Happy Birthday, Charlie Weasley!

Slide2La Rowling once said of Charlie Weasley that, “He’s more interested in dragons than women.” I must confess my imagination took this tidbit of info and ran somewhat wild with it 🙂 Here Be Dragons was the result of this flight of fancy. In celebration of Charlie’s birthday, please enjoy this snippet from my HP fanfic, Here Be Dragons

On the morning of December 12, 2002—in the pitch-dark of precisely 5:07 a.m.—Charlie was awakened by an astonishingly fantastic blow job already in full swing. Barely conscious and certainly not in full enough control of his faculties to belay the (hopefully not embarrassingly quick) imminent orgasm, Charlie moaned and shuddered his completion mere moments later. Still gasping in recovery, before he’d even managed the chance to ask, Thanks, but what the hell’s the Welsh breakfast for?, Sasha’s head emerged from under the comforter, grinning.

“Happy thirtieth birthday, Charlie.” He kissed him on the way out of bed.

Charlie managed a grunt in reply, his head still spinning.

A few moments later, Sasha bounded back into his room leading a small parade of packages. “I know you don’t want me to sing to you,” he chuckled as the gifts lightly settled onto the comforter in Charlie’s lap.

“Thanks anyway,” Charlie agreed, laughing. Among Sasha’s many talents, carrying a tune was not one of them.

Sasha snuggled back under the comforter. “Open the one from your mother first.”

Charlie obeyed, unwrapping another homemade balaclava (her traditional birthday present for him), this one knitted in a dark navy yarn, soft yet sturdy. The practical gift pleased him, and he planned to wear it immediately—the wind outside was howling as the latest Carpathian blizzard cooked up its worst.

The next package—this one from George—contained half a dozen Muggle paperback fantasy novels and several colorful pictures of dragons drawn by his twin boys. George and his Muggle wife usually sent Charlie books each year, and he’d amassed quite a collection now of the fantastical dragon-themed stories. Despite the fact he lived and worked with the real thing, the Muggle stories proved surprisingly imaginative.

Ginny sent an overlarge box of Honeydukes sweets populated with Fizzing Whizbees, Jelly Slugs, and Pepper Imps: all his childhood favorites. He popped an Imp into his mouth, then pulled a startled Sasha in close for a literally fiery kiss. Both men parted laughing, the residual smoke exiting their ears and nostrils.

After several more moments spent playfully thus, and with some sticky residue left on a nipple or three resulting from a thoroughly inappropriate use of a Jelly Slug, Sasha reached out for the final package: a slim, brown-paper-wrapped article whose proportions very much resembled a wall calendar. “Are you avoiding this one for some reason?” he needled.

Charlie would’ve liked to ignore it, tossing it directly into the bin where other similar gifts from past years had gone. But Sasha, for some perverse reason, wouldn’t let it drop, pestering him to open it. Reluctantly, he tore into the paper.

As expected, his brothers had again renewed his subscription to the Witch of the Month Club. Charlie pitched the calendar toward the bin, but Sasha summoned it back. He flipped through the months, the almost completely disrobed ladies pictured on each page seductively removed the final vestiges of their scant clothing. Charlie looked away, dreading another dozen skin mags destined to follow during the ensuing months.

“Why do your brothers do this every year?”

“Because they’re fucking gits,” Charlie growled. He elbowed his frowning lover. “I told you there were benefits to being an only child, and this is one of them. No stupid presents from idiotic brothers for you.”

“But why this?

“They think it’s terribly funny,” Charlie grumbled. All of them were married men now—even Percy, his last fellow holdout against the institution of matrimony, had finally caved and taken a bride September last, leaving Charlie the sole remaining Weasley bachelor.

“What is funny about looking at naked strangers?” Sasha asked. “It’s sad, if you ask me. I feel sorry for the families of these women exposing themselves for money.”

“You’re preaching to the choir, love,” Charlie said, unwilling to debate the contentious relationship between pornography and feminism at the moment.

“Do you think it might mean something more?” Sasha asked carefully. “Something… malicious?”

Charlie understood the question he was really asking: Do you think they know our secret?

“My brothers dearly adore taking the mickey out of everyone, but I don’t think they ever mean any real harm.” Charlie sighed as he fell back onto his pillow. “They imagine I’m terribly lonely here, and this sort of thing is what I ought to pine for.”

“They’ve been listening to your mother too much,” Sasha said.

“Yes, well, she does have a habit of constantly bangin’ on about things and can be rather difficult to tune out,” Charlie granted.

Sasha gave the facial equivalent of a shrug, conceding Charlie’s point. Then he smiled smugly. “Ready for your present from me?”

Charlie smiled back. “Thought I already got it,” he chuckled.

By some sleight of hand and a well-placed Disillusionment Charm, Sasha produced a sizeable package from under the covers Charlie hadn’t noticed before. When Charlie accepted the foot-and-a-half-long thing from him, he recognized its solid weight heralded something significant.

“What the hell is it?” Charlie wondered aloud, poring over the leather-clad box, looking for clues but finding none.

“Open it and see, fool,” Sasha pushed.

Charlie gave him a stern, searching look. Something told him Sasha had gone overboard this time.

Sasha rolled his eyes. He pointed at the little brass hinges, then mimed the lid opening with his hands. “It works like this, little one.”

Charlie shot a weak glare his way, then gasped at the sight of a gleaming dagger resting upon black velvet within. Made of Goblin steel, the blade was a modified hourglass shape that came to an unquestionably lethal point. The pommel resembled a fancy, winged W, and the hilt was split open, the negative space reducing its weight without compromising its strength. A decorated black leather sheath lay alongside it like a lover.

“My God, Sash,” Charlie breathed, running his fingertips along its length. He’d only ever dreamt of owning an actual Goblin blade, and this specimen… Well, it was one of the most beautiful things he’d ever seen.

“Do you forgive me now for your rude awakening so early this morning?” Sasha teased.

“I don’t know what to say,” Charlie stammered, the sting of tears in his eyes. Sasha earned an only slightly larger salary than he did (based solely on seniority)—he must’ve tapped into his recent inheritance from his mother to purchase such an expensive gift.

Sasha’s arm wrapped around Charlie’s shoulders. “Promise me you’ll use it in good health.”

Charlie nodded, still unable to speak, then allowed Sasha to pull him closer in a sideways hug.

“I’ll just go start the coffee, shall I?” Sasha announced a few moments later. When he exited the room, Charlie knew, regardless of the pretense, he’d been left alone to compose himself.

Breathing deeply, Charlie summoned self-control. He’d never be in a financial position to reciprocate Sasha’s gift, so the best he could do was prove himself worthy of it. He dressed quickly, layering shirts and jumpers, long johns and lined trousers, doubling up socks within his dragon hide boots, in preparation to face the cold outside. He carefully threaded his belt through the slits of the new knife’s sheath, marveling at the weapon’s balance and lightness holstered at his waist.

Sasha wore a pleased smile when Charlie joined him in the kitchen. Coffee, toast, and some warmed-up mutton stew awaited on the table. “It looks good on you,” Sasha said over the rim of his mug before taking a drink.

“Thanks,” Charlie managed to say without becoming overemotional again. He meant to say more, but Sasha waved him off.

“It was my pleasure,” Sasha replied.

Charlie knew that would be the end of it, so he tucked into breakfast.

“And now, it is my regrettable duty to inform you that your presence is required at Afumaţi tonight at eight p.m., whereupon you will be subjected to a surprise party in your honor.” Sympathy rang clear in his voice. “Please don’t take your fury out upon the messenger.”

“Ah, fucking hell,” Charlie groaned, letting his spoon fall into his stew, splattering the table.

“I was unable to spare you from being subjected to this torture,” Sasha said with a wince. “Which is largely the reason for your happy wake-up head: I wanted you to enjoy at least some part of your birthday.”

“Why does it have to be there, of all places?”

“Who do you think instigated this stupid idea?” Sasha retorted. “It sure as shit wasn’t any of us.”

Charlie pushed the bowl of food away, his appetite sapped. The prospect of attending any sort of party, much less as the guest of honor, fell so far down his list of favorite things to do as to be invisible. Top that off with the knowledge that Ileana Bălan would be the hostess for the evening, and Charlie’s stomach twisted with nervous dread. She’d been pouring on the meaningful glances and come-hither body language for the last four years, convinced there was some metaphysical destiny meant for them because he’d “saved” her during the Battle of Hogwarts. Yes, she’d gotten herself backed into a proverbial tight spot, and he happened to be the closest available wizard to come to her aid, but that was all there was to it. They’d dispatched the Death Eater together as equals, but she’d insisted on telling anyone who’d listen how she owed her life to him ever since.

“My guess is you’ll be getting quite a present from your girlfriend tonight,” Sasha jabbed.

“Don’t you start.” It was bad enough the rest of the keepers teased him about Ileana’s soft spot. This party promised to make the situation ten times worse, at minimum. “That settles it. I’m not going.”

“She’s already strong-armed the rest of them with threats of calling in their bar tabs if they don’t show,” Sasha warned. “None of them has the balls to piss off Ileana. And if we have to be there, you can bet your sweet ginger arse we’re dragging you along .”

“Fucking hell,” Charlie groaned again, utterly defeated…

You can read the rest of this story for free, archived at The Petulant Poetess.

Silly Wand Waving

Happy Halloween Eve! And happy birthday to one of my favorite witches: Molly Weasley! If you’re in the mood to get your Potter on, here’s a slightly racy chapter from George & Annie: An Unofficial Biography.

October 30, 1997

“I’m very disappointed in you. Didn’t know you were such a kiss-arse. Percy would be pleased.”

“Fuck you.” Annie spat the whispered swear at George. She knew being compared to Percy was a low blow from him, even though she had yet to meet his elder brother.

George snorted. “Kiss your Gran with that mouth? Tsk, tsk.”

Annie shoved a heavy bag of groceries containing all the ingredients for dinner that night—she had offered to cook for the Weasleys in honor of Molly’s birthday—into his arms.

“I’m not your beast of burden!” he protested.

“Bye, Gran! Bye, Mrs. Finnerty! See you about eight, I expect,” she called toward the front room in a light, cheery voice that was completely at odds with the glowering look directed at George.

“Bye, dear!” came two answering ladies’ voices.

Annie smiled, pleased that Gran was up and out of bed for once. She had been so tired lately. The prospect of an evening of cards and gossip with her dear friend and neighbor had cheered her immensely.

Annie turned back to George with a stern look. “Your mother deserves a night off. Must be excruciating to be stuck in that house with no one but you lot all day for company. The poor dear must be stark raving mad by now.”

George stuck his tongue out while mimicking her pose: hand on his hips, foot tapping the floor. Annie rolled her eyes, spun on her heels, and grabbed the carefully packaged cake.

Getting to the Burrow had become a complicated process. First they drove off in the truck for Gran’s benefit—they couldn’t exactly Disapparate from the kitchen in front of her. But neither could they risk a Muggle vehicle being spotted at the Burrow, since they were never sure if the house was being watched. So they parked at random spots on the side of a deserted country road, then Apparated once they were out of sight and invisible.

“Hope you don’t get splinched, prat,” George taunted just as they were about to disappear.

Annie knew he was teasing, but that thought was never a welcome one as the oppressive blackness hit, and she fell into whatever dimension they passed through on their way. She never liked it much to begin with, but they were forced to travel this way rather often these days.

“Bloody knob,” she huffed, elbowing his ribs when they rematerialized at the back door of the Burrow.

She usually loved his predominant smart-arse streak, but he’d been a bit stroppy lately. She understood his aggravation with being forced to remain hidden in his home, his only opportunity to escape his henpecking mother was to work on his owl-order business at his unlikable Aunt Muriel’s house or trek off on what he described as “another boring, safe, and stupid” routine Order mission after dark. Understanding his grouchy mood only made it slightly more tolerable, however.

Captivity did not sit well with George, and she could tell he was itching for a victim on which to unleash his frustrations—which meant she had a target on her back. She’d had higher hopes for tonight; it felt like ages since she was last in Molly’s cozy kitchen for nothing but a simple, friendly visit. Not to mention forever since she and George had seen each other before midnight. It had been a week since they had seen each other at all.

George spilled the bag onto the kitchen table and flopped into a chair, looking profoundly put upon.

“Annie, dear!” Molly hugged her in welcome and relieved her of the cake.

At least someone seems happy I’m here. “I know it’s not easy to let someone else putter in your kitchen, Molly,” she began.

“Don’t be silly, dear. Nicest thing anyone’s done for me in the longest time. No one else even raises a finger to help around here.” She cast a disparaging look toward George, who curled his lip.

“My pleasure,” Annie replied. “I’ll still need your help operating the stove, but otherwise, you just sit back and relax.”

Molly beamed with delight. George rolled his eyes. Fred sauntered in, said hello, then joined his mother and brother at the table as Annie set to work.

Behind her, Molly continued to harangue the boys about chores that needed to be done around the house. She had to admit, being badgered like that all day long would have driven her batty as well, and she felt a pang of sympathy for the twins.

Something zapped Annie’s ear like a tiny, electrically charged mosquito. All sympathetic feelings dissipated as she closed her eyes, resisting the urge to swat at it and give him the pleasure of seeing her irritated. She redirected her focus to the potato she was peeling instead.

Reaching out for the next one, she watched as the peelings from the first potato wrapped themselves back around it.

“Oh, come on,” she muttered.

She tried peeling another with the same results. Fine. It’ll be mashed potatoes with peel, then. She chopped them roughly, tossing the pieces into a small pot. As soon as she reached for the last potato, the chopped bits floated up out of the pot, swirling around in midair like asteroids in orbit.

“Not funny.” She bit her lips to quell an amused smile.

The cubes crashed into the pot, splashing water. She huffed and grabbed a towel to mop up the mess.

She turned then to the carrots. The peelings stayed in the sink this time, to her relief. A relief that turned out to be short-lived, however, when a carrot started rapping her knuckles as she tried to chop another.

“That’s it!” She spun around to face the table, rubbing her smarting hands.

Both boys wore innocent expressions, listening intently to Molly’s current rant regarding their slovenly housekeeping habits.

“What’s wrong, dear?” Molly asked.

Annie didn’t answer, only glared at the boys.

“Serves her right, eh?” Fred mouthed in George’s direction.

George responded with a smug look.

Molly spied the carrot still jabbing Annie in the back, her expression swiftly changing from curiosity to suspicion and finally to vengeance. “I’m warning you two: stop this nonsense this instant.”

“What d’you mean?” and, “Didn’t do anything!” the twins protested. Their innocent looks were replaced by ones full of indignation.

Culpablo!” Molly’s wand appeared in her hand.

George yanked his hand out of his pocket, shaking it like he had just received an electric shock. His right hand turned red before their eyes.

“You should be ashamed of yourself, George. Apologize to Annie this instant,” Molly demanded.

“Why d’you always blame me for everything?” George whined, persisting with the shocked innocence defense.

“Shameful,” Fred chimed in, shaking his head in an attempt to egg his mother on.

“You’re no better. Out of my sight,” Molly barked.

Fred and George rose from the table, laughing at their cleverness.

“Oh, no! Not you, George. You’ll be helping Annie now.”

Fred laughed harder as he sauntered out of the kitchen. George shrugged and walked toward Annie. A malicious grin appeared on his face once he was beyond Molly’s line of sight. Annie gulped nervously, fearing she was really in for it now.

“Hand it over,” Molly commanded.

George spun back around to face her, a confused look on his face.

“Your wand. Give it to me. Clearly, you can’t be trusted with it.” She held out an empty hand.

“You’re joking,” he cried.

Accio wand,” Molly shrieked, and George’s wand flew out of his pocket and into her hand. She pointed at the sink and commanded him, “Chop!” Then she turned to Annie, smiling. “He’s all yours now, dear. Let me know if he gives you any more trouble.”

George stood in the middle of the kitchen, spluttering. Annie, just as stunned by the exchange as George, began to giggle. He shot her a glare as his mother shoved him toward the sink. Grudgingly, he began to chop carrots while Annie started on a pie crust.

“Done,” he grunted after almost a minute of work.

Annie glanced at the pile of carrot pieces. He was apparently attempting to punish her with incompetence: the irregular sizes wouldn’t cook evenly, and she suspected he knew it. She smiled sweetly, feeling full of mischief now that Molly was on her side.

“These bits are too big. Make them smaller.”

The look on George’s face told her he’d like to see her try to make him do it.

“Is there a problem, George?” Molly warned.

George scowled at Annie as she laughed, “Ah, ah, ah—be nice now. Show me a smile.”

He stuck out his tongue.

“Much better,” she teased.

George spent another minute chopping before he quit again, folding his arms on his chest in a pout.

Annie made a show of inspecting his work. “I’ve certainly seen better, but I suppose that will do.”

“What next, dear?” asked Molly, who was clearly enjoying this as much as Annie. “Pots need stirring?”

“Erm, no,” Annie chuckled. “The intent is for you to enjoy your birthday meal, which could be difficult if it’s poisoned. I’ll take it from here. Just sit on the stool and keep me company, George. I do so love your cheerful face.”

He took his perch with a dark look.

Molly proceeded to do everything in her power to make her son squirm. All she and Annie talked about were fashion (That skirt looks lovely on you dear. Is that jumper wool or cotton? I do love to knit, you know…), recipes (I like a bit of rosemary with the beef, don’t you?), and romantic stories of Molly and Arthur’s days of courtship at Hogwarts.

George spent the entire time shooting looks at Annie promising painful revenge. She couldn’t help but smile back at him. It was difficult to remember a time when she had been this entertained.

“All right, George. You may set the table now,” Molly directed.

She continued to harass her son throughout the dinner, requiring him to perform all the serving duties—second helpings, refilling beverages, clearing the table—all without the use of his wand. Fred worked his brother’s punishment to the hilt, stopping just short of insisting George feed him bite by bite. Annie was starting to feel pity for George, wallowing in sullen misery, by the time the meal was finished.

While the rest of the family sat in the living room, listening to the wireless, she walked into the kitchen with George’s wand hidden in the waistband of her skirt. Molly had slipped it to her during dinner when he was in the other room with a warning to be careful not to point it at anything valuable. She found George standing at the sink full of sudsy water, pouting.

“I’ll wash, you dry,” she offered. She was willing to help him the old-fashioned way but not so stupid as to surrender her only advantage.

“You’re enjoying this far too much for your own good,” he grumbled when he took the last dish from her dripping hands.

“Careful now. Don’t say something you’re going to regret,” she warned playfully.

“She can’t protect you forever,” he retorted, unamused, “and paybacks are a bitch.”

“Oh, dear. You had to go and spoil it, didn’t you?” Annie shook her head. “Molly! Need anything else?” she called, looking smugly at George.

“Couldn’t keep his mouth shut, then?” Molly answered from the other room. “Oh, well. Some more wood for the fire would be nice.”

George threw the dishtowel on the counter and stomped out the back door. Annie followed him outside, skipping coyly.

It was a surprisingly warm night for so late in the fall. The cloudy sky glowed a deep ruddy purple to the west. Annie leaned back against the fence and watched as he split a few pieces of wood. The sight of George hefting an axe was possibly more entertaining than witnessing him slaving away in the kitchen.

“Despicable—hiding behind my mother like that. Where’s your self-respect?” he needled as he worked.

Annie made a show of looking around. “Oh, I’m not hiding.” She drew out the wand from its hiding place and spun it between her fingers. “I suppose you want this back?”

“How long have you had it?” he gruffed, holding out his hand expectantly.

Annie shook her head and gave him her sweetest smile. “Not yet, I think. I’m having far too much fun for my own good, see.”

George returned her smile now, accepting her invitation to play. “I could just take it back, you know.”

“I rather doubt that. No tricks to help you now, Magic Boy.” She twirled his wand in lazy circles in the air.

George lunged, but Annie anticipated the move, easily dancing out of his reach. They had played similar games since childhood, and she knew his tactics well. He chased her briefly, but she managed to stay just ahead of him. They stopped after a minute, breathing a little harder now, cheeks flushed.

“Maybe you should try asking nicely?” she offered.

“Please?” He held out his hand again.

Annie shook her head and tsked, unsatisfied.

He rolled his eyes. “May I have it please?

“Something’s missing. Perhaps an apology. You know, for your horrid behavior toward me this evening.”

He gave her a half smile and a look that told her he wasn’t ready for the game to end. “Sorry. Please.”

“Surely you can do better than that.” Clicking her tongue, she drew the tip of the wand slowly along her throat, over her breastbone, down to her navel. It emitted a few tiny sparks along the way. “Ooh,” she exclaimed with a shimmy.

George’s eyes widened slightly, taking in the show: just the reaction she was looking for. Then he emitted an expansive, put-upon sigh. “I’m sorry for…?”

“Torturing me,” she prompted. She lightly tapped her chest with the wand, indicating the identity of the victim.

“I’m sorry for torturing you,” he purred, taking slow, cautious steps toward her, a fire now burning in his eyes. “Please may I have my wand back?”

She rested the tip of the wand on her lips, mimicking how she would sometimes tap her finger there while thinking. “Still sounding rather forced, I’m afraid. Not very sincere. Try again.”

George heaved another sigh. “I’m sorry—”

“On your knees, I think,” she interrupted. “And make it really heartfelt. I want to be moved,” she taunted.

George fell on his knees at her feet, an insufferably smug smile beaming up at her. His voice soft, pleading, far more patronizing than sincere, he said, “I am ever so sorry for torturing you, my love. Please may I have my wand back?”

Annie bit her lower lip, then tucked the wand into her cleavage. “Come and get it, then.”

George rose to his feet. Towering over her, his body mere inches from hers, he slowly withdrew his wand from its momentary resting place. Annie felt a thrill of electricity not entirely due to the wand being reunited with its master.

He pressed her tightly against his body with his left arm. “You ought to be more careful.” He drew the wand lightly along her jaw line. “In the wrong hands, this thing can be quite dangerous.” He pressed the tip into the flesh of her throat just slightly.

“Ooh. Promise you’ll show me sometime,” she cooed sarcastically. She had long ago demonstrated—with explosive force—what a wand could do in her hands.

“No time like the present.”

His lips claimed hers in a fierce kiss, almost bruising in its forcefulness. She threw her arms around his neck and melted into him. He lifted her up without breaking their connection and carried her toward a small nearby building, out of view of the house’s windows. He pressed her back against the rough surface of a stone wall covered in bare, dormant vines.

“Inside?” she asked breathlessly. Her knickers had somehow found themselves dangling around her left ankle, her skirt hiked up indecently. She heard the faint tinkling of his belt buckle bouncing against his thigh, the sound maddeningly arousing.

“Spiders,” he explained between kisses.

There would be no stopping him now, even if she had the slightest inkling to do so. This was what she’d wanted, after all, and she’d done exactly what she had to do to get it. Two weeks was far too long to go without, she rationalized, and the self-denial had driven them both into some sort of fiery insanity.

Annie braced her arms against the wall, a vine jabbing into her back through her thin sweater with his every thrust. She wrapped her legs around George’s waist, losing herself in the quest to take him ever deeper, to fill herself to overflowing. His strong hands were on her arse, supporting her weight, guiding her down onto him as she met his rhythm. Any second now…

It was over quickly. As they both leaned against the side of the tiny building, catching their breaths, Annie’s conscience came alive once more, mortified by her behavior. “What… was that?” she gasped, bewildered.

“How can you… expect me… to resist… such a performance?” he answered between breaths, his head against the wall next to her ear. His expression looked equally shocked by what they had just done.

Annie looked away in shame. He was right: she had incited him mercilessly. She searched within herself, casting about for some excuse that could help her feel better about what had just happened… outdoors… up against a shed… at GEORGE’S MOTHER’S BIRTHDAY DINNER!

It was no good: her behavior had been irresponsible and disrespectful. Didn’t she have some scrap of self control? “This has got to stop,” she muttered.

“You don’t want to… do this… anymore?”

She glanced at George’s stricken face. “No, I don’t mean that. Of course that part is… amazing.” Irresistible, obviously, she chided herself. “It’s all this sneaking around. I hate it.”

George nodded slowly. “I just don’t see any other option right now. Going public would put us—you, me, my family—in danger.”

Annie nodded. She knew all about the danger. More than she had ever wanted to know, in fact. And because of that knowledge, she was in it up to her neck. As a Muggle with her particular awareness of the magical world, she would be a target for persecution, as well as George and his family. But that was only the tip of the iceberg when it came to the list of crimes the Weasleys were currently involved in.

“The Ministry’s rounding up wizards just because they have Muggle parents, putting them in prison,” he added softly. He held her face close, stroking her cheek with his thumbs. “You know how I feel about you, Annie. We’d be married tomorrow if it wasn’t for…” He trailed off, unwilling to voice the rest of the thought.

“I know, love.” She gave him a gentle kiss and stroked his shaggy hair; he was in the process of growing it out to cover his missing ear. “And getting married would create far more problems than it would solve, anyway.”

George grimaced at the truth of her statement. She knew how much it pained him: the fact that they were forced to hide their relationship like it was something to be ashamed of. Their engagement was still a secret from everyone, for what was the point of celebrating something that had no reasonable chance of happening in the foreseeable future?

“It’s not your fault. I’m the one who lacks the moral fiber to say no,” she said in an attempt to lighten the mood.

“Moral fiber?” He guffawed.

She gave him a confused look—apparently it was a private joke.

George brushed debris from her curls, then hugged her from behind, resting his chin on her shoulder. “Moral fiber’s highly overrated, love. I can see I’ll just have to work that much harder next time to distract you from that guilty conscience of yours.”

“Next time? You’re being presumptuous,” she huffed.

He kissed her neck, sending chills traveling down her body into the pit of her stomach. It wasn’t fair, this hold he had on her. Like gravitational pull, almost. She inhaled deeply, willing her body back under control.

He chuckled as her body responded despite her wishes to the contrary. “Not presumptuous. Let’s call it confidence, shall we? You just admitted you can’t say no to me, remember?” His lips brushed against her ear, one hand at her hip, the other sliding up toward a breast.

“George? Annie? Time for cake and presents, you two!”

Arthur’s voice was like a bucket of cold water, dousing them with a more appropriate mental focus. They walked back inside the Burrow without contact to better diffuse any suspicions, as well as keep their own responses under control.

Fred  took one look at them as they walked by and wrinkled his nose in disgust. Thankfully, Molly and Arthur had busied themselves with cutting and serving the cake and missed his theatrical display.

As Annie sat down at the table, Fred brushed her back with his hand. He sat directly across the table from her, next to his brother. The look on his face further fueled her now very anxious stomach.

Fred flicked the tiny twig he’d plucked from the back of Annie’s sweater at George’s face. George lashed out, punching him in the arm.

The scuffle drew Molly’s attention. “What’s the matter now, you two?”

George’s face flushed. Annie felt her own do the same.

“Ask him,” Fred grumbled, rubbing his arm. “He started it.”

George shrugged under his mother’s gaze. “Happy birthday, Mum. Open this one first,” he said awkwardly, holding out his gift in a weak attempt to redirect her focus.

“All right, then,” Molly drawled suspiciously…