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Chapter 23 – Moving On

Hermione woke with the birds; no matter how much she would have liked to have stayed in bed with Charlie, she knew he had to leave soon and wasn’t going to waste time by sleeping. She watched him doze soundly underneath her silken sheets. Everything in the world now seemed so peaceful since the proposal, even Charlie as he slept in a rather amusing position with his legs spread-eagle and one arm tucked underneath his head, and Hermione couldn’t resist a gentle caress of her fiancé’s stubbly cheek.

Yes, he was her fiancé now. They were going to be married! Hermione had never even considered through the entire night how she and Charlie would go about wedding plans. Hell, they hadn’t even told their parents they were seeing each other, much less serious enough to be engaged! Mr. and Mrs. Granger would have to meet Charlie, and then hey would have to meet the Weasleys. Oh, there was so much left to be done, but somehow not much of it really mattered as long as Charlie was still at Hogwarts.

Hermione knew her parents would go berserk if she up and introduced them to an older wizard they’d never even heard of and claimed to be engaged to him. She thought the best way would be to have Charlie come home with her for a bit over the summer (she’d make sure he was able to find a replacement trainer at the Dragon Reserve for at least a few days) on the pretense that he was just her boyfriend; that way, she could tell them the good news of the engagement face to face and let them see first-hand how perfectly right for Hermione he was.

Of course, she’d reassure them that she would get a steady job first and start saving for the wedding, and saving long-term for a house. Hermione didn’t care what Charlie said: she was absolutely not going to let him pay for everything himself. Marriage was an equal relationship, after all, and Hermione would make sure that everything was equal. Charlie just didn’t know it yet.

She sat cross-legged in the bed, running her hands through Charlie’s mussed-up, red hair. He purred lightly into Hermione’s pillow as she lightly scratched her nails on his scalp. But it wasn’t Charlie’s hair that kept her staring at his head; it was the ring on the finger that was doing the stroking that did the trick. It was so pure and beautiful that Hermione couldn’t take her eyes off of it.

Eventually she slipped in and out of the shower, returning just in time for a groggy dragon keeper to greet the morning. He noticed her dripping wet curls and huffed.

“You didn’t wait for me?” he asked disappointedly, still barely able to make out her outline from squinting his eyes.

“Wanted to let you sleep in,” Hermione replied easily.

“What if I didn’t waaa-aaaanna sleep?” he yawned.

Hermione just laughed at him and shook her head. She knew Charlie must have been exhausted after the night they’d just had and wanted to make sure he was well rested before returning to such dangerous work. After wrapping her hair in a dry towel, Hermione crawled into bed beside her lover, allowing him to snuggle her as close as he could. The longer they laid there, the more sleep threatened to overtake the both of them, and only the rumbling of both their stomachs warned them that breakfast was fast retreating. Hermione reckoned that it would draw a bit too much attention to have Charlie go down for breakfast in the Great Hall, but he seemed to think it wouldn’t be too much of a problem. That way, he’d get to spend time with his brother and sister before he went.

“I don’t know if that’s such a good idea,” Hermione worried. She was looking fearfully at her ringed finger, not wanting to take if off, but was still wary and wondered if now would be the best time for Ron to see something like this. She’d only just told him about her relationship with Charlie, and wasn’t sure if he’d be able to handle such a blow as her engagement.

Charlie then informed her of the talk he’d had with Ron, leaving no detail untold. “That was the main reason I came out here, Hermione. Obviously I was here to see you, but I really needed to talk to Ron. He knows this is coming, or else he wouldn’t have given me permission to ask you. But of course, if you still want to wait a while, I’ll understand.”

“NO!” she shouted frantically, nearly making Charlie jump out of his skin. Waiting to talk to Ron was what got her into this mess in the first place. “Waiting is a mistake. Whoever said ‘better late than never’ obviously didn’t have to tell Ron they were in love with someone else. No, I think the sooner this is done, the easier it will be for all of us. But…maybe breakfast isn’t the right time to do it. After breakfast, then.”

Charlie nodded his agreement to Hermione’s decision and then suddenly noticed that she’d fallen behind. He turned to look at her, as she stood, stationary, in the middle of the corridor, looking like she was about to cry. Immediately he replayed his last comments, thinking of what he could have said wrong, and approached her, ready for whatever apologies he’d need to make her happy again.

“Are you all right?” he asked, somewhat fearfully.

“Did you really ask Ron if you could marry me?” Her voice seemed more fragile than he’d ever heard it before.

Puzzled, Charlie answered, “Well, yeah… I’m sorry if…”

But Hermione grabbed him in a hug, crying openly. He soon realized that she wasn’t upset with him, but amazed. The fact that he’d known how much Ron meant to her as a friend—and cared enough about him as a brother—to do something as thoughtful as ask permission just astounded her. There was never a better man than Charlie Weasley.

Breakfast went well, for the most part, and except for only a few awkward moments, was really quite pleasant. Harry, Charlie and Ron talked Quidditch; Ron was thoroughly interested in how the practice went, as the outcome of the upcoming match against Ravenclaw would depend heavily on the improvement of the Gryffindor Beaters, and Harry was all too grateful to have Charlie’s input as an ex-Quidditch captain himself. The girls enjoyed their usual light conversation. Though Hermione was just itching to show Ginny her gorgeous ring, the breakfast table was not the right place to do it (and especially since she’d promised herself to tell Ron first).

Goodbyes were always fairly difficult for Hermione, because she never knew when exactly she’d get to see people again. And so it was with Charlie, and his promise of “I’ll see you soon” didn’t really console her. He said he’d come back for her when she finished school and they’d celebrate somehow; Hermione wished for some exotic trip, but deep in her mind, she knew that that was the time to be telling her parents… Undoubtedly Charlie would have told Mr. and Mrs. Weasley long before then, as he was never talented at keeping such happy secrets all to himself. Hermione expected to receive an owl from Mrs. Weasley in no more than a week’s time.

She walked with him until they reached the boundaries of Hogwarts, stopping just beyond the gates. Impossible as it was for Hermione to let go of Charlie yet again, ten minutes in the chilly February air was just about all she could stand. They kissed and kissed again, saying goodbye until words of farewell had lost all meaning. Then, with a loud pop, Charlie Disapparated.

Hermione headed straight to the Gryffindor common room, where she found Ron, Harry and Ginny lazing about in the corner, staring at closed books and blank rolls of parchment. Ah, Sunday…homework day. She took a seat on the couch beside Ron and looked over his shoulder at the assignment he was supposed to be completing, kindly offering, “Like some help?”

Harry and Ginny glanced at each other, and then sneakily stole away out of the common room. It was clear that Hermione wanted to talk to Ron alone, as she barely even acknowledged the other two, so they respectfully gave her space.

Ron allowed his muscles to go limp and slammed back into the couch, letting his arms and legs fall all over the place. With a heavy sigh of relief, Ron answered, “Sweet Merlin, thank you…”

She laughed in response, but then became serious again and looked at Ron thoughtfully. “Ron I…” Hermione started. “I want to tell you something.”

The reclined redhead leaned himself up just a bit so he could see Hermione as she talked to him. “Yeah?”

“Well, it’s…” Her hands shook slightly and her voice wavered.

“It’s all right, you can tell me, ‘Mione,” said Ron as he placed a hand on top of hers. His touch calmed her.

“It’s Charlie. He’s asked me to marry him, Ron, and I said yes.” Hermione then held out her hand to show Ron the sparkling diamond ring.

He didn’t speak for a while, but just sat there, staring at the ring on Hermione’s finger. After what seemed like ages if her telling him the news was a mistake, Ron cracked a small smile.

“Congratulations,” Ron said genuinely. “I know you’ll be happy.”

Hermione nearly started to cry as she sat there in a companionable silence with her best friend. And if she thought Ron had taken it well, he seemed even happier when she informed him that he was the first to hear the good news, that not even Harry or Ginny or either set of parents knew of the engagement. For once, Ron felt like the most important person in Hermione’s life (perhaps besides Charlie, but he could deal with that), and he was satisfied. Of course he knew their friendship would never be exactly the same again, but at least it was back on the right track.

Harry and Ginny returned almost an hour later. At first the silence coming from the common room reassured them that either the fighting and yelling was over, or that there was no fight to begin with. However, Harry couldn’t help but fear that the reason there was no noise is because one of them had killed the other. But upon entering the portrait hole, Harry was relieved to find that neither of his friends had met their deaths. They, surprisingly, were diligently working on a rather involved essay.

Ginny approached them first. “Everything going all right?” When the two older students nodded and smiled, Ginny was convinced that someone had simply taken Polyjuice and replaced her brother and Hermione. “Well…” she said disbelievingly, “that’s good.”

“How’s the essay going, mate?” Harry inquired.

“Oh, brilliant, now that Hermione’s here. I’m…I mean, we’re nearly finished,” Ron gloated. His remark received a look of jealousy from his bespectacled friend.

“I take it you haven’t started, either?” Hermione asked with a disapproving glance, though it’s not like she didn’t expect it.

“He was a bit…preoccupied, Hermione,” Ginny answered while throwing a flirtatious wink at her boyfriend.

All of this talk made Harry more than a little embarrassed, so he changed the subject as quickly as possible. “Hey Ron, we ran into Luna just now.” Ron looked up from his parchment. “She er, said to tell you hello, and…thanks….for….for being her friend.” Harry laughed, “Ha ha, I think she likes you.”

Ron was puzzled but didn’t seem too unhappy, despite his nonchalant response. He actually starting writing a little faster than he had been, but Hermione and Ginny expressed their silent suspicions when Ron wasn’t looking.

“That didn’t happen, Harry,” Ginny whispered in his ear.

He smiled slyly in return and replied in a low voice, “Not true. She did say ‘hello’.”

“You sneaky little…”

“And you never know—she could like him.”

But their quiet conversation was interrupted when Ginny screamed shrilly into Harry’s ear. Hermione’s reflexes nearly caused her to slap Ron in the face, and her heart jumped into her throat. Before she even had a chance to ask Ginny what was wrong, she saw the redhead girl staring and pointing to her own finger, motioning to the ring that Hermione wore. She blushed profusely as Ginny continued to giggle.

“Mum’s going to have kittens when she hears about this!”

Hermione winced slightly as she thought about the uproar that would ensue when the Weasley mum found out her son was getting married.

“You know what this means, right, Hermione? We’re going to be SISTERS!” And Ginny ran to embrace the now beaming Hermione in a tight hug. Harry and Ron shook their heads at each other.

“Don’t you snigger at us, Harry James Potter. You—and Ron—would both do well to take a leaf out of Charlie’s book!” Ginny reprimanded, and then continued her babble with Hermione.

Ron leaned over to Harry and said quietly, “Not so subtle hint, eh? Looks like the ball and chain’s about ready for another poor bloke, another victim of marriage…”

“You keep your mouth shut, Ron! Besides, I’m sure Luna will want to get married some day,” Ginny said, catching Harry’s discreet smile. Ron immediately stopped laughing.

“So,” Ginny continued, ignoring the boys, “when’s the wedding?”

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