Author: atruwriter
Genre: Romance/Drama/Angst
Rating: PG-13 to R
Warning: This contains sex and harsh language.
Spoilers: None that I can think of...
Disclaimer: I do not own any rights to any of the television shows/books I have written fanfiction for. I own only my creative thought process and the characters I make up on a whim. Ownership of all else lies solely in the hands of others.
Image(s): Banner and chapter photo can be found on my profile!
Summary: Charlie Weasley's passion had always been dragons. He thrived on exhileration, adrenaline, and death defying games of dodge the fireball and jump the spiked tail. His life never slowed when he met his girlfriend, however fellow dragon keeper Hermione Granger, gave Charlie a whole new passion: her. But just when their life together finds a new beginning, it all falls apart in a storm of secrets and blood.
Author's Note: This is my first Charlie/Hermione story and I've spent a few weeks putting it all together. It's 7-parts, the last being an epilogue, and the first six are very long. The story follows Charlie, with a few moments in Bill's POV. It's set after Hogwarts, Hermione would be nearly 21 years old while Charlie is 27. I hope you enjoy it as much I've liked writing it...


Only In The World of Dragons

Part One – Dragon Keepers In Love

Charlie never brought girls home. It wasn't really an option with him. His girlfriends didn't last long and none of them were what he would call the type he'd introduce to his brothers, let alone his mum. He knew his mother well and the minute he introduced a woman he was interested in to her would be the same minute Molly Weasley broke out her wedding planner. It wasn't up to him, he wouldn't have to get her a ring or even propose, his mum would plan the wedding before the second dinner. His girlfriend would be referred to as Charlie's fiancée and Molly's newest daughter. It was just the way his mum was. He loved that about her sometimes, but there was a reason he was so careful when it came to relationships. During his career as a dragon keeper he'd had on and off relationships with various other female keepers but those never lasted. They were interested in blowing off steam after an adrenaline rush with one of the dragons and he was more interested in the giant lizards than wooing a girlfriend. Sometimes he picked up the girls in the town nearby, lounging in Scales Pub and enjoying a dance, a snog, or a shag with a pretty woman. Other than that though, he'd only had a handful of relationships and those women had come up short or didn't appreciate his dangerous job. But that was all all before she turned his life right side up.

Charlie stared down at the woman fast asleep next to him, her face was pressed against his stomach, nose buried in his abdomen. Her soft breath tickled against his bellybutton and he couldn't help but smile at how far she had managed to squirm down the bed in her sleep. Her hand was splayed out over his far hip, fingers against the snoozing silvery-blue Swedish Short-Snout dragon tattoo covering most of his side and curling around the top of his upper thigh. Her body was curved and her legs wrapped around his loosely, her back arched beneath the white sheet that barely covered his naked lower half. Her dark hair brushed against his skin, tangled and messy from their late night excursion. Her bare shoulders peeked out at him, smooth and tanned from the heated sun. When they weren't expected to control the dragons, she chose to wear only a thin tank top, leaving her arms, back and shoulders free to be tanned. He reached out to trace the lines of where her shirt covered, her skin lightening to a pale cream colour. He could hear her faint breathing and felt content where he was. Judging by how much light was spilling through the flap of the tent window, they'd have to get up soon and change from lovers to dragon keepers. He sighed, not really wanting to leave the warmth of the bed and the comfort of her supple body around his.

When Charlie met his girlfriend, not for the first time, he hadn't expected anything to come out of it. She was seven years his junior, brilliant beyond measure and had a strong attitude in her that could either make her sexily bossy or a nagging hag. She came to the colony to learn about dragons and figure out if it was a career worth pursuing, knowledge was her sustenance. She wanted to know everything about everything and while it was admirable, Charlie wasn't exactly interested in using his dragons as her lab experiment. Surprising them both she grew fond of the giant and moody lizards and worked to become a dragon keeper herself. The war had ended months before her decision to join his profession, when she was just eighteen and supposed to be finishing her seventh year at Hogwarts, and two years prior to their relationship. Voldemort and his Death Eaters were out to destroy everything in their path and the Order wasn't about to let it happen. Charlie was working with the Order against the rise in dark activity while Harry Potter with best friends Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley set out to destroy Voldemort's Horcruxes, of which only the trio and Dumbledore knew of. In their absence, the Order was doing damage control, trying to stave off as many attacks as they could. Sadly, the Weasley family suffered a death, losing their third eldest son Percy in a Ministry attack. While Percy hadn't been close to the family at the time, still shunning them for their lack of support in the Minister and their thriving belief in Harry, Percy was still family and his death hit home hard. They mourned him as if he'd never turned his back on them, treating him like they would any other Weasley. And his death was avenged, Charlie made sure of that, the memory still haunted him some nights.

After the war ended with Harry destroying Voldemort once and for all, life had slowly gone back to what was considered normal. Most of Charlie's friends and family were battered and bruised, uncertain about the true nature of the future, but hopeful that the world could rebuild in Voldemort's wake. Charlie returned to Romania to continue working as a dragon keeper, though early on he was battling against a limp in his left leg from a curse, he was able to overcome the handicap and could walk without problem. Sometimes late at night, however, if he'd had a vigorous day, his calf would start burning from the old injury, keeping him up all night, gritting his teeth against the agony. Which is how his relationship with his girlfriend slowly began. Hermione Granger wasn't one to take no for an answer, especially when she felt somebody was hurt or in danger. When she overheard Charlie in his tent late one night, groaning against the pain and trying to walk it out some, she'd set out to do something about it.

Charlie tried pacing the floor of his tent for the nth time. The aching pain of his leg was slowly rising up to his thigh and he wasn't sure he could put off seeing the camp medi-witch much longer. He'd long kicked off his pants so he could rub his leg in hopes of pushing away the pain, but it was of no help. His eyes stung from the agony, but he refused to cry over something so trivial. It was just a little pain. He'd been through worse. He was a bloody dragon keeper for fuck sakes. He could handle a little pain. Gritting his teeth, he dug his palm back into his leg, his fingernails clawing at his skin as if to dig out the problem. He rubbed his good foot on the ground, needing to move or do something. Anything to make him feel like he wasn't helpless. His back was beginning to ache from sitting forward and leaning down to his leg and his jaw was bugging him from how hard he was gritting his teeth.

Suddenly, the fabric door of the tent flew open and a bushy head of hair came forward. Before Charlie could tell her to go away, Hermione shook her head at him, a stern expression on her face. "Just how long have you been acting like you were fine, Charlie Weasley?" she asked, her voice nearly as chastising and worrisome as his mother's. "Unbelievable," she muttered, not even waiting for him to say. "The pain you must be in." Rolling her eyes, she knelt in front of him, wrapping a cold hand around his ankle and pulling it forward to stretch his leg out, resting his heel on her thigh. He hissed, disliking the pull of muscles in his calf. She frowned at him, as if telling him he had no right to feel pain. Scowling at her, he thinned his mouth and told himself he wouldn't make another sound.

She felt around his leg, her fingers cold and probing. He wanted to tell her to stop, that she wasn't trained in healing and she didn't know what she was doing. But the sensation of cold against the muscles was relaxing and her fingers were slowly easing the pain a tiny bit. Her hands suddenly disappeared and his eyes jerked open (he hadn't realized they were closed). He opened his mouth to ask her what was wrong, why she stopped, when he saw her twist the top off a jar and dig her hand into a mint green goo of some sort. "This might be a little chilly," she warned him, her voice only mildly apologetic.

He considered snapping back at her about how rude she was being to begin with and to remind her that he hadn't made her come and attack him in hopes of feeling up his leg. He was minding his own business when she barged in. But then her hand came back out of the jar and she began rubbing it together over her hands before reaching out and pressing her palms against his leg once more. He jumped at just how cold the goo was, but pursed his lips hard so no sound escape. Charlie bit his lip when her fingers began massaging, a sharp pain shooting through his muscles, but then his teeth pressed into his lip out of shocking comfort. Her knuckles kneaded, her palms squeezed and her nails lightly grazed, making it all into one of the best experiences of his life. The pain receded and he was left in a boneless heap of relaxation. His eyes fluttered and his leg felt numb and better than ever before.

Sitting half up, his body angled funny, Charlie fell asleep beneath her incredibly soothing ministrations. Hours later, with the sun coming up, he woke in his bed and knew Hermione had levitated him from his position. He immediately felt guilt for feeling so angry at her from the night before, realizing that she was only trying to help. He was snappish when he was in pain and he hadn't meant to take out on her. In fact, she had given him the best sleep he'd had since before the war. He made a decision that morning that he would make it up to her. And after showering and dressing he went searching to try and make something out of nothing.

From that night a hopeful, albeit mildly awkward, friendship began. Her first year at the reserve, Charlie hadn't paid her much mind. He figured she'd eventually leave the dragons for some kind of field research, but she never showed any sign of tiring over the lizards. His mother always asked him to keep an eye out for her, but he wasn't sure what to do when it came to her. She didn't go out of her way to befriend him or even acknowledge his existence, so he kept to himself and went about as usual. They were civil; more of acquaintances at the reserve. But the following year, after her caring act over his leg, Charlie took the initiative in getting to know Hermione a little better. He'd always seen her as the bushy haired, know-it-all that his little brother Ron palled around with while harboring a long time crush on. He'd recognized her as essential to Harry during the Final Battle, knowing that her best friend was virtually fucked without Hermione's intelligence and support and of course, Ron's friendship and strong strategist skills. Over the nine years of her friendship with Harry and Ron, however, Charlie had grown used to thinking of her as the young, bookwormish, friend of his brother. He was in for a big shock when after a year of learning about what made her tick, he stopped seeing the brains and started seeing the beauty.

Twelve months had left her and Charlie with a solid foundation for friendship. Hermione had even given him advice about women when he had a three week strikeout at Scales Pub where women just didn't seem interested anymore. She was there to clean his wounds when he was caught in the crossfire of his dragons and always had the salve ready to massage away the pain in his leg. He couldn't even count how many times she'd tucked him into bed after rubbing his leg into submission and him into sleep. While friendships at the reserve were strained at best, he found a good one with Hermione. When her books were put aside and she had no war-related reason to be insistent on studying or preparing, there was a whole other side to her. He started to see why sport enthusiast types like Harry and Ron could get along with her as well as they did, or why Bill seemed to admire her so easily. It became more obvious why the twins enjoyed teasing her too, as she was quite pretty was she was flushed with annoyance and had her hands curled on her hips. That and she was brilliant with payback pranks, something Charlie became familiar with. Before long, they had a strong familiarity between them and Charlie found most of his time was spent with the brilliant young woman.

"I can't believe you did something so... so... UGH! I can't even describe the idiocy behind what you did, Charlie Weasley," Hermione muttered to him angrily. She had a jar of thick, pink, lumpy salve. He'd been playing around with one of the baby Peruvian Vipertooths, which love humans for dessert, when it turned around and took a bite out of his thigh. "You're lucky it was just a baby! Had it been a few months older the venom in its fangs would have you without a leg!" she screeched, looking from him to his injured thigh. Sighing, she shook her head before reaching across to the side table by her chair and grabbing a sugarless candy. She popped one into her mouth and tossed another to him which he habitually stuck under his tongue to melt away and fill his mouth with the tangy flavor. He could tell she was using the candy as a way to both stop herself from reaming him out and simultaneously to hinder her from asking him if it hurt. She didn't want to show him any mercy in hopes of deterring him from doing it again, which only amused him.

Charlie was lying on his side, an amused half-smile on his face. He was thumbing through one of her tomes. She had been reading when he limped into her tent, bleeding and holding a dirty rag against his leg. She had shouted at him to go to the medi-witch, but Tanya was down at Scales Pub for the night. So he'd plopped down on her bed and let her tend to him, knowing that she had an extensive knowledge about healing and had various potions and salves stocked up for just this type of problem. She'd researched every possible problem that could arise at the reserve and made a potion or salve to help it. She'd even been making up jars for Tanya to use so she wouldn't have to wait for them to owled in.

"When'd you get this book?" Charlie wondered, his eyes perusing the pages of a legend about a dragon he'd long past read about when he just a boy.

Hermione looked up from his leg and paused in her angry mutterings. "I wrote to Harry and asked him to send it to me. He whined about having to go to five different book shops before he finally found it. It's filled with dragon lore, very interesting subject. You should read the passage on the Greek Hydra dragon, it's always fascinated me," she told him, leaning forward, her hands still wrapped around his bare thigh. Pantless, Charlie was fairly sure that it wouldn't look too good to anybody who might walk in. He had no say in the matter though, the minute he explained to Hermione what he'd done and where Tanya was, she'd ordered him out of his pants. She ended up having to help him, the blood matting his pant to his leg.

"I used to read stories about the Hydra when I was younger," he told her, flipping the page over to see a nine-headed beast enlarge as the figure of Hercules cut off one long, fierce head only to make room for two more to grow. "I told my mum I was going to find it when I was older. Said Hercules never really killed it."

Hermione smiled at him, "It was always my favorite of the stories about dragons. It had such an interesting history. Eventually you'd think it'd become a hazard having so many heads," she murmured, her eyes turning off thoughtfully before she returned her attention to his leg. She'd stopped the bleeding and was now tending to the sore and torn flesh. "Tell me again why you were tempting the Vipertooth," Hermione asked, lifting a brow at him as she ran her wand over the top of his thigh once more.

Charlie grinned, looking up from the book to watch her. "It wanted to play," he told her, winking as he looked at him non-plussed.

"Charlie, I don't know how you've made it this long. You're not supposed to be playing with them. You know they enjoy humans for lunch, why would you tempt that?" she asked him, shaking her head, though he could see a very faint smile on her lips of amusement.

"Hermione, think of how boring their lives would be if I didn't play with them every once in awhile," he told her, flipping through her tome once more, his voice ringing with cheek.

She sighed, exasperated. "Charlie, think of how lonely I'll be when you finally get your arse chewed off by one of them," replicating his tone.

"I had no idea you had such a close relationship with my arse," he replied, smirking.

Hermione snorted, "It's nothing special, believe me."

Charlie lifted his hand, pressing it to his chest in a mock pained expression. "I'm hurt. I thought you and it were close. I might as well sacrifice myself to the dragons now," he said, making to get off the bed.

"Don't even think about it," she shrieked, her hands tightening around his leg, the other moving to stop him, managing to press against said arse in way of trying to keep him from injuring himself more. "I'm deeply close to it," she muttered, rolling her eyes. "And I'd prefer if you didn't get yourself killed before the night is out. I've had a long day and I'd much rather finish cleaning you up so I can read the rest of my chapter and head to bed," she told him, shaking her head.

Charlie chuckled good-naturedly. "Well, I've never been one to get in the way of true love," he teased before settling back in with her book. He could hear her muttering under her breath, spells for checking his injury and then healing it. He could feel the muscles of his leg relaxing, the skin tingling until he couldn't feel any of the pain any longer. She was rubbing a salve against it that looked similar to the one she used on his leg when it acted up. When she was done he was drowsy and his eyes were fluttering as he tried to read the end of his sentence.

"Charrrrlieeee," she sing-songed softly against his face, her breath warm on his throat, slowly rising to his cheek. "Come on, Charlie, time to wake up."

"Mm," he murmured back, wanting to burrow into the softness of her blanket.

Her hand rested against his side, the warmth made it through his shirt to his skin sending comforting tingles over his torso. She rubbed at his ribs, trying to wake him but managing to soothe him closer to slumber. She sighed, lifting the book out from beneath his hand and he had the urge to tell her not to lose his page, but his mouth wouldn't work. He felt her working the blanket out from beneath him to wrap him in it. She tucked it in around his body, careful around his leg and he felt her fingers brush his hair off his forehead before she pressed a kiss against his temple. "You're far too reckless for your own good, Charlie Weasley," she murmured affectionately. "And you're lucky I put up with you."

He smiled, knowing she was right. Sometimes he wondered if maybe he was extra dangerous, just because he knew she'd take care of him. This wasn't the first time he'd come to her tent, bleeding and injured. There was the time he'd been playing 'dodge the fireball' with Lucy the Antipodean Opaleye and misstepped right into one that caught his foot pretty bad. Or the time he was playing something similar to 'skip rope' with Garrett the Hebridean Black, when one of the spikes on his tail caught Charlie's arm. It was never anything serious, most of the dragons he played with were trained from birth and never went out of their way to hurt him. They were older and enjoyed Charlie's stupid acts of tomfoolery. Hermione didn't enjoy them however, as she was the one left to fix him up and chastise his behavior, which he continued to find amusement in and then ignore. He heard her footsteps as she walked back over to her chair to continue reading while he let himself drift off, listening to the faint turn of the pages as she read.

Over the full three years Hermione had worked at the camp, she'd had her share of luck with the dragons. She'd been singed but never severely burned. Her hair had caught the brunt of it until she decided to cut it short for safety reasons. It still fell to her chin, softer and easier to manage now. The curls were more obvious and her hair looked nicely sleek and comfortable around her heart shaped face. Charlie had noticed before the haircut that she had a certain pixie beauty to her. Soft and small, rather hidden and not really self recognized. But after the haircut, removing the thick hair from her shoulders, she was even more radiant. It also freed her to move around, to do the hard work of a dragon keeper without worrying about flyaway curls coming at her face with a vengeance. With her hair no longer a hazard, Hermione dodged the oncoming fire a lot easier, but she didn't come away unscathed. Wearing form fitting black suits kept her arms and legs covered at all times, but the fire burnt through it without preamble. Hermione's forearms had various burns on them from time to time and a nasty one across her collarbone that never quite healed completely. There was still a faintly purplish red stripe crossing beneath her throat and over her heart. She'd been lucky though, she had yet to have a hard hit to her body so far, which always had Charlie on edge.

When he and Hermione became friends, Charlie had nearly nine years under his belt as a dragon keeper and he'd taken numerous hits himself. There were still the regular burns that came with the job, singed skin on the arms and burn upon burn upon burn on his hands. He still caught fire from time to time, but he'd come to an age where the hard hits that took the rookies off their feet came once in a blue moon for him. He had the agility to move before the blast hit and the knowledge to know when it was coming. The first rule of dragon keeping was that they weren't true Keepers until they took a big hit and Charlie was nervously waiting the day that Hermione went down. He'd grown close to her over the year following the night she helped him through his awkward and embarrassing injury and wasn't willing to admit just how much she had come to mean to him. It was normal for most in his career to be careful who they got close to. Their job wasn't easy by any standards and many were lost to the cause. On top of that, a relationship so close to the job was stressful and weakening. A Keeper couldn't be watching his back and that of his lover's, it just wasn't safe.

After two years of hard work Hermione had been welcomed in the reserve rather easily. She had a number of friends in the other men, but didn't seem to get along so well with the women. It wasn't that they were like so many other Hermione had known, obsessed with make up or fashion or snagging a husband, they just didn't relate to Hermione quite as well as the men did. Hermione had grown up with two boys as best friends, where she was forced to play mother hen and brainiac. At first the women were welcoming but it wore off when it became obvious that there wasn't any solid ground for them to relate on. The other female dragon keepers didn't care much for books or knowledge and relied solely on their background with dragons and since Hermione was new they tended to treat her with kid gloves rather than like a capable person. She didn't appreciate being talked down to and reminded them regularly that she knew about dragons extensively and while she appreciated their teachings, she didn't want them to patronize her. The majority of the female population on the reserve didn't like her, but there were a few that enjoyed her company. She got along well with Tanya, the medi-witch, and Carla the co-director of the reserve. She also made friends with each new Keeper, be them female or male, and soon she wasn't without friends.

Plus, while Hermione had a hard time relating to the women she fit right in with the men. She picked up her usual mother-like position and before long the men were looking up to her like she was their faux-girlfriend. When upset, they crashed Hermione's tent to spill their feelings without being ridiculed. Charlie had the misfortune of walking in on a sodded dragon keeper as he cried on Hermione's couch about how his girlfriend had broken up with him through owl post and quickly exited before anybody saw him. Hermione was the resident emotional baggage holder. She listened with the ear of a thousand understanding women, doling out advice when needed, but mostly just supplying soothing tea and a shoulder to lean on. The men didn't admit to each other that she was reliable when things were tough, that she was the first to be informed when things were going good or bad, but it was a well known fact.

Outside of being a pseudo-shrink, Hermione kept the camp from becoming a dirty and disgusting mess. While she didn't pick up after them all, she did reform them from their usually disgustingly sloppy selves to little more tidy forms. She had somehow managed to teach all of the men in the camp to separate their darks from their lights to better assist the house elves employed to do their laundry, which Charlie was shocked to see even himself do without consciously meaning to. He found himself with two separate baskets in his bedroom, he naturally separated his clothes after climbing out of them. It became habit for all of them, much to Hermione's pleasure. She was making an imprint on the reserve quickly and soon became a very well liked part of the team. She partnered with Charlie when their friendship began, partly because of her being a rookie and him being a long term keeper and also because he was comforted in knowing he had her back.

It wasn't long before they became known as a duo in the camp. The other keepers naturally assumed that where Charlie was Hermione could be found and vice versa, which was usually true. On the odd night that Charlie ventured down to the bar while Hermione took up with her books back at her tent, they were separated, but more often they could be found playing Exploding Snap or discussing a subject Hermione had recently read about. She had books flown into her from Harry and Ron who were working back in Britain as Aurors. While they had been upset that she was moving so far away, they still got to see her every other Sunday for a Weasley family dinner and she took a few weeks off each year to vacation with them somewhere with vast oceans and warm sand. She spent her Christmas and holidays with the Weasleys and Harry, having lost her parents to the Muggle attacks during the War and finding refuge in the family that had always been there for her. When she first lost them, she had no time to grieve with the War raging around her and was forced to push her pain away until victory had been made.

Upon the end of the War, Hermione later confided to Charlie that she spent a couple months holed up in her childhood home, or what was left of it. Fire damage had destroyed a large portion of the house, but Hermione camped out with a sleeping bag in her old bedroom and ate out when food was needed. She was forced to leave when the city decided to tear the house down and replace it with a new, more modern one. Finally coming to grips with the loss of her parents and the reality of the new Wizarding world, she decided to start a new life, to search for a career that fit her. She went on a quest for knowledge, learning as much as she could about every job there was by working at each of them for short periods of time. Being the Hermione Granger, most brilliant witch of their age, and war heroine, she had no trouble convincing businesses to give her a chance in hopes that she would stay. She was just a few weeks into learning about dragons when she found a passion for them and decided she'd had enough of looking, she'd found what she went looking for. Charlie wasn't sure how to tell her how courageous he thought she was to keep going on in the War when she'd already lost what she had, but she seemed to understand all the same. She offered him a sugarless candy, something she always seemed to have on her, and then turned the subject to something concerning Hungarian Horntails while she stared at him with eyes that told him she had finally had a large burden lifted from her. He wondered if Harry and Ron knew anything about the time she spent at the Granger house after the War, but never asked. He could feel it, knew that he was probably the only one who knew, who would ever know, and he felt a strong connection with her because of that.

Despite the fact that Charlie and Hermione were close at the colony, the Weasleys and Harry saw them for so little time that it was never really that noticeable to them how close the two were. Neither Charlie or Hermione went out of their way to talk about each other, finding comfort in the friendship that was so closely kept back at work. The only Weasley who knew was Bill, through letters that Charlie sent him every few weeks about work and such. He admitted to his older brother that he considered Hermione his best mate in most ways, finding a brilliant friend to confide in and talk to while in the sometimes suffocating and rather lonely area of the camp. He knew better than to mention anything to the twins, knowing they'd blow it out of context and he didn't want their friendship the subject of ridicule. He never asked if she told Harry or Ron, but Charlie could tell by the way they all acted when they returned to the Burrow that her two best friends knew nothing more than that Hermione was Charlie's partner. Because he never went out of the way to talk about it, he didn't question her intentions concerning keeping it all a secret.

A little over a year after their friendship started Charlie began noticing little things about Hermione that had more effect on him that a friend should. He found the scent of her hair always made his heart skip a beat, the rich sound of her laughter caused goose-flesh to break out over his skin and sometimes when she smiled he felt his stomach knot up anxiously. His visits to the pub began to diminish, finding more fun with Hermione instead of Firewhiskey and flirty blondes with keys to random hotel rooms. He was confused about what it meant, he'd never really looked at any woman and thought they were more interesting than just relaxing with a drink in a bar. Even during his relationships, most of the women he dated could only hold his interest for so long. They got boring quickly or they just didn't hold enough interest in danger and adventure. He figured he'd meet a female dragon keeper who would feel the same way he did, would thrive on the exhilaration of taming dragons and then be able to do something other than shag and sleep. He wanted interesting conversation and intriguing company. He needed a woman who was strong and confidant without being masculine like some of the female keepers were. She had to be soft and exude some sense of femininity but still be able to hold her own. Then Hermione suddenly became all the more clear and he found his best friend was who he'd been looking for.

Usually Charlie was outgoing with women, he had a certain charm about him that brought more than a few birds his way. But when it came to Hermione, he floundered. Instead of flirting with her, he found himself falling into the same banter he always had. He couldn't seem to find his Gryffindor courage to tell her how he really felt and every time somebody else expressed interest he found himself territorial and rather possessive. Hermione hadn't noticed, but he'd become good at acting like good ol' Charlie, same old pal as usual. Meanwhile, it was eating away at him. He wanted to tell her, knew he should, but couldn't seem to find the words. He spent three miserable weeks thinking nothing would ever happen, nobody would ever know. Then his bubble was burst when he realized he wasn't as covert as he thought and how he felt was more obvious than he knew, and it'd been going on for longer than even he realized.

"Yeh okay, Charlie, yeh've been zonin' out fer the past hour. We borin' yeh, mate?" fellow dragon keeper, Jonas O'Shannon asked him, lifting a thick brow.

They were holed up at Scales, a few pints in and Charlie couldn't keep his mind on what the other chaps around him were going on about as they jumped from subject to subject easily. There were an attractive and leggy blonde dancing with a shapely red headed woman that Jonas was imitating a lewd conversation between them to the other keepers for a few laughs. Charlie's mind kept wandering to Hermione sitting back at the reserve, probably in the orange threadbare chair of hers, reading one of her thick tomes with her feet up and dressed in nothing but one of his old Quidditch jerseys that she'd pinched from him early on.

"Nah, just a little preoccupied, is all," Charlie replied, not interested in sharing his thoughts. While Hermione had become a figurehead for matronliness, it didn't mean the other Dragon Keepers hadn't noticed the fact that she was an attractive young female. With her soft curves and nicely toned physique, pert nose with a light spattering of freckles, plump pink lips begging to be kissed, warm brown eyes glittering with laughter and knowledge, she was perhaps the most beautiful creature to pass at least Charlie's eyes.

"Yeh thinkin 'bout 'Mione there, mate?" Jonas asked, staring at him knowingly.

"What? No," he replied, a little too quickly. He tried to laugh as if Jonas had said something absurd, but it sounded a bit forced. Picking up his pint, he knocked it back a gulp, trying to tell his eyes to take in the sexily grinding women on the dance floor. He wondered how Jonas knew. Was he transparent? Did the other keepers see it, too? Had Hermione? He stiffened, worried that maybe she had known and simply ignored it. She might see him as a brother, he thought distastefully. Like Ron or Harry. He shuddered. Damn, he hoped she didn't. Not after the heated dreams he'd had of her, the future he found himself thinking of more often. It was wrong. Her thinking of him as Charlie the big brother, or Charlie the best friend, while he couldn't get his mind off how nice it would be to snog her senseless, to whisper against her lips about how much he wanted to taste her, to hold her tightly.

"Yeh sure, Char? 'Cause yeh got tha' look abou'chu again," Jonas interrupted his thoughts again.

He looked over at the man, confused. Jonas was one of the younger keepers, only a few years up on Charlie. He had a vast knowledge of dragons and an even deeper knowledge of women. Though not all of it was good. He'd had three wives all ready but no children, decidedly. He said his dragons were the reason, too busy caring about them to remember he should be playing house. He'd long ago decided that women just weren't interested in a man with a fifty foot lizard for a best friend, but wanted stability that Jonas just wasn't able to give.

Charlie shook his head. "What look?" he muttered, his eyes turned off.

"Tha' look tha' says yer about ready teh happily put yer head in the guillotine if it meant yeh got teh touch her," Jonas told him, winking over his tankard.

Charlie snorted, lifting his brow at Jonas. "Hermione and I are just friends," he said, though the words felt wrong in his mouth. He'd said them so often though. Back when Brian wanted to ask her for a drink at Scales nearly a year ago, or when the brunette from a few months back wanted him to dance with her. He'd even wrote the same words to Bill a few times when his brother questioned his true relationship with Hermione.

This time though, the whole table laughed. He frowned, leaning back in his chair as he listened to eight drunk dragon keepers slam the table with their fists and laugh obnoxiously. All right, maybe he'd been a little more obvious than he thought. He'd only known about his feelings a few weeks. It wasn't as if he'd been trailing after her like a lost puppy. He thought he'd acted the same as usual. So he opened the door for her a little more often, or rested his hand on the small of her back while they were walking, and then there was that time that he'd grabbed her hand while they were on their way back to the tents, but he didn't think she'd even noticed the difference. He waited for the laughing to stop, drinking his ale and glaring at Jonas who just shook his head knowingly.

When it finally died down, Jonas said, "Mate, there are girls yeh can say tha' about and nobody'll see the difference, but tha' doesn't count with yeh an' 'Mione. Now I can't figure when yeh finally pulled yer head from yer arse, but I know tha' yeh have now. No point lyin' teh us, Char, we know yer smitten with her," he told him, smirking.

Charlie shook his head, wanting to deny it, wanting to tell them that there was no interest on his part. There were a handful of reasons why he shouldn't. She was Ron's best friend, his little brother had a crush on her since forever, she was seven years younger than him, he wasn't a long-term guy, he couldn't come close to matching her smarts wise, she'd never be interested in a man who worked with just his hands and hardly exercised his brain. He sighed, frowning. "She's my best friend, there's nothing there."

"Right," Jonas muttered, nodding. "Tha's why yeh took a shot at Toby when he said he'd love teh get a leg over her."

Charlie felt his neck heat up, he was still sore with Toby for that one. Stupid bugger was mouthing off about wanting to shag Hermione while she was chatting with one of the House Elves about what they'd prepared for lunch that afternoon. It was a natural reaction. Shut the bugger's mouth and hope the others got the point. Hermione was off limits. Didn't mean anything except that he honored her friendship. At least that's what he'd hoped it looked like. Toby was lucky Hermione came over to see what had happened and if Charlie was okay or he might've continued beating the shite out of the bastard. He could be a little testosterone driven, he knew that. It was expected. He kept dragons for Merlin's sake, he lived off adrenalin. Instead of answering Jonas, he muttered under his breath about how Toby should keep it in his pants.

"Or tha' time yeh warned tha' local wizard who was interested in dancin' with her tha' if he didn't walk off yeh'd feed him to yer dragon," Jonas reminded, outright grinning now as the others bobbed their head and chuckled their agreement.

Charlie scowled. That local wizard was a putz anyway. Coming in with his coiffed hair and expensive robes. What was he doing at Scales anyway? he wondered. Probably out looking for an attractive dragon keeper to steal away for a night. Well, he wasn't about to let the bastard make Hermione another notch on his broom. Besides, the chap had been staring at her arse the whole night, he was lucky Charlie had even warned him rather than just knocking him out with his tankard. "Boy was a letch. I was lookin' out for her," he muttered defensively.

"Right, and how 'bout tha' time when Cherie tried teh set her up with his cousin. Guy worked as an Arithmancy professor and had top grades at Hogwarts or wha'ever. Supposed teh be a real good chap, was very interested in meetin' her, even agreed teh come out and see her at the reserve if she didn' want teh leave. Yeh told Cherie tha' Mione'd hate the guy and tha' she wasn't interested in datin' anyone. She had her hands full. But 'Mione'd been just talkin' 'bout how lonely it was 'round the camp the night before," he reminded, rolling his eyes.

Charlie crossed his arms over his chest, glaring darkly at Jonas. "He lived in Sussex and commuted to Hogwarts for work. He didn't have time for her," he told him, shaking his head. "She needs someone closer, someone that wasn't only going to see her when school let out for hols."

"Someone nearby, like in the reserve, maybe a tent or three down," Jonas replied teasingly.

"I don't think Hermione's interested in Kelsy," he replied bitingly, referring to the woman staying next to Hermione's tent.

Jonas laughed, shaking his head, his thick dark hair falling into his eye with the action. He brushed it off and Charlie didn't fail to notice how a few of the women in the bar swooned. Despite Jonas' lack in interest in long term, there were various short-term women interested in him. Charlie was fairly sure the majority of the keepers in the reserve, save for the married ones had gone a night or more with Jonas. "Listen, Char, I get tha'cha want teh preserve the friendship and all that dragon shite, but bloody hell mate, make a move or get outta the way. Yeh can't play watcher forever."

Charlie rolled his eyes, playing unconcerned though he knew that Jonas was right. Hermione was an attractive and intelligent woman. Eventually she'd catch onto his little interference running and she'd either put a stop to it or get around it. And he did want her for bloody sakes. Despite the age difference and the fact that he'd be outright screwing his brother over, he wanted the fantastic woman he'd spent the last year chatting up about every subject under the sun. He wanted the sexy dragon keeper who got him laughing on his bad days and expanded his mind with her little bits of trivia that she tossed out randomly. And he wanted to know what the freckle on her shoulder tasted like and to run his coarse fingers through her soft hair as she arched up into him. He sighed, tired. Of drinking, avoiding, dreaming of the non-existent. Rising from his seat, he tossed some coins on the table and muttered his goodbyes as he left the pub.

The walk back was cold and lonely, leaving him with nothing but his dour thoughts. He tried to boost himself into telling her, into admitting that he wanted more. By the time he got to her tent, he was seventy-five percent sure he could get the words out before she could even put a knowing, pitying hand on his shoulder. He entered her tent without making any noise to let her know he was there. His mouth opened to spill all that needed to be said, but he found her curled up in her orange threadbare chair, a large book laying forgotten on her chest. She was fast asleep, her lashes brushing against her soft, pink tinged cheeks. Charlie carefully moved her book and slipped his arms under limp body, her legs were high up in the air from the angle and her neck was sitting at what looked like a very uncomfortable angle. She fit against his chest and in his arms perfectly, molding against him and turning her sleepy head against his shoulder. He heard a soft sigh escape her lips and smiled lightly. Walking to her bed, he laid her down and pulled the blankets up around her carefully, tucking her in. She rolled onto her side, her bare arm reaching out beside her, as if searching for something to wrap around. Charlie bit his lip, wishing he could be there beside her, her arm wrapped tight around his waist. Instead he sighed, leaning down to press a kiss against her temple, murmuring goodnight before he left her tent for his own empty one, three down where a cold bed was waiting for him.

The sun was becoming more prominent outside and he knew that it would wake her up soon. For a selfish moment he considered casting a charm on the flap of the tent to keep it out so he could bask in her a little longer, but he remembered the last time he had done that she had woken up in a frenzy and frowned at him most of the morning. That and the reserve kept giving them knowing looks that just made Hermione more annoyed. He was lucky that the dragon they were scheduled to be watching over that morning woke up late, too, otherwise they could have been in deep dragon dung. Still though, it was tempting to ignore the rules for another hour and just hold her. She smelled sweet, despite the raw heat that was making sweat break out on both of them. She shifted, her nose wrinkling in the way that told him she was nearly awake now. Her arm moved, fingers trailing across his torso to graze his abs, making his stomach tighten and his teeth dig into his lip. His hand slipped up her back to trace her bare shoulder, wrapping a stray tangled curl around his finger. Eleven months had passed in their relationship and it still felt like the first time he'd kissed her some days. Sweet, warm, intoxicating.

Charlie's leg was bugging him more than ever. He'd spent the majority of the day chasing down an escaped Common Welsh Dragon as it terrorized a nearby town, searching for sheep to stave its appetite. He hadn't had time to grab his broom, having to go on foot over the rocky hills with Hermione, Jonas, and Crystal hot on his trail. It was a younger dragon, unable to stay up in the air for too long, but very able to breathe narrow jets of fire and chew three sheep while rampaging through fields. Using levitating charms, Hermione and Crystal had managed to get both Charlie and Jonas on Robert's back. Hermione chose the name, stating that he had the chin of a Robert. Charlie still held strong that he didn't really have a chin at all. Using long learned tricks, they managed to get the reins in Robert's mouth and hunkered down on his back to angle him toward the reserve. After a three hour struggle, they managed to get him home and things went back to as normal as they could be at a dragon reserve.

Now Charlie was left pacing incessantly, wishing he had called out for Hermione or asked her to stay earlier when she told him his leg would probably bug him. He hadn't wanted to appear weak though, and he sometimes disliked the fact that he had an injury that she knew about. He grit his teeth, shaking his head and hopping on one leg. He began stating random facts he'd heard Hermione saying earlier, hoping to take his mind off the pain. "One of the twelve uses of dragons blood is oven cleaner... Famous vampire, Blodwyn Budd, is best known for singing to his victims... The Jobberknoll makes no sound until the moment of its death... It's impossible to apparate at Hogwarts... Creaothceann was played in Scotland during the Middle Ages, but was banned in 176-something because of a seriously high number of deaths..." Remembering her singing earlier, he grit his teeth and strangled out the lyrics, "Oh, my poor heart, where has it gone? It's left me for a spell..."

"Charlie," Hermione's voice interrupted him and he turned quickly to see her, his face strained and his shoulders tight. "Hey..." she said softly, her face twisted with concern. "I told you that your leg would be bothering you," she reminded, but there was no note of chastisement; just worry. She crossed the tent to him, dressed in one of his old jerseys and a pair of what looked to be his boxers. He pondered how she got those and then remembered that she'd brought their laundry down to the House Elves a few days prior and had it returned mixed together. In fact... he still had a pair of her knickers mixed in with his clean shirts. She ushered him over to his bed and he fell back with a thump. Hermione knelt in front of him, lifting his foot and placing it in the familiar position on her thigh, his toes brushing her stomach.

"It's not that bad," he grit out, arching his back in pain when her fingers began probing the tight muscles of his calf.

"Not that bad, hm?" she asked, and he just knew that she was cocking her brow at him.

"It'll pass," he bit out, trying to lift his leg but not fighting her as she kept his foot pressed down on her thigh. He loathed being in such a pitiful position. He was strong. He'd always been strong. He had managed broken limbs, cracked ribs, burned skin over various parts of his body. He wrangled dragons, dodged fire, played Quidditch through storms, worked until his body was crying for relief. He was an able twenty-seven year old man. He did not whine about old leg injuries that really weren't as bad as she thought they were. "FUCK!" he cursed when her fingers hit a severely sensitive nerve.

"Sorry," she said, one hand lifting to rub at the inside of his thigh to calm him. Unfortunately it wasn't quite as comforting as it might have been. He bit his lip to stop the moan aching in his throat, though he did forget for a moment that his leg had previously felt as if she were jabbing a large blade through it. She really shouldn't tempt him that way. Didn't she know how hard it was not to take her into his arms and snog her senseless? Any man would react to a woman's hand on his thigh in a less than friendly way. Especially the way she was rubbing it. Caressing it, really. Her hands were soft, with a few callouses around the palm, enough to entice his skin into reaction. He shuddered, his eyes rolling back for a moment. "Are you cold?" she asked him, her hand stopping against his thigh. He managed to shake his head and she squeezed his upper leg before going back down to take care of his calf. Charlie decided he was either the most cursed man alive or the most blessed.

"Isn't there something magical that I can do to get it to stop?" he asked her, lifting up on to lean on his arms and watch her as she lightly felt around his leg, finding the corded muscles as they tightened and tore at his body. "To permanently keep it from happening again?" He worked his jaw against the pain, desperate not to scream at how much it hurt. She wouldn't think bad of him if he cried, but damn he didn't want her to see that.

"I've been looking, researching everywhere. I had Harry send me a few books on it, but there's nothing, Charlie. That curse Nott hit you with, it wasn't well known. In fact, there's no past on it. I think he may have made it up himself. You're lucky the Healers were able to stop it as best they could or you might've been in this kind of pain all the time. At least now all you have to worry about is the odd attack every once in awhile. And as soon as you get over this obsession you have with pretending this isn't happening, your life will become a lot easier."

Charlie snorted, watching her knuckles knead his leg, fingers curling and hand massaging with a knowledge of his injury only the two of them would have. How many times had she been in this same position, taking care of him and pressing the pain away? She pulled out a jar of her goo, he'd never asked where it came from but he was fairly sure it was one of her own concoctions. While still rubbing with one hand, she dipped the other in the jar and pulled out a glob to smooth over his leg slowly. It was cold and mildly uncomfortable, just like always. It took a few seconds, the sting of the cold causing his muscles to bunch up even tighter for a second. Her hand rubbed at the inside of his thigh again and he wasn't sure which he was reacting to when he groaned and arched his back, the pain or the pleasure.

He watched her as the agony slowly began to evaporate. The way her brow furrowed as she concentrated solely on making him feel better. He could feel the drowsy effects of the paste effecting his senses, but he pushed it away. It was almost better than liquid courage, it loosened his tongue and he forgot all about pretending he wasn't always watching her. He forget to act as though she wasn't the most interesting part of his life, the most beautiful woman he'd ever set eyes on, the sole reason his mouth felt as if it were always grinning. His heart skipped a beat as she blew on his leg, making part of his leg tingle. She'd call it a reaction to the effects of the paste, but his heart skipped so much around her that there was no point in blaming it on anything except his affections.

He sat up, his arms settling on his knees as he looked down on her, fingers green and covered in the salve. She looked up at him, a tendril of brown hair falling over her face and catching on her nose. She blew it off and he felt her breath against his chin. He swallowed thickly, staring down into her warm brown eyes. He could feel her hands on his legs, fingers pressing deep into his flesh, lightly calloused palms rubbing into his slowly loosening muscles. There was a rather piney smell to the salve that he hadn't much noticed before. He could see one of her sugarless sweets in her mouth, pressing against the side of her cheek. He reached out, his finger tracing the outline of the candy. Her cheek was soft and supple beneath his calloused fingers. It wasn't the first time he'd felt her face, he had a long-time habit of cupping her head when he wanted to get her attention and keep it solely on him. He usually held her chin, fingers caressing her cheeks, or wrapped his hand around the back of her neck, fingers woven in her hair. Sometimes though, his palm wrapped around her cheek and he'd see her pupils dilate and her brows lift, as if she expected him to lean in and kiss her. He wanted to, Merlin he did, but he never tried. He cursed himself for always chickening out, but she looked so sweet all those times, so innocent and unknowing of his desire. And he really didn't want to hear her say, "Oh, Charlie, you know you're like the brother I've always looked up to," or some heartbreaking dragon dung like that. He wasn't sure he could take that.

Now though, she was looking up at him, her eyes a little wide, her lips parted, her breathing a little shallow. Her fingers were slowing, her attention waning from his leg and focusing on his face. He wanted to say something, to tell her she should back off if she didn't want him to kiss her. But at the same time, he didn't want to give her the chance to back away. He wanted just one kiss, even if he'd never get it again. Just one. He needed to taste her. To feel her lips on his, and he did. He leaned forward, pushing all the nasty fears and screaming apprehensions out of his head. His head was swimming with relaxing salve reactions and she looked so tasty. Her lips cradled his perfectly, warm and moist. His hand slipped into her hair, soft curls brushing against the back of his wrist, fingers curling around the back of her neck. He pulled her close, eyes falling shut, breath picking up and letting out a soft gasp of shocking delight. His tongue peeked out, reaching for hers, finding the sweet flavor of her sugarless candy and her pink tongue. She'd recently brushed her teeth and washed her hair, he could taste the mint, smell the light scent of coconut. She'd put lotion on her body too, he could smell it on her neck, a light fragrance of berries.

Her hands weren't on his leg, but they were dangling in the air, still covered in goo. He broke apart from her mouth to mutter, "Evanesco," to get rid of it and then her hands were wrapped around his shoulders, fingers digging in, bringing him closer. He nipped at her top lip, tongue running over it a moment later. Her eyes fluttered open and then closed, as if she wasn't sure it was really happening and she was making sure she was awake and he was there. Their noses bumped and he smiled into her mouth, teeth lightly claiming her bottom lip and tugging it as he pulled her up from the floor and into his lap. Her body pressed into his and he let out a low groan of approval. She fit perfectly, thighs against his sides, legs curled outside of his, arms moving to circle his neck and shoulders. She arched up, her chest pressing into him and her head falling back, revealing her long neck to him.

Charlie kissed down her chin and slowly trailed across her throat. His tongue peeked out to taste her skin, teeth gently nipping at her. One hand settled on the small of her back, keeping her close, while the other still sat tangled at the nape of her neck, fingers caressing her skin and wrapping in her soft hair. "There's... There's a relaxant in the salve," she told him, her voice husky and deep. "And ginger w-which sometimes causes a p-person to lose control of their inhibitions." She let out a soft mewl of satisfaction as he enjoyed her clavicle, teeth grazing, tongue laving. "It's a new batch, I might've a-added too much."

Charlie shook his head, fingers kneading at her back as if to bring her closer, to melt into her, to have all of her. "Want you," he told her, hand slipping beneath the large jersey to feel her back, soft and warm. "Long time." He considered a joke about a caveman and how he was acting, but her skin tasted too good to be away from for too long. Not to mention the fact that he was waiting for the moment where she'd push him away and tell him it was all wrong and she couldn't do it. He wanted to enjoy her as much as he could before she broke his heart.

"There's also a little bit of lovage in it," she continued, her legs moving to wrap around his waist, legs tight and lap pressing down into him hard. "It's a culinary and medicinal herb from the carrot family, o-often used in Confusing and Befud-Befuddlement Charms," she muttered, letting out a long sigh as Charlie tugged the shoulder of the jersey down her arm to trail his mouth over her skin. He found the freckle that occupied his attention whenever she wore her tank tops and he wrapped his lips around it. He could hardly believe it was all happening and rather wondered if maybe he'd just fallen asleep while she was massaging his leg. Charlie's hand fell from her back to wrap around her bottom. "Ow! Charlie, did you just pinch my arse?" she asked, lifting her head to look down at him.

He smiled crookedly at her, "Just making sure I'm not dreaming," he told her, kissing down her arm and then back up, half-smirking.

"I think you're supposed to pinch yourself for that," she told him with a roll of her eyes.

Charlie shrugged, arm wrapping tight around her back. "Point is, I'm not dreaming. And it's not anything you put in the salve." He swallowed, the relaxant from the lotion was wearing off on his senses, not only paralyzing the pain in his leg. His courage was waning and he didn't want her to walk away thinking he'd been high on her pain relief paste. "I-- I've liked you for awhile," he managed, his eyes staring out past her shoulder. "A long while." He shook his head, closing his eyes, waiting for the inevitable. Swallowing, he kissed the side of her neck, there was a possibility that everything she said about the potion was affecting her. The lovage could have befuddled her, she was close enough to inhale the salve while she rubbed his leg. It made sense. She opened her mouth to reply, but before she could, he cut her off, deciding he didn't want to go down without a fight. He was a Weasley, a former Gryffindor, a man who kept dragons for Merlin's sakes. He could charm a girl. The girl, he reminded.

"You've been my best mate for over a year and I guess I've been a little thick headed, because I only recently noticed that you smell incredible," he told her, slowly kissing up her neck. "In the last couple months I've been seeing things I hadn't thought much on before. Like how your laugh sounds when you're really happy, or how your smile makes your eyes glitter." He nipped at her throat, laving at it with his tongue a second later and enjoying the intake of breath that she took in its wake. "I love how you talk to Lucy when you feed her, as if she understands everything you're saying and can somehow relate. Or how you tell Robert random facts you read in Hogwarts: A History when you're trying to calm him down from one of his teething fits." He ran his hand through her hair, fingers threading through the light curls and trying to memorize the feel for future reference. "I like it when you wake me up by smacking me with one of your books. I'm a bit of a heavy sleeper, but it gets me up like nothing else. And it's driving me nuts just how much I think of you. You're in my every thought so much that it's a wonder I manage through the day." He kissed the length of her jaw, from ear to ear, settling in the middle of her chin. "Right now, I love how you feel in my arms and how your taste lingers in my mouth. I love how soft your hair is in my hand and how your body is trembling right now, because I've wanted to make you do that for so long." He shook his head, his lips brushing her chin, "I want you Hermione. I don't want to be your friend or like a brother. I want to love every inch of you," he whispered, eyes staring at her lips, afraid to see what her eyes might be saying back.

"Charlie," she whispered, his eyes watching as her lips formed the letters to his name, tongue passing by his eyes.

Slowly, he moved his eyes from her mouth, following the length of her nose, counting the five tiny freckles occupying the bridge before he met her gaze. Her eyes were soft, slightly shiny as if she were ready to cry. Her lashes were damp, dark and beautiful. He loved her and for one sharp, clear moment, he was shocked at how love felt. There were a number of women before her, women who were sexy and confident. Women who exuded challenge and femininity. Women who had a talent for kissing or shagging or speaking various languages. But they never met her intelligence, never held a candle to her beauty, and could never hold his heart like Hermione did. She had a gentleness to her that he'd seen first hand when the Hungarian Horntail baby, Keleman, got sick just a few days after hatching and his mother wouldn't take care of him. He'd watched her try to nurse the tiny dragon back to health in the cover of her tent, hidden from his mother and the other keepers. Listened to her sing Celestina Warbeck off key and rub rum on his gums as he cried out of hunger and sickness. He held her when she cried because all of her work hadn't paid off and knew that though the experience had hurt her, she'd do it all over again for the next dragon baby left to its own death. He'd seen her courage, not only in war, but up against the heat and anger of a fully aged Chinese Fireball. She was it for him, he knew. Nobody could quite make it to the height that she had in his head. Nobody could stand next to her and measure up. And he was prepared to do all that it took to make her see it his way. He'd stand in front of a hundred dragons, those still raw and vicious from being free over the world. He'd face them all and bite back the screams of his aching leg in the end if it meant he could hold her a little longer, kiss her lips just once more.

She leaned toward him, lips just a hair's breath from his. She whispered the sweetest words he'd ever heard in his life, "I want you, too." It was soft, breathy, and he wanted to hear it all again just so he could feel the shiver run down his back once more. He swallowed, rather disbelieving. He blinked at her, shocked and uncertain. She laughed, light and airy, before kissing him, hard and passionate. He lost himself then, eyes falling shut, mind shutting down. Perhaps standing in front of a hundred dragons could be put off until later, he'd much rather enjoy the moment. He let out a happy sigh as her fingers threaded into his short hair, tugging lightly, and short nails grazing against his skin. Yeah, the dragons could wait.

"What are you thinking about?" Hermione wondered, her voice breaking into his thoughts.

"Huh?" he asked, turning down to look at her. She was sexy when she was sleepy, her eyes half lidded and a smile caught between her yawning mouth. Her fingers were drawing misshapen circles over his abdomen, dipping into his bellybutton and then continuing on in a way that had him seriously considering lying to her and telling her it was still very early and they needn't worry about going to work just yet. She chuckled, obviously gauging his face and knowing what he was thinking. She climbed up the bed, bare legs brushing against him before she settled on top him, laying her chin on his chest. The sheet dipped low, barely covering her arse as she lay cuddled against him. His arms lifted, wrapping lightly around her back and fingers grazing her skin in a slow, tickling fashion. Nearly a year had passed since that day when he gathered the courage to tell her how much he wanted her and he'd basked in the perfection of having her always. The rest of the reserve wasn't that surprised and he rolled his eyes when Jonas shouted, "Finally!" as they walked into the mess hall the next morning for breakfast, hands clasped together.

Eleven months later and he still couldn't get over the fact that she actually wanted him back. Each morning he woke up, in his tent or hers, and she was right there, warm against his side, hair sprawled out, softly slumbering with him. The only difference in their relationship was now he got to touch her and tell her all the naughty thoughts he'd been having. They were still close, still spent their days working together and their nights playing Exploding Snap, reading from her various tomes, or just talking. He'd snuck off the week before to pick up a ring. He wasn't sure what he was going to do with it, never having ever had the desire to buy one for a woman. He knew he wanted her for much longer than any of his other relationships. She made his days, his life, more complete. He knew he was completely besotted with her and despite the fact that he always made fun of Bill for acting the same with Fleur, he was beginning to understand why. Charlie wasn't one for sweet words or long speeches about what she meant to him. Besides the first time he'd finally got all of his feelings out, in a way he was pretty sure could have been a lot more eloquent, he'd reverted back to his usual self. She didn't want flowery words and big gestures. She liked cuddling in her orange armchair, reading books about dragon lore and various other interesting subjects. She enjoyed sharing a butterbeer down at Scales, convincing him to dance with her every once in awhile, and spending most of her days checking in on the baby dragons and reigning in the ornery ones.

They still hadn't told their family they were together. Charlie knew the minute his mum found out she'd blow it out of proportion. They hadn't talked about marriage, though Charlie knew it was what he wanted. He wouldn't have bought the ring otherwise. He knew Hermione loved him, heard her whisper it to him when she thought he was sleeping after they made love. They said it to each other but it often felt out of place while working or hanging around the other keepers. It was kept in the quiet of their tents, in the comfort of their beds, in the whispers of the night. She knew he loved her, everybody knew he loved her. He spelled it out on her skin when he kissed her, caressed her, loved her into exhaustion. Despite the fact that the reserve thought they were the perfect couple, that his brother Bill had been smirking knowingly from the beginning, Charlie wasn't sure how the rest of their family and friends would take it. He was fairly certain that Ron still had some lingering feelings or that he'd at least be overprotective of her. Ever since the war, he and Harry had been checking up on her regularly. No more than three days would pass before Hermione would receive a letter from one or both of them. She thought it was rather funny how she wanted them to write more when they were in Hogwarts and now she couldn't get a moments peace without an owl flying in with something else for them to say. They didn't have much to share really, just wanted to know what she was doing, how she was feeling, if she was all right.

Charlie could understand that, he had an ongoing concern about her health himself. She'd been rather sick lately, her stomach had been acting up the last couple weeks. She hadn't gone to Tanya because she was sure it was just a bug. Being the most intelligent witch of her age, Charlie didn't doubt that she could take care of herself, he just worried sometimes. It felt odd to be worrying about anybody who wasn't a Weasley. To concern himself with somebody else's life and try and help them with whatever was going on. Hermione's life was very much linked with his though, them being partners at work and spending most of their time in each others arms. They'd had their share of fights, mostly having to do with how to tell their family they were together. They both wanted them to know, they were just worried about whether it would interrupt what they had. If they were to get married, he didn't want his mum taking it over like she had with the others. Bill's wedding had been all but planned by Molly and then Fred's marriage to Angelina a year prior and George's engagement to Alicia a few months before had Charlie worried about what might happen if he admitted that he saw forever with Hermione.

The Weasleys and Harry only recently found out they were dating, they just didn't know who. Hermione had finally told them that she was seeing somebody and so had Charlie, because his mother wouldn't stop trying to set them up with people. The regular Weasley family dinner became a way for Molly to try and inform them of all the nice ladies and chaps that would just love to date one of them. Harry was currently dating Luna Lovegood, an odd but efficient Auror, and Ron was on-and-off again with Parvati Patil, a rather giggly reporter for Witch Weekly. Molly immediately began questioning them on what their significant others were like and unfortunately had to do it in front of the entire family as she set the table for dinner.

"Well, Charlie what's she like?" his mother inquired, setting a large bowl of salad on the table. The whole family had filled the dining room, everybody managing to get away from work and outside commitments to gather for Molly Weasleys delicious cooking. Arthur sat at the head of the table, amused with his wife's immediate interest in her children's love lives. He was reading through a Muggle newspaper, fascinated with the Comics page. Each Weasley with their significant other and Harry and his girlfriend occupied the table. Charlie forced himself to sit across from Hermione rather than right beside her, which wasn't such a downside since her foot was currently sitting comfortably in his lap as he rubbed at the arch of it with one hand, thumb digging in and massaging. She looked comfortable and content until his mum started in on the inquisition.

"Aw mum, don't starve us with leaves, where's the meat?" one of the twins teased.

"Yeah, I'm witherin' away over here, woman," the other joined in, grinning.

"Shut your mouths you two, let your brother speak," Molly told them, frowning as she turned to her second eldest boy imploringly.

Charlie looked at Hermione and then around the table, suddenly feeling very suffocated as all eyes stared back at him. Bill looked amused as he sipped his butterbeer and lifted a challenging brow at Charlie, as if goading him to speak. "She's..." He swallowed, looking back at Hermione again and finding her softly blushing, her eyes diverted. "She's incredible. Funny, charming, easy-going, you know," he said, hoping it sounded less enraptured and more laid back.

"Aww... sounds like our Charlie's in luuurrrrvvvveeee," one of the twins teased.

Charlie rolled his eyes, shaking his head, but grinning down into his mug as he sipped his butterbeer. He knew he was. Happily so. Wouldn't have it any other way. But he wasn't about to share that. Not with his family, not just yet. The twins would never let it go, his mum would break out a wedding planner, Ginny would push to meet her to decide whether she was good enough. He just didn't want to put up with it. He'd much rather return to camp later that night and have his Hermione all to himself, no overwhelming family commitments hanging over their heads.

"Hermione, dear, you would know Charlie's girlfriend, wouldn't you?" his mother pushed, turning to her. "Tell us more about her, since my son doesn't seem to want to share," she said, half-frowning at her son while simultaneously half-smiling encouragingly at Hermione.

"Oh, well, er," she mumbled, looking from Charlie to his mum, uncomfortably. "Well, she's nice," she managed, nodding. "Smart, I suppose," she added, lightly shrugging.

"Brilliant," Charlie corrected, trying not to smile.

Hermione stared at him a moment, biting her lip before she returned her attention to Molly. "She loves the dragons, too. Works with the babies quite often and she's very able at controlling the older ones." She shifted in her seat, not quite sure what to tell Molly. "Um, well, she's--" It was rare for Charlie to see her so verbally challenged, rather amusing for him, too.

"How's she look?" one of the twins called out, loud and teasing.

"She a looker?" the other wondered.

"Charlie only dates beauties," the first reminded, smirking widely.

"Too true." A collective agreeance went around the table from all the boys. Charlie heard Harry mention a pretty blonde he'd met when he'd visited Hermione at the reserve once. The twins were bragging about various girls Charlie had dated at Hogwarts and a couple they'd met when they visited him early on at the colony. Even his father brought up a few of his former girlfriends, none of which met his mother. In fact, most of them hadn't really been girlfriends, per se.

"She's pretty, I guess," Hermione allowed, her face flushed and her shoulders slumping slightly.

"She's gorgeous," Charlie told her, eyes firmly set on hers. "Completely ravishing."

Hermione bit her lip but Charlie could see she was trying not to smile.

"Well, tell us how she is with him. Does she take care of him? Keep him from getting too bruised? My Charlie's always running into danger," Molly muttered affectionately, but not without a little chastisement.

Hermione nodded, "She does her best. Cleans his wounds, watches his back, cleans up after him when he forgets to clean up around his tent," she told her, looking rather amused.

"She's got great hands," Charlie said, smirking. "Very healing."

The men around the table snorted, laughing over Charlie's innuendo. Hermione gave him a rather withering glare, but her mouth was twitching with amusement. "What about your boyfriend then, 'Mione?" Bill wondered, half-smiling at her and his brother, a brow lifted.

"Oh, yes, Hermione, do tell us about him," Molly said, looking delighted. "You never did tell us his name or how you met." They'd only admitted to being in relationships shortly before dinner, it wasn't as if either of them were given much time to say anything. They were both rather hoping Molly would just leave it as it was, though they had been acting rather thoughtlessly as Molly wasn't one to just ignore something like them both having a love interest.

"He's a dragon keeper, too," she told them, clearing her throat and looking around rather anxiously. "He works with Charlie and me." She ran a hand over her hair, rubbing at her neck. "Met through work," she murmured.

"Is he handsome then? Real rugged and strong?" Ginny asked her, half-smiling and winking at her. "All of those dragon keepers are quite muscular, wouldn't you say? Have to be if they're working with dragons all day. Lucky you, surrounded by such masculine men all day long," she murmured, sounding mildly dreamy but even more teasing.

"You know you're right, Ginny," Parvati said, her eyes widening excitedly. "Hermione, d'you think you might give us an interview before you go. I bet my readers would just love to hear about all the tasty men over there. Dragon keepers," she said, lifting a brow with a smirk, "Our hottest spotlight yet!"

Charlie frowned, rolling his eyes upward before he looked over to see Hermione's bemused expression. She didn't even reply, acting as though she hadn't heard the question at all.

"I'd read it," Ginny agreed, nodding.

"Not planning on pickin' up a dragon keeper yourself, are ya Gin?" Ron asked rather suspiciously.

Ginny rolled her eyes at him. "I'm quite happy with Neville, thank you," she told him somewhat snappishly. "So, Hermione, is he?"

Hermione looked over at Charlie who was grinning rather smug. "Well, he's built quite like Charlie, so... no, I suppose not," she said, smirking.

The twins laughed, slapping their older brother on the shoulder.

Charlie smiled at her, winking out of sight of everyone.

"Tell us more then, dear," Molly asked, placing a large dish of ham and a bowl of mashed potatoes on the table before she settled into her seat. "Handsome, smart, interesting, what?" she asked, her brows high and her mouth set in a warm, inquisitive smile.

"Yes, all of those things," Hermione told her, nodding as she looked over at Charlie. "And he is quite rugged and strong, too," she added, rolling her eyes. "He loves the dragons, treats them like they're his own."

"Oh, isn't this wonderful," Molly tittered, smiling with flushed cheeks. "So, how long have you two been dating them then?" she wondered.

Without thinking, they both replied, "Nearly nine months." Their eyes caught and they looked around, hoping nobody thought anything of it.

"Was that a peach cobbler I smelled earlier, mum?" Bill asked, catching everybody's attention.

"Peach cobbler," Ron repeated, his eyes widening and his mouth, full of food, grinning. "I love your cobbler, mum. Did you really make it?"

"Yes, I did," Molly said, beaming out. "It's been awhile since I made one, wouldn't you say?" she asked, her attention wavering to that of her other sons. "Last time I made one I think it was that time you broke your arm at work, Ron," she said, her mouth shifting to that of a concerned frown. "How has work been, dear? You're looking a little beat up."

Charlie stared at Hermione who let out a soft sigh, her eyes connecting with his. They'd dodged a small bullet. It wouldn't have killed them to share their relationship, but they liked their privacy as it was. He rubbed her foot under the table, thumb flicking the sensitive part of her heel, smiling as she jumped in her seat. He watched as Harry queried if she was okay and she sat flushed, telling him she was fine. She frowned at Charlie disapprovingly, shifting her foot in his lap until he had to bite his lip from making a revealing sound. He slumped his shoulders forward, covering their actions from the others.

"You all right, Charlie, sweetheart, you look a little peaky?" his mum asked, reaching out to touch him.

He leaned back from her head, swallowing and nodding. "Fine, mum. Fine." He shot a look at Hermione, who was smirking as she sipped her butterbeer. He really did love her.

"You ready for the day then, love?" he asked her as she stretched out over his chest. He trailed the tip of his finger down the dip of her spine, stopping at the curve leading to her arse.

She nodded against him. "Mm hmm," she murmured, pressing a kiss against his bare chest.

Charlie ran his hands down her sides, resting them on the back of her thighs before he sat up, pulling her up with him so she was sitting in his lap. He kissed her throat before nuzzling her shoulder and resting his arms loosely around her waist. Her fingers threaded in his hair and she leaned forward into him, her bare body pressed comfortably against his, each angle fitting perfectly. He looked past the cover of her tangled hair to his dresser, where the box holding her ring sat. He'd ask her tonight, he decided, smiling as he inhaled the soft scent of her. Her fingers trailed down his back, pressing into his skin, pulling him closer. "I love you," he whispered against her hair, his hands found her hips, holding her close.

She pulled back a bit to see his face, a soft smile on her face. "I love you, too, Charlie," she told him, pressing a lingering kiss to his mouth, tongue slipping out to taste his lips. She leaned forward until her weight forced him onto his back on the bed. She chuckled lightly, thighs squeezing his sides. "We have a little time," she murmured, and Charlie smirked. He'd take a short breakfast if it meant she'd keep kissing him the way she was.

To be continued...