Chapter 1 : A living fire to light the darkness.
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They had scared her... terrified her. Paralyzed, stock still, rooted to the spot, just staring at something so large and destructive that there was nothing she could possibly do, alone, to stop it. The burns and scratches on his skin - even the deep, dark welts of a bite mark - did nothing to calm her, and only served to exacerbate her nerves.
But he had looked around so ravenously - eager to drink in every detail. She had been fascinated by the sight of him looking so excited, embarking upon something so intimidating, and so she encouraged him and supported him. Her smile threatened to split her cheeks, and she wanted desperately to change.
Their relationship had always been full of laughter and jokes, arguing about Quidditch or planning pranks. He had always existed within certain limits - never had she come to him with her problems: she had other friends for that, ones that would know exactly what to say in response to her crying. But those friends were long gone, the years proving themselves too lasting for their feeble friendship to survive. Charlie was one of the few left.
But there, standing in front of the dragons, he saw him as she were standing at the end of a long tunnel, somewhere out of reach. She had taken a leap behind his eyes and saw flames.
Tonks finally had some sense of the scale of his mind.
Charlie stared at the scars on Lupin’s face; thoroughly interested by the pattern they created on his cold, grey skin. He could see them close up now, by the altar, as they waited. The man seemed older than when Charlie had last seen him - but then, ageing prematurely was another symptom.
He remembered the books he had pored over after his brother had been bitten. The shorter snout, the tufted tail and the more human-like eyes. He had stayed awake all night, waiting for some news, even researching rare steak recipes, until the owl pecked at the window and relief flooded through him.
But then the doors opened, and she was there, all in white.
He twirled her around, and Tonks laughed. She was wearing her hair long today, but still bubblegum pink, still bright and alive and beautiful. She clasped his hand more tightly in hers and they moved around the room. Glittering gold and purest white coloured the scene, his friends and family all around him.
“I’ve never been good at dancing,” Charlie admitted, as he stared at his moving feet.
“Neither have I.”
“I reckon we’re giving it quite a good go though, wouldn’t you say?” He said, and she chuckled again. His shins were probably bruised from her many clumsy mishaps, his toes even more so. They swerved haphazardly around the bridge and groom, dancing close together in the middle of the room. She noticed his eyes flicker towards them.
“So, what’s it like?” Charlie asked. “Married life, I mean. Any tips I can give to my brother?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” she replied, glancing at her husband, vigilant and unmoving near the marquee entrance. “Compromise, people say. Letting go of the fairytale vision of marriage, so you don’t live up to some expectation, some ridiculously high standards. Compliment each other regularly.”
“And you do all of that?”
“Of course,” she said, blushing. Her hair turned a slightly brighter pink, and Charlie moved quickly to prevent her from tripping over some relative’s robes.
“Well, you look very nice,” Charlie said. They twirled again, and she smiled.
She tried desperately to distinguish his expression through the floating fog. She could just see the glint of eyes, and the white of his shirt through the gloom. His breath clouded in front of his face, and she could hear the rustle of leaves blowing around their feet. She looked at him, and reached out into the fog to grasp his hand.
He sighed. It had taken her a while to make the decision to come here, to the cold, dark reaches of Romania, to the man she hadn’t talked to in months. It had always been difficult to surprise him. He had always recognized her when she changed.
"Why don't you..."
Somewhere, far away, a twig snapped in two and she turned her head in that direction, eyes wild and staring. Charlie looked too. She would be surprised if they had followed her here, if their power and their influence stretched to the cold mountains of Romania, but it was better to be safe than sorry. Her hand delved into the pocket of her robes, and clutched her wand.
Silence spread like wildfire and the wind stopped whispering through the trees. She looked up, the branches providing some black puzzle against the greying light. The hush is deafening, and she strained to hear something, anything - her training kicking into action. She inhaled, the smell of burning pine at her nostrils. One breath.
Her eyes started stinging - not because of the smoke on the air, or the sight of her old friend looking so much older, and so much more careworn - but at the memory of a man who she had respected and admired, who had taught her everything she knew. Tears well in her eyes, and she breathed slowly to try and recover herself.
It is stupid to get upset. By the end of all this, by the end of the war, there would be more casualties, and she should get used to the idea of mourning - the constant threat of losing your loved one, the constant threat of losing your own life; a different sort of vigilance. She wiped the tears away, angrily blaming the hormones that are coursing through her veins. She stared indignantly at the caring hand Charlie placed on her arm. She didn't need his pity.
She was never usually this easily affected. Her hands went automatically to her swollen belly, and for a moment, she felt a sharp sting of indignation at the baby that had caused so much pain. She remembered how her husband had left her, in a chaos of cloaks and bags and slamming doors, because he thought the child might be like him.
She traced her fingers over the scorched and singed branches. The leaves broke into pieces in her hands. She felt her heart slow as the forest returned to its deathly quiet, but the grip on her wand did not falter.
“He did what?” His voice was anger, red and ruinous like dragon fire.
“He left me.”
Charlie had seen her though, at the end. She was lain out in the Great Hall, her husband at her side.
His brother had been smiling - some essence of his life, his character etched now permanently on his face. She looked different. Her hair had been brown, shoulder-length, and slightly wavy, and her eyes had been brown too, wide and soft. Charlie felt strangely betrayed. He had never seen her like this before - cold and dead, but different, somehow a stranger to him, with vestiges of her mother’s family etched in her features and in her open, staring eyes.
Charlie supposed, through his tears, that this is what she had really looked like; how she appeared when she born, before she started turning herself into other people.
“Well, you look very nice,” he mumbled. He wiped at his eyes. “Nymphadora.”
The memory plays tricks on a tired, exhausted brain.
He found himself trying to remember moments from when she was alive. His waking mind did not remember the substance of them, only the vague sense of loss that accompanies random flashes of a lost memory - but when he was asleep, he revelled in them. He could remember every detail as though it was yesterday, as if dreaming and real life had become inverted. Slipping into unconsciousness, he had found her - a living fire to light the darkness.
He should have arrived sooner. Guilt sometimes clawed at him - that he should have been there, at the start, and it kept him awake at night, with his eyes were rubbed raw by the next morning. He should have known what was to happen, heard of some premonition, some foreshadowing. Charlie could have saved them - her and his brother and Lupin, he supposed.
Her face: smiling and glowing, surrounded by falling leaves and ancient trees on one of the autumn days they had spent together. She turned, and suddenly he could not see her face as she hurried onwards, stretching her arms wide in the sun, her hair matching the colour of the falling leaves. Gusts of wind caused them to take flight.
When the sound of the breeze faded, Charlie felt an inconsolable loss.
I haven't written a one-shot in yeeeeeears, so here goes. Initially it was just going to be Charlie and Tonks' meeting in the Romanian forest, but I couldn't get enough decent dialogue out so I did what I do best (hopefully) and pulled out a string of other little moments. I hope you find it suitably nice to read.
I'll let you make up your minds about their friendship/love/unrequited love/Charlie's asexuality. Hurrr. And don't ask me about the title, I don't know how it links. I'm just bad at making up titles.
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