Title: Light Unshone
Fandom/Pairing: Harry Potter, Charlie/Draco
Rating: Hard R
Disclaimer: JKR's characters; JKR's world.
Word Count: Roughly 8,500
Summary: After the war, Charlie gets a transfer to a dragon reservation in the Scottish Highlands. Draco Malfoy turns out to be a surprisingly frequent visitor.
Mum sobs all the way through Fred's funeral.
It grates on Charlie's last nerve that she can't just sit still and keep quiet, though he appreciates her sorrow more than she'll ever know. He's crying himself, and it's hypocritical of him, but he doesn't want her crying. It makes him want to fix things for her so she'll stop, and he can't fix this.
George doesn't cry. George hardly even moves. He just stares blankly at the coffin until it's completely covered, and when the funeral is over, he apparates away without a word.
Ginny is pale and quiet; Ron is holding himself with an adult kind of strength that Charlie wasn't around to see him develop, and he feels kind of bad about that. Ron's standing between his two best friends; his arm is around Hermione's waist, and Harry's body is angled to shield Ron from outsiders, as if any of them still needs protecting.
Percy can't seem to manage to get up from his seat. He's kneading the bars that constitute armrests anxiously, obviously in great amounts of pain, but he isn't getting up to reach out to any of his family. He must feel awkward, being with them again, and at such an occasion, no less.
On the other side of the cemetery, Bill is holding his wife close, both of them with tears in their eyes, her stomach swelling softly beneath her robes with the beginning of her second trimester.
When they get back to the Burrow that night, Charlie makes the first in a set of firecalls to change things.
He tells them next morning over a subdued breakfast. "I've gotten a transfer," he says.
Mum looks up from the toast she's nibbling hesitantly on. "Really? Where to?"
"Scotland," Charlie says. "There's a new reservation in the Northwest Highlands, and they asked for me."
"I thought you loved Romania," Dad says. Dad's always understood Charlie a bit better than Mum.
"I do," Charlie says, and offers no further explanation.
Really, though, it's time he came home. And the reservation in the highlands is a thing of beauty. It's well-hidden, but vast. Six out of ten kinds of dragons in the same place, among them the Antipodean Opaleye, which Charlie's looking forward to – he's never gotten to deal with one of those. The Romanian Longhorn will be there, too, of course, which is good. Charlie knows his way around the Longhorn after a good six years in Romania.
"The reservation's actually pretty close to Hogwarts," he says casually. "They're thinking of taking advanced Care of Magical Creatures classes out for practical demonstrations and things."
"Ginny has Care of Magical Creatures in her NEWTs," Mum points out.
"Well, maybe we'll see more of each other," Charlie says.
What none of them say is that that's probably the biggest reason for him to come back. His family needs him around. Time was, their siblings came running to him and Bill when they had problems, before he and Bill left the country. Now, Bill's got his own family, and Ron and Ginny are old enough to recognize when their parents need support more than they can give it. It's Charlie's turn to step up to the plate.
Besides, he knows George needs his family close now, no matter how much he runs away from it.
As he'd expected, Charlie gets sent to work with the Romanian Longhorns. They're magnificent animals, he's always adored them. It's much quieter out here, though, than it was in Romania. The reservation in Romania's the biggest in the world, and the dragon colonies are gigantic, not to mention the amount of wizards that live and study there.
This place, on the other hand, is all about giving the dragons the closest thing to their natural habitat back. Having them roam wild just isn't feasible, what with the statute of secrecy, but here, with a whole mountain range and precious few people, there's space.
They have five adult Longhorns, in total, three females and two males. The females are breeding, which is fantastic, because people have been campaigning against Longhorn extinction for years.
The area is huge – there are two camps, one on either side, with about ten dragon keepers in each. It's warded off from the inside and the outside, so the dragons don't get out and the muggles don't get in. To the east is the main camp, and the Common Welsh Green colony. Charlie likes Welsh Greens; they're sweet things once they get to know you.
North, in the rockier mountains, are the Swedish Short-Snouts, and to the south, Charlie's seen the telltale pearly shimmers of the Antipodean Opaleye in flight.
He can already tell he's going to like it here.
Dragon keepers aren't really a sociable sort. They keep their tents in earshot of each other, but not clustered. Charlie can only barely see the top of Lise's tent over the hill that separates them. Lise's on the same work rotation as him. They share meals and jokes and work, that's quite enough. Keeping isn't a day job like the ministry or office work. It's a lifestyle. Charlie sleeps in the reservation six nights a week and lives there five days a week; thanks to rotating shifts, he gets two days off every week, which he spends with his parents and his family.
He's lucky, he thinks. Keeping isn't just a job, it's a passion. It's rare to find that in wizarding work. Most find it in their families.
Fred and George had it.
Charlie's wondered if that's where Keeping gets its reputation as adventurous and dangerous; as attractive. But anyone who's in it for the glory gets their head straight after the first day, and everyone who doesn't love dragons is gone after the first week.
People sometimes ask Charlie why he never became a professional Quidditch player. He can never really explain it to people who work because they have to rather than because they love to. Maybe, when Harry and Ron are Aurors, like they plan on being, they'll understand.
A lot of dragon keepers die bachelors. Charlie's not too worried – it's not like he's in any danger at all of dying with no family. He's only ever seen dragon keepers fall in love with other keepers, or people closely involved with keeping. It's hard for outsiders to understand the mad hours and the constant exposure to possible incineration.
He's not really bothered by that, either. He's never found someone he would want to give up that much of himself to, so he's content to stay with flings and one-time shags in strangers' flats.
He does know that he's going to have to disappoint his mum at some point though – she won't be getting grandchildren from him, ever. He's just not interested. Not in kids, and not in women, if he's being frank. Charlie's just not built that way. He isn't really able to appreciate curves and tits the way the other boys in his dorm did. He prefers hard muscle and stubble. In that respect, it's almost a good thing most of the women he works with are dykes. Much to his friends' amusement, there is nothing that spooks Charlie as badly as a woman trying to get into his pants.
Charlie's been working at the reservation about a month and a half when Hogwarts starts up again. It was decided by all involved that everyone has to repeat the last year, seeing as no one really learned much of anything, which gives Ron, Harry and Hermione the opportunity to complete their seventh year in peace.
Charlie makes sure they know how to reach him, all of them. Ginny, too. Civilians are allowed to enter the reservation, as long as they remember to sign a document saying they're aware of the risk and won't try to sue. He makes his entire family sign the forms and keep them safely, so they know he's always available.
George is the first to come visit him, two weeks into the first term of post-war Hogwarts. Charlie's glad – the new reservation is surprisingly lonely. It's emptier, and Charlie left a lot of friends in Romania.
They don't talk. George probably hasn't said ten words together since Fred died. They just sit together sipping firewhiskey and watching the Longhorns fly until the sky is too dark even for them and the embers of Charlie's campfire have died down. George pulls him into a one-armed hug before he leaves, which is a sure sign he's healing, slowly.
The second person who visits Charlie is, surprisingly, Draco Malfoy.
Although 'visits' is probably the wrong word. More accurately, Malfoy comes apparating in haphazardly just after sunset one day, and nearly sets the Longhorns off.
Charlie's on his feet in an instant. He's eating alone tonight, thank Merlin, because who knows whether the other Keepers would have asked questions first and hexed later.
The closest female Longhorn (Sadie) lets out a low roar, and settles back down with her newly hatched dragonets.
Charlie's about to start yelling (he's a Weasley. They're all hotheads to some degree) when he notices Malfoy's got a black eye and his arm's twisted at a weird angle and dangling uselessly.
He's also hyperventilating.
"Malfoy," Charlie says quietly. Malfoy looks up at him, panicked, but doesn't stop hyperventilating. Instead, he moves to run.
"Malfoy," Charlie says again, a bit more forcefully, reaching out to stop Malfoy.
He shudders and nearly collapses at Charlie's touch. He feels far too thin under Charlie's hands, muscle and skin stretched tight over bone, no room for generosity. If he were to take off his shirt, his ribs would probably stand out.
Charlie manhandles him back to the campfire and sets him down carefully. "Malfoy?" He asks, this time gentle.
Malfoy looks up. His eyes are grey, Charlie notes, and scared.
"Weasley," Malfoy responds. "Which one?"
"Charlie," Charlie says.
"Is that the one with Gringotts or the one with dragons?"
"Dragons," Charlie says.
"Oh." Malfoy says, turning away to stare at the campfire. "Then this is the Highlands Reservation."
"Yeah," Charlie says. "You're the one who apparated in here, and almost got the dragons up. One would think you'd have noticed."
"I was a bit preoccupied," Malfoy says. "I wasn't exactly watching where I apparated."
Charlie shakes his head. "That's bloody dangerous. You shouldn't be doing that, it can get you splinched."
"Why do you care?" Malfoy asks tiredly.
Charlie sits down next to him. "Well, when random blokes come popping up next to where I live, I tend to care."
"I'm not a random bloke," Malfoy says.
"Always with the ego," Charlie says lightly. That's just about all he knows about Malfoy, from Ron's numerous retellings of school misadventures.
Malfoy glares at him. "That's not what I meant."
"I know," Charlie says, because he does. "Look, let me fix your arm, and your eye, and how about you tell me what in the name of blazing Beelzebub happened to you?"
Malfoy blinks. "Interesting idiom."
"You pick up a lot of fire alliteration in my line of work," Charlie says. "Yes or no?"
"Why would you want to help me?"
Charlie shrugs. "You never did anything to me. As far as I can see, the war's over, and we're not going to fix any of the problems that caused it if we keep right on hating each other."
There's silence, for a while. Charlie studies the outline of a nearby boulder in the dark.
"Are you any good at healing spells?" Malfoy asks eventually.
"I won't leave any scars, if that's what you're asking."
"I don't mind scars," Malfoy says. "I mean, can you fix my shoulder without removing all the bones in my arm?"
Charlie stares at him, aghast. "What kind of idiot would do that?"
"You'd be surprised," Malfoy says.
Completely of their own accord, Charlie's eyebrows raise. "You'll have to tell me about that sometime," he says. "I don't think I could do that if I tried to. And I do know my healing magic, thanks."
Malfoy holds his arm out wordlessly.
"Curatio," Charlie says as he executes the charm. Before Malfoy can stop him, he heals the black eye, too (Malfoy seems like the kind of idiot who would view a black eye as a badge of honor, but if Charlie's learned anything in the war, then it's that battle scars never translate to honor).
"Thank you," Malfoy says, when he's done, and Charlie wonders how much Malfoy's been forced to grow over the last year.
"Nothing to thank," Charlie says. "Have some dinner." He summons Malfoy a plate laden with chicken, potatoes and beets from the inside of his tent – the poor kid looks like he's been living off of bread and water.
He might have been, at that, given how lustily he attacks the food.
Charlie watches, feeling rather proud of his own cooking skills.
"Are you going to tell me what happened?" Charlie asks at length. "I thought you were supposed to be back at Hogwarts."
"I was," Malfoy says. "I am."
Charlie swallows carefully around the burning lump in his throat that screams at him to say, that's all wrong, it wasn't supposed to end up like this, and just says, "Oh," blankly.
Malfoy returns his attention to his food. "This is very good," he says. "Did you make it yourself?"
"I'm sorry," Charlie says, "Did you just not say that your fellow students beat you up for being an ex-Death Eater? And yes, I did."
A bird chirps in the ensuing silence, and a brief sputter-crackle of flame tells Charlie one of the older dragonets just roasted its first meal.
"How did you learn to cook like that?" Malfoy asks politely.
"My mum. Answer the bloody question."
"Merlin, you don't beat around the bush, do you," Malfoy mutters. "Yes. My fellow students beat me up for being an ex-Death Eater."
Charlie frowns. "Aren't there a bunch of you at Hogwarts? Kids whose parents got them in that mess, kids who want a second chance?"
"A few," Malfoy says, and Charlie suspects it's only due to impeccable breeding that his voice doesn't tremble. "But none who were as closely involved with the Dark Lord himself as I was."
People have often thought that just because Charlie's an outdoors man, just because he's good at Quidditch and loves dragons, that there can't be that much else in his brain, but they're wrong. He's not stupid, not by a long shot, or else he'd never have made Prefect, back in the day. "So you're avoiding meals and staying out of people's way so you don't get beat up," he guesses. "And then they come find you outside Hogwarts grounds and beat the shit out of you and you were trying to get away and ended up here."
Malfoy looks a bit like he's been caught doing something forbidden. He nods.
Charlie fumes, on the inside. "I'm sorry," he says to Malfoy.
Malfoy shrugs. "It's alright. I dug my own grave. I just wish it hadn't been fourth years."
"That must sting," Charlie winces.
"Not like I've got much pride left to hurt," Malfoy mutters.
Charlie feels kind of like giving the kid a hug, but he won't.
Instead, he conjures up a Patronus, and sends it off to his little brother.
"What's that?" Malfoy asks.
"'S my Patronus," Charlie says.
"I didn't know they could be dragons."
"Whatever animal expresses you best," Charlie says. "What's yours?"
"You've never made one?"
"I tried, once," Malfoy admits. "A while back. I thought it would…comfort me."
"It does," Charlie says. "What do you mean, tried?"
"Not enough happy memories," Malfoy says. "Maybe before the war, but now, looking back…"
"Well," he says. "Best get you back to school."
The lines around Malfoy's mouth draw tight.
"I wouldn't worry so much if I were you," Charlie says. "You've got a Weasley on your side now."
"Oh, yes," Malfoy drawls. "Now I feel all warm inside. Will you set a dragon on the ickle fourth-years for me?"
"There we go!" Charlie says. "That's the insufferable attitude my brother always told me about."
They apparate into Hogsmeade, ten minutes later, and begin the walk up to the castle. Charlie never much liked apparating – he got his license, just barely, though he'll always prefer flying, but after seeing what condition Malfoy's in, he's not letting the kid apparate unsupervised, over seventeen or not.
Ron, Harry and Hermione are waiting for them at the edge of Hogwarts grounds.
"What's this about, Charlie?" Ron asks. "You nearly caused a riot with that Patronus of yours."
Charlie gestures towards Malfoy.
Ron raises an eyebrow. "And?"
Hermione elbows him.
"Listen here," Charlie says. "We just got done persecuting Muggleborns, we're not going to harp in on the purebloods next."
"Weasley—" Malfoy starts to interrupt. Both Ron and Charlie turn to him, but he's staring at Charlie.
"Call me Charlie," Charlie says. "And then shut up."
Malfoy rolls his eyes.
"It is not bloody on that kids at this school go around beating up people who ended up on the wrong side of the war," Charlie says. "If Malfoy here hadn't apparated right next to my tent by accident, Merlin knows where he'd have ended up. I know you three have enough on your plates, but this kind of thing is not going to help Kingsley in the ministry or McGonagall in Hogwarts."
There's general silence for a while, before Ron says, "Blimey, Charlie. I haven't heard you say that much at once since Fred died."
Charlie gives him a pointed glare.
"Yeah, yeah, I got the gist," Ron says.
"Good," Charlie says. "Feel free to come visit me anytime. And give Ginny my love."
"Will do," Ron says.
Charlie turns and walks back towards Hogsmeade, still burning with righteous indignation, but he hears Hermione say, carefully, "How about we go up to the castle?" and Harry add, "We could catch up. You haven't told us what you've been up to since the war ended."
Ron writes, soon after, to complain that Charlie's gotten them stuck with Malfoy, of all people. It turns out, when he's being civil, Hermione and Harry both get along with him tolerably, though Ron still harbors a certain amount of animosity for reasons best forgotten.
Charlie has no sympathy.
The war was one big cock-up on the part of magical society to begin with. It made Charlie lose two uncles he can only barely remember the first time 'round; it made him lose a brother the second. It forced him to sidle up to friends and co-workers in Romania and subtly figure out if he could possibly ask them to be on his side; it made him hold clandestine meetings in his tent at the dead of night for those he could garner for the cause, heart thumping in his chest like it hadn't since the first time he'd faced a ticked-off Horntail. It made him give up Romania, in the end.
If there's one thing he's sure about, it's that it's not happening all over again, again.
He writes Ron that learning to deal with Malfoy will build character.
Ron sends him a howler that, when it opens, does nothing more than blow a wet raspberry at him before incinerating itself, much to the amusement of the dragonets.
Mum is starting to lighten up again. Charlie stops by for tea on one of his days off (he lives in George's flat on those days – for one thing, George could probably use the company, given that his other roommate, Angelina Johnson, tends to be at work all hours, for another, Charlie's not keen on living at the Burrow again), and she tells him she's considering doing some part-time work as a healer at St. Mungo's.
"Nothing difficult, or dangerous, mind," she says. "But there are so many people who got hurt in the war, it feels like the right thing to do. Anyway, now all of you are grown up…"
Charlie nods, says, "Good for you, mum," and means it.
"And how are you?" She asks then, levitating a slice of her famous triple-chocolate fudge cake in front of Charlie's nose, most likely because she's well aware he can't resist.
"'M fine," Charlie answers around a bite of heaven.
"Your dragons are…well?"
Mum never quite understood about dragons. She's a lovely woman and a wonderful mother, but she assumes that, because her home and her kitchen and her family make her happy, it's roughly the same for other people. She starts pushing for her children to settle down and start nesting as soon as they leave Hogwarts.
"They're not exactly my dragons," Charlie says, "but they're very well. You should come visit sometime."
She colors a bit, because he knows she's not the outdoorsy type, and he also knows dragons rather scare her.
"And how about other things?" She soldiers on bravely. "Are you seeing anyone?"
Ah, there it is. This happens every time. And every time, he says no, and every time she looks a bit more worried, and he never figures out how to make her not care.
He tells George about it over a dinner of homemade pizza. While it's true that it takes a lot of effort to come by non-English food in the English wizarding world, Charlie discovered this particular treat from a friend in Hogwarts, and learned how to make it himself fairly quickly. He likes cooking, and it's a good thing, too, because sometimes he feels like George lives off of Honeydukes chocolate and fizzing whizbees when Charlie's not around.
It's October now, and the nights are falling earlier. They sit in George's kitchen by the light of a lamp Ginny made (it's a clever thing that responds to verbal commands and scares off intruders) and eat as Charlie rants. Angelina is there, for a change, but she doesn't really meet George's eyes and just listens.
"It's like she won't take a hint," Charlie says. "I half expect her to have a row of suitable young witches standing around next time, as if that would work. Not like anyone wants to marry a dragon keeper. Anyway, you've just got to look at dragons to know it's a bloody awful idea – there's a reason the females are bigger and nastier."
"So you're saying," George says (he's become a bit more communicative recently, thank Merlin), "that you're queer because of dragons?"
Charlie flushes. He hadn't exactly intended on saying that. "No," he says, pretending it's perfectly alright George just put the thing they never talk about out in the open. "I'm saying I'm queer because I'm queer, but even if I weren't I wouldn't get married."
"Good luck on breaking the news to Mum," George tells him. He's still not smiling, but at least he's teasing. It's progress.
Of all his siblings, Ginny visits the most often. For one thing, she still has Care of Magical Creatures, and the sixth years are doing dragons right around October, for another, she needs someone to talk to. She's just turned seventeen, and she doesn't know what she's going to do with her life. She also doesn't know where she stands with Harry, and that's what they end up talking about the most.
Towards the end of the month, she says, over a firewhiskey – because no one ever said Charlie had to be a role model – "We're done with dragons now. You'll be getting the seventh years next. Good luck with that."
Turns out, the reason she says that is because of Draco Malfoy. Who has Care of Magical Creatures.
"Didn't expect to see you here," Charlie says as he leads a small group of seventh years comprised of Malfoy, Neville Longbottom and Hannah Abbott around the reserve. There are five more groups with the other five types of dragons, but for the time the students will be studying dragons, Charlie's stuck with these three.
Malfoy shrugs. "Sorry to intrude. Again."
"Never said it was a bad thing," Charlie says mildly. "You do know you can come visit me."
"Why would I want to do that?"
Charlie considers. "Dunno, really. You weren't awful company last time."
"Right," Malfoy snorts. "Well. I'll be sure to consider it after that show of warm and enthusiastic hospitality."
"Don't be a berk," Charlie says.
They walk in companionable silence for a while, before Charlie says, "You know, I didn't think you'd be in this class after what I heard from Hagrid, and Ron."
Malfoy flushes red, which is really fucking gorgeous against his pale skin. He coughs uncomfortably. "I was thirteen," he says. "And an idiot."
"Not arguing with that," Charlie says. "Just wondering why you still have the class. Pardon me for saying, but you don't really seem the outdoors type."
"You're pardoned," Malfoy tells him, "but you're wrong. Are we going to see any dragons here are we just going to stand around gabbing all day?"
Charlie certainly wouldn't mind the latter. Malfoy is interesting, the way he talks in a carefully polished accent covering how much emotion he puts into everything. Not to mention the kid looks healthier than the last time Charlie saw him, and he's pretty. In a very male sort of way. Charlie's gay, and he's not blind, and he hasn't had a shag in far too long. Blonde hair, eyelashes and strong jaw lines have always captivated him on an aesthetic level, and Malfoy has all three, as well as a brain.
Sadly, though, he has a point, so in the interest of everyone's sanity, Charlie leads the little group into the pen they have set aside for visitors to interact with dragons.
"This first time," he instructs, "it would be best if you each take separate dragons. Too many new people at once startle them." There are three dragonets, very small ones, only big enough to reach your knee, just old enough for their mothers to be a bit less protective. He knows Hannah's type, she's too scared of the dragon to accomplish much, and Neville's a good sight braver, but he has very little confidence in his own abilities. Neither of them are going to get very far today. Lise, Charlie's neighbor on the camp site, is here to watch out for them.
Malfoy, on the hand, that's going to be wildly interesting.
He approaches the dragonet the way he's been taught, on his hands and knees, shirtsleeves rolled up and head bent down to show offering. The dragonet already knows Charlie, so he sits cross-legged behind her, waiting, and she doesn't care.
Hannah, on the other side of the pen, is moving glacially slow, and Neville is fussing with his robes. Malfoy is far more steady. The dragonet burbles in approval and lets him come even closer. Malfoy complies, and keeps complying as the little baby dragon continues to let out trills that signal she's welcoming the intruder.
He stops when he's right next to her. She sniffs the air, curiously, and then buried her snout in Malfoy's neck.
A pleased smile spreads across Charlie's face. It's not often dragons have that kind of reaction to a person. Though Sadie, he's proud to say, seems to have a strange affinity for him. Then again, this is Sadie's daughter. Maybe it's genetic.
Malfoy shakes with silent laughter (ticklish, Charlie files away for future reference, not that he's interested in Malfoy like that, the kid is just too pretty), and, slowly, works his way into a sitting position. The dragonet grabs his hand and licks at it.
"What's her name?" Malfoy asks.
Charlie's impressed. It was hard even for him to tell the difference between a male and female dragonet at first. "Sophie," he says.
"Wisdom," Malfoy says, nodding. "Well, obviously an apt name. She has good taste."
Charlie snorts out a laugh. Malfoy uses the hand Sophie isn't licking at with her little forked tongue to tickle her belly. She squeals and rolls on her back for a tummy rub, little hiccoughs of smoke snorting out of her nostrils as she giggles. "You're a natural," Charlie says.
Malfoy looks over to him, smiles, shyly, and Charlie's pretty sure he's in deep shit when his heart skips a beat. He's only met Malfoy twice, for fuck's sake.
"Thanks, Weasley," Malfoy says.
"I seem to recall telling you to call me Charlie," Charlie says.
"True," Malfoy says. "Then I suppose you should call me Draco."
And just like that, they're on an actual first-name basis, which is rather monumental, given their families.
Sophie, it turns out, loves Draco. She runs over to him as fast as little dragons can run on their little legs when he comes, which is three times a week, and she doesn't play as well with anyone as she does with him. But when Draco's there, she rolls around on her back like the little hedonist she is, chases after field mice and bounces up and down and generally behaves like a little girl with a crush. Charlie doesn't blame her at all. If he though rolling on his back and begging for Draco to rub his tummy would get him anywhere, he would do it.
By the time a few weeks of this have been going on, Sophie is flapping her tiny, as-yet-useless wings in protest every time he leaves, Draco's looking at an O in Care of Magical Creatures, and Charlie is well aware that he's in big trouble.
Draco has stopped by to eat dinner with Charlie several times. Charlie isn't sure it's not because of his cooking.
Mostly, they just talk, though. Charlie tells him all about working for the Order, gaining support abroad. A lot of foreign wizards just told him to shove it and keep his war away from their countries, which surprises Draco. Even more, when pressed, couldn't say they didn't agree with Voldemort. Charlie lost more friends to that than he thought possible.
"I'm sorry," Draco says, when Charlie tells him that.
Charlie just shrugs. "You probably lost more."
They stare into Charlie's campfire for a while, before Charlie finally asks, "Are you ever going to tell me how you know so much about dragons?"
Draco smiles and sips his butterbeer. He never takes firewhiskey, which Charlie quite appreciates. "It's the name," he says, and Charlie has to ask. "No, really," Draco says. "My aunt Andromeda, she was…disinherited."
"Yeah, I've met her," Charlie says.
"What, really?" Draco asks. "How is she?"
"Good," Charlie says. "She's raising the Lupins' son, Teddy."
Draco nods slowly. "Good for her. I've never seen her, actually. Mum wrote her, sometimes, she had to keep it a secret from Father. She sent a book, when I was born about dragons. I read it over and over when I was a child. I used to want…"
Charlie raises his eyebrows in question when Draco doesn't continue.
"I used to want to be a dragon keeper, after Hogwarts," Draco admits quietly.
"Why don't you anymore?"
Draco's shoulder's hunch, he looks away. "Because it's unnecessarily dangerous, I'd have to live in a tent, and I have far too much potential to waste my life chasing after dragons."
"Right. And how often did your father say that before you believed it?" Charlie asks.
"Just the once," Draco admits. "But he didn't know that, so he kept right on saying it."
Gently, Charlie lays a hand on Draco's shoulder, hoping against hope Draco won't run like a startled rabbit.
He leans into the touch, and Charlie tries desperately to get more oxygen into his lungs, because suddenly, he feels like he's bursting from the inside.
"For what it's worth," he says after a while, and it's not his fault his voice is unsteady, "I think you'd make a brilliant keeper."
He's not lying. Not even a tiny little bit.
As a matter of fact, he finds himself being unnaturally honest with Draco. He's found, before, that there's always at least one little white lie you tell someone, but he hasn't lied to Draco at all, yet, and that seem strange and miraculous to him.
For his part, Draco seems equally mystified by the bond between them. "Why do you understand all of this?" he asks once, after they've been talking about Draco's participation in the war. "I can't talk to anyone about this. Mum and Dad are in Azkaban, and Potter and Granger are decent, I suppose, but they wouldn't understand."
Charlie valiantly does not roll his eyes at the fact that he still calls them by their last names.
"I dunno," he says. "I've wondered myself. But I do know what being an outsider feels like. Most dragon keepers do."
Draco nods slowly, and they drop the subject.
Thankfully, they have more in common than hating what the war did to their lives. They have dragons, and they have Quidditch, too, apparently. One day, Charlie asks casually how things stand for the Quidditch cup at Hogwarts, and Draco grimaces. "Miserable," he says. "Slytherin lost so many key players we have to make do with second-year beaters, and we don't have anyone brilliant to make up for it."
"I thought you played?"
"Used to. Seemed a bad idea to draw that much attention to myself this year," Draco says. "Anyhow, who says I'm brilliant?"
"Oh, you mean besides you?" Charlie asks teasingly. "Harry, for one. And I assume you wouldn't be bad at anything you put your hand to, you're just like that."
Draco flushes, and Charlie cheers his victory privately. He's tried to evoke that reaction, and succeeded, far too often. Seven years, he reminds himself. There is a seven year age difference.
"What's your team?" He asks, instead of propositioning Draco, because that would be awkward.
"Appleby Arrows," Draco says, and Charlie winces.
"Never, ever tell Ron that."
Draco's lips curve in a smirk, and Charlie thinks he may, just to antagonize Ron. "Why?"
"He's a Cannons fan."
"Poor bastard," Draco says. "You're right, I probably shouldn't tell him. What's yours?"
"Falcons," Charlie says, and they settle into a brief debate of the various merits of their Quidditch teams, which ends with Draco saying, "What else could one expect from a team whose motto has to do with breaking heads?" and Charlie answering, "At least I'm not a Wasps fan."
They discuss their positions, as well, which is interesting, given that they're both seekers. They have a rather long, drawn-out talk about tactics.
"No, Bill always says-"
"Bill?" Draco asks.
"My older brother," Charlie says.
"Oh," Draco says, which is an improvement, according to Ron – time was, he'd have said, not another Weasley. "So you all played Quidditch together."
"Oh, yeah," Charlie says. "All the time. Seven of us, we were a team, y'know? I was seeker, Ron was keeper, Bill, Ginny and Percy were chasers, and George and…and Fred were beaters." He swallows heavily, and relishes the way Draco puts a hand on his, both for the comfort and the skin contact. "That's when we could find another team to play against, that is," he finishes, throat dry.
"Did you ever get a real chance to mourn your brother?" Draco asks.
Charlie shudders where he sits, wrapping his arms around himself. "I mourn him," he says. "And I'm not going to stop. But George…it's worse for him."
They don't talk for the rest of the evening, but before Draco leaves, he pulls Charlie into a fierce hug. It makes something warm melt in Charlie's stomach and it makes a few tears leak out of his eyes.
Charlie's next two days off are a Friday and a Saturday, which is perfect. He eats breakfast at the Burrow, spends the morning hanging around Mum, and pointedly ignoring her chatter about how Percy's girlfriend knows some very nice young witches he could go out with, and then spends the afternoon hanging around the joke shop, watching George pretend to smile.
"Will you be here tonight?" George asks him casually, over a dinner of steak, mashed potatoes and green beans.
"Not sure yet," Charlie says. "I've got something to do. Not sure how long it'll take. I may not be back."
George's eyebrows shoot up.
Charlie blushes, but doesn't say anything else.
He keeps his broom in a locker at King's Cross. It's ridiculous, true, but his broom is special. It's a symbol, to him, of what he chose not to do with his life. What he gave up for dragons. Or possibly, it's something that's just his, that he won't share with his family.
Anyway, it's in a locker at King's Cross, spelled against thieves and fires and whatever else Charlie could think of. That Friday night, he goes and gets it out, for the first time since he left for Romania.
He sent Draco a letter, beforehand, with George's tawny owl, a plump, mischievous creature called Aphrodite, so Draco's waiting for him by the time he gets to Hogwarts. It's ten at night – Draco risks getting in trouble, if they get caught, but Charlie doubts they will. McGonagall generally knows almost as much as Dumbledore, she just doesn't always rub your face in it.
"You're late," Draco says mildly.
"Sorry," Charlie says. "Caught some nasty wind flying in."
They both don't say that they were both afraid the other wouldn't show, making everything they had between them nigh on meaningless.
They're out on the Quidditch pitch, the ground a bit soggy from the mild November drizzle.
"Come on, then," Charlie says.
"Come on, what?" Draco asks.
"Seeker's match," Charlie tells him. "One-on-one."
A look of absolute delight spreads across Draco's face. He mounts his broom and kicks off, and before they know it, they're racing around the pitch after the Snitch Charlie brought with him, goading each other playfully, following the Snitch and each other and the wind.
Charlie has never heard Draco laugh this much.
"This is brilliant!" he yells over the rising wind. The rain is coming down harder now, and they revel in it, flying lower for a glimpse of gold, and then again higher and higher.
Charlie's completely soaked. His hair is matted to his head, as is Draco's, and there are raindrops catching in his eyelashes, and he's in love.
He's never once felt like this in his life, a contained kind of crazy that makes him want to dance and sing, makes him want more.
Their hands close around the snitch at the same time, Draco's fingers cold and wet beneath Charlie's own.
They sink to the ground slowly, and head to the changing room in complete silence. Charlie shrinks his broom for easier transport and puts a dampening spell on the snitch, before turning to Draco and asking, "Shower?"
Draco nods, and they strip off their wet things with their backs turned to each other. At least, in Charlie's case. He doesn't trust himself not to jump Draco if he looks.
He stands under the warm spray of the shower and tries not to think too much, and then Draco comes in, short blonde hair adorably wet and messy, body not at all the way Charlie imagined it and yet somehow perfect, and stops dead.
"Merlin," he gasps.
Charlie echoes the sentiment, but doesn't say it out loud, instead he asks Draco, "What?"
"You have a Longhorn on your shoulder," Draco says.
Charlie looks down on instinct, but he knows full well he has a tattoo on his shoulder, and he knows full well it's a Romanian Longhorn, albeit a smallish one, that rests on his shoulder. "And?" He asks.
"It's very distracting," Draco says, stepping closer, and Charlie's brain reminds him they're both naked.
"Seven years," he blurts out.
"What?" Draco asks.
"Seven years age difference," Charlie reiterates.
Draco's hand is resting on his tattoo now.
"I used to be a Death Eater," Draco says.
"I don't care," Charlie says. He's two seconds away from grabbing Draco and pressing him up against the wall.
"And I don't care how old you are," Draco tells him, and neither of them really know who makes that final step, but in the next second they're kissing, Draco's hand still pressed against Charlie's tattoo, Charlie's simultaneously pulling Draco closer by the waist and wrapping around the back of Draco's neck.
And Charlie works with fire on a daily basis. He knows what incendiary is.
Draco crowds him up against the wall, shoves a leg between Charlie's thighs, and Charlie damn near moans.
"Wait," he gasps out.
Draco pulls away.
"Not like this. Get dressed."
"What?" Draco squeaks out, obviously thinking Charlie's changed his mind.
"Not like this," Charlie says, stroking a hand down Draco's cheeks. "I'm taking you," he says quietly, so close to Draco's ear he can see goose bumps rise on his skin, "to the Three Broomsticks, and I'm getting us a room with a bed in it and we're going to make love all night. I'm not going to fuck against a shower wall."
Draco shivers all over. "Clothes," he says. "Now."
Walking down to Hogsmeade is nigh on torture, with Draco walking next to him, perfect in the moonlight shining down now the clouds have cleared, with the memory of exactly what those lips feel like on his.
Madame Rosmerta's eyebrows nearly hit the ceiling when Charlie asks for a room, but she gives it to him, no questions asked, and Charlie could nearly cry with relief.
They climb up the stairs and enter the room, and Charlie casts a silencing and a warding spell just for safety.
He turns to Draco then, and just stares at him. He's not quite sure how to proceed – can he just go back to kissing Draco? It's different now there are lights. Now he can feast his eyes on Draco's beauty. Draco's gorgeous, with his cheekbones and his jaw and his high, arched eyebrows. Not to speak of his body, slim but well-muscled and just what Charlie wants in a man.
In comparison, he feels too big. He's not tall, they're about the same height, but he's certainly broader. His thighs are thick and heavy, his chest is much wider and he has freckles almost everywhere, except the patches of skin with burns on them. Not many, granted, but a few. He feels heavy in contrast to Draco, who looks light and airy and almost fey. Charlie's not like that. He's stocky, his muscles layer heavily and strongly what with doing his, physically strenuous, job outdoors all day every day.
He doesn't really know how to behave now. Insecurity can be crippling, even for a Gryffindor.
Draco, thankfully, does. He steps into Charlie's personal space again, cups Charlie's face in his hands, and kisses him for all he's worth.
Things speed up a bit after that, to the point that they can't even be bothered to stop kissing to get undressed, which means Charlie growls, pulls out his wand and banishes them nonverbally, tackling Draco down into the sheets.
Draco apparently quite likes being manhandled, which is definitely a good sign for their relationship, and predictably, from there on out, it ends with Charlie as far inside Draco's body as he can get, and Draco seemingly appreciates that a great deal, moaning and shaking and clenching around Charlie. One of the things that makes a good Quidditch player is stamina, though, and it's only when he's had Draco over him and under him and facing him and on his knees does Charlie give over to the inevitable.
They lie together, afterwards, sweating and panting in the aftermath, staring at the ceiling.
"I'm keeping you," Draco announces eventually, and Charlie likes that. It saves him the effort of coming up with a way to ask if they're in a relationship now.
Instead, he rolls onto his side, drags Draco into his arms, and falls asleep with the scent of Draco's skin in his nose. He's never been able to stay awake after sex anyway.
He wakes up at six in the morning, with Draco shaking him.
"Hrrm?" He mumble sleepily.
"I've got to go now, Charlie," Draco says, and even half-asleep, Charlie gets a little thrill to hear Draco say his name.
"I'll be in a lot of trouble if anyone finds out I didn't sleep at school last night," Draco says, and Charlie sits up.
"Right, right," Charlie says. "Bugger. Sorry."
Draco smiles, the shy one, the one that made Charlie's insides flip over the first time he saw it. "Believe me, I'm glad I didn't," he says. "But I have to go now."
"Shall I walk you back?" Charlie asks.
"It'll take you forever to get up," Draco tells him fondly. "I know you. I'll see you Monday at the reserve, yeah?"
Charlie sits up, grabs Draco's collar to pull him down for a kiss. "Yeah," he says, and reluctantly lets Draco go.
Draco smiles again, and disapparates with a crack, probably just so Rosmerta won't see him and alert McGonagall (he kept to the shadows last night when Charlie got the room for precisely that reason). It's not as if he can just apparate into the castle. Charlie doesn't envy him the damp, cold walk up.
On the other hand, there's always that secret passageway under Honeydukes. Harry did mention he'd shown it to Draco.
Charlie catches a few more hours of sleep before getting his things together and going downstairs to have some breakfast and pay his bill. Rosmerta asks him curiously who the hooded figure was who went upstairs with him last night, but Charlie just smirks and doesn't answer.
He's back at George's flat in time for the influx of customers on their lunch breaks. He helps out around the shop a bit, because he does know his way around, and it's only several hours later that George finally has the time to sit him down and ask, "So, good date?"
Charlie's lips curve in an unintentional smile. "You could say that."
George takes one look at him and says, "You've got it bad, brother. Who is he, then?"
"I'll tell you soon," Charlie promises.
Charlie is probably an awful influence on the youth of Hogwarts today. He can't count how often his sibling and their friends and Draco have left the school grounds to visit him in the reservation, but he's glad they have. He's glad it's a firmly established tradition, because it means no one blinks twice when Draco joins him four out of five evenings, and no one seems to care when they vanish into Charlie's tent for extended periods of time.
"Are you my boyfriend, then?" Charlie asks one evening, tracing his index finger through the fine hairs leading down Draco's stomach.
"That word is far too plebeian," Draco informs him. "Paramour, maybe. Or lover."
"Hmm," Charlie agrees easily, rolling onto his back and pulling Draco on top of him. "Does that mean you love me?"
Draco's ears turn a rosy pink. "I didn't – that is, it's not a – well, yes, rather."
"Good," Charlie says, pulling Draco down for a kiss. "I love you too."
Draco may or may not mutter "bloody Gryffindors" as they settle in for a second round.
It's January by then. Draco spent most of his Christmas break in Charlie's tent, living off of Charlie's cooking (which he's since claimed many times is really one of the only reasons to put up with Charlie in the first place, though they both know he's lying).
A few days later, Draco asks him, "Do you think I should be a dragon keeper?"
The little Molly Weasley in Charlie's head yells YES at the top of its lungs and starts imaging the two of them living in the same tent and working together and generally being as close to domestic as Charlie can ever see himself getting.
"I dunno," He says carefully. "Why do you want to be a dragon keeper?"
"Um," Draco says, scratching at Sophie's belly. She's grown a bit, over the last months, and she's beginning to lift off of the ground a tick when she flaps her wings. "I really love dragons."
"That's your only reason?" Charlie asks.
"Just about," Draco admits.
"Then you're perfect for the job," Charlie says, and wishes Draco's classmates weren't around so he could lean over and kiss Draco.
It's March before they tell anyone. Specifically, it's March first, Ron's birthday, and he and Harry, Hermione, and Ginny have come out to spend the evening with Charlie, which Charlie thinks is quite nice of them, if only they'd thought to ask beforehand (and possibly if they weren't all a little too aware of the fact that Charlie's perfectly fine with them drinking firewhiskey).
Then again, Hermione hisses to him that it's a ruse so Ron won't notice the surprise party being set up for him, so that's alright.
Or, well, it would be if he hadn't been in the middle of eating dinner with Draco when they pop in.
It makes things just a tick uncomfortable, because none of the others knows about them. This is something Charlie thinks maybe they should fix. Only not on Ron's birthday, the poor kid could never stand the shock. At least they were eating dinner innocently on opposite sides of the table, and not shagging.
On his next day off, he goes to George's flat early in the morning and explains himself.
"You know I'm seeing this bloke?" He asks.
"Yeah," George says, downing a cup of coffee to counteract the ungodly hour Charlie woke him at.
"It's Draco Malfoy," Charlie says.
George blinks at him for about three minutes, and then says, "Right, then, have you been drinking?"
"No, honestly," Charlie says.
"Huh," George says.
He doesn't say much of anything for a while after that.
Angelina, who shares the flat with George (and possibly more, Charlie hasn't dared asking) says, "You know, now, he really could say dragons made him queer."
It takes Charlie a minute to understand why that's supposed to be funny, but at that point, George is already roaring with laughter.
It's something Charlie hasn't seen since the day Fred died.
He turns to Angelina and mouths 'thank you', and then he leaves.
He tells Ron and Ginny, the next time they visit, and they take it in stride, more or less (the more being Ginny and the less being Ron).
The next time Mum asks him if he's seeing someone, he says, "yes".
And, on an almost unrelated note, the day after Draco gets accepted into the Highlands Reservation program, a book about dragons arrives on Andromeda Tonks' doorstep. It's a book about dragons that seems vaguely familiar.
The note on the top reads, Dear Aunt Andromeda, I never thanked you for this book, but I'm reasonably certain I owe you a million bouquets of roses for it. I'd like little Teddy to have this copy, if you don't mind. Best wishes, Draco Malfoy.