You have one hour.
The gloating voice rings out throughout the castle, and the Death Eaters retreat, going to hide away in the forest with their master, no doubt. Charlie wants to go after them and doesn’t understand why people have stopped fighting. An hour isn’t a lot of time, but, if they all might die anyway, what difference does it make? It just gives the enemy time to regroup while they sit around waiting to be slaughtered.
He growls under his breath when he sees people moving to the Great Hall, resisting the urge to scream at them for giving up. He’s tired and hurt, too, but he’s not ready to just give up. When he notices the body of a kid on the stone floor, he’s suddenly reminded that a bunch of children are trying to fight He Who Must Not Be Named. He’s about to pick up the body when Wood beats him to it, nodding at him and saying, “Sorry ‘bout your brother,” before he carries the body into the Great Hall.
Brother? Charlie feels like someone’s kicked him in the gut, and he rushes through the crowd so he can find his family. He finds them gathered around Fred’s body and stops short, reaching out to hold the wall so he won’t fall to his knees. Mum’s crying and Bill’s holding Fleur and George looks like he’s in shock. Instead of going to them, Charlie looks away, trying to figure out what he can do to help. Fred has died, but he’s not about to lose another member of his family. After it’s over, when they’ve won, then he’ll grieve for the brother he’s lost. Until then, he refuses to give up the fight.
People are tired and look scared, which won’t help them win. They need reinforcements, he decides, and he’s going to do whatever he can to get them. If Voldemort’s in the Forbidden Forest, then maybe he can make it to Hogsmeade. There have to be people there who want to help. They can’t all be cowards letting children fight for their freedom. He has to keep that hope in mind because this is for Fred, this is for his family, and he’ll not rest until this is over.
He scans the crowd, trying to find someone who can help him, and spots a portly old wizard slouched in the corner. The man isn’t a member of the Order, which means he has to be a Professor. Charlie makes his way to him quickly and says, “How can we safely get to Hogsmeade without being noticed?”
The man looks up and blinks at him, wiping away tears before he pulls a blanket over a boy lying on the floor wearing Slytherin robes. The boy is moving, so Charlie doesn’t see why the man’s wasting time on someone alive when there are others who need saving.
“The fastest way,” Charlie says firmly. “You can take me.”
“I can’t leave the school,” the man protests. “I’m not going out there!”
“There’s nothing to do here. Not for an hour. There is something we can do out there. Will you help or do I need to find someone else?”
“I---why do you want to go to Hogsmeade? You're running away?”
“No, I'm not running away. Look around you, old man. It’s children fighting to save this place,” Charlie points out. “If I can get into Hogsmeade, maybe I can rally people and get them to help. We need reinforcements or we’ll never win.”
“You’re very rude, young man. I am Professor Slughorn, not ‘old man’,” Slughorn says pompously, despite the situation. When Charlie simply stares at him, he seems annoyed at the failure of recognition. “Do you really think we have a chance even with help? Most of my students have left, sent off to fight on the other side or hide out there without the safety of these stone walls. The others are tired and injured, or dead.”
“Are you going to help me or stand around whining until He Who Must Not Be Named attacks?” Charlie glances towards his family and tightens his grip on his wand. “We’ll have a chance if we get more people, and, right now, a chance is better than nothing.” He looks back at Slughorn and nods at the boy on the floor. “If we find more of your students who aren’t fighting on the other side, they can join us. Might help keep some of them alive.”
Slughorn hesitates before he says, “You’ll allow the Slytherin to help if they choose? We’re not a selfless house by any means, but we’re not all like those out there, regardless of what people seem to believe.”
“I’ll let anyone who can hold a wand help if they want,” Charlie mutters, shifting impatiently as he realizes time is being lost. “Now, show me how to get to Hosmeade, Slughorn. We’ll get reinforcements and come back as fast as we can. Time is passing too fast to keep talking, and this isn’t really the time for defensive speeches about houses.”
“I’ll show you,” Slughorn decides. He glances at the boy on the floor. “Gregory, if you wield your wand against anyone here, I’ll kill you myself.” The boy shakes his head and murmurs something Charlie can’t hear, but he gets the feeling that the kid’s not planning to touch his wand anytime soon. “Let’s go, my boy.”
Charlie follows Slughorn out of the Great Wall, taking one last look at his family. Turning away before he can give in to the impulse to go to them, he catches up to Slughorn, arching a brow when he realizes the man is wearing fancy pajamas. He bites his lip to keep from laughing, knowing he’d sound hysterical because he can’t stop himself from thinking about telling the twins of the portly pajama-wearing Slytherin since it was a story they’d have loved.
Finally, they reach outside, and he hurries Slughorn along, tempted to just pick the man up and carry him because he isn’t moving fast enough. They don’t say anything else as they rush to Hogsmeade, and they soon arrive to find people in the streets looking towards the castle, eager to help and do what they can to save their children or help fight a war that affects them all
Several students wearing Slytherin robes gravitate towards Slughorn, and Charlie’s honestly surprised when he realizes they’re talking about returning to the school to defend Hogwarts. He looks at Slughorn and holds out his hand. “Thank you,” he says simply, shaking Slughorn’s hand firmly before he begins to gather the troops.
An hour isn’t a lot of time, but it should be enough time to organize reinforcements and arrange a surprise attack when the time is up. Charlie can’t cry yet, can’t give up and mourn, but he can sure as hell fight and do what he can to make sure that Fred didn’t die in vain.
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July 25, 2007