Chapter 1 : Love in a Hopeless Place
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Regard me sadly, I disappoint them.
- Sheep in fog by Sylvia Plath
The dragon preserve in Romania was a destination for the wealthy and well-traveled to visit when they desired a touch of the exotic in their holiday. Visitors to the preserve had been restricted to official visitors from the Ministry or, if the director gave permission, the families of the dragon keepers. Now families needed a sack full of galleons to meet the famed dragon tamers.
Guests greeted by a friendly, “Hi, I’m Weasley, Charlie Weasley and I’ll be your guide,” recognized the famous family name. Besides the fact that Charlie had a brother who was directly involved in the defeat of Voldemort several years ago, most knew that the Weasleys were a large family and that it was still growing.
Within the first few hours of their trip, once a few dragons had been spotted, guests would attempt small talk with Charlie. The questions about his wife and children were as common as rain in the spring. There was the equally predictable tone of disappointment and an awkward, “er,” as the guest would reach for another topic. This is the point in the conversation where Charlie would start talking about his most recent visit with the famous Ron Weasley, Harry Potter, and Hermione Granger-Weasley.
While predictable, the often almost perfunctory exchange always put Charlie in a sullen mood. He would put on a cordial face and keep a pleasant conversation going until he could deposit the travelers in their cabins for the evening and throwback enough whiskey to dull the continually raw wound but not enough to forget him.
It had been more than 10 years and Charlie could still close his eyes and recall every scar, the lines on his face, and how his hands felt against his skin. Brad Savage, why oh why did he have to die? Why did Charlie rebuff his many opportunities to have a full and happy life together? On some nights, when Charlie felt the need for additional comfort – or was it additional pain? – he would let himself remember the man he had loved for so long.
Hogsmeade had a cool spring breeze when Charlie arrived in town with a slight crack. It was the second time that month he visited the village to comfort his heartbroken friend and help her through her mission to ensnare the werewolf Remus Lupin with her love. Previous to this, Tonks had only cried on his shoulder a handful of times in their long friendship.
The first time was out of frustration at having fumbled her quidditch tryouts in their 4th year. She rued her clumsiness and felt humiliated that she tripped not just herself but the two people next to her when she went to mount her broom. The second time was when Tonks was worried about failing her auror exams. She managed to stumble over a tree root and set off a snare she was supposed to be disarming. While quick wand work kept her to passing it did not save her pride.
Tonks had recently visited Remus at his undercover mission and was in need of a friend to confide in. Charlie learned about two hours into his visit that Tonks had more on her agenda than good advice from her dragon tamer friend. It had been years since Charlie heard the same level of shyness in Tonks’ voice than when she said, “There’s a guy I’d like to introduce you to. He’s an auror and, um, asked if you’d be interested in him…”
It was clear from the way Tonks’ voice trailed off, she wasn’t entirely confident that Charlie was interested in blokes. “Sure, I’ll meet him,” he said with a lopsided grin. There wasn’t a need for him to tell Tonks that he fancied blokes nearly as much, if not more, than women. She understood and had perhaps wondered in the past but found it irrelevant to ask about.
“Let’s get to the bar then!” Tonks said grabbing Charlie’s hand and dragging him out of the flat.
They grabbed a table and two drinks. Tonks kept an eye on the door and grinned widely as a tall man with dark hair walked past with a wink to the both of them. “I take it that’s Brad?” Charlie asked turning his head to watch the man order at the bar. Tonks nodded as she watched Charlie down his drink. “Guess I should go re-order.”
Liquid courage pushed Charlie towards the bar where Brad was ordering. Glancing over as Charlie walked up, Brad turned towards the red-haired man and said “I’m Savage, Brad Savage,” extending a hand and a shy smile.
There was some secret agent quality in the way Brad introduced himself and it quite endeared him to Charlie. Something in the way Brad’s eyes twinkled as they shook hands that reminded Charlie of the stars shining over the dragon habitat in Romania. “The name’s Charlie,” he said returning the smile.
It could have been a few minutes or a few hours later that Tonks wandered up and said she was shoving off and that she wouldn’t wait up. Charlie lost track of time and surrounding as Savage asked about life in Romania as a dragon keeper.
“It’s really not as glamorous as it sounds. A crew of burly wizards, crazed beasts that could kill any of us.” Charlie touched Brad’s arm feeling strength under the material of his shirt. “We could use more blokes built like you,” Charlie said with a squeeze.
“I could use a man like you,” Brad said in Charlie’s ear watching as he turned a bright red color.
Snogging might have started right there or in an alley just around the corner. Neither of them were aware of much until Savage toppled over a rubbish bin and Charlie fell next to him on the ground. Both started a raucous, carrying laugh that took what felt like minutes to die down. On their backs they looked up at the night sky holding hands.
“I suppose we got a bit carried away,” Charlie said still breathing heavily. “You’ve been hanging around Tonks too much if you’re tripping over yourself like that.”
Brad rolled toward Charlie and rested on his elbow. “It might be the effect you’re having on me. I’m usually quite well balanced.” Leaning towards the freckled man, Savaged kissed Charlie gently on the lips. “I’d like to see you again,” he said in a soft tone.
Charlie blinked for a few moments. He had enjoyed his evening but wasn’t sure how practical a dating relationship would be as an expatriate and a member of a secret society on the verge of war. Expecting different words to come out of his mouth, Charlie instead said, “I’d like that too. I just don’t know when with us living in different parts of the world.”
The smile that formed on Savage’s face was wicked and alluring. “I’ll write to you and remind you to visit the motherland.”
Charlie left that night to go back to Romania. He had to be up at dawn to feed the newly hatched dragons. Bleary-eyed and happy he was unfocused on the task at hand for most of the morning. It was less than a week letter when he got a short letter from Brad asking if there was an opening on Charlie’s crew. Chuckling to himself, he could see that Brad would be a pleasant distraction from the more serious matters in life.
Charlie was leaving the Ministry after what felt like days of questioning when he next saw Savage. Bill’s wedding had been crashed and some of the guests questioned by death eaters. Most of the family was left well alone but Charlie was singled out because of his work out of the country. Feeling tired and dirty, he was eager to leave London after a quick stop at the Burrow to say goodbyes to the remaining family. Almost to the fireplaces that would take Charlie out of the miserable atrium, a voice started to call, “Charlie! Hold up!”
Savage was running towards him with a grin on his face. Charlie briefly wondered if the handsome auror had been in a coma for the past few days while his employer fell to Voldemort. It only took a few moments for the two men to be inches apart. “Hi Savage,” Charlie said with the best smile he could muster given his prolonged interrogation. “How have you been?”
Finally looking the ginger over, Brad’s smile fell and a look of concern muddled his face. “Never mind me. Who did this to you? What’s happened? Did they question you down there?” Savage’s voice was rising with each question.
Putting a calloused hand to the other man’s mouth, Charlie shushed him and asked, “Is there somewhere private we can talk?”
Without another word, Brad nodded and pulled Charlie towards a fireplace. They popped out in a flat which appeared to belong to Savage. It was small, a bit messy, but looked happy and comfortable. “Can I make you tea?” Brad asked as he headed into his kitchen. “Are you hungry? You look famished – I’ll make you some eggs.”
Charlie took a seat at the tiny kitchen table feeling grateful for a few moments to collect his thoughts. He didn’t know if he could truly confide in Brad. Sure, he liked him and thought he had a cute bum but that didn’t guarantee he was on the same side of the war or that he could be trusted with the secrets Charlie knew.
Placing a bit of scrambled eggs and buttered toast on the table, Brad sat across from Charlie looking apprehensive. Maybe he was grappling with how much information to share as well. “I… I know what happened,” he said as Charlie started in on the breakfast. “They killed Scrimegour and You-Know-Who has taken over.”
Swallowing hard, Charlie raised an eyebrow as he asked, “Then why are you running into the Ministry as giddy as a schoolboy? You should run and fight – not stay and be a stooge.”
“There’s nowhere I could run that the Ministry wouldn’t catch up with me, Charlie. I have to stay and play a part,” Savage paused for a moment as if contemplating his next words, “I’ve been told to spy on your family. On your dad.”
A loud scrape of wood on wood could be heard throughout the flat as Charlie made to get out of his chair. “You’re spying on my family? On me? Oh that’s great, Savage – invite me over and pump me for information!” Charlie’s hand was firmly set on his wand.
Savage stood as well so he could look Charlie in the eye. “It’s not like that. I – I’m trying to help. It’s complicated, Weasley,” he said with a touch of acid in his tone. “I can’t just march out of my job but I can shield your family as much as possible. I saw what happened to Tonks at work once they got wind of her and Lupin. It’s not safe for anyone right now…” Charlie started to cut Brad off but he continued on, “That doesn’t mean I’m going to roll over and be a stooge. I’ll do my job but won’t get your family in trouble.”
Deciding that he could stand to hear more before storming out, Charlie took his seat. “Go on,” he said with a stubborn glare at the man across from him.
“You’re kind of cute when you’re angry,” Brad said leaning back in his chair hoping to see a grin on Charlie’s face. When one did come he pressed on. “I can see your mood won’t be changed by flattery. They gave me your dad’s file yesterday – yes, he has a file,” Savage added before Charlie could have another outburst. “No one at work knows about us so they think this is just another gig for me. They must also think we’re all as dimwitted as Dawlish to not notice how much changed overnight.” Brad reached for Charlie’s hand and held it before reassuring him, “I’m not on their side but I can do more good on the inside. Better that I report on your family’s benign behavior than having them watched by someone who wants them in Azkaban.”
There were too many thoughts rushing through Charlie’s mind to make sense of everything. The use of us was making his heart race. It could have been the passion behind Brad’s eyes or the fact that Charlie didn’t want to imagine the man across from him to be a spy, but he couldn’t help but believe him. “I’m sorry I got mad. I’ve been through quite an ordeal these past few days and you on his side would have tore me up.”
“Don’t apologize,” he said firmly. “We’re not enemies but we’re not exactly on the same side either.”
Neither spoke for a few minutes. Savage drank the rest of his tea while Charlie shoveled down his breakfast. Once he finished eating, Charlie looked around the flat and spotted the bathroom. “Would it be okay if I use your shower? Mum will have a fit of kittens if I go home looking like this,” he said gesturing to his bruised face and general disheveled state.
“Be my guest,” Brad said grabbing the dishes and setting them on the counter. “Let me get you a tow-“ he stopped midsentence as he noticed Charlie taking his clothes off in the middle of the living room. Blushing slightly, Brad handed the still stripping man a towel.
Looking up from pulling his shoes off, Charlie saw Brad’s flushed face and grinned. “Sorry, too many years in the quidditch locker room to by shy about getting starkers for the shower,” he said walking past Brad and into the bathroom.
A few minutes later, Brad could hear the sounds of the outdated shower handles turning. A short yelp from the bathroom let him know that the water went straight to scalding. Hearing the squeaks of adjusting knobs and stream of swear words, Brad went in to help. “You have to get them just right,” he said fiddling with the hot and cold dials. “Is that better?”
Charlie nodded slowly. “It’s perfect,” he said vaguely before adding, “but I might need your help again if it goes all wonky. Maybe you should stay with me to keep me safe.” Brad could feel a swoosh of excitement in his stomach and other bits. Getting naked with Charlie wasn’t what he thought his morning would involve but he wasn’t about to look a gift hippogriff in the mouth. “Nice tats,” Charlie said when Brad stepped into the shower.
“Nice scars,” Brad countered eyeing the old wounds on Charlie’s arms and shoulders. “Nice everything,” he said quietly lightly touching Charlie’s bare torso.
After they were both showered and cleaner than they had been, both needed to leave and go about their day. “Thanks for breakfast and… everything,” Charlie said at the door. “I really enjoyed myself.”
“It was nothing, really. I’m glad you’re safe,” Brad said brushing a stray hair from Charlie’s face. “I’m not sure if I can keep in contact with… with everything going on.” He blushed looking like he regretted bringing it up.
“Can’t start sending wonton letters to the family you’re keeping tabs on?” Charlie asked cheekily.
“It might be suspicious,” Brad said with a low laugh. “I will try to keep them safe – at least from Azkaban.”
Charlie leaned in kissing Brad softly. “Take care of yourself,” he said as he pulled away. “Goodbye.”
“Weasley!” Charlie looked up as his foreman shouted at him from the top of the dragon enclosure. “Up here!” With a glance and a shrug to Peters and Nelson, Charlie made his way to the place where Ragar stood watch. Climbing the ladder up, he could see four legs. Two were clearly Ragar’s judging by the weathered dragonhide boots. The other pair of legs had a pair of shined shoes that did not belong to anyone who regularly worked with dragons.
The shock of seeing Brad with an austere look of purpose and duty on his face almost caused Charlie to fall off the ladder. Ragar seemed to notice an imbalance in his employee and extended a hand to pull Weasley up to the platform. There had to be something horribly wrong for Brad to come to Romania. Deciding to act as he if didn’t know the man next to his boss, Charlie said, “What can I do for you, Ragar? Another Ministry tour?”
When the reserve had guests, Charlie was often asked to show them around. Most of the dragon keepers were exceptional when it came to handling dangerous creatures and performing the complicated conjunctivitis spell but not very gifted when it came to socializing. “This here is Brad Savage from the Auror Office. It seems he has some questions for you.” Charlie could see his boss was worried but didn’t want to let on in front of the stranger. “I’ll have someone cover for you while he’s here,” Ragar said leaving the two of them alone.
“Is there somewhere private we can talk?” Brad asked in an authoritative voice. Charlie nodded and walked Savage to the employee barracks and into his suite. The new dragon keepers had to share rooms for the first year then they were able to move into little suites. The extra bit of privacy was nice after a long shift feeding and caring for vicious fire-breathing beasts.
Closing the door behind them when they were both in his living quarters, Charlie was taken by surprise when Brad kissed him fiercely. “I’m here to investigate your suspicious activity against the Ministry,” Brad said between kisses. “Nothing’s wrong, no one’s been hurt,” he said once he saw the slightly bewildered look on Charlie’s face. “I just couldn’t bear more time away from you.”
His mind and heart racing, Charlie let out a laugh of relief. “You’re faking a mission?” he asked with incredulity.
“Not entirely. Here I am, in Romania. I’ll write a report on my visit.” Charlie raised his eyebrows. “It won’t be a fact-based report,” Brad added.
It wasn’t long until the two men were snuggling together beneath the blankets. “I’ve missed you,” Charlie said tracing one of Brad’s tattoos. His arms were heavily decorated with various images and designs that weaved together into beautiful art. “I’m glad you’re here,” he added.
“There’s nowhere else I’d rather be,” Brad said squeezing Charlie’s hand. “Your family is doing well. Except your brother with spattergroit.” Savage scrunched his nose up. “I had to check up on him in September and, well, he kind of looked ghoulish.”
Charlie sat up abruptly. “You didn’t – how, how did you know?” he sputtered feeling that his ability to lie to Brad had completely diminished.
“I did get an E in Care of Magical Creatures and went on to be trained as an auror… the other bloke didn’t spot that the ghoul was about a foot too short to be Ron or that it was a ghoul,” Brad said in an almost proud voice. “I didn’t let on that I thought anything other than it was a boy on his very deathbed,” he reassured Charlie. “Have you heard from him?” Brad asked in a would-be casual voice.
The ability to lie returned like a dragon to its nest. “No,” he said abruptly. “Mum’s been worried sick but Dad thinks he’s safe wherever he is.” The truth was that Bill had sheltered Ron for a few months at Shell Cottage after what sounded like a slight falling out between Ron and Harry. Charlie heard all of this from Bill when they last met a number of weeks ago.
An awkward silence fell between the two lovers while one wondered if he had been lied to and the other if the visit was just a fact-finding mission. Charlie scolded him for being foolhardy enough to think Brad was there just to be with him. Had his auror in shining armor gone from neutral-good to bad?
“I shouldn’t have asked,” Brad said after a few minutes. “I was just curious… I know it can’t be easy for your family right now.”
“I understand,” Charlie said after a few moments. “It’s just a bit difficult with you spying on my family and…” his voice trailed off unsure how to finish his thought gracefully.
“And running off to shag you?” Brad offered grinning. “I don’t like this anymore than you do, Charlie. I feel completely dodgy snooping on the family of the man I love-“ Brad stopped talking as if he’d been hit by a bludger. “I meant that… I didn’t mean to say it like that,” he said struggling for the right words.
Charlie searched his eyes for a moment before saying, “I love you too,” and holding Brad tight. He didn’t want to let go of the moment or the man. Unfortunately neither could last forever. The next morning Brad had to return to London after a brief interview with Ragar to have a few official sounding quotes for his report.
Brad stopped by Charlie’s room before leaving. Knocking at the open door he said, “I’m going to head out.”
Walking up to Savage, Charlie wrapped him in an embrace tight enough to have apparated along with him. “If anything major happens to me, you’ll know about it with this,” Charlie said handing Brad a coin with a dragon emblem on it. “We use them here as a way to let families know when there’s been a critical injury. I’ll use it to let you know if anything happens to me here.”
They kissed one final time before Brad had to leave warmth and safety for loneliness and danger. Charlie finished dressing and went out to the dragon yard to grab his assignment for the day hoping that there would be a follow-up investigation soon. As he reached the yard Peters called to him, “Most blokes don’t look that happy after a Ministry interrogation.” Charlie grinned and winked at his coworker.
It was nearly dawn when Charlie apparated in Hogsmeade. It had taken several hours between first receiving word that there would a battle at Hogwarts to assembling all the witches and wizards he could to offer reinforcements. No one on the inside knew they were coming. It was agonizing for Charlie to have his family fighting and, his heart nearly stopped at the thought, dying without him there to help protect them.
It seemed as if hundreds had been roused to fight and the thought warmed Charlie through and through. A familiar hand grabbed his. Looking to his side, Charlie saw Brad standing next to him as casual as a bloke running into a friend at a quidditch match.
“I didn’t think you’d come,” Charlie said quietly as he gripped the coin he had used to send a message to Savage.
“Are you kidding? I’ve been waiting for this to happen for ages,” Brad said in a bright voice.
“For the death eaters to take over Hogwarts?”
“No, to rescue you,” he said squeezing Charlie’s hand.
“We’re actually here to rescue the castle,” Charlie reminded him.
With a quick kiss, Brad said, “I know,” and began to jog towards the castle.
They were soon separated in the horde as they ran towards the disfigured castle. It seemed that their force was the final wave in what must have been a massive battle. Charlie rushed into the castle fighting off death eaters while keeping an eye out for his family. He needed to know they were well. Brad began to pick off retreating death eaters as they fled the grounds.
When the fighting died down, Brad entered the Great Hall. Everything was in disarray. The once familiar castle was almost unrecognizable to those who had come to its rescue. Savage needed to find Charlie and never let him leave his sight again. He first stumbled over a person he did not expect to see among the dead – Tonks. His breath caught in his throat as he took in her lifeless body on the ground.
An icy tear raced down Brad’s cheek as he remembered that she had been pregnant, last he heard. She must have given birth already. Next to his friend was her werewolf husband. Had they died together? It seemed a tragically poetic way for them to die after they struggled to realize their love. Brad had to turn away from them.
Looking around the room for anything else to focus on, his eyes caught a familiar group of redheads. Frantic, his eyes began to search for Charlie. It was clear that the family was in mourning but he could not tell for whom. He knew them so well but could not go up to them and ask after their second eldest son as Brad was a stranger to them. Charlie’s head popped up from the table where he had been resting next to his older brother who appeared to recognize the auror. Brad wondered if his older brother knew of their relationship.
Making eye contact with Charlie felt akin to a warm embrace. Neither made a move towards each other. Bill said something in Charlie’s ear to which he answered by shaking his head. Taking the hint, Brad left the room and the castle. It was not his place to intrude on this family affair. There was no one else at Hogwarts whose company he desired. He left for London to be alone with his thoughts and grief.
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