Chapter 1 : Romania
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-Robert Louis Stevenson
Charlie Weasley stomped across his room and gave the foot of his bed a hearty kick. He could still feel the heat radiating off from his ears, which undoubtedly were as scarlet as the hangings on his four poster at school.
“You’re too young and it’s too dangerous. Sweet Merlin, Charlie, you’re not even of age yet. Blah, blah, blahh.”
His mum’s words played over and over in his head as he hastily ripped a red and white English National Quidditch team pennant from his wall and tossed it onto the growing heap of mostly-clean robes, parchment scraps covered in sketches of dragons, a dozen or so packages of pumpkin pasties, a flagon of the Fire Whiskey that he and Ian Alderdice had distilled in their dormitory, and an autographed poster of the blonde Wonder Witch model that filled his tattered carpet bag. Glancing around the room he’d shared with Bill before the oldest Weasley brother had moved out a few weeks earlier, he assured himself that he’d packed his most essential items and fought to zip the overstuffed bag shut.
“Too young,” he scoffed into the cracked mirror hanging over his bureau, “I’ll be seventeen in a few months. Even so, it’s not like an age means anything, anyway – nothing but a bloody number.”
“Being seventeen certainly won’t fix that hair, scruffy – get a brush.”
Charlie glared at the mirror for a moment before fumbling through the drawers. He’d been much fonder of the piece of glass before it’d learnt to talk. Leaning in towards the mirror, he ran the plastic bristled comb through his fringe. He didn’t know where his mum got the right to tell him he couldn’t spend his summer in Romania. He’d been dreaming of seeing real, live dragons for as long as he could remember and now that he had the opportunity a crumby number, the slight chance of getting burnt to a crisp, and an overprotective mum were going to try and keep him from it.
“Well she’s going to need to try a bit harder if she actually expects to keep me here,” he said, looking himself in the eye. He was Charlie Weasley, Gryffindor Prefect and Quidditch Captain, and if he intended to do something he would certainly do his best to make sure that it happened.
He grinned at himself in the mirror and, flipping his fringe back from his face with a practiced head toss, replaced the comb in the drawer. He wouldn’t need tidy hair where he was going. Rumour had it that the dragon keepers in Romania were so tough, they didn’t even bathe much less comb their hair. Most considered themselves lucky to still have the majority of their limbs by the time they retired. He couldn’t afford to have them thinking he was soft when he finally met them.
Heaving his bag up onto his shoulder, he slid his bedroom window open and took a deep breath of the night air.
It smelled like freshly clipped grass, wood smoke and pond scum.
It smelled like adventure.
Of course he’ never been on an actual adventure in his life – only the miniature sort he’d taken to Hogsmeade or the Forbidden forest after curfew with his mates, but he’d like to think that this night air was precisely what a proper one smelled like. Filling his lungs once more, he set his lips in a determined line. There was no question in his mind: He would see Romania and its dragons even if it meant running away.
Fuelled by a strong need to prove himself, Charlie took a bold step out onto the ledge and immediately cringed at the cold feeling of the sill against his bare feet. He’d certainly do all the things he’d said he would just as soon as he found a pair of trainers.
“I said a hundred Galleons and not a Knut less, my boy,” the old hag crowed – at least he assumed the person cloaked beneath a heavy shroud and cloth bandages was a hag. “That is, unless you want me alerting the authorities. Fresh little thing like you bartering in the middle of Knockturn Alley at this hour – I’m no fool, you hear? I know a runaway when I see one.”
How she could see him at all with the way her face was wrapped left a shiver running down his spine, and his surprise at the amount came out sounding choked. "A hundred Galleons?" he squawked.
“So, my dear child, do we have a deal?”
“N-no,” Charlie said in a voice that he hoped sounded more confident than he felt, “and I’m no fool either, though you m-must be if you think I’d believe that a street merchant who peddles magic carpets in the middle of Knockturn Alley would risk contacting the Ministry over something as unimportant m-me. But go ahead if you must – I’m sure they’d love to hear from you.”
The old hag pulled away from him quickly as if he’d slapped her.
He had to believe that she’d bought into his bravado. After everything he’d been through already – the precarious climb down the side of the Burrow from his fourth floor window, the hike across the pitch-black countryside to meet his best mate, Rodney Entwhistle, whose mum worked with Portkeys and always had a spare Wellington-to-London lying around the house, and his cautious trek through the streets of Muggle London, Diagon Alley and Knockturn Alley – he’d be a hippogriff’s uncle to turn back now.
Romania was the only acceptable destination; he just needed a way to get there.
“You know how to play the game, boy.” The hag cracked her mouth into a crooked, blackened smile that he could see even in the darkness of the night. “So, name your price to use one of my precious carpets. You can imagine how difficult they were to come by.”
As though she expected him to draw his wand on her, the hag tensed as he reached into his pocket. Charlie frowned and withdrew his coin purse. He knew that he shouldn’t feel bad for her, that she’d chosen this lifestyle for herself, but a wave of pity washed over him anyway. Clearing his throat, he took a quick inventory of the purse. It was a good thing he’d allowed Beth Crockley to pay him for all the hours he’d spent tending her crop of Bowtruckles this past term. Even with her money, the bag was a bit scant.
“I can – erm, I can give you ten Galleons. Ten Galleons and my word that once I bring the carpet back, I won’t turn you over to the authorities.”
“Ten Galleons? Is that all?”
“You can take it or leave it – but I’d take it if I were you. It doesn’t look like you have any other business to put money in your pocket tonight. Ten Galleons will at least buy you a roof and bed for a few nights, plenty of food and drink, too.”
“And you won’t pip a sound of this to anyone?” Her voice was sceptical.
“You have my word.”
“And if you dare break that word, boy,” she cackled, “I’ll have your tongue. Maybe even your ears. They’d make mighty valuable amulets –you hear? The right sort of buyer would pay a pretty price for bits and pieces of insolent ginger.”
Charlie swallowed hard before grasping the hag’s hand. His supper from earlier that evening churned at the feel of her warm, moist bandages against his palm. Exhaling through his nose, he willed himself not to vomit when he opened his mouth.
“It’s a deal then,” he finally squeaked in a trembling voice.
“This one,” the hag said, handing him a roll of richly-coloured oriental carpeting, “was woven with an ancient magic – can be a bit temperamental, mind. Own its life force and you’ll most likely make it to where you’re going in one piece.”
“Own its life force?”
When he looked up from the magic carpet, the old hag was nowhere to be seen, and his perplexed question hung unanswered in the night air. It was just as well – he didn’t care if the carpet was woven by a colony of magical orang-utans as long as it could get him in the air. Besides, how hard could it be to fly a rug? A wide smile broke over his face as he unrolled the length of fabric and gently sat down in the centre of the woven pattern. Closing his eyes, he felt the carpet float up off of the cobbled street, and he imagined that he was sitting aside a giant, fire breathing lizard.
He was on his way to see dragons.
He was actually on his way to see dragons.
A strangely wonderful mixture of anticipation, disbelief, and absolute excitement pulsed beneath his skin as he rose up onto his knees and threw his head and arms skyward. The night sky was an endless field of blackness dotted by a handful of pale stars. Thick, heavy clouds raced across its expanse, almost as if they were in a hurry to get somewhere before morning. There was no moon.
“Yeah, wahoo!” he shouted up into the air.
The only time Charlie had ever felt close to the sort of freedom he was feeling now was the first time he’d tipped into a steep dive in pursuit of the Snitch during a house Quidditch match.
He wasn’t precisely sure where he was just yet, but that was half the fun of it. The Muggle compass he had nicked from his dad’s work shed before he’d left told him that he was still heading south. He knew the way to Romania like the back of his hand and wasn’t worried. He’d made it across the channel and harbour, and, after an intentionally extended trip over Paris and through the rungs of the Eiffel tower, he’d turned south. Now, as soon as he crossed both the Siene and Loire Rivers, Romania would be a straight shot to the east over France, Switzerland, Austria and Hungary.
Below him, the countryside rushed by in a blur of dim browns and greens.
He’d been studying atlases of Europe ever since he was a young boy – something about the very idea of travelling and adventure, of seeing the amorphous, colored shapes from the maps in person thrilled him. He’d always known that he’d see the world someday, but he’d never expected that it’d be from a seat on a magic carpet in the dead of night.
Charlie crossed his legs and settled his weight back onto his hands. Inhaling deeply, he closed his eyes and imagined what Romania would look like when he finally got there.
He imagined what it would be like to see a dragon in all its magnificence.
He imagined what it would be like to live and work there.
Last term when he met with Professor McGonagall to talk about career goals, N.E.W.T courses and marks, he’d made his dream very clear. He’d showed her his collection of pamphlets from reservations and memoirs about dragon keepers. He'd shared his knowledge of dragon lore and law with the Head of House, presenting himself as though he needed to convince her how serious he was about his future. As it turned out, he should have saved his case – Professor McGonagall had been more than supportive and had immediately penned one of her classmates who had spent his life on the Romanian Reservation – his mum on the other hand…
A pang of guilt rose up into his chest.
His mum had been sternly against him accepting the old, one-armed Dragon Keeper’s invitation to spend the summer working on the reservation. He knew that she had just been worried about him and had a valid point – he wasn’t of age, couldn’t even use his wand, and had never had to fend for himself – but he also knew that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity.
This was something he had to do.
As quickly as it had appeared, he swallowed back his guilt and glanced down at the compass. The needle still pointed towards the ornate letter ‘S’. Just then, the low rumble of a foghorn broke through the silence of his thoughts. He jumped at the sound, and his hands gripped at the edges of the carpet to keep from tumbling over the edge.
Directly below him churned a large river barge.
He’d made it to the Siene.
If he squinted, he could just barely make out the forms of people bustling around the deck.
Suddenly, it felt as if he’d flown into a large net. Both he and his carpet came to an abrupt stop, but for no reason that made any physical sense, he didn’t jolt forward from his momentum. Instead, it felt as if he’d never been moving at all, and, it was the scenery around him that had stopped. Charlie tried to move, to look around for what had happened, but found that he could not. Even his eyeballs were stuck in place staring over the side of the carpet. Then, just as suddenly as he’d stopped, he began plummeting towards the barge. Right before he made what would surely be unpleasant contact with the deck, his world blurred and went black.
The world was buzzing.
With a bit of effort, he was able to discern the sound of faraway voices speaking in a language he couldn’t understand. French, maybe? It’d make sense given his location when he’d –
He gingerly opened his eyes and concentrated on turning the patches of lights and colors into recognizable forms.
His head swam.
What exactly had happened? He barely finished asking himself the question, when it all came flooding back to him – the hag, the magic carpet, Paris, the barge on the Seine. He had thought for certain that he was a goner as he’d raced towards the extremely solid surface of the barge’s deck. His sixteen short years of life had flashed in front of his eyes like a high-speed Muggle picture show. But blinking his eyes, he could tell that he was most definitely still alive and in one piece. Somebody, another witch or wizard, must have immobilized him and slowed his descent.
A sigh of relief passed over his lips – his mum would have killed him if he’d have died running away from home.
He was lying on a cool, concrete floor in some sort of heavily barred cell. Not wanting to draw attention to himself, he looked around from his prone position. His belongings sat atop a wooden stool a little way back from the cell, the old hag's magic carpet was nowhere to be seen, and a worn pair of brown loafers stood just outside of the bars. His eyes travelled up from the shoes to the grey pair of trousers, past the orange knit jumper with a large, golden ‘W’ embroidered on it, and over his dad’s stern, freckled face –
His dad’s stern freckled face!
“Dad?” Charlie exclaimed as he all but leapt to his feet. “What? How? Godric Gryffindor, what are you doing here? Where even is here?”
“Charlie, my boy,” Arthur Weasley said in a tired voice, “good to see you’re up. Now,” – his voice suddenly more stern – “imagine my surprise, and relief that it was me who received the Floo message instead of your mother, when my mate from the French Department of the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts contacts me in the middle of the night to tell me that my son was arrested after flying over the Muggle countryside on a magic carpet.”
“I was arrested?”
“Of course you were arrested – you were flying a bloody magic carpet, which I apparently need to remind you, would fall under my jurisdiction if you were over Great Britain when you were spotted by ten Muggles, no less. Just what exactly were you thinking? And what are you doing in France?”
Charlie lowered his head and scuffed the toe of his trainer against the cement.
“I erm,” he said slowly. Now that he was about to say it out loud, it was painfully evident that there was nothing cool or particularly romantic about running away from home as he’d previously thought. Instead, he felt embarrassed and a touch foolish. “I had a row with mum and erm, ran away.”
“So you ran away to France because you got into an argument with your mum?” Arthur scratched his thinning hair. “You couldn’t just run to the neighbors like most teenagers? Bill must have run to the Entwhistles three or four times in his day. Where were you trying to go?”
“Romania.” His voice was barely a whisper.
“That position I was offered working with the dragon keepers this summer – Professor McGonagall herself set it up – well, mum wasn’t too keen on the idea of it. Told me I couldn’t go, that it was too dangerous and I was too young. Dad,” – Charlie looked up and met his father’s eye – “I’ve never wanted something so badly in all my life as to do this. I guess, I just sort of decided I was going to one way or another.”
The older Weasley offered his son a small, sad smile before pacing the length of the cell. “I’m not even going to ask how you managed to get your hands on the carpet –”
“– my ears and tongue appreciate that.”
“What? Never mind – I don’t want to know. The point is, I know how much you love your dragons, and what a good opportunity this is for you, but you can’t just sneak out of the house, break the law and expect everything to work out. You don’t think your mum and I wouldn’t notice you weren’t there the next day?”
Charlie shrugged his shoulders.
Everything was crashing down around him, and the fact that he wouldn’t be seeing Romania or its dragons anytime soon, if ever, was becoming a painful reality.
“I guess I didn’t give anything much thought. I’m sorry.”
“Well, I’m certain you won’t be doing anything this ridiculous again anytime soon, but we really ought to get going,” Arthur said quickly as he nodded back to someone just beyond Charlie’s line of sight. “You see, your mum doesn’t know I left the house and she was already a bit cross because I didn’t compliment the parsnips she served for dinner. So help me if she knows I used the last of the Floo powder to bail you out of a French prison.”
“So,” Charlie said as the guard his dad had nodded at appeared from the shadows and unlocked his cell door, “you sort of ran away, too, then – didn’t you?”
“Well, I wouldn’t go so far as to say I ran away –”
The younger Weasley cocked his brow and smirked at his dad as he walked out of the cell and picked up his carpet bag, wand, and compass from the wooden stool.
“I’ll tell you what,” Arthur said as he wrapped an arm around his son’s shoulders, “we keep all of tonight’s events just between the two of us, and I’ll have a talk with your mum. Maybe she’ll be more accepting of you traveling to Romania for the summer if I check it out with you first, make sure it’s safe – we could make a little holiday of it. I’m due a few days from the office.”
“You’d do that for me? Even after all of this?”
It looked like he might see the dragons someday, after all.
“Of course – I know how much working with these dragons means to you. Just not a word of this to your mother.”
Smiling, Charlie mimed zipping his lips shut. He certainly wanted nothing more than to work with dragons, but he didn’t have a death wish. He would most definitely not be mentioning a word of this to anyone anytime soon.
Especially not his mum.
Author's Note: Anything you recognize belongs to the world of Harry Potter and the fabulous J.K. Rowling. I hope you enjoyed this silly little one-shot. I know I had a lot of fun writing it! If you've a moment, please leave a review. Thank you!