Chapter 26

Bill had only intended to stay an hour or two, but was forced to stay for dinner with several threats. Though he could hardly complain about having to eat the deliciously exotic fish dish whose name he could never hope to properly pronounce. It was well after dark before he finally took his leave, despite the couple's insistent efforts to convince him to say the night. After bidding them both a good-night, but before leaving, he turned and said "On Monday, why don't you come by and we'll grab lunch?"

At first, the only response was Grimbles' knowing grin and Rosenwyn's black look. Then, Rosenwyn flushed prettily and nodded, excitement showing in her eyes. "How about that little French bistro? My treat," she offered. Bill knew she was dying to invite Hermione to join, but would never let on out of pure propriety. There was a pregnant pause, and Bill's lips twitched as he fought back a gin while Rosenwyn's eyes grew wide in anticipation.

"Better tell her before she passes out," Grimbles laughingly came to his wife's rescue after several more silent seconds; she'd been unconsciously holding her breath and looked like she didn't know whether to scream or cry.

"Heaven's forbid!" Bill finally burst out laughing as Rosenwyn pouted, her lips quivering as she tried no to join in the men's laughter. "I was planning on taking Hermione for sushi. If that's alright with you," he added rhetorically, mostly out of good manners.

"Oh yes," Rosenwyn breathed, her eyes growing wide again, "it's absolutely fine, thank you."

The flash of green flames in the fireplace jolted the figure on the couch awake. With surprising speed, it ran to cover, anticipation of pouncing on its prey jolting it wide awake despite the early morning hour.

Bill had barely passed through the threshold and looked up to see the rest of the room before something barreled full-bodily into him, effectively knocking him to his back. A full on battle ensued with limbs flying, hard hits landing and loud grunts of pain and triumph filling the air.

"Bloody hell, enough!" Bill gasped out when he got the attacker into a headlock. When he refused to relent, Bill smoothly slid into a sleeper-hold, restricting his airflow with just enough control to prevent him from completely losing consciousness. "Dammit Charlie, enough!" Ever the hot-head, Charlie continued to struggle until he saw stars. Finally, he let his body go lax and held his hands up in surrender. A moment later, Bill unleashed his hold and the two brothers broke away, panting for breath. "What the bloody hell!"

"My thought exactly," Charlie leveled a look at Bill. Slowly, they stood and automatically made their way to the kitchen. Bill shot him a questioning glace as he put on the tea kettle, deciding three in the morning was too late, or too early, for anything stronger. Charlie sat in the seat occupied by Hermione just the night before and pulled out Bill's most recent letter. "I was in the country, so your letter arrived early. Sounded like this was a conversation to have in person."

While they waited for the water to boil, Bill recapped everything, both in his letter and since he'd sent it. Throughout the story, Charlie, who's initially come to give his brother a good-natured hard time, grew more and more somber.

"Damn man, you've got it bad," Charlie shook his head as Bill poured their tea, "and for Granger. You have no idea what you're getting yourself into."

"Wanna bet," Bill grumbled into his drink.

"No. Cause you'd lose. It isn't just Harry and our family you have to worry about," Charlie caught Bill's attention "The worst ones are going to be Harry, Lupin, Sirius and Malfoy."

"Malfoy?" Bill automatically, the rest of the list still processing. Charlie nodded.

"I see them and some of their friends occasionally. They're the ones closest to her. Loyal as dogs, fiercely protective and her closest friends. They're very private about it; only the people closest to them all can see it. They won't make this crush of yours easy. Especially after the way you royally fucked up yesterday. You're lucky they haven't broken in and attacked you already."

Normally Bill would have called his brother out on bullshitting him, but there was something about the younger man's countenance that had him glancing around nervously. "I don't understand…" He instinctively knew he was missing something.

"I'm not too sure how complete or accurate my knowledge is… I'm technically not supposed to know anything." Bill nodded. In spite of, or perhaps due to, his isolation from the rest of them, Charlie's isolation from the rest of them, everyone tended to feel safe dropping tidbits of gossip and information with him, which he quickly pieced together for the full story.

"Apparently, not too long ago, Hermione found herself a boyfriend; her first since Ron mind you. So while it irked everyone that she was distant and that they never saw her, they played it off. People were starting to talk about true love and weddings. Her friends, our family included, felt pretty insulted they were being pushed away, and even pushed back. Except for Harry, Sirius, Lupin and Malfoy. They kept it to themselves, but it was obvious something about the relationship didn't sit well with them."

Sensing he wasn't going to enjoy what he was about to hear, Bill stood and poured a few very strong drinks and gestured for Charlie to follow him. They made their way down the hall to Bill's private study, and settled themselves comfortably in their seats. As an afterthought, he silently accioed the rest of the bottle to a nearby table. "Something tells me I'm gonna need it," he murmured, nodding at the bottle, instinctive alarms going off in his mind. Charlie grimily nodded, confirming his suspicions.

"It was reported by a little teenage girl who worked at a dinner in the neighborhood. She was terrified when she went to report it. Merlin bless her, she was so determined to help she reported it to St. Mudgo's and marched into the Ministry to the Aurors."

"How bad?" Bill interrupted his body tense and voice dangerously low. The liquor in his glass threatened to spill over, his tight grip and shaking hand not unnoticed by Charlie.

"Initially?" Bill's stomach dropped sickeningly. "Just the typical signs of habitual physical abuse." Bill all but stopped breathing at the forced casual tone Charlie used, already dreading the rest of the story.

"Harry's an Auror and Malfoy's a healer, so it wasn't long before they found out. They immediately when to the flat she was sharing with him with Lupin and Sirius," Charlie refused to meet Bill's eyes, obviously struggling to continue.

"What happened Charlie," Bill ground out, feeling sick.

"There was a group of them…" Charlie shook his head. Bill growled, the ferocity clashing with his pale face. "Rape was apparently is… preferred method of abuse…" Charlie shook violently with anger, "and apparently letting his friends join in was a regular source of cash flow."

"SON OF A BITCH!" Bill roared as he threw his glass. It shattered, doing little to satisfy his anger. Charlie winced, but continued. He knew he didn't have any right to be telling Bill this, but Bill deserved to know. It was impossible to explain, but he just knew he did… that he had to.

"A full on battle happened, until the Minister arrived," Bill froze where he stood, giving Charlie a surprised look. "Shacklebot grabbed Hermione and took her away. Most likely to Madam Pomfrey. She's one of the best of the best, and Hermione knows and trusts her," Bill nodded, gesturing impatiently for more. Charlie shrugged helplessly.

"Aurors weren't dispatched until the next day… Harry and the others were still there… after sixteen hours unsupervised with the men. All I know is if you tried to look up any record of the men, you'd find nothing. As far as the wizarding world in concerned, they never existed."

"Shit," Bill hissed, knowing full well not a single man survived the night, or went quickly. It spoke volumes of the loyalty Hermione inspired that no one else knew about any of this. "And Hermione?" Bill braced himself for the one thing he'd been dreading to hear the most.

"The common bruises and repeated breaks – done strategically to be hidden. Consistent, repeated rape and sodomy… and signs of more than one abortion. Merlin only knows about the mental and emotional damage."

Bill ran from the room, Charlie hot on his heels. Moments later he was kneeling, violently depositing everything he'd eaten that day into the toilet. Charlie grimaced and picked his way around his brother's large form to sit next to him on the edge of the tub. He pulled out his wand and muttered a few charms to levitate the cup at the sink over and fill it with cool water. Sympathetically, he waited until Bill was finally reduced to dry heaving.

"Rinse and spit," he handed him the glass. Bill obediently obeyed while Charlie removed his hair tie and pulled his hair into a neater, looser pony-tail for him. "Better?" Bill grunted and leaned back on his heels.

"Now what?" he asked helplessly. Charlie shrugged and rested his hand on Bill's shoulder.

"Now, big brother, I get to help you," Charlie squeezed and rubbed Bill's shoulder reassuringly. Bill gave him a questioning look. "All I need is a spare room and your promised silence, and I can send in an owl to take say… a weeklong vacation." Charlie raised his eyebrows in question.

Bill nodded and rested his hand on Charlie's knee. Charlie nodded, easily understanding his brother's unspoken gratefulness. As the eldest of the Weasley brood, they grew up with a special bond. It was that bond that told Charlie he'd needed to see Bill, and that told him that Bill needed the extra security of knowing he was there and at the ready to help. Likewise, it was that bond that made it unnecessary for Bill to question Charlie's desire for his presence to be kept secret. He knew first hand that his visits home, particularly when living abroad, tended to be all together exhausting.

His stomach finally beginning to settle, Bill stood shakily, cleaned away any offending evidence of his sickness, and splashed cold water over his face and neck. "Thanks," he took the hand towel Charlie held out. "I'll prepare a room for you while you pick up your things."

"Both are done, I'm all settled in," Charlie ginned, following Bill out the door.

"Of course you are," Bill shook his head, amusement showing in his eyes.

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