Chapter Seven: On the Placement of Wands
Charlie believed in getting on with things. He was not opposed to introspection, but you had not time to rethink your errors when you were in a saddle strapped to a Norwegian Ridgeback at forty feet and your harness was coming loose; in such a situation one simply had to proceed to live, or one would surely die. The young man felt similarly pragmatic about his mother's recent letter detailing Harry's "accident." Charlie did not know Potter very well, but he had always respected his head for flying--and he expected that the enchanted boy would soon be set to rights.
When Charlie arrived at the Burrow for Christmas, he was surprised to find the household in a flurry of leaving, rather than one of preparation.
"Mum, what's to do? Why are you packing?"
"Oh, my boy! Welcome home--now, go find Hermione and Ginny, and take the baskets in the front hall to . . . the place the girls say."
"Charles Weasley, can't you see that I'm busy? Scoot."
"Well all right, then. 'Welcome home, Charlie. We missed you, Charlie'--"
"Shut up, Charlie!" laughed Fred from the stairs.
George appeared behind his twin. "Mum's gone mad. She says that if we don't get there soon, Remus will change all her plans."
"We're having Christmas at Ree's place--at Sirius and Remus' place, I should say."
"When did that happen?" Charlie asked, surprised.
"Well, said Fred, "near as we can figure, those two have a history--"
"No, you git. When did Mum decide to move Christmas? Why didn't anyone tell me?"
"Clearly," George said, grinning, "you're not that important."
"That's not true," Ginny said, running down the stairs to hug Charlie.
"Now that's more like it!"
"We need you to carry baskets."
"Walked right into that one, didn't you?" Hermione greeted Charlie.
The Twins, Ginny, and Charlie, each carrying something, followed Hermione to the fireplace.
"Okay, we're flooing into the kitchen. Wait for me before putting anything away, all right?"
"Right you are, Mum," said Fred.
Hermione gave him a stern look.
"Wait 'till you see Ree," George said, making mounding motions with his hands over his chest. "OW!"
"George, don't you dare do that again!" Ginny yelled, her face nine shades of scarlet.
"Sorry, Gin, but you have to admit, it's still a little wild seeing it."
"Leave poor Ginny alone, you prat," Fred whispered.
In short order, they were all in Remus' kitchen taking orders from Hermione.
"Is that you guys?" called a slightly familiar voice.
"Yes, Ree," Hermione answered.
Harry walked into the kitchen, but stopped short as she saw Charlie. "Hi," she said, somewhat shyly.
Charlie tried not to gape. "Hello, Harry," he said, jovially.
"Um, oh, you can call me 'Ree' if you like," she mumbled.
"What's that? Charlie said, not having heard her over the din various members of his family were making.
"OW!" came a shout from behind him, and Charlie didn't know which of them it was, but Hermione was dragging one of the twins out of the kitchen with Ginny following behind her.
"That's me, the mature twin," Fred said. He winked at Ree, and followed his brother and the girls from the room.
"Oh, get over it!" demanded Ron, who had just come through the fireplace to see his older brother and Harry--for he refused to call his friend by her Slytherin name--Damn Blaise Zabini to the Four Great Hells--still staring at each other.
Ron was tired of people staring at his best friend. It was not proper. It was not right. And it made him want to stare at her, so it had to be stopped. Ron's method of preventing inappropriate behavior toward Harry was more direct than Blaise's; one needed only to apply to Justin Finch-Fletchley for an explanation of his cut lip and swollen right eye to learn the approach Ron had begun to take.
"Come on, Harry, Mum says that those garlands had better be hung by the time she gets here. And you," Ron said, poking his brother in the chest, "are supposed to press your suit for tonight."
"Tonight?" Charlie asked.
"--yes, I believe it was Firesham who pioneered the use of Yellow Stripe albumen in Courage Class potions."
"Perhaps it was. I still think it's unacceptable to use their eggs for that purpose."
"Yet you sanction the training of dragons as battle animals? Come now, Mr. Weasley, surely that bespeaks an inconsistency in your thoughts on the matter of animal . . . rights."
"All right, you two. It's the Christmas season, and I don't want any fighting," Molly Weasley said, putting down a plate of cookies on the low table near where they stood. "Eat up! There are plenty more."
Severus groaned quietly. Charlie noticed, and laughed good-naturedly. He selected a sugar-crusted snowman, and nibbled at its waving arm.
"I think that you would probably want to avoid meeting a mama Yellow Stripe over her egg clutch. 'Animal rights' would take on a whole new meaning for you if you did."
"Actually, I prefer to bind my emotional enhancement preparations with other ingredients. The Yellow Stripe is becoming increasingly rare."
"I'm glad to hear it!" Charlie said jovially, and then lowered his tone somewhat. "Professor Snape, you aren't interested in my work, though I appreciate the opportunity to discuss it. What can I do for you?"
"As you are escorting Harry tonight, I thought I might--"
"Warn me to be on my best behavior?"
Snape pursed his mouth in irritation. "I expect that is unnecessary."
"It's kind of you to take note of the Weasley honor."
"I was referring to the conversations that you have no doubt already had with your mother and Remus."
"What about Sirius?"
"He's been waiting his turn for some time, Mr. Weasley."
Charlie glanced over his shoulder and found that the Animagus did indeed look impatient to speak to him, though he was trying his best to seem interested in whatever Arthur Weasley was saying. "Ah. Well, then, perhaps I won't interrupt you again."
"Thank you. As I recall from your time in my classes, that will be somewhat difficult for you."
Charlie said nothing, but looked as though he might laugh again. Snape pressed on.
"It is imperative that you make certain Potter is never alone with Lucius or Draco Malfoy."
"Didn't Lucius Malfoy save--"
Severus looked pointedly at Charlie until he nodded, eyes hardening at the thought of either of the Malfoys harming his brother's best friend.
"Harry does not like being nurse-maided, so endeavor to be discreet, Mr. Weasley."
"You can rely on me, Sir."
"Charlie, Harry's coming down!"
Sirius deftly caught the boy by his arm just before he would have left the room.
Charlie walked into the foyer just in time to see Harry come down the stairs, and was pleased with himself for being such an obedient son. Hello, Girl-Who-Lives. She was wearing a green dress that peeked out under a rather glamorous robe, and she had her hair bound up into a soft pile of curls cascading from a topknot on her head. Well, it looks like I'll be fending off more admirers than Malfoys this evening, he thought, quite pleased by the incompetence of the St. Mungo medi-wizards in that moment.
Severus followed Charlie only as far as the door to the foyer, as that room was becoming rather crowded. He was furious with Albus for sending Harry into a dangerous situation without him. For what else could you call an evening of mingling with some of the most prestigious, pure-blooded wizarding families, many of whose members felt pre-disposed to approve of Voldemort and his activities? Will she even think to carry her wand? He looked at Weasley, and hoped that the young man had taken his warning seriously. Suddenly, Charlie's expression changed from one of polite attention to his father to that of deep appreciation for something at the top of the stairs, and Severus turned his attention there. He was momentarily confounded. Perhaps Harry's going forth better prepared than I could have imagined.
Harry walked slowly down the stairs, feeling terribly nervous. What if Charlie wanted to dance with her? What if someone else wanted to dance with her? What if no one wanted to dance with her? What if she could not get to her wand quickly enough if she needed it? Would Draco be there? Blaise had not known.
What if I fall on my arse walking down these bloody stairs? At least then I wouldn't have to worry about dancing . . . .
"You look lovely, dear," called Mrs. Weasley.
"Yes, indeed," Mr. Weasley affirmed.
Harry continued her stately descent. Don't fall, don't fall, don't fall.
Just before she reached the foyer floor, she looked up at the sitting room door, hoping not to see Sirius looking perturbed. He was the reason she'd avoided purchasing dresses; she did not want to do anything to make him feel weirder than he already did about the Change. Severus was there, instead, looking . . . tenebrously at her. She stumbled. Snape crossed the room and caught her around the waist before Charlie or the others could react.
He moves faster than anyone I've ever seen, Harry thought, dazed by the press of the professor's body against her own. "It's the shoes," she murmured through her blush. "I don't think the people who make these things like women."
"Perhaps women should not wear them, then," Snape murmured, sounding vaguely . . . amused.
Harry felt her mind empty itself of all thought as the Potions master set her firmly on her feet again. "If you say so," she breathed.
"Don't start, Severus. It's taken me a long time to persuade her . . . ."
"Of course, Molly," he acknowledged without taking his eyes from Harry's face. He leaned down slightly to ask, "You do have your wand, do you not?"
Harry paled. She was not going to discuss the bizarre contraption that Hermione had insisted she wear to hold up her stockings, no matter its other uses. "Um, let's just say that if I need it, I'll be able to find it."
"I should hope so."
"Snape," said a voice from behind him, and the Potions master reluctantly released Harry into the care of Charlie.
"I've got a bottle of Warders in the kitchen to take the edge off our . . . worries," he admitted.
"Excellent." Who would have thought you knew how to fetch a decent whiskey?
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