The Other Dead

He wasn't the one to invent the charm, but Charlie Weasley was one of the first to learn of its existence, and only the third witch or wizard to master it.

Even the Muggles knew that dragons were fearsome creatures, absolutely untameable, wreaking havoc on everything in their path. They could be clever, and they could be cunning, but nonetheless they were beasts and not beings, and could never truly be an enemy or a friend. Charlie had always seen them as beautiful, fiercely independent creatures, worthy of his respect, but he was the first to admit that they did as their nature dictated and no more.

That is, until the communico draconis charm, when suddenly the dragons could understand their keepers.

The reality was that many simply didn't care to listen; still others would understand where to go to eat or drink or breed, and turn their back on all else. But there were a rare few, maybe one in twenty-five by Charlie's count, and probably fewer, who would pay attention to what was being said. Who could fully comprehend what they were being told. Those were the ones, in the end, who agreed to help fight the war.

The first time he saw a dragon go down in battle, Charlie wished he'd never even heard of the communico draconis charm.

"It's getting hot," said Ron, a patently obvious fact which Charlie needn't have been reminded of. "We ought to get started."

Charlie had often imagined the defeat of Voldemort, even before the second war had really got started, when all he had were tales of the first war and his parents' murmurs that Voldemort was not gone for good. There would be fireworks and celebrations, and life would be easy in a way he'd never known it to be.

He hadn't imagined he'd spend the next morning pulling bodies off the Quidditch pitch.

"Has Madame Pomfrey cleared you to work?" he asked his brother, after clearing his throat three times. "You didn't look in a good way, last night." Nor had most of the people Charlie had seen being levitated, carried and sometimes dragged into the Great Hall following the battle. But Charlie's attention had been focused almost solely on his family, what remained of it, until he himself had finally succumbed to desperately-needed unconsciousness.

"Madame Pomfrey's dead," said Ron, and rolled up his sleeves. "This has got to be done." He still didn't look in a good way, but he wasn't wrong.

Charlie felt like he was seeing the damage for the first time, though he'd been in the thick of the battle till the bitter end. It hadn't come down to just Harry and Voldemort, face-to-face for one last confrontation. It had come down to every member of the Order -- and others, many others, who'd flocked to their side -- against every Death Eater, and against every person, every being, who thought that Voldemort led the way to a new world.

Bodies littered the Hogwarts grounds, humans and centaurs and goblins and giants and house-elves. And dragons. Eight dragons had come from Romania to fight with the Order. Only four were going back.

The other survivors, slowly trickling from the comfort of Hogwarts castle into the harsh day, into the aftermath of what'd had to be done, would take care of their friends and families, of all the beings who'd fought bravely the previous night.

And Charlie, well, Charlie knew what he had to do.

"I'm starting at the forest," he said, gesturing for Ron to go the other way. "I'll find you."

"Or I'll find you." Ron looked like he wanted to say something more, and for a moment Charlie thought he might say something about the previous night, about the things he'd seen, the things he'd endured. But then without so much as a wave he turned and started for the pitch.

If Ron had said anything, Charlie would have told him to start somewhere else. Ron didn't need to see the aftermath of Harry and Voldemort's showdown, where in the end no one had walked away, and once he did he wouldn't ever be able to forget. But Charlie knew his brother now, better than he ever had, and knew that Ron would never forgive himself if he didn't try to find his friend.

Charlie didn't wave either as he set off alone for the fringes of the battle, where the first of his dragons had fallen.

The Hebridean Black's name had been Irina, and she'd had a sweet temper, for a dragon. Even before Charlie'd been able to talk to her, she'd been the least likely to spray her keepers with fire when they were trying to untangle her from a poacher's netting charm.

He hardly had to venture into the forest at all to find her, laid out between two oak trees, with a third burnt and crumbled beneath her. He closed her eyes, set a protection charm on her and tried to figure just how he was going to get her out of the woods. Not to mention what he would do with her when he did.

Perhaps she didn't need to be moved; perhaps what he needed to do was bring the rest of the dragons to her. For what better place could he choose to lay them to rest than here in the forest, near to where they'd fought their last fight? The edges of this forest had been where Charlie's love of creatures had been nurtured, the love that had brought him to Romania in the first place, to care for and befriend these very creatures.

He could think of nothing more fitting.

The Welsh Green known as Maurice wasn't even fully-grown. Much like many of the people who'd fought in this battle, including Charlie's own brother and sister. Charlie had wanted to leave him behind, but it was difficult to argue with a dragon, and so Maurice had flown alongside the others, eager to do his part.

Perhaps, flying to Britain again, he thought if they won he would be allowed to go home. If Maurice had survived, Charlie probably would have let him.

The smaller body was easier to move than the others would be. Physically, at least; Charlie couldn't speak for the emotional toll of moving the body of a creature he would have called his friend, levitated high above the heads of the other survivors who worked to find their own dead.

He laid Maurice against the belly of Irina, the irony of which was not lost on him, for in life Maurice and Irina had never got on. At least, if the blasts of fire in each other's direction were any indication.

A second Welsh Green had fallen nearly right on top of the castle, taking a protruding turret with her. Charlie hadn't known her well, if he could be said to have really known any of the creatures. She hadn't been contained in Romania for very long, and Charlie had only spoken to her twice before she agreed to come fight. Perhaps, like Maurice, she had thought of this as being her home territory. Perhaps she'd had other reasons of her own to come, for despite the charm, Charlie would never claim to know the mind of a dragon.

"You there!" he shouted to a skulking figure in black who was prising open the mouth of the dragon. "Be off!"

The figure waved him off and continued on with his task. At least, until Charlie's stunning hex hit him squarely on the shoulder.

"What the bloody hell was that for?" he asked, now propelled a few steps away from the downed creature. "Do you know what those teeth are worth?"

Charlie still had his wand trained on the man as he stalked forward, as intensely as he'd approached any battle during the war. "This dragon was a hero of this battle," he said, pressing on until he was almost at the man's throat, "and I will not have her harvested for parts. Be off!"

The man did take a couple of steps back, but he didn't flee. Charlie thought perhaps he recognised him, a Diagon Alley merchant, but he didn't remember him from the battle. That said, the chaos was enormous, and Charlie couldn't remember everyone. He was not a charitable man, in the aftermath of battle, but he would give the benefit of the doubt.

"There is plenty of work to be done," he said, before the man could put forth any further arguments. "Might I suggest you offer your assistance?"

Charlie didn't know what did it, whether it was the fact that his wand arm didn't so much as twitch, that his eyes showed some of the mania that had possessed him during the battle proper, or whether the man did have a conscience and a sense of duty. Whichever it was, he backed down, raised his palms in a gesture of peace and set off to another part of the grounds.

Charlie hated that he didn't know the dragon's name, but he treated her with the care he had the others, protecting her from further predators and lifting her -- not without some effort this time -- to where the others lay.

The three of them took up surprisingly little space, limp and curled around one another, but it was still a staggering pile of dragon. Charlie had dealt with dragon deaths at the preserve in Romania, such was the nature of life, but the scene here was beginning to overwhelm him, the magnitude of what had happened to them all. The number of deaths, the number of injuries, the number of lives irrevocably changed.

He made his way out of the forest again and as far as Hagrid's hut before losing what little breakfast he'd managed to get down in the middle of his pumpkin patch. And there he sat on the steps of the hut for a long while before he managed to get himself to his feet again and continue with his self-imposed task.

Charlie had been surprised when a Horntail had agreed to join the fight, but Bruce had turned out to be one of the fiercest fighters Charlie had ever seen. He certainly had been a fighter when they'd had him in Romania, too combative to even be considered for use in the Tri-Wizard Tournament, those years ago.

He was older than the others, scarred heavily before he'd ever been brought to Romania. Charlie would never know what prompted him to join the fight, but if he had to guess, it would be that Bruce wanted one last great battle to go out on, instead of wasting away under their care. Of all the dragons they'd brought with them, Charlie was least surprised to see Bruce never leave the battlefield. Bruce never did anything half-hearted.

"Frightening brute, isn't he?"

Ron was nearly next to him, but he still sounded like he was speaking from far away. "He would have been flattered you thought so," Charlie replied after a moment. If Ron was here, then he was no longer scouring the pitch. And if he was no longer scouring the pitch, then.... "Did you find...?" he asked quietly.

He looked over and saw Ron nod slightly, though he never said a word about it, and for the moment remained expressionless. "You looked like you could use a bit of help here."

Charlie swallowed and stared at Bruce's closed eyes a little longer. "I'm going to burn them in the forest," he said finally. "It's what... it's what they need me to do. Burn them to the bones, leave nothing for the collectors."

"They use dragon's blood in a lot of really important potions," Ron offered hesitantly.

"Not these dragons," said Charlie, and turned his wand on the great body before them. He was tired from the others, and his wand arm shook, but he managed to lift the beast in its imperfect repose and begin to move him slowly over the dirty grass.

Then suddenly the load became lighter, not a physical lightening but a mental one. He looked over and saw Ron with his wand raised as well. "Just lead the way," he said, "and I'll follow."

Bruce's body dwarfed the others, though he still looked so much smaller than life as he lay there. At least he'd had a good one, Charlie consoled himself. At least he'd given them all the best life he could have, even if he'd been responsible for bringing them here, to the midst of this war that was not their own. But they'd chosen, perhaps even more than most of the people who'd fought had chosen, to be here.

"Do you want me to--?" started Ron, but Charlie shook his head.

One by one he set the bodies alight, watching the at-first tiny flames grow and grow, until they became one great pyre, rising to the sky.

There he stayed until they sky grew dark, until that great fire was the only thing they could see. And there Ron stayed, at first by his side and then in his arms, as they paid tribute to more than these magnificent creatures.

There they remembered the friends they had lost in this conflict, the lives that had been altered forever. There they wept for the brother they had lost long before that night, and the brother that had yet to be found. For the family that was broken and would need a great deal of time to heal.

Charlie remembered each of the creatures as he had known them, and the dozens of others he knew he would be returning to, later if not sooner, for these were his charges and his life's work. And whatever anyone else might think of his profession and his priorities, or whether they even thought of them at all, he knew he was doing a good thing.

"They were worth this," he said, as the flames finally died down, leaving a great pile of ash that would nourish the forest, a place Charlie valued more than anyone knew.

Ron nodded at him, and whether he understood or not, Charlie knew that he at least accepted. A few moments later he led the way back to the castle, for there was much work left to be done.

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