Chapter 12 : Interrogation
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I was lying somewhere warm, enshrouded in a cocoon of sunlight, or some other similar substance. Dimly, I thought I could hear voices nearby, but I didn’t want to pay them any mind. I wanted to stay asleep, surrounded by nothing.
“Let her sleep.”
“Damn, he wore her out.”
“Don’t be stupid. They’ve been working.”
“In the woods?” Andrew asked, thick Scottish brogue full of derision.
“Idiots.” I muttered, and with great effort, opened my eyes and rolled over to face them, tugging my blanket almost up to my eyes.
“You’re awake.” Ciprian observed dumbly.
“What?” I asked, the sarcasm in my voice somewhat offset by its gravelly tone, “Who told you?”
“Ha. Ha.” He retorted, “Charlie said the Fireball is about to hatch, so –“
“I’m coming!” I bolted out of bed and sprinted to the door, stopping suddenly at the threshold.
“What?” Andrew asked, stopping just shy of plowing me over.
“He has my shoes.” I said, “Not that that’ll stop me, but just so you can back me up when he lectures.”
“Not a problem.” Ciprian walked past me, knelt down on one knee, and turned his head to look back at me. “Hop on.”
“If you say so.” I climbed on his broad back and wrapped my arms around his neck, locking my ankles together around his middle.
Together, we set off down the shortcut path to the Hatching Center.
“Giddy up!” I yelled, affecting my best western drawl. Ciprian laughed and obliged, breaking into a jog, holding my legs so I wouldn’t fly off. “Whoo!” I yelled, leaning back and lifting my hands high into the air.
Guffawing, Andrew broke into a run, leaving us in the dust, or, more accurately, mud.
“Cheater!” Ciprian yelled after him, speeding up. For a piggyback ride, we reached the Hatching Center in record time. I reached ahead and opened the door for us. Loudly proclaiming our victory, he carried me into the hatching room.
“Where is she?” I asked, breathless. I scanned the rows and shelves of large, multicolored eggs resting on incubators. We must have had at least 100 eggs in the airy, high-ceilinged room. The hatchery was a modern structure, built several years ago with a generous grant from the Romanian Ministry, with an all-glass roof that sent dappled green light down to the smooth cement floor. It was industrial, yet comfortable, with lots of space and a clear glass table in the middle of the room, with a hole through the center. Underneath this opening was a fire burning in a hearth whose warmth spread throughout the hatching room. Suspended directly above the hole, a large metal bowl held a bright red, glittering egg, shell speckled with shimmering flecks of gold and orange.
Charlie’s eyes found me, clinging to Ciprian’s back and narrowed slightly; I got a slight thrill at his possessiveness. I think because I’m so headstrong, I gravitate toward guys that I know can handle my stubbornness. Charlie could obvious handle it. I saw his eyes flit down to my bare feet, and then up to Ciprian’s hands holding me to him. He cleared his throat loudly.
Grinning, Ciprian caught Andrew’s eye and released his grip, holding his hands up at his shoulders as if to plead his innocence. I uncrossed my ankles and slid down to the floor, letting go of his shoulders.
Satisfied, Charlie turned his attention back to the egg, now trembling loudly in the bowl. I neared the edge of the table, ignoring the sweltering heat from the flames. Ciprian and Andrew stood at the other two ends, and never took their eyes off the egg as the bowl swayed from side to side.
“Wait,” Charlie look up at us. “Get a fireproof vest on.” He took one from the rack behind him and tossed it to me. It was heavy and awkward, and smelled of soot, but I heaved it on anyway.
“Glasses.” He threw them to me. I caught them with an outstretched hand and put them over the bridge of my nose. These things were indestructible; they wouldn’t shatter if hit by flying bits of shell that were strong enough to break regular glass, nor would they fog up in the intense heat. I felt ready for battle: properly armed for a conversation with my mother. And if I can handle that, a flaming dragon would be no problem.
I diverted my attention back to the egg. Faint cracks had appeared in the almost-translucent shell, streaking the crimson exterior with thin cerulean lines.
“How did we even get this egg in the first place?” I asked loudly over the crackling of both the hearth and the shell.
“Long story,” Charlie looked up at me and grinned, such a look of boyish enthusiasm on his face that it was impossible not to smile back.
“Right,” I retorted, “I forgot that we’re so pressed for time here.”
“Look!” Andrew directed our attention back to the egg. Bright blue cracks ran along the middle of the scarlet shell, dividing it evenly into four jagged pieces that broke away, leaving a thin, almost entirely transparent second shell covered in a shimmery gold membrane, which fell away from the inner shell in the heat, turning molten in the bowl. Eventually, it would harden and form what is commonly called “Fool’s Gold.” We were silent as the second layer of the shell, this one a pale orange, began to crack, splitting into many different pieces, held together by yet another membrane on the interior.
With a muted, high-pitched shriek, the baby fireball exploded the egg, splattering the table with flaming bits of eggshell. In the bowl, there was a fiery ball of confused dragon.
“Give it a minute,” Charlie said, stilling Ciprian, who’d started to cautiously move forward, with a raised hand.
The flaming dragon crawled out of the suspended container, leaving fragments of burning shell on the glass table. Removed form the direct heat of the fire, the Fireball started to cool down. He was splayed, flames dying on her glittering red scales, on the table. Gazing confusedly up at the four awestruck faces before her, he was easily the most adorable thing I’d ever seen.
“Use the gloves.” Charlie looked at me.
“You want me to…” I trailed off, stunned. In the hatchery, it was a ridiculously important thing to be a dragon’s first human contact. These creatures are so smart that they can form behavioral traits based on the first person/momma dragon they are introduced to.
“Yes.” Charlie raised an eyebrow, daring me to fight him. “Use the gloves.” I tugged the bulky gloves onto my hands and reached out to pick up the baby, who stared at me with blinking brown eyes. As he cooled down even more, gold scales formed sloping ridges down his spine. He coughed and a little ball of flame flew out of his snout.
She snuggled against my chest, purring as her forked tail curled protectively around his eyes.
“Oh my god.” I whispered gleefully. “This is the best thing ever.” Charlie, who was starting to clean up the mess on the table, momentarily stopped what he was doing to wink at me, his dimple flashing and eyes alight.
“Girl’s got a gift, Charlie.” Andrew said pointedly, nudging Charlie as he passed, pausing his sweeping of the floor to nod to the dozing dragon in my arms.
“I know.” Charlie replied, intentionally loudly enough for me to hear. He sent me a smoldering look from beneath his brows, blue eyes intense, and I could feel my knees start to get wobbly.
“What do you want me to do with him?” I asked, trying to ignore the blush of sheer happiness that seeped down to my toes.
“Hold him.” Was his answer, “At least until we finish cleaning up. Then, we’ll put him in the big crate in the nursery, but someone will need to stay with him overnight.”
“I’ll do it.” I answered abruptly, not saving even a split second for thought.
Charlie raised his brows questioningly at the speed of my reply, but nodded his assent. (Finally I found a Charlie-approved activity!) He gathered the soot and ash on the table with a dustpan and discarded the remnants of the shell still on the table into a nearby bin. He and Ciprian lifted the glass table and moved it to the corner, away from the fire so it could better warm the entirety of the room. Andrew turned a lever by the door, which caused the windows on the ceiling to open, instantly giving the room much-needed ventilation.
“Andrew, Ciprian,” Charlie started, tugging his fireproof apron over his head. Not that I was ogling, or anything, but his worn blue thermal rode up as he lifted his arms, and I found yet another reason to find Charlie damnably attractive. “Can you write the report? There should be a blank copy in the box by the door. I’d have Ramsey do it, but I figure if I make her fill out one more form, she’ll strangle me with a shoelace.”
“Damn right I will,” I murmured, giving him a dark look. Or as much as I could give anyone a dark look, given my elated state of mind.
“Oh yeah?” He shot back challengingly. “With which shoelaces? Last time I checked, I still had your boots!”
“Well then, I suppose I’ll steal your boots, and strangle you with your own shoelaces!”
“Oi!” Andrew peeked his head through the door. “Hate to break up the party, but Charlie, there’s not an extra form in here.”
“Really?” Charlie crossed the room to check for himself. Ciprian took that opportunity to push me into the next room, the “nursery” of sorts, and into a thoroughly patched armchair. He shut the door behind him and said,
“So you and Charlie are...?” Ciprian started mischievously, pulling up a chair in front of me and plopping down on it backwards, using the back as an armrest.
“What is this?” I cried in indignation, “Some sort of camp-wide interest group?”
“No,” He answered cheekily, “Just curious.”
“Well I don’t kiss and tell.” I shot back, satisfied.
Satisfied until he said, “So you admit you’ve kissed him?”
“I never said anything like that!” I spluttered, red-faced. I wanted to yell at him, but knew I had to remain calm, if only for the slumbering dragon in my arms.
“No,” He said, grinning gleefully like a schoolboy, “But you said that you didn’t kiss and tell, which means you aren’t telling me, which means you have, in fact, kissed Charlie!”
“You truly have a dizzyingly whirlwind intellect.” I said sarcastically. “I’m amazed anyone can ever keep up with you at all, such mind power.”
“So you confess?” He asked, standing up and moving his chair back where it had been.
“I haven’t done anything wrong!” I said defensively. Whoops, another mistake.
“I wasn’t accusing!” He grinned, “but thanks for giving me an answer!” He turned, threw open the door, and, laughing at my outraged attempts at eloquence, bolted out of the room.
“I’m going to kill him.” I leaned back in the chair and tried to blow a stray lock of hair out of my face, to no avail.
“Who do you want to kill, and why do you want to kill him?” Charlie strode into the room, shaking his head amusedly. “Idiot Andrew, the paper was right where I said it would be.”
“Ciprian.” I answered, rolling my eyes. “He shepherded me into the room, and virtually interrogated me about you.”
“Me?” Charlie raised an eyebrow quizzically, taking a seat in the chair Ciprian had just vacated.
“Well, us, to be more exact.”
“I’m going to kill him.” Charlie rose resignedly to his feet. “I thought that was Andrew’s angle.”
“What did Andrew say?” I asked, instantly on my guard again.
Charlie took his seat again and reached for a switch by the wall. He pulled it down and the shades on the floor-to-ceiling windows rose, bringing the room into its full beauty. Like the hatching room, it was round, but this one was obviously built for comfort over industry. Shiny mossy green tiles, flecked with gold, covered the floor; against the wall, several brightly patterned cushions sat unused. There was a large steel crate next to the door, full of neatly (as much as that was possible in a camp run by men) folded blankets. Next to this, there was a large cabinet, full of what I assumed were supplies necessary for looking after a newborn dragon.
Charlie said nothing, but devoted his attention to rolling the sleeves of his shirt up to his elbows.
“Charlie,” I prompted, “What did Andrew say?”
“Oh, the usual,” He answered finally, kicking his boots up onto the low wooden table between us, folding his hands behind his head and regarding me casually. I laughed at the image of domesticity that we must present: mom, dad, dragon???
“Oh, you mean he asked you again if you were, what was it? Oh, yeah, ‘hitting that?’” I tried once more to get the damn strand of hair out of my eyes- it was really starting to annoy me. As if intentionally to get on my nerves, it flew up, and straight back down, hitting my nose.
“Need some help with that?” He asked, nodding his head to the offending strand of hair.
“I’m fine.” I said stubbornly, looking away and trying sheer mind power to make the hair go back.
“I can see that.” Laughter resonated deep in his voice, “But let me, anyway, so you don’t go cross-eyed.” He got up and in two strides was standing in front of me. He leaned down and smoothed the hair away from my face, never once breaking eye contact.
“There,” He said quietly, regarding my face intently, “Was that so difficult?”
“Charlie, we’re finished- sorry!” Startled, we both jerked our heads up at the same time, resulting, of course, in a collision. My forehead made forceful contact with his chin, and we both smothered very choice words as Andrew looked on, obviously enjoying the scene he thought he'd interrupted.
“I was just,” Charlie trailed off, rubbing his chin ruefully, obviously deciding that a hasty explanation here would not help either of our cases.
“I’m sure you were.” Andrew’s eyes glinted impishly. “Anyway, just wanted to tell you I’m done with the paperwork.”
“Brilliant.” Shoulders tense, Charlie gave a strained smile.
“And so we’ll just leave you alone then, and drop it with Costache.” Ciprian continued, I’m sure doing his very best to make Charlie and I feel as awkward as possible.
Charlie nodded, taking his seat once again, apparently out of things to say.
“We’ll be here for the night shift,” Andrew said, making no move to leave, hanging causally in the doorway.
“Unless, of course you’d rather take it,” Ciprian eyes roved from Charlie, whose head was in his hands in resignation, to me, unable to do anything that I wanted, like, perhaps punch both of them in the face, and back to Charlie.
“No, please take it.” Came Charlie’s muffled plea.
“Great, we’ll see you at eight.” Yet they still made no effort to leave, and perhaps end this most recent of mortifications. They seemed to revel in our discomfort: grinning like idiots, shaking with badly suppressed laughter,
“Weren’t you supposed to be going somewhere?” I asked finally, shaking me head in disbelief as they continued to stand there obliviously.
“Oh, sorry,” Ciprian elbowed Andrew in the ribs, “Yeah, we’ll just let you have you privacy, then,”
“That’s not what I meant!” I called after them, but it was too late- they were gone.
Now utterly exhausted, I leaned back in the chair with a loud sigh.
“Is your head alright?” Charlie asked, lifted his head to look at me.
“What? Oh, yeah, no problem.” I smiled reassuringly at him, shrugging my shoulders. “You know me, I’m pretty hardheaded, so…” I trailed off, not really sure where I was going with that one.
“This is true.” Charlie said, straightening in the chair, relaxing once he heard the door to the Hatching Center slam shut as Ciprian and Andrew left to go cause chaos and mayhem somewhere else.
Finally at peace, I looked down at the sleeping Fireball in my arms, whom I’d secretly named Rufus, and ran my fingers down his spine lazily. He purred, my heart melted, and Charlie grinned.
“So,” I looked across the low glass table at him thoughtfully.
“So?” He propped his feet up on the table, propped his head up with hands behind his head, reclining in a pose that screamed that particular brand of male confidence.
“So tell me more about these death eaters.” I said, stomach clenching in anger at the thought.
“I really don’t want to talk about that right now, Ramsey.” Charlie leaned forward intently. “I’d much rather listen to you talk about your life.”
“It’s pretty boring,” I muttered, unsure why he cared at all.
“Bullshit.” He called, grinning at me. “You’ve probably had the most exciting life of anyone here, including Serban. You’ve traveled the entire world.”
“How do you know that?” I asked. This wasn’t something I usually talked about. I’d realized a while ago that people’s excitement for your triumphs and adventures is limited by their own jealousy. Either they shut down every time you mention it at all, or they ply you for more and more details, until you feel like they pretty much lived it for you. Which, on one rather memorable occasion, they’d tried to say they had.
“Because you had stickers from South Africa, Brazil, India, Indonesia, and Canada on your trunk 7th year.”
“Why do you know that?” I asked, suspicious, yet oddly touched that he remembered that detail.
“Because I was a prefect, and therefore, in charge of hauling luggage up to the dorms when the house-elves went on strike because they felt they were getting paid too much.” He said, laughing reminiscently at the memory of dozens of tea-towel clad elves with huge ears warring with themselves as they saw kids hauling their own trunks up the stairs, and debating in squeaky anguished voices about whether or not to cook more than five courses for dinner for the duration of their strike. It was truly a spectacle my sixth year, one of the many things that made Hogwarts unforgettable. Apparently, what a surprise, Charlie thought so too.
“For some reason, it just stuck with me.” He continued. “As did the weight of that thing. Jesus, Ramsey, for someone who hates fashion, your trunk weighed more than some other girls.”
“That’s because I was smuggling a niffler in to put in Filch’s office.” I said, chuckling.
“That was you?” He asked disbelievingly. “I guess that shouldn’t be a shock, but, wow!”
“And the best part?” I guffawed, “Filch thought it was Caelum Gamp, you know that hideously pretentious Slytherin with bad teeth?”
“That doesn’t narrow it down at all.” He admitted. “They were all disgustingly self-satisfied and hideous, each in increasingly unique ways.”
I snorted, biting my lip to keep from being too loud and risk waking Rufus.
“That’s an excellent point.” I conceded. “But anyway, he had detention for weeks!”
“You’re a conniving little imp, Ramsey,” He pointed out smugly, “you know that?”
“I am not an imp.” I answered primly, “Nor am I conniving.”
“Really?” He leaned forward, taking his boots off the table and resting his elbows on his knees, “then what are you?”
“An absolute angel.” I couldn’t even get the words fully past my lips before we both erupted into peals of hysterical laughter.
“That’s a side I’ve yet to see.” He replied, holding his hands up innocently when I shot him a venomous and wholly nonthreatening glare.
“I’m full of surprises.” I said, carefully getting to my feet, holding tightly to the gently snoring Rufus, and moving slowly in the direction of the crate.
“That’s true.” He agreed, getting up as well to help me put my favorite thing on the face of the planet in its new, temporary home. “You never disappoint on that scale.”
“Can you open the hatch, please?” I asked him, grabbing a blue fuzzy blanket with one hand and wrapping it around Rufus. Well, partly around Rufus- it of course got stuck somewhere between his back and my front, in the general direction of my chest.
“Uh, Charlie?” I asked, trying to figure out the best way to ask him.
“Yeah?” He looked up expectantly, having opened the hatch.
“Could you please, er, help me with the blanket? It’s sort of, well, stuck.”
“Stuck? Charlie followed the line of fabric to where it disappeared. “ah, stuck.”
“Stuck.” I repeated, feeling incredibly stupid.
He ran a hand through his cropped hair, which I was beginning to realize was a habit he had when he didn’t really know how to proceed with anything. “Let me get the dragon,”
“Okay,” I answered softly, avoiding looking at him. I tried to hand him Rufus, but of course the little devil’s claws were firmly situated in the sleeve of my sweater.
“Well,” Charlie started, his face mere inches from mine. “It seems our little Fireball is already on the team with Ciprian and Andrew.”
“I hate them, corrupting baby dragons.” I rolled my eyes. “How can we fix this?”
Gently, one by one, Charlie pried the claws from my jumper, affixing them instead to the blanket, which he also managed to miraculously fix. I tried not to notice, but Charlie’s hand got very close to the other side of the Fireball’s side, nearly meeting me full on in the chest.
Against my will, my breath hitched slightly in my throat. Charlie noticed, turned bright red beneath his freckles, and muttered an embarrassed “sorry,” before managing to free me from the Fireball’s grip.
“Thanks.” I murmured, in a voice much breather than I was accustomed to hearing come out of my mouth.
“No problem.” He broke into a grin, tucked Rufus into the crate, and closed the hatch firmly. “Mission accomplished.”
I gave him a high five, and we walked back to our chairs, where we once again broke into easy conversation, hardly realizing that three hours had passed until Andrew and Ciprian sneaked stealthily into the room, ready to “let us go off and do whatever we wanted.”
Anyway, I digress. Charlie and I parted ways at the door- he to go talk to Costache, and then fill in for Sven at the Rehabilitation Center, and me to my bed, that glorious, comfortable bed, to sleep.
It wasn’t until I was about to drift off did I realize that my shoes were back in my tent, right where they usually were. And that the thermal that I was wearing to bed, tugged blindly from my dresser, smelled quite a bit like Charlie Weasley. What on earth was it doing there?? What on earth was I doing in it?
And then I realized that I couldn’t put it off any longer. It was time to write my cousin Dorina.
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