Charlotte followed Professor Flitwick down the first floor corridor to her appointment with the Ministry official. Two weeks ago, just after the disastrous first date with her intended, she received the official notice Charlie was protesting the match. The Ministry scheduled the conference in order to hear Charlie's reasons to not be married. Charlotte was required to attend to provide defense on her behalf in case Charlie protested her character or ability to comply with the law.
So, Charlotte was on her way to a little used office and on the first floor set aside for such meetings. Charlie should have already arrived. Professor Vector, tired of the constant disruptions to his class because of the law, protested Charlotte being excused from his exam today. Professor McGonagall notified the Ministry official and Charlie, upon their arrival, that Charlotte would be late.
"Here we are, my dear. Just go right in, they are waiting for you." Flitwick opened the door to the office. It squeaked from disuse. Charlotte cringed and went inside.
Across the room, a middle aged witch sat behind the desk reviewing papers. Across from her, Charlie sat in another chair with his hands behind his head, laid back on the rest, and looking as though he was napping. Both jumped at the squeaking door and turned. Charlotte blanched and walked a few steps in the room so Professor Flitwick could pull the door shut. It banged closed making her feel trapped.
"Come have a seat, sweetheart. Don't be scared. Nothing to worry about," The Ministry official crooned.
Charlie winced as Charlotte walked slowly to the chair next to Charlie.
The Ministry witch gave her a small smile as she put her paperwork into her satchel and withdrew another folder. "How did your exam go, dear? Alright?"
Charlie shuttered next to her again. Both women looked over at him wondering.
"Fine, ma'am," Charlotte began, "I'm sorry I am late. I should have just skipped-"
"No, you have to finish school and do well, Charlotte," Charlie spoke to the ceiling exasperated, "If you want to be a healer, you need good marks."
The Ministry official looked perplexed at Charlie for a minute then opened the file. "My name is Bridget Horton, Office of Family Development. I am here to review the protest of the match created between Charlies Weasley and Charlotte Cooper. Mr. Weasley, as the protesting party I am requesting you state your case first."
Charlie sat forward in his chair, "Ms. Horton, I would like the Ministry to reconsider my match to Charlotte based on the hardship created by the distance I live from England. I currently work in Romania at the dragon reserve there. The distance is too great for basic travel by appearation or floo. In addition, one must cross international borders, clearing immigration at each end of the journey. It makes traveling a right pain in the best of times."
"I see," Ms. Horton replied. "Why would this be a hardship? Surly one of you would need to move."
"I understand, but who? Do I give up my livelihood and income to move back to England? It doesn't make sense for us to marry if I cannot provide a home for her. That leaves Charlotte having to sacrifice her education. It's not fair to Charlotte to give up her future for this as well."
"So your primary concern is your future wife complete her education," Ms. Horton continued.
"Yes, ma'am," Charlie answered.
"I would think that should be obvious. She is so close and extremely intelligent. She is in Ravenclaw. I would think this law should take into consideration what would be lost if you ask students to forgo their education to start families. You want to save our world. What good will our world be if we are uneducated, or undereducated? Should she have to quit and come to Romania just to fulfil some requirement and quota," Charlie fumed at the woman.
"I see," Ms. Horton pulled two questionnaires from the folder. Charlotte recognized her own as well as another that had several red lines and initials on it. Ms. Horton looked pointedly at Charlie who blushed and looked apologetically at her. "You are a dragon handler, Mr. Weasley?"
"Yes, ma'am," he relied.
"And this has been your career of choice since you have left Hogwarts," she continued.
"Assuming you realize you do not exactly have the physique for a ballerina," Charlotte looked up in confusion as Charlie looked down in embarrassment, the Ministry official continued, "Then your only future career goal is to continue up through the ranks. Your dream job would be to be to progress to the level assistant director or maybe even a director of a reserve someday."
"Yes, ma'am," Charlie replied with pride.
"Tell me, Mr. Weasley, are there reserves in England," Ms. Horton looked at him over her glasses.
Charlie looked at her in shock. "Ma'am?"
"Are there dragon reserves in England?" She asked again briskly.
Charlie looked at her in shock. "Yes…ma'am."
"So, there is a possibility that you could meet these goals here in England?"
Charlie looked down at his hands. "Not exactly."
Ms. Horton looked at him to continue. Charlie let out a deep breath and went on, "After the war, I tried to come back to be with my family with everything that happened during the final battle. The reserve on the isles has always been run by family, there are no outsiders in their employ. The Wales reserve took the time to speak with me, but turned me down."
"For what reason?" Ms. Horton inquired.
"I was overqualified," Charlie answered.
"Yes, ma'am" Charlie replied. "In Romania, I handle to worst of the lot, Horntails and Vipertooths. I also work on a recovery and retrieval team which goes after escaped or rogue dragons. The Welch Green is a rather sedate creature unless roused. Their concern was I would become bored and complacent."
Ms. Horton was shocked at his answer, "Is that truly a concern?"
"Yes, ma'am. We refer to them as rookies and jockeys, handlers too new to the field or too confident in their experiences and abilities. They usually end up hurt, or worse, killed in the line of duty," Charlie paused for a moment, looked sideways at Charlotte before continuing, "It is another concern I have. Bad things happen to handlers. I don't want to leave behind a wife and kids. Charlotte has suffered too much loss in her life, she doesn't deserve more because of me."
Ms. Horton looked at the pair with concern and considered her options, "I am having a difficult time with this. Your points are valid concerns, but we are asking several couples to make choices and sacrifices in the interest of our continued survival. How can I discount one set and allow another? I understand your situations are extreme, but if we allow you a waiver, how do I tell the next couple who are fighting and arguing daily their concerns are petty and need to be dealt with? No, I must insist you find a way to make this work."
Charlotte drew a deep breath and steeled herself for the next statement, "I will withdraw from school at the holiday break."
"No!" Charlie commanded making both women jump. "I refuse to allow you to give up on your future for me. I am not worthy of your sacrifice."
"Ah, the crux of the problem. Usually they always come to light," Ms. Horton nodded. "Tell me-"
"You're worthy," The soft spoken girl cut in, shocking them both. "You're a war hero, Charlie. You control dangerous creatures and keep people safe. How could you believe you are not worthy?"
"An answer of the young," Charlie countered.
"You were a member of the Order of the Phoenix and fought the war alone in Romania, where He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named already had support. You led the reinforcements into the final battle after you convinced them to stay and fight, and you have an Order of Merlin."
"As do you, my dear," Ms. Horton smiled.
Charlie looked at her in shock. Charlotte dropped her head again. Ms. Horton looked between them, "She never told you?"
"I never told her I had one. I assume maybe my sister, Ginny or Hermione."
"Granger," Ms. Cooper asked in shock. Charlie nodded his head. The woman recovered and continued, "Your fiancé was at the final battle but did not actively fight. She helped the matron of the school with the wounded. As the final attack took place within the Great Hall, your betrothed did not run or take cover. She stood at her station over a severely injured student and continued to treat him so he would survive. As the curses flew all around the hall, she shielded him with her own body. The student recounted the tale of killing curses just missing her, but she labored on. When the battle was over and He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named was dead, she continued to work on. So many were injured. Madam Pomfrey, your fiancé and two others worked for over seventy-two hours after the battle was won with little or no rest."
Charlie thought back in his mind. He was hurt in the battle. His mother, too sick with grief, could not attend to him. He had been forcibly hauled to the healing halls by Bill.
Pomfrey had taken one look at the back of his head and looked around the room, "McMillan, have you seen Cooper. She can treat this."
The young man pointed down the ward, "She is still working on that Hufflepuff trying to stop the bleeding. He is a mess, but she isn't giving up."
Pomfrey nodded. "Do you think you can take care of this one, Ernie? He's a hard-headed Weasley, but will need to be checked for a concussion and the cut on the back of his head will need to be healed."
Ernie looked concerned, "I think I can handle it."
"If not, or if you have questions, grab me, or Cooper. She is tremendously talented." The matron called as she strode the opposite way.
He shook his head dispelling the memory, "You were working on a Hufflepuff with bad cuts."
Charlotte did nothing more than nod her head.
Charlie groaned and put his head in his hands and rubbed his eyes. He needed sleep. Too many trips back and forth recently left him exhausted. He worked another double to make up for today and he still could not sleep. The child in the wedding dress walking towards the altar now sported black pigtails and a school uniform.
"You're going to finish school and you're going to become a healer. Madam Pomfrey said you had natural talent. Our world cannot lose someone like you. I'll go back to Romania and talk to the director. Maybe I can go on sabbatical for a while, a couple of years until you finish your training. Then, maybe, if you are willing, we will go back to Romania or another reserve if they will don't have a spot."
Charlotte cried, "But your job and your dragons, you love them both. How can you give them up?"
"I don't know, but I refuse for you to have to give up your dream," Charlie shook his trying to clear his mind. "I'll find something here to tie us over. Maybe we can stay with Bill and Fleur for a bit after we are married. Worst case, I can probably work for George for a while at the Hogsmeade shop until you finish school."
"Why are you doing this? Why are you giving up your dreams?" Charlotte cried harder.
"Because, damn it!" Charlie exclaimed, "When I was your age I was trying to figure out how to win the last quidditch game against Ravenclaw to secure the house cup for my final year. Six months later, when you may be pregnant when you graduate, I was sitting in a tree trying to decide between quidditch for England and dragons in Romania. It's unfair, Charlotte. The past few years we asked your whole class to grow up way too fast because of the workings of a madman. To top it all off, after you all worked so hard to get rid of our problems, we are asking you again to give up your dreams to rebuild our world. It's so damn unfair. Ms. Horton is right. If I can compromise and give you just a little bit of something good through all of the hell you've been through, so be it. I have had seven years of great, you deserve that also."
Both women looked at him with tears.
Charlotte dropped her head again, "I will withdraw from school at the end of the month. Most of what we do after the holidays is preparatory for the NEWT. I can revise and study in Romania and come back in the spring and sit the exams with the other homeschooled students."
Charlie eyes sparked, and he opened his mouth again to argue with her but was cut off.
"I'll offer a concession."
Charlie and Charlotte snapped their attention to the woman behind the desk. She continued, "I have told you your situation is unique, and it is. There are only about 50 international wizards who did not change their citizenship. Of that group, 35 are married, either to each other or a person from another country and were exempt from the law. Of the remaining 15, twelve were in committed relationships accepted by the Ministry. That left three, including yourselves. One of the pairs we created was a woman who had been thinking about coming back to England. She thought this was her chance to come home to be closer to her ailing parents. The second was a gentleman working in the Americas. His chosen bride was a shop girl in Diagon Alley. She looked forward to traveling. Then there was the two you. We thought Charlotte was a good choice. She was young and orphaned and thought it would give her a family. None of us considered she would have to leave school or you would have to leave Romania. So, if you are willing, I will offer a compromise in three directions."
Ms. Horton waited for their consent. Charlie and Charlotte both nodded.
"Charlie, you will stay in Romania and work. Charlotte will stay at Hogwarts and finish school. The Ministry will loosen the 'marital duties' requirement to one a month until Charlotte is out of school."
"What about after?" Charlie asked.
Ms. Horton continued. "If I remember correctly, there is a very good clinic on the reserve?"
"Yes," Charlie confirmed, "It's fairly good. They handle all of the traumatic injuries of the reserve. In addition, the surrounding communities come to us for most of their advanced care. We are better equipped than most of the rural Romanian hospitals."
Ms. Horton nodded again, "You are in charge of arranging for your wife to become an apprentice in Romania at the reserve hospital. If may not be as grand or as extensive as the education from St. Mungo's, but she will still be a healer."
Charlotte gasped, "Is this possible?"
Charlie looked up thoughtfully. "I think so. They are always complaining they are short staffed. They would probably snap at the chance to have you come there, especially if you have some foreknowledge."
"Great," Ms. Horton smiled, "So, I have compromised for the Ministry, Charlotte had compromised where she will be trained. That leaves just you, Mr. Weasley."
Charlie looked at her cautiously wondering what he was about to lose.
Ms. Horton smirked, reading his expression. "You, Mr. Weasley, will marry Miss Cooper willingly. I am done with the antics and childish stunts. No more tomfoolery with the forms, no more argumentative conversations with your brother, no more protesting our every move. You will willingly, and quickly, withdraw this petition and marry your fiancé over the next two months with no arguments or complaints."
Charlie blanched. She had him backed into a corner. He got to keep his dragons and Charlotte would finish school and become a healer like she always wanted. Charlie need only comply with no more complaints. He closed his eyes and nodded his head conceding.
"Sign this to withdraw your petition," Ms. Horton produced the forms not giving Charlie any time to back out of his decision.
Charlie grabbed the quill and scribbled his name. The forms disappeared into the satchel.
"Are we all set, I have to go right back to Romania tonight and would like to stop and see my parents and brother quickly before I go," Charlie asked exhaustedly. Ms. Horton nodded her assent.
Charlie rose and walked towards the door not speaking to anyone. When he opened it, he stopped and half turned to the desk, "Pick a date sometime soon after the New Year. I have taken a lot of time off recently and do not want to try to make any arrangements for a couple of days off in a row until after the holidays, if that is alright, Charlotte. I'll come home and we will go to the Ministry and get married. If it works out right, maybe we can go to Romania right after and you can see your new home."
"Mr. Weasley! Do you understand the two of you are going to be making a life bond together?" Ms. Horton was indignant.
Charlie looked at her with bleary eyes trying to understand why she would care how they were married as long as they were.
"Do you understand every little girl dreams of her wedding day? You talk of all Charlotte has lost. Will you take this from her as well?"
Charlie laid his head on the door. "We don't have the luxury of time to plan a wedding, Ms. Horton. The Ministry is pretty adamant of the date."
"Let her have at least something," The woman snapped.
Charlie picked his tired head off the door and stared at the woman, open for suggestions.
Ms. Horton sighed and thought for a minute. "How about a simple handfasting with the commitment bond. A year and a day. It would give you time to plan a wedding for a year from now and give you time to get to know each other better."
Charlie looked at the back of Charlotte's head. She was still looking at Ms. Horton. "Will that work for you, Charlotte? The handfasting?"
"Yes," Charlotte softly answered.
Charlie nodded, "I'll talk to mum. She invited you for Christmas, but Ginny said you are reluctant to go. Mum would love to have you there. Go, plan the handfasting with mum and set a date. Let me know and I will be home."
"I'll see you after the first of the year then." Charlie turned and exited the room, softly closing the door.