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19 Years by marauder5
Chapter 52: Year 6: Romania
Going for a walk had seemed like a good idea that morning; it was Ron and Hermione’s first day off work for the summer, and Hermione had sworn she had seen a glimpse of sunlight when she had woken up and peeked through the curtains of their bedroom window.
About one hour later, when the pair returned to their building, short of breath after running home, and completely drenched in rainwater, the idea didn’t seem quite so clever anymore. Teeth clattering and goosebumps forming on every inch of their skin, they ran up the stairs, desperate to get into the sanctuary of their own home, where they could pull out their wands and instantly get both warmer and dryer.
“Remind me again why we live in England?” muttered Ron as he stepped through the front door, his hand already grasping for the wand in the inner pocket of his jacket.
Hermione’s second good idea for the day came to her only minutes later, when she sat down across from Ron at the kitchen table, placing a large teacup in front of her and cupping her hands around it to warm them up. Her face suddenly lit up, and she reached forwards and grabbed Ron’s arm, grinning excitedly at him as he raised a questioning eyebrow.
“Let’s go on holiday!” she said. “To someplace warm. Where it won’t rain.”
Ron stared at her. “Well, we…”
“The summers here a rubbish, anway,” Hermione insisted. “And we’ve got some money saved, haven’t we? I mean, my new job does pay better, and–“
“Hermione,” Ron interrupted her. He was grinning too now, his eyes glittering as they turned towards the window and the dark grey sky outside. “You don’t need to convince me,” he continued, turning back towards his wife. “Let’s do it. I’d love to get away for a week or so.”
The dark clouds looked as though they were getting closer, lowering down over London, and the tapping of raindrops against the window was growing louder and louder. It seemed to have lost its effect on Ron and Hermione’s mood, though; there, inside, Hermione was jumping to her feet and skipping around the table, pulling Ron up just to wrap her arms around him and kiss him. Getting away on holiday did not just mean nicer weather to her, and she suspected that he knew it. It also meant that she wouldn’t be stuck at home thinking about nothing but her mother and the last summer they had got together, and her mind could definitely use a break from that.
Miles away from rainy London but in an equally wet part of the country, a Quidditch training at the National Arena was just coming to its end. The players found their feet sinking deep into the soaked grass when they returned to the ground and got off their broomsticks, hardly able to see where they were going through their sprayed goggles and completely unable to feel either fingers or toes after the very long and very cold hours they had spent flying around in downpour and, much like Ron and Hermione, inwardly cursing their fate of having been born in England.
One certain player, however, was kicking the ground in front of her, not because the training had been terribly wet, but because she had played terribly all morning. Truth was, she hadn’t felt like herself on the Quidditch pitch for weeks, and she didn’t know what to make of it. Just two months earlier, she had been in the form of her life, getting selected to play with England, winning the cup with the Harpies… And now, she didn’t seem to be able to catch the Quaffle at all.
Despite the fact that Ginny only wanted to go straight home, have a hot shower and sleep away her frustration, she forced her feet to stop moving and allow Avery Hawksworth to catch up with her. When he did, she didn’t turn her head to meet his eyes, but kept them pointed forwards as she started moving again. Avery followed her example, but placed a hand on her shoulder as they headed towards the changing rooms.
“Is everything okay?” he asked.
“Sure,” said Ginny dispassionately. “Everything’s fine.”
“I just…” Avery paused, squeezed her shoulder and continued: “I think you’re a brilliant player, Potter. Which is why I don’t understand why you’re not… You’re not playing the way I’ve seen you play in the league. I thought it was just nerves, but if that’s the case, I suppose even running makes you nervous these days.”
Ginny kept staring straight ahead, very aware of the fact that her vision had started to get blurry as her eyes filled with tears. Perhaps this was it – the moment when he’d tell her he had to kick her off the team. That she wasn’t good enough. That she wouldn’t be able to get her parents tickets for the next World Cup. That she had been so close to her dream and let it slip out of her grasp.
“I believe in you, I do,” Avery continued. “I know how good you can be, Potter. Just… maybe take a week off, all right? I understand if you still have to train with the Harpies, but take some time away from all of this, and you might feel a bit better. I know there are a lot of nerves and pressure and expectations, especially in the beginning. Maybe you’re just a bit overwhelmed.”
“Okay,” said Ginny flatly.
“See you in a week then,” said Avery, finally letting go of her shoulder. “Keep your head up, Potter. You really are a fantastic player. You wouldn’t be here in the first place if you weren’t.”
Ginny spent the rest of that day sulking, muttering things that her mother definitely wouldn’t approve of, and feeling exceptionally childish. Harry came home late and only put up with her mood for a couple of hours before he fled to Ron and Hermione’s place. When he got back home, he found his wife fast asleep on top of the bed, and couldn’t help but smile as he carefully removed her socks and put a blanket over her. She was really wearing herself out lately, and it worried him at times, but just then, she just looked so peaceful.
Ginny woke the next day to find that the rain had gone away over night, but her bad mood hadn’t. She frowned at her own reflection over the sink as she washed her face, stomped down the stairs and nearly broke two bowls in the kitchen as she prepared her porridge.
Wishing that she wouldn’t have to think about Quidditch at all for a while, she reluctantly prepared to go to Holyhead after breakfast. She got dressed in her training robes, pulled her hair into a ponytail and packed a change of clothes.
Once in Holyhead, her mood lightened a little bit as Gaylene Turkowski stumbled out of the fireplace next to the one Ginny arrived in, and instantly grabbed her arm to tell her all about the horrible date she had had the night before. Ginny laughed the whole way to the dressing room and felt much better – until Adriana Katzenberger caught sight of them, that was, and rushed over to beg Ginny to spill the beans on the latest practice with England.
“How was it?” she said eagerly. “Do you feel like part of the team yet? And more importantly,” she added in a whisper, “do you know if Denison Frisby happens to be available? Do you think you could introduce us?”
Ginny’s bad mood returned in an instance as she remembered her talk with Hawksworth the day before. If she wouldn’t start playing better soon, she thought to herself, she’d probably never be on the same pitch as Denison Frisby again.
“No, I can’t,” she said shortly, turning away from Adriana to indicate that the conversation was over.
A little while later, the team was out on the pitch, mounting their brooms. Ginny was filled with a strange, new sensation as she took off into the fresh summer air; flying, which always filled her with calm, and a sense of freedom, suddenly made her feel as though she couldn’t quite breathe. Over the years, Quidditch had gone from being a childish dream to a massive part of her life. If she was on the verge of losing it, she was also about to lose a part of herself. Frankly, she didn’t know what she would do with her life if she truly had lost her ability to play.
Practise went badly again. Gemma Rosenberry tried very hard to encourage Ginny whenever she made a mistake, but Gwenog Jones was clearly annoyed only ten minutes in, and Ginny couldn’t help but notice the looks that her captain exchanged with Darren Weinhold, who was on the ground with Oliver Wood, watching the practice without interfering much, as usual.
Just like the day before, though Ginny only wanted to have a shower and go home, someone stopped her on the way back to the dressing room after practice by grabbing her arm tightly, making it physically unable for her to keep walking.
“Hey, Ginny… can I talk to you?”
She turned around to face Oliver, who was smiling half-heartedly at her, something that looked like a mixture of pity and guilt swimming in his brown eyes.
“What’s up?” she said tiredly.
Oliver took a deep breath and watched as a couple of other players walked passed them. Once they were all out of earshot, he led her to a bench nearby and motioned for her to sit down. As she did so, Ginny felt a shot of pain in her head, like someone had reached into her skull and was squeezing her brain with rough hands, trying to compress it into something smaller.
“I, er… I just wanted to know how you’re feeling,” said Oliver, sinking down next to her. “You don’t really seem like yourself lately.”
Ginny lifted her eyes to his, and suddenly she remembered how she had promised him over and over not to blow her chance; that he would have given anything to be in her shoes, and that he wouldn’t have messed it up if he had been. To her mortification, the thought alone made her burst into tears.
“I don’t know what’s wrong with me, Oliver,” she sniffed. “I just can’t seem to… to do things on that pitch that have always just come naturally to me. And I might be kicked off the national team before I’ve played a real game, and if I keep playing like this I bet Weinhold will have to break our contract too–“
“Ginny,” interrupted Oliver. “I wish I didn’t have to tell you this, but I recognize your symptoms.”
“What do you mean?” asked Ginny, tears still streaming down her reddened cheeks.
“You keep rubbing your temples, which makes me think you’ve got a headache,” said Oliver. “You can’t keep up with the speed out there. You get exhausted from things that used to be easy for you.”
“Yeah… so what are you saying?”
“I’m saying that’s exactly what I had after my head injury.”
Ginny stared at him, her face blank. “But – I didn’t hurt my head.”
“The finale,” said Oliver sadly, “when Culbert threw his bat at you. Ginny, you were knocked off your broom, hit the goal post, and fell sixty feet to the ground. I know you only complained about your ribs, but sometimes when you hurt your head, you don’t feel it until much later.”
He might as well have punched her in the stomach.
“Are you saying I might never be able to play again?”
“You might,” said Oliver hastily. “But you need to see a Healer, Gin. Maybe it’s not as bad as my injury. They might be able to make it better – preferably before you get kicked off either team.”
Romania, Ron thought as he turned his face up towards the burning sun, had been a brilliant choice for a holiday destination. He was walking down the main road of the village Charlie lived in, taking in the stunning sight of the mountains in the background, the cute little houses in bright colours with thatched roofs, and the church marking the end of the street, its tower stretching proudly towards the clear sky.
Charlie was currently sporting a large bandage around his upper arm, but had shrugged it off as a “tiny burn” when Hermione had gasped at the sight. Now, he was walking determinedly in between his brother and sister-in-law, carrying Hermione’s little suitcase in one hand, and clasping two photographs of little Freddie that they had brought him in the other.
“So tell me again why they made two people who cannot stand each other godparents to this poor kid?” he said, waving the photographs in front of Ron’s face.
“Beats me,” said Ron, and Hermione let out a sigh.
“I think I have an idea,” she said impatiently. “I mean, Lee was probably freaking out about Katie being pregnant and the idea of being a father. She obviously doesn’t seem to think that he’ll be very good at it. So George and Angelina wanted to show them both that they believe in him – they are actually trusting him with their child, if anything were to happen to them.”
“Yeah, but... how are they going to look after Freddie,” Ron said, “if they don’t get along?”
“They’re going to do it with their baby, once it’s born,” Hermione pointed out. “I guess they’re going have to try to be at least civil with each other at some point. Besides, I don’t think George and Angelina could have chosen anyone else. Lee has always been Fred and George’s best mate, hasn’t he? And Katie and Angelina are best friends too.”
“Anyway,” said Charlie, dropping Hermione’s suitcase and making a gesture towards a small, white cottage, partly hidden behind an untamed hedge with pretty, white flowers on every branch. “Bun venit to my home.”
There was only time for a quick tour – not that they could have taken much longer, given the humble size of the place – before it was time to head to the mountains. Charlie took them to a house only a few minutes down the road, where they met his colleague Polly, a pretty woman in her early thirties, with curly, black hair and eyes so turquoise that Ron couldn’t help but think of them as two small, round swimming pools. They Apparated from her house; Charlie took Ron, and Hermione held onto Polly’s arm, as neither one of the guests knew the place they were going to.
The Dragon Sanctuary was situated in the mountains – or rather, as Charlie explained, the volcano area – of the Călimani National Park. “They’re not active anymore,” he explained as he saw the worried look on his brother’s face at hearing this information, and Polly chuckled and flung an arm around Charlie’s shoulders.
“A pity, really,” she said. “It would have been a great cover for all the fire and smoke up here.”
“Yeah,” Charlie agreed. “Muggles blame it on forest fires instead.”
Hermione and Ron, who had just regained their balance after the uncomfortable trip, both straightened up to look at their surroundings. The view was magnificent – they were on top of one of the volcanoes, looking out over an impressive mountain range completely covered in green. Far below where they were standing, in what must have once been the crater, two enormous dragons were sleeping, chains wrapped around their necks and legs. Their skin was a beautiful green that almost made them blend in with the background, and two long horns shot out from both their foreheads, glittering like gold in the sun.
“They’re our newest arrivals,” said Polly, “so we’ve got to keep them tied up for a while.”
“It feels horrible, seeing them like that,” Charlie admitted, “but they’d go mental if we let them loose now. Those horns may be pretty, but they can do some serious damage. Romanian Longhorns,” he explained, “native. They were on the verge of dying out a while back but we’ve been breeding them here for years now, and these two were found in the wild just last week.”
“Why did you bring them here?” asked Hermione, stretching her neck but carefully avoiding stepping any closer to the Longhorns.
“They were dwelling really close to a Muggle village,” Charlie explained, “so we couldn’t risk leaving them. They won’t be tied up forever, though. See that? That’s how I like my dragons.”
He pointed to the sky, and Ron and Hermione lifted their heads. The large, undeniable shape of a dragon was just appearing over one of the mountaintops, its wings impressively wide even from such distance. Ron instinctively stepped closer to Charlie.
“What if it flies straight to us?” he said, his voice a little more high-pitched than he would have liked.
“Most of them have learned to keep away from the buildings here,” Charlie said, but Ron glanced at the bandage on his arm and stuck his hand into his pocket to wrap his fingers around his wand, just in case.
“All right, then,” said Polly, pulling on a pair of thick gloves and smiling one last time at Charlie and his visitors. “I’d better go check on those eggs. It was really nice to meet you both. I’m sure I’ll run into you again before you leave.”
“Nice to meet you too,” said Hermione cheerfully, and Ron waved as the woman hurried into the largest of the buildings behind them. As soon as she was out of sight, Hermione nudged Charlie in the side, smiling widely. “She’s cute, isn’t she?”
Charlie flinched before smiling back. “Yeah, sure. I guess.”
Ron was grinning too, now. “You should ask her out!” he said.
His brother shrugged. “Yeah, maybe… I don’t know.”
Just then, one of the Romanian Longhorns snorted in his sleep, causing a flame to burst out from one of his giant nostrils. Ron jumped backwards and Hermione took a few unsure steps in the opposite direction, making Charlie shake his head and raise his eyebrows.
“Hm,” he said. “Maybe you’d rather go look at the baby dragons first? The youngest one only breathes smoke so far – no fire to worry about there.”
They spent a wonderful, yet – especially for Ron – rather nervewracking, day at the Sanctuary. Before they knew it, the sun had begun to set, most of the dragonologists were leaving, and more and more dragons appeared in the sky; Charlie said they tended to stay closer to the Sanctuary at night. Polly came back out and offered to help take them home – Hermione accepted, saying that she might as well start dinner while Ron and Charlie finished up there, and so a little while later, the two Weasley brothers found themselves alone outside the main building. Charlie mumbled an incarnation that made the doors lock with a click, and then he turned to Ron, who held out his arm, ready to be Apparated back to his brother’s house.
“Actually,” Charlie said, looking at Ron’s arm and smiling. “I want to show you something before we leave.”
It was completely dark now, save for the half moon and a few odd stars high above their heads, but the air was still warm, and Ron wouldn’t have minded a few refreshing gusts as he hurried after Charlie, who had begun climbing up the hill in between the two buildings. After only a few minutes, Ron’s heart was beating hard in his chest, and he sighed in relief when his older brother finally stopped and turned around, the grin on his face barely visible in the dusk.
They sank into the grass on top of the hill, looking out over the gigantic cages down in the valley. Every now and then, a breath of fire lit up the dark, or a beam of sparks shot out from a dragon’s nostrils, glittering beautifully as they fell to the ground and died out again.
“Wow,” Ron whispered. “This looks amazing.”
“Doesn’t it?” agreed his brother. “I like to come up here after work sometimes. It’s a good place to just sit in silence.”
And that’s what they did for the next couple of minutes. Ron let his eyes sweep over the valley and the mountains towering up like a giant wall behind; he only just managed to make out the silhouettes of the mountaintops against the black sky.
“I don’t think I’ll ask Polly out,” said Charlie suddenly, another streak of fire down below lighting up his face momentarily.
“Yeah, it might get weird at work,” Ron agreed. “If it doesn’t work out, I mean.”
“No, it’s not…” Charlie paused, and Ron glanced towards him, but somehow got the sense that Charlie didn’t want to be looked at just then. So instead, he turned his head forwards and waited for another dragon’s snoring to make sparks fly. “I'm an aromantic asexual, Ron,” Charlie continued. “I’m not going to ask Polly out, because I’m not attracted to her. I’m not attracted to anyone.”
Now, Ron couldn’t keep from looking at his older brother. “What do you mean you’re not…? Maybe there’s no one you fancy right now, but they’ll come along,” he said, trying to sound reassuring.
“No, you don’t understand,” said Charlie sternly. “I’m asexual. It’s a sexual orientation. I read about it on this Muggle machine – what are they called again? Something about spiders…”
“The Web?” suggested Ron weakly.
“Yes, the Web! And I learned that it’s a thing; there are lots of people like me.”
“Charlie,” said Ron cautiously, “don’t you think you just haven’t met the right person yet? I mean, once you meet the right woman – or man, if that’s what you prefer–“
“No,” Charlie interrupted. Even in the dark, Ron could tell that his brother’s cheeks had gone bright red. “I’m not sexually attracted to either gender.”
“But you had girlfriends! When we grew up, you had more girlfriends than any of us…”
Charlie took a deep breath. “Just try to imagine what it was like,” he said calmly. “I mean, it was fine when we were younger, because all little kids find the idea of love and kissing and stuff gross, you know? Then Bill started talking about girls, and not long after my classmates did too… When even Percy confessed to having a crush one summer after Fred and George tantalised him for hours… I was starting to think there was something wrong with me. So I decided that if I kissed enough girls, maybe I’d finally start to like it.”
“But have you ever… I mean, did you at least try…?”
“Kind of… Remember Imogen, that really tall, dark-haired girl I went out with one summer? I started thinking that sleeping with a girl might help, so I went to her place one day and decided we should finally do it… But I couldn’t go through with it. She was so offended that she broke up with me right then and there. All those years, I still couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me. And Mum – bless her, she couldn’t know – but she just made it worse with her never-ending questions. When are you going to settle down, Charlie? Isn’t it time you found someone? Look at Bill; he’s got two beautiful children! Don’t you want that? Charlie, even Ginny is married now, when is it going to be your turn? Charlie, isn’t it time you gave up on dragons and focused on finding yourself a wife?”
Ron nodded, and they fell silent again. They remained that way for a long time, just looking out over the cages and the odd dragon flying across the mountain range beyond them. Finally, once everything Charlie had said had finally sunk in, Ron placed his hand on his brother’s shoulder and cleared his throat.
“I think Mum just doesn’t want you to be alone,” he said. “But if you told her–“
“I will,” said Charlie quickly. “Some day soon. It’s just… even if she’ll accept it, it’s still going to break her heart. I know how badly she wants me to have kids, and a wedding…”
“She thinks she wants that,” Ron nodded. “But only because she thinks it’s the only thing that would truly make you happy. But it’s okay if it’s not, you know. It’s not for everyone, I guess.”
Charlie nodded and stood up, reaching out his hand to pull Ron to his feet.
“Have you told anyone else in the family about this?” asked Ron, and Charlie shook his head.
“I almost told Bill the night before his wedding,” he said, “but I chickened out. He kept talking about how he couldn’t wait for me to find a girl who made me feel like Fleur made him feel, and that he’d never forgive me if I didn’t make him best man for the wedding. But I didn’t even know the word asexual back then – I still just thought I was weird.”
They had started walking back towards the Apparation spot, the air still warm but more comfortably so than the heat they had experienced earlier in the day.
“I’m sorry,” Ron said as they passed the office, which was dark and locked up now. “I’m sorry you had to feel that way. I’m glad you told me.”
“Yeah,” Charlie replied. “It’s okay now, though. I mean, I know there’s nothing wrong with me now. I’m just a little different from most people. Everyone here knows – it was Polly, actually, who helped me figure it out. Her brother’s a Squib and he helped me look it up on that Web thing.”
His left arm locked with Ron’s, Charlie then raised his right hand and closed his eyes, ready to Apparate. Bare moments later, he reached forwards to open the gate to his little garden, letting Ron in first and then following him up to the door. Through the kitchen window, they could see Hermione bent over the stove, tasting the content of a large, steaming pot, scratching her chin, and reaching for the pepper mill. As if on queue, both Ron and Charlie’s stomachs started growling, and they both laughed as Ron stepped forwards to open the front door.
He paused in the middle of the movement, and turned around to look back at Charlie. “We don’t have to tell Hermione,” he said. “Unless you want to.”
“You don’t have to lie to her about it,” Charlie said with a shrug. “I just… I want to tell Mum before I let everyone else know.”
“That’s cool,” said Ron. “And just so you know, you don’t have to worry about it for a second. They’re all going to be happy for you. It’s not like anything is going to change – except Mum might stop nagging you about marriage and kids. Now that I think about it, you might be better off than all of us…”
Bursting into laughter again, the two men entered the little house and were met by the very appealing smell of lamb chops, and a smiling Hermione.
“Just in time, boys,” she said, removing an orange oven mitt from her right hand. “I hope you’re hungry!”
Bun venit is Romanian for welcome.
A/N: Thank you again for reading and reviewing this story. As you (hopefully) know by now, it really does mean the world to me.
I did a little research on asexuality before writing this. I don't have any real-life experience of it but lots of people had shared their stories online, and they were my inspiration for what both Ron and Charlie had to say about it. It's something that gets very little attention in popular culture and though JKR never said straight out that Charlie was asexual, it's my interpretation of the whole "more interested in dragons than women" comment. Please, share your thoughts with about it if you have a minute. I would love to hear them.
Oh, and I don't know if you're aware of it, but HPFF have a fundraising going on this month (go to the homepage to read about it). I am definitely going to donate, and even if you can't give much I really urge you all to do the same, as it will keep this site going and allow us to keep sharing our stories with each other.
Thank you again for being the most amazing readers in the world xxx