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Chapter 2 : 2. Charles Barnabas Weasley
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A pair of fat little feet toddled into the living room, pattering along the floorboards with purpose before disappearing into the hallway. They were closely followed by two slightly larger feet, clad in a pair of trainers, the owner of which was shrieking and giggling as he ran, calling out his brother’s name, ‘Chaaaarlie! Charlie!’. Three adults sat in armchairs, drawn up around a low table that was strewn with discarded sheaves of parchment. The windows of the room were firmly closed and the curtains drawn, despite the bright July sunshine; this was a room in which secret conversations were taking place. The room was stifling, and cold glasses of lemonade stood perspiring on the tabletop, leaving dark rings on the surface. Evidently interrupted mid-conversation by the appearance and disappearance of the two little boys, a burly man with dark hair shuffled a stack of papers on his knee, and glanced at his wife with a little impatience. She, however, was beaming at the father of the two boys.
‘You have your hands full there, Arthur!’ laughed Alice Longbottom, her round face lit with amusement.
‘I’m so sorry for the interruptions. The boys are quite uncontrollable at the moment; they know the baby is going to arrive soon and they’re a little overexcited,’ he said, flicking a glance at Frank, who was more used to hunting dark wizards and tackling criminals than contending with small children. He had been trying with little success to discuss serious matters for over half an hour.
‘Don’t worry about it. The kids are quite… endearing.’ Frank conceded with a small smile. ‘Now, Arthur – you said you might have a lead for us?’
‘Yes – but you must understand, I need to be kept anonymous. This is not to be taken back to the Auror office; the person I’m thinking of has fingers in too many pies to make this official yet.’
The Longbottoms nodded, their faces serious. They knew only too well how dangerous it could be to mishandle sensitive information; only last week, a Ministry clerk had been found dead mere days after mentioning to a Daily Prophet reporter the possibility that the influential Rosier family were involved in a spate of Muggle deaths. Alice and Frank had been the first Aurors called to the scene. It had been an image they would not easily forget, try as they might.
Arthur leaned forward in his chair, forearms resting on his knees, long fingers interlaced. ‘I don’t know exactly what the Order’s been up to, and -’ he held up a hand before Alice could attempt to recruit him once again ‘- I don’t want to. We’ve got targets on our backs as it is, being related to Fabian and Gideon. Molly’s not happy about me meeting with you today as it is, and she’s right. But Dumbledore has asked me to keep an ear to the ground, and I think it’s the least I can do.’
Alice leaned towards Arthur. ‘The only person we will be reporting to this evening is Dumbledore, I swear. You can trust us.’
‘I know. So, as I was saying before the boys came in, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named may hold sway over his followers through charisma and fear alone, but someone, somewhere is feeding them, finding hideouts…’
Frank nodded. ‘An army marches on its stomach.’
‘Precisely. And I think we should look at Malfoy.’
‘Old Abraxas?’ Alice’s brow furrowed. ‘He’s pretty harmless.’
‘Not him- the boy. Lucius. He was a few years below us at school; an arrogant little kid.’
‘Oh – blonde hair? Pointy sort of face?’ smirked Frank, ‘Yeah, I gave him a detention once. Caught him sneaking around in the middle of the night with one of the Black sisters.’
‘Of course,’ interjected Alice, reaching across and placing her hand over his, ‘you conveniently forgot that you only stumbled across them because you were on your way out to the lake to meet me.’
Her husband blushed slightly, his strong face suddenly boyish. ‘Well, it wasn’t my finest hour as a prefect. I’m much more law-abiding now.’
‘I’m serious, you two!’ Arthur protested. The Longbottoms’ faces sobered, but their hands remained entwined. ‘Malfoy may have been a whelp back then, but he’s been throwing his weight around at the Ministry recently. I happened to share the lift with him last week and he practically told me that he’s a Death Eater; he thought he was being impressive, trying to threaten me – but I think he let slip more than he intended.’
Alice Longbottom pursed her lips thoughtfully. ‘Okay, so you don’t like the man. That doesn’t mean he’s one of them.’
Arthur shook his head impatiently, ‘No… this is more than some stupid grudge. I can feel it in my bones – Malfoy’s involved. He’s openly hostile about Muggles -’
‘Not everyone is as passionate about Muggles as you, Arthur.’
‘This is different, Alice. The things I’ve overheard him saying… it’s disgusting. He thinks he’s so superior,’ Arthur saw the doubt on the Aurors’ faces, and hurried on, ‘and then, of course, there’s the matter of his position in the Ministry. How many kids do you know who left Hogwarts and walked straight into an advisory role in government?’
Frank nodded sagely. ‘I’ve heard the rumours. It’s likely that money changed hands, I agree.’
‘I’m positive that he’s the money man,’ said Arthur with enthusiasm, ‘and for all he’s a supercilious little git, he’s young. He’s impressionable, maybe even weak; if you can get to him - if the Order can question him - we might just start getting somewhere.’
The Longbottoms looked at Arthur with matching expressions of appraisal. Wordlessly, Frank straightened the papers on his knee and picked up a quill from the table. Alice leaned forward. ‘Okay, Arthur. Tell us everything you know about Lucius Malfoy.’
He started to speak but almost before he could say a word, was interrupted by a cacophony of giggles and pattering footfalls as his two small sons ran back into the room.
‘Daddy! We found a spider behind the toilet,’ - the boys sniggered at the word – ‘…and it’s really big and I could see its eyes and its fangs and Charlie wouldn’t come and look because he’s a scaredy-cat!’
‘Am not!’ protested his little brother, colouring beneath his freckles.
‘Scaredy, scaredy, scaredy-cat!’Bill sang gleefully, too young to be able to read the atmosphere in the room.
Casting an apologetic look at his guests, Arthur ran a hand through his hair, which was beginning to thin slightly. ‘Molly!’ he called, craning his neck to look out into the hallway, ‘Can’t you control the boys for a minute?’
A loud sigh heralded the approach of a very hot, very tired, very pregnant Molly Weasley. Frank and Alice exchanged a nervous glance. As Aurors, they barely flinched when staring down Dark Magic and criminals - but they had both witnessed the results of antagonizing a pregnant Molly, and it hadn’t been pretty.
Molly stomped into the living room, swollen hands resting on her belly and there was a dangerous glint in her eye. ‘You called?'
Arthur blanched slightly. ‘Never mind, dear,’ he muttered. Raising an eyebrow, his wife turned and padded heavily back into the kitchen. The two boys looked at each other and simultaneously started yelling again, Bill demanding that the adults accompany him to the downstairs loo to see the spider and little Charlie shrieking in a mixture of excitement and fear. Arthur’s brow furrowed in exasperation, feeling at once despairing and proud of his lively, tenacious sons.
‘Boys, please! The grown-ups are talking!’ he said, reaching for the boys with the hope that a fatherly cuddle might calm them both down a little. Bill danced out of his reach, but as his little brother ambled forwards and climbed into his father’s lap, he began to pout.
‘Here,’ Alice Longbottom interjected, digging around in her pockets. She pulled out a couple of brightly wrapped sweets, and laughed softly as both Weasley boys fell silent, their eyes lit with enthusiasm and their faces suddenly angelic. ‘There are two more of these in my pocket if you’re very good boys and you eat these quietly.’
Bill nodded solemnly, eyes large, and took a sweetie from Alice’s outstretched hand. Arthur revelled in the momentary silence as his eldest son chewed ponderously and the toddler on his knee fiddled patiently with his own sweet, his little fingers struggling to untwist the wrapper. Across the table, Frank exhaled quietly, and his wife’s mouth twitched with suppressed laughter.
‘She’s very good with kids,’ said Frank softly.
Arthur opened his mouth to agree, but was interrupted as the scene unfolded before him as if in slow motion. Bill, having finished his sweet, had noticed Charlie’s struggles with his own wrapper. Long fingers reached, snatched, and tore the sweet from its wrapper. An impish grin spread across Bill’s face as he jammed his brother’s treat into his own mouth, and Arthur felt his son’s little body tense in his arms.
‘Bill! That was your brother’s!’ Arthur placed Charlie on the floor and knelt next to Bill, cheeks flushing with anger.
The boy looked at him with innocent blue eyes.
‘’s not my fault he couldn’t open it, Daddy! Charlie’s too little for sweeties!’ protested Bill through his sticky mouth. Under the gaze of the Longbottoms, Arthur felt his face grow hot. He glanced at his other son, whose face had similarly begun to redden. Charlie’s eyes were filled with tears, his cheeks blazed quickly scarlet, and his little chest began to swell.
‘Oh now, Charlie, I’m sure –’ Arthur began, but stopped as the toddler’s mouth opened as if to wail. The tears never came though, for instead of a cry, Charlie let out a huge belch. The noise bounced off the living room walls, but it went practically unnoticed as his father, his brother and the Longbottoms were all fixated on the scorching jet of purple flame that had shot from Charlie’s open mouth as he burped, hitting an old standard lamp by the sofa and setting it ablaze.
Instantly, Frank Longbottom was on his feet, pulling a wand from his pocket. ‘Aguamenti!’ he shouted, and water burst from the end of the wand, drenching the lamp and filling the room with a haze of purple smoke. Arthur grasped Charlie by the shoulders, checking the little boy’s face for burns; all he found, however, was a slightly bemused expression, as his son stared at the charred remains of the lamp. Silence, finally, settled in the living room. As he realised that his sons were unharmed, laughter rose through Arthur’s constricted throat, and he hugged Charlie closely to his chest.
‘Did you see that?’ he beamed, looking up at Frank and Alice. ‘Three years old! His first display of magic, and he’s only three!’
‘Daddy,’ Bill had stopped chewing the stolen sweet and was staring at his little brother with wide eyes, ‘What was that?’
The Longbottoms were grinning from ear to ear. ‘That was remarkable,’ said Frank, casting a quick glance at his wife. Arthur stepped across the room, and, parting the curtains, was slightly dazzled by the July sunlight. He threw open the window and watched for a moment as purple smoke curled into the garden and dispersed in the summer air.
‘Can I smell smoke?’ Molly appeared in the doorway, hands held anxiously over the swell of her belly, ‘Oh my… What happened? Is everyone all right? Oh no, Aunt Muriel gave me that lamp; she’ll be furious!’ She cast a suspicious look towards Frank who, despite his capable demeanour and prestige as an Auror, was known to be somewhat clumsy. The fact that he was standing, wand in hand, next to the sodden and blackened stump that had once been a rather ugly standard lamp didn’t help his case. He was about to protest his innocence when little Bill piped up.
‘Charlie made fire!’ the child squeaked, hugging his mother’s waist tightly. She laid a gentle hand on his flaming red hair, confusion visible on her face.
‘Charlie performed accidental, emotional magic, Molly,’ said Arthur with a proud smile, ‘He was upset and it just burst out of him!’
‘You mean Bill, surely?’
Molly gaped at her son. ‘Our three year old breathed fire?’
‘Yep,’ laughed Alice Longbottom, ‘He’s a real little dragon.’
‘Dwagon!’ repeated Charlie excitedly, ‘Dwagon, dwagon! I’m a drwagon mama! Raaaaaa!’
Bill jumped in front of his little brother. ‘Yeah? Well, I’m a dragon slayer! Back, you beast!’ He brandished an imaginary sword and chased Charlie from the room, both boys whooping with laughter as their feet thudded down the hallway. The adults looked at each other, shock and amusement mingled on their faces.
‘Boys, eh?’ shrugged Frank, sticking his wand back into his pocket as Alice raised her eyebrows and exhaled with a low whistle, lifting her wand to dry the damp and sooty rug.
Arthur crossed the room in two strides, gave his wife a gentle kiss on the cheek, and received an understanding little smile in return. He laid a hand on the swell of Molly’s belly. ‘Well then,’ he murmured, ‘we’d better hope this one will be a girl, don’t you think?’
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