Kathleen pummeled her pillow and tried to imagine that she was lying in a warm comfortable embrace — preferably the embrace of a man she loved — ready to nod off to sleep. Instead, she felt her hipbone digging into the mattress and a draft on her back. She pulled on the covers and flipped onto her back only to discover that all of the bedding was twisted and pulled at an uncomfortable angle. Even though she had cast a Silencing Charm before trying to sleep, she now fancied she could feel the vibrations from chairs scrapping on the wooden floor of the pub below, and something large — maybe a tray of drinks — being dropped. She sighed, disentangled her legs from the blankets and padded to the window. This late at night there was nothing much happening except for a few young wizards milling under one of the street lamps. The moonless sky was dotted with bright stars, but they were hard to see from this angle. Now that the Dementors had been cleared away from Hogsmeade, she could go for a midnight walk, but she didn’t want to walk past a bunch of drunken wizards — even with a Disillusionment Charm in place.
She waved her wand and dropped the Silencing Charm now that she was wide-awake. How she hated that cotton-wool sensation in her ears! To her surprise she didn’t hear any voices or laughter. “Time?” she asked the clock with wings that Tonks had given her for Christmas. ‘Time flies’ was the joke. Tonks had always liked those sorts of puns.
“Two o’clock,” the clock answered sleepily with a weary flap of its wings.
No wonder the pub was quiet — it had been closed for an hour.
She restlessly wandered to the window again. The wizards were gone and a mist was starting to creep down the street. It was just as well she hadn’t attempted a walk. She shivered and groped around in the dark for her dressing gown. The elegant silk nightgown she was wearing wasn’t really warm enough for a May night in the Highlands, but she loved it anyway because the fabric was soft and it was the color of wild roses. On her confident days she thought that maybe it warmed her pale skin and made her ordinary gray eyes look silvery. On her not-so-confident days — like this one — she thought she looked just as white and flat-chested as ever in it.
She sighed and knotted the belt of her dressing gown. It didn’t really matter what she looked like in her nightie since it was highly unlikely anyone was going to see her in it soon. Charlie had said in his letter that he going to visit her in the morning. Kathleen still didn’t know what time “morning” was, but she imagined he meant to stop by after breakfast — maybe around nine. So if she closed her eyes and fell asleep immediately, she would have seven hours of beauty sleep — well, six and a half since she would have to be ready by nine o’clock.
But now that she had started thinking, there was no way she was going to be able to fall asleep any time soon. When she had written her letter to Charlie, explaining that she had to move now that the war was over, she had really been trying to find out when or if he was going back to Romania. But he hadn’t told her anything about his plans. He had just said he was coming to see her at some undesignated time in the morning — this morning.
Kathleen sat on the edge of the only chair in the room and chewed her lip. Why was Charlie coming to see her? Her romantic side — the side that could read between lines and find the best-case scenario — was hopeful that he was coming to see her because he wanted to talk or go for a walk or just spend some time with her after almost a year of correspondence. Maybe Charlie needed to get away from his grieving family and he was seeking her out because he thought of her as a true friend. Her stomach gave a happy little flip. Surely he did think of her as friend — all of those letters seemed to indicate that at the very least.
But then Basil, her editor, sent her much more detailed letters about her writing and what he thought of her characters. If she was to judge by the length of letters alone, then Basil should be declaring undying love by now.
But Charlie wasn’t the sort of bloke to read novels or write long, detailed letters anyway. His mother had told her that Charlie was a terrible correspondent and they would never hear from him at all if it weren’t for the International Floo Network. Charlie’s mum seemed to think that he must be very interested in her if he was writing to her so much.
She allowed herself the tiniest of daydreams:
“Kathleen, your words have been my life’s blood during these terrible times.” On one knee, he gazes up at her with his warm brown eyes. Then he takes her right hand and kisses each slim finger. “First I fell in love with your letters and then the woman behind the words.”
She let that scenario dissolve as she realized she couldn’t really imagine Charlie on one knee — or saying such a thing for that matter. The fact that she couldn’t imagine continuing the scene — the delicious part where he would kiss her on the mouth and tumble into bed with her — told her a lot. Even her vast powers of imagination couldn’t put the two of them together as equals in passion. She just wasn’t that sultry sort of witch with a throaty voice and bedroom eyes. She was a nice Hufflepuff girl who was easy to talk to. Why would Charlie want her when there were so many other, sexier witches out there?
She sighed. Charlie was probably dropping in to help her move her things. Now that daydream was easier to conjure:
“We’ll just shrink your trunk and strap it on the back of my broom.” His arm muscles spasm as he picks up the heavy chest filled mostly with books and parchment. “God, Kathleen, did you pack the kitchen sink”?
She smiled. That walk through the Black Forest together had taught her that Charlie was both a practical wizard and one who didn’t mince words.
Why did she have to fall in love with a wizard like that and not one of her easily managed romance heroes?
“Half past two,” the clock said reproachfully.
She had even fewer hours for beauty sleep.
“Wake me at eight o’clock sharp,” Kathleen told the clock as she crawled into her rumpled bed. Five and half hours of beauty sleep would have to do.
“Eight o’clock,” the clock murmured.
“Eight o’clock!” the clock screeched.
Kathleen’s eyes snapped open and then out of habit focused on the picture hanging on the wall next to her bed. It was a magical painting of a small stone cottage surrounded by flower gardens, with green forests and low blue mountains in the distance. Today the sun was shining brightly in the picture and it looked like the fruit tree was in full bloom. Home is Where the Heart Is, it said underneath the frame. Obviously it wasn’t a real place, but part of her longed to walk into that frame and smell the apple blossoms and feel the sun on her shoulders.
She sighed and turned her head toward the window to see fog obscuring her view of the real world. Charlie is coming to see me today.
Suddenly, everything looked brighter. She scrambled out of bed and pointed her wand at the small kettle. There was plenty of time for a cup (or two) of tea, she realized happily. So what if she looked a little tired? Charlie had seen her looking much more bedraggled than this after their adventure in the Black Forest.
She poured generous lashings of milk and sugar in her tea and got back into bed to drink it. Things always looked better in the morning, she thought, sitting against the headboard and reaching for her notebook. Every morning since she had come to stay at the Three Broomsticks she had written in her journal. It made her feel less lonely. Today, though, her thoughts felt too scattered to write down. Now that it was a new day, she could see that her hopes and fears from the night before had been a little… selfish. She hadn’t been thinking about Charlie, who had just lost a brother and had been through a terrible battle, witnessing all sorts of horrors. After all of the funerals she had attended, it seemed downright frivolous to be worrying about her love life — or lack thereof.
She allowed herself to think about the funerals. Tonks and Remus’s first. The image that stuck with her was of the two coffins resting side-by-side on the stone floor of the crypt. At first she had rebelled against thinking of them in such a hard, cold place of stone and wood and gloom — until she had noticed the walls. They were covered in some sort of mysterious rainbow phosphorescent moss or algae — the kind you would be startled to see deep underground in the darkest caves. Even here Tonks would have color. Kathleen didn’t know why, but some of her grief eased at that moment.
The next day she had attended Fred’s funeral in Devon. It had been a sullen, gray day with a warm, almost sultry, breeze that promised a storm later on. The wind whipped the black robes of the Weasley siblings as they stood around the simple hillside grave of their brother. Every red-haired head bowed as Fred’s coffin was tenderly placed in the ground. There was no sense of a cold eternity here — nature would lovingly surround Fred in death, just as he had been lovingly surrounded by his family in life. When it was time for the final farewell, Bill briefly gripped Charlie’s shoulder, Percy handed George a handkerchief, and Ron pulled Ginny into a one-armed hug. Not one of the brothers tried to hide his tears. Then as if one, they turned and left the graveside together. She had watched them go, feeling comforted that they had each other and — in a strange way — glad for Charlie that he had had a brother he loved so much — even if his death was hurtful.
She sighed and wondered how Charlie was today and if he was finding it difficult to make plans now that the war was over. He would probably feel a pull to stay with his family, but she really couldn’t see him happy staying in England for very long. He needed to do what he loved and what he was good at. She would encourage him to go back to Romania if he asked her. Not that she wanted him to go — nothing would be nicer than knowing she could see him on a regular basis. But Charlie wouldn’t be Charlie without his dragons.
She could go to Romania, she realized as she took her empty cup to the tray by the kettle. Basil was after her to write a vampire romance — they were all the rage now. Kathleen had never liked any of the vampire romances, but maybe if she did some research she could find a fresh angle…
A soft knock sounded at the door. Lost in thought about whether vampires were merely undead or immortal or if there was even a difference, Kathleen opened the door. Charlie was standing there, his broad shoulders filling the frame of the narrow door, his red hair bringing its own warmth on this foggy morning. Her eyes widened and her throat dried as she realized he was here — here and not somewhere else or in her imagination.
His eyes swept from her face down to her nightgown and then to the rumpled bed. “You’re not a morning person, are you?”
“What?” She immediately bristled at the accusation that she was a lie-abed. “I woke up at —”
“Eight o’clock,” the clock said helpfully.
Charlie raised his eyebrows and walked into the room. “By eight o’clock the dragons have all been fed and we’re starting to exercise them.”
“Since I don’t have dragons to feed and I live over a noisy pub, I think I can be forgiven for not getting up at the crack of dawn,” she retorted, closing the door after him.
“It’s half past nine now.” He cocked his head as he regarded her. “What have you been doing?”
Thinking about you. “I don’t know,” she lied. “Writing in my journal. Waking up. I didn’t get a lot of sleep last night.”
“Oh. Sorry you didn’t sleep well.” He didn’t seem to have a lot to add to this — instead he stood awkwardly in the middle of the room, taking up all the space and looking around at her sparse belongings.
Kathleen crossed her arms and belatedly realized that she was wearing the silk nightie — the one that either made her appear totally alluring or white and flat-chested. Based on the fact that Charlie was barely looking at her, she thought it must be the latter.
“That looks like Romania,” Charlie said, pointing to the picture.
“Does it?” She forgot all about what she was wearing and crawled on the bed to look at the picture more closely. “So those are the Carpathian Mountains in the background?”
“I don’t know if they are — they just look like the ones I’ve seen in Romania.”
“Well, come closer and look at this picture,” she said impatiently. “I’ve been wondering about it for months. There was a lot of snow in January and February, but by March most of it was gone. I don’t know a lot about trees, but I don’t think we have that variety in apple tree in Britain. The bark is all wrong. Or maybe it’s not an apple at all. Still, the blossoms are white. Do you know much about trees?” She looked over her shoulder and saw he hadn’t moved an inch. In fact, he seemed rooted to the spot with his hands clenched at his side. “Charlie, what is it?” She hiked up her nightgown so she could scramble off of the bed without getting her legs tangled. “You’re going back to Romania and you wanted to tell me, right?” she prompted as she moved to his side. Poor Charlie — he was trying to break it to her gently.
“Well, yes —”
“I thought you would. Dragons are your life and I think it’s a good idea. You gave up a lot for the war and now that there’s peace, you should be able to go back to doing what you do best. And since there are no dragon reservations in England, well, Romania it is.” She was babbling now, but she couldn’t seem to stop. “I’ll miss you, but I think I’ll plan that trip for vampire research now —”
“What?” She took a deep breath and realized her heart was beating rapidly.
“I —” Color rose in his face. “Vampires?”
“Yes, vampires. The best-selling romance of last year was called Starlight about this totally hot vampire named Edmund. I haven’t read it, but I don’t see how vampires can be totally hot, to tell you the truth. I mean — they’re all pasty skin with dark souls and they’re sort of — I don’t know — languid. Not very manly when you think about it. But maybe I have it all wrong — since those are just stereotypes about vampires and — like I told you — it’s better to get the details right if you’re going to write believable fiction. So maybe if I went to Romania and met a few vampires, I’d be able to judge —”
Charlie was frowning. “There are three vampires who are renovating the castle closest to the dragon reserve. Poofs, all of them.”
“That’s what I thought!” She smiled happily at him, since her instincts about these things was usually right. “Basil thought Troubadour Press should jump on the vampire bandwagon, but I really don’t think he’s going to want to publish anything but the traditional romance — and it seems to me that vampires aren’t all that picky about which gender they’re making immortal — or undead.” She frowned. “Do you know the difference between immortal and undead?”
“Well, I suppose it doesn’t matter, since I’m not going to write about vampires. It just isn’t me. Although, I don’t know —”
Startled at the urgency in his voice, she shut her mouth and regarded him.
“Please.” His face was red except for a white line around his lips. “Don’t say anything more until I say what I came to say.”
“Okay,” she whispered, not sure she wanted to hear it. Charlie looked so serious.
He took a deep breath. “I came to ask you…” He swallowed.
His mouth quirked and sudden laughter lurked in his eyes. “You just can’t resist talking, can you?”
“No, I can’t.” She giggled and put a placating hand on his arm.
“Marry me,” he said, all the laughter gone from his eyes. He touched her hand resting on his arm.
Kathleen dimly registered how warm and strong and capable his hand felt over hers.
“I want to go back to Romania next week and I want you to come with me,” he continued.
Marry me, he had said. He was asking her to marry him. She felt strangely light-headed and apart from her body — like she was an observer in someone else’s life.
The color was rising in his neck at her long silence. “You can talk now.”
She wasn’t able to talk, but her out-of-body, observer self could. “You’re skipping ahead.”
“What?” His eyes widened.
“To the end of the book.” Now she was on firmer ground. She pulled her hand away and took a deep breath. Now she was returning to her body. “You don’t ask someone to marry you until you’ve fallen in love with her — until you’ve kissed her — at least once. You haven’t even kissed me, and here you are —”
He moved so fast, she didn’t even register that he was leaning in to kiss her. One minute she was talking and the next minute his mouth was on hers, claiming his place inside, sweeping her along with him until she was kissing him back just as fiercely. When they finally broke apart, she realized that she was clutching the sleeves of his shirt and that she was grateful that he was holding her so tightly — otherwise she could easily fall down.
“Okay, I kissed you.”
He was looking a little smug, but then, she couldn’t blame him. It was the best kiss she had ever had in her whole life, although, now that she thought about it, she couldn’t imagine that Charlie would say the same. Was that fair to him? “You did.” Troubled, she reached up and touched his face.
“What?” He was watching her closely, still holding her in his arms.
She sighed. “I don’t know if I can explain.”
“Kathleen, if you can’t explain, no one can.”
Tears pricked her eyes at the affectionate way he said her name. “I just don’t know if it’s fair to you to be married to me.”
“Fair to me? I’m asking you to leave your country and go to Romania and live on a dragon reserve where there’s nothing to do except fly after dragons and look at burnt-out grass.”
She smiled sadly. “A writer can live anywhere as long as it’s quiet and the owl post delivers. I’d be happy there, I’m sure of it. No — I’m talking about how you feel about me. I mean —” She could feel herself starting to blush, but she ploughed on. “Sex is really important in a relationship —”
“Agreed.” He grinned.
“And you really should be attracted to the person you’re marrying.”
Now he was frowning and so was she, since he just wasn’t getting it. “Charlie, you had fan mail when you were at Hogwarts.”
“And you get fan mail now.” He ran his hand down her back. “What’s the big deal?”
She briefly closed her eyes. “Don’t make me say it.”
He stopped moving his hand. “Say what?”
“That you should be sexually attracted to the girl you’re asking to marry.”
“Wait a minute.” He pulled away from her and put his hands on her upper arms. “What makes you think I’m not attracted to you? What was that kiss all about?”
“Well, you obviously know how to kiss, and —”
He sucked in a harsh breath. “I knew you thought like that Christy girl in your book! You think you’re some mousey little writer, don’t you?”
She flinched, since that was exactly how she felt. But he seemed so angry about it that she didn’t quite know what to say. “Look at me,” she muttered, shutting her eyes. “I’m not exactly gorgeous or curvy or —”
“I took one look at you when you opened that door today and I got hard.”
Her eyes flew open. “What?” A bolt of excitement went through her at his words.
He ran his hand through his hair. “Sorry, I don’t know any other way to say it.”
“That’s why you weren’t looking at me,” she murmured, trying to wrap her mind around the fact that she could cause such a reaction.
“Then you’re crawling all over the bed — and I’m trying to be a gentleman.”
He looked so aggrieved that she had to laugh. And as she laughed and he pretended to pout, she realized with wonderful, giddy clarity that he was all hers. “Poor Charlie,” she said with a giggle, moving her hands to his chest and then up over his shoulders to finally wind her arms around his neck. “I’d admit to giving you a hard time, but that would be a dreadful pun.”
“Now look at what you’re doing to me,” he grumbled, putting his arms around her.
“I don’t want to look.” She kissed along his throat. “Well, I do, because you’re gorgeous.”
He laughed at that.
“But I want to feel what I’m doing to you. Show me,” she whispered into the hollow between his neck and shoulder. “Show me you’re attracted to me.”
“Now you’re skipping ahead,” he chided, moving his hand to her breast.
Merlin, that feels good. “Ahead of what?”
“The wedding. Nice girls aren’t supposed to have the honeymoon before the wedding.” He slipped the strap of her nightgown off of her shoulder.
“Sod nice girls,” she gasped as his mouth found her hardened peak. “I’m tired of being a nice girl.”
He slipped the other strap off of her shoulder, causing her nightgown to fall into a puddle at her feet. “You’ll always be a nice girl — which means you have to marry me after I have my way with you.”
It felt exhilarating rather than embarrassing to be standing in front of him with nothing on — unbuttoning his shirt and arguing about who was having their way. “I’m having my way with you, remember? And only if I make you happy am I marrying you.” She paused to plant kisses on his broad, freckled chest and then reached for his belt buckle.
“You’re already doing that.” He hissed his pleasure as she pushed down his jeans. Or maybe he was just sensitive. Or maybe he was just gorgeous.
“Let me make it good for you first,” he said, gently pulling her hands away and maneuvering her to the unmade bed.
He did make it good for her first — and more times after that — as he wordlessly convinced her that her small breasts fit just right in his hands, that her soft thighs were things of beauty when wrapped around him, that her mouth and her touch made it good for him, too. The rumpled covers ended up on the floor so that later when she shivered and put her cold feet between his warm legs, Charlie had to bend down to scoop them up to cover her.
“This is perfect,” she said once the covers were over her and she was tucked up against him. She could easily fall asleep like this — every night for the rest of her life. Are we really getting married?? she wondered sleepily. It seemed so long ago since he had asked her that.
“So you believe me now? That I’m sexually attracted to you?”
She rolled over to face him. “I shouldn’t have said that. What if you had had performance anxiety?”
He smirked. “I told you I was talking in a general way.”
“You were.” She smiled into his eyes.
He touched her hair and kissed her nose. “You’re not talking very much.”
Her mind must have taken a holiday because she could only dreamily agree with him. “No. I mean yes, I’m not talking very much.” She ran her toes along his leg.
“You need to eat,” he said firmly. “What time is it?”
“Half past twelve,” the clock said.
Startled, Charlie looked in the direction of the noise. Then he laughed. “We embarrassed the clock.”
They had. The clock had its wings pressed firmly over its face.
“That clock is going to have to get used to it if it’s going to be in our bedroom,” he said.
“So we’re getting married?” she asked, burrowing back into her pillow.
“Not before I feed you,” he replied, getting out of bed. “I’ll bring some sandwiches back from the pub.”
“Okay.” She closed her eyes. She was going to marry Charlie Weasley. She had just spent the morning in bed with Charlie Weasley. Charlie Weasley was bringing her sandwiches. What a wonderful dream.
“Kathleen? Wake up. I brought lunch.”
Charlie’s voice. Charlie’s touch on her bare shoulder. It hadn’t been a dream.
“Sorry,” she said, groggily sitting up. “I just drifted off.”
“You snore,” he observed, handing her a plate of sandwiches.
“No, I don’t.” She took a bite of roast beef and mustard — her favorite.
“Yes, you do, but I still love you.” He sat on the edge of the bed with his feet on the floor and took a bite out of his sandwich.
Now she was wide-awake. “You still love me? When did you start loving me?”
He turned toward her. “I didn’t tell you that?”
“No.” She smiled at his stricken expression. “Although you did show me that you loved me this morning.”
He stared at her a minute, probably running their earlier conversation through his mind. “I would have worked in ‘I love you’ if you hadn’t started to talk about vampires.”
Warm bubbles of happiness expanded in her heart as she laughed helplessly. “This whole morning would make the worst ending to a romance novel. You were trying to be romantic and sweet and I was talking about vampires and trying to convince you to go to bed with me — for your own good.”
He laughed. “I didn’t take much convincing.”
“So when did you start loving me?” She put her plate down and knelt to lean against his back and put her arms around his neck.
“Chapter three,” he answered, taking another bite of his sandwich.
“Chapter three?” That wasn’t the answer she was expecting.
“Christy reminded me so much of you that I couldn’t believe Kean didn’t love her. That’s when I realized that maybe I was in love with you — since I had never been that worked up about a character in a book before.” He turned his head so his nose brushed under her jaw. “Now… if I have this romance novel thing right, you’re supposed to tell me when you fell in love with me.”
She gasped at her own oversight. “Charlie, you know I love you.”
“I know.” He patted her hand and kept eating.
“Before I even wrote that book — when we were escaping from the Abraxan Stagecoach, probably.”
“See how long ago that was?” he said. “That’s why I wanted to skip to the end. I’m not used to waiting for things.”
“What’re your mum and dad going to think if we skip over an engagement?” she asked as she remembered the world outside of her bedroom with a sinking heart. “It’s only been a week since…”
“Fred died,” he finished for her. “Mum knows I was coming here today.”
“And she was okay with that?” Kathleen was getting cold, so she reached for her dressing gown.
Charlie snorted. “Mum wants us to live in England — preferably next door. Other than that, I know she’s happy I found ‘a nice English girl.’”
Now wrapped in her dressing gown, she moved to sit next to him on the bed. “But you don’t think it’s wrong or disrespectful to get married so soon?” She didn’t think so, but then maybe she was just being selfish, trying to seize her happiness while she could.
He sighed and then glanced at the clock with wings. Time Flies.
The message was clear.
She blinked back a few sentimental tears. She was never going to see Tonks again, but there was time left on the clock for the living. “You know, a big wedding might be disrespectful, but getting married quietly wouldn’t be. Remus and Tonks had a quiet wedding. Tonks told me that after Professor Dumbledore died, Professor McGonagall — of all people — pushed for them to get together, saying that Dumbledore would be happy for a little more love in the world.”
“Yeah. Mum loves that story.” He smiled and took her hand. “She loves your stories, too.”
“This is our story now.” Her voice wobbled.
He seemed to understand what she meant. “We’ve been skipping around so much, I hope you know where we are in the story.”
After everything that had happened, it seemed hard to believe, but she did know the answer. “We’re at the beginning,” she said as a few grateful tears fell on their clasped hands. “Our story is just beginning.”
A/N: Thanks to TDU and Sherry for the Beta. Brothers in Arms, mentioned in Part I, is a reference to Girlyswot’s story, Meeting the Weasleys. Check it out here at PhoenixSong if you want more Weasley goodness!