Disclaimer: I don't own Harry Potter.
Warning: Character death.
His parents were coming to visit him, and they were bringing Ginny with them.
On the one hand, Charlie was excited to see them. He'd been away now for about a half a year, and he hadn't been planning on seeing them over Christmas like he'd done every year at Hogwarts. It would be nice to still be able to see them as he always did. On the other hand…
"Are you really going to sulk about this?" he asked, raising an eyebrow at his young friend.
Singer had become a regular fixture in his life, and often showed up in his tent when he was off duty. That wasn't a problem at all. The problem was that Singer remained incredibly antisocial with other people, and seemed to greatly resent that others still had claims on Charlie's time. When he'd learned that Charlie's parents were coming to visit, Singer had curled into a little ball in the far corner of the tent and ignored Charlie's every attempt to coax him out of it.
This had been going on for an hour. Charlie would have been amused if it weren't for the fact that Singer was, apparently, quite upset. "You can still come and see me, you know. I'd be happy to introduce you to my parents. I'm sure they'd love you."
Singer hissed at him, and emerged from his little ball with a curl of flame. "No!"
"Okay," Charlie said, and raised his hands in surrender. "You don't have to meet them. It was just a thought, because you seemed so upset."
Singer hissed at him once more, his delicate features twisted into a fearsome scowl. "Not want them here," he snarled. "Don't like them."
"You don't even know them!" Charlie protested. "How can you not like them if you don't know? That's not fair, Singer."
"Don't like people," Singer said. He began to pace, back and forth and back and forth, his fingers clenched into fists. "Don't like people. Don't want to meet new people. Can't make me, Charlie. Won't!"
"I'm not going to make you do anything," Charlie said immediately. "You're my friend, Singer, but I'm not going to hold you down and force you to meet people. It's okay not to like others, but you can't be upset that I do. That's not fair either."
Singer froze in place and turned to look at Charlie. There was something in his gaze, something alien, and Charlie had the distinct impression that he was being assessed. Singer's head fell to the side, he let out a small noise, and then a smile bloomed across his face. "Fair," Singer said, and nodded once, sharply. "Will be fair to Charlie."
Singer left the tent, then, leaving Charlie with the strange idea that some sort of bargain had been struck. Singer didn't bother him again about the time he spent with his other friends, though when his family showed up, Singer stopped visiting him entirely. Charlie still caught the occasional glimpse of him out of the corner of his eye, but Singer didn't speak to him at all.
He only began visiting once more after the holidays were over, and even then it was more of a tentative thing than it had been, as though he was uncertain of his welcome. He visited Charlie's tent only for an hour or so, and only sporadically. He ran away whenever Charlie brought up the visit and Singer's stalkerish behavior, even when he mentioned either in a teasing way, and Charlie had no idea what had gone wrong. He resolved to figure it out before Singer stopped visiting him entirely.
The strange behavior had continued for a month after the new year before Charlie was able to corner Singer.
And by corner, he meant that he coaxed him into settling down next to him on his couch. The two of them sat in silence for several moments before Charlie asked, "Do you want to tell me what's been bothering you?" Most days, the question would send Singer running, and this day was like all the others.
Singer stood and stalked towards the entrance to the tent, only to find that he couldn't get out. He could open the flaps of the tent, but he stopped every time he tried to step outside. He tried for several moments before hissing in frustration and whirling around. "What did you do?" he asked, smoke curling from between his lips.
"My brother works for the wizarding bank doing curse-breaking and some warding. I asked him if he knew any wards to keep somebody in a place, and set them up once you came in tonight." Charlie stood as well. "I wanted to talk to you, and you keep running away when I try to do so."
Singer hissed at him. "Will flame," he warned, a lick of flame slipping out. "Let me out."
"You won't hurt me," Charlie answered, and offered him a smile. "Is the thought of telling me what's been bothering you really so bad?"
Singer's scowl grew even more fierce, and he let out an annoyed snarl. "Loved you," he said finally, frustration bleeding into his voice. "Loved you very much. Missed you. Were happy to see you. Not… not monsters."
It took Charlie a few minutes to figure out what Singer was saying, and when it hit him his knees gave out from under him. "You thought that my parents were like… whoever was taking care of you before this. You were worried about me, and then you were embarrassed because there wasn't any need to be."
Singer shrugged, an awkward and graceless motion that didn't suit him at all. "Not… don't know human families. Wasn't… wasn't sure." He ducked his head and looked away, his irritation gone as though it hadn't been. "Should have known."
"You had no way of knowing," Charlie said gently. He managed to regain his feet and crossed the tent to place his hands gently on Singer's shoulders. Singer flinched back, but didn't try to draw away. "You don't know that much about humans. About people. And what few experiences you've had, other than with myself and Jacques, have been bad. Of course you would be concerned."
Singer looked up, his alien eyes wide and a little bit watery. "Not mad?" he asked, hopeful.
"Not at all mad," Charlie confirmed, then had the breath knocked out of him as Singer bowled him over in an enthusiastic hug.
Things returned to normal after that, or at least, as normal as things could be on a dragon preserve. Singer visited him more and more often, and soon winter was turning to spring and then to summer, and Charlie had never been happier. Even if Singer still refused to socialize with other humans.
It was a work in progress. Charlie was confident that they'd get to it eventually. Maybe.
"~He spends too much time with his humans,~" Singer complained softly. He was curled up in the nest with Yseira and her young hatchlings, who had made their way from their eggs only a month ago. Singer had been to see Charlie only a few hours ago, or rather, had been in search of him. When he'd found his Intended, Charlie had been coming from the building that smelled of food with the redheaded female and the male with the strange markings. Singer hated them both.
"~Do not complain,~" Yseira chastised, and nosed at Singer until Singer curled in on himself with a small giggle. "~Your Intended adores you; he merely wants time with his own people. And you have been busy with me while we waited for my darlings to stop being so lazy.~"
Singer hissed. "~We are his people,~" he protested.
"~We will be,~" Marlis answered, even as he crept up to the nest with an offering of meat. When Yseira didn't snap at him, Marlis settled himself at her side and leaned into her briefly. "~We are not yet his people. He cannot understand our songs yet. I doubt he even realizes that he's your Intended. You should allow him time with his people while he can still walk unnoticed among them.~"
Singer scowled. Marlis was being logical. It had to be a side effect of his own mate finally clutching for the first time. Singer was very glad that his Intended had turned out to be male, and there would be no clutching for him to deal with. It seemed to do very odd things to dragons who had been perfectly irrational once upon a time.
Singer let out a haughty little sniff and hopped up, then. He crept from the nest to the disappointed cries of the hatchlings and said, "~I should go and see him,~" before darting off into the night.
But no matter how fast he moved, he couldn't outrun the sound of Marlis and Yseira laughing at him. That was okay. Singer would have his revenge at some point, it was just a matter of finding a good time for it, that was all.
Charlie loved every part of working at the reserve, but he couldn't deny that one of his favorite parts was socializing with other people just as mad about wild and dangerous creatures as he was. Anna and Sean had quickly become his two favorite people to hang around with, and he enjoyed meeting up with them for meals and occasionally after work was over for the day.
The best times to do that were during the fall, when there were bonfires almost every Friday and Saturday night all through the camp. The crisp air was fended off by the heat of the fires, and the other keepers could stay up most of the night drinking and laughing and talking. Cider and alcohol flowed freely, though Charlie was always very careful never to drink too much.
He'd made the mistake once, at the start of the season, of having too much to drink and returning to his tent. He'd frightened Singer, and Singer had nearly burned him to a crisp. Singer hadn't explained, but Charlie hadn't needed him to. Every bad reaction Singer had with regards to people could generally be traced back to whoever he'd stayed with before coming to the reserve. He hadn't made that mistake again.
It wasn't hard to stick to cider after one or two cups of the hard stuff, anyway. And Sean and Anna were great to sit with, because they didn't tease him for not drinking anymore than that. They may not understand it, but they didn't tease him for it. They picked on him for other reasons, but never for that.
It was during one such bonfire, on a Friday night in early October, when Anna asked him, "So how come you never show any interest in any of the ladies around here?" in her typical blunt way.
Charlie choked on the drink he'd just taken.
Sean pounded him on the back until he stopped coughing, then said through his laughter, "Dying won't get you out of answering, lad."
Charlie flushed. "I wasn't trying to get out of answering, I just wasn't expecting the question." He took another quick drink of his cider, then looked around the camp. There were other fires glowing in the distance, more crowded and rowdy than their own small one.
"So?" Anna pressed, and she leaned in. "There are some lovely ladies here, you know. I'd be happy to hook you up with some of my friends."
Charlie's flush deepened and he shook his head. "Thanks, but no thanks," he said, and hoped he didn't sound as embarrassed as he was.
Sean nudged him with an elbow. "Some of my friends, then? I know some very handsome men who would just love to get a bite of you."
"Sean!" Charlie protested, even as he chuckled. "I don't… I mean, I guess I'm just not interested, that's all."
"Just not interested?" Anna echoed, incredulous. "Charlie, you've been here for over a year. You haven't left to go visit anyone. You're twenty. I refuse to believe that you're 'just not interested'. Are you hung up on someone?" she pressed.
Charlie shrugged, a bit uncomfortable. "No, not really. I've just never really been interested in romance or anything, that's all." He took another drink of cider and hoped that his blush would recede.
"It doesn't have to be about romance, you know," Sean said, and nudged him again. "In fact, jumping tents is pretty common around here."
"I've never really been interested in that, either," Charlie said, and something in his tone killed the conversation. He would have felt bad about that, but the entire topic was making him a bit uncomfortable. Okay, a lot uncomfortable.
He finished his cup of cider and poured himself more as the silence gradually grew more comfortable. It was a few minutes later when Anna tensed and stared somewhere off into the darkness at the edge of the camp.
"What's wrong?" Charlie asked, turning to look at whatever she was seeing. It took him a few minutes, but eventually he realized that Singer was at the edge of the camp and moving slowly in their general direction.
"I hope nothing's happened," Sean said. They had all grown more used to seeing Singer around the reserve, but he very rarely came into the camp itself while there were still so many people out and about.
Normally he snuck into Charlie's tent late at night and woke him up, or Charlie would find that he'd snuck into his tent while the keepers were all out at work with the dragons. Or he kept to the shadows, but he didn't seem to be making an effort to do that this time. In fact, while he wasn't walking very confidently, he wasn't dodging the light thrown by the different bonfires either.
It took several agonizing minutes for Singer to actually reach their circle, where he stood awkwardly for several minutes. "Can… Can join?" he asked finally, staring down at the ground.
Anna's eyes widened. "Sure," she said, hesitantly. "We'd be happy to have you." She scooted over on her log and patted the empty space she'd left.
Singer shifted uncomfortably, and Charlie nudged Sean. "Go sit next to your girlfriend," he said.
Sean glanced at him, but shrugged and switched logs. Singer immediately settled into the space he'd vacated beside Charlie.
"Cider?" he offered, and when Singer nodded carefully, he poured him a cup.
As the night wore on, conversation picked up again between Charlie, Anna, and Sean. They spoke of small, inconsequential things, and Singer gradually relaxed beside Charlie. He didn't speak any more that night, but he did smile occasionally when Sean made a joke and when Anna attempted to sing for them.
Charlie wasn't sure what had triggered the visit, but he was glad that it had happened. Singer needed to get to know more people. More humans. Not that the dragons weren't great, because they were, but Singer should know more about the people that he'd come from. He deserved to learn that they weren't all monsters, and he couldn't think of a better group for him to interact with.
"~We are approaching a holiday of great significance for the humans,~" Tyara murmured to Singer as she nosed at his stomach until he giggled.
He had just overseen the Mating of two youths, Singing them into a peaceful Heat. One of them was one of Tyara's own hatchlings, and it had been a pleasure to see her Mated happily. The camp would be a peaceful one for several weeks due to the feelings of peace and contentment the new Mates would spread.
"~This is their... Winter Solstice?~" Singer asked hesitantly. He was unfamiliar with the human holiday, though he knew that last year Charlie's parents had visited him for the holiday. Singer hadn't understood then that not all human families were made up of monsters, and Singer had been very cross with him as a result. He was very glad that to have been proven wrong on that front, although he'd been mortified by what he'd thought of Charlie's parents before he'd watched them interact. He was very happy that Charlie hadn't had to deal with monsters like Singer'd had to before… before.
"~I think they also call it... Christmas? The humans all seem to be very happy during this time of year,~" Tyara responded contemplatively. "~Will you and your Charlie do anything for the holiday? I believe it is a human custom to exchange gifts.~"
Singer's head fell to one side as he considered. Charlie had been very happy as of late. He'd hummed strange songs as he wandered about the tent in the morning, and just the other day his tent had acquired an oddly decorated tree. Singer thought that maybe Charlie was planning to celebrate whether Singer was or not.
He considered for a moment more, then asked, hesitantly, "~What do humans typically give one another as gifts?~"
Charlie woke to the smell of something on fire. He groaned and his eyes flew open, to find Singer staring in dismay at a flaming piece of... something. Was that some form of meat? He extinguished the flame with a well-sent Aguamenti, then asked, "What was that supposed to be?" He just wasn't up to waking up to Christmas morning in flames yet.
"Breakfast," Singer said mournfully, and poked at it. "For you. For... for Solstice?" he asked tentatively. "Or Yule. Christmas. Winter holiday."
Charlie's eyes widened. "You were making me a Christmas breakfast," he clarified. "And it caught fire?"
Singer let out a disappointed hiss. "Important human holiday, yes? And now ruined." He hung his head, then, and Charlie couldn't help the snort of laughter that escaped him. "Not funny!" Singer protested.
"Oh, Singer, a little bit of fire isn't nearly enough to ruin Christmas," Charlie said soothingly. "If it was, my family wouldn't have had a successful Christmas after my brothers Fred and George were born. It was sweet of you to try and cook something, but I know you don't know how. And I'm not entirely sure how you were going to do that without a stove, anyway."
"Flamed it," Singer said absently. Then, the little one brightened. "Got you something!" he chirped, and pulled out a package wrapped clumsily in leaves woven together.
Charlie smiled softly, took the present, and pulled Singer into a loose hug. He'd found that Singer enjoyed such friendly displays of affection, probably because he'd never really had them from humans before. And as nice as the dragons were to Singer, they couldn't really hug him. "Thank you," he murmured. He opened it slowly, carefully, with one arm still around Singer's shoulder, and found a pair of black breeches like Singer's own, as well as a pair of black boots. There was a shirt as well, more like a tunic really, made of a deep green that shifted colors in the light. Altogether it was a lovely set. "They're perfect," he murmured.
"Yes?" Singer asked sweetly, hopefully. "Thought hard, had to poll other dragons and eventually asked Jacques," he confessed.
"Jacques gave you fantastic advice," Charlie answered quietly, and squeezed Singer once before releasing him. "Got something for you, too," he confessed. He was glad now that Jacques had given him a heads up. Otherwise he would have been caught empty handed. He'd never considered that his friend, raised by dragons, would even think of giving him a Christmas present. He just hoped that Singer didn't take it badly.
Singer took the present with shaking hands. He hesitantly slid one sharpened nail under the paper and opened it delicately. There was a book in there, Charlie knew, a book on all the different dragon breeds of the world. It even, in one brief little blurb, mentioned Singers and their seeming connection with the dragons. Singer ran reverent fingers over the ancient book before looking up and breathing, "Is lovely," in a sad tone. "But cannot..." Singer stopped then and dropped his head.
"It's okay," Charlie said quietly, having guessed as much. When would Singer have learned? "I'd like to teach you."
Charlie found himself knocked onto the ground with an armful of enthusiastically grateful Singer. Charlie mentally shrugged and hugged him back. He was getting used to being knocked over by Singer, and hoped that Singer didn't get too frustrated as he taught him to read.
That night, Christmas night, was the first night that Singer sang for him. The sound was beautiful, haunting, and Charlie lost himself in the music as he watched the little one. Eventually, he heard the other dragons on the reserve begin to join in. They always knew when Singer was singing, and always knew the right song somehow, and that night they provided a hauntingly beautiful melody for the rest of the camp. It was, according to later gossip procured from Anna and Sean, one of the most magical moments in the Romanian reserve's history.
The letter had arrived shortly before the start of summer. Charlie read it through once, twice, three times, countless times, his eyes roving desperately over the words over and over and over. If he kept reading it, then maybe the words would change. It was ridiculous. It was absurd. Hogwarts was one of the safest places on Earth. So how could it be that he'd lost both his little sister and his little brother in one cruel blow?
A sob, broken and desperate, escaped him. It didn't matter, he supposed, how it happened. His parents' letter said something about little Ronnie trying to save sweet Ginny, and both of them getting lost in the process. They were gone. They'd never come back. That was the way that death worked. He'd never see Ginny, who had been so excited to go to Hogwarts, again. And Ron would never see the Chudley Cannons win a game. And he knew, he knew that there was nothing he could have done to stop it, no way he could have seen it coming, but Merlin, if he'd only been there... if only...
He crumpled the parchment, now damp in places with his tears, into a little ball and flung it as far away from him as he could. He curled in on himself, rolled away from the bit of light sneaking in from the bright day outside, and cried. He had work to do, he should be getting up, but Merlin, his little siblings... gone...
At one point, he was pretty sure that Anna came to check on him. He remembered the tent flap opening, heard her find the parchment he'd thrown away, heard her let out a small noise of sympathy and then duck back out. But he couldn't have said how long he lay like that before he felt small, strong arms curl around him and a tiny body press against his from behind.
Charlie let out a broken noise and shifted, turned so that he was clinging to Singer. "They're gone," he whispered softly, harshly, his body wracked by sobs.
Singer let out a small, sympathetic little croon, and then quietly began to sing. It was a soft, mournful tune, one that Charlie recognized as the funeral dirge the dragons had sung for Benezza. He didn't know what it meant, but he knew when the other dragons heard it and lifted their voices as well that it almost made him feel a little bit better.
He fell asleep that night to the funeral dirge still being sung, and when he woke up in the morning, somehow he knew that it was going to be okay.
Albus let out a heavy sigh. Ginny and Ronald Weasley, dead, and for what? He still didn't know. He didn't understand. Something had happened, something must have, but what? How could Ginny Weasley, who had never shown any signs of parselmagic, have made it into the Chamber of Secrets?
Something had happened. Dark undercurrents were stirring, and Albus greatly feared that he was powerless against them. He had no hero to save them, not again. The child of the prophecy was lost. And Neville was... well, Neville wasn't really going to be much of a replacement.
He could see nothing but dark times in their future, not without the Chosen One. And he was dead, which meant that very dark times indeed lay ahead. He just hoped that he could do something, anything, to stop this madness before it drug the rest of the world down as well.
A/N: What's this, an update? It's crazy, I know. My winter break from school starts in a week, and I'm finding some of my time freeing up. I am hoping to finish this story, and possibly Heir over this winter break. We'll see how it goes, because I'm also going to be handling some college stuff.