"Harry, may I see my son?" Charlie politely asked.
Ginny and Ron stared at Titus as he was passed from Harry to Charlie. Titus stared up at the strange man and started to cry. "Why is he doing that?" Charlie snapped at Hermione.
"Because you're a big scary man." Hermione said kissing her son's head.
"I am his father." Charlie said flatly.
"He doesn't know that. You're never around." Hermione calmly stated.
"Well he will just have to learn then." Charlie laughed, ruffling Titus's hair.
The lunch party stared at the small family, amazed by the calm behavior. George cleared his throat from across the table. "So Charlie. What brings you to this side of the continent?"
"I missed my family. It took a few weeks to find a Keeper to take care of my dragons but I'm here now and will be until the wedding."
"You will?" Hermione asked.
"Of course, Darling." Charlie smiled and kissed Hermione's cheek. He placed his right hand over Hermione's left which was on her knee. He looked down at her hand and looked back up at her confused.
"Later." Hermione said under her breath.
“Mum’ll be leaping out of her skin when she finds out you're home.” George smiled in an attempt to lighten the mood.
“I actually had tea with Mum this morning,” Charlie smiled, “I stopped by the Burrow hoping she’d be watching Titus while Hermione was at work. She told me Hermione had the week off and was out shopping with Gin. After a nice catch-up I came to find my beautiful wife who I missed oh so much.” Charlie followed his explanation with a kiss on Hermione’s cheek.
Ginny, Ron, and Harry continued to stare at the outwardly happy couple, awestruck. Hermione didn’t put on the ruse as well as Charlie and the group could see the uncertainty through her mask. Charlie, however, looked as happy as ever. Titus looked up at the smiling man, clearly confused.
“Hey Titus!” George cooed. Titus turned toward George and smiled. George winked at the now giggling boy as pink bubbles floated out of the hole where his left ear used to be.
Charlie’s facåde finally fell. It angered him to see his son laugh at his brother but not recognise him.
“Spend a lot of time with him, do you George?” Charlie growled.
The party stared at Charlie, confused.
“I babysit him while Hermione is at work.” George said simply, knowing he had to tread lightly.
“Of course, of course. That’ll all change soon though,” Charlie said, his eyes darkening.
“What do you mean?” Hermione snapped, finally out of her trance. “I need someone to watch Titus while I’m at work. He can’t be left on his own. He’s four months old.”
“We will discuss it later,” Charlie glanced at the others around him, “when we don’t have company.”
“Right.” Hermione said nodding. She took Titus from her husband, “I should probably feed him.” She waved her wand and a bottle floated out of the bag by Harry’s feet and onto the table in front of her. Once on the table, an orange bubble encircled the bottle, heating the milk inside.
“So, Gin. How’s the wedding coming along?” Charlie asked, his mood suddenly lifting.
Ginny stared at him still in shock.
“Don’t even ask!” Harry chuckled, going along with the topic change. Harry always was the one to try and cheer everyone up. “It’s a wedding, everything is absolute chaos.”
“Ah. I don’t envy you Mate. Mum driving you crazy?” Charlie laughed.
“Actually no. I think she’s still in shock.” Harry said.
“Oh. Lucky you. Hermione and I were dumb enough to let Mum plan our whole wedding, with the help of Fleur of course.”
Ginny’s eyes flicked to Hermione whose narrowed.
“I thought it was a pretty good decision. We didn’t have to do anything, I didn’t stress at all, and we still got a beautiful wedding.” Hermione stated, bouncing Titus.
“True. We did get to spend our time together instead of visiting florists.” Charlie smiled at his wife.
“That is true. It all happened so fast.”
“I know. Can you really believe that next month is our Anniversary already?” Charlie smiled.
The room tensed up yet again.
“Is it?” Hermione’s voice shook. “I must’ve forgotten. I can’t believe it’s April already.”
“Ginny, can you and Harry watch Titus tomorrow night? I have plans for Hermione and I.” He asked his baby sister. “The practice’ll do you good.”
“Why? I’m not pregnant.” Ginny snorted. “Don’t get me wrong, I love the little guy, but I don’t need practice.”
“Sis, You’re getting married in four months. Which means in five you will be pregnant.”
“Charlie don’t be gross!” Ginny made a face at her brother.
“I’m not! I’m just saying, you’re a Weasley.” Charlie grinned. “So, will you watch my boy?”
“I guess!” Ginny whined, as if she wasn’t excited.
“Good.” Charlie turned to Hermione and smiled, “Then we have a date?”
Hermione smiled. “I missed that smile.” Charlie said, touching Hermione’s cheek.
The sunlight drifted through the amber windows, dancing on Hermione’s pale skin. She moved slightly under the warm glow. She smiled softly as her eyes fluttered open. The smell of freshly baked biscuits wafted into the room. Hermione shifted her legs against the cold silk sheets. She knew her early morning delight wouldn’t last long so she savored every warm moment of it.
Before she was ready to let go of her sleepy bliss, she felt her stomach jump into her throat. She managed to make it to the bathroom and cast a silencing charm, before the inevitable. Hermione made sure to locate Charlie’s mouth-wash and rinse her mouth out before brushing her teeth with his toothbrush.
Hermione looked at her reflection in the mirror, realising she was still nude. “Okay. so I have a few options: go eat breakfast naked, that’ll surely make an interesting morning; find my clothes and possibly offend Charlie, I don’t want him to think I’m planning on leaving already; or go put on one of Charlie’s shirts. I think I’ll go with that last one. I’ll spark interest but I won’t necessarily be saying anything with my clothes, or lack thereof. Okay. Let’s go. Damn. I wish I was an actress.” Hermione spoke to herself in the mirror.
Executing her third option, Hermione made her way to Charlie’s closet and slipped into one of his shirts, leaving the top few buttons unbuttoned. Hermione walked into the kitchen where she saw Charlie working over the stove. Hermione snuck up behind him, wrapping her arms around him and placing her hands on his bare chest.
“Good morning, Darling” she heard the smile in his voice.
Maybe I won’t have to act after all.
“I used your toothbrush. I hope you don’t mind.” Hermione admitted, softly kissing Charlie’s back.
“I do not mind one bit.” Charlie turned around and wrapped his arms around her waist brushing his lips softly against her’s. “I see you borrowed my shirt as well.”
“I did.” Hermione grinned, “My dress was a little too formal for breakfast.”
“Well we might have to go shopping then. There’s a lot on our agenda that your dress is too fancy for.”
“What? You don’t think this looks good on me?” Hermione bantered, feigning offense.
“You’d look beautiful in a burlap sack, but I’d like to spoil you a bit.” Charlie kissed her forehead and turned back around to finish cooking breakfast. Hermione propped herself up on the counter next to Charlie so she could see his face.
“So what are you going to spoil me with today?” Hermione smiled at Charlie, “Besides burlap sacks.”
Charlie laughed. “First, breakfast.” Charlie handed Hermione a plate and directed her to the sunlit breakfast nook.
“Biscuits and gravy. My favorite!” Hermione proclaimed, smelling her steaming plate.
“I know,” Charlie stated, amused at the sight of a hungry Hermione.
“And how could you possible know that?” Hermione asked, sitting down at the table.
“Whenever Mum would make biscuits and gravy back at the Burrow you would always go back for thirds.” Charlie beamed at Hermione.
“Well you better hope your gravy can live up to your mother's!”
“Who do you think taught me?” Charlie grinned, “Okay already! Dig in!”
Hermione tried to eat her breakfast as daintily as she could, seeing as she was still trying to impress Charlie. This was proving to be a much more difficult task than expected. Charlie's biscuits and gravy were just as good if not better than Mrs. Weasley's.
“I just told you I’ve seen you eat biscuits and gravy before.”
“That’s not how you eat them. Eat like you mean it." Charlie laughed.
Hermione shoveled into her food, thoroughly enjoying herself.
"I love a girl that can eat!" Charlie said, still watching her.
"I love a man that can cook!" Hermione said, finishing the last of her breakfast.
"I presume you'd like seconds?" Charlie asked, taking her plate.
"I really shouldn't," she said making a face, "but you can cook. So yes!”
Charlie joined Hermione while she ate her second helping, him on a rather large first. “So, Charlie. Will you answer my question now that you’ve spoiled me with a splendid breakfast?”
“And what was your question?” Charlie asked, pretending he didn’t know what she was talking about.
“What are you going to spoil me with? Besides clothes and food?” Hermione smiled, turning on her best flirty expression.
“One step at a time ‘Mione.” Charlie smiled, keeping her in the dark. “You’ve had breakfast, now go get dressed. We’re going shopping.”
“Charlie. I don’t have clothes to go out in.” Hermione looked down at the oversized shirt she used as a makeshift cover up.
“Already taken care of. I went out and got you a dress just for today. I figured you’d want to pick out the rest of your clothes yourself, but this should work for today.” Charlie explained.
“When did you find the time to go out and make breakfast? How early did you wake up?” Hermione questioned.
“Hermione. It’s eleven thirty.” Charlie chuckled.
“Oh.” Hermione blushed. She didn’t usually sleep in so late. ”I better go change.”
“Your dress is hanging in the closet.”
“So where are we going?” Hermione asked Charlie as she stood in her bathrobe, trying to decide what to wear.
“That depends.” he replied.
“On what may I ask?”
“Do you want fancy food or comfort food?” Charlie laughed.
“Comfort food,” Hermione smiled back at Charlie. “We should go to pizza!”
“Hmmm. Pizza? I haven’t had pizza in forever. It sounds good.” Charlie looked around Hermione’s closet. “You should wear this.” he said, pulling out a brown sundress and smiling.
“That’s the one you bought me after our first date.” Hermione said, touching the dress. “You said it... brings out my eyes.”
“Do you like it?” Charlie asked.
“I do.” Hermione said softly. “How do you know it’ll fit?”
“It’s enchanted of course. It will always fit perfectly and never get old.” Charlie answered, taking the dress off its hanger.
Hermione slipped it over her head and felt it form to her body, the perfect fit. She looked up to a beaming Charlie. “You look beautiful,” he said caressing her cheek, “I thought it’d bring out your eyes.”
“Wonderfully.” he said, kissing her softly. "You ready to go?"
"Just about. Have you seen my shoes?" Hermione asked sweetly.
"You left them in the kitchen last night." Charlie winked and headed out the door, his hand wrapped around Hermione's.
Hermione picked her shoes up off the kitchen floor and examined them. "Those probably aren't going to be too great for walking." Charlie said, pointing at the red heels.
Hermione nodded, "Transfiguration was my best subject at Hogwarts." And, with a wave of her wand, the heels of the shoes disappeared and their soles straightened themselves out. Hermione looked at an impressed Charlie as she stepped into the red flats.
"Shall we go then?" She asked, heading towards the fireplace.
"Yes, but we'll be walking. There're some shops not far from here." Charlie said ushering her to the door.
They made their way down the dirt path. The land around Charlie’s home reminded Hermione much of Hogwarts. The grass swayed in the light summer breeze. It blanketed the earth with its dense green blades and invited her to lay on its soft tips. Something moved in the woods next to them. Images of the trios misadventures into the Forbidden Forest rushed into Hermione’s mind.
“What d’you think?” Charlie asked.
Hermione slipped her hand inside Charlie’s and smiled, her cheeks reddening, “It feels like home.”
“That’s how I felt when I moved here right out of Hogwarts. It’s so much like the grounds.” Charlie responded warmly. He glided his thumb across the back of her hand.
Hermione looked up from their intertwined fingers to see a small collection of huts at the end of the dirt path.
“This is where us Keepers get everything we could possibly need.” Charlie explained as they entered the circle of huts, “This one here provides all our clothing and linens.”
He led Hermione into the miniscule hut which was of course much larger on the inside.
“You can have anything you’d like.”
“Here’s his diaper bag. There’s formula, diapers, pjs, changes of clothes, blankets, toys-”
“Hermione! I got it!” Ginny rolled her eyes. “Everything Titus could ever need is in this bag.”
“If his ears start to steam there is a blue potion in the side pocket. A teaspoon should do the trick.”
“Okay Hermione!” Ginny pushed her out the door. “Go eat!”
“If anything happens, anything at all, Floo me!”
“See you in the morning!” Ginny closed the door on Hermione.
“Alina,” Charlie spoke to the rather burly shop attendant, “We are going to need some boots as well.”
“Ahh. Right away Mr. Weasley.” she winked and disappeared behind an orange curtain.
“What for?” Hermione asked.
“You said you wanted to see a dragon didn’t you?” Charlie smiled and put his arm around her. “You’ll be fine. You’ve actually met her before.”
“Oh please don’t tell me it’s the Horntail Harry had to battle during the Tournament!” Hermione pleaded, getting quite nervous.
“Oh no no no. It’s Norberta.” Charlie smiled at Hermione warmly and she couldn’t help but feel that it would be alright.
Alina returned with a rather large pair of leather boots.
“Those look a little too big Charlie,” Hermione whispered.
Charlie just smiled and said, “This is a wizarding shop Hermione. Everything is enchanted to fit the owner.”
“That makes a little bit more sense.” Hermione nodded feeling dumb and pulling on the boots.
"Yes Charlie?" Hermione's voice had an ethereal element to it as she lay in the cool grass, the sun warm against her naked skin.
"There's just something about you." Charlie whispered, his finger tracing imaginary patterns on her pale skin.
"What do you mean?" Hermione asked softly. She turned over on her other side to face her lover.
"You're more than beautiful," Hermione blushed, "you glow."
Hermione held her soft expression as her stomach dropped. Charlie ran his fingers through her messy curls
"Even with grass in your hair." With his hand resting at the base of her neck, Charlie leaned in and lightly brushed his lips against her forehead. Hermione watched Charlie's lips as he pulled away. They reminded her of Fred's. They were soft and pale and had the same point in the middle that Fred's did. If she closed her eyes and concentrated hard enough it was almost like kissing Fred. There was no way she could get him back; but she had to do everything she could to feel him. Their lips were the only thing the brothers had in common. Their hair wasn't even the same shade of red. Charlie's hair was a little more sun bleached than Fred's deep red. Charlie's skin was dark and his jaw was square; Fred was pale and had a long, thin face. Fred's freckles were more pronounced while Charlie's nearly blended into his tan.
Charlie stared into Hermione's eyes with his dark blue ones. Hermione replaced them with the pale Sapphire ones she loved so dearly. She closed her eyes but held onto the Sapphire gems she so frequently thought of. She kissed Fred. She kissed him deeply and longingly. She kissed his neck and kissed his chest. Her lips trailed along his body, feeling the blood flowing under his skin.
"I've missed you darling." Charlie said moving his hand a little low down her back. He made a quick move and wrapped his arm around her waist and pulled her into his chest. He pressed his lips hard against hers.
"Charlie!" Hermione squealed as she giggled and halfheartedly pushed against his chest, "We are in public!"
"Does that mean I can't love you?" Charlie smiled, kissing her again.
"Weasley! Party of two!" The hostess called from behind her podium.
"Quite a crowd tonight." Charlie commented as the teenage girl led them to their table.
"Thursday's always our busiest night." The girl commented, "Can I take your drink order?"
"Yea. We'll take a pitcher of Fat Tire." Charlie spoke for both of them.
"Okay. Then I'll need to see both your IDs."
Hermione felt a tap on her knee under the table and grabbed the plastic card from Charlie's hand as she reached for her purse. Charlie presented his ID, Hermione following his actions. Satisfied, the hostess handed them both back and turned to hand in the order.
Once out of ear shot Hermione turned to Charlie, "Where'd you get those?"
"Of course." Hermione chuckled.
Hermione woke on the grassy hillside just as the sun started to creep over the near mountain. She didn’t have time to sneak away before her dinner escaped the confines of her stomach. The hair hanging down the sides of her face was pulled back and Charlie soothed her. When she was finished, he magicked away her sick and summoned her a glass of water.
"You alright?" Charlie asked, stroking her hair.
"I will be." Hermione responded, sipping the water.
Charlie held her close into his chest and continued to stroke her hair. Hermione closed her eyes and sank into his nurturing. She was comfortable in his strong embrace. Not happy, but comfortable.
“You ready ‘Mione?” Charlie called from his bed.
“Just about!” Hermione called back as she pulled the tight leather pants up over her rear, struggling to button them. Next came the overly exposing shirt that doubled as fireproof armor and the leather jacket. “Do you guys always wear this much leather?”
Charlie laughed from his bedroom, “Yes! It’s a necessity!”
Hermione walked out of the closet clad in Keeper’s gear, feeling slightly embarrassed of the tightness of her clothing. She pulled the jacket over her slightly bulging belly, trying to hide it. Over the past few days it had really grown. Charlie glanced at her stomach but pretended not to notice. He figured it was just from the mass amounts of food he’d been feeding her.
“You. Look. Amazing!” Hermione looked up to see Charlie staring at her in awe. Hermione merely blushed without responding. “You ready?”
Hermione nodded and followed Charlie through the door. They walked silently hand in hand to the Keep, which was practically in Charlie’s backyard. Hermione’s grip on Charlie’s hand tightened as she spotted a dragon she recognized. “Please tell me we aren’t going anywhere near a Horntail?”
“No,” Charlie chuckled, “We’re going to visit a dragon that already knows you.”
Hermione stared at him for a brief second confused before it finally clicked, “Oh! Norberta!”
Charlie smiled at the accomplished look on Hermione’s face. He was surprised she wanted to see a dragon considering how afraid she seemed that morning. He was also amazing at how quickly she got better after that brief sickness. Hermione always seemed like she was afraid of everything but she never really was. She was probably the most fearless woman he knew. At that moment, however, she looked brave.
“Is this her Charlie?” Hermione asked excitedly.
Charlie nodded, only glancing at the dragon.
“I never realized how beautiful they are, dragons. They’ve always just seemed frightening, but they really are majestic creatures.” Hermione said in awe.
Charlie redirected his attention to Norberta. “Would you like to touch her?” Hermione nodded. “Okay. You’re going to treat her just like a Hippogriff. Show her plenty of respect and let her come to you.” Hermione nodded again, her eyes never leaving the dragon.
Norberta picked her head up slightly off her crossed feet. Her gold eyes looked deep into Hermione’s as if reading her intentions. Hermione kept eye contact, showing Norberta that she was of good mind and spirit. She could feel all her secrets being read by the dragon, whose eyes shifted from Hermione’s face to her stomach. Norberta then leaned close to Hermione and nudged her gently with the tip of her nose, giving her permission. Hermione reached her hand out and placed it on Norberta’s snout without moving it, as if thanking her. Hermione could feel a silent bond being made between her and the docile beast. There was an understanding between them that Hermione could not quite grasp.
Charlie was astound by the natural connection Hermione made with Norberta. It was rare to see a witch or wizard who was not a Keeper work so well with what were considered such terrifying creatures. At that moment, to Charlie, Hermione seemed the most brilliant, caring witch he had met; and suddenly, he felt bad for stealing her from Ron.
“Let’s go for a ride.” Charlie suggested.
Hermione looked at him confused and then back at Norberta in realization. “Er. I’ve ridden a dragon before and it was not a good experience.” Hermione replied.
Now it was Charlie’s turn to be confused, “When have you ridden a dragon?”
“During the war. Harry, Ron, and I broke into Gringotts and escaped on the dragon.” Hermione began to look nervous.
“Oh. I do remember reading that. I’m assuming you rode bareback.” Hermione nodded, “Yea. It wouldn’t have been a pleasant experience. We do things a little differently here.” Charlie waved his wand, summoning what must have been some sort of saddle. Charlie fastened it onto Norberta who didn’t seem to mind but instead watched with awaited excitement. “Norberta is our best flyer. She has very strong motherly instincts and is really gentle with her riders. She enjoys it.”
Hermione suddenly realized her shared understanding with the dragon. She tried her hardest to keep her hand away from the base of her stomach but it had a mind of its own. The small bump was hard against her touch. As a healer Hermione recognized it as a firmness that could only be associated with the growing life within a woman's protective womb.
"You alright Hermione?" Charlie asked, watching her hand caress her lower stomach, "Your stomach acting up again?"
"I'm fine." Hermione shook it off.
"Are you sure you want to go for a ride?" Charlie asked, uneasy.
"Yes! Definitely!" Hermione said a little too enthusiastically.
She took a step closer to the saddle and Charlie helped her up. Once Hermione was seated properly, Charlie hopped on behind her and grabbed the reigns in front of her. His massive arms created a protective cage ensuring her safety as Norberta soared into the air. Hermione watched the trees quiver as Norberta's great scaly wings sent gusts of wind downward in their direction. They climbed and climbed into the early morning mist. The sky was velvety with the rising sun just peeking over the mountaintops. Small wisps of hair had fallen out of Hermione's tightly secured bun and tickled Charlie's neck. He leaned forward and kissed the top of her head once Norberta leveled out, gliding through the wispy clouds.
Their clothes were damp from the mists of the clouds. Hermione shivered in the cold and flashed back to her last experience with a dragon. Her legs began to ache and she could once again feel the blisters forming on her hands. She felt frozen in place against the rough scales of the freed beast. She began to cry, silently at first; but soon her tears grew to sobs and screams. She was screaming in fear and anger and in loss all at once. She was no longer able to hold onto what had been pent up inside her since the beginning of the War.
Confused, Charlie directed Norberta back to the ground. He pulled a still hysterical Hermione off the sympathetic dragon and carried her back to his Keep.
"Our Senior Keeper is retiring." Charlie said between bites of Pizza. "It's a good thing too. He just celebrated his hundred and second birthday. Old geezer could sure as hell handle a dragon though."
They both chuckled, their hearts light with the numbness of just enough alcohol.
"Just try to imagine Dumbledore riding a dragon. That was what it was like. At first I feared for his safety but I soon learned to step aside and leave the reckless stuff to ole Thomas." Charlie sobered up slightly. "I've been offered his job."
"What?" Hermione asked in shock.
"Yea. I've been offered the Senior Keeper job." Charlie announced.
"Congratulations Charlie! How exciting! Are you going to take it?" Hermione squealed excitedly.
"That depends." Hermione looked at him confused. "Will you and Titus move in with me in Romania?"
Hermione opened her mouth to say something but no sound came out.
"Before you answer just hear me out. We've decided to open a healing center on base. We have some accidents you know. I've shown ole Thomas your résumé and he agrees that you'd be the perfect person to run the center. If I take the job, we'd get the Head Keep. It's quite large. Four bedrooms in case we'd like to have more kids. There's a nice big back yard for Titus to play in and I was even thinking about building him a tree house for when he's older. And maybe a swing." Charlie stared at Hermione with hopeful eyes. "I really do miss you both. It kills me to be so far away all of the time."
Hermione stared at Charlie, her mouth ajar. Her gaping was starting to make Charlie uneasy. Had he struck a nerve?
"'Mione don't just stare at me. Say something!" Charlie gasped.
Hermione quickly pulled herself together. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry. That was just so unexpected. I thought you were coming home to ask for a divorce. But this. This is wonderful news!" Hermione smiled.
"So you'll come with me?" Charlie asked hopefully.
"Yes. Yes! We'll come!"
Charlie kissed his wife from across the table. When he pulled back he was much more serious. "What made you think I wanted a divorce?"
"Oh I don't know," Hermione looked down at her left hand and the guaddie ring that sat on her finger, "This separation has been really hard on me as well." She paused a moment, then opened her mouth again but closed it, deciding not to say anything about Fleur.
"It's okay Darling. Everything will be fine again after the wedding." He put his hand on the side of her face and brushed his thumb lightly against her cheekbone. "I promise."
Hermione woke up in a daze. Her eyes ached and her head pounded. Symptoms she knew to be from a night of horrific images and crying. She looked around her slightly confused. It took her a few moments to remember where she was. She wasn’t home. This wasn’t her room at The Burrow. This was Charlie’s bedroom. In Charlie’s Keep. She was wearing Charlie’s t-shirt. She was laying in Charlie’s bed, carrying Fred’s baby.
At that moment, Charlie walked in, carrying a steaming cup of tea. “Ahh! You’re awake.” Charlie said, handing her the tea. “You alright?”
Hermione nodded, sipping her tea.
“Rough night. We all seem to be having those lately.” Charlie frowned. “Are you sure you’re alright though? You seem rather feverish.”
Charlie lifted his hand to her forehead and examined her eyes. “Let me go get you a cold towel.” he began to get up but stopped as Hermione spoke up.
“Charlie. I’m pregnant.”