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[personal profile] starstruck1986
The Wanderer

None of them had really been prepared when the first attack had struck. In two short months they had become lazy, too wrapped up in the bubble of victorious contentment to expect anything else, even though it had always been on the cards.

Wizarding society had become so much calmer. It jarred people to contemplate the possibility of it ever being anything else again, and to remember the times when they had all been afraid to open their own front doors sent chills down the door-opener's spine.

They had been foolish, however. Public opinion after the war had been overly sentimental towards its heroes, but towards those left in the middle, those who had been found to have dealings either blatantly or covertly with Lord Voldemort himself, the tide turned to a vicious storm. Instead of fighting dark wizards, the Auror office had suddenly found themselves working around the clock to protect the middlemen from the soured opinion of a select few of the Wizarding community. At the first death -a twenty-one-year-old boy who had once helped in the Ministry- reality had hit home, and the perpetual uneasiness of conflict became lodged in the throats of the heroes once more.

Of course, those that truly deserved it had been placed in prison; the murderers, the true believers that pureblood mania was the only way forward. Those who had renounced or claimed brainwashing, or simply had given up long before the final fall but had not found a way out, were under careful watch. Those who were simply caught in the middle were free.

Charlie thought perhaps it would have been better if they'd all been in prison, for their own safety, and then he might not have to wait for the toilet in the morning when he was busting for a wee. His own personal needs to urinate, however, rightly took second place to safety, even if he didn't agree with the fact that Harry, once again, had taken it upon himself to be the hero.

Hero complex.

Charlie smirked to himself as he reached for his tea, trying to ignore the twinges of pain which shot into his thigh with the movement of his torso. Diplomatically he forced his thoughts elsewhere, not wanting to ruin his brew with the thoughts of how the war had injured him, and his career, and his mother's ability to let him go.

I'm a grown man, for Merlin's sake.

He took a swig of tea for something to do, unable to help grimacing as he swallowed it, and pain scorched down his throat.

It had been nearing the end of the battle when it had happened; when the Death Eater he'd been sparring with managed to get one over on him -a quickly sent stunning spell which had caught him square in the chest. Charlie could still feel the jolt of every single bone as he had hit the floor. What happened next was both a stroke of luck and a curse; mid-cast, the Death Eater was struck in the back by another, and his hex jerked off course, directed away from Charlie's torso and instead catching his left thigh.

If he could have screamed during the agony, he would have, all pretences of burly, strong dragon keepers tossed unceremoniously through the nearest window. He had never felt such hell as the spell ripped skin and muscle to shreds, flaying him open to the bone and then starting on that when the magic had a clear path. He remembered very little after that and had eventually passed out.

He didn't know what his brothers liked laughing at more -the fact that he had passed out, or the fact that their mother had gone into lioness mode and refused to let him leave the country to return to work. She had even drafted his letter of resignation herself, and, drugged up on St Mungo's finest quality painkillers and anti-inflammatories, Charlie had been in no position to refuse her demands. His apparently humorous state whilst under medical supervision was another cause for laughter.

Whatever they said, Charlie really couldn't remember pinching the porter's bum.

Unable to help a little snort of laughter into his tea, Charlie drank some more and then yawned. The healing process of his thigh was unbearably slow, which was his own fault -he wouldn't sit down, he wouldn't stop doing all the things he had been told he wasn't allowed to do, even though he had an ungainly -not to mention unattractive- limp through his determination.

Outwardly he expressed that his rebellious desire to move was so that his brothers couldn't take advantage of him. Inwardly, Charlie knew that he moved because he wanted to take care of his brothers. The funny thing about living in another country, he found, was that when he returned, he saw them more clearly than they appeared to see each other. Bill needed him because his wife had turned into a nervous wreck since the end of the war and was guzzling anxiety suppressant potions by the goblet each day, which in turn made Bill anxious. Percy needed him due to the overwhelming guilt which had taken hold after the dust from the battle had cleared; he needed Charlie to settle back into family life. The twins needed him in light of the fact that one of them had nearly died. Fred was still in ill-health but, despite that, Charlie wondered if he was alone in noting the unnatural closeness which had sprung up between Fred and George. That was, a closeness more than they had shared before -a closeness full of tender touches, of unusual kindness, of lingering looks which worried Charlie more than anything.

When they were younger, he had always been the one who could wrangle sense out of them and calmness into them. Bill had lost patience too quickly and Percy could never comment without criticising. Charlie was their guardian, and found himself unable to shirk the duty now that they were all adults, and their crimes stretched beyond pushing Ron in the duck pond for a laugh.

Ron was a completely different matter. At first glance, Charlie thought that he might not have been needed there. The Ron of July 1998 was a completely different boy to the Ron of July 1997, who had been awkward and moody. He had grown another two inches, his shoulders were broad, his jaw was more defined. He walked with purpose. Only the brief shadows in his eyes told Charlie that nothing was okay, and that his littlest brother had simply become a good actor in his time away, as well as growing up.

Ginny was the only one he wasn't worried about. She was strong, a fighter, she had Harry. She would come if she needed him, and Charlie was content to leave it at that.

A sudden knock dragged Charlie from his reverie. He turned his head towards the door and saw Snape standing there, holding his usual bag.

“Snape.” Charlie rose from the bench and struggled to lift his leg over it.
“Sit,” the dark-haired man instructed. “But pull your trousers down first.”

Unable to help himself, Charlie asked, “Is that an offer, or do you really just want to see my leg?”

A snort from the other side of the room caught his attention, and Charlie turned his head to see Draco Malfoy at the far end of the table, his nose buried in his book with his lips fighting a smile. How long he had been there, Charlie couldn't have said, but he didn't really care about the boy's presence as he put his fingers to the button of his jeans and shoved them down to his ankles. He sat back down and gestured to Snape to start.

As the man bent on one knee in front of him, Charlie resisted another joke and instead stared at the man's dark head buried in the bag. Snape's care had been one of Charlie's many compromises. After finally escaping the hospital, he had decided that neither love nor money nor imminent death would ever get him back within the brick walls of it. After a raging row with his mother, which included lots of tears on her behalf and lots of swearing on his, he had agreed to allow his old Potions Master access to his injuries to heal with potions and unctions, plenty of which the hospital refused to use.

Nimble fingers began to peel away the gauze wrapped tightly around his thigh, and as it unwound, Charlie braced himself for the sight of his mangled skin and mangled artwork. It had been another great cause for laughter when his mother had seen the massive inked work of a dragon curled around his thigh muscle, bedded in a nest of roses and thorns, breathing fire towards his groin. The curse had distorted the image, meaning that it no longer lined up and the colours had been ripped apart, just like he had. Charlie was far sadder about its ruination than the fact that his actual flesh and muscles were still in bits. He peered at a few of the cuts, which, with true Death Eater difficulty, were refusing to close, and sniffed.

“This is looking better,” Snape commented, pausing in his inspection to check one cut near the dragon's mouth more closely. “Better than I've ever seen it.”
“And it doesn't stink,” Charlie put in pointlessly. He was sick of feeling disgusting, unable to shower too often for fear of weakening the healing scabs.

“If your mother had permitted the stitches, I don't think you would have had that problem, Weasley.”
“Yeah well, my mother hasn't had the best of luck with stitches in the past. Muggle medicine is barbaric to her, remember.”
“Muggle medicine is barbaric,” Snape said dryly. “But sometimes, it works.”

Charlie said nothing more as the man began to sweep healing tonic over each and every cut using cotton wool. Some of them stung and normally he would have hissed, but the blond at the end of the table kept his lips oddly sealed. He wasn't one for hiding what he felt, whether that was happiness, sadness, pain or excitement.

Somewhere within his brain it registered that he had suffered enough humiliation at the hands of his brothers. It wasn't welcome from another quarter.

Snape got to his feet and pulled out his wand. “Brace yourself.”

Charlie didn't, choosing instead to curl his fingers into fists and squeezing his eyes shut. The strengthening charm that Snape was using on his thigh muscles hurt almost as much as the injury first had itself, as each groove contracted slightly, cramping up as the magic tried to startle it into strength. A grunt escaped his lips and, mercifully, the magic stopped and Snape let him pant through the pain until the nausea faded away from his belly.

“No more,” Snape announced. “The colour has gone from your face. I won't be the man to make you pass out. Your mother would kill me.”
“She won't know, she's not here.” Charlie looked up at him, ready to beg.
“I won't rush this,” Snape said, his voice steely. “Get dressed and go and get some rest. You need it.”
“I don't,” Charlie muttered grumpily as he stepped back into his jeans, thigh throbbing excruciatingly with the movement.
“Draco.” Snape turned to the blond, who looked up warily from his book. “Remind Weasley to lie down in five minutes after he's finished swearing about how I am treating him like a child.”

Charlie's jaw dropped open to retaliate, but Snape swept from the room without another word, and he was left looking dumb with his fly open as Draco turned to look at him.

Normally, he would never have been sharing a kitchen with a Malfoy. Thanks to Harry, however, Grimmauld Place had become more than just a home. He had opened up its doors as a safe house to those under threat -for those who, for one reason or another, had at some point had a connection with the Dark Lord, and therefore needed amnesty.

The Malfoy need was more than most. Lucius Malfoy had been through a vicious trial at the Ministry. He was currently serving a year long sentence in Azkaban. Draco and Narcissa had been acquitted, however. Neither of them had ever actually killed and, somehow, a verdict of coercion and suppression had been passed. Charlie didn't think that Ron would ever forgive Harry for opening his doors to them.

Nobody had been happy when Harry had announced his plans for the house; in fact, there had been some flaming rows and a few hastily thrown hexes. Everyone had tried to talk Harry out of it, even Hermione, the biggest do-gooder that Charlie knew. Harry had ignored them all, however, and tolerated their compromise -that he should never be alone in the house without the company of at least one other. They had a rota, but none of them were stupid enough to admit that to him. As it was, it was more often the case that the house was filled with more than one of them, sometimes up to five at a time -somehow, it had become a safe house for them, too.

Charlie had decided to stay when Harry had given him a massive room with a huge window and said he could smoke wherever he liked within the building as long as he opened a window.

“So... you're on babysitting duty today then?” Draco's voice was slightly taunting. His pale face did not lift from his book.
“So... still not found a job yet then?” Charlie threw back.
“Ouch.” Draco rolled his eyes.
“Have you, Malfoy?”

A sharp glare from grey eyes seemed to pierce through Charlie, and Draco's facial features tightened in defence.

“When I get out of here, if the fools in the Auror office ever manage to find these people, I have plans.”
“Like what?” Charlie eased back down onto the bench, but couldn't face the pain of swinging his leg back over the bench; he sat astride it, folding his arms over his broad chest.
“Funny, but you seem to think my future is your business,” Draco snapped, and turned a page in his book.
“What are you reading?”
“That's none of your business either.”
“You're not very friendly, are you, Malfoy?” Charlie teased.

There was an impatient huff and Charlie waited.

“I want to see if the London Academy will accept me. I have good marks.”
“Further education, wow. There's a nice way of putting 'I'm too lazy to get off my arse and find a job.'”

The detriment was off Charlie's tongue before he could stop it. Draco's book slammed shut and landed with a thump on the kitchen table. Charlie could see venom building, and spoke first to smooth over his insult, to change the subject.

“Why are you even here if all you can do is complain about how long it's taking to catch these bastards?”

Foot, this is mouth. You will be living there for the next hour.

“Because Potter offered and my mother is a nervous wreck, and before he was sent to prison my father agreed to keep her happy... and healthy.”

Taken aback by the honest answer, Charlie fumbled around for the right words. “That's sort of sweet, Draco.”
“Stupid, if you ask me. We were safe in the Manor. Well, what was left of it,” he finished sheepishly.

Grey eyes seemed to darken further and Draco's eyelashes dipped towards his cheekbones. Charlie knew he was seeing what damage the war had done to the Malfoy heir.

“You're an adult,” he said encouragingly. “You didn't have to come with her. You could have made your own decision.”

There was a loud screech as Draco's bench squealed on the flagstones and he stood up, book in hand. Charlie squinted to see a foreign title in gold lettering, and opened his mouth to ask what it was. Before he could, however, Draco had turned on his heel and left the kitchen, and Charlie was alone.

He sighed and looked down at his tea, which would be lukewarm at best. A foot away on the kitchen table lay a copy of the Daily Prophet. Charlie felt guilty as he got to his feet and turned his back on the thin parchment, knowing that more than Draco, he should have been looking for his own job.




Fifty.

Charlie allowed himself a pained groan as he lowered the bean tins he had transfigured into dumbbell weights to his sides. Both by his healers and by Snape, he had been expressly told not to exercise in any form. All his strength was needed for his healing leg. He should be resting with his leg up in front of him.

Fuck that for a bunch of bananas.

Sweat trickled down into the small of his back and Charlie smirked, enjoying the feel. He had needed to be physically fit for his job with dragons -for all the magic he could use, he had to be a fast runner and a strong lifter for the moments when magic might fail, or might not be permitted. He was used to regularly working out, jogging around the woodland paths of the reserve and forcing his body to sweat. He liked nothing better than stripping off his damp clothes and washing it all away into the shower until he was so clean that his skin would squeak.

Preferably, though, a lover would lick the sweat off and then make him produce some more with exercise of a completely different kind.

You naughty boy.

Charlie laughed at himself and focussed his eyes on a point out of the window. He took a deep breath and released it before lifting the weights in a bicep curl once, twice and a third time until he had a rhythm going and he could feel the burn in his muscles.

“Have you finally gone mad, Weasley?”
“Fuck!”

Charlie cried out with dismay and pain as the voice made him jump, threw off his rhythm and caused him to jar the injured muscles of his leg as he leapt back so that the weight he had dropped did not land on his foot.

“What the fuck, Malfoy? You get off on scaring the shit out of people?” Charlie turned to him, face blazing with embarrassment.

“What are you doing?”

Charlie gaped at him, trounced by the fact that Draco had completely ignored his question and had chosen to act interested in what he'd been doing before the interruption.

“What does it look like?” he huffed finally, folding his aching arms over his chest. Sweat squelched in his armpits. He surreptitiously sniffed the air, hoping that he didn't smell too badly. “Exercising.”
“Why?” Draco asked incredulously.
“Because I'm not allowed out of this house to go to the gym. Prisoner of my mother, remember?”
“What's a gym?”

Charlie's mouth opened to tell him to piss off, but then he saw the honest wonder in Draco's eyes, and closed it again.

“You've never heard of a gym?” he clarified, trying to relax a little in his stance.

There was a moment where Draco just stared at him, but then his finely boned features began to tighten and his eyes narrowed into dislike.

“It's a place where you can exercise using machines and stuff which provide resistance that you control, and there are plenty of different machines to use -for your arms, legs, stomach, stamina and stuff...”
“Machines?” Draco asked suspiciously. “You mean Muggle stuff?”
“Hey, Malfoy, your lip didn't curl then -I'm impressed.”

Draco glared at him.

“Anyway... when I used to work at the reserve, I had to keep fit and we made our own gym. I used to go running as well, but that's definitely out now.” Charlie threw a filthy look down at his leg. “I hate being cooped up here like a fucking... chicken,” he finished pitifully.
“There were plenty of stronger examples you could have used there,” Draco said unhelpfully. “Like dragon, for instance. Are you as thick as your youngest brother, by any chance? Because it certainly seems like it.”
“Ah, there you are.” Charlie rolled his eyes. “Knew it wouldn't be long before you came back to your senses. By the way, fuck you,” he added merrily, sticking his middle finger up at Draco.

To his surprise, the blond smirked back at him, and the skin around his eyes wrinkled with mirth.

“So you've been coming up here on the sly to exercise without anybody knowing? I'd imagine your mother would be interested to know... and our dear friend, Severus. You're barking up the wrong tree there, by the way, hoping he's enjoying looking at your leg.”
“What do you mean?” Charlie frowned, expecting an answer.

Draco opened his mouth to give it when they heard hastily approaching footsteps, and then the elegant form of Narcissa Malfoy stepped over the threshold of the disused room which Charlie had chosen to hide and exercise in. Her grey eyes travelled from Charlie's naked, damp chest to her son and back again.

“Draco. We're late. Your father will be waiting for us. I've been waiting downstairs for fifteen minutes.”
“Sorry, that's my fault,” Charlie said awkwardly, unsure of why he felt compelled to talk and shoulder the blame.
“Don't you know how to listen to your healers?” Narcissa looked at him sharply. “You should be resting.”

Stunned by her almost caring comment, Charlie said nothing as Narcissa ushered her son out of the door and they disappeared along the landing to go to Azkaban prison. He waited until their footsteps faded from his hearing before he pulled his wand from the waistband of his jogging bottoms and transfigured the weights back into tins of beans. They sat looking pathetic in the sunshine filtering through the window. He knew he had very little chance of smuggling them back into the kitchen without being noticed. Decidedly he stooped for them and stuffed one in each of his pockets, and headed for his room.

***

He stashed the cans at the bottom of his wardrobe and covered them with an old pair of jeans. He was satisfied that they wouldn't be discovered, because even his mother wasn't silly enough to go digging about in the depths of his wardrobe. Why the thought of two cheap cans of beans being discovered bothered him so much, Charlie didn't know, but he suspected it had something to do with Narcissa Malfoy's words, and the surprise that she had cared enough to say them.

Closing the door on his odd shame, Charlie pushed down his bottoms and kicked out of them, hissing slightly at the pain in his leg. His boxers shortly followed and he padded naked to the en-suite bathroom which Harry had quickly installed so that privacy could be had in what had become an increasingly busy house. Wand in hand, he reached with the other to work the controls, allowing the water to heat up as it splashed down into the bath. As he waited he performed an Impervius charm on the bandages on his leg and hoped that they would hold. He was dirty and needed to be clean, no matter what Snape had said.

Rebel.

Somehow, Charlie thought, as he stepped into the shower, being a rebel had lost all fun about it.




“You know, you make a wicked maid.” Bill smirked, cocking his head to one side.

Charlie turned and glared at him.

“Pay attention, servant, you'll burn the dinner,” George joined in, sporting an equally evil grin.
“And then we would have to beat you. Severely.” Fred nodded sadly.
“Kinky,” Charlie said, turning back to the full hob and automatically stirring the pan in which his spoon sat.

How he had ended up cooking dinner, again, he didn't know, but for the amount of nights it had happened, he was thinking of taking up a career as a chef.

“But,” he continued, smirking into the pan of bolognese, “You really shouldn't put your sordid practices onto other people.”
“Yeah, we should just keep those between ourselves,” George said casually. Fred laughed.

Charlie swallowed the tightness in his throat which spoke for the part of him which didn't think the twins were joking, not even a little bit.

“Grub will be up soon,” he announced instead. “Can you go and do the rounds?”

He asked the question at large, knowing they would argue over who took the task to call everybody to dinner. He didn't want to get involved, just wanted to make sure the food he had slaved over for an hour didn't burn.

“I'm not even meant to be here,” Bill announced. “So, I don't think I should go. Plus, y'know... seniority and all that. I'm the oldest in the room at the minute, so I pull rank and I say George, because he's the youngest by approximately one minute and twenty seconds.”
“That's bullshit!” George laughed loudly. “You're thinking of the wrong twin.”

Charlie smiled as he listed to the twins descend into their age-old argument about who was older and quite why that mattered when they were both adults. It was amazing, he thought, how some things never changed.

“If Ron was here we wouldn't be having this discussion!” Fred said flatly.
“That's a point,” George said fairly. “Where the fuck is he? He's on rota tonight.”
“Keep your voice down,” Bill hissed. “Harry'll do his nut if he finds out about the rota.”
“He must know,” George muttered sullenly, but dropped it.

“Ron should be here.” Charlie glanced at the clock. “He said he was getting off work around seven, and now it's eight.”
“And he never passes up the chance of free food,” Bill added.
“Probably in the pub,” Fred declared. “Anyone want a top-up?”
“Yes, and you make a lovely butler.” Bill grinned.
“Fuck you.”
“Fuck you back ten times over.”
“Hands off my goods,” George half-shouted.

Charlie fought off the uneasiness again and settled on thinking how fortunate they were that none of their 'guests' had joined them around the table yet.

“Will someone go and call everyone to dinner? Please?” he asked loudly over the din. “I'm nearly ready.”
“Oh fine.” Bill groaned. “I work all day, look after my kids, and I'm still doing...”

His mutters followed him out of the door and the twins sniggered at his back.

“You two...” Charlie turned and looked at him. “Don't you think the jokes are getting a bit inappropriate now?”
“Never!” George laughed.
“We're timeless.” Fred shrugged.
“No, you're not,” Charlie said emphatically. “And sooner or later you're going to offend someone. Or someone might take you seriously.”
“So?” George made a face. “That's their stupid prerogative.”
“Look, I'm just saying-”
“Say nothing,” Fred said sharply.

Charlie didn't like the tone of his voice. He stared uneasily at the pair of them, identical to the last freckle.

“Whatever you think you know, keep it to yourself,” Fred continued, almost threateningly.
“Or what?” Charlie immediately bristled.

The ugly look which passed over his brother's scarred face was frightening.

“Everyone's coming,” Bill announced, entering the room with a soft step. Charlie was grateful for the break in tension. “Dish up Charliebobs.”
“Fuck off.” Charlie grinned at the nickname and turned back to the stove.
“You have mouths like sewers,” a droll tone commented.

Charlie looked over his shoulder and saw Snape standing with his arms folded over his chest.

“Well Hogwarts had to teach us something,” Fred said fairly, his tone completely changed -teasing, friendly. “Because I sure as shit never learnt anything in your lessons.”
“Watch your fucking language,” Snape muttered.

It took a second for his joke -possibly the first that Charlie had ever heard the man make- to register, but when it did, the room broke into peeling laughter.

“Is Severus displaying his rare sense of humour?” Draco asked snidely as he stepped down into the kitchen of Grimmauld Place. “Is it Christmas?”
“Draco, behave,” Narcissa said sharply.

At that moment, Charlie was struck by the absurdity of the collection of people sitting in the large kitchen. They had all been enemies at one point, and there they sat united under one roof.

“Oh, bow down,” George said loudly. “The Minister for Magic is here!”
“Hey Kingsley,” Charlie called over his shoulder. “D'you want some dinner?”
“Charlie, you know that I think your cooking is second only to your mother's, but unfortunately, I can't, and I bring some news which...”

The man trailed off. It was the kind of pause in a sentence which Charlie had begun to dread hearing. He chucked his spoon down in the pan and turned around. The mood of the room had soured. Kingsley's face in itself was a mask of thunder.

“This afternoon there was a conflict in Diagon Alley. Some rebels had gathered, trying to garner support for their cause-”
“You mean the “let's kill everyone who ever breathed the same air as You-Know-Who” cause?” George clarified.

Kingsley ignored his joke. “We dispatched Aurors to the scene to keep order and it got ugly, quickly. Someone cast an Unforgivable and...”
“Oh shit,” Bill hissed, and got to his feet. “How many injured?”
“I'm down several Aurors. One died. Plenty of injuries. For the dark wizards that these people claim to hate, they have no issue with using their spells.”

In a second, with a dry throat, Charlie realised that nothing had changed. The war hadn't ended. It had simply begun again, with a different enemy; different sides fighting the same battle. It was a crushing thought. On the good side again, they were all in danger -again.

“And I'm sorry to have to report it, but Ron was one of the Aurors injured. He's in St. Mungo's.”

Someone let out a low moan. Charlie wasn't sure but he thought it might have been Bill. He licked his lips.

“Is he badly hurt?” Charlie asked through the silence.
“Unconscious for the moment, which is probably for the best. He was doing brilliantly and got hit in the back. Didn't even see it coming. Happened shortly after I arrived on the scene.”
“Fuckers.” George sounded furious. “If I get my hands on them-”
“You'll do nothing,” Kingsley said firmly. “Breaking out into personal squabbles will help nobody. I suggest you get yourselves to the hospital and visit your brother.”
“We'll go straight there,” Bill said decisively. “Come on, you lot. Up. Coats. Now. Ron needs us.”

Charlie made a face as Bill's eyes landed on him. “If I leave, Bill, nobody in this house will eat.”
“True.” Bill scratched his forehead. “Shifts. I'll go now, come back, and you can go in my place?”
“And tell me what he needs, and I can take it,” Charlie agreed. “Pyjamas. Chocolate. You know what he's like.”
“Stop it.”

Narcissa's voice cut through their discussion.

“You'll both go to the hospital. Go and see your brother. I'll cook.”

Charlie nearly choked on thin air and even Draco's eyes widened as he looked at his mother. He wondered whether Narcissa Malfoy had ever lifted so much as a knife which wasn't to cut her pre-cooked meat. Heat flamed into the woman's alabaster cheeks and she straightened up, broadening her shoulders.

“I'll make it work,” she said firmly. “It's just food.”

She met Charlie's eye and waved her hand for his apron.

“I'll help you.” Snape's voice was low as he spoke, rising to his feet.

If Fred's eyes get any wider, they're going to fall out.

“Thank you,” Charlie said graciously. He reached behind him to untie the bow of his apron and lifted it over his head. “Honestly, it's nearly done. Just about ten minutes more. Drain the spaghetti-”
“Charlie...” Narcissa held a hand up to stop him. “Go. Family is dear. Visit your brother. We will survive here without you.”

Nodding, Charlie looked away, humbled by the woman's determination, and the compassion he had never thought she could possess, being married to Lucius Malfoy.

***

“He was always so much sweeter when he was sleeping,” Bill said wryly.
“When you had the prospect of him actually waking up,” Charlie replied.
“He'll wake up. He's just biding his time. Like he always did, because he would never go to bed when you wanted him to, never woke up on time... he'll be right tomorrow.”
“I wish I had your unwavering faith,” Charlie said darkly, leaning back in his chair and finally releasing Ron's hand.

He had been holding it for near on an hour.

“You should go home to bed,” Bill commented.
“Well if I should, then you definitely should.”
“You look like shit,” Bill pointed out.
“Well you do too.” Charlie knew he was being stubborn.
“But I'm not dealing with severe injuries.”
“If you don't shut up the first thing he hears will be arguing,” Charlie snapped.

Bill stared at him for a moment before pursing his lips.

“The caged dragon begins to break.”
“I'm not a dragon and I'm not caged.”
“Then stop breathing fire out of your nose at me.” Bill held up his hands in peace.
“Stop assuming you know how I'm feeling.”
“Well it's not hard, it's written all over your face. Stuck in that house day in, day out, leg killing you, with the Malfoys for company. It's not the thrilling life you're used to.”
“Well to be fair, none of us are very used to life at the minute, are we?”
“Stop being philosophical and answer me. Are you alright?”
“No, I'm not,” Charlie said bluntly. “Happy now? Or do you need more? A description of how I'm going out of my own mind, maybe?”
“Are you?”
“Not yet.”

The steel in his tone surprised him and Charlie took a moment to breathe, focussing his gaze on Ron's still form.

“I can probably get you a job in the bank with me...” Bill said quietly. “I know it's not what you want, but its money and it'll get you out.”
“No thanks,” Charlie said immediately. “I don't need you doing me any favours. I'll figure something out by myself.”
“Why are you always so shit about accepting help?”
“I'm too much like Ron.”

Charlie got to his feet and reached for his coat. “I'm going home. If anything changes I want to know right away. Mum and Dad'll be back soon and there won't be room in here for four of us. I'll go and update everyone at Grimmauld and go to bed. Happy?”
“Yep.”
“Git,” Charlie muttered, and reached out to squeeze Ron's hand one last time before he walked for the door.
“Charlie?” Bill called.
“What now?” he asked, exasperated.
“Let me know... If you want me to ask at the bank. All it'll take is one word, okay?”

Charlie didn't answer him, and stepped out into the cool hospital corridor.




Gotcha.

Charlie rubbed viciously at the patch of stickiness on the high shelf which had been evading him. In one hand he held a spray of cleaner and in the other a cloth which he was using to scrub. In the back pocket of his jeans there was a duster. He could have done all the work with magic, but hiding away from his family whilst he secretly cleaned his way through the landings of Grimmauld Place had an oddly calming effect on him.

Since the fighting and Ron's hospitalisation, he had been kept restless by a feeling in his belly, though he couldn't quite place what it was. It was a fluttering which stopped him from sitting still for too long; a nausea which kept his appetite suppressed; a fear which kept him awake at night. He attested all of those factors to the fact that he was wandering through a house which was not his own cleaning to make himself feel better.

“I hate cleaning,” he muttered beneath his breath.

He did hate cleaning, and had often said that his favourite thing about his cabin in Romania was that it was so small that there was no point in cleaning it, because nobody spent enough time in there to care -least of all him. A wry smile twisted Charlie's lips as he thought about it, of the four minimal rooms which would have given his mother the screaming abdabs -and had done, on the two occasions she had visited him at the reserve.

It felt like a lifetime ago, when they had come to visit him in Romania for his first Christmas, when Ginny had come with them and she had been ten and full of excitement and happiness. He remembered a night where she had kept him up talking until the small hours, when they both should have been in bed, but they were just so pleased to see one another.

More than anything, Charlie remembered how odd it felt to have his family visit his new life. In his first few months in Romania he'd experienced enough in the bedroom to make him almost a whore -it was just the way of life on the reserve. They were a large family without blood ties, and it was only natural to Charlie that they would sleep together. He was no fool -he knew he what he was, good natured, sunny and good-looking. So he had utilised the fact and had plenty of bed partners. As his time there had progressed, he had matured and so had his choice in partners, mainly towards men, though he had never been fussed. The four walls of his bedroom, living room, bathroom and even the kitchen had seen their fair share of laughter, drunken escapades, sex and arguments, sometimes all on the same night. A part of his soul had been etched into those walls by the end of his time there.

A throb in his chest, which was either remorse or sheer homesickness, made him take pause by a window and stare out of it down into the London square into which Grimmauld Place fronted. Harry had made the house habitable and pleasant. It was rather luxurious compared to what Charlie had been used to in Romania.

And just think, if you could do that in a mangy little bath with no space, imagine how many blokes you could get in the one you've got now...

Full on grinning as he turned away from the window, Charlie knew his mother would have chimaeras if she knew about what he guessed she would call a promiscuous past. Bill knew and had been sworn to secrecy, not that Charlie ever thought his older brother and best friend would betray him. He'd often wondered if it was sad that his best friend was a member of his family -someone who had to like him, as if he had never made the effort to con anybody else into liking him because he didn't have to. Bill was there for everything, when he was hungover, when he was heartbroken -and it had happened, once or twice- or when he just needed to spew out his anger.

Absent-mindedly, Charlie snatched the duster from his back pocket and wiped down the door frame of the nearest door to him, unable to help from slipping back into his memories. He worked his way into the room, wiping every surface that he could, not even particularly paying attention to where he was or what he was touching. He began to hum softly to himself under his breath and reached for a robe which had slipped onto the floor. It wasn't until his fingers curled into the expensive fabric that he stopped, took stock, and looked around him.

The room was relatively neat apart from the fallen robe. The bed had been made, the curtains were pulled, and the occupant’s personal affects were neatly arranged on the shelves and on the bedside table. Charlie focussed on the robe which he held, which was too expensive for any of his brothers. Realisation dawned on him where he was and he made a face, quickly laying the robe down on the stiff-backed armchair in the room.

“What the hell do you think you're doing?” Draco's angry voice rang out before Charlie had a chance to make a hasty exit. The blond stared at him with accusing eyes in the doorway of the newly added en-suite bathroom, one hand on the door handle.
“Sorry,” Charlie said thickly. “Completely guilty. I was cleaning. Open door. Head up my arse, didn't know where I was.”
“And you expect me to believe that?” Draco laughed humourlessly, crossing to the bed and sitting down on it, throwing one last dirty glance at Charlie before reaching for a book on his bedside table.

Charlie watched with fascination as the lithe body seemed to curl up, and Draco opened the book and stuck his nose in it.

“Well, there's a way of telling someone to leave without even saying anything,” he mused, clutching his duster even more tightly. “Didn't mean to intrude.”
“Don't lie.” Draco didn't look up from his book. “I'm surprised you haven't pulled the floorboards up to see what dark artefacts I'm hiding yet.”
“Got anything good?” Charlie joked.

Draco ignored him. For want of something to do, Charlie turned his attention to Draco's possessions, most of which seemed to be books.

“You like reading?” he asked the obvious question, in the hope of provoking something, anything, from the boy, even if it was disdain.

Draco didn't even bother to answer.

“Oh, fine,” Charlie sighed. “Yeah, alright, I was in here with full cleaning gear to pull up your floorboards and check you aren't hiding black goods down there. And give them a clean. Satisfied?”

Grey eyes flicked up to him. Charlie stared back expectantly. When Draco simply returned his eyes to his book, Charlie felt the first flickers of frustration through his blood. He hated people who were rude or obstinate for the sake of it. There was nothing wrong with friendly banter.

“Weasley, if you don't mind, I'm trying to translate as I read. I don't expect your tiny mind to understand what a hard task that is, but please, leave me alone so that I can at least try not to waste my afternoon, like you.”

Unexpectedly stung by the words, Charlie stood there with his mouth open, unable to think of a reply. After a few dumb moments, he pulled himself together.

“So you think you're clever because you can read French?” he injected some bravado into his voice. “It's not hard.”

Draco resumed the silent treatment and Charlie simply stared at him, well aware that he was pushing his luck by encroaching on the man's personal space, but not particularly caring for the rudeness he had been subjected to.

“I speak fluent Romanian,” Charlie offered. “And I can read and write well enough to get buy.”
“Well done.”
“Thanks, it's a hard language,” he replied sarcastically. “I also speak Bulgarian.” Thanks to a rather famous boyfriend which Ron would die if he ever found out about. “And I can read French.”
“Who'd you steal your brains from?” Draco sneered.
“Well, the French came from my last boyfriend. It's very easy to pick up a language when someone's screaming your name in it.”

That, at last, provoked a reaction from the blond, and when Draco looked up at Charlie his cheeks were slightly pink.

“But then I doubt you know anything about that.” Charlie shrugged and turned for the door. “Seeing as you're about as sociable and as a flobberworm.”
“Only when my company is unwanted,” Draco pointed out.

The door slammed shut behind Charlie as he stepped out onto the landing.




“I'll kill him myself!”

The terrified shout made Charlie jump as he tripped along the carpet, trying to get to the kitchen. Shouting had woken him up in a panic and he had only stopped to throw on his pyjama bottoms before blindly stumbling his way through the house to find the cause.

The glare of the candles made him squint as he fell down the few stairs into the kitchen.

“Fuck,” he muttered, realising just how full the room was -there seemed to be double the amount than there were at dinner; if he'd known that, he might have stopped to put his top on.

As it was, everyone turned to look at him as he stood dumbly in the entrance. He folded his arms over his chest protectively, trying to shield his nipples, and realising that for the first time, his mother was seeing the representation of Fiendfyre monsters etched all over the left side of his torso in bright hues of orange, red and yellow. It had been his last addition before the war had struck and he'd run home to England.

“Don't get dressed, will you, Weasley?” Snape's dry voice called out from the left.
“I was asleep,” Charlie shot back indignantly. “Now what the fuck's all the racket about?”
“Charlie, don't swear,” his mother hissed, her eyes narrowed unkindly looking at his side.
“I'll do more than swear,” Narcissa interrupted them all.

Charlie took that moment to look at her and his breath caught in his throat. Her hair was loose and wild about her shoulders in a way that he had never been party to before. Her eyes were wet and her face was red, and her jaw was working with emotion.

“Why?” Charlie asked, shifting his rapidly cooling feet on the kitchen flagstones.
“My son has taken it upon himself to go out alone,” Narcissa informed him, clearly trying hard not to shout again. “I went to wish him goodnight and he was not in his room.”
“Have you searched-”
“The house?” Harry finished for Charlie grimly. “Yeah. Even the parts I'm afraid to go in. He's not there.”
“Narcissa, Draco isn't stupid enough to provoke anybody,” Snape spoke up, walking to the woman and putting his hand on her shoulder.

Charlie half expected her to shake it off, she seemed so tense, but something in Snape's touch seemed to pull her back to her senses and she took a deep breath.

“Too much like his father,” she sighed. “He won't do anything to risk his own hide.”

Charlie looked awkwardly down at his feet, made uncomfortable by the fact that Draco's own mother thought her son so self-serving. Mothers were supposed to love unconditionally, or at least he had thought they were meant to.

“Well, even still, I think we'll do better out looking for him than just waiting for him. For him to have left the house something must have been going on in his mind, right?” Harry looked at Narcissa questioningly. “Was he okay today? Upset? Unable to cope?”
“He was his normal self...” Narcissa whispered. “Nothing different.”
“We're wasting time,” an Auror Charlie didn't know said from the back of the room. He had been there for dinner and clearly had been staying over. Harry opened his doors to everyone, it seemed. “Let's get out there.”

There was a rumble of assent and those seated got to their feet.

“I'll get dressed and come with you,” Charlie said, turning on his heel.
“There's no need,” Harry's voice called. “We've got plenty of people and you're half-dressed... and...”

Charlie felt his face flaming as Harry's eyes slipped down to his leg.

“I'd only slow you down, right?” Charlie heard the words come out with more force than was ever usual for him.
“Of course Harry didn't mean that, Charlie,” his mother answered. “Don't be silly. Go and put some clothes on and then you can come down here and help me. It'll be time for breakfast by the time this lot get back.”
“Stand here and play kitchen maid when I can be of use with my wand?” he asked bluntly.
“This isn't the time for arguments, Weasley,” Snape interrupted.
“Fuck you,” Charlie snapped, and found himself stomping from the kitchen. “Let me know when you find him!” he hollered over his shoulder.

***

The clock read four in the morning. Charlie had tried going back to sleep, but his sheets were twisted from tossing and turning, so he had got up instead. He'd tried to read but the book held no interest for him. After sitting mawkishly in the bay window of the room and looking down at the road below for an hour and giving himself backache, Charlie had finally settled on a shower, where the hot water had washed away the last of his anger.

He actually felt guilty about the show he'd made in the kitchen, but he didn't think that he was unjustified. He was sick of being wrapped up in cotton wool, simply because of an injury. It killed him to think that his friends considered that he was weak, but whilst sitting on the windowsill he had been forced to come to terms with the fact that his strong mind was trapped in his weak body, and he didn't understand his limitations.

It was his guilt which had his feet dragging over the carpets back down to the kitchen to see if there was any news. He hadn't expected anybody to dare approach his door after his dramatic exit -they all knew he was like a dragon with a sore head when he was in temper, a trait he shared with all of his brothers to some extent.

He was glad that, when he managed to walk down the steps to the kitchen rather than falling, the only figure in the room was the hunched body of Narcissa Malfoy at the long table.

“Hey,” he said awkwardly, taking a step towards her.
“Oh,” she sniffed, reaching up to wipe at her eyes.

There was no point in her doing so, because more tears immediately fell and she sniffed hard.

“Where's everyone else?” Charlie looked around, seeing covered plates full of food on the sideboard.
“I told them all to go back to bed,” Narcissa waved a hand despondently. “No point anyone else waiting up with me. I'm no company.”

Charlie nodded. “D'you want a cup of tea?”
“That would be nice.”

He managed a smile for her and moved to the stove, grabbing the kettle from its stand and finding it full and ready to be boiled. He set to work, organising cups and, only when he had already done it, he realised that he had made Narcissa's tea without having to ask her how she took it. He adapted to life at Grimmauld Place with very little difficulty.

“Why aren't you asleep?” Narcissa's voice was thick with emotion.
“Probably for the same reason you aren't?”
“Well... I was wondering if it was because of the emasculation you suffered in the kitchen before.”
“It wasn't that dramatic,” he laughed, pouring boiling water into the teapot.
“Well... no... But it's a word you could use for what happened. Your friends telling you that you'll be no help, your mother implying you're good for no more than helping her cook. That's not you, is it, Charlie?” she asked shrewdly.
“Well... no,” Charlie admitted. “I'm used to my independence and being strong.”
“Then this must be very hard for you,” she said, sympathetically.
“Well... we're all finding it hard at the minute.” Charlie shrugged and poured out the tea.

They didn't speak as he carried the mugs to the table and sat down opposite the upset blonde.

“How are you?” he asked finally, crossing his good leg to rest his ankle over his knee beneath the table.
“Awful,” she breathed, lifting her cup to her lips. “I miss my husband. I miss his presence, I miss his smell, I miss the way he just... makes everything work. He would have been the one to keep Draco in line at the minute, to make him see why being here is what's best for him... and now...” she shook her head and stared at her tea as tears welled again in her eyes.

Charlie didn't know what to say to her. He wasn't good with women naturally, he was better with men. He knew men –he was one. Women were so different; the last thing he needed to do was upset her further.

“Charlie... do you think that when they find him, and bring him home, you could... talk to him for me?”
“Uh...” Charlie reached up and scratched the back of his head, thinking of his and Draco's past conversations. “I don't think he'd take any advice from me, Mrs. Malfoy.”
“Narcissa,” she said irritably, and sniffed. “He might. I mean, Severus has tried, but since his sixth year Draco won't talk to Severus. The link between them is gone forever, I think, which is unfortunate, considering what I did... and the fact that Severus is Draco's godfather.”
“Really?” Charlie asked in surprise. “I didn't know that.”
“Bellatrix was his godmother... how ironic, that he should end up hating both of the people who were asked to look after him.”
“Well... Bellatrix can't do that very well now...” Charlie pointed out.
“No thanks to your mother,” Narcissa said.

Charlie nearly choked on his mouthful of tea.

“Don't kill yourself,” she almost laughed. “My sister was a piece of work, and...” the woman gave a helpless shrug of her shoulders. “She made many people's lives a living hell, including mine, and she died tormenting someone -doing what she loved best. I doubt she's disappointed, and to be honest, neither am I.”
“You're not angry that she's dead?”
“Charlie, I was just so relieved to be alive, and that my family was still intact, that I could have danced on her grave. Your family has lost. If you had all come through it, would you have really felt the loss of those who perhaps had not made your life pleasant?”
“No,” Charlie said fairly. “I suppose not.”

They both drank their tea.

“Where do you think he is?” Charlie asked finally, setting down his cup.
“Well my feeling is probably the Manor. I know he's been thinking about it a lot recently. Don't tell him I said this, but I actually think he's homesick. He never settled well, at school... he was wrote to us an awful lot.”
“I was homesick at school,” Charlie offered. “Even though I really wanted to be there... just kept thinking about everyone that I'd left at home.”
“Your brothers and sister?”
“Yeah. I mean, Ron wasn't that old and Ginny was even younger.”
“How is Ron? Recovering well?”
“I think so. I haven't been to see him since he got home.”
“Why not?”

Charlie stalled, finding he couldn't answer.

“Charlie. Life is dangerous for us at the moment. Not you -or not yet, anyway. Go, breathe the fresh air and go and visit your brother. He could probably do with your sense of humour and cheering up.”
“Not sure I'm the best person for that any more.”
“You might not feel like the light is there, but your presence here certainly manages to brighten up this old house. I remember visiting here when I was a teenager... it was... so miserable.” She laughed. “Almost a different building now.”

A silver stag burst though the wall, stopping short at the end of the table.

“Found him. At the hospital. Don't panic, just getting him checked over. He was at the Manor. More later. Come here if you want to.”

“Do you want to go?” Charlie looked to Narcissa, who nodded. “I'll come with you,” he said decisively, happy to finally be useful.




Charlie had heeded Narcissa's advice purely to get himself out of the house. Since Draco's return the atmosphere had grown tense and depressing; feeling he had enough of that in his own head, Charlie had chosen to visit Ron simply to escape everyone.

“I bloody get myself messed up for his kind and then he just waltzes out and nearly ruins it all! Ungrateful little shit,” Ron huffed angrily through a mouthful of custard creams.

Crumbs sprayed his lap and Charlie snorted at him. “Always were messy.”
“Shut up and stop changing the subject,” Ron insisted. “Don't you agree?”

Shifting uncomfortably in his seat, Charlie licked his lips and put one foot up on the coffee table, stalling for time to think about his answer. When Ron poked a finger into his injured thigh, he hissed with pain.

“Don't be a prick,” he muttered. “Well, no. I don't agree.”

Ron stared at him.

“I think that Draco's a guy that's had a lot put on his shoulders and it's no better now that the war's over. People out there want him dead. How do you think you'd react?”
“Well I spent loads of time with people wanting me dead, or have you forgotten that not five months ago we were all blood traitors?”
“Yeah and if I remember rightly, you spent a year being a moody sod who actually walked away from his best friend and girlfriend for the sake of an argument.”
“Don't talk about that,” Ron said, his voice suddenly hard. “You've got no idea what that was about.”

Charlie swore inwardly at himself due to the fact that, instead of escaping the tension, he appeared to have brought it with him. He looked sideways at Ron, whose eyes were narrowed unkindly.

“I didn't come here to have a barney with you,” Charlie moaned, closing his eyes. “Merlin knows I'm hearing enough of that at home. They won't leave him alone.”
“Well he deserves that!”

Shaking his head, Charlie got up and reached for his jacket. “I'm going home.”
“Oh don't go off in a strop. It's just Malfoy. He's not happy unless he's causing some kind of drama and all the attention is on him.”
“Funny, that sounds like someone else I know,” Charlie replied sarcastically, worming his arms into the sleeves of his coat.
“I could say the same.” Ron glared at him. “I heard about your little strop the other night because you couldn't go and be the star of the search party.”
“It wasn't a strop.”
“That's not what mum said.”
“Mum doesn't know what she's talking about!” Charlie heard his voice rise and knew it was time to leave –he was going to be the one to provoke Ron into a setback in his recovery; he could only imagine the headache his mother would give him.

“See you soon,” he said finally, striding to the door and pulling it open. “Or maybe not so soon.”
“Fine by me!” Ron threw churlishly after him as Charlie shut the door.

As the bang slapped into his ear drums, Charlie acknowledged that his life seemed quite full of slamming doors. There had been plenty over the past few days at Grimmauld Place, and Ron's poky little flat on the river had been no different. Jogging down the stairwell, Charlie ignored the ache in his thigh and concentrated instead on the frustration pulling at his senses. Everything seemed such a challenge and an effort.

Nothing was this much of an effort in bloody Romania.

Romania, Romania, Romania. Someone could have accurately assessed that Charlie was obsessed with the thought of the country and his old life. He clenched his fingers in fists as he stepped out onto the pavement. London looked fair enough in the late afternoon light, it might have been enchanting to some, but it held nothing for him.

Godric, go home before you end up in some dive drowning your sorrows.

***

He had only taken four steps inside the house before he heard the first shout. He winced and kept his hand on the doorknob, wondering whether to flee or not. It was only the fact that he had nowhere to go which kept his feet firmly planted on the floor. He was just pondering which way to go to avoid the argument when a door to his left opened and Draco stepped into the hallway, book in hand.

“Oh!” Charlie said, startled. “So... if you're not being shouted at, then who is?”

Draco merely shrugged and started up the hallway, clearly not intent on talking.

“I don't want to yell at you, if it's any consolation,” Charlie called. He wormed out of his jacket and hung it on the hooks which Harry had installed to make the house feel more like a home. He kicked off his shoes and nudged them towards the wall for the same reason. “Because I think you've been screamed at enough.”
“Why?” Draco asked incredulously. Charlie glanced up and saw him frozen by the stairs leading to the upper levels of the house.
“If I was in your shoes, I would have broken out a long time ago.”
“Oh please,” Draco laughed, shaking his head. “Stop joking, Weasley. You wouldn't go anywhere.”
“How do you know?” Charlie challenged.

Draco came closer, folding his arms over his chest. “You've spent the past month sitting at home like a good little boy when you want to be back with your precious dragons. You're not exercising when you want to be in the gym, and you're asking “how high?” when your mummy tells you to jump.”
“What's your point?”
“That you're here being Potter's house-elf and giving my mother tissues when she needs them. Why are you here?”
“Because of my health.”

What happened next threw Charlie completely. Draco's head fell backwards as he began to laugh, blond hair falling back from his face as his eyes closed with mirth. It was an entrancing sight. The laugh itself, however, was undeniably unkind, and the anger which Charlie had fought off in Ron's flat instantly came back.

“We're protecting you here, Malfoy. Bloody feeding you too!”
“Poorly,” Draco inserted.
“Godric!” Charlie shouted, slamming the palm of his hand on the wall. “I can't believe I've just fallen out with my brother trying to stick up for you, you ungrateful little twat!”
“I've never asked you to do that,” Draco said, with annoying calm. “And I've never asked you to feed me or protect me.”
“Living here kind of does that for you.”
“This wasn't my choice.”
“THEN YOU CAN FUCK OFF HOME, CAN'T YOU?!”

Charlie heard his shout roar down the hallway and winced. He'd done it. He'd finally lost his temper and bellowed at someone. Once he'd done it, he could see how it had been a long time coming.

“Trust me, Weasley, when I say that I'd love to.”
“Well then don't let the door hit you on the way out.” Charlie gestured to it behind him. “Get out. Go your own way and see how long your skinny backside lasts without a group of Aurors looking after it.”

Skinny little runt fucker.

Fury shuddered through him.

“My mother-”
“Oh, well now who's being a little mummy's boy?” Charlie laughed, allowing a sneer to curl his top lip. “And now which one of us is the pathetic excuse who can't live apart from their family?”
“Wanting to protect my mother is NOT pathetic,” Draco bellowed at him, his face twisting with the same fury that Charlie felt.
“No, but hiding behind her is!”
“And so is hiding behind an injury to ignore the fact that your life and career are over and you are never, ever going to get to back to a place you love,” Draco said nastily, eyes gleaming with triumph. “You act like you're something special, with your muscles and your fucking smile, but you're nothing, Weasley. War ruins us all. War's ruined you just as much as it's ruined me, and my father, and your dead, rotting friends. So why the fuck don't you shut your mouth and take a good long look at yourself before you DARE criticise me?!”

The feeling was akin to having a foot put through his stomach, Charlie thought, as he yanked his wand out of his jeans pocket and poised to hex. When Draco's fist flew through the air first, however, he stumbled backwards, feeling his lip split as knuckles crashed into it. He dropped his wand and grabbed the man by the throat, throwing him backwards into the wall with relative ease.

“Didn't your mummy ever tell you not to pick on people that were bigger than you?” Charlie snarled, putting his face too close to Draco's. “Because you've just made a big mistake.”

“What the hell is going on here?” A voice thundered down the hallway to them, and Charlie immediately stepped back, licking at his bleeding lip.
“Charlie! What on earth are you doing?” his mother snapped, her eyes wide and angry.
“Draco, what have you done?” Narcissa asked, sounding nauseous.

Charlie guiltily met her eyes and wished he could hide his injury.

“These people are protecting us and you choose to attack them? Do you have any idea what you've done?!” she asked, her voice growing hysterical. “This is it. We're gone now, do you understand? We'll be dead within the month. I can't believe you would jeopardise our safety in this way! You know the conditions of our amnesty here!”

Charlie's pulse quickened as he remembered the agreement that the Malfoys had signed on their entrance to Harry's house and safe place. It stated that they would not attack another member of the household or they would be ejected from its safety. Harry hadn't wanted to include the clause but badgering from nearly everyone had made him break under pressure.

“No,” he said abruptly, broadening his shoulders. “No. I made the first move. It was self defence.”

Why he was suddenly lying to protect the man who had been so rude to him, Charlie had no idea. It was very clear from the suspicion in Harry's eyes that his lie had not been swallowed, at all.

“Draco?” Harry asked, turning to him. “Is that true?”

Charlie met Draco's gaze as it turned to him. He simply stared back.

“It's true,” the blond confirmed, nodding his head.

Nobody said anything and Charlie felt a drip of blood trickling down his chin.

So I guess you are like your old dad, saving your own hide. Why the hell am I disappointed?




Flicking his tongue against the cut that he'd refused to allow his mother to heal, Charlie looked down at the parchment in front of him. He had read the script over and over and not for the first time in his life, either. He had seen the forms before, when he was barely an adult, trying to make decisions about his future keeping his family in mind.

He remembered how his mother had begged him not to choose Romania, to not fly the nest to live so very far away. To her, the reserve in the very north of Scotland was preferable to Romania, even though the animals weren't as varied and the experience would not be as fulfilling for her son. To Charlie, there had been no contest, despite the pain walking away from The Burrow had caused him.

Sighing, Charlie rubbed his thumb over the part of the form which required his signature. It had been a push to even apply and there it was, on the table in front of him, a contract just waiting to be signed. He would need to move to Scotland, into the reserve.

Spend every day freezing my arse off. Balls the size of grapes. No decent sex.

Charlie wasn't entirely sure if the latter was true, but from the two visits he had made when he was eighteen on his mother's request to get a 'feel' for the reserves, the men in Romania were far superior than in Scotland.

The kitchen door opened suddenly and he looked up, guilty for no reason. Narcissa stepped quietly down into the room and gave him an almost nervous smile. Ever since his to-do with Draco in the hallway, the Malfoy matriarch had regarded him with what he assumed was fear.

“Afternoon,” she said softly, nodding her head and moving for the kettle. “Tea?”
“Yeah... please...” he murmured, propping his chin on his hand.
“What are you doing?” Narcissa questioned as she worked.
“Just... I have the chance of a job up in Scotland, working at the reserve there.”
“Congratulations,” she offered, her voice lifting with surprise.
“Well... yeah. You could say that.”
“You don't sound happy?”
“I'm not,” Charlie answered honestly.

He pushed the parchment away from him with an unhappy huff. He sat in silence until Narcissa pushed a steaming mug of tea towards him over the rough wood of the table.

“May I?” she asked, gesturing to the papers.

Charlie shrugged and picked up his tea. Narcissa lifted it into the light and scanned the employment contract.

“You haven't signed it,” she commented, letting the parchment flutter back down to the table.
“No.”
“Why not?”

Charlie remained silent and drank a mouthful of tea, even though it burnt his tongue to do so. He just didn't want to answer.

“Does your mother know about this?” Narcissa asked with a small smile.
“Godric no,” Charlie laughed. “D'you think I'm an idiot?”
“Of course not. I just wonder why you're so hesitant when you're climbing the walls of this house, so desperate to leave it.”
“I turned that reserve down when I was eighteen,” Charlie said quietly, looking down at his injured thigh. “They kept throwing more and more money at me, looking at my exam results and the glowing references I had from Hogwarts. Plus I'd been there before, in the summer before my last year at Hogwarts, I worked with them for a couple of weeks. Even then I could control a dragon and... they wanted me.”
“But you didn't want them,” Narcissa said perceptively.
“No,” he confirmed. “It's nice enough up there. Good scenery. I'd've been close to my brothers and mum and dad but...”

He trailed off and took another mouthful of tea.

“Perhaps, in reality, Charlie, it wasn't far enough away from your siblings and your mother and father?”

It felt like she had doused him in icy water by speaking the truth. “I didn't think their breeding programme was humane enough,” he answered stonily.
“Charlie, I didn't mean... forgive my rudeness. I can see that I've offended you.”

He said nothing, choosing to glare at the stove instead.

“But the fact that the two eldest Weasley brothers moved so far away from home was the talk of society at one point. You come from a big family...”
“Bad parenting, you presume?”

Charlie jumped to his feet and snatched up the contract.

“No, Charlie, I didn't mean-”
“Yes you did,” he spat forcefully. “You've never liked my parents and you've never liked us. It must be such a terrible challenge for you to live here amongst us, mustn't it? Around all this dirty, muggle-loving blood?”

When he managed to focus his eyes through his anger, he saw that Narcissa's were gleaming with tears. Instead of fumbling for words of apology, however, Charlie turned and fled, ignoring the ache in his thigh as he jumped up the stairs and stormed into the hallway.

“Weasley, where the fuck do you get off upsetting my mother?”

Draco's voice crashed out of nowhere. They had avoided each other since their fight.

“She was insulting my mother,” Charlie said finally.
“Well she's here to be protected, not upset.”
“And what are you going to do about it?” Charlie smirked, folding his arms over his chest.
“Hex you to hell and back,” Draco spat.

Charlie laughed. “A repeat of the other night? You know as well as I do now that if you raise that wand against me, as a member of the Order, without provocation, you and your mother will be out on the street on your arses before you can even bloody blink. So really, Malfoy, are you going to cause another scene? Because this time I might not lie for you.”

Charlie was stunned when Draco came at him again, that the young blond had not heeded the warnings which he had been given after the first time. He took the brunt of the attack with his arms and shoved Draco backwards towards the wall. There was a grunt as Draco tripped over the foot of Charlie's bad leg and, with a crash, they both tumbled to the floor. Kneecaps stinging, Charlie groaned as horrendous pain caused the muscles of his thigh to tremble. Despite it, he kept the younger wizard pinned to the floor and put their faces close together. He opened his mouth to allow a taunt out when he noticed the dull blush in Draco's cheeks and the way that his lips were parted. He stared down at the finely boned face and noticed the way that Draco's pupils had widened.

He was simply unable to help himself. It had been so long since he had kissed another man that he couldn't resist. He ducked his head and captured Draco's lips with his own, tasting their tasteless essence. A moan rose up from beneath him and, as Draco wriggled slightly, Charlie felt a hardness poking into his belly.

Along with surprise, his body reacted by mirroring the appreciation. He ground down with his hips unwittingly, not really conscious of what he was doing, only eager to feel more when he had been deprived for so long. He especially didn't think about how it would look if they were discovered, or even really how Draco's reactions had progressed from his initial acceptance.

“Enough!” Draco cried suddenly, and, with surprising force, Charlie found himself shoved onto his back.

The only noise he heard were the thuds of Draco's feet as the man sped away from him, into the darkness of the house.




“I can't believe I just lost to you at chess,” Charlie said, looking up in dismay at his brother.

Bill laughed and shrugged his shoulders. “It's this house, Charlie, making you lose your mind and your touch at the same time.”
“Tell me something I don't know.” Charlie folded his arms over his chest in a sulk and looked at the fire.
“Awwh, there there, Charliekins. It's only a game of chess.”
“It means something much more though.”
“I'm not in the mood for your moods tonight. I'm going home to my wife.”
“And let her deal with your smug mush? Fine by me.”

Bill laughed again and used his wand to pack away the chess set. Charlie watched the black and white pieces zooming into their spot in the velvet carry case and hated how they, just like his leg, represented his decline.

“I've got to get out of here,” he muttered beneath his breath. “I'm going mental.”
“You were already mental.”

“Who's mental?” Harry asked cheerfully, entering the sitting room with a cup of tea in one hand and a sheaf of parchment in the other.

He flopped down in an armchair and looked between them.

“Me.” Charlie made a face.
“I'm not surprised. You haven't left the house in days. What with your love of fresh air, this must be driving you...”
“Mental,” Bill finished for him brightly.
“Fuck you,” Charlie swore, kicking his legs out in front of him and crossing them at the ankle. “Anyone'd go mad being cooped up in here. Why I'm not surprised that Malfoy broke out really.”
“What's going on with you and Malfoy?” Harry asked, his eyes narrowing slightly. “You only ever talk to him now when you're asking him to pass the salt.”
“Since you were beating him up in the hallway, that is.”

Bill's input was really starting to irk Charlie. His older brother was only serving to drive him further into the ground, it seemed.

“Nothing,” Charlie said finally. “We just don't talk. Easier that way. He's an arrogant little ponce and I haven't got the patience for him. He's not grateful for what we're doing for him and that's what I hate the most.”
“And I heard you upset Narcissa the other day,” Harry went on.
“Well, she upset me first,” Charlie replied childishly. “She was insulting my family. You of all people know how annoying it is when a Malfoy does that, even one that's turned out to be as nice as she has.”

Harry regarded him for a moment before humming his agreement through closed lips.

“Still... things are a bit tense in the kitchen these days.”
“Are you saying you'd like me to make more of an effort, Harry?” Charlie asked, gritting his teeth.
“Well... if I'm honest, Charlie, yeah. This is my house, and I'd like to come down for breakfast and not worry if someone's going to commit murder during it.”
“Funny. We all warned you about that at the start and you said it'd never happen.”
“Well I never expected the animosity to come from our side.”
“Hey!” Charlie cried indignantly. “If you haven't noticed, Malfoy fought back. He gives as good as he gets. I didn't start the snide bollocks, that was him.”

He eased to his feet, which were bare and had grown cold as the night had progressed.

“I'm going to bed.”
“Charlie-”
“I'll play nice.” He threw his hands up in surrender. “But that's what I'm doing --keeping out of his way.”

That wasn't strictly true, Charlie acknowledged, thinking back to the tussle which had ended up in one of the best kisses he'd been treated to in a very long time. His cock gave a guilty twitch as he thought about it.

“Charlie's all muscle, but he's good at being passively aggressive,” Bill threw in casually to Harry.
“Bill, seriously, are you trying to make me swing for you?”
“I'm just speaking the truth.” Bill shrugged. “You've got to be honest, Charlie. You're good at the silent treatment and that threatening glare thing that mum does. You don't need to flex your muscles to make someone feel about a foot high.”
“SO WHAT?” Charlie heard the volume of his voice escalate. “I'm talented, what can I say?”

Harry laughed and the tension between them disappeared.

“We should go out,” Bill suggested. “Get some fresh air and have a bit of a laugh. We've not done that for such a long time... not since before the war.”
“Take Ron on his first proper bender with his brothers.” Charlie grinned.
“Ron doesn't need any help from you two on getting drunk,” Harry muttered, pulling a face. “He's good at that all by himself.
“Oh?” Bill asked interestedly.
“He's very good at making a pillock out of himself too.”
“Why doesn't that surprise me?” Charlie laughed and ran his hand through his hair. “I'm going to bed now.”
“It's early?” Bill frowned.
“I need my beauty sleep.” Charlie pretended to preen himself a little before he turned for the door. “Unbroken and restful.”
“In this house?” Harry snorted. “Not likely.”

***

“For Merlin's sake!” Charlie groaned, tossing back the covers and reaching for his wand.

From somewhere within the house there was rough shouting. As he pounded out barefoot onto the landing, Harry's parting words to him not four hours before rang through his ears. He muttered beneath his breath as he moved towards the source of the noise. He had just rounded the corner towards the main staircase when a narrow jet of light shot past his left ear, narrowly missing him.

“Charlie, get down!” someone hollered, as a loud bang emitted from the floor bellow.

Before he knew it, and before he could really even consider what might be happening, Charlie found himself duelling. His arm moved with quick grace, firing off hex after hex, which mostly landed on their targets. His blood began to pump and, for a moment, he might have been in a forest, having given up all hope of tact with an angry dragon.

Had he been listening to himself, he would have realised that many of his cries and spells came out in Romanian. As another ear-splitting crash rang out from below, he raised his arm and flicked his wand like a whip, allowing his wrist to flop as he cast a binding spell. The cords which shot from the end of his wand were thicker than the rope produced in a standard spell; the one he had used, he had learnt at the reserve, specifically for restraining dangerous, out-of-control beasts.

The ordinary sized man that he captured with his spell let out a loud grunt as he fell, completely bound, and slipped down five of the stairs.

“Bloody hell!” someone breathed at Charlie's shoulder. “What was that?”

Charlie turned to look at the speaker and found George staring at him with an impressed awe in his eyes. He opened his mouth to answer just as the house plunged into deathly silence. He swapped a worried glance with his brother and peered down the stairs.

“Charlie? George? Is that you?” Harry's stained voice called to them.
“Yeah, it's us,” Charlie confirmed, stepping around his captive as he started down the stairs. “What the hell's going on? It's two in the morning!”
“Rebels apparently don't wear watches,” someone said snidely.

As he stepped down into the hallway below, Charlie recognised many faces who had not been in the house when he had gone to bed -whoever he had been fighting must have triggered alarms to the other Order members. Standing at the back, hair tangled around his face, was Bill.

“Charlie, do you get some weird kick out of fighting people in your underwear?” He asked, with a ghost of a grin on his lips.
“I heard the shouting and ran!” Charlie shrugged. “Fashion wasn't exactly on my mind. Plus this is much more exhilarating.”

There were several repressed snorts of laughter and Charlie licked his lips. “So. What the hell happened?”
“They managed to penetrate our protective spells,” Harry said grimly, wiping sweat from his brow. “There were about six of them and they were armed with all sorts of spells. And products to slow us down.”
“Did you get them?” George enquired, looking over his shoulder to the bound man struggling on the stairs. “We got one.”

“One more than we managed,” Harry muttered bitterly. “Well done. The Aurors are on their way, so...”
“How did they get in?” Someone asked aloud.

Nobody said anything until Ginny broke the silence.

“Maybe somebody let them in? Or someone has been telling them exactly what we're using here?”
“You think someone's done the dirty on us?” Charlie clarified, taking a surreptitious glance at those around him to gauge their reactions.
“I don't want to play the suspicion blame game,” Harry said loudly. “We need to get everything back to rights and start work on strengthening the protection. Now.”

He said the last word so forcefully that everybody seemed to jump to. Charlie remained at the foot of the stairs, wand still covering the man he had managed to capture, as he thought over what his sister had said.

“Is everyone alright?” Harry called after a moment. “I didn't even ask. Any injuries? The Floo can take you to the hospital.”
“Is everyone here?” Ginny asked after him.
“Nobody could have slept through that racket.” Charlie couldn't stifle his yawn.
“Has anybody seen Draco?”

Narcissa's quiet, worried voice floated through the air. Charlie looked up and saw her, wrapped in her silk dressing gown, hair loose about her face. Her wand was clenched in her fingers and her cheeks were pink with exertion.

“I don't think he came down,” Harry said. “I didn't see him during the fight. Maybe he slept through?”
“He's a light sleeper,” Narcissa dismissed with a frantic shake of her head. “And he hasn't been sleeping since... well, since...”

She didn't need to finish her sentence because really, none of them had slept well since the war. They were all still too convinced that a murderer was going to break through the door, even though the murderer they feared was dead. Then, a new threat had arisen and their fears had never had cause to go away.

“I'll look for him,” Charlie heard himself say. “I'll find him for you.”
“Thank you.”
“Hopefully he's just asleep.”

Charlie turned and ran back up the stairs, passing his captive as he went. It didn't take him long to work his way through the landings to where he knew Draco's room to be. He knocked hard on the door, hoping that the man would answer him. When nothing came, he called out and knocked harder.

When he grew bored of waiting, he pushed the door open. In the light through the window, he could see the bed had been slept in and that the covers had been thrown back, just as he had done with his own. He scanned the room, hoping that Draco was somewhere within, but found nothing.

“Shit,” he muttered beneath his breath.

He crossed the room in four strides to push open the door to the bathroom; he found it dark, cold and uninhabited. Unsure of what made him do so, he ducked down and looked in the space beneath Draco's bed. Apart from dust, there was nothing there.

“Draco, are you in here?” he tried, tiredness suddenly catching up with him.

He heard a sharp intake of breath from the wardrobe and stared at it.

Is he really hiding in the wardrobe?

Charlie yanked open one wooden door and saw Draco sitting hunched on the bottom.

“Don't talk to me, Weasley,” Draco spat, getting awkwardly to his feet. “Don't say a fucking word.”
“I-”
“I hid, yes,” Draco confirmed, his voice icy. “I jumped in here before I even thought about where my mother was. I'm a coward. I know.”
“I wasn't going to say anything about that,” Charlie lied, stepping back so that the blond wizard could clamber out of the wardrobe. “I'm just glad I found you. We were worried.”

There was a short laugh and Draco walked to the bed and sat down on it. Charlie noticed that his fingers were shaking before Draco could hide the fact.

“I don't care that you hid. In fact, in light of the fact that you're here to be protected, it's a bloody good thing you did. They were here for you. You know that, as well as I do. So hiding, Draco, was probably the best thing to do.”
“I told you not to talk about it,” he snapped.
“Look-”
“Weasley, get out.”
“I'm just trying to-”
“OUT!”

Charlie heaved a massive breath. “No.”
“What do you mean, no?”
“I mean n-o, no,” Charlie taunted. “You're going to come with me and have a bloody strong cup of tea.”
“What?” Draco looked up at him, his eyes wide with surprise.
“You're in shock,” Charlie gestured to the boy's shaking fingers. “And tea solves everything.”

Draco laughed at him again and shook his head.

“I'm not leaving until you come to the kitchen with me,” Charlie announced. “I'm not leaving you here alone to think about the what-ifs.”
“I'm already thinking about those -they're what drove me into the cupboard.”
“Well then it's time you stopped. Up. Now. Or I'll make you.”

Draco opened his mouth to argue and Charlie stared at him.

“Tea solves nothing,” Draco mumbled, getting to his feet.
“We'll say that you-”
“You'll say nothing,” Draco said sharply, before proceeding him out of the bedroom.

***

It was an odd little party, Charlie thought, looking around the kitchen of Grimmauld Place. He knew that in the upper levels of the house, dawn would be clawing at the windows. None of them had felt able to go back to sleep after such a brutal rape of their privacy. So those of them who spent nights in the house had gathered together around the large kitchen table to eat continual rounds of toast and drinking vats of tea.

Charlie had thrown on a thick jumper and a pair of woollen socks on top of his normal pyjamas. Harry had joined them only minutes before, having spent much of the night firstly strengthening the wards to extend to across the road, and then going to the Ministry to file the intrusion with the Auror department. He sat drinking coffee with one hand whilst stuffing bread in his mouth with the other.

Spreading jam on his toast, Charlie cast a quick glance around. Nobody was dressed and they made a motley crew sitting there. When they had alerted their parents to what had happened, Charlie had been almost glad to see his mum swooping in, apron already tied, ready to feed them until they were stuffed. He'd been grateful when his dad arrived to help Harry with the wards and go with him to the Ministry. The rest of them were too shattered to be of any use to him.

“Charlie, more toast?”

The question was inviting, but sleep was pulling at his eyelids and later on that day, he had somewhere very important to be. He needed to be on the top of his game for it and a sleepless night was going to ruin it completely.

“No, mum. I think I'm going to go up to bed. Can't keep my eyes open.” He made a show of getting clumsily to his feet and yawning, throwing his arms over his head in a stretch.
“Alright dear. Sleep tight.”

He went to her and gave her a kiss on the cheek, despite the full room behind him. She patted the side of his cheek and gave him a tired smile of her own, which he returned.

“I'll wake you around one,” she informed him. “Just so you don't sleep all the live long day. I know you will otherwise.”

Charlie grinned at her, thanking Merlin for her disapproval of spending days in bed.

“Night,” he called, as he made his way past the table to leave the kitchen. “See you all this afternoon.”

It felt odd to be bidding them good night when it was really morning, but Charlie was no stranger to odd sleeping hours. He'd crawled home at the break of dawn often enough to not be bothered by the light sky outside of the windows. He tripped along the hallways and landings of the house, hoping that he would just find his room and be able to fall into bed. As the sound of his name called out behind him, however, Charlie's dream seemed less and less likely.

“Charlie?”

He turned and was surprised to see Draco striding towards him. Charlie nearly moaned out loud -he was far too tired to keep up with the boy's sniping. He was unable to keep from yawning again and didn't bother to cover his mouth; he regretted that when Draco did not stop until he was right in front of him, and the tired breath of his yawn washed over his alabaster face.

“Sorry.” Charlie grimaced. “That was gross, wasn't it?”
“Disgusting,” Draco confirmed, but he didn't step away. “I wanted to thank you, Charlie, for not telling the others what I did. And for inventing that sleeping draught that I took. You seem to be... talented... at making up stories where I'm concerned.”

Charlie smirked and nodded. “Yeah well... I've always been a good liar. Not always to my benefit.”
“Your mouth's too pretty to lie.”

It took him a few seconds to fully digest what Draco had said, and that the boy had leaned in to him. The kiss was quick but smooth and Charlie stood there dumbly whilst Draco kissed him. When it actually occurred to him to respond, Draco pulled away.

“What the fuck?” Charlie breathed.
“That's a thank you, for the lies.” There was a smoother quality to Draco's voice than he had ever heard before. “And for... being decent.”
“Decent?”
“You know... non-murderous.”

Draco gave him a curt nod and side-stepped him to continue up the landing. Charlie remained frozen in place, in his woolly jumper and socks and his checked flannel bottoms. Suddenly, he wasn't tired at all. Life sprung back into him as he headed up to his room. He closed the door behind him and leant on it, trapping his hands behind him between the wood and his body. He licked his lips. He fancied he could taste Draco there.

“Twat,” he muttered, giving his head a shake. “And today isn't the day for getting random fucking kisses. You've got a career building meeting to attend.”

Charlie burst out laughing at his attempt to be stern with himself and slouched to the bed. He threw himself down on it and wriggled inside the covers, pointing his wand at the curtains to pull them shut. He dropped it onto the bedside table and took a deep breath.

It felt good to finally be in bed.

It was just that Draco's kiss had vanished any chance of sleep he'd had. At all.




“Evening,” Charlie said, his voice low, as he entered through the front door of Grimmauld Place.

He smiled at the Auror who was currently on duty. Since the break in, the Ministry had seen fit to station an Auror at each entrance to the house to protect the precious cargo within, that being The Boy Who Lived Twice –not those there to be protected.

Charlie kicked out of his boots, feeling slightly guilty that the stench would gradually stink out the poor Auror, but he hurried away nonetheless. Living by himself he had become selfish, and thinking of others whilst sharing a house was a challenge, least not for keeping his feet clean.

Of course, since Draco had kissed him on the landing when he was half asleep, Charlie could have been accused of making far more of an effort with himself -using spells to iron out the creases in his jeans and actually bothering to brush his hair. What bothered him most was that he'd never done that for anybody else. Not even his mother.

And she's always been the most important woman in your life.

Laughing to himself, Charlie headed for the kitchen, desperate for a cup of tea and to pinch a biscuit or five from the barrel before heading up to him room to have what he thought was a well-deserved nap. His day had been an interesting one, and the travelling had tired him out. It had been somewhat of a secret mission and to get out of the house without being discovered had been no easy feat. He'd practically had to roll along the main hallway just to avoid Harry reading the paper in the main sitting room.

In hindsight, he should have arranged his visit for a weekday. The house would have been emptier.

“George...”

The breathed name caught his attention and Charlie stopped dead, looking at the kitchen door. He heard a soft moan and he couldn't help creeping closer. He bent double to peek through the keyhole. He nearly choked at what he saw. Fred was sitting on the kitchen table with his jeans undone, and George was between his legs, clearly putting his mouth to good use.

“You make a terrible spy,” a dry voice came from behind him.

Charlie cracked the top of his head on the door knob as he flew upright. He reached up to rub it and look at the newcomer. Snape was standing with his eyebrows raised and his lips twisted in an unkind smirk.

“Never leave your back uncovered,” he sighed, shaking his head.
“Snape,” Charlie said loudly, hoping his voice would carry to his brothers, whom he was going to kill, in the kitchen. “What are you doing here?”
“I haven't checked your leg for a week, Weasley. Your mother will murder me as I sleep if I stop now.”

Charlie stopped himself from speaking aloud a secret just in time. He nodded. “Let's get this over with then.”

He turned and turned the door handle, hoping to Merlin that they weren't about to be met with an eye watering sight. When he stepped down into the room, however, the twins were nowhere to be seen, and all that remained of them was the scent of sex Charlie hoped was only because he had known it had been there.

As he unbuttoned his jeans and pushed them down to his ankles, he thought he saw Snape sniffing the air, eyes narrowed with suspicion.

“You must hate being in here,” Charlie decided to distract him. “Being in Sirius' house.”
“He's not in it, so it doesn't bother me,” Snape muttered, getting down onto his knees and opening the bag he was carrying. “Though sometimes I wonder if there are ghosts here.”
“I'm always expecting something nasty to be around the next corner,” Charlie admitted, easing down onto the bench and stretching out his leg for the man.

He tried not to laugh as he thought about having a man on his knees and having his trousers down. It was almost as if he'd taken the place of Fred. He wasn't sure he would want Snape sucking him off, though. Instead he wondered how he would feel if the person between his legs had white-blond hair and a pointed chin.

That made him a little too happy, he realised, as his cock gave a telling twitch in his boxers. With Snape in such close proximity, he knew he couldn't think about Draco. He would be hard pressed to deny the fact that, since their second kiss, he had masturbated over the boy no less than five times and had a few more wet dreams on top. He found himself blushing.

“This is looking very good,” Snape commented, smoothing healing salve into the damaged skin.
“Not with the ruined ink,” Charlie said, unable to keep his unhappiness out of his tone. His favourite tattoo was completely ruined. The dragon didn't match up in places and the scarring had ruined the colouring.
“If my opinion is worth anything, Weasley, I think it makes it all the more appealing. It tells even more of a story now than it did before.”
“My tattoos don't tell stories.”
“Every tattoo tells a story,” Snape insisted, getting to his feet.

Charlie watched his back as the man washed his hands in the sink and then dried them on a tea-towel left on the side. When he finally turned around, he was rubbing his left forearm. Suddenly, his meaning was clear.

“Gotcha,” Charlie said quietly, giving him a nod. “I suppose there's always a reason. Something that made you sit there and get it.”
“Quite,” Snape agreed.
“Now I think about it, I've got too many stories.” Charlie laughed and stood up, pulling his jeans to do them back up. “I've got a bowtruckle on my bum which an old flame dared me to get.”
“Too much information, Weasley.” Snape winced. “A bowtruckle? Honestly?”

Charlie found himself sniggering. “I needed something skinny and weak, apparently, to make up for my brute strength. To remind me to be gentle.”
“Well, there's something I didn't need to know. I'll see myself out.”
“Wait, you didn't come here just for me, did you?” Charlie asked.
“Who else would I see?”
“Maybe Draco?” Charlie suggested.

Something in Snape's face hardened and Charlie immediately regretted his words.

“Draco no longer enjoys my company,” Snape said icily. “He has made that quite clear.”
“The past is the past,” Charlie tried. “Maybe things between you can... improve?”
“He's like his father.” Snape picked up his healing kit. “He holds a grudge, and rarely allows them to thaw.”
“I'm sorry.”
“Don't be. I just hope that whatever is going on between you, you are thinking carefully about the repercussions your actions may have.”

Charlie frowned. “There's nothing going on.”
“Weasley, I grew up watching over Draco, literally from the point of his birth. I know his face when he sees something he wants, and when he's getting what he wants, and at the moment, that face comes on every time he looks at you.”
“But nothing's going on,” Charlie insisted, bewildered.
“Yet,” Snape said softly. “Be careful, Weasley.”

With that, he swept out of the kitchen, closing the door behind him.

“Do you really have a bowtruckle on your arse?” George asked from behind him.
“You two,” Charlie growled, whipping round. “Sit. Now.”

He glared menacingly at the twins, who had clearly just crept from the larder, and pointed at the bench. It surprised him that they obeyed.

“Are you going to give us a sex talk?” Fred asked, sounding bored.
“I think it's far too late for that.”
“Too right.” George's grin was wide.
“What you do behind your bedroom door is your own business. But where you can be caught? Do you want to rip this family apart?”
“It won't happen again,” Fred said, his voice hardening. He stood up. “And I trust you'll keep your fat mouth shut?”
“Believe me, I won't be telling anyone.”
“Good.”

Fred made to walk past him. “At least I'm not carrying on with a Malfoy.”
“I'm not carrying on with anyone,” Charlie said hotly, cringing inwardly as he realised that they must have heard every single word between himself and Snape.

There was merely a laugh and Fred left the room. George followed shortly after, shooting Charlie an apologetic smile.

It made what he had done that day seem far less of a daunting prospect. He was almost excited.




Charlie was unable to help groaning as he swallowed his first mouthful of pie. It was just heaven.

“Good? I know it's your favourite.”
“Mum, this pie is better than so many things, including one big thing I'm sure you don't want to hear me talk about.”
“Charlie!” She shook her head and tutted at him. “I don't know where you got that dirty mind from.”
“Hey, well... you're the one with seven babies.”
“Ooh, you cheeky little bugger!”

Charlie laughed and shovelled in some more pie. He knew that he was having a conversation that none of his brothers would have dared to hold. He had always been different, however. With both of his parents he'd had an easy relationship, a friendly one. He saw no other way to be. He was also cheeky and therefore knew just how far to push his luck. He could only ever remember receiving a few smacks to his bottom for his mouth's work.

“You love me really,” he said, reaching for his glass of pumpkin juice.
“More fool me,” his mum laughed, but she was shaking her head. “It's good to see you out of that old house. I was worried you might be becoming a warlock hermit.”
“No beard,” Charlie pointed out.
“You'd look terrible with a beard. Your hair needs cutting.”
“Mum, touch my hair and I'll move back to Romania.”
“Wicked child.”

He smiled smugly at her.

***

Full of three servings of his favourite pie and a more than healthy pudding of spotted dick, Charlie tapped his wand against the lock of Grimmauld Place.

“Alright?” he quirked his eyebrows at the Auror on guard and didn't bother taking off his boots.

He had planned to head straight to his room, have a shower and go to bed, but as he passed the sitting room a blond head caught his eye. Feeling so full and content, Charlie found he didn't have the willpower to keep walking and ignore Draco; instead he chucked a right and entered the room.

“Hey,” he called, rounding the sofa and throwing himself down at the opposite end to the blond. “Quiet in here tonight?”
“Mm,” Draco hummed, not bothering to look up from his book.
“What are you reading?”
“Book.”
“Clever.” Charlie rolled his eyes and, full of nervous energy, drummed his hands on his thighs.

He worked the noise into a rhythm, happily beating away until there was a put upon sigh from his left.

“Weasley, I was sitting in here for peace and quiet.”
“I'm not very good at that.” Charlie made a face. “I fancy a drink. D'you want one?”
“What kind of drink?” Draco asked warily.
“Hot chocolate with tiny marshmallows.”
“Really?”
“No, you mugwump, beer. Whisky. Hell I'll even brave my Dad's elderflower wine. Do you want one or not?”

Charlie looked at him, waiting for an answer.

“It's against the rules of my residence,” Draco muttered, slapping his book shut and getting to his feet.

Charlie felt cruel for forgetting and dangling the forbidden on a string in front of the man about to leave.

“Y'know what?” Charlie said, also rising. “Fuck it.”
“Fuck what?” Draco stared at him.
“The rules.” Charlie was unable to help from grinning. “Fuck all of the rules, and have a drink with me. I'm here, and if anyone dares say anything, I'll tell them to shove it up their arse and pour you another one.”

He was surprised to hear Draco laugh.

“What?” Charlie grinned.
“You swear so naturally.”
“And you're a perfect little angel, are you?”
“Not when my mother's not about.”

It was Charlie's turn to laugh. “So, are you in or out? Up or down? Round the twist or up the wall?”
“Weasley, you're very odd, has anybody ever told you that?”
“Just about five times a day since I was born.”
“Oh.”

They stared at one another.

“Well, I'm having one,” Charlie said decisively, and turned to the corner of the room, where there stood an old wooden cabinet with a pull-down shelf. Behind it stood Harry's ample collection of alcohol, both Muggle and Magical, and he stood for a moment, pondering what to have.
“I don't even know what half of those are...” Draco said, almost nervously.

It surprised him, Charlie found, to hear the boy so diffident. He'd heard him cocky, angry, amused and despondent, but timid was not the Draco Malfoy he had come to know.

“Vodka, gin, apple flavoured vodka, rum, rum-pineapple mixer, Tia Maria... Godric. Harry's such a girl.”
“Aren't those girls' names?” Draco asked curiously.
“Yes, but it's also a drink. Goes well with a Muggle drink called coke or even cranberry juice.”
“What does it taste like?”
“Let's find out,” Charlie said, reaching for the bottle. “Unless you're going to wimp out on me?”
“As if.”

Charlie grinned to himself as he pulled an upside-down glass from the smaller shelf above the bottles and poured a measure into it. “Try it neat,” he nudged the glass aside.

Draco picked up the glass and put it to his lips, sniffing the drink before he drank, knocking it back in one gulp.

“Good?”
“Girl's drink,” Draco commented, wiping his lips. “Give me some of that.” He pointed to a bottle of whiskey.

Charlie obeyed, pulling down another glass for himself and pouring out two double measures. He put the bottle back in its rightful place and made a note to buy Harry another -he'd made a considerable dent in the level.

“Cheers,” Charlie announced, knocking his glass against Draco's.
“Happy Birthday to me,” Draco said, and swigged at his drink.
“What?” Charlie spluttered, throat burning as he choked on the strong spirit.

Draco waited until he had recovered himself before he spoke.

“Today is my birthday.”
“And you didn't think to say anything? My Mum makes amazing birthday cakes, Draco.”
“My mother didn't say anything to me,” Draco murmured, his eyes staring at the drinks cabinet. “Not a word. Not even a quiet 'Happy Birthday, my darling Draco...'” He blushed then. “That's what she normally says,” he added defensively.
“That's nice,” Charlie smiled, hoping he didn't come across as mocking. “Your mum's got a lot on her mind at the minute though, to be fair. She's really missing your dad, Draco.”
“I know that,” the boy said sharply; Charlie realised too late his words would have sounded like a criticism.

Charlie moved to the sofa, hoping that he could diffuse the tension with his casual slouch. He threw himself down and slid in the seat until the small of his back was on the cushion. Draco followed him with a much primmer stance.

“Happy Birthday,” Charlie said finally, as the man sat down next to him. “Because someone should say that to you.”
“How old are you?” Draco asked.
“Old bastard, I am,” Charlie ignored the question. “Too young to be sat here on my arse on a Saturday night though. Too young for my career to be on hold like it is.” He made a face and drank a mouthful of whisky.

“It won't be on hold forever,” Draco said, his voice kind. “You'll heal, and you'll go back to Romania. Anyone can see that's where you really want to be. Who wouldn't want to be, when the alternative was this miserable house?”
“Don't let Harry hear you say that. He'll make you put on the pink rubber gloves and scrub something to make it look better.”

Draco snorted. “I wouldn't be caught dead cleaning, Weasley.”
“You do realise that as we speak, Hermione is probably badgering Kingsley over a law outlawing the keeping of House Elves? Then you'll have to bloody clean, unless you want to live in filth?”
“Do you clean, Weasley?”
“You know damn well that I clean.” Charlie laughed. “I had to, living on my own. Otherwise I'd just be mucking about in my own... muck...”

Silence fell between them as they both sipped at their drinks.

“I can't go back. My family's got their hooks in me now.” Charlie sighed. “To be honest, I don't think I've even got the energy to go back. Not after everything that's happened and that's still going on. So far away.”
“Why not?” Draco frowned.
“Because I love them, you dingbat.”

“Oh.” Draco paused. “And what would it be like, Charlie, if it was your birthday today? What would you be doing?”
“Why are you torturing yourself?” Charlie asked, curious as to Draco's sudden interest in his life.
“Just tell me,” the blond insisted.

Charlie crossed his legs at the ankles and tapped his forefinger against his glass. “Well, breakfast in bed to start with. Favourite breakfast, of course.”
“Which is?”
“Full English. Four rounds of really buttery toast. Eggs -scrambled, not fried.”
“Ugh, I hate fried eggs.”
“Me too!” Charlie exclaimed, a little too animatedly. Draco gave him an odd look.
“And then?”
“Get up. Presents in the sitting room with everyone there if they can be. Then my mum will bring out the cake she's made. I blow out the candles, make a wish, which normally involves hoping for lots of sex and beer, and then we eat the cake. Done. Sometimes, if the family can't be there in the morning we'll have a big get together later.”
“Sounds nice.”
“It's amazing. To have everyone around you and warm and just be... together.”
“I've never had a home-made birthday cake,” Draco said dully. “At least... not one that wasn't made by house-elves.”
“Never by someone that loves you, you mean,” Charlie said gently.
“Yeah.”

Draco swallowed the rest of his glass and reached out to set it down on the coffee table. Charlie watched his slender body settle back into position and noted the slump of his shoulders -the birthday blues, he presumed.

“Well, don't get any ideas about me loving you, Malfoy, but I'll be damned if I'm going to let you sit there all miserable because you haven't got a birthday cake.”
“What?” Draco said, his tone sharp.
“Up,” Charlie instructed, struggling to his feet. “Now. We're going to the kitchen.”
“Why?” Draco asked, starting to sound alarmed.

Huffing with impatience, Charlie dropped his glass onto the table and then reached for Draco's hand. He grabbed him by the wrist and yanked him upright. The slight bones came easily and there was no resistance as Charlie set off, dragging Draco by the wrist into the hallway.

“Where are we going?”
“To the kitchen,” Charlie said determinedly, wondering where his madness was coming from. “To make you a birthday cake.”
“Do you even know how to make one?”
“Of course I do!” Charlie growled. “I'm Molly Weasley's son! I can make anything.

Charlie knew he was stretching the truth, but he hoped that the kitchen would be empty when they reached it so that only Draco might be party to his failure. To his relief, it was, and he pulled out his wand and shot flames to all of the candles in the room.

“A master needs light to work,” he teased, releasing Draco's wrist and marching to a cupboard and pulling out a large bowl. “I need eggs, flour, sugar and butter.”
“When did your last house-elf die off?” Draco asked in dismay.
“Not dead yet.” Charlie sent him a smirk.

***

“You've got no idea what you're doing, have you?” Draco asked despondently, from where he was perched on one of the worktops, a glass of white wine dangling in his elegant fingers.
“Shut up,” Charlie muttered, staring intently at the mixture, which was really quite lumpy and extremely unappetising.
“Drink some more wine, that'll help,” Draco suggested.
“Brilliant idea!” Charlie agreed, snatching up his own wine glass and drinking half of it in one gulp. “Top me up, butler.”
“Fuck off!” Draco began to laugh.

Charlie chuckled along with him and looked down at the bowl. “Oh, it's fucked. It's all fucked.”
“Told you.”
“You, Mr Malfoy, are entirely too clever for your own good,” Charlie declared. “And I think I should shut you up.”
“I'd like to see you try.”

Making sure that Draco could not see his actions, Charlie scooped up a handful of leftover flour and sauntered up to the boy, wedging in between his spread thighs.

“Oh, I'm very good at shutting smart-arses like you up,” he breathed, leaning in, as if to kiss him.

Draco played right into his hands, leaning forward and puckering his lips, eyelids half closed. Charlie brought his hand up and chucked the flour right into his face, and then burst out laughing.

“You're going to regret that,” Draco spluttered, little white clouds of flour puffing from his lips.
“Oh yeah?” Charlie retreated to the bowl.

Draco hopped off the worktop and put down his wine glass. “Didn't your mother ever tell you not to play with your food?” he quipped, before snatching up a handful of flour and tossing it in Charlie's direction.

It landed over his black t-shirt, snowy powder settling over the definition of his pectoral muscles and on the curve of his belly. It occurred to Charlie as he pulled the spoon out of the bowl and flicked the attached goop at Draco that he had drunk far too much in a short amount of time. Face splattered with cake mixture, the blond gasped in outrage.

They quickly descended into flinging whatever they could reach, including the leftover butter, the rest of the cake mixture and when Charlie found himself threatened with Draco's glass of wine, he held his hands up.

“Merlin, don't waste good wine!” he cried, lurching forward to take it from the blond, who was laughing. “Never waste wine, never, ever, ever, ever, ever.”

He grabbed Draco by the waist and pushed him back against the counter, throwing all his weight into pinning him in place. He put their faces close together, and again made to kiss Draco, before gripping his hips tightly and lifting him effortlessly onto the counter. Then he really did kiss him, tasting wine, flour and something that tasted like vanilla essence on his lips. Fingers curled into the hair at the base of his skull and held on tight, making sure that he in turn was trapped in place. He tickled the roof of Draco's mouth with his tongue and made him wriggle.

“Have you learnt your lesson about wasting wine?” he whispered, dropping his hands, flour and mixture covered as they were, up over Draco's thighs.
“What I have learnt is never to wear designer jeans during a cooking lesson with Charlie Weasley,” Draco muttered, leaning forward for another lingering kiss. “I've got flour all over my arse.”

Charlie couldn't help it. He burst out laughing in the boy's face. Draco joined in him, and the mirth lightened his face and eyes. Charlie didn't think he had ever seen such a transformation. He kissed him again and moved his hand up to settle over his crotch, tightening his grip and squeezing the bulge he found there. Draco gasped against him and Charlie found that only spurred the daring in his blood even further. He nudged the heel of his hand back and forth into the hardness beneath it, creating friction for Draco to enjoy.

A surprisingly strong arm suddenly gripped around his shoulders, holding him in place. Draco's head fell back, his blond hair sliding from his face. The profile of his throat nearly made Charlie dribble and he felt he had no option but to bend his head and put his lips to it, finding it smooth and smelling of cologne. He parted his lips and gently suckled on the flesh.

“Fuck!” Draco gasped, bucking into Charlie's touch. “You're going to make me...”
“Make you what?” Charlie muttered, lifting his chin to speak directly into Draco's ear. “Come? Come in your pants? I'm sure posh boys like you don't do such dirty things...”
“Nngh...”

Charlie's lips curled into a devious smile before he slipped an earlobe in between his lips. The sudden wetness and heat caused Draco to go rigid and then, with three sharp bucks of his hips, Charlie watched his orgasm play out on his face.

Fuck me, he's beautiful.

The tight grip around his shoulders loosened and Charlie stepped back slightly to give the boy room to breathe. His face tipped forward, cheeks flushed and pupils dilated, and Charlie caught his gaze.

“Did I try hard enough for you?” Charlie was surprised that he panted the words –that he had not noticed his own pulse racing with desire.

Draco opened his mouth to answer, but at that precise moment, the door opened, and they sprang apart.

“Oh God, what are you two doing?” Harry asked despairingly. “You're not fighting again, are you? I don't have the energy to stop you. Kill each other for all I care –two less mouths to feed.”

Charlie took a deep breath and let it sate his lungs before he exhaled. He glanced at Draco and found him frozen, eyes wide and mouth open, a tell-tale blush staining his cheeks.

“Sorry about the mess,” Charlie mumbled, snatching his wand up from next to the stove.

He summoned cleaning products from beneath the sink and set them to work with magic. He slyly cast more cleansing charms on both himself and Draco, wondering if the blond would appreciate the one he sent to clean the come from his pants.

“Drink?” he said to Harry, gesturing to their mostly empty bottle of wine, which they'd found hidden in the larder on the search for cake ingredients. “You look like you need it.”
“Please.” Harry gave a half-hearted gesture with his hand and sank down at the kitchen table. “A large one.”
“Well, we're kind of out...”
“There's another bottle in the back somewhere. It's been here for god-knows how many years so it should be good shit... and pretty valuable.”
“Sorry.” Charlie made an apologetic face and summoned the aforementioned second bottle.

Draco caught it and set about opening the bottle, whilst Charlie walked to the table and sat down opposite Harry.

“I'm sick of this,” Harry blurted, before Charlie could even ask. “Trying to protect everyone and make everyone fucking happy.”

Draco set a glass down in front of Harry and another in front of Charlie. He finally joined them with his own.

“This is so shit,” Harry said bleakly, slumping where he sat.
“Harry, I think you need a break,” Charlie said. “Take a step back. Let the other Aurors handle this. Take a week off and go somewhere sunny.”
Who's going to handle it?” Harry laughed. “Ron? He's still fucking bedridden. I trust nobody else.”

Charlie wasn't drunk enough not to recognise the stab of pride in his chest that someone held his baby brother in such high regard -that Ron had such a loving friend.

Harry drank a large mouthful of his wine, swallowed, and sighed. He looked around at the cleaning magic and turned to the pair of them, his brow furrowed. “Why were you making a cake?”

Draco opened his mouth, but Charlie beat him to it.

“Hungry.” He shrugged. “You know me. Love cake.”
“I don't think it'll be much use to you in the bin,” Harry pointed out.
“Well, we tried.”

Harry gave them half a laugh and looked down at his wine.

“When were you going to tell us all that you're leaving, Charlie?”

There was a choking noise and Charlie saw most of Draco's mouthful of wine splutter all over the kitchen table. “What?!”

There was undisguised anger in Draco's face and tone.

“Harry, how did you know that?” Charlie clenched a fist beneath the table. He'd been sneaking around for weeks, trying to arrange things: finding accommodation, meeting with his new employers, putting his finances in order. It infuriated him to find out that it had all been in vain.

A dull blush crept up on Harry's cheeks. “Kreacher. He still insists on cleaning sometimes... and he was in your room-”
“Going through my things?” Charlie supplied angrily.
“He only thinks he's doing me a service, Charlie,” Harry promised. “He thinks he's being helpful by searching for things he thinks I should know about. He mentioned it to me the other day.”
“And you thought that now would be a good time to bring it up?” Charlie asked. “To make my day as shit as yours?”

Harry looked at him, clearly trying to apologise with his eyes.

“I signed the contract,” Charlie confirmed. “I hope to Godric your spy hasn't gone and told my Mum.”
“Just me, I promise.”

Annoyed that his night had been ruined, Charlie climbed off the bench and turned for the door.

“Where are you going?” Harry asked.
“Bed!” Charlie half-roared.
“I meant... where are you leaving London for?” Harry corrected meekly.
“None of your fucking business,” Charlie snapped, and stomped out of the kitchen.




“What did you think you were going to do? Just sneak off without any of us noticing?!”

Charlie didn't say anything. In fact, he hadn't really been listening to his mother's rant from the first two minutes in, and she'd been going for thirty. Her feet were wearing a path in the sitting room carpet. His entire family was gathered around him with accusing eyes and arms folded over their chests.

“How could you do this to us?” She cried, her lower lip wobbling. “And this is madness, you're still unwell! You can't possibly work with your leg in that state!”

At that, Charlie took a deep breath and broadened his shoulders. “Look, it's not like I'm going to Australia! And my leg is much better now.”
“You might as well be,” she snapped back. “And you're still limping.”

Groaning, Charlie tipped his face forward into his hands and left it there. Since Harry had challenged him about the signed contract in his room, everything had spiralled out of control. The plump witch in a portrait in the kitchen had hurried upstairs to tell her friend Mary, and from there it seemed like every picture in the house knew, and then real people started finding out, and the trouble had begun.

The big one, of course, had been when his mother had finally caught on.

“Mum, it's just Shetland,” Charlie insisted. “There's a ferry to the mainland, and there's an apparition point and a portkey station. It's not the back of beyond.”
“But you won't be home,” Bill said unhelpfully.
“Did you really expect me to be forever?” Charlie shrugged. “Can't you all see how bloody miserable I am here?”
“Oh, very nice, we love you too,” Fred muttered, rolling his eyes.
“This isn't about how much I love you.”
“If you loved us, you wouldn't leave,” George said, pouting slightly.

Charlie thought they might kill him later.

“If you loved me, you wouldn't make a thing out of this!”
“Oh, now who's being over-emotional!?” Fred cried.

“Enough!”

The voice which cut through the babble was his father's. Charlie looked at him warily, wondering if he was about to receive much needed support or another ear-bashing. He watched as thinly wired glasses were pulled from a tired face and cleaned on the hem of a jumper.

“If Charlie has found a job, no matter where it is, I think we should be congratulating him rather than shouting at him. It can't have been easy, being forced to give up Romania like that, and now... now you've got that little Charlie twinkle back in your eye. That's enough for me.”
“Arthur!”

The Weasley matriarch's cry was high-pitched and tear-choked. She hurried from the room, leaving the smell of her soft, powdery perfume on the air behind her. Her husband followed with an apologetic glance at his second eldest son. Charlie slumped back in his chair and threw a filthy look at the twins.

“Thanks for nothing.”
“Welcome,” Fred sang, getting up and following his parents out of the kitchen.

George followed him.

“And what about the rest of you, hmm?” Charlie asked, looking in turn at the remaining people in the room. “Want a pop at me or are you all just going to flounce out like mum?”
“Nobody can flounce like mum,” Ron pointed out.
“Though Ron can do a good impression,” Ginny teased, reaching out to poke him in the ribs.

“Where'll you live?” Bill asked quietly, slinking forward to sit next to Charlie at the table.
“I've found a really cheap flat not far from the reserve. I can get the Muggle bus or I can get a bike... no apparition points at the reserve, remember. Just like in Romania.”
“And this reserve... is it... reputable?” Bill asked, folding his arms over his chest. “Is it going to be a secure working environment?”
“Merlin, Bill, let him breathe.” Ron laughed. “Next you'll be asking if the bathroom's clean and whether there's a shop nearby so he can buy milk.”

There was a pause, before Bill said, “Is there a shop nearby for milk?”

The kitchen was suddenly full of laughter and Charlie found himself feeling lighter for it. Ginny got up from around the table and wrapped her arms around Charlie's shoulders from behind. She kissed his cheek lovingly.

“I'm going to miss you, but if this is going to make you happy, then I'm happy.”
“Cheers, Gin.” Charlie nuzzled back into her touch. “And you two?” He looked at Ron and Bill.
“No... shan't,” Ron sniffed, before giving him a wink.
“I've never been able to stop you doing anything you wanted,” Bill said. “So I'm giving up. Go to Shetland. Be cold and happy. Raise baby dragons instead of children.”
“I'm going to lose my muscle man,” Harry pointed out. “Who'll protect me from the big nasty rebels now?”
“I was going to talk to you about that,” Charlie said, resting his elbow on the table. “I was thinking... if you need to hide anyone... you could hide them with me.”

Harry's eyes took on a gleam. “Thinking about anyone in particular, Charlie?”
“No, I'm talking about in the future. They'll turn on more people. You know it. Hell, they might even fully start turning on us. If you need to, I'll be in the back of beyond, and I'm willing to act as a safe house.”
“That's good of you... really. I might need to take you up on it,” Harry said.

Charlie nodded and looked down at the table.

“So when do you leave?”
“Well I told them I needed a few weeks to settle some things... but now you all know... there's no real need to stay. It was just mum I was trying to spare. Think she's ever going to forgive me?”
“Just come home more often. You won't get away with staying away for months on end now,” Bill pointed out.
“I think he'll want to come home more often,” Harry said, his voice cryptic and teasing.

“Oh look,” Charlie said loudly, getting to his feet. “I have somewhere to be.”




Through the following days, however, Harry's words stuck with Charlie as he went through the motions of packing up his meagre amounts of belongings and prepared to depart. All he seemed to be doing was saying goodbye to people, which he hated –Aurors, friends of the family, friends of his, members of the Order; everyone seemed to want to wish him well (except his mother, who was still regularly bursting into tears at the thought of him leaving).

He'd finally reached his last night in Grimmauld Place; by the time his head landed on the pillow he was shattered. Despite her grief and resentment, his mother had put together a delicious dinner for him and a good luck cake for his new job. Everyone had been invited, including the residents of the house. That meant that Charlie had spent the entire night dodging Draco around the kitchen.

Since their drunken night of cake making, and Harry revealing Charlie's secret, they had not spoken a word. He had also being ignoring Harry's knowing eyes, and Snape's, and everyone else who even chanced to glance sideways at him.

Everyone's an amateur detective.

Groaning, Charlie rolled over and punched his pillow, trying to get comfortable. He was exhausted, but finally lying in the dark, sleep seemed to be evading him. He knew that was likely due to the excitement curling in the pit of his belly; he had felt that excitement only twice before –the night before leaving to go to Hogwarts, aged eleven, and the night before leaving to go to Romania, aged eighteen. It was the flutter of promise, of a new future.

Charlie pushed himself to sitting and rubbed at his face. He'd signed the contract for the Scottish reserve and owled it back. Two days later he'd seen an article in the Prophet about a fledgling reserve in the Shetland Islands, which were plenty remote, aimed at rehabilitating some of the creatures abused during the war and preserving endangered breeds. It was a cause which had leapt at him. There had been no question about picking up the quill and putting it to parchment and sending off an enquiry, detailing his experience and his need for immediate work. He had explained his injury. They wanted him anyway.

Unable to help himself, Charlie grinned into the dark. He pushed back his covers and swung his legs out of the bed. He padded to the window and looked down at the small courtyard garden in the middle of Grimmauld Place. They'd sat out there until the breeze grew too cool to bear and then moved into the kitchen.

It surprised him, but Charlie suddenly found himself saddened by the prospect of leaving the old town house.

A knock on the door dragged him from his thoughts. Without thinking about his attire, he strode to the door and pulled it open, forgetting that whoever was on the other side might not want to see him stark naked. As it was, when Draco came into view, the blond looked him over once and raised his eyebrows.

He stepped past Charlie and entered the bedroom.

“Yeah, sure, come in,” Charlie muttered, closing the door.
“You've never asked permission to enter my room,” Draco pointed out. “Fair's fair, don't you think?”

Charlie nodded. “I'll just put some clothes on.”
“Don't bother. This won't take long, Weasley.”
“When are you going to start calling me Charlie?” he asked with a sigh.
“Never, considering that this time tomorrow you'll be miles away. Why make the jump when there would be little point?”
“Because it's not like I'm leaving forever. It's roughly the same distance away as-”

Charlie cut off abruptly, kicking himself for what he had just been about to say.

“It's roughly the same distance away as Azkaban, you mean?” Draco finished coldly.
“Well... yeah.” Charlie stared down at his bare feet and made a resolution to stop sleeping in the nude.
“What makes you think I need to know the distance? I don't plan on visiting you for a little holiday.”
“Sure about that?” Charlie hedged, staring at Draco.
“Positively.”
“Then kindly fuck off,” Charlie requested, crossing the room and climbing back into his bed. He pulled the sheets up to award him some modesty –somewhere deep in his mind, he heard laughing at the very thought. “And close the door quietly on the way out.”

As he had hoped, Draco did not move.

“Are you really leaving?” the blond asked finally.
“Yes. Everything's signed. I have a home waiting for me there. I officially start work on Monday.”
“But you said you couldn't leave, because of your family.”
“This is a compromise.”

Charlie watched Draco as he wandered aimlessly to the window and stared down at the courtyard.

“What would make you stay?” Draco asked quietly.
“Honestly?” Charlie checked.
“I asked, didn't I?”
“Nothing will make me stay, Draco.”
“Not even if I asked you to?”

Charlie licked his lips.

“The man that makes me settle down will have to be some magician.”
“And that's not me?”
“We don't even know each other!” Charlie cried. “Are you asking me to stay based on a few snogs and a hand job?”
“If I was?”
“I'd say you were bloody mental.”

Draco simply laughed.

“Are you even gay, Draco?”
“I don't know what I am. But you've certainly woken something up. I don't know what or how long it's been hiding, but if I have to see that ruined tattoo on your leg one more time...”

Charlie absent-mindedly stroked his thigh through the top sheet of his covers. “And what do you want from me? Sex? A relationship? A big strong man to hold you through the dark nights?”
“What if the answer is all three?”
“Then you'd be a greedy sod.”
“All Malfoys are greedy, Weasley. It's a trait we're born with. We want the best and generally, we get it.”
“The best?”
“What we want,” Draco said, turning to face him.
“And I'm what you want?” Charlie asked, unable to keep the scepticism out of his tone.
“I don't know.”
“And you chose the night before I'm due to leave for the rest of my life to come and bring this up?”
“Well you've been ignoring me for two weeks, I didn't have much opportunity.”
“You could have knocked on my door that night and we could have had this conversation then.”
“Well we're having it now!”
“And what if now is too late, hmm?” Charlie asked, shrugging his shoulders. “I leave tomorrow, Draco. For the Shetland Islands. Pretty remote. Gorgeous. I can't fucking wait. This could be even better than Romania, and we both know that you know what that place means to me.”
“How do I know?”
“Because Romania means to me what Malfoy Manor means to you -it's your future, your heritage. Somehow, this is mine. And I'm leaving in the morning, regardless of my mum's tears, and regardless of whatever you have to say before I throw you out so I can go to bed.”

Draco measured him with his eyes for a moment before saying, “I see.”

Charlie said nothing as the younger wizard walked to a finely upholstered wing-backed armchair which sat opposite the bed. He sat down and seemed to sink into the cushions, looking so at home in the expensive piece that Charlie felt ridiculously scruffy.

“My mother said that she'd asked you to have a word with me,” Draco said finally, cocking his head to one side as he spoke. “I don't think you've done that yet, have you?”
“I got... distracted,” Charlie muttered. “By you. Every time. Something tells me you didn't want to be talked to.”
“You're right there.”
“So why waste my breath when it could be put to better use doing other things?”
“Like ravishing me on the hallway carpet?”
“Does anybody really use the word 'ravishing' these days, Malfoy? Or have you been reading mummy's romance novels?”
“I've got my own. They're just all in foreign languages so nobody can tell.”
“Dirty ones?” Charlie asked with a grin.
“I've got a few... big strong gay men, you know... romancing other big strong gay men... or weak gay men...”
“That's a lot of gay men.”
“Yes. Perhaps that should tell you something.”

Charlie sighed and raked his fingers through his hair.

“Do your parents know?”
“Sweet Circe no. It'd kill them.”
“So you plan to keep it secret all your life?”
“I just plan never to marry.”
“But how will you further the Malfoy line?”

Draco laughed. “The Malfoy line can fester with me. That's best for everyone.”

Charlie said nothing. He brought his legs up beneath the covers and crossed them. Now that he had company again, tiredness was back in full swing and he couldn't stop the yawn which rose in his throat.

“I don't know why I came,” Draco blurted. “I just thought... you'd be gone in the morning, and you'll be swamped before you go... so...”
“You waited until two in the morning to come and talk to me.”
“Yes.”
“I like your style, Malfoy, wait until a man is so tired he'll do anything to get you to shut up.”
“Anything?” Draco leered.

Charlie laughed and shook his head. “Opportunist.”
“Flirt,” Draco countered.
“You're impossible!”

Throwing himself down on his back, Charlie moaned to the ceiling, scrubbing his palms over his face.

“What do you want me to say, Draco? That I won't go on the off chance that you might be the fuddy love of my life?”
“Don't be absurd.”
“Then WHAT DO YOU WANT?!” Charlie cried in despair.
“This.”

Charlie barely had time to suck at the air as Draco leant on him, searching out his lips. Draco's mouth was open, adding dampness to the kiss before Charlie could even really react and then, with what seemed like no effort at all, Draco swung his leg over and straddled him. Pinned into position, Charlie moaned into the kiss and reached up with his hands to thread his fingers into what turned out to be the silkiest hair he had ever felt.

He nearly choked as Draco's tongue ventured dangerously near his tonsils; his lips were already sore. He slid his hands down until he could push against slight shoulders and cause Draco's mouth to break away from his own.

“Sweet Morgana's tits,” Charlie panted, staring up at him with wide eyes. “Steady on, Draco.”
“All I've wanted for weeks is to do that,” Draco breathed, reaching up to wipe at his mouth. “You either don't know how alluring you are, or you just don't care.”
“Alluring?” Charlie laughed. “Most people just say sexy.”
“I didn't think I'd ever meet someone with an ego bigger than mine.”
“I'm actually incredibly modest... but when I'm provoked...”

Charlie stroked the flat of his palm down Draco's spine, feeling the heat of his flesh through the thin pyjama top that he wore.

“This is the weirdest... I mean... you're you. I'm me. Is it even worth it?” Charlie asked, sagging back into his mattress.
“What's that meant to mean?”
“Sweetheart...” Charlie smirked as he spoke the endearment. “From forth the fatal loins of these two foes, a pair of star-cross'd lovers take their life; Whole misadventured piteous overthrows, Do with their death bury their parents' strife..."

Draco nearly choked on thin air. "You know Shakespeare?"
"Surprised?"
"Absolutely. How?"
"Once had an old flame who was a Muggle... literature student at a university in Paris. Bit of a ponce. Loved Shakespeare. He would read to me naked in our room late at night... by candlelight..."
"Sounds like a right nancy," Draco confirmed.
"He was. But I thought you might like it."
"Charlie?"
"Mm?"
"I hate Shakespeare."
"But I thought you liked literature?!"
"And literature doesn't begin and end with a Muggle bard."
"And I thought I was being so clever," Charlie sulked aloud. "Should have known though, he was Muggle, after all."

Draco kissed him again, a much softer kiss --sweet, even.

"I understood your point, if it makes any difference."

Charlie licked at his bottom lip and looked up into grey eyes.

"And I'm leaving in the morning," Charlie whispered.
"Then you'd better fuck me now," Draco muttered throatily into his ear. "Or you might never have the chance."




"Now you've got everything?" his mother checked, for the hundredth time. "Packed plenty of underwear?"
"Mum, I've got enough pants to clothe Hogwarts."
"And how many of those have the twins put itching powder in?" Molly asked, glaring at them over Charlie's shoulder.

Charlie didn't give a damn about itching powder, or putting pants on. He was more interested in the memories of taking them off the evening before. Draco had one of the lithest, slightest bodies he had ever had the pleasure to touch. Sinking into his body had been like burying his cock into a heated vice. He couldn't shake the thought of how the boy's nipples had pebbled to his touch, reddening to a delicious hue as he pinched at them, and how Draco had shivered and gasped under his ministrations.

"And you've got all the food I've made for you?" Molly asked, cutting through his thoughts.
"All packed and ready to be scoffed," Charlie assured her, neglecting to admit that he'd palmed a lot of it off on Ron, who hadn't argued.

Draco hadn't argued either when Charlie had thrust his cock in between his lips, encouraging him to suck with growls and endearments, enjoying the pink blush on the boy's cheeks when Charlie had called him 'baby' by accident.

"Well then I suppose you'd best go," his mother sighed, her eyes glistening with tears. "It feels like you're eighteen all over again."
"Except he's a bit fatter and a lot uglier," Bill supplied with a grin, stepping forward to embrace him. "Don't die."
"I won't," Charlie said wryly.

In turn, he hugged each member of his family, squeezing them all twice before releasing them. He saved his mother for last. She stood on tiptoe to kiss his cheek. "Be a good boy?"
"I will, Mum," he whispered, bending to kiss her.

He pulled away, trying not to laugh about the fact that he had already broken his promise.

Tying a Slytherin to the bed posts with a winter scarf surely counted as being bad, he thought. Then licking every single inch of him -that had to worth at least some punishment.

"Right, I'm going," he announced, hoisting his massive backpack onto his shoulder. There was so much crammed inside it that had magic not been employed the material would never had withstood the pressure.

Once again, his life was crammed inside a rucksack, and it felt fantastic. He shrugged into the shoulder straps and stood up straight. He looked up at the sea of freckled faces and felt the usual pull in his belly, for the home he was leaving behind.

"You'll come home for your birthday?" his mother implored tearfully.
"You never know," Charlie said. "I might be home sooner than that."

He raised his hand in farewell and, hearing a jibe referring to his apparition skills from a twin, spun into the spot, heading for the Portkey station. When the world stopped twisting, he looked hastily about, searching for a tall, thin figure with a long cloak and his hood up.

"If you get caught..." Charlie muttered as he strode towards him, shaking his head.
"After last night, I wasn't going to let you just walk away, Weasley."
"Char-lie," he said, as if speaking to someone who didn't understand English. "Can you repeat that after me?"
"Fuck off," Draco spoke, his voice low with laughter. "Charlie."
"Very good. Gold star for you."

Charlie recognised the look of hunger in Draco's eyes which had been there the evening before.

"We're going to have to work hard on this," he said quietly. "Long distance is... I've done it before and it's hard."
"We're not married," Draco pointed out. "I'm not expecting any kind of exclusivity from you."
"Whether you want it or not, you'll get it," Charlie said flatly. "And I expect it from you. I'm a slut when I'm unattached but when I have someone... I don't muck about."
"Okay." Draco nodded, almost eagerly.
"And no sneaking up to see me. I'll come home regularly. The family will think I'm homesick."
"Okay."
"I mean it. There was another attack overnight, at another safehouse. You promise me, Draco, that if they break into Grimmauld again, you get in that bloody wardrobe and you stay there until it's clear. Promise me?"

Draco said nothing, but rolled his eyes. Charlie assumed that was the best answer he would get.

"10:15 to Shetland, line up please!" an attendant bellowed suddenly.
"Fuck," Charlie breathed. "That's me."
"Sure you don't want to stay?" Draco asked.
"You know I can't. Wanderer and all that."
"Reckless wanderer," Draco corrected.
"You can talk. Go home and get safe before they realise you're gone."

There were so many people about them that Charlie knew a kiss was out of the question. He settled for grasping Draco's hand in his own, squeezing the slender bones with his thicker ones. He released him and turned, walking towards the indicated line.

"Charlie?" Draco's voice called above the dull buzz of the travellers in the hub.
"What?" he huffed.
"Parting is such sweet sorrow..."

Charlie burst out laughing, and when he opened his eyes again, Draco had gone. He swallowed on his laughter and tried to quell the odd fluttering in his chest and the heat in his cheeks.

"Are you on this Portkey or what?" the attendant asked him brashly, looking pointedly at his watch.

Charlie swallowed, shifting the bag on his back.

"Yeah, I'm on it," he said resolutely, unable to keep the grin from his face as he thought about how sweet returning home would be in the future, and there would be nothing sorrowful about it whatsoever.

-fin-

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