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One Impossible Dragon Keeper by mrsteddylupin
Chapter 11 : Flying
 
Rating: 15+Chapter Reviews: 3


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Those first few steps the next day were freedom. It was excruciatingly tempting to burst flat out into a sprint, to work the muscles that had, for too long, lain dormant, but I resisted; settling instead for a few shaky steps, the extent of what my long-neglected limbs could manage.

Slowly, much too slowly for my taste, but Charlie’s hand at the small of my back prevented me from taking off at full charge, I walked out of my tent and down to the center of camp.

“Well, girlie.” Serban gave me a lopsided grin, the scar down the side of his face strikingly visible. “I guess you’ll be joining the ranks of the eternally scarred.”

“Who isn’t scarred here?” I asked, looking around at the ranks of scarred men around me.

“Good point.” He replied, laughing. I couldn’t help but notice that, as I walked on, the guys parted surreptitiously so that I had an unheeded path to the table of food.

If I’d have known that a gruesome battle wound was all it took to earn their respect outright, I would have thrown myself headfirst straight into the path of a pissed Welsh Green. Wait, I did do that. Still, it was great to know that I’d finally earned my stripes and was welcomed among the fiercest group of men I’d ever encountered.

“So, Charlie,” I started as we walked, with his arm still hovering behind my spine in case my legs gave way, to the Rehabilitation Center. “What’s on the agenda for today?”

“You will be taking it easy,” He said as he grabbed two plates and started piling them with food.

“What do you mean, ‘taking it easy’?” I asked, staring down at the table.

“Bacon?” Was his only reply.

“Please,” I answered. “What do you mean, taking it easy?” I repeated with slightly more force. “Charlie, I’ve already been cooped up inside of that bloody tent for days. I-“

“Ramsey,” Charlie stopped, holding a metal serving spoon, a bit of scrambled egg still on the end. “You.” He pointed at me with the spoon. “Are not ready to go back to work.” He put the utensil back in the bowl, and we moved on.

“Yes, I am!” I exclaimed. “Costache said-“

“Costache said that you had to stay in bed until the end of the week. You are now out of bed. Why are you complaining?”

“I- you- damn- Charlie!” I protested, spluttering. It was too unfair. I felt fine. I was dying of boredom. “I want to work!”

“You’ve been working.” He reminded me.

“I want real work!” I specified. “Paperwork is not real work.”

“Fine.” Charlie agreed and steered me toward the half-logs that were our benches. “You want real work. The only thing that doesn’t require walking or running, that isn’t paperwork is flying.”

“Flying.” I repeated softly, looking down at the plate of food Charlie had just handed me.

“Yeah,” He repeated, looking at me. “Flying.”

“Which would complicate things a bit, as I’m terrified of brooms.”

“Yes, that would make this endeavor a little difficult.” He agreed, accepting a cup of black coffee from Andrew, who sat down next to him.

“What’s difficult?” Andrew piped in, voice muffled through the mouthful of food.

“Ramsey.” Charlie answered abruptly, grinning.

“Hey!” I protested, elbowing his side, balancing my plate on my knees. “Not fair! I just want to do something!”

“You do paperwork.” Charlie said, shrugging his shoulders. “Sorting papers constitutes doing something. But, I know what you mean.”

“She could do hatching,” Ciprian suggested, sitting down next to me, giving me a one-armed hug.

“Luca’s group has that covered today.” Charlie retorted, briefly glaring at Ciprian as he removed his arm from my shoulders.

She could go back to work because she is fine.” I rolled my eyes, irritated at their complete inability to realize that all I wanted to do was get back on my feet, pardon the pun.

“Costache could have something for her up at the main office.” Andrew speculated, the three of them completely oblivious to my outburst.

“She doesn’t want more paperwork.” Charlie responded, shrugging his shoulders.

“Are you kidding me?” I exclaimed incredulously, startling both Ciprian and Andrew. Charlie, for his part, stifled a laugh, looking down at his plate.

“What?” Andrew asked, exchanging an utterly confused look with Ciprian.

“I am right here!” I declared, glaring at the pair of them, and at Charlie, whose mirth was growing less and less contained.

“Just trying to help,” Ciprian muttered.

“Ileana, we’ll put you on border patrol, north end.” Charlie said suddenly, looking up at me, eyebrows raised challengingly

I gaped, my mouth opened and closed as I stared at him, my cheeks flushing in embarrassment. I couldn’t think of anything to say, but my chagrin fused into fury. How dare he just casually suggest that I just go hop on a broom? How dare he just throw a suggestion like that out there, knowing full well that I couldn’t save face and ignore what he’d just said. It was a perfectly legitimate idea, one that was a perfect solution to my bitching. It also happened to be the one answer that I refused to accept.

“If looks could kill,” Ciprian stage-whispered to Andrew, and the two of them guffawed quietly. If looks could kill. They had no idea.

“Shut up, you too.” Charlie whacked both of them on the head in quick succession. “Why not, Ramsey?” He looked me in the eye, daring me to refuse.

As much as it terrified me, I couldn’t say no to what he’d suggested. However, I couldn’t willingly acquiesce, either- my fear of flying was too far entrenched.

“I-I,” I faltered, glaring daggers at him, feeling completely disgusted with myself. Suddenly, I heard Jenica’s little voice in my head,

Do it, Ileana! It’s an adventure!”

It’s an adventure. She was right. I couldn’t believe that the ever-ready-for-adventure Ileana Ramsey was about to pass up an opportunity for adrenaline, a chance to prove someone wrong.

“I’ll do it.” I whispered, looking at Charlie. I saw the flash of victory flit across his face, and I realized that he had done all of that on purpose. Just to get his way. Or maybe to help me find mine.

“Excellent.” Charlie said, standing up suddenly, knocking Andrew backward, off the log, and offering me his hand. “Let’s go get you a broom. I don’t reckon you’ve got one. Do you?”

“No, I don’t.” I responded, smiling at him in spite of myself. God, I wanted to be mad at him; I want to scream and swear at Charlie for putting me in this position, but I couldn’t. And I knew that I couldn’t because I was grateful. I was really grateful that somehow, some way, Charlie had found a way to get through to me, to get inside my head and help bring me back.

“Well, then,” He said, tightening his grasp around my waist as we started up the hill to the broom-shed. “I think that we have a fairly decent selection in the shed by the kitchens up at the east end, so,”

“Okay,” I answered, letting him bear most of my weight as we trudged to the north end of camp. I was silent, furiously trying to remember everything I’d learned about riding brooms. I made the Gryffindor Quidditch Team my second year, playing chaser. In hindsight, I’m really glad that I wasn’t a beater, as I would have clobbered Charlie, who was the five-time Quidditch Cup winner, as much as I possibly could. After Jenica died, though, I quit the team and never looked back. Until now, that is, when I found myself looking back my first flying lesson.

My dad was holding a training broom in one of his big hands, making it look like a mere twig.

“Pretend it’s a dragon.” He said, laughter resonating deep in his chest.

“Give me dragon!” I said, reaching for the broom with my four year-old hand. He threw his head back with mirth, holding the broomstick just out of my reach.

“Magic word?” He asked, picking me up with the other hand, and hoisted me in the air so I was reaching for broom four and a half feet off of the ground.

“Please?” I tried, my efforts on reaching, what was in my mind, a ferocious and terrifying dragon I was about to master.

“Go!” He put the broom directly underneath me, and let go.

“Whee!” I yelled as I zoomed away, at an astonishing altitude of four feet, and a lightning speed of five and a half miles an hour. It was amazing.

“Weight forward, kick off hard, watch the sun,”

“Ramsey.”

“What?” I looked at Charlie, who was staring at me like I was a madwoman, which, now I think about it, isn’t too far from the truth.

“Are you taking to yourself?” He asked humorously, an eyebrow raised.

“No.” I answered, turning away so he would see the blush that covered my stupid, traitorous cheeks.

“You were!” He said gleefully, playfully poking my side.

“So what?” I said defensively, mentally cataloguing all the things I remembered about riding brooms. God, it was a pitifully inadequate list. Or so I thought.

“It’s okay!” He said, hugging my shoulders as we walked toward the now-visible broom shed. “No need to freak out!”

“I wasn’t.” I mumbled shamefacedly.

“Sure.” He said skeptically, flashing his dimple. That stupid, stupid dimple! How dare he be so adorable? It was criminal.

“Are you going to open the broom shed, or just stand here and lambast me?” I asked.

“Patience, patience!” He said, laughing, and opened the broom shed with a flick of his wand. He stepped in the small cabin and rummaged around amongst the rows of brooms. “Any preference? We’ve got pretty much anything pre 1990.”

“No, I don’t care.” I said, drumming my fingers against the bandage on my leg, trying to still the nerves that raced through my entire body. “Whatever’s fine,”

“Here you go, Ramsey.” Charlie walked out of the shed and handed me a polished Nimbus 1988. “It’s not the newest model, or anything, but she’s pretty damn stable.”

“Too late to back out now, I guess.” I gave a shaky laugh that I wish could have at least sounded braver than I felt.

“No, it’s not.” His dark blue eyes held me breathless. “If you really don’t want to get back on a broom, you don’t have to.”

I made an executive decision. “I’ll do it.” I said as I took the broom from him.

“Alright!” He grinned at me challengingly. He grabbed his broom from the rack- a gorgeous comet 280, obviously worn, yet still in pristine condition- and locked the shed behind him with a casual wave of his wand.

“Remember,” He started, swinging his leg over the side, mounting the broom. “Stay low to the handle, lean into the wind to keep your balance.”

“Charlie, I know.” I told him cheekily, swinging my leg over the back and gripping the handle tightly.

“Just checking.” He laughed and ran his hand through his dark red hair.

“Talking to you, I never would have guessed that you used to be Quidditch Captain, or anything.” I said drolly, arching an eyebrow.

He rolled his eyes. “Weird, right?” He asked, “Oh, and remember, watch out for the,”

“Quit stalling!” I laughed, cutting him off, kicking off hard from the ground, soaring above the trees into the clear, blue sky.

“Dragons!” I heard him yell from behind me as he kicked off as well.

“Whoo!” I screamed in exhilaration as I looked down at the valley below me.

“Doing alright?” Charlie asked, flying up beside me, handling the broom masterfully and controlling it with virtually a touch of a finger.

“Yeah,” I answered, rocking unsteadily a little as a gust of wind all but unseated me.

“Shift your weight forward.” He coached, reaching out an arm and gently pushing my back closer to the handle. “It moves your center of gravity and will stop the rocking.”

I did as instructed and noticed an instant stop in the tremors.

“Thanks,” I said, slowing to a stop over the lake, hovering 150 feet in the air.

“That’s it.” He said, slowing behind me. “Pull up on the handle gently. No, straight up, straight up, hold on. There you go!”

I let out a shaky breath, still low to the handle, gripping it so tightly that my knuckles were white.

“Easy,” He laughed, prying my stiff fingers from the broom. “You’re not trying to break it- are you?”

“No,” I said, keeping one hand on the broom, but letting Charlie hold the other one, his big strong fingers reassuring around mine.

“Hey,”

I looked at him and was caught slightly off guard at how ridiculously gorgeous he was: his hair was disheveled from the wind; his blue eyes sparkled in the sunlight, almost as dazzling as his smile.

“You’re on a broom.” He pointed out, grinning, his dimple finishing off the completely disarming effect.

I giggled and looked out over the grounds. “So I am.”

“How does it feel?” He asked.

“Freaking terrifying.” I replied immediately.

“Really?” He was instantly all concern.

“Yeah.” I answered. “But in a good way - like skiing, or cliff-diving, or –“

“Being with you?” He offered, an eyebrow raised questioningly. His honesty and openness were disarming and utterly infectious.

“Yeah, being with you.” I admitted softly, blushing (Why am I always blushing??)

With that admission came a sense of relief. Finally, I was able to stop lying to myself and pretending that I didn’t like Charlie Weasley. Because I did. A lot. I was beginning to suspect that I always had; I always had wanted to be accepted by him, and when he shut me down, I guess I shrugged it off by pretending that I didn’t care.

Granted, being around him now made me dizzy, and about twenty-seven different kinds of confused, but I didn’t want to stay away. Hell, I didn’t even want to try. If I was being truly honest, all I wanted to do (almost as much as riding a dragon) was to spend as much time with him as possible.

“Let’s practice some more.” Charlie said, the grin on his face no doubt due to my earlier admission. “Fly to me.” He sped off through the air, moving effortlessly, controlling the broom with the slightest shift of his body; a movement so small it was almost imperceptible, swinging around to stop, facing me a hundred yards away.

I leaned forward, holding on tightly to the handle as I hesitantly sped forward. Charlie never took his eyes off of mine as I neared him. I could almost hear him urging me on in my head.

Suddenly, a huge gust of wind blew in from out of nowhere, forcing me sideways and sharply to the right. In a second, my mind went blank as the panic closed in. “Don’t let go don’t let go don’t let go,” I chanted, trying to lift the fog that clouded my thoughts.

“Ileana, swing your torso.” I heard Charlie’s voice, full of worry, yet full of power. He knew what to do. I tried to do as he’d coached, but the wind swung me right back with such force that I almost let go. All I could do was force myself to hold on through the approaching storm that seemed to have appeared out of nowhere.

Somehow, I managed to clear my head, to drown out the wind and Charlie’s yelling as he sped toward me. On instinct, I realized that I’d rolled from one direction, and to land back on top, I’d have to continue the motion. With a deep breath, I let the tension from my body release and turned upside down. With a yell of determination as cold, fat raindrops splashed onto my cheeks, I clung to the broom and managed to right myself just as Charlie stopped beside me, gray t-shirt sticking to him as the rain pelted us.

“That’s my girl!” He yelled, gripping my shoulder and pressing me toward him so that my head rested on his strong chest.

“Can we fly down now?” I asked, shaky yet utterly exhilarated.

“Yeah, it’s getting a little mental out here.” He furrowed his brows, scanning the horizon. I followed is gaze and could barely make out shadowy figures flying up into the mountains.

“What was that?” I asked, accelerating to catch up to Charlie, who had suddenly flown in the direction of the disappearing figures. He stopped, straining to see through the pouring, tumultuous rain.

“Dunno.” He lied unconvincingly.

“Bullshit.” I retorted as we started to descend.

“Need to report this to Costache.” He said, a muscle twitching in his strong jaw as he sped toward the ground, touching down and swiftly dismounting. I followed, significantly less gracefully.

“Why didn’t we just fly there?” I asked as he opened the broom shed and grabbed my broom, putting it on a high wooden shelf with several others.

“Don’t wanna be up in the air now.” Was his gruff reply as he shut the door behind him, “Especially if that was what I think it was.”

“Charlie, what is going on?” I asked, frustrated as we started briskly walking back to camp, passing several tamers sprinting through the woods with jackets or drenched newspapers over the heads, hurrying to get to their destinations.

Charlie stopped under the cover of a large, sweeping beech tree. He put his big, strong hands on my shoulders and turned me to face him, rain-streaked face completely serious

“There have been reports,” He started, voice low with intensity, “Recently, in the past six months, of death-eaters raiding dragon protection centers, places like this, and stealing the eggs or young adults capable of reproducing, and breeding them.” His voice was hard as flint, and sparks seemed to shoot from his deep blue eyes in anger.

“They take these dragons,” He continued, still holding my shoulders tightly through my soaked shirt. “And abuse them, mistreat them, shape them to do whatever the death-eaters want them to do.

“They’re reportedly being used to intimidate, even to torture and kill.” I felt my blood turn to ice, completely freeze in my veins as I forced back tears at the knowledge that somebody would be capable of doing something so cruel, so inhuman, so horrible.

“Our first suspicion that we were being targeted was when we saw that Herbidean Black last month, because they’re native to-“

“Scotland.” I finished for him, fists balled at my sides as I let my newfound knowledge wash over me.

“We’ve tried to keep this quiet, until we were sure, but now that we’ve seen their patrol.”

“We don’t know it was them,” I said slowly, trying to calm him down, even if I knew the words I was saying were lies.

“Who else would patrol our Protection Center, our borders, on brooms in the rain?”

“The Romanian ministry?” I offered, knowing it was a stupid suggestion.

“No,” He shook his head. “They always tell us before they hold an inspection.”

“Then we probably should go,” I started to turn away, but was stopped as Charlie grabbed my hand, swinging me around so I was facing him again, this time much closer: barely a breath of space between us.

“Hold on.” He said, grinning down at me, his smile only a little strained, his eyes not quite surrendering their anger, though it was obvious he was making the effort.

“What?” I asked, looking up at him, trying to un-knit my eyebrows, a habit that I had whenever I was genuinely worried about something. My mother was convinced I’d have a permanent frown-line before I turned thirty.

You rode a broom,” He said, running his hands up and down my arms in congratulations.
            “You’re right.” I said, giddy. The adrenaline rush hit me, and on impulse I closed the space between us. He moved a stray lock of hair out of my face, and I couldn’t help it, I shivered.

“You cold?” He asked, noticing the slight tremor that ran through my body at his touch.

“No.” I answered softly, transfixed by his mouth as it curved into a little half smile.

If I had been cold, the kiss he pressed to my lips cured all of that. Lightning struck me, or so I thought: my brain fried on impact, and electrically charged plasma was the only logical explanation. Every particle in my body instantly hummed to life as I pulled him closer, tugging him down to me by the back of his neck.

He growled, a low, barbaric sound resonating from deep in his throat, and dammit, I was a goner. I made absolutely no protest as he gently bit my lower lip and his tongue coaxed my mouth open. His hands tangled in my hair, deftly taking down my braid and running his fingers through the mass of it.

This kiss was different. There was no doubt about it. Gone were the gentleness, the teasing, the leisure. This was a kiss of fire: a fierce embrace of taking, claiming, of giving everything and expecting no less in return. I gave it all.

Sparing nothing, saving nothing, I wound my hands up around his neck and scratched my nails down his shoulders as he kissed a hot trail down my throat and back up again, plundering my mouth with his tongue.

“I want,” I gasped, “Your shirt,” grabbing the hem of it, “Off,” his mouth gloriously assaulted mine and I forgot what I was saying. Momentarily.

“Now.” I finished, yet pulled him closer as he tried to step back. “No.” I refused to let him go, and nipped at his bottom lip to prove my point.

“Ramsey,” His dark blue eyes were intense with passion. “Yours too.” He tugged it over his broad shoulders and let it fall onto the damp ground. My heart was hammering as I swallowed what seemed to be an entire flock of butterflies.

His stare scorched as he took a slow step back toward me. Suddenly feeling ridiculously modest, I dropped my gaze and instantly found his broad chest, the long pale scar above his heart vivid against the freckled expanse of his chest.

“Sweet Merlin,” I whispered, in awe of him.

Charlie put his arms around my waist and lowered his mouth to mine, once again attacking all of my senses simultaneously. His hands lifted the bottom of my shirt and slid under it, running up and down the sides of my torso.

Breaking away from his mouth with some effort, I lowered my lips to that scar, unable to stop myself, getting a thrill when I felt his hand freeze on my lower back and every muscle in his body tense.

“Do you enjoy shredding my self-control?” I looked up to find his jaw clenched and his eyes steeled, staring straight ahead.

In response, I ran my hands down his spine.

I barely had time to think before I found myself backed up against the rough bark of the tree trunk, lifted clear off the ground by the force with which he’d moved me, held suspended in the air with his hands on my hips.

“I’ll take that as a yes.” He growled, and lowered me to the ground, but trapped my head with his hands on either side, gripping the bark.

Right before his lips touched mine, a thought visibly flickered across his face.

“Didn’t we have to go to Costache about something?” he asked, backing away slightly.

“Later,” I said, completely unwilling to let him go.

“But,” He started, lips grazing my jaw, the vibration of his voice giving me chills.

“Not important,” I assured him forcefully, wrapping my un-bandaged leg around him, pulling him closer.

He gave a low, dangerous laugh and met me in a frantic, brain-melting, open-mouthed kiss.

“Stupid clothes,” I managed, trying to muster the will to remove my hands from his magnificent torso and take my shirt off.

“Let me.” His eyes never left mine as he peeled away my rain-soaked, clinging t-shirt. Only when the garment was in his hand did he look down.

Apparently, no words were needed. The savage, triumphant, and utterly masculine grin on his face was all that was needed to describe his thoughts. It didn’t matter that my bra wasn’t made up of pink lace and frills, or that I was wearing baggy trousers and no makeup.

 “You’re right.” He whispered, teeth tugging on my earlobe as his hands worked their way down my back and sides, exploring, teasing. “Costache can wait.”

“Wait.” In between the bursts of fire that zoomed through my abdomen, our earlier, intense conversation came back to me in fragments.

“What?” He asked innocently as he slid his tongue underneath my bra strap, caressing my shoulder with his lips.

“The dragons.”

“Dragons?”

“Death Eaters,” I corrected myself breathlessly.

“They can wait.” He nuzzled my neck and I almost believed him. Almost.

“Charlie,” I giggled, squirming playfully in his arms. “Really,”

“But,” He began, still leaving kisses anywhere he could reach. Damn, the man is persuasive.

“Now.” I said, bringing his face up so I could kiss him.

With difficulty, we both broke away, panting, eyes hazy and unfocused. He rested his forehead against mine as we let our pulses slowly return to normal.

“We probably should go now.” He said and his dimple flashed.

“Probably,” I leaned back against the tree, and he slowly let me go.

“Why is it so hard to let you go?” He asked, groaning, pulling me to him once again and planting a soft kiss on my forehead.

“We’ll work that out later.” I forced myself to switch back to business mode, trying to clear my foggy, thoroughly kissed head. I bent down to pick up my shirt and came up to find Charlie right behind me, hands encircling my hips.

“Charlie,” I started. I would have rolled my eyes at his pitifully one-tracked, male mind, but I couldn’t; it didn’t matter that I’d just been half-clothed, backed up against a tree, I wanted to kiss him again. But he surprised me, saying,

“Calm down, I’m just going to braid your hair.”

“Charlie Weasley, infamous Dragon Tamer, a secret master at hair-braiding?” I teased, giggling.

“Shut up.” He said playfully, nipping at my ear. “I used to braid my sister’s hair when we were younger.”

“I forgot you had a sister!” I said, closing my eyes as he twisted my hair back into its plait. “How old is she now?”

“Fifteen.” He answered, “God, it makes me feel old, just thinking about it.”

I laughed, “Yeah, I know. In my mind, I think I’m still 17, not about to turn 23.”

“What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done for your birthday?” He asked abruptly, smoothing my hair somewhat expertly.

“Hmm,” I said, thinking. “That’s a good question, there’ve been so many. What about you?”

“I asked you first.”

“How old are you?”

“Six, I think.” He said petulantly.

“Fine.” This time, I did roll my eyes. “The year I turned 16 – I think it was 16 – I stole my mom’s magic carpet. It sucks that they’re outlawed now in Romania, too. Anyway, I flew it halfway to Bulgaria to see my cousin Dorina, who was in her last year of school on the border. It was five in the morning by the time I got back. God, my mom was so mad! But, it was worth it.”

Charlie finished my braid and backed away, giving me time to untangle my shirt and pull it back on as he said, “That’s pretty good.” He picked up his shirt from the damp ground, dusting it off and pulling it over his head. I forced my eyes to look away; I was way too easily transfixed by the ripple of his muscles as he moved.

“I remember,” He continued, running a hand through his cropped hair, “My mum flipped out when I drove dad’s flying car to Brighton to see the Quills for my 13th birthday.” I let out a disbelieving snort of laughter.

“No way!” I said, letting him once again bear my weight as we started off through the woods to camp.

“Why don’t you believe me?” He grinned. “Mum was livid: ‘Charles Arthur Weasley, you could have died! Worse, you could have been seen!’” He broke off his high-pitched imitation, chuckling. “Honestly, I think Dad was just pleased I got his car back safely.”

“That’s mental!” I laughed, picturing 13-year-old Charlie stumbling out of his dad’s flying car at sunrise, a huge grin spread across his face.

“I was grounded for weeks!” He said, breaking off and waving at a couple of guys as they passed us, jogging through the wet, muddy trail.

“Hey, Charlie, Ileana,” One of the pair, a tall, lean guy named Danial called to us.

“Alright?” Charlie asked, casually, almost instinctively pulling me back out of their way.

“Pretty good.” Danial called over his shoulder as he and Domani sprinted off on the narrow trail.

“Where will Costache be?” I asked, a new sense of urgency creeping into my bones.

“In his office. Most likely,” He said, trying to steer me from my worry. “We’ll take care of it, Ramsey.” He gave my shoulders a friendly, reassuring squeeze.

“What’s the most trouble you’ve ever been in?” I asked, shifting back to the track of our earlier conversation, partly to make our long walk go by more quickly, and partly to learn as much about him as I could.

“I had detention for two weeks fifth year,” He said, shrugging, “but I was a prefect, so I had to at least attempt to control myself.”

“Yeah, you had no problem putting me in detention, though.” I pointed out.

“Ileana, I think you managed to break virtually every rule at Hogwarts.” He retorted. “But, believe me, 6th and 7th years, I almost wanted to assign myself detention to be with you, except for the fact that we couldn’t have a single conversation without wanting to kill each other.”

“Remember when Tonks and a couple other people would throw a topic in the air and watch us argue about it?” I asked. Tonks was one of my good friends at Hogwarts; she was in trouble almost as often as I was. She was in auror training at the Ministry now, and I hadn’t spoken to her in a couple of months.

“Yeah, they got a kick out of it.” He laughed at the memory. “The best entertainment next to Quidditch.”

“With a lot more bloodshed.” I reminded him, thinking of all the times when I would punch him in the face. Wait, those were only in my mind. Damn, I felt stupid.

“You were funny when you got pissed.” He said bluntly, grinning as my fantasy world in which I always kept my cool came crashing down around my shoulders.

“I was not!” I cried indignantly.

“You were!” He maintained and stopped on the trail, “’Charlie!’” He mimicked, “’I’m not letting you walk away with the last word. Come back!’”

I cringed. That was a very real excerpt from an argument we’d had in our fourth year. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” I mumbled, consulting the ground.

“Really?” He asked, amused. “Then why are you looking at the ground and blushing?”

“I’m always blushing.”

“Around me, yeah, you are.”

“That was a bit exaggerated.” I said evasively.

“Not really.” He laughed.

“Well, you were mean!” I said reasonably.

“At least I didn’t try to be bigger than I was.” He shot back, “The way you would yell, you’d think you were about 25 foot tall!”

“You talk rubbish!” I burst out, laughing. “I did not!”

“You absolutely did.” He retorted, shielding his eyes as the drizzle started to come down harder.

“Yeah, well at least I didn’t bring sex into it!” I shot back hotly.

This stopped him, “What the hell does that have to do with anything?”

“The first thing you ever said to me was ‘you’re just a girl.’”

“Ramsey,” Charlie bit back a grin, looking down at me. “I don’t really know how to break this to you, but you are a girl.”

“Not the point.” I said.

“I kissed you,” He reminded me, like I needed reminding. “Multiple times, in large part because you are ‘just a girl.’ A girl I’ve been crazy about for forever.”

I bit my lip and blushed, mollified. “I can’t believe we just argued about arguing.”

Charlie threw his head back and laughed, the deep, rich sound infecting me so before I knew it, I was laughing, too. And not just a flirty giggle, either, but a full out, I’m-laughing-so-hard-I’m crying-and-every-muscle-in-my-abdomen-hurts situation.

“What do you think they’re on about?” I dimly heard Andrew’s bemused voice nearing us.

“No idea,” Came Ciprian’s reply, “But it’s about time.”

“Oi!” Andrew and Ciprian rounded the corner and stopped at the sight of Charlie and I both clutching our sides, hysterical with mirth.

“What’s so funny?” Ciprian asked, bewildered, staring at the two of us like we had completely lost our minds and should be locked up immediately.

“Old times.” Charlie managed, steadying me as I threatened to careen into him.

“Well, then,” Andrew said, eyebrows raised. He turned to me, “Ramsey, Costache wants to see you. Something about making sure you weren’t off doing anything stupid.”

“I think his suspicions were correct.” Ciprian muttered to Andrew, shooting Charlie and me a furtive look.

“Hey!” I said. “Not fair!”

“We were just on our way to see him.” Charlie replied for me, as I was apparently too busy blushing and being tongue-tied to properly respond. “Thanks.”

“I guess we’ll leave you two alone, then.” Andrew said suggestively. “See you at the hatching center at one.” And, chuckling, they started running north, the way from which Charlie and I had just come.

“Why do they always do that?” I rounded on Charlie. “Why do they think that just because we’re alone, we’re snogging, or something?”

“Because we usually are.” He suggested, making it sound more like a question than the blatant statement that it was.

“But how would they know that?” I asked suspiciously, mind going into overdrive. What if someone had seen us? What if rumors were spreading all around camp? What if Costache was starting to think maybe he’d made a mistake? How had Andrew and Ciprian found out? Unless, “Charlie…”

“What?” He answered impishly.

“What did you say to them?” My voice lowered about half an octave as I measured every word carefully to prevent myself from doing anything stupid, like accusing him of being a complete idiot.

“Me?” He asked vaguely, staring off in the other direction. “I didn’t say anything. Directly.” He added in an undertone.

“Charlie.” My voice rose at the end of his name without my meaning it to.

“Calm down!” He reasoned. “I guess they saw the vacant look on my face after the first time and came to the right conclusions. They’re horrible at beating about the bush, so I finally asked them why the hell they were acting so mental.”

“Of course.”

“And Andrew said that I should just come out with it and asked me up front if I was ‘hitting that,’ to quote him directly- no you can punch him later!” He said hastily as I opened my mouth to interject, probably with something witty, cutting, and clever, if I could find the words. Was it that obvious? “I said ‘I wouldn’t put it quite that way,’ and they immediately knew that something was going on between us.”

“Charlie,” I began, forcing myself to be an adult, for the sake of the two of us. “I don’t know if this such a good idea,”

“If what is not such a good idea?” God, he was dense sometimes.

“This.” I repeated, gesturing to the lack of space between the two of us, hoping he would understand what I meant.

“Why not?” He asked. God, this conversation was going to be a difficult one, especially because I was leaning on him in the middle of the freaking woods.

“Because we work together.”

“And?”

“And you very well know that it’s almost impossible for me to keep my hands off you.”

“Fine by me.”

“Charlie.” I said again, determined to speak my mind. “I can’t get distracted from work. Hell, I’ve only been here a month, and I have a lot to prove. People are watching- even you up until recently- and waiting for me to slip up and make a mistake so that they can rest on their ingrained beliefs that girls don’t belong in this part of the world.

“You, every gorgeous muscled inch of you, are a massive distraction. I can’t focus when your eyes are on me, it’s like my brain turns to mush.” I finished, disgusted with myself for letting that last bit slip out. Wasn’t supposed to happen.

“Mush, you say?” He repeated, stopping on the path and turning me around to look at him.

“That wasn’t supposed to come out.” I mumbled. “That only happened in my brain.”

“Only when I look at you?” He pressed on, giving me a first class stare that, yes, turned my brain to mush.

“Or when you say my name like you do, when, you know.”

“Ileana,” He all but whispered, voice deep, husky.

“Like that.” I squeaked, backing away hastily, tripping on a tree root and falling flat on my arse. I grabbed Charlie’s arm to steady myself but only ended up in dragging him down with me. On top of me, to be precise.

“Ramsey, I know you like me, but come on, this is a little sudden for me: in public?” He joked, eyes searching my face.

“Can you get off of me now?” I asked, not quite trusting myself to be this near to him in semi-public.

“What were you saying about the way I say your name?” He redirected, pressing an almost chaste kiss to the cord of my neck.

“It’s distracting.” I said, trying desperately to focus. Dammit, I would not be swayed! “And I don’t need distractions.” I shoved his chest, and he rolled off of me and to the side, flat on his back in the middle of the trail.

“That’s not what you said ten minutes ago.” He prompted, getting to his feet and offering his hand to help me up.

“Anymore.” I specified, taking his hand, letting him pull me up, and then quickly letting go, making sure to stand several feet away from him.

“Really?” He asked, looking vastly amused at the distance between us. “How do you intend to get back to camp? It’s another half-kilometer.”

“Walking.”

“Really? How?” He couldn’t bite back the grin that lit up his face as he knew he had me cornered.

“You put one foot in front of the other over and over again.” I said dryly, setting off down the trail, ignoring the twinge in my leg.

“You’ll start bleeding again.” He called out, walking behind me. “Then Costache will really make you stay in bed for a week.”

“Shit.” I stopped walking and waited for him to catch up to me, which he did in about two seconds. I was so frustrated with, well, everything! I couldn’t even bloody walk on my own, I was slipping into a habit of kissing Charlie whenever we were alone, and I couldn’t even summon the willpower to put up a convincing argument to persuade him that it was a bad idea.

“Here,” He knelt down and looked at the leg of my trousers, which, unfortunately was starting to seep through with blood. “Let’s get you back to camp and fix this. Seriously, I’m going to carry you.”

I gave him the Look. You know, the one that says, “I hate you, you’re a terrible human being, why must you be so damn reasonable?”

“I’m not going to try anything.” He said as he swung me up in his arms, cradling me to his chest. “Unless you do something stupid.” I elbowed him. “Like that.” He amended, swinging me over his shoulder once again, and setting off on the trail toward camp, with me kicking and cursing and beating on his shoulders with my fists. He was impervious, the damn stoic.

“I hate you!” I whispered in Romanian, making it sound more like a caress than an insult.

“No you don’t.” He said in English, pressing a hand down on my left leg to keep it from bleeding any more.

“But I do.” I switched tactics and decided it was a much more effective use of my time to go silent and stare at his perfect bum. How dare a man so infuriating as Charlie Weasley be so attractive? I guess that was part of the maddening, irritating, and completely irresistible package: gorgeous bum. It was so unfair.

“You’re giving up that easily?” He sounded slightly put out, like he was expecting me to rise to the occasion and fight, like I had virtually every other time.

I said nothing, letting him work that answer out on his own.

As much as I was loath to admit it, Charlie’s carrying me was a much more effective means of transportation than holding up the sham of “walking.” We reached camp in no time at all. Charlie strode through the semi-circle of tents, ignoring the stares we received, as the guys no doubt wondered what the hell was happening. Personally, I think they all got a huge kick out of seeing the two of us rapidly alternate between fighting and submitting, wanting to kill each other and him winning disagreements solely based on the sheer fact that he was a megalith of a man. I rested my elbow on Charlie’s back and propped my head up on my hand, meeting the stares of the men with a look that I can only describe as weary, even bored, resignation.

However, what Charlie had failed to factor into the equation was that I was more stubborn than a mule. I would hold my position on something for years and not consider budging even a centimeter. If he wanted a fight from me, I would give him nothing, not even a scathing word to stroke his ego.

He set me down effortlessly on a bench under the shade and protection of one of the trees by the tents.

“Wait here.” He said gruffly and strode off to the first aid tent to get whatever he needed.

I leaned back, let out a huffy breath, and waited for Charlie to come back.

“You and Weasley, huh?” Luca sat down next to me. What I forgot to mention earlier is that Luca is my cousin. Or at least someone who’s always around my grandmother’s house in the summer enough to seem like a cousin. I think, to be scientific about it, he was my cousin Gavril’s best friend from the time they were babies.

“No!” I said indignantly, spluttering in such a way that I’m sure made my vehement outburst thoroughly unbelievable. “At least, not like that.”

“Yet.” He said knowingly, ridiculously sage for someone barely three years older than me.

“Luca!” I exclaimed, nudging him with my shoulder. “It’s none of your business.”

“But it is.” He replied. “You know you’re like my little sister.”

“Don’t start.” I laughed. “Is the family demanding constant updates on my well-being?”

“Only occasional updates.” He said easily, swinging into our banter that was so common. He actually was a brother figure, teaching me to climb my first tree and listen at doors long after we were supposed to have gone to sleep.

“Please tell me you didn’t tell them about the incident.” I said, pointing to my leg.

“No, I didn’t.” He said, leaning back against the rail of the bench. “Your mom would have gone crazy.”

“Thanks, Luca.” I replied gratefully.

“So, Charlie.” He tried subtlety.

“Not going there with you.” I was resolute.

“Fine.” He held his hands up in defeat. “I know better than to try to charm you out of your opinions!”

“Hey, Luca.” Charlie had returned, arms full of medicine-type things and a fresh bandage.

“Hey, Charlie,” Luca got to his feet, “Just want to let you know that one of the Fireball eggs is about ready to hatch. So you can keep an eye out.”

“Thanks, mate.” Charlie grinned at me. “Hopefully we’ll get to see it.”

“See you later.” Luca walked away, stopped, pivoted on the spot and gave me a ludicrously obvious wink behind Charlie’s shoulder that I pointedly ignored.

“Do you happen to have any shorts on beneath these pants?” Charlie asked, not meeting my eye. I was grateful that he could at least pretend to be embarrassed to be around me like this when other people were around.

“Why would I have shorts on beneath these?” I asked, “It’s July.”

“Well then, “ He said bracingly, “I’m sorry.”

“For what?” I asked, right before he ripped the left leg of my trousers up to the very bottom of my hip. “Bastard.” I said, forcing myself not to get goose bumps as he started to gently remove the old bandages from around my thigh. His face was a mask of profession as he took an antibacterial cloth and started to clean the gash. I would never have thought that first aid (unless, obviously, it was mouth to mouth CPR) could be considered sexy. Damn Charlie for making it look incredibly hot.

“The binding came loose.” He murmured, looking up at me. “That’s why it’s bleeding again.”

“Oh.” I said casually, praying he wouldn’t order more rest.

“Probably from being out too soon.”

“Absolutely not,” I disagreed, inherently knowing that he was right.

“Let me redo them, and then you’ll take the rest of the day off.”

“But,”

“No.” He really wasn’t kidding, that much was apparent.

“Fine.” I groaned. “After we talk to Costache.”

“Do you really want him to see you like this?” He questioned, his face betraying what he thought of that idea.

“Fine, doctor, stitch me up.”

“Ready?” He asked, gripping my hip, strong fingers pressing into my skin. The contrast between pleasure from his touch and pain at my wound made me slightly dizzy, I didn’t know which was stronger.

“Yeah.” I felt a slight pressure as the gash once again closed up, held together a medical adhesive spell.

“Alright?” He asked, looking up with clear blue eyes marred with the faintest trace of concern.

“Yeah.” I replied, taking a second to get used to the feeling of the spell once again.

“I’m gonna wrap it up again now.” He took a long piece of fabric and started to wind it around my leg. I’m not responsible for the sound I made when his knuckles collided with the underside of my thigh, but his mask of cool shattered as it escaped my lips.

“You okay?” He repeated as he met my eyes again. His eyes were hazy and dark with a reckless gleam, a sort of desperation, balancing on an edge. I realized that this endeavor, after our little escapade in the woods, was very difficult for him.

Not trusting myself to speak, I nodded weakly. He grinned, then, obviously amused with the effect he had over he. He took his time, leisurely winding the bandage around my leg, letting his fingers stray up as far as the fabric where my ripped trousers began.

To a passerby, this was just an ordinary first-aid procedure. But they would have had to get closer to notice that I was even antsier than usual, darting my eyes around to make sure nobody was staring, and tapping my fingers against the bench as I tried to keep my mind off of what Charlie was doing. Unsuccessfully.

Finally, just when I thought I’d been pushed to the final limits of my self-control, and was ready to grab him by the neck of his shirt and kiss him in front of everybody, he waved his wand, binding the end of the bandage, and stood up, looking at the expanse of bark above my head.

“Let’s go,” He said, and I almost missed the dangerous edge to his voice. An edge that signified that he was feeling the exact same way that I was. He offered me his hand and pulled me to my feet. I slid my arm around his wait for support- I swear he almost stopped breathing- and ran my hand over his ridiculous muscles. “Come on.” He said and silently led me to my tent and deposited me on the bed.

By then, my heart rate had slowed back to normal, and I trusted myself to speak.

“Am I gonna be alright, doc?” I joked, grinning at him as he kneeled down again and brusquely removed my shoes and socks.

“If I can keep my hands off of you.” He said, teasing me right back, but we both knew he wasn’t entirely kidding. “I’m taking your shoes with me,” he said as he pushed himself to his feet. “Just in case you get any ideas.”

“I wasn’t?” I finished it like a question because I knew I was caught red-handed.

“Like hell.” He shot back, grinning.

“But the Fireball!” I protested, grasping at straws. “She’s supposed to hatch!”

“I’ll come get you if anything starts to happen.” He promised, my boots in one hand. “I need to tell Costache what we saw. Be good.” He added, right before he strode out the door.

Already bored, I fell back against my pillows. And was instantly asleep.


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