AN: What can I say? Not much that can convince people that I'm not a horrible person, I know. So I apologise for everything.
So hey, here goes nothing...
(I don't really own any of this, so that statement is depressingly accurate.)
Charlie stared down at the table, his strong fingers absent-mindedly tracing the grain pattern of the wood as he sat, slumped in his favourite and most comfortable easy-chair to one side of the great fireplace, from which large yellow flames crackled merrily, bathing the inn in a warmth at odds with the evening autumn chill outside. Despite the noisy chatter washing over him from all sides as excitable pub-goers conversed over pints of butterbeer, his corner of the bar was largely empty, and for that he was thankful - he needed to think quietly to himself. He sighed heavily, picking up his own glass and bringing it to his lips, more to have something to do with his hands than anything.
Hermione. She was all he could think about. From the moment he woke up, to the minute he closed his eyes in exhausted sleep, her face swam into every conscious thought, distracting him, torturing him. She had decided to stay on at the reserve, after her potion was given reluctant praise from Madame Toulouse and the keepers themselves, and she handed her resignation into the ministry by owl post, effective immediately.
Charlie had offered her his spare room, and she had gladly accepted the offer, not really knowing anyone else on the reserve. Saying that, Hermione had already become quite popular with the staff on the reserve after her potion expertise became known. A little too popular with some of the male members if you asked Charlie, but a quiet word with the more eager keepers had left no one in any doubt that Hermione belonged to nobody, with the possible exception of Charlie Weasley, and the warnings to lay off the pretty new potioneer had spread.
Still, Hermione had her friends, most notably Olga Pierson, who often came into the potion room to chat with Hermione over a cup of tea. Rico and Ed were also firm favourites of Hermione's, their endless banter with Charlie making her laugh harder than she ever had before, and on an almost daily basis. Although she had remained slightly distrustful of Isabelle regarding her rather 'friendly' behaviour around Charlie, Hermione was forced to admit that the stunningly beautiful witch was charming, funny and intelligent, and happily accepted her friendship, for which Charlie was extremely thankful for. He didn't think that Isabelle would last long against Hermione's fierce intellect, although Rico was quick to point out that Isabelle was no pushover and could put up a good fight.
Charlie had been even more apprehensive about Hermione's reaction to the youngest keeper on the reserve; a quiet, pale man of roughly Hermione's own age, who had introduced himself somewhat sarcastically as "Zane Yaxley-Smith, son of the notorious death eater." At first Hermione had recoiled, but Zane had laughed at her horrified expression, and explained that he had never really known his father, having lived with his mother and twin sister in Romania since the age of fifteen. Hermione found, surprisingly, that here was another member of the team she could call her friend, despite the painful reminders, and revelled in her new-found popularity.
One evening at the end of her first week, Hermione had been sat writing a letter to the Ministry tendering her resignation (effective immediately), on the sofa with Charlie, when she broke the companionable silence to ask him how this came to be, unused as she was to having more than a couple of close friends. He had laughed, wondering why she would have to ask such a question, whilst privately listing in his head all the reasons why he thought she was the most wonderful witch on earth.
"Beautiful, intelligent, charming, hard-working, funny – even when she didn't mean to be, deep-thinking, a good friend, hot as hell in those pyjama shorts..."
"Huh?" He blinked his eyes back into focus to find her gazing in confusion at his expression, and mentally shook himself awake.
"To tell you the truth, it's because people admire you," he smiled, ignoring her disbelieving scoff. "They admire your work ethic, you know? You've got something to do and you get it done. No nonsense, no fuss. In this business, that sort of thing is important, and you're a natural."
He reached out an arm to pull her into a one-armed hug, silently wishing he could do more that hug her like he would his little sister Ginny. His mind wandered back to their first embrace, underneath the apple tree at The Burrow less than a month ago. Already it seemed like a lifetime. And yet Hermione was still sitting next to him, her eyes like pools of melted chocolate, still staring up at him with that same expression of confusion and fragility, her body still curled up into his…nothing had changed, and yet everything had changed.
They'd gone full circle, Charlie sighed to himself. Was wanting to get back to where they'd left off, on her first day in Romania, such a bad thing? He was resolved to stay friends with her until she was ready.
Their lives had taken on a pattern since that day. Every morning they would wake up in their separate rooms, shower and dress one after the other in the shared bathroom (ladies first), before sitting down for breakfast together in the tent's spacious kitchen. They would converse quite happily with each other, tucking in to Charlie's home-made and deliciously-bad-for-you fry up before parting ways at 9 ; Hermione to the lab, Charlie to the enclosures. Then they'd meet up with friends for lunch in the catering tent, finish chores for the day and return to the tent for supper. Hermione had discovered Charlie to be a fantastic cook, and had quickly relinquished any claims on his kitchen as his new tent-mate. She often joked that she only stayed on because of the cooking, but they both knew the truth.
Well, they knew two truths. The first was that Hermione loved her new job. She found it liberating to set her own timetable, to be her own boss. It seemed ridiculous now that she should have wasted so much of her life at the ministry, the memories of which were already fading away; replaced with the new life she had begun only a week ago, at the end of August. She could order whatever books she needed, and was paid to sit and read them from cover to cover before putting that information into practise in the potion lab. She was in heaven, and came back to the tent, her new home (even that sounded good), every evening with a stack of books under her arm, and sat by the fire to read, research and learn.
Sometimes Charlie would sit with her, sometimes reading out loud interesting passages with obvious interest, sometimes content to listen to her read to him. That was the other truth. Charlie. It was obvious to both of them that there was something special between them, yet neither was quite willing to act on it. Not yet, anyway.
To him, admitting his feelings would be the utmost in disrespect to her- she'd come out of a messy divorce with his little idiot of a brother and was still getting over it, even after the month they'd spent together as 'partners' on the reserve. To her, the idea of harbouring feelings for Ronald's elder brother would be a black mark in her book of perfect morals. And Hermione Jean Granger NEVER got black marks of any kind in her books. Well, unless you count her divorce from Ronald…but she wouldn't think about that, and he knew better than to bring it up.
But there it was, undeniably: their mutual attraction for each other. Countless times Charlie would sit with her by the fire, legs tucked up with hers on those goose down cushions she loved so much, just watching her as she read, with the firelight making her dark, sorrowful eyes dance and sparkle.
Those were his favourite times, and also his most hated. He loved the way she'd let down her guard and be herself, surrendering to her book and her close proximity to Charlie with apparent enjoyment; discussing, disagreeing and forming opinions on anything and everything under the sun. But he hated the way she would unintentionally brush limbs with him as she shifted position on the couch, and the way locks of chestnut hair would fall into her face- curls which he was just dying to push back behind her ear, but couldn't. She was driving him crazy, and she didn't know it.
That was what had driven him down to the wizarding inn in the centre of the nearby village, where Rico found him after roughly 3 hours of solid moping in a corner of the bar, three empty glasses littering his table.
"For Merlin's sake, Charlie!" he sighed, heaving himself into the armchair opposite the miserable redhead. Charlie glared at the intrusion and lifted his hand in such a violent movement that liquid spilled over his hand, the table and down the shirt he wore under his robes.
"Charlie, this is stupid."
"Yeah. I know this is hard on you, what it's costing you to-"
"You know fuck all, Rico," Charlie muttered darkly, standing up and pushing his way through the crowds of witches and wizards, who gave him a few wary glances as he passed by. "You don't know what it's like, being around someone you like all the time, knowing that they know how you feel, and knowing that there's a chance that they feel the same- but not able to do anything…it's so, so stupid."
The two men had made their way outside the inn by now, Rico half dragging Charlie out of the door to prevent the scene which was sure to follow, had they remained. The American dragon keeper had only witnessed Charlie's temper unleashed a couple of times, but it was enough to know that a pissed off Charlie could be a dangerous one; and a danger to himself if he was left to stew like this.
Charlie continued his rant as they made their way to a bench at the side of the building, gesticulating wildly as he went, hardly feeling Rico's hand tugging his sturdy jacket forwards as he ploughed on.
"It's just not bloody fair, that as soon as I find a woman as perfect as she is, she's gone. Put firmly in the 'friend category' like there was never anything there. But there was- there is!" Charlie sunk down onto the old wooden bench, slumped with his head cradled in strong, worn hands, his rage gone. Rico joined him silently, observing his best friend go to pieces. Over a woman he had only known for a couple of weeks. Worse than he thought. After a moment of letting Charlie dwell on his issues, he touched him gently on the shoulder.
"I know. I do know what it's like, trust me."
Charlie turned his head, his eyebrows raised- whether in surprise or disbelief, Rico wasn't sure. His long red hair fell into his eyes and he pushed it away in frustration, not caring that it stuck out at odd angles. He wondered briefly if Hermione would laugh if she could see his hair now, before shaking his head to get rid of the sound of her giggling- a rare but exquisitely beautiful noise…
"Oh come ON Charlie, I couldn't be more obvious about it if I tried, short of tattooing her name on my arse along with the words 'I love you, be mine'!" Rico was the one looking pissed now, practically wringing his hands. Clearly, he assumed that Charlie's loss of focus had been concentration, rather than reminiscence.
Charlie managed to give a weak chuckle at this, pulling himself out of his depression with almost visible effort. He nudged the man on his right with his elbow, eyes crinkling as he watched.
"C'mon then, who is she?" He held up his hands in surrender as Rico glared at him with what could only be described as murderous intent. "I swear, I don't know. I've been kinda preoccupied recently, you may have noticed-"
"No shit. Every time Hermione flippin' Granger enters the room, your eyes light up like it's Christmas morning and-" Charlie huffed.
"-and every time she leaves," Rico continued as though there had been no interruption, "you check the door every couple 'o seconds in case she decides to pop back in for a chat with her favourite dragon kee-"
Charlie growled, lunging for the older man and, catching him off guard, pinning him to the cool grassy bank by the side of the pathway, hands holding his wrists tightly above his head, sitting on the man's stomach to prevent escape.
Despite his best efforts to look serious, Rico was laughing, and Charlie was laughing right along with him. It felt good to laugh. Relationships at the reserve had all been strained recently. The British Ministry was still refusing to grant a non-muggle buffer zone around the reserve (clearly, Charlie and Hermione's actions at the Ministry hadn't helped, and space restrictions were pushing the dragons closer and closer together. Only last week, a Chinese fireball had come across a breeding Scottish Blue and her clutch of eggs, and the resulting fight had left the fireball blind in one eye and the eggs crushed into dust.
Charlie rolled onto his back with a heavy thud, all the fight and boisterous laughter gone from him. Rico pulled himself up into a sitting position, pulling the taller redhead with him.
"We're hopeless, aren't we?"
Rico let out a barking laugh and clapped Charlie on his shoulder. "No shit."
Hermione groaned sleepily, attempting to stretch out her cramped limbs from her position curled up on the sofa in Charlie's tent, where she had obviously fallen asleep in front of the roasting fire. She blinked hard against her foggy vision as she gazed about the canvas walls and over the plush carpeted floor, noting the pile of books on Wizard/Dragon histories and various old and dusty tomes dedicated to spells and potions which she had heaved out of the rather neglected Reserve library earlier that day. Contemplating just going straight back to sleep and dealing with the work in the morning (what was the reserve doing to her?) a sort of whooshing roar came to her ears and she sat bolt upright, scrabbling blindly under the cushions for her wand as the flames in the fireplace turned emerald green.
A tall redheaded wizard stepped out of the fireplace, dusting off his robes and looking around before his eyes, a watery blue, met Hermione's intense brown.
"Hello Hermione. Mum said you'd be here."
Hermione tried to find her voice, but the air had all been choked from her lungs and the only sound she could make was a sort of hoarse growl. She brandished her wand instead, hoping to convey the passionate loathing she held for the man she used to love.
That thought surprised her. Yes, he'd been unfaithful, and he clearly didn't love her with the same fierceness, respect, pride and devotion as he had when they'd exchanged vows three years ago- three and a half, now really. But deep down, she thought that, underneath her hatred, she'd still love him, till death do we part, like she promised him at the wedding. But here he stood, Ronald Bilius Weasley, in the flesh, not ten feet away from her. And nothing except the pain and grief he'd caused her could penetrate her mind and body.
If anything, that thought gave her strength. Hermione Granger stood straight, shoulders squared, facing Ron with a determination and power in her eyes that she hadn't unleashed since their school days. When she spoke, her voice was oddly calm.
"What do you want, Ronald?"
Clearly, Ron had not been expecting this, and he faltered. Hermione noted with interest the half-step backwards, the hand clutching his wand in the pocket of his robes, but said nothing. Her own wand dangled, waiting, by her side, and this was given a wary glance before he spoke.
"Mum said you'd be here," he repeated, looking as though he was about to sit down in the nearest available armchair. However, one look at Hermione's blazing eyes and arched eyebrow made him think better of the idea, and he settled for leaning against the mantle with an easy stance at odds with his feeling of unease. "I'm glad you're on your own-"
Hermione laughed mirthlessly, and her voice was slow when she spoke, not wanting her ex-husband to miss a word. "So am I. I don't want any witnesses when I murder your sorry arse for fucking around behind my back. How dare you do that to me, and how dare you presume to just floo into my house, when you are so clearly not wanted. You make me sick, Ronald Weasley. I don't want to see you, or hear from you, ever again. I want you to leave and never come back."
If Ron was shaken, he didn't let it show. His own eyebrow arched as he opened his mouth, a smile playing at the corner of his mouth despite her hostile threats. "You don't mean that, Mione, you could never want me gone forever. And please be civil- I'm making an effort here, you might try it sometime."
Hermione's furious mouth flew open to unleash a vicious tirade on his ears, which had turned bright red with the effort of staring down his wife. Ex wife. Whatever. Ron held up freckled hands in front of his chest to postpone Hermione's shouts of outrage and probable hexes and curses she was sure to send his way in the near future.
"Last time I looked, this was Charlie's house, not yours. I have as much right to be here as you- more, even, cos we're related."
He placed careful stress on the words, watching as brown eyes pooled with angry, heartbroken tears.
"What the fuck is going on in here?"
Charlie took one look at the scene- his kid brother staring down the beautiful witch in defiant anger, her eyes filling with unshed tears that threatened to spill over at any second- and strode over to the fireplace.
Ron opened his mouth, but no sound came out. He watched in silent horror as a large fist flew at his face, connecting with his long nose. Pain. His nose gave a horrible, sickening crunch, the force of the blow toppling him backwards onto the hard flagstones of the hearth, where his head landed heavily. The brightly coloured roof swam in and out of focus for a couple of seconds before everything dimmed and went black.
AN: So there you have it...I thought some Ron-beating might be appreciated :P I love him really, I just happen to love incredibly hot Dragon-Keepers a hell of a lot more
Please review. I know I'm a bad person, but reviews make me happy, and generate more chapters much faster than if left to my own devices (obviously. I have proof now!)
Much love ES xxx