He was never much for sleeping. Even during his years at Hogwarts, the early hours of the morning often found him on a bed strewn with parchment, surrounded by sketches of rejected Quidditch plays, essay drafts, spilled ink, and scrawled diagrams in the shapes dreams were made of. Neither quill nor brush seemed to fit in his hand just right, but he persisted, searching for the perfect form in the awkward lines. As often as not, the stained and crumpled pages ended up blazing in a fireplace the following day, or were swept from under his bed by house elves the next morning. But he persisted, night after night, and if the scratching of a quill or the wand light seeping through his bed curtains in the hours between midnight and dawn bothered his roommates, he never heard them complain.
Because Charlie Weasley could fly. He led their Quidditch team to victory after victory, and that alone won him a generous measure of approval within his house. Burly seventh years gave him friendly punches to the shoulder as he passed, his roommates joked and chattered and boasted intimate knowledge of his motivations and brilliance behind his back, Professor McGonagall smiled at him fondly in passing, and a bouncing first year with flying blonde curls laughed and wolf-whistled whenever he walked through the common room. Charlie could fly, and it was as easy and necessary as breathing. But he never bothered to tell anyone it wasn't the right way, and at night, he filled page after page with dark wings.
In time, the ink stains on his fingers gave way to calluses on his palms, just as the grass stains on his robes gave way to singe marks on leather, but when it came right down to it, little really changed. Even at thirty, he still wasn't much for sleeping, and the stark lines of a dragon silhouetted in the moonlight escaped his clumsy fingers just as surely as they had fifteen years prior.
Carmichael found him at daybreak, asleep on the veranda overlooking the sprawling reserve, fingers smudged black from charcoal. Rough sketches of sinewy wings lay in the chair beside him, weighted against the brisk wind by an empty Firewhiskey bottle. Carmichael sighed and shook Charlie's shoulder lightly. He woke easily, casting a quick glance around for his bearings, then stood without a word. He rolled his shoulders with a wry smile at Carmichael, then leaned against the rails, face turned to the glow of light just breaking over the eastern mountain range.
They stood in companionable silence, watching the colors of fire seep slowly upward, staining the sky. The growing flurry of movement across the reserve spread below them indicated a change in shifts, but neither man moved. It was only when the first rays crested the jagged lines of the mountains and the fire had faded to pale blue that Carmichael spoke. "I want you to take a holiday."
Charlie raised his head, a question forming on his lips, but the foreman held up a large hand to silence him. "It's been five years, Charlie."
"I'm home almost every Christmas," Charlie protested, "And when my sister married...."
"I want you to take a holiday," Carmichael repeated slowly. "Go see your family. Go back to Africa. Go find a woman, hell, go find a few. I don't rightly care what you do, so long as it's not here."
Charlie's brow creased, a hint of anger flickering in his eyes. Carmichael shook his head and turned away. "It's been five years, Charlie," he said again, weary, pitying.
Charlie didn't ask what he meant. He didn't need to.
A month later, he sat, draped backwards over the chair, legs straddling the seat, arms folded loosely under his chin. He kept his eyes closed as he tuned out the soft buzzing, and settled his chin firmly over his arms to keep a hand from inadvertently slapping at the scratchy sting of the needle. If he concentrated, he fancied he could hear the point puncturing the skin on his back, feel the soft slide of the ink marking him. This was not the first time, nor would it be the last, but each tattoo held its own meaning, each session like a kind of therapy, the ink a tangible mark of decisions made, battles fought, obstacles overcome.
There were numerous artists in Wizarding London who offered less painful work: tattoos inked into the skin by wandwork rather than needles, but given the choice, Charlie always preferred feeling it to not. Perhaps this was indicative of issues that ran deeper than demonstrating his manly pain threshold, but Charlie chose not to think about it.
He felt Adrianna lean back and heard her deep breath as she relaxed for a moment. He flexed his shoulder blade experimentally, and she hissed at him warningly. "You hold still," she said, a teasing note beneath her stern tone. "I'm not finished with you."
"Heartless woman," he muttered into his forearm, settling back down in the chair. A tinkling bell (far too dainty a sound for Adrianna's shop in Charlie's opinion) sounded for the first time since his arrival earlier in the afternoon. When the door opened, Charlie could hear all the bustling sounds of the street just outside: hasty footsteps and creaking cart wheels mingling with the jumbled voices of merchants and patrons, the shouts of children and an occasional hiss or disgruntled hoot from someone's familiar or no one's stray. London wasn't his favorite city -Cairo held that honor- but Charlie couldn't deny it was a pleasant change from the reserve. Between rambunctious dragon hatchlings, late-night card games well-watered with whiskey, and a breathtaking landscape, his life was never dull, but Charlie enjoyed variation. The lively commotion of the city was a welcome diversion.
Gunther shambled to the entrance to greet the newcomer, his voice booming in welcome. Charlie heard a low, female voice answer, but he could not make out her words. Gunther, however, was never difficult to hear. "Quidditch girl! You come for more balls at last?" Gunther guffawed and Charlie winced, waiting for an indignant screech and the telltale sound of the bell as the woman stormed away. Neither came; instead he heard... laughter? Something in the cadence bothered him. He frowned, cutting his eyes uselessly to the side. His back was to the door and an intimidating woman with a large pointy object in her hand held him in place; there was no use in trying to identify her now.
He closed his eyes and tried not to focus on the conversation in the front of the shop, as Gunther and the woman paged through books and argued about location. "Fah," Gunther snorted, "Every woman, she has ink on her lower back! Have originality!" Charlie gave up all pretenses of not eavesdropping. The two seemed to come to an agreement, because moments later the beaded curtain was thrashed aside and Gunther came into Charlie's line of sight, pulling an array of tubes and vials from the shelves and arranging them on the silver stand at his station. And behind the clank and clatter of glass and metal, there was the sound of light footsteps.
The footsteps stopped abruptly as Gunther puttered about with his instruments, and in their absence came a long, low whistle. Adrianna paused, turning to the newcomer, and Charlie seized the opportunity to twist around in his chair and see for himself.
Slim hands rested on full hips, and a snug grey jumper emblazoned with the Falmouth Falcons emblem sent an unexpected jolt through his stomach. She had her head cocked to the side, an appreciative smile on her lips as she watched his quick assessment. Her blond curls were pulled back and bound at her neck, but the laughter in her eyes was unchanged. "My, my," she said, taking a pointed look up and down the length of his exposed torso, "There's a sight these eyes don't see every day."
"Happy for your eyes!" Gunther put in with amusement, giving her a light push toward the waiting chair.
"What a sight indeed," Charlie agreed wryly. He propped his chin on his forearm again and watched her. "How in the hell are you, Alicia?"
She grinned sidelong at him as she settled into the chair. "Better and better. Busier than a fox in a henhouse, but well enough." She unfastened the top buttons of her jumper and slipped her right arm and shoulder out of the sleeve completely. Adrianna pushed Charlie back against his seat with a low chuckle.
"Not taking a break in the off season?" Charlie asked, watching unabashed as Gunther mumbled a cleansing spell over her bicep.
"Oh we practice less, to be sure. But there's strategy and endorsements and interviews and all that rot. And I try to spend more time with the family while we aren't traveling. But what about you? I admit I'm shocked to see you out of Romania."
In lieu of shrugging a shoulder, Charlie quirked an eyebrow and shook his head once. "I took a holiday."
"A holiday." Alicia eyed him dubiously, letting Gunther lift her arm this way and that, prodding gently with huge fingers. "I think the last time I saw you was at Harry and Ginny's wedding... Angelina said you weren't there for Freddie's first birthday party."
Charlie fought back a wave of annoyance. "I can't come traipsing back home every time someone has a birthday. It'll be every week soon enough, at the rate we're going."
"Next week for sure," Alicia informed him dryly. "Ginny's due Friday, and damned determined to push the wee one out herself if he doesn't come on his own."
Charlie hadn't realized it was so soon. His thoughts turned briefly to his mother's ecstatic Owl, announcing the impending arrival of her sixth grandchild. Surely it hadn't been that long since it had come. And how was this twit of a girl more informed of his own family's pregnancies and due dates and birthday parties than he, Charlie, was?
"You still talk to Angelina, then?" he demanded.
She looked amused. "Yes, we meet for lunch every Saturday. And I've had a drink or two with Ginny over the years – pre-pregnancy, of course- and sometimes the rest of the Harpies. Have to keep tabs on the competition, don't I?"
Charlie gave her that, falling silent as he watched Gunther work, crouched low over Alicia's arm, his needle slowly working a light, swirling pattern from her shoulder down to her elbow. Never one for silence, Alicia launched into an animated tale of her disastrous first training sessions as captain of the Falcons the previous year, causing Adrianna to chuckle mirthfully, and Gunther to howl in laughter in between his own comments and asides. This seemed to be a story he'd heard from her before. Soon enough, she began to reminiscence of her own tryout for the Gryffindor House team at Hogwarts.
"I still remember the look on your face," she said to Charlie gleefully.
"You were all of what, twelve?" Charlie chuckled. "Such a scrawny little thing, too, I don't think Wood or I ever expected you to be like dynamite on a broom."
She smiled and said nothing, remembering, as the pattern on her arm took color: a trail of tortoiseshell butterflies in increasingly vibrant shades of orange and sienna interspersed with black, touches of blue along the edges of their wings. The silence held for a beat, and Charlie watched her watching him.
He wondered what she saw.
The sounds of the pub chased them into the cool night air, lingering faintly behind their backs as they stood before the fountain in the square.
"Do you even talk to them anymore? Your family?"
Charlie looked up from the water sharply. Alicia was dangling her arms over the rail, the shadows of her hands dancing over the ripples in the fountain.
"Of course," he said slowly. "I see them every Christmas. Sometimes more than that. And Mum sends Owls often enough."
She looked at him silently and he regretted having the fourth shot of Firewhiskey even as the words were leaving his mouth. "It's not the same. I'm not the same." He spread his hands in a gesture of defeat and turned back to the water. "I see their faces every time I close my eyes."
"Tonks," Alicia said quietly, unnecessarily. "And Fred."
"It's so... fucking... quiet," he muttered. "Five grandchildren in the bloody house, the lot of us running around, everyone's wives... husbands... sodding train sets and crackers and talking utensils and somehow it still feels empty."
Beside him, she took a deep breath. "It's been...."
"Yeah," he interrupted curtly, "Five years, thanks for reminding me. Five years of strangled conversations and empty smiles and stupid explanations and never the right number of settings at the table and wondering if I should have said something, anything, before she married him and that look on George's face –not to mention Angelina– and Mum crying in the kitchen when she thinks no one's watching...." Charlie heard his voice start to crack and snapped his teeth together, jaw clenching hard.
He didn't see her move, but her fingers were sliding across his shoulder blade, tracing the lines of the wiry dragon wing that now stretched over half his back. Despite the healing spells, the skin was still tender, and Charlie was almost surprised that she traced the outline so unerringly through his shirt. "You damned, bull-headed Weasleys," she said in a low, affectionate voice that belied her words. "You never did know when to open your mouths and when to keep them shut."
He turned, catching her wrist in his hand and jerking it away from his body angrily. A retort was almost on his lips when her other hand gave it pause, brushing feather-light against his mouth. "I was going to say, 'It's been a hard few years for you, Charlie, do you want to talk about it?' but then out it came before I could ask. What I meant, you great pillock, is you can't stalk around for five years with all that building up inside you."
Charlie rolled his eyes and pulled her hand away from his mouth. Her fingers wrapped around his and refused to let go; she kept speaking as though he had not moved.
"Your family needs you, damn it. And you need them, too. Your bloody dragons aren't going to give a damn when you have an emotional meltdown, or when you're old and even more crotchety than you are now and need someone to take care of you."
"Are you always this insulting or am I just that special?" Once her words might have angered him, or perhaps even amused him, but Charlie only felt tired.
Alicia seemed to sense it: her expression softened and she sighed. She was silent for a moment, then brushed the back of her free hand against his rough cheek and whispered, "They're hurting just as much as you are. They've already lost Fred. Don't keep pulling yourself so far away, too."
He shook his head and turned back to the fountain, letting his weight sag against the railing. He closed his eyes and pictured moonlight behind transparent wings, the dance of vapors in fire-scorched air, the color of whiskey sliding over ice. But it wasn't right, and the warm ocher lightened to a swirl of pale gold hair, red skirts and daisy petals in unwavering sunshine. Laughter, warmth, and smiles that weren't stilted.
Alicia stood beside him, silent. She didn't let go of his hand, and he didn't try to pull away.
Charlie reflected that no one could have ever mistaken the child as belonging to anyone but Ginny. Not with that set of lungs.
He wasn't sure what he had expected when he stuck his head through the door at the Burrow unannounced and called a greeting to his mum. Certainly not the mayhem that ensued.
Molly was bent over the dining room table with Ginny standing beside her. The surface of the table resembled the violently upheaved stomach contents of some demented pastel rainbow: unused yarn dripped from the table and chair backs while countless booties lay in little piles here and there, tiny jumpers arrayed in a gentle arc along the curve of the table, multi-colored bibs and cloth diapers strewn haphazardly, a stack of neatly folded blankets towered over the rest, and still more objects of unidentifiable purpose were interspersed amidst the colorful chaos.
His mum had dropped the fabric she was holding, her hands flying to her face as she shrieked his name. "Charlie! You came!" As she rushed to him he had a fleeting second to feel deeply guilty at the sheer joy in her expression before being enveloped in her welcoming arms.
"All right there, mum?" he had asked softly. He hugged her tightly, allowing her to rock back and forth in his embrace for a moment as she sniffed on his shoulder.
"Better now you're here," she'd said, squeezing him tightly.
Without releasing her, he lifted his head to look at his sister, who still stood, wordless, beside the table. "Merlin's short pants," he swore over his mum's head, "You're huge!"
"Charlie!" Molly had said again, admonishing him as she stepped back.
Charlie would have reiterated that his erstwhile diminutive sister looked rather as though she had swallowed an oversized Quaffle, and might perhaps have made an inappropriate comment about Harry's contribution to the gene pool, but he hadn't gotten the chance. Ginny had stared at him, her hands clasped around her protruding stomach, and let out first an indignant squawk and then a muffled shriek, one hand fluttering up to cover her mouth. Charlie was prepared for the onslaught of her temper, prepared for a royal scolding and possibly a berating rampage from his baby sister.
He wasn't prepared for the liquid pooling around her feet or the abject shock on her face as she stared at it.
"Err, mum?" she'd muttered. Molly turned, looking from Charlie's face to Ginny's in bewilderment. "I think it's time."
The next two hours were perhaps the most hectic and harried in Charlie's life. He was a scapegoat for Molly's agitation and clearly uneducated in birthing matters ("Apparate while she's in LABOR?" Molly had shrieked at his first suggestion. "Have you taken leave of your SENSES, boy?!"); he was an errand boy, fetching hot water and cold towels and clean sheets; he was a messenger, sticking his head in half a dozen fires and dashing off another handful of notes to be delivered by Owl post; he was grasping hands and shoulders and ruffling heads and balancing toddlers as siblings and in-laws and nieces and nephews arrived, only to be shooed unceremoniously from the living room by Molly.
The population of the Burrow seemed to multiply exponentially with each passing half-hour. Ginny's groans and occasional exclamations of pain were soon punctuated with curses and demands for her husband that were audible from several rooms away, where the others gathered around the table and in the kitchen, chattering and chuckling. Harry arrived at last in a frenzied rush and Charlie delivered him, as well as a fresh pile of damp cloths, to Ginny's side. "Are you sure this is all right?" Harry asked Molly, snatching a cloth from Charlie's pile and wiping at Ginny's sweaty forehead. "Hello, love," he added softly as she tried to slap his hand away in irritation.
"You're not going to make this better with a –bugger, bollocks, and shit- bloody washcloth," Ginny spat at her husband.
Molly ignored Ginny's raging and nodded shortly at Harry. "Of course, dear. It's not ideal, perhaps, but three of my own were delivered in this room, these two included." She motioned to Ginny and Charlie, hovering at the door. "When they decide to come, there's little that will stop them. She's strong, have a little faith."
Evidence of Ginny's strength colored Harry's arm where she held it in a death grip, a steady stream of soft curses coming from her lips. Harry didn't seem to notice. "But St. Mungo's...." he began to protest.
Charlie ducked out of the room before Molly could begin her late-pregnancy travel options tirade, chuckling under his breath.
It was a scant half hour later that the low murmur of chatter stopped, a shrill, vibrant cry breaking through the air. Charlie exchanged smiles with Bill and George, while Ron whooped and left to call out the news to the family and friends who had wandered out into the yard.
"I think the last newborn I heard cry was Ginny herself," Charlie mused quietly, fidgeting with a stray piece of yarn.
Bill had a booty on each of his large fingers, and was waggling them at the small blonde child in his lap. He gave Charlie a twisted grin as Victoire giggled. "Get used to it," Bill chuckled. "It's not like to stop anytime soon."
Charlie hadn't taken the warning seriously. Twelve hours later, the sun was shining hopefully in the eastern horizon, and Charlie was exhausted. He might have gone back to his room at the Leaky Cauldron for the night, but the look on his mum's face when he suggested it stopped that plan in its tracks. The Burrow was full to overflowing, and Charlie had lain for a few inadequate hours on a sofa, but sleep eluded him. This was nothing new, of course, but the deafening cries of young James throughout the night assured that few others in the house slept either.
So, it was to a house of exhausted (and in some instances, rather cranky) Weasleys that the visitors, friends, extended family, and otherwise, began to arrive the following morning.
Charlie and Bill, side by side with crossed arms and identical forbidding expressions, barred the door against the inevitable reporters and photographers who came, eager for a first look at the child of the Boy Who Lived and his young Quidditch Star wife. The two of them escorted the overzealous press members handily from the property, and had a rousing laugh about it moments later as Ron reenacted one photographer's terrified reaction to being hoisted into the air by an imposingly scarred curse breaker and burly dragon-tamer.
Angelina arrived again mid-morning, this time bringing little Freddie to meet his new cousin. Charlie crossed the yard to greet them, and stopped mid-stride when he saw the girl who Apparated at Angelina's side seconds later. He had not expected to see her here. He wasn't sure he had expected to see her at all after the way he had spoken to her at the fountain.
Alicia stood back, smiling as Angelina and Charlie hugged with a touch of awkwardness and he swung Freddie into the air with none. Angelina turned to her expectantly, and Alicia gave her a little push. "Go on, I'll be along in a bit."
They stood in the yard, awkwardness thickening the air between them more with each passing moment of silence. Finally, Alicia spoke. "I'm so happy you came," she said softly.
"Yeah well," Charlie shrugged, running a hand through his already hopelessly mussed hair. "I was hardly going to come to the country and not see everyone, was I? Just happened to have good timing is all."
"All the same." She smiled as somewhere in the house James began the workout of his voracious lungs anew. "Listen to that. I'm glad you got to be here for this."
"I've been listening to it," Charlie replied, not without humor. "I haven't heard such shrieks since his mother was born. Victoire was so quiet, and I didn't see Rose or little Molly until they were a little older. Freddie was vocal enough, but nothing like this one. I think Bill said Dominique would cry if someone wasn't looking at her, but he never mentioned anything about earsplitting volume...." He thought he might perhaps be rambling, but something had to be said to fill this gaping space between them.
As though on cue, the door to the Burrow burst open and the nieces and nephews he had named tumbled out into the yard in a tangle of limbs and flying braids, laughing and shouting.
George followed swiftly, looking harried. "Oy, Charlie," he called, relief crossing his face at once. "You want to keep an eye on this lot for a few...."
"Sorry, we were just off for a walk," Alicia interrupted. She grabbed Charlie's hand and pulled him along with her at a near run. Charlie laughed openly at the look on George's face, but rather welcomed his escape. He wasn't quite ready to give up his brief solitude with Alicia; there were things that still needed to be said.
He just had to sort out what those things were.
They slowed their steps when they reached the orchard, and meandered through the open meadows where Charlie and his siblings had played countless hours of Quidditch, hide-and-seek, and crossing games when they were young. The laughter of the children in the yard still reached his ears faintly and he smiled, swinging Alicia's hand in his companionably.
A few moments later she tugged on his hand and looked up with a crooked grin. "Did I ever show you my first tattoo?"
Charlie shook his head, his smile widening to crease his eyes. "No."
She had the first three buttons of her shirt unfastened before he could form a feeble protest about the proximity of the children. "It's fine," she chuckled, wriggling her left shoulder free and tugging the shirt down a little to reveal her shoulder blade. The shirt was skewed and stretched too tightly, a pale line of midriff revealed. She turned her back to him, and Charlie looked at her shoulder with relief that soon shifted to another emotion altogether. Unbidden, his fingers brushed her hair out of the way and moved to trace the outstretched wings of the Golden Snitch; the incandescent wings gave a lazy flutter at his touch and he caught his breath.
"I had it done when I was eighteen, just before my tryouts," she said, catching his eyes over her shoulder. "For luck, I suppose."
The look, with his fingers on her skin, felt strangely intimate, and Charlie's mind was already reeling. He pulled his hand away and clenched it at his side as she tugged her shirt back into place. Her fingers were still working at the buttons when she turned back to face him. He kept his voice carefully neutral. "You're a Chaser." It wasn't a question.
She met his gaze evenly. "Yes, I am." She paused. "And you were a Seeker."
Charlie stared at her for a moment of time that seemed unfathomable to him. The streams of morning sunlight filtering through the trees tangled in her hair and dappled her face. He could see seven freckles on her nose, and had the distinct impression that he could see more if he were closer. A pinwheel of brown flecks whirled in the green of her eyes, and he realized for the first time that both of them had wings, but only one of them was using them to fly.
Suddenly there was entirely too much space between them. The calluses on his hands caught in her hair as Charlie pulled her to him with no preamble and kissed her hard on the mouth, but Charlie didn't think she cared, because her mouth was open and willing under his, and her hands... gods, her hands were insistent inside the waistband of his trousers, tugging him closer to her; hard on his back and in his hair, seeking momentary purchase; desperate as they curled and shaped themselves around his jaw line and neck.
They were a tangle of warm lips and impatient tongues and hot breath, shaping, molding, melding, deeper, the minutes punctuated by the sounds coming from her throat. Even though he was seeing clearer than he had in his whole life, Charlie couldn't tell when one kiss ended and the next began, but keeping track of such things wasn't so important with Alicia pressed hard against him, a decade of tension searing the air between them. She pulled away an infinitesimal space, her wandering hands cradling his face, searching his eyes with her own. Seemingly satisfied with what she found there, she kissed him again, hard and hot, her lips not parted but single-minded intensity making her intent clear. It felt like a brand, a claim. Charlie was fine with either.
Her hands slipped around his neck and he tightened his arms around her waist, ducking his head and pressing a kiss below her ear.
"I want this," he whispered against her neck.
"It's yours," she said.
Notes: This was written as a fest gift for Nbaeker during the 2009 Weasley Fest on Livejournal ( weasley_fest . livejournal . com ). It wasn't remotely what I planned to write, but when it took on a mind of its own, I just let it go where it wished and had fun. I hope you enjoyed it. :)