He had never been so proud and scared in his life.
Charlie realised what Ronnie had done. He'd hidden the eggs and the hatchlings and drawn Chrissie and the poachers away from wherever they were stowed. He was clever and brave and selfless and he had a red mark on his face that made Charlie angrier than he had ever felt before.
They'd hit him.
They'd hit a little boy.
They'd hit his baby brother.
He looked back into the bucket of rocks and realised that the only way to keep Ronnie from getting hurt any more would be to bluff as well as the little whippersnapper had done. He reached in and grabbed one of the fake eggs and hurled it through the trees and into the blackness. Both the poachers and the members of his team yelled out in shock.
"What the hell are you doing?" Chrissie demanded, as Ronnie squirmed and kicked at her.
"Give him back right now and I put this bucket down and walk away, Chrissie," Charlie said with as even a tone as he could manage on seeing the witch's hand leave Ronnie's mouth and grab a handful of red hair and pull hard in an attempt to stop him fighting her.
Charlie grabbed another rock and threw it quickly so they couldn't see anything but an egg-shaped blur disappearing into the forest.
"Wait!" one of the poachers begged him. "She didn't say no. Give him the kid, Chrissie!"
Charlie scowled at her and reached into the bucket again.
"You'd really smash all those eggs just for the little one, would you?"
Charlie nodded and stared back at her without blinking.
"Come now," McVitie said as he raised both his hands and tried to calm the tension. "None of us want that, do we?"
Charlie threw another 'egg' with a grunt and Ronnie yelped as his head was pulled back by the hair and the wand was held to his smooth freckled throat.
"Every second I don't have my brother with me I smash another one and every time in between when I see her hurting him I..." Charlie threw another rock into the blackness, "...throw..." rapidly followed by a second, "...three!"
Charlie reached into the bucket for the next rock and one of the poachers lunged at Chrissie to try and wrestle Ronnie away from her. Charlie saw Ronnie's legs kicking at both of them and Stebson threw himself into the tussle in an attempt to extricate Ron without him getting hurt.
There was a bright flash of light and Stebson and the attacking poacher slumped to the ground.
"Stebson!" Ronnie cried out and dropped to his knees to try and shake the huge man awake.
"Gimme the eggs!" Chrissie yelled, furiously.
Charlie had a clear shot at her now Ronnie was on the ground and he took it.
"Protego!" she retorted and the spells struck each other and fizzled out.
"Expelliarmis!" Charlie tried again as Chrissie screeched the same thing and both wands went flying.
Now they were both unarmed. He had hold of what she wanted most and she lifted her foot and pushed it down on Ronnie's back to remind Charlie she was still close enough to Ronnie to hurt him before he could stop her.
"Get off him or I'll blast you off!" Olaf threatened, but Chrissie knew her friend of almost a year wouldn't have it in him and laughed.
Ronnie was pinned to the ground beside Stebson and Charlie saw him pulling the unconscious man's wand from his limp hand and putting it into his pocket.
"On three!" Charlie yelled, looking at Chrissie to make her think he was challenging her to a Muggle duel but glancing at Ronnie's face so he knew what to do.
Bless his heart, the little shortarse winked at him.
Charlie gripped the metal bucket and watched as Chrissie lifted her foot off Ronnie's back and stepped towards him, flexing her hands before balling them up into tight fists, while one of the poachers covered the ten-year-old at wand-point.
"Two..." Chrissie sneered.
Charlie swung the metal bucket and flung the remaining rocks out at Chrissie, who screamed and tried to catch what she thought were valuable eggs, while the poachers abandoned their defensive posts and dove to the ground to catch the falling lumps. Chrissie was struck on the cheek by a pointed rock and dropped to her knees. Ronnie scrambled over to Stebson and covered his head with his body while holding his own arms over his bowed head protectively as the rocks fell.
Charlie ran forward and swung the bucket forward again, slamming it into Chrissie's face and knocking her out, and kept it swinging as he made his way over to Ronnie and Stebson. The bucket clipped several poachers, others were dazed on the floor from the rocks striking them in the head; McVitie and Olaf dealt with those who were trying to attack them with their wands.
An ape of a man was running at Charlie furiously. Charlie hurled the metal bucket at him and it caught the poacher square on the jaw. The man fell flat on his back. Charlie lifted Ronnie off Stebson and clung to him tightly. He glanced over at McVitie and saw that he was already thinking what Charlie was thinking.
"Mobilicorpus!" McVitie said with a flick of his wand, and Stebson's body floated up and glided across the forest floor towards them.
"I got you Ronnie," Charlie almost choked into Ronnie's hair. "It's okay now. You're going home."
"I can't yet," Ronnie said as he stared at Charlie as if he was stupid, "I have to show you when I hid all the babies."
Charlie couldn't help himself, he laughed in Ronnie's face. He laughed and kissed him on the forehead while Ronnie made disgusted noises and hugged him so tight he worried about crushing the skinny little body.
"I knew you'd take good care of them for me, titch," Charlie said shakily as he set Ronnie back down and followed the others as they got as far away from the defeated poachers as they could with Stebson's unconscious body.
McVitie had sent word to the authorities to go and round up the poachers while Ronnie had led a groggy Stebson and the extra vigilant Olaf to the fox hole where he'd left the eggs and hatchlings.
Ronnie had done a fantastic job of taking care of the young. The eggs were still warm and the hatchlings were contained and content enough, though very hungry, and Stebson had told Ronnie that he had saved a whole dragon community. Ronnie had blushed to the tips of his hair and looked very pleased with himself.
Charlie would still exhale with a slight shudder when he thought of what could have happened. For all his insecurities Ronnie was the little kid who'd climbed a tree with a broken arm and scrapped his way out of an underground prison. Ronnie was bold enough to outsmart all of them and save the day and yet he was still looking at Charlie anxiously, waiting to be told he'd done well and that his brother was pleased.
Charlie bent down to look Ronnie in the eye and put a hand on his shoulder as he spoke.
"You were amazing, little ma- Ron. You were great."
Ron's head lifted and his smile was wide.
"I was still scared all the time."
"That just makes you braver," Charlie beamed, "and you know what else?"
Ron's eyebrows lifted and he tilted his head to one side.
"I think you're getting taller." Charlie gave an impressed nod, "Mum was right, y'know? You are going to be bigger than Fred and George in no time."
Ron looked delighted with this.
Charlie crouched down even further so he was now looking up into Ron's eyes. His face tried to remain happy but he knew Ron could tell he was feeling unhappy about something and the dirty little face frowned down at him.
"You're gonna love school, mate, you're gonna have so many adventures and I know Fred and George will look after you." Ron opened his mouth to scoff at that but Charlie reaffirmed his statement, "I know they will Ron."
"How come?" Ron asked, sceptically.
"Because when you go back home you're going to know just how tough you are and you know just how much of a mistake it is for people to underestimate you. They'll try to wind you up and you know you can outsmart them now. As soon as they realise you're not their target anymore they'll take you under their wing, I bet ya."
Ron folded his arms and lifted his chin.
"Who says I want to be under their smelly wings anyway?"
"See?" Charlie chuckled. "They're gonna be jumping through hoops to make you laugh rather than making you do things so they can laugh at you."
"Y'think so?" Ron looked hopeful.
Charlie ruffled Ron's hair and gave him a little shove.
"I know so."
Stebson handed Ron his jar of dragon spawn.
"They're in good hands with you lad," the big man said as he shifted from foot to foot and gave Ron an awkward pat on the back. "Ya don't need them to protect you; they'll need you to protect them. You're a natural at that...standin' up for those that need it."
Ron gave Stebson a one armed hug and the huge apron clad man didn't seem to know what to do in response to it.
"Thanks Stebson." Ron let him go, or rather the thigh he had been hugging, and grinned up at him.
"Well...take care then."
Stebson almost ran away. Charlie figured that he kept a low profile at the reserve and the most vocal he'd been in a good long while had been during the time he was worrying about Ron. Charlie grabbed Ron and pinned his arms to his sides with the massive cuddle he felt he needed to give his little brother for both their benefits.
"Sorry I ruined your first day at work, Charlie," Ron said, muffled into Charlie's chest.
"You didn't, you fitted in like you belonged here. It helps being Young Ron's brother with this lot I can tell you. They won't be nasty to me or they know they'll have you to answer to."
Ron chortled and wriggled his arms free to hug Charlie back.
"I wish you could come home on Sundays for dinner," Ron sighed.
"Yeah, me too." Charlie patted Ron on the back and they broke apart somewhat reluctantly. "You know what, though? Anytime, no matter what, you can ask me for help okay?"
Ron smiled sadly and nodded.
"I mean it," Charlie said, narrowing his eyes and dipping his head to stare right into Ron, "it doesn't matter how much trouble you're in or how much trouble you think you might get me into, always come to me if you need my help all right?"
"I promise," Ron smiled as he rolled his eyes, "if I get cornered by a dragon in an unexpected place I'll send Errol for you...or feed Errol to the dragon and send the dragon instead!"
Charlie pulled Ron into a loose headlock and got to his feet. They set off to the hastily arranged Portkey to the International Portkey terminal. Their dad had travelled half-way to escort him the rest of the way himself.
His little runt of a brother was going to be alright.
A/N So much thanks to Cat for her super fast beta work on this and all my Quills for a Cause stories. She's studying and doing this and all because she wanted to contribute something to the charity.
May all your dicks be spotted and may all your tarts taste like treacle!