Category: short story, angst
Series: Brothers' Bond
Timeframe: Ron's 13. Charlie's 23.
Summary: Charlie returns home after learning of Scabbers' true identity.
Thank you: To geminigrl11 for the beta. :)
Notes: Sixth in a series (of ten), Brothers' Bond, focused around Ron and Charlie. In it, Charlie is ten years older than Ron. Becomes AU after GoF canon.
Previous stories in the series:
#1 - The Path of Thorns
#2 - The Lesson of Loss
#3 - Watching Over You
#4 - It's Never Easy
#5 - Holiday Cheer
Disclaimer: JKR. Scholastic. WB. Their toys, I'm just borrowing the guys, I promise! Besides, I'd use Charlie more if they were mine. ;)
A sudden flash of light filled the kitchen, startling Molly Weasley. The pots on the stove were lost in a plume of blue flame as she turned around quickly, wand in hand, ready to give whoever had startled her a piece of her mind.
"Charlie Weasley!" she exclaimed, pressing her hand to her chest. "What do you mean, Apparating behind me like that with no warning?"
Her son smiled, seemingly not at all flustered by her blustering welcome. Instead, he simply stepped forward and kissed her on the cheek. "Good to see you too, Mum."
Dropping her wand into a pocket, she smiled. "You know I'm happy to see you, Charlie. But you gave me a fright."
"Sorry, Mum." Although he sounded contrite, he looked anything but, Molly noticed.
Ushering Charlie into a chair, Molly asked, "But why are you here? You've never been one to Apparate whenever you could avoid it."
He face grew serious and he was silent for a long moment. "I can't be gone long and there was no time to fly," he said in a distracted voice. Then, looking up at his mother, Charlie asked, "How's Ron?"
She understood then, and had to admit that when she thought it about it, Charlie's sudden appearance wasn't so surprising. "Quiet."
Molly sat beside her son, laying her hands flat on the table. "So you heard about Scabbers?"
"Nothing's ever a secret among the Weasley's, you know," Charlie said, almost smiling.
Molly smiled; she couldn't argue with that. "True." However, her smile faded when she said, "He didn't want you to know."
"I think he feels... responsible." Molly sighed sadly. "Goodness knows we've tried to talk to him about it. But Scabbers..."
"Was his." Molly could see that Charlie wasn't surprised by what she was saying. He nodded. "I was afraid of that."
"I know he didn't want you to know, but I'm glad you came." Molly said, measuring her words carefully. She gave Charlie a careful smile and squeezed his hand. "And I think he will be too. In time."
Charlie stood, looking through a large window above the sink. "The grove?"
"Good a place as any to start." She thought Charlie looked unsettled by her answer - that she didn't know where Ron was. Truth be known, she was a bit bothered by it herself. But that was one truth that was going to stay a secret.
It was cloudy, as it so often was at home, Charlie noted with a sigh as he walked the short distance to the copse of trees near the Burrow. He had tried to teach Ron to fly just on the other side of the trees and it had been a hide away from the world when one needed privacy and silence - vaulable commodities in such a busy home.
Charlie was surprised when he found Ron easily. He expected to find him tucked away, far above the ground, in the branches. Instead there he was in plain sight, curled against the base of one of the trees.
There were no leaves on the ground and Charlie was always one to tread lightly; however he was still several paces away when Ron looked up suddenly. Charlie forced a smile when Ron stared at him with wide eyes.
"Charlie." It was more breath than voice.
His smile almost faltered when he heard Ron's voice, but he held onto it somehow. "Hey, kiddo." He crossed the remaining distance between them and lowered himself onto the grown beside Ron. Folding his legs beneath him, Charlie couldn't help but notice that Ron wasn't happy to see him. It was a rare thing, and it made him somewhat sad.
Charlie rested his arms on his knees and looked across the grove, just able to see the cleared land beyond. A few seconds later he said, "I wanted to say hi." Quickly realizing how ridiculous it sounded, Charlie cringed. But faced with Ron, who was obviously still upset, he couldn't think of a single thing to say. Judging by the look on Ron's face, it sounded even worse that he'd thought.
The look he gave him showed that Ron believed his brother to clearly have lost his mind. "You expect me to believe you just flew here, all the way from Romania, to say hi?"
"Apparated, actually." Charlie laughed, almost nervously. "I Apparated all the way from Romania to say hi."
If Ron looked doubtful before, at hearing that, he looked outright convinced Charlie had gone crazy. He was touched that Ron knew him so well, even if he hadn't gone crazy.
"You don't Apparate." The statement was simple; there was no question in Ron's words.
"I do," Charlie insisted. Seeing the knowing look on Ron's face, he smiled softly and shrugged. "Sometimes."
Ron looked away, fiddling with a branch he held in his hands. "You heard," Ron said after a pause.
Surprised by the direct approach, Charlie nodded. "Someone might have mentioned something."
Ron sighed, still not looking at Charlie. "I asked him not to say anything." Although he hadn't said who had told him Ron seemed to know - or thought he did. Either way, Charlie had decided not to incriminate their father, who had meant well.
They were both quiet, only the sound of the wind in the trees around them. Eventually Ron looked at Charlie out of the corner of his eyes. "You really Apparated?"
A relieved smile broke loose before Charlie could stop it. "I did." When Ron stared at him, Charlie laughed outright. "Well you don't have to look so shocked."
"You never Apparate." Charlie found the wonder in Ron's voice endearing, even if it made him sound ten years old.
"I do when I'm needed."
Ron looked away again, leaving Charlie to stare at the top of his head. As the silence grew, Charlie feared what might come next. The fear was justified when Ron asked, "How could I not have known, Charlie?" He flinched at the pain in his little brother's voice. "Why?"
"Why didn't Percy? He was his once. Or Bill. Or me? Why didn't I know?" Charlie nudged Ron's shoulder with his own, waiting until Ron looked at him. "Sometimes we're blinded by those we love, Ron."
In the smallest of voices, Ron asked, "But what if he'd hurt Harry?"
Charlie's chest hurt at the doubt in Ron's voice. It was a physical ache not to be able simply to make it better. He leaned over close to Ron, so that he could speak just beside his ear. "What if he had hurt you?"
Ron looked at Charlie, startled but with an argument bright in his eyes. "He was mine. So what if he..."
"A big what if," Charlie interrupted. When Ron opened his mouth to argue, he held up his hand. "To me. To Mum and to Dad. And I'm betting to Harry, as well."
Shaking his head, Charlie dropped his arm across Ron's shoulders. "I'm so sorry this happened to you, little brother."
He could feel the tension across Ron's shoulders, bristling at the offered comfort. Ron was quiet, but Charlie was relieved when he did, ever so slowly, lean against his side.
"I am glad you're here."
Charlie smiled, the band around his chest loosening. "So am I." He debated for a moment before adding, "I worry about you, you know."
Ron pulled away, just far enough to stare at Charlie. "Me"
"Yes. You." The look on disbelief on Ron's face broke Charlie's heart. "What you did on that chessboard alone..."
"I had to." Charlie heard the determination shake Ron's voice just slightly.
Charlie nodded quickly, understanding. "I know. And that's exactly why I worry." At Ron's confused look he explained, "You'll find doing what you have to do will buy you more trouble than the twins could even dream."
Ron didn't look as if he believed him and Charlie ruffled Ron's hair, trying to lighten the mood a bit. "I'm proud of you, kiddo. Don't forget that."
The shadows that had filled Ron's eyes began to fade and Charlie felt some of his apprehension dissipate as well. "I'm sorry I didn't want you to know."
"It's okay. You can never keep a secret around here anyway." Charlie lowered his voice. "But don't forget I'm here, alright? Even if I'm in Romania - you need me, I'm here."
"Even if you have to Apparate?"
"Even then." He winked, hoping Ron would know he was kidding as he said, "Though some warning might be nice. Then I could jump on my broom and fly like a civilized wizard."
He must have understood, because Ron laughed. "That's not what Bill says." Ron stood before Charlie could respond and tugged on his hand.
"What does Bill know?" Charlie muttered with a laugh as he stood. "Bill works in a bank. How..."
"Boring," Ron finished for him with a laugh.
"Dragons are much better."
"I know," Ron said, falling easily into the long-argued debate between the two eldest brothers.
Ron began leading the way back toward the Burrow, Charlie walking just behind him. Listening to Ron tell him about everything that had been happening at school and home, Charlie smiled. Relief rolled over him - he was still able to help his little brother, even though he lived so far away.
Maybe it even made up for not seeing the traitorous little rat for what he really was, either. But his guilt - for letting Ron be hurt and bear the weight of Scabbers' betrayal - that was of concern only to him.