"What to Do, What to Say"
"What to Do, What to Say"
Chapter 2: Pain and Preparation
A/N: Thanks again to the writing of Catherine, Arabella and Zsenya, and the art of Marta, Minoukatze, and Lisa Rourke. Thanks also to Ivy and Gracie for their enthusiasm.
Ingrid blinked and tried once more to concentrate. Her eyes focused on the leg of the table in front of her, straight and dark, narrow and steady. "Okay," she mumbled to herself, "let's try this again. Haliskomous."
A thin tendril of softly green light floated from her wand like a spectral snake and drifted lazily toward the table leg. Once there, it seemed to hesitate, hovering a few inches above the ground. It poked once, twice at the leg and began slowly, oh so slowly, to creep around it. Ingrid stared at it, willing it to complete the circle. Beads of sweat formed on her forehead, and a stab of icy pain shot through her temples. But she'd be damned if she'd let a little pain stop her.
She'd lived through worse.
Try as she might, the light lasso wouldn't move any further. It just hung there. With a small cry of frustration, she flung her wand to the ground; it bounced once and rolled against the wall, and the green light poofed into nonexistence.
She needed to concentrate. Two years ago, maybe even less, that spell had come easily to her, and now it was nearly impossible. Earlier in her attempts she'd tried to chalk it up to nerves and what would happen if it went wrong, but now…
There had to be something wrong with the spell. Or her wand.
"Oh, for heaven's sake," she said aloud to the empty room at large. "Just admit it to yourself, you stupid girl. You need. To sleep." She paused, and then added, "And stop thinking about Charlie Weasley."
That was it. That was it right there. Twenty-four hours had gone by since she'd woken up in the grass with her head on his leg, his hand resting protectively on her shoulder. People had been staring at them, practically the whole staff except for Grizelda and Modwin. Stammering a bit and blushing, Ingrid had come back to the barracks and begun working on the spell that would allow Norbert to fly. Attempts at sleep had resulted only in fitful nightmares and hazy spells of unrestful dozing, and so here she was, arm and head racked with pain and frustration.
She shook her head. Charlie. What business, what right did he have to be, well… so damn cute all the time? Ingrid's coworkers in Norway had never been like him (or Modwin, for that matter) – they'd treated her like a child, no doubt talking about her behind her back and laughing at her hair, her hands, anything that separated her from them. But the people here respected her. Some even seemed to revere her. Grizelda had trouble meeting her eyes, and some of the staff asked her questions and took notes on her answers, as though she was a professor and not just a worker on the same level as they were. She always felt ashamed when she had to say, "I don't know, why don't you ask Modwin?" But even then they didn't look disappointed. No, they looked grateful that such a marvelous idea had just been handed to them.
Ingrid sighed. It was such a different feeling here.
And then there was Charlie. She sighed again. He'd been almost childlike in his awkwardness at meeting her- she'd been taken right from the start. True, it was somewhat disconcerting when he lapsed into silence, staring at his hands or his feet or at nothing at all. Sometimes he was remarkably at ease- offering her a job in Romania and even rescuing her from that Short-Snout at the first task had seemed second nature to him. But other times he froze, locked up solid, and she couldn't for the life of her figure out why. She had one theory, and it was probably right.
And if that was the case, she was in big, big trouble.
- - -
Charlie's head jerked up from the letter he'd been writing to Bill. Correction- the letter he'd been trying to write to Bill. He'd been telling his brother about Norbert, but couldn't get past the sentence So then, we asked Ingrid what to do. He'd been staring at the parchment for ten minutes, unable to form a next sentence, so Modwin's shout came as something of a relief.
He stood and made his way out of the barracks. Modwin was waiting there, sitting on a large rock and staring up at the sky. "Doesn't know what's going to hit it," Modwin observed.
"What?" said Charlie. "The sky?"
"Norbert," explained Modwin. "Enough to make anything run for cover, if you ask me." He grinned and turned to face Charlie, and Charlie was horrified to see a large gash on the front of his friend's shirt.
"What the hell happened?" he demanded, his voice shaky.
Modwin looked puzzled. "What do you mean?"
Charlie gestured. "What do you mean, what do I mean? There's blood all over your shirt!"
"Yes," said Modwin, looking at the aforementioned blood, "but it's mine, so I don't mind so much." He sighed and let out a small chuckle. "It was Nadia. Just a little scratch, it looks worse than it is."
"I'd hope so," said Charlie doubtfully, "because it looks like she almost cut you in half." He shrugged. "But I'll believe you. Did you want something?"
"Walk with me for a bit," said Modwin vaguely, standing up from the rock. "Something I want to talk to you about, if you've got time."
"What would that be?" asked Charlie, but Modwin was already walking away. With a shrug, Charlie set out after him. For ten minutes they simply walked- around the paddocks, away from the barracks, and finally to the edge of the woods that lined the compound. "Er, Modwin," Charlie began, but Modwin finally stopped and leaned against a tree.
"Ingrid," he said.
"What about her?"
"You need to talk to her."
"Modwin," said Charlie in protest, "look, thanks for the morbid interest in my… attachment to Ingrid, but really, what I say or not say to her is my business entirely."
"I know that, you git," said Modwin easily. "That's not what I mean."
"Oh." Charlie went red. "Then, what did you mean?"
Modwin took a deep breath. "I mean that you need to convince her to take some time off. She's been working almost nonstop since the Task in November, and it doesn't look as though she's planning to stop until something stops her. At this rate, something very well might."
Charlie saw his point. Ingrid was certainly one of the hardest-working people he'd ever met. She seemed to try to drive herself to exhaustion, and when she got there, she plowed on through it. But sooner or later, she was going to run out of steam. Charlie guessed that it would be sooner. "All right," he said, "but what do you expect me to be able to do?"
"Whatever you have to," said Modwin. "Kidnap her if you must. Just take her somewhere, anywhere, that'll be restful. A place where she won't be allowed to do anything."
"Wait a minute." Charlie held up a hand. "I'm supposed to go along as well?"
"As a matter of fact," said Modwin, "yes. If you don't, she'll either sit around and mope for a week or find a place where they need a hand. She won't rest, and that's what I want her to do. You need to keep an eye on her. Make that both eyes. Look, you saved her life in that thing with the Short-Snout. I just hoped it would last longer than this."
Charlie smiled weakly. "Good Lord, I hope that's an exaggeration."
"It probably is."
"I'll do my best," said Charlie.
They walked in companiable silence back to the paddocks. Ingrid was waiting for them, watching Norbert from the gate. When they reached her, she turned to them, slapping her wand against the palm of her hand. "I think I've got it," she said. "No, I know I've got it. I'm ready whenever you two are."
Charlie noticed something very odd – she seemed to be avoiding his eyes. In fact, she definitely was. Her gaze would flicker briefly in his direction, hesitate, and then go somewhere else. "Is everything all right?" he asked, before he could stop himself.
Ingrid finally looked at him. "Yes," she said with a small smile. "Everything's fine. So, when do we start?"
"Tomorrow," said Modwin.
Ingrid frowned. "We should do it right away. Norbert-"
"-isn't going anywhere." Modwin crossed his arms over his chest. "Before we do this, I'm going to give you an assignment. Pay attention.
"First, go over to the barracks. Next, find your bed and lie down on it. Don't come out of the barracks until tomorrow. If you do, I will personally stun you and revive you next day." His eyes never left Ingrid's. "Do you understand?"
Ingrid put her hands on her hips. "You may be in charge at this reservation, Modwin, but you're in charge of what happens to the dragons. Not me."
Modwin smiled grimly. "If you mean that I can't order you to sleep," he said, "you're wrong. In your current state, you are a danger not only to yourself, but to every dragon and every person here. I have a responsibility to you and to the rest of the staff. It's not making me happy, telling you this, but neither is it making me happy to watch you struggle."
"I'm not struggling," said Ingrid in a low voice.
"You've been pushing yourself far too hard," said Charlie. "Get angry at us if you want, but it won't do any good. You know we're right."
"Dozing off on Weasley here in the middle of a paddock for an hour doesn't count as sleep," Modwin said with a grin. Charlie was amazed at how quickly his demeanor could change; one moment he was the serious and In Charge, the next he was jaunty and joking.
Ingrid wasn't falling for it, however. Her eyes narrowed and her voice thinned into something very like a hiss as she said, "Where and when and… with or on whom… I sleep is my business."
"That isn't the issue!" shouted Modwin.
Charlie stared. Again the change in demeanor was astonishing. He'd never heard Modwin raise his voice in anger. He began to be frightened; if Modwin felt he needed to shout at Ingrid, things must have been worse than they seemed. Charlie looked back to Ingrid; she still wouldn't look at him, and very suddenly he felt as though he was somewhere he shouldn't be. This was a conversation for Ingrid and Modwin, and he, Charlie, had no place in it.
But I do, dammit, he thought. Ingrid's my… friend… and I'm just as worried about her as Modwin is.
He stepped closer to Ingrid and put a hand on her arm. "Please," he said. "Don't be angry with us. We're just worried about you, and every time you tell us not to worry, that just makes us worry more." She met his eyes, and he continued, "Please sleep. For me, okay?" And tried a smile.
Ingrid deflated. "Yes, okay," she said. And with a flash of defiance she straightened up and jabbed her index finger at Charlie's nose. "But if I hear that Norbert got worse and you two let me sleep through it, I'll have your heads."
"We stand warned," grinned Modwin.
Ingrid nodded, and without another word turned to go back to the barracks. Charlie and Modwin watched her. "I hope she's all right," Charlie muttered. "She'd better take care of herself, or else…"
"Or else what?" asked Modwin casually. "You'll do it for her?"
Charlie reddened. "You're not funny."
Modwin smiled. "Yes, I am."