The Sugar Quill
Author: Jillie (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Sky High  Chapter: Chapter Two: You Can't Keep Anything from Tonks
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Sky High

Chapter Two: Tonks

 

Charlie absentmindedly grabbed the watering can and poured its contents onto the gillyweed he was tending. Charlie always tolerated Herbology—it meant classes under the sun, fresh air, and the handling of nature—but today was horribly long and boring. He knew why. He was itching to get over to the Quidditch pitch and work his players to the death. They had narrowly beaten Ravenclaw two weeks ago and flattened Hufflepuff four days prior, and now, it was time to prepare for the Championship. Charlie felt the contradictory feelings of nervousness and excitement race about in his taut stomach every time he thought about the impending final. Ten days—Charlie had just ten days to work himself silly at practice, to snag that Quidditch Championship trophy one last time.

That, and N.E.W.T.s.

Not to forget he still wasn’t sure what he was going to do after he graduated.

Merlin, was his stomach doing Wronski Feints now.

“Charlie! Look out!” Tonks cried, whacking his hand sharply. Charlie’s eyes snapped back into focus and he saw that his gillyweed was completely submerged in water.

“Ah!” Charlie yelped, and immediately pulled the watering can away from the drowning plant. Wet, goopy soil was spilling over the edge of the pot, making quite a mess. He hastily took out his wand and magicked away the mess before taking a deep breath and widening his washed-out, light eyes.

His large biceps tightened as he prepared to get a walloping from Tonks, but was caught by surprise when he felt her hand on his shoulder. He cocked his head sideways and looked down at Tonks, who was nearly two heads shorter than him.

“You are one distracted mate,” she said quietly, her voice calm and comforting. Tonks’ steady mood eased Charlie, which surprised him, because he really was tense. But the compassion in her voice was relief that Charlie hadn’t felt in months.

Yes, yes I am! Charlie cried out mentally. I’ve got millions of people loading Quidditch and jobs and grades on me, and I’m about to crack! I don’t know what to do! Everyone expects me to win this match and then go off and play professionally but I really don’t think I want it! But what is everyone else going to say? I can’t hold on to this much longer, Tonks!

“The Quidditch Final’s around the corner,” Charlie said, smiling. “You know how it gets.”

Tonks, however, wasn’t convinced by his seemingly happy demeanor. She narrowed her eyes and raised an eyebrow.

“Charlie Weasley! You can’t fool me!” Tonks hissed, crossing her arms over her chest. “You’ve been on the team since second year and you’ve gone through these four times—and not once, not even four years ago, were you stressed out over it!”

Charlie inwardly winced. Tonks had a point. He was naturally nonchalant and carefree, something that sometimes annoyed his mum, and now seemed to be annoying Tonks as well. I like to think I’m pretty levelheaded…

Until this year.

Fortunately for Charlie, Professor Sprout’s voice rang through the greenhouse, announcing the end of class.

“Can’t talk Tonks! Gotta go practice!” Charlie breathed, and snatched Beau (who had been working several tables away with a curvy Ravenclaw) by the arm on his way out to the pitch.

 “Okay, mates, we’ve got one last chance to win with this team,” Charlie declared twenty minutes later inside the locker room. The team was busy pulling on their outer equipment—shin guards and gloves and elbow pads and such. Charlie glanced around at his team, and felt his heart relax. The 1990-1991 Gryffindor Quidditch Team. His team.

My excellent Chasers, Charlie thought, grinning at the trio. There was of course Beau, who was busy lacing up his Quidditch boots. Next to him sat second year Angelina Johnson, a tall, dark-skinned girl, whose talent on the field was quickly blossoming. She was tall—Charlie hardly stood over her—and to her ambition amazed Charlie; she seemed to enjoy the most brutal games the best. Seventh year Guy Dirk silently adjusted his shin guards, his demeanor calm but his eyes blazing. To those who didn’t know him, Guy was quite intimidating—he was a giant, really; the tall, dark, and handsome type; the strong and silent one. Guy’s loyalty to Charlie usually put the sneering Slytherins in their place whenever they threatened the Gryffindor captain.

“We’ve got to give it our all, team,” Charlie said, slamming his fist into his palm. “And I know we can do it. We’ve done it for the past four years!”

George Weasley chuckled as he stretched on the floor. Charlie shook his head as he watched his twin brothers stretch their arms and legs. Fred was standing on one foot and hopping around on the other, grinning. Since Charlie himself could ride on a broomstick, the twins had shown great interest as they watched their older brother glide through the clouds—and since last year’s Beaters had graduated (one included Jordan Spinnet, whose younger sister Alicia Charlie watched with a scouting eye) the twins took it upon themselves to “liven up the Quidditch team.” They had a lot of work ahead of them, but their eagerness made them invaluable—if not on the pitch, than certainly for team morale.

“Don’t worry, Charlie!” piped up a young Oliver Wood. “We want it just as much as you do!”

“He’s right, you know!” Beau agreed, adjusting a shin guard. “Honestly, mate, you’d think that we’d just pop out on our brooms and go chase butterflies!”

Charlie gave a little laugh and looked from Beau to his Keeper, Oliver Wood. This was Oliver’s third year on the team—a special find of Charlie’s—and his Quidditch skills were almost prodigal; not unlike Charlie’s. Oliver’s fourteen-year-old body still needed time to grow, but that didn’t stop him from performing spectacular saves and jaw-dropping catches. He was truly a wonder—there was something about Oliver that Charlie didn’t have, and he couldn’t quite place it just yet.

Charlie shook his head and pointed with his thumb out to the pitch. “C’mon, mates, we’ve got to pull out all the stops this time ‘round!”

The weather outside was fantastic for Quidditch weather, and whether it was the weather or Charlie’s yearning to snag the Cup this year, the team performed spectacularly. Charlie’s Chasers executed their passes flawlessly; they seemed to have a premonition about their relative positions and performed with great ease. They always knew where each other was and they always performed together spectacularly (which had come from their being teammates for four years). They practiced without resistance for a while and then Oliver began to Keep, and Charlie was thrilled to see that Oliver only let four Quaffles through the goals. Meanwhile the Beaters smacked around Bludgers and Charlie began to perform amazing dives and catches. It put them all in a very good mood, and when the sun had begun to set, Charlie called it quits on the practice.

“Excellent work, mates!” Charlie said cheerfully, for his spirits were quite high. “I know we can keep it up!”

The team undressed, gabbing first about Quidditch, and then getting into more personal, gossip-y subjects, before Angelina rounded up on Charlie.

“So, Charlie,” Angelina said with difficulty, trying to unhook a kneepad and a shin guard at the same time. “Have you been studying for those N.E.W.T.s. yet?”

Charlie felt his stomach sink slightly, though he had noted a couple of minutes ago he was quite famished.

N.E.W.T.s in Herbology, Defense Against the Dark Arts, Care of Magical Creatures, and Charms.

“You’re in a lot of N.E.W.T.s classes, aren’t you?” Angelina continued. “That might be a struggle…though I always thought you were going to sign with a team?”

Of course, Angelina had no idea that her statement made him swell with anger, frustration, and anxiety (all at the same time, too!). It was a combination of his indignation that everyone else just assumed he was only good for Quidditch, his stress about facing final exams and the Cup, and his anxiety about how others might take his decision to become a dragon trainer.  

WHOA-A!

When did I decide that?! Charlie’s eyes grew wide, which Angelina mistook for pre-exam jitters.

“Ah, sorry, Charlie, I shouldn’t have brought that up,” Angelina said somberly. “You’ve got enough to worry about. Besides, there’s still two weeks until they come ‘round.”

“I’m not worrying,” Charlie replied.

Beau raised an eyebrow as he continued to strip off his equipment.

Charlie continued to shovel potatoes and meat into his mouth, savoring the delicious taste. He was an eater of habit: he mixed all of his foods together and ate quickly, never taking a sip of his drink until he had finished filling his stomach. Tonks often hypothesized that Charlie would throw up his meal because of how quickly he devoured everything and how disgusting some things (like potatoes and beef) looked all mingled as one, and Beau often told a disgusting joke about Charlie’s food that made everyone else lose their appetites (but strangely enough, never Charlie).

Charlie!” Tonks snapped, “Slow down!  What are you possibly in a hurry to do?”

Charlie had just scraped off the last bit of beef-potato and began to fill up his plate again.

“I had Quidditch practice today, Tonks,” Charlie whined, taking a sip from his goblet. “I’m starving! I haven’t eaten since noon.”

“And you hardly touched your food at noon, too,” Oliver Wood observed, who was sitting two or three seats down and across from Charlie. He grinned. “Quidditch player’s gotta eat!”

Charlie winked and jabbed his head as he ladled gravy over some rice. He didn’t notice the look shared between Beau and Tonks.

They chatted about nothing until Charlie had finished off his third helping, Beau his second, and Tonks her first. Charlie looked over towards the staff table to see Professor Kettleburn standing up and bidding Professors Sinistra and Snape farewell; Charlie could see that he held a giant ham and an immense bit of steak in his hands.

For Selda, of course!

“I’m…uh, going to run up to the dorm real fast!” Charlie said quickly, standing up.

“Now Charles,” Beau began in a stuffy, upper-class accent (quite a different tone from his Cockney accent), using Charlie’s real (and hated) name, “we have a long-standing tradition here, chap. The sweet delicacies, old boy! We stay until we wine and dine with style!”

Why can’t you just say stick around for pudding?” Tonks breathed, rolling her eyes.

“Because, dahling,” Beau began, but stopped himself when he noticed Charlie had left the Great Hall.

“Oh, he left,” Beau said, sounding truly surprised.

Charlie had learned stealth and speed from years of being an athlete, and he put them to the test tonight as he tiptoed and sprinted around a grumbling Professor Kettleburn, who wasn’t particularly enjoying dragging around two huge pieces of meat. Finally Kettleburn arrived at Selda’s paddock and Charlie hid behind the heavy trees that surrounded Selda’s corral.

What happened next was completely accidental, Charlie would insist in later years. Not once did he think that he’d overhear the spell used to open the paddock; not once did that thought cross his mind, and not once did he think he might use it.

Well…

Corpus Invictus!” Professor Kettleburn hissed, and pointed his wand past the magical barrier and at Selda, whose snarling indicated her wariness of the professor. A green spark of magic erupted from the point of his wand and sparked at the tip. Selda then began to trance, and immediately calmed down upon Kettleburn’s casting of the spell. She lolled in place, snorting every so often.

“—Dorame!” Kettleburn concluded, and bright blue flashes of magical light erupted from Selda and curved above her before slamming down on the paddock’s gate—which promptly swung open.

Charlie slapped his forehead. Great.

But even Kettleburn didn’t step inside the paddock, for Selda was no longer dazed and began to prance around quite gracefully for a giant lizard, eager to dine. Kettleburn threw the meat into the pen, stepped away, cried, “Concludere!” watched the magic close up the pen, made sure it was secure, and left.

Hoo, boy,” Charlie murmured, rubbing his temples. Bloody temptation!

After Kettleburn left the area, Charlie made sure he watched him walk back up to the castle. When he could no longer see him, he jumped out from behind the tree and slowly walked toward the pen.

Selda looked up briefly but seemed to be highly uninterested in the buff redhead coming her way, and went back to stripping off pieces of ham. That made Charlie chortle a bit—it was rather comforting, knowing that there was something that could care less about you. Being a Quidditch player, Charlie was constantly being followed both on and away from the pitch. Girls of all ages and star-struck, aspiring Quidditch players followed him around like puppies, and during a match six opposing players were swooping around him, one that particularly tailed him. And you’re just lying there, eating your meal, not caring at all. It doesn’t matter to you that I can play a sport. Not a bit. Still slowly he approached the paddock, feeling his heart pump faster and faster, until he found that he was right by the smooth railing. He put his hand up to the paddock and tapped it; the invisible magical field appeared, glowing and rippling in response to his touch.

“So you’re locked up in there good, eh, girl?” Charlie muttered. He squatted down so that he was eye level with the lounging, feeding dragon. Smiling, Charlie cocked his head to get a better look.

“I kinda feel what you’re going through,” Charlie said suddenly. “You know. Caged in with a bunch of stupid gits watching you.” He shuddered. “Sorry about that, Selda. You know…for doing to you what I dislike being done to me.”

Selda was looking at him through her icy eyes, but was still ripping apart the ham. Listening.

“I am talking…to a dragon,” Charlie said defeatedly. He snorted and his eyes widened, but what surprised him the most was the Selda herself made a derisive noise, as if to say, so?

Charlie lounged around for a while longer, watching the moon rise and stars stud the night sky while lying on his back. It was cloudy, but it added to the scenery.

Quidditch. Should I join a Quidditch team? Charlie mused inwardly. I like Quidditch. There’s nothing more in the world, really, that I like more’n Quidditch. I like being outside and I like action. But that’s what the Dragon Institute is offering too. ‘Cept it’s new action, new outdoors. But I’m not sick of the Quidditch action and outdoors. GOD! What am I gonna do? Bill’s already doin’ a great job for Gringotts—Mum and Dad’re proud. He didn’t pull anything surprising. But he was a prefect and Head Boy, which is quite a lot on someone’s plate. I’m just a prefect, though. But a Quidditch player. I wonder where I got this talent from? Can’t be Uncle Bilius—he's nutters. Maybe Uncle Gideon and Uncle Fabian. But not anymore…I wonder if You-Know-Who ever crashed a Quidditch match? So I suppose it’s safer to play nowadays, without that crazy nutter running around the place… Oh, everything’s crap! I hate thinking about this. I feel less and less excited about Quidditch as my future. Makes my stomach flip. The dragon’s more calming now than my hobby. I wonder if Quidditch is just a hobby? But hobbies are great. I mean, who wouldn’t want to get paid for playing at their hobby? And I really like the feeling of flying. But I wonder if I'd still like it when I have to get up at three in the morning to start practicing?  And I wonder if my Quidditch teammates would be friendly? I like playing with Beau and the others. I wouldn’t want to play with anyone else. But Beau’s already got something lined up. He’s not playing Quidditch. And he likes the game just as much as I do. And he’s good, too. ARRRGH.

Charlie let out a deep sigh. Why can’t I keep anything straight? I even wander when I’m thinking! Can’t I figure out anything?

N.E.W.T.s are going to be hell.

“I don’t know what to do,” Charlie said aloud. To his surprise he looked over and saw that Selda was lying right next to him. Their eyes met, Charlie’s full of quiet surprise and Selda’s full of steely will, when suddenly Selda made a weird noise and leaned her head back. Charlie wasn’t sure what she was going to do until he heard the unmistakable huffing of a sneeze.

“OH SH—,” Charlie cried, and immediately pushed himself upwards and rolled to his left just as a jet of blue flame escaped from Selda’s nostrils.

Selda snorted and looked up at Charlie, who shook his head.

“That’s a sign,” Charlie said, “for me to leave.”

Charlie made a motion with his head— that weird upward nod that boys do, acknowledging a friend or acquaintance—to Selda as a goodbye and trudged up to the castle, no longer thinking about Quidditch and his future but about the Swedish Short-Snout. That dragon was anything but vicious: she lay beside him, never growling or snapping, but—kind of—just…listening.

He liked that dragon.

Ten minutes later he had given the password to the Fat Lady (“Phalangellus”) and climbed into his cozy common room. It was later than he had realized: only three or four students were lounging around, and, to his dismay, one of them was—

“CHARLIE! Where have you been?” Tonks snapped, storming over to her friend, her arms at her side. “You were wandering aimlessly again, weren’t you? You’ve got to stop doing that, Charlie. It’s a waste of time."

Of course, he hadn’t been wandering aimlessly (something Charlie did do sometimes, usually without realizing it). But it sounded good to him.

“Charlie, you’ve got your head up in the clouds,” Tonks said, more calmly. She crossed her arms over her chest. “You’ve got to tell me, Charlie, what’s been wrong lately?”

“Nothing,” Charlie said quickly.

Nothing? NOTHING? You think I’m gonna believe that? I know you better than you know yourself, Charlie!” Tonks said loudly, putting her hands on her hips. Charlie took a step backwards. She could be quite intimidating—you know, for someone about a foot shorter than he was. “You’re not as cheerful as you usually are. And—and you’re more distracted.”

“You just told me I’ve got my head up in the clouds!” Charlie shot back, not unkindly.

“Sure, but you’ve been more distracted, and in a dismal kind of way,” Tonks argued.

She’ll make a good Auror, Charlie thought. For someone who’s so klutzy, she really does pay attention to details.

“And it’s something big, Charlie,” Tonks continued. Charlie was only half-listening.

“Oh?” he replied, lukewarm.

“You never get nervous for Quidditch—that’s just a natural thing. Nope, never. And you don’t really care about grades, ever…but you did take a lot of N.E.W.T. classes for some reason,” Tonks rambled off, talking to herself.

Everything that’s supposed to not be bothering me is, Charlie thought.

“But—perhaps all that’s what’s bothering you!” Tonks said suddenly. “Which is why you’ve been all weird lately.”

Mildly surprising, Charlie gave her a small smile. “Tonks! We’ve got ten days to the Cup and two weeks to N.E.W.T.s. I’m just tired, you know?”

“But Charlie—!” Tonks began.

“Goodnight, Tonks,” Charlie said, turning away. He slowly walked up the stairs and went into his room, where Beau and his other flat mates were already lying in bed, asleep. He quickly put on his pajamas, got a cup of water, and climbed into bed. For a couple of minutes he sat up in silence before he rolled over on his side. He heard a stir from Beau’s bed.

“You can’t keep anything from Tonks,” Beau said suddenly and sleepily.

Beau didn’t seem to expect an answer, so Charlie didn’t give him one; rather, he attempted to fall asleep, only to drift away, an hour later, into an uneasy, though dreamless, sleep.

//
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