Chapter 4 : chapter four
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It was the first time in the history of their friendship that Charlie could remember Apricot stunned into silence. It is always the hard things in life that strip us of our most salient, knowable characteristics, that turn us into strangers under unrecognizable names. Charlie knew she didn’t want to hear it, not really, because he didn’t either, but he needed to say it, to make it real. He traced his fingers over the letters, hovering over places where Bill’s quill had torn through the parchment, tapping at splatter marks Bill had made in his haste.
“Bill heard from Dad, who heard from Perce. Perce was there. Harry came out of the Maze with Cedric and the cup, but Ced had died. Harry said the cup had been a Portkey, had taken them to a graveyard. . .” Charlie paused. He had been watching Apricot’s face, and realised now he should not have told her, there could have been another way, he could have made up another place. It didn’t have to be a graveyard.
He knew the rest of the story was lost. Apricot’s forehead was smooth, clear, white, under her mop of flobberworm hair, and behind it Charlie knew she was only thinking of her parents’ graves, empty, robbed of their bodies, of the final dignity of an Auror lost to battle. When they were younger, to get through it, they had talked about how the graveyard was probably sad that it had lost two of its finest, bravest bodies, that Apricot and her brother, Ernst, had not been alone in their pain, that the earth was crying with them, that all of the graves would collapse because the soil was so moist and the earth wanted, badly, to protect what it had left.
“Wormtail put You-Know-Who into a cauldron, and made him come back to life. He’s back, Cottie,” Charlie whispered, out of a self-serving desire to voice his fears. He felt his heart beat against his lungs, against his ribs. Quick, rippling, making some kind of bid for freedom.
“He’s back and he’s already killed somebody.”
“How long has it been?” Apricot asked, startling Charlie. He scanned back over the letter even though he knew exactly how long it had been, just to give himself time, to make sure his voice wasn’t going to shake. To have time to be brave.
“Two weeks,” Charlie said.
“But, alas, The Wizard eventually understands that he must return to the real world, and not his potion world of Serenity Hill.” Mrs Weasley began to rock back and forth on her rocking chair, and took a moment to look around her at the faithful blue light shed by the blue, bottled flames. Charlie and Percy were still. Mrs Weasley was almost certain, in fact, that Percy was falling asleep, but she could see the quiet, intelligent sparkle of Charlie’s eyes as he listened.
“So The Wizard left Serenity Hill, and woke up in the same bed that he had gone to sleep in. He had not moved while he slept, while he had been at Serenity Hill. The sheets were soiled because he had not gotten up to go to the bathroom--” Mrs Weasley shot a look at Percy, who giggled, and patted the diaper on his bum lightly, as if to say, that won’t happen with me! “--and a thin layer of dust had covered over everything that he usually kept very clean. He felt the walls of his bedroom shaking, and he leapt out of bed, and ran out of his room to see the rest of his castle had been destroyed in the battles between the two Kings and their armies.”
Percy gasped. “What did The Wizard do?”
“The Wizard first took a bath and washed his clothes and sheets,” Mrs Weasley said, and this time even Charlie giggled, “and then, over a long meal of bread and--juice--decided that it was finally time to make a decision.”
“About what King he believed in?” Charlie asked. Mrs Weasley smiled at her son.
“Yes, Charlie, about which King he believed in.”
Charlie and Apricot were sitting on Old Bean’s back, between the spikes. The dragon was so old, and so used to cohabiting with humans, that even when Charlie and Apricot had applied to work at the base camp in Romania from Britain years ago, their contact had told them stories about him. He was warm, having been sitting in the sun all day. The hills looked pale and distant. Things seemed both smaller and grander, sitting on a dragon’s back.
“You’re going back, aren’t you?”
“Until now,” Charlie said, “it’s all felt like somebody else’s life that You-Know-Who’s ruined. We’ve been quite separate from it. We had--”
“Good lives,” Apricot finished. She knew Charlie had hesitated to say it because of her parents, because of the way they died and the way their bodies had been taken.
“I’m sorry, I forget sometimes, even now--”
“Don’t be sorry,” Apricot said after a moment. It seemed to be hard for her to do, not because she didn’t mean it, but because gentleness was not her territory, and she walked it with slow, learning steps. She leaned over and rested her head on Charlie’s shoulder. He put his cheek on her hair.
“Ernst lives in Spain, so I couldn’t understand that you’d feel this way until Janis mentioned wanting to go back.” Apricot sighed. “But I thought about it more and I can tell. You don’t get sick at the sight of dragon blood anymore,” she said, and it sounded almost wistful.
“I never get sick at dragon blood!”
“Tell that to the Healer who dragged you to his Healing tent after you fainted the first time we watched a surgery--”
“I didn’t even know I was going to be assigned to dragon healing,” Charlie said, and his voice was a soft protest. Apricot could feel him smiling.
“I would hex you right now,” she said as Charlie wrapped an arm around her shoulders, “except I know you’re worried. I’m worried, too.”
“Bill didn’t ask me to come back,” Charlie said. “He knows I love it here, that it’s my life now. But I can’t--I’m confused he wouldn’t think I’d need to come. The Prophet and Ministry are trying to cover it up, and that’s why we can’t hear anything about it here, but I know it’s true.”
“They’re in danger,” Apricot said softly. “Everyone back home is.”
Charlie nodded, and squeezed Apricot’s shoulders lightly.
“It was Brother the Second,” Charlie demanded. “I know it was.”
“You’re right, Charlie.” Mrs Weasley patted her belly. “The Wizard was an outsider, too, and decided that, although he was more powerful than the others, and although he could ignore it and not be hurt, though he could go to Serenity Hill anytime he liked, he knew what it felt like now to have his home destroyed. He was very sad, and he realized how much the land that the armies were ravaging was land that he loved. Love, then, was the mark of the home. He needed to leave his castle and fight for people to be able to live in the Kingdom, like he had.
“So The Wizard went around his castle, repairing what he could with ancient spells and charms, wondering what he should do about the Serenity Hill potion. If he gave it to the people who were scared because of the war, and because they were outsiders, they could go to a place they could not be hurt. But The Wizard had learned a valuable lesson by waking up with his castle destroyed. No matter where somebody went in their mind, their body was still alive, and still in a dangerous place.”
“So he won’t give his potion to the people?” Percy asked, and Mrs Weasley realized that although he had appeared to have been sleeping, he had been tracking the story quite closely.
“No,” Mrs Weasley whispered, and shook her head. “Although it is a beautiful place, Serenity Hill is not where The Wizard, nor the people, needed to be. So The Wizard gathered supplies, and went around to his good friends, asking them to join him fight against the army of Brother the First. Some of them were not sure, many of them refused, but there were a few that went with him, and together, The Wizard and his friends fought so bravely with the army of Brother the Second that, in the end, Brother the Second won the war. Now, it took a long time for things to be good again, and The Wizard and his friends went around the Kingdom, repairing houses, and burying families, and bringing food to people who had been cut off during the war.
“Eventually, things were better. Things were good, even. Sometimes, The Wizard went back to Serenity Hill, but always came back to his rightful place at the King’s side.”
In the distance, the hills looked like knuckles under a muted green blanket. The day was clean; there was fresh air, blue skies, a cloud or two. Charlie and Apricot sat on the back of Old Bean, thinking about Hogwarts, thinking about home, and watched the sun set behind the mountains. A dragon came out from behind a nearby hill, passed through the air overhead, streaking flames behind it, looking like a phoenix risen out of the ashes.
author's note: and, with that, the story is complete! i honestly feel there is nothing beyond this scene i need to tell you. i believe in this story, and its ability to communicate; and more importantly i believe in all of you readers, who have given me amazing feedback and love throughout this journey. i feel like i have travelled with The Wizard, and Charlie, and Apricot. and even Ernst with the bulls in Madrid.
thank you to all who read, and review. i love, love, love and thrive off your feedback, so please, continue to let me know your thoughts, questions you have. it means so much to me!