Chapter 1 : Meeting Charlie
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March 4th, 1994
Rita cannot remember witnessing rain this torrential. Despite the fact that England is notorious for its contradictory weather, she is usually well-protected from the seasons in her cosy London flat, not standing in the middle of the Transylvania mountains. As she glances up at the Ministry building she has exited with a concerned frown — the loud hammering of the rain upon the roof is concerning, as the roof does not appear very sturdy — the Romanian representative escorting her to her destination coughs discreetly to gain her attention. The blonde witch turns to look at him, surprised at his attempt to start a conversation: for the past several hours, he has sat quietly while she conversed with his superiors.
“It is only seasonal,” he explains, in a pompous tone that indicates he considers himself superior to her. “This kind of weather, we get every year — first in March and April, and then October. The building is quite used to such conditions.”
Offended, Rita turns to glare at him. “Of course it is,” she exclaims, with pure vehemence in her expression. “I’m not some crazy, melodramatic old biddy who sees disaster everywhere, for goodness’ sake — I’m only forty-two!”
Her companion is quickly silenced; instead of politely apologizing for his unwelcome tone, he behaves as if no conversation has transpired and simply extends his elbow, nonverbally waiting for her to take it. For a moment, Rita is tempted to abandon him and beg his superiors to take her to her destination instead, but she has travelled several hundred milestoday, and the effects of Portkeying are making themselves felt upon her. While she is not tired, her entire body aches for a sit-down somewhere warm, and she knows the quickest way to achieve this is to take her companion’s arm. However, even as she does just that, she is internally composing a strongly-worded, defamatory article about the Romanian Ministry’s Department of International Relations.
Expecting to feel her feet upon hard ground, Rita is alarmed at the mud that they are suddenly standing in — mud that is seeping through her strappy stilettos and spoiling the hem of her fur coat. She flails as she struggles to regain her balance, and instinctively tightens her grip on her companion. Unfortunately, as he is in the same predicament, the action does nothing but increase their wobbling. Rita shrieks loudly in horror — it is bad enough that her heels and coat are covered in mud; she does not want to ruin her expensive dress, handbag or bleached hair in the process — but falls silent when she feels a pair of strong arms around her shoulders, rescuing her from a potentially nasty fall.
At first, Rita is too shocked to express her gratitude. Fortunately, in her new location, the skies are clear although judging by the mud, it rained some hours earlier. Nevertheless, in the starry night, she runs one hand through her blonde curls as she judges the damage. Her shoes will need to be disposed of, and her feet require a thorough scrubbing but with luck, her coat should be salvageable. Perhaps if she can find somewhere local that sells decent cleaning products, she can eradicate the damage.
“Ma’am? Are you all right?” a male voice asks.
Rita’s first assumption is that it is the Romanian Ministry employee speaking, but when she looks up, she sees him Disapparating without a further word. Confused, she blinks and turns to her rescuer. As she surveys him, she cannot help noticing that he is rather handsome, with spiky ginger hair and a charming smile.
“Yes, yes, I’m fine,” she responds, wondering at the reason for his presence in Scarisoara — it is clear from the colour of his fair and freckled skin that he is not Romanian, at least not by birth. “Thank you; it was quite lucky you were there at the right time.”
The redhead nods, and extends his hand for Rita to shake. As she touches it, she can feel calluses and burns marring his skin; a sure sign of being a dragon keeper. She watches him carefully as she speaks the words that should give away whether her suspicions are correct or not.
“My name’s Rita Skeeter; I’m a journalist. I’m looking for a man here by the name of Abraham Green?”
He smiles. “That’s my boss; I’ll take you to see him now.”
“Thank you,” Rita smiles. “Mr…”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” he answers, and Rita can detect a blush in his cheeks. “It’s Weasley, but please, call me Charlie.”
May 9th, 2021
As the Muggle car lurches precariously close to the edge of the cliff's face, it takes all of my self-restraint not to take my wand out of my pocket and curse the driver into steering appropriately. Even as he quickly swerves from the edge and drives over some potholes, causing the entire car to shake violently, I can't stop myself from screaming in fright at our near-brush with death. I'm quickly forced to close my mouth when he slows down too far to our right, causing some overhanging tree branches to reach into the open passenger window and begin lashing at my face. Before I can curse the driver into oblivion, he comes to a stop a little way past the trees, where the dirty track road comes to an end.
To say that I'm relieved would be the understatement of the century. When I was offered the position of on-site dragonologist at the nearby reserve I'm travelling to, I was so determined to prove that I could be independent and mix with the locals, I refused the Romanian Ministry's offer of a direct Portkey in favour of travelling by Muggle methods. In hindsight, perhaps I should have accepted that offer — never mind that my boss had warned me that most of my predecessors never stepped out of the reserve in the months or years they'd worked there, and advised me against doing the same. In a way, if this kind of Muggle driving is the acceptable standard in this country, I can understand why they'd stay on the reserve.
"How in the hell did you pass your driving test?" I mutter.
Without waiting for an answer, I pick up my handbag and get out of the car before walking to the bonnet and placing my handbag on it so that so that I can search with both hands for the handheld mirror I packed. I don't want to turn up at the reserve looking like I was dragged through the mud on my way here — although in all honesty, that wouldn't be too far from the truth.
"I can drive," the Romanian protests as he gets out of the car.
I ignore him at first and retrieve my mirror from my handbag. It's not a pretty sight — the pristine hairstyle I spent over a hour styling perfectly this morning has been undone, and several strands of my strawberry blonde hair are loose. There's also a small cut above my right eye where one of the branches hit, which isn't serious but it'll need medical attention, and I doubt that will endear me to my new colleagues.
"Miss Selwyn, will you get back in the car?" the Muggle asks, and I look up in surprise.
"There isn't a road!"
He shrugs, pointing in the direction of some trees. "There's a path through there; everyone uses that as a road."
I look over to where he's indicating, and he's right: there are multiple tyre tracks imprinted into the mud, and they look like they've been there quite a while. If I remember correctly, Scarisoara, the nearest Muggle village to the dragon reserve, is only another twenty minutes' drive away. Nevertheless, I can't help being concerned that given the driver's abilities so far, there's a risk of him driving into a tree and the thought of crashing makes me shudder.
"Please," the driver says. "We are already late; I do not want to lose my fee for bringing you here."
I'm about to complain that since it was his bad driving that delayed us, he deserves to lose however many euros he's being paid, when I hear my name spoken from behind me.
I turn around to see a redheaded man who looks just shy of fifty. At first I don't realise who he is — he’s clothed in a checked shirt and jeans, causing me to presume that he’s one of my colleagues.
“Yes,” I answer tentatively. “Who are you?”
Without answering me directly, the man turns to the driver and addresses him while retrieving a wad of notes from his pocket. “You can take her bags out of the car and leave them; we can walk from here. Pastreaza restul.”
I watch as the Romanian smiles gratefully at him before complying with his request and placing my suitcases at my feet. When he gets back into the car and starts the engine, the wheels turning causes a minor duststorm that leaves me coughing violently. Once the dust has subsided, I look at him in confusion.
“What was that?”
My unidentified but suspected colleague stares at me as if I’ve just asked him whether we’re on the moon.
“I told him to fetch your bags, and paid him for bringing you here,” he answers.
“No, no,” I clarify. “I mean the bit at the end — I think it sounded like a resting pasty?”
He laughs, probably at my incorrect translation. “Pastreaza restul,” he repeats. “It’s Romanian for “keep the change”. I started learning the language as soon as I started working at the reserve; I’d advise you to do the same, since you clearly haven’t already.”
Sadly, I doubt that I could get away with pointing out that, had it not been for my boss’ inherent hatred of me, I would be studying dragons at a prestigious and exclusive reserve in Australia and last time I checked, English was their native language. Not to mention that unlike this reserve, their keepers are kitted out with proper uniform that adheres to international safety regulations. Romania was certainly not my first choice; it’s the nearest reputable dragon reserve to the U.K., which means that Second Wizarding War heroes and their descendants are likely to be working here — I know for a fact that the manager of this reserve is the famous Charlie Weasley.
Instead, I mask my seething resentment and smile cordially. “Thanks for the advice…” I trail off intentionally, hoping that he’ll take the hint and reveal his name.
He does. “Officially, it’s Mr. Weasley, but you can call me Charlie unless there are journalists or Ministry officials around.”
I’m more than a little concerned now. If Charlie Weasley is wearing work clothes that should be the off-duty attire of a low-ranking keeper, I shudder to think of what my future colleagues will be clothed in. I suppose I’m about to find out as, without another word and simply a gesture to follow him, he turns and walks towards what I presume is Scarisoara. My suitcases are still at my feet, and I know there’s no way I can carry them — I had to get my little sister to sit on top of the suitcases to make them close, and paid a fortune in additional baggage charges because they weighed more than the standard allowance.
“Hey!” I call out. “Aren’t you forgetting something?”
“What?” he asks, turning around to face me without breaking stride.
I’m quietly impressed; if I tried that, I’d most likely walk into a tree within a few steps. Nevertheless, I gesture at my luggage expectantly. I know I shouldn’t be relying on the out-dated customs of a gentleman carrying a lady’s luggage, but since I have no idea what kind of terrain we’ll be walking across or even what the distance is, it makes sense for him to carry the suitcases so that I won’t have to keep stopping to take breaks.
“I’m not your house-elf, Selwyn. You can pull them along yourself; they’re Muggle suitcases, aren’t they? That means they’ll have wheels on, for easy transport.”
I raise my uninjured eyebrow. “Muggle inventions aren’t foolproof. The wheels will get damaged on that path.”
“Carry them then, if you’re that fussed,” is Weasley’s unhelpful response.
For several seconds, I glare at him before the idea of levitating the suitcases pops into my head. It shouldn’t be too much of an issue; we’re in the middle of nowhere, after all. I raise my wand and I begin the incantation, but before I’ve even reached the second syllable, I hear Weasley’s voice.
My wand slips out of my hand and I look up to see Weasley catch it easily with his left hand, his right pointing his own wand at me.
“Do anything that stupid again, Selwyn, and I’ll kick you off my reserve so fast you’ll be bouncing on your backside all the way back to London. We’re not on the reserve; we haven’t even gotten to Scarisoara yet and that’s the nearest Muggle village to it. What do you think would happen if a Muggle saw suitcases floating in mid-air?”
“Sorry, sir,” I answer quietly, surprised at his change in demeanour. Clearly, the reserve means a lot to him — especially since he’s referring to it as his. “Although I thought all dragon reserves belong to the Ministry of whichever country they’re in? I didn’t realize they could be privately owned.”
Weasley shakes his head. “You’re right. The Ministry do own the reserve, but I run the place. I’m in charge and I’m the one who’s responsible if something goes wrong — just like I would be, if a Muggle had seen you levitating your suitcases and breaching the International Statute of Secrecy. The Ministry might have arranged for you to be sent here to study the dragons I take care of, not me, but I’m still responsible for you anyway. So technically, it’s the Ministry’s only on paper. While you’re here, you follow my rules. Understood?”
I nod, and he says nothing as he approaches me to return my wand, which I quickly stuff into my pocket. However, without saying anything, he takes one of my suitcases and lifts them. I pause for a few seconds, surprised at his action, before I pick up the other — it’s still heavy, but one’s better than two — and catch up with him. Once we’re neck and neck, I glance at him and give him a small smile. He’s my boss, after all; I’d better keep him sweet.
It’s when I see a small sign indicating that Scarisoara is half a mile to our right that I try to start a conversation.
“So. Scarisoara – did the Muggles call it that because of the scary dragons they saw soaring overhead? You know, before Memory Charms were developed?”
“Nope,” Weasley answers gruffly, and I can’t help but get the feeling that the only reason he’s answering the question is because he’s obligated to. “The Romanian translation of the name is actually “small ladder”. Absolutely nothing to do with dragons.”
I wonder why a village on a mountain would be called small ladder but don’t ask. Weasley didn’t seem happy when I brought Scarisoara up in the first place; I’m guessing he must be one of those strong, silent types. We walk in silence until finally, Weasley pushes some overgrown branches aside to reveal a man who appears to be just a couple of years older than me. He’s leaning against a tree branch, while in the distance, a group of people are sat around two picnic benches. I’m wondering why the picnic benches are made of wood, an extremely flammable substance, when I realize that Weasley has stopped.
“We’re camped a good distance away from the dragons,” he explains without me needing to ask. “It’s only a ten-minute walk away to their habitats, but it’s much safer near the woods where there’s shelter as opposed to being out in the open.”
“I see,” I answer, before catching the man’s eye. In the interest of making the best out of a bad situation and endearing myself to my new colleagues, I smile at the man and notice his denim jacket. “Nice jacket. I’m Lottie Selwyn, by the way; I’m the new dragonologist assigned to this reserve —”
“— I know who you are,” he interrupts rudely while glaring at me.
I’m not sure what exactly I’ve done wrong already, but Weasley is quick to intervene.
“Alfie, can you take Miss Selwyn’s suitcases to her hut please? I need to show her where to find the medi-witch.”
Judging from Alfie’s expression, he doesn’t seem particularly pleased about his assignment, but he can’t argue with Weasley or the cut that I still have above my eyebrow. I watch as he picks up my suitcases with a sour expression and carries them away, while Weasley indicates for me to follow him. It’s less than a minute before I’m sat on an uncomfortable chair while a medi-witch is focused on the cut, muttering under her breath. I’m assuming that she’s being particularly careful, since if she makes a mistake then I’ll have a scar that’s clear for anyone to see.
“Is Alfie always so sour?” I ask Weasley, who’s sitting in the corner perusing a medical journal and making faces at the content, although I’m not sure if it’s the medical jargon or the graphics irritating him.
“No,” he answers. “And he won’t be any more, I’ll make sure of that. Selwyn or not, you work for Abe and I know he wouldn’t employ a purist.”
And there it is. My last name; the name of a Death Eater I never even knew. He was my grandmother’s cousin; he was someone I never met except at his funeral and that doesn’t really count. Nevertheless, I’m being judged because of his actions.
Weasley seems to be able to tell what I’m thinking. “Don’t take it personally. Alfie’s mother was Muggle-born; she went in front of the Muggle-born Registration Commission and lost her appeal. His family spent nearly a year on the run, trying to evade the Snatchers. His father died protecting the family.”
“Oh,” is all I’m able to say.
“Charlie, are you sure Alfie won’t mind you revealing his entire life story to anyone who asks?” the medi-witch asks before turning to me. “All done!”
“It’s nothing more than she’d find out if she looked up the family in the Daily Prophet archives,” Weasley answers. “In fact, the papers would give her more information than I just have.”
I stand up and walk towards the nearest mirror I can see. Sure enough, my forehead is clear; it’s as if the cut never happened. There’s still a small aching where it was, but I know it’ll fade.
“Thank you,” I say, smiling at the medi-witch and turning to leave the hut. However, I’m stopped by Weasley.
“Selwyn, before you join the rest of the team, I want you to know that I don’t have a single damn thing against you,” he says, stepping forward so our faces are almost touching. “As soon as I saw who you work for, I figured you had to be different from every other dragonologist who’s come here to study the dragons. You see, being dragon keepers means that every one of us here cares about those dragons. We don’t want them dead and we sure as hell don’t want them hunted for their blood or their skin or whatever’s fashionable on the black market those days.”
“What does that have to do with me?” I ask, utterly bewildered.
“Every dragonologist who’s come here in the past has been interested in what dragons can do for wizards. They want to discover the thirteenth use of dragon’s blood, they want to find out what lotions are best to keep the dragons’ skin healthy so that it can be used for clothes, they want to make ornaments out of their claws and that means pulling the claws out of a living dragon. No dragon keeper worth their fire trusts a dragonologist these days.”
“But I’m not –”
“I know you’re different. I read your application; read every page of that research project you did in Scotland to find out how to cure dragons from their sicknesses; how to cut their claws with minimal pain to the dragon and the least risk to the keepers — I know all of that. But that doesn’t matter to those other keepers, OK? You’re gonna have to prove to them that you’re not like what they’re assuming. I’m just warning you; it might take a while. And if anyone else has a problem with who you’re related to, send them my way. You might receive a hard time at first because of your career and I can’t and won’t stop that, but I won’t tolerate prejudice because of your name. Understood?”
As I nod, Weasley places a hand on my shoulder, and I’m surprised at how strong he is, considering his age and the years he’s spent working with dragons — most keepers his age are retired, dead or have requested more bureaucratic jobs with the Department of Magical Creatures at a Ministry of their choosing. Weasley is notorious for being one of the very few who still actively does the job hands-on.
“Thanks,” I answer.
Weasley shrugs noncommittally and walks out of the medi-witch’s hut. Although he hasn’t told me to follow him, I do just that — presumably, he’s walking toward the benches where they’re serving dinner and I’m hungry. As I approach the benches, it’s clear that there’s no food upon them but a pile of clothes. I’m concerned at first, but then I breathe a sigh of relief when I realize the clothes aren’t mine. Judging from the snippets of conversation I can hear, they’re all donations from the people who work at the reserve to raise money for some charity. I recognize Alfie laughing as he hands Weasley two different high heels — one is a strappy gold stiletto, the other is a suede red court heel. As Weasley holds them up, chuckling, I catch sight of the sunset reflecting off his hand and it takes me several seconds to realize that it really wasn’t a trick of the light.
“So, which one do you think would suit me?” he jokes.
I answer without thinking. “The gold.”
It’s clear that no-one expected me to say something. Immediately, the conversation quietens, and several pairs of eyes are staring at me, waiting for my next act of stupidity.
“Why?” Weasley asks; there’s a half-smile on his face. He’s clearly aware of the tension, but he’s trying to keep going as normal — which is fair, really. I’m tempted not to answer, but I can’t pretend that I didn’t say anything now that everyone’s waiting for me to answer, so I do.
“Because it matches your wedding ring.”
Author's Note: I hope you liked this revamped first chapter of Handle With Care! I'd just like to say an incredible thank you to the amazing teh tarik and her ingenious mind-control powers for encouraging me to revamp and update this story, and to the wonderful MissMdsty and Debra20 for answering my questions about Romania and for providing the Romanian translations you see in this story. Hugs to you all ♥
Pastreaza restul = keep the change.
I'd absolutely love to hear what you think of this chapter, so if you have time, a review would completely make my day! :D
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