Charlie couldn’t shake it off. She had just… looked at him. She must pity him. Who was he kidding? She was too logical to ever imagine an attachment between them, despite the fact that their senses of humor were so alike. But then again, they had only been acquainted for a few days! How could he even be thinking like that? It was foolish to consider her as anything other than a new friend. A beautiful one, with ideas to match, but someone he barely knew. It was too much too soon to imagine she felt… nevermind. A Guinness would put him to right.
He was staring into his beer when he felt someone sit on the stool beside him, to his left. He glanced at his new companion. Hermione. He coughed in surprise. She looked apologetic and sad.
“Can we forget about what I said and go back to being friends?” she asked softly. “I’ve been beating myself up all afternoon.” Charlie held out his arm to her and she leaned into the embrace. She tucked her head into the crook of his neck and wound her arm behind his back, squeezing him tight.
“There’s nothing to forgive, Hermione.” He rubbed her arm, and then released her reluctantly. She breathed out in relief. Charlie slid her his untouched beer. He nodded to O’Dell, who poured him a new pint. “Did you like the farm?” he asked.
“Loved it,” she said. “Told Ginny as much.” She took a sip of her beer and wiped the foam from her lip.
“Did you meet any of our animals?”
“Just one. Orpheus.” She put her hand over her heart sadly.
“Poor fella,” he said, shaking his head. “Ginny doesn’t know just how close he is to death.”
“I think you underestimate her,” Hermione said. He looked at her with a raised brow. “She suspects you haven’t been honest with her about his health.” Charlie looked away and blushed. Hermione put her hand on his arm. “She can take it. She’s talking about sleeping outside his pen tonight in case he has another hiccoughing fit in the night.”
“I have been waiting for the right moment,” he admitted, “but that moment never came. She deserves to hear it from me.” Hermione’s fingers squeezed his forearm. He put his hand over hers. “I suppose I can’t put it off any longer, eh?”
“She’s meeting me here in a few minutes,” Hermione said. “Might as well tell her when there’s a pint nearby for comfort.”
“I had better comfort my own nerves, then.”
Hermione clinked her glass against his and they both drank deeply. They sat in comfortable silence then, with Hermione’s hand tucked in the bend of his elbow. Charlie couldn’t quite settle his nerves with her touching him. All the hairs on his arms were stood on end, in fact, but his sleeves hid his adolescent reaction. She kept looking up at him and the corners of her mouth would turn up every time.
The bell on the door chimed. Ginny stepped inside and waved. “I should go, then,” he said, reluctantly. Hermione’s face fell, but she agreed. Charlie motioned O’Dell over. “Put her next pint on my tab,” Charlie said, nodding to Hermione.
“Your evening is already paid for,” O’Dell said. He pointed. Charlie followed the bartender’s gaze, over his shoulder, to the back corner of the pub. Two bashful blokes held up their pints. The Stick and the Oaf. Charlie nodded in thanks and chuckled. Well.
“Friends of yours?” Hermione asked.
“Something like that,” he said. Charlie sighed, patted Hermione on the shoulder, and met his sister at the door. “Let’s take a walk, Gin.”
Hermione smiled after them and turned back to her beer. The fact that the Weasley’s remained close, even as adults, was such a comfort. They were good to each other and good to their friends. Just look at her! She hadn’t been in town but three days and they were steadfast in their support. Charlie and Ginny had as much as promised that she would never feel lonely as long as she was in Butteryhaugh. It was strange, though, that Ron hadn’t said even a single word to her the evening prior. Had they truly parted on such unsavory terms that he couldn’t even say ‘hello’? What had she done to deserve such a cold greeting?
“Is this seat taken?” a deep voice asked behind her. Hermione turned to see a hulking man with a patchy beard and several missing teeth.
“Yes, my friend just stepped out for a moment,” she peeped. The man leaned close to her and grinned.
“Your friend,” he scoffed.
“Yes, he’ll be right back.” Hermione cleared her throat and glanced at O’Dell, but the bartender was turned away having a spirited conversation at the end of the bar.
“What’s your friend’s name?” the hulking Lunk asked, rolling his eyes.
“Why would ‘Charlie’ leave such a delightful little flower alone?” the Lunk said. He raised an eyebrow and Hermione cringed. The bell on the door tinkled and her head snapped to the door, praying for Charlie and seeing… Ron. Ron’s eyes widened and looked from Hermione to the Lunk. Then, his eyes darkened. Hermione blushed and looked away from Ron.
“Listen, I’m sure you’re… nice,” Hermione said plainly, “but I’m neither available, interested, or patient enough to speak with you any longer. Have a lovely evening, anywhere but here.” She smiled fakely and then turned her back on the Lunk. The man laid a heavy mitt on her shoulder. She shrugged him off.
“I wouldn’t do that,” Ron growled behind her. The Lunk laughed.
“Oh, this must be Charlie!” The Lunk loomed over Ron by nearly a foot, and set his pint down on the bar. “Here to fetch your ‘friend’ away?”
“Just leave it, Ronald,” Hermione sighed.
“Yeah, Ronald ,” the Lunk jeered. “We’re fine, here.”
Hermione felt for the end of her wand in her sleeve. This moron looked like he might catch a case of the slug burps if he wasn’t careful. The Lunk leaned back and crossed his arms.
“She said she wasn’t interested,” Ron insisted.
“She’s still here, isn’t she?” the Lunk said. He sat beside Hermione on the stool and she stood up so quickly that she upended her pint and caught her foot on the base of the bar. She fell into Ron, who grabbed her elbow to steady her. Hermione looked up at him. Ron blanched. He set her on her feet, nodded to her, and bolted for the loo.
The Lunk crowed with laughter. “What an effect you have on men.”
Hermione’s hand crept under her cuff. A firm hand caught her wrist and pulled her towards a distant table. “Not worth it,” Ginny muttered. Hermione cast one last look back at the Lunk. Charlie stood in her place, sleeves rolled up, positioned between their haven and the Lunk. He crossed his arms. The whole establishment hushed. Every single person in the pub had seen what an angry Charlie Weasley could do.
“You had better go,” Charlie said. “Your pint’s on me. Be on your way.”
The hulking man stood. Charlie was shorter than him, but he did not appear to be the least bit intimidated. He held out an arm and gestured to the door. The Lunk looked to O’Dell for the support but the bartender shook his head. He shrugged, chugged his beer, belched, and pushed past Charlie. Charlie couldn’t resist knocking the man with his shoulder as he passed.
“Watch it, Scarface,” the Lunk growled.
“Classic,” Charlie said, throwing up his hands. “But weak. Descriptive and yet… meaningless.”
“What?” Charlie said, stepping toe to toe with the Lunk. “Can’t you be a little more creative?”
“Think you can do better?” The Lunk’s exasperated snort blew Charlie’s hair off his face. Charlie chuckled. He scanned the rapt faces of their fellow patrons and his gaze focused on Dec the Oaf in the back corner… he looked petrified.
“Whatever the highest bill that man is carrying,” Charlie said, pointing to Dec, “that’s how many Something Better’s I’ll give you.” Charlie raised his brow in a silent dare. The Lunk strode over to Dec, who was vigorously shaking his head.
“Don’t do it, mate!” Dec pleaded, while simultaneously handing over his wallet. The Lunk ignored him and fished out his wager. He held the note aloft.
“It’s not your lucky day,” The Lunk said. “Twenty pounds.”
The room buzzed. Charlie pinched the bridge of his nose. Well, he had stepped in it.
“Go on, Charlie!” His head snapped to the source of the voice--Hermione. She was beaming at him.
“Twenty, eh?” he said, rubbing his hands together. The Lunk shoved the wallet back into Dec’s hands and crossed his arms.
“Like the lady said: Go. On.”
Charlie threw up his hands. “All right.”
The room exploded with cheers and clapping. Those who knew better than to cross Charlie also knew better than to doubt him; this was his home turf. He had the advantage. He was handed a shot of whiskey on his right and a pint of Guinness on his left. Charlie took the shot, perched himself on a bar stool, and took in his attentive audience.
“Let’s begin with the obvious,” Charlie said, swirling his beer. “Wow! Must be nice to save money at Halloween!” Several people chuckled. “Cosmetic... ‘Have you tried any concealer? Like spackle?”
“Ouch,” O’Dell laughed, shaking his head.
Charlie shrugged. “Personal: ‘When they said you had a chip on your shoulder, I assumed they meant figuratively.”
“That’s three!” Ginny called.
“Geological,” Charlie said. “Well aren’t you gorge-ous?” He took a deep swig of his beer and wiped his mouth on his sleeve. “Envious... ‘Most people only have one crack!”
A communal amused groan spread through the room, followed by scattered shouts of ‘five!’
“Practical: ‘You make a better gutter than a window!” Charlie stood. He was buzzing, now. “Nice: ‘At least when you cry, your tears know where to run!’ Playful : ‘If that gash was complete, your tongue could play cheek-a-boo!’” He chugged the rest of his beer and handed his empty pint to The Lunk. “British: ‘Mind the gap!”
The patrons let out a resounding cheer. The Lunk tried to hand him back the glass; Charlie tapped his chin and tilted his head. “Theatrical: ‘Out of curiosity… are you keeping a young opera singer hostage in your basement?” He leaned over to Hermione. “How many is that?”
She giggled. “Ten, Charlie. Come on, ten more!”
“Ten more!” the patrons cheered. Charlie leaned against Ginny and Hermione’s table.
“Ten more,” he breathed. “All right. Murderous : ‘How unlucky to have a face only Lizzie Borden could love!”
The Lunk was bewildered, now, and growing ever annoyed.
“Scientific: ‘If you tried to cross your eyes, you’d need a rope--the bridge of your nose is out!” Charlie braced one hand on the back of Hermione’s chair and the other on his hip. "Humorous: ‘What do you get when you cross an axe and a boomerang?” Then, he pointed at his face.
“Oh God,” Ginny said laughing. The room followed suit.
Charlie tapped his chin. “Inquiry: ‘Is it dangerous for you to put tongue in cheek?” He looked down at Hermione, who was keeping a countdown. She held up six fingers. He grinned. She blushed.
“Ginny, cover your ears,” he said with a wry look on his face. When she didn’t, he shrugged. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you! Pornographic : ‘I’d like to sit on that fault line! The climax would be positively seismic.”
“La-la-la-la-la-la-la-la!” Ginny put her fingers in her ears and cringed. Hermione covered her face with her hands. All of the old men whooped.
“Five more!” they cheered.
Charlie straightened and stared down the Lunk. “Religious: ‘Surely God only meant for you to have a cleft chin... he must have sneezed.”
“Disgusting: ‘You don’t burp very often, but you’re quite gash-ious!”
Charlie took a slow step towards his opponent, whose fists were clenched at his sides. He had lost. “Vocational,” Charlie said, taking another measured step. “I’m sure that lumberjack didn’t mean to hit you! It was probably an axe-dent.”
“Surgical: ‘If they try to fix it with skin grafts, don’t let them take any more skin from your arse.”
Charlie stepped up to the Lunk and sobered. “Complementary: “You have the perfect face for radio.” The pub exploded with delight at Charlie’s victory. He patted the Lunk’s cheek. The man grabbed his wrist.
“You piece of shite--”
“Thou art a flesh monger, a fool, and a coward,” Charlie spat. The man reared back to deck him, but Charlie dodged his fist, wrenched his wrist out of the Lunk’s other hand, and hammered into the man’s stomach. The Lunk doubled over and lunged forward to ram Charlie. He sidestepped the attack, kneeing the Lunk in the nose. That was all it took to fell the large man. Charlie turned, pushed his hair out of his face, and strode to the table at which Ginny and Hermione sat. Ginny wordlessly held up her glass. Charlie took it and drank deeply.
“That was brilliant,” Hermione breathed. Charlie set the empty glass down and patted her cheek.
“No, darling, that was Shakespeare.” He winked. Then, Charlie bowed to his adoring fans, nodded to O’Dell, and left the pub.