The worst bit is that he’s here of his own volition. It was his choice to suggest London as his future home, though he can’t remember why it seemed a good idea at the time. He hates London, hates crowds, and hates seeing nothing but stone and steel everywhere he looks. However, he hates being smothered by his mum even more. Ever since the accident, she’s been worse than usual, which he always thought was pretty overbearing and meddling. He knows now that he was wrong. She can be worse and has been for the last three months.
He runs his fingers through his hair as he shifts uncomfortably and looks at the tube station. His arm hurts, and he’s getting a headache. Maybe he can just go home and plead exhaustion. It’s not like he shouldn’t get some benefits out of the bloody accident, considering the effect it’s had on his life. Having to move back home to recover was bad enough, but finding out that he can’t go back to work, can’t go back to the life he’s made for himself over the last fifteen years, is still so frustrating that he wants to scream. Constantly. And possibly stomp his foot, even if it won’t help or change things. And he’d probably just injure it, too.
“I’m sorry. There was a delay between stations, so we were running a little behind. I hope that you haven’t been waiting long.”
He’s pulled from his debate on whether he’s too old for a temper tantrum by a harried voice. He looks up and sees Hermione looking tired and stressed. There’s a good chance that he should probably feel guilty for making her deal with him and help him with all this, but he doesn’t. His mum volunteered Hermione’s help, after all, and she could have said no at any point. Still, there’s a minute pang of guilt when he notices how frazzled she looks.
“You could have suggested meeting somewhere else,” he points out, fully aware that he sounds grumpy and rude. “You can Apparate well, after all.”
She purses her lips, and he waits to see if he’s managed to push her over the edge already. That’s become a hobby since the accident, attempting to make her snap and lose her temper. He’d rather she yell at him and call him scathing names he has to look up in a dictionary than treat him like he’s some sort of victim who needs patience and pity. Fortunately, she’s one of the few who actually doesn’t treat him like a damaged invalid, which he’s grateful for, but it’s still bloody fun to make her snap.
“Do you have a list of properties that you want to view?” she asks, deliberately ignoring his taunt. He’s slightly disappointed, but it just makes him more determined to get under her skin, so it isn’t a total loss.
“Not really. I looked at the brochures that you dropped off, but nothing looked very appealing.” He shrugs his shoulder and grimaces when his left arm spasms. He glares at the dirty pavement beneath his feet as he curls his fingers into his palm and waits out the pain. It’s been months since the accident, yet he still can’t always tolerate the pain.
“I gave you the brochures so that you could choose a few flats to view,” she explains in an obnoxious tone that he welcomes because she’s not fretting over him. “If you didn’t find any that you liked, why did you ask to view flats today?”
He grits his teeth and looks up at her, glad to feel the pain fading as his arm stops throbbing. She looks concerned but glances away when he stares at her. “I need a place of my own. I’ll be starting my new job soon, and I can’t be living at home with my mummy and daddy then.” He curls his lips slightly when he mentions his new job and doesn’t care if he sounds petulant about it. He only accepted it because he needs to work, and no one else was willing to hire him considering his recent disabilities.
“It might not be as awful as you think it will,” she tells him matter-of-factly. “I worked there for several years after Hogwarts, and it was a challenging department. I know that it’s not what you want to do, but you should try to give it a chance, Charlie.”
“No lectures, Granger. You’re here to help me find a flat, not to preach to me about what I should or shouldn’t do regarding my ‘wonderful’ new job,” he snaps at her, losing his temper just a little when faced with her obnoxious optimism. He doesn’t understand how she can be so bloody happy all the time, especially considering what she’s been through.
“Well, if you’d stop feeling sorry for yourself, then I wouldn’t have to lecture you,” she says sharply, giving him a look that would make lesser men tremble in their boots but only makes him grin. She scowls at him and opens her bag. “You’re impossible.”
“Good thing you love a challenge then, huh?” He rubs his left eye and doesn’t even mind that he can’t really see much out of it anymore because she makes him feel almost like himself. Like he was before everything went to shite.
She snorts. “You’re lucky that I promised your mother I’d help you or I’d give you this list and leave you to it. And don’t give me that charming smile because it doesn’t work on me, as you well know.”
That just makes him smile more because she obviously finds it charming or she wouldn’t have wasted time describing it. Not that he cares, because he doesn’t want to charm her or anything. She’s not his type. She’s just someone who doesn’t treat him differently, really, and he needs that in his life. It’s nothing more than that.
He notices her looking at him curiously and realizes that he’s been standing there grinning like a fool for too long. He recovers quickly and winks at her. “You wouldn’t leave me alone in the big, bad Muggle world, even if you didn’t find me charming,” he says confidently.
“I somehow doubt the ‘big, bad Muggle world’ compares to facing fire-breathing dragons for years,” she points out dryly. “And I don’t find you charming.”
He blinks and feels a twist in his gut as he thinks about his dragons. He’s torn between relief that she doesn’t treat the word as forbidden, like everyone else in his family seems to be doing, but it also hurts to hear it spoken aloud like that, so he almost wishes that she’d just stop talking. He bites the inside of his cheek and tilts his head back so he can stare above them, thinking back to the bright blue of the Romanian sky and fluffy clouds surrounding the vision of his dragons flying majestically through the air. The memory is an improvement over the smog and gray clouds above him right now.
“Charlie,” Hermione says his name softly, and he ignores her, biting down harder when he feels her hand on his bicep. She squeezes lightly. “Why don’t we look for a flat somewhere else? It wouldn’t be difficult to arrange for a Floo connection, so you wouldn’t have to depend on Apparating everywhere, and you wouldn’t have to deal with London. I know how much you dislike it here.”
“Stop,” he warns quietly, finally looking down at her. She isn’t looking at him with pity, surprisingly enough. Instead, well, he isn’t really sure how to describe her eyes. He reaches up to tuck a loose curl behind her ear, possibly letting his hand stray a little so his knuckles can brush against her cheek. He watches her lips curve into a small frown as she studies him. “It has to be London because I can walk to the Ministry and Diagon or I can learn how to deal with your Muggle transport. The Floo is alright in small doses, but it…” He trails off and scowls, tensing when his left side starts to throb uncomfortably.
“It leaves you disoriented due to your vision and your reflexes aren’t functioning normally,” Hermione continues thoughtfully. “I honestly hadn’t considered that side effect to your injuries. I apologize for making you feel awkward.”
Charlie snorts. “Trust me, Hermione. I’m becoming an expert at awkward, so forget about it.” He nudges her arm with his elbow. “Now stop trying to get out of helping me find a flat. I can see through your plans, you know? I’m actually a clever boy.”
Hermione arches a brow at his teasing, probably seeing through him easily, but she allows the change of subject without any clumsy attempts at comforting him. “You’re very bright, Charlie, without any ‘actually’ about it. You might fool most people into believing you’re all brawn and no brains, but I see through your plans, you know?” She reaches up suddenly and places her palm against the burned skin on the left-hand side of his face. He tenses at the touch but doesn’t flinch away from it because it feels pretty damn good to have someone unrelated to him touch him so intimately.
He tries to look away from her, but it isn’t that easy to do when Hermione Granger has her entire focus completely on him. Merlin, she’s intense and scary when she gets like this. Makes it difficult to breathe or think clearly, really, yet he craves her attention more than he cares to admit. Whether it’s her snapping at him or helping him or the quiet talks they’ve been sharing throughout the years, he always finds himself wanting more, even when he knows he shouldn’t and tries to ignore it. Finally, when she hasn’t said anything and just continues to watch him like he’s a curious new problem she’s trying to solve, he clears his throat and takes a step back, only to curse when he gets bumped by a businessman walking by and talking to himself.
“Don’t people watch where they’re going here?” he mutters, shifting his weight from one foot to the other as he cradles his left arm against his chest. His body is starting to feel tired and sore already, which is frustrating because his mind is alert and energetic. He looks at Hermione and is relieved that she’s stopped being scary intense. Instead, she’s smiling and shaking her head. “What?”
“You bumped into him, so stop whinging. C’mon. We’ve got property to visit, and you owe me dinner for being such a brilliant flat-hunting partner,” she announces, worrying her bottom lip as she sneaks looks at him when they begin to walk.
“Dinner,” he repeats carefully, sneaking some looks of his own when he can without getting caught. He smiles and bumps her hip with his. “See, I knew you found me charming.”
She turns her head to look at him fully, and he swears he can feel his skin tingle and his blood heat up when she smiles in a way he’s never seen her smile before. She sniffs delicately even as she continues smiling. “Maybe I do, Charlie Weasley,” she informs him in a prissy tone that makes a certain part of his anatomy twitch for the first time since the accident. “And what do you have to say about that?”
Charlie considers pointing out she must be crazy for flirting with him because he’s definitely not a catch, and, really, she deserves a man who isn’t broken and frustrated a majority of the time. But Hermione’s one of the smartest people he knows, and one of the most stubbornly proud, so he knows there’s a chance she’ll hex his bollocks off if he dares verbalize those doubts. Besides, he’s selfish enough to take advantage of her lapse in judgment. He moves his right arm so that it intertwines with her left as they walk and smiles down at her.
“Nothing at all, Hermione Granger,” he tells her before lowering his head and brushing a quick kiss against her cheek. She tightens her grip on his arm, and he can see her skin turning pink beneath the pale freckles on her cheeks. This makes his smile widen, which causes her to roll her eyes and mutter under her breath about arrogance and handsome redheads. Instead of goading her this time, he strokes his fingers over the inside of her wrist as they walk through the crowded streets of London together.