The Sugar Quill
Author: Lone Astronomer (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: The Lion and the Unicorn  Chapter: Chapter One: A Message
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The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

Disclaimer: It's all J. K. Rowling's.

Summary: We fight the darkness, but do we ever win? A Charlie Weasley story.

 

*

Chapter One: A Message

'The lion and the unicorn fought for the crown.

The lion beat the unicorn all round the town.

Some gave them white bread and some gave them brown;

Some gave them plum cake and drummed them out of town.'

The sun dawning over the Black Sea cast errant rays of light through the half-open window, illuminating the young man's face in high relief. Charlie Weasley grumbled and rolled over, making a mental note to turn the hostel 'round so that his window faced the west when he awoke properly, but made no effort to get up. As it was barely six-thirty and not a suitable time to be awake, Charlie had no intention whatsoever of bothering to get up before eight o'clock.

The owl flapping outside his window had other ideas. The incessant tapping noise was loud enough for Charlie to pull his pillow over his ears, but the repetitive sound could not be blocked. The owl just tapped louder than ever. Figures that I'd be able to sleep through the roaring and stomping and screaming of mating Romanian Stubnoses, but not the tapping of an owl.

Sighing resignedly and wondering if he'd ever get a truly good night's sleep, Charlie threw the window open the rest of the way. The owl alighted on his bedpost, pleased with itself, and held out its leg importantly.

The parchment, bearing the seal of Hogwarts Headmaster Albus Dumbledore, looked more than a little foreboding to Charlie. Still, he slit it open with his thumb and began to read.

Dear Mr. Weasley,

In recent months it has become apparent to you that all is not well in the wizarding world. I fear that the disaster at the Triwizard Tournament is only the beginning. It's come to my attention, and that of others, that Romania could become a bargaining zone. If I have one piece of advice to give you, it's to watch for strangers. You'll know them when you see them.

Concernedly yours,

Albus Dumbledore

Charlie frowned. It wasn't unlike Dumbledore to be so cryptic, but if this was so important… He shook off the bad vibes he'd been getting and threw on a pair of trousers over his sleeping shorts. Grabbing his notes, his wand, a quill and his jacket, he headed into the communal kitchen to grab a quick breakfast.

Anya and Jacques were already up. Coffee was brewing and breakfast on the table. "Morning, Charlie," Anya said cheerfully, tossing her dark hair out of her face.

"Mmm," mumbled Charlie, scribbling away on his notepad.

"Ah, c'est un beau matin," Jacques commented in French. "Bee-you-tiful morning, hien, Charles?"

"Mmhmm," responded Charlie, signing his letter with a flourish and finally looking up. "Has the female chosen a spot to lay her eggs yet?"

Anya shook her head, half-Shee eyes lidded and shadowed with exhaustion. "No, but you should've heard them last night. How did you sleep?"

"Very well, thanks to a strong Silence Charm and one too many glasses of vodka. What about you, Jacques?"

"L'amour!" Jacques said with a roguish grin. "I was not inside sleeping, mais non, I was outside watching zem!"

Anya grinned, as if she has been expecting this. "Definite downside to being a dragon- there is no privacy."

Even Charlie could barely suppress a smile. "You never struck me as the voyeur type, Jacques."

"You laugh," Jacques retorted, "but wait until ze love bug, she bites you-"

Charlie raised an eyebrow. "You're in love with Anita?"

Jaques shook his head haughtily. "Mais non! Ce n'est pas elle qui a mes attentions! But Alonzo…"

Not really surprised, Charlie went about eating his breakfast with a knowing look upon his face. And I thought practicing inappropriate charms on a goat was bad. The French omelet Jacques had obviously made was quite good, however, and so he made no further comment, being rather engrossed in his food. Now, where is that ruddy owl?

Dear Professor,

What's this about bargaining zones and strangers? I'll keep my eyes out for newcomers, but be warned- I don't get out much. There are only fifteen of us taking care of these two dragons, and I only get into 'town' about once a month. I still don't know what you want me to do. Could you please be a little less vague?

Yours confusedly,

Charlie Weasley

Charlie tucked the note into the owl's pouch and set him out the window, watching him fly off into the distance. Then, he grabbed his wand and notepad once again and went outside to watch the dragons.

Anita, it seemed, had chosen a spot for her nest earlier that morning when everyone was eating breakfast. She'd settled down near the base of the massive cliff in a dense brush that would soon be trampled down into more of a nest-shape. Rocks naturally lined the edges of the brush and there was just barely enough room for her to lie down.

Once the eggs hatched, it would be crowded, but that was a given anyway. At the moment she was glaring furiously at Alonzo, who had tried to approach her at a bad moment and was now sulking by the sea.

Charlie roughly sketched the location of the nest into his logbook, noting that it faced east and was protected on the other three sides. He was also somewhat amused at Anita's anti-male behavior at the moment; he vaguely remembered the mood-swings his mother had had when she was pregnant with Ginny. By that time, however, his father had had a lot of experience with the pregnant Molly and knew when to back off. Alonzo, being a good eighty years younger than Anita, had no such experience, and it showed.

Anita had plenty of experience. While she was a hundred fifty years old, she was hardly approaching middle age for a dragon.

Alonzo was seventy-three and just barely full-grown, having molted out of his last adolescent skin only six months earlier. He was a beautiful mixture of roan and brown, crested with a deep gold on his head and neck. Anita, normally black and green and silver, had strange gray marks between scales on her belly, and Charlie gathered from this that she was nearly ready to lay the eggs.

A thump beside him startled him out of his halfhearted musings, and Charlie diverted some of his attention from his drawing. "Seems that Anita's found a spot she likes at last," he commented, doodling a bit more on his notepad.

Anya showed her concurrence with the barest shake of her head. "Where've you been all day? Your thoughts are anywhere but here."

"Feeling my age," Charlie joked, not looking up.

Anya looked over his shoulder, watching the pencil as Charlie sketched away. "That's somewhat depressing," she finally said. Charlie wasn't sure if she meant his comment or the drawing. "Trouble back home?"

Charlie sighed and finally put down the notepad. "Yeah. I'm not sure exactly what- Dumbledore wrote me and told me to keep my eye out for strangers, but that was basically it. Kind of cryptic, you know?"

Anya nodded. "Typical of him."

"Most definitely," Charlie agreed. "But it's made me think."

"Small miracle," Anya said, smiling a little. "Not surprising that it didn't put you off your breakfast, though." She poked him in the stomach. "How can you eat like that and not gain weight?"

Charlie looked up, somewhat amused. "We spend eighteen hours a day, seven days a week, running around chasing dragons and you're asking me why I'm not fat?"

She shrugged. "Makes sense that you eat so much." This sentence was punctuated with a yawn, and the two of them lapsed into silence again.

Across the valley, the other four cabins that housed dragon keepers were starting to buzz to life. A few sparks here, some smoke from a fire there, and the general bustle of the camp was restored to its daily constant. Charlie often found it somewhat amusing that he roomed with crazy early-risers, when he would much rather have had a more normal schedule. Then again, he didn't get on nearly as well with any of the other keepers like he did with Anya and Jacques.

"Did you know," Charlie finally said, "that someone actually died during the Triwizard Tournament?"

Anya's face closed off a bit. "I'd heard," she said, "but I thought it was just a rumor."

Charlie nodded. "Seventeen years old and destined for Head Boy-dom, Captain of the Quidditch team and all-around do-gooder. There was absolutely no reason he had to die. Did you hear how it happened?"

Anya shook her head wordlessly.

Charlie let his breath out slowly. "Voldemort. He's back, you know. Things will dissolve into anarchy any day now. We're still too weak to withstand that kind of onslaught right now. Under Fudge, who won't even acknowledge that he's back in power, we haven't got a chance…" His head dropped into his hands.

His companion was silent for a long while. "Charlie, how old were you when Voldemort fell?"

"Only ten."

"Then let me tell you how it was when he reigned. When he first rose, there was a mad sort of a rush to just about anyplace you could think of. Folks stocked up on food, potions supplies, extra wands, robes, talismans, you name it. A lot of people quit their jobs to be home with their families. Those who did work did that and not much else, most of them being Aurors or Ministry employees with a better sense of duty and loyalty. We all went to sleep knowing that we could wake up with our family dead, or might not wake up at all.

"This had an expected effect on the economy. Diagon Alley became deserted and Knockturn Alley flourished. You couldn't trust anyone, so nobody had friends and nobody went out to dinner. Restaurants closed. St. Mungo's was overrun with curse-wounded patients. One in every three newborn babies was killed by corrupt mediwizards."

Anya sighed and continued. "I'm not saying that hiding the whole thing is a condonable course of action, Charlie. Just that, were you in Minister Fudge's shoes, you would be quite reluctant to announce Voldemort's return to power, as well."

 

 

Charlie awoke somewhat late the next morning, which was a blessing. It was Cabin Four's turn to wake up early and check on Anita's situation before breakfast and it had been Cabin Three's turn to stay up late the night before. Naturally that meant that Charlie got to sleep in, something he would never again take for granted.

Anya and Jaques, of course, were already awake and making breakfast in the kitchen- neither of them wanted to brave Charlie's cooking, which left something to be desired. "Morning, Charlie," Anya called in her usual cheerful manner.

"'Morning," Charlie answered somewhat sleepily, mulling over his orange juice.

"Anita laid her eggs during the night," Anya informed him as she set his hash browns down in front of him. "Alonzo was ecstatic. He nearly set fire to Cabin One." She grinned. "Anita has him sitting with them now. It's comical how human they act. Oh, and this came for you." Anya handed him a roll of parchment from the counter.

Charlie glanced down at it, noting the Hogwarts seal in the middle. "Thanks, Anya. Breakfast was delicious." He excused himself and went to his room to open the letter.

As it turned out, it wasn't only a letter. When he did unroll it, a small newspaper clipping fell out. Holding that in his left hand, Charlie scanned quickly through the letter.

Charlie,

Circumstances dictate that you return to England immediately as your kind is in high demand. I'm afraid I have very little else to add that I can safely send you in a letter, but take this newspaper clipping for notice- it is imperative that I speak to you in person. I shall arrange a meeting through your father.

Your Headmaster,

A. Dumbledore

Charlie took one look at the newspaper clipping before hanging his head. "Oh, no."

//
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