“Apricot! Stop tha--” Charlie’s voice was muffled over and then disappeared. He rolled through the underbrush to crouch behind a small bench. A stunner wheeled by his head, bright red. Apricot’s manic cackle reached his ears.
Quick thinking wasn’t always enough. Charlie reached up with his wand and tapped himself on the head. A cool trickle, a growing warmth. The length of his hand wavered before his eyes and it was only an outline against the gravelled dirt.
Apricot’s roar of fury was short and sharp, but the atmosphere quickly diluted, fizzling into the rising sun’s sky, and a bubbling laughter erupted from her hoarse throat. “Good one, Charles. Nice touch. Disilussionment Charm
--remember when you accidentally hit that examiner in the eye with one during O.W.L. exams? Eh, Charlie? D’you go deaf? Oh, yeah,” she muttered, remembering she’d hit him with a Silencer. She whipped her wand in his direction, casting a countercurse, and sat down heavily on a table bench, lifting her tin full of porridge to her lips.
Charlie gave a shout, delayed reproach. “How can you eat at a time like this? You just--”
Apricot’s hand gave a twitch towards her wand and she dropped her empty tin on the table in front of her. Her flobberworm hair was pulled back from her face in a piece of twine that had been wrapped around a brown paper package from her brother in Spain. Apricot sometimes made fun of him, but only to Charlie: my brother works with a bull rehabilitation center in Madrid, and he thinks those are scary! What a cry-baby! Waaaaaaahhhh wahhh.
Charlie took a moment, wrapped a hand around his warm breakfast, though he didn’t much feel like eating it, and braced himself, feeling pretty daring. “You took away my voice, you nearly stunned me, you didn’t even pretend not to notice my Disillusionment Charm--”
He paused. Apricot was looking at him with her head cocked to one side, something most people would say looked like a dog but something Charlie knew was what a curious, young dragon would do before blasting you with whitehot flame, his way of making sure you’re worthy of his presence. Apricot’s wand was laying, temporarily benign, on the table next to her tin, which was stuck all over inside with globs of porridge. Charlie wondered vaguely when the next shipment of meat might come in: he had developed a new appreciation for the humble bacon sandwich that not even his mother’s cooking had previously been able to instill in him.
“Yeah? What’re you going to do about it?” Apricot asked. Charlie was never sure, but sometimes when she was looking the most aggressive, she edged into the mischievous; had a look in her eyes sometime that made Charlie wonder if she was really like that at all, and then he’d shake his head and scrub his eyes and remember that he had known Apricot for years, for more than half of his life. And that people didn’t really change.
* * *
“Mum,” Percy whinged. Charlie fought very hard to keep his hand still. The blue flames from the small jar on the bedside table cast the illusion of stars on the ceiling, and walls, and even the curtains over the window that, on the other side of them, looked out into black skies with white pinprick stars hanging over yellow, quiet hills. “What does ‘serenity’ mean?”
Charlie decided that this question was not a bad one. He nodded, as if to encourage his mother to answer. She smiled widely.
“Ah,” she said, patting her belly, her eyes casting around the room, tracing the blue quivering lights. “Serenity is--serenity is a feeling you have, when the sun is shining and there is a cool breeze all around you, and Mummy has let you go barefoot through grasses, and when you breathe into your lungs the air goes deep, and good, and you feel very peaceful.”
“That sounds good,” Perce said, wiggling his toes against Charlie’s legs under the blankets. Charlie kicked at him absently, his eyes bright. “I like going barefoot.”
“And aren’t we lucky,” Mrs Weasley said, looking at Percy mildly, “that you also like to take baths?” Percy nodded, though he didn’t quite understand, and Mrs Weasley continued.
“Serenity Hill was a safe place. It was a place you felt was home to you, where you could see your best mates, and your family, and you never had to wear a coat because it never got cold, and there was always the right amount of sun, but sometimes, when you needed to sleep the air around you got black so it was easy, because you could not get distracted.” Mrs Weasley leaned back in her chair and smiled. She linked her hands around her belly and leaned forward slightly. Charlie pulled the covers up to his chin again; they had gotten wrinkled because he had been punching Percy so much.
“The Wizard took many months to develop this potion,” Mrs Weasley continued, in a soft voice. Charlie elbowed Percy in the ribs for breathing loudly. “And while he did, he kept himself locked away in a castle he had built into a mountainside with very advanced and ancient magic. While he brewed this potion, the two Kings began to ravage the countryside in war. Brother the First, the king for land purity--as we will call him--had a fast-growing army, large in number; but Brother the Second, the king who wished to welcome outsiders, had gathered a strong resistance. Even still, people who had moved into the kingdom from outside lands started to disappear, and at their houses, little packages of seeds were left nailed to the door.”
“But they didn’t get The Wizard, did they?” Charlie asked, unable to keep quiet. His fists were balled tightly around his sheets and his body was tense with anticipation.
“The Wizard was safe in his castle,” Mrs Weasley said carefully, after a few moments of thought. “But remember, everywhere people with families, people with love in their hearts, people who liked going barefoot--” She smiled at Percy, who grinned back at her, the blue lights glinting off his small white teeth-- “and people who did not like to take baths--” a glance at Charlie, who felt partly that he should have relaxed, should have smiled, but could not-- “were going missing, and being taken from their homes.”
* * *
, Charles!” Apricot screeched from the doorway. She had gotten in other people’s way, she was like a noisy rock around which a nervous stream parted, but went slowly, as if not to jostle this rock, as if not to get close to it. “Pack up your stuff, how hard is it, lamatron? How do you even survive without my help?” She put her hands on her hips and stuffed a flobberworm dreadlock behind her ear angrily. Some people, who didn’t know her better, laughed at her good-naturedly as they passed, but Charlie knew she wasn’t joking. Those people, too, knew this by the time they’d passed her; she sent them glares of a sort that is not easy to forget.
Charlie shook his head and smiled just a little bit, not enough for her to see, because he knew what she would do if he thought she was demeaning him. “Hold on,” he said, and put the rest of his crystal vials into his cauldron, hefting it up into his left arm, and walking it over to the storage cupboard. He put it on the little slot with his name written on it, looking at the embossed letters: CHARLIE WEASLEY
. He reached up and ran a finger over them; the letters disappearing, reappearing as his finger blotted them out, gave them back to life, made them real.
author's note: this week has been difficult for me in terms of getting sick and stuff and also, more importantly, being patient enough to post this chapter. ahem.
*edit 23 july 2012: thanks, again, missy, for pointing out April vs. Apricot. I should have caught it all by now, using the nifty "find" function.*
thanks for reading ♥