He couldn't believe it. Could not believe that he of all people would get a chance to experience such a grand adventure, such a wonderful journey into the world of dragons; their world, from where no human had ever returned. He was determined to conquer the home of the beautiful, deadly creatures that had his mother worried sick for days after each of his letters.
What Charlie Weasley didn't know was that he was the only one crazy enough to do something like this.
Even his assistants had been begged, goaded, shamed, blackmailed, and in many other ways forced to come with him. He had left a week late with the bare minimum of companions, waiting for the last minute answer of their guide, Wilhelm, in order to leave. As it was it was fortunate that they'd been forced to wait, on account of a last gasp snowstorm that had virtually shut the entire town down for three days, only letting up enough to allow a few travelers to start their long cold climb to the pinnacle of Pilatus. The thick, fat flakes still fell, covering their hoods and packs with deep white blankets, causing them to blink rapidly to dislodge the tiny hexagons that blocked their vision.
"Shut your mouth boss. You look like a large mouth bass," came the pleasantly annoying voice of the American representative of their tiny crew, Nils Torgenson. The former resident of Minnesota was decked out in a fur trimmed parka, and was having a wonderful time poking fun at his fellows at their diminished tolerance for cold weather, exclaiming preposterous notions about weather in his home state such as "You should have seen the Halloween blizzard of '92. Foot of snow on October 31st, and the little kiddies running around with winter jackets on over their costumes, so bundled up you couldn't tell what they were supposed to be." He also loved to make obscure fishing references, this latest causing Charlie and the rest of the group to look at him strangely, before he explained "Medium sized fishies, big round mouths."
"Charlie, we should make camp soon. It's getting dark, and I have never been this far up the mountain before." Wilhelm suggested as he approached from behind. "There is no telling what waits for us beyond this point, and I for one would rather find out what it is in the day light, rather than while it prowls around our tents at night."
Charlie turned to the older, diminutive Swiss with white hair billowing everywhere. "You're right, Wilhelm. I don't fancy sleeping in that," he nodded toward the thick woods that signified the next leg of their trip.
"Here, here!" cried the fourth member of the group. Liz Abernathy, a former classmate of Charlie's, as she dropped her gear to the ground and started setting up her tent, without preamble. Her green eyes flashed in the light of the setting sun, causing Charlie's stomach to lurch in a way he thought he'd left behind with seventeen. What was it with Weasleys and green eyes? His mum, and Ginny for that matter, had fallen for the bright emeralds that Harry Potter possessed, and now he was falling for the soft jade of Liz's...
Hold up. Falling? Since when did Charlie, great master of dragons, fall for anything?
Not bloody likely!
He shook his head and began setting up his tent, with the help of the other two male members of the team. Nils and Wilhelm already had the tent laid out; it was just a matter of setting it up on the poles now. "So why does she get to have her own tent, while the three of us have to put up with each other's snoring all night?" Nils was asking.
Charlie rolled his eyes. "Nils, she's a girl..." great job with the kids stuff, Charlie, just like you're back at Hogwarts "er, a woman. The only woman. Of course she gets her own tent."
"I don't know..." Nils leered at Liz's back. "It might be nice to share a sleeping bag with that one. Keep you warm at night."
Charlie blushed. I don't feel anything for her. That was...years ago. I'm over it...so why do I feel like ripping his head off now? "Nils..." he growled threateningly.
"Come now, we're all grown men," Wilhelm was adding his wisdom (two cents) to the conversation. "Let's act like it, shall we? In any case, you ought to think of Liz's feelings on the subject."
"I can here you talking about me!" Liz's dulcet tones rang out from the other side of the camp. "In about two seconds I'm going to come over there and find out what you're talking about, so you'd better change the subject!"
Charlie gulped. She was just a little bit on the scary side. Almost as scary as his mother! "Er...right. Sorry about that!" he called, trying to smooth out any sort of disaster before it occurred. Must be the Percy in me, he thought, don't know why I'd be concerned with it otherwise...
In a matter of about ten minutes, Liz had her tent up and was soaking in a hot tub in the bathroom of her suite. I don't know how Muggles do this sort of thing. My favorite thing about these sorts of trips is that I get to spend the time I'm not hiking relaxing, catching up on reading... She had in her hand one of her favorite books off the tent's book shelf and as she read her favorite part she sunk herself a little bit deeper into the water in self contentment.
A yell outside disrupted her reverie. The "boys" as she'd begun to call them, were playing some sort of Quidditch, adapted because they hadn't been able to bring brooms. Nils kept yelling that it was just like American Muggle football, and Charlie kept hitting him upside the head with the quaffle, trying to get him to actually catch it. Wilhelm was playing spectator, and doing so splendidly, even cursing out the nonexistent referee. Liz didn't think she'd ever understand what was going on in the cogs of that old man. He was a bit like Dumbledore, as she remembered the headmaster of Hogwarts, in any case- very wise and very crazy.
Then there was Nils. The boys didn't realize that she'd heard more of the conversation than she let on. In fact, it was hard not to hear what those loud mouths were talking about. Share her sleeping bag indeed! As if she'd even consider sleeping with that slime ball! And Nils had offended her. A lot. She hadn't been so offended since...since Hogwarts.
She shook her head. There was no need to dwell on that. She'd much rather think about Charlie. Charlie, her archenemy at Hogwarts, now grown up. Charlie, who always had the same ideas as she did, who was always interested in the same thing, who always did them so much better than she...They had both tried out for the seeker position on the Gryffindor House Quidditch team. Charlie had, of course, won the spot and gone on to become the best seeker Hogwarts had ever seen...until young Harry Potter, according to Liz's younger sister, currently in her seventh year at Hogwarts.
Then, she'd become interested in dragons. She was so excited that she almost consistently got perfect scores in Care of Magical creatures...except Charlie Weasley had always gotten higher marks. She'd gone out of her way to make friends with Hagrid, knowing he adored magical creatures, and found out that he was already taking regular Sunday afternoon tea with Charlie to talk about dragons and other creatures.
Needless to say, it made her mad.
From the day she met him until the day they'd left school she hated him, loathed him, in the way that the number two spot reserves for number one.
So, when Mr. Charlie Weasley came crawling back one day, begging for her help on this all important mission, she deigned to come along as a favor. After all, it proved that even the high and mighty needed her help, help only she could give.
What she didn't know is that she would fall for him.
It bugged the hell out of her. When she got the owl, she was sure that this time it would be different, that this time she would show her opponent that she was stronger, faster, smarter, and better at everything. She would even be more beautiful than she had ever been and if he tried anything she would coldly shove him away, to show him just how it felt to be rejected just because you weren't as good, as strong, as smart, as passionate about something.
Instead it had been everything all over again. Charlie ignored her, mostly, except when it came to defending her, which he would do for anyone. He was more noble, more good, more... everything even than he had been when they were younger. It made her feel petty, shallow, and generally bad about herself. How could she have been so childish? Why did she need to get one up on him all the time? She knew she would never do it.
Then there was the fact that he obviously thought of her as a child, calling her "girl" in a quick Freudian slip before correcting himself. He must think of me as the same kid who used to try to beat him in everything at Hogwarts. Childish, a little girl. God, why me?
And his nobleness just made it worse. She couldn't put how she felt into words, it just was. And he didn't notice that her newfound admiration for him had taken a definitely non-platonic turn. She most definitely noticed how he'd grown up, his tan muscles grown out from his days taming dragons in the Romanian outdoors, his tattoo which was just gorgeous (plenty of emphasis on that last word), and the maturity that came from dealing with life all adding to her new image of him that just made her want to take him and kiss him and...
Well, enough of that. With a few final splashes and plenty of water ending up on the floor and quickly picked up by a simple Abluo charm. She got dressed, putting on a worn out sports bra and a faded t-shirt with her sweat pants and wrapped her dressing gown and parka around her to head outside.
The boys were still playing, Wilhelm now having a time trying to buy peanuts and butterbeer from an invisible vendor, and Charlie and Nils were arguing about a foul.
"I swear, I didn't touch you," Nils was claiming. "You must have been mistaken."
"I felt the tug, Nils, don't lie."
Liz cleared her throat. All of them sopped their arguing/purchase attempts and looked at her. Nils grinned.
"Anything I can help you with, Liz?"
Liz looked at him cooly. "Actually, I came out here to tell all of you to get to bed. Not only are we going to have to get up bright and early tomorrow, but I want to get to sleep, and you're making quite a racket."
Nils grinned again "Yes, milady." He bowed cheesily.
Charlie coughed. "Sorry, Liz. We'll stop. And you're right. It is time to get some sleep."
Liz turned back into her tent, and got ready to settle down for the night. Her thoughts were still confused, though.
What happened to Charlie's holier-than-thou attitude that she remembered so well? What happened to his unbearable smirk when he'd done something that he knew no one else could? What had changed him into the humble, kind man that he'd become?
Liz fell asleep before she got any answers.
Charlie lay awake, unable to sleep. His thoughts kept leaping back through time, bringing him to his seventh year at Hogwarts. To the point in time when he fell in love with Liz Abernathy.
He'd always thought that she was great, really great. She was big on Quidditch, and even tried out for Seeker the same year as him. It was actually a good thing, because if she'd already been on the team, there was no way he'd have beat her out. She was good. Almost as good as he was.
And then there was her love of dragons. Once he'd found out about that particular interest of hers, his heart was sealed forever...well, until they left school, in any case. He'd even invited her to come have tea with him and Hagrid one Sunday. She had told him she couldn't come, and ignored any of his further invitations, including a standing one he'd given her about halfway through the year.
By the end of seventh year, he'd realized that they could never be together, as she obviously hated him, and given up any idea of becoming closer to her. He'd even almost forgotten what he'd felt for her...almost.
When this project had come through his supervisor at the colony, he'd jumped on the chance to do it. And he'd know right away the first person he'd ask to come: Liz. He'd never expected her to say she would, though, so when she owled back that she'd come, he'd practically jumped through the roof in excitement. It was about two hours later that he realized that she was probably only coming for the professional experience. After all, what sane dragon trainer wouldn't want to come to this legendary place?
It was then that he'd decided that he wasn't going to repeat what had happened at Hogwarts. He was an adult now, he had to act like one. That meant no embarrassing crush, no acting like a complete prat around her (he'd learned those lessons from his younger siblings). No blushing, no favoring her over the other members of his crew, no staring into space, no glaring at others trying to flirt with her (ahem!), and NO DROOLING!!!!
Of course, this ultimatum was made well before he actually saw her, well before her saw her step out of the Apparition point, her long brown hair flowing behind her, her jade green eyes, soft as the sunlight that was just coming over the horizon, her long limbs giving her a cat like grace that made her float across the floor...
This was before she cut her hair short so it wouldn't get in the way, and before her eyes hardened in a cold glare at him, and before she strapped ten kilos of gear on her back, hunching her over, making her stagger, but still...he was too far gone to notice. He had left this world and was in drooling in heaven.
Then he had realized what he was doing. He was doing exactly what he had sworn not to. He had composed himself, greeted her formally, and shook her hand, the whole time feeling like his hand was falling off-it was tingling so hard. Then had greeted Nils and Wilhelm the same way, without the tingling, of course, just to prove to himself that he didn't have a crush on her. He didn't!
He sighed and rolled over, receiving an annoyed grunt from Nils side of the room. Was life ever easy? He grunted a sardonic laugh to/at himself. I don't have it easy? What about Dad and Percy, who have to show up to the Ministry everyday and pretend they don't know what's really going on with Voldemort? Or Sirius Black, the man largely thought to have killed thirteen people with one curse, Harry's Godfather, on the run from Dementors for a crime he didn't commit? Or Harry Potter, only fifteen years old, giving his life blood to the Order of the Phoenix, and loosing his childhood before he lives it? Or Ginny, little Ginny, who has to watch the boy, no man, she loves giving every part of himself to the battle against Voldemort? Or Ron and Hermione Granger, who are watching their best friend waste away under the harsh light of war? I have it too easy.