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Liquid Season

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The air was hot and thick, oppressive in the dark room that Harry shared with Ron. There was no fan and apparently, the adult wizards hadn't thought to use climate control charms on the rooms. He sighed and tried to go to sleep, but couldn't. Ron's snoring was too loud and it practically rattled his bed frame, and unlike in Hogwarts, Harry couldn't cast a silenceio.

Harry grunted, and got up to turn Ron onto his side, his friend, still asleep, was instantly silent and breathing quietly. Harry went back to his bed and tried to go back to sleep, but then the mattress was lumpy. Harry squirmed until he got into a comfortable position; grunted slightly then ripped off the choking pyjamas, stripping down until he was going commando. Harry sighed in relief, moved to a cooler part of his pillow, and closed his eyes.

Ten minutes later, he was awake with a muffled yell, struggling for oxygen in the heavy air of the room. It was Cedric again, his once-boyfriend, eyes blank and dead on the floor, his face maggot ridden and rotting away, as thousands of insects bit chunks out of Harry's flesh. Harry gasped and ran his hands over his face, feeling the sweat under his fingers. A heavy noise thwumped in the darkness as he flung himself back on his pillow. Ron grunted and began to snore again.
At least it wasn't Sirius this time, thought Harry hopelessly.
He stared up at the dark ceiling, and then gave sleep up as a bad job, deciding instead to seek the cool. He was thirsty anyway. As he groped for his glasses on the bedside table, he checked his watch; 12:00 it read on the slim glowing hands. Harry pulled on the pair of black pyjama pants, for modesty's sake, and left the room.

The hallways were dark, but there was enough light coming in through the dingy, dirty windows for Harry to make his way without killing himself in the night.

He slipped silently down the stairs, and sighed with instant relief. The kitchen level of Grimmauld Place was one of the coolest in the house, freezing in winter, but reasonably okay in the oppressive heat of summer, even though it was a little dank and clammy. He entered the kitchen with the intention of getting himself a drink and found that someone had beaten him to it, a figure sitting before the still smouldering fire. Harry hesitated, but decided that he was thirsty enough to brave any questions of 'are you okay Harry, do you want to talk, it's okay to feel upset for Sirius, how do you feel, do you want to talk about Sirius?' He clenched a fist in annoyance before shoving the badgering questions to the back of his mind.

Harry padded into the kitchen; the smouldering fire gave a little heat off, enough to dry the room but not enough to make the kitchen uncomfortably hot.
And anyway, thought Harry, it was better than his room.

Harry could now see that the figure staring thoughtfully into the fire and taking the occasional swig from a tall bottle had bright red hair, which could only mean that they were a Weasley. They were too big to be Molly or Ginny, Ron was asleep, the Twins were at their shop, he didn't think they were Arthur or Percy either. However, the figure was vaguely familiar, so it was either one of Ron's oldest brothers, Bill or Charlie.
'Hi.' Harry said as he poured himself a glass of water.

The man turned in his seat, startled, obviously not having noticed Harry coming in. When Harry saw the man's face, he was able to put a name and remember where he'd seen the man.

"Oh. Hey Harry." Charlie said, twisting his neck to get a better look at Harry.

"Sorry to disturb you." Harry said to the man that he'd only met a couple of times earlier, once at the quidditch world cup and another at the ill-fated tri-wizard tournament.

'Nah, that's alright. '' said Charlie.

"Cheers. Nice to see you again." he said, taking a sip of his water. "Ron and Ginny will be happy."

Charlie nodded amiably. "Nice to see you too Harry. And yes." He added with a fond smile, "No doubt mum will be too."
Harry nodded in return and continued to drink his water. He'd just put his cup away and was about to walk out when Charlie said, "Want some?" and gestured to the bottle and motioned with his head to the chair beside him.
Harry hesitated, teetering on the brink of what he knew he should and should not do. His friends would tell to go back to bed. Sirius would say...
"Why the hell not?" Harry said, shrugging lightly in a devil-may-care manner, and took the offered bottle. He sat down into the chair before the low fire, pouring some into the conjured glass that Charlie passed him.

"Just don't tell my mother." Charlie said seriously, "She'd flip if she knew that I'd let someone underage drink."

Harry could feel his lips twitch into a grin, the first he had given in a long time. "I like her screaming as much as you do. I'd rather not have my eardrums suffer the abuse, if it's all the same to you." He passed the bottle back.

Charlie grinned wryly at this and took a swig of his drink, "Good enough for me."

Harry sniffed cautiously at his drink, trying to see if he could tell what it was made of. The liquid in his glass was a clear pinkish-gold that shimmered slightly, Harry could smell mint and strawberries. He frowned and took a sip, raising his eyebrows at the taste. It was bubbly, deliciously so, and it danced on his tongue, delightfully cool. He didn't know how it was possible, but he could taste or was it feel; autumn stars, crisp winter snow, mint, strawberries, summer fruits, a spring breeze, the sun and something else. The something else that remained Harry of things that, that - of things he couldn't name, but knew, vaguely that he'd had before. It tasted like happiness, if that was what happiness tasted like. It was deliciously fruity. He rolled the taste around his tongue and swallowed, his throat a comet tail of burning. The effect was instantaneous; the alcohol lit a gold glow in his stomach, which travelled to fill every fire of his being with a kind of sparkling fire, bubbly and buoyant.

After he'd gotten over the taste and the fact that he felt as if someone had filled him full of gold and bubbles, he asked, "What is this stuff?"

Charlie grinned at him. "It's good isn't it? I got a taste for it in Australia, when I was with a team looking for Bunyips; we had found what we were looking for early, so we spent a few days in Sydney. It's too hot to drink Firewhisky or Butterbeer there, and the group I was with were massive party animals, so they all drank this.' He shrugged; reached for his wand and summoned himself a glass like the one he had given Harry. He poured himself a drink before setting the bottle down on the floor.

"Really, don't tell my mother I let you drink this. This stuff may seem lightweight, but it's not. A mate once likened it to an overpowered cheering charm in bottle form."

Harry nodded in understanding. "What's it called?" he said, taking another sip and leaning back in his chair, relaxing in the companionable air the Charlie seemed create without thinking.

"Liquid Season." Said Charlie. "You noticed how it glitters, well, an interesting side effect is that if you have lot of it, you begin to sparkle. It's really quite pretty, but also very funny if you and someone else are drunk, and you're both glittering and sparkling like a muggle disco ball covered in fairy dust with an internal Lumos applied. Of course, that only happens when you have way too much to drink, otherwise the effects rather subtle. Like this, see." Here Charlie held up his arm to the fire light and Harry could see that he indeed did sparkle lightly. He supposed that it came along with that gold, bubbly, glow.

"One time," Charlie grinned widely with fond reminiscence, "We'd been at a Wizarding club, and one of the girls, an Australian called Amy, had drunk way too much Liquid Season. And of course, drunk and cheery as hell, we decided that it would be a really good idea to walk back to the apartment. We thought, yeah, it'd be all right, it's late, no muggles will see us and it's a bad idea to apperate anyway. So we decided to walk. There we were, two in the morning, still dark, walking in the city, her glowing and glittering insanely, when we come across these muggles, our age and I swear the look on their faces." Charlie laughed gaily, "Course they was drunk, but that only made it funnier. They take one look at her and burst out laughing as if it's the funniest thing they've seen in ages, and then one of them goes, 'Shit man! I'm so high right now! I swear the sun's coming out of her fucking skin! Best trip ever!' Then he collapses on top of his friends while their drunker than drunk and we're laughing hysterically and hightailing it up the road when the drunken guy is being supported by his friends and going 'Come back shiny girl! I love you! Best trip ever! Sparkly come back here!' and their all pissing themselves as their all high as hell, and we're going up the road laughing our arses off. Amy didn't stop sparkling for two days." Charlie was laughing and by then, Harry couldn't help laughing along with him.
He couldn't help it, the story was funny, funnier with the buoyant effects of the Liquid Season and Charlie's laugh was as infectious as he'd ever heard.

"Hey Charlie?' Harry said after he'd recovered and poured himself another glass, morning hangover be damned; happiness and careless laughter was rare at the moment, he'd take what he could get. "You got any more interesting stories?"

Charlie laughed and knocked back another drink. "I've forgotten more stories than you can remember! Okay, there was this one time when I was in Romania..."

By the time the clock rolled to one in the morning, Harry and Charlies were now quite drunk, both obviously glowing, rolling in their chairs and laughing. It was quite a miracle that they hadn't woken anyone up, let alone Mrs Black's crazy portrait.

"I suppose." Said Harry suddenly, 'That I've got to thank You-Know-Who, for giving' me this." Here he leaned forward to reveal the lighting scar on his forehead. "It means that I can pull all the birds, because I've got a scar, and chicks love scars."

Charlie pulled himself up and laughed. "You call that a scar? That's a scratch, barely a mark. These, my friend, are scars." Charlie stood and pulled off his shirt and dropped it on the floor, to reveal the mess of scars that covered his body from all the times he'd been burnt, bitten, or harmed by his dragons. "And if that's not enough to satisfy you, check these out, but don't tell my mother."

He turned to show Harry the pair of tattooed silver dragon wings that spanned his back; they shifted on his skin and unfurled, flapping about in an ungainly manner, mimicking their owners' drunk state. As they flapped, a mess of sparkles erupted like little dust clouds. The tattoo's themselves did not sparkle and Harry found it amusing, chortling at the state of Charlie's back.

Charlie then moved show off the Griffin and Dragon that shifted on his chest in a circle and then collapsed in a heap, apparently fast asleep. He pointed out the tree of life on his shoulder nestled between the widely spaced claw scars from a young baby dragon, which shifted and waved its branches in a wind visible only by the gusts of sparkles that it blew about. Charlie grinned and pulled his faded jeans down lower on his hips to revel the fiery phoenix that flew there.

"Wizarding Tattoo's." Charlie explained, "They're a bit like Wizarding photographs except some of have their own personality," here he pointed to the griffin, and the dragon, "while others mimic their owners, like the wings or my phoenix. Others just copy natural movements, such as the tree. Depends on how many Galleons you pay. I freeze them if I'm around muggles or mum, but otherwise, aside from the wings and the tree, they're pretty much allowed to go where ever. You know how chicks feel about scars and tattoos, and if that isn't enough, I'm packing muscle, and Bitches love muscle." Charlie grinned broadly and stretched, emphasising his point.

Harry looked at Charlie with drunken respect in his eyes. "Charlie Weasley, let it be said that I am experiencing a severe case of man-envy. You beast."

"Yeah. I know." Said Charlie, ego sufficiently boosted, as he sat down and took another swig of his drink.

"But you want to know something?" Said Harry, as he leaned closer and his drink tilted in his glass. "The most entertaining thing is that chicks can throw themselves naked and covered in chocolate sauce, but it won't do a thing for me because I play for an entirely different Quidditch team."

There was a sudden intensity in Charlie's blue eyes; they sharpened dangerously as he began to grin like the Cheshire cat.

"Well Harry," Said Charlie, leaning forward towards the wickedly smiling teen, "You want to know something really, really interesting?"

"Yeah." Said Harry, leaning a little closer, drink now seriously endangered.

"I'll take anyone's players, and apparently, wizards love what I've got just as much as witches. Do you?"

Harry laughed. His bright green eyes were mischievous as he placed a finger on Charlie's collarbone and whispered in his ear. "I think you'd look really good with a stag there. Really, really good."

Charlie stilled, breathing low and rough, and Harry pulled back, wondering, as much as he could in his cheerfully drunken state, whether he'd gone too far.

"Fuck." Breathed Charlie, his blue eyes were as intense as they'd ever been. "You are too much, Harry Potter. Far too much."

Harry swallowed dryly, a shot of unease shooting through him and licked his lips nervously as Charlie started to slowly and deliberately lean closer to him. Harry couldn't move; he was frozen to the spot, his mind now racing with the liquid Season running in his veins and under his skin. The smell of Charlie was about him; Broomstick polish, treacle tart, and something else that he couldn't put his finger on, and all the while Charlie was leaning closer.

And then Charlies mouth was on Harry's lips with a fire that made Harry respond instinctively, his arms coming up to encircle Charlie's neck and his hands pushing in Charlie's thick red hair. Charlie's strong hands were caressing Harry's face, his thumb rubbing up and down Harry's jaw firmly. Charlie tasted like the drink, summer and strawberries, winter, autumn, spring. He tasted of happiness and that something. The something Harry couldn't name and couldn't really remember when or where he'd had it before, but he thought that he was getting close. He reciprocated the kiss eagerly, parting his lips to allow Charlie access and let their tongues twine together.

The kitchen fire, built up since they'd started drinking, gilded their skin golden, highlighting the shimmer and opalescent swirls of gold glitter moving under their skin.

Harry was pushed up against to wall, gasping breathily as Charlie ran his hands with over Harry's body with abandon. His mouth was on Harry's neck, nipping, biting, sucking, and Harry was powerless, moaning, gasping. He was a firestorm of emotion, an animal of lust; hands fisted in Charlie's hair, neck tilted back, hissing and gasping with every changing sensation.

Somewhere between attacking nips, sucks and kisses, Charlie gasped out, barely coherent, "We should stop, I should stop."

"I don't want to stop." Said Harry, his voice low and unsteady as he bent his head to Charlie's collarbone, "Do you?" he asked, before sucking firmly on the spot he pointed out before.

The deep, animal groan that Charlie issued shot straight to Harry's groin.

"No." Charlie growled, lifting Harry up and mashing him against the wall. Harry's back hurt from this treatment, but he didn't care, he was too busy, legs around Charlie's waist and mouth being firmly and fiercely attacked, to complain.

Then suddenly, the wall was gone from behind Harry's back as Charlie supported Harry's full weight in his arms, Harry's legs clasped firmly around Charlie's waist. They were moaning, hissing, groaning, into each other's mouths, necks and skin. Harry's hands were crawling over Charlie's back and shoulders, tracing the lines where his tattooed wings flapped and shifted, half spread. Charlie's arms wrapped around Harry, supporting him, hands burning with heat.

Charlie stumbled up stairs, still supporting Harry, shoving his way into the guest room that he'd been given.

It was only until he'd flung Harry onto the bed after casting a wandless muffliato, and locking the doors with magic, did some clarity return to him as he realised the insane and dangerous thing that he, they, were doing.

"Shit Harry." He panted, trapping the teen on the bed beneath him, trying to pull away while at the same time being so reluctant to do so. "We shouldn't be doing this. You're not of age. We're both drunk. This is a bad idea. We should stop." Charlie attempted to regain some sanity, to try and a control the situation, to stop his self from doing what he wanted most of all, but knew he shouldn't do.

Harry reached up and clasped both his hands around the man's neck, pulling himself up a little. He stared up at Charlie seriously, green eye's clear despite the pupils blown with lust. "I'm hardly a child Charlie, not after everything. I know what I want even drunk, perhaps even more when I'm drunk. And I want this, and I'll take this for myself, not for you, not for anyone." He leaned forward even more, and gently, oh so gently, let his lips caress Charlie's. Charlie still tasted like something Harry didn't know, but was so, so close to naming and remembering. "I want you Charlie. I want this. And I'll take it, for me."

There was a warring light in Charlie's eyes; the internal struggle between doing the correct thing by stopping what they were doing, and doing something that the teen might regret in the morning – something that Charlie, personally, would regret only from the repercussions. Whatever he was, Charlie was not a paedophile. But what they were doing didn't have a taint of wrong, the feeling of repulse that Charlie would get after hearing stories of paedophilia on the news. Perhaps Harry was right, he may be underage, but he was not a child. And want was nagging at Charlie because Harry's eyes were so green. Perhaps it had been the drink that played across Harry's skin with its shimmer and the light glowing from their bodies, but Harry was beautiful in the low light, so beautiful, and the need in the depths of his green eyes made the decision for Charlie.

Charlie swallowed heavily and looked into Harry's clear green eyes, "Okay. But you will tell me if you want to stop and I'll back off right away. Understand?"

"Yes. I will, I do."

"Good. If I'm too rough, tell me. I'll try to be gentle as I can, but I... make no promises."

A single nod of acceptance was all Charlie got before he allowed himself to lay Harry back on the bed, carefully remove his glasses and slowly, oh so slowly, but with an intensity that showed in every breath and move, began to kiss, lick and touch; Harry reciprocating where he could in kind, although his position made it difficult.

The heat had been building and the tango beginning to climb back to its previous tempo, but still Charlie refused to do anything more than teasing compared to what they'd been doing in the kitchen. Charlie was being careful, he was being gentle. Nevertheless, his lust, so like the dragons he tamed (wild, fierce and tinged with fire), had begun to climb again and it growled deeply for more. It was the flush of red over Harry's body, his breathy moans as Charlie ran his hands down Harry's side, the way he wrapped his arms around Charlie's body and gripped when Charlie nibbled on his earlobe, the way his lips parted wantonly all pink and willing. Charlie found himself moving faster, biting harder, nipping and sucking hard enough to bruise, mark and hurt. But every time he did, there was no yelp of pain, just low moans, and groans, breathy pants and "God, Charlie. Fuck. Ah!" as Harry took what Charlie gave.

"Fuck Harry." Charlie growled. "You. Are too fucking much." He bit down on one of Harry's nipples and sucked harshly, the shot of pain-pleasure that ran through Harry made him gasp breathily and arch into Charlie, bumping their cocks together in a way that left Charlie in no doubt about how hard his companion was.

"Shit." Charlie breathed, as the animal lust in him so thinly restrained, broke. "Enough fucking foreplay." He shoved Harry's pyjama pants down and flung them off the bed, pleased by the lack of briefs or boxers there. Harry gave a shiver of delight at the sensation as Charlie twirled his fingers around the tight ring of muscle. Despite the heat between his legs and the desire that raged through him, Charlie took the time to cast a preventative charm that would stop the transmitting of any disease and to stretch Harry properly with the aid of a preparation charm. It would still hurt, just not as much.

When Charlie finally slid into Harry, he hissed a cuss through his teeth as Harry gave an echoing groan.

Fuck. He was so tight.

The heat around him and a base desire shouted for him to pound the teen into the mattress and have Harry come screaming Charlie's name. But Charlie knew that he couldn't do that, knew that he was already hurting Harry. Hell, he'd barely taken the time to use the preparation spell and to stretch Harry out, and he was usually such an attentive lover. Charlie forced himself to slow down, to set a rhythm that would be a burning salsa that licked the pair with waves of all consuming heat. He'd wanted pleasure, pure selfish pleasure; but he also took pride in his attentiveness as a partner and wanted for Harry to enjoy the experience as well. But he knew it would only happen if he made it into a passionate dance of fucking and movement, heat, fire, lust; infernos of the most intense pleasure.

But damn if the youth was tight as fuck, and this heat was getting to him, and the pressure was burning. Still he forced himself to drag out agonisingly slow and drive in deep and deliberate, making sure to hit that knot of nerves every time even as he curled his hand around Harry's cock. Judging from the way that Harry had been making increasingly frenzied sounds and movements of gratification, it was obvious that the Charlie Weasley prowess was working its magic. He could hear the stuttering breaths as Harry came closer and closer to coming. Charlie began to lose the rhythm he'd built because he needed this pleasure now. He began to thrust faster and harder, hard enough to hurt, because the thought of Harry coming undone because of Charlie was too damn much.

There was a yell, muffled by Charlie's flesh as Harry sunk his teeth into the man's shoulder and raked his nails across Charlie's broad back in an effort to ride the waves upon waves of pleasure. It was all Harry could do to hold himself together; live wire was running under his skin, undoing him, and he shuddered violently. Pleasure made him an animal, a creature of emotion. For one moment, one moment where he had lost his self in ecstasy, he felt free, joyful, unburdened by everything. Unworried by thoughts of Voldemort, of Sirius, of Cedric, of all the things that happened and were about to happen. His mind was a blinding, white noise of rapturous sensation. He was alive in that moment.

For Charlie – there was a roar caught up in his chest, and as always in that moment, he felt like the king of everything. He was the one who has given such pleasure, he was the one who has turned his partner into a moaning animal of emotion, he has done this, and Charlie felt powerful. For a moment, a single moment, he'd made Harry forget his fears and worries; given Harry such an intense shot, a body, full of pleasure. He, Charlie, is the dragon roaring fiercely; overcome by the wild and heady feeling of being able to make Harry create such sweet sounds, to give and surrender everything in a single moment. Mine, Charlie thought as he collapsed, spent, this stag is mine.

They lay where they were for a moment, before Charlie pulled out of Harry with trembling limbs. He took Harry's lips in his own, kissing him so sweetly, it was like chocolate and mangos in the middle of the night. Charlie still tasted like that something, the something that Harry thought he could remember and now name. The after-glow bathed them in a tangible gold light. Although that may have been just the drink, but whatever it was, it was warm, it was sweet, and it was right.

Sleep called to the pair gently with its siren song, and for a moment in that afterglow, Harry was terrified about dreaming of Cedric, or Sirius, or Voldemort. But by then, Charlie had gathered him up and pulled the duvet over them, Harry drawn into the warm, solid, circle of Charlie's body. It was then that Harry knew that for tonight, the dreams would not come. It wasn't long before they were both asleep, breaths evened out to the long and steady inhale exhale of slumber.

 

It is probably just as well that no one saw a slightly limping Harry sneak out of Charlie's room in the morning, leaving the still softly sleeping man, to have a shower and go to breakfast.

"Hey Harry." Ron mumbled with his head down over his bacon and eggs. "You weren't in our room this morning."

"I'd gotten up early to go to have a shower before everyone else." Harry lied and slid gratefully into his chair, helping himself to the food on the table.

"Hey Harry." Ron said, finally looking up, "You do realise that you're sparkling right?"

"Um, Yes." Said Harry, and quickly began to invent a lie. "I was, err, thirsty last night, so I went down to the kitchen to get a glass of water, but err, there was on already on the counter, so I drank that one, and um, the twins must have left that because it, well, urr, it made me sparkly." The lie, as choppy as it was, seemed to be believable to Ron, as he accepted it without question.

"Fred and George are always leaving their test products around. I wonder how long it'll last, and when it will be out. 'Cuse I want some if they're selling it. I'd love to get the Ferret with some of that. Just imagine. Draco Malfoy, the amazing sparkling git." Ron laughed, and Harry joined in half-heartedly. "Anyway. Mum's told us that my brother Charlie arrived late last night, apparently he had some news for the Order, so he's here today." Ron grinned happily. As much as he felt overshadowed by his brothers at some times, he still loved them, and it was rare that he could see Charlie due to his devotion to his job and the cost of the international portkey.

Harry tried to seem a little surprised and interested by this. "Cool. I wonder what the message is."

Ron shrugged again and shovelled more food into his mouth. "I dunno."

Ginny and Hermione soon joined them and they ate their food in a relatively peaceful quiet. After one or two questions about why Harry was sparkling, to which he reiterated the excuse he gave Ron, which was given a disapproving shake of the head by Hermione and a smile and a laugh by Ginny. They were nearly finished when a bare-chested Charlie walked down the stairs and he was gleefully greeted by Ron and Ginny. Hermione had her head buried in a small novel and only looked up once to see who it was, smiled to be polite, then buried her head in the pages again.

"But Charlie," Said Ginny, confused. "Why are you sparkling too?"

Harry had to hide his grin with a hasty gulp of pumpkin juice. "Fred and George got to you too?" He said, the laugh in his voice barely concealed. "It must have been something we drank."

There was a hint of mischief in Harry's green eyes and Charlie grinned crookedly, acknowledging the shared and hidden joke. "Yeah, must have been something we drank." He said, running a hand through his damp hair, unintentionally showing off his muscles, scars and shifting tattoos. Charlie must have used a glamour charm on the marks that had been inflicted on him, as Harry couldn't see anything that pointed to a night of wild sex.

"Mum around?" Charlie asked.

Ron shook his head and took a mouthful of eggs. "Nopf- shesh out. Shopfhing."

"Cool." Charlie said, taking a seat at the table. "I don't really want her yelling at me at nine in the morning. 'Tattoos! Charlie, you look so uncivilized. Oh! I can understand the dragons, and the scars, but, Tattoos! I never raised you like that! You are going to get those spelled off right this instant young man! I never – In all my years!' " Charlie snorted as he mimicked his mother's voice and shook his head. "Pass the mushrooms Ginny."

"I can't wait 'till I'm old enough to get one." Ron said enviously.

Charlie smirked. "Hurt like hell through. Actually," he said, looking straight at Harry. "I'm thinking of getting another one. A stag. Right on my collar bone, just here." He tapped the place where Harry had touched the night before. "I'd think that'd look good. What do you think Harry?" he asked, with a mimic of his Cheshire cat grin he'd sported the night before.

Harry could feel a red flush burn over his cheeks as he ducked his head and hid his crooked grin behind a glass of pumpkin juice. "I think that would look really good."

Charlie threw back his head and laughed joyfully; Ron, Hermione and Ginny were left feeling as if they'd missed something rather important as Harry and Charlie busied their selves with food, both sporting crooked smiles.

Later when more of the residents of the house had come down for breakfast, Harry muttered something about feeding Buckbeak and disappeared up the stairs, with a slight unconscious glance in Charlie's direction. Charlie, with an excuse of his own and a tiny frown on his face, followed.

It took Charlie a few lucky guesses to find Harry, who was indeed feeding Buckbeak. The Hippogriff turned a hot eye on Charlie when the man entered the room. Charlie bowed respectfully the creature and after a moment, Buckbeak did the same. The Hippogriff turned back to Harry who continued to throw rats until they were all gone. Charlie took a seat and waited for Harry to finish, stretching his legs out before him. His bare feet sparkled slightly, glowing gold, although the effect was fading slightly, for which Charlie could only be glad. For while Ron, Ginny, Hermione and some of the older wizards, including his mother and father, did not know the effects of the alcohol, there were certainly those who did. Plus, he couldn't count on the Twins not accidently blowing the cover story Harry had created, although they were good at catching such things. It was well enough that the effect of the Liquid Season was abating.

Harry took a seat next to Charlie when he was done feeding Buckbeak rats. Charlie did not miss Harry's slight limp and was remorseful for it.

"I'm sorry if I was too hard on you last night. I didn't mean to lose control; I didn't mean to hurt you as much as I did."

Harry shrugged one shoulder, "It was what I needed; I doubt you could have been any less rough with me than if you'd made a wizarding oath."

Charlie hesitated, opening his mouth to apologise again when Harry stopped him, saying flatly, "It was what I wanted, it was what I needed."

"Still..." Charlie said as he leaned forward, elbows on his knees and hands clasped loosely, guilt still tugging at him.

Harry shook his head, saying softly, "You did me a favour last night; you gave me the chance to forget about being the Boy-Who-Lived, about Sirius, about everything. You didn't treat me like a child and afterwards I felt ... at peace. I haven't felt like that in a long time. You gave me a gift Charlie, don't apologise for it."

Charlie glanced at the young man beside him out of the corner of his eye. Harry was looking up at the ceiling, leaning back on his hands.

Charlie hesitated slightly, wondering if he should ask his next question, there was something about the way Harry said 'It was what I needed' that niggled at him. "Harry, about ... last night..." Harry glanced at Charlie inquiringly as the man licked dry lips and continued, "Last night... it... it wasn't your first was it?" It was not a question but a statement. Harry looked at him considering, then eventually shook his head.

"No." He said, "You weren't my first."

There was silence in the room, punctuated by Buckbeak as he noisily began to disembowel and behead a cushion, feathers exploding in small puffs. At first it seemed like Harry was not going to be any more forthcoming, but Charlie waited in silence, well versed in the art of listening. Finally Harry continued, the words tumbling out as if they'd been damned behind wards and concrete walls for a long time.
"No one knew about it, about us. It's not exactly the type of thing you tell people, not if you're a fourth year and they're a seventh year. Not if you're both male. Not if you're The Boy Who Lived and he's Hufflepuff's poster boy. Not if you're both Tri-Wizard contestants - especially not if you're both Tri-wizard contestants."

Charlie frowned lightly to himself, working out who Harry was talking about: Hufflepuff, Tri-wizard champion... "Cedric Diggory?" He asked, with a slight twinge of disbelief that Harry didn't notice.

The teen nodded and continued. "Cedric showed me parts of myself that I had never known before. He was the one who opened my eyes and made me realise part of who I was. He saw it in me before I even knew it myself. To this day, I've still no idea how. The first time was in the prefect's bathroom, he'd asked to meet me there, to say thank you for telling him about the dragons. I think he only intended to say 'thank you', and leave it at that. Of course, things are never that simple. Next thing I knew, we were interchanging saliva and his hand was around our cocks. And perhaps I shouldn't have let it happen so fast, the day after I was kicking myself; I was embarrassed and angry that I done that. It wasn't sex, sure, but it was sexual – hell, I'd never even kissed a girl before- and I was uneasy about my sexuality - even through the night in the prefect's bathroom had made a few things confusingly clear. The fact it felt good, the fact it felt right and the fact that I wanted to do it again. I wanted Cedric to do it again. "

Charlie bit his lip as Harry gave a small laugh, only slightly bitter, shook his head and continued. "I shouldn't have worried about the first part through; Ced was a Hufflepuff to the bone. He wasn't the type to have one-night flings, when he did things, he thought about it and he meant it. He wasn't the type to do something without first having meant it. He tried to find me the day after; I avoided him. A day later, he sent me a note asking me to me him in the room of requirement. He wrote, Please, before his name. What could I do but obey? When I walked in, he kissed me-. It wasn't the kind of kiss you give when you only wanted a scratched itch. Although he'd only wanted to talk at first, we ended up repeating what we'd done in the bathroom." Harry hesitated and continued, "We had sex for the first time after the second task."
Charlie was struck by a bitter thread of jealously as Harry frowned and said, "It was probably just as well that I had the tournament to use a shield as to why I was so distracted, and as to why I went to so many 'practice sessions'. "

Harry sighed and Charlie could hear the loss in that sigh. "Even though there was the tournament, and Ron wasn't speaking to me, and half the school was against me, I was still happy, because Cedric was there for me, and I for him. I know that I was young for it; I was, after all, only fourteen while Ced was seventeen, but I was happy." There was a long and stretched silence, heavy and weighty in the room. When Harry spoke again, his voice was rough and unsteady.
"On the night before the third task, Cedric came to me, he sent a patronus into my room when all of my roommates were asleep – I was awake. Couldn't sleep. The patronus, it was a badger, and it asked me come to him in the room of requirement, Please. We had sex for the final time that night, and there was a raw desperation in him, when he kissed there was this intensity, even after we had both climaxed. He'd hugged me, held me tight to him, so tight it had almost hurt. I was tired, sleepy, I said. Yeah, I love you too. Go to sleep. We'll have tonight to cuddle, after the task is over." Harry laughed bitterly, and Charlie flinched at the sound of it. "I think he knew that there wasn't going to be a 'tonight' not for him, not for us. He came to me just before the task, kissed me so fiercely, so desperately. I said Ced, I love you, but let's do this later, after the task. Tonight. Cedric had shaken his head and said No. There is no tonight. But before I could ask what he meant we were called to the start. And then, there was no chance. In the maze... we agreed to not be anything other than competitors, I would have left him to the vines... but he yelled my name. He looked so scared that I just couldn't. We decided to take the cup for the school, to both win it. But the cup was a portkey. In that graveyard, my scar started hurting; I knew that it couldn't mean anything good. It meant that Voldemort was there, so I told him to get back to the cup, but he wouldn't leave me. He wouldn't have died, but he kept glancing at me, worried for me. He'd been looking at me when Wormtail killed him. The last thing he'd seen was me, that final grip of his eyes; they were as green as mine."

A gasp rasps from Harry, and Charlie was locked in place at the sound of it. "When the Priori Incantatem happened, the ghosts of all the people Voldemort had killed started coming out of his wands. Cedric was first. He said Hold on Harry, don't let go. I love you. My father had been next, then my mother. They told me to hold on, that they would buy me some time. The last thing that Cedric said to me before I broke the connection was Take my body back to my parents. I love you Harry. I love you. Live Harry." Harry gave another gasp, an heave of air, "And then – and then he said Please."

Sobs wracked him, ugly heaving sobs of a wound lanced for the first time and Harry let himself breakdown completely.

He felt himself gathered into Charlie's soothing embrace, something only Cedric had ever done. At first, he resisted, but Charlie was crooning gently into his hair, and Charlie felt safe in that moment. He melted into the warmth, to the muscles of Charlie's chest and the strength in his arms, the way his hands ran up and down the curve of Harry's back in a movement that was like phoenix song.

After a while, Harry's breathing evened out and he said, "I've always thought that he knew that he was going to die that day." Charlie said nothing but continued to hum softly into Harry's black hair. There was a moment's pause then Harry said softly, "I've never told anyone all of that before. I told Dumbledore and Sirius about what happened in the graveyard, but not all of it, not about Cedric and I, I didn't tell them what he really told me. No one knows about us either, no one that is, but you."

There was a hiccup of breath, then Harry said, "After the tournament, all I wanted was to hide in my bed and sleep for what seemed like a hundred years – gave all my winnings to Fred and George for their joke shop. I didn't want to breathe, to speak, to laugh – to move on. But Cedric had told me to live. Not just survive, but to live. Please." Harry shrugged slightly bitterly, "And so I did. I could never refuse Ced when he asked me like that."
Harry twitched a small smile of bitter loss and fond remembrance. "You helped me live last night, you gave me a gift. I can't ask you to apologise for that."

There was another silence, one more comfortable than the stretched silence of before.

Charlie paused, ran his hand over Harry's back again - almost unwilling to stop, and then said, "Thank you Harry, for telling me. " Charlie could feel Harry shrug against him.

"It's okay," said Harry, "It's just sometimes I fear that I'm going to forget him, forget what he did for me. Forget who he was. I don't want that."

Charlie hesitated, aware of what he was about to offer, and glanced down at his and Harry's skin. The glitter and glow had faded to an imperceptible level and it made up his mind for him. "Come with me Harry." He said suddenly, "I know of a way in which you'll never forget him. We'll just have to find a way to keep people from being suspicious while we're gone."

Harry, curious beside himself, struggled up and looked at Charlie inquiringly through his round glasses.

Charlie gave a small grin as an idea, a small devilish idea, landed lightly in his mind like a butterfly and sent his thoughts pin wheeling as a wild mood settled on his shoulders, infectious. "I wonder Harry, those glasses... Have you ever seen a wizarding eye healer?"

Harry looked at Charlie like the man had lost his mind, but as Charlie began to explain, a small smile started growing on Harry's lips. It was a reckless idea, more than slightly stupid, but he liked it. He liked it almost as much as Charlie's easy grin and the steady broad set of his shoulders.

Charlie's insane ideas were going to become a theme here, that much Harry could tell.

Chapter Text

Chapter 2.

It had taken Charlie the work of a couple of moments to convince the older wizards of the benefits of Harry seeing an eye healer. It took him even less time to disguise his most telling features and apparate them both to Diagon Alley.

"Where are we going?" asked Harry, a slight smile on his face, and Charlie's infectious mood soaking into his every fibre.

"First, the Eye Healer for a quick spell or two, a change of glasses and perhaps some contacts, and then, we're off to see a wizard."

Despite the changed feel of Diagon Alley; the anxious looks of the shoppers, how no one stopped to chat anymore, the sombre ministry posters and the seedy sellers of dubious goods in shabby stores; Harry's good mood could not be quite quelled. It was good to be out of the house.

The Eye Healer was situated just off Diagon Alley on Kettering Corner, it was a clean and airy place with an empty waiting room, it didn't take Harry long to wait before the healer called him in.

The Eye Healer frowned as he examined Harry's eyes. "Oh yes. Most definitely. I can do some good here with a quick spell or two, but they will be slow working ones that will work for a month or so to continuously fix your vision. In the meantime, can I suggest a pair of square rimmed frames for you? They will suit you more than your current round ones, and I can give them numerous enchantments. Or perhaps contacts... they're better for Quidditch and such like, and much more flattering. I think I'll spell you up for a pair of both. Oh no, It's no bother. Pick them up in about four hours, they'll be ready them. In the meantime, I'll set some spells down. What did you say your name was again?"

"Dudley." Said Harry quickly.

"Right. Chubley. Are you all fine with that?"

"Whatever's best," said Charlie. "we'll be back in about four hours. See you then."

The healer nodded gruffly and called the next person in, a short tubby witch who squinted slightly at Harry and Charlie as they passed, Harry flattened his fringe nervously while Charlie just grinned. He apparated them when they were outside, to the mouth of an alley just off a busy muggle road that Harry did not recognise.

"Where are we going?" Harry asked Charlie as he tugged Harry down a side alley before anyone noticed them, or their sudden appearance.

"You want a way to always remember Cedric, yeah?" Said Charlie as Harry nodded, "What do you think of a tattoo?"

"You serious?"

There was a pause as Charlie turned left into a short lane with washing hanging high above them in flapping lines along the brick walls of high buildings, then Harry continued, "Your mother would go spare."

"I know."

"Are you mad?"

"No."

"But... a tattoo? Seriously?"

"Yes." Said Charlie. "It won't come off your skin unless you want it to, it won't fade like a photograph or a memory, but most of all," he said, pausing to look at Harry intently, "It becomes a part of you, as much a part of you as flesh and blood and more tangible than a memory. With something like that, if you get it for a reason, you won't ever forget that reason."

Harry's breath seemed to still and time slow for a moment, the tick and turn of the world in unison with the beating of his own heart, before he said. "Charlie. Will you take me there?"

Charlie smiled at him, sweetness lying close to his bones. "Of course Harry. Of course."

Then he and Harry turned down another thin and winding back street and they were both lost in a confusing maze of alley and lanes tingling with the feel of steadily strengthening magic.

Spell's Tattoo was hidden away down a wide alley where the sun curled warmly on the mixed coloured cobbles and almost vibrated with the murmur of life and magic. The place seemed to collect shops as eclectic as the people who gathered there. Noise was bubbles and bursts of sound, laughter and cheerful speech. It quite unlike the harried and anxious looks of the shoppers in Diagon Alley. There was not a ministry poster in sight, and the dodgy hawkers with their dubious wares were conspicuously missing. It felt safe, as if once you were here, you were protected from harm, as if the troubles that hounded the wizarding world stopped at a certain point and could go no further.

Amongst the shops, Harry could see a patisserie from which enticing smells wafted, juices gushed in his mouth at the smell and he swallowed trying to focus on the clothes shop next to it. Not that Harry could see any traditional robes, or anything that he'd seen in Madame Malkin's – the clothes were muggle in influence, though obviously magic. No trench coat in the muggle world would have a lining that reflected the sky in wheeling white clouds and painful blue colours.

Passing them on both sides, were people who only seemed more and more exotic; there was a lady selling strings of tiny flames in jars in a rainbow of colours to a woman in white platform boots and a pointed hat on which a tiny owl perched. The owl turned and stared at Harry as he passed, Harry ignoring the owl to stare at a shop that he thought Hermione would go into spasms of delight over. Iris's Tea Story hade chairs spilling out onto the cobbles, and big, wide, open windows. It was a bookshop with tables made from trunks, oversized squishy chairs, teapots that poured their selves and floor to ceiling bookshelves. People sat in the chairs drinking tea, reading books and eating bowls of fresh frozen berries. The books were strange too, a mixture of muggle and magic from what Harry could see. A wizard in heeled daisy yellow boots was holding a pile of brightly coloured novels that Harry was sure he'd seen in a muggle bookshop on one of his London Underground rambles. Blinking bemusedly at the sight, he hurried to catch up with Charlie, who was a little ahead of him and continuing past a liquor shop, the many bottles beckoning with dark and tempting pleasures. In it's window's, tall decanters filled with jewel-like liquids glinted in the sun.

Growing, probably by magic, was a flower shop with beautiful red roses with gold edged petals that curled around the doorway and windows – almost an impossibility. Through as Harry had learnt, there was almost no 'impossible' when magic was involved. The roses continued to grow over the next shop as well and their heady scent filled the air with rich perfume. The lane then spilled out into a large, open square with a bubbling fountain in the centre and spindly chairs and tables from the alfresco cafe areas.

Spell's Tattoo was nestled between the flower shop and a stationary shop that promised two for one on leather-bound journals, as well as a roll of parchment free with any quill.
Further down the other way of the alley were more shops and Harry longed to explore them.

"Welcome to Spindle-Shaft lane." Said Charlie with a smile, stopping out side Spell's Tattoo

"What is this place?" Harry looked around in amazement; Diagon Alley was far more blatantly magical than Spindle-Shaft, but the lane still had that same tingle in the air, a held breath expectation of something amazing.

"It's like Diagon Alley, but... not." Harry continued. "We didn't even have to go through a wall or anything. Isn't that dangerous? How's this place protected, by spells?"

Charlie shook his head, "It's not protected by spells, or at least, I don't think so. Spindle-Shaft Lane has a magic all of its own, a protective magic. It's probably one of the safest places in all of magical Britain, but not many people know about it. You can't find the place unless you know where it is."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, at first you won't find it, the Lane will find you. You walk, and you don't really know what you're looking for but Spindle-Shaft will find you and bring you to it. You seem to stumble upon it, and then you fall in love with the place, afterwards if you want to go back, you may. I came upon this place about a month or two after leaving Hogwarts, and I've been returning ever since. My friends Etienne and Evan fell so in love with the place, that they bought a shop, built a flat over it and have been living here ever since. I think Spindle-Shaft has a sentiency of sorts, the lane only finds people who need this place or if they'd love the lane for its self, or if there's something that they need, which the lane has. I'm glad the lane let you come here, it has for Bill, as well as Fred and George – they often come at night to party. I tried to bring Percy here, but the lane wouldn't let him in.

"It's beautiful here." Harry said, looking about with bright eyes.

"I'm glad you like it." Charlie grinned. "You should see this place at night, it just comes alive. There is this amazing atmosphere. Lanterns are hung all over the place; in the square, strung in lines over head, hovering in small groups, and the place just lights up. You can find all sorts here – it's real melting pot. The lane seems to gather the open minded and the people who, for some reason, find something in the lane that helps them. It's one of the reasons why I found it in the first place, and why Spindle-Shaft let you come here. This is where all the bohemian artists and like-minded wizards come. "

"Bohemian artists?" asked Harry. "Are they muggles?"

"Yeah, they're cool people; they try to live their lives by the views of the Parisian bohemian artist movement. Lovers of absinthe, very fun people, quite open minded, tend to smoke a lot of weed."

"But, they're muggles, what about the ministry, and the statute of secrecy? You know- the whole 'muggles can't know about magic'?" Harry said, mildly shocked.

"They don't. You know what I said about the lane having a sort of sentiency?"

"Yeah," Said Harry, as he stared at a man who's shirtless-ness was only overshadowed by the pair of antlers curling out his darkly waved hair.

"The lane has type of muggle oh, perception ward. I suppose you could call it a filter. They don't see anything that would break the statute of secrecy. Plus, being the people whom they are, they don't tend to question the odd things or odd people. They just accept it." Charlie shrugged. "It works out. Besides, the liquor shop sells a damn good absinthe, as I'm told. "

Harry nodded slowly, accepting it.

"Come on, I don't know how long your tattoo will take, and we're down half an hour already. " Charlie said as he strode to Spell's Tattoo, Harry following close behind, already entranced with the place.

The door chimed lightly when they came in, a slight tinkle – a fairylike peal of sound. The inside of the shop was clean and airy, modern in style, but comfortable. The walls were not covered in numbered and generic tattoo designs that could be picked out, but instead where covered in a sky blue and white wallpaper in a Flur-De-Lys pattern. Plain framed photographs both colour and black and white were spaced against the wall. These photographs were of people's tattoos: There was a woman's back that would be perfectly still if it weren't for the swallows shifting and diving over the skin. Poetry twined like an affectionate cat over a pair of arms in another, and behind the desk was a photograph of someone's shoulder on which Celtic knot work moved and changed in ever varying and complex patterns. Harry would have continued to look at the rest of them, but the previously empty desk now had someone behind it.

It was time.

The man behind the counter was slender with soft brown eyes and hair to match. His arms were sleeves of flowers and vines that bloomed, changing colour and shape.

"Hi." He said, "Can I help you?"

"Um, yeah, I'm here to get a tattoo."

The man frown lightly, scrutinising Harry, then shook his head sympathetically, 'Sorry, but we can't, not if you're underage. It's against the law, see."

It was at that point that Charlie decided to stand up from where he'd been retying the laces on his dragon-skin boots.

"Hello Evan. Nice to see you again."

The man – Evan- jumped and swore loudly, "Charlie Weasley! You sly dog!" He jumped over the counter and embraced Charlie, grinning madly, "You haven't been here in ages, not since Etts gave you that tree of life. How've you been?"

"Good," said Charlie, "Taming dragons. I'm sorry I haven't been around earlier, but whenever I get a spare day it's chewed up and I never get the chance. Plus, it's not as if you can just apperate to this place you know. "

Evan nodded, still grinning, "Yeah, I know. It can get annoying, but mostly, we live with it. Hang on just one sec, I'll get Etts" He turned around and poked his head through a doorway, "Etts! Etienne! Come out the front! There's someone here to see us!"

There was a slightly muted, but obviously shouted, "Coming!" as Evan turn to Charlie, practically bouncing with excitement.

A couple of seconds later, a taller, broader man with shaggy blue hair the colour of the sky and a small rainbow hoop in one ear. "Fucking shite! Charlie! Hello!" He too leapt over the counter to hug Charlie. Harry realising that this was obviously a reunion of friends, stood to the side awkwardly.

"Etienne! Good to see you again!"

"Good to see you too man! How've the dragons been treating you? Rough as ever?"

"You know it." Charlie smiled at him, looking him up and down. "You're looking good. Like the hair, that's new."

Etienne grinned, "Cheers. I was drunk when we got it done; I'm pleased it turned out better than it should have."

Charlie laughed at him, "It suits you, and matches the wallpaper. But I didn't strictly come here just to see two bundles of fun."

"Yeah?" said Etienne, cocking an eyebrow as he pulled Even to him, wrapping his arms around Evan's shoulder in a loving embrace.

"Harry here wants a tattoo."

Etienne frowned, "Charlie, we can't give tattoos to people who are underage. You know that."

Harry's heart sank, and it showed.

"Look," Said Evan, turning to Harry, "Why do you want one? "

Harry bit his lip slightly, then said. "I need to get it. To... remember. I don't want..." Harry trailed off. He greens eyes flicked slightly desperately from one figure to another when Evan said, almost distractedly,

"To forget."

"Yes."

Evan glanced down at his left hand, where the feather that wrapped around the base of his thumb was just visible, and hesitated before saying, "Okay. We'll do it."
He glanced up at his partner who sighed, then smiled and nodded in agreement. "Come with us, Charlie?"

The tall red head followed the pair and Harry through another door into a sitting area with a table and a stack of paper and pencils, where Evan started to explain the process.

"Etienne and I have known each other since Hogwarts, we were in the same house, see. We've always worked this way; I create the design, and Etts tattoo's it. But, what do you want? Keep in mind, the cost varies from design to design and what you want the tattoo to do."

As Harry began to explain, Evan frowned in concentration and began to sketch designs on a piece of paper.

"So what you'd like," Said Evan once Harry had finished, "Is for the tattoo to be about the size of your palm." As he talked, Evan flipped to a clean page and began to draw quickly, "But over your heart, annndd... you want it confined to your chest area, but still able to move about... and the design... a Badger was it?"

Harry nodded.

"So, as for what you want it to do, Charlie explained to you about the fact we can inscribe a personality into the tattoo, much like the enchanted paintings at Hogwarts, yeah?"

"Yeah."

"Cool, so personality..." Evan trailed off as he look up at Harry inquiringly, who was gnawing his lip.

"Can you... give it the personality of a certain person?"

Etienne nodded, "Yeah, it's no problem. I spell the inks to hold certain traits so when the works done, the tattoo, in your case a badger, will have a certain personality. How it works is this, you pull up the idea, I suppose you can call it, of what you want the badger to be, and how it acts. I'll draw it out – much like a memory- then distil it into the inks. If you think of a certain person, and all your experiences with them, the tattoo will have their personality. It won't be exactly like an enchanted painting, as the tattoo will only have the personality, not the experiences – nor the voice to talk with any way." Etienne ran a hand through his sky blue hair and continued, "I've got to warn you through, these tattoos hurt more than others when I'm doing the inking, because you're essentially inscribing a memory on your skin. The inks hold thoughts and the Tattoo becomes an entity, as much a part of you as flesh or bone, but it's also separate from your mind. It 'becomes its own person' as someone once told me. "

Harry nodded in understanding "Yeah, I'd like that."

"Cool." Said Evan, "This one should take me about half an hour to design, then another hour for inking. If Etts' prepares your skin for the ground area in which you badger's allowed to roam and prepares the inks..." Evan gnawed his lip as he thought, "We could probably have you done in about two hours. All right by you?"

"Yeah." Harry hesitated a little, and then said, "The design. Can you make it look like a patronus? A badger patronus?"

"Sure thing." Evan said, pencil moving to a clean part of the page, a new design already spiralling over the paper.

"That's great. Thank you."

Evan shrugged, "It's okay by me. This person obviously means a lot to you."

"He... yeah. He does."

After Etienne had taken Harry into the inking room to tattoo the badger into his skin, Evan brought Charlie a mug of tea in the waiting lounge.

"That's Harry Potter, isn't it?"

"What?" Said Charlie, unbalanced.

"Harry Potter. That's him."

Charlie took a seat and a sip of tea. "How did you know?" He sighed.

Evan shrugged and joined his friend. "I've seen photos. You must have concealed the scar, but the glasses, the eyes, the hair, they're all quite telling."

Charlie swore slightly.

"Well, they're not really," Amended Evan, "unless you take a long hard look at him. Most people would go, 'Harry Potter?' and look for a scar. No, he merely looks like Harry Potter's twin brother. Look, just tell me something Charlie. Why is he here?"

"Because it's time that somebody did something for him."

There was a slight silence in the room, and then Evan said, flatly accusing, "You slept with him. Didn't you?"

Charlie flinched, as if stung and his hands tightened around the handle of his mug.

"Merlin Charlie." Evan swore. "You're one of my oldest friends, but seriously? The kid is underage. He's probably gone through a whole heap of morgana be damned shit and for you to take advantage of him like that? And then you think to 'do something for him' and give him a tattoo that he'll almost certainly regret when he finds out that he was just a quick fuck to you?" Evan tightened his jaw and said in a low tone. "No one should lose their virginity like that."

Charlie glared at him and snapped, "No. That's not how it was Evan, all right. Yes I slept with him, but I didn't take his virginity. Melin's saggy arse, do you think I'd do that?"

"Yes." Came Evan's flat reply. "You've done so before."

"Look. I was seventeen for crying out loud. I've apologised so many damn times. How long are you going to hold that over my head and keeping bringing it up? I was seventeen and stupid. What can I say that I haven't already said, what can I do that I haven't already done?"

"Just tell me the truth Charlie. You fucked the kid. He was probably unsure as hell, but you pushed him into it and then you're going to turn around and tell him that all he was to you was a one-night stand. Don't lie to me Charlie. Tell me the truth!"

"Fine." Scowled Charlie. "I'll tell you the truth. I didn't push him into anything, and I've seen more unsureity on the faces of propositioning whores than on Harry's face last night. I was in the kitchen, it was twelve at night and I was quarter way through a bottle of Liquid Season. Harry came down for a glass of water. I was feeling talkative so I offered him a glass and started telling him stories about things I've done, or seen. Yes, we got drunk. He said that he had to thank You Know Who for giving him a scar because 'bitches love scars'. I pulled my shirt off to show him mine, and ended up showing my tattoos. He told me that the most riotous thing was that women could throw themselves at him, but he wouldn't give a damn because he played for a totally different Quidditch side. I'd told him that I took both players and asked what he thought of what I had. He'd laughed, placed a freaking finger on my collarbone, lent forward and told me that I would look really, really good with a stag there. And then I kissed him. " Charlie growled and took a large gulp of the tea.

"We started getting it on – real hot and heavy, that was when I told him that we should stop, that this was a bad idea. He told me that he didn't want to stop. He asked me 'Do you?', and then he bit down on my collarbone, right here." Charlie pulled his shirt down a little to reveal the slowly fading mark.

He sighed heavily and ran a hand through his short red hair.

"You know me Evan, there's only so much of myself that can be pushed like that before I snap; I took him upstairs, to my room. I'd got him on the bed when some sanity returned to me. I told him that we had to stop – and yes! I fucking wanted him! But he was underage, we were drunk, I told him as much; said that this was dangerous and that we should stop. You know what he told me, Evan?" Charlie looked at the glaring Evan straight on. "He looked me in the eyes and said. 'I'm hardly a child any more, not after everything. I want this. I'll take this for myself, not for you, not for anyone. I want this for me.' And then he kissed me so slowly, sweetly. He was so sure of himself and his eyes were clear, alright? They were deep with lust, but not clouded by fear, or drink, or drug." Charlie snorted and took another heavy slug of tea.

"I told him that I wouldn't be easy on him. He accepted. Okay? I didn't kick him out afterwards, alright? I'm not that bad. He'd left before I'd woken up. I went to apologise this morning, after breakfast. He told me that it was what he'd wanted; it'd been what he'd needed. He told me not to apologise, because I'd given him a gift. Okay Evan?" Charlie scowled down at his tea, hands tight around the mug.

After a moment Evan said in slower tone, "But the tattoo that he's getting, he said he was getting it to remember, and that the person means a lot to him. What can that mean but other than the fact that he wants to remember the night you and him had sex and that he lost his virginity?"

Charlie snorted and looked about the room, "He's not getting it for that reason. He's getting it to remember someone who should have lived longer than they did."

"Okay, if that's the case, how do you know that you didn't take his virginity?"

Charlie sighed. "When I went to apologise, I asked him if he'd been a virgin – because of something he'd said. He told me no. I don't think he was going to say anything else, but it was like a lake of water damned behind flood gates. Once he'd let something free, the rest had to follow." Charlie hesitated, and then said, "He told me about who he lost it to – a seventh year, and Harry had been a fourth year. He said that at first he thought the seventh year had only wanted a quick fuck, but the guy sought him out a day after - to apologise. They ended up in a relationship that they kept secret –they were lovers." Charlie's fingers tightened as jealously reared its head again. "The seventh year had been in Hufflepuff. He died that year. "

Evan, who had been busy working out who Charlie was talking about, froze when Charlie said the last two sentences. Like most of the British wizarding world, he had followed the events of the Triwizard Tournament; albeit from a slightly better source that The Prophet. "Harry's lover was Cedric Diggory?" he asked slowly.

Charlie nodded. "Yes, but don't tell anyone. And don't tell him I told you. I don't – didn't- want to break his trust. But I had to tell you, to make you understand. If you don't believe me, you can try asking him if I took advantage. Feel free. " Charlie gave a small snort and downed the rest of his tea. He paused a moment then said, "He told me this morning that he was afraid of forgetting Cedric, of what they'd had, and of everything Cedric had done for him. It's was then I thought of getting him a tattoo. Not to say 'Charlie Weasley was here', but to help him. To give him a piece of someone he'd loved."

Evan gave a slow nod, deciding to believe Charlie's story - but still ask Harry all the same, and said quietly, "I'm sorry I misjudged you Charlie."

"It's okay," Charlie shrugged, "at least you see why I wanted to bring him here now. I had to do something for him; even if what I'd done to him last night was a 'gift'. "

Evan traced the rim of his cup with an easy finger and looking at Charlie from the corner of his eye said, "He sounds like something special."

Charlie nodded; a sweet smile like melted chocolate on his face. Evan could barely catch Charlie's murmured, "Yeah, he is."

Evan had to take a hasty gulp of tea to disguise the expression on his face.
Oh Charlie, He thought, what have you gone and done now?

A pleased Etienne and a bare chested Harry were smiling when they walked out of the inking room.

"How'd it go?" asked Charlie, placing his cup down on the table.

Etienne grinned broadly, coming to embrace his partner, "Went well, Harry hardly bled at all. Didn't cry out or anything, and those tattoos hurt." He smiled at the teen, a wry grin, "I don't think you felt it at all, did you spell yourself not to feel pain?"

Harry shook his head in disagreement, "I was doing it for a reason, it wouldn't be right if I didn't feel the pain."

"A man after my own heart." Etienne said, clapping Harry on the shoulder, "Listen, Evan will get you a cup of tea, and then I'll say the spells that will 'wake' your badger – he's still frozen at the moment and tell you about how to care for it."

Evan smiled as Harry traced the tattoo lightly with a reverent finger, he knew the feeling of gazing down and seeing a piece of art fresh on your skin. "Come into the kitchen with me Harry, how do you like your tea? Milk? Sugar? The kitchen is just up here. "

"Just black thanks." Harry said as he followed Evan up a flight of narrow stairs into a warm sunny kitchen.

"Like a biscuit?" Evan asked.

"Err, no thanks, I'm okay."

"Lovely. I don't think we have any anyway." Said Evan as he got mugs out and flicked his wand to start the kettle up. Harry looked about the kitchen, interested. It was homely; rustic red tile flooring, whitewash walls, mugs hanging on cup holders, a small wooden table placed under the windows so the sun warmed the white pine wood. It was a pleasant place, there were some photos of Evan, Etienne and their friends on the wall and Harry thought he could spot Charlie in a few of them.

As the kettle boiled, Evan studied the teen he'd always heard of, and read about, but never seen in the flesh before. There was an unwritten story behind him, it lay close to the surface, but locked under mistrust, betrayal and recent loss. Evan had been a bartender for a while; he knew these things. He also knew that for Charlie to have gotten the story, or even just a part of it, out of this dark haired teen would be saying something. Harry trusted Charlie, trusted him enough to tell him about the person Harry was getting the badger for, and trusted Charlie not to pass the tale on. Through Charlie had already sort of broken this trust by telling his friend to get Evan to understand why Charlie was doing what he was doing, Evan was loathe to undermine Harry's trust in Charlie. Evan could imagine that people like Harry had few that they could talk to and share things with. Still, Evan had to do it, if only for his own peace of mind.

"Hey, Harry, listen." He said, looking Harry in the eyes when the teen turned around. "I know it's probably none of my business as to the reason behind this tattoo, but the fact that it's Charlie who brought you here makes me, well, a little worried for you."

Harry frowned at Evan inquiringly.

"It's just that, while Charlie is my friend, I do know what he's like. I know that he, probably, has slept with you. I also know that while he's a good person, he does have a tendency for one-night stands that leave his partner, or in some cases partners, thinking that there's going to be something more. For example, say, a committed relationship. Even through it's really none of my business as to what you do... I wouldn't want you to get a tattoo for Charlie that you'll invariably regret when you realise that it was just a one time thing. And even through Charlie's my friend, I wouldn't want for you to have been pushed into anything that you weren't sure of, or didn't want to do." Evan shrugged his shoulders in a 'what can you do?' kind of way.

Harry looked at him in a considering manner, and then shook his head. "This tattoo..." His hand brushed the badger over his heart, "It's not for Charlie. I'm getting it for someone else who... meant a great deal to me, someone who I never really got to say good-bye to, and someone who I don't want to forget. As for the other thing, I wasn't pushed into it by him. I know, knew, that it was only just a one night thing, so you've no worries there. Charlie gave me a gift really; I'd needed what he gave me. It's fine."

Evan looked steadily at him for a long moment, and then nodded slowly, "I believe you, even though I still think that Charlie shouldn't have done what he did. "

Harry looked down at the table and stayed quiet, saying nothing. He'd explained himself already.

Evan shook his head slightly, then said, "I'll tell you this for free through, when it comes to Charlie and his choices, you're the most self-assured person I've ever met." The kettle whistled nosily and Evan got up from the table, "You're quite the something. I know why Charlie brought you to the lane now, and I think I can tell why the lane let you in." Evan turned to smile at Harry and passed him a mug of tea. "Here we'll take this downstairs, and Etienne can wake your badger and tell you about the proper aftercare."

As Harry and Charlie said their goodbyes to Evan and Etienne, Evan gave Harry a hug and said, "Safety and peace Harry; we'd like to see you alive and well sometime in the future, and if you ever need anything, anything at all, just owl us, and we'll do what we can, okay? "

Harry nodded, "Thanks Evan, for everything."

Evan smiled and stood back to stand with Etienne, "It's been my pleasure Harry."

Harry gave the pair one last wave as he and Charlie strode down the lane. Harry, now wearing a shirt, could not stop brushing his fingers over the area where his tattoo lay. It was strange to think that out of all of the scars and marks over his skin, this was the only one he had ever willingly gotten.

"It's warmer than the rest of my skin." Harry said to Charlie, "As if something alive is resting there."

Charlie nodded taking a right turn out of Spindle Shaft Lane, "You find that the ones with their own personality – one made out of the memories of a certain person- usually are. I've always thought that it's because the Tattoo becomes an ink and memory form of that person. It's like having a part of them on your skin. You're not going to be able to forget him now."

Harry looked down at his chest, at the area where his badger, where his little piece of Cedric lay. "No." He said, "I won't."

"Good." Charlie stopped just inside the backstreet entrance to the main street on which they'd arrived and offered his arm. "Come on. We can apperate to Diagon Alley from here to pick your glasses and contacts up. Let's go, it's going to be hard to explain your lengthy 'eye healer' excursion to everyone at Grimmuld place. I may just have to say that we went to the muggle movie theatre."

Harry snorted with laughter even as he prepared himself for the sickening feeling of side along apparition.

Chapter Text

The inside of Grimmuld place was even danker and darker when Charlie and Harry returned.

"God I hate this place." Charlie said in a low voice as he walked down the entrance hall. "Sorry Harry, I know it is, used to be, your Godfather's house. "

"Sirius hated the place too; he would never have stayed here if Dumbledore hadn't made him. I think he'd have burnt the house place down, if he could've."

Charlie wrinkled his nose at the musty smell that, despite Mrs Weasley's many airings and spells, couldn't be removed. "Yeah, "He said softly, "There's something unhealthy about this house that goes right down to its bones, something that can't really be removed by anything short of burning the place down or total renovation." Charlie frowned as they approached the kitchen and muttered, "Brace yourself Harry; worse comes to worst, shove your new glasses at them and run. And whatever you do, don't mention Spindle Shaft Lane. Half of them will yelling at me for taking you out of Diagon Alley and the other half asking what and where the lane is, and what we did there. It's also likely that my mother will yell at me. I don't want that."

Harry smiled, a mischievous half grin, "Yeah. I like her screaming as much as you do. "

"Thanks you. Now I look far too happy to have taken you into the dangerous outside world while exercising 'constant vigilance' the whole time." Charlie snorted with laughter as he mock frowned.

The pair were grinning as they entered the cheerily – or as cheerily as number twelve could get- lit kitchen. Mrs Weasley was humming over a pot of soup bubbling on the stove, while Hermione read a book in front of the fire. Ron and Ginny were playing Wizard's Chess with bored expressions on their faces. They all looked up when Harry and Charlie entered the room.

"Charlie!" Molly cried when she saw them, abandoning the soup to embrace her second oldest son. "Oh it's lovely to see you again, but you look a bit tired. Are you sleeping all right? Getting enough rest on your days off?"

"Yes mum." Said Charlie patiently, hugging her back. "It's good to see you too."

"Goodness me you took a long time, why were you gone for so long?"

"There was a four hour wait for Harry's new glasses."

"We had some, erm, coffee where we met with some of Charlie's old school friends." Harry interjected helpfully, "Charlie thought that better than leaving and coming back."

Charlie nodded in agreement, giving Harry the slightest appreciative wink where only Harry could see.

The unease was obvious on Mrs Weasley's face as she hesitatingly said, "Oh, well, that's alright then."

"New glasses Harry?" Ginny said, abandoning her game to Ron's annoyance, "Can we see them?"

Harry nodded, grateful for the diversion, "Here." He pulled out the black chrome square-rimmed rectangular glasses from their case and gave them to Ginny.

"Ooo, very nice," said Ginny appreciatively, turning the glasses over in her hands.

Ron got up from the table and leaned over his sister's shoulder, "What was wrong with your old ones?" he asked peering at the round glasses Harry was currently wearing.

"Wong prescription, apparently have been for years. Plus the healer said that these ones would suit me more. "

"Well, put them on." Said Hermione, as she, Ron, Ginny, Charlie and Mrs Weasley looked on eagerly.

"Oh yes, very smart." Mrs Weasley said, as Charlie gave an appreciative whistle to which Ginny glared at him for. Charlie only shrugged unapologetically.

"Those look nice Harry." Hermione said, taking a step back and scrutinising him. "The healer was right."

Ron chipped in with an eloquent grunt of, "Yeah mate. Real cool."

Mrs Weasley nodded in a businesslike manner, before bustling back to her merrily bubbling soup and inspecting it with a practised eye. "Right then, soups ready. Ron, can you pack that chess set away. Hermione, Ginny, can you please set the table for lunch?"

"Thanks for that quick save there." Charlie muttered to Harry as they served out the food. "I'm absolutely useless when lying to my mother; she would've seen right through me."

"No problem. " Harry muttered back. "Glad to save our skins."

Charlie shot Harry a grin, before busying himself with his soup.

Although the room was cooler than it had been the night before, and Ron's snoring had abated to a tolerable level, Harry lay unsleeping. His eyes gazed at the ceiling impassively, grey in the dark room, and his hand rested over where the badger patronus tattoo lay under his pyjama shirt, feeling the slight warmth that was still a little alien to him. There wasn't any sensible reason as to why he couldn't sleep, he just couldn't. He rolled over in his bed; a vague emptiness was filling him, a lonely, hollow feeling. He had the urge to wake Ron up just so that he wouldn't feel so alone, but no, Ron would only grunt and fall back asleep, leaving Harry awake in the grey room they shared.

It wasn't right. Not when he'd felt almost happy, almost at peace during the day. Harry missed something, was missing something. He wished that Hedwig was back from her hunting already, so he'd have some company in the gloom.

He sighed, and rolled over onto his back, almost missing the soft knock at the door and the whispered, "Harry, you awake?"
The door creaked open slightly and Charlie slipped into the room as Harry reached for his new glasses and put them on.

"Charlie. Hey." Harry said, sitting up in his bed, "What are you doing here?"

"I wanted to talk to you." Charlie said, sitting down on Harry's bed with the audible creaking of springs. The expression on Charlie's face could barely be made out in the dim room, but there was enough to see by. Charlie looked up at the ceiling then at Harry directly. "You know I'm going back to Romania tomorrow, early?"

Harry nodded; it was a movement of shadow in shadow. "Yeah, I did."

There was a heavy breath of air as Charlie sighed, and a weighty pause where there was a space of quiet breathing and Ron's noisy snores. There was a clean, freshly washed smell in the air, and a scent that was entirely Charlie.
To fill the silence, Harry asked, "You a fan of midnight showers?"

A soft laugh issued from Charlie, "I couldn't sleep, so I decided to take a bath, but I couldn't find one, so I took a shower instead. I was hoping that it would send me to sleep, but no such luck."

"You decided to take a bath because you couldn't sleep? Do you do that in Romania as well?"

"Yes. Insomnia's a bit of a problem with me sometimes; at the dragon sanctuary we've naturally heated pools we use as baths. When I can't sleep, I go there, after about an hour or so in them, I find it easier to sleep. I was hoping for the same effect with a shower, but it's just wakened me more."

Harry looked at Charlie, seeing where the small amount of light shining in from the crack in the door highlighted the curving muscles between his neck and his shoulders. Harry had the bizarre urge to trace that line down Charlie' neck, over his shoulders, swerving to touch the tree of life and feel it's movements, then to run down his arms, feeling the muscles beneath the scars on his skin. Instead, he offered, "I can't sleep either. "

The curve of Charlie's smile just showed in the shadow before it faded, a slight pause before Charlie said, "How's the badger? May I see him?"

Harry nodded, "Sure."

Blankets whispered softly as Charlie shifted closer to Harry, his hands moving Harrys' aside to undo the shirt buttons for him. Harry could feel Charlie is every movement; Charlies' breath was cool and smelled like spearmint toothpaste, but his hands were warm as they slipped his unbuttoned shirt off his shoulders, pulling them down to bare Harry's arms free. Slow fingers traced the gently moving shape of the badger patronus, warmth on warmth.

This was intimacy that Harry hadn't felt in such a long time, this was something that he'd... but all thoughts about what this was to Harry were quickly lost as Charlie moved closer, so close that Harry could hear Charlie swallow heavily.

The movement, when it came, was slow and tentative, as if Charlie was uncertain about what he was doing. But when Harry made no move to stop him, Charlie hands were surer, through just as slow.

The warm hands moved, sliding up his skin, thumb briefly tracing the curve of Harry's lips before coming around to cradle the back of his head softly. There was the most intense quiet of shallow breathing as Charlie paused in the night.

Their lips touched once, hesitantly, before Charlie deepened the kiss. Charlie's hands were warm and Harry wrapped his arm around Charlie's neck, each tethered and holding the other. Once again, it was like chocolate and mangos in the middle of the night, fragile and sweet.

When they broke apart, it was lingering and unwilling, hands drew away slowly and each was reluctant to distance themselves. In the end it was Charlie who moved away, His voice was unsteady and breathing uneven.

"I couldn't... I didn't want go without saying goodbye. It won't go any further."

Even through Harry was still stuck in that moment's intensity, and still tasting chocolate and mango, he managed to croak, "If that was your idea of a goodbye, I could stand for you leaving several more times."

A breath of quiet, but still rough, laughter came from Charlie as he stood up to leave, "Night Harry."

Charlie had just opened the door when Harry asked, impulsively, "Will you write to me, at Hogwarts?" Instantly he flushed, something that Charlie could not see, "I mean, you don't have to if you don't want.

Charlie thought about his answer for only a moment before he said with a fondness he couldn't quite conceal in his voice, "I'd like that, Take care Harry."

"You too." Harry said, before Charlie slipped out of the room.

Harry sighed heavily, suddenly tired, he had enough strength to take his glasses off, and to button his pyjama shirt, before he slipped down the pillow and fell into a deep, sweet, sleep.

The next few weeks passed in a reasonably happy way for Harry, Mrs Weasley decided to move them all back to The Burrow. They'd only been staying at Number Twelve because of the Order meetings. Mrs Weasley had decided that they'd all be more comfortable back at the Burrow where, despite it being more cramped was far more cheerful and homely than the Order's headquarters. Ron was pleased about that because it enabled him to play two aside Quidditch with Harry, Ginny and Hermione.

In that time, Harry received one or two letters from Charlie, mostly detailing things that had happened, incidents about the Dragons and things like that. Harry enjoyed the letters and replied eagerly, although his news was much less interesting and far more mundane. None of the others had really twigged onto this correspondence between the two. When Ginny had asked who he was writing too, Harry had only shrugged and tucked the letter away, asking Hedwig to bring him Charlie's letters only when no one else was around.

His sixteenth birthday had passed easily with Mrs Weasley making him a truly magnificent cake, and presents from Hermione, Ron, the Twins, Hagrid and Ginny.
Harry had been in the kitchen late at night, polishing his Firebolt when Hedwig (who had disappeared a day or two before) flew through the open window bearing a long package the length of his forearm. Inside was something made from supple leather in the most intense red colour that glimmered with a gold sheen when he moved it. Harry frowned, picking up the note that had been in the box.

Harry,
Happy birthday. I don't know if you've got one or not, but in case you didn't know, this is a wand holster made from Chinese Fireball leather. I thought that you'd appreciate the Gryffindor colours. I've got one of these too, but its black/grey leather. These are really good for duelling and for when you need to draw your wand in a hurry – apparently all of the Auror corps uses them. Also, because Dragon leather has shit loads of spell repelling properties – you'd know about them-, your wand can't be taken from you by use of a summoning charm, or stolen from your back pocket – and there won't be any accidental blasting of buttocks or anything. The holster is comfortable enough to sleep with it on, or at least, that's what Mad Eye Moody does. (Tonks and I are long-time friends. I've heard lots of stories about Moody.) Anyway, it goes on your left arm, under your sleeve. I guessed the length so I hope it fits. I'm sorry that I can't be there for your birthday, but I hope that it's been a good day.
Charlie.

Harry smiled and slipped the holster on his arm, it fitted perfectly. Flexing his arm to test his rage of movement, he pulled his wand out from the waistband of his pants and slid it into the holster smoothly. It looked completely at home there, as if it had always meant to be there. The holster was as comfortable as a well-worn jumper and he ran his fingers over the leather delightedly, loving the feel of it.

It was, by far, his favourite present that he'd received for his birthday that year.

Back at Hogwarts, the day to day trials of school work kept Harry busy; Professor Dumbledore had begun to take Harry through confusing memories pertaining to Voldemort. With the permission of Dumbledore, he shared the information given to him with Ron, Hermione and, to Dumbledore's well-masked surprise and interest, Charlie. Snape was as vile teaching defence as he had been teaching potions, his class were hard and still Slytherin biased. Harry's load was further burdened by his Quidditch captaincy and the weight of homework his teachers began assigning left and right. But it was okay, mostly, the letters that Charlie sent him helped him get through his days. Charlie had a sense of humour that Harry appreciated, the dragon tamer was also overflowing with tales and stories that helped Harry keep his mind off the weight of all of his duties and schoolwork.

Harry sighed and leaned back, observing his finished transfiguration homework, flexing the cramped fingers of his writing hand. He let his mind wander slightly; his hands unwittingly moving in to the pose he took up while he thought.

Harry found that he had gotten into the habit of tracing over his tattoo when he was thinking; his right hand would be clasped around the holster that Charlie had given him, fingers stroking the leather and arm across his body, while his left hand's fingers would trace and smooth over the area where the tattoo, that he had taken to calling Ced, lay. He wore the wand holster everywhere, even while he slept, and he only took it off to shower or bathe, he was never truly comfortable without it on.

Ron looked up from his homework as Harry bent back over his transfiguration homework, and frowned. He might not be the sharpest quill in the box when it came to people, but there was something different about Harry. He seemed to be mellowing slightly; he was less angry, less touchy. Draco Malfoy had blatantly insulted him the other day, and Harry- well, he'd... smiled slightly. And that wasn't normal for Harry, not at all. Perhaps there was something wrong with him, although he had to admit that a less touchy Harry wasn't all that of a bad thing, but still...

Ron gnawed on the end of his quill for a second, trying to remember the wand movement to the colour changing charm and trying to work out whether it would be worth the potential Harry temper explosion to ask him if something was wrong.

Deciding that it was worth the risk, he stopped chewing his slightly soggy quill and asked, "Are you alright Harry?"

"Yeah, I'm cool." Harry had replied, not looking up from his work. "Why'd you ask?"

Ron had shrugged, "I dunno, you just seem a little... different. "

Harry resisted the guilty urge to clasp his hand over his wand holster and trace his fingers over his tattoo. "Why'd you think that?" He replied.

Ron frowned, caught between being a good friend and being truthful.

"I dunno, it's just, you're not as irritable- Malfoy insulted you the other day and you just smirked, and you're just not as angry or, or, you're just a bit different... is that Charms homework? Can I copy?"

Harry nodded and pulled his completed charms homework out from a pile of parchment, "Go for it."

"Cheers Harry, Hermione won't let me copy off her. " Ron happily helped himself to the homework Harry offered him and for Ron the conversation was quickly forgotten, but it remained in Harry's mind for a lot longer.

Harry sighed, and stared out of the window in his dorm room, looking up at the clear night sky and the silver pin pricks of light that were the stars. The sounds of sleeping teenaged boy's; heavy snores, light breaths and the deep animalistic moans from Seamus, who's silencing charm always wore off three hours after he'd gone to sleep, filled the dorm. It only took a flick of his wand to silence Seamus, envying the teen as he did so. It would be nice to sleep and not think, to surrender to dreams of pleasure and love.

The glass was cool and chill on his cheek as Harry rested his face on the window. Ced's small warmth moved over his heart, and Harry placed his hand over him, The badger stilled as if the physical contact soothed him. Unsettling thoughts niggled at him, what Ron had said to him tugged at him, not allowing him to sleep. And he so badly needed to sleep. Harry ran his hands through his hair desperately, he had a quidditch match tomorrow against Ravenclaw that they needed to win, he was suffering – as he'd been for days now- vague sensations of emptiness that could not be quelled or cured, and he was now worried that Ced was altering his personality. The only response to this fear was a resounding affirmation of Ron's mumbled comment.

Of course there had been signs, incidents. But he'd brushed them off – the time that he'd not wanted to follow a obviously suspicious looking Draco Malfoy in Diagon Alley. Hermoine and Ron had said it was weird, and Harry thought it was too. He'd been on the point of following Malfoy - he'd wanted to follow him - but something had told him that it was a bad idea; it hadn't been a voice, just a feeling. A feeling of 'Don't do this. Please.'
He'd shrugged Malfoy's behaviour off, and allowed an explosive display of Fred and George's indoor fireworks to distract them all. They hadn't followed him down the Alley.

Harry passed a hand over his tattoo tiredly. Perhaps yes, he was just being paranoid, and that it really was just him, maturing and getting older. But he didn't think so, not really. Before he would have dived straight into such situations but now…
He grimaced, gazing out of the window at the sky, staring at its unclouded beauty.

Lonely and silver in the night, mirroring his current feelings of emptiness, were the stars. Harry felt as if someone had pulled a glass sheet over him to isolate him from the world. A vague sensation of something missing was swelling in his chest again. On impulse, He raised his arm to his nose and sniffed at the dragon leather, the rich warm smell, and his throat swelled miserably. Limply falling to his side, chilling his hand against the cold stone floor, he let his am drop. Harry's mind was called to remember his first potions lesson of the year and the bubbling cauldrons of Veritasyrum, Draught of Living Death, the tiny gold cauldron of the dancing and splashing Felix Felicis and Amoretentia, the most powerful love potion in the world. The potion that had smelt like Broomstick polish, treacle tart, and cinnamon and… Harry faltered, his right hand curling over to grasp at the wand holster that Charlie had given him.

Charlie.

The Amoretentia had smelt so achingly familiar, and it wasn't just because of the cinnamon that Cedric had always smelt of. It was something he'd only smelt once or twice; once before a kitchen fire, skin gold and glittery, and second in the darkness of the night, lips fitted to his and kisses as easy and natural as breathing. Dragon leather and something that was entirely Charlie.

He growled, thinking malevolently to himself, angry about how utterly pathetic he was being and angry at the way everything he did never seemed to turn out how he wanted.

Why does he always screw everything up, why does everything he touch go wrong? Cedric died because of him, he wasn't fast enough. His misguided attempt to help the order, to rescue Sirius turned out to be a trap and Sirius was killed anyway. His attempt to live for one night, to let himself give into his desires, ended up with him falling in love with a man notorious for his one night stands. Despite him knowing just what he was getting into, and knowing that all that it had been was just a bit of drunken revelry, he'd still fallen in love. To carry onto that, his beautiful tattoo, a tattoo he got to remember Cedric by, was now beginning to change his personality.

Damn it all to hell.

Could he do anything right?

He couldn't even try to get to sleep without fucking up!

Harry slammed a fist down angrily on the cold stone floor, his temper flaring abruptly before it, just as suddenly, left him. A vague sense of – was that worry?- shifted inside him and Harry knew that it was Ced. The badger tattoo was worried for him, as if it'd acquired a rudimentary intelligence like the paintings. And Harry had been told that they wouldn't be like the portraits. He'd have to write to Evan, but he'd do it tomorrow.

Another feeling shifted inside him again, this time it was a distinct urging for a bath. He toyed with the idea of ignoring it, to continue sitting on the stone floor, stiff and cold, until morning came or sleep finally caught up with him. A feeling of insistence - Ced again – pushed gently at him, and Harry discarded the notion of ignoring the tattoo. He sighed heavily, it wasn't as if he was he was going to get any sleep at the moment. Besides, Charlie had said that baths helped him get to sleep; perhaps it would do the same thing for Harry.

Mind made up, Harry crept over to his trunk and retrieved his cloak and the marauders map. The small warmth from Ced melted over his chest, in a approval perhaps, as Harry rubbed the silky fabric between his fingers. He slid out of the dorm, closing the door as quietly as he could, before swinging his clock over him. Despite his mood, he still felt a little bubble of satisfaction as he pulled the hood over his head. Harry had always loved wearing the cloak, and the feel of the invisibility it brought. Wearing it brought him closer to his father, much in the same way as his patronus. A "Solemnly Swear", and then he slipped down the corridors, one eye on the marauders map at all times.

As he walked down the corridor to the prefect's bathroom, Harry slowed, coming to a standstill before the entrance. As Quidditch Captain, he knew the password, so there shouldn't be any reason as to why he was standing outside in the chilly corridor, bare feet getting more frozen by the minute. It had probably been a bad idea to leave the dorm without some type of footwear on, but what was done was done and still he waited, frozen feet and all. It was stupid, and he opened his mouth to say the password, 'Squeaky Clean', when he realised that he didn't actually want to go in there. What he wanted was to be able to bath in a place where he wasn't constantly remembering the times that he and Cedric had spent in there. Perhaps there would eventually be a time for that, but this wasn't it.

Instead, Harry moved towards the seventh corridor. If the room of requirement could really provide to the askers needs, then it could provide a bathing place for Harry. After a quick duck down a secret passage to avoid Filch who never seemed to sleep – honestly, who actually patrolled at this time of night?- and he was standing opposite the tapestry of the dancing trolls. He didn't ask the room to provide, so much as trust the room to figure out what he needed, confident that the room's magic would do its job.

There was the sound of scraping stone as a small wooden door appeared from the stone. With a small smile, it looked like Umbridge's battering had done nothing to prevent its magic, he entered the room, door closing behind him again and sealing its way into the wall again. He sighed and swung his cloak off, tapping his wand to the map and giving it a 'mischief managed'. It took a little while for his eyes to fully adjust to the lower levels of light, but what he saw was exactly what he'd been searching for.

The place reminded Harry of an exotic bath that Harry had only glimpsed a bit of on a documentary before Aunt Petunia has sniffed loudly, said, 'foreigners' and changed the channel. But there were a few key differences that marked the room decidedly different, and just that bit magical. The light was low, the room was lit by candles closely grouped, both in the corners of the room, but also floating in the air. The entire room was covered with midnight blue tiles, tiny ones the size of his thumbnail that covered the concave walls and ceiling, spreading under his feet like the fabric of the sky. The tiles were closely spaced, but Harry could see that the clay – grout- that secured the tiles was silver. It gave the impression of stars in the night sky, if the light caught it a certain way. Harry stretched and went on his tip toes; he could just brush the slightly concave roof with his fingertips. The tiles were slightly warm to the touch, both to his fingers and his bare feet.

The place felt a little like a cave, there were no harsh corners or geometrically straight angles. It was definitely not the type of place that the Dursley's would set foot in, but Harry quite liked it. It was like nothing he'd used before, and this definitely did not hold memories of Cedric. Harry sighed with soft relief and slipped his clothes off, piling them the bench that bowed out from the round curved wall. With tender care, he placed the marauders maps down, and then folded his father's cloak over it, to protect the aged parchment from any steam. Harry pulled his clothes off and walked over to the bath.

The water ran out from a waterfall like cascade on the wall that very quickly filled the waist deep bath that was only the size of Harry's four-poster bed. There were no taps to experiment with, the water started magically when he stepped foot in the bath. It didn't matter through; it was perfectly hot, ran out smelling faintly of lavender and geranium oil and had a curiously buoyant property. With his eyes slit, he could fool himself that the glow of the candles was the reflected shimmer of Liquid Season. He sighed, a single heavy breath that was loud in a quiet of softly splashing water. The only thing above the water was his face, and Harry let himself drift, carried away to sleep. Dreams would not bother him; the warmth of the water enfolded him as securely as Charlie's embrace. He was safe.

In the morning, he would not remember to write to Evan.


 

Chapter Text

 


Charlie sighed and ran a hand through his hair, wincing as it pulled at the still healing burn on his back. It wouldn't take more than a day to heal and would barely leave a scar, but it was still annoying and prevented him from working with the dragons until it healed.

"Charlie!" The obnoxiously grinning face of Kata Vagnosk appeared at the open window of his cabin, "Just the man I needed!"

"Hello Kata, what can I do for you?" Charlie liked Kata, she was good at her job and always up for a drink. He didn't have to worry about getting involved with her, he'd offered once, and she'd kindly (but firmly) refused. She was a good friend, although prone to nursing dirty fantasies about the sanctuary's resident cook, Kurt. The man was magic in the kitchen, and his baking surpassed Molly Weasley's for sheer orgasmic taste, but he was woefully oblivious to anything out of his line of work. Charlie was uncertain about how many people fell for his soft brown eyes and gentle smile, as well as the slightly dreamy air that he carried when he wasn't cooking. The man was so innocent it was adorable. As such, he was out of bounds to anyone who didn't have 'real' feelings for him. It was a pity, but Charlie was a staunch upholder of this rule and it was why he never got drunk when Kurt was around. There really was only so far that Charlie's resolved could be tested before it broke.

Kata leaned her elbows on the sill, her blond hair bound tightly behind a bandanna – loose hair tended to be a liability around dragons. "I need you to help me with some of the Ridgeback eggs; they've hardened and needed to be moved to the hatchery. Everyone is busy or on off-time."

"Burned back, remember. I can't work with the dragons, healer's orders."

Kata scowled. "Don't pull that crap with me, Charlie. You can help me push the cart or open doors at the very least. You can moon over those love-letters of yours later."

"They're not love-letters!" Charlie protested as he slid on a loose shirt, burn stinging.

"Yeah right!" Kata snorted, "You grin like a loon whenever you get them, and walk about smiling about nothing for the next few days. Besides, I saw that ridiculously expensive wand holster that you brought for them, Chinese Fireball leather?" She said accusingly, "The really supple stuff that's even-more expensive to get 'cuse it's specially treated. Not love-letters my arse. Come on, these eggs won't wait, your lover can." Kata turned and strode away from the window leaving Charlie hurrying to catch up, her words lingering in his head.

Lover? Nah, she was just being ridiculous. Harry was- just a friend. Who he'd slept with. Just a friend, not a lover. Charlie put the thought out of his mind, but it still lingered somewhere in his unconscious. That word would keep him awake at night, leaving him staring up at the stars and reaching for the bottle.

And somehow, in between dragons and school-work, they kept writing to each other.

Charlie wrote about the dragons he cared for, escapades from his school-days, the places he'd travelled and the thing's he'd seen. He wrote about how his favourite season was autumn and that he had a secret fondness for muggle music, how he preferred jazz to classical and listened to Glen Miller when he really couldn't sleep. He didn't ask Harry stupid questions about his scar, or Voldemort, or the nightmares, he didn't ask about Sirius, he didn't push and Harry liked that. He found that Charlie's compassion and gentle understanding helped. If Harry mentioned the bad dreams, Charlie wouldn't tell him to go to Dumbledore or say that it might be important. Instead, he sent things that helped; stories of his own-nightmares, his own fears, he sent a stone that cast off a warm gold glow when held and told Harry that he'd hung a dream-catcher over his bed until he was nineteen when the twins had accidentally destroyed it. ("I thought about getting another but never did").
Charlie didn't tell him that when he couldn't sleep, when the jazz was playing and there was a bottle of alcohol half drunk, he would think of Harry and wank , aching for Harry's presence and missing him in a way Charlie didn't fully understand. He didn't tell Harry that when he had particularly shit days, he'd reach for the letters that he'd been sent and read them over and over again.

In return, Harry wrote about quidditch, about his lessons both in class and from Dumbledore, he asked for advice and received it, told Charlie about how he'd first discovered he was a wizard and how he'd fallen in love with that literally magical new world. He wrote that his favourite season was spring and he disliked muggle rap but listened to old rock classics when he could. He told Charlie that he hated his fame, that he despised his aunt ("You would too, if you knew her"), that after Cedric's death the smell of cinnamon had made him cry and now it made him smile in fond remembrance. He wrote about how he had been so desperate to live with Sirius that he'd managed to produce his first corporal patronus against a multitude of dementors. He wrote that he'd never been over-seas, but always wanted to; that he loved hearing the tales that Charlie told him.
He didn't write that he couldn't sleep without his wand holster; he didn't write that when he didn't wake gasping in cold sweat from a nightmare, he would wake with a rock-hard cock from dreams of scar and tattoo covered skin on his own and a searing heat and Charlie. He didn't write about how he missed Charlie in a way that made him angry, because it seemed that there was nothing – not even a simple one night fuck- that he couldn't screw up. He didn't tell Charlie that he might just be falling in love with him, because that would be stupid and definitely a bad idea. More so, it would mean that Charlie would stop writing to him, and that was the one thing he did not want, above all others.

To everyone else, they were simply acquaintances. To each other, they were confidantes and pen-pals and good mates. On their own, they were feeling the effects of a one sided something that they could not fully admit to.
No one noticed that Harry was receiving letters from Hedwig with irregular frequency or that it was odd that he was writing to 'a friend' when basically everyone he knew lived in Hogwarts.
Charlie's reserve friends teased him about his 'letter lover', not for an instant believing that they might be close to the truth about his feelings for his correspondent.

When Dumbledore died, Charlie was the one to seek him out, and it was Charlie who Harry talked to, telling him what happened. How it happened.

Harry pressed his face into Charlie's chest, feeling warm arms embrace him; Charlie's head dropped down onto his own as Charlie crooned into messy black hair. Charlie listened as Harry told him the whole story. He could feel the slow burn of anger and sorrow as he heard how Dumbledore had taken Harry to the cave with the glowing boat and the lake of inferi and drunk the potion, screaming and broken, how Madame Rosmerta had given them broomsticks then turned around and betrayed them due to an imperius curse. He heard Draco Malfoy had broken down, dropped his wand and sobbed because he absolutely could not kill the headmaster, and Voldemort would now kill his father, and his mother. His hands tightened on Harry's back as Harry choked out how Snape had done the deed and in the end, it had all been for nothing. The Horcrux was false.

Charlie crooned louder, held Harry closer, and did not let go.

"I have to go back to the Dursley's," Harry said after reign of long silence, looking up at Charlie as they overlooked the lake and the white tomb that sat there. "Dumbledore wanted me to."

"To recharge the protections, yeah," said Charlie, who continued, "I'm staying with the rest of my family until the wedding, and then perhaps a little bit after."

There was a small space of silence before Harry said, "I'm not going back to Hogwarts next year."

Charlie nodded. "I thought you mightn't have."

"Dumbledore gave me a special mission; I'm not going to be able to go if I have to complete it and I must. I wouldn't either, not with Dumbledore gone."

"I know."

Harry glanced up at him, not looking at him directly, "I may have to drop off the map. I mean, I may not be able to contact you, it might not be safe.'

Charlie nodded again and said softly, "I know, Harry. You don't have to explain it to me. "

A pair of Thestrals hovered on the rising currents of warm morning air and Harry watched them for a moment as they flew, brushing bat-like wing tips together, their leathery black wings scooping the air.

"I'll see you when I leave the Dursleys to stay at the Burrow for the wedding. No one else knows what I'm planning to do. I don't know if Ron and Hermione want to go, I can't do that to them. Dumbledore gave me the mission; I don't want anyone sacrificing their selves for me. I can't - don't -won't – have that. Not after Sirius. Not after Cedric." Harry bit his lip and looked away from Charlie, right hand automatically coming to hold onto the wand holster and left to curl over the badger tattoo on his chest that only he and Charlie knew about.

Charlie hesitated; Harry looked so very fragile in that moment.

"Hey," he said softly, stepping forward, "I know Harry, You don't have to try and justify yourself. I understand. It's fine." He curved a warm hand around the back of Harry's neck, rubbing his thumb in soothing circles. He hesitated for an infinitesimal second, wondering when he'd turned into such a self-hurting masochist, before he leaned down and captured Harry's mouth with his own in a soft kiss, dropping his other hand to rest on Harry's hip. Harry's two hands dropped from their positions and clasped Charlie closer, willing to take whatever comfort he could.

"It's okay Harry, I understand. I know." Charlie repeated once they'd drawn back. Harry dropped his head onto Charlie's collarbone and sighed and Charlie let his own head nuzzle into Harry's messy black hair. They stayed in that embrace for quite some time.

When Harry left the Dursley's, it was Charlie who first noticed the lack of Hedwig, and Charlie who offered to let Harry bunk with him in his room to 'save space', that Fred and George could bunk with Ron, to allow for some spare guest rooms.

Harry accepted and Hermione and the rest of the Weasley's did not seem to think anything askance.

It was Charlie who held him, and didn't ask for anything, didn't want anything from Harry except to be able to hold him and be the listening ear, to be the rock that Harry couldn't be. It was Charlie who had slipped into Harry in a movement as easy as breathing, and in a mutual tango of rocking hips and desperate gasps and near silent pants, took him to a bliss that Harry hadn't felt in such a long time. Charlie took it upon himself to give Harry absolution and acceptance in the midnight language of soft touches, gentle embraces, and kisses that were almost prayers. Charlie let Harry feel safe enough to sleep, as if he alone could chase the dreams away.

It was Harry who Charlie talked to: about the casualties and how shit scared he was for his family, for the people he loved. He shared his thoughts with Harry because he wanted the teen to feel as if his trust was valued and returned. Charlie talked about how he just wanted the war to be over, that while he might be a pure-blood, he was a blood-traitor and if Voldemort won, once the muggle-borns had been killed and the muggles subjugated, it would be the blood traitors who were next. He talked about how he was sick of being scared, or worrying all the time, of having to think constantly of casualties and allies when all he wanted was a place with dragons, because in Charlie's mind, dragons equated safety somehow. It was when Charlie talked like that, voice strung and tight with tears he couldn't shed because it meant that he's not strong enough to hold Harry up, that Harry reversed their positions and he's the one doing the caring. Carefully and clumsily at first, but after some experience, confident and adept: able to let Charlie receive rather than just give. Charlie's always been a flexible lover, a generous lover, but it's always nice not to have to take the reins in bed.

When they're just as broken as each other - Charlie letting his strong facade fall and Harry showing just how shattered he truly is - they are like felled ash trees; kept up only because their branches are tangled and they can support each other.

In those few weeks between the wedding and the death of Dumbledore, after Harry had returned from the Dursley's and his disastrous attempt to avoid Voldemort, they danced a fine line that was being more than friends but less than lovers. They couldn't call each other their own, could not voice the claim that they so desperately wanted to stake. Instead it was seen in the possessive way that Charlie looked at Harry; in the way their hands would linger on inadvertent touches, the way they were always aware of each other, the way Harry would watch Charlie when no one was watching and the way Charlie would watch Harry in return.

Then the wedding happened.

The day started out well, enjoyable. The sun was warm and butterflies and bees thrummed over hedges in lazy circles. Charlie was helping to greet the guests and Harry could just see him out of the corner of his eye. Charlie looked good, very good; the white shirt with the tight light grey silk waistcoat showed off his body nicely, charcoal-grey silk tie the same colour as his robe, loose about his neck. His robe with the thick bands of soft light grey-blue silk curled into a flame pattern on the robe's cuffs, hung loosely off him, tighter in just the right places, and made the ensemble much more formal than it otherwise would have been. Harry tugged enviously at the collar of his own dress robes, Charlie look comfortable if not cool in his robes, Harry just felt hot.

"Hey, Barney," Ron called and Harry jerked his head up at the name of his polyjuiced alias, "can you come here, I need your help with this."

Harry nodded, and dragged his eyes away from Charlie who was now grinning widely and embracing an older witch, her two young kids and husband with a cry of "Aunt Ethel, Uncle Bert! Good to see you!"

Then Harry was spun away into the moment and the wedding.

The night was warm; fairies flitted under the golden marquee canopy, just out of reach. Harry was slightly buzzed from the alcohol he'd drunk and he couldn't help staring at Charlie, as he'd been doing all day. Charlie was spinning a younger cousin around on the floor, the ten year old girl was giggling madly and Charlie had a broad grin on his face. As Charlie straightened out into a spin, he caught Harry's eyes and smiled a little ruefully as Harry grinned back at him, before Charlie turned his attention back to his giggling cousin. It was at that point that Hermione came up to him panting a little. "I simply can't dance anymore. Ron's gone looking for some more butterbeers. It's a bit odd, I've just seen Viktor storming away from Luna's father, it looked like they'd been arguing." She paused and frowned at him "Who are you staring at, is it Ginny?"

Harry dragged his eyes away from Charlie and frowned, "What? No. I'm not-"

It was at that point that the silver lynx patronus soared into being, landing gently in the middle of the dance floor. The people around it froze mid dance, looking a little absurd, and heads turned as the lynx opened its mouth and spoke in the deep tones of Kingsley Shacklebolt.

"The Ministry has fallen. Scrimgeor is dead. They are coming."

The patronus rippled slightly, then winked out of existence, the silence that followed was electric with shock.

Charlie looked up from where he was on the dance floor, and he locked eyes with Harry. There was a beat of shocked silence and somebody screamed. Then everything went to hell.

People burst into action, Tonks and Remus spinning in place as cries of 'Protago' issued from all sides of the tent.

Charlie whirled, lifting his suddenly terrified cousin in his arms, wand in his hand as he ran towards the aunt and uncle he'd been greeting earlier. "Aunt Ethel! Uncle Bert!" Harry's eyes clung to Charlies figure, dragging at his form glad in the flapping robes and then Hermione was tugging at his arm, half-sobbing with desperation.

"Harry! Come on!"

Everywhere was chaos, Harry fought against the tide of terrified guests, the pops and cracks of disapparition thick around him and spells flew back and forth. He redoubled his grip on Hermione's wrist and they fought to find Ron. "Ron!"
Then, suddenly, he was beside them, catching hold of Hermione's free arm. There was the sickening tug on his navel, then they disapparated, and were gone.

Charlie pressed his screaming cousin into the arms of her father and mother, who were holding tightly onto their son. There was a crack and they dissaperated with a word of frantic thanks. Then Charlie was spinning around, wand whirling, as he flung himself into the fray. He hoped that Harry would be safe. Jarring his shoulder slightly, he ducked and rolled under a green beam of light, and shot an entrails-expelling curse back at the cloaked and masked figure of a death eater who fell with a cry. Grabbing hold of Ginny who was, bravely or stupidly, still fighting, he apparated them both to Shell Cottage which was the family's prearranged safe house.

He hoped with every fibre that all his family were safe.

They were. Bill and Fleur was already there, Fred and George arrived a few seconds after that, closely followed by his parents. His mum drew them all in to a trembling hug.

"Where's Ron?" he asked, looking at his mother and father, worry engraving itself on his face.

"He's with Harry and Hermione." His father said. "I saw them dissapparate. They should be okay."

Charlie nodded and sagged with relief. Ron was okay, Harry was okay. He'd gotten out. He was fine.

He looked over at his family; his mum tense and worried, father grave and serious, Bill and Fleur were gripping onto each other, his sister was still trembling slightly as the twins comforted her and knew that the year, and all years after that until the war ended, was going to be hell.

There was a crack and Hermione, Harry and Ron in tow, apperated away from the party. Hermione was almost sobbing, and Ron was tense, freckles standing stark against the white of his skin.

"Come on Harry, Ron. We need to change out of our formal clothes. We need to blend in."

Harry nodded in agreement, despite the fact that the worry about Charlie's safety, about all of the Weasleys safety, trembled through him like the plucked string on a violin. He knew that he could not worry about them now, that would have to come later when he, Ron and Hermione were safe. For now, he had prioritise himself and his friends.

Arthur Weasley's patronus, when it came, was a relief so bone achingly sweet and pure, Harry almost sobbed. He did not though; he let his shoulders slump with relief, a grateful sigh pushing itself out of his lungs with force. He wanted so desperately to send a message to Mr Weasley, to Charlie. But he could not. Not only did he not know the spell to make his patronus talk, he'd never wanted to learn after Cedric had died, he knew that it wasn't safe. And he knew that Charlie would know it as well. Harry firmed his shoulders and his resolve.

He had a job to do. He had to find Voldemort's horcruxes, destroy them and finish this. He had to win this war.

It was harsh, it was cold, and he missed Charlie. The first Horcrux, Slytherin's locket, frayed at all of them, wearing at them, grinding them thin.

When Ron yelled at him that, no, Harry doesn't understand because his parents are dead, it took all of Harry to stop from yelling back, "and I love your brother, I love your family like they're my own, do you think I don't understand!"
Instead he bit back those words, and spat out some others, Ced a frantically moving scorch mark across his chest. Harry regretted doing it later, whispered a sorry to the tattoo on his chest that has become so much more than just a reminder of the boy he'd loved.

Ron still left, Harry swore bitterly at him and missed Charlie something fierce.

He slept with one hand curled to his tattoo, the other curled near the handle of his wand in the holster that he now wore at all times. He couldn't rest easy without it. He needed it, not just for protection, but also for comfort.

He and Hermione were sitting in the tent, a bluebell flame playing in the jar. Both were so bone-weary but unable to sleep, when Hermione said, "Harry" and stopped, unsure of how to continue, how to phrase the question she wanted to ask.

"Yeah?" he replied and didn't turn his head to look at her, focusing his eyes on the flickering bluebell flame.

"How long have you have you been in love?"

The question startled him, and chocked, "What?" he spluttered, trying to recover "What?"

"I just wanted to know how long it's been."

"I don't know what you're taking about." He says, but the bright red staining his face gave him away and Hermione shot him a look.

"You have a badger tattoo over your heart, Harry. I saw it when we fetched you from the Dursleys. Sure, we changed into your clothes before we took the Polyjuice. But I had to go to the bathroom and I could feel something moving on my chest. So l looked. How long, Harry?"

"I don't know." Harry twitched a shoulder and looked away.

"It's one of the Weasley boys, isn't it?" Said Hermione softly.

Harry nodded.

"Is it Charlie?" she asked.

His jaw clenched slightly, heartache as familiar as worry flared in him.
"We're-" He broke off, paused, then tried again; "we're just friends." As Hermione cocked an eyebrow at him Harry added quietly, "He took me to get Ced, my tattoo, and got me my wand holster for my birthday. I – we, we wrote to each other. I talked to him and he talked to me. I never meant to get so involved. It was just supposed to be – helping each other out."

His friend's brown eyes were soft as she observed him, sympathetic as he thumped a fist on his thigh, the meaty smack of flesh loud in the otherwise quiet tent.

"But I fucked up." Harry said bitterly, "Not that I'll let him know. I'm not that stupid. He understood and he helped me. He didn't want anything from me, less than I wanted from him. He didn't have an ulterior motive for the things he did. Aside from guilt, I suppose."

"Guilt?" Hermione asked quickly.

"Yeah. I, we, got drunk one night in Sirius's house. And one thing led to another, and well, you can guess." He shrugged, and then said hastily, "It was mutual. It's fine. Don't worry. Just don't… tell anyone, alright?"

Hermione took a breath and held it for second, pausing before she exhaled quietly and nodded. Then she reached over and hugged him, hard, her fingers gripping on his shoulder blades tightly.

"It's okay Hermione. It's okay." Harry said, pulling her closer and hugging her back tightly. Perhaps she wasn't Charlie, she didn't have red hair, tattoos and a crooked grin, but she was his friend, and that was enough.

Charlie had to go back to Romania, to gather allies and stay safe. It was nearly unbearable and he hadn't wanted to. He'd wanted to stay in Britain where he could help. He'd had an argument with his dad and the rest of the Order about it. Eventually Kingsley Shacklebolt had stepped in and told him that gathering allies was a vital task and they still needed him. Charlie had swallowed hard and nodded.

He'd gone back to the dragon sanctuary.

It was grim there, the situation in the British Wizarding world was inescapable, and everyone knew it. Kata frowned at Charlie on his first day back, shoved a drink in his hand and asked what happened. The change in Charlie was obvious to anyone, even to those who didn't know him well; before he'd been free with laughs, jokes, smiles, always willing to play wizarding pool and kick back in his spare time. Now he was grim, moved with a beat-down worry and gravity that was inescapable. On his down time he searched for allies with fresh determination and desperation.

The non-contact with Harry nearly killed Charlie – Hedwig had died and through Charlie knew it was not exactly safe to write to or contact Britain's Undesirable No. 1, it was unbearable. He woke up and every moment, when he was not doing things for the Order or doing things with the dragons, he was glued to the radio, listening to Fred, George, or Remus. Every time they called out someone he knew, his heart would jump, stutter, stop and he drank. Even when they didn't call out someone he knew, he drank anyway because people were dead nonetheless.

Kata often found him sitting on his cabin's porch and sat down with him, face drawn and grim, as Charlie listened to the messages that they gave, the ugly role call they read out.

Halfway through the year Kata came to him and frowned at him in the dusk. Her loose fireproof robes shifted slightly in the chilly breeze as she folded her arms and lent on the railing of the porch as Charlie tipped the last dregs of the bottle down his throat.

"Charlie." She said finally, waiting until Charlie looks up at her in acknowledgement. "This isn't healthy. A group of us are going to town; I want you to come with us. Get away from all of... this" She waved a hand in the air, indicating the radio, indicating Charlie, indicating everything.

"Leave off Kata. I told you, I don't want to." He snapped, irritated.

There is a distant roar of a dragon, and a burst of flame flickers in the far distance.

"Charlie," Kata said, a little softer, "We're all worried, but we're safe here in Romania, safer still in the sanctuary. I know you have family in Britain, but this won't help them, won't help you."

Charlie shot Kata a glare and pried the top off another bottle. "Piss off Kata."

"I'm just trying to help. I have friends and family in Britain too, but do you see me acting like this? Fucks sake, you don't have to be such a dick." She scowled at him, and turned on her heel, blond ponytail swinging violently behind her. She left him with a parting shot, "By the way, you've got the night shift, so don't you dare fucking think about getting drunk. I'm not giving you a sobering potion."

Charlie glared at her retreating back and didn't yell back, much as he'd like to, that she didn't have a not-lover who is Britain's most wanted and is on the run with his youngest brother, or a sister who's suffering god-knows-what at Hogwarts, or a family that's top of the Blood-Traitor list. He didn't say any of that, only clenched his fists and huddled closer to the radio, listening for any word of his friends and family.

His drinking got to the point where Kata began to remove all alcohol from him, and he tried to drown himself in work instead.

He manages to buy an owl from the local post office, ratty feathered through it is, and gets a letter through to Evan and Etienne. He's pretty sure the owl is either the craziest or bravest beast he's ever met, because it sails through a storm and doesn't blink an eye at flying into the dragon sanctuary. Ett's and Evan's letter is met with relief as Charlie is told that through they were getting no business, the sentient magic of Spindle-Shaft was keeping them all safe.

'People just seem to turn up,' Evan wrote, 'inadvertently seeking a safe haven and they're so, so, relived when they find that they're welcome. It appears that those under the pay of Voldemort or on his side get lost in the lanes. Can't even find us. We're fine, don't worry.'

Etienne added that "We've three people staying with us; a two muggle-borns, and a half blood wanted for connections with the Order. Don't worry too much about us Charlie, the lane is keeping us protected, but if that fails, we have contingency plans just in case. I won't write them here, just in case the letter gets intercepted. Stay safe. '

Even so, Charlie still kept a watchful ear for their names on the radio.

Charlie didn't listen to jazz anymore and didn't touch the bottles of Liquid Season he had hidden in his cupboard. He fretted about Harry, kept his ears strained for any word, any whisper, about what's happened to the friend that is almost a lover, the person who is the closest thing Charlie's ever had to a relationship. He fucked, dumped, cut and run from everyone he'd ever been involved with, even if it was only for a night, until Harry.

When Charlie heard that Harry had busted out from Gringotts with his brother and Hermione on the back of a dragon of all things, he nearly had a heart attack from worry but he's also so damn relived that Harry isn't dead.

Thank god. Thank God.

Then he can only laugh at the sheer audacity of the act, because only Harry, only Harry, would dream of breaking into Gringotts then busting out again on the back of a dragon. But other than that, his year is worry and fear, punctuated by more worry.
It is, in fact, almost a relief when the call comes through. The order needs him in Hogwarts. Voldemort is attacking.

And Charlie's first thought is Harry.

He's fumbling for his wand, grappling for his dragon leathers (Extra level of protection from spells and hexes. Also good for Dragon fire.) The nearest point where he can use his emergency order port key is ten miles away, where the wards end. His hands are shaking slightly as he reaches for his broomstick only to remember that he lent it to Kata.

He does not waste his breath on swear words, as he's already bursting out of his cabin, robe's flapping behind him as he races to Kata's Cabin. She's just walking out when he runs up to her.

"Charlie!" She said, "What's wrong?"

"I need my broom." He said, eyes flashing with urgency and he shifts anxiously in his place.

"What's happening? I don't hear the dragon klaxon, what's going on?" She demanded, looking up at him with worried blue eyes.

"It's Hogwarts. It's under attack- there's a battle. I need to go fight. They're dying over there and this might be the be all and end all of the British Wizarding War. I can't let You-Know-Who win without trying to stop him. Harry's there. I need to help him. I need my broom now!"

Kata stared up at him for a second, and then she said. "I'm coming with you. We'll double up on the broom." She turned and sped into the house, quickly reappearing with the broom,

"Come on, let's go." Charlie said, shifting impatiently on the ball of his feet, as Kata pulled on her dragon leather jacket, fingers fumbling as she buttoned the jacket up.

"I'll fly, you ride behind me." He said as he steadied the broom beneath him.

Kata nodded in agreement, and her arms were tight around his waist as he kicked off from the ground, the broom beneath him trembling as it was pushed to the limits of its not inconsiderable speed.


 

Chapter Text

 


Hogwarts was nightmareish. A ghoulish mirror of the school he had known and loved so much.

Charlie, Kata, and the rest of the auxiliary force from the supporters that he had called up, arrived with a roar. Later he would learn that they were the ones who turned the tide of the war; that they arrived at the critical point, when the creatures of Hogwarts finally acted.
The quidditch pitch was still burning, the stands falling with deep whoomps, sending embers spiralling into the air, but he focused on finding the battle.
As he and Kata ran towards the great courtyard, he saw the terrible scars of the battle littered like castaway rubbish. Blood stained the stones, the grass. Bodies of death-eaters and giants lay about, too few to be the sum total of the loss, and Charlie knew that there would be many more collected somewhere on the grounds.

The cry of some giant thundered from the direction of the great hall and Charlie and the rest of the fighters behind his backs raced towards the entrance hall, swarming up the gouged grass banks.
He was blasting spells from his wand as he ran up the steps, overtaking a Professor Slughorn who urged them on with a cry. Centaurs raced past him, loosing arrows from their longbows with great and terrible results as death fell from above with thesterals and Buckbeak the hippogriff aiding in the attack.

He focused on fighting, on protecting, but under that, aching with fierce worry, was the need to find his family, to find Harry, to protect them, and make sure that they were safe.

He got hit by a cutting spell, but luckily, his dragon leathers copped the brunt of it, and he shot a retaliatory entrails-expelling curse and was rewarded by a cry sharply cut off by the thrum of a bow and the meaty smack of an arrow.

He spotted his father duelling two death eaters at once and ran to join him.

"Dad!" He cried, casting a shield charm and retaliated with an overpowered severing hex.

"Charlie!" Arthur Weasley cried, narrowly missing a dark purple curse that crackled with the smell of ozone as is flew past. "Expulso!" he roared bringing his wand down, whip fast. The death eater exploded with a cry.

"Where's mum!?" Charlie asked, sending a hex flying at a Death Eater who was taking aim at a downed centaur kicked desperately at the corpse of the acromantula pinning him down.

"I don't know! She went to find your sister! She went to find Bellatrix!"

"And Harry!?"

His Dad's face tightened and he looked away from Charlie and utter despair and denial swept over him.

"Dead son. Voldemort killed him. Him and- and- Fred."

Charlie was ice. "No." He said softly, standing stock still, then louder, "No. No! NO!" Charlie turned on his heel and he was a dragon. He was rage and hate and loss and sorrow. Harry was gone- Fred was gone, probably along with countless other people who Charlie knew. And Voldemort had caused this all. Somewhere, as if from a great distance, his father called, 'Charlie! Protect yourself!" and batted away a purple hex aimed at Charlie's torso.

He would not- could not. This wouldn't – no- no-NO!

Charlie flung his head back and roared.

Wordlessly fire bloomed abound him and engulfed the whole area. With a cry, his father shielded himself from the searing heat as, with a snarl ripping from his throat, Charlie apperated. Later he would count himself lucky that the anti-apperation wards had been broken, but for now, his mind a haze of fury, he didn't pause to consider it.

"Charlie!" His father cried, reaching for the spot where his son had just been. "CHARLIE!"

Charlie apperated from spot to spot in the castle, casting a hex here, or a curse there, sometimes pulling someone out from the path of an unblockable spell as he looked for the monster who had started this all.

He apperated into the great hall. His mother was duelling Bellatrix with a terrifying hatred; the ground was cracking and splitting under the two witches from the heat of the spells they were trading. Charlie let himself spare a moment of worry and fear for his mother before he was running towards Voldemort where he was duelling three people at once, his face a rictus of glacial fury. With a roar, he slashed his wand to join the battle, Voldemort spinning to defend from and attack his new opponent.

From the corner of his eye, he saw his mother whip her wand down with a cry of 'Bitch!', saw Bellatrix fall, heard the furious cry of Voldemort, before he was flung backwards along with Professor McGonagall, Kingsley and Slughorn.

Somewhere, distantly, he heard the cry of protago and knew that someone had protected his mother from Voldemort's fury. But he couldn't thank them now. His lungs felt like they had been punched in, and he wheezed for breath, rolling over onto his side and then onto all fours, wand clutched in one hand.

When he looked up, abused lungs protesting and bones creaking, Harry was standing there in all his impossibility, and suddenly Charlie knew hope again.

Harry. Harry. "Harry." Charlie croaked and around him, people did the same with sudden hope and joy.

He lived, he lived, lived.

The small army of broken, tired, but triumphant people huddled in the great hall. All around him families sat and people rejoiced in mixed emotions, some happier and more joyous than others. People around him were eating or throwing food through the ruined walls to the laughing giant who sat outside.

Charlie sat with his mourning family as they grieved as one. Bill had Fluer curled in his arms; His mother stood in his father's arms, weeping while his father rocked her, face a mask of sorrow. Ron sat with Hermione, their hands clasped tightly while Percy stood a little off to one side, Ginny's head hidden in him as she cried. All had faces ridged into expressions of grief, but it broke Charlie's heart to see his younger brothers, the Twins.

He gripped his head with one large hand, fingertips digging into his temples and tears spiking hot against his eyelids, damp against his palm. He swiped his hand fiercely down his face, if only he had been there then perhaps it wouldn't have happened. Perhaps he could have stopped it. Merlin and Morgana, he would've given anything to have stopped it.

Merlin. The Twins.

George kneeled, body curled, spine hunched, next to his twin. His forehead rested on Fred's' bruised shoulder, just above the caved in chest. There was a grief that Charlie didn't think that he could ever understand fully. Fred's eyes were staring up, sightless, at the gaping roof of the great hall. It was wrong.

"Charlie?" His mother's tremulous voice broke through his thoughts.

"Fred's eyes – he," Charlie fumbled for words before he gave up on them, instead reaching over to close Fred's eyes with two gentle fingers. The skin was cold to the touch.

"They shouldn't be open." He said.

"Thank you Charlie." His dad murmured, and Charlie nodded, drawing back to give George space for his grief. At first, his mum had tried holding him, but George had refused, struggling out of her grip to be with his brother.

He couldn't help glancing about for Harry. He needed – wanted- to speak with him, but at the same time he couldn't bring himself to, not only did he not want to be like the people who came up to him with joy and hope and tears, but he also didn't know what his reception would be if he did. This Harry was a new and different stranger. This Harry was The Saviour. Charlie didn't know what Harry had gone through in the one year war, but it had drawn a new hardness to him; chiselled his lines and removed the last of his softness. So it was with small and guilty relief that he allowed himself to not move, justifying it with the knowledge that his family needed him.

"Hey Charlie." Kata's voice, impossibly weary, sounded from his shoulder as she moved to stand next to him.

"Kata." He said. Relief was heavy in his voice; he was glad that, for all the casualties, Kata was still alive. He turned and hugged her tightly, exhaustion not allowing a show of anything more exuberant than that. She accepted, gripping tightly to him, face buried in his chest.

"Thank god, Charlie, thank god." There was a tired sob in her voice. "So many dead. So many hurt."

Charlie drew back and bent down a little to look at her, "but you're okay?" he asked, brushing a wisp of bloody singed hair behind her ear.

She nodded, "Nothing a healer couldn't fix."

"Kata…" Charlie warned and she sighed at him in defeat.

"I almost lost my arm, but they managed to reattach it; someone helped me to a healer."

"Fuck." Charlie said and lifted her arm, now noticing the bloodstained dragon leathers and the white scar on just above her elbow showing through the neat slice in the ruined leather.

"It's fine Charlie. I'm okay." Kata said softly but firmly, placing one hand on his shoulder in reassurance.

"Alright. So long as you're sure."

She smiled up at him, tiredly, and he drew her into a hug, forcing himself to be strong her the sake of his friend.

"But are you okay Charlie?" Kata asked, with an unusual gentleness in her voice.

Charlie hesitated, the shook his head once, "No. But I will be."

"I'm sorry about your brother." She said, biting her lip.

Charlie nodded, felt a tremble in his throat, the warning burn of tears, and he closed his eyes to squeeze away the tears that threatened to spill.

Too many dead. Too many hurt.

"Oh Charlie." His friend said, the compassion so strong in her voice that he couldn't help but hug her closer, fingers gripping tight to her back.

After a moment she stepped back and said, "You be with your family." She took a deep and shaky breath, before she firmed herself and said, "I'm going to find a grate that's attached to a floo system so I can firecall the reserve."

"Thanks Kata." Charlie gave her a weak smile before he turned and stepped back towards his family. With a forced breath, he pushed away the desire to hold Harry; that was no longer his place. Harry would move on, Charlie was only a dragon keeper while Harry was the saviour of the wizarding world.

Charlie knew that Harry would move on to better people, even as he felt the pang of another loss.

Harry was swamped by the crowd of people who tried to make their selves part of him, hands touching, grabbing, trying to feel some of the glory that they felt he carried. The noise was a deafening wave that swamped him, Ron and Hermione's arms were around him, grounding him, preventing him from getting carried away the hundreds of people trying to get close to him.

All he wanted to do was sleep and see the few people who mattered most to him, but he couldn't. He was part of them, leader and symbol, saviour and guide; belonging to all and none. He must speak to the bereaved, hear their thanks, witness their tears and be strong for them even when all he wanted to do was collapse from weariness. It was a while before he was able to sit down on a bench beside Luna, who smiled at him in welcome, but didn't do anymore than that.

"If I were me," She said almost conversationally into the air, not looking at him, "I'd want some peace and quiet."

"I'd love some." Harry replied.

"I'll distract them all, use your cloak."

Before he could say a word, she made good on her promise and he slid the cloak on and slipped away. Now unimpeded, he could see who he was looking for, Charlie, and his breath stuttered at the sight of the tall man who was standing with his family. He'd had the same reaction when he'd seen Charlie storming up the steps ahead of Slughorn at the head of a large force of defenders, and then again when Charlie had been fighting with uncharacteristic rage and fury. Harry bit his lip, hesitating. Should he go over? Would it be alright if he did, surely it would be okay to talk to the man who was a friend and a sometimes lover? He shifted in place but before he could make up his mind, a tall leggy blond woman approached Charlie who turned and hugged her tightly, moving slightly away from the rest of his family. Of course Charlie would've moved on, Harry thought bitterly. Even had made it very clear what Charlie was like, he should've known that it wouldn't have lasted. Charlie had probably only written and talked to him out of pity, and the sex – well. He highly doubted that Charlie would have ever turned down free sex.

Harry's heart hardened and he moved away, locking this new hurt under the deaths of Fred and Tonks and Remus and countless others. He passed Neville and moved towards where Ron and Hermione were sitting, with the rest of the Weasleys'.

"It's me," he muttered, crouching beside them. "Will you come with me?"

Used to Harry's cloaked comments, they didn't look about wildly, or exclaim with shock, but simply rose from their places and together with Harry, left the Great Hall.

They would look at the bright dawn of day and know that world was a better place.

Harry did not let himself feel heartsick for the second oldest Weasley as he held the hands of his two best friends and looked at the rise of a new sun.

Charlie stayed at the Burrow in the ensuring weeks after the battle, dealing with loss and trying to support his family in whichever way he could. But it was hard, it was bloody hard. His mum responded by gathering them together as much as possible, hooking them behind her apron strings, trying to cope by cooking and cleaning and fussing over each of her children as well as anyone who happened to be in the Burrow. It was almost stifling the way that she sat over them, but even more, it was heart breaking. She didn't want to let anyone out of her sight, not Ron or Ginny, Percy or Bill or Charlie himself, not Harry or Hermione who were here too, and not George. Especially not George.

His funny, mischief making, joke cracking, prank-pulling brother was a shadow of his former self. Half of his self, half of his identity, was gone and the loss had left him empty. The hollow space at his side, the dark hole at the side of his head, was glaring and the silence it projected spoken louder than any tears.

It was not helped by the fact that his mum would take one look at George and start to weep tears, lips trembling, and voice a thin waver, but if it wasn't the tears it was the looks. The shaky looks she would give George as if he too would disappear were almost as bad, because the only thing that George did when he got those was to leave the room, his freckles stark in this pale face. The only one who could stop his mum doing that was his dad, and he wasn't there for most of the day.

Arthur Weasley was quiet, very quiet. He went to work each day with a solemn look and came back home exhausted; the work of rebuilding the ministry, of rooting out corruption, of all the death eater trials he was forced to attend was an unrelenting grinding stone.

It did not come as a surprise to Charlie that something would have to happen, that the fragile safe place they'd all eked out would not last.

Bill was the first to leave with Fleur.

"We have our own house mum." He explained to her, carefully, quietly, as her lips trembled anew and tears spiked visibly in her eyelashes. "There's not enough room here, and we both have to get back to work. We'll floo over for Sunday dinner, okay?"

Molly nodded weakly, "I know."

Sighing heavily, Bill drew her into a hug, pressing her close to him as she sniffed.

"I miss him too mum." His voice was thin, and Charlie averted his eyes. More than ever, he hated the fact that he was no good at helping people, at comfort.

"We shall see you on Sunday Molly." Fleur said softly when Bill stepped back. They gave a small wave before apperating away with a small pop, leaving Molly standing there, wringing her wand in her hands.

Charlie stood there, feeling useless before he said, "Come on mum. I'll make you a cup of tea."

His mum gave him a trembling smile and allowed him to take her inside.

It was all the worse because he and Harry were studiously keeping their distance. Everything that was good about them had twisted slightly, what used to be a relaxed easiness between them was now a stiff and awkward silence.

Charlie had known that something had changed between them after the battle, when neither he nor Harry approached each other. It was partly Charlie's fault, he knew, but he didn't know how to approach this new Harry, 'the saviour'. And when Harry hadn't come near him either, Charlie knew that there was definitely something wrong.

It had finally clicked into place when Harry approached him a day or two after the battle. He was standing in the garden chucking gnomes over the fence, taking no pleasure in it except for the fact that the physical exertion felt good, and it was nice to take his frustration out on something that wouldn't burst into tears.

He's just managed to hit the hollow stump for the second time when he became aware of Harry approaching him.

"Hey Harry." He said, licking his lips a little nervously. He didn't much like the look on Harry's face, all serious deliberation and furrowed brows.

Harry nodded at him. "Charlie." He frowned a little and bit his lip as if he was considering what he might say. Charlie didn't have to wait too long before Harry spoke in statements. "I want to say thank you for writing to me. It- helped. But you don't have to feel obliged anymore. I mean, you don't have to write to me anymore."

Blindsided, Charlie stood there stunned and blinking, for once, lost for words. "Oh." Was all he could manage.

"Thanks for everything. But you don't have to do so anymore."

Charlie was still trying to reach for words when Harry nodded at him just once and then turned and left. He stood there blinking, trying to process this, before he very calmly picked up a new gnome and silently threw it as far and as hard as he possibly could.

Of course Harry didn't want to speak to him again, didn't want Charlie to talk to him again. It only made sense. Charlie was just a bloody guy who took advantage of him, pushed him into getting a tattoo, never even tried to get in contact with him during the year and then to top it all of, didn't even come near him after the battle. Yeah, it about figured. It was just the icing on the bloody cake.

It wasn't helped by the fractures of his family either. They were trying to pull each other together, but it could only last so long. After Bill and Fleur, Percy was the one who left next.

Three weeks after Fred's funeral, George finally snapped in his first show of emotion other than grief. A miserable and guilty Percy had hovered around in the weeks before then, unsure of his welcome and wanting desperately to somehow make amends and help. When George had yelled at him to get out of his face and leave, Percy had taken him at his word. Molly Weasley had been damn near inconsolable. Charlie had felt totally useless, and hated it. He hated not knowing how to fix it – couldn't stand the sorrow, the way that his mum sat over him or the way that she cried when she couldn't. He hated not having freedom immediately under his fingertips, the itch for flight, and he couldn't stand the echoing distance between him and Harry. So he'd left.

George left not long after Charlie, to try to bury his grief under work and to avoid the constant stop-start silences.

He learnt from Ron that he, Harry and Hermione left to Australia in a bid to try to find her parents, while Ginny, two months later from the usual start of school year, went to Hogwarts to start her 7th year. Hermione, he learned, after fruitlessly trying to find her parents in such a short amount of time, also began her 8th year after promising herself that she would retry in holidays.

Charlie himself had headed straight for Romania, but not before dropping in to see Evan and Etienne.

Spindle-Shaft lane was its usual buzzing hum of activity; even so, the war had still managed to reach it. The sweet tingle of magic is more defensive under Charlie's skin as he walks the confusing alleys – he can feel the twisting nature of it, carefully barbed and ready to turn on him. It's a marked difference from its usual subtly and he hates the war for pervading all things good.

As he walks down the cobbles, the chatter in the street was a low murmured hum and the laughter when it came was unexpected, bubbling up and then quickly stilling, as if the very noise was a shock.

Still, the sun was warm on his shoulders, shop doors thrown open to allow the sun to stream into their insides, the glass of the windows fresh and clean. It is a far cry from Diagon alley, where there are shops still shuttered and closed.

He can't quite keep the bounce from his step when he comes close to the tattoo shop. They're scrubbing the white wood veneer of the outside down, Etienne was easily visible up the tall ladder, his head of bright blue hair marking him out from the rest of the street.

Grinning broadly, Charlie hastened his pace, "Oi!" he yelled when he was close enough, giving them a wave.

Their heads turned and their smiles were wide when they saw him.

"Charlie!"

They ran to meet him, and he hugged them tightly, his grin practically splitting his face in two.

"Goddamn, it's good to see you." Etienne said as he stepped back to take a good look at him as Charlie took the chance to do the same.

The pair were a little thinner than usual; new lines had appeared in the corners of Evan's eyes and in the lines on Etienne's brow.

Evan smiled a little sheepishly, "If we look half starved, it's because the rationing was a little thin. We've only just started to fatten up."

"Rationing?"

"Yeah." Ett's said as he lead them to the upstairs flat. "Spindle-Shaft kept us safe, but we still had to go out to get food. We banded together, did runs for groceries, but we had to ration it out. Times got tough, more people came." He shrugged. "But we survived, which is the main thing."

Charlie twitched a small smile, "Yeah. That's the main thing." Spindle-Shaft has kept them safe, the war had touched them, but not broken them, and he couldn't help but be glad for it, it was two less shattered people who he didn't have to care for.

The selfishness of that thought smacked against him with sudden recrimination, and he glanced down and away, hating himself.

Evan looked at him, with sympathy and understanding, but fortunately did not mention anything, saying instead, "Did you know we've got an apprentice?"

"Oh! Yeah!" Ett's said bouncing on his toes, "Linda!" He called, "Come up here and meet our friend Charlie! Linda's the young grasshopper to our sensei."

Raising his eyebrows at them, Charlie said "You two have an apprentice? Merlin's saggy balls, I never though that it'd see the day."

"Yeah, yeah. Laugh it up all you want Weasley."

At that point, a mousy brown haired woman popped her head around the door.

"You bellowed?" she asked, the paused and blinked at Charlie. "Oh! Hello!"

He grinned at her, and she turned a little pink.

"Name's Charlie Weasley, Dragon Tamer and friend of these two idiots. Nice to meet you Linda." He shook her hand and grinned wider as she turned an even deeper red. Oh yeah, the Charlie Weasley charm was not completely dead, even though it had not stuck with Harry. He carefully controlled the reflexive frown at the thought. Instead, he stuck his hand in his pockets and kept a crooked smile firmly on Linda.

"So I heard you're their apprentice, how'd that happen?"

The smile slipped off Linda's face, and this time Charlie could not contain a wince. The war, of course it was the merlin damned war.

"I'm a muggle born." She explained with a twist of her mouth. "I went into hiding, but there was a gang of snatchers on the streets. One of them recognised me, I don't know how, but they did. I ran and they chased me through all the back alleys. By some dumb luck, I found spindle shaft. The lane let me in and lead them away." She smiled lightly, a nice smile for that her teeth were a little crooked. "Evan and Etienne took me in along with the rest of their strays. I found that I was pretty good at the whole piercing thing and I liked the tattooing. They kept me on as an apprentice, so here I am." She finished with a little flourishing hand motion. "I'm lucky enough to have landed on my feet."

"At least something good has come out of it." Charlie said softly, a little bitterly.

Linda shared his small smile, the bitterness matching his. "Yeah. I suppose that's one way to look at it. Anyway, I'd better get back to practise." She gave him a wave and disappeared down to the shop.

"How's Harry?" Evan interrupted eagerly. "We tried sending him an owl, but it never got through."

"Oh." Charlie blinked, "That would be the owl wards. I'll have to put you on the approved owl list."

"But is he alright?"

"Yeah. He's good. Fine." Charlie said, feeling distinctly uncomfortable. He hadn't spoken with Harry since the man had approached him in the garden. Hesitating, Charlie realised that his friends were still waiting for more, and he sighed as he ran a hand through his choppy short hair. "I think he's doing about as well as it can be under the circumstances. He's lost a lot. He's been through a lot."

Etienne put on hand on Evan's shoulder and reached for his partner's hand at the same time in a comforting embrace. "We all have, Charlie." Etienne said quietly. "Come on, I want a cup of coffee, you want one too?"

Smiling at his friend, Charlie was grateful for the distraction. "Put some firewhiskey in it, and I'm all yours."

The three had been talking for about half an hour when Linda stuck her head around the door.

"Sorry. Etienne, you've got your 12pm appointment. Luka Findleborn? With the half finished back piece?"

Etienne blinked at her for a minute, then swore. "Right. I'll be down in a tick, can you get him a cup of water or something and start the prep? Thanks Linda." Etienne turned his attention to Charlie. "It's going to be a long one, so I'll say goodbye now. Take care Charlie. Gives us a floo or an owl sometime." He reached over and clasped Charlie's forearm to draw him into a firm hug that Charlie returned wholeheartedly. "Safety and Peace Charlie boy. Think about some new ink once you come back next, yeah?" He gave Charlie a grin and a wink before running down the stairs to the shop.

Evan looked at Charlie for a long moment, a thoughtful expression creasing his brow and touching the corners of his mouth. "Are you okay Charlie?"

"Yeah. Fine." Charlie gave a laugh that tasted of ashes. "Fine as can be."

"Okay Char." Evan said softly, brown eyes soft and sad at the corners. "You're not. But I won't ask. Not until you want to talk about it."

Throat swelling uncomfortably, Charlie drained the last of his coffee, glad to let the rim of the mug hide his miserably open expression.

"Thanks for the coffee Evan. But I really should get going; my portkey activates at one." Charlie said, getting up out of his chair. "It was good to see you guys."

Evan nodded, getting up as well. "You too Charlie. Don't be a stranger in Romania, okay. Merlin knows, you've done it before."

Smiling involuntarily, Charlie gave Evan a hug. "I won't." He promised. "This isn't the last you'll see of me."

"Good." Evan nodded in satisfaction. "Here. Linda made some chocolate-chip pumpkin spice biscuits; they're kind of more like cookies, but then again, it's an American recipe. Take some with you, they're pretty good.

Charlie accepted the food willingly, and once he'd said his final goodbyes and was on the street, he took one out and gave it a careful nibble. The thick biscuit was soft, sweet, and melted on the tongue. Grunting with enjoyment, he finished it with gusto and licked the small bits of chocolate off his fingers. It was with a much lighter heart that he made his long way over to the dragon sanctuary.

Two port keys, one broomstick ride, one bruised side thanks to a bad landing and several hopped country boarders later; he was back where he belonged. Rippling in a pearlescent heat wave, a distinctive blue flame showed high above the tops of the pines. A far off two-tone roar echoed in the distance and Charlie grinned. That roar and those flames could only belong to Evangeline, their ten ton Swedish Short Snout. She was so beautiful when she was angry.

And speaking of beautiful when angry –

"Charlie! You miserable screw up!" It was Kata, who had come to meet him at the entrance. She ran at him and jumped on him for a hug. "I thought you'd never be back!" she aimed a punch at his side with her usual painful enthusiasm.

Charlie laughed, barely restraining the flinch at the way she hit his side.

"Thanks for the vote of confidence Kata."

She grinned at him, mock contrite, "I have plenty confidence in you, Weasley, I just have no confidence when it comes to you, alcohol, and people willing to jump into bed with a dragon-tamer." She winked at him. "There's enough of them for blonde women so I'd reckon that even a ginger bastard like you can find them."

Shoving her away with a firm yet playful hand, Charlie swore at her cheerfully. "That's what your sister thought last night in my bed."

"Oh screw you Charles! You know my sister's married."

"I know. That's why her husband was in with us."

Kata cackled. "Life just isn't the same without you."

Sliding her wand out, she levitated his trunk before her, turning smartly on her heel and expecting Charlie to follow her without question. Well used to her, he did.

"I'm off shift – and so is Kurt, Vagner, Mork and a couple of others. The rest are either on call, on shift, or not here." She said over her shoulder as she traversed the uneven, pine needle covered ground with swift ease. The scent of evergreen forests, clear air and dragon fire was strong in the air, and Charlie breathed deeply, the tight knots in his shoulders relaxing. "Let's drop your trunk off at your bunkhouse and then go get some drinks. God knows I need one, and I'm sure you do too."

Running a hand through his hair and shrugging, he said, "Do you hear me protesting?"

"I thought so." Kata said with satisfaction. "Come on, Charlie Weasley. The night waits for no one."


 

Chapter Text

 


"Come on Harry." Ron yelled over his shoulder. "We're all going for drinks at the Leaky. You're coming with us, no whining!"

Looking over a bundle of Auror paperwork, Harry crooked a grin at his best friend. "Soon as I get this to Shacklebolt."

"Twenty minutes! Also, 'Mione is meeting us there, so if you don't, I'm setting her on you." About to walk away, Ron turned around suddenly, "Oh yeah, Mum says that you're invited to the Burrow this weekend for Ginny's birthday. She's been planning it for a month, and she'll be gutted if you don't show."

Waving a lazy hand, Harry nodded. "I'll be there, I've got the whole weekend off, so barring any world-shaking emergencies."

"Great!" Ron gave Harry the double thumbs up. "See you in twenty!"

Calmly gathering the bundle of papers into his arms, Harry made his way towards Kingsley Shacklebolt's office. The man was in his second year as Minister for Magic, having been re-elected by democratic vote after post-war term spent rebuilding from the ashes (quite literally in some places).

Walking swiftly and avoiding crowds, reporters and tourists, Harry pulled up an air of 'busy, do not disturb' that managed to dissuade all but the most determined of people from bothering him. He was seriously looking forward to having a relaxed drink at the Leaky and not thinking about work until tomorrow.

Knocking on the door to the waiting room of Kingsley's office, Harry smiled at Janet Coppelburr, Kingsley's scarily competent secretary.

"Hi Janet."

Janet looked up with a smile from her busily scratching quill, "Mr. Potter. You do realise that there are other people who's job is to actually take the reports to Minister Shacklebolt?"

"But then I would miss talking to you, and you would miss my face." Harry replied with a grin, totally unafraid of Janet taking his banter for anything other than what it was.

"Fair enough Mr. Potter." Janet laughed, her Adam's apple bobbing, and deep laugh rumbling from her chest. "Aside from witty banter, is there anything else I can do for you?"

"Nah," Harry said, placing the reports on Janet's desk. "Just make sure Kingsley see's these before the next ministry meeting."

Janet nodded at him, moving the reports to the appropriate pile with a small flick of their wand. "Shall do Mr. Potter. Have a good afternoon."

Grinning, Harry said his goodbye's and made his way towards the apparition point eagerly. He was seriously looking forward to that drink.

 

 

That night, just on the edge of drunk, He, Ron, and Hermione spilled out of the Leaky giggling and laughing. They seemed utterly carefree, happy despite the long sleeves that Hermione refused to pull up in public, the fact that Ron would always have to scope out every entrance and exit, and the slightest hint of a headache left Harry on edge and over vigilant. It had been a year and a half; some wounds just took longer to heal.

"Hey Harry!" Ron said, one arm slung over his girlfriend's shoulder. "I never did ask. That tattoo of yours, where'd you get it?"

They both knew of the badger patronus; Hermione from when Harry had left Privet Drive for the last time, and Ron from the months of camping where privacy was a scarce thing.

"Your brother took me there." Harry said, and the words were easy to say, the regret did not spill up behind his lips as it sometimes did at strange times in commonplace moments. "I'll show you. Come on."

Then he grabbed Hermione and Ron's hands, pulled them into a side-along apparition that he was very good at by now. With a pop, they landed on the sidewalk of a main road, just outside the entrance to the twisty maze of lanes and alleys that would eventually lead to Spindleshaft.

"Hopefully the lane will let you in." Harry told them over his shoulders as he strode into the lanes, not watching where he was going or what turns he was taking. If the lane wanted them in, they'd be there, and if not, they'd find themselves back where they started.

That sweet tingle of magic grew under his skin, and Harry grinned, moving faster now in relief.

"Harry, where are we going?" Hermione laughed breathlessly as she and Ron hurried after, their joined hands swinging as they walked.

"Spindleshaft Lane." Harry called back, playfully. The memory of a small first year running down corridors and dusty halls lightened his steps to something just shy of a skip.

The first signs were the small firelights that hovered, glowing gold, calling into mind the floating O'clocks from a dandelion or the milkweed thistle seeds that drifted gently in the air. They were sparse at first, but soon gathered in number so large it was like walking through a gently glowing cloud.

Harry grinned, could feel his two friends looking around in wonder.

I love magic.

Then there was music, strains of it floating faint and distant. Soon both Ron and Hermione were plunging forward with Harry, the irrepressible spirit of childhood adventure and wonder making them grin and giggle too, until they spilled out onto Spindleshaft lane where Harry had to restrain the urge to throw his hands wide and spin around like a showman.

He had missed this place.

It was just as Charlie promised, just as Harry remembered. The place buzzed with magic and life. Lanterns were strung overhead, and magical fires floated in jars that moved whenever people came near.

The roses that Harry had seen last time, growing over the walls of a shop front, glittered iridescently in the ambient light. The gold edges glowed lightly to, sending sparks of light and colour scattering over the mixed groups of people walking past. Cafe's, open until late, were busy and buzzing despite the weekday hour. People sat and talked and laughed, they lived. Grinning at the fountain that had a couple, obviously out on a date, sitting in it and utterly unconcerned about their surroundings, Harry turned to his friends.

"So, What do you think?"

Ron and Hermione's matching smiles were all the answer that Harry needed.

 

 

Of course, groaning and clutching his head the next morning, he seriously regretted the amount that he had drunk. On the plus side, he remembered everything and none of what he remembered involved anything that would make Molly Weasley want to whack him with a spoon.

Stumbling, he groped his way to the potion cabinet where he kept the few muggle aspirins and the larger amount of potions. With relief, his hand closed around a hangover cure and he downed it without thinking about how vile the taste was, or how the burning effect wanted to make him spew. Then he stumbled back to bed to moan in self-pity for twenty minutes until the potion finished working.

He was not late. Although did he almost miss his, Hermione's and Ron's usual stop for coffee just before work. Ron looked a little better than he did; if only because Hermione always kept a stock of her muggle homemade cure she had 'tinkered with a bit'. Hermione, the git, looked daisy fresh, even if she winced a little in bright light.

They all stumbled through the day more or less intact, even though by the end of the working day they were all collectively 13 coffee's down and counting.

Packing up at the end of the day, a process that mostly involved shoving files into a carry bag to read before Monday, Ron looked over to Harry from his cubicle.

"I've just got a note from Dad; Mum's having a pre-birthday dinner at the Burrow tonight, close family only."

"Okay," Harry said, shoving more flies in to his bag. "I guess I'll see everyone tomorrow."

"Harry." Ron's voice was a little amused, "I'm telling you because you are invited. As far as we are concerned, you are family."

"Oh."

Someday he would not question that he was invited, would take it as a sweet given, would never doubt that the offer of family had been rescinded. As it was now when he was told that the Weasley's counted his as family, he felt that shy spreading warmth sating a small child in a cupboard and still questioned why they would count him as such.

"Yeah. Go home, get changed, come at 6, stay the night at ours. Dad added an extension on; there's enough room."

Harry could not supress the blinding grin that spread across his face, "Okay."

It was okay, it was much more than okay.

Of course, he had counted without Charlie.

 

 

He had arrived at six, dressed in a pair of decent jeans and a good button down. They were sitting outside, long tables fluttering with tablecloths as the Weasley family imbibed the warm summer air. Ron and Hermione were already there, talking to Ginny as she bounced Fluer and Bill's three-month-old daughter in her arms. Bill was talking to Arthur, one arm curled around Fleur who shone with animated radiance. Shifting a little in place, and looking a little uncomfortable, but happy to be there, happy to be included, was Percy. He was talking to George, who smiled half a crooked grin when he saw Harry.

Harry, who had placed Ginny's present of a broom kit and a bottle of Three Broomstick's mead on the table, said 'Happy Birthday' to Ginny and hello to everyone else, before he joined Ron and Hermione.

"Mum's just inside, getting the cake." Ron said when Harry asked him where Molly was.

"We're starting with cake?" Harry asked.

Ginny shrugged. "I like cake." She smiled down at her niece in her arms. "Yes I do!" She cooed, "I like lots and lots of cake! So I can eat it all up like a big bad wolf!" Snapping her jaws in a parody, she burrowed down to her giggling niece to bestow a noisy blown raspberry on her pale skin.

She looked up at Hermione and Ron. "So when are you two getting married?" She asked bluntly. "George and I have a bet on it."

Hermione blushed a light pink while Ron, midway through his drink choked and spluttered, turning a bright red.

"You've been dating for what, a year now?" Ginny said, completely unconcerned about the way her brother was now wheezing for air. Harry helpfully whacked him on the back. Ron nodded gratefully as the red faded from his face and air allowed to travel unimpeded to his lungs.

"A year and a half actually. – Our anniversary is coming up in two weeks." Ron said, while Hermione turned a pleased, embarrassed pink and shot an adoring look at her boyfriend. Harry reading that look knew she was planning to drag Ron off to the closest dark corner to lock lips as soon as possible.

Harry was about to open his mouth to hastily change the subject, they were interrupted when Molly Weasley came out of the Burrow levitating a massive chocolate cake before her as the whole family launched into a eager, if off key, rendition of happy birthday.

Singing along, Harry faltered when he saw the broad figure following Mrs Weasley.

Charlie.

It was Charlie, standing there with all his impossibility, and Harry did not know what he felt at that moment.

Harry had forgotten how broad Charlie's shoulders were, how his easy laugh rested on them and the way his smile lingered in his eyes.

He had forgotten how the light would glint in his hair, bronzing the reddish copper, highlighting the red strands.

Seeing Charlie now brought all of it back in one glorious hateful rush of blood.

Now Charlie's eyes met Harry's, his smile shuttered: pained. In a single swooping moment, Harry could see where Charlie strengthened his spine, set his shoulders, bruised smile shadowing into place. The kicker of all that was the fact that it was Harry who had set that bruise there. Harry who had cut him off as if months of writing and touching, of breaths shared in the dark could be so easily put aside.

All because Harry had let himself grow so attached, so goddamn in love with a man who he knew only thought they were friends; albeit friends who shared kisses and touches like others shared jeans and hugs. It hadn't been right of Harry to cut it off the way he did, simply because if Harry could not have Charlie's heart, Charlie could not even have his friendship.

And this is what it had come to; a bruised smile on a man who did not know what crime he had committed, a crime committed only by the treacherous foibles of Harry's heart.

Swallowing heavily, Harry offered the same smile back, stronger for a year and a half of distance, but whispering all the same.

The pair managed to avoid each other very neatly even when they were in the same room. Charlie's eyes would only linger on the laughing curve of Harry's cheek when Harry's shoulders were angled away, and Charlie was sure not to be found out. In turn, Harry would only glance at Charlie, at the broad line of his back and the sure muscles of his skin, when Charlie was intent on conversation and would not turn around.

Again in the morning, it was much the same; the same unspoken acknowledgement of the fluid distance and unease, and a determination to not make it worse. And above all, to not let anyone else know either.

What they did not share was their desire to speak, to touch, ask 'how are you'; awkwardness and a history of to much self-inflicted hurt prevented it.

Late morning on that Saturday, Harry helped Mrs Weasley with the frankly stupid amounts of cooking she was preparing. Ginny and Flur had attempted to lend a hand, but were quickly shooed out for being 'not helpful' and 'too helpful' respectively. Flur then wafted out to 'help charm the garden' to something of respectability. Ginny too had sulked out, presumably to join George re-charming Flur's work into something – else.

"How have you been dear?" Mrs Weasley asked as she chirpily set pans of cake batter whizzing into the oven while simultaneously chopping potatoes from a busily self-scrubbing pile.

"Uh, busy I guess." Harry said. "A lot of reports, arranging and coordinating security and port-keys for the United Kingdom's quidditch cup."

"Cannon's got through the pre-lims Harry!" Mr Weasley said as he breezed through the kitchen, plopping a kiss on his wife and a mug on the counter. "Sadly knocked out by the Hertfordshire Hexes. Still, we'll get them next time."

"That's what you said last year Dad! You know, when they beat us!" Charlie's yell echoed from upstairs. Sound, evidently, still carried well in this house.

Mr Weasley laughed at this while Harry looked down at the mucky mixing bowl and scrubbed at it intently.

"I'm off clear the field and set up the tables and lantern poles with Charlie," Mr Weasley offered, "care to join Harry? Get your elbows out of dishwater?"

Harry was just able to contain his reflexive look of panicked unease before it splashed itself over his face in a telling display. "I'd better stay until the dishes are done. Shouldn't leave a job unfinished, you know?" The smile on his face felt cracked and half-baked, but it was enough to fool Mr Weasley who was already halfway out the kitchen.

"Promise you'll join us for a game of pick up quidditch later though!" He called back over his shoulder.

"Sure will Mr Weasley!" Harry replied as he turned and continued to scrub intently.

 

 

The party that night was vibrant and cheerful; humming with that particular glow of good vibes that only came from the combination of friends and family.

Unlike Bill and Flur's wedding, the pale undertone of fear was missing and Harry had forgone a disguise as a Weasley cousin. He was himself, which meant occasionally dealing with a star struck well-wisher. However, he found that by drifting from group to group and sticking with people whom he knew personally, he could avoid most of it with relative ease. If there was something that he was insistent on, it was not to let his fame interrupt the special events of the people he considered family.

Smiling gracefully, Harry extracted himself out of an intent conversation between Ginny and one of Bill's curse breaker friends. At any other time, he would've been interested in a conversation about quidditch, but they were debating about obscure points of rule. Even as quidditch captain, Harry never had time for semantics.

Almost empty drink in hand, he went in search of the refreshments table.

Broad shoulders and head of choppy red hair made him falter. He'd been studiously avoiding Charlie, even as his gaze had been drawn to the men like a lodestone. Wherever Charlie was, Harry was not. Still, his hyper-awareness of Charlie's presence would not settle. Harry knew when Charlie spoke: when his shoulders, lifted with laughter, stretched his robes taut. Unseen tattoos were most certainly wandering over his skin, and Harry knew exactly how they'd be moving. Charlie's tattooed dragon wings would be shifting ungainly, the phoenix on his hip blooming and sparking ink fire.

Harry had run his fingers over those tattoos, traced them with lips and watched them shadowed in the dark.

Knowing all this, Harry observed Charlie at the drinks table hesitating as to whether he should wait until Charlie left, or if he should go over anyway.

The empty glass in his hand made the decision for him. Four bottles of sweet-cider and a few glasses of alcoholic punch probably went somewhat towards his decision as he stepped up beside Charlie and then proceeded to open his mouth and speak.

"Uh, Hey Charlie." He muttered, all the alcohol running through his veins blissfully knocking his executive functioning right out of the ballpark. What could he say? Cider had obviously mellowed him enough that he could look at Charlie, even converse, without want-sorrow-discomfort battering down his throat.

Charlie startled a little bit, a slightly tentative smile edging its way across his face. "Harry. Hey." He roughed the words out, and smiled anyway, despite old hurt.

Because Harry was stupid, or crazy, or foolhardy, (or even all three), he continued with small talk. "Some party, huh?" he said as he reached for the punch bowl ladle.

"I wouldn't if I were you." Charlie warned. "George spiked it with something a couple of minutes ago."

Warily, Harry edged away from the bright blue and pink punch, and reached for a much safer bottle of sweet-cider.

To their right, Ron gave a rooster screech and, as all heads turned to watch in amusement, proceeded to speak for a full half-minute in flawless gobbledegook. Bill and his work friends, the only ones actually capable of understanding the goblin language, all turned bright red at the stream of inflammatory sentences. Ron's protesting cry of "George!" was lost amid his bright red face and the guffaws of laughter from the party goers.

Smile fading a little, Harry turned back to Charlie and against his better judgement, asked softly, "How've you been Charlie?"

"uh." Charlie choked down a couple of words, squashed a few others. At the behest of the lingering swell in his chest and the whiskey-rounded emotions, he said, "I've been good. New dragons. Eggs have hatched." He paused to glance around the noisy hubbub of the party. Too much Fire-Whiskey mugged his lungs, and he was increasingly desperate to catch some fresh air.

"Do you want to talk somewhere a little quieter?" Charlie asked.

And because Harry had never been sensible when it came to Charlie, lest of all when drunk, he tipped his bottle forward in a clumsy salute. "Sure."

He followed Charlie away the brightly lit garden area to the dark soft shadows near the pond.

The night was quieter here, punctuated by the crick of cicada's and occasional cry from the loons that nested in the marshy fields behind the Burrow. The party was nothing but a distant burble of light and laughter. Here, the warm darkness was a living thing twining comfortably around them, rather than the weight it had been moments before.

Harry frowned as he drew his wand and managed to conjure a rather rickety looking wooden garden chair. It creaked slightly when he tested it with one hand but otherwise held when he sank gratefully onto it. Charlie hesitated a moment before he sat down too, the roughened wood pricking his calloused hands slightly.

Scant centimetres separated them, a gulf that crackled with the promise of touch.

Charlie bulled through the moment of fresh awkwardness with reckless hope.
"How are you Harry?" He asked, leaning back and looking at Harry over the curve of o freckled cheek. Fingertips tangled loosely together as Charlie nursed this fledgling easiness and willed it to grow.

"I've been okay." Harry said, staring at the staring at the yellow moon as it hung a reflection in the still pond water. "Mostly been working a couple of baby Auror cases, paperwork, training." He wedged a smile, "I took Hermione and Ron to Spindle Shaft on Thursday." He caught a breath, regretting the words already. Was it too soon? Too close to regret? And yet… He tonged anxiously at his front teeth and watched in relief as Charlie smiled.

"Oh yeah?" Charlie said, blue eyes crinkling at the edges with his smile, "They like it?"

An answering smile grew on Harry's face as he recalled the looks on their faces.
"They did." He said, almost taken a back at how suddenly easy this was, "They really did."

Harry turned to Charlie to say something, but Charlie's gaze diverted him. Warm eyes lingered in a shared embrace, before the tension grew too much and they broke away. Hastily, Harry swallowed some cider, swigging it out the bottle to cover his blush.

Caught out in staring, Charlie huffed in self-amusement as he turned his gaze to the pond.

An easy silence settled over the pair as, aided by the quiet darkness and the loose buoyancy of imbibed alcohol. They were able to talk, or not talk, to each other in a way the daylight could not let be.

Snuck glances curled at each other and adrenaline fluttered under their skin. Fluted opportunity made Harry's heart stutter and Charlie's trembling finger tips clasp tighter to each other.

"I've missed you." Harry said. The words brushed high in his throat, snatching air from his lungs.

Charlie looked at him, the hope of a promise edging his voice. "I've missed you too." He said. "I've, really, missed you too." It was a confession of sorts, told in the catch in his voice and Harry looked at him sharply.

There was a moment of silence, then, "Oh." Harry said softly. Not even a word, just a small noise of realisation.

Then his hands were sweeping up into Charlie's hair, fingers pushing at red locks as they kissed. Their mouths fumbled at each other in cider-softened movements. Charlie tasted like the after-burn of fire whiskey, and their tongues ran against each other, pushing and curling.

Harry twisted a little awkwardly, torso stretched to reach Charlie's height. Knees pressed together and Charlie's broad warm hands came to rest on Harry's waist. His fingers were steady, and he could feel Harry's pulse beating a solid tattoo against them.

The world was in slow motion, drawing them out into this singular moment until they broke apart, reddened lips salaciously glossy.

Charlie couldn't contain his dopey smile and Harry mirrored back at him.

"Hey." Charlie whispered, one complete sentence of both statement and so soliloquy.

"Hey yourself." Harry replied before he paused and leaned back, frowning. "Um. Sorry. I shouldn't have done that."

"No. No." Charlie shook his head frantically, "It's okay. You're fine, there's no problem. None." All the same, he let his hand fall from Harry's shoulders to his hips. "But we should probably talk, hey."

Sighing, Harry let his hands rest on Charlie's arms, cupping rough elbows where heat and cold wind had taken their toll.

"Yeah." Harry nodded slowly.

Silence again.

All Harry wanted to do was reach up and kiss Charlie again, feel that fission of heat and energy. But he didn't reach, let his hands drop, and felt old nagging doubts coupled with a newfound sense of self.

To his end, Charlie drank the sight of Harry in, eyes roving over new wrinkles and scars, and saw the building question in Harry's eyes.

"If," Harry started slowly. "if we do this," 'this' indicated by a mentioning forefinger, "what will it be? What will it make us?"

The 'whatever you want it to be' sat glibly on Charlie's lips, truthful but trite; a handout he'd tossed one too many times.

"Truthfully," Charlie began, eyes flickering here and there in thought, "I want whatever you can give me. I will take whatever you're willing to share." A speech made of heartbreak and hope rolled-and-ran hurly burly out of him. Desperation showed only in the intensity of his gaze and the intent keenness of his tone. "I really missed you Harry. Your letters were my favourite part of the week and – I've really, really missed you this past year. These past years. I don't know if you feel the same but-" and here the words tripped over theirselves, tumbling out in candid haste, "I will take anything you care to give me, be it a relationship or your heart, or your bed, or just tonight. I know that it probably wouldn't be appropriate, or wise for us to be in a relationship ship. I mean, you're the saviour of the wizarding world, and I'm a damned Dragon Keeper, but you're the only person I've ever -" 'Loved' he didn't say, but the silence shouted it just the same and now Charlie faltered, finishing with a mumbled, "stayed with before."

Any more words escaped him as he swept his eyes over the changing shades of Harry's face.

"But… don't you have a girlfriend?" Harry said the first stupid thing that popped into his head.

"Girlfriend? No, I've not seen anyone else since before I was here for the wedding, or after."

"But she was there at the battle…" Harry trailed off as Charlie shook his head.

"Kata?" Charlie asked, "Blonde?"

At Harry's nod, Charlie said, "No, merlin, no. Kata's just a friend. I recruited her for the order. No. No."

"I thought…" Harry said, stopped, tried to start again, stopped. Unfortunately, Charlie could fill in the blanks.

"That I'd found someone else?" Charlie said. "Merlin Harry. Was that why you came to me in the garden? Because you thought I'd found someone else?"

"Well Yeah." Harry said, with shrug of his shoulders, palms upturned to the night sky. "I mean, I'm so much younger, and basically made you write to me. – I was gone for so long and I thought you'd found someone else because well," He shrugged again, that same defeted up-down of shoulders, "We were just fucking and I just got myself too involved. It wasn't like we were dating, or lovers, or anything." A bitter laugh, an other shrug, and Charlie bled.

"Gods Harry." Charlie pressed the heels of his palms down hard on his cheeks bones,, covering his eyes in shame. "I'm so, so sorry." A slight hysterical laugh jumped from him, bitter and remorseful all at once. "And here I thought that was all you wanted from me. I thought you'd broke it off because you'd gotten bored. That you wanted someone better. Morgana's bones."

The irony stung, it shrieked and blared into an otherwise calm night.

"Oh." Harry said into the force of Charlie's revelation.

Silence held court for long moments; once again, glances were slid to one another considering, debating, wondering.

"So…" Charlie began slowly, cautiously. "If I was to say that I really wanted to kissed you now… What would you say?"

Harry looked up at him, an impish hopeful smile growing in the corners of his mouth. "I'd say, take me on a date?"

Grinning recklessly, Charlie pulled Harry closer to him, cupping one large hand behind Harry's neck.
"Good." He murmured fiercely, "Good."

Again, their lips met. Warm lips moved against each other in a hot and dirty kiss. Nipping at Harry's bottom lip, Charlie grinned against the other man's mouth at the gasp that followed.

"Fuck Charlie." Harry said, leaning into Charlie. Broad greedy hands pulled him closer into Charlie's lap. Harry moved easily with Charlie, straddling the man's lap with his knees tucked up to take his own weight.

Groaning deeply, Charlie relished the heat and friction on the tight stretch of his dress pants. One arm wrapped around Harry's back and he dropped the other to the curve of Harry's arse, gripping and rolling the firm muscle in intent movements.

It was hard to say when shifting hips turned into rolling thrusts but soon half-hard on's were stiff and begging for more friction as they ground their hips together, gasping and biting into each other's mouths.

Harry's voice was a husk of want. "Come back to my room." He offered, "Fuck, Charlie. Come to my room."

"Yes. Merlin. Yes. Plea- ah! –se." Charlie growled-and-groaned it, pulling-pushing Harry closer into him.

"Come on." Harry said, wriggling off Charlie, tugging the man up-and-away with one hand clasped in Charlie's calloused own.

They ducked around the side of the party, stopping occasionally to kiss furiously hands pushing under clothing and into hair.

"My bedroom." Charlie said in the cheerily lit confines of the burrow as they somehow managed to navigate the stairs while undoing buttons and loosening ties. They barely managed to shut and ward Charlie's door for privacy before their hands were grasping for each other, mouths tasting skin and hands removing belts and shirts. Skin against skin, muscle bent against muscle, teeth nipping and mouths sucking possessive bruises, the pair tumbled onto the bed. Only then did Charlie pull back to slow the moment down, to look at Harry with a hot fevered gaze, to re-learn old scars and find new ones.

It wasn't the fumbling of new lovers, nor the tired knowledge of old. Their hands wandered re-mapping and remembering sensitive spots, recalling the language of each other in brazen lust.

Despite the heady instant tugging of desire or the wanton way in which their hands clasped and lips moved, they lingered in each moment. Charlie took his time with Harry, laying him out flat to the bed, teasing and tantalising luxuriously. As if his hands carried prayers as his fingers fucked into Harry, Charlie stretched Harry out almost reverently, his eyes intent and unwavering.

Unfettered moans filled the room; Charlie's guttural groans as he finally, finally, slid into Harry resonated deep in his chest.

He panted over Harry, limbs trembling and hips stuttering lightly, bent forehead to forehead as Harry's hands ran over Charlie, shoulder blade to flank, desperate and incessant.

The pair fell into their old easy rhythm, slow deliberate hips rolling in-and-away, building to a fast searing heat that consumed all thought and all motion until they were groaning and panting fiercely into each other. Charlie babbled nonsense: snatches of words and swears, Harry's name mixed in with fervent stop and start endearments. Cursing, Harry said Charlie's name, "-fuck Charlie. Jesus, yes, Charlie, missed you so much, Charlie, Charlie" in between groans and burbling noises that spilled, animalistic, from him.

Harry came first, quick and dirty pants trailing into a sighing groan of pleasure, his limbs turning to dead weight, his spine rolling like liquid under him. Overstimulated pleasure bordered on the edge of pain as Charlie continued to thrust frantically, chasing the edge that was so close. Finally, hips stuttering and teeth gripping onto Harry's neck, Charlie came. He collapsed, full bodied onto the bed, fumbling with heavy lead-hands to pull Harry to him, murmuring sleepy endearments as he stroked up and down Harry's spine lazily. Their stuttering pants slowed and softened, and the sweat dewing their bodies dissipated. Kissing lazily, they murmured nonsense in sighed out breathes until sleep drew them away.

Together they slept until at sometime in the early hours of the morning, when the whole house seemed to breathe quietly and they stirred to sleepy wakefulness. The seashore sounds of each other's lungs were strange enough that once semi-awake, they couldn't quite go back to sleep. Instead, Charlie and Harry shared hazy kisses, quiet murmurs of affection in a silvered dream world where time hung suspended between midnight and dawn.

Resting his head on Charlie's chest, twining fingers between his own, Harry said softly, "So what happens now?"

Charlie hummed thoughtfully to himself, "Well, you have promised me a date that I intend to collect on."

Smiling dopily, Harry twisted around to kiss Charlie, "I know that." He said, in between nips and long lazy kisses, "But, this. How are we going to work?"

"That I'm not quite sure." Charlie said, chasing Harry's ribs with his fingers. "But there's weekends and public holidays. International Floo, if somehow we can wrangle it, and lots of sex. We can have all day tomorrow to talk it over."

"Yeah?" Harry said, the word tilting upwards in hope.

"Yeah." Charlie affirmed, leaning down to kiss Harry, "But for now, I really want to make out with you until we fall back asleep. Or have more sex. Which ever comes first." He added with a shit-taking grin. Harry snorted at the terrible innuendo, but rolled over in Charlie's arms to loose himself in the pleasure of the moment.

 

They would have tomorrow to talk about it. And perhaps, even hopefully, the next day and the next week, and the next month, (and even, just maybe, the next year).


Chapter Text

Epilogue.

The warm sunlight danced off the cobbles of Spindleshaft lane, glinting of windowpanes and dapping though wisteria flowers just beginning to grow over the corners of the shops and between houses. It was an ordinary Saturday, no more distinct for the pleasant sunny weather, and the Lane hummed with bustling life.

Harry grinned up at his boyfriend of a year as they brushed comfortable shoulders as they wandered companionably down the lane.

"Not that I ever have problem with going to 'spindle," Harry asked, only a little distracted by the sunlight caught in Charlie's eyelashes, "but is there a reason we're here, particularly?"

"Well," Charlie mused, "The café's do good lunch; I've been craving crepes for about a week. And," he added nonchalantly, "I've been thinking of getting a new tatt."

Harry's breath caught a little. "Yeah?"

"Yeah.' Charlie nodded. "A stag. Right on my collarbone." His warm fingers found the approximate spot on Harry and the calloused fingertips snagged warm heat down Harry's skin, and he shivered licking his lips dryly.

"I think that would look good. Wouldn't you?" Charlie said, a wicked grin curling just around his eyes and at the corners of his Cheshire smile.

He winked once, a flutter of an eyelid in dirty promise, and strode onwards to Spell's Tattoo.

 

It was a while later when they retuned from the warm company of Evan and Etienne, and new ink glistened hotly on both Harry and Charlie.

A stag bust tattoo lifted a proud head on Charlie's collar bone, and it's mirror on Harry's collar bone flicked inky dark ears and shook it's long wild yak horns in gentle movements. ("A Yak." Harry had said earlier with stifled laughter. "Your patronus is a wild cow. From Tibet. Oh Charlie. Only you.")

Now Harry smiled down at it. It made sense in a strange way: untamed and protective, more at home in the mountains than the city, but still solid and unwavering. A wild yak patronus was strangely, weirdly, perfectly Charlie.

"Happy anniversary Harry," Charlie said, leaning down to kiss Harry deeply. "Let's go home."

Harry grinned into Charlie's lips, already thinking of their cosy cottage in the countryside and the cool bottle of liquid season that awaited them there.

"Happy anniversary Charlie." Harry said. "I love you."

"I love you too."

They kissed again, toes bumping against toes, and everything was strangely, beautifully, perfect.

 

Fins.


Extra Scenes:

(When they told the Weasleys that Charlie and Him were dating, Molly and Arthur had only looked a little taken aback. George had tossed Ginny ten gallons and everyone else said that it was about bloody time they admitted it. When Molly asked how long they'd been together, both of them replied 'We've been friends since the summer after Sirius died. But Our relationship started on Ginny's birthday party at the burrow.'
There was a succinct agreement to never let Molly or Arthur find out that they'd been having an actual physical relationship long before Ginny's birthday.)

(Charlie Proposed to Harry in spring, spur of the moment only by dint that he had the ring (in his pocket, had been for weeks) but hadn't planned proposing right that very moment. They'd been holding hands, an open bottle on their picnic blanket, their brooms tossed carelessly to the side. Charlie had been picking bits of grass and flower petals out of Harry's hair. Harry had smiled, the light catching in his eyes. I want to spend forever with him, Charlie thought to himself. Then the words had spilled out his mouth, 'I love you. Will you marry me?' Serious and honest, and Harry had said yes. The word curling at the corners of his mouth and catching in his hands. Yes, Charlie, Yes. It was after they'd finished the celebratory snogs and dirty handjob-grinding, as they shared the last of the liquid season that Harry admitted he'd actually looked at rings himself the other day. They broke the news to their family two days a later. Molly had cried a little.)

~

Harry leaned into Charlie as they watched the dragon's soar effortlessly in the crisp blue Romanian sky. He twined Charlie's hands with his, rubbing a thumb over the silver engagement band as now was his habit.

"So." Harry started, "I've been thinking about that wedding of ours."

"Mmmm." Charlie hummed, pressing a kiss to the bared curve of his partner's neck, even as he watched the soaring Longhorn with a professional eye.

"That we should have it at the burrow. A summer wedding."

"That sounds beautiful. Mum is going to cry, probably." Charlie agrees, and then hesitates. "What about Hermione and Ron? They're getting married this summer too. We'll have to make sure the dates don't clash."

"Yeah. Or we could just-"

Charlie frowned down at Harry and interrupted him quickly. "No. We will not be sharing a wedding with my brother and my sister-to-be. Just- noo."

"Okay." Harry laughed, "But I think it would be less of a hassle you know?"

"Harry. I think you underestimate Hermione's bride-zilla potential. Let alone mums. For the sake of our families, no. Just no."

"Okay. Okay." Harry conceded with a smile. "Besides, there'd probably a fight over the cake decorations or something."

"Oh Yes. Can't have disagreements about the cake.'

Charlie bent down to press another kiss the side of Harry's neck, even as the younger man turned in Charlie's arms to say, kissing a teasing smile into Charlie's lips.

"I know right? It's the only important part. I'm only marrying you for the cake."

"I knew it." Charlie said, a wry grin breaking over his face and melting into his bones. "I always knew it."