A/N: Another acorn I've had squirrelled away for a while now. I hope you like it. xx-Kitten.
Let it Burn
Chapter 1: Fire-Whiskey
The first time she'd really seen him had been in fourth year when he'd come to Hogwarts as part of the party escorting the dragons needed for the first Triwizard Tournament task. He'd been racing around the side of a cage containing an irate Chinese Fireball, almost getting himself roasted in the process and looking like he was having the time of his life. Everyone else had been shouting and yelling, barking out orders and trying to calm the furious beast who'd been parted from her eggs and hauled halfway across the world.
Not him. He'd been laughing. His long red hair had come loose of its ponytail, the dragon-fang earring that hung from his right ear – to match the identical one his elder brother wore in his left ear – swung wildly and he'd been dressed in protective leather Dragon Tamer gear that made him look like he hadn't a care in the world.
She remembered watching him then and feeling a little awed. He was older than her. Confident in his job as a Dragon Tamer and having the time of his life as he laughed and tried to sweet-talk an egg-crazed Chinese Fireball into not roasting him to a crisp. It had been clear to her in a heartbeat that he wasn't the type of boy who shied away from danger or took warnings to heart. He was a true Gryffindor. Reckless. Daring. And willing to do just about anything that looked like it might be fun, even if it was a truly terrible idea.
When she'd been just fifteen years old, Charlie Weasley had looked the epitome of masculinity and, who was she kidding, he'd looked hot as hell doing it too. When she'd been introduced to him by a proud Ron and Ginny, Hermione had smiled widely and asked him about the burn scar she'd spotted across the top of his right forearm that he'd shaken her hand with. And he'd laughed when he'd told her about it. He'd been wild-eyed in a way that she'd never seen anyone else look before.
Not in any way that made him look insane or terrified. No, Charlie had such an intensity to him that it had taken her breath away. She remembered the number of times she'd accompanied Ron and Ginny into Charlie's presence when he'd been working with the dragons at the school in her fourth year, looking on in admiration and more than a little lust with the intense Dragon Tamer.
She hadn't seen him for a few years after fourth year. He'd been working for the Order and recruiting in Romania through most of that time and so hadn't been able to get home during the times when she'd been at the Burrow or at Grimmauld Place. Indeed, the next time Hermione had seen Charlie Weasley had been at Bill and Fleur's wedding, where he'd been best-man to Bill and had been annoyed most of the evening thanks to Molly forcibly insisting he cut his hair brutally short. At the time, Hermione remembered thinking that he looked like she imagined dragon-fire would feel. Sinfully hot and smouldering with raw, coiled power. Even with the loathed haircut, he'd looked like he'd been made for rough-housing with wild beasts and like he'd have no trouble wrestling one petite witch into bed with him.
Merlin, back then the intensity of his gaze and a well-placed request would have been enough to get her into bed with him.
Six years and a war hadn't changed that fact. She watched him over the rim of her glass where he drank with his colleagues at the only bar onsite at the Romanian Dragon Sanctuary in Dragonsmeade, laughing and joking as they drank away their Sunday evening. He was like a dragon himself, Hermione thought; a dangerous, unpredictable beast as likely to turn on her and roast her alive as he was to allow her to get close. Yet so intriguing, so intense and so breathtaking that she wanted to get close and feel just how much fire he had inside of him.
She wanted to be close enough to run her fingers through that red hair he'd grown long again since his brother's wedding. It hung almost-straight and gleaming in the firelight of the bar, tied by a leather throng that was coming undone and unleashing those fiery strands. The warm summer air had seen him donning a sleeveless leather tunic, revealing the number of burns, scars and dragon tattoos that littered his arms and shoulders. She wanted to be close enough to toy with the dragon-fang earring that hung from his right earlobe – an accessory, she'd been told, he and Bill had each donned when he'd been on a Dragon Hunt in Egypt three years into his Dragon Tamer career.
She didn't know all the details but she knew the earrings involved a dragon hunt gone wrong, an Egyptian princess and enough fire-whiskey to kill almost anything. They'd taken some kind of pact to keep their secret and protect one another and Hermione knew each brother wore the earring proudly, despite their mother's griping about it whenever they were in England with the rest of the family.
The hair and the earring only made him look more dangerous in Hermione's opinion. More unpredictable. More like a dragon himself. He wore those burns and scars like badges of honour. He didn't try to hide them and Hermione doubted he'd ever allowed a medi-witch to treat them with dittany or any other potion that might take those scars away. He'd told her once that he'd earned every single one of his scars when he touched the fire and the way he'd said it made her think it meant so much more than simply being burned. As though he believed that the marks were truly something to be proud over. The way he'd said he'd 'touched the fire' had made her shiver when she'd been fifteen and naïve.
At twenty-four, Hermione had more of an idea about the types of heat and the types of fire the world had on offer and she got the feeling that Charlie Weasley lived to touch them all. The burn of a good strong whiskey. The fire of a woman's flesh under his hands or his tongue. The fierce burning need to run his fingers over dragon scales despite the danger.
When she'd met him for the second time at the wedding, Hermione had been just seventeen and in love with his younger brother; but even then she'd been aware that Charlie Weasley was the embodiment of everything she wanted. His body was long and lean, coiled with wiry muscle. There was something about the way he held himself that made him look dangerous, like a coiled spring just waiting to snap free. A dragon waiting to lunge at an unsuspecting victim, bathing them in his fire and sinking his fangs into their flesh.
His friends and colleagues were dressed much the same way and were similarly scarred and tattooed, but there was something about Charlie that held her attention over the others. She couldn't describe it. Not really. All she knew was that every time she looked at him, she felt like he'd lit a fire in her belly and seared her with the heat he seemed to give off in waves. It was like he started an inferno in her blood and Hermione couldn't deny the craving that burned through her.
She wanted him.
She'd wanted him for a long time. He'd asked her to dance at Bill and Fleur's wedding and Hermione was ashamed to say she'd been a little too eager to say yes. Too eager for the girl who was supposed to be in love with his brother, anyway. There was just something about him that stood out.
Maybe it was the scars and tattoos. Maybe it was those wild brown eyes that looked at life like it were a wild dragon he wanted to take on. Maybe it was the way, when she'd asked him about his work, he'd lit up. The smoulder he exhibited in general had burned brighter than the sun and hotter than dragonfire ever could. Hermione was sure she'd never met anyone so passionate about anything in all her life.
He lived for the dragons he tamed. He lived for the thrill of the hunt when they went out to capture a beast terrorising a town or wounded in battle and needing attention. He lived for the adrenaline rush of touching a live dragon. He lived a life Hermione had never imagined anyone could.
She herself knew a thing or two about adrenaline. More than once in her life as the best friend of Harry Potter, Hermione had enjoyed the thrill of being inches from death. She knew what it was to fly by the seat of her pants, deep in the heart of danger with no clue of how they were going to make it out alive. But that didn't compare to the life Charlie lived. He played with the world's most dangerous beasts for fun. He tamed them. He captured them and cared for them.
He intrigued her.
Hermione threw back her shot of fire-whiskey and waved her glass at the bartender, silently requesting another. She was working up the courage to go over and talk to Charlie. She'd seen him many times since seeing him at the wedding. During the war and in the aftermath of it, Charlie had been at the Burrow through it all. He'd helped to pull them all back together after Fred's death. He'd fixed his mother cups of tea when she would sink into her despair and cry.
He'd grip his father's shoulder tight and stand steadfast and strong when being so strong for his family wore Arthur down. He'd send Bill home to Fleur, insisting the man shag his wife and pull his life back together, trying to sweet-talk Bill into giving their mother a grandchild to fuss over that would better take her mind off her dead son. He'd drink with George until the tears would start and then he'd hold the bereft twin to him in a tight embrace, laughing and joking with him, whispering in his brother's ear about the things Fred would be doing in the after-life and the mischief he'd be making on the other side.
When the drinking got too much he'd snatch the bottle away from George and ensure he didn't drink himself into the afterlife to be with his brother. He'd encouraged Ron to follow his dreams of being an Auror when the Ministry had made the offer for Harry and Ron to begin their training. He'd even sat and had a frank discussion with Hermione about whether she should take the Ministry up on their offer as well or if there was something else she wanted to do, encouraging her to go back to school and finish her NEWTs when she'd said that was what she wanted.
He had pulled Percy out of his guilt and his grief over Fred's loss, sparking intellectual debates with his younger brother that would rile Percy up and make him forget for a little while what a ponce he'd been to the rest of the family during the war. And then there'd been Ginny. Ginny was more like Charlie than any of her other brothers and she'd taken up the stead of Weasley matriarch when Molly broke down. But even she had needed to lean on her elder brother sometimes and Charlie had grinned his way through her worries over whether or not she and Harry would last as a couple while she finished school and whether the family would cope with her being away at Hogwarts so soon after their loss.
He'd done it all. He'd pulled them all back together and he'd taken almost a year off his work and his pursuit of all things dragon-related to fix his family as best he knew how.
And every day he'd been there, Hermione had watched his restlessness grow. He might've been hurting along with the rest of them, but Hermione had known how Charlie Weasley needed to grieve the death of his younger brother and his oldest school friend. It wasn't by sipping tea and consoling his distraught mother or distracting his father with muggle gadgets. It wasn't by drinking too much with his brothers.
He'd needed to grip life by the teeth and roar at it like he was a dragon himself. Hermione had known long before he announced his departure that he would be returning to Romania and the dragons of the colony here. She'd known he'd never be able to give up their allure. And for a time that had been fine. She'd hugged him goodbye along with the rest of the family and she'd tried to forget the way he'd made her burn for him.
She'd tried dousing the ache between her legs by distracting herself with Ron. She'd tried to make herself as interested in Ron as she'd been before interacting with his elder brother. And she'd done everything in her power to make sure Ron never knew their break-up had been a result of the fact that she'd wanted Charlie far more than she'd ever wanted Ron himself.
Hermione had gone about her life until now. She'd finished her final year of school following the war. She'd gotten herself an internship with the Ministry in the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures office. She'd worked her way through the ranks there until she'd landed herself a job in the Dragonolist department and she'd stuck it out until they'd finally told her that she was being given the chance to train with the beasts and learn about them in the colonies in Romania – the largest Dragon Sanctuary in all of wizarding history.
Indeed, she'd even waited until things with Ron were well and truly over – until Ron was engaged to another woman – before she'd even thought about allowing herself the chance to come to Romania.
What she hadn't done, was tell Charlie she was coming. Harry knew. Ginny knew. Even Ron knew she'd been given the chance to come to Romania. She'd told her family and friends that she'd been promoted and given a once in a lifetime opportunity to learn about magical creatures and her chosen field of study. They knew she was coming to Romania. They knew she would be living here for the next year. Ministry sponsored as part of her training, Hermione knew the DRCMC was expecting big things out of her and wanted to make sure she was fully prepared and properly experienced before they would think about promoting her again.
If she was being honest, Hermione knew her skills and her interests lay in the scientific research field, pertaining – in particular, to dragon breeding, dragon anatomy and a means for the dragon populations of the world to grow once more. There had been a rapid decrease in the number of dragons currently within the world and Hermione knew that her department was pinning their hopes on her analytical skills in order to come up with a reason for it and suggestions for ways to make sure the numbers improved.
But she hadn't told Charlie she was coming.
She hadn't wanted him to think she'd come because of him. In fact, she'd been entertaining notions of pretending she'd forgotten he worked in these colonies in this particular part of Romania. Of course, that idea had been dismissed as quickly as it had occurred to her. She'd been thinking instead that it might be more prudent to show up tomorrow morning at the sanctuary and 'surprise' Charlie whilst having the legitimate fact of her being there for work as a buffer to keep him from knowing the truth.
She couldn't tell him she'd been hot for him since she was seventeen. She couldn't just saunter over there, straddle him and demand he fuck her until the fire between her legs that he'd lit six years ago consumed them both. Maybe firewhiskey wasn't the best idea when it came to avoiding that idea.
Hermione threw back the next shot, relishing the taste of the fiery amber liquid and the way it made her insides hotter than fire as it went down. She'd fallen in love with the alcohol when she'd discovered its singular ability to make the rest of her as hot as the place between her legs whenever she thought of Charlie.
"Another?" the bartender asked, watching her with intrigued eyes as she downed the liquor in one.
Hermione knew she shouldn't do it. She had to work in the morning. With dragons, no less.
"Yes, please," she sighed, her gaze straying once more to Charlie where he was drinking with his colleagues.
He looked relaxed and comfortable around them, but Hermione couldn't deny that there still looked to be that coiled hunger in his pose and in his eyes. She'd seen it before he returned to Romania. At the time, Hermione had assumed it was the look of a man used to living dangerously who craves that next rush of adrenaline. But he still had it. He'd spent almost a year at home trying to help pull his family back together and he still came home for the holidays when he could.
Yet he still had that hungry look about him as though there was something he was burning for that he didn't seem to be finding, even here among his friends, his colleagues and his dragons.
"Are you new around here, love?" the bartender asked, topping up her glass.
"Yes," Hermione nodded, transferring her gaze to the grizzled looked man pouring her drinks when she felt a pulse of heat rock through her core from watching Charlie for too long, "The British Ministry sent me to receive my Dragonologist practical training and to study the beasts up close. I'm a researcher trying to find the solution to the population decreases we've seen over the past five years."
"That right?" the bartender grinned, "You know them boys, then? They'll likely be your trainers and your mentors while you're here. Best of the Tamers in the whole bloody sanctuary."
"I know," Hermione smiled softly, "I'm actually a family friend of Charlie's."
"Oh, you know Charlie?" he asked, "What are you doing sitting here drinking alone then? Get over there and talk to him."
"He doesn't know I'm here yet," Hermione admitted to the man, downing her drink and holding her glass out as she waited for another.
"One way to fix that, love," he grinned at her, topping her glass up to the brim, "Go over and say hello, or I'm cutting you off."
Hermione narrowed her eyes on the man in annoyance but she paid him the money she owed him. She'd need more liquid courage if she was going to head over there and tell Charlie she was in his neck of the woods. Hells, she was going to need to shower in ice-water if she wanted to have any hope of keeping her wits and not tripping over her tongue or begging him to take her to bed.
Merlin, she hadn't be laid in more than a year and it was driving her spare. She'd tried. Things with Ron had fallen apart almost four years ago now and Hermione had dated other boys since then. She'd tried to forget the way Charlie could look when he was yearning for the heat of dragon-flames shooting past him, almost burning him alive. Hermione had dated others and she'd tried to think about anyone other than Charlie bloody Weasley when she let them take her to bed.
She'd tried to get them to inspire the fire in her that he'd ignited but none of them had even come close to stoking the flames.
Sighing, Hermione sipped her drink a little more sparingly before glancing down at herself. She'd arrived that morning and Hermione hadn't had a chance to change since then. She'd been busy getting settled in and unpacking her things in the cabin she'd been given to live in for the length of her stay. She wore black denim jeans, dragon-hide boots and a blue snug fitting scoop-neck t-shirt. It was warm enough out that she'd left her travelling cloak in her cabin before she'd come in search of food and a drink at the local pub.
And now she was sitting by herself spying on the man she'd been in serious lust with for six years rather than going over and greeting him like she ought given that they were family in all but name or blood. Shaking her head at herself for being such an idiot, it occurred to her that were their positions reversed, she'd have been annoyed with him for sitting across the bar rather than coming over and saying hello. That, more than anything else, inspired her to stop being such a coward.
Stalking across the bar like a woman on a mission, Hermione approached the table where Charlie and his buddies were all drinking. Like her, they'd already finished their meals and fallen simply to having a few drinks after a long day. One of his friends bore a fresh bandage over the newest burn on his bicep he'd obviously earned that day.
"Mind if I join you?" the words tumbled out of her mouth in a sultry purr she hadn't known she was capable of.
Seven faces turned to look at her and Hermione felt a little better about herself when at least four of them looked like they approved of the idea that she join them. Two of the group were other girls, also Tamers by the looks of their scars and Hermione caught the way one of them frowned at her slightly.
"Hermione?" Charlie's voice asked over the din of the crowded bar.
Hermione met his gaze carefully, tilting her glass to her lips and taking a drink as she looked at him. Those wild brown eyes clashed with hers and set fire to her very soul. Hermione nearly melted into a puddle right there. He didn't act the way any of the other Weasleys would have upon seeing her. They'd have all jumped up, shuffled awkwardly with the intent of hugging her, looked nervous and then hugged her anyway.
Charlie didn't leave his seat.
He just fixed her one of those smouldering gazes he had so perfected and Hermione was sure that her knickers were soaked. Gods, no one had the right to look at her like that. He looked at her like she were a wild dragon and he was assessing how best to tame her. Like she were some magnificent beast he wanted to smooth his hands over. She'd have been flattered if she hadn't learned that it was just the look he constantly wore. An expression of yearning and hunger combined with a cocky arrogance one could only gain when they lived life on the edge every single day and still survived.
"Miss me?" Hermione asked when Charlie didn't say anything else, just stared at her, clearly surprised to find her suddenly in his midst. She suspected he was having a 'two worlds collide' type moment given that his life in Romania so infrequently clashed with his life in England.
"You know this one, Charlie?" one of Charlie's friends asked, looking her up and down speculatively and clearly a bit worried by Charlie's surprised expression. For a man who didn't surprise easily, Hermione wondered if it was a good or bad thing that the sight of her had thrown him for a loop.
"I'm best friends with his youngest brother," Hermione offered her hand to the speaker, noting his wicked gaze. Indeed, he had the same look as Charlie. Dangerous. Arrogant. Sexy as hell. But he had nothing on the red-haired man she wanted to ravish until the fire inside her burned out.
"Jason Van Der Meene," the man smirked at her wickedly.
"Hermione Granger," Hermione said in reply, noting as she spoke that one of the girls in the group eyed the scar across her forearm with distaste, clearly unsettled by the word 'Mudblood' where it had been slashed into her skin and scarred in wretched, raised purple lettering.
"Aw hell, you're the girl who helped Harry Potter end You-Know-Who's reign of terror, right?" Jason said, looking a little awed as she introduced herself. He shook her hand firmly and Hermione noticed that like Charlie, his hand bore calluses, blisters and a few scars from his work.
"Well…" Hermione blushed modestly at being addressed in such a manner. She'd almost forgotten that she was still technically famous for what she'd done during the war. The people she worked with and her friends at home didn't tend to think too much about the fame that came with what they'd done anymore, and she avoided the press constantly, so she'd forgotten what it could be like to meet someone for the first time and have them know of her past deeds.
"She is," Charlie nodded, speaking for her before he threw back the rest of the whiskey in his glass, draining it in three long gulps without taking his eyes off her.
"Hell, girl," Jason said, "You gotta tell me your stories. Oh, and since this ponce has forgotten his manners, these other gits are Greg, Sid, Harvey, Caroline and Amy."
He pointed to each person of the group in turn. Hermione noticed that it was Amy who glared at her scar and didn't look very thrilled by the sight of her joining them.
"It's wonderful to meet all of you," she said, smiling and trying to ignore Amy's frosty attitude as she shook hands with everyone and they all greeted her in turn.
"Well pull up a stool, love," Jason went on, before looking around, trying to locate an empty stool for her to sit one.
There weren't any. The bar was too packed and there was barely room to stand, let alone to sit down.
"Shit. Sid, be a gentleman, would you?" Jason nudged Sid – a blonde haired man who appeared to be missing an eyebrow and was currently the one bearing the bandage on his upper arm.
"Oh, don't," Hermione shook her head, "I'm happy to stand. Honestly, if I sit and drink much more, someone will have to carry me out of here and that would make a wretched first impression."
"You're Hermione Granger, what do you care about impressions?" Sid wanted to know, looking like the idea of her getting sloshed amused him immensely. Since he'd been drinking heavily all evening while Hermione had been watching them from across the bar, Hermione could only assume he was either a heavy drinker himself or he was trying to dull the pain of his most recent dragon-encounter related injuries.
"Yeah, screw first impression, let's get hammered! What brings you to Romania, Hermione?" Caroline asked and Hermione got the feeling that she at least seemed to like Hermione – or was trying to be nice, in any case. She smiled widely and raised her glass before downing the contents. Hermione noticed the rest of the group followed suit while waiting to hear Hermione's answer.
"Well, actually that's why I came over," Hermione admitted, slanting another glance at Charlie who was still watching her like she were something he was contemplating devouring, "I don't know if you guys would've been given the memo yet, but um… you're technically all my handlers as of tomorrow morning at seven o'clock."
"You're the researcher the British Ministry sent over?" Charlie asked, his eyes widening slightly at the idea, "You're studying Dragonology?"
Hermione nodded her head, her brow furrowing a little. She was sure she'd told Charlie she was interested in dragons. She had been certain they'd had more conversations about it than anything else they discussed while he'd been living at the Burrow six years ago. Had he paid so little attention that he didn't know she'd been studying magical creatures and working for the DRCMC for the past five years after graduating?
Hermione felt a small part of her shrivel up in rejection at the idea that she was clearly interested in a man who barely knew she was alive.
"Surprise," she murmured, noticing he looked more than a bit shocked.
"Right on," Jason said, clearly too inebriated already to notice the tension between Hermione and Charlie that was rapidly fizzing out of control, "So that means we're technically your bosses, right? Like, I get to give you orders and you have to follow them."
"Technically," Hermione nodded, taking another sip of her drink, "Unless you guys aren't the people who deal with trainees."
"Don't look at me," Greg held his hands up, "Admin doesn't trust me with newbs after what happened with Kendall Wilkes seven years ago."
"You let the poor girl climb into the cage of a Chinese Fireball that you knew was ornery and in heat, and you told her to try and take the beast's temperature. Without warning her that the bitch was in heat and without covering her arse. You're lucky you didn't get the bloody sack," Caroline scolded.
"Remind me not to take orders from you, Greg," Hermione said, alarmed by the story and not at all relishing the idea of being told what to do by someone who might get her killed.
"Don't worry, they warn you about me in the induction training tomorrow," Greg grinned back at her, "Who needs more drinks? Amy, come help me carry them. My shout. Hermione, you in?"
"Get her one," Jason piped up, "Hermione, as your superior, your first task is to skol that drink and have another one with us."
Hermione smiled at him in return, her gaze straying to Charlie again. She got the feeling that Amy didn't like her already, and that Greg was trying to get the woman away from Hermione before she could be stabbed with something sharp.
"I'm not supposed to take orders from you lot until tomorrow morning," Hermione informed him before drinking her drink anyway.
"What are you drinking?" Jason wanted to know.
"Fire-whiskey. Ray knows the one I like," Hermione waved her fingers towards the bartender – Ray – who had been pouring them for her all night.
"Already on a first name basis with the publican and not a shudder in sight whilst drinking straight fire-whiskey," Jason laughed, "I reckon you're trouble, Hermione Granger."
Hermione rolled her eyes and handed her empty glass to Greg where he was collecting them to take them back to the bar.
"With a capital T," Charlie mutter, "What are you doing here, Hermione? What about Ron?"
"Ron?" Hermione turned to him, her brow furrowing in confusion.
"Yeah, Ron. You know, my kid brother? The one my mother's been gushing to me for months now about him being engaged and how she's handling all the wedding preparation?" Charlie said, "You're moving to Romania to study for a year in the middle of your engagement?"
"My engagement?" Hermione asked blankly, blinking at him and wondering what he was talking about, "I'm not engaged. I've never been engaged."
"What?" Charlie frowned, "But you and Ron…"
Suddenly it all made sense and Hermione realised Charlie must pay even less attention to her comings and goings than she'd thought.
"Ron and I broke up four years ago, Charlie," Hermione told him, beginning to laugh out loud, "He's marrying a girl he met through his Auror training. Stacey Strasswick."
"Did I know Ron was even dating a Stacey?" Charlie asked blankly.
"Did you not?" she asked, tilting her head to one side and wondering if he was already drunk if he was having such trouble recalling facts about his own family.
"I thought he was still dating you," Charlie admitted, his brow furrowing further when Hermione actually began to laugh.
"Me?" Hermione choked out, "Charlie, things between me and Ron ended four years ago. We haven't been a couple since I finished Hogwarts. He's since dated a string of other girls before settling on Stacey. They're engaged and set to be married at the end of the year."
"No one tells me anything," he declared, shaking his head, "Honestly, just because I live on a different continent doesn't mean I shouldn't be informed of everyone's comings and goings."
"Did you really not realise Ron and I were broken up all the times you've been home at Christmas and Ron's had other girls there as his dates?" Hermione asked, baffled.
"All those trollops were his girlfriends? I thought they were Ginny's Quidditch teammates or something," Charlie began to laugh, "And I suppose all those wankers I saw trailing after you were your flames?"
Hermione blushed at the mention of the fact that she'd always made sure, over the past five years, to bring a date with her to every Weasley event she knew that Charlie would be attending lest he see how hot she was for him.
"Dude, you've got to get your head out of the skies with the dragons," Jason told him, laughing at their conversation.
"Apparently," Charlie agreed, "But then what are you doing here? I though you told me you were an intern at the Ministry."
"I was," Hermione shrugged her shoulders, "And then they promoted me to secretary. Then assistant to the assistant. Then assistant researcher. And now I'm here to specialise in dragons as my field-of-study research task before I'll be qualified as a Dragonolist."
"And you didn't owl me about this? Why did I not know you're into dragons too?" Charlie asked, his eyes were fixed on her and Hermione felt like squirming when he looked at her that way.
"You were too busy telling me stories about your work here for me to get a word in edgeways on the subject?" Hermione suggested
"Why didn't Mum tell me you were coming? You move into my neck of the woods and no one even Floo Calls me?" he told her and Hermione felt her blood bubble stickily with need when he reached for her, tugging her towards himself until she was standing between his legs. He had one foot propped up on the windowsill where they'd all been drinking, and he shuffled her around until she could sit on the windowsill there.
When she turned around she realised there were a bunch of guys behind her who'd just come over and joined the table, jostling themselves in as well and he was only moving her out of their way.
Hermione hated herself a little for the thrill that raced through her despite those facts, simply because she was pressed so close to him, literally standing between his knees and well within his personal space
"She erm… didn't really know about it," Hermione admitted, holding his gaze.
"You didn't tell my parents you were up and moving to Romania for work?" Charlie asked, raising his eyebrows as though the idea shocked him immensely.
Hermione shook her head, "She's been a bit… ah… distracted lately."
"So distracted that the girl she essentially adopted when you were twelve can leave the country for a prolonged period without telling her?" Charlie wanted to know, his brow furrowing.
Hermione noticed idly that he'd hooked his thumb through the belt-loop on the back of her jeans, holding her in place as he stared into her face. He looked a bit worried that his mother didn't know she was in Romania. That she'd thought the woman too busy to even mention it to her that she was moving to Romania with Charlie for a year at the very least.
"Well, with Ginny pregnant and Ron announcing his engagement to Stacey, there wasn't exactly much thought space left over for her to focus on the fact that I'll be here for a year," Hermione admitted quietly, looking at her feet for a moment, "She's been so busy. I mean, Ginny's going to pop within the month and even though she already has three grandchildren, Molly's been running around like crazy, because, you know, it's a her little girl."
Hermione nibbled her bottom lip.
"And then Ron went and announced his engagement, but no one's actually had the heart to tell Ginny because Ginny hates Stacey and they're worried she'll go into labour prematurely or simply grow homicidal to learn she's getting Stacey for a sister in law. I told your Dad I was coming over here for work, and the rest of them all know, of course, since I had to say goodbye and everything. But your Dad was a bit distracted by the new drill set Harry got him for his birthday and well, I didn't have the heart to tell Molly. She's so stressed as it is that I didn't want to worry her."
She didn't want to admit that Molly had been a bit less invested in her since she and Ron had called things quits. Oh, the woman still doted on her like they were actually mother and daughter, but the more boys Hermione had dated after Ron, the rockier things between her and Molly had become. When Hermione had gotten her tattoo and Molly had spotted it, the woman had pitched a fit at her, demanding to know what she was doing with her life and how she thought she'd find a decent man if she was disfiguring herself.
She didn't seem to have quite forgiven the idea that Hermione wouldn't be a Weasley by marriage when things with Ron had ended and though she and Ron had long since buried the hatchet, Molly still got funny about it sometimes. Hermione tended not to tell the woman when she had a new date unless she was bringing that date to the Burrow for a gathering. Having grandchildren kept Molly busy enough anyway and Hermione had been worried that telling her she was moving to Romania would stress Molly too much. She'd never liked the idea of Hermione in such a dangerous field of work.
"You don't think she'll worry when she tries to invite you around for Sunday lunch and finds your flat empty?" Charlie asked her, shaking his head a little.
"Everyone else knows," Hermione admitted, feeling bad, "And when she realises she didn't know, she'll assume I told her and that she'd been too busy and forgotten. I all but told her anyway… just, without the actual 'by the way, I'm moving to Romania to study dragons for a year' words coming out of my mouth. She, uh… doesn't approve of my chosen career."
Charlie threw his head back and began to laugh at her words. He knew better than anyone how his mother felt about dangerous careers and taking needless risks.
"She'd have never let you out of the house if she knew you were coming here," he chuckled.
"I know," Hermione smiled, "So I told her without telling her and she'll think it just slipped her mind. She'll be a bit upset with me, but she'll be so distracted with Ginny's labour that by the time she gets around to noticing I've left the country, it'll be too late for me to pull out of the program when she inevitably guilt-trips me into finding a less dangerous career path more suited to a young lady."
"She gave you that speech, eh?" Charlie smirked her.
"Ginny got the same one when she signed with the Harpies," Hermione nodded, "You know she doesn't like the idea of women having dangerous or powerful careers because they're harder to give up to raise children."
"You should have heard the way she used to scold Tonks about being an Auror," Charlie nodded, "Every time Tonks came round before I moved over here, the woman gave poor Tonks hell about her job. I reckon she was grateful when I moved away so she didn't have to hang out with me as much anymore."
Hermione laughed at the idea.
"Ginny blows raspberries at Molly every time she tries to talk Ginny out of going back to work once the baby comes," Hermione told him.
"I bet she does. Bloody right too, she's still got plenty of Quidditch potential left in her. Just because Harry went and knocked her up doesn't mean she should give it up," Charlie nodded.
"Harry's all for her going back to work. He loves getting free tickets to all the games. Pretty sure he's planning on quitting the Auror department when Ginny's ready to play again," Hermione told him.
"What's he going to do instead?" Charlie asked.
"He and George have been talking about the idea of becoming business partners. They're thinking about opening a second store, possibly even growing the business to an international level. Everyone loves the joke-shop. It's not like Harry actually needs to work for money, and he loves being a Dad more than anything else."
"His kid's not even born yet," Charlie rolled his eyes.
"No, but he's been stealing Teddy from Andromeda every chance he gets. Andie's actually just agreed to move in with them at Harry place. They've got that second cottage on the grounds and Harry's been begging Andie to move in there since he got the place so he can see Teddy all the time."
"Takes being a godfather seriously, doesn't he?" Charlie smirked, nodding at the idea, "I reckon Tonks and Remus would've liked that. Dora was always big on family gatherings. She loved coming to the Burrow with me until Mum started nagging her about her job. Andie being cut off from her own family and Ted having so few relatives himself, I know she'd have loved having a big family. She always used to tell me she'd have as many kids as Mum one day."
Hermione smiled sadly at the thought that they'd only managed to have one beautiful little boy before Tonks and Remus had both been taken too soon from this world. Charlie sighed a little, a wistful expression crossing his face too at the reminder.
"Harry loves Teddy to death. He takes days off so often to spend time with the kid that the only reason they haven't fired him is because he's Harry bloody Potter," Hermione chuckled, "He's going to be a great Dad to your nephew, you know?"
"She's having a boy?" Charlie grinned again.
"It's not confirmed yet, they chose to let it be a surprise, but we've all been taking bets. I've got ten sickles on them having a boy," Hermione grinned nodding.
Charlie passed her drink to her when Greg and Amy returned carrying them all and Hermione realised with a jolt that they were being terribly rude as they caught up on family news whilst in the presence of everyone else.
"So, since when do you drink fire-whiskey anyway, Hermione?" Charlie asked, his thumb still hooked through her belt loop, his hand resting intimately against her hip where she sat so close to him.
"Since Bill's wedding," Hermione admitted, blushing a little.
"Is that right?" he grinned wickedly, "Bloody hell, woman, I feel like I don't even know you. I'm kind of pissed you didn't tell me you were coming. When did you get here?"
"This morning," Hermione told him, "I've been unpacking all day and ventured out when I got hungry."
"You should've told me! I could've helped you settle in," he admonished her, "How long have you been here, anyway? I reckon you've had more than one of those."
He nodded to her glass of fire-whiskey as she sipped from it.
"Am I slurring?" Hermione asked.
"No," he shook his head, "But your cheeks are flushed pink."
"Maybe she's uncomfortable sitting on your lap, Weasley," Amy sneered quietly and Hermione glanced over at her.
Charlie raised one eyebrow at Hermione questioningly over the suggestion and Hermione rolled her eyes.
"Takes more than limited bar-space to make me uncomfortable, Charlie," Hermione assured him, "You know that."
"I seem to recall you sharing a bed with Harry and Ron for the length of time you were on the run from the Ministry. I reckon if you can spoon with that pair of ponces, you can handle anything," Charlie winked at her
"The snoring was so bad," Hermione immediately grinned, "The number of times I nearly smothered the pair of them is unbelievable."
"I know. I used to hear Ron when I was at home. I reckon they compete in their sleep to see who can snore loudest. My room's a floor away from his at the Burrow and I nearly hexed the pair of them. I had to put Silencing charms on my room every night to get any sleep."
"No wonder you moved in with Bill for a bit," Hermione laughed.
"He was worse. Honestly, I don't know how Fleur puts up with him. I had to move back here just to get a decent night's sleep," Charlie laughed.
"So tell us about yourself, Hermione?" Jason piped up, clearly growing tired of listening to them catch up with one another, "How long have you been interested in dragons."
"Since my first year at Hogwarts," Hermione replied immediately, "A friend, Hagrid, hatched a Norwedgian Ridgeback egg in his cabin on the grounds."
"Norberta?" Sid asked, swivelling to look at her suddenly.
"Yeah," Charlie nodded, "Hermione was one of the ones who helped smuggle Norberta to the roof so we could pick her up."
"You were one of the ones with Charlie who picked her up?" Hermione chuckled smiling at Sid.
"Hell yeah," Sid nodded, "Took us days to smuggle her past international security to bring her home. You smuggled that monster out of the school as a first year?"
"I didn't have much of a choice. Hagrid's a friend, and he'd have been in big trouble if he'd been caught with a baby dragon and no licence. Ron – Charlie's brother – suggested the sanctuary," Hermione grinned.
"How the hell did you get her through the school without alerting the teachers?" Caroline wanted to know.
"Well, that was tricky," Hermione admitted, "We weren't expecting she'd grow quiet so fast in the time it took to organise having you lot pick her up. Hagrid's hut nearly burned down at least twenty times a day and she grew so fast! At first we thought it would be fine. She was no bigger than a puppy when she hatched, but she was longer than a broom by the time you guys arrived. Fitting her under Harry's Invisibility Cloak was a nightmare. I don't know what charms are on that thing, but it's lucky they are or it'd have been charred to a crisp before we even left the hut."
"And you've been interested in dragons since then?" Greg asked
"I'm muggleborn and had just learned that not only do dragons exist, but that people work with them, tame them, train them, and breed them like… I don't know, race-horses. I'm honestly surprised that I didn't end up here before now," Hermione admitted, not mentioning her crush on Charlie or the fact that though she did indeed adore dragons, she might not be studying them abroad if Charlie weren't there.
"I'll bet," Caroline laughed, "You would've been at school when we brought over the four breeders for the Triwzard tournament too, right?"
"I thought you looked familiar," Hermione snapped her fingers and pointed at the woman, "You were one of the others handling the dragons when Ron and Ginny couldn't contain their excitement to see their big brother and we all snuck into the forest."
"Pretty sure they just wanted to see the dragons," Charlie rolled his eyes.
"Who doesn't always want to see dragons?" Hermione retorted, "But they were pretty stoked to see you too. Ginny went on for hours about your new tattoo and that scar."
She nodded to his left bicep where a nasty burn marred the flesh.
"That girl's always been too interested in danger for her own good," Charlie chuckled, "Ron would've crowed for hours about the dragons."
"He wouldn't shut up about it. You should've heard him, listing the breeds over and over again. He was still put out with Harry then too, you remember? So he was really worried about Harry having to face one of the beasts for the first task and agonising over how to tell him without forgiving him."
"Pair of gits," Charlie rolled his eyes.
"Which was your favourite?" Caroline wanted to know, drawing Hermione's attention again.
"Of the four for the tournament?" Hermione asked.
"I'll give you three guesses," Hermione chuckled.
"The Horntail?" Jason guessed immediately, "Everyone loves the Horntails because they're so cranky."
Hermione shook her head.
"No, Harry faced the Horntail and to be honest, when she got loose and went after him, I kind of wished death on her for trying to eat my best friend. She was beautiful, of course, but she wasn't my favourite."
"The Fireball?" Sid asked, "Girls always like the Chinese Fireballs."
"Ah, now she was the right colour for my house affiliation at school. I loved how shiny and red her scales were," Hermione sighed, "But I was actually dating Viktor, the Durmstrang Champion who faced her in the first task at that point in time, so no. She was beautiful, but the Fireball wasn't my favourite."
Caroline eyed her speculatively, "Two guesses left… I want to say the Welsh Green because you're British, but I don't think I'd be correct. Your favourite was the Swedish Short-Snout."
"What gave me away?" she asked.
"You're wearing blue," Caroline pointed out, "But you've got the look of a girl who doesn't pick dragons for their colour. You didn't pick the most exotic or most dangerous either. The Welsh Green – Artemis – is beautiful, but not as pretty as Delilah."
"Delilah?" Hermione asked.
"She's Charlie's girl," Caroline nodded, "Best breeder on the entire sanctuary, Delilah is. We reckon Weasley feeds her something special to make her come into heat so often."
Hermione turned towards Charlie, a smile on her lips. She'd known Charlie had been in charge of the Swedish Short-Snout during the tournament. It was one of the reasons she was so interested in him, actually. Hermione had watched the way the red-haired man before her had glowed like the sun when he looked upon the dragons in his care.
"Why Delilah?" he asked her, and Hermione could tell from the way he was watching her that he was interested in her answer. That he wanted to know what it was about the Swedish Short-Snout that had appealed to her over the aesthetics of the other three dragons.
Hermione felt her smile widen slowly. Her whole body felt like it was on fire as he fixed all of his intensity upon her, that smouldering fire of his personality stoked to hungry flames as they discussed his favourite topic in the world. She couldn't tell him she'd liked his dragon best because of him.
Closing her eyes, Hermione pictured the Swedish Short-Snout again in her mind.
"The eyes," she admitted quietly, opening her own eyes again slowly as she found the trait she'd best liked about the beast, "Most reptiles have cold eyes, but hers are like jewels. Even when she was so angry and trying to protect her nest, they glowed like sapphires. I could practically see the fire dancing in her eyes even before she opened her mouth and let out that blue stream of flame. It was like looking into the bluest sky or the deepest ocean and… seeing so much fire and so much life sparkling back. Like when you look at that blue right at the heart of a flame… they were just… mesmerizing."
As she lifted her gaze once more, glancing around the group at their sudden silence, Hermione found them all staring at her with knowing smiles on their faces.
"Hell, girl," Caroline chuckled, "You'll fit right in around these parts when you sweet-talk like that."
"To Hermione," Jason toasted, lifting his glass, "The only girl I've ever heard who can profess love for a dragon's gaze with as much fervour as Charlie Weasley."
Hermione raised her eyebrows, jostling slightly as Charlie shifted a bit to reach forward and toast with his friends.
"To Hermione," he agreed, his voice low and husky in her ears and making her thighs clench together subconsciously with desire.
She turned her gaze to him carefully and Hermione was sure that her yearning for him must be written all over her face. He looked at her like he'd just found something precious and pure. Something rare. Charlie looked at her right then as though she was some previously undiscovered breed of dragon he'd just run across and he couldn't wait to learn everything about her. He looked like he wanted to run his hands over her body, learning her dimensions, feeling her heat, stirring up the fire in her blood and in her heart.
He looked at her like he wanted to taste her fire. And Hermione was only too willing to let him.