Games Are Afoot

Chapter 54

Soldiering On

AUTHORS NOTE: I tried to note when I used direct text from JK Rowling. Charlie's reactions are mine. The rest is Hers.

Charlie raced to the door, but by the time he made it to the hallway, she was gone. He slid down the wall just outside the open door of the room and sat on the floor to think. The noise was phenomenal in the chaos of people rushing by, yet it wasn't a panic. People were moving with purpose. He probably should get up and do something, but he just didn't know where to go. All he saw from his vantage point was legs. All he heard was a cascading cacophony of jumbled voices. He waited for something to register and then he spotted his parents unexpectedly rush by with Fred, George and with…wait! Was that Percy with them? "About bloody time!" He said out loud.

"I agree!" Ginny answered enthusiastically peering into the hallway to see if her mother was out of sight.

"What are YOU doing here?" Charlie roared in surprise. He was stunned to see her.

"Don't get your robes in a twist." Ginny replied calmly. "Where else would I be?"

Charlie thought about it. He could have stayed with the dragon, but he knew he was supposed to be at Hogwarts for this. He couldn't blame her for feeling the need to be there too. He nodded at Ginny who started to walk away until he grabbed her by the collar.

"Where do ya think you are going?"

"To help." Ginny said trying to squirm away.

"How about if we go "help" together?" He asked with a tone that told her he wasn't taking no for an answer. She nodded and he followed her as she made her way down to the Great Hall.

They stood off to one side of the Gryffindor table with a large group of wizards waiting to be told where to go. Ginny used Charlie as a shield as she kept scanning around for her parents. She was not going to be banished back to that blasted room to wait and wonder.

Suddenly, Charlie could feel a sound coming from inside his head and outside his ears all at the same time. It was a slithery, uncomfortable voice that made his skin crawl. The sound was everywhere and nowhere. Someone screamed. Charlie felt Ginny grab his shirt and he put his arm around her shoulders. Cold prickles of fear ran up and down his spine. Time seemed to stand still. The air was suddenly thick.

"I know that you are preparing to fight. Your efforts are futile. You cannot fight me. I do not want to kill you. I have great respect for the teachers of Hogwarts. I do not want to spill magical blood." (Deathly Hallows page 609)

Charlie felt Ginny shiver next to him and gripped her more tightly. There was complete silence now where there had been vast noise just moments before.

"Give me Harry Potter and none shall be harmed. Give me Harry Potter and I shall leave the school untouched. Give me Harry Potter and you shall be rewarded. You have until midnight." (Deathly Hallows page 610)

Charlie felt something shaking at his side and realized it was Ginny sobbing into his shirt. The sound was gone, but the creepy feeling remained. His mind felt violated. Suddenly a girl pointed to Harry and told someone to grab him. Ginny leapt from his side instantly standing in front of Harry with several other students. More and more Gryffindors moved to surround Harry. All the wands were pointed at the girl.

"Thank you, Miss Parkinson," said Professor McGonagall in a clipped voice. "You will leave the Hall first with Mr. Filch. If the rest of your house could follow." (Deathly Hallows page 610)

Charlie loved that woman. As the underage students made their way out of the Great Hall, Ginny was no longer hiding from, but instead, standing next to her mother. Charlie moved to join his family. Harry came over. "Where are Ron and Hermione?" He asked anxiously. Charlie unsuccessfully searched the room with his eyes for curly brown hair, but he was interrupted by Kingsley making assignments.

He and Ginny went to make sure the students who were leaving made it to the room of requirement and down the passageway to the Hog's Head. It was confusing though because he thought more students left the hall with them than arrived at the room. "Ginny, wasn't there more?"

"They want to fight." She said simply and shrugged. They helped do what they could but couldn't help chuckling when they saw an extremely disheveled Aberforth fight his way upstream against the departing students. He grunted at them and went out to the hallway. Ginny and Charlie decided to follow. But before they could leave they heard familiar voices.

"He was amazing! Amazing!" Charlie heard Hermione saying. He ran to the doorway by the corridor where the voices were coming from. He could have sworn he heard them say the word horcrux. What was a horcrux? He thought they were looking for the elder wand. There was a sudden explosion and debris was cascading down from the ceiling. Tonks seemed to appear from behind him. He mouthed "Horcrux" to Tonks and her face blanched. That wasn't helpful. Maybe he was glad he didn't know what they had been up to all this time. The walls rattled and more debris fell. Harry, Ron and Hermione were all there and Ron and Hermione's arms were loaded down with what looked like large, old yellow teeth. They were about the size of some dragon teeth, but he didn't recognize them.

Hermione spotted Charlie just inside the door. She dropped her armful and ran to him. He picked her up and held her as tightly as he could. "Charlie! Charlie! She whispered into his ear. Her robes were filthy. Her face was smudged. Her hair was in tangles. He didn't care. She pulled back slightly to look into his eyes and then he couldn't help it. He kissed her. Right there in the hallway. In front of Ron. "Oi! There's a war going on here!" Ron yelled, but he didn't sound angry. "Besides, what about the house elves?" Charlie and Hermione pulled apart, smiling at each other stupidly. Charlie hugged Hermione fiercely one more time, rolled his eyes and yelled over the noise in the crowded hallway, "I will take care of the bloody house elves!" They parted reluctantly so Charlie could make his way to the kitchens. He turned and looked once over his shoulder and she was smiling at him. She touched her fingers to her lips and then held her hand up toward him. He felt like he could do anything.

Hurdling people and debris, Charlie made his way down the staircases to the hall with the picture of the ticklish pears. He hoped they were still ticklish. The portrait swung open and hundreds of heads turned to stare at him. One of the older ones squeaked when he recognized Charlie.

"You are free to leave or fight. It's up to you!" Charlie called into the room. They nodded at him but remained huddled together. "You don't have to stay in here!"

A small spindly elf approached Charlie from the crowd. "Please Sir, we is Hogwarts Elves. We stay with Hogwarts." Charlie nodded and let the portrait swing closed. They would do what they must do. Just like everyone else.

Bill was in the main entry way dueling. Charlie saw a black hooded figure aiming for Bill's back and blasted him with a stunner. Bill jumped at the loud sound then grinned at Charlie. "Glad you have my back brother!" They stood back to back fending off more death eaters. Remus and Tonks joined them and the four of them forced the remaining death eaters in the immediate area to flee outdoors. Remus and Tonks followed them outside so Bill and Charlie headed up the marble staircase to where they heard another battle raging.

Explosions shook the walls and rocked the moving staircases. Bill narrowly missed the third step that grabbed legs. They felt exposed on the staircase as they could see wandfire in every direction on every landing. Maybe it was just old habit, but they found themselves near Gryffindor tower. They worked their way through the corridors carefully checking around corners and looking for the battle they could hear exploding nearby. They came around the corner that let to the stairway up to the Astronomy tower and were met by a wall falling in on them.

"Wingardium Leviosa!" Charlie screamed and floated a large piece of castle away from Bills head. Bill turned and aimed at Charlie. A red stunner went flying so close to his head that it made his ear ring. He heard the body fall behind him. He shook his head to make the ringing stop but it didn't work. They kept moving. They could hear Fred in the distance, laughing.

A large furry leg plunged through a hole that used to be a window. It had an enormous clicking pincer. Charlie and Bill aimed together and sent it flying backwards. Charlie ran to the now empty window and looked down. Spiders as big as cars were crawling up the walls.

"I will never tease Ron about spiders again." He said as Bill joined him at the hole in the wall. Bill nodded. He aimed at the wall outside and muttered something that sounded very foreign. An oil slick formed and the row of twelve spiders slid back to the ground in a tumble of legs. "Learned it in Egypt," Bill shrugged.

"Nice one!" Charlie chuckled. The good humor was short lived as a blast hit the wall just over their heads. They instinctively ducked and turned firing their wands. Whoever had sent the spell had disappeared out of sight. A huge blast rocked the floor knocking the brothers to the ground. As they picked themselves up and dusted themselves off, they could hear someone shouting "NO!"

Maybe it was years of living with siblings, but even with all the chaos around them, they both knew it was a Weasley. They ran around the corner, Bill in front. Down went Charlie. Bill stood over him sending a shower of sparks into the direction of the spell. He had been hit by a petrificus totalus spell. Bill performed the counterspell and Charlie stood slowly feeling shaken. They had to be more careful.

They cautiously came to another intersection and peeked around. They could see Harry and Ron dragging something…someone. They tried to get to them, but the spiders began pouring over the wall blocking their path. Harry and Ron fired at the one in the lead and over the turret it went. They hadn't noticed the older Weasleys yet. They heard Harry yell that it had brought friends and backed up to the nearest window. Aiming for the outside of the wall, Bill used his oily spell to knock create a slide down the outside of the castle. By the time they had cleared a path, the hallway was empty.

They ran in the direction they had last seen Harry and Ron but they were gone. They slowed as they came to the alcove that used to hold a suit of armor. The armor was gone, but the space wasn't empty. Bill dropped to his knees in front of the limp red-haired body. Percy. He was actually still smiling though his eyes were empty. Bill and Charlie couldn't leave him there. Bill knew that they had been taking the injured to the Great Hall. After a brief discussion Charlie stood look out while Bill levitated Percy's body. They moved slowly out and over to a hidden, usually unnoticed stairway. They were in luck because it was empty and they slowly moved Percy's body toward the Great Hall. About three floors down, they disillusioned the body and hid behind a tapestry as duelers flew past. When the path had cleared they continued their solemn journey. Suddenly, the stairway turned to a slide and two death eaters tumbled into them. Bill pointed his wand and using a silent spell, moved a tapestry to the other side of them. The hooded death eaters were coming to their feet and they were fiercely angry over their tumble. Bill said, "Duro," as he rotated his wand in a complicated movement. Crunch! The death eaters slammed into the wall he had created. "That's twice!" yelled one of the men from the other side.

Bill and Charlie were nearly to the Great Hall. The marble staircase was just ahead and then they would be in the Hall. They heard glass shatter and saw bodies fall from above. Charlie spotted Hermione at the bottom of the stairs blasting something. Then the something was hit with a flying ball-crystal ball! Bill was cheering. Charlie looked to see what would make him respond like that. Bill pointed to the crumpled heap on the floor and Charlie saw that it was Fenrir Grayback.

"Remind me to hug Hermione later." Bill said as they cautiously proceeded forward deflecting spells on every side. More spiders burst through the front doors, but Hagrid came screaming forward and was carried out with the masses of eight-legged creatures. Bill had continued into the hallway but Charlie had stopped staring at the enormous giant that was now seizing people through a window. Another giant, even bigger than the first one and they attacked each other. Charlie tried to call to Hermione, but there was no way she could hear him in the din. Suddenly, Charlie felt cold. He felt so cold and his chest constricted. The light seemed to dim and any joy at seeing Hermione suddenly disappeared. Charlie was frozen in place, unsure of what was happening.

Lights appeared. Little lights that grew bigger until they were shapes. There was a dog, and a fox and then a huge stag beat a path toward…Dementors! Charlie unfroze and produced his own dragon patronus to follow up the others. It was too late to do much good getting rid of dementors, but it did wonders to help his mind reengage in the battle. Another incredibly humungous giant crashed into the front doors near the great hall and everyone dove out of its way. As Charlie rolled to the side he saw Hermione, Ron and Harry run out the door. With the giants battling on the steps, Charlie was amazed that the trio had made it out without getting stepped on. He realized that even if he could make it out there, they would be long gone. He chose to go find Bill.

The Great Hall was a mass of injured people. The tables were gone and people littered the floor. Charlie slipped on a puddle but caught himself. He didn't have to look down to know it was probably blood. He spotted Madame Pomfrey and some students helping a centaur that was bleeding heavily. The enchanted ceiling was smoky and hazy like the dust settling from a great battle. Inside the Hall, the sounds from outside were muffled. He wondered why the battle magically seemed to avoid this room.

He spied a group of red heads standing about halfway down what would have been the Gryffindor table. He made his way over. His mother was on her knees hugging Percy and sobbing.

"I am so glad to know he came back before-before-" The sobs took over and she couldn't finish. His father knelt on one knee and stroked her back, tears sliding down his own face as he nodded in absolute misery and pain. Fred was whispering to Bill and George was standing with Ginny looking absolutely solemn. Charlie approached his family and placed his hand on his dad's shoulder. Words would not come. A Weasley had fallen. It had taken the entire journey to the Great Hall for it to sink in, but he felt a terrible ache in his heart. He and Percy had not been close, but he was still his brother.

Bill and Fred moved near Charlie. "He saved my life." Fred said quietly. "We were even laughing. I haven't seen Percy make a joke in so long." His chin quivered as he fought to remain in control. Charlie was beginning to feel numb. There was just too much. Too much noise. Too much violence. Too much fear. Too much pain.

Charlie hugged Fred. His burliness enveloped his brother's slender frame and Fred began to shake. Charlie just let him get it out. Bill touched his elbow after a bit and nodded at him to move out of the way of stretchers being brought in. Charlie turned to look and gasped as he saw Remus and Tonks on the stretchers they placed next to Percy. Charlie's heart was breaking. Fleur appeared as Bill knelt by Remus.

"So long old friend," Bill sniffled, "I hope you have found peace at last."

Charlie felt like this was all a horrible nightmare and he kept trying to wake up. Not Tonks. She was so full of life. What about the baby? His head couldn't accept what his eyes were seeing.

His neck began to prickle and that horrible sound invaded his entire being again. He shivered as the high, cold voice began to speak as though it came from everywhere and nowhere.

You have fought valiantly. Lord Voldemort knows how to value bravery. Yet you have sustained heavy losses. If you continue to resist me, you will all die, one by one. I do not wish this to happen. Every drop of magical blood spilled is a loss and a waste. Lord Voldemort is merciful. I command my forces to retreat immediately." (Deathly Hallows p. 659)

The muffled background noises ceased abruptly. It was eerily quiet. It was as if everyone had frozen.

"You have one hour. Dispose of your dead with dignity. Treat your injured." (Deathly Hallows p. 660)

Charlie and Bill eyed each other warily. Was it a trick? Fred and George stood next to each other with stoic faces. Arthur continued to stroke Molly's back as she continued to hug Percy. Bill and Fleur were holding hands. Ginny was leaning against Bill and he put his arm around her to comfort her. Charlie's mind went to Hermione. Where was she? Was she ok? Would she be the next brought in on a stretcher?

"I speak now, Harry Potter, directly to you." Charlie heard Ginny let out a huge sigh as if she had been holding her breath. "He doesn't have Harry!" She whispered.

"You have permitted you friends to die for you rather than face me yourself. I shall wait for one hour in the Forbidden Forest. If, at the end of that hour, you have not come to me, have not given yourself up, then battle recommences. This time, I shall enter the fray myself, Harry Potter, and I shall find you, and I shall punish every last man, woman, and child who has tried to conceal you from me. One hour." (Deathly Hallows p. 660)

Charlie couldn't stand there waiting and wondering. He needed to be busy; so busy that he would be too tired to worry. Professor McGonagall took charge. She organized the recovery. A group of battle-weary wizards were heading upstairs to gather the dead from the school. Charlie joined them and spent the next forty minutes lifting and carrying. Up to the top of the staircase. Wingardium Leviosa. Down to the Great Hall. Up to the top of the staircase. Wingardium Leviosa. Down to the Great Hall. The only thought he allowed in his head was Hermione's voice saying, "Well, are you a wizard or what?" Up and down. Up and down. As Charlie came back down one last time, Harry pushed past him going up. The look on his face revealed how tortured Harry was at the moment. Charlie's brain registered the pain, but he didn't even try to stop Harry. He just paused for a moment as the thoughts ran through his mind and then he continued back to the Great Hall. As he set down his precious cargo, he looked down the row of bodies and saw Ginny hugging someone with long, curly brown hair. He slowly made his way toward them.

Her face was tear-stained and pale. Her eyes were bloodshot and pain-filled. She saw him coming but she didn't move so he kept walking towards her. She reached out toward him and pulled him to her. "I am so sorry. I am so sorry." She repeated over and over. Charlie held her. His pain was surfacing. He shuddered, trying to keep his composure.

"I can't just stand here doing nothing." He finally spoke. She nodded and walked with him toward the door. Ginny tagged along. They worked side by side bringing the injured and dead inside. Ginny stopped to reassure an injured girl. Charlie and Hermione kept going. Holding hands to comfort each other on the way outside, they balanced wands and wounded on the way back in. There were no words. It was silent work. The air outside hung heavy and thick with smoke curling from spell blasted debris. Charlie drew strength from Hermione beside him, but the pain in her eyes broke his heart. He was sure that pain was mirrored in his own.

Someone alerted the grieving wizards to a large group marching toward the castle. The survivors made their way to the front steps to see what was happening. Charlie recognized Hagrid's large form in the middle carrying something in his arms. Professor McGonagall's tortured cry rent the air. "NO!" Hermione was screaming Harry's name. The crowd went crazy screaming and yelling at the death eaters and what they had done.

The noise was deafening. Harry was placed on the grass at Voldemort's feet. A bang and a bright light melded with the cold voice yelling, "SILENCE!" The sound instantly ceased. Charlie tried to talk but found he couldn't utter a sound. He fought the oppressing curse.

"You see? Harry Potter is dead! Do you understand now, deluded ones? He was nothing, ever, but a boy who relied on others to sacrifice themselves for him!" (Deathly Hallows p. 730)

Charlie strained against the cursed charm. He could see Hermione fighting just as hard.

"He beat you!" yelled Ron and the charm broke. The noise erupted to deafening levels once again. Another bang and the charm returned stronger and more powerfully.

"He was killed while trying to sneak out of the castle grounds, killed while trying to save himself." (Deathly Hallows p. 731)

Charlie was shaking his head. "No way! He probably went there on purpose to save the others." He thought to himself, unable to verbalize what he was thinking.

Voldemort's voice broke off as the crowd fought off the charm again. Charlie saw a tall boy in tattered Gryffindor robes brought to his knees.

"And who is this? Who has volunteered to demonstrate what happens to those who continue to fight when the battle is lost?"

Charlie was too far back to hear everything being said by the boy, but he heard Bellatrix call him Neville. The next thing he knew, Neville was yelling "DUMBLEDORE'S ARMY!" The silencing charm was broken again and the crowd of wizards cheered wildly for Neville.

Voldemort's incensed voice grew louder over the din. "Very well, if that is your choice Longbottom, we revert to the original plan. On your head, be it."

Charlie heard something whistling overhead and ducked as the sorting hat flew over to Voldemort's waiting hand. He used his wand and the hat flew to Neville's head and smashed down on it covering his eyes and bending his ears.

"There will be no more Sorting at Hogwarts School. There will be no more houses. The emblem, shield, and colors of my noble ancestor, Salazar Slytherin, will suffice for everyone. Won't they, Neville Longbottom. Neville here is now going to demonstrate what happens to anyone foolish enough to continue to oppose me." (Deathly Hallows p. 732)

Charlie's mouth gaped in horror as the hat burst into flames. People were screaming. People were crying. And then chaos erupted from every direction. Charlie's eyes flew to the forest edge where people were thundering onto the Hogwarts grounds. Then out of the corner of his eye he saw the slash of a sword and a snake head fly into the air. Then his ears registered Hagrid's booming voice yelling, "Where's Harry?"

In all the confusion, he and Hermione got separated. Centaurs were charging. Giants were running and hundreds and hundreds of wizards were pouring up to the castle. Magical creatures were soaring up to the giants and clawing their eyes. Charlie couldn't find Hermione in the wake of so many people. He was forced back into the castle by the hordes of people. Charlie ran past Horace Slughorn and accidentally bumped into his mother. He stayed near her and followed her into the Great Hall with the masses. A great explosion sounded and hundreds of house elves stormed into the fray.

Charlie could see Voldemort dropping anyone who challenged him in the center of the room. Charlie finally spotted Hermione who was fighting Bellatrix with Ginny and Luna. His mother apparently had seen them too because she swerved in their direction. Green light flew toward Ginny and Charlie held his breath thinking the worst, but it unexpectedly changed directions. Charlie was blasting his way over as fast as he could but his mother was faster. She was muttering under her breath. "I will NOT lose any more children!" She reached Ginny and blocked a spell from Bellatrix. "NOT MY DAUGHTER, YOU BITCH!" (Deathly Hallows, p. 736)

Charlie had never heard his mother use a word like that. Ever. He froze momentarily in stunned admiration.

"OUT OF MY WAY!" Shouted his mother. Charlie threw hexes and jinxes at anyone trying to impede her. He was amazed at watching her duel. He had never seen him mom like this and an immense pride filled his heart. He deflected and shielded and watched her back as she relentlessly pursued the evil woman. Mrs. Weasley would not allow anyone between her and Bellatrix. She was determined to do her part. Charlie didn't realize that the Great Hall had divided into two major fights. Everyone else seemed to still and watch. He heard Bellatrix taunting his mother about losing children but he saw the look in his mother's eye.

"YOU—WILL—NEVER-TOUCH—OUR—CHILDREN—AGAIN!" His mother screamed. She fired a curse. Bellatrix seemed to freeze mid-taunt. Her eyes bulged. And then she fell.

Charlie saw his mother's satisfied smirk as she lowered her wand and moved to stand by Ginny. The crowd roared and then people started to cheer and yell, "HARRY! He's alive!" Ginny's head whirled around.

Harry told the crowd to stay back and to let him do this alone. He was talking to Voldemort. Charlie couldn't hear until the voices died down.

He heard Harry say, "Nobody. There are no more horcruxes. It's just you and me. Neither can live while the other survives, and one of us is about to leave for good."

Charlie felt a warm arm next to his. Hermione and Ron had come to stand beside him. Every eye was on Harry and Voldemort.