"Grasp the base of the 'wand' firmly with repeat twisting motion. It is best to cup and fondle…"
"Ginevra Weasley!" The five girls jumped at the sharp snap of Headmistress McGonagall's voice.
Ginny raised her face and turned on her radiant smile. "Yes, Headmistress?"
"What, pray tell, are reading?"
Ginny blinked back innocently. "Meat…loaf instructions."
"Meatloaf." McGonagall was not falling for the story.
"Yes, ma'am. Witch Weekly has an article for a good meatloaf. I was sharing with my friends seeing as how we will all be getting married soon," Ginny answered without pause. Her eyes never left the headmistress', which was good as Gillian was trying hard not to laugh.
"Unusual instructions for meatloaf, don't you think?" The headmistress was not backing down.
"Really, I didn't find them all that unusual." The other girls watched the verbal warring between the elite Gryffindors continue.
"So, twisting the wand and fondling the meat are typical methods used to make a meatloaf," he headmistress inquired.
"Oh yes," Ginny replied innocently as Hermione clenched her teeth and closed her eyes trying not to laugh. "I come from a large family, professor. My mother has excellent luck by giving the wand a twist and fondling the meat. Helps to elongate things."
Gillian could no longer contain herself and laughed and began to cough trying to cover it up. Luna reached over and patted her back, her eyes not leaving the magazine she was reading.
Professor McGonagall grimaced at the group realizing that the whole situation was going to be a bad job. "Well, I would suggest you discuss this matter in depth with your mother when you go home next time and not here at school."
"No problem, professor." Ginny smiled at her again. "My father commented on how great my mother's meatloaf is."
The headmistress closed her eyes and shook her head. "Have a good day, ladies. Are all of you leaving the school this afternoon for the ministry-sanctioned date night?"
"Oh, yes," Luna replied. "Rolf and I are going to his grandfather's estate to make wedding plans with them and Daddy."
Gillian finally pulled herself together enough to speak. "Ben and I are going to the Leaky Caldron for a late dinner. We are going to revise some notes this afternoon while the library is quiet."
"The three of us are headed to the Burrow." Hermione supplied indicating Ginny, Charlotte and herself. "Molly wants to get the entire family together so everybody can meet Charlotte."
Charlotte tried to smile but dropped her eyes at the attention of the headmistress.
Professor McGonagall nodded and began to turn away. "See that you behave yourselves."
"Yes, professor." They all answered trying to look innocent.
The headmistress shook her head as she walked away.
The girls' composers finally crumbled and they fell into fits of giggles like first years.
"Oh my, Ginny. How could you hold a straight face?" Gillian laughed, tears running down her cheeks.
"I learned from the best. I have five brothers. Charlie could go on for hours just like I was. I think that is why she gave up so easily. She remembered these little confrontations from his time here." Ginny picked up her magazine and continued reading the article. "Do you really think that the foundling is necessary?"
"If you don't want to end up with lockjaw it is." Gillian nodded.
Ginny looked up with interest. "Really? Do tell?"
"It's more of a rolling of the jewels, if you follow." Gillian demonstrated. Luna, Ginny and Hermione watched with interest. Charlotte blanched.
"And that makes a difference?" Hermione asked academically.
"Oh, yah, and if he is really holding out, roll your knuckles to the underside of his 'meatloaf' about every fifth roll." Gillian replied smirking at the old reference.
Ginny looked thoughtfully. "I'll have to try that this afternoon."
Hermione nodded looking at her watch, "We should get going. I'm sure that Filtch will be in full temper over having this extra task today."
The girls rose from the table. Gillian joined them as far as the entrance hall and left to find Ben. Luna told the others to go on. She needed to wait for Rolf as they were going to appearate from just beyond the gates. Ginny, Hermione and Charlotte joined the que to leave.
"Are you nervous," Ginny asked Charlotte.
Charlotte nodded, but did not speak. Ginny looked at Hermione and grimaced. Both were trying to break Charlotte out of her shell for the past few weeks since they learned she would be family.
It was strange, at first, for Charlotte. And Gillian. That first morning, Hermione, Ginny and Luna had pulled Charlotte from her seat and took her to Madam Pomfrey. Hermione was still on weekly potions from injuries she received at the hands of Bellatrix and needed to go get her current dose. They insisted that Charlotte and Gillian join them.
While there, Ginny spoke with the matron about a calming draft for Charlotte. When asked why, Ginny simply held up the letter. Madam Pomfrey glared at it in disgust. She retrieved the draught for Charlotte, complaining about stupid laws and fully ranting how Charlotte was the third young woman that morning.
Gillian and Charlotte thought their contact with the inner circle of the golden trio would be over, however it was not the case. Hermione prompted everyone to class. Taking Charlotte by the hand, Hermione proceeded to lead the way to Potions in the dungeons. She carried on an animated conversation with Gillian about classes, occasionally pulling Charlotte into the mix.
Both girls expected Hermione to take her regular seat, alone in the back of the lab. Instead, the war heroine joined them at their table and continued to interact with them. She even helped Gillian work out a complex formula for the advanced pain draught they were working on.
So it went on. Every class they were in, the young women joined them, either alone or paired in combinations with Luna or other members of Dumbledore's Army still attending school.
Most shocking was when Ginny, Luna and Hermione sought them out. They were always concerned for Charlotte. Gillian was relieved; with the added help as it gave her a much needed break from watching over her friend. It also allowed her time alone with her siblings and Ben.
Slowly, Gillian began to realize the conviction to family the Weasleys possessed. According to ministry decree, Charlotte was family. It didn't stop just within the walls of the school. Ginny read a letter to Hermione, and the group in general, the other day from her boyfriend, Harry. In one section he asked about how Charlotte was doing. That, in itself had been nice, but he went on to say he checked into help for her with various people within the Ministry and St. Mungo's with the shock she was experiencing. He had a few suggestions from a couple of healers and they forwarded the suggestions to Madam Pomfrey that very day.
Much to everybody's shock but Hermione's, Ron also told Ginny to have Luna and Gillian check for silencing charms around the girl's bed when she went to sleep at night. Ron discovered Harry tried to hide his nightmares. He and Hermione finally learned to check so they could wake Harry, if needed. Charlotte was devastated she was outed. Hermione simply patted her on the back to sooth her. So it went. Letters to Ginny and Hermione from the remaining Weasleys were filled with concerns for their soon-to-be newest member. Parcels were sent with best wishes and occasionally treats and sweets from the matriarch herself.
The group finally made it out of the school, past Filch's screening and double checks, and began towards Hogsmeade to meet up with Ginny's siblings. They conversed easily about school and their futures and significant others, just like any young women their age would. In no time at all, they stood in front of the doors of the former Zonko's Joke Shop. George had written Ginny a week ago telling her the sale finally went through and Weasleys' Wizarding Wheezes would be a chain.
Charlotte began to panic. Ginny let her know last week Molly Weasley planned a family dinner for the Ministry date weekend to collect the family back together in one place. Everybody else knew their siblings' significant others, but not all of them well. It would be a good opportunity to meet and get to know one another. Besides, Charlie would be home and everybody would be able to see him as well. Charlotte was already nervous about meeting her soon-to-be husband, now, she was meeting him and the rest of his family all at one time.
Ginny told her not to worry, but something was off. She and Hermione stopped several conversations when Charlotte met up with them, and there were a few letters the outgoing redhead did not openly shared with everybody in earshot. She had simply read them frowning and handed them off the Hermione who read them with several sighs and pointed looks at Ginny while shooting sideways looks at Charlotte when she did not think the she would notice.
Charlotte was sure the entire family finally pieced together her past. Originally, she thought it would not matter. The first time one of the other students called Charlotte by a derogatory name because of her lineage, Ginny had exploded. Her infamous red-headed temper scared Charlotte, but not as much as the recipient of said temper. After a very loud, heated discussion with the boy that if she ever heard him or another student make another such comment about her sister-in-law ever, they would not like the consequences. That had been followed by a very potent bat-bogey hex. Bats flew out of his nose for a week following the altercation. Ginny was given a detention for her actions. Charlotte was devastated.
Ginny had merely shrugged. "It was worth it. We Weasleys stick together. Besides, it was with Hagrid and we fed the unicorns."
"But I'm not a Weasley," Charlotte replied still not understanding. Ginny looked at her in annoyance.
"Neither am I," Hermione stage whispered to Charlotte for the irritated redhead, "But don't ever let them hear you say that. As far as they are concerned, you are family, and Weasleys are nothing if not loyal to those they have claimed as their own."
Now, standing outside the shop door with its windows covered in outrageous purple flyers announcing the opening of the second WWW location soon, Charlotte began to panic. She stopped dead and stared, unfocused, at the door. It took a minute for Ginny and Hermione to note her absence. They waited patiently for a moment before Ginny groaned and returned, taking Charlotte in hand and leading her forward.
"Sometimes I forget you are not a Gryffindor," she joked. "We will have to work on that."
Charlotte wanted to run, but Ginny held her tight. Hermione held open the door and waited for the pair to catch up. Charlotte took one last pull of air before entering the shop, trying to get her emotions under control.
The shop was dimly lit due to the windows being covered. Boxes were stacked everywhere and on several sat a number of mostly redheaded individuals, all looking at the group entering the building. Charlotte wanted to disappear.
"Ginny," a male voice shouted from across the room. Seconds later, the Boy who Lived crashed into her pulling her into his arms and away from Charlotte. They kissed for what seemed like an hour as Charlotte tried to pointedly look at anyone but them. Thinking it would be safe, she turned to Hermione, only to see she was in a similar interaction with a tall, lanky redhead who held her off the ground. Charlotte wrapped her arms around her chest and began to step away.
"For the love of all, get a room," someone barked and the couples parted. They continued to stare into each other's eyes.
"Oi, we are here for more than a snog, little sister."
Ginny made a rude gesture across the room with hoots and hollers followed. A few comments warned of their mother's reaction and subsequent punishments or telling off. Ginny simply rolled her eyes and looked away from Harry taking his hand. Her focus dropped back to Charlotte and her stance. Ginny smiled and reached her other hand for the frightened teen. Charlotte conceded reluctantly.
Ginny grabbed her hand and bravely pulled her towards her. "Charlotte, this is my boyfriend, Harry."
Charlotte was star struck. The savior of the wizard world was before her smiling with his arm firmly around her new friend, and Ginny had introduced him like he was any other boy at school or on the street. Didn't the man who saved them all warrant more fanfare then just a simply 'Harry'. She tried to smile, but failed.
"It's great to finally meet you, Charlotte. Ginny told me so much about you, I feel we already know one another." Harry smiled at her and pulled her into a brief but tight one-armed hug.
"Hello, Charlotte. I'm your new brother, Ron." The tall redhead popped in front of her and hugged her sideways. "Hermione told us you were beautiful, but wow your drop dead gorgeous."
"Not near as beautiful as my Hermione," Ron quickly back peddled. He grinned sheepishly at Hermione.
She rolled her eyes, leaning against his side. "Emotional range of a teaspoon."
"I really have no idea why you put up with him, Hermione. You could do so much better," another redhead commented.
"I don't know either, George. I guess I am a sucker for lost causes," Hermione replied sarcastically.
The rest of the occupants laughed. Almost. Out of the corner of her eye, Charlotte caught a quiet confrontation between two of them. A silver haired woman quickly stepped in front of them smiling radiantly.
Ginny grabbed her hand and redirected Charlotte's attention. "This is my brother, George. You may remember him from school some. It is his swamp in the corridor by Charms."
"Pleasure to meet you," George stood taking Charlotte's hand and bowed over it. "And this is my friend, Angelina. She's living with me and helping out for a few months."
The dark skinned woman stepped forward and took her opposite hand. "It's great to have a name for the face. We've been enjoying the letters from the girls telling us all about you."
George swung around pulling Charlotte with him across the room. The approached another man who was studying the pair across the room with a look of apprehension. The brunette next to him elbowed him in the ribs and he quickly refocused, putting on a haughtily welcoming face.
George introduced him with a flourish. "And this prat, is my brother Percy."
"Pleased to meet…" Percy began and stopped glaring at his brother. Charlotte started to turn towards the pair in the corner as their arguing became louder. She noted Ginny was glaring daggers at the man furthest in the corner while Harry tried to hold her back. Hermione, who was following behind laughed and placed her arm around Charlotte keeping her turned towards the pair in front of her. Hermione redirected her attention back to Percy. "Ignore George. Percy is really a nice person."
"Hermione! It's not nice to lie to people," George admonished stepping to further block the corner.
"Ha. Ha," Percy sarcastically deadpanned back, "Charlotte, it is a pleasure to make your acquaintance."
George laughed. "Seriously Percy. You're not meeting a foreign diplomat. Your meeting your new sister. Honestly Audrey, what did you see in him?"
The brunette started to teased back. "He has a rather large…"
"Audrey!" Percy cut her off.
"Brain." Audrey completed her statement with a smirk. "It is just so…simulating."
The others laughed. Percy groaned.
Audrey bounced forward and hugged Charlotte and then held her at arm's length to look her over fully. "I have been waiting to meet you. Percy came home and told me he found the perfect girl for his brother. When he told me all about you, I just couldn't wait to meet you. I'm so excited. Another non-Gryffindor. It can be a bit much at times around all the bravado."
Charlotte just nodded. The whole experience was becoming a little overwhelming. She looked around for Ginny but was again distracted by the confrontation in the corner. Before she could clearly see, she came face to face with the silver haired woman again.
"Bonjour. It is a pleasure to meet you at last."
The French accent threw Charlotte. She was not expecting it. Looking closer, she recognized the beautiful woman as one of the Triwizard Tournament Champion from her third year. Fleur Weasley smiled radiantly and continued to distract Charlotte.
"This is very exciting, yes?" Fleur laughed throatily. "We have all been very eager to meet you. We are sharing everything Ginny and Hermione have been sending, trying to learn as much as we can about you. They have been…"
But whatever Fleur was ready to say was cut off by shouting from the corner.
"I don't care what you say! I am not marrying that child! I will leave if I have to, I'm not doing it!" One of the redheads in the corner stormed out of the building slamming the door.
"Charlie, be reasonable!" The other responded as the door banged shut. He dropped his head and began to breathe deeply trying to calm himself. Outside a crack of appearation could be heard.
Any resolve the Charlotte had to keep her emotions in check splintered when the door slammed. She should have guessed things were going too smoothly. Tears began to stream down her cheeks and her arms collapsed around her chest trying to hold her emotions in.
Ginny swore and stormed towards the door, Harry following in her wake. Seconds later, two more cracks could be heard. The remaining redhead still in the corner finally took one last deep breath and turned to face the room. His blue eyes darted from person to person finally settling on Charlottes. Seeing her in such a state, any remaining anger crumbled from his face. In two quick strides he crossed the floor and took both of Charlotte's hands in his.
"I'm so sorry you had to see that. Charlie can be a little…well, a lot headstrong at times. He has a tendency to talk before he thinks about what the effect will be. He is a leap before he thinks kind of guy. Which serves him well as a dragon handler, not so much with people."
Charlotte looked at Bill, for it was Bill based on the scared face Ginny and Hermione warned her about. She could not comprehend his gentleness. His brother rejected her and yet he continued to be kind. Ginny even left her. Didn't Bill understand? His brother would never marry a tainted Romani witch.
She cried even harder, sobbing uncontrollably. For a few fleeting weeks, she felt more kindness and compassion than ever before. People were looking out for her wellbeing. She felt like they all cared. In one shouted statement, it all came crashing down. All the more painful because, for the first time in her life, she knew what it was like to belong.
Her hands were dropped and she tried to step away, only to be enveloped in a bone crushing hug. She was tucked into a hard chest with arms wrapped tight and hands stroking her hair and back. A male voice was shushing her and swaying her from side to side trying to calm her. After a few minutes, Charlotte was able to control her sobs and pulled away. Bill held her by the shoulders to help keep her upright, Hermione alongside rubbing her back.
Charlotte took a deep breath trying to subside the remaining sobs and tried to speak. "I should. Go…"
"We all should really." Bill smiled at her. "Mum will be wondering where we are."
"Oh, I'm sure mum knows where we are. All of Ottery St Catchpole knows where we are by now." Ron interjected rolling his eyes.
Several pairs of eyes glared at Ron. "What. You don't think Ginny is there right now telling him off. I would worry about my bollocks if I were Charlie, as mad as she looked when she left here. Harry will have a job preventing her from killing him. Mind you, I would have to testify on behalf of my sister. That was a prat move, even I wouldn't be that stupid."
Most of the room's occupants laughed. Charlotte still looked uncertain of the situation. Fleur came over and put a comforting arm around her, and started to guide her out the door. Bill took her arm and threaded it through his. As they went out the door, Angelina pointed her wand back briefly and locked them as people began to disappearate all around her.
"Do you mind if I take you side along. The Burrow has some of the strongest protections in the wizarding world right now." Bill asked. "There are still a lot of death eaters on the loose and with us being the biggest single family against them, Harry living there and my father's position at the Ministry, we can't be too careful. We will need to key you to the wards so you can enter easily from here forward."
Charlotte looked at him in confusion. "Why would you want me there? He said…"
Bill smiled apologetically at her. "Charlie says a lot of things, most of which we ignore. He'll come around. Trust me, you're not leaving the Weasley family any time soon."
Charlotte looked at him in shock. "But Ginny left…"
Bill cringed, "I know. We should hurry, or there may not be enough of Charlie left for you to marry. She was not happy, and I should be there to calm her down and try to make my arse of a brother see sense. Are you ready to go?"
Charlotte looked around. Hermione smiled at her from next to Ron and nodded. Fleur smiled at her again. Charlotte took another deep breath. She looked back at Bill and nodded.
"Hold on tight, I don't want to lose you." Bill said as he pulled her into his arms.
He spun on the spot and she was pulled into the tight oblivion. As fast as it happened, it was over. They stood outside a crazy little home in the middle of the countryside. Ahead of her, she heard the others call as they entered letting their mother know they arrived. One asked about tea. Bill put Charlotte back on his arm and walked towards the wards. Pulling his wand, he did some complicated swishing and flicking. Pulling Charlotte along, he passed the invisible barriers of the home.
"Welcome to the Burrow, home of the Arthur Weasley family." Bill swiped his hand through the air indicating the home. He looked down at Charlotte. "Now, also, your home."
Tears began to stream down Charlotte's cheeks again. Bill reached out with one hand and wiped them away. "Come on. Mum has been going mental waiting to meet you. It was all we could do to make her stay here and let us greet you first. She can be a bit much and we didn't want her to overwhelm you."
He pulled her into the back door and through the main sitting room. Above her, Charlotte heard people arguing loudly. Bill looked up and grimaced. He pulled Charlotte towards the kitchen as her tears began again in earnest.
"He just ran up the stairs. Your father went after him. And then Ginny stormed in with Harry following. Didn't even stop to say hello and went right up the stairs after them…" An older, redheaded woman carried a tea set across the room as she talked to the family gather at the table.
"Mum," Bill interrupted her softly.
Molly Weasley turned away from the table after she deposited the tea service and looked towards her oldest son. She stopped taking in her son's expression and the devastated stranger beside him, and she knew.
"Oh, you poor darling." Molly rushed across the kitchen and pulled Charlotte into her ample embrace.
"You poor, poor child. Fleur make us a spot of tea. Hermione, there is a bottle of brandy in the sideboard. Why don't you get us a bit for our tea?" She crooned. And then waspishly. "Oh, you just wait until I get my hands on that boy."
Bill looked worriedly about the room and disappeared up the stairs. After a few steps the screaming from above stopped abruptly. Molly continued to fuss over Charlotte while the others did her bidding. Just as the cup of strongly brandied tea was put in Charlotte's hands, Ginny came storming down the steps.
"I don't know why I have to leave. Let me at him for just a few minutes with my wand, Harry. He'll regret he was ever…"
"Ginevra," Molly admonished.
Ginny scowled. "He deserves whatever curse I can think of, and then some, mum. Look at her. Look at the state he has put her in, the great prat. He made Percy look sweet and caring today."
Percy shot her an exasperated look. The others laughed.
Molly glared at her daughter. "Be that as it may, he is your brother and I will have no more arguing between any of you. We are family, and you just never know…"
The others all flinched at her abrupt stop. George dropped his gaze to the table as Angelina put a comforting hand on his.
Molly sighed and turned her attention to the girl in her arms. "Feeling better, dear. Drink up, it will help. I know this must be a little stressful, there are a quite a few of us. Is there someone we could invite along that will help you feel more at ease? Your mother maybe?"
Charlotte began to sob again. Hermione and Ginny both moaned. Ginny moved across the room to take Charlotte into her arms and rock her back and forth.
Molly looked around. "What did I say?"
Upstairs Charlie angrily stared at the ceiling of his and Bill's room. He made up his mind, he was leaving. Since his father flooed months ago, warning of the council's debates, he had been furious. He spent days ranting to his friends at the reserve. Most of them believed the Wizengamot could never be that dense to force marriage and children on people who did not want it.
Then the damn letter arrived with its multitude of forms. That began the month long drinking festival he and his mates went on commiserating Charlie's doom. They were sober only long enough to work and began drinking again after their shifts. Charlie couldn't even remember if he ate at all that month. They tried to think of any way out of the situation.
This included an offer from his friend Katie she would lie and say her and Charlie were dating. Jake, Lou and Nate said they would sign the affidavits. They were half way completed the forms when Charlie, who had begun to sober up again to go to work, came to his senses. His mother would demand to see Katie and see her act like Charlie's girlfriend. Which was all fine and good, but she was already dating Jake. Charlie could not cheat on one of his best friends, even if everybody knew it was fake.
At some point, his drunk friends decided Charlie needed to complete his forms before they were sent to his mother who would have him looking like some sweet, innocent pounce. Who better to complete them, then his closest comrades. Being absolutely pissed at the time, Charlie could not remember most of what they told the ministry, but a letter from Percy let him know he disregarded several of the more creative answers his friends came up with and hoped he was not too far out of line thinking Charlie did not want to dance the Nutcracker ballet in the nude on stage in the middle of Diagon Alley as his future career goals.
Between the letter and the director calling the whole lot of them into his office and telling them off for their drunken antics, they decided to significantly cut back their alcohol consumption. That and the director explaining if they did not get their sorry asses back on the straight and narrow, he would sack the lot of them. He kicked the rest out and proceeded to lecture Charlie. If the ministry wanted him to have a wife, then damn it, grow a set, get one, or take the one they gave him, bed her soundly until she was with child and quit his bellyaching about it.
This had been well and good until the beginning of November when the letter arrived. Charlie took the envelope from the bird, chucked it a treat and tossed it out the window, not wanting to see the damn thing ever again. Louis saw Charlie's actions and took pity on the poor owl, taking it back to his cabin, feeding and watering it, and tucking it in for a few days to recover from its long trip.
The letter sat on Charlie's table for five days. Everybody who stopped by saw it, still sealed, in the same spot. Finally, Nate had enough. Grabbing the letter, he broke the seal, pulled it out, and found the name. Charlotte Renee Cooper, 17, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
Nate then shrieked the words that haunted Charlie since he heard them. "What the hell, do they think you are a pedo? She is still in school!"
The letter came from Ginny next. She met his future wife, a fellow classmate in Ravenclaw. She was very nervous about the whole thing and Ginny thought Charlie should write to her to help alleviate her fears. His friends, not realizing they were doing more harm than good, teased Charlie all the more about his insecure child bride. Maybe her nappy was wet and she would need a change. When the damn letter came and required him to come back to England to take the chit on a date, his friends teased maybe a trip to the zoo and a ride on the carrousel would be the perfect time.
All the while, Ginny's letters continued to come, first asking, then pleading, then begging and finally demanding he write the girl. All Charlie could see was a younger version of Ginny waiting for him to marry her.
Today was a nightmare. He worked a double because he had to come home for this stupid Ministry-required weekend and traveled half the night after work. He was not sleeping well to begin with, and he worked himself into a fury over the choice his prat brother and his colleagues selected for him. He got to the shop, snapped at everybody as they greeted him, told Percy off for being a no good, backstabbing bastard and proceeded to sulk in the corner.
Bill, ever the voice of reason, was working Charlie over about his attitude when he heard them at the door. They were happily talking about everyday things that affect a schoolgirl's life when they entered in their damnable school uniforms. Charlie groaned and began to protest all the more. As he and Bill argued, quietly in the corner, his backstabbing family passed her around like a precious doll.
And Charlie finally snapped.
Storming out, he left his child bride with her school friends and fled home. Storming into the house, he went to his room slamming the door and leaving his very confused parents in his wake. His father followed shortly after to inquire what had happened, but before he could even finish the question, Ginny stormed in, berating him for leaving her precious friend behind. They shouted at each other for a few minutes before Ginny reached in her pocket to draw her wand. However, it was missing. Behind her, Harry was guiltily quiet.
She went after him physically then, punching and hitting him for his behavior. Harry finally got ahold of her and calmed her enough to quit leaving marks.
Bill arrived shortly after and made Harry take Ginny back downstairs. She reluctantly went only after Bill had told her Charlotte was with their mum in the kitchen. With Harry's prodding, she finally stormed out of his room and back down the stairs.
Now, he was laying back on his bed, trying his hardest to tune his father out and not look at Bill as he looked at him trying to find his winning angle. Because Bill spent most of his life trying to find the angle that would make Charlie act appropriately. Eat your sprouts, get a cookie. Practice hard, get to play quidditch. Behave at school, become a prefect. The list went on and on.
His father's unusual tirade was finally coming to a close. "Now, I am going downstairs to meet your future wife. Even though you are acting like a child right now, I would like you to man up, come downstairs and show that young woman some of the respect I tried to instill in you as a child."
Charlie glared. "What if I don't. Maybe I want to be a muggle."
Arthur groaned and steeled himself for more arguing. Bill cut him off. "You won't become a muggle, Charlie."
"Oh, really, and why, big brother, do you think I will not chuck all of this nonsense and walk away," Charlie asked sarcastically.
Bill smiled. "Because, dear sweet brother of mine, without your wand, you cannot work with your precious dragons."
Charlie blanched. Arthur nodded. "I will be downstairs. I expect you behind me shortly.
Ginny continued to rock Charlotte, Hermione looked at their friend with concern.
"What did I say?" Molly's words were haunted.
Hermione finally spoke. "She is an orphan. Her father died before she started Hogwarts, her mother during our fourth year."
Molly whispered to Hermione "Was she, was she killed by death…"
"No, her mother was a muggle. She died in a car crash." Hermione supplied.
A small whimper from across the room drew Charlotte's attention briefly. Harry looked at her with sympathy. Another older redhead entered the kitchen and put a comforting hand on the young man's shoulder. Harry looked back at him and briefly tried to smile.
Molly drew her attention back. "Doesn't she have any family at all?"
"Not really," Hermione continued. "She is living with a muggle aunt during breaks, but her muggle relatives don't know she is a witch. Her mother never allowed anyone else to know. Gillian, our other friend, has gathered her mother was actually afraid of magic. Nothing like the Dursleys, but she was not very comfortable around Charlotte after she found out about magic."
"Surely her father's family is involved," Percy interjected, "she is a half blood."
Arthur sighed from where he stood next to Harry. "Probably not. From what you have told us, she is only half Romani. Am I correct Charlotte?"
Charlotte nodded without looking up and blushed, ashamed of her mixed lineage.
Arthur sighed. "Romani gypsies, especially the wizarding families, are even more blood purest then the death eaters. They would never cross blood with anyone other than another Romani. She has probably been an outcast her entire life. I am sure her father's family would have considered her unworthy and shunned her birth and life for carrying the tainted blood of her mother. Her mother was most likely ostracized for associating close enough with a gypsy to produce Charlotte. If that was not strain enough, Charlotte was a witch. The poor girl never had a real chance in any of her worlds."
Molly choked back a sob. "You mean she has nobody."
Only a second passed before Arthur spoke with such conviction no one in the room had any doubts. "No, she has us."
He strode purposefully to the crying woman and pulled her to her feet and close to his chest, holding her in place. "As far as I am concerned, I now have a dark haired daughter to match my dark haired son."
Charlotte's mind took a moment to wrap around the pronouncement of the family patriarch. In those few seconds. he held her close and tight. As close and tight as Charlotte would imagine he would hold Ginny to him if she was hurting, as close as a father. Seconds later, another person joined their embrace. Sniffling sobs next to her alerted her to the other's emotions. Arthur pulled one arm off of Charlotte. The other person was obviously wrapped in that arm as they were pulled closer.
"How could you still have any doubts, Harry? After everything we have been through and everything you have done for our family. As far as Molly and I are concerned, you have been ours since Ron sat across from you on the train. Never forget that, both of you. You too Hermione."
Arthur pulled them back and looked at both of them. "Now then, dry your eyes, all of you. This is a happy occasion."
Charlotte glanced around the room. There were several tears. Her attention was drawn to the door where who she could only assume was her future husband slipped out. Bill watched him go from his location by the stairs shaking his head.
"Let me get a proper look at you." Arthur drew her attention back to him. He smiled back at her giving her an appraising look. "You are truly beautiful, Charlotte. I am so happy you are joining our family."
"Thank you, sir," She replied.
"Arthur. Please call me Arthur." She smiled, but did not reply.
Harry reached over and put his arm around her shoulder. "Look, we match, only your hair lays properly. I have a sister who finally looks like me."
Charlotte studied the boy who lived for a minute. It finally occurred to her he too had no parents, just like her. How easy it was to forget you were truly not alone or the only one. Molly appeared next and pulled her into her grip again. She didn't need to comment, Charlotte just knew from her actions alone.
Molly finally let her go and looked about the room then at the clock. "Right, you lot. There is a dinner to get on. Bill, go collect your brother from behind the shed. That's where he usually tries to hide. Tell him if he is smoking those vile things again, I am going to wash his mouth out with soap. Then the two of you can set up the tables out back in the garden. Make sure you put up some warming spells, it's a bit chilly today. Angelina, will you and Audrey set the tables and make sure that those boys don't do anything stupid. Ginny, I could use your and Fleur's help in the kitchen. George, go in the cellar and grab up the potatoes and some apples. I'll make you a tart. Don't worry, Harry dear, I've already made treacle tart for you."
"What can I do, ma'am?" Charlotte asked.
"Nonsense, dear you're a guest today. Sit and relax. It has been stressful." Molly patted her check. "Hermione, be a sweetheart and show Charlotte the bathroom so she can wash up a bit. There is a little of clearing cream in there as well, help her find it. It will help with the puffiness."
Everybody scatter to accomplish their assigned task.
Dinner was a strained event, at least for Charlie. His mother purposefully sat him next to his new Ministry-issued fiancé. At least that was Jake's title for he,r as of recent. Charlie still could not make himself look at the child sitting next to himself. Deep down he knew he was being ridiculous, but wanted to hate her so badly. Bill's words kept returning to him.
Molly sighed and rose from the table and began to assemble the empty plates. Next to him, Charlotte rose and picked up Charlie's plate and set it upon her own.
"Charlotte, sweetheart, sit down, I have this." Molly commanded waving her hand.
"Please, ma'am. I can help. It wouldn't be right to allow the elders to work while we sat." Charlotte spoke as she continued to clear the table.
Molly looked ready to protest further, but Arthur stopped her. "Did you spend time with your Roma family?"
"Yes. When father discovered I was a witch, he convinced my mother to allow him to take me for the summers to learn our culture and magic."
Arthur nodded and looked meaningfully at Molly. She sighed again and turned towards the house. Charlotte collected some more plates. Ginny grimaced and pulled herself up from her chair ready to help.
Charlotte looked at her with mischief in her eyes. "Go, spend time with Harry and make Hermione and Ron go as well. I think I will spend time talking to your mother about …meatloaf."
Ginny and Charlotte giggled. Hermione looked at them over the glass of pumpkin juice she was drinking.
"Charlotte told us to run along and spend time with the boys. She'll help mum so they can discuss meatloaf recipes."
Hermione laughed into her glass.
"Oh, Molly makes a wonderful meatloaf. Just excellent. It's so moist." Arthur supplied.
Ginny and Charlotte laughed as Hermione spit her juice across the table. Charlie flinched at the sound of the school girls caught up in some inside joke amongst friends. Bill waved his wand and cleaned up the mess.
"Come on, Ron. Best get Hermione some air." Ginny said as she drew Harry from his seat. The couples walked towards the quidditch paddock.
Charlotte watched them go for a moment. She turned her attention back to the table, pulled her wand and did a quick motion. The dishes containing food to be put away queued up and followed her into the house. The others watched the magic in amazement.
"I'm sure a Roma spell she was taught at an early age." Arthur supplied. "The gypsys teach magic in an entirely unique way. She has probably possessed her wand since she was six or seven. They teach what we might call practical magic."
"Doesn't the trace affect them?" Percy asked indignant.
"Remember, Percy, parents in magical homes police underage magic. As the Roma almost always homeschool, we have little say as to how they are taught." Arthur pointed out.
Percy scowled. "It just does not seem right, being so young and learning magic."
"Ay, but remember also, the Roma do not put as much emphasis on all magic. I am sure, if not for the untimely death of her father, Charlotte would not have been taught much more than basic skills needed by a woman to be a good wife and mother."
"Why would she not not been taught more? What about having a job or career if she wanted." Audrey asked.
Arthur smiled sympathetically. "She would never been allowed those choices, Audrey. At the age she started Hogwarts, her family would have begun putting her on display for men to notice the assets she had to offer. She would have been married off the minute a suitable young man was found."
"What assets would she have if they did not take the time to educate her?" Percy's indignation what obvious.
"The type of assets that I am happy not one of you young men thought of. It means your mother and I succeeded to raising true gentlemen." Arthur continued.
Bill and Charlie exchanged looks of shock and then looked at their father. Percy still look perplexed. "I'm still not following."
George gave Percy a look of exasperation. "Really, Perce. How big of a prat can you be?"
"A well-mannered one," his father scolded. He turned to his obtuse son. "Her physical assets, Percy. There is a reason most of society thinks poorly of the Roma. They are a conceited lot. They prize beauty. If Charlotte would have been full Roma and remained with her family, they would have thought themselves in possession of a prize, one that would have won them an edge. She would have been put out on display with clothes that left little to the imagination and paraded like a champion horse available to the highest bidder. Whichever family could offer the best advancement would have won the prize."
"She would have been only a child." Angelina retorted angrily. Charlie flinched.
"Yes," Arthur answered sadly, "Only a child, but dressed provocatively in expensive, flashy clothes promoting the family's wealth. The only good thing is the family would have watched her closely. The society as a whole holds women to a very high standard. Her family would guard her virtue. It is the only thing of value any young woman of the Roma possesses. Lose it, and any value your life had is lost."
The occupants of the table looked at each other in disgust.
"Well, at least some good came from her father's early demise," Bill stated. Everybody agreed.
"What I want to know is when you intend on speaking with Charlotte," Bill demanded looking at Charlie. "You haven't even taken the time to introduce yourself. Have you even said one work to her?"
Charlie looked away from the people at the table.
"Charlie, please make effort. You will never again have a first chance to meet your wife," Fleur pleaded. "It is so very important that first meeting. The first time I saw Bill before the third task, I was infatuated. Here was this very handsome man looking back at me, but it was more than just his good looks. He was there to support our Harry, even though he was not his real family. I thought to myself, here is a man who will love our children fully."
Bill gave Fleur a rogue smile and she pulled him into a chaste kiss.
Percy snorted. "Really. People meet for years and one day fall in love and marry. What does the first meeting really mean."
"A lot," Audrey looked at him in astonishment and turned her attention to Charlie who was still pretending to ignore them all. "The first time I met Percy, I was having coffee with friends. Percy came in with one of my girlfriend's new boyfriend. He was on a full out rant on the handling of some missing paperwork for some tradable item coming into the country, he went on for the entire time we were there. When he left to go back to work, my friends began to bluster about his behavior and all I could think is if that was his passion over one piece of paperwork missing on an order of dragon dung for fertilizer, then what kind passion would he show someone he cared about in their everyday life? I was drawn to him like a moth to a flame."
Percy looked at Audrey like he had never seen her before. She smiled back. "You are a very peculiar woman and I cannot wait to be married to you."
Audrey blushed and pulled Percy into a kiss. The other women at the table tittered.
Angelina looked about the table, "I remember my first day at Hogwarts. I had never been away from home or my mother before. I was so upset, I spent the first part of the train ride crying in the compartment with the other first years. These identical twins came in, looked about the compartment and started to joke and act the fools. After a bit, I realized I wasn't crying anymore, I was laughing. One of them, I never couldn't tell then who was who, came and sat next to me. He turned and looked at me and said…"
"That's better now. No more tears. One should always face a new fate laughing instead of crying. It will make it less daunting." George looked deep into Angelina's eyes.
"It was you." Angelina breathed looking at George as if she was seeing him for the first time.
George nodded and looked away thoughtfully. "I think it's time I started working in the shop again, Angie."
Everyone looked in shock at George. Since the final battle, he was only working on the periphery of his business.
She smiled at him. "I think that is a brilliant idea, George. We all want to see you back in there again."
Charlie looked at his family. How could he face this child he was intended for? A mad, mother dragon, no problem. Small schoolgirl bride, running for cover. Charlie steeled himself and rose from the table. He turned towards his childhood home as if approaching the gallows.
Arthur's hand grabbed his as he passed. "Remember one thing, please Charlie. She had just as much say in this as you. Less even. if I know how she may have been raised. Please take that into account."
Charlie drew up as if he had been stung. He had never considered Charlotte's position or thoughts about being married off to a lecherous old man. Ginny had tried to warn him Charlotte was terrified and he, the brave dragon handler, did nothing to make it any different. If anything, today probably drove her to the brink thinking she had been paired with an unfeeling, uncaring man who could not even be bothered to say hello. Charlie felt sick. His parents were right, he had been raised better. Stealing his resolve, he strode to the back door of the burrow.
He walk through the house trying to calm his nerves and try to push way the crazy thoughts crashing through his mind. The thoughts of this child the same age he always seemed to think Ginny was, a small girl just out of her first year at Hogwarts, or who needed her older twin brothers to watch after her at the World Cup during the attack. The Ginny that never grew up. The one that wasn't old enough to be engaged just like her little friend, Charlotte. His mind always conjured an image of a little girl in pigtails and pinafore dresses. He groaned subconsciously as he approached the kitchen.
He walks in to see his mum washing and his intended drying the mountain of dishes from their dinner. His mother was speaking merrily to the girl.
"And so I walk in to see Bill scolding his brother who was standing on the counter and I asked them what in the world they were up to. Bill turns and looks at me ready to tattle on Charlie who is standing on the countertop with the biscuit tin in his hands. He quickly puts it behind his back and gives me his regular 'Charlie is innocent' smile. I march right up to him. Mind you, that is quite a feat in itself as I have a two year old Percy on my hip and the twins due any day. So I march up to the cupboard and glare at Charlie and you know what the little blighter said to me. 'Hi, mum. Fancy meeting you here.' I just couldn't help it. I just had to laugh."
Charlotte laughter filtered through the kitchen like little bells. "Oh, no."
"I tell you this as a warning, dear. Well…I may have cursed Charlie with a child who acts just like he did." Molly looked sheepishly at Charlotte.
Charlie finally revealed his presence. "Now, mum, why would you ever do that to your future daughter-in-law?"
Molly turned to look at her wayward son. "I never thought of the poor girl, Charlie. I really do feel quite bad for Charlotte if it does happen."
"What about me?" Charlie asked in mock horror.
"Then you would get your comeuppance." Molly nodded smugly.
Charlie laughed and hugged his mother. She pulled away and ran a hand through his red curly locks. "You need a haircut."
Charlie groaned and rolled his eyes. To avoid the fight, he glanced sideways at his intended target. "Fancy a walk around the property?"
Charlotte blushed and dropped her head. "I would love to, but I need to help your mu-"
"Nonsense," Molly interjected. "You go with Charlie. You're supposed to be using this time to get to know one another, not do the dishes. Go for a walk."
Molly rounded on Charlie, "And you, your best manors. Do you understand?"
"Yes, ma'am" Charlie laughed at his mother as he turned to walk out of the kitchen. Charlotte hesitated before drying her hands and putting the towel down, she strode across the kitchen to catch up with Charlie.
They walked in silence until they were out of the garden. Charlie looked back at the remaining family members at the table. Bill smiled and nodded. Charlie nodded back and continued on.
"So..." Charlie began and faltered. He still could not look at the girl, afraid of what he would see. "I'm Charlie, but you probably already know that by now, don't you."
She blushed and nodded but did not raise her head.
Charlie blew out a breath. "Um. This is more difficult than I thought. What should be talk about?"
Charlotte glanced at his quickly and averted her face again. "I don't really know."
They walked on for a little bit. Every once in a while Charlie would at least try to tell Charlotte tidbits of information about the property. This is where the family quidditch pitch was. That pond is where his uncle Fabian had taught him to swim. That tree was were his Uncle Bilius had gave him his first drink of fire whiskey when he was thirteen. He had prompted her to share her own stories, which she did in as few words as possible.
"That great tree there is where I sat after I got home from Hogwarts the last time and made the decision about what I would do with my life. I think I sat on the branch for six hours that day deciding between dragons and quidditch. In the end, dragons won out." He spared another sideways glance. "What do you have planned after Hogwarts, Charlotte?"
Charlotte hung her head. "I'll be your wife. I have been thinking there really isn't any reason for me to return after Christmas."
Charlie stopped walking abruptly. "What do you mean no sense in returning?"
Charlotte stopped a couple of steps in front of him. She did not turn, but continued to stare at the tree. "The law requires we are married by February 14th. After, I will have to live with you to fulfil the legal requirements of the law."
They both blushed. The weekly requirements for 'marital relations' was to promote the newly formed couples into a harmonious relationship as husband and wife.
Charlie groaned. He forgot that stipulation. "You just…You can't quit school. What were your plans if this stupid law had never existed?"
Charlotte shrugged. "I always wanted to be a healer ever since I was a little girl. The grandmother told me it was a stupid idea. She was teaching me all I needed to know about healing. Told me I could patch any members of the family up well enough. Healers were not needed or to be trusted, but when they left, and I got to Hogwarts, and we did career advising, I told Professor Flitwick. He said I was more than capable and could do it. I have taken every class I needed for St. Mungo's to consider taking me after I was done. I guess…I guess now, I will be a mother and wife instead."
Charlie was furious. Why had they fought that damn war anyway? "How can you give up your dreams so easily?"
He stopped himself remembering his father's words about her upbringing. He began to pace behind her. "I'm going to get you out of this."
He stormed off back to the yard to find his prat of a brother.
Charlotte was upset and began to tear up again. She had made him mad. Slowly, she made her way back to the house again listing all of her faults that made her intended angry trying to find a way to change them.
When she entered the kitchen, it was blessedly time to return to Hogwarts. Ginny and Hermione where already there with their boyfriends saying their final goodbyes. Across the yard, she seen Charlie in a heated debate with Percy.