Author's Note: This is my first Charmione (ha! like charmander!). It's just a oneshot with smut at the end; read and hopefully enjoy it! Might continue it. I have ideas for a full-length plot but dunno if I'd pursue it.
Also, the title is in reference to one of the 'finest' italian wines. (according to wikipedia. i know nothing about wine except that it is delicious.)
Note: the smut originally included in this fic has been moved to my blog.
Disclaimer: The HP universe does not belong to me; I am just borrowing.
"I'm not letting you go alone, Hermione," Harry said stubbornly, looking up briefly from his parchment. Ron stood behind him, arms folded over his chest, nodding seriously. At Harry's words and Ron's silent accordance, Hermione's temper flared and she clenched her fists, breathing in deeply to calm herself. It was unwise to lose her temper with Harry, because that often led to unproductive shouting matches. She had long since lost her tendency to clam up around Harry when he was angry, and now matched whatever he sent her way.
"Not letting me?" she began acidly, setting her hands on her hips in the hopes of intimidating the young Auror who had also been her best friend for longer than he hadn't. "Not letting me?" She gave a little cough that was highly reminiscent of Umbridge. "I don't feel the need to remind you who it was who saved your daredevil arse multiple times on our various adventures. I've survived Voldemort, Death Eaters, torture, and all kinds of horrible Dark magic — and now you're telling me I can't go on a week long trip to Italy by myself?"
She began tapping her high-heel-shod foot on the floor, arching her eyebrows at Harry, who was beginning to look uncomfortable. He quickly disposed of any hesitance and narrowed his emerald eyes.
"You've made a lot of enemies, and there are rumors going around," he said simply. "It's not that I don't think you can handle yourself — it's that I don't want you to have to."
Kingsley entered at that point with fresh orders for Ron and Harry, and it was at that point that Hermione was unfortunately shooed away from her campaign for freedom. The clever witch unknowingly terrified many a Ministry employee as she stalked back to her office, grumbling under her breath, and leaving a trail of sparking magic in her wake.
When Charlie Weasley, exhausted and covered in new burns, had Apparated to the Burrow he had foolishly thought he'd be going there for a vacation. He loved his job, and always would, but it had been years since his last day off, and his boss had been no-nonsense in informing Charlie that it was time for him to use some of the vacation days he had accumulated over the last few years. In fact, he had enough vacation time saved up, technically, to take off several months. His status at his job left him with a lot of potential time off, but Charlie'd always been a hard worker, and in the years after the war, he had seen little reason to return home.
Everyone felt Fred's absence, putting a new strain on the family, and Charlie didn't know how to handle seeing the evidence of George's pain. Others didn't quite see it, but between Charlie and Bill, they had observed the difference in George. That, and with the new additions to the family, Charlie sometimes had the niggling, sneaking suspicion that he no longer quite fit in with his family.
Besides that, it weren't as though he had a significant other to take up his time. He had a core of good friends that he saw every weekend in Romania, usually involving a night out at a pub in one big group. But other than that, work took up all of his time, and any time that he wasn't at work, he found himself basically twiddling his thumbs.
When he showed up at the Burrow, his mother predictably smothered him with kisses and bone-crushing hugs and worried over his scars, hair, and clothes. He'd brushed off all of her motherly worry by pointing out that he was happy this way, but lately that argument seemed rather hollow.
He had gone to sleep in his old bed in his and Bill's room that night but had woken up several times, blinking and staring into the darkness around him. Where had all the time gone? Was he really thirty-five years old?
The next morning when Ron had Apparated home, he'd relaxed a bit, hoping some of the fuss would be turned away from him and onto Ron, who had recently become an Auror.
No such luck. Ron had been acting especially loving and affectionate towards Charlie, raising his suspicions. Rightly so, because by the end of the day, Ron had cornered him in the backyard, wand at the ready.
"Yes, ickle Ronniekins?" teased Charlie lightly, shoving his hands in his pockets and raising his eyebrows at his little brother (who was actually taller than him, but never mind that...at least he wasn't built like a beanpole). Ron appeared to be suffering some sort of inward struggle, judging by the look of uncertainty in his brother's blue eyes so like his own.
"I need you to go to Italy," he finally confessed, looking like he was trying very hard to be threatening. Charlie balked. What in the name of Merlin...? "Look, you need a vacation, right?" Ron shifted and finally lowered his wand. "Remember Hermione?"
A smirk curved Charlie's lips that he was quick to hide. How could he forget Ron's brainy, bossy friend who had clearly not just been a friend? He might've teased Ron about the bossy little swot, but news had traveled even to Romania about the rather nasty breakup a few years ago, and Charlie knew Ron well enough to be aware that Ron was not one to let old wounds fade too quickly.
"I guess," he said reservedly. There was definite relief in Ron's eyes at the lack of teasing that Charlie presented. Ron gestured for him to walk with him and so they began a loop around the Burrow, the misty spring air whipping around their faces. "Bushy hair, sort of short, upturned nose, right?"
"That's the one. Look, Hermione's got a pretty serious job with the Ministry, so she travels a lot. And usually Harry and I make sure there's at least one Auror in the area. But with all of—" Ron halted, apparently belatedly recalling that this was top-secret territory he was treading on. "Well, there's no one free right now to look after her, and she won't consider not going, and since you're free, I thought..."
Charlie didn't say anything; he considered the request silently. "Come on — I know it can't be great shakes to be hanging round here," Ron added a bit darkly. Charlie's tendencies disallowed him from making any move to agree and he simply continued to remain silent. "It's a great deal — you get to hang out, free of charge, in Rome for two weeks. Hermione gets to think Harry and I aren't just watching her and that she's getting a traveling companion. And Harry and I get to rest assured that she's looked after."
Charlie would have protested that to him it sounded like all he and Hermione were getting was two weeks of awkwardness, but when Ron (rather strategically — perhaps he was Auror material after all) roped Molly into the argument, there was no way out.
"How much are they paying you?" Hermione immediately demanded shrewdly, dropping her bags the minute they had Apparated into the hotel room. Charlie feigned confusion but he could that see this — fooling Hermione —was going to be a job in and off itself, and frankly he hadn't the energy.
"Dunno what you're talking about. I needed a vacation," he said shortly. To get his face from her searching eyes, he turned to deposit his belongings on the closest bed, chivalry be damned.
Hermione sighed as the second-eldest Weasley brother turned away from her, and looked around the room. It was very old, judging by the wooden floors, but quite pretty. The walls were painted a terra-cotta sort of color, giving the room a very cosy feel, and wooden-and-glass doors led out onto a little plant-covered balcony, which had a pretty view of the twisting, turning street below.
She'd not seen Charlie Weasley since her Hogwarts years and she'd forgotten how different he was from his brothers. He was only a half foot or so taller than her, making him the shortest of his brothers by far, but he had a roughness and masculinity that his brothers were missing. Scars and faded burns covered his visible skin and peered out tantalizingly from the sleeves and neck of his white tee shirt, and on his face was the evidence of all the time he spent in the sun each day: freckles. He was quite tan and quite freckled, and his eyes — clear blue, with the bleached quality of heavy sunlight through water — reminded her of blue sea glass. When he moved to rummage for something in his suitcase, she could see the muscles moving underneath the fabric of his shirt, even though it was not a tight shirt. He was sort of...well, she was reluctant to admit it, but he was very attractive. He wouldn't have been out of place as the lead of some sort of Muggle action movie, involving lots of explosions and machine guns and low-riding jeans.
He was a bit of a mystery to her, as she had never once seen him visit the Burrow since the war. Ron had commented on it a few times; how Charlie seemed like he was becoming a slave to his job. Hermione knew it killed Mrs. Weasley that Charlie was suddenly so estranged. Hermione, perceptive as always, had clued in on the fact that there was a strong connection between Charlie's absence and the end of the war. He had stopped coming home on purpose, in her opinion, and she was interested to find out why. It wouldn't be easy, because unlike his brothers, Charlie apparently was a private man who strongly preferred his personal life to be kept under wraps.
But now was not the time. She had a meeting to get to. Wrinkling her nose at Charlie's back, she stomped to the next bed and tossed her bags onto the bed with a heave.
"Well, it seems a bit odd to me that we've never actually had a conversation and yet suddenly you want to vacation for two weeks with me," she said shrilly. A thought occurred to Hermione and she rounded on Charlie, brandishing her wand and narrowing her brown eyes at him.
From this vantage point, she was sort of cute, in her own way, and Charlie raised his brows challengingly at her. "Wait." She took a few steps towards him. "Is this some sort of ridiculous plot concocted by your mum to get me and Ron —" she stopped here.
She had stunned Charlie into silence, but after the meaning sank in, he couldn't quite stop himself from bursting into laughter.
"Go to your meeting, Hermione," he said after he had regained control of himself in between sniggers. "I reckon if there were such a plot, Mum'd use a more cunning man than me." Hermione was glowering at him, and grudgingly disapparated after a moment of posturing.
Great. I could be twiddling my thumbs at home; now I get to twiddle my thumbs in a city I don't belong in, where I don't speak the language. Fantastic.
Charlie wasn't one to grumble, so after an hour or so of puttering about the hotel room, he ventured out into Rome.
The city was an intoxicating and exciting mix of old and new. Charlie had never had a head for history, but he could still appreciate the different historical landmarks. Recalling tales of Hermione's personality, he got the impression that she was probably itching to go out exploring.
He passed by dozens of cafes and restaurants and grimaced, wondering if they were supposed to eat together or not. As the sun sank lower in the Italian horizon, Charlie found himself buying a bottle of wine, just in case, and locating the Italian Ministry of Magic — whose entrance was rather amusingly located by the Vatican — to meet Hermione on her way out. He felt ridiculous babysitting a girl who had faced Voldemort on her own, and he was sure she was insulted by this turn of events.
It made him wonder if Ron still had a thing for Hermione. He imagined it was likely. Bill had relayed to him the general story: the two had lived together after a few years of on-and-off dating. That had gone about as well as tickling a Hungarian Horntail, apparently, especially after Ron had blown it by hitting on another bird. Hermione had promptly kicked him out, but when Ron had gone crawling back to her with a ring in hand and a promise on his lips, she hadn't been able to resist. Fast-forward to three years later, a broken engagement, and a lot of general awkwardness, they were here. As far as he knew, Ron hadn't been seeing anyone seriously since Hermione, but Hermione's standing was a bit of a mystery to him.
And, as she came out of the Ministry, clutching a sheaf of parchment and looking a bit cross, he had to admit he sort of wanted to know more.
"They made you tail me?" she groaned when she spotted him sitting on the edge of the fountain. Charlie saw it was pointless to hide it and simply grinned at her.
"I got wine. Figured you might need it," he greeted, holding up the bottle. Hermione's glower softened a bit and she smiled a bit sheepishly at him, her shoulders slumping.
"I know I've not been the nicest person to you so far today," she admitted with a sigh and a smile that was rather cute. "Thanks for the wine. Can I buy you dinner?"
"We can get dinner together," he compromised, and they began walking a bit awkwardly in silence along the street. Unlike the rainy, wet, dank cold of England, or the temperate climate of Romania, it was warm today, and even as the sun was setting, the warmth lingered in the air. A light breeze raked itself through Charlie's hair and he couldn't help but relax in spite of himself.
They chose a little cafe near the hotel; there was a moment of awkwardness wherein the hostess clearly thought they were married or in love and wanted to seat them at the 'couple's' table.
But eventually they both relaxed a bit, and in spite of having to get work done later in the evening, Hermione found herself having a rather good time. Their line of work sort of lined up: she had been a lawyer in the Magical Creature division for a few years now, but had been working in the department since she'd graduated from Hogwarts. And Charlie infamously tamed dragons for a living. She'd expected him to be rough and physical, but mostly he seemed quiet and reserved, sort of like Bill but more so. She remembered hearing he'd been Head Boy of his year, and her perception of him shifted slightly. The fact that he knew so much about magical law regarding creatures — and was as interested in helping them as much as possible — contributed to that. He held a far better grasp of magical creatures than anyone else she knew, aside from Hagrid, and his views on the subject fascinated her.
Also, the tenderness with which he spoke of Hagrid, when she commented on the gamekeeper's former pet dragon, was something that made a little shiver rise in her belly. Anyone who saw Hagrid for the kind man he truly was was fantastic in her book.
By the time they made their way back to the hotel room, they had finished off the bottle of wine and were both flushed with inebriated cheer.
"Merlin, I never drink," Hermione wondered aloud, with the awestruck sincerity only felt by one who has polished off half a bottle of wine, as they entered the room.
"Neither do I. Not allowed, technically. It was in the contract, for work," Charlie admitted before flinging himself onto the bed. Hermione slumped against the wall and giggled slightly at him.
A strange realization slapped her in the face: this was the first time she'd had fun in a long time. She couldn't pinpoint how it had been fun, but she'd sincerely enjoyed the evening.
"Thanks for being so nice about this," she said in a small voice. She knew she was too silly to bother trying to get work done, and she knew she'd worry about it in the morning, but for now she felt pleasantly light-hearted. Hermione stumbled over to her own bed and fell on top of the covers as well, without changing out of her businesslike robes.
"Better to be vacationing in Rome than pulling weeds at the Burrow." Charlie's voice was a bit muffled by the pillow and she watched him adjust his position slightly. They stared at each other for a few moments as Charlie reflected on how his family seemed to be pulling them each closer into the family and yet simultaneously pushing them both away. His blue eyes met her brown ones. I wonder if she still loves Ron... There was so much melancholy surrounding that thought that it nearly took his breath away. From afar, he had witnessed the blossoming and subsequent crumbling of what might have been a lifelong romance, he realized. He could remember meeting Ron's friends for the first time, and now he thought back to that bushy-haired little girl with the big teeth and freckles and bossy voice. Had she and Ron been in love even then?
The good cheer of the evening quite suddenly dissolved as the awkwardness returned, and Charlie broke it by getting up and taking a shower. By the time he was done, Hermione had fallen asleep, still in her robes. Charlie considered waking her up so she could change, but in the end he just took off her heels and put the covers over her, hoping she wouldn't be mad at him for not waking her up.
By the end of the first week, Charlie was exhausted and looking forward to the end of the vacation. After enjoying each other's company so much that first night, they could not seem to return to that, and he wasn't sure of why. Every morning, he walked her to work. They'd share polite but stilted conversation, and every evening he walked her back from work. They'd taken to getting takeout, as Hermione often had to do paperwork and answer owls after work in the evenings. Charlie would explore during the day but often fell asleep early every night — much earlier than Hermione.
And then he would wake up in the middle of the night, every night, and sit on the balcony alone, wondering to himself.
He'd spent so many years throwing himself into his work that he'd forgotten that he was lonely. Now that he was in someone's company constantly, he was forced to be reminded of the fact that he no longer really knew how to be around other people. He had been alone for too long.
And he was also realizing that part of the fascination he had developed with Hermione had something to do with the fact that when he looked at her — really looked at her — it was like looking into the surface of a rippling lake. Hermione was a confused but undeniable rippling reflection of himself. She threw herself into her work now because she 'loved' it. Thinking this made him let out a sardonic laugh. Yeah, he had 'loved' taming dragons too. He had particularly 'loved' his work when he had realized that his place in his family had changed and he no longer knew how to navigate the continually altering contiguous boundaries.
Being a workaholic was convenient, but now he was beginning to observe how much time had passed him by.
And with nothing to do, really, but contemplate things, he was beginning to get very scared.
Being around Hermione only heightened this notion, because of their similarities. One might have never thought that Charlie would see so much of himself in this young girl, but he did, and it was confusing and uncomfortable. That, and the fact that he felt a sort of attraction to her didn't help things. He wanted to give Ron the second (third? Fourth? Thousandth?) chance with this girl that he was ostensibly in love with, so he dared not give away any signs of attraction.
Besides, it was probably just because he wasn't used to being around women exclusively.
And she'd never go for him, anyway.
So every night he'd reach the same conclusions and finally force himself to fall asleep again. But he would not be able to stop himself from lying there, staring at the outline of Hermione sleeping on her side, and wondering if there were any way he could warn her away from turning thirty-five and feeling like life — and all of the wonder of it — was passing her by.
Hermione stared at her reflection in the foggy mirror before pushing at her bushy curls half-heartedly. It was Saturday night, and with nothing else to occupy themselves, and with all of her work done for the next year or so (she'd been avoiding spending free time with Charlie with indecent gusto), it seemed ridiculous to not go out. Still, she was dreading it in a way, and she imagined Charlie was too.
But nevertheless she stepped out into the room just in time to see Charlie pulling a tee shirt over his head, a swath of tanned, muscular abdomen on display for her. A trail of dark auburn hair disappeared inside the waistband of his jeans, and Hermione turned on her heel and away from him just as his head appeared out of the collar of his shirt.
"Where to?" Charlie asked as he pulled on a button-up shirt. It was dark blue and made his eyes look electric. His gaze roved over her form. "You look nice."
It was such an easily delivered compliment, in the way one's father might deliver a compliment, that Hermione was almost hurt. It was ridiculous to be hurt that Charlie wouldn't be attracted to her — for one, this was Charlie. He was eight years older than her and, considering his looks and fantastic job, was probably accustomed to having women throw themselves at him. For another, had she ever really experienced having a man be attracted to her, besides Ron? Viktor didn't count — she'd been fourteen, and she guessed that that relationship had mostly stemmed from Viktor's relief that she wasn't squealing and lunging at him constantly.
"You look nice too. New shirt?" She really hoped she sounded offhand, and her cheeks flamed when Charlie grinned slightly.
"Memorized my wardrobe already? Impressive. You really are the cleverest witch of your time," he parried easily. Hermione glowered at him.
"I was trying to be nice," she said hotly, brandishing her beaded clutch as a potential weapon. She was so annoyed with him that she didn't even realize how the tension had sort of melted away. Charlie laughed and blocked as she swung at him with the clutch.
"Oh, trying to be nice? Now I'm hurt," he teased. "I don't need your charity, Miss Granger."
He caught her wrists in his hands and suddenly they both froze as their eyes met, and the tension returned in full force.
Charlie released Hermione's wrists and shoved his hands in his pockets, hoping she hadn't noticed how his eyes had flicked to her lips.
"Right. Well, let's head off then," said Hermione in a rather shrill, high voice. They left and when Hermione stumbled a bit, goosebumps covered her skin when Charlie caught her. They chose a more modern restaurant, but when they went inside, Hermione instantly regretted the choice.
If it hadn't been a date before, it certainly felt like one now. The music was a very fresh-sounding techno, the lighting was low, and every table felt decidedly private. As they perused the menu, Hermione could barely focus on the food because of the tension in the air.
She had never been one to handle such things well, and so she slapped her menu shut and stared Charlie down. He closed his menu gently and raised his brows at her in a manner she was becoming accustomed to seeing from him. What went on behind those pretty blue eyes? Charlie revealed none of his inner workings to her and it drove her crazy.
"Look. Things are awkward, and I'm not sure why," she began unsteadily, "But I don't want things to be awkward. I know you aren't here of your own accord, and I apologize. I also appreciate how graciously you've handled being roped into babysitting me."
Charlie felt some irritation spark in himself at Hermione's words. He looked at her now and sighed.
"It was always going to be awkward. You're my baby brother's ex-girlfriend, and I'm much older than you," he finally said, raking a hand through his hair and absently noting that his mum would be jonesing to give him a haircut when he returned. Hermione obviously bristled at his words.
"You're not that much older," she sputtered indignantly, her brown eyes flashing. "And don't you dare try to blame me for — for— for the breakup."
Charlie grinned as he watched her realize how immature her first statement had invariably made her seem, and she deflated slightly, her bare shoulders slumping. His mouth went dry as he noted — not for the first time — how smooth, pale, and entirely unlike his her skin was. Was it wrong to want to run his tongue along her smooth collarbone? He couldn't stop thinking of it. "I know you're just being protective," she added, looking down at the tablecloth. "But I feel like some horrible demon any time I talk to any of Ron's family. And it wasn't that way."
She didn't need to tell him this — he had lived long enough and been through enough to know that concerning breakups there were two sides to every story. He nodded, prodding her to continue.
"Well, why don't you tell what way it was," he said gently, recognizing the hurt and conflict in her eyes. Hermione looked up at him. "Please. I'd like to know. I only know what Bill told me, and he didn't know much either."
She sighed and looked down again, her cheeks flushing as she fidgeted with the hem of the tablecloth. Hermione rarely looked unsure of herself, so seeing her look so hesitant threw him for a loop. He found himself wanting to console her, but he wasn't sure of which approach to take. He had learned to not be too sympathetic, or she might get upset and close herself off. But if he acted indifferent, she'd get angry then as well and would probably say something to incite his anger.
It occurred to him that dealing with Hermione was sort of like taming a dragon.
"I can't respect someone who cheats," she finally said, blinking rapidly, apparently at the onset of tears. "He cheated twice and I knew I'd never respect him again for it. I know he isn't evil, and I don't hate him. But...I knew I'd never be able to really trust, or respect, or love him again after that."
Hermione searched Charlie's face for a reaction, but as always, he was maddeningly closed-off. He shifted uncomfortably, looking away, and she was about to pin it to him not wishing to hear bad things about his brother when he spoke.
"I was engaged during the war," he confessed. The waiter came by, interrupting, and they ordered their drinks. Hermione was in a daze of shock — she was positivethat none of the Weasleys knew about this. The nosy busybody side of her personality — the part that thrived on others entrusting her with their deepest secrets — was practically salivating at this revelation, and the other part of her didn't want to know, because her interest seemed indecent and seemed to prove that she had a crush on him.
"But?" she prompted after the waiter had left. Charlie was fidgeting with his water glass.
"Same as your story, really. Only, it happened three times." He sighed again, looking away. She could see his jaw clenching through his skin and her fingers twitched with the urge to touch him, so she curled her hands into fists. "When I came back to fight in the war, there was so much going on — I never told anyone about the engagement." He gave a sardonic laugh now and it hurt her. "Sort of glad about it, really, because I think it would've crushed Mum to know it. I was so embarrassed about it that I was rather thankful that I'd never told anyone."
"I'm sorry," said Hermione honestly. She wasn't sure why Charlie was telling her this, but she knew she was honored. He shrugged and offered a little grin.
"It was a while ago, really. I'm over it. Just saying I know how you feel. And I don't think anyone views you as evil or something." He looked at her carefully. "Probably, Mum's terribly upset that she won't have a girl like you as a daughter-in-law. You're way out of ickle Ronniekin's league, frankly."
Hermione perked up at the compliment, flushing slightly.
"Really?" She grinned at Charlie before faltering. "I'm sure you've been flooded with proposals since then; everyone knows you and Bill are the attractive ones in the family."
At that, Charlie genuinely laughed, and it was such a nice sound that she forgot to feel foolish for complimenting him so obviously.
"I haven't seen anyone since her. Only had one girlfriend."
"What? But..." she faltered as she gazed at Charlie Weasley, a new picture of his life being painted in her mind; it was a much darker image than she had ever had. She'd always pictured Charlie vaguely as a sort of jock, handsome and sure of himself, with a fantastic job and probably loads of girls flinging themselves at him. This new image was jarring and lonely.
"It never worked out," he continued with a simple shrug. Their drinks came and they toasted to Italy, but it was an uncomfortable and uncertain toast. "I suppose my point is that you're still very young. After it happened to me, I shut myself off. I became obsessive about my work, always figuring I'd deal with the whole 'true love' debacle later."
Hermione decided to ignore the comment on her age as she stared heavily at Charlie. "So, er, don't let that happen to you. Don't let yourself suddenly realize you're thirty-five and alone. Don't lose yourself in your work and as a result lose your place in the lives of the people who love you."
She might've cried, but instead she took a long swig of her drink.
"Your family misses you," she said honestly after setting her glass down. Charlie shrugged.
"I doubt it. Everyone's married off, now, with kids."
"So you don't think you'll ever...?" she let the vague question hang in the air between them.
"Doubt it. I don't even know anyone that would... well, I haven't dated in so long." He was looking uncomfortable again. "Besides, I'm boring — I don't know what to do with myself when I'm not working." He felt hesitant about talking so openly about himself, but Hermione was listening to him with a rapt attention to which he was unaccustomed. No one had ever listened to him like this, so he'd learned a long time ago to simply not bother speaking.
"Me too. If I don't have work, I'll create it — embark on some new project. Drove Ron nuts and was probably more problematic for us than the whole cheating thing," Hermione sighed in resignation. Charlie was smiling again. His attention warmed her like the sun. The waiter replaced their drinks and they ordered, though Hermione for the life of her could not remember what she had ordered.
She was simply too enthralled by Charlie. It took him a few drinks to get talking, but once she had gotten him started, it hadn't stopped. Hermione was used to doing most of the talking with most people she knew, so this new dynamic was uncomfortable, but not necessarily in a bad way. She wanted to learn more about Charlie, and every little factoid he gave her was just another tidbit that left her wanting more.
He'd had a crush on Tonks in first year at Hogwarts. He had a tattoo of a dragon — Norwegian Ridgeback, naturally — across his chest that Hermione was getting more and more urgent to see with every passing drink. He'd briefly had an earring, copying Bill, but after a bad day at work had decided it was too hazardous for his occupation. Bill was the only family member he was close to, although he'd offered Percy a place to stay during his estrangement. He liked rain. He preferred smart girls and had no patience for wilting beauties.
Slowly, the mystery that was Charlie Weasley was coming together.
"I've never talked this much," admitted Charlie sheepishly after they had paid the bill and were drunkenly venturing off home. His face felt too warm.
"You should talk more. You're very interesting," said Hermione earnestly as they walked along the river, reveling in the warm night air. Charlie sniggered.
"So says the girl who's interested in everything," he said dryly. "Why don't you tell me about yourself? It's rude to ramble and I've done nothing but."
No one ever asked her about herself — she supposed it was because she was usually talking enough as it was. Her face flushed with pleasure at being asked about herself, and she was unable to stop a smile.
"I'll probably die alone with nothing but my cats," she said, and in spite of herself she was grinning. Charlie was laughing again.
"I doubt that."
"Why? I'm a bossy know-it-all with bad hair," she said frankly.
"Well, yes," Charlie conceded slowly, "But you know, Ron's not the only Weasley who's fancied you..."
Her heart was pounding in her ears as she stopped in her tracks, gaping at Charlie. Was he saying...? He couldn't be...
Charlie turned to her, an unlikely roguish grin on his lips.
"When Perce was staying with me, he told me he was jealous of Ron for his relationship with you," he confided in a low voice. Hermione gasped.
"The very same."
It was so ridiculous that Hermione found herself giggling, and soon Charlie joined in. "I suppose he fancied you for your strict nature. He loves rules, you know."
"Librarian fetish, probably," Hermione agreed mildly. They'd returned to the hotel now, and she locked the door behind her. For some reason, neither of them flicked on the lights. Charlie went to the balcony and opened the doors, letting in a rush of warm, dry air, and Hermione joined him in looking out over the city. "Why do you do this every night?"
Charlie was shocked.
"You noticed?" If she had noticed him doing that, had she noticed him staring at her every night? Heat of humiliation crept into his cheeks and ears.
"Of course. You're not exactly quiet, moving around, you know."
They were silent and Hermione wondered if he had forgotten her question when he spoke again.
"Just thinking about how strange it all is."
"It all? What all?"
"Everything. Life. Time. Family. Love."
"It is strange," she agreed mildly. They each leaned on the railing and their arms brushed. "I'd spent so much of my life thinking I was in love with Ron that now I sort of...don't know how to be," she confessed. "It kept me up at night, thinking how strange it was that I had once had such an intense connection with this person, for so long, and then all of a sudden...I didn't have it anymore."
"And you couldn't remember what it was like before," Charlie agreed quietly.
The mirror-images of their lives were haunting. In Hermione, Charlie had found a kindred spirit that he had honestly not expected at all. The attraction to her that had been building for a week had reached its peak, and now he looked at Hermione. He could tell himself that it was the alcohol making him talk, but if he were honest he could admit that Hermione had thrown him a line, and he was pulling on it now. "Ron's an idiot for letting you go," he said in a low voice. A shudder rippled through Hermione and she turned to him with wide eyes.
"He just...didn't understand me. And I didn't understand him," she said.
They were staring at each other now. Charlie found himself grinning as he searched her face for confirmation that he could go ahead with what he wanted to do. The interest she had for everything — even him — made him feel braver.
"I might have a bit of a thing for the librarian type," he admitted cautiously, though inside his heart was pounding so hard that if he released the railing, his hands would be trembling.
"I might have been hoping you would..." The possibilities hung in the small space between them as they looked at each other.
Hermione concluded that things had been awkward because this had been inevitable. Since Charlie had made the first move, she compromised and leaned in, though she had never initiated a kiss like this before. Their lips met in uncertainty, but as she had suspected, Charlie had an inner confidence that shone through now as he wound his fingers in her hair, pulling her closer. She could taste the sharp sweet tang of gin in his mouth and could smell the soap and aftershave on his skin.
His chapped lips were rough against hers as she guided him into the dark room, the warm wind still soothing their skin. She stumbled and his strong hands gripped her upper arms, steadying her.
It was mutually understood that they were reaching the point of no return, but neither motioned to stop. The unexpected understanding was something they had each craved for too long to stop now. Hermione splayed her hands on his firm chest, but the emotional connection she was feeling overrode the purely physical desire that she'd felt since the moment she'd seen him. She clumsily unbuttoned his shirt, her insecurities stopping her from moving faster, and she pulled away.
"I've only been with one other person." She could not bring herself to say that his younger brother had taken her virginity, and she was sure Charlie was grateful that she had not phrased it that way.
"Me too," he confessed, and that was the last obstacle in her way. She ripped open the rest of his shirt, the buttons making little clicks on the wooden floor as the rustle of crisp fabric met their ears. Charlie helped her as he struggled out of the shirt and tossed it aside before moving his hands to her waist and untucking her black silky shirt from her pencil skirt.
His rough, calloused fingers slipped under the hem of her shirt and moved tenatively along her skin as he pressed a singular kiss to her jawline. The room felt warmer now and her breathing was becoming embarrassingly ragged as he pushed her up against the wall quite suddenly.
"Are you sure?" he breathed against her neck. The heat that shot straight to her groin at the roughness of his voice, leaving damp heat there, was answer enough for her. She knew she wanted Charlie, but what if this was just a one-time thing?
Well, what if it is? Her more careless inner voice crowed. Sadly, she knew she'd never be the type to ever be able to enjoy a one-night stand...somehow, she couldn't imagine Charlie enjoying them either, even though prior to this trip she would've pegged him as the love-em-and-leave-em type, based on his looks. She almost wanted to laugh, now, at how utterly wrong that had been.
"H-how will things be afterward?" she asked hesitantly. She felt him exhale; his breath was hot on her neck and sent goosebumps along her skin.
"Awkward, probably. I'm sure Ron still loves you."
His words hung in the air.
"So...this isn't just a one-time thing?" she tried again, hope sparking within her.
"...I don't want it to be."
"I don't want it to be either."
"Ron is going to kill me." Charlie paused. "And now, he's actually capable of doing it, what with being an Auror and all," he added thoughtfully. Hermione couldn't focus on his words; she was too comfortable at the moment, with her leg slung across his hips and her head resting on his chest. She yawned and snuggled closer.
"He won't kill you — if he even attempted, I'd kill him first," she replied vaguely before shutting her eyes. Charlie's chest rumbled with his chuckling at her, and she smiled to herself at the feel of his fingers in her hair.
"We can't tell everyone right away," he continued to worry. "We'll have to show people it's real. It'd be unfair to just spring it on them."
"Do you ever think of yourself?" Hermione marveled. "Easy solution — you start coming to Sunday dinners at the Burrow."
Charlie didn't reply; he simply gazed out at the early morning horizon. The contentment he was feeling at the moment eclipsed his worries about his family. As he pictured Sunday dinners at the Burrow, he found his worries drifting away. If he started feeling left out...he'd only need look in Hermione's direction.
They weren't sure how this was going to work, but somehow, they were both positive that it would.