From: Your Secret Santa
Title: Chasing the Dragon
Summary: Maybe the real beauty in dragons lay in the fact that you could never catch them.
Length: 23,263 words
Author's notes: Hope you enjoy it, bsafemydeers! Many, many thanks to my beta, G!
The first time Katie met Charlie Weasley, she was petrified.
She would never forget standing on Platform 9 and 3/4 with her family, her trunk stuffed to the brim with everything her mother knew she would need and everything Katie thought might come in handy, which included a bag of marbles, a length of string, a gray rock she was almost sure was magical, and a textbook on homemade hexes stuffed under her socks that her mother didn't know about.
At the top of the trunk was her wand, purchased only last week at Olivander's (willow and dragon heartstring, 9 inches, reasonably springy), brand new school robes, ironed and folded neatly, and her plain black cloak bearing the Hogwarts crest. Her eldest brother Mox was holding the birthday present he'd bought her a month early- a small calico kitten named Sophie who had fallen asleep in his arms. Her other brother, Mason, was checking the latch on her trunk to make sure it was secure.
"You know, I never tire of this place," said her father, looking fondly at the Hogwarts Express. "Almost wish I was going again myself!"
"I'm not certain Hogwarts could handle you again, dear," said her mother, rolling her eyes before stooping down to hug Katie. "Have fun at school, Pumpkin, and mind your marks," she said. When her mother straightened up, there were tears in her eyes.
"Yeah, Pumpkin," echoed Mason.
"Shut up, flobberbrains," Katie told her brother.
"I just can't believe you're all grown up and heading to Hogwarts!" said her mother, wiping at her eyes. "Seems like only yesterday you were learning to walk, wandering around the house in nappies and trying to ride the dog-"
Mason was turning red in the effort not to laugh.
"I'll send lots of owls, Mum, I promise!" interrupted Katie, horrified at the idea of her mother launching into a soliloquy of all the things Katie had ever done in diapers, (a subject upon which she could seemingly talk for hours) in front of the whole platform.
"And don't forget to send us packages from Honeydukes," said her father, his eyes gleaming at the thought of fizzing whizbees, chocolate cauldrons, and long loops of candy floss. that Katie could remember receiving them all by the boxful from her brothers on holidays.
"Hogsmeade isn't until third year, Dad," said Mason, as their father leaned down to hug and kiss Katie, too.
"Come on, Kate," said Mox, putting his hand on her shoulder. "Let's get you settled."
Both of her brothers escorted her onto the Hogwarts Express, saying hello to old classmates and finding Katie an empty compartment near the front of the train. Both of her brothers had obviously been quite popular at school, which oddly made Katie feel even more nervous. Though she knew they were both just trying to be nice, seeing her brother's easy comfort with the train and its occupants made her feel all the more awkward.
Mox stashed Sophie on the seat next to her and put her carrying basket under the seat while Mason made sure her heavy trunk was securely stationed in one of the bins. The Bell family had arrived early, so the train was still relatively empty, and Katie had a compartment all to herself.
Mox was the first to say goodbye. "Have fun, Kate," he said, hugging her. "And if anyone gives you trouble, just send me an owl."
"And me," added Mason. “We'll hex their bits off for you,” he added, winning a weak smile from his sister.
"I wish you both were coming with me," said Katie quietly, feeling the first acute pains of being without her family. Mox was three years out of Hogwarts and finishing up the Auror program, however, and Mason had graduated only last year and had recently been hired by the Gringotts. Katie, who had taken her parents by surprise relatively late in life, would be attending Hogwarts without the aid and comfort of her siblings.
"Don't worry, you'll have loads of fun," said Mason, hugging her too. "We did."
"Maybe too much fun, in your case," mused Mox, raising his eyebrows.
“Filch never proved anything,” muttered Mason in a sing-song murmur out of the corner of his mouth.
"If I make the Quidditch team, you'll come watch me, right?" asked Katie.
"We've told you, no first years, remember?" said Mason, before glancing behind them. “Oy, Davies, you see the latest Nimbus?” he called, ducking out of the compartment.
"But when you make the team, we'll be there, front row." continued Mox, smiling.
"It's a promise?" asked Katie, looking up at her eldest brother.
"Promise," replied Mox, holding up his hand solemnly before drawing her close in another hug. And with that, he was gone, leaving Katie alone in the compartment with her thoughts, which were racing a mile a minute.
With nothing else to do, Katie changed into her school robes, adjusting and readjusting the fastenings on her cloak until they looked somewhat straight. She made sure Sophie was settled next, but the kitten had already fallen back asleep. Her mother had packed some sandwiches and sweets for the trip, but Katie wasn't hungry- her stomach was in too many knots.
Her book bag was on the seat next to her- she supposed she could always study up on the Standard Book of Spells (Grade 1), but after cracking it open, she found she couldn't concentrate on a single word. Standing, she tried to heft her book bag onto the top shelf along with her trunk. The item was heavy, however, and wound up crashing immediately back down, clunking her soundly on the head with a year's worth of books inside it.
Tears stinging her eyes at the throbbing in her skull, Katie grappled with the bag again, only to have it tumble back down, spilling its contents everywhere. Her potions book narrowly missed Sophie, who meowed in complaint.
Using every curse word she'd ever heard her brothers utter as she tried to wrangle the bag up again, Katie stood up on her tiptoes, cursing her height as she tried a third time.
"Need a hand?" said a voice. An older boy was standing in the compartment doorway, arms folded as he watched her lack of progress. He was a broad, good-looking boy with rather unkempt red hair and hazel eyes. Katie could only blink at him as he reached over, picked up the book bag, and hefted it easily on the shelf.
"All right there?" he asked. "That looked pretty heavy. Must've given you quite a thump."
"No, 'm alright," Katie mumbled, horrified that this boy had been watching her undignified struggle.
"You're pretty tough, then," said the older boy kindly, smiling. "You might think about Quidditch. That bag weighed about as much as a bludger, I think."
Katie wanted to tell the boy that she knew all about bludgers, that Quidditch was her favourite sport and as a birthday treat her parents had taken her and her brothers to a Harpies match this past summer, which was her favourite team in the whole league, but her tongue seemed glued to the roof of her mouth. By the time Katie gathered up enough courage to look up and thank him, he was gone.
Taking her seat again, Katie put her hands in her lap and sighed. Outside, she could hear more people starting to board, chatting and laughing with friends. For a moment, Katie felt the first sharp tug of longing for the familiar comforts of home and the familiar faces that went with them, and wished that her brothers were there with her, sharing her compartment.
What if she didn't make any friends? What if she was pants at magic? She could see it now, the horror of trying to perform magic in front of the whole school, the professors shaking their heads sadly and pronouncing her a failure. They'd turn her away, of course, and she'd have to walk back home: Katie Bell, disappointment to the Bell family after two such promising magical sons...
There was a loud and sudden commotion outside, and two ginger blurs burst into her compartment, quickly slamming the door behind them and dispelling the unpleasant images of Katie's over-active imagination. Looking closely, she could see the boys were both identical, and wearing matching grins to boot. They both turned to look at her.
"Mind if we share with you?" asked one.
"-that is, er, -someone-"
"-may have set off a dungbomb in the corridor."
"Yes, of course," said Katie quickly, grabbing Sophie and setting the kitten in her lap to make room. She'd heard a bit about dungbombs from Mason and had gathered from him that they were both extremely fun for the person setting them off and extremely unpleasant for the recipient.
As the two stumbled the rest of the way in the compartment, one's trunk lid burst open, causing them both to curse. One of them sat on it while the other pounded the latch closed, but not before Katie caught a glimpse of what she thought were a sizable amount of Filibusters No-Heat, Wet-Start fireworks.
"I'm Fred Weasley," said one, after he'd stowed his trunk, "And this regrettably less handsome specimen to my right is my brother George."
"Less handsome?" echoed his brother, struggling to bring his bursting trunk into the compartment, "Surely you jest."
"But aren't you two...identical?" asked Katie.
The boys grinned at each other, and George clasped a hand over his heart. "You wound me. Can't you tell I'm much better-looking, Miss-"
"Oh! Bell. Katie Bell."
"Pleasure to meet you, Miss Bell," they replied, bowing in unison and making her giggle. They reminded her of her own brothers, Mason particularly, which helped to dispel both her shyness and her homesickness.
The one called George stuck his head out of the compartment. "Oi! Jordan! Down here!"
A new boy with dreadlocks entered the compartment, coughing up a storm and bringing the smells of the hallway in with him. Whatever dungbombs actually were, thought Katie, covering her nose, they were aptly named.
"Ever thinking of setting it off after we got our luggage stowed?" he muttered. After setting down his luggage, he hailed two more girls from the corridor, who quickly clambered in, once again bringing a heavy, stagnant whiff of fresh manure with them.
One had her hand around her mouth, while the other had wrapped her red and gold scarf around her face in an attempt to filter the smell.
"This is Katie Bell," said George (she thought it was George) to everyone. "Who has been kind enough to let us take over her compartment."
"It's nothing," blushed Katie, embarrassed to have everyone's full attention.
"This your first time on the Hogwart's express?" asked one of the two girls, shrugging off her coat. "I'm Angelina Johnson, by the way."
"And I'm Lee Jordan," said the new boy with dreadlocks, sniffing at his cloak and making a face.
"Alicia Spinnet," said the third, plunking down next to her friend. "Couldn't wait to set those off, could you, you great prats?" she asked, glaring at Fred and George.
"I don't know what she could be referring to, do you, George?" Katie took the time to register that though George was wearing an identical maroon jumper to Fred's, his right sleeve was slightly frayed, thus setting him apart.
"Haven't the foggiest," replied his brother.
Alicia glared at the twins for a moment before once again turning her attention to Katie. "What a pretty kitten! What's her name?"
"Sophie. You want to hold her?" asked Katie, settling her onto Alicia's lap, where the kitten stretched and began to purr.
"She's adorable!” said the girl, stroking her. “Are you excited?"
"Yes," said Katie, suddenly feeling shy again. And she was- excited, nervous, and about to be sick-
"Oh, she's a first year?" asked Lee.
"Which means-" began Fred, lifting an eyebrow.
"-the sorting," finished George dramatically.
"Poor thing." they said together.
"They always seem so young." sighed Lee. "Makes it all the more tragic, really."
"It's that bad?" asked Katie. Mason had something about a broomstick and a hag, but she thought he'd been pulling her leg...
"Worse." said the twins sadly.
"Come off it, you two," snapped Angelina. "It's not that bad at all." She looked at Katie closely a moment, then frowned. "You're not related to Mox Bell, are you? Ravenclaw Seeker?"
"That's my oldest brother," said Katie, understanding at once why Angelina had asked about her relation to Mox and not Mason. Both she and Mox had their mother's brown hair, while Mason was tow-headed, like their father. "Mason's my other brother."
"Yeah, I remember Mason, graduated last year? Ravenclaw prefect, though he probably caused more trouble than he prevented."
"A true inspiration to us all," agreed Fred.
"That sounds like Mason," said Katie, smiling.
"You're a shoe-in for Ravenclaw, then," said George, sighing. "Too bad. We can always use more birds in Gryffindor."
Katie looked around. "You're all in Gryffindor, then?"
"Yep," said Fred. "But Ravenclaw's not bad either, nor's Hufflepuff. It's Slytherin you really want to avoid."
Suddenly the compartment door opened, and a tall boy with red hair and glasses stuck his head in. "Was that you two setting off that dungbomb in the Slytherin compartment? That conductor's in a state, trying to conjure some incense charms, but they're saying it's a certainty Greengrass's luggage will never smell right again-"
"What a tragedy," muttered Angelina, rolling her eyes.
"This is serious," sniffed Percy. "Dumbledore is always saying how important inter-house unity is, and you're already creating problems-"
"Percy," said George, getting to his feet and putting his hand dramatically over his heart. "It wounds us to hear such unfounded accusations, especially from our own brother."
"Would we want to start off the year with Slytherin on such an antagonistic foot? I ask you, our own brother-"
Percy was having none of it. "If I can prove you've gone and done it again, don't think I won't write Mother," said Percy, folding his arms. "It's not even the start of the year, and already you two aren't taking anything seriously-"
"There are plenty of things we take seriously," said Fred, affecting a wounded tone.
"Like dungbombs," muttered George under his breath, causing Alicia, Angelina, and Katie to conceal their smiles.
"Now, if you'll point that long nose of yours elsewhere, we were just saying we ought to crack open our studies-"
"-start the year off on the right foot-"
"-so I'm afraid we really can't be bothered-" finished George, shutting the door in the young man's face.
"Git," muttered Fred, taking a seat next to Angelina and Katie, while George, Lee, and Alicia took the seats opposite them.
No sooner had everyone settled in than the door opened up again, revealing a familiar broad-shouldered boy- it was Katie's strong-armed savior from earlier. Unlike their previous visitor, however, he looked to be in a good mood. "Was that dungbomb your work?" he asked, half-coughing, half-laughing.
"Haven't the foggiest idea what you're talking about, Charlie," said Fred.
"Was there a dungbomb?" asked George innocently. "We hadn't noticed."
The older boy just rolled his eyes. "Yeah, sure. Hey Jordan, Alicia, Angelina, and-"
"-Katie," supplied Alicia after a moment, as Katie seemed to have temporarily forgotten her own name.
"We met earlier," said Charlie, grinning. "I'm going to meet up with Tonks and Chevis up front, see you guys at the feast."
"Who was that?" asked Katie, after their new guest had ducked out.
"Our brother Charlie." said George.
Katie frowned. "How many brothers do youhave, exactly?"
"Do we have to count Percy?"
"I suppose," sighed Fred. “Mum has kittens if we don't.”
"Well, there's Bill, he's graduated and works for Gringott's as a curse-breaker, then there's Charlie, then Percy, then us, and of course, ickle Ronnikins-" Something about the way George said the last address made a rush of pity coarse through Katie for whomever the nickname belonged- "and Ginny, our dear little sister. "
"Poor Ginny." said Katie, thinking of the prospect of not two, but six older brothers.
Fred laughed. "Ha. You wouldn't say that if you'd met her."
"Tiny little thing...but tough." agreed George.
"She'd have to be, to handle you lot," said Alicia, and Angelina nodded.
Lee dug in his coat pocket a moment before producing a pack of cards. "Who's up for Exploding Snap?"
The rest of the ride passed quickly. They spent the journey playing exploding snap, playing 'guess that bean' with Angelina's giant bag of Every Flavor beans, and eating cauldron cakes and chocolate frogs from the trolly
"But you'll want to save your appetite for the feast tonight, the first night's always one of the best," said Fred. Katie was so busy playing cards, eating sweets, and laughing at Fred, George, and Lee's antics, that she forgot all about being homesick, and the looming horror of Sorting...almost.
But she didn't forget about Charlie Weasley...and she'd never forget the cheers of her new friends as the Sorting Hat announced her new placement in Gryffindor.
It was, after all, one of the happiest nights of her life.
Even though first years were not allowed to play Quidditch, Katie was so excited the night before Gryffindor's first match she barely slept. Many of her new friends were on the Quidditch team, and she'd been up the night before listening to them go over their plays. She showed up on the pitch early, dressed in all her red and gold finery, waiting to cheer on the team. Though it wasn't professional Quidditch, and the Gryffindor's skills weren't quite on par with her favourite team, Katie had never been more excited for a match.
Katie's elation soon faded, however, just minutes after the match started. It seemed that no sooner did Madam Hooch blow the whistle then a heavy downpour seemed to come out of nowhere, soaking both player and spectator alike. Slytherin began playing dirty immediately, fouling both Angelina and Elynda, a 7th year chaser, but the penalties were nothing next to what came next. Slytherin's goal seemed not to be so much scoring as taking out Charlie Weasley, a strategy that was fully realized when the Gryffindor seeker took a bludger straight to the face after being boxed in by two of Slytherin's chasers. As Charlie struggled to get back onto his broom, Slytherin's seeker was able to dive and capture the snitch, ending what was both a long and painful game for both Gryffindor's spectators and its players.
"But Slytherin cheated!" exclaimed Katie indignantly when they were back in the common room, her hands still balled into fists and her voice harsh from shouting.
"Slytherin always cheats, Katie," said Alicia sighing as she wrung out her plait. As a reserve chaser, she'd been able to watch the game under the awning next to the changing rooms, and was only slightly less soaked than her teammates. "That's a given. But seeing as Hooch was already telling Bole and Derrick off for that move on Charlie, she sort of missed Flint, Pucey, and Montague 's rendition of the Hawkshead formation, which nearly sawed Elynda off at the knees. By the time she saw that, well, Higgs had already caught the snitch, and there wasn't much point in a penalty shot, anyway."
Katie frowned. "I thought the Hawkshead formation was just a flight maneuver, that there wasn't any contact involved?"
"Not in Slytherin's version," replied Fred glumly, appearing at Alicia's side.
"Have to give them points for creativity, I suppose," sighed George, plopping onto one of the couches. "Never seen the Hawkshead flown with such..."
"...intent to kill?" muttered Angelina helpfully, sinking down next to him.
"Yeah, that's it."
"We were doing well enough until Bole sent that bludger at Charlie's face-" said Fred.
"-and well, he's sort of taken a lot of bludgers to the head already-" continued George.
"I suppose I'm not surprised they went for Charlie," said Katie. "He's loads better than Higgs. Is Charlie going to be okay, do you think?" she added worriedly.
"Take more than a bludger to stop Charlie." Fred raised an eyebrow. "Why, are you worried, Katie? Should we tell Charlie you've been agonizing over his most unjust injury, awaiting his speedy return with bated breath?"
"Aw, does ickle Katie have a crush?" George chimed in, grinning.
"Shut it, you two," replied Katie, feeling her cheeks burn, "Or I'll hex you."
"You're a first year, you're not old enough to know any good curses," said George, wringing out his robes.
"I have older brothers," Katie pointed out.
Fred considered. "True, we did learn many of our best starter curses from Bill and Charlie-"
"-mind you, they were used on us," supplied George.
"-but it's true that there's nothing like a first-hand approach to learning spell work. Charlie was particularly gifted with the bat-bogey hex."
“-think he taught it to Ginny, actually-”
As if on cue, the current topic of conversation stumbled through the portrait hole, holding a handful of something to his forehead and looking a little pale beneath his freckles. As Fred, George, Angelina and Alicia sunk down in front of the fire, Charlie slumped down at one of the tables. Elynda and Erdwin, the 7th year chasers, gave everyone tired waves and headed up to bed, boots squelching with every step.
The common room was relatively empty, except for a few students alternately scribbling furiously, muttering under their breath, or rubbing at their eyes in an attempt to finish their homework. Percy, a common fixture at one of the side tables nearest the fire, was double-checking his Transfiguration essay, having gone up to Gryffindor tower straight after the match. "I've never understood why you all insist on playing Quidditch," he said. "It's nice enough to watch from the stands, of course, but on the field, it's a bloody free-for-all, especially against that Slytherin. Reminiscent of those gladiator battles we've just seen in Muggle Studies, really. Come to that, I've often thought that one's pursuits at Hogwarts should be directed first to the academic, and not the barbaric-"
"Oh, shut it, Percy, will you?" muttered George, wringing his Quidditch uniform over the fire and making it sizzle. “Doesn't anyone know a drying charm 'round here?”
“Haven't covered it yet,” muttered Angelina. It seemed that no one wanted to bother Charlie, who had bigger troubles at the moment.
"Flattened," sighed Charlie gloomily, holding a large ruby object to the side of his head, where Katie could see that a nasty lump was already swelling. "Cooling charm," he said by way of an explanation, holding up the object for them to see before putting it back to his temple, where the beginnings of a bruise was already beginning to flush. The cooling object was an old, overlarge gobstone with a crack down the middle, chosen, no doubt, for its surface area.
"Where's Wood?" asked Alicia, peering behind him.
Angelina rolled her eyes. "Still in the locker room, obsessing over the playbook."
"Banging his head against it, more like," muttered George.
"Mental," agreed Fred.
"Shouldn't you go up to the hospital wing, Charlie?" asked Katie, remembering the way Charlie's head had snapped around with the force of the impact as the bludger collided with his face.
The Gryffindor captain raised an eyebrow, but he was smiling as he sat down at one of the tables, pulling a bag from under it. "Never been up to the hospital wing, have you, Kate? Pomfrey'll never let me out, and I've still got this damned essay of Trelawney's to finish. I've only just dodged her on the way up here, she's been after me since I got off the pitch."
"You know, we've often wondered why you continued in the noble-"
"-albeit senseless-" coughed Fred.
"-art of Divination," finished George. "It seems like such an abstract pursuit for someone as...grounded-"
"-thick-headed-" muttered Fred.
Charlie calmly set down his quill and picked up his wand. "Actually, aside from being a guaranteed Newt, Divination's come in pretty handy. For example, Fred, I can see a thorough thrashing in your near future."
"How near?" asked Fred, looking at his brother with some measure of apprehension. Katie could see why- though already taller than his older brother, Charlie was roughly twice the size of him.
"Near enough," replied Charlie calmly. Pointing his wand at his quill, he muttered 'Dictatus'. The quill sprung up, hovering over the parchment and ready to write, which left Charlie free to hold the cooling stone over half of his face. Katie filed the useful charm away in her memory banks for later use.
Eying his brother suspiciously but deciding that a thrashing was not immediately forthcoming, Fred turned back to the fire, trying to warm his sopping-wet trainers against the grill. The soles and laces dripped, sizzling in the flames.
Still muttering to his quill, Charlie smiled.
Katie, Alicia, and Angelina hid their giggles behind their hands. A heavy book from one of the tables was now hovering over Fred's unsuspecting head.
At that moment, Oliver Wood climbed through the portrait hole, looking for all the world as if he had just attended a funeral.
"All right there, Oliver?" called Angelina.
"Never better," replied the Keeper glumly. "By the way, McGonagall's looking for you, Charlie. You're to report to the hospital wing immediately, she said, no excuses."
"Damnit," muttered the elder Weasley, throwing down his quill and trudging out the portrait hole.
As soon as he left, the book hovering over Fred's head dropped with a loud thunk onto his skull, causing Angelina, Katie, Alicia, and George to once again dissolve into laughter.
A disapproving sniff made them look behind, where Percy was shaking his head. "Like I said, Quidditch is a distraction from one's academic responsibilities-" he began.
"Oh, do be quiet, Percy," snapped Fred, still rubbing his head.
She was floating above the Quidditch pitch, the wind in her hair and the ground hundreds of feet below. Her forehead was sweaty, and she was filled with the kind of free-floating exhilaration that only flying could bring. The quaffle was under her arm, and the crowd around the pitch was hollering. After a moment, she realized it was her name-
"Katie!" Something was shaking her, and she slid sideways on her broom. She righted herself immediately, still looking down at the crowd. They were bringing out the Quidditch World Cup, she could see the golden gleam from the ground below....
"Katie! Wake up!"
Katie opened her eyes to the Gryffindor common room, and to Charlie Weasley shaking her awake.
"Good dream?" he asked as she righted herself, wiping at her eyes.
"Yeah," she replied, hoping against hope that she had not been drooling. Sophie, who had been napping peacefully in her lap, meowed at being disturbed and promptly jumped from the couch, stretching."I was playing Quidditch, we'd just won the World Cup..."
"Ah, I love that dream," replied the older boy, grinning as he sank into one of the chairs in front of the fire.
"How's your head?" asked Katie, closing her Transfiguration textbook and setting it on the table.
"Better," replied Charlie, showing her what was now a rapidly flushing purple welt. "Pomfrey's not entirely convinced I don't have a concussion, but she said I could go after a few hours of hovering."
"What time is it?" she asked.
"Almost two," he replied. "You should get up to bed." Sophie jumped up into Charlie's lap, meowing. He ran a large hand over her head, scratching her between the ears as the cat let out a loud, contented purr.
"She really likes you," observed Katie.
"I think animals can tell who likes them," replied Charlie. "That's what I'd like to do when I graduate, anyway, work with animals."
"You'd be good at it," said Katie. "I always sort of thought you'd play professional Quidditch, though."
"Yeah, I thought about that," he said. "But you can only take so many bludgers to the head, y' know? I'd like to be able to write my own name when I'm thirty, much less remember it." They both laughed.
Katie looked at her hands. "I know it's silly, but since next year Elynda and Erdwin are graduating, I thought maybe I'd try out for the position of Chaser.”
"That's not silly at all. But you'd better practice up a bit before trials, maybe learn a couple of moves. I'd bet McGonagall's going to appoint Wood as Captain next year, and he'll be looking for a well-rounded group of Chasers. Angelina's solid, great goal-scorer, and he'll probably move up Alicia from the reserves, as she's got great pass accuracy and holds up pretty well against bludgers. He'll be wanting speed and accuracy to supplement the other girls."
Katie reached into her textbook, pulling out a flier and showing it to Charlie. It had large print on it, and a picture of a broomstick zoomed in and out of the paper. Charlie read it out loud:
"For those first-years desirous of improving broom skills , (or other years wanting to hone or help their skills), Madame Hooch will be holding a two hour supervised free-fly every Sunday out on the Quidditch Pitch before lunch. Those first-years interested should sign up on Madame Hooch's door, located in the dungeons next to the statue of Prewyn the Pugnacious. After last year's incident, NO ATTEMPTS AT THE WRONSKEI FEINT WILL BE ALLOWED." He grinned. "Yeah, I remember that, Higgs thought he'd give it a go and broke his nose. Blood everywhere, the idiot."
Katie summoned her courage. "Would you...I mean, I know you're busy, but I thought maybe if you had a Sunday free, you'd join me for that free fly Madame Hooch is running. I'd like to learn some of your maneuvers, and, well, you're the best flier on the team," she finished, blushing.
"Sure," said Charlie, seemingly oblivious to her embarrassment. "I'll meet you out there Sunday. Fred and George'll probably come too, they need help on cornering."
"Thanks." said Katie.
"No problem. Now," said Charlie, "To finish this bloody essay." Summoning his bag and picking up his quill, she saw his surprise when he looked down to see that all two rolls of parchment had been filled. "Huh, what do you know, apparently tomorrow I'll be having an accident involving a hippogriff, a hag, and a toadstool, owing to the position of Mercury."
"Your brothers filled it in while you were up in the hospital wing, since you" said Katie. "I think they were really just trying to help, but-"
Charlie scanned the essay. "One case of mumblewumps this month, a dragon bite, and all because I dreamed of uncooked cauliflower when Uranus was in the 7th house." He chuckled. "Weird enough for Trelawney, and good enough for me." Rolling up the parchment, Charlie yawned, got to his feet, and patted her shoulder as he walked past. "Night, Kate."
Katie could feel her cheeks heat in a way that had nothing to do with the fire.
Nobody had ever called her Kate before, except for Mox, and he didn't say it quite the same way. It was affectionate and brotherly, yes, but Katie privately thought (and hoped) that there might be room for more.
It was like her dream- here she was, hovering hundreds of feet above the ground, the wind in her hair and a sheen of sweat on her brow.
Unlike her dream, however, she was doing her damned best not to fall off her broom and make an utter idiot out of herself, though she would never admit it. The school brooms were a lot jerkier than the Moontrimmer she'd flown at home, and though she missed the fluidity of her old broom, she was slowly getting used to this one.
After proving to Madam Hooch that she had some experience on a broom (having Charlie along helped, as Madam Hooch seemed especially fond of him and seemed to think he was more than capable of watching over Katie), she was allowed to join the other more experienced broom riders in the higher area of air, while other first years scooted unsteadily along the ground, occasionally getting a good headwind (which was usually followed by an unceremonious tumble to the ground).
Katie, George, and Fred had just finished some diving drills that had put some color into Katie's cheeks (and her heart in her throat), but she'd never had more fun on a broom. Charlie was an excellent teacher: patient and thorough, and more than happy to hand out encouragement in Katie's case, and a healthy helping of correction in the case of Fred and George, who had nearly collided twice (though Katie privately thought it was on purpose.)
"Nice one, Kate!" Charlie zoomed down to their height, looking perfectly at home on his broomstick despite his broad shoulders and muscular form. As much as Katie was learning from instruction, she also loved watching Charlie fly- it was like a fish in water, all graceful ducks and razor-sharp corners, his shape a red blur against the powder blue sky.
"You've heard of the Porkskoff Ploy?"
"No, not really," she admitted, trying to tuck some fly-away sections of hair back into her plait.
"It's a fake-out move- it'll draw an opposing chaser up with you, and then you make a pass down to another chaser, clearing the field for a score...at least for awhile. Saw it at the World Cup once. Try flying straight and pick up some speed, then duck up, immediately angling your body down to look for a pass. Try it."
Leaning forward on her broom to gain some speed, Katie bent her body into the motion, imagining another Chaser on her tail, jerking back, she lifted up, instantly angling her upper body down to look for an imaginary pass.
To make things simpler, Charlie had forgone the use of quaffles for the moment, and though Katie could admit that it did make her focus more on her flying skills, she also felt rather silly catching and passing an imaginary ball.
"Good!" shouted Charlie. "You've got to really commit to the upward lift, though, otherwise they might not take the bait. Try it again."
This time, Katie leaned harder into the turn, and shot up with a force that nearly unseated her before she could level out. As she descended again to Charlie's level, the Seeker nodded his approval. "Good. Keep flying like that, and you're a shoe-in for Chaser."
"Thanks, Charlie," said Katie, smiling at him. "I appreciate your taking the time today."
"Don't worry about it," said Charlie. "I had nothing else to do."
"Yes you did," said Katie, having heard him earlier refuse plans with several other friends. "But thank you all the same."
And even though Charlie was 17 and she was 12, even though she harbored a crush on him and he viewed her as another little sister- for all the distance between them, Katie would look back on that moment as the one in which she and Charlie Weasley became friends.
Daily Prophet: Emmeline Vance was found murdered today...
...Aurors Mox Bell, and Bastion Meadowes injured in the attack...both Aurors transferred to St. Mungos...conditions have not been released at this time...
"-killed Vance outright, tried to Kedavra me too and nailed Bell with something when he tried to go for Emmeline, I couldn't see, but it tore through his shield charm, crumpled him like some damned marionette with the strings cut, and Emmeline, she was dead...I only just grabbed Bell and disapparated....
"...happened so bloody fast, it was like...like they were expecting us, like they knew we'd be there, hexed us like ducks in a row-"
"-traitor in our midst, Kingsley...and probably more than one..."
Mason, still and pale and silent at his brother's bedside, his fingers laced together in his lap as he stared blankly at the opposite wall.
Their father pacing the hallways, his eyes rimmed-red from grief and lack of sleep.
Their mother, sobbing, holding Mox's cold and unresponsive hand, asking the Healers an endless torrent of questions that seemed to have no satisfactory answers.
On those few occasions Katie found herself alone in the room, she kept busy, wiping her brother's forehead, reading to him, her grief keeping her constantly in motion though any sharp turns or movements on her cursed side still caused her pain. It had always amazed her, when she had woken up and been lucid enough to be amazed, how a small hole in her glove had led to the damage that snaked up her entire side, growing like a dark, twisted vine and bringing with it the most horrible visions. Though the nightmares of the experience had faded with time, the scars had not left; the small dark pin-prick on her finger where it had touched the necklace spread along her side like an arc of lightning, climbing and climbing until Professor Snape had stopped it...just before it had reached her heart.
She hated being back in this place again- she could hear the Healer's words over her, their voices grating and grim-
"Probably never recover fully on her right side, any Quidditch at school would be discouraged, Quidditch at the professional level impossible..."
She tuned out of her own memories to listen to the Healer's new words about her brother-
"Quite frankly, the physical injuries are the least of his worries...traces of the Cruciatus curse, among others, it's difficult to say when or if he'll wake, and if so, what kind of...condition...he'll be in..."
The brother in front of her was not one she recognized. Mox had a tall, towering build, dark hair always long and his laughter contagious as she rode on his shoulders, he yelling as he ran across the backyard, shouting,
"And it's Katie Bell! Katie Bell zooming into score just as the snitch is caught and it's the Harpies by 10, the Harpies by 10, I've never seen such flying!!"
The young man on the hospital cot was missing his left eye and part of his ear, his face covered in bandages and his skin sickly pale.
She remembered the day Mox had become an Auror, how proudly he had grinned as their father, a retired member of the Magical Law Enforcement department himself, clapped him on the back and bragged to anyone who would listen. They'd had a big family dinner that night with pot roast and a big chocolate cake, Mox's favourite...
"-going out of retirement, I'll find out who it is and see the deed done myself-" her father ranted, leaning heavily on his cane as her mother cried into her cupped hands. Mason, meanwhile, had stared blankly out the window, and eventually got up and left.
Katie had sat by her brother's beside for hours, her hands balled into fists, but the tears would not come. Only anger came, restlessness, and she paced the room looking for a direction for those feelings to go. She and Mox had been most alike in looks and in temperament, and it was against her parent's wishes and Mason's advice that she had accompanied Fred and George to the Order's new headquarters the next day...but she knew that Mox would understand.
They said that the new temporary quarters for the Order of the Phoenix was an improvement over the last one, but if that was true, Katie privately felt that the last place must have been an absolute wreck. The new place was an abandoned restaurant building that had been set up to look like an old pie shoppe whose 'open' sign constantly read “Closed: Thank you for your loyal patronage!”
Inside, the building was no more remarkable- a few chairs surrounded an old Formica counter top and in the back, there were some old trays and plates and a muggle coffee maker that worked when it felt like it. Chipped coffee cups were scattered around from the meeting, and in the corner, a magical fire did its best to warm the cold space.
Katie had come with the twins with the aim of arranging the next episode of Potterwatch, for which she helped to run security while the boys were broadcasting. After catching up on the depressing news of the day, which involved the deaths of Ted Tonks, Dirk Cresswell, and the goblins with whom they had apparently been traveling, the group moved on to the planning session. Tonks was understandably absent from the meeting, owing to the death of her father. Katie felt a pang of sadness for the young woman- Tonks had been to visit Mox several times over the past few weeks, always bringing a singing card or once, a pot of honking tulips that had to be silenced after the second day by an irritated Healer.
"-as I've said, the Floo Network is currently unusable, and owls are easily intercepted and killed with no way to tell who intercepted them, or often, if they arrive at their destinations at all in the same condition went sent them." Kingsley was saying, a grave look on his face. "We can't afford tampering, not after Little Whinging.”
"Apparition?" asked Bill.
"Too far," replied Kingsley, "And this particular item doesn't work with apparition- it's steeped in old magic, journey magic. The only course of delivery looks to be by broom."
"We can't risk any of the order members right now," said Mr. Weasley. "You can put a trace on an owl, we could-"
"This can't be intercepted," said Remus. "McGonagall was adamant on that particular point."
"We could-" started George.
"Absolutely not," snapped Mrs. Weasley.
"But-" began Fred.
“No!” Their mother looked close to tears, but according to Fred and George, this was nothing new. "You're already risking your necks for that radio show, I won't have you-"
"I'll do it," Katie found herself saying quietly. "I'll be the messenger."
The twins looked at her in surprise, and they were not the only ones.
Kingsley lifted an eyebrow. "I am afraid, Miss Bell, that is out of the question.”
"I'm the best flier in the room that's not already on something else."
"It is not a question of skill," said the Auror. "It is a question of-"
"I'm of age. I'm not a child."
Kingsley studied her for a moment, then seemed to come to a conclusion. "No," he said quietly. "You aren't."
"I'll contact McGonagall, then," said Remus. "Pack for a long trip, at least one day by broom."
Katie blinked. One day's travel by broom? Where on earth was she going?
Fred was still taking notes. Kingsley turned to him and George.
"Potterwatch, then, on the tenth?"
"We're on," replied the twins. "Lee's out scouting a new broadcasting place as we speak, we'll send you the details in the usual way."
"We'll see you Thursday, then Katie, and Fred and George on the tenth, same time as last. “
The three recognized their dismissal. The Order was having separate meetings increasingly lately, to prevent any one person from knowing more than they should and putting them all at greater risk.
"Please tell Tonks she's in my thoughts, Professor Lupin," said Katie, gathering her bag.
"I've told you, 'Remus' is fine, Katie." said the older man. "But I will. Thank you."
As Katie shut the door, she heard Kingsley's voice. "She's too young. Too inexperienced."
"They're all too young, Kingsley: Harry, Ron, Fred, George, the lot of them..”
“-but it isn't as if we have a surplus of members...and our little list is growing shorter by the day."
As Katie followed the twins out the back door, she heard Remus's voice respond, and it was laced with sadness.
"In these dark times, Molly, I am afraid we must face the prospect of seeing our young people grow up a little sooner than we would like...if, indeed, they shall be able to grow up at all."
"You don't have to do this, you know, Katie," said George, shrugging into his jacket in the cold, empty foyer.
"What, you think I can't handle it, either?" she returned heatedly, causing the twins to back up, hands raised in defense.
"It's not that," said George. "It's just...well, it's dangerous, Katie, all of it, and it...isn't going to..."
"I know it won't make my brother better," snapped Katie. "But I won't sit by and do nothing while everyone else I care about risk their necks. I can't wait at his bedside as the war goes on around me. I won't."
Fred grinned. "She's always been stubborn, our Katie. Besides, you know what they say, Forge," he said, sighing. "In for a nut, in for a galleon."
"True enough, Gred," replied his brother, but he was looking at Katie when he said it, and his expression was more serious than normal.
Katie reached into her pocket, handing Fred the extra key to her flat. "Take care of Sophie while I'm away, won't you?"
Katie had received the visitor Lupin had promised at midnight. Well, three visitors, really; all silvery cats that ghosted into her foyer, tails twitching. From Katie's lap, Sophie sat up and hissed, and Katie nearly jumped out of her skin as they materialized out of nowhere.
Each cat spoke in a rather stern, familiar voice, then vanished into silver vapour.
“Field post seven.”
“9am. Tell no one.”
Katie spent the better part of half an hour cleaning up the cup of cocoa she'd spilled all over her couch.
It was due to these rather unsettling visitors that Katie was sitting the stone fence that separated the village of Hogsmeade from a seemingly abandoned farmer's field, fully packed for her trip and holding her wand at the ready beneath her coat.
A cat was walking along the same stone wall, carefully picking its way toward her. She ignored it, at first, until it sat down a few feet from her, tail twitching as it looked around. It had a curious set of markings around its eyes, rather like a set of spectacles...
"Professor McGonagall?" whispered Katie.
With a twist and shudder of motion, the cat lengthened into the familiar form of her Transfiguration teacher. Katie found the process as impressive as she had her first year. "Miss Bell," she said, nodding as she held out a piece of paper. "Memorise this address, please. Do not repeat it out loud or ask any questions regarding this information."
Tucking away her wand, Katie unfolded the paper and read the message:
Gheorgheni, Romania, (5 miles east) Look for the red light.
Katie repeated the information to herself a few times before handing the note back to McGonagall, who took out her wand, whispered 'incendio', and reduced the paper to ash.
"Do you have it memorised?" asked her former professor.
"Good," said McGonagall, handing her another slip of paper. This one had Charlie Weasley's name written on it.
"I hardly need impress on you, Miss Bell, the danger of this mission. You must not be intercepted."
"No, Professor McGonagall," replied Katie, tucking the piece of parchment under the brace on her forearm, a series of leather straps that secured her wand for easy access while she was flying. It belonged to Mox, had been on him when he was transferred to St. Mungos.
"And take this also," said her former professor, handing her what looked like an empty jam jar. "It is as important, if not more so, than the message you are delivering."
Katie nodded, tucking the jar inside her coat and hoping her nerves weren't showing. She had dressed in layers: an old Quidditch vest under her favourite jumper, and a long woolen overcoat that zipped up to her chin. She'd put ample cushioning charms on her Nimbus 2001 and had affixed a compass to the handle from her broom kit, but this was, hands down, the longest trip she had ever taken by broom.
"Kingsley has, I think, instructed you to send your patronus should anything go wrong?"
"Yes." The older Auror had spent a considerable amount of time teaching Katie, Fred, George and Lee how to conjure a corporeal, speaking patronus, building on the skills Harry had taught them in DA.
Reaching in her coat pocket, Katie handed McGonagall a note. “I know Professor Lupin told me not to tell anyone else about the mission, but if I...if something should happen, would you make sure that my family receives this?”
“Of course.” McGonagall started to say something else, but apparently thought better of it. "Good journey to you, then, Miss Bell," she said, and with a twist of her form, the same cat with spectacle-markings trotted off down the alley.
Katie took a deep breath, checked that her rucksack was firmly affixed to her broom, then shot off, setting her heading for Romania.
Katie leaned forward on her broom, fighting to keep her eyes open. Even in early March, the icy winds of winter still clung to the air, and though she had pulled her hood over her head and wrapped her old Gryffindor scarf around her mouth, she could still feel the chill in her bones.
She spent her down time thinking about what Kinglsey had said, about 'journey magic'. They'd studied what Flitwick had called the 3 Lost Magics in Charms, which related to old, nearly obscure magic that was powerful, but less used in modern times due to its potency and time-intensive requirements: blood magic, dream magic, and journey magic. Blood magic referred to those spells that used the body as a kind of passage to conduct the magic and its purpose. This kind of magic, Flitwick had said, was the kind that had spawned spells like the Unbreakable Vow, and the kind that could cast the most potent forms of protection, but at high prices. Dream magic was steeped in oral tradition and operated in the unconscious- this magic had been largely abandoned because of the kind of substances needed to achieve the desired state were extremely dangerous, and often had deadly or lasting consequences. Journey magic, Flitwick had said, was the most complex type of lost magic, and the least understood- like wand and wandlore, the potency of a spell in the case of journey magic relied solely on the experience and the tenacity of the wizard, and took the longest to achieve results.
Little though Katie understood her current mission, she understood that the mind-numbing hours she was spending on the broom was an integral part of the spell...even though it didn't mean she had to like it.
She'd set another cushioning charm in the handle an hour ago, for all the good it did her back- what had started out as a slight pain around her hips was now a full-fledged throb, and her right side, which still bore the marks of the cursed opal necklace, was still slightly weak, making her put more pressure on her left arm and shoulder, which was also beginning to strain. She had cast a disillusionment charm before she set off, and cast it poorly, by the looks of it- large bits of it were already beginning to wear off, and in an hour, it would vanish completely.
She checked her compass, then her hand, where she'd charmed a small-scale of a map to appear- from the looks of it, she still had another three hours to go. She'd thought about setting down a few times, but found herself leery of staying any length of time in an unknown area. She wanted to get there as soon as possible. Because of this, she held off on food and drink as long as possible, knowing that there was nothing worse than wanting to have a piss while balanced on a broomstick.
The idea of seeing Charlie Weasley again was strange to her- she hadn't spoken to him personally in almost five years. He'd sent her a small congratulatory note when she made Gryffindor chaser and they'd kept up a friendly but sporadic correspondence for awhile, but real life took over and they'd soon lost touch. He had moved to Romania and dragons, and she'd been immersed in school and Quidditch, and had eventually moved onto other boys. Still, she had occasionally entertained the idea of Charlie Weasley from time to time...within the privacy of the bowers of her bed, when her hand had wandered beneath the sheets...
The prospect of seeing Charlie again was pleasant but strange, with the accompanying worry of two people meeting again with years of no communication in years and a fair bit of change between them.
She'd packed a few sandwiches, some licorice wands, and a few bottles of butterbeer into her satchel, Hungry and thirsty, she pulled out a bottle of butterbeer, the warming charm she'd put on them earlier warming her hands through her mittens. She took a sip and glanced around her- the clouds were beginning to thicken and gray, and far away, she could hear the distant rumble of thunder. If she didn't hurry ahead of the storm, she'd soon be caught in a downpour.
"Buggerall," muttered Katie. She lifted the bottle to take another swig of butterbeer when she noticed something else- dark stains in the clouds, three of them...rapidly approaching. There was no warning as a red burst of light shot past her ear, missing her by inches. Another figure seemed to appear out of nowhere to her left, wand raised, and out of instinct, she chucked the bottle at him, which collided with a satisfying smack, followed by an enraged curse.
She dropped altitude sharply and immediately, all thoughts of snatching her wand from its holster put on hold as she grabbed the broom handle for balance. Another blast shot past her, this one green, lighting up the clouds with an eerie emerald light.
Her stomach clenched- it was the killing curse.
"Stun her, you fool!" shouted one. "We'll get no answers from a corpse!”
Katie rolled and descended again so abruptly she could feel her stomach in her throat, countryside coming into view now that she was free of the cloud cover. She reached for her wand again, fingers closing around the handle and preparing to whip it back, a hex already forming on her lips.
She heard a shout behind her, and suddenly, her right arm was encompassed with such sharp, fiery pain that she almost dropped her wand. Letting out a yell of pain, she kept hold of the handle and turned, shouting "Incarcerous!", but she was casting blindly and did not hold out much hope that the hex had made its mark.
Arm burning from shoulder blade to fingertip, she banked a sharp left, not even bothering to look behind her now as she shot for a clump of trees that marked the end of a farmer's field. She leaned hard into the broom, knowing that to shake even a few of them that this. Small branches whipped her face as she wove around from tree to tree, barely keeping her broom in line. Katie heard a crash behind her and knew that it was her satchel's contents smashing into the side of a tree trunk and scattering. There was a scream and a sickening thud behind her, and she knew at least one of her pursuers had followed her into the tree cover and crashed.
It would be too much to hope, however, that they had all been as stupid, and she braced herself for the ones that would be waiting for her.
Jerking up on the handle and shooting out of the trees, she dodged two hexes flying up- two of them, no, three hurling at her like bludgers. One attacker flew in hard from her left, raising his wand-
But Katie was faster. She raised her wand, shouting "Incarcerous!" Ropes flew around her would-be killer, setting him off balance and spiraling backwards in a dead plummet. Katie spared a moment to watch the man and his broom plunge from the sky into the small woods, and had only the smallest of seconds to roll as another curse flew by, narrowly missing her ear. She shot in the direction of that curse, wand extended, and looked straight into Antonin Dolohov's twisted, sneering face. It was Mox she thought of as she pointed the wand directly between his eyes.
"Furnunculus!" she shouted, dropping altitude again to avoid the jagged purple curse he sent her way and taking momentary satisfaction in his howls of pain.
Turning before the third could blast her, Katie flattened herself as close to the broom as she could, ignoring the searing pain in her shoulder. She leaned forward, shooting faster, conjuring every inch of speed the Nimbus 2000 was capable of, and Katie knew if she made a mistake, it would be over, as any sharp turn would surely throw her from the broom. The icy wind stung her eyes, and she closed them, flying blind, waiting for the hex that would surely come-
Moments passed, and when nothing happened, Katie concluded that she was either dead or free of them. She opened her eyes to see nothing but gray stinging clouds and now, the wet, icy slap of the rain as it pelted her. She did not dare descend now, not with no idea of how far her pursuers were behind her. And she had no real idea of where she was, besides. Shaking all over, she took deep, gasping gulps of air in an attempt to get her breath back, her entire body shaking from head to foot from cold as much as adrenaline.
Tucking her injured arm close against her body, she once again leaned over the broom and urged them both onward, looking for the bright red light that would mark the end of her long journey.
The red light shown like a blurry beacon in the darkness, and it was with exhaustion and a strange absence of relief that Katie began her descent, her wand held in a firmly clenched fist.
There on the ground, holding his wand alight was Charlie Weasley, looking much the same as she remembered him, if with a much shorter haircut.
"The hell happened to you?" said Charlie as she touched down, starting towards her.
Jumping off her broom, Katie pointed her wand tip at his throat. "Stop there. Where did we first meet?" she asked.
"Katie-" he started, but she only raised her wand tip and repeated the question, wiping a sopping wet chunk of hair out of her eyes.
Charlie put up his hands, not even trying to reach for his wand. "On the Hogwarts Express, wasn't it? You were having trouble with your luggage, and I helped you."
Katie lowered her wand tip, sighing in relief and a little touched that he actually remembered, though it was the only question that had come to mind. "Hello, Charlie," she said.
"Hello, Kate," he said.
Still Kate, even after all this time. She smiled despite herself.
"Now can I ask what the hell happened?" he asked.
"Later," she said, slipping the note into his hand. "First, I've a message for you. Don't read it here," she added quickly. Charlie nodded and tucked the small piece of parchment into his pocket.
"This way," said Charlie, taking her broom and leading her down a dirt road that wound up to a small stone cottage.
They walked in silence, both holding their wands at the ready.
"So, what's it about?" asked Charlie, once they were inside.
The small hut was cramped but comfortable on the inside, with a large, roaring fire in a small kitchen nook, a few squashy-looking chairs of varying colors that looked well-used, and a bed in the corner with what looked like a homemade quilt draped across it - probably the work of Molly Weasley. On the bedside table there was a book entitled "Dragonsbane and Firetongues: a History of Dragons in England" and a framed picture out of which the entire Weasley family was grinning and waving. Seeing as Percy was still waving from between Fred and George and Bill's face was whole and handsome, the picture was an older one.
The cottage, though quite a bit smaller than Mr. and Mrs. Weasley's house, had the same quaint and homey feel of the Burrow from what Katie remembered of her visits there. It also reminded her of Hagrid's hut a bit- a cozy little home for someone that spent most of their time outdoors.
She was so caught up in looking around that Charlie had to repeat his earlier question.
"I don't know," she replied honestly.
"Colloportus," muttered Charlie, pointing his wand at the door. "What do you mean, you don't know?"
Katie shrugged, then immediately winced at the pain the reflexive movement produced. "Only the intended recipient can read it," she said, tugging off her wet gloves and flexing her fingers, trying to get some feeling back into them.
"It's a charm of Flitwick's- to anyone else, it looks like a recipe for fish and chips. So even if I read it, I wouldn't know what it said." She felt tentatively at her face, feeling the thick, bloody welts that had arisen from her ride through the woods.
"They've tightened security everywhere, Charlie- we've all been taught to cast obliviate on ourselves in the event of our capture. Of course, if we meet a Death Eater along the way, there's a fifty-fifty chance they'll kill us outright, anyway."
Charlie waved his wand, and the clothing that had once been sopping wet and frozen to her skin immediately became bone dry. With the dryness, however, came a renewed sense of feeling, and Katie could feel the welts and cuts on her face beginning to sting.
"Thank you. Secondly, I'm supposed to give this to you from the Order," she finished, reaching into her coat and holding up the jar which, thankfully, hadn't been lost in the chase. "Well, McGonagall, really."
"What is this?" asked Charlie after a moment, holding up the jar and inspecting it. It seemed, for all the world, like an ordinary jam jar- it even had a red ribbon wound round the side and small, simple patterns of berries blown into the glass, but something in Katie, the same feeling that had told her to glance behind her when she was being followed, knew the jar contained a deep, complex sort of magic.
"Part of an enchantment, I suppose," replied Katie. "But I'm only guessing. The less I know about it, the better."
"Sad days, when we have to keep secrets from each other," replied Charlie, setting the jar down on the small kitchen table.
Katie looked out the window, thinking of Mad-eye, of Emmeline and Dumbledore and Mox.
"Sad days all around."
Charlie scanned the note quickly, raised his eyebrows, then folded it before setting back in his pocket."Can I get you something to drink? We've got butterbeer, cider-"
"Some firewhiskey would be great, if you've got it," said Katie, unlacing her trainers. "It's not been a particularly pleasant journey."
Charlie smiled at her. "Sorry, I keep forgetting you're not that little first year anymore."
Katie began to unbuckle her jacket, not knowing whether to smile or frown at that last statement. She settled for silence, wincing as she shrugged out of the coat and held it up with her good arm to inspect it. She could see completely through the shoulder of the old coat where the curse blast had hit her- the edges were singed black around an area the size of a bludger. No stitching charm could repair a hole like that-cursed as it was. The coat was ruined. Sighing, Katie let the garment drop to the side of the couch, glad that she was wearing an old sleeveless vest underneath, as that seemed relatively undamaged. The vest was reinforced with graphorn hide, it was a leftover from her Quidditch days, intended to lessen the force of bludger hits.
Charlie walked into the kitchen, gathering two glasses, a bag of crisps, and a large bottle of Ogden's. Uncorking the bottle with his teeth, he poured them both a generous share. Katie took hers gratefully, taking a large gulp and letting the drink slowly warm her insides on the way down.
She took another swallow, and the tremors in her arms seemed to subside a little, her fingers beginning to warm against the glass.
"Crisp?" asked Charlie, holding one out to her.
She shook her head.
"You all right?" he asked. "You going to tell me what happened, now?"
"Picked up some company in Austria," said Katie, taking another sip. "Didn't shake them until just out of Graz. Well, I think it was Graz, anyway. Hard to tell, the speed we were going."
"Your face, though-"
"Tried to lose them in the woods," she replied.
"You get hit at all?"
"Just once," she replied. "Grazed my shoulder," she added, trying to make light of it.
"Let's see, then."
The Ogden's helped...her shoulder was now feeling more numb than anything, though she knew it would flare up again at the slightest provocation. The rational part of her knew that she would have to get the injury looked at eventually, that the firewhiskey was at best a temporary fix....the other part of her - the one that had spent months in St Mungo's staring at the ceiling while being poked and prodded - recoiled from the idea of any kind of medical intervention, which she knew would effectively put an end to the pleasant numbness of the firewhiskey.
"I'm fine, Charlie." she replied.
"I'll believe that when I see it," replied Charlie, reminding Katie for a moment of Mrs. Weasley. "Now strip."
Katie raised an eyebrow, and to her surprise, Charlie actually flushed. "Well, you know what I mean. Think I've got some dittany around here somewhere. Take off your jumper and we'll have a look, all right?"
In the meantime, Charlie went to the back of the small cottage, lifting the lid of an old trunk and rummaging around. Grimacing, Katie peeled back the edge of the collar of her jumper, revealing a patch of blistered flesh mingled with pus and threads of bloody yarn. The wool seemed fused to her skin, and she winced as she tugged at it, causing the pain to flare up again into an insistent throb that shot down her arm like an electrical current. She'd had bludger injuries before, but none of them had throbbed this badly.
"Wow, they got you good," whistled Charlie from above her, startling her. "Did you see who did it?"
"Dolohov was one, the rest I didn't recognise," said Katie. "There were four of them. It's possible they're recruiting, too. It was pretty difficult to see under those hoods while I was trying to stay on my broom."
"Did they see your face?" asked Charlie.
Katie let the blood-soaked scrap of fabric fall back to her shoulder. "If they did, I'll have to join the rest of your family in hiding. But it's hard to say. Unless their vision's better than mine, I'd say no. It was dark out, and the cloak itself was partially disillusioned. Could be they're just cursing anything that moves that doesn't have a Dark Mark."
"Knowing what I know about Dolohov, I'd believe it," said Charlie grimly, and Katie remembered that Dolohov was among the Death Eaters that had killed Gideon and Fabian, Charlie’s uncles. "You did well, out-flying them like that. Then again, Fred and George always said you were a great flier."
"Thanks," she replied. "I had a great teacher."
Charlie rolled his eyes, but he was smiling.
"But really, I only just got away," she added. "Skill didn't have much to do with it. Lost my day pack in the woods," she sighed. "All my clothes were in there, and the provisions for the return trip." Fortunately, everything of importance she'd kept on her person.
"Well, at any rate, let's take a look at that shoulder."
"I can do it myself," replied Katie, holding out her hand for the bottle.
Charlie grinned at her, holding the bottle just out of reach. "Believe it or not, I do know a little about treating injuries." He knelt down next to her. "Looks like confringo, but it's hard to tell," he said, peeling back the material a small amount and causing Katie to utter a small, involuntary hiss. "Sorry," he said, letting the fabric fall back onto her shoulder. "Looks like your jumper's stuck to the wound to boot. It's a nice one, but don't worry, I've seen worse." Holding up his wrist, he showed a large patch of shiny pink skin, part of an old, enormous blister. "Hungarian Horntail," he explained with a grin. Katie could only imagine how badly it must have hurt at the time- dragon burns, like bites, were notoriously hard to treat.
Upending the bottle of dittany, Charlie splashed a generous amount onto a clean white handkerchief. "Now, do you trust me?"
She blinked at him, taken aback by such a blunt question.
"Well, yes, but-"
"Then hold still."
Before Katie could reply, Charlie's wand was already hovering over her injured shoulder. Despite her assurance of trusting him, she tensed.
"Diffindo," he said, pointing his wand at her jumper. Holding stock-still, Katie watched as Charlie slowly and surgically cut around the ruined jumper, sawing neatly around the injured area without harming the skin beneath it. He paused for a moment to pull down the remainder of the now severed jumper down her arm. Katie barely registered the loss of clothing- all her attention was on Charlie's wand and what he was about to do with it next. The wound itself seemed to throb in anticipation.
She waited for him to say something about the curse scar, but he said nothing, only picked up the handkerchief again before soaking it with even more dittany.
"You might want to take another swig of this," said Charlie apologetically, handing her back the glass of firewhiskey after pouring her another generous amount. Deciding she didn't want to know what was coming, Katie followed his advice and drained the glass, squeezing her eyes shut at the burn that coursed down her throat.
Just after her last swallow, she heard Charlie mutter, "Three!" and felt the lightning-raw sensation of the patch of fabric being torn instantaneously from the wound, which immediately began to weep. Katie hissed.
Quickly, Charlie moved the new, clean bit of fabric over the wound, and the raw, hot pain was soon replaced with the cool, soothing tingle of the salve. Gritting her teeth, Katie hunched over, letting the medicine take effect. The firewhiskey seemed to take hold at the same time, making her feel light and woozy and slightly nauseous.
"Now, that wasn't so bad, was it?" said Charlie, grinning at her.
"Brilliant," muttered Katie, her head between her knees.
"Hold this here for awhile," he said, taking her hand and placing it over the bandage. After a moment, the nausea passed, and Katie sat up. Charlie was walking around the cottage, opening cabinets and drawers. Finally, he gave up, waved his wand and said, "Accio spellotape," and a roll of the charmed tape came zooming out of a far drawer into his hand. Within moments, the clean handkerchief was comfortably affixed to her shoulder.
Katie managed a smile. "Why didn't you go into healing?" she asked.
"Not life-threatening enough for my tastes, I guess." said Charlie, grinning. "Though I think Mum would have preferred it to studying dragons."
"I'll bet," said Katie.
"Not really." Quite the opposite, in fact.
In the silence that followed, the day's previous events began to take hold of Katie, and suddenly, she wanted nothing more than to be alone.
Charlie seemed to sense this, too. "I've got to run out and tell the others you've arrived," he said, "But I'll be back shortly. Here's the dittany for your face, and there's beef stew on the stove if you want it, Mum's recipe, otherwise, help yourself to anything else. I'll be right back," he repeated, perhaps to reassure her. And though Katie's stubborn nature prevented her from thanking him for it, the part of her that had flown alone for the past twenty-three hours was grateful.
As the door shut behind him, Katie sagged back into the chair, staring into the fire. A day ago, she'd been an honorary Order of the Phoenix member out on her first important mission, ready to do her part for the war. A day ago, the danger had seemed part of the excitement, whereas now it seemed part and parcel of her own foolishness.
She especially should have remembered how dangerous the magical world could be, she thought as she applied dabs of dittany to her face, wincing at the sting. Katie knew that far from being brave or skilled, she was a merely a stupid little girl that had only just dodged a group of people far older, more experienced, and more deadly than she ever had any hope of being.
For that moment, she could see the Order of the Phoenix for what it really was- a small group of people setting themselves against a much larger threat, not winning but enduring, and only just. Their former leader and rallying point was dead and buried and their new hero nowhere to be found, leaving them with only the feeble dream that he had not already perished to pin their hopes on.
In that moment, sitting in front of the fire, the utter hopelessness of what they were trying to do started to sink in, pulling her down into Charlie's old couch and making her shoulder throb even harder.
She had been stupid to think that she could help the Order, she knew that now, but there was nothing for it. She was committed, and she would rather die than shame herself and her family by deserting it. In for a nut, in for a Galleon, Fred had said. And he was right. She had chosen her side, and there was nothing else but to see it through to the very end, even if it meant her own.
Katie stared listlessly into the fire. She had barely survived the journey there, and she still had to get back. And if she didn't, well, it would just be one more funeral to attend, one more family that lost someone to the order...one more tragedy at the twisted hands of Lord Voldemort. There were more and more every day. Moody, Emmeline...Mox...
Feeling tears cloud her vision at the thought, Katie squeezed her eyes shut and took a deep breath. She wiped furiously at her eyes and banished her current train of thoughts, which she knew led nowhere but to despair.
Instead, she let her thoughts fall to the warmth of the fire, the crackle and spit of the old, dry logs, and this feeling of safety here in Charlie Weasley's house, for however long it could last.
Katie woke up in an unfamiliar room in an unfamiliar bed, buried under layers of warm quilts and cursing Odgen and his damned firewhiskey, which seemed to be throbbing in her temples and swimming laps in her stomach.
Sitting up, it took her a moment to realize where she was: Charlie Weasley's cabin, safe, on a mission for the Order of the Phoenix.
A fire still roared in the hearth- someone had added more logs since last night and the small room was filled with a warm, pine-scented air. In the kitchen, there was the smell of coffee and warm rolls fresh out of the oven.
It took her a minute to orientate herself, and when she did, the previous days' events spiraled through her mind with a speed that left her dazed and slightly sick. Swinging her legs over the side of the mattress, Katie rolled her shoulder and was surprised when the expected pain presented as only a slight throb. Peeling back the bandage, she saw only new, pink skin and none of the blistered, charred skin that had been present the night before. The area was a little sore, but that would fade with time. Katie removed the rest of the dressing and piled it neatly in her lap, which was when she noticed the quilt.
Patchwork dragons had been sewn into the material and as she watched, they chased each other around the borders, flames of orange and red fabrics spouting from their mouths. She smiled at them, tracing her fingers over the delicate stitches.
"Morning," called a voice from the kitchen, and Katie glanced across the room to where Charlie was sitting. The small kitchen table was pushed up against the wall next to a window, and from the looks of it, it was early dawn. Though it was a small table, obviously intended for one, Katie noted that another chair had been conjured and pulled up for her as well. "How are you feeling?"
"Much better," said Katie. "Thanks to you."
"Please," said Katie, sitting down next to him and noticing that he'd left her the less-rickety of the two chairs. "I could've slept on the couch, you know."
In fact, the thought of Charlie Weasley pulling her sleeping form off the couch, scooping her up under the knees and tucking her beneath the blankets was a very disconcerting one indeed...
"I know, but Mum'd have kittens if she knew I took the bed and left you the sofa. Chivalry and all that."
"So the only reason you left me the bed is your fear of your mother?" asked Katie, raising an eyebrow. "I'm touched."
"Well, it's probably the only reason you'd believe," said Charlie.
"Meaning you're a tough girl to flatter. There's rolls here if you want them, just out of the oven. Cream?"
Katie frowned, not sure of what to make of his last comment. "Yes, thank you. That quilt is really something, by the way."
Charlie set down his mug and poured her a generous shot of cream. "Mum made it. She's really got a thing for patterns."
"It's beautiful," said Katie. "I knit a pair of mittens, once. Accidentally knitted them with three fingers. Wound up giving them to-"
Mox. She trailed off.
The two drank in silence for a moment. "About this errand- McGonagall wants me to take it back with me. How long would you say it'll take?"
"The dragon I've in mind is about a day trip from here," said Charlie.
Katie coughed, choking on her coffee. "I'm sorry, I thought you said 'the dragon you have in mind'."
"No, you heard me right," said Charlie, looking amused.
Why, oh why, did she think this was going to be a simple assignment? Fly halfway across the country, dodge Death Eaters, and now, wrangle a bloody dragon...
"The spell is Draconis Protegum, Kate. Can't do it without a dragon."
Fred's voice echoed in her mind. "Well you know what they say, in for a nut, in for a galleon..."
"Shut up, Fred," she muttered.
Charlie gave her a curious look. "So, as I was saying, it'll be about three days total, maybe a week if things don't go as planned."
Longer than she'd counted on."I hate to impose, Charlie, but I've lost my rucksack on the way here, which had all of my clothes and things...is there any chance I could borrow some things in the meantime?"
"Already thought of that," said Charlie, gesturing to the counter, where a copper-colored jumper was stacked over a long duster-type jacket. "You'll want to dress warm up here, in layers if you can. Let me know what else you need, far as extras go. We've got some other birds around here, too, if you need anything like that."
"Thank you," said Katie, surprised by his thoughtfulness and a little mortified that he'd brought up monthly issues. Then again, he did have Molly Weasley as a mother, who she supposed was direct about everything.
Charlie polished off the rest of his roll, wiping his fingers on his pants. "After breakfast, I thought we'd set out right away. I've already packed a day pack, and there's two sleeping bags as well. Here, have a roll," he insisted, shoving the plate towards her. "If you don't eat now, you'll be sorry later."
"Where exactly are we going?" asked Katie, breaking off a chunk of the breakfast roll and folding it into her mouth. It was gooey and warm and tasted of butter and cinnamon. Who knew Charlie Weasley could cook in addition to dragon taming?
"Mount Ceahlău-Piatra Lată din Ghedeon," replied Charlie. "It's where our dragon is. Mordecai will meet us out there- that's the only other handler she hasn't tried to kill."
"That's reassuring," said Katie.
Charlie grinned, "Well, Kate, you're in dragon country now. Nothing reassuring about it."
"I'll be right back, just want to make sure everything's packed."
Katie sighed, resting her chin on her arms.
Out of the frying pan and into the fire...literally.
The Romanian countryside was beautiful, Katie thought, if you didn't consider what might be lurking about every corner. They'd only been flying for an hour, and already Katie had seen a beautiful sunrise, three different monasteries, and an old dilapidated castle that Charlie had said was haunted by three different ghosts.
The silence was as comfortable as their conversation. The connection between them was hard to define- they had not exactly been friends at Hogwarts- the age difference between them was too great. But they had always been friendly, and Katie had liked him with the sort of cliché affection that you felt for a cute older bloke that actually took the time to talk to you. Though Katie was older now, and the silly little girl that had craned her neck in the Gryffindor stands, hoping for a flash of the seeker was gone, that same distant affection had remained.
"Do the clothes fit okay?" asked Charlie, flying in closer. "I did a shrinking charm, but I didn't know your exact size."
"Perfectly, thanks," said Katie. The jumper was thick and warm and had obviously been worn by Charlie in the past- it had that sharp, earthy scent all boys seemed to have, and the dark, deep scent of fire Katie suspected was unique to Charlie. The jacket he'd lent her was made from a sturdy wool material that sealed out the icy wind as they flew. With scarves wound around their faces and hoods pulled over their heads, they had to fly close to keep the conversation. "Is this another one of Molly's?"
"Mine, actually," replied Charlie. "I go through so many clothes out here, I had Mum teach me how to crochet. Cheaper than buying new clothes every time a jumper gets torched."
Katie shook her head, smiling. "Charlie Weasley: baker, seamstress, dragon-tamer extraordinaire. You're a real renaissance man."
The young man just shook his head. "Hardly. 'Sides, I'd never call myself a dragon-tamer."
"Then what would you call it, what you do?"
"I study dragons, and I help maintain the sanctuary and its borders. Help keep up the local sheep herds for food sources, do monthly Muggle-repelling charms, all that, deal with any dragon that's turned into a man-eater," said Charlie. "'Sides, anyone that calls themselves a dragon-tamer's a right liar."
"Because they can't be. Ever."
"Wasn't there a book out, though, The Art of Dragon-Taming?" I think I remember checking it out from the Hogwart's library, once. By some bloke named Fenold Firebrand, wasn't it?"
"You know what happened to Fenold Firebrand?"
"Got eaten. 1837, right in the middle of a speech on the Peruvian Vipertooth," scorned Charlie. "Had it coming, too."
Charlie stopped the broom's momentum for a moment, motioning for her to do the same. "From here, we'd better walk," said Charlie, beginning a swift descent.
"Why?" In the air, Katie felt like she had a fighting chance of outrunning whatever might pursue them- on the ground, she felt like the walking equivalent of a turkey sandwich. Still, she touched down next to Charlie, her broom in her hand.
"Don't want to be seen as a challenge to their territory- they'll always come out to investigate anything that flies, but if they're not hungry, they'll ignore most anything on the ground that isn't bigger than they are."
"This protego draconis, or whatever...what is it, exactly?"
"Thought the less you knew about it, the better?" said Charlie, quirking an eyebrow at her, and Katie knew he was teasing her.
"I guess I'd like to know what I'm risking my neck for," said Katie, glancing up for any descending shadows.
Charlie laughed- it was a genuine, carefree sound- it reminded her of Fred and George- maybe Charlie was more like his brothers than she'd thought. "The Draconis Protegum is a protective charm that can cover a large area," said Charlie. "It's an ancient, complex magic, far beyond you and me."
"Then why did McGonagall entrust it to you?" asked Katie.
"Because she thinks I can get the most important ingredient, that's all."
"...and can you?"
"We'll see," was all he said.
"You planning on telling me what that ingredient is?" she persisted.
"It's dragon's breath." replied Charlie simply..
"Dragon's...breath?" repeated Katie, adjusting the pack on her shoulders, where it was beginning to rub. "Couldn't we get that from any of the dragons? Why this one?"
"Because the breath for this particular charm has to be from a dragon that gives its fire willingly to a wizard, without the intent to kill him."
We're screwed, thought Katie.
"And you believe you can get that from this dragon?" she asked aloud. "I thought you said dragons couldn't be tamed?"
"They can't. But sometimes, the aim of the witch or wizard happens to coincide with the whim of the dragon," said Charlie. "And with this dragon, we've a much better chance."
"Why this dragon?"
"I've worked closely with this dragon since it was very young. She knows me, at least as much as a dragon recognizes a wizard as anything other than food," said Charlie. "Harry would remember this dragon too, I think."
"I doubt it," said Charlie. "It was the one he got detention for, all those years ago, with Hermione and Neville."
"Hagrid's dragon? The Norwegian Ridgeback?" The story of the Astronomy tower pick-up was legendary, especially in Gryffindor, as it had nearly cost them the House Cup that year.
"That's the one."
Katie could feel the color draining from her face. Apparently Charlie noticed, too, because he asked, "How are you feeling?"
"Starting to wish I'd been sorted into Slytherin," muttered Katie.
"Why exactly do you like working with dragons so much, anyway?" asked Katie.
The second-eldest Weasley shrugged. "Dunno. Maybe it's because they can't be tamed," said Charlie.
At her smile, he frowned. "What?"
"Nothing," she replied. "It's a nice idea, that's all....the idea of something still being free."
It was dusk before Charlie wanted to make camp, and they did under a small crevice in the rock under the mountain base. The enclosure was too shallow to be called a cave, but provided shelter from the wind and any other elements that might come along in the night. After setting up the tent and gathering some wood, Charlie had a small fire started, while Katie took care of the protective enchantments.
Clearly, Charlie was used to camping outdoors, mused Katie, watching as he set up a cooking pot and added different ingredients, chopping vegetables in his lap on a small cutting board with ease. The small cast iron pot began to bubble in no time, filling the air with delicious, rich perfumes. Katie's stomach grumbled. Having trekked all day on nothing but coffee and a roll, she'd built up quite an appetite.
"Let's see that shoulder, then." said Charlie, straightening up.
"I told you, I'm fine," she replied.
"I wouldn't count on you making less of it than it is," replied Charlie. "Let's see it."
Katie sighed but tugged up his jumper over her shoulder to expose the injury. The injury, which formerly had been blistered and angry, had sealed itself into a patch of smooth, pink skin, which was more sore than anything. Charlie's touch was light around the wound, but it made Katie suck in a breath of air and hold it all the same.
Last night, she'd been numbed by cold and exhaustion and pain, but today, in front of a warm fire, she could appreciate Charlie Weasley's warm, calloused fingers, and the way they felt pressed against her flesh.
"Looks good," said Charlie, after a moment.
"Told you," she muttered, pulling the jumper back over her shoulder, willing the area he'd touched to stop burning. Then again, last time she'd seen a naked man had been Dean Thomas, before he had taken up with Ginny Weasley. It had been a onetime thing- he'd asked to paint her portrait, they'd drunk some wine he'd smuggled in from the Hog's Head, and for an afternoon, their comfortable friendship had become something more. That occasion had been filled with friendship and respect and the shy, tentative touches and sloppy gestures of two fairly young, very intoxicated people, and that was a long time ago. Dean was not her first, but he had been her last as months later, she'd spent the next few months becoming intimately acquainted with the facilities at St Mungo's, which had certainly put a kink in her personal life.
Clearing her throat, Katie warmed her feet by the fire and willed the almost painful tingling between her legs to subside.
"Butterbeer?" asked Charlie, producing two bottles from his rucksack. In addition to the wood for the fire, Charlie had also dragged over an old fallen tree log, and the two were currently using it as a bench.
"Thank you," said Katie, accepting the drink. "We almost there?"
Charlie nodded. "I'd say about three more hours on foot tomorrow, and we'll have reached Mordecai's cabin." Checking on the pot, Charlie ladled out two steaming bowls of soup thick with onions, carrots, and farmer's cheese, breaking her off a thick wedge of crusty bread for dunking.
The soup was hot and rich and wonderful, and she told him so.
"Mum's recipe," said Charlie, his mouth full of bread. "Would've made us some steaks, but it's best not to cook meat out here, this time of year." he said. He'd taken off his jacket, and was wearing an old Weasley jumper over denims and a thermal vest. "Kind of nice to have company...usually it's just me out here."
Katie glanced up, looking at the lonely shadow of the mountain surrounded by stars.
"You ever get lonely, being out here?" she asked.
"Not really," said Charlie. "Sure, it's nice to come home and see my family once in awhile, but I just feel like I belong out here, you know?"
"I think I do, yeah," she replied. "I used to feel that way about Quidditch...about flying."
Charlie tipped his bowl, draining the rest of the soup. "Used to? What happened to the first year that wanted to play for the Holyhead Harpies?"
It seemed a lifetime ago, that dream and the girl that dreamed it.
Katie shrugged. "Doesn't have much of a place in this world, now does it?"
"Only if you don't let it," said Charlie.
"And what's that supposed to mean?" asked Katie, setting down her spoon.
The older boy shrugged. "Just that if you let this war take away the things you love, well, then, You-Know-Who's already won, hasn't he?"
Katie frowned at him. "That's an awfully idealistic thing to say," she snapped. She knew that the Weasleys had, and were still, paying dearly for their part in the war, and knew that the anger she felt towards Charlie was misdirected and childish. But because not all of Katie's dogs were on a leash, and some part of her welcomed a fight, she added, "Seems to me you miss out on quite a bit of what's going on in the war and how it works, camped out in Romania."
But Charlie didn't take the bait, nor did he acknowledge the slight. "If you're not going to live as if we're going to win, what's the point in becoming part of the Order? What's the point in fighting at all?"
Katie didn't respond, but stared into the fire, her hands clasped in her lap.
"I was sorry to hear about Mox," added Charlie, quietly. "He's a good bloke."
'Is', not 'was'. There was that Weasley optimism again. Never mind that her brother looked like a younger version of Mad-Eye Moody, and the healers weren't overly optimistic about him waking up again, much less walking and talking and stringing together whole sentences.
Katie got up and picked up the bag Charlie had lent her, searching for her mittens.
Your brother and I had a healthy rivalry, both of us being Seekers, but I liked him. Gave me a run for my money on the pitch, and I considered him a friend.," continued Charlie. "He asked me to look out for you that day on the train, actually, said you were tough as nails but you needed a little coaxing out of your shell from time to time."
"That's why you were in my compartment that day on the Hogwart's Express," said Katie, realization dawning.
Charlie grinned, reaching into his rucksack and picking out a long flannel undershirt. "Yep. Good thing, too." Peeling off his Weasley jumper and vest, Charlie scooped up the other shirt and shook it for spiders, which seeme4d to be a common occurrence. The firelight glimmered off his temporarily bare skin as he shrugged into the undershirt. Charlie had always been different in build in comparison with his brothers- Fred, George, Ron, Percy and Bill were all tall and rather lanky, while Charlie was shorter, broad-shouldered, and far more muscular. Realizing she was staring, Katie returned her attention to the present and took notice that her companion was still talking."-saved you from your own luggage. Speaking of which, need me to help you with your pack?"
Katie rolled her eyes as she finally extracted the pair of mittens she'd been looking for. "I'm not a first year anymore, Charlie," she said.
Charlie wore much the same look that had shined in Kingsley's eyes as he studied her, but there was something else there too that was much less easily definable when he replied. "No, you're not."
Mordecai turned out to be a beautiful woman with olive skin, dark hair, and deep violet eyes that was around Charlie's age, deviating from Katie's mental picture of a tall, dark and burly sort of bloke with coveralls.
Well, she'd gotten the coveralls part right, anyway.
They'd found her, early morning, in the sheep paddock in back of her cottage, wrestling a particularly determined ram and cursing underneath her breath. Charlie had explained to Katie earlier that Mordecai, aside from studying dragons, managed all livestock breeding and care for both dragon and wizard use. Seeing the sprawling stretches of land dotted with cows, sheep, goats and the occasional crup, which barked greetings from along the fence.
The witch had the stubborn ram by the horns and was trying to back the animal away from a patch of damaged fencing. They could hear her cursing from a mile away- she didn't seem to have spotted them yet.
"How is this place not a dragon buffet?" asked Katie. "Can't they just sweep in and-"
"We put the same sort of repelling charms along the fencing for dragons as we do for Muggles. Altered for dragons, mind you, but it keeps them out most days."
When Charlie shouted a greeting to the young woman, she grinned and released her hold on the stubborn creature, jogging up to meet them.
Despite her denim overalls being splattered with mud, manure and hay, the young woman was positively breath-taking, and Katie felt a little intimidated as the older girl threw her arms around Charlie in a giant bear hug and shook Katie's hand, grinning.
"Rosemarion Mordecai," she said, grinning. "You can see why I go by my last name, 'course."
She and Tonks would be fast friends, thought Katie, smiling.
"Got your message," continued Mordecai, wiping her hands on her denims. "She's still nesting in that same crevice of cliff, near the top. Had a nasty dispute with a fourth-year Romanian Longhorn last week, but she chased him off and gave him a little souvenir for good measure."
"How is she?" asked Charlie.
Mordecai tucked a strand of dark hair behind her ear. "She's eaten a couple of sheep and last week, I found a deer leg bone or two outside her cave, but it wouldn't hurt to bring her another. She's been having better independent hunts lately, I'd say a sixty-percent success rate, and I've only been supplementing one or two sheep every three weeks for good measure."
"That's our girl," said Charlie, grinning. "I wouldn't be surprised if next year she's got her own clutch and a bigger territory. I'll agree with you about bringing her a snack, though...can't say I really want to come up on her unannounced if she's peckish."
Katie just gaped at them- for all their pride and enthusiasm, they might have been talking about a prize breeding poodle, and not a walking, fire-breathing wizard-disposal unit.
"You can take this bloody ram with you," said Mordecai, gesturing behind her at the animal she'd been struggling with, who was currently trying to butt down one of the fence posts with his head. "He's trying to get into the ewe's enclosure. For obvious reasons, I'm not keen on adding this one to the breeding pool, and with the laying season coming up, I haven't got the time to fix all the fence posts he breaks. In the meantime, though, why don't you two come in and have some lunch? I haven't had company since the Ministry's been out to inspect the borders, and well, they don't count, do they?"
Mordecai's cottage was as small and homey as Charlie's, but bore the distinct traces of a woman's touch. A large dream catcher woven with many colored stones hung over the bed, and several different jam jars were filled to the brim with fresh spring flowers.
A silvery shape ghosted into the entryway, solidifying into a small silver monkey. Tall twitching mischeviously, it spoke in a familiar but faint voice,
“...been spotted. Return...temporary headquarters. Don't try to contact anyone...safe journey, Katie.”
Having finished its message, the patronus disappeared.
“That'll be Fred's patronus,” said Charlie, “But-”
“Well, I attacked a bunch of Death Eaters, didn't I?” said Katie, sighing. “Looks like I'll be joining the ranks of the other Undesirables, though I don't think I'll be receiving the same priority as Harry. Just means I won't be able to contact my family for awhile. Mox'll be okay...” she thought out loud. “Not much else they can do to him, really.”
“I'm sorry, Kate,” said Charlie.
Katie shrugged. “I knew it was a possibility, being involved in the Order.”
“Well,” said Mordecai, looking slightly uncomfortable. “Shall we have lunch, then?”
Mordecai was as personable as she was pretty, and the three spent an enjoyable lunch eating stoat sandwiches and swapping stories...mostly about dragons. After a particularly amusing story about a memory-modification with a Muggle who'd had his pants burned off by a Romanian Longhorn, Charlie set down his napkin and got to his feet. "Thanks for the lunch, Morda, but we'd better get going. I want to be on her ridge well before nightfall."
"Sure thing," replied the young woman, leading them outside. She walked into the sheep pen, pulled out her wand, and muttered 'domesticus," at the troublesome animal. The ram immediately stopped trying to run over the fence post and turned to face her, its expression calm and blank. Katie recognized that expression, and repressed a shudder.
"Sort of a light derivation of the Imperius curse, one of Mord's specialties," said Charlie by way of explanation. "Works on small mammals only, though Blathan tried it on a dragon once."
"And he draws his eyebrows on every day," replied Charlie.
"I give that charm about two hours," said Mordecai. "On that one particularly, maybe hour an' a half." The animal in question was now following Charlie and Katie from the pen, its expression fixed dazedly forward and the bell around its neck tinkling merrily.
She gave Katie a friendly nod and Charlie a kiss on the cheek. "Don't be a stranger now, Weasley," she said, waving them off.
"Maybe you two would like to spend the night here?" muttered Katie at Charlie, raising an eyebrow as the young woman waved them off.
Charlie just laughed.
"What's so funny?"
"You're more Mordecai's type than I am, that's what," replied the wizard. "Shall I put in a good word? I know how you Gryffindor birds like to experiment, Fred's told me all about you and Johnson....or was it Spinnet? Or, dare I hope, both at the same time?"
"Shut it," muttered Katie, punching him in the shoulder.
It was another hour up the mountain on foot. Eventually, Katie grew tired of listening to the doomed animal's bell jingle and cast a silencing charm on it. Charlie had fallen silent halfway up one particularly steep embankment, and Katie welcomed the quiet, as it gave her the opportunity to listen for impending death.
Though Charlie seemed perfectly at ease in the area, Katie had pulled out her wand at the beginning of the climb, and had no inclination towards putting it away any time soon. She could feel her heart in her ears, and felt each breath pump in and out of her lungs. A kind of fine mist hung in the air, patches of it whirling and hovering over the ground, making Katie's skin damp and cold. The air had become thinner here, but that was one reason for the increase in her rate of breathing.
Charlie held out his hand suddenly, and the two of them came to a stop. "We're here," he said simply. Sure enough, a large, natural crevice was carved into the side of the mountain, too dark to see inside. Katie could hear the squeak of bats, and further in, a low, deep rattle.
"Good," muttered Charlie. "She's home."
"Yeah, great," muttered Katie. While it was true there was a tension in him, it was not a nervous one. Rather, it seemed to be bound up in the kind of excitement she used to feel at holidays, waking up to the promise of presents and as many gingerbread cookies as she could eat. Katie, by contrast, felt as if her stomach had somehow become lodged in her throat.
"Remember what I said this morning," said Charlie. "Whatever happens, don't move, don't run, and definitely don't show any fear."
"No running, no fear....right," muttered Katie, wondered why she hadn't stayed back with Mordecai and her cozy cottage and helped tend to the sheep, which were small and cute and to her knowledge, did not breathe fire.
"And for the second time, put your wand away," continued Charlie.
"And for the second time, are you mental?" she retorted.
"Do you trust me or don't you?" he countered.
"Will you quit asking me that before you do something unpleasant?" she snapped, but she forcibly stowed the wand back in her arm holster.
Leaning down, Charlie pulled out his wand and waved it at the ram. "Innervate."
The animal blinked and once again became animated, butting at Charlie's hand before taking off ahead on the bath, braying indignantly. Another wave of Charlie's wand, and the goat lifted its legs off the ground in a joyful kick, running in circles. Katie's silencing charm on the bell had run its course, and it once again began to clang merrily.
The sheep tossed its head and bounded in a circle again, baying happily.
"You cast a cheering charm on a sheep that's about to be eaten?" hissed Katie, horrified.
"Wouldn't you want to die happy?" countered Charlie.
They watched the sheep for a moment. And then another moment.
After several moments of watching the cheerful animal, it seemed as if nothing would happen.
Suddenly, the ground beneath Katie tremored, and not two seconds later, a dragon's long, large, sinuous form appeared from the dark of the cave. The animal let out a long, terrible roar, opening its jaws wide and flexing its wings, which were the same muted copper color as the rest of its body. True to its name, the dragon had a long row of small, black-tipped spikes down its back, which tapered in size down to the tail.
The dragon snapped its wings closed, causing a whoosh of air that dispelled the mist around them and made Katie blink at the sharp slap of wind that blew into her eyes.
One great yellow eye swiveled around and stared directly at Katie, and the dragon let out another roar, higher-pitched this time, that shook Katie to the bone. Small plumes of fire shot out of the animal's mouth as it snarled- red and orange and hot enough for Katie to feel their heat even at a distance. Charlie needn't have warned her about running, she thought dazedly- her feet seemed to have a permanent sticking charm applied to them.
Dragon fire was very unlike the flickering plumes and tongues of a campfire- rather, it resembled the swift, concentrated flames of a butane lighter, the kind she'd seen on muggle jet engines.
Out of endless confident cheer or sheer stupidity, Katie would never know, but the ram chose that moment to lower his head and charge the dragon.
The beast swiveled its head around, and in a split second, the Ridgeback had snapped up the sheep in its great gaping jaws, abruptly cutting off the animal's indignant bay with a swift shake of its head. Shifting the now lifeless meal in its jaws, the dragon gave its prey another chew, bones crunching like matchsticks and the animal's bell tinkling morbidly as blood dripped from the dragon's jaws. The snack finished, the dragon turned back, its bright, cold eyes narrowing as it took in its other visitors.
"Katie." whispered Charlie.
"What," she muttered, never taking her eyes off the dragon.
"You have to let go of me," he continued, smiling.
Looking down, Katie realized she had at some point she had taken a stranglehold on Charlie's coat, her fist white-knuckled around it. Too overwhelmed to be embarrassed, she released him. Charlie reached into his coat pocket, procuring the jam jar and unscrewing it. He handed Katie the lid.
"Now, no matter what, stay here," said Charlie, and before Katie could respond, he walked towards the dragon, his wand at his side.
"Hello, Noberta," he said quietly.
'Noberta' raised her massive head at the new noise, craning her neck to its highest height and letting out an ear-splitting roar as she turned to face him. Ears ringing, Katie started towards Charlie before remembering his instructions.
Charlie, meanwhile, had not moved. He stood, tiny against the great towering mass of the dragon, talking to the beast in a low voice Katie could barely make out.
"Come now, pretty girl...that's it....that's it..." The young man's voice was low and melodic, coaxing. And though the dragon's attention remained just as rapt, just as intense, the tension in her great body had relaxed somewhat. Though the look in her eyes was no less savage, a spark of intent curiosity shone there as well.
Katie knew virtually nothing of dragons, but she knew in that moment that Norberta was not interested in eating Charlie and that, on some level, she recognized him. It was not affection- Katie was not so foolish as to believe that the dragon harbored any domesticated affection for the wizard in front of her. Rather, it was a kind of understanding that this particular wizard benefited her more in being alive.
In that moment, in that momentary truce between man and beast, Katie could understand the awe and fascination in Charlie and Mordecai's voices when they spoke of dragons. Norberta was vicious, yes, and dangerous and aggressive, but she was also a living, breathing mirror of that ragged, razor edge that life balanced on, constantly tipping between life and death, destruction and creation. She was a beautiful and yet terrible force that, like magic, could both destroy and inspire.
With a low, almost melodic sound, Norberta sat back on her haunches, smoke streaming from her nostrils.
Charlie had raised his wand. It's tip glowing a fiery orange that left traces of light in the air, he moved the wand tip in graceful circles and loops, all the while talking quietly under his breath in that same low, calm, coaxing voice. Norberta's head bobbed slightly as she followed the movement from side to side, and Katie realized it was almost as if the dragon was entranced by the wand, at the loops of light that followed Charlies's movement. Katie, too, was mesmerized- she found she did not know what would happen next, and did not care- death and life and the magic that bound them all seemed equally beautiful in that moment.
Suddenly, Noberta opened her mouth, and from her jagged jaws hissed a thin stream of fire- one that bloomed and fell far short of Charlie. The fire, instead of dissipating into thin air, became a thin, glowing stream that seemed to undulate in time to the movement of Charlie's wand, which seemed to be acting as a siphon, drawing it close. Transfixed, Katie watched the thin, shimmering rope of fire coil fluidly into the jam jar, filling it with a soft amber glow.
Never taking his eyes off Norberta, Charlie backed up to Katie, extinguishing his wand tip.
The dragon blinked once, twice, then fell back down off its haunches, causing the ground to shake with its enormous weight. Turning and whipping its tail just short of the two wizards, she disappeared once more into the dark of the cave.
Twilight was beginning to settle on the mountain, painting the sky a deep, soft crimson that seemed an appropriate backdrop to a dragon's mountain. Bats began to pour from the mouth of the cave, off to hunt.
Katie handed Charlie the lid, and he quickly screwed it shut. The light in the jar swirled and looped like the movements Charlie's wand had made, amber and gold coils of fire drifting around and around the jar.
In silence, they began their descent.
It was a beautiful, clear night at the base of the mountain, and the star-strewn sky above them looked like a million distant candles glittering overhead. Gazing up at the magestic sky Katie had made the suggestion that they sleep outside, and Charlie had readily agreed. They'd built up a campfire, and Charlie had put warming charms on their sleeping rolls as they laid them out before the fire.
It was late, and the dark around them was filled with the soft glow of the dragon's fire.
It was as if the light had gone inside her, somehow, filling her with the same golden glow that currently occupied the jam jar. She knew Charlie felt it too- they had barely conversed since they left Norberta's cave, and barely spoke during their dinner of tinned tomatoes, beans, and egg sandwiches.
After dinner, Charlie went off to a small nearby stream to rinse their plates, leaving Katie alone with her thoughts.
Drawing her knees up to her chin, Katie wrapped her arms around herself and looked up the sky. Somewhere under those same stars, Mox was sleeping, Fred and George and Lee were probably running tonight's radio broadcast, and hopefully, Harry, Hermione, and Ron were alive and safe.
Katie picked up the jam jar for a moment, the glass warm to the touch. It was odd- it was as if she could feel the magic inside, and knew without really knowing what it was that it was powerful, old magic, that would be valuable to the Order and to the people she cared about.
"Nice, isn't it?" asked Charlie, sitting beside her on his sleeping roll. He leaned over to look at the jar, too, his breath warm against her neck, their thighs nearly touching.
"It's beautiful," she said softly. "It was...amazing, before, watching you with her."
"Noberta's nice enough, if she's full." he replied. "But it's like I said...she'll never be tame. You could put a thousand shackles on her, but she'd die unconquered."
Katie shook back her sleeves. She was wearing an old flannel of Charlie's, and was drowning in the arms. “She's beautiful,” she agreed. “Don't get me wrong, you're absolutely mental,” she added, making them both laugh. “But it's something, being near one.”
They made small talk for awhile, and as the fire dimmed, they said their goodnights and climbed beneath their sleeping rolls.
She thought she heard Charlie's breaths even out- Katie, however, was wide awake. She could feel the chill of the spring air hovering outside the warmth of the sleeping bag, and see the stars throwing their pale light down on the mountain in a dull, milk-white glow. And the jar, its light swirling peacefully beneath the glass, made the firelight seem positively cold and dull.
Katie shifted in her sleeping roll. She could feel the outline of Charlie next to hers- the solid, comforting warmth of his body and the disconcerting awareness of him being so very close. Tomorrow, Charlie would make the trek back, and she would leave for home at first light, both of them far apart and heading towards an uncertain future.
Katie was hovering on the edge of something- her body and her mind felt it acutely- she could roll over and try to sleep, or she could roll the other way and take her chances.
Katie was no longer a silly first year with an impossible crush on an older boy- she had the wisdom and the scars of experience, and it had made her aware that every decision and every emotion carried a consequence in the wake of it.
She knew that Charlie was like the dragons he loved: fierce and fiery and uncatchable. She knew that Charlie would never settle down, that words like 'marriage' and 'commitment' had all the appeal of 'shackles' and 'imprisonment’. To tie him down or tame him, would make him miserable and restless in the long run. Charlie was a man that moved, and kept moving. There was no room in his life for anything that stayed still. She knew that, given his way, Charlie would die unmarried and free and seared with scars. She supposed that was what drew her in the first place- that drive, that lust for freedom, that singular, consuming passion...because she felt it when she flew, and she knew that Charlie, like Mox, could understand.
Neither of her parents understood that on the day she was discharged from St Mungo's, all she wanted to do was to get on her broom again. Then again, most of her family had never understood about her Quidditch dream in the first place. Her parents didn't think it was a proper career for a young, well-bred witch, and Mason's older brother instincts were too sharpened for him to consider a career in which his sister was at constant risk of injury a good one. He had always thought Katie was more delicate than she was and tried to discourage her from playing at Hogwarts.
It was Mox that had taken her to the Burry's Recreational Quidditch League pitch after their parents had gone to sleep, watching from the small cluster of stands and she looped and banked and, more than once fell off her broom, landing hard on her cursed side. She had not cried, and Mox had not coddled her. Anger and determination had kept her clambering back onto her broomstick, gritting her teeth and lifting off again and again, refusing to let the curse take this last thing from her.
It was Charlie now, that urged her not to let it go.
And Charlie's words from the night before came back to her..."This war can take from you only if you let it, Kate..."
And she rolled towards Charlie Weasley in the dark, and she kissed him.
She felt him tense for a moment in surprise, but only just- a moment later, his arms came around her and pulled her flush against him, and she appreciated in that particular moment just how strong he was.
He was solid warmth beneath his sleeping bag, and Katie's chilled skin seemed pulled to his as she pulled back for a moment, staring down at him.
The light of the jam jar illuminated a look that was surprised and wary both as he gazed up at her.
She tilted her head at him, grinning. “Don't you trust me, Charlie?”
She kissed him again before he could answer, tongue flickering against his lower lip as she tilted her hips against his and pulling a low, muffled groan from his mouth in the process.
Charlie wasted no time in deepening the kiss, one hand trailing up to tangle in her hair as he opened his mouth against hers. Katie was not surprised that he kissed in the same way he did everything else- passionately, whole-heartedly, teeth skimming her lips as his free hand now danced up and down her side, strong, firm strokes that made her writhe against him, aching for pressure in the right places. He grunted as her hips ground against his now fully awakened erection, and the noise only made her bear down harder, wanting to ease the ache between her own thighs, the seam of her denims providing only the smallest of reliefs.
Cold against her bare skin made her jump- Charlie had slipped his hand beneath the oversized flannel and was now ghosting his fingers across her back, tracing invisible patterns across her skin as he slipped his tongue into her mouth, flicking it against hers. His calloused fingers drew goosebumps in their wake and her nipples tightened. She moved restlessly against him, trying to move his touch to where she craved it most. But Charlie continued to move his hand, unhurried, his fingertips tracing the sides of her breasts and ghosting along the waistband of her denims before trailing up the length of her spine.
She wondered if he knew he was driving her mad- one look down at his smirk confirmed it. Katie glared at him. She had never been teased before- her partners always been as unpracticed and earnest as she- they had been boys, and Charlie Weasley was most decidedly a man.
Deciding that turnabout was fair play, Katie slipped her hand beneath his sleeping roll, tracing down his toned stomach and lightly brushing against the now impressive erection that strained against his trousers.
“Fuck, Kate,” he muttered, and the curse excited her as much as the bulge in her hand.
Twisting his fingers in her hair, he kissed her again, lips and teeth and tongue all-consuming as she let out a muffled moan, squeezing him again.
She let out a small squeak of surprise as she was flipped onto her back- she had been so caught up in the kiss that she had missed him getting free of his sleeping roll. He broke the kiss, and her gasp of disappointment quickly turned to a muted murmur as he moved his mouth to her neck, teeth skimming the skin there before he laved the area with his tongue. Recovering from her surprise, Katie slipped her hands beneath his shirt, running her hands up his warm, well-muscled back.
His hand closed around her breast, then, a calloused finger worrying her nipple, and the sensation sent bolts of pleasure through her, making her toes curl. A gasp broke from her lips, her fingernails digging into his shoulders, making him his as she drew her nails down his back..
His hand was on the move, then, trailing down her stomach and, after momentarily busying themselves with her zipper, sliding under her denims, and-
“Oh....” she breathed, as his finger dipped inside her, in and out, smearing the moisture already there against her thighs, and his mouth had finally found her breast, sucking and worrying her nipple with his quick, clever tongue.
“Faster,” she breathed, grabbing his wrist, and he complied, adding another finger, and it was wonderful and amazing and it was not enough-
He raised his head, eyes intent. “Please, what?”
“Please fuck me.” Katie was past embarrassment, past caring about anything but the feeling of him inside her and an end to the now painful ache between her legs.
Swearing under his breath, Charlie rolled onto his back, working at the fastening of his trousers. Katie quickly shimmied out of hers, peeling off her panties and flinging them the same way as the denims, hissing as the cold air sank into her skin. Charlie had barely gotten his boxers down before she rolled on top of him, but before she could lean down to kiss him again, he had taken hold of her flannel shirt and jerked it open, sending buttons flying.
“Hey-” she began, before realizing that one, it was his shirt, and two, she really didn't give a damn.
His eyes were almost green in the firelight, which flickered off the sloping muscles of his chest and the stark, jutting bones of his hips. A light smattering of red hair dusted his chest down to his groin, and a smattering of freckles seemed to follow in its wake. The jar, behind them, seemed to give his hair an almost copper glow.
He slowly moved the shirt back from her shoulders, exposing her breasts and part of her back, palms feather-light as he traced down her form, skimming breasts and belly and the small hollow of her waist.
"So fucking beautiful," he muttered, and in that moment, she felt it.
And though she had never thought herself as something much to look at, had never given much thought to her long, slender frame beyond what it could do for her in Quidditch nor stopped much to study her milk-pale complexion or bemoan her rather small breasts…in that moment, when Charlie called her beautiful, she felt it completely.
Without a word, she raised up over him, holding him steady and forcing herself down. It had been some time, and Katie closed her eyes at the burn of being stretched, the pleasure-pain of adjusting to the foreign, hot heat inside her. After a moment, however, there was only the pleasant feeling of being filled completely, of Charlie's hands resting gently on her hips, waiting patiently for her to move.
The fire was warm at her back as she began to lift her hips, slowly at first, the air clear and crisp against her arms and breasts as she arched above him, and Charlie sat up with her, his mouth at her shoulder and his hands tangling in her hair once again.
She bit her lip as she moved faster past the pain, wanting more, wanting this moment to stretch on forever.
“Harder,” she demanded in Charlie's ear, tangling her fingers in his hair and clenching them slightly. He grunted beneath her, lifting his hips and bucking into her in counterpoint to her thrusts, his mouth on her neck, sucking warmth to the surface.
“Yes....” she gasped.
The world around them had ceased to exist- there was only Charlie and his mouth and his hands and his thick cock inside her- one particularly clever roll of his lips had her gasping and hovering on the edge, so close-
Charlie complied instantly, his breath a wash of warm air against her neck.
Katie let her head fall back and opened her eyes at the star-strewn sky above her as she shattered, tunnel clenching and legs trembling as her body milked him, as he moaned and shuddered and spilled inside her.
“Kate,” he panted.
She smiled against his skin.
Panting, she sagged against him, her forehead resting against his chest, his arms warm and strong as they wound around her. She closed her eyes. She could feel his heart slowing beneath her hand, and could hear her own still pounding in her ears. After a moment, Charlie pulled the charmed sleeping roll over them both, restoring some warmth to their chilled skin.
Katie fell asleep gazing into the golden light of the jar, feeling hope, real hope, rise within her for the first time in months.
The temporary headquarters for the Order of the Phoenix was as cold and dank as Katie remembered it, even though a small fire was crackling in the kitchen hearth. She'd left Charlie hours ago- she could still feel his lips on hers, his whisper of 'Be careful', against her ear.
She smiled at the memory.
He'd stood with his hands in his pockets as she began to ascend, looking up at her. "Maybe, when all of this is over..." he'd started, then paused.
"Yeah?" she asked.
Charlie ran a hand through his hair, reminding her a little of Ron. "Dunno...you could come and visit sometime."
"On pleasure instead of business, you mean?" she'd replied.
"Something like that, yeah," he replied, grinning. "Although, I dunno about you, but I had fun this time, too."
Katie had blushed a little, despite her boldness the night previous. "Me too."
That morning, she'd awoken to Charlie's lips on her neck, smiling against her skin as she moaned and arched into the touch, his lips trailing lower and lower, rough hands on her knees spreading them slowly apart-
The cold air of the foyer and the cafe door banging shut behind her brought Katie back to reality. She let out a deep sigh, stomping her feet on the threadbare carpet to shake off the cakes of mud that had collected on her boots. She was tired, sore (though half of that could be attributed to more pleasurable activities than riding a broom), and desperately wanted a hot shower and a soft bed, but she was glad to be back safely.
No sooner had she set her broom up against the wall and slipped the old rucksack she'd borrowed from Charlie from her shoulders than movement caught the corner of her eye. Whirling and drawing her wand, she knocked into a side table in the process, sending two teacups to the floor, where they shattered.
Three now familiar silver cats blinked benignly back at her.
"He is coming."
"The password is 'Eltanin'."
Settling back against the counter, Katie cursed under her breath as she flourished her wand and repaired the teacups, setting them back onto the table.
'He' turned out to be a grizzled old man that Katie had never seen before, but who managed to look strangely familiar all the same, from the little she could see of him under his attire. He wore an old traveling cloak and with a hood that obscured the majority of his face, but Katie caught a flash of pale blue eyes and gray beard before he stepped out of the light.
They both drew their wands on each other at the same time.
In a low, gravelly voice, the stranger said, "McGonagall sent me. Three silver cats came before. Password's Eltanin."
"Dumbledore?" she whispered, before she could stop herself.
"No," replied the figure curtly, holding out a gloved hand. "Do you have it?"
"You're not going to ask me a security question?" asked Katie.
She lowered her wand, frowning. "How do you know I'm not a Death Eater?"
"You have it or not?" repeated the man, ignoring her question.
"I have it," replied Katie, reaching into her jacket and pulling out the jam jar, wrapped in one of Charlie's old scarves. She'd flown back with it resting between her jacket and her sweater, warming against her heart. A shiver coursed through her as its heat left her body.
Without looking at it, the stranger stowed the item in a large jacket pocket. Reaching into another pocket, he fished out a small silver key. "Silver Thistle Inn in Bromley, Room 15. Dinner's waiting. Don't leave till you're called."
Katie took the key and slipped it into her jeans pocket. "Thank you. I didn't get your name," she added, as the figure turned to leave.
"Didn't give it," replied the old man, the old door clanging shut behind him.
Katie raised an eyebrow. The Order recruited all kinds, she supposed, picking up her rucksack and broom again and preparing to apparate.
They'd let her in, after all.
The battle was over.
Breaks in the stone of the old school let in sunlight, but it carried little warmth.
Any exhilaration any of them felt at the victory was beaten down by both sorrow and fatigue; the emotions at war in Katie had settled on a kind of flat, vague relief...but it did not feel like a victory.
The Weasley family was still sitting together, gathered around Fred's body, and though Katie would have liked to offer her comfort to George, Charlie, and Ginny particularly, she had no wish to intrude on their family grief. Fred's death had not settled in her yet- rather, it hovered around in the air, thick and terrible and nearly unbelievable- but then, he was not the only one to have died. She had draped the sheets over some of the lifeless forms herself, telling herself that they were only sleeping, that they would wake up when this was over-
She sat to the side with Cho Chang and Leanne, shoulder to shoulder with her old friends. Each of them seemed beyond talking and for that, Katie was grateful, as she could think of nothing wise or comforting to say. And though she knew they were inside her, it was as it was when Mox was in the hospital- the tears would not come.
After a few moments, Oliver Wood plopped down beside them, and then Angelina, whose eyes were puffy from crying. Katie and Oliver both put an arm around her, and they leaned heavily against one another, not speaking, but drawing comfort from each other's presence. For a moment, Katie thought she might fall asleep, but when McGonagall breezed past them, calling for volunteers, Katie found that she no longer wished to sit still with her thoughts.
"What can I do to help, Professor?" she asked, climbing to her feet.
“Me, too,” said Oliver and Leanne.
“And me,” managed Angelina.
"Ah, Miss Bell. I understand Sybil is sifting through the wreckage in the Astronomy Tower. Some of you may go and assist her, and the rest of you might help out in the kitchens, if you like.”
Getting to her feet and pulling out her wand, Katie followed McGonagall along with Leanne to the Astronomy tower as Wood and Angelina went off to the kitchens. Professor Trelawney, along with Parvati and a few other students, were sifting through the wreckage; using their wands, they levitated hunks of stone, splinters of wood, and shards of glass, salvaging what remained beneath, whether it was a telescope, a crystal ball, or an old portrait or two, its inhabitants complaining about being crushed.
A hand on her shoulder made her turn. "Charlie." she said.
There was a gash on his cheek to which somebody had applied a salve, and there were scrapes and bruises on his arms. "I'm so sorry about Fred."
He nodded, looking away. "Would you take a walk with me, Kate?"
She managed a smile. "Of course I will."
Corridors had crumbled- blast marks strained the walls and some ways were blocked completely by rubble. Paintings had become crowded with neighbours whose portraits had been ruined by missed hexes- they huddled together, blinking out at them.
"He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, is it true? He's perished?"
"Voldemort's dead, yeah," said Charlie gruffly. "And good sodding riddance."
The portraits lit up in celebration, but the blank look on Charlie's face did not change. Katie took his hand, leading him around a corner and up the staircase, where the Fat Lady was sitting, dabbing at her eyes. "No passwords today!" she bawled, seeing them. "Come in! Come in!"
She and Charlie ducked under the portrait hole, and Katie felt some measure of relief that the Gryffindor common room had not been damaged. In fact, there was a large fire roaring in the grate, and large platters of sandwiches and goblets of ice cold pumpkin juice had been set out in anticipation of guests.
Katie and Charlie sank into the largest, most squashy sofa, and when Charlie put his arm up, Katie was happy to slide beneath it. And though she was burnt and bleeding and sore, tired in her bones and in her heart, she could still appreciate the warmth of Charlie's skin and the familiar smell of leather and cinnamon and dragon fire as she settled along his side, which gave her some hope that the other feelings would come back, too...in time.
"The spell...did it work?" asked Charlie quietly.
Katie remembered the red-gold shell of the spell as it draped like a glimmering blanket over Hogwarts, the sizzle and shriek of those who ran headlong into it, their skin and clothing burning to cinders in a matter of seconds and blowing back from the shield as nothing more than dust.
"Yes," replied Katie simply. "It worked."
She remembered feeling as she had on the mountain that night, caught up in both fear and fascination at the kind of wreckless beauty that made up magic- that something could protect a wonderful place with such terrible destruction.
"Wonder what Fred would say about all this?" wondered Charlie aloud, staring into the fire.
"”Probably something along the lines of, 'Voldemort's dead, let's party, yeah?" said Katie, trying to smile.
"Yeah. Doesn't seem fair, him not being here to see this." said Charlie, his voice rough.
"No, it doesn't," replied Katie quietly. “I'm glad you're all right, Charlie.”
“I'm glad you're all right too, Kate,” he replied, and she closed her eyes against his shoulder.
It seemed like they might spend an eternity like that, resting, healing, propping up each other's worlds, but then a noise in front of the portrait hole made them both glance up.
"Katie Bell, yes?" asked a young woman Katie recognized as Bill's wife, Fleur, whose beautiful face also wore the marks of battle."Zere is someone looking for you, I think, he is at ze portrait hole, and he-"
"-my sister, Katie Bell, have you seen her, is she all right?" said a familiar voice from outside, and Katie's heart thudded almost painfully in her chest at the sound. "I've checked the kitchens, they said she'd only just left and I might-"
Katie jumped up from the couch to see her brother's dark silhouette against the Gryffindor portrait hole, thin and pale and moving slowly with the help of a walking stick, and she was scarcely aware of moving as she ran around towards him and threw her arms around him. He stumbled back a bit before steadying himself, his arms coming around her and squeezing her with only a fragment of his old strength. He was thin in her embrace- she could feel his ribs and the line of his collarbone was sharp against her cheek, but he was there, he was alive-
"Bloody St Mungo's," he muttered. "It's a mess everywhere, I've only just gotten out this morning, and...thank Merlin you're all right," he finished, tightening his arms around her. For the first time in months, the tears that had held back flowed freely, and Katie let them out, sobbing against her big brother's shoulder.
"About time you showed up, Bell," said Charlie, and the two wizards shared a grin as Mox peered over Katie's head at his old friend.
Katie would remember years later that the tears she shed over the Battle of Hogwarts were of both sorrow and joy...of grief and gratitude both for what she had lost...and what she got to keep.
Her brow was bathed in sweat, her robes soiled and bloody.
She was still trying to catch her breath, her chest heaving as she tried to clear her vision.
"Katie, this way!"
Blood was still bubbling from her lip, and a large lump was already beginning to swell on her thigh.
"Smile now, this one's for the Prophet!"
Cameras were flashing in big bursts of light and loud, smokey pops, and Katie's heart was still hammering in her ears. She stood in front of the exuberant crowd with the rest of her teammates, trying to keep up with the slew of questions that were being shouted from every direction on the pitch.
She blinked and cleared her vision, just in time to hear her name called from the back.
"Katie Bell, you and the Falcons have just won the Cup for the second year in a row- what are your plans for the off-season?"
There would be time for working with her favourite charities, of course, including the St Mungo's/Hogwart's Mentorship program she'd started with her brother Mox, and for the wonderful boy she was sponsoring; an energetic first year that had been bitten years ago by Fenrir Greyback but still wanted to become Keeper for Puddlemere United someday. (And who rather reminded her of Colin Creevey in terms of enthusiasm.)
There would be time too for her timeshare in San Sabastian, for drinking red wine, eating tapas at the little cafes and laying out on the beach with Angelina, Leanne, and Alicia, playing catch up and wearing skimpy swimsuits and drinking too many margaritas. But right now, Katie Bell's mind was wandering to colder climates, to a lonely mountain and a cozy cabin and a red-headed man as untamable as the creatures he loved.
Katie's smile was dazzling as she looked into the camera for another photo, wedged between fellow chasers Flint and Osgren, who were resting their massive elbows on her comparatively small shoulders.
"Do you know, boys," she informed the flashing cameras, winking, "I believe I'll go chase some dragons."