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Playing Cyrano

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Ron threw the back door open and whistled his way to the refrigerator, a little ditty with no name but plenty of pep. Ginny glared at him from behind her vat of coffee. The bopping dandy tossed eggs from one hand to the other, bumped the door closed with his hip, dropped butter into the pan--he damn near danced his way through a full English.

“I hesitate to ask,” Ginny growled, “but I will murder you if you carry on like this: what’s got you so happy?”

Ron just shook his head and laughed. “Can’t a man just be in a good mood?” He scrambled his eggs vigorously and winked at his sister.

Ginny rolled her eyes. “No.”

“Come on,” he goaded. “The sun is shining, it’s a beautiful day!”

“I’m going to poison you. Slowly, until you’re dead.”

“If you must know…” he paused. “There’s a girl in my life.”

“Bully for you. I bet she’s not half as brilliant as your last one.” Ginny invested her attention in a deep draw of caffeine-laden mercy.

“Funny you should say that, Gin. Because… it’s the same girl.” Ron resumed his whistling and Ginny spat her coffee in a shocked spray. “I know, I can’t believe it either. But it could be meant to be, after everything we’ve been through. Ginny--do you believe in ‘True Love--”

The screen door clattered against the frame as a Ginny-shaped gust of wind breezed out of the kitchen and across the yard, towards the red barn and the other Weasley brother. Charlie was knelt down beside the baby goats, who were joyfully leaping around him; onto his legs and feet, onto his back if he leaned too far forward, wherever they could find a perch. He scratched the dappled tan baby behind the horns and smiled when he saw his sister approach.

“Good mo--”

“You didn’t tell her?” Ginny demanded, vaulting over the fence and sending the kids scattering. Charlie brushed off his trousers and stood. He skirted around Ginny and made his way to the feeding trough. She grabbed his elbow. “Why is Ron inside celebrating getting back together with Hermione?”

“They still have feelings for each other, which came to light yesterday,” he said simply. Ginny’s fingers tightened on his arm and her face filled with remorse and pity for him.

“What happened?”

He upended a bucket of grain into the goat trough. “She asked me to talk to him. Yesterday morning, Gin, when she and I took a walk. She thinks he’s ‘it.’ I never had a chance.” He threw up his hands. No chance at all--to tell her that the sun rose because she smiled. To get to know her better… to be a prospect of her affections. He never had a prayer. He straightened his stance and shrugged. “I’m not anyone’s idea of a dream guy, I guess.”

“Don’t be so dramatic, Weasley,” Ginny said. “That is preposterous and you know it. She cares about you, even if she doesn’t see it herself.”

“Even if that were the case…” He threw up his hands and lost himself in the un-voiced regret.

Ginny nodded. “I’m so sorry, it must have been hard to hear.”

He shook his head. “I’m fine, honestly. Helping Ron write her was a good way to get her out of my mind. Now they’re talking, or at least communicating via letter, and I can step away.”

Ginny crossed her arms. “You did… what, exactly?”

Charlie leaned against the fence. “He’s nervous talking to her. I encouraged him to write her a letter to break the ice.”

“I swear to Merlin and Morgana--”

“What? Can’t a brother help his brother out?”

“PLEASE tell me you did not write it for him,” Ginny demanded. Charlie looked at the ground. She kicked the fence post in frustration. “Charlie, wake up! You cannot spend your entire life orchestrating other people’s lives at the detriment to yourself.”

“That’s enough. It may have escaped your noticing but I am nine years your senior; I think I can handle my own affairs!”

“Then why didn’t you tell her how you feel?”

Charlie shoved the feed bucket into his sister’s arms. “Leave me alone, Ginny.” He stepped back and tried to find his words, but he was bereft of any such explanation. He pinched the bridge of his nose. “You have no idea...” He strode out of the pen without finishing the sentiment, latched the gate behind him, and disappeared between the cadet cabins, leaving Ginny alone with a load of guilt.

Charlie hammered on the doors of each cabin, awakening delirious cadets for their morning training. It was to be a new routine, which Charlie had thought of in the wee hours when he couldn’t sleep. He had gotten up twice as early to feed the animals so they were handled by daybreak. He would not think of anything else but the new regimen. They would do physical fitness drills until nine, and hopefully, he’d think of a new task for his team in the meantime. And if he couldn’t think of anything, he’d make them run laps around the farm until he did.

“Never seen you wear trainers, Charlie,” Seamus said from the doorway of his little cabin. He scratched his head and squinted.

“Dust off your own trainers, Finnegan.” Charlie pulled his wand from its hiding place in his sleeve and cast Sonorus . “All cadets report to the field in five minutes, prepared for physical training.” He crossed his arms and waited.

One by one, the cadets appeared from their quarters (though it took Ralston six minutes, as she came from the farmhouse), while Ron did not appear at all. Ginny also abstained, and buried herself in her pole barn, which served as her armory and repair shop.

“We’ll be meeting out here every morning at seven for physical training and team building,” Charlie announced, once the cadets were lined up in front of him. “We’ve all gotten lazy--myself included-- and it’s unacceptable. So we’re about to put in the work.” Charlie looked into the faces of his six cadets. They were nodding. Tired, but receptive.

“Can we start by saying something interesting about ourselves?” Dean asked.

“Would that make you more likely or less likely to do running drills?” Charlie asked. The cadets exchanged looks and shrugs and general agreement that it would improve morale. “Fine. Be quick about it,” Charlie acquiesced.

“Yes!” Dean pumped his fist. “I’m Dean Thomas, my favorite thing to do is walk down by the adult pens with Geraldine and listen to her play her harp for the dragons.” He smiled lovingly at Geraldine, who Charlie realized was standing very close to Dean. Dean nudged her to go next.

“Geraldine Waters and I’m learning how to crochet little goat blankets so the kids can be outside all winter and not get cold.”

“That’s adorable,” Seamus said, totally unironically. The rest of the cadets voiced their agreement at the cuteness. Apparently, Dean and Geraldine were a thing as well as Ginny and Ralston. So. There was that.

“Sheridan Ralston,” Ralston began. “I’m obsessed with Muggle horror films--”

“Merlin, we know ,” Geraldine sighed. “Say something else.”

“Now, now,” Charlie said. “ I did not know that.”

“Ugh,” Ralston said. “Fine. I’m... allergic to wool.”

“Lame,” Seamus said. “I’m Seamus, the pride of Ireland, and I have been sober for a week, now.”

Charlie narrowed his eyes. “You had a beer on Sunday.”

“Oh, it doesn’t count on the Sundays,” Seamus said. The introductions continued as such. Andrew Polewski had once been a monk, Trent Lathrop had never seen the ocean, and Charlie couldn’t think of anything good by the time they got around to him.

The physical drills went much better than Charlie expected and it was a release to his anxiety to work out with a group of surprisingly cavalier cadets. Who, to Charlie’s surprise, were a delightful group. They were close-knit and had inside jokes. They only complained a little, for the last twenty minutes of lunges. Charlie felt guilty for not getting to know them better from the start. Once the drills were over, Charlie allowed his cadets to show him around the farm and pinpoint concerns they had, be it simple up-keep of hinges on pen gates, or health worries for the animals themselves. He even helped them come up with a revised plan for Orpheus, who had lately taken a turn for the worst. By the time they were done, it was time for supper.

After a community dinner (stew, thanks to Gertrude, who was an excellent cook as well as a novice knitter), Charlie sat on the front porch with Seamus and Ralston. He decided that Seamus had much more promise than he let on, and Ralston even more so. She could be of use to Ron--speaking of which...

Ron burst out of the house in a panic. “Thank the gods, Charlie, this is an emergency,” he breathed. “You have to come with me right now.”

Charlie followed his panic-stricken brother inside and upstairs to his office, where Ron paced and Charlie’s owl chirped happily from her perch on the windowsill.

“What is it, Ron? Is it Mum?” Charlie crossed his arms. Ron thrust a scroll into Charlie’s hand and sat in on the window seat, head in hands. His shoulders hunched. Charlie unfurled the scroll and it read:

 

Ron,

Could we talk in person? I think we both have a lot to say, but if it’s anything like your letter, we might just be on the same page. I could come by the farm?

Sincerely,

Hermione

 

“I can’t believe my rotten luck!” Ron moaned into his heads.

“Just sit tight, Ron, I’ll take care of this,” Charlie said. He patted his brother on the shoulder and scribbled a quick note on his stationery. He sent the dutiful owl off with the reply for Hermione. Then, Charlie sat behind his desk and fished through his drawers. Ron peeked at him through shakey fingers.

“What are you looking for?” Ron asked.

“Extendable ear,” Charlie mumbled. His hand closed around the box at the very back of his bottom desk drawer. He placed it on top of the desk with a flourish.

“And that’s supposed to solve my Hermione problem, how?”

“You throw up because you’re too nervous that you’ll say the wrong thing to her,” Charlie explained. “But if you have this in when she stops by--” he tapped the little box. “Then I can help.”

“But I’m supposed to be burying myself alive in a shallow grave so she never finds me,” Ron said breathlessly.

“She will be here at six, per my instructions. Well, your instructions, you really ought to change your signature because honestly… it’s so easy to forge… at which point I will offer my office for your conversation.” Charlie stood, ignoring his brother’s aghast look, and approached the bookcase directly to the right of his desk. He pulled back a single tome (Ellis Wheeler’s ‘Accounts of Butteryhaugh Livestock 1979-1982’) and the entire shelf swung open to reveal Charlie’s sleeping quarters. He gestured to the room beyond. “I will merely stand behind the hidden door and offer you small encouragements via the E.E.”

Ron did not look convinced. “Won’t she notice that I’ve got that thing stuck in my ear?”

“She won’t. Because I told her that you’re feeling a cold coming on, so it would be perfectly reasonable for you to wear a stocking cap… on account of your chill,” Charlie said. He reached for his favorite cap, which hung on a coat rack just inside his bedroom. He tossed it at his brother. Charlie’s mantle clock chimed six times. Ron jumped and slammed the cap over his ears. Charlie tossed him the listening end of the Extendable Ear device and motioned for him to sit in the chair behind the desk. Ron tucked the earpiece in and smoothed the hat down to cover it. The doorbell rang. Ginny must have answered it.

“Ron? Visitor!” Ginny bellowed.

“Up here!” Charlie called back. Ron blanched and shook his head furiously at his brother. Charlie covered Ron’s shoulders with a blanket. “Incendio!” Charlie lit his fireplace. He patted Ron once on the shoulder as he heard the footsteps of Ron’s visitor on the landing. Then, the bookcase swung shut. Ron was alone. Terrified.

From behind the door, Charlie could hear only Ron’s laboured breathing. And then he heard a knock, Hermione’s entrance to the room, and her greeting.

“Hi,” she said. Ron hesitated.

“Hello, Hermione,” Charlie said into the E.E. Ron said nothing. “Say HELLO, Ronald!” Charlie insisted.

“Hi-hey. Hey,” Ron said.

“Thank you for your letter,” she said politely.

“S’alright,” Ron said.

“I meant every word,” Charlie prompted.

“Meant all of it,” Ron parroted. “Every word.”

“I guess--I guess I’m just confused?” she said. The chair across from his desk was pulled out, Charlie assumed she had sat down. “After everything else that happened.”

“It was easier for me to write it down,” Charlie said.

“It was easier to write it out,” Ron said. “Couldn’t say it, obviously. What with the… vomit. And all.”

Charlie sighed. “Easy, cowboy--”

“Easy, cowboy!” Ron exclaimed.

Charlie hit his forehead with his hand. “Easy on the vomit talk, Einstein!” Charlie whispered.

“What?” Hermione said.

“I--I told myself, ‘easy, cowboy!’ You can’t lay out all your cards,” Ron recovered. “Hermione’s no… gambler.”

“You might be surprised how willing I am to take a gamble on a sure thing,” she said. “I’ve been told I’m relentless.”

Charlie groaned inwardly. He told her that. And it hadn’t been a compliment, it had been in reference to her total unwillingness to see that everything was hopeless with the very brother he was trying to help her shag! A confusing and utterly exhausting conceit, all told!

“I guess what I’m asking,” she began,” is if you can give me some sort of… reassurance that efforts on my part to get reacquainted would be requited.”

Ron scoffed. “Oh, you can re-believe it,” he said.

“Charlie?” Ginny’s voice floated up from the bottom of the stairs. “Telephone for you! Could you please bloody answer it? Am I the butler?”

Shit. Charlie said nothing. Ron said nothing. Hermione said, “I didn’t realize Charlie was home. Is he in his bedroom?”

“Uh…” Ron paused.

“Yes,” Charlie said pointedly. “I’m sleeping.”

“He’s asleep. His bedroom is next door,” Ron said.

“Oh, is it?” Hermione said, genuinely surprised. “I’ll just get him for Ginny, then.” The office door opened and Hermione’s footsteps sounded in the hallway. “I’ll tell him, Gin!”

“What do I do?” Ron whispered furiously.

“Stop her! I can’t come to the phone if I’m asleep!” Charlie said frantically. Light taps sounded on his main bedroom door, the one that led from the hallway. “Ron, I swear to Merlin, lure her back to the office!”

“Charlie?” Hermione called softly.

“I’m gonna be--” Ron daintily vomited, Charlie assumed into the garbage can. Charlie opened the hidden door into the office and wrenched the E.E. out of Ron’s ear. Ron remained hunched over the garbage. He tossed the E.E. beneath his desk and shut the hidden door again. He lowered the tapestry that usually hid the door to his office. Then, Charlie attempted to pull off his trainers quietly, hopping from one foot to the other as Hermione’s gentle taps sounded on his door again. He dove beneath his blankets and rubbed his eyes furiously.

“Charlie? There’s a telephone call for you,” Hermione said, this time pushing the door open a touch and peeking inside. He yawned.

“Hermione?” he asked sleepily. She laughed.

“No, it’s McGonagall, you’re late for class.”

“The sass, I swear,” Charlie grumbled. Then, they exchanged a most pleasant half-smile.

“There’s someone on the phone for you, apparently,” she said.

“Oh, all right,” he said. He flipped his covers off and stood, stretching for good measure. Hermione ducked under his arm as he passed through into the hallway and gave his waist a squeeze. She paused at the door to his office. “You sticking around?” he asked, heading for the stairs.

“Might do,” she nodded. “Depends.”

“On?” Charlie asked.

Hermione thumbed inside his office. Ron , she mouthed. Charlie rolled his eyes (seriously) and then laughed (fakely). Good luck , he whispered back.

Charlie met Ginny at the base of the stairs. She was chatting with Ralston and completely ignored him. “Well? Who’s the call from?” he asked.

“Nobody,” Ginny said. She leveled her eyes with his and leaned in close. “There was no call.” Then she grinned at her girlfriend conspiratorially. “I figured you were hiding when you heard she was here and I wanted her to see you before she left again.”

Charlie closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose. “You have no idea what you’ve just done, Gin.”

The door to Charlie’s office slammed and Hermione came flying down the stairs in a rage. She caught Charlie’s eye and shook her head once. He followed her out the front door and grabbed his cloak from the hook, quickly throwing it on. Nevermind that he was still in his socks. Hermione cast a glance back at him.

“I swear--he does this to torture me,” she ground out, whipping her wand from inside her coat sleeve. Charlie caught her elbow. She shivered in the evening chill.

“Wait a minute. If you apparate now, you’ll splinch yourself,” he said, grasping her shoulders and encouraging her to take a beat. “Can I help you get home?”

She just nodded and folded herself into his chest. Ron burst out onto the front porch just in time to see Charlie side-along disapparate with Hermione in tow. On the other side, Hermione gripped Charlie’s cloak so tightly in her hands that her knuckles were white.

When they landed in the alley beside Dora’s bookshop, Hermione shoved herself away from her escort and gasped for air. “I’m an idiot,” she grumbled. Charlie put his hands in his pockets and looked down at the dirt.

“Want to tell me what happened?” he asked.

She sighed. “Not really. But thank you.” She touched his arm and squeezed. “All I want right now is a glass of Firewhiskey on my balcony, where I can soak up the moonlight and my misery in equal measure.”

Charlie covered her hand with his. “Would you like company?”

“Not tonight. Raincheck?”

“Just name the day,” he said. She smiled sadly, cupped his cheek, and turned down the alley towards the front door of Dora’s bookshop and her apartment. Charlie leaned against the brick and closed his eyes.

A tell-tale pop signified the arrival of a new companion.

“I’m sorry!” Ron exploded, the moment he realized his brother stood before him. “I messed up! She hates me… I have to talk to her for real, right now--”

“No, you don’t,” Charlie said. He put his arm around his brother’s shoulders. “Whatever you said to her, she’s upset. She wants to be alone.”

“She’ll talk to me, I know it.” Ron pulled out of his grasp and strode in the opposite direction of Dora’s front door… up the alley, towards the trash bins and back gardens of the main street.

“What the hell did you say to her?” Charlie whispered.

Ron shook his head. “I merely complimented the shape and size of her breasts.”

“You’re a pig, Ronald,” Charlie said.

“That’s what she said, too,” Ron said, squeezing between two fence slats and into the garden behind Dora’s bookshop… beneath Hermione’s balcony. Charlie could see Hermione’s curls just inside the doorway and he quickly ducked into the shadows before she spied them both. “‘Mione? Come on, talk to me!” Ron shouted. “Come on, babe. I messed up.”

“Get bent, Ronald!” she called from inside the house.

“Can you be reasonable for one second?” Charlie whispered, smacking Ron on the shoulder. For once, the idea seemed to land.

“This won’t work!” Ron realized. “Face it, Char.” He hung his head. “She wants someone who looks like me, and-and-and talks like… you.”

Charlie felt the pang of truth ringing between his ears. Ron was right, wasn’t he? That’s why they were in this predicament in the first place. Hermione. Her happiness. If this is where they left it, she would be devastated. He loosened the tie at his neck and slipped off his cloak. “Switch with me, Ron. Quick!” He shoved Ron beneath the balcony and donned his brother’s cloak and hood.

“What are you doing?” Ron whispered.

“‘Mione?” Charlie called, pitching his voice up to Ron’s timbre. He held up a reassuring hand to Ron. “‘Mione, please come back,” Charlie called again, gently. Ron buried his face in his hands.

“Whatever could entice me to do so?” she yelled back through the screen door. “I’ve heard enough.”

“I honestly can’t think of one good reason, after that display,” Charlie said, shooting his mortified brother a pointed look. “Except, maybe… maybe you had hoped things would be different, as I did. But I fumbled, I proved you right--I haven’t changed at all. Have I? Hermione?”

She said nothing, but the door opened slowly and she leaned against the doorway. Her shoulders shrugged ever so slightly. “I don’t know,” she admitted. “Why did you say those things?”

“Hermione, I have not known the right words to say to you since I first met you.”

“I didn’t give you a chance to get a word in back then,” she said. He couldn’t see her face but her voice was touched with amusement.

“Imagine how I must feel now, Hermione--Merlin, your name is like a knife . I haven’t spoken it out loud in so long. Only to myself, when I knew nobody was around to hear.” He turned away.

“That’s good! That’s good!” Ron exclaimed.

“What’s good?” she asked.

You ,” Charlie said quickly, whirling around and glaring at Ron. “You are too good. How many chances have you given me to explain myself?”

Hermione let out a long breath. She stepped forward and leaned against the railing. “I wrote to you ten times after that last letter. You sent them all back, Ron. What was I supposed to think?”

You did what? Charlie mouthed to Ron. Ron shrugged and hung his head.

“I was ashamed,” Charlie said. Ron nodded his approval but turned away to rub his face.

“Of me?” Her voice was so soft it broke Charlie’s heart. He couldn’t see her face but her hair was backlit from the lamplight inside her little flat and she glowed.

“I am not what you think I am,” he said. He looked to Ron but his brother gave him no more indications or cues. He was curled into himself, hand over his eyes. Charlie sighed. “I have always tried to define myself by the quality of my closest friends and family and model myself after their attributes, but… well, I was never a scholar, I left that up to Percy. I have no passion for animals or curse-breaking or pranks like my other brothers. I’m not the hero presumptive, like Harry. I can’t hold a candle to Ginny’s skill with smithing. I don’t have a hobby that belongs only to me. So I was... loyal. You could trust me to be there. But in your proximity, as your friend, I was also the steadfast tin soldier. That was fine for me until you began to look at me a little more closely. When you picked me. What’s a man to do when Hermione Granger chooses you?”

“What do you mean?”

“After we separated, I realized that I had to be somebody I am proud of… even when you’re not looking. It took me a long time to figure that out. But when we were younger, I would step outside of your circle and I had no purpose for myself other than what I thought you wanted me to be. It’s like I was this great buffoon of a wind-up toy. You were the key. You wound me up. You drove me. You were my speciality.”

“I never thought of you that way,” she said. Her voice shook with what sounded like pity and Charlie didn’t dare look at his brother. She was listening and it was working.

“But what did I give you in return?”

“You made me laugh.”

Charlie smiled. “Did I challenge you?”

She laughed gently. “You certainly challenged my patience.”

“Did I?”

“You drove me crazy, if I’m honest.”

“That’s good. I always wanted to drive you crazy and drive your dreams forward and drive you back home again, into my arms, to unload and assuage your fears. To feel good.”

“And now?”

“Now?” Charlie scoffed. “This is my whole life right now, this moment. Just standing here.”

“What do you want, Ron?”

“I want to share . Yours for mine. Can I trade a dream of mine with you?”

“Mhm.”

“I dunno,” he said warmly. “Might not come true if I tell you.”

“Why don’t you share a little one and we’ll see? Can you stand where I can see your face better?” She gestured towards a glowing patch of pavement several feet behind him.

Charlie held up his hands. “Please, just allow my voice to do the work, for now. Just my voice.”

“So, this dream…”

“I want to feel worthy of your smile.”

“That’s your little dream?”

“Just imagine how much deeper I can fantasize,” he said.

“Tell me another.”

“I almost don’t remember what your skin feels like,” Charlie said. “Almost, because I touched your arm the other night for the first time in so long--it was like taking that first sip of water after ages in the desert. My skin hasn’t forgotten you. How could it? The way my hair stands on end when you’re near.”

“Another?” Hermione asked, pulling a wrap around her shoulders.

“That moment, years ago, when you first looked at me with doe eyes and rendered me speechless with your lips. I dream about that more than I should, and then I wake up with a jolt, just as my fingers find purchase in your hair. It’s torturing me this very moment--Hermione, tell me--don’t you fall into that dreamscape of memory and fantasy remembering how we used to be?”

“I don’t usually let myself remember those particular times,” she admitted in the softest voice. “It’s too painful when I know how it all ended.”

“What if you tried again? Try now, when it’s only us here.”

She paused so long Charlie almost forgot to breathe. “I see your shoulders first, when I see you in my dreams,” she said. “They were what I always held onto; to cry, to beg… to find my high. Oh, I can’t… I’m embarrassed.” The tone in her voice was playful and self-conscious, a heady combo for an already teetering Charlie. He ventured a look at Ron, finally, who was staring at him intently and pressing his palms together in thanks.

Keep going! Ron breathed. He looked eager and utterly in disbelief.

“Would you prefer not to talk about our mutual highs?” Charlie asked lowly. The agony of coaching such faith out of this beautiful witch on someone else’s behalf… it would surely kill him. Still, he didn’t let his voice betray how he suffered.

“I’ve never known you to want to talk about it,” she whispered.

“How can I possibly talk about pleasure with you when we could be feeling it instead?” Charlie asked.

“Don’t joke, Ron,” she chided gently. “Were you afraid to talk about it before we broke up?”

Charlie looked to Ron, who nodded slowly, just once. “I was petrified.”

“What changed?”

“I lived without you. I felt my body change from open and comfort-seeking to closed off and ashamed. I realized that… with you, I have nothing to fear. You don’t judge me. You just…”

“Want you.”

“You want me.” His voice failed him on the last word.

“I do,” she admitted. She wanted Ron. He could hear it in her voice. This man with Charlie’s voice, and all the draw of Ron 2.0.

“How can a man ask for more?” Charlie asked, brokenly. To Hermione, it would sound like an emotional confession from her life-long love. It was good enough for her. “What I wrote to you… did it touch you?” he asked.

She turned her face away from him but the light from inside revealed a pink-cheeked nod. Ron waved for him to switch places.

“Tell me how much,” Charlie breathed. He nodded to Ron. Stepping beneath the balcony, he traded back his own cloak and gestured for his younger brother to walk into the light, so she could see him, and he could be the man who made her blush.

Charlie pulled his hood up and tried to coax his heart out of his throat.

“Come around front. I’ll let you in,” Hermione said. “And I’ll elaborate. As long as you don’t go on any more about my… assets.” She sounded amused by it now. Her silhouette paused in profile for just a moment--enough for Charlie to memorize the look of it on the ground, in the lone pool of light--and then disappeared. The balcony door closed. Ron punched the air in victory and strode to his brother, clasping him on the shoulder.

“We did it!” he cackled. “How did you know all that, Char? Cor, you were magnificent.”

“I’ve listened to many of your drunken rants,” Charlie smiled sadly. “Don’t keep her waiting, Ron, go!”

Ron gave him a look of utter thanks. “I’ll never repay you.” Ron practically skipped around the front of the building to meet his girl. Charlie waited until he heard the front door of Dora’s shop open and shut before breathing again. Then, he walked down the street to the Lynx. Ginny was waiting for the rest of the cadets at the bar. Charlie deposited himself beside his sister at the bar and said nothing. O’Dell set a pint down in front of him. Charlie drank until the glass was empty and pinched the bridge of his nose. His entire face was aching, radiating out from his scar. His eyes were watering, it was so painful. Ginny put her hand on his elbow.

“Where the hell are your shoes?” she asked with a laugh.

Charlie shrugged.

“Wanna talk about it?”

Charlie patted her hand and sighed. “I’ll tell you when you’re older.”

“Is it Hermione?”

“Ginny, I don’t want to talk about it. All right? She’s got what she wants. My brother is happy.”

“And you?”

“I’m tired.”