A/N: I am unashamedly fond of romance novels. You have been warned.
Warnings: Slash. Ignores canon that doesn't fit (I'm looking at you, Cho. You too, Ginny). Canonical character deaths.
Disclaimer: Harry Potter belongs to JK Rowling, not me. No money being made here.
It started the summer that Harry turned fourteen. He'd noticed it for a while – green eyes lingering on him a moment too long, a hesitance to leave rooms he was in, overeager to join in any activity Charlie was engaged in – but he didn't think much of it, beyond a slight sympathy for Ginny's definitely never-to-be-requited crush. He was having too much fun catching up with Bill and teasing Percy to spend much time on his kid brother's friend.
At least, he didn't think much about it until the Boy (and he really was just a boy) Who Lived managed to catch him alone in the Burrow after the World Cup. In the frenzy of excitement when they all got home, a small hand tugged lightly at his sleeve, and Charlie found himself following the kid off to the side.
They stood in a slightly awkward silence for a moment, and then Harry, barely audible over the commotion, said, "I like you. A lot." He looked so serious, and a little embarrassed, and Charlie felt a strange urge to laugh and had to bite his cheek to keep from smiling.
When he had control of himself again, he said, "I'm flattered, Harry. But—"
"I know you don't feel the same. I just wanted to tell you." Harry flashed a shy smile at him, then hurried off with Ron and Hermione, leaving Charlie a little stunned. Yeah, Harry was just a kid, but Charlie caught a glimpse of the man he was growing into in that smile.
And it left him with a lot to think about.
Charlie shouted a warning as the Horntail broke free again. Really, what were they thinking? Sure, there hadn't been a whole lot of notice for the fourth dragon, but there were plenty of… well, not harmless but certainly less vicious dragons they could have chosen for the tournament. Ten experienced handlers were barely able to get the dragon into her hastily-constructed enclosure; how on Earth was one (likely scared stiff) student going to manage the task?
No, he really didn't envy whoever ended up with this one…
The next day, Charlie found himself unable to speak, barely able to blink as he watched a teenager who had been on his mind far too much lately fly circles around the dragon's head. Harry was fourteen; he shouldn't be one of the contestants! They were all supposed to be of age! (And didn't he look amazing, flying with skill that rivaled any of the professionals at the World Cup?)
It was a relief that Harry completed the task as quickly as he did.
Charlie slipped away through the cheering crowd, making his way to the tent Harry had vanished into without really thinking about why he was doing it. A small group was bustling around Harry, anxious and fussing over him. Charlie stood at the back of the tent, and felt a jolt go through him when emerald eyes found him and widened in surprise. He smiled at the boy, hoping that Harry could see his relief, and snuck out again. After all, there were four very angry dragons to be dealt with.
Late that night, Charlie sat on a log a little ways off from the dragons who were ready to be escorted home the next day. He was not surprised when a slight figure appeared out of the darkness beside him. He didn't speak, and didn't move when Harry sat beside him on the log. They sat in companionable silence for long minutes. Finally, Harry got up and took a step back towards the school.
Charlie reached out and caught his hand. He didn't look up as he said, "I was scared for you."
He heard Harry's breath catch in his throat. After a moment, Harry said, "Thank you."
"Don't die for this thing."
Suddenly, Harry was in his lap, wrapping arms around his waist, burying his head in Charlie's chest. Charlie returned the embrace, brushing his cheek against messy black hair. He felt the boy shaking, and his shirt was getting damp. Charlie held Harry as he sobbed quietly, stroking his back and murmuring softly until he calmed and was still.
Harry left as quietly as he had appeared.
Charlie wasn't able to get away from the preserve for months, not even when he heard about his youngest brother being used in the second task. The four dragons, over-excited from their adventures, kept everyone hopping. It certainly didn't help that the Swedish Short-Snout was eyeing every handler that got close as a possible snack, or that the Horntail had developed an intense hatred for anything flying in her vicinity. But of course no one had thought of that when they decided to use dragons in a game.
If anyone noticed that he was quieter than usual, they never mentioned it.
Charlie spent a lot of time thinking about Harry. Then he thought a bit about just how dead he'd be if his mum knew what he was thinking. He wrote to Ron, hoping for news of Harry, and got a short and barely legible response about how wicked DADA was that year, with a post-script asking about the best way to care for burns. He wrote to the twins, and got a list of products available for sale, and a request for some ingredients that could get them (and him) arrested. He learned that they looked at Harry as an honorary little brother, and that Harry was a better Seeker than he'd ever been. Charlie chuckled at that last, perfectly willing to agree. He would never have tried to grab a golden egg from a riled dragon, after all.
In a stroke of genius, Charlie wrote to Hagrid, on a pretense of sending him pictures of Norberta (although he forgot to mention the discovery of Norberta's true sex). He got back a tear-stained response, and the rather surprising information that it had been Harry's (not Ron's) idea to ask him for help in dealing with the baby dragon.
Finally, he decided it wouldn't be weird to write to Harry, just as a congratulations for getting through the second task. And realized that he'd left it a bit late (was late May too bad?) as soon as he released the owl. He sighed, and went back to his work.
Harry surprised him with a quick response, his exuberance radiating off the page. Charlie smiled at the letter, glad that Harry (for once) sounded the same age as Ron. He didn't think about why he kept Harry's letter tucked safely away with a few family pictures.
The papers with their screaming headlines, and stories proclaiming Harry to be anything from pathetically seeking attention (not likely) to insane (more likely, but still a very slim chance) arrived in the early morning. Bill's quickly scribbled note came seconds after, and did nothing to calm him.
Kids safe. You-Know back. Hgwrts champ dead. Come to schl.
Afterwards, he was grateful that no one else on the preserve had family in England, so he was the only one panicking for time off. He could never remember how he got from Romania to Hogwarts, just that he found himself flying in on his broomstick as the sun was setting. McGonagall was waiting for him at the door.
"Mr. Weasley. We've been expecting you."
"Is everyone—Bill said to come—Where is…?" He could barely breathe, needed to find his family and see for himself that they were all safe.
"Follow me." McGonagall led him through oddly deserted halls to the hospital wing.
Charlie was relieved to see that none of his family was hurt, although Ron and Ginny were pale and quiet and his mother was fretting more than usual. Hermione was with them, and Harry was nowhere to be seen. He endured his mother's fussing for a few minutes, then joined Bill and the twins at the window.
"No one's hurt?" he asked quietly.
"None of us," Bill said.
"Harry's back there." Fred gestured toward a door at the back of the room. It looked a little odd, and Charlie realized one of the professors must have conjured it to give Harry a private room. "And Diggory's…" He trailed off.
Charlie sat heavily. Cedric had been a tag-along, only a few years younger than he was. Only a year older than the twins. With no other wizarding families close by, they'd been natural playmates until starting at Hogwarts and making friends in their own houses. It seemed unreal that he could be dead.
"The final task was a maze, with the trophy at the end. From what I've gathered, Harry and Cedric reached it at the same time. And it turned out to be a portkey—"
"Our defense teacher was a Death Eater," George whispered. "He was planning this all year…" The twins shuddered.
"Right," Bill said. "Polyjuice. The real Moody was kept locked in a trunk. Anyway, the portkey took Harry and Cedric to You-Know-Who. Cedric was killed, and You-Know-Who used Harry to bring himself back, then tried to kill him. Harry escaped, and brought Cedric's body back, and… well, that's all we know."
Charlie nodded slowly. He looked around. His father had gotten his mother to sit down, leaning against him with her daughter gathered close. Ginny was weeping quietly. Ron and Hermione were sitting on another bed, staring at the door to the room Harry was in.
Eventually, Ron and Hermione were allowed in to see Harry, and his mother was convinced to take Dumbledore's offer of a room for the night. Charlie trailed behind Bill and his parents, while the others went back to their dorms. He was tucked in by his mother for the first time since he'd gone off to Hogwarts, and he lay awake, listening to Bill's soft snoring. Charlie crept out of the room shortly after midnight.
He tapped lightly on the door to Harry's room. After a quiet scuffle, he heard Harry call out softly, "Come in."
Harry was sitting in his bed, petting a large black dog sprawled across his legs. He looked small and frightened. His eyes were red, and Charlie knew he'd been crying. He walked over to the chair beside Harry's bed, and sat down. The dog watched him, unblinking.
All Charlie could think to say was, "Thank you."
Harry started. "For what? For getting Cedric killed? Bringing Voldemort back? Being stupid enough to—"
Charlie pulled him into his lap, shocking him into silence. "For not dying," his whispered, and felt the tension drain out of Harry. "Thank you for living. I want you to live."
He held Harry until the teen fell asleep, then tucked him back into bed. He brushed his lips lightly across Harry's forehead, and glanced over at the puzzled-looking dog.
"Our secret, yeah?" he whispered, and snuck back to his family's room.
The next day, Charlie joined the newly formed Order of the Phoenix, along with his parents and older brother. He felt he managed to hold it together pretty well when the dog from Harry's room turned into Sirius Black (and, from the look on Black's face, Charlie was sure they'd be having a talk before long). And while he didn't like it, Charlie did understand that he was in the best situation to recruit foreign wizards for the coming war. He was preparring to leave when Black, back in dog form, nosed open the door. Closing it, he turned back into a man.
"So tell me about you. And my godson." Black paused for a moment, nodded. "Tell me what's up with you and my godson."
"He likes me," Charlie said simply.
"Well, that tells me about my godson. Not quite what I asked, is it?" The man was leaning against the wall, casually twirling his wand.
Charlie considered. Finally, he said, "I think, if he were older, I would love him. He acts like an adult, because he has to. But he's still a kid." He turned away, went back to packing.
Black watched him for a while. "Just see that you remember that," he said, then changed back to a dog and bounded off down the hall.
That summer Charlie felt his heart break with every letter he received from Harry. He was sounding more and more frustrated and angry as the summer wore on, with no one giving him any information. Worse were the letters going over what had happened to Cedric, and the guilt that Harry clearly felt over surviving when Cedric had died. Charlie wrote back as often as he could, between his duties at the dragon reserve and his efforts to meet with and recruit foreign wizards. He tried to reassure Harry that everyone was working to find a way to stop Voldemort, and wrote about the progress he was making in his own mission.
And then Harry stopped writing for almost a month. He wrote again shortly after his birthday, and Charlie almost sent a Howler to Bill asking why no one told him about dementors attacking Harry, then remembered that it had no bearing on his mission, so of course they wouldn't think he should know.
With the hearing at the ministry, and the need to be cautious of too many owls entering and leaving the Order headquarters, Harry's letters were much less frequent. Charlie thought it was just as well. Harry needed people there with him, and nesting season had just begun for the dragons. It was well known that a distracted handler could wind up a snack, and his work took almost all his attention.
He didn't think about Harry much over the next few months. He wrote to him once, after seeing the article in the Quibbler, and got a short note back, carried by a school owl and showing signs of having been intercepted and read. Charlie bent his mind to his work with the dragons, and for the Order, and he didn't write again.
Charlie didn't hear about the events at the Ministry until days after. At first, he exploded in anger, thinking about Harry bringing his baby brother and sister into such danger. He wrote a long, angry letter – and promptly burned it, his anger expended. He sent short notes to his family, expressing his concern and care, and stared at a fresh piece of parchment, trying to think of something he could say.
Really, he didn't have much reason to write to Harry at all. He wasn't family, he was barely an acquaintance, and who was he kidding?
Finally, Charlie put quill to parchment, and wrote a short note. Eight words, but they said everything he needed to say to Harry.
I heard what happened. What can I do?
A week later, he had a reply:
Just Please don't stop writing.
So he wrote back. Harry would sometimes take weeks to respond, but Charlie never failed to post a response within a day. And slowly, Harry's letters held less despair.
Charlie wasn't able to return to England until just before his big brother's wedding, and then only because he was the best man. His supervisor grumbled the whole time he was stamping Charlie's schedule "On Leave," and reminded him a dozen times that he could only be spared for a week. It didn't matter to Charlie—he was just glad for the chance to see his family and friends for the first time in two years.
He really should have realized that a just-turned-seventeen-year-old is very different from a nearly-fifteen-year-old.
Charlie arrived early on July 31, was shocked to hear Mad-Eye was dead, tried to laugh at George's jokes about his missing ear. Not that the new material was bad, he just would give anything for the old "I'm not George, I'm Fred—can't you tell us apart?" he'd grown up with. And then a man with tousled black hair and bright green eyes walked into the room, laughing over his shoulder, and Charlie's heart stopped.
He would have stared all night if Bill hadn't stomped on his foot, hissing "Mum will murder you." As it was, he struggled to keep his attention on his big brother and the lovely woman who would soon be his sister. And after cake and a surprise visit from Percy and the Minister, he and Fred and George took Bill out for his stag night, and he had a few too many and then he was waking up in his bed with a very fuzzy memory of the night before.
Charlie stumbled down the stairs, into a flurry of last-minute wedding preparations. He managed to get himself and Bill dressed in formal robes, and standing before the wizard officiating. Charlie searched the audience for a glimpse of Harry, and somehow knew that the strange red-haired boy next to Ron was him. All he could think about for the rest of the ceremony was how to get a moment alone with Harry. He didn't even notice that the wedding was over until Bill dug a less than subtle elbow into his side.
It took almost an hour before he was able to snag Harry—Polyjuice long since worn off—to the side of the tent.
"I know you're leaving," he said, feeling suddenly awkward.
Green eyes looked up at him through a heavy black fringe. Harry said nothing.
"I'd help if I could, but… you're not going to let anyone help, are you?"
"Ron and Hermione are coming." Harry's voice was soft.
"Can I write you?"
Harry glanced away, fiddling with his robes. "I don't think so," he said, finally. "It won't be safe."
Charlie was silent for a moment. "Right, then," he said, as he turned away.
Harry reached out, stopped him. Charlie looked back.
"I like you," the young man said. A small smile crept across his face. "A lot."
Charlie smiled back, and ran his hand lightly down Harry's side to rest on his hip. "I like you, too."
Later, when he was sure his family was safe and Harry had long ago disappeared with Ron and Hermione, Charlie thought they might have shared a kiss if the Death Eaters hadn't chosen that moment to attack.
Somehow, Charlie had always known that it would end at Hogwarts. And while he'd never pictured much, he found that battle was exactly as he'd imagined—loud and confused, blurry with smoke and pain and startling flashes of clarity when he was attacked or found a target for his own spells. He'd managed to arrive, with a battalion of foreign wizards and parents of students still at Hogwarts, just in time for Voldemort's sickening show of Harry's corpse. Charlie knew that he wouldn't forget the sight for the rest of his life.
When Neville broke the stillness, killing Voldemort's great snake, Charlie's world narrowed to the enemy before him, and when that one fell he turned to the next, gripped by a powerful sorrow and the need to keep it at bay. And then Harry was standing, alive and defiant, shouting that Voldemort would never kill anyone again, and defeating the most powerful Dark wizard of their time in a blinding flash.
Then it was over, and all that was left was to try and pick up the pieces of shattered lives. Charlie's family was shattered, completely lost without Fred, and gathered together in mourning. He stayed with them, watched his mother hold his sister like Ginny would go up in smoke, saw Percy making a tentative attempt to comfort George that ended with George sobbing painfully into the surprised man's shoulder. Bill sat with his father, an arm slung around Ron's shoulder, watching his wife go through the hall helping Madam Pomfrey care for the wounded.
Charlie was the only one who saw Harry vanish under his invisibility cloak. He looked back to his family, caught Bill's eye. Bill smiled and shooed him off carefully. Charlie made his way to where Harry had disappeared. He saw a trail of footprints headed into the castle, and he followed.
He found Harry in the Headmaster's office, talking to a portrait of Dumbledore. He knocked lightly on the scorched doorframe.
Harry's eyes glowed with happiness for a moment, then dulled again. "You should be with your family, Charlie. They need you, and you need—"
"You," Charlie said, interrupting. "And my family—they all have each other, but I need you. And you need someone, too. So here I am."
Harry was taller now than the last time he'd held him, but that was good. Made it easier for them to lean on each other. If Charlie's shirt got a bit damp, that was all right because Harry's did, too. And when Harry cried for all the deaths he didn't prevent, Charlie told him to stop being ridiculous and kissed him silent.
When they rejoined the crown in the Great Hall, Charlie kept hold of Harry's hand, and whispered, "I love you."
He smiled when Harry squeezed his hand and whispered back, "Always have."
"One word / Frees us of all the weight and pain of life: / That word is love." – Sophocles