Characters: Charlie Weasley/Hermione Granger, and some very familiar characters to some of you
Rating: PG-13, no warnings
Word Count: ~3100
Summary: It occurs to me that perhaps I don’t know the real Charlie Weasley at all.
Other links: OWL
The dining hall is large and open, faintly reminiscent of the stonework of Hogwarts but with a lower ceiling and warm, homey touches and dragon tapestries instead of House banners. The windows open to the warm, surprisingly balmy day, and the sunshine shines warmly on the naked wooden tables.
They also open to the blistering sound of Charlie Weasley thoroughly reaming out some luckless bastard in almost identical denims just outside. The younger man’s face is as red as Charlie’s hair, and he’s staring at the ground with the mindless determination of one intent on surviving this ordeal.
I realize in that moment that I have never see Charlie Weasley angry before. I’m well acquainted with happy!family!Charlie and somewhat familiar with grieving!Charlie, but angry!Charlie is a completely new one to me.
Standing just outside of the fireplace of the main house of the Hebrides Dragon Reserve, clutching my Ministry orders tightly while I watch the stocky redhead stalk back and forth outside the windows, yelling at the (apparently bloody inept, if what I can make out is to be believed) apprentice, it occurs to me that perhaps I don’t know the real Charlie Weasley at all.
I wonder if this is a good thing or a bad thing considering the job I’m here to do, but before I decide, a woman in well worn denims and one of those popular new half-robes comes in on oddly silent feet considering the dragonhide boots on her feet.
Or perhaps I’m just the next loudest thing to Tonks—the thought of her still hurts a year later—like Proudfoot harped at me in the Ministry corridors the other day when I ran into her. Hermione Granger, the new clumsy, coming to you courtesy of a cursed staircase and badly healed broken leg.
“Ah, you’re the Ministry liaison, then,” she says, but there’s less hostility than I expected in her Indian-British accent, though the once over she gives me makes me want to squirm.
“Yes,” I reply, somewhat timidly and still distracted by the goings-on outside. I shake myself, reminding myself that I’m here in a professional capacity and that I need these people’s good will. “I’m Hermione Granger, Department of Magical Creatures.” I hold out my hand to be shaken.
The woman looks at me for a long moment—I really don’t recall the file mentioning a woman of her description working at this reserve, who the hell is she?—but then takes my hand and shakes it very firmly. Her skin is surprisingly warm. “I’m Jani. Janira Pejay, actually, but everyone calls me Jani.”
She steps back, allowing me to come further into the room. “I honestly don’t recall you being on any of the paperwork, Ms Pejay.” The MacFustys were supposedly very clannish, so it was very surprising to find someone completely unknown here.
“Jani, please. We’re not a terribly formal lot, you’ll find.” As if to demonstrate the point, she perches on the edge of one of the tables, feet swinging idly. “I’m not on any paperwork. I am, however, here on Mrs MacFusty’s good will, and I help out whenever I can.”
There’s the stamp of heavy work boots in the corridor and her head tilts, a smile blooming across her face. A tall man comes in, hand running through unruly blonde hair. “Jani, where are… oh, g’day.” The Australian accent is a pleasant twang that reminds me of my parents’ new home.
My mind clicks back to all the reading I’ve been doing. This must be the Australian dragon expert the MacFustys had personally invited to help out with the reserve repairs, one Trent Fleming. I’ve read his work in several journals, though he’s nothing like I would have imagined him to be.
“Hermione Granger, this my fiancé, Trent Fleming.” Well, now things make a little more sense. “Trent, luv, this is Hermione. The Ministry person,” she adds the last in a chirpy, helpful tone.
I don’t miss the way he represses a sigh. I guess I just have to get used to this reaction. “Nice to meet you,” I tell him politely, extending my hand again. It gets engulfed in his much larger one.
“You, as well,” he says, joining Jani in lounging against one of the tables.
We are saved from any more awkwardness—he didn’t seem to have much to say, and that Jani keeps giving me these appraising looks that make me uncomfortable—by yet another set of stomping boots, even louder than the last. I glance back outside, realizing that it’s quiet now and clear of people.
“Must you sound like a bloody minotaur stomping around, Chaz?” Jani doesn’t give Charlie a chance to speak as he comes into the room muttering what I can guess are some very rude things about incompetence and just what he needs before the Ministry buffoon gets here.
His temper is very obviously up, his freckled cheeks ruddy with it. “Sod off, Jani,” he says, though from her expression (and Trent’s ducked head that I suspect hides a smile) there’s no actual venom behind it. “I don’t need this after Michaels nearly got his head bitten off…”
“Yes, I think everyone all the way to the continent knows Michaels nearly got his head bitten off by now,” Jani says, heedless of the glower she gets for interrupting.
“… right before whatever inept idiot the Ministry decides to send us to supposedly help out after a year of ignoring us,” Charlie forges on, ignoring her completely.
I can see Jani smirking at me as she ducks her head, hiding her face from the others with a curtain of silver-shot black hair. Oh, dear. This brings Charlie’s attention to me, though. I don’t think he realized there was anyone else in the room. I smile at him because I can’t think of anything to say. I’d been warned that I wouldn’t be received pleasantly, but I rather hoped Charlie might be pleased that someone he knew was handling things.
“Hermione?” He looks very surprised to see me here, and I don’t really blame him. “What are you doing here?”
“I…” I clear my throat. “I, ah, believe I’m that inept Ministry idiot you’re expecting.”
The expression on his face was priceless.
The tour of the small reserve is quite a whirlwind affair. On the whole I’ve been met with stony faces. You can tell the MacFusty family members apart from the rest of the workers—they have red hair much like the Weasleys, only it’s a darker shade of auburn—and they’re also the most unfriendly of the lot.
Yet, despite the resistance to my presence, I can’t help but want to help these people and this place.
Maybe it’s the piles of dragon bones from the dragons that Death Eaters, Snatchers, and other sorts of poachers had killed during the war to take whatever they wanted for wands and the black market. Poachings the family couldn’t stop completely because there weren’t enough of them after three of the sons died in separate Death Eater incidents, because the Ministry was taken over and exploited the Ministry access to the reserve, because no one else considered the dwindling dragon population important.
I can feel the wards as we walk along one of the borders of the reserve. They’re a messed up patchwork of spells, repair over repair like a thin, overused cloak that not even Remus Lupin would have worn any longer.
There’s still a pang about thinking of Remus. I wonder if that phantom pain will ever go away, if we’ll ever stop grieving for the ones we’ve lost.
“I had no idea this had happened,” I tell Charlie. I’ve stopped by another skeleton. The skull is slick and extremely hard, the remaining teeth—it looked like someone had cracked some of them out when they’d killed it—sharp and wicked looking. The sunlight gleams off the entire thing, giving it an almost unearthly radiance.
“Not many people do,” he replies, bitterness leaching into his tone like a poison. I turn to look, and he has this pinched expression, an almost familiar mixture of anger and grief. He came to stand next to me, resting his hand on the skull beside mine. It’s large and rough, I notice, the hands of a man that works very hard. There are several scars visible, and I wish I knew their stories. My skin tingles where it nearly touches his, and I realize suddenly that he’s very attractive.
Here I thought I was over my attraction to redheads, especially Weasleys. My friendship with Ron still isn’t quite the same, though it’s slowly repairing itself.
“You and Ron and Harry were on the run, I’m sure there’s a lot you don’t realize happened,” he says, though there’s no rancor in his tone. I feel faintly guilty though I know he doesn’t mean it like that. “Once Ollivander disappeared, people suddenly wanted more wands. Poachers always arrive to meet the need,” he said, glaring down at the skull. “And when Lachlan died, and his brothers… this place struggled badly.”
The pain is raw in his voice, as raw as when I’d heard him talk about Fred after the war. This Lachlan, and this place, had been—is—very important to him. I put my smaller, smoother hand over his. “I’m sorry.” What else is there to say?
He just stares down at our hands. I search his face but find it to be rather inscrutable—not the open book Ron always is.
“But now we can fix it,” I tell him more firmly, squeezing his hand. “That’s what I’m here for, after all.”
Charlie nods. “Yes, we can fix it.”
But, as we all know these days, things will never be the same.
I know I’ve finally been accepted by the group when supper is normal. Or what I expect is normal, compared to the tense, too silent affair it has been.
In fact, it’s as if someone flipped a switch. It’s as loud and raucous as the Gryffindor common room used to be. Except for Mrs MacFusty, the fifteen-year-old Aislinn MacFusty, and myself (Jani wasn’t present tonight), the reserve was populated by men. Charlie, the remaining three MacFusty brothers (I was beginning to suspect they were related to the Weasleys somehow), Kyle (an American, of all things), Trent, and two more blokes who mostly refuse to have a single thing to do with me.
The men now talk loudly to each other. The language is often fouler than I’d ever imagined it would be, but I know it would be senseless to say anything. Besides, it doesn’t seem intended to offend in this setting.
The way Aislinn acts, this is the natural way of things, and she can talk almost the same way… when her mother isn’t in the room. Mrs MacFusty is an equal opportunity scolder, I’d found out the hard way.
Reminder to self—never try to help in the kitchen unless you’re asked.
There is always ale and now there’s plenty of conversation. Kyle is being lewd and boisterous on one end, making poor Trent blush horribly because the American is hitting on him.
Jani walks in, late because she worked the last shift at her aunt’s store, the Magical Menagerie in Diagon, and ends the teasing with a smack to the back of Kyle’s head before setting herself in Trent’s lap. If anything, I think the man blushes even more now, but it’s sweet the way his arm goes around her to keep her close as she kisses him hello. I sigh wistfully.
Charlie seems to catch the sound of my sigh and looks at me inquisitively, but I just shake my head and smile.
“So, we going on a roundabout or not tomorrow?” Jani asks the crowd at large.
“Roundabout?” I ask Charlie, getting a sinking feeling in my stomach.
“Once every couple of weeks, a few of us go around and hit all out check points, make sure we don’t have a dragon nesting somewhere off our radar, check all the wards on the entire perimeter, that sort of thing,” he explains. “It usually takes about two days, so some of us stay here to run things while the others are gone.”
I nod. It only makes sense, after all, but… “So you don’t come back here for dinner or to sleep?” Uncertainty drops into my tone like speckles of paint onto a drop cloth.
“Nope,” Jani said with one of her quick grins, though it seems a little toothy, like she can sense my unease from the far side of the table. “We just camp out there. We’re all used to that sort of thing.”
Something in my face must give me away—I certainly feel a little green around the edges. After that year with Harry and Ron, camping and I just don’t go together.
“You should go, Hermione,” Kyle says helpfully. “You’ll get to see all the damage, not just the bits around here.”
“But… camping.” I know I sound like a pathetic whiner, but I can’t seem to help it.
Charlie reaches over and pats my hand. “Don’t worry, luv. You’ve never been truly camping til you come with us.” I look at him then, and there’s an absolutely wicked grin on his face.
The feeling of foreboding only doubles as my stomach does a flip.
Camping certainly takes on new meaning, I find, when you add copious amounts of alcohol and a raucous group of dragon keepers. I’d had nightmares the last few nights about funky smelling tents and the constant sense of being hunted, but this is about as casual as you could get, especially in comparison to the memories strung like the dullest, gloomiest tinsel in my head.
For some reason I find the sight of Jani pelting Trent with raisins while guarding the chocolate meant for smores hilariously funny. “I think someone’s been given a nip or two of the strong stuff,” a deep voice says behind me, and I nearly fall off my little Conjured stool. Strong hands steady me, and my head tilts straight back to meet the deliciously brown and extremely amused eyes of Charlie Weasley.
“Maaaaaybe,” I drawl, leaning back into him, feeling like I’m melting like Jani’s chocolate.
“You’re drunk,” he says, sounding surprised.
“You don’t need to sound so amused,” I tell him petulantly, feeling my lower lip pout out without permission.
“It is amusing. Is our version of camping really that horrible?” he asked, removing his nice, warm hands from my shoulders and coming around to settle on the ground near me. It’s odd to be sitting higher than him.
I shake my head vehemently and then think it might not have been a good idea when everything spins for a second. “No, it’s not!” I hurry and tell him. “It’s very fun, really.”
Am I gushing? I feel like I’m gushing. Maybe I really have had too much to drink. “I could do camping like this more often.” And yet I’ m not shutting up.
“I’m glad.” His smile is lopsided and genuine, and I suddenly think about how kissable his lips look. Next thing I know, I’m partly sprawled on his lap, my lips pressed against his. He gasps and I take hopeless advantage, and for a moment his mouth softens under mine.
Then there’s noise, a cat call and a loud, “Way to go, Granger!” and his hands are pushing me gently away. He looks at me very intently for a moment and my cheeks heat up when I realize what I’ve done.
The thought that maybe camping and me maybe still shouldn’t go together crosses my mind as I cross over to my little tent, wondering if I’m possibly drunk enough not to remember this in the morning.
The morning is blissfully grey and cloudy. That’s about the only thing that seems to go right from the moment I open my eyes to a horribly dry mouth, foul tasting tooth-paste, a throbbing headache, and wand-conjured coffee being offered by a smirking Indian woman who is taking far too much pleasure in my drunken actions the night before.
“I hate you,” I mutter, grimacing as I drink the disgusting brew.
“Uh huh.” Absurdly cheerful and very odd woman. Jani’s still smirking when Charlie approaches.
There is too much satisfaction to be had when he smacks her lightly on the back of the head. Unfortunately, the smirk fades into a snicker before she makes herself scarce.
“Morning,” he tells me, looking a little uncomfortable as he rocks from his heels to his toes and back again while drinking—without a grimace—the coffee.
“Morning,” I reply, alternately trying to get myself to look at him and make myself stop staring at him.
The silence stretches like an awkward baby dragon just out of the shell. No one else is around the morning campfire to interrupt the awkwardness, and I think that perhaps I might be able to justify killing Trent’s girlfriend for this.
Finally the caffeine cannot be justified by coffee, and I dump the dregs on the ground and stand up. It’s as if I blink and suddenly Charlie is right there in front of me, looking down at me with a look that reminds me of last night. I blush about as red as his hair but I can’t seem to look away.
“Why did you kiss me last night?” he asks.
The words bounce through my mind like a beach ball in the wind, complete with swirling colours and the anxious emotion you feel when you think you might lose it to the ocean.
Because you’re handsome and kind. Because you make my heart flutter in my throat. Because I wish you would touch me because the few times you have it sets my skin on fire despite the casual way you do it.
But the only thing that comes out is: “Because I wanted to.”
“You were drunk,” he says softly, but he’s closer than he was, it seems. Or maybe I’m imagining it.
“Yes, I was.”
“Do you still want to? Now that you’re not drunk?” There’s amusement in his husky tone. And he’s closer. Definitely closer. I can feel the heat of his body in the coolness of the morning, and his face is right there in front of me.
And he’s honorable. I probably knew that before, but this question pushes it home now.
I’m not even sure if my yes is audible before one of us closes the remaining distance between us and his lips are on mine.
We both taste of coffee but I feel the kiss down to my toes.
I don’t think I mind going camping with him at all.
A/N: This was written for spewchallenge's winter holiday exchange for kalina_blue (turned in late unfortunately). I was given a choice of pairings and three prompts: raisins, sunlight, and beach ball. Probably not what was expected, but yeah.
Thanks to somigliana for the gift of the title from one of her chapters of a fic, and for betaing this. Any tense and other problems are all on me, because I shouldn't write in present tense, lol.