Written for the Oneshot Competition and the Odd Couple Contest both on HPFC
Due Dec 31
Charlie Weasley. Prompts: snowflakes and coffee beans
Warning: Charlie swears once or twice.
I'm not Romanian, and google is my friend. If I butchered anything, my apologies. I picked a random street in random town.
Summary: Maybe it's Fate. Maybe it's coincidence. Maybe it's sheer dumb luck. Whatever it is, when a certain ex-Death Eater runs smack into a certain redheaded Dragon Tamer, all they know is, neither's life is ever going to be the same again. Charlie/Draco.
He sits at the small table in the tiny kitchen of his one room flat, staring at his mug of tea and wishing he knew a spell to turn it into coffee. Or, wishing, at least, that he wasn't out of coffee beans and funds.
Snowflakes twirl around carelessly outside his window, and he finds himself, amusingly, somewhat jealous of them. It's an odd feeling, being jealous of snowflakes, but Merlin, he wishes his life were that simple.
But it isn't. He spent last night counting and recounting what he's got left from his last payday, and it's so much less than it should be. It's December 16th, and Charlie knows that this year, for the third year in a row, he's not going home for Christmas.
As he watches the snowflakes, he realizes that he hasn't seen his family, any of them, in three years. Since Fred's funeral. Merlin, that's a sad statement.
He grimaces at his tea once more, reluctantly drains the last of it, and rinses out the mug. He throws on his coat and trudges down three flights of stairs to the only fireplace in his apartment complex. It's a wizarding complex, so the fireplace is hooked up to the Floo network, which Charlie is grateful for. The Reserve he works at has Apparation wards, and he wouldn't fancy walking.
He tosses the Floo powder in and murmurs, "Romanian Official Central Wizarding Dragon Reserve, Main Lobby."
It's a mouthful, he muses. They always seem to be overly specific with Floo titles here in Romania. Nothing is simply "Diagon Alley," like back home. No, that fireplace would be "Diagon Alley Location of Flourish and Blotts, Customer Area."
It works, though. Here, at least, one always knows where he'll end up.
Except the idiot in front of him, apparently. Spiraling out of the fireplace, Charlie smacks into some imbecile who's standing in the lobby, gaping. He frowns, moving the man out of the way.
"In front of a Floo fireplace – not a great choice for standing room," he says gruffly.
The stranger turns to him. The face is vaguely familiar – haughty features framed by white-blond hair – but Charlie can't seem to place it.
"Well, you ought to watch where you're going, oughtn't you?" the man says imperiously. Charlie's a bit miffed.
"Excuse me for not expecting some imbecile to be gawking right in front of the Floo!"
The man sniffs in disdain. "You're excused, then," he says haughtily. "Though I don't appreciate the 'imbecile' comment." Charlie gapes.
"That wasn't an actual apology! It's called sarcasm!"
He frowns. "If this is what I can expect as Romanian hospitality, I won't be staying long, let me assure you!"
Charlie blinks. "If you hadn't noticed by, y'know, the English, I'm British. Same as you. And why, exactly, are you just visiting a Dragon Reserve? It's not exactly a place you want to muck about."
The man looks about. "Hm. Is that what this is? I did wonder. It doesn't seem very logical that, when I Floo to "The Official Center of the Romanian Wizarding World," I end up here. I was hoping for the Ministry."
"If you want the Romanian version of the Ministry, you'll have to Floo to "The Official Building of the Romanian Wizarding Government, Main Lobby."
"Mm. Indeed. But that's what it is." Charlie stalks off toward the side door to start his rounds. It's a Wednesday, which means Fireballs and Opaleyes.
Irritatingly, the man, whose name Charlie still doesn't know, follows him.
"What?" Charlie demands, whirling around to face him. He knows it's rather rude – rather ruder than he'd normally be – but he's not really having a great day, and he really doesn't need this right now.
The man draws back, flinching as though Charlie'd hit him.
"It's just…" he mumbles, but he trails off. The pride in his eyes is almost… broken.
But Charlie can't afford pity right now.
"Look, I don't know you. I don't know who you are, and I can't help you. I'm sorry."
The blond nods once.
He walks away, and Charlie starts his rounds.
That night, Charlie stumbles back into the lobby, exhausted as always after work. He loves dragons with all of his heart, but a life with them isn't easy.
One arm is wrapped up tight in white gauze – one of the Fireballs, an ornery older male called 'Mithros,' apparently wasn't too happy today, and Charlie didn't have any caffeine in his system, so he didn't duck out of the way fast enough.
The burn will be healed by tomorrow – Merlin, he loves magic – but for right now, it hurts like hell.
So he's tired and aching and so not in the mood, but when he gets into the lobby, the blonde aristocrat is sitting against a wall, looking a bit forlorn. He's got his legs pulled up against his chest and his arms wrapped loosely around them.
Charlie sighs. He swears, cursing his mother for ingraining manners in him. Reluctantly, he slides down the wall next to the stranger.
"Look, I'm sorry about earlier. I'm a little stressed, but that's no excuse for my improper manners."
The man doesn't seem quite sure what to say. Charlie smiles gently at him, because he seems a bit lost.
"Did you… Did you need help with something?" Charlie asks hesitantly. He's not really sure how to navigate this conversation. He's not used to offering help to vaguely familiar people that he doesn't really know. It's not exactly something that he does on a regular basis.
The man looks down.
"I…" He seems unused to being unsure.
"Look," Charlie says, because he really just wants to go home. "Why don't you just come with me?"
He hoists himself up off the floor and offers a hand. Pulling the man into the Floo, he mutters, "Apartment Complex nine, Strada Magurii, Cisnădie, Romania."
He stumbles out of the fireplace while the blond man – whose name Charlie still doesn't know, despite having brought him home – steps out elegantly, with innate grace that Charlie is jealous of. He brushes a speck of ash off his shoulder nonchalantly and follows Charlie demurely, as though he follows random strangers home often.
Charlie fumbles briefly with the key in the lock before opening the door.
"Hope you aren't hungry," he says, because his kitchen currently contains the end of a loaf of bread and a pack of uncooked pasta. Well, and tea. He has a surplus of tea, despite hating the stuff. How exactly that came about, he's not really sure.
The blond shakes his head silently, waves his wand, transfiguring his clothes – which, Charlie notices for the first time, are rather well made – into silk pajamas, and collapses into Charlie's bed.
Charlie frowns. It's a one room apartment, so it's rather obvious that there's only one bed.
Maybe he should've thought this through a bit more.
Right now, though, he honestly doesn't much care. He waves his wand absently, transfiguring his barely-big-enough-for-two couch into a bed that pretty much occupies the remaining space in his flat, and collapses into it. Merlin, he hopes the man in his bed isn't a murderer. Charlie sleeps like a rock.
Though transfigured furniture is never nearly as comfortable as the real thing, Charlie's so exhausted he falls straight asleep. As usual, he's aware of absolutely nothing until morning. Straying from the usual, however, is the fact that he's not awoken by his wand alarm, but rather, before then by a man moving around his kitchen – a kitchen which, given the size of his flat, his feet are currently residing in, despite the fact that his head is in the living room.
Groaning, he reluctantly rolls out of the bed and transfigures it back. Stumbling into the kitchen, he flops into the only chair and taps his wand on his gauze-covered wrist, murmuring, "Tempus."
It's six o'clock. Charlie works from three to midnight. He got in late last night because of the burn, so he's running on less sleep than usual already, but he never gets up before nine. He is so not a morning person – it's why he works the evening shift.
"Really?" he mumbles irritatedly. "Six?"
The blond – whose name Charlie still doesn't know, and Charlie muses that he really ought to remedy that – shrugs. "I'm an early riser."
"I see that," Charlie grumbles. The man smirks, unapologetic.
"Where's the coffee?"
Charlie grimaces. "I'm out. And I don't get paid until tomorrow, so don't expect any until then."
He gapes. "You're out of coffee? How do you survive?"
"Only just, apparently," Charlie responds, waving his gauze-wrapped arm. "I blame this one on caffeine deprivation."
The stranger glances at it curiously. "What happened?"
"Mithros got a bit fussy, is all. I didn't duck fast enough."
"Is this… A common occurrence?"
Charlie shrugs. "I suppose so. Comparatively, anyway. Still, it beats being a paper-pusher any day. Still don't understand how my brother does that. A lot less scars, true, but I wouldn't be able to stand the boredom."
"You're an adrenaline junkie," the man accuses.
"Maybe, a bit. But it's not all about the thrill," Charlie defends. "They're beautiful creatures, dragons. And horribly misunderstood. They're completely untamable, that's true, but that's the beauty of them. They're terribly fierce and independent, and yet they still form their own intricate societies, complex communities. They protect their young, and their old, their weak, in a way not a lot of creatures do." Charlie could go on all day about dragons, but he's starting to realize that he's rambling, so he shuts up.
There's a pause, for a moment, because neither of them really knows what to say. Charlie gets up and puts the kettle on for tea, though he's not entirely sure why. He hates tea. Still, he needs something to do with his hands – he's always had twitchy hands.
When he turns around, the man is still staring curiously at the gauze.
"Will it heal completely? How long does that take?" he asks eventually.
"It'll scar lightly, here." Charlie gestures to his wrist – it's the spot where his gloves end that's burned. "But only because it was a relatively deep burn. I'll be able to take the bandage off around noon – they recommend at least twelve hours. Then again, they also always recommend that I take the next day off, but that never seems to happen."
Charlie pours out the tea. He sets a cup in front of each chair at the small table and sits down. Hesitantly, the man sits across from him. As he sips his tea, grimacing all the while, Charlie wonders about this strange, somewhat paradoxical man. At times he's remarkably confident, so much so that Charlie'd call him arrogant. Other times, he seems unusually unsure. It's almost like he's used to having the run of the world, and something happened recently to make him aware of the fact that he wasn't king of the universe, and now he's trying to wrap his head around that.
Or Charlie's reading way too much into things, as usual.
"So," Charlie says eventually. "What brings you to Romania, anyway?"
The man hesitates. Charlie laughs lightly. "Come on, it can't be that bad. It's not like you broke out of Azkaban or something, right?"
The already pale man pales further.
"You didn't, did you?" Charlie asks hesitantly.
Something unrecognizable flickers behind his eyes. "No. I didn't break out. I served my time, and they let me go."
Charlie exhales deeply, putting his head in his palms. He's housing an ex-con. How charming.
"I'd understand," the man says slowly. "If you, you know, wanted me to leave."
Charlie shakes his head. "I'm not one to shun people for their pasts," he says. "My mother says it's a character flaw, frankly. That I'll end up in trouble because I believe too much in second chances, because I believe too deeply that people can change." He shrugs.
The blond smiles slightly. "I guess that's just my luck, then."
Charlie chuckles. "I guess it is." Silence reigns for a moment, then Charlie points out, "You never answered my question. What're you doing in Romania?"
He shrugs. "Britain is… not too friendly a place for me, right now."
"Does that have to do with the reason you were in Azkaban?" Charlie knows he's borderline prying, but he figures that he kind of has the right, given that he's let this stranger stay with him.
The man rubs the inside of his left wrist awkwardly.
"I… I made a lot of stupid choices. I got caught up in what everyone around me was doing, and I did some things I'm not proud of.
"So my mum and I decided that I'd be better off out of the country. She said I have some great great aunt, Elladora or something, and she's over a hundred years old and she owns over 80 cats, and I really, really don't want to go there."
There's desperation in his eyes – which, Charlie notices for the first time, are a stunning grey. Charlie can tell, though, that no matter how much this man begs with his eyes, he will not beg with his words.
And something in those stunning grey eyes makes Charlie want to help him – but he knows that he can't. If he'd've wanted another mouth to feed, he'd have gotten a puppy. Fact is, he just can't afford it.
"Look, I'm sorry. I want to help you, I really do. Thing is, I really can't afford to feed two people right now."
Something sparks in the depths of his grey eyes. "Look, if it's just about the money, that's not an issue. I've access to my vaults, and, while we're not as rich as we once were, we're not exactly short on Galleons."
And Charlie doesn't know what to say to that. He's not sure how to turn it down, honestly – he could use the help. But there's something about it that strikes him as odd.
"If you've money, then, why don't you just rent your own place?"
"My mother," he mumbles, as though he doesn't really want to say it.
"My mother," he repeats, a little louder. "She doesn't trust me. She doesn't believe I can survive living on my own. But this," he gestures around. "This arrangement, it might just prove to her that I can."
"How old are you, anyway?" Charlie'd guessed 20 or 21, but that comment makes him suspect younger.
"Twenty-one, thank you very much. My mum happens to have good reason for being overprotective."
And it starts to make sense to Charlie. This "arrangement," as the man whose name Charlie still doesn't know referred to it, it helps out both of them.
Charlie rubs the bridge of his nose.
"I can't believe I'm considering this."
Grey eyes dance hopefully.
"What on Earth are you going to do while I'm at the reserve?"
He shrugs. "Come with you? Or stay here. I'm quite used to being alone."
Charlie sighs. "And you're okay with alternating between the bed and the couch?"
He nods vigorously.
Pinching the bridge of his nose, Charlie caves. "All right then. You pay for food, you can stay."
Charlie suspects the man – whose name Charlie still doesn't know (Merlin, is he insane?) – will vehemently deny making the undignified noise that comes out of his mouth.
He breathes in deeply for composure. "Thank you. I promise you, you won't regret it."
Charlie gets up and rinses his now-empty mug of tea out in the sink. "I hope not." He turns around. "You still haven't told me your name."
The man jumps up. "My apologies," he says, which, Charlie notices, is a smooth way of not apologizing at all. "Draco Malfoy." Draco puts out his hand for Charlie to shake.
Problem is, Charlie can't shake the slim hand. He's too busy laughing. "That… That just figures," he chuckles, finally composing himself and accepting the hand shake. "Charlie Weasley."
Draco gapes at him. "You're serious."
Charlie nods. He can't keep the grin off his face.
"Of all the millions of people in Romania, I just had to run into the one Weasley." A slightly bitter laugh escapes his lips. "That's just my luck. I'll go, then."
Charlie shrugs. "Only if you'd like to. I've said it already – I'm not one to hold the past against you."
Draco blinks. He's not particularly used to being given second chances. There was Potter, of course, testifying on his behalf, but Draco knows full well that was only because his mother asked him to.
"Thank you," he murmurs softly. His voice is rough – nearly indiscernibly – with some sort of unidentifiable emotion. He coughs. "I should probably Floo my mum."
Charlie puts a hand up, stopping him as he gets up. "About that. In a building this size, people Floo in and out quite a bit. They don't tend to take to kindly to Floo calls, especially international Floo calls, because they take a while to connect. This'll work better."
He waves his wand absently, staring at something that Draco can't see. A silvery lion erupts from the end of his wand.
"What is that?"
"It's a lion," Charlie says, wondering if Draco's touched in the head.
"I know that! What is it?"
"It's a Patronus."
"You mean the Dementor repellers?"
Charlie nods. "Well, yes, but they're also messengers. Your mum, her name's Narcissa, right?"
"Message for Narcissa Malfoy," Charlie tells the lion. The stately creature pads around in a circle before sitting down and tilting his head.
Draco just stares.
"Talk to it," Charlie tells him. "It'll record what you say and replay it for your mum."
"It's a floating lion," Draco says bluntly.
"That's so Gryffindor." Charlie is amazed at how Draco manages to make the word into an obscenity.
"It's recording already," Charlie points out.
"Oh. Well." Draco turns to address the lion. "Um. Well, I feel very odd. Talking to a floating lion, that is. All right. Here goes nothing, I suppose. Yes. Well. Hi, Mum. I'm well. I'm in Romania. I, er, wasn't sure if you'd said Romania or Bulgaria, see, but it doesn't matter anymore, so that's all right then. I've… I've made other arrangements. Tell Great Great Aunt Elladora that I'm terribly sorry.
"And I am. Sorry, that is. Though, not to Aunt Elladora. I'm sorry, Mum, but you understand – I had to do this. I'll come back when things settle down – though I think we both know that won't be for a while. Maybe you can visit, if that's all right with my flatmate. Listen, Mum, I really am sorry. You know full well that I don't say that lightly.
"I miss you. I love you, I do, but I had to do this." The last part is a whisper that Charlie's not sure he's supposed to hear.
Draco nods his head at Charlie ever-so-slightly, signaling that he's done. Charlie nods in return and swishes his wand. The lion gets up and gracefully stalks into oblivion.
It amazes Charlie just how quickly he adapts to having a flatmate. Draco is an interesting person to share a flat with – he's arrogant and self-entitled and pushy, but also surprisingly unobtrusive. Charlie's not entirely sure what Draco does with himself while Charlie's on shift – sometimes he comes along, sometimes he doesn't. On the days he doesn't, Charlie doesn't ask.
There's always food on the table when Charlie gets home, though, which is a nice change. He readapts to having three meals a day.
He gets used to getting up a little bit earlier – though he'll never routinely get up at six no matter how often Draco does.
And sometimes, it seems like they should hate each other. One Weasley plus one Malfoy should never a peaceable household make – and, true, they fight. They spit spiked barbs at each other all the time. They trade harsh words, though both are, fortunately, quite thick-skinned.
Still, Charlie finds he quite enjoys the company. He likes having someone to verbally spar with, no holds barred. And Draco has a silver tongue, and he speaks as slick as honey.
Charlie's not sure at what point he realize that he was falling for Draco. It took him a while, that's for sure. They've been flatmates for two years, going on three.
Only, one day, when he's supposed to be working, he finds himself thinking about a pair of stunning grey eyes, and it's at that point that he knows he's royally screwed.
Three months later, in early December, he finds himself frozen in place as Draco kisses him lightly under the mistletoe in the Reserve Lobby. A light pink flush spreads across his pale cheeks, and he darts toward the Floo, leaving Charlie stunned.
Thanking Merlin that it's after his shift so that he doesn't have to skive work to settle this, Charlie rushes after Draco.
He walks into the apartment the same way he'd approach any other dragon – on silent feet, oh-so-slowly.
"Draco?" he murmurs lightly.
Draco looks up from his perch on the couch. "I'm sorry," he says quickly. "I just… I don't know what I was thinking, I just… I saw the mistletoe, and I acted without thinking, which I know better than to do, but… Sometimes impulse wins, you know?"
Charlie nods. "I know." He sits down next to Draco and, without thinking, kisses him. Softly, he says, "Like that. Sometimes, impulse wins."
And, somehow, nothing more needs to be said. And, for them, being in a relationship is as easy as living together – that is, completely effortless and terribly complicated all at once.
The next year, Charlie decides it's about time he went home for Christmas, given that he's not seen his family in six years, and Draco's only seen his mother three times in the past three years, and all were brief visits – Charlie's still not met her.
Yet going home is terrifying, because neither knows how his family will react. Here, in Romania, they're safe in their own little cocoon. At home, they're more… exposed to the elements. Still, they're both aware that it needs to be done, at some point, and there's no point in putting it off.
Before they step into the Floo, Charlie kisses Draco fiercely. They've decided to each go home separately, at first. Christmas Day, the day they figure people will be most accepting, Draco's scheduled to apparate to the Burrow, and they'll visit Narcissa after that.
The best laid plans, though, are often usurped by spur-of-the-moment plans, for better or for worse.
Home to the Burrow Charlie goes, as planned. Given that it's the week before Christmas, Charlie's not much surprised that everyone's home already.
His mum is the first one he sees, though. Coming through the door into the kitchen, he sees her standing at the stove, making dinner. She turns instinctively.
He smiles broadly. "Hi, Mum." He gathers her up in his arms, picking her up and twirling her around in a circle, laughing all the way, the same way he's done every time since he was strong enough to lift her.
"Charlie Weasley!" she laughs. "You put me down!" Chuckling, Charlie does.
"Love you, Mum."
She smiles. "I love you, too, Charlie. You ought come home more often," she says sternly."
"I will, Mum. Promise."
She pats his face. "You're a good boy. Now go see your brothers. Dinner will be done in a few."
Charlie nods. It smells heavenly. Nothing against Draco's cooking, of course, but nobody cooks like Mum.
As he greets all of his siblings, he's amazed at just how much can change in six years – which, really, when he thinks about it, isn't very amazing. Six years is a long time.
Merlin, though, everyone is married. Everyone! How on Earth, he wonders, did that happen without him noticing?
And, when he says hello to Bill and Fleur (who is the only in-law he's actually met as an in-law), he finds out that he's an uncle twice over.
He really ought to come home more often.
George is… different. Granted, the last time Charlie saw him was at his twin's funeral, but still. Instead of the mischievous spark in his eyes, there's a deep sadness there, masked by a faint, daily sort of happiness, if that even makes sense. It's like, he muses, George has to decide, every day, that he's going to be happy. Still, it's a lot better than the dead eyes he wore at his brother's funeral.
George's wife is familiar, though it takes Charlie a moment to place her, because it's been years. It's Angelina – he played Quidditch with her.
Ron's wife, he's met before as well, though he doesn't really know her. He remembers that she has a rather strange name – something with an H.
It's Ginny's husband, frankly, that's the least surprising. Harry Potter. He saw that one coming years ago, even as detached from everyone as he seems to be.
Someone's missing, though. "Where's Percy?" Charlie asks, a bit hesitantly. The last time he asked that question, his mother burst into tears. But, Charlie knows, that's over. Percy apologized.
George turns to Ron. "He at Oliver's or Audrey's today?"
Ron shrugs. "I can never keep track."
Frowning, George mutters, "Neither can I. That man changes his mind every two seconds."
The woman whose name starts with and H tuts. "Honestly, can you blame him?"
"Hermione, we've been over this." Ron sighs. "We can, in fact. He's hurting both of them!"
"Not on purpose!"
Charlie frowns. "I'm missing something."
George, thankfully, takes pity on him and decides to explain. "Everyone's in agreement that Percy's going to marry any day now. Problem is, nobody really knows who he's going to marry."
Feeling his brows furrow in confusion, Charlie knows he doesn't even have to ask the question.
George shrugs. "He's in love with both of them. Audrey and Oliver. He's having trouble deciding."
Charlie blinks. Apparently, his family isn't going to care that he's dating a guy. That's nice to know.
"Oh," he says stupidly. "Okay."
Ron pokes him in the side. "That just leaves you, there, Charlie."
"The lone Weasley bachelor!" Ron says like it's obvious.
"Er, about that…"
"No way!" Ginny pipes up. "Spill!"
Charlie looks down. "You'll see on Christmas," he evades.
"You brought her home!" Ginny coos. Charlie winces at the pronoun.
"Him, but yes."
Everyone seems to blink collectively.
George shrugs. "All right, if you want to wait until Christmas to tell us."
And the subject changes, and Charlie loves his family.
It's Harry, though, that throws their laid out plans to the wind. The next day is Monday, and most everyone goes off to work. Bill goes off to Gringotts, George to the shop in Diagon Alley, Ron to the Auror office, and Ginny to Quidditch Practice.
When he gets up at 11, Charlie finds Harry at the table, munching on biscuits and scanning paperwork.
"No work for you?" he asks, swiping a biscuit and starting a pot of coffee. He's not talked to Harry much, but Charlie's never been shy around strangers, even if they are strangers who saved the Wizarding World.
Harry shakes his head. "I'm off for the week. Took a blasting spell to the ankle a few days ago, and I'm waiting for it to heal completely."
Charlie nods. He understands work related injuries.
"Sucks, doesn't it?"
Wryly, Harry nods. "It does. But it also means I get to spend some time with my godson, so I'm not complaining."
"Right," Charlie recalls. "That's, uh, Teddy, right?"
Harry nods, a fond smile on his face. "He lives with his grandma, most of the time, but he knows who I am."
Smiling, Charlie murmurs, "That's good."
"It is," Harry agrees.
Conversation tapers off. Charlie snags another biscuit. Absently, he decides that this might be a good time to find out how exactly Harry feels about Draco. Subtlety is best, he thinks.
The Daily Prophet smacks him in the head. He flips a Knut at the owl and spreads it open. Conveniently, there's an article inside about an ex-Death Eater, a minor one named Newton, being released from Azkaban because his term was up.
Charlie taps the article. "How do you feel about that?" he asks. "Ex-Death Eaters being released."
Harry shrugs. "As far as I'm concerned, no one deserves life in that place. I've been trying to get rid of the Dementors for years – problem is, no one knows how to destroy them, and there's no where else for them to go."
Humming in agreement, Charlie adds, "But is it better, then, to have them on the streets?"
Harry smiles. "You don't know how many times I've had this argument before, especially with Ron. Just because someone gets the label 'Death Eater,' doesn't mean they're a soulless, evil person. A lot of good people got caught up in everything and wound up doing things they'd never do under normal situations."
Charlie grins. "I do. I'm not Ron, y'know."
"I know. But…" He trails off, not really sure how to say that he doesn't know Charlie at all.
There's a pause, but Charlie continues eventually.
"Now does that… Does that hold true when it's someone you know? Someone you've personally fought with? Like, y'know, Malfoy?"
Harry smiles slightly. "I see. Yes, yes it does. Though good luck getting Ron on board with that one."
"What, exactly, do you see?"
Harry smirks. "You're very clearly a Gryffindor. I'd think living with a Slytherin would help you with subtlety, but unless you were a veritable barreling train before, it clearly hasn't."
Startled, Charlie points out, "You're a Gryffindor, too!"
"I am indeed," Harry laughs. "But I learned to be Slytherin, with my life. I was borderline, anyway. The Sorting Hat nearly put me in Slytherin."
Raising an eyebrow, Charlie asks, "And does the Wizarding World know that the man they hail as a hero is half Slytherin?"
Harry's shaking his head when Charlie's only halfway through the sentence. "It would lend some credibility to Slytherin house, but I feel like that credibility would only last as long as the memory, and people forget. If Slytherin house builds their own credibility by being generally reliable, they'll be better off in the long run."
Nodding along, Charlie says, "You're… different, than what I expected."
"Is that good?" Harry laughs.
"Hm. Well, thanks, then."
Charlie nods. "Coffee?" he offers, pouring himself a cup. Harry shakes his head.
"Any plans for today?" Harry asks after a moment of silence.
Charlie shrugs. "Not in particular."
"Would you like to come with me? See Teddy? Narcissa might be there."
Furrowing his brows, Charlie asks, "Why would she be there?"
"He's her great-nephew," Harry remarks as if Charlie should know this. "Andromeda Tonks, his grandmother, is Narcissa's sister."
Charlie thinks for a moment. The plan is to wait until Christmas, he knows, but that's not until Thursday, and Charlie, always a classic Gryffindor, is impatient and impulsive.
It's afternoon when Harry puts a hand on Charlie's arm and pops them both out of existence. Charlie doesn't Apparate much – he hates the feeling, and Floo's usually more convenient for him – so he stands still for a moment, head spinning and stomach rolling.
Harry turns back from where he's already standing on the front doorstep. "You coming?"
Charlie holds up a finger. After a moment his stomach settles, and he follows Harry into the small house.
Harry trots right into the kitchen, where Andromeda appears to be baking cookies with four-year-old Teddy. It looks like a hurricane of flour went rampaging through the kitchen. Teddy, giggling, throws a fistful of flour at Harry.
Harry laughs, plucking Teddy off the counter and swinging him around.
"Hi there, Teddy-bear!"
"Harry!" Teddy crows happily.
Andromeda smiles slightly, pushing her hair, which is falling out of the bun she has it in, out of her face with a flour covered hand. "Hello, Harry. Are you supposed to be lifting things yet?"
Harry grins sheepishly. "No, Andy, but when have I ever listened to the Healers' advice? I'll be fine."
Andromeda shakes her head. "That'll come back to bite you, someday."
Harry just shrugs, swinging Teddy around in another circle. Teddy giggles.
"And who's this?" Andromeda asks, dusting her hands off on her apron and holding a hand out to Charlie.
"Charlie Weasley, ma'am, pleasure to meet you." Charlie uses the manners his mother ingrained in him so long ago.
He notices, absently, that Andromeda's eyes crinkle when she smiles. "A pleasure to meet you as well, young man. And what might you be doing in my kitchen?"
Charlie wants to object to being called a young man – he's thirty-one now – but he supposes that, compared to Andromeda, perhaps he is young. He shrugs in answer to her question. "Everyone else is at work."
"Oh?" She turns to put the pan of mangled cookie dough blobs in the oven. "And why aren't you?"
"I work in Romania," Charlie tells her. "I've the week off, for Christmas. First time in six years."
The woman sighs, turning to face him again. He can't tell how much of her hair is white from age and how much is just the flour, so he'd be hard-pressed to guess her age. "It's a shame," she murmurs softly. "A real shame, when a son doesn't make it home for Christmas." There's pain in her voice, and Charlie realizes that Andromeda was a mother once.
Sensing, somehow, that Charlie's not sure what to say to that, Andromeda abruptly changes the subject.
"Narcissa's in the living room, Harry, if you'd like a word. Or I could use some help cleaning up."
"Aww, Andy," Harry says, and from a brief glance, Charlie can see flour handprints splattered across his shirt. "You know I'm rubbish with cleaning spells."
"I've a fair hand at them," Charlie volunteers.
Looking at him in near hero-worship, Harry breathes, "Would you? You'd be my savior." Without waiting for an answer, he sweeps off into the living room, still holding Teddy in his arms.
Charlie, who learned a few spells from his mother, being second eldest, and used them, being a bachelor for years, helps Andromeda shine the kitchen up in no time.
Stepping into the living room, though, he's wary. This is untouched territory. Amusingly, it pops into his head how they used to label uncharted territory on maps – "Here be Dragons." The thought is helpful. He can handle dragons.
He steps through the doorway. Narcissa has her head bent over a needle and thread – which seems surprisingly Muggle, and doesn't fit with Charlie's image of her. She's making a picture with Xs in the thread – craft-stitching, he thinks it's called. Harry is bouncing Teddy up and down on his lap in a chair next to her, cooing at the child.
"Afternoon, Mrs. Malfoy." He inclines his head.
Her head jerks up at the sound of his voice, as though it's familiar, though she can't pinpoint from what.
He strides across the room and holds out his hand. "Charlie Weasley, ma'am. It's nice to meet you."
"Charmed, I'm sure," she murmurs softly, taking his hand. When she lets it go and Charlie takes a step back, her eyes scan him, and Charlie is abruptly reminded of Dumbledore's eyes. Like his, Narcissa Malfoy has the kind of eyes that make you feel like she's seeing absolutely everything – right down to the soul.
For the first time in a long time, Charlie is vividly aware of what he looks like.
He pulled his long, flaming orange hair back with a simple black band this morning, the way he always does - though it likely won't be so long for much longer, because his mother insists upon cutting it every time he's home, and Charlie doesn't fight it because, frankly, he could care less either way.
He's wearing a T-shirt, as usual - blue today, and no jacket, because the weather is relatively mild. For trousers, a pair of Muggle blue jeans, because they're comfortable. On his feet are a pair of well-worn dragon-skin boots (from a dragon that shed willingly, of course).
The T-shirt exposes his scarred arms - burns in various degrees of healing are spattered up and down his arms, though there's only one on his right hand, and none on his left. Every Dragon Tamer only makes the mistake of forgetting his or her gloves once – for some reason, and no one really knows why, hands don't heal like arms do. Not from dragonfire. A hand burned by dragon's breath stays burnt for months, Healer or no Healer.
Charlie rubs an old burn scar self-consciously.
Finally finished with her examination, apparently, Narcissa speaks in the same soft voice. "And what, may I ask, are you doing here, mid-afternoon, on a Monday?"
Charlie absently wonders if no wizard in all of Britain is unemployed. "I have the week off, to see my family, ma'am. I work out of the country."
She nods her head lightly, turning back to her sewing. "What do you do?"
"I, er, I work with dragons. In Romania, on the Reserve."
Her sharp gaze snaps back up to meet his.
"Romania, you say?"
This time, her gaze stays fixed on his. She's looking for something in his eyes, and apparently she finds it. "I'd thought your voice sounded familiar, though it sounds differently in person than it does through a Patronus."
Charlie nods lightly. Narcissa smiles and turns her head back to her sewing.
"You're a good man, Charlie Weasley."
Flushing lightly, Charlie says, "It's nothing."
Her chin snaps up. "Don't say it's nothing when it's everything to my son," she reprimands, her voice stern but still soft.
Charlie ducks his head. "My apologies, ma'am." It's a habit, he notices suddenly, that he picked up from Draco – saying 'my apologies' rather than 'I'm sorry.'
"There aren't a lot of people in the world who'd take in a random stranger. There are less people in the world who'd take in a man whose father his father hates."
Charlie shrugs, leaving his gaze resting on the grey carpet.
"Thank you," she whispers.
Smiling, Charlie murmurs in response, "It's my pleasure."
He's not really sure how much Narcissa knows, honestly. She knows, obviously, that Charlie and Draco having been flatmates for three years. He's not sure what she knows past that, but, for now, she has a high opinion of him, and that's enough.
The next afternoon, when Harry takes Teddy to the zoo and Charlie's bored out of his mind, he doesn't feel so odd going to Malfoy Manor and asking for entrance. A house elf lets him in, though Narcissa shows up not long after.
"Charlie? This is a surprise."
Charlie shrugs. "Everyone's working again. I imagine they'll be around tomorrow, as it's Christmas Eve, but until them, I'm a bit bored. If you mind, I can go," he offers, hoping she won't take him up on it.
"No, no, of course you can stay. Draco's up in his room, but Wilma will get him, won't you Wilma?"
The house elf bobs her head. "Wilma is getting the Young Master," she squeaks, and she disappears.
Moments later, Draco sweeps elegantly down the hallway. He's in robes, which seems weird to Charlie, because neither of them ever bothers in Romania. Robes are impractical at the Reserve.
"Mother? Wilma said there was a visitor?" And then he catches sight of Charlie. His eyes widen infinitesimally – Charlie barely notices the movement – but he quickly regains composure. He smiles. "Charlie, what a surprise."
Charlie grins broadly. He loves knocking Draco, who's typically so composed, off his feet. "Hey, Dray."
"Charlie was in the neighborhood, and he decided to drop by. Isn't that nice?" Narcissa says. The voice is the same as usual, but Charlie catches the slight hint of mirth in her tone. She's as amused as he is.
"Nice, yes." Draco murmurs. He glances at Charlie, trying to gauge what his mother knows. Charlie gives no hint, so Draco asks, "Mum, how do you know Charlie?"
"I met him at Dromeda's yesterday. He came along with Harry."
Draco cocks an eyebrow. "Oh, really?"
Charlie grins at him, raising his eyebrows. Draco laughs lightly at the expression – overconfident impudence doesn't look quite right on Charlie.
Narcissa's sharp eyes shift from Draco to Charlie and back again. She's freakishly perceptive, Charlie can tell. He knows already that this won't stay secret for long, if it even still is.
Draco doesn't miss it either. "Charlie, could I have a word?"
"I'll be in the lounge, dear."
"All right, Mum."
Draco leads Charlie in a route so insane Charlie's quite sure he couldn't find his way out if he tried.
They wind up in a bedroom that's about five times the size of Charlie's flat. The walls are silver, most of the embellishments are black, and the pillowcases are, of course, Slytherin green.
"So cliché," Charlie murmurs jokingly.
Draco grins. "Slytherin through and through." He shrugs.
Charlie looks around. "So how, exactly, does a person go from so much space to so little?"
"You forget," Draco mutters. "I spent four years in a cell in between."
Charlie goes quiet. Draco doesn't talk about his years in Azkaban, not ever. All Charlie knows is that Draco's a happier person now than he was right after he got out.
But Draco doesn't say anything else about that. He changes the subject.
"What did you tell my mother?"
Charlie shrugs. "I didn't tell her anything. She recognized my voice from the Patronus you sent that first day."
"How in Merlin's name did she recognize your voice? You spoke for two seconds, and that was forever ago."
"I think it's a mum thing. Things that are associated with your children – especially when you don't know exactly where said children are – you tend to remember them more."
Draco's staring out a large bay window. He hops up on the window seat, hugging his knees, still staring out.
"So all she knows is that you're the flatmate."
Charlie nods, but then he realizes Draco isn't looking at him. "Right."
"That won't last long," Draco says flatly.
"It won't," Charlie agrees. Draco sighs.
"I don't know how to do this."
"Neither do I." Charlie crosses the room and sits beside Draco on the window seat. "But we knew this wasn't going to be easy."
Draco nods slightly. "I just don't know what to say."
"Maybe it'd be better to not say a word?"
Draco's head snaps up. "You're not having second thoughts about telling people, are you?"
"No, no! That's not what I meant! Draco, I love you more than I ever thought possible, and all I want to do is scream it from the rooftops. I don't care who knows." And Draco can see in the depths of Charlie's eyes that what he says is true. "What I meant was, maybe it'd be better to show her, rather than to tell her?"
This, Draco considers. "All right. Let's try it."
Charlie grins. He hops up and offers a hand to Draco, whose eyes widen. "Now?" He squeaks slightly as he says it.
"Now," Charlie confirms, still grinning madly.
Draco shakes his head. "I'm dating a madman," he mutters.
"That's the spirit!" Charlie chirps.
"Indeed I am!"
"No marbles left."
"But you love me like this!" And, with that, Charlie pulls Draco unexpectedly into his arms. "And I," he whispers, "love you."
Draco smiles softly and, before he can stop himself, kisses Charlie. "Now come on, you madman," he whispers back. "We've got a mother to show."
Charlie grins, unwrapping his arms from Draco and taking his hand. "You're going to have to lead the way," he confesses. "This manor is a maze to me."
Draco smirks; he loves having the upper hand. Keeping a tight hold on Charlie's hand, he leads the way to the lounge. When he gets to the door, though, he hesitates. Charlie, ever the Gryffindor, leads the way. He tugs Draco in by the hand and, when Draco sits down on a couch, Charlie sits a little closer than he normally would, still not letting go.
Narcissa smiles without even glancing up. "I'd suspected. Good to know you weren't going to try to hide it from me."
Draco smiles softly. "Of course not, Mother."
Narcissa finally looks up from the book she's holding. "I'm happy for you, Draco."
Draco blinks rapidly for a few moments. "Thank you, Mum." He pauses. Suddenly, he speaks up. "Do you think…" He stops, then tries again. "Do you think there's any way Father would…" He can't get out the whole question, but it doesn't matter.
Narcissa's face droops. Suddenly, she looks a hundred years older. "No, darling. I don't think there is." Draco's eyes darken. Narcissa keeps talking like she knows that if she doesn't say this all in one breath, she won't say it at all. "He wouldn't approve for both reasons, and we both know he's too stubborn to ever come around."
Draco draws in a deep, shaky breath. "I'd thought so," he says, but his voice cracks. He blinks many times in quick succession, then draws in another rough breath.
Charlie instinctively wraps his arms around Draco. Without even thinking, Draco tucks his face into Charlie's chest. Charlie, who by now has completely forgotten that Narcissa is even in the room, murmurs into Draco's ear. "Hey. Hey, now. You know what? He doesn't matter. You know why? Because. Because you are smart and kind and clever. You are brave and cunning and witty. You are good and daring, and, most of all, you are mine. You are mine, you hear me? You are mine. And he can't touch you."
Charlie can feel Draco bite his own lip, still trying not to cry. And Charlie understands, in that moment, that despite everything Lucius Malfoy has done to his son, Draco still loves him. He hates him, but he loves him all the same.
Narcissa gets up gracefully. She murmurs, so that only Charlie can hear, "I'm glad that you're a Dragon Tamer, Charlie. It's what my dragon needs." She leaves the room on silent feet.
Charlie's not sure how long he holds Draco in his arms, only that he wouldn't much mind if it lasted forever. Draco sheds a few tears, but not many. There's a moment, not long after Narcissa leaves, that the embrace stops being simply one of comfort and turns into one of companionship, and Draco stays in Charlie's arms because he feels so safe within them, and Charlie never wants to let Draco go because like this, he feels whole.
Eventually, though, night falls, and Charlie feels obliged to return home. He kisses Draco firmly, solidly, and murmurs, "I'll see you on Christmas." Draco nods. He leads Charlie to the front door. "Tell your mum I said goodbye." Draco nods again. They kiss once more, and then Charlie disappears.
Christmas Eve, Charlie finds, is largely uneventful and seems to drag on. He wonders if he's that dependent on Draco – that one day without him feels like a lifetime. Somehow, that doesn't concern him as much as perhaps it should.
Christmas Day, Charlie is hopped up on anticipation – but not for presents. He's a little bit caught up in the euphoria of the atmosphere, but mostly he's caught up in his own euphoria. No more secrets.
He's a little bit worried about Ron, but he hopes that Ron's reasonable wife and Harry together will calm his hothead brother down.
It's around ten in the morning that a knock sounds. Charlie leaps up just as his mother exclaims, "Well, I wonder who that is."
"I'll get it," he says hastily. He ducks out of the living room and around the corner to the front door.
"Hey," he murmurs after opening it, well aware that his whole family can hear.
"Hey," Draco responds, because of course it's him. He hesitates at the doorstep. "You sure about this?"
Charlie nods. "I'm sure."
"I'm not," Draco admits in a barely audible whisper.
"Well, I guess it's a good thing you don't have to do it alone, then," Charlie says at the same volume. "Come on," he adds, louder.
"You know, it's a good thing I love you. I'd not do this for anyone else."
Charlie smiles. "I know."
He leads Draco into the living room and sits down without fanfare in the same spot on the couch that he vacated moments before. Draco sits down next to him and, as a silent declaration, Charlie puts an arm around his shoulders.
Harry is the first to react – he nods at them, smiling. Draco blinks in surprise. Ginny glances at Harry, shrugs, and shoots Charlie a thumbs up. Charlie's not much surprised – Ginny's always been a roll-with-the-punches kind of person.
Scanning the room, Charlie sees his mother and father both smiling at them. Percy has a weird look in his eyes – almost grateful, but conflicted. He's smiling too, though, so Charlie takes that as a good sign.
Ron – the reaction Charlie's most afraid of – hasn't noticed yet. He's deeply involved in some conversation with George. The rest of the room has gone silent, though, so Charlie can tell it won't be long – and it isn't. The conversation tapers off, and Ron looks up. He rubs his eyes like he doesn't believe what he's seeing.
"What the bloody hell is Malfoy doing in our living room?" Ron explodes out of his seat. Draco shrinks slightly; Charlie knows he hates being out of his element, and this is about as far out of his element as it gets. He feels like he's at an automatic disadvantage – like he's the intruder here.
Charlie's lips pinch together so tightly they turn white. "He's here because I asked him to be," he says firmly. It's a tone that invites no argument, but Ron doesn't listen to the tone.
"Why would you do that? Do you know what he's done?"
Harry speaks up, and his voice is ice cold. "Ron, could I speak with you in the kitchen?"
Charlie shakes his head. "I appreciate that, Harry, but I think I need to sort this out with my brother myself. Ron?"
Ron gets up, but he seems slightly hesitant. He might be an Auror, and he's not out-of-shape by any means, but Charlie is physically intimidating, even if he's not especially tall. Ron's taller, but Charlie's built solid, and he's used to dealing with dragons.
Charlie turns his back to Ron and walks into the kitchen. He's not exceptionally sure that leaving Draco alone with his family is the best of ideas, but he knows that this discussion with Ron has to happen.
Ron has no problems starting. "He's a Death Eater, Charlie! He's a Malfoy, for Merlin's sake!" Ron is purposely loud enough that he can be heard in the next room.
"I don't care what he was, Ron. And he may still be a Malfoy, but that doesn't matter."
"You don't know him!"
"I know him a hell of a lot better than you do!" Charlie snaps back.
"Do you?" Ron counters.
"Yes! I've lived with him for three years, Ron, and dated him for over one. You went to school with him, years ago."
"For six years, Charlie! I went to school with him for six years. I think that's long enough to get to know someone!"
"Even if that's true, it only means you know who he was," Charlie points out. "People change, Ron."
"Once a spoiled prat, always a spoiled prat."
Charlie shakes his head. "Untrue. Fact is, Ron, unlike you, most people grow up. They mature."
"Hey!" Ron yelps. "I've grown up!"
"Have you?" Charlie asks. "You're still holding childish grudges against a man who's never, as far as I know, actually, y'know, done anything to you!"
"He has too!"
"I… Well, he's… There was…" Ron stutters, but he has nothing solid.
"He's a prat! He helped kill Dumbledore!"
Charlie freezes. Now this story, he hasn't heard.
A voice comes from the doorway. "Actually, no. He was supposed to – but he couldn't. He's a good person, Ron." It's Harry, standing there. Draco stands behind him, looking slightly out of place.
Ron shakes his head. "You, too?"
Harry nods. "Give it a chance, won't you, Ron?"
Ron furrows his eyebrows in irritation.
"Look, Weasley." Draco finally speaks, sick of listening to everyone else defending him. "The feeling is mutual. I don't like you. I don't expect you to like me. That's probably not going to change, despite what these overly hopeful Gryffindors believe. But that doesn't matter, because it's not you I'm dating."
"Thank Merlin," Ron mutters. Draco smirks.
"Point is," Draco says, stalking across the kitchen to Charlie. "I love Charlie. I love him enough to brave Weasleys, and that's saying something. And I don't need you to like that, but I need you to be okay with it, because if you're not, he'll be upset, Merlin knows why. Because, for some odd reason, your opinion matters to him. So don't do it for me. I don't want you to do it for me. Do it for your brother."
He smiles at Charlie. Charlie takes his hand, whispering in his ear, "Thank you."
Ron looks between them. Charlie's sure they make a somewhat odd picture; they're nearly complete opposites in looks. Draco is tall and slim, blonde, and starting to tan slightly from spending years in Romania, most of that time outdoors, regardless of weather. Charlie, on the other hand, is slightly on the shorter side of average, but built like a wall, with classic Weasley-red hair and no tan – just lots and lots of freckles.
But Charlie's never much cared about appearances, and all he knows is that, in personality, they fit.
Ron looks a bit… stuck. He glances at Charlie, then Harry, and finally Draco. Eventually, he shrugs.
"All right. It's your life, I suppose. Just don't expect me to be nice."
Grinning broadly, Charlie says, "Of course not. Thank you, Ron."
Ron shakes his head. "Just… Don't come crying to me if you find out I was right all along."
He stalks back into the other room.
Harry shrugs. "I guess that means he approves," he says wryly.
Charlie chuckles. Draco hesitates for a moment, then says, "Thank you, Potter. For what you said."
Harry shrugs again. "Harry. And I only said it because it was true."
"Still," Draco says. "It… I appreciate it."
Harry nods. "I'd have to be blind not to see how happy he is – how happy both of you are. That's good enough for me."
"Thank you, Harry," Charlie says.
Harry lifts one shoulder carelessly as if to say, 'It's nothing.' He turns and walks back into the living room.
"You ready for this?" Charlie asks Draco. "Can you handle the Weasleyness of it all?"
Draco makes a face. "I don't know. It just might kill me," he says dramatically.
Charlie laughs, ruffling Draco's hair. "You'll survive, my drama king. You'll survive."