, I won’t tell Mum,” she added, dipping her toes in the cool water.
“You won’t be telling Mum anything, because there’s nothing to tell,” he replied matter-of-factly, hoping that she took his red face as flushed from the heat.
“Nice try. Now tell me her name or I’ll tell Bill you have a new girlfriend.” Then, with a wicked glint in her eye, she added, “and I’ll tell Fred and George, too.”
He didn’t want to do it, he really didn’t, but he had to take her mind off…well, her. So, he took a deep breath, grabbed Ginny by the arms, and tossed her in the water, jumping in after her.
“Charlie!” She spluttered as she came up for air. “You no good, scheming –”
“You continue that sentence, Ginevra, and I’m sure Mum’ll have something to say about it,” he said, laughing as she attempted to push her soaking red hair off her face in the water. He swam up to her, and splashed her face as soon as she had uncovered it.
“No fair!” she giggled, sputtering, as she tried to block his splashes. “I’m definitely going to tell Bill if you don’t stop!”
“What?! Don’t tell me you don’t remember when I first showed you this game,” he said, finally relenting so that he could speak with her. “Remember? You used that ‘woe is me’ expression that got me all tied up. It was cute at that time, but now I know your conspiring ways!”
“Oh! I remember that. Charlie, can you tell me that story again? I love hearing how I did my first one-up on you,” she said, swimming closer now that he had stopped attacking her.
“I don’t think it was your first, Gin, just one of your better ones.”
Charlie Weasley had just finished his last swimming lesson with his sister. He watched as she swam up and down the length of the small pond that was set on the ground of The Burrow, her little red head bobbing while she swam toward her destination. She was concentrating so hard on swimming that she was paying little attention to the goings on around her.
A wicked smile abruptly lit up on Charlie’s face. He was finally going to be able to have fun teasing her in the water. She had been most vulnerable before, as she didn’t know how to swim, but today she had finished the basics, and Charlie knew she was ready for some good ol’ brotherly love. It was too bad Fred and George had been stuck de-gnoming the garden again, otherwise they could have helped in the childish war that Ginny waged with the three of them. She somehow always got the better of them, and he never understood how she did it. Though as he thought about it, there was at least one incident that occurred every time they tried to prank her: tears would either well in her eyes, or she would run to Bill or their mum, eliminating any chance of pranking her at all.
He swam to her, as silently as he could, and thankfully noticed that the back of her red head was facing him. He glided behind her, and stood stock still, his feet supported by the silt lining the bottom of the pond. Finally, she turned as she readied herself for another lap to the edge of the pond, and Charlie struck. The wave of water caught her right in the face, and she was bounded back by the force of it.
“Charlie!” she shrieked as she raised her hands in defense. “Stop it!”
“Ha! There’s no Bill to save you now!” he yelled triumphantly, pushing another wave of cool water towards her.
She tried moving backwards, away from the relentless splashing, but failed as she couldn’t stop laughing. Charlie sent wave after wave and she could do nothing to stop them. Occasionally she would attempt to splash back, but her half-hearted attempts weren’t of any use. At last, it appeared she grew tired of trying to block the attacks, and put her hands down letting the splashes bombard her in full force. Charlie ceased the splashing after noticing her woebegone expression. Her eyes downcast, her chin almost drooping to her chest, and her mouth a tiny ‘o’ of pink as if she was too tired to even close it. He moved closer, worried that he had hurt her in some way.
“You okay, Gin?” he asked, moving closer to see if she was alright.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, a huge wave of water left Charlie sputtering and stumbling to keep himself upright. As he blinked the water out of his eyes, he saw Ginny shrieking with laughter while she swam out of the pond at record-breaking speed.
By the time he had got to the shore of the pond, she was already halfway to The Burrow and he figured that there was no way that he was going to catch her before she reached Bill.
He sighed as he climbed out of the pond and trudged dejectedly down the path leading to The Burrow. Ginny had beaten him at his own game…again. It really was depressing, trying to prank your eight-year-old sister, only to find that she was better than you at it. He shook his head, trying to drain the water from his ears. She really had got him good.
Charlie sighed. “You do know that I know now, that it was just expression to get the best of us?” He looked at her, his hand shading him from the sun. “From now on, you won’t be so lucky.”
“You just watch, Charlie Weasley, it doesn’t matter that you know my pranks, but you still can’t stop me from running to Bill,” she said with an impish gleam in her eyes.
“Just you wait until I see Fred and George again. Just you wait, Ginevra.”
“Don’t call me that!” she said, splashing him in the face.
“Oh, now you started it!” Charlie sent a large wave of water, which hit her at full force. He splashed her again and again, and she failed to stop him as she did those many years ago.
Even though he couldn’t solve her problems for her or shield her from the outside world anymore like he used to, he felt some comfort in the thought that he could at least ease her fear and pain, if only for a little while.
A/N: Thanks very much to my beta, Arnel, who helped make this story the best it can be. It was a bit AU and she fixed it all with a simple, but very brilliant, line. She’s the best! :-)