Charlie Weasley wandered into a Roman bar, the fifth one he'd been in that day, but one look around convinced him that this one might be a winner. He considered sitting at the bar, but he hadn't come all this way to sit with his back to the room and nurse a drink. Didn't he do that enough on his rare nights outside the camp? Choosing a table off to the side where he had a good view of the room at large, he sat back in his chair, an elbow on the table, his legs crossed out in front of him. It was a Wizarding bar, and the wireless had been amplified for the listening pleasure of the patrons. Even though the words were in Italian, Charlie recognized enough of the words to know that it was a Quidditch match, and based on the dueling colour schemes worn by the patrons, it was two local teams.

He noticed the barmaid's bottom first, swaying softly as she navigated the room, alternately smiling and scolding in responses to greetings and attempted arse pinchings. It occurred to him later that he liked the fact that she seemed flattered by both, but unwilling to put up with too much of either.

He liked her smile, too, and the way that her hair fell in sleek waves to one side of her face, like one of those old muggle film stars Uncle Bilius had been so fond of. He liked her voice as she approached, the way that she spoke Italian as quickly and fluently as anyone in the room, though he suspected based on her colouring that she hadn't been born here.

What he didn't like was her face as she turned and caught sight of him. She looked for all the world as if she'd seen a ghost, though he knew he'd never seen her before in his life. And what was more startling was that she immediately switched over to English as she asked him what he fancied to drink.

He looked toward the taps dubiously. "Any chance you've got Boddingtons?"

"Not bloody likely," she said. "There's Moretti and a couple of dreadfully weak American brands, and Wierus Weizenbock, which isn't half bad. A bit wheaty. Most of the wizards around here drink wine or hard liquor."

"Firewhiskey?" he asked hopefully.

"Sorry, no. Firewhiskey and Italian tempers are a horrible combination. But they do have something called Strega Pazzesco. That'll put hair on your chest."

Charlie grinned. "Got some, thanks."

"I was sure you would," she replied, clearly trying not to laugh and studiously avoiding glancing at the afore-mentioned body part. "What I meant to say is it's one of those things that no one likes much, but they all drink to prove they are macho. Sort of like firewhiskey."

"Which I drink because I like it," he said, though admittedly he never would have tried it if not for a dare from Oliver Wood and the fact that the twins had been watching.

"Of course you do," she said, though the expression on her face as she looked him over clearly indicated that she had him completely figured out; scars, tattoos, red-headed temper and all, and she really wasn't impressed by that sort of thing. This wasn't the sort of girl who would hang on his arm and gasp over stories about close calls and angry Horntails. "I reckon I'll have the Weizenbock then, and whatever you tell me is good to eat here."

"Right," she said, drawing her wand from her apron pocket and tapping the parchment. "Stewed gnome ears and Flobberworm alla Tetrazini."

For a moment, she had him going. "You wouldn't do that to a hapless bloke, would you? What's the matter, love? Englishman broke your heart?"

"Something like that, yeah," she said, and winked. She leaned in a little closer, knowing damn well that his eyes would drop to the neckline of her robes. "Or maybe you've just got 'trouble' written all over your face."

"I thought they were called freckles," he called out when he found his voice, and got the satisfaction of a smile over her shoulder as she walked away, swaying her hips in a way that made it clear she knew precisely what he was looking at.

It got really busy after that, as the normal workday ended and the Roman Ministry workers started filing in, some of them strongly resembling his overworked dad and his stuffy brother in spite of the completely opposite coloring.

He ended up having to share his table with a pair of bickering co-workers and a father of 10 looking for a bit of escape before heading home and being nagged to death. The pretty barmaid grew more and more harried, and he tried to smile encouragingly as she brought him an absolutely delicious plate of pasta and a surprisingly potent beer. It grew clear as the night wore on that he was only hanging around in an attempt to continue their conversation, because he couldn't really follow the match and the patrons tended to run out of things to say to him after about ten minutes. It got a bit easier after the broadcast ended, though, because people seemed to be filing out in groups, in singles and in pairs and not always in the same configurations in which they arrived. As she came around again she asked him how he liked his dinner.

"Oh, brilliant, thanks. Not a flobberworm in sight."

She smiled. "Not that you know of, anyway."

"Well, if there was, I've eaten worse. Five brothers meant a lot of 'double dog daring'."

"I'll bet." Usually he got more of a reaction out of a comment like that, with the bird in question wanting to know about his family, but this one didn't seem the least bit curious. He tried another tactic. "Plus I've lived in Romania the last ten years or so, and I've discovered that more often than not I'm better off not asking what's in it."

"That's a good policy in general," she said, not asking about why he lived there or what sort of things he'd eaten or anything. Maybe he was losing his touch. Perhaps it was time to be bolder.

"So, how late do you have to work tonight?"

After a brief glance at him, she looked at her watch. "Another hour at least."

"And after?" he persisted.

She studied him for a long moment, then sighed and shook her head. "After that I'm going to go home and pour a glass or four of wine and light a fire and put my feet up and remind myself that blokes like you are rarely worth the trouble or heartache. Especially when you're on holiday and looking for a quick hookup.

Charlie put his hand over his heart as is he'd been stabbed. "Ah love, you wound me. I assure you, my intentions are above reproach."

"Yeah, right," she said, and rolled her eyes, though her smile was beginning to resurface.

"I'm just so happy to hear an English accent, you see. I've been dying for someone to talk to."

"Which is why you decided to take a holiday in Rome, rather than, say Blackpool or Bath or the Lakes."

"This was a lot closer," he said, shrugging. No point in explaining that since the war, visiting his family was more painful than relaxing, or that invariably when running into old mates the subject of the war and his participation (or apparent lack thereof) was too complicated and depressing to discuss at any length. And nobody seemed to want to discuss anything else any more. "Just thought that maybe you'd like to show me the sights. You know; Coliseum, Sistine Chapel, Spanish Steps, Agrippa's Pool."

"I happen to know a very good tour guide; I'll give you his name."

"I'd rather have yours," he said, putting on his most winning smile.

She seemed to consider for a very long time, and then finally replied, "Er, Rose. It's Rose."

"Pretty," he said, and let the name add more to the picture he was forming of her in his mind. "It suits you. I'm Charlie."

"Somehow I knew you were going to say that," she said.

"What, Charlie or that you and your name are pretty?"

"How would I know your name?" she asked, scrubbing at an apparently invisible spot on the table with her apron.

"Maybe you have the sight?" he threw out, trying to engage her interest enough so she'd stop looking as if she was going to walk away at any moment. "What was it that mad teacher used to call it? The Inner Eye?"

"As a matter of fact, I do," she said, suddenly growing more irritated. "Which is why I know better than to go home with the likes of you."

"Ouch," he replied, hanging his head. "And when did I mention anything about sex?"

She snorted. "So you weren't trying to pull me, then?"

"Course not. Just trying to get to know you better."

"In order to pull me. You forget, Charlie with the bad boy tattoos and the come-fuck-me grin and that ridiculous hair, I live among Italians. Seducing naive English girls is the unofficial national pastime here. There isn't a line I haven't heard, and in three languages, too."

He whistled. "Someone really did a number on you, didn't they?"

"Yes, someone did. And he wasn't even Italian."

"Well, Rose with the fabulous arse and the movie star hair and the sharp tongue, I've never been one to be put off by a challenge." He stood up, making a show of stretching, watching her eyes dart up and down his body. After dropping a couple of coins on the table, he said, "I'll be back tomorrow. I'm staying at the Pensione Perfetto if you change your mind. About that tour, I mean," he added with a wink. He could feel her eyes upon him as he left the bar, and as he approached the door he turned and caught her at it. With a friendly wave, he made his way back to his lodging, whistling and feeling more optimistic than he had in months. Years, maybe.

He'd carried only a slight hope that she'd show up at the door to his pensione the following morning, wearing walking shoes, but he had a good time anyway, seeing the usual sights and a few that weren't in the Muggle guidebooks. He sipped a Grolsh at an outdoor cafe near the Trevi fountain and watched people, trying to work out who was a local and who was a tourist. He looked at a lifetime's worth of paintings and statues. He ate a mountain of noodles with a fiery sauce in a place run by a woman who could have given his mum a run for her money in the nagging and fussing department. He inspired giggles and squeals from a trio of blushing schoolgirls in green tartan skirts. He flirted shamelessly while briefly posing for an art student with beautiful dark eyes and a riot of curly hair.

And in the back of his mind, all through the day, he thought about that waitress, wondering if he'd be rewarded with a smile when he returned that night.

He was.

She spotted him through a gaggle of obnoxious Quidditch players, and the smile of recognition, though fleeting, got to him more than it ought to have, all things considered. Still, when she came around to get his drink order, she pursed her lips, strongly resembling his old head of house. "You're back, then," she said.

"Told you I would be."

"Well, I'd hoped you'd forgot. Or maybe found another girl to bother."

"Forget you? Never. And I'd bet my last Galleon you've been looking forward to seeing me all day."

She rolled her eyes. "You'd be broke, then. Another Weirus?"

"You remembered. I'm touched."

"Don't be. I see people as drink orders. You're Weirus. That fellow over there, Campari and soda. The Quidditch team? Budweiser, except for the Seeker, who drinks scotch and orange juice, if you can believe that."

Charlie shuddered. "Nasty."

"Well, he could drink you under the table, small as he is."

"I doubt that," Charlie said.

"Fond of drinking contests, are you?"

"Well, what else are you going to do in a camp in the middle of nowhere when the dragons are asleep?"

"Play cards?"

"That, too. But only around payday."

"Read books?"

"Occasionally, but I get restless if I sit still for too long."


"Well, some do, but I prefer it when there's not two cocks in the bed."

"Of course you do," she said, and rolled her eyes a bit.

"Be happy to demonstrate," he said.

"Tempting," she replied. "But I've got work to do."

"I'll be waiting."

And he did, and the more often she came back with a refill or a plate, the more he enjoyed himself, and he began to suspect toward the end of the night that she was softening toward him. And that pleased him far more than made sense, though admittedly he wasn't used to having to work so hard on any woman. Still, he didn't have forever, so as the night drew to a close, he sought her out in the kitchen.

"I've got to be off, now, Rose."

"Lucky me."

"Got to wake up early, got a Portkey to a winery in Tuscany. Gonna take a tour, get slightly pissed, have some lunch, wander about for a bit."

"Lucky you."

"Be more fun with company."

"I imagine it would."

"Good. I'll come round and get you first. Or you could meet me earlier at my Pensione. Let Salvatore fuss over you a bit, feed you."

"I could do that, I suppose. But I won't."

"Merlin, Rose. Are you ever going to give me the time of day?"

"It's 9:47. No, 9:48. Well past my time of day to deal with annoying customers."

Charlie laughed and stepped closer. "Fine. Your loss. But I have every intention of making sure that you will be thinking about me all day, wondering what you might have missed."

She sighed and set down the stack of receipts. "And how do you plan on doing that, Dragon Boy?"

Charlie barely let her get the last word out before leaning closer, pressing his lips against hers at the same moment he'd slipped his hand around her waist. She was stiff as a board but she hadn't pushed him away or objected verbally, so he let his lips linger, just barely brushing hers as he pulled her even closer. She finally reacted, just the smallest loosening of her spine and a soft sigh. Charlie pressed closer still, opening up his hand on her back, letting his thumb stroke her spine and his lips coax hers open just a bit. He'd have liked to press further, but that wasn't the point he was trying to make. Apparently she already thought he was obnoxious--he didn't want to add assault to his list of perceived crimes. He pulled away reluctantly, noticing that her eyes were closed and her lips were open and he thought she looked bloody well perfect like that and that he might just remember her that way when he was a wrinkled old man. And then her eyes opened and her face changed from sweet surrender to prim disapproval in about 3.2 seconds. He grinned in response and she glared.

"There," she said. "Now you've got that over with, you can leave me alone and go on your merry way. Hopefully I haven't got myself sacked for snogging the customers."

"I doubt that," he said, and tipped an invisible hat to the cook and the busboy, who were grinning and cheering him on. He turned back to Rose. "I'm leaving at eight, if you change your mind. The pensione's on the Floo Network."

"I won't," she said, apparently fascinated by the column of numbers she was working on.

"Then I'll be back for dinner," he called over his shoulder as he made his way out the back door.

She didn't show up the next morning, and though he was disappointed, it didn't stop him from enjoying his day. He ordered up half a dozen bottles of wine to send as Christmas and birthday gifts, and another half dozen for his personal consumption. He knew that Romanian wine was growing in popularity, but it wasn't really his cup of tea. Too sweet, for the most part.

That night, he briefly considered finding another bar, but apparently he was a glutton for punishment or a damn stubborn git because he found himself listening to yet another Quidditch match at his usual table. This one was somewhat easier to understand, possibly because he'd picked up a little more Italian than he'd started out with, and possibly because the names he heard told him that it was a British team playing against an Italian one. As a matter of fact, he'd got caught up in a spirited conversation about the superiority of British teams with one of his neighbors, so much so that he nearly missed his favorite barmaid's reaction to his presence. It was worth it, though, because he caught a brief flash of pleasure crossing her features before they settled into annoyance. She barely spoke two words to him as she brought him a beer, and then another, and then a third, which she set before him with enough force to soak the sleeve of the auburn-haired witch with the lively green eyes who'd joined the conversation.

When the match finished, his debating partner left but the girl was still lingering, fussing with her handbag though she'd already paid, glancing over at him hopefully.

But when Rose set his dinner in front of him, he asked her if she would sit down and join him, if only for a bit.

"You really are thick, aren't you?" she asked, receiving a glare from the Italian bird.

Charlie smiled. "I've been told so, yeah. But I prefer to think I know a good thing when I see it."

This time he got a glare from the other witch, who grabbed her bag and left in a huff.

The waitress watched her go. "Well, there went your best chance at getting laid tonight."

"Was she?" he asked. "Hadn't noticed. And anyway, why would I want to waste my last night in Rome on someone who actually likes me?"

She snorted, and then seemed a bit flustered. "Last night in Rome? You mean I'll actually get to do my work without being sexually harassed?"

"This is Italy," he reminded her. "Harassment is an art form, right?"

"Yes, well, at least with them I can pretend I don't understand. Enjoy your penne, Charlie. It's the special."

She turned back and glanced at him as she walked away, catching him leaning back in his seat, enjoying the view. Shaking her head, she slammed open the swinging kitchen door and disappeared inside.

For the rest of the night, the other barmaid served him. Charlie felt more disappointed in his sparring partner's apparent cowardice than he'd thought he would as he rose to his feet and counted out the coins to pay his tab. Hoping to at least say goodbye, he looked around for her, but came up empty. He was halfway around the block when he heard his name.

It was absurd how much his heart swelled at the sound, but he turned and grinned ear to ear as she hurried toward him.

"Listen, Charlie, I want to...before you explain, I mean…I'm sorry I was such a bitch," she blurted out.

He couldn't come up with a single thing to say in response, so he just laughed.

"Thanks for contradicting me," she said, her voice dripping with sarcasm and perhaps a little disappointment. "It's nothing personal. You've got to trust me on that, and I just wanted you to know that before you left."

"All right," he said, not knowing what else to say.

"Anyway, enjoy the rest of your holiday," she finished, and started to turn away. Abruptly, she stopped. She exhaled, and as she did so her shoulders fell. She seemed to be having some sort of struggle, and for the life of him, Charlie couldn't understand why. Either she liked him or she didn't right? And for that matter, why did he care so much? Turning to face him, she bit her lip and seemed to be searching for answers in his face. Or maybe she wanted him to say something, but so far, everything he had said had been wrong. Or maybe it was right, because she was here, wasn't she? "Oh, what the hell," she finally muttered, and sprang at him, nearly knocking him over as she planted a sloppy kiss on his shocked, open mouth.

For a moment, Charlie froze in surprise, but his arms got the message first, and moved to wrap around her, or maybe to stop her from changing her mind and bolting. His lips got the message next, and they formed into something of a pucker, though he was more than content to let her take charge of the kiss. She slipped her tongue between his lips and he groaned, pulling her closer still, sliding his palm up her spine and burying his fingers in all that lush golden hair. She smelled like heaven and felt even better, and she was pressing up against him as if she couldn't get enough.

By the time she pulled away, he was panting, and she wasn't quite meeting his eyes.

"Rose," he exhaled. "Tell me what I did to deserve that and I'll be sure to do it again. Immediately."

"You're leaving tomorrow, right?" she asked, licking her lips and pressing close again, almost but not quite kissing him, inhaling deeply, a hungry waif, standing at the door to a bakery.

"That was the plan." At the moment, as Charlie nipped at her bottom lip to remind himself that he wasn't dreaming, he had no idea why he'd ever meant to leave.

"Come on, then," she said. "You know how to get there, I don't."

His brain finally started working full stop again, and Charlie gathered her up in his arms, trying to concentrate on the facade of his pensione as she nibbled softly along his jaw. Somehow, he managed to get them both there intact, and he hurried her through the front door, ignoring both Sal's greeting and knowing smile. After stumbling up the stairs, Charlie fumbled at the lock as Rose let her fingers wander under the hem of his shirt.

Maybe it was the unexpectedly cool night or maybe it was the 'holiday' aspect of the whole business or the fact that he was leaving tomorrow or maybe it was this girl in particular, but Charlie couldn't remember having such an powerfully electric reaction to fingers against his skin, and he couldn't quite remember a time when his body had responded so quickly to what was really just a couple of kisses, after all.

As he practically fell through the door, he was beginning to think he might die if he didn't get inside of her rightthisveryminute. He slammed her back against the door, or maybe it was the wall--he wasn't really paying attention. Her subsequent grunt of pain or surprise was soon swallowed by a moan of pleasure as he cupped her breast in his palm and covered her mouth with his own. She arched her back and pressed into his caress, and her tit felt just as amazing as it had looked peeking out from under her robes, and her nipple was reacting to the contact by straining against the fabric, pressing through to his palm. Charlie worked a leg between hers and she shifted in response, grinding up against the top of his thigh. His cock was hitting the soft flesh just below her hipbone and her fingers were digging into his shoulders and he'd drawn her tongue outside her mouth, where it did battle against his until he let go and began nipping his way along her jaw and down her neck.

She threw her head back and hit it against the doorframe, making them both laugh, and suddenly Charlie found that he was supporting both of them because she'd wrapped her legs around him, pressing hard against his groin through at least four bloody inconvenient layers of clothing. It would have been ridiculously easy to yank her skirts around her waist and slam up inside her but everything they were doing felt too damn good to stop. Besides, there was so much more to discover as he let his fingers wander up her skirt; soft, silky thighs and a firm, round arse, and where the hell were her knickers, anyway?

He finally located what was little more than silken strings coming together at the cleft of her arse and he wrapped the pair of them around his fists, tugging sharply and snapping them in two, being rewarded with a startled gasp and then a moan when she first felt his fingers in her cunt, dipping, circling, spreading moisture--holy shit, she was wet--teasing her until she was biting her lip and whimpering, squirming in her precarious position to keep from coming, hanging on for dear life.

Little by little she was pulling his shirt up his back and finally she tugged it over his head, murmuring her approval as her eyes raked his body hungrily. She leaned forward to lick at the salt of his neck as she reached down to his flies, swearing under her breath as she struggled with the buttons and the zip, and then finally gasping in pleasure as she got hold of him

Bracing her against the wall, he tugged his trousers and pants down, then slid inside of her in one movement, relying on gravity to make her sink down on him, though he was fighting it to keep them both upright. When he was fully sheathed within her, it was the best fucking feeling he could possibly imagine, especially as she wasn't shy about letting him know how much she liked it—for someone who'd played so bloody hard to get, she certainly went all out when she finally gave in—tightening the arms around his neck and the legs around his waist, panting against his ear.

He realised as she looked past him into the room that she could see them reflected in the mirror on the far wall and what was more, he could see something similar in the bit of mirror/door that he faced. He watched her touching him almost reverently, watched the trio of dragons on his arm and his shoulder and the small of his back moving to chase her fingers along his spine. He watched her caresses turn into demands as she dug her fingers into his buttocks, causing him to increase his speed and pressure until her toes were curling behind his back.

She was beginning to cry out softly with each thrust, she was beginning to moan and pant, and he wanted to see more in the mirror, so he started stripping the rest of her clothes off, though it was bloody hard doing that and supporting them both at the same time. So he stepped out of his pants, got a better hold of her and picked her up, heading toward the bed, where he set her down on the floor and finished undressing her. He turned her toward the foot of the bed and bent her over, running his hand up and down her spine and around her arse, which she wiggled as she watched him looking at her through the mirror. Bracing herself on her elbows, she murmured, "Hurry, you great prat. I want you to fuck me into the mattress."

Charlie groaned and took a moment to savour her impatience—gods, she was fucking gorgeous like that, aching to be filled, her breasts hanging in front of her as she bent over, begging to be fondled. He traced the beautiful line of her back from up behind her neck to the cleft of her arse, which he smacked playfully, causing her to hiss in pleasure and close her eyes and open her legs even wider. When he reached under her, he found her ready, open, slick and hot, and it already felt like home when he reentered her, felt like heaven to feel her body surrounding him as she shivered cried out from the friction between them. He reached up to cup one of her tits and reached down with the other hand to circle her clit, and she pressed back against him even more, watching the pair of them in the mirror, meeting his eyes in the dim light, her eyes roving his body hungrily.

Grabbing hold of her hipbones for purchase, he slammed into her again and again, watching her breasts bounce in the mirror in front of him, noticing that the dragons had moved around to the front to get a better view.

"God, yes, that's it," she cried, throwing her head back, and Charlie, assuming she liked it rough, let go to try to wind his fingers in her hair and pull her back even further. She didn't seem too keen on that, though. Instead she pulled away from him, sinking to her knees before him.

She took his cock, slick from her own juices, all the way into her mouth, looking up at him coyly through ridiculously long eyelashes. Charlie practically howled, and she did it again and again, reaching under to cup his bollocks and toy with the sensitive skin just behind them. After a time, she stopped going as deep but started sucking harder, and then he did yell, especially when she started toying with his arse. Just as he got close, she let go of him with a soft pop and stood on her feet, kissing him hard on the mouth after running her tongue up the length of his body.

Charlie wanted to turn her around and fuck her from behind again, but before he could grab her, she sank onto the bed and lay on her back. Looking up at him with a devilish smile, she very deliberately opened her legs, reaching between them to toy with her cunt, rubbing at her clit with her thumb and letting two of her fingers move in and out of her.

This sent Charlie into a frenzy, and he found himself on his knees on the bed, crawling toward her, licking his way up her leg and pausing to tangle with her fingers while lapping at her folds, She arched up off the bed and moaned and he stuck a finger inside her, then another, crooking them, scissoring them as he sucked on her clit, thoroughly enjoying her moans and the way she squirmed under him, alternately trying to press up against his mouth or to move away because it was almost too much.

Just as she began to shudder, just as the walls of her cunt began tightening around his fingers, he moved up her body, deliberately prolonging the contact between until he was nearly face to face with her and the tip of his cock was nestling near her entrance. "Tell me what you want," he demanded, teasing her with the tip but stopping just short.

"Fuck me, Charlie," she replied, and he complied, slamming up inside her with a force that pushed her head into the pillow. Her legs had wrapped around his buttocks and she reached above her head to brace against the headboard, her moans growing progressively louder. Charlie's vision was beginning to blur around the edges and his blood was roaring in his ears and every nerve on his body was trained on the friction between them, but he was able to focus just enough to reach between them and toy with her clit.

She began to scream in earnest, then, and now his vision was really going black, and the clenched muscles inside her sent him over the edge completely, pulling his release from him. He shouted her name on a long note and collapsed, burying his head in a bit of fragrant skin just below her right ear, kissing the salty skin almost without thought.

As he lay there, attempting to form a coherent thought, she laughed.

"Well that's a relief," Charlie said, and he meant it. "I was afraid you'd gather your wits and slap me."

"I was laughing at myself," she said. "I've thought about doing this almost from the moment you walked into the bar, but I had all these plans of torturing you, tying you up, teasing you until you were begging for it. I suppose I shouldn't try to keep the upper hand in bed when I go so long between tune-ups."

"You won't hear me complaining," Charlie said, and laughed. He propped himself up on one elbow and circled her nipple lightly with his finger. "Course I wouldn't have complained if it had gone the other way, either. Come to think of it, I do happen to have a tie or two with me--for the unexpected formal occasions, of course. I think the bondage idea has merit."

"Oh do you?" she asked, looking like the intrigued and just the smallest bit smug. She hopped to her feet, utterly heedless of her nudity. He expected her to head for the bathroom, but she headed for the dresser instead. "Are they in the suitcase, then? And what can we use for a blindfold?"

In that moment, Charlie began to suspect that he had just tumbled headfirst into love. Or something like it, anyway.


He woke up a few hours later to find her crying. For a moment, he froze, panicked, suspecting that she'd be mortified if she knew he'd caught her. It wasn't as though she woke him up on purpose, or at least it seemed she was trying to be quiet about it. If she'd wanted him to do something about it, she'd have woken him up, right? But after an agonizing minute, he turned, sliding in behind her and kissing her shoulder.

"You all right?" he asked, and then immediately cursed his own stupidity. Obviously she wasn't all right, but crying girls tended to completely flummox him.

She sniffed and then inhaled, possibly trying to control herself. "I'm fine. Go back to sleep."

"That bad, was I?" he said, and placed another kiss on her shoulder, wrapping an arm around her waist.

She snorted softly at that. "No, it's not you. You were...brilliant. I'm just…Maybe it's just because I haven't done this in a while."

She wasn't giving him much to go on, and Charlie racked his brain, trying to work out what the problem was. Maybe she was trying to get over someone, or maybe she'd had a bad experience in the past—a thought that made him feel angry and helpless. Or maybe she had issues with casual sex, religious guilt, or maybe she'd just cheated on someone. God, he hoped not. "What is it?" he finally asked.

"I really wish you hadn't come into the bar that night," she admitted, and he had to keep from flinching.

"So it is something I did, then..."

"No, really, it isn't. But you came and opened up all these things in me that I thought I was done with."

"I don't understand."

"No, you wouldn't," she said and Charlie moved away, uncertain if he was paying for someone else's sins or his own, feeling utterly wretched. But she had followed him, hadn't she? He hadn't forced her into anything.

She curled further up into a ball, her arms crossed over her chest. Charlie sighed, propping himself up on one elbow. She still wouldn't look at him.

Finally, he pressed at her shoulder, turning her onto her back and trying to get her to meet his eyes.

"Can't help, or apologize, or whatever it is you want if you don't talk to me," he said, and reached forward to brush her hair away from her face. She flinched and turned away.

He continued to watch her, growing more puzzled and more than a little irritated. Finally, she turned back and met his eyes. "I'm not making sense, I know. Nor am I being fair, or nice or even good company. It's just....there's a reason I'm here—in Rome, I mean—and not back at home, and part of it was that I didn't want to run into anyone I know, or even people that know people I knew. I wanted to forget I ever had a life there."

"But I don't know you," he said. "Or at least, I don't think I-"

"You don't," she said firmly, and sighed. "It's the war," she said. "I ran away..."

"To escape it?" he prodded. "That's nothing to feel bad about. Lots of people did. In fact, I waited it out in Romania, while my family-"

"No," she said, interrupting him. "I was there. I was there at the school the whole last year of it, and I was there for the battle, too. It's just...I got hurt, and I lost friends, and I was angry, and sad, and I couldn't relate to people I loved and I couldn't seem to control my...rage and depression while everyone else was carrying on and telling me to get over it, so...I ran away," she repeated.

Charlie shook his head. "There's nothing wrong with feeling that way. Hell, add guilt for not being there to protect your family, and you could be me. And if you fought, if you got hurt, you should have been honoured, not criticized."

"I was...honoured, I mean, but I just couldn't get past.-" She exhaled loudly, seeming to be struggling with something, clutching the sheets over her breasts. Finally, she started fussing with her hair, and she said," I got bit that day. By a werewolf."'

Charlie felt his eyes widen. "But it wasn't a full moon the night of the battle, was it?" And this he knew damn well because Dora's husband had been a man when he died, and any rage that Bill had been feeling was had nothing to do with the cycle of the moon.

"No," she admitted. "I don't think he…it was trying to change me. I think he was trying to eat me. Can you believe that? What sort of a monster...." She trailed off, then closed her eyes and began fussing with her hair again. "He got my ear, the fucking animal. I wish I'd have got the chance to kill him, but I'd just fallen off a balcony, you see. Too weak, too useless to fight him off."

"My brother couldn't fight off a werewolf," Charlie said quietly. "And he's one of the strongest men I know."

She did a double take at that. "You mean, is your brother a..."

"No," Charlie said, "He just...well he doesn't look the same, that's for sure. And he talks about anger, too, uncontrollable anger, and wild mood swings. So maybe it's not you, what you're talking about. Maybe there are things you can do to make it better."

"There are," she said. "I've learned to live with them, I sort of worked out that they went with the moon cycles on my own over the years. But I'm still sort of lost, I mean, everything I was, what I felt, what I planned, what I cared about, just seems...stupid. I was looking at my friends around the hospital bed, and they were looking and trying to pretend not to stare and not meeting my eyes and trying to cheer me up and I just--I hated the lot of them, my best friend especially. I wanted to tear their stupid faces off. So...I just left, went to France first, and until I spotted my old dorm mate on holiday with her parents, so I just kept moving, and I ended up here.

She laughed wryly. "Italian men are good for the ego. Too busy staring openly at your tits to notice a missing head, let alone a missing ear."

"Well, I didn't notice," he pointed out. So maybe it's not that obvious."

"True, but I've got pretty good at hiding it," she said.

"Obviously," he said. "So let's see it, then."

She shook her head and he laid his forehead against hers. "Did you ever have class with Professor Kettleburn?"

"No, he was just before my time."

"My favorite teacher. Hell of an interesting bloke. Last time I saw him, he was missing one leg, four fingers, a good chunk of his chin and one buttock. Not that he dropped his pants to show me, mind you. Dragon reserves are dangerous places too. Nearly half the people there are missing something or another, not to mention various burn scars, wicked scratches, and one bloke who still walks around with a Horntail's spike sticking out the side of his head. D'you want me to give you a history of my scars?"

She giggled. "Tempting, but some other time, maybe." She met his eyes then, and there was so much uncertainty in her gaze that he felt his chest constricting. He bent to kiss her again. "I think I've made it abundantly clear that I think you're sexy as hell. In fact, I think my alter ego down there is already popping up his head up to agree with me wholeheartedly.

She giggled again, and Charlie decided to take the decision out of her hands. He reached up ever so slowly to brush her hair aside, trying to brace himself for something hideous. Instead, he uncovered a patch of puckered skin going around from her ear to the back of her neck and a couple of deep gashes approaching her cheek. Only a portion of the ear itself remained, just enough of the lobe to allow her to wear a dangling hoop earring. Something about that little gesture of vanity filled him with amusement and admiration, and he bent his head down to kiss the tiny bit of flesh and cartilage. "Dunno what you're talking about. You're gorgeous. Besides, my kid brother George is convinced that missing ears are going to be the height of fashion in the next few years, and I wouldn't bet against him when it comes to gauging the whims of the public. He's fucking brilliant."

She laughed softly at that, and reached up to touch his face. "Charlie, I suspect you are a treasure."

"So, come with me to Naples,' he said, and to his astonishment, she nodded her head in the affirmative, tears in her eyes.


The sun in Naples was almost too bright, the colours of the ocean and the sky too vivid, the noises too loud. At least to someone who'd grown up under grey British skies and got used to Romanian gloom. But in his present state of mind, everything was more vivid, more painfully beautiful, because he was sharing them with someone who seemed ready to bolt in terror at any moment.

Not that she wasn't good company, especially now that the battles they had resembled banter more than storming the impenetrable fortress. Still, she seemed disconnected, pushing him away when he ventured close to working out the puzzle that was Rose. His Rose--he was beginning to think of her that way--dreading the moment that their holiday would end. As she slept in his arms, he tried to work out a way to convince her to stay with him on the next leg of his journey, and maybe even longer than that. He tried to tell himself that it was the challenge—that he'd never had to work so hard to get a girl.

Every bit of yielding was such a sweet victory to him that she inspired him to try harder, to be better. The only trouble was that he wasn't much closer to really knowing her than he had been on that first night, when she trusted him enough to let him see her scars. She'd ask him about his life, and he found that she really listened, seeming to find fascinating his stories about life on the reserve, growing up in a large family, his time at school. But she didn't confide in return, merely letting him know the basics--that she was an only child, that her dad had been Muggleborn, that he'd doted on her but died the year before she went to Hogwarts from an unexpected illness. Her mum was apparently remarried, and didn't seem to mind so much that her daughter only sent a letter every few months. Beyond that, if he pressed, she would shut off, redirecting the conversation; in particular when he asked anything connected to the war--she'd get almost angry, leaving him feeling the need to apologize.

Those silences never lasted very long, though, because there was always something new to see, the eerie blue light of the Grotta Azura, the view of the colourful houses along the shore as they took a day cruise, the noise and bustle, the food, the poverty, the love for life of the people around them. On their last day, they decided to visit the ruins of Pompeii, and it didn't occur to him until they got there that it was sort of a depressing way for two people as shell-shocked as themselves to spend an afternoon.

It was fascinating, though; a time capsule almost perfectly preserved, and he could easily put himself among the victims, cheerfully going along with his life until one day everything disappears under a cloud of smoke and ash. As they came across the plaster cast of a couple who'd died in each others arms, she wept openly, and he had to fight back the emotion himself. "My mum and dad weren't like that." she said. "But my grandparents were. Married sixty years and they died within two weeks of each other. She died of a stroke and he just didn't seem to want to go on without her, though he'd seemed healthy enough. They said he died of old age, but I think it was a broken heart.

"I can't imagine Dad living without Mum, or vice versa," Charlie said. "I mean, they fight like crazy, but you can just see in their eyes that they're mad for each other. It's positively embarrassing sometimes."

"Do you miss them?" she asked.

It should have been an easy question to answer, but for Charlie, it wasn't, and that had been weighing on his mind for some time now. "Yes and no. I mean, the reasons I left to begin with--I love dragons and all, but there were closer reserves. But in England I was always going to be Arthur's son, Bill's kid brother. 'Hey, man, I knew your uncles. Are you gonna be an Auror like they were?' 'Gonna play Quidditch like Bill?' "Charlie, dear, can you hold Ronnie while I make the pudding, Charlie, why can't you get straight 'O's like Bill, Charlie, how could you let the twins get so filthy, you were supposed to be watching them!'" He shrugged, and it occurred to him that he was whinging the way that Percy used to, and he'd always hated that. " So I left, and I'd come back to visit, and there they were, my brothers and sisters--the younger ones anyway--looking at me like I was some sort of heroic stranger, and Mum would be at me with her scissors, wondering when I was going to give up all this camping nonsense and settle down with a nice girl."

Rose smiled at that—maybe her mum was after her, too. "And then the war happened, and naturally I wanted to rush back and fight the way Bill had, but they talked me into staying. I sometimes wonder if Mum didn't threaten Dumbledore to banish me there to keep me safe, but they wanted me recruiting, and it seemed so useless, sending people over there to give them money, or news, or even to join in the fight but being unable to go there myself." It sounded lame to his own ears--no one had physically forced him to stay in Romania, had they? He hopped up onto the wall and braced his elbows on his knees.

"Bloody hell, you should have seen my brother's wedding; pure chaos, not knowing where anyone was or if they'd got out alive, my baby brother disappeared early on, Death Eaters in the back garden, and I was supposed to go back to fucking Romania after that? And there was my mate, too--first girl I ever got to see naked; and she was married, pregnant, risking her arse every day while I twiddled my thumbs, playing with dragons. I damn near told Shacklebolt to sod off, let me tell you."

He wasn't sure what to do with his hands—it was one of those moments he wished he hadn't given up smoking. Perhaps it was better to pace, after all, and he hopped off the wall. "Nobody ever gave me any real news, no one ever told me if what I'd been doing had done any good at all, and then suddenly I get a message; 'Hogwarts is under attack, bring reinforcements.' I got to the battle nearly two hours late, six different Portkeys and then having to round up every shopkeeper in Hogsmeade who had ever sold me a chocolate bar or a quill, and they're fucking terrified, and I have to tell them it's time to stand up, knowing they're just as likely to come back in a coffin as to actually do any good. And then I got there--got in one good scuffle and suddenly the fighting stops, and I got to the Great Hall and there's my fucking brother laid out with a sheet over him and another one sitting nearby looking like he's got his heart ripped out of his chest. And that same girl--god, if you could have known her, her smile and her laugh and just everything about her could light up a dungeon--she was just this pale, still, pink-haired corpse. Her husband was dead, her baby was an orphan, and I was never gonna hear that laugh of hers again, hers or Fred's and I was fucking furious." It never ceased to amaze Charlie how close to the surface his anger still was—several years and half a continent away, and he still wanted to run his fist through one of the ancient statues.

"There weren't enough Death Eaters to kill, and even when I saw them rounded up at the end, I wanted to have a go at them and tear them limb from limb. But I had to turn back and force myself to stand over my brother's body with the rest of them and there wasn't a damn fucking thing I could do to fix it, to say to my parents or brother to make them feel better. There were weeks of just standing around looking at each other, and they were all sharing 'Fred' stories, and I was just sitting there thinking that I should have been around to play Quidditch with him during his summer holidays, I should have been the one back him up in his first bar fight and play wing man for him when he was trying to pull a girl. I should have been helping him out on weekends with the shop, I should have taken him out to celebrate his first Galleon, but I wasn't because big families are a hassle and I preferred hanging about with friends that didn't make demands on me. And I was never going to get a chance to make it right."

She was silent, looking down at the ground, and he wondered what she was thinking, or if she was going to interrupt him and try to tell him that he had nothing to feel bad about, that it wasn't his responsibility to take care of them, that she was sure he'd done the right thing. Actually, it was sort of a relief that she hadn't done it yet. He rubbed at his neck, turning away and looking off toward the ocean.

"But you know what really sucks? I could have done all that with George, and Percy and Ron, I still could do all that, still could glower at every horny kid that shows up to take Ginny out, help Percy learn to talk to girls, but I haven't because I'm a fucking coward and I took off again. And now fate or karma is giving me a big old fucking anvil of a hint by giving me the opportunity to supervise the reserve near Cardiff, and I still can't bring myself to do it. Because I don't deserve having a family around me, I let them all down. I just deserve to be a camp rat, doing hard labour, never getting ahead, growing more and more of a stranger to them, Uncle Charlie, the adventurer, who gets brought out and cleaned up for special occasions."

When he turned back, she was watching him with wide eyes, her lower lip trembling.

"Sorry," he said rather startled and embarrassed that it had all come out so freely.

"It's all right," she finally said, and it sounded as though she was trying not to cry. "I know all about running, don't I? Hiding from responsibility, hiding when things get too intense. Lying to everyone, even myself. I've been lying to you, too, Charlie."

Charlie looked up at that. Considering how closed off she'd been outside of bed, he didn't see what she possibly could have had a chance to lie about. He didn't know much more than her name and that she was a fabulous shag and a terrific waitress and that she had a sharp wit and was a good listener, though she got sad and quiet sometimes,. Anything else was just speculation. He waited for her to continue, praying that she wasn't going to tell him she was married. Or a man.

"I know who you are," she finally said, running her hands along a wall that was probably two thousand years old. "You're Charlie Weasley and you do something or other with dragons in Romania. It depended on who you asked. If it was Percy, he'd have said you researched and catalogued their behaviour. If you'd have asked Ron, he'd have said you wrangled them like cattle. Fred or George might have said you taught them to blow up buildings for the government, but you always had to take anything they said with a grain of salt. In fact, I think Fred once said you had decided to take on a Welsh Green as a mate."

"You…you know my family?" Why it surprised him, he didn't know, she'd been about the right age, after all, but you'd have thought she would have said something.

"Of course I do. Sort of hard to miss, aren't they? The common room was positively overrun with Weasleys. You're Charlie Weasley and you have six brothers and sisters, but Fred is gone. He was just...well, he was wonderful, wasn't he? Granted, he had a mean streak, but he caught me crying in a corner once and he gave me a Daydream Charm to cheer me up. Still in the experimental stage, so I ended up with rum breath and an earring, but it was lovely. There was a slightly drunken and perfectly charming pirate who rescued me from the hangman's noose and we kissed on the bow of his ship at sunset. His eyes were blue and he had long dark hair and strong arms and an accent with a bit of Irish in it. Even the dress was spot on. Just what I might have dreamed up myself." She'd turned away from him at that point, and she was holding her arms close to her body as if she'd suddenly taken a chill.

"Percy--well, he gave me detention once when he caught me and Vati sneaking out to meet her sister. Lectured me on responsibility. And George..." She turned back toward Charlie and giggled. "Oh, heavens, I just about died of embarrassment when he told me in front of the entire breakfast table that my tits were developing nicely and to keep up the good work."

Charlie laughed out loud at that, even though his mind was spinning. She had them all spot on, and this certainly explained the look she gave him when she spotted him that first night.

She continued with a sigh; "Ginny--I must admit I couldn't stand her at times. The boys all liked her because she was fit and didn't make a fool of herself when she tried to talk about Quidditch and she never giggled, ever. But that last year, when we were all doing our best to incite anarchy--well, you couldn't help but admire her for her devious mind. And she was really good company when you were terrified and trapped in a small space. And Ron... oh, Ron. Won-Won." She laughed softly and shook her head. "Ron was my very first boyfriend, and I was just this horrid, clingy, needy thing and I probably frightened him half to death."

" didn't say anything-"

She shrugged. "I knew who you were straight off, Charlie. I'd snuck up to Ron's dormitory to get an idea what to get him for Christmas and I saw your picture, in front of a pyramid. I recognized the Chinese Fireball on your arm, though you've sort of got Ron's eyes, too. Or more like he has yours, or possibly they're your mum or dad's. I took one look at you and it all came flooding back, and I was terrified. I wanted to have you thrown out on your arse."

"Terrified of what?"

"Parvati, I suppose. If you'd gone back and mentioned to Ron or George that you'd run into Lavender Brown and she was a barmaid in Rome, it'd be bound to get back to her, and she'd have hopped on a broomstick in a thunderstorm to find me. Her letters are getting more and more desperate. She's holding up her wedding for me, you see."

"Lavender Brown?" The name was vaguely familiar, but it still wasn't quite clicking in his head that she was applying it to herself.

"Yeah. Lavender Brown. I even lied to you about my name. Well, Rose is what my Mum wanted to call me, and she still does, sometimes. I never meant it to go this far. You had to be so sodding persistent and stubborn and utterly irresistible. Bloody Weasleys--the bane of my existence. I've always been susceptible to blue eyes, among other things."

"Would that be so bad, if your friend found you? S'not like you're running from the law, is it?"

Rose--no, Lavender shook her head. "No, more like my past. My friends. They're all just carrying with their lives, looking back at the war with fond memories-"

"I seriously doubt that."

"Oh, you know what I mean. Not the ones that have lost people, but the rest... I'm just...I'm angry. I'm angry and bitter and hurt and just...damaged goods all around. Inside and outside. And I hate myself for feeling that way. I hate being jealous of Parvati for being so calm and sympathetic and just as gorgeous as ever...marrying someone I might well have ended up with if I'd stayed. All of them, basking in the adulation, war heroes, Orders of Merlin, which I bloody well threw in the trash, actually. I sometimes wish I'd run away when I had the chance. Not now, like I did, but then. Before the war."

She looked utterly wretched, and Charlie felt the need to point out; "But you didn't."

She sighed. "No, I didn't. But I thought I'd feel different, after. And it's not just this," she said, pointing towards her damaged ear. "I close my eyes and see them--I was right next to Colin when he fell, and for crying out loud, he had no business being there, no business at all. He had a crush on me, always following me around trying to take my picture, and he was so small and so cold and he looked so shocked to be dead, and dammit, I should have been nicer to him."

"Lavender," Charlie said, and stepped closer, still trying to get used to the name on his lips.

Instead of walking into his offered embrace, Lavender flinched. "And that's not the half of it. I see them in my dreams, all the time. I know they were bad, I know they were horrible, horrible people who deserved it, but Merlin, Charlie, I did it. I stopped their hearts. The one I knocked off the balcony--I could see the blood spreading out from the back of his head, and god, the way he used to leer at me in class gave me nightmares but now I just keep seeing that face, his eyes, he was terrified as he fell, literally shitting his pants, and I just watched him, watched his head splatter like a cantaloupe, and I felt nothing but triumph. And then the balcony shook and I fell right after, but thank goodness my back took the brunt of the fall and not my head. And then suddenly that horrible rotting meat smell was everywhere--you know, like the vultures at the zoo? I couldn't move, could hardly open my eyes, but the last thing I remember was this demented face hovering over me, and those rotting teeth tearing at me, that obscene tongue licking at my blood--'delicious', he'd said, he called me fucking delicious, and then everything went black." She shivered and closed her eyes, apparently lost in the memory.

"Oh, baby," Charlie said, pulling her close and enfolding her in his arms, ignoring her resistance. "I'm so fucking sorry."

"Why did it have to be us?" she muttered into his neck. "Why weren't we laughing and snogging and revising and writing lines in detention and just being shallow, irresponsible teenagers like we should have been? Why did we have to fight, to kill, to die? Where were the fucking grown-ups?"

In Romania, Charlie thought. Banished by orders, by selfish choices made in the past, feeling impotent. "We couldn't get to you," he said. "Lord knows, we wanted to. We got there as fast as we could."

"I want to forget," she said. "But every time I look in the mirror it's there. I don't want to see my friends, I don't want to talk about it like it was the best of times or something. Don't want to share war stories. I don't want to go back and look where it all happened and find that everything is still in ruins, or patched together, or worse yet, rebuilt with the same stones that crushed people to death. And you don't know Parvati. She'll want to talk, and talk and talk and she'll force me to live through it all again, or force me to get help, when all I want to do is pretend it never happened.

"But it did happen," Charlie said, tightening his embrace. "You got hurt and your friend got killed and I lost my brother and my mum's heart is broken and my dad's hair went gray and George is little more than a ghost and the pair of us hiding halfway across the continent isn't going to make that go away."

"It helps," she insisted, sniffing.

"No, I don't think it does," he replied. "I've been thinking about this a lot lately, and I reckon maybe it's past time to go home. Maybe for both of us."

"I can't," she whispered.

"Sure you can. I've seen you holding up twelve beer bottles and a bowl of crisps while carrying on a conversation in a foreign language and getting your arse pinched. You can do anything, you're brilliant."

She laughed softly, shaking her head. He could feel the shift in her spine as she began to relax in his arms, but she was silent for a long stretch. Finally, she said, "Well, I suppose I have missed English food. This foreign food gives me indigestion."

"Tell me about it," Charlie said.

"And English voices. These Italians are all so loud, and they talk with their hands and ask too many personal questions."

"They do at that."

"And all this stupid sunshine. It hurts my eyes."

"I could guarantee you enough rain and fog to last a lifetime. Come back with me, Lavender. We'll face it all together."

"Bloody Weasleys. I've always been pants at saying no to you."



"Not really."


"It's only Weasleys, not a pack of nesting dragons."

"Which we've been compared to more than once," he said with a grin, coming up behind her, smoothing her hair while kissing her neck.

She leaned back against him and looked at the pair of them reflected in the glass with a note of approval in her eyes.

"I've just had a brilliant idea."

"Skip the party and shag instead? An excellent idea."

"You arse," she said, and reached back to spank him, causing his grin to widen.

She leaned back toward the dresser and began rummaging in her jewelry box. When she finished, she was clutching something that caught the light, and a fine gold chain was spilling out from between her clenched fingers. "Do me a favor and wear this to dinner."

When he finally got a good look at what the pendant said, his face fell. "Are you fucking kidding me?"

"Not for real, for a joke, silly. Seriously, darling, the look on Ron's face will be worth it. And then you can crush it or melt it or give it to your mum or whatever you want. I've only saved it to remind myself never to become 'that girl' again."

"And why is that?"

"Because I gave its mate to him nearly ten years ago. He'll think you've lost your mind or that I lead you around on a leash."

"Only on special occasions."

"Well, let's not mention that."

"All right, I'm always up for a good joke. It'll be awkward enough, coming home after all these years with my fiancé in tow, who just happens to have taught my idiot brother how to snog."

"Yes, very awkward. Maybe it'll make George laugh. As it was, I was planning on spending the evening with him lamenting our lost ears.

Charlie laughed, pulling her into an embrace. "I think I love you, Lavender Brown. And I suspect you'll fit in just fine."