Amazing chapter image by my secret santa and dear friend, Kate (pandeia@TDA)!
Charlie Weasley sat on his bed at the Burrow, staring out into the empty room silently. Through the sounds of the kitchen door opening and closing, he could tell that family members and friends were starting to arrive, but he didn’t care; he wasn’t going to move from this spot until he was forced to. And by ‘forced,’ he meant until his father arrived and practically dragged him down the stairs. Charlie couldn’t bear to go down there right now, to look into the eyes of friends and family fighting back tears. He was very nearly crying himself, and had been for the past few days, ever since…
No. He wasn’t going to think about it. He refused to let the thought cross his mind, as if not thinking about it would somehow make this horrible situation cease to be. Refuse as he might, though, every time he closed his eyes, he saw that laughing face with those vacant, staring eyes; it was haunting him.
A knock on Charlie’s bedroom door sounded distant, and he didn’t even bother to respond; he knew the visitor would either walk in or go away eventually. A part of him wished that the knocker would go away; he couldn’t stand being around people any more. A moment later, however, the door opened slightly. Through his peripheral vision, Charlie saw his older brother Bill walk into the room and close the door behind him. Without saying a word, Bill crossed to the bed and took a seat next to Charlie on its edge.
“Did Mum send you to get me?” Charlie asked, finally casting his gaze on his older brother.
“Yep,” Bill replied with a slow sigh, glancing around the room as he loosened his tie. He clearly had no intention of enforcing his mother’s request.
“I can’t do it, Bill,” Charlie replied, staring at his brother as intently as he’d been staring at the wall before Bill’s entrance.
“I know, Charlie,” the elder brother replied quietly, placing a comforting hand on Charlie’s knee. “I can’t do it, either… but we’ve got to. For Freddie.”
“Don’t…” Charlie began, but it was too late… the tears started flowing freely at the mention of their younger brother’s name. It was a name he’d heard his mother yell thousands of times in anger or frustration, a name that was almost synonymous with mischief and foolery. Now, however, the name was accompanied by grief and heartache.
Charlie quickly turned away, not wanting Bill to see him like this. Although Charlie looked more rugged and constantly sported burns and calloused hands he’d received at work, Bill had always been the stronger one. Having to lean on him at times like these made Charlie feel weak; after all, he could handle dragons, one of the most dangerous creatures in the world, but he couldn’t even handle his own emotions.
“What’s going on, Charlie?” Bill asked from behind him, interrupting his thoughts. “I know you’re upset about losing Fred; we all are. But this is a time when we need to be together, and lately every chance you get, you come running up here to be alone… and now you don’t even want me to say Fred’s name in front of you. What gives?”
It’s just too soon, Bill!” Charlie snapped, whipping back around to glare at his brother.
“No, it’s more than that,” Bill replied knowingly, not allowing Charlie’s hot temper to faze him. He paused for a moment and studied his brother’s face before continuing. “Why don’t you talk to me about it?” he asked in a softer tone.
Charlie felt the heat in his face begin to diminish as he considered his brother’s question. Should he tell Bill what had been on his mind these past few days? Should he explain to his brother the overwhelming guilt and responsibility he felt for Fred’s death?
The more sensible side of Charlie knew that he should confide in his brother. After all, Bill and Charlie were close, and always had been. It wasn’t that the boys weren’t close to any of their other siblings, but being the first- and second-born of seven children had created a special bond between them. Bill had always known how to comfort Charlie, and Charlie knew that Bill would be able to comfort him now… but Charlie didn’t want to be comforted. A part of Charlie somewhere deep inside wanted to keep suffering in silence, to continue punishing himself with seclusion and guilt.
Trying to decide which voice in his head to listen to, Charlie remained silent for a long time. He was so completely lost in his thoughts that it took Bill waving his hands in front of Charlie’s face to make him snap out of it. Startled, Charlie involuntarily jerked away from his brother and quickly asked, “What?”
Before Bill could answer and tell Charlie that he’d completely spaced out in the middle of their conversation, a series of three short knocks sounded on the bedroom’s wooden door. Bill and Charlie eyed each other warily; they already knew it was their father at the door, just by the sound of his familiar knock. Sure enough, Arthur Weasley opened the door only seconds later, pushing it just wide enough that he could stick his head inside.
“Time to come downstairs, boys,” he said, with worry-induced creases marring his normally smiling face.
“Do we really have to do this, Dad?” Bill asked solemnly, more for Charlie’s benefit than his own.
Instead of answering his eldest son’s question, Arthur simply bit his lip and nodded his head slowly. “It’s your brother’s funeral,” he finally replied a few seconds later, sounding as though he was on the verge of tears. “I know it’s going to be hard, but your - your mother really needs you right now, and so does George.”
Knowing that their father was right, the two oldest Weasley boys got to their feet and fell in step behind Arthur as he made his way down the many flights of stairs to the ground floor of the Burrow. Though all three men were dreading the start of what was sure to be an emotional and painful farewell to Fred, Charlie’s dread became more and more pronounced with every step he took.
By the time they’d reached the kitchen, there was already a hard lump forming in the middle of Charlie’s throat. He kept his eyes down as he followed his father and brother outside, where the family was gathering in preparation for the funeral’s commencement. Charlie wasn’t looking down to be rude or to keep people from speaking to him - he simply couldn’t bear to look at anyone right now. Charlie knew that looking at his mother, seeing her sprawled over Fred’s casket next to George, would only pour more guilt into his already unbearable conscience. Looking into the eyes of Ron, Percy, and Ginny would only cause him to wonder if they realized, as he did, that Fred’s death was entirely his fault.
Charlie took his seat among his family members, feeling as though he didn’t deserve to be sitting there. Though tears steadily poured from his eyes and his heart felt that it would soon burst from grief, Charlie kept his head down throughout the entire ceremony, during all the speeches and kind words from friends. When Kingsley Shacklebolt, the official presiding over the funeral, called for a moment of silence, Charlie used that time to speak to his deceased brother one last time.
I was too late, Fred, he thought. I got there as fast as I could, but it wasn’t fast enough. If I had been there, I could have done something; I would have pushed you out of the way and let that rubble fall on top of me instead. You needed me, and I let you down.
Charlie’s body began to shake with heavy sobs, and he was relieved when Kingsley announced the end of the ceremony. Still, though, there was one last thing he needed to say to Fred, one final point he had to make clear to his fallen brother. Closing his eyes and hoping to Merlin that his brother could somehow hear him from beyond the grave, Charlie urgently thought, I’m sorry, Fred.
Author's Note: I'm so excited to be posting the first chapter of a brand new story! I realize that this chapter is a bit of a downer, but I promise the entire story won't be that way! Before I get to the 'please review' bit, I just want to take a moment to thank my amazing Beta, TenthWeasleyWriter. She has helped me immensely, not only with proofreading but with plot ideas, too. And she even helped name my new OC, who you will meet later. Thank you Janechel! And now for the shameless self promotion - Please Review!!