Exquisite Pain Exquisite Joy

Games Are Afoot Chapter 52

The pain gripped Charlie so tightly that for several moments he couldn't breathe. He would just catch his breath when the pain would hit again full force. His head was dizzy and his eyes couldn't focus. This was worse than any Dragon injury. Or all of them all put together. In a far away place in his mind, he could hear a scream that pierced his very soul. Inch by inch he crawled to the door. The intense pain eased for a bit and he made it to Bill's room. He somehow found the strength to feebly knock on the door, praying it would be Bill and not Fleur who came. No one answered and so Charlie lay there trying to regain his strength. The pain had subsided but he was worn out from the experience. He heard a faint shuffling and the door finally cracked open.

From his position lying on the floor looking up, Charlie could see Bill peer into the hallway. Finally Bill looked down, but jumped when he spied Charlie in a heap at his feet.

"OY! What the Bloody hell do you think you are doing down there?" Bill hissed, obviously irritated.

Charlie tried to talk but had to clear his throat and even then his voice was raspy at best.

"I need some help." He finally coughed out in a dry scratchy voice.

Bill's eyes adjusted to the dark hallway and they got bigger as they took in Charlie's condition. "Were you in a fight?"

Charlie managed to slightly jiggle his head no.

"Were you cursed?"

Again Charlie barely shook his head no.

Frustrated, Bill finally asked, "Did you try one of Fred and George's products?"

Charlie whooshed out a nearly silent laugh. Bill chuckled and helped him sit up against the wall. "Bill," Charlie panted. "I think Hermione is in trouble."

Bill scanned the hallway and then pulled the door shut behind him. "Do you think if I helped you, you could walk back to your room?" Charlie attempted a shrug. Bill helped him to his feet, but his legs were weak. He whipped out his wand and silently aimed it at Charlie.

Charlie couldn't even protest as Bill marched him hanging upside down by his ankle back to his room and unceremoniously dumped him on his bed. "That is for scaring me silly in the middle of the night!"

Bill pulled up a chair and sat next to the bed. "So. What miraculous vision have you seen to get yourself in such a state? I swear if you drank the last of my fire whiskey…"

"I haven't had a drop." Charlie spoke quietly. His strength was returning. He was rotating his healing shoulder and clenching and unclenching his fist. "I was sleeping and I thought I was dreaming at first. I dreamt that I was being tortured. But then I woke up and the pain was real—" Charlie stopped searching for the words to explain the reality of the pain. To explain what now sounded ludicrous and insane even to his own ears.

Bill stared at him skeptically. "Could you just be having a nightmare? Watching the Lovegood's house explode could have triggered it."

Charlie shook his head. "It was more real. I don't know how to explain it. I could hear…well now I sound crazy even to myself."

Bill and Charlie just sat quietly for a time, each lost in his own thoughts when suddenly Charlie flinched and doubled over. "Char—what is it?" Bill questioned as he jumped to his feet. Charlie was sweating and had his jaw clenched tightly. Bill watched as wave after wave attacked his brother from nowhere. He felt helpless. Finally, it subsided again.

Bill did a primitive medical spell he knew from when he was treasure hunting for Gringott's, but Charlie didn't show any injury. Was his brother losing his mind? Charlie lay back on the pillow panting. He didn't understand what was happening. "It's like I can hear her screaming in my head."

Bill nodded looking concerned. "Any other hints of what it might be?" Charlie shook his head no. Adrenaline was starting to surge within him as he contemplated what might be happening to Hermione. He felt stronger every minute, but every muscle felt sore.

The brothers were silent. Suddenly the cracking sound of apparition broke the silent night through the open window. The Weasley brothers jumped to their feet, but Charlie sank to his knees still weak. He nodded and Bill raced down the stairs and out the back door. He saw Fleur at the curtain, wand drawn. As their eyes met, he nodded toward the garden overlooking the sea. She nodded back and disappeared.

He silently disillusioned himself as he stealthily crept towards the glowing wards.

Whoever was here, they weren't trying to hide it. The tramping of feet was loud and noticeable. Bill came around the corner of the house. There were three bodies stuck in the wards and what looked like a house elf trying to pull them through.

"Who are you?" demanded Bill's disembodied voice. "Please sir!" squeaked Dobby. "I is a friend of Harry Potter. I is helping Harry Potter sir."

Bill stepped into the wards, his spell dissolving as he did. The girl looked familiar but the boy was a stranger to him. The third was an old man huddled over with his head down. Bill grabbed the two standing and got them through the wards. He went back to retrieve the last one when he suddenly realized it was Mr. Ollivander. He was completely unconscious. Bill picked him up and carried him out of the wards and towards the house with the others following.

"Where did you come from?" Bill ordered as he walked through the door Fleur had opened for them. Dobby disapparated and was gone. Bill deposited Mr. Ollivander on the couch and turned to the other two fiercely. "How do you know about this place and what the Hell is going on?" Bill looked frightening. His scars were illuminated by the moonlight through the window and he was taller than everyone else in the room. The boy cowered but the girl turned to him and spoke to him in an almost ethereal voice.

"No need to be worried. We are friends. Friends of Harry Potter. He told the house elf to bring us here to safety."

Bill's anger dissipated but he remained cautious. This girl looked very familiar. He looked to Fleur who was looking at the girl. "Luna, where ees 'arry?"

Ah. Luna. Luna Lovegood. Bill's memory recognized her at last, though in his mind she was still eight years old.

"We were being held by the death eaters." Luna said calmly and quietly. "Harry and Ron saved us. We don't know how the house elf found us. Harry spoke to someone and then he was there."

"Where are Harry and Ron?" Bill demanded sharply.

"I imagine they are trying to help Hermione." Luna replied. Bill could now see the weariness on her face and the blood dripping down from her forehead. He saw Charlie on the stairs out of the corner of his eye. A slight shake of his head kept Charlie out of sight.

"And why deed they need to 'elp 'ermione?" Fleur asked gently.

"Because she was screaming." Luna said simply. A lone tear rolled down her cheek. "It was quite an awful sound." Bill saw Charlie stiffen.

Dean was nodding. He finally spoke up. "We were at Malfoy Manor. But the Malfoy's aren't in charge there. Bellatrix is."

"Dean, I think maybe it might even be You-Know-Who." Luna said thoughtfully.

Bill couldn't help but think that Luna was unwittingly profound. He caught a movement out of the corner of his eye and saw Charlie's back as he crept up the stairs. Bill could tell by how he held himself that he was plotting a rescue. Charlie was in no condition to go blasting into a houseful of death eaters. Fleur seemed to sense Bill's thoughts.

"Beel," she said, "Why don't you go up zee stairs and look for the first aid keet." Bill nodded and gave her a quick grateful smile and ran to Charlie's room where he found him shoving supplies into a pack. He looked determined and furious. Not a good combination especially in a Weasley. Their Mom got that look occasionally. It was never a rational frame of mind. When Molly Weasley got that look, she was at the end of her rope. She had reached that invisible intangible line where a mom is past yelling and very quiet. It was quite frightening. Charlie was wearing this look now and Bill instinctively rolled his shoulders preparing for the inevitable battle.

"You can't help her like this."

Charlie sized up his brother. "You can't stop me."

"I can try."

"Bill," Charlie hesitated. "I have to."

"Getting yourself killed is not a good way to help."

"I can take care of myself." Charlie asserted.

"With dragons, yes. With one or two wands, yes. But a houseful of death eaters? It's suicide and with how this night has gone, you aren't at your peak. Not to mention you are still recovering from that whole dragon-almost-killed-me-because-rookies-are-stupid injury."

Charlie tried to suppress a smile at Bill's tone. He had imitated Charlie's rant perfectly. But he was not to be deterred. "I can't just do nothing."

"Then just wait a few minutes while we line up some help."

Charlie levitated his knapsack out the window. The tree wasn't too far and he was pretty sure he could climb down. Bill eyed him warily.

"Don't do it Char."

"Is that a challenge?"

"No. It's a very strong suggestion."

Charlie was out the window faster than Bill imagined he could go. This was going to be more difficult than he thought. Charlie was stronger usually, but Bill was more of a strategist. He followed him out the window and down the tree. Charlie had just gotten up to speed running for the wards when he felt something around his ankles and down he went. Trip jinx. He slid his wand out.

"Expelliarmus." A quiet voice said and his wand sailed out of his hand.

"A first year could defend that Charlie." Bill said sarcastically. "You can't think clearly. You need to chill out."

Charlie lay on the ground thinking about what to do. He sat up and Bill offered him his hand to help him up. Charlie had been counting on this and tackled Bill while reaching for his wand.

A second crack of apparition startled them both still.

"Charlie, go tell Fleur we have company." Bill whispered right by Charlie's ear. Charlie started to protest but then slipped toward the house.

He would warn Fleur and then come from the other side. As he got near the cottage, Fleur came out. She put a finger to her lips and held her wand up with her other hand. Charlie went around one way, and Fleur the other.

Bill was cautiously moving towards the glowing wards. Suddenly, Ron dropped out onto his knees with Hermione in his arms. He was sobbing. He was bleeding. "Charlie!" Bill called and Charlie ran to the wards. He couldn't breathe. "No! NO! No!" He chanted to himself as he recognized Hermione limply in Ron's arms.

"She's alive. Just weak." Ron said gruffly. "I got her Charlie. I got her out."

Charlie barely registered the words.

"You did good Ron. You did good." Bill turned to Charlie. Charlie just stood there stupidly staring. "Charlie!" Bill waved a hand in front of his face until he looked at him. "Take Hermione to the house." Charlie obeyed gently picking Hermione up. Ron sank to the ground.

Hermione groaned. "It's okay Bookworm. I've got you." He murmured. He stopped and turned around. "Thank you Ron." They locked eyes and Ron nodded. Charlie turned back to the house with his precious cargo.

Bill could hear Harry frantically telling someone not to die. He rushed through the wards and found Harry cradling the house elf. It was obvious that the house elf was no longer living but Harry was clinging to him like a life preserver. Bill approached cautiously but Harry was so overcome he didn't really even notice. Bill helped him stand up. Ron was still catching his breath inside the wards. Fleur arrived with Luna and Dean. They gathered around sadly watching Harry's grief.

"Where's Hermione?" He said suddenly. "Where is she?

"Charlie took her inside," said Bill. "She'll be alright." He added.

A moan to the side alerted the group to one more refugee. Griphook lay in agony where Harry had dropped him. Dean, without being asked, picked Griphook up and carried him to the house. Bill and Fleur got Harry and Dobby back inside the protections. Harry insisted on burying the elf. He seemed to need to do this so Bill found a spade and let him vent all his emotion and turmoil in the digging of the grave.

In the house, Charlie gently laid Hermione on the bed he had been using. He brushed her matted hair out of her eyes. They fluttered open. "Is this a dream?" she asked.

"No, Bookworm. You are here now. You are safe."

Hermione's eyes opened wider. "Where am I?"

"Shell Cottage."

"But, you are in Romania." Hermione's eyes were shifting and she was tensing as if to flee.

Charlie took her hand in his. "I am in Britain recovering from an injury. I am Charlie Weasely. I gave you a dragon heartstring. I taught you how to play poker. You taught me how to play sardines at the Burrow."

At this last bit of information, Hermione smiled. "That was such fun." She sighed. Her eyebrows smoothed and her face relaxed as she believed for the first time that she was safe. It had been so long. She reached over and took Charlie's hand. "Thank you."

Charlie stroked her hand and looked her over. "What happened?"

"I….We…She…" Hermione couldn't quite get the words out. Suddenly she sat up, "Where's Harry? Where's Ron?" She demanded nearly panicking.

"They are here. They are fine. Well sort of fine…that house elf was killed. Harry is digging the grave now."

Hermione's eyes welled up. "He saved us you know. He used to work for the Malfoy's." She sniffled. He dropped a chandelier on Bellatrix." She smiled a small smile. Charlie let that sink in.

"A chandelier?"

"Yeah. An enormous one."

"That would work." She sent him a small sad smile.

The door crashed open and Fleur stood there with her arms full. "Charlie, there is an urgent message for you. You can respond from Beel and I's room. I weel stay with Hermione."

Charlie gripped Hermione's hands. "It's okay Charlie. I am not going anywhere." Charlie hurried from the room with a last glance over his shoulder. Fleur helped Hermione change out of her blood stained clothes. Gently she washed and treated her wounds including the cut on her neck.

"Are you ok?" She asked softly. Hermione shrugged noncommittally. She really couldn't think about it right now. Fleur gave her a dressing gown to put on. Exahusted, she sat back down on the edge of the bed.

"Merci Fleur." Fleur patted her shoulder but did not say anything. A quiet knock rapped on the door.

"Hermione? It's Ron."

"Come in."

Ron entered hesitantly with a face full of worry. "I hate to even tell you this, after what you've been through, but Harry needs us. Dobby—"He choked up.

"It's ok Ron. I know." Hermione tried to stand but her legs were not sure beneath her. Ron took one elbow and Fleur the other as they made their way down the stairs and out to the grave.

The funeral was simple. Luna had a way of saying just the right thing. Harry asked to be left alone and Ron and Fleur helped Hermione back to the house. Charlie wasn't waiting for her in the room. He hadn't been downstairs either. "Ron, why was Bill wearing a traveling cloak?" She asked suddenly.

"No idea." He answered looking to Fleur.

Fleur sighed. "Do you feel up to coming down stairs for a bit?" Fleur asked. Hermione nodded. "Beel can explain things and catch you up." They headed downstairs.

Bill began to explain about how they had been moving the family and the protections they had enacted. Hermione interrupted, "Where's Charlie?"

Bill smiled. "He went to make sure that Ginny made it. He wouldn't have left for anything but family, but you can be sure he will be back." He winked at her and she blushed.

He continued to explain about Ginny being on holidays when Harry walked in. He insisted on going to talk to the goblin and Mr. Ollivander despite their weakened conditions. Ron and Hermione accompanied him. Afterward, they huddled together for a time discussing what should happen. Charlie had arrived back at the cottage and was pacing in Bill's room. He was impatient after all these months to actually talk to Hermione, and here they were, the three of them locked up in a bedroom talking about who knows what. "I can't believe they imperviused the door!" Charlie muttered.

Bill chuckled as he cleaned his wand. "Don't forget that they put up the sound blocking charm. You haven't mentioned that for at least five minutes." He said dryly. Charlie gave him a very dirty look; But Bill continued to clean and even had the audacity to start whistling.

Charlie continued pacing. "I couldn't even get an extendible ear into the hallway!"

Bill threw his cloth at Charlie's face. "You are sounding dangerously like mum right now. Relax. They can't talk forever. Then you can unsuccessfully interrogate her about what they are up to and everything will be fine."

Charlie was not amused. They seemed to talk for hours. Charlie finally stalked off to shower.

When he returned to his room he was therefore surprised to discover Hermione waiting for him.


"Hi yourself." Charlie replied still irritated.

Hermione was unsure of why he was being so abrupt. She started to say something and then thought better of it.

It was silent while he arranged things on his dresser. It had been so long. Had things changed for her? Did she still love him?

"Shall I leave the room?" She asked with a quavering voice.

Charlie turned and studied her. She was thinner. Her face was still pale. She hadn't showered, but the cut on her neck was now bandaged and she was dressed in an old dressing gown. She hadn't eaten that he knew of. Yet she was here. The first opportunity she had to be, she had come to him. She sat there and suddenly he could see in her eyes that she was feeling so much. He walked to her and she stood uneasily.

"No." He finally said. "I don't want you to leave the room." He pulled her into his arms and she buried her face in his chest. She let out a gust of air as if she had been holding her breath. Time melted away as she melted into his arms and they stood there holding each other. Talking was overrated sometimes.