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Playing Cyrano

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Charlie wandered into the kitchen about the usual time the next morning, which usually afforded him time alone to plan out the day. Except for today.

“Keeping it rather casual, I see,” he said, startling Ginny and Ralston out of a passionate lip-lock. The two women broke apart but neither looked ashamed to be caught. In fact, they were quite proud--to be seen together and in love. Ginny in love was a rare thing. She was well-known for infatuations with unremarkable people, but Ralston was a whole new frontier.  Molly Weasley would be thrilled to see her daughter infatuated with a nice girl, once she got over the shock--not that her daughter was with a woman, but that her daughter was with anyone worth subjecting to the Weasley family. Charlie sat down at the table beside his sister and she slid the morning paper to him.

“Now that you know about us, what’s the point in hiding?” Ginny grinned. Ralston gave her a peck on the cheek and stood.

“Honestly, I’m surprised that you’re cool with it,” Ralston said. She poured herself a generous helping of orange juice from the refrigerator. “Seeing as how we all work together. Thought for sure you’d put a stop to it.”

“Hey! Don’t give him any ideas.”

“I’m easy. As long as it doesn’t get in the way of your work ,” Charlie said, with faux solemnity. “I expect you to maintain decorum in front of the others.”

“Yeah, stop distracting me, Ginny!” Ralston stuck her tongue out at the red-head.

“We can’t afford distractions, can we?” Ginny asked her elder brother, elbowing him. “Especially cute ones.”

Ralston laughed in delight. “You think I’m cute, red?”

“Unequivocally,” Ginny said. “But it wasn’t you to whom I was referring. Instead, I was thinking of a certain brunette witch who thinks Charlie is delightful. At least, she did last night at the Lynx, after the way you slayed that muggle oaf.”

“Oh, her? She couldn’t stop talking about you!” Ralston grinned.

Charlie smoothed the page of the newspaper and raised an eyebrow without looking up. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“I think it was the dirty pun that got her--not that I condone my brother making suggestive remarks, unless they’re in pursuit of Herm--”

“That’s enough,” Charlie coughed. “I’m not in pursuit of anyone or anything but a little peace .”

“The best things happen when you’re not searching for them,” Ginny shrugged. Ralston put her hand over Ginny’s. “But if you’d rather avoid her, you should know that she’s stopping by at ten to ask my opinion on her telescope’s mount--but I can just tell her that you’ve decided to stop speaking to her forever.”

Charlie rolled his eyes and glanced at his watch. The hands indicated that he had less than three minutes to either disappear or--

“Hello?”

The sweet voice of Hermione Granger floated down from the top of the stairs. Of course she was early. Charlie raised an eyebrow at Ginny, who pretended to lock her mouth with an invisible key.

“Talk to her!” Ralston mouthed.

“Fine,” he sighed. “If you lead the drills today, I’ll do it.”

“Yes!” Ralston pumped the air. “Those idiots won’t know what hit them.”

Charlie stood. He held a finger to his lips and strode out of the kitchen. “What a pleasant surprise, Hermione!” He called back. She smiled as soon as she laid eyes on him. Take that, Ginny! He was no coward. Even if she would never see him that way, he wasn’t about to go down without a fight. A conversation, at least!

“Charlie! I was hoping to catch you--actually, I popped in through your office floo for that reason, I hope that’s all right. Do you have a second?” Hermione asked.

 

She couldn’t stop talking about you.

 

“Go for a walk?” he asked. Hermione nodded. Each step she took down the stairs ramped up the volume on his racing heart. She stopped just one step up from him, so they were face-to-face. She held out her arms and wound them around his neck.

“You’re so good to me, Charlie,” she said, with their cheeks pressed together.  “I hope you can help me.”

They walked along the perimeter fence; a picket-type configuration, the white slats spelled out muggle normalcy to any passersby. They also marked Charlie’s breaths, Hermione’s footsteps, and the spaces between sentiments. It took her thirty posts to say what she had come to say.

“I’ve met someone,” she said.

“Have you?” he said. His heart was beating in the soles of his feet.

“Well, re-met him. After a long bout of thinking I would never meet anyone ... “ She stopped, leaning against a section of fence that overlooked the forest. “Anyway. I’m a bit lost about it.”

“Do I know him?” Charlie asked. He stepped up beside her until their elbows pressed together. She nodded and looked away.

“You could say that. Everyone loves him.” Hermione smiled. “Especially people around here, from what I gather. He’s charming, funny… he has this way about him, a maturity. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that he’s handsome…”

Charlie scoffed. “Not to everyone,” he said, blushing. She looked up at him confused. He caught himself and patted her hand. “Sorry, go on.”

“Anyway--the trouble is… we don’t talk. Ever.” Hermione sighed and the weight of her disappointment dropped her head down onto Charlie’s shoulder. Which was all the better--then, she couldn’t see his face. Which was flushed with embarrassment. He had presumed… no matter.

“You?” Charlie scoffed. “Not talking? Preposterous.”

She laughed and batted his arm. “Gods, you are rude, aren’t you? It’s… it’s Ronald. You probably guessed that by the way I’ve been around him.”

“Hmm.”

“He avoids me! You saw him flee last night. Oh Merlin… does he hate me so much that he can’t even be in my presence?” She put her head down on her arms. Charlie patted her shoulder.

“Who could hate you?”

“Could you talk to him?”

Charlie raised an eyebrow. “You want me to ask my little brother out for you?”

“No! No, just… encourage him to talk to me.” She clasped his arm. “Please?”

“You’re relentless.”

“I’m stubborn.”

“I’m beginning to see that,” Charlie chuckled. He nodded toward the house and Hermione slipped her hand through his arm. “Say, how goes your comet research?”

“My report was submitted. I can’t say the outcome, not until Monday, but Shacklebolt is optimistic.” She squeezed his arm. “How’s Sense and Sensibility ?”

“Amusing,” he chuckled. “I feel badly for Colonel Brandon, though. Poor man is well thought of and yet easily forgotten when a Rake comes to town.”

“How far have you read?”

“The picnic,” Charlie said.

“When Willoughby disparages Brandon for abandoning the party?”

Charlie scoffed. “He’s so obviously a toff--why doesn’t Marianne see it?”

“He’s a flirt, a bit dangerous…”

“Oh, women love a bad boy,” he said.

“We’ll see what you have to say when you’ve finished,” Hermione smiled. “About the kind of men that appeal to women.”

“But Brandon gets his due?” Charlie stopped at the porch and Hermione released his arm.

Willoughby gets his due,” she said, tucking her hair behind her ears. “Brandon gets something more precious. Not what’s owed to him, by Marianne or any other women to whom he has paid respects.”

Charlie scratched his chin. “I misspoke.”

“Remember, she’s a satirist,” Hermione grinned. “Everyone, and I do mean everyone, is made ridiculous by love. Even your hero Brandon.”

“He’s very... kind-hearted. It’s refreshing is all.”

“That’s not all he is,” she said. She touched his shoulder. “When you’ve finished, I’d like to hear your opinion on Persuasion.

“I’ll steal it from Seamus.” He looked at his pocket watch. He had scheduled a morning of transfer drills, which would mark Ron’s first time observing their outfit since his arrival. He was determined to prove to Ginny that he hadn’t given up on the sanctuary, but spending the afternoon with Ron was going to be torture. Good thing he was proficient in self-pity and suffering in silence.  He shoved his hands in his pockets and rocked back on his heels.

“I’m keeping you, I’m sorry!” Hermione blushed. “I’ll see you tonight, I’m assuming?”

“Dean’s birthday. Wouldn’t miss it.”

“He wouldn’t let you,” she laughed. “Thanks, Char. You’re a real friend.”

“See you,” he smiled.

 

*

 

The training went… abysmally. To Ralston’s credit, it wasn’t her fault. They started without Charlie, Ron, or Ralston, and not a one of them was wearing their protective gear. Between the six participating cadets, only one could remember the procedural acronym for the transfer process, and Lathrop got it completely out of order (S.T.A.C.K. was not the same as T.A.C.K.S. and that mistake had cost Lathrop a singed boot). Four of them were hungover. Seamus twisted his ankle. The baby dragon they had chosen for the drill, Peanut, had a tantrum and refused the restraint harness, which meant Ron, Charlie, and Ralston had to wrestle him into the pen--poor Ralston took the brunt of Peanut’s ire in the form of a nip to the hand from tiny razor teeth. Charlie sent the cadets to their quarters to sober up, read up, and shape up. AND he cancelled the group evening to the Lynx, on threat of an all-night drill. Dean’s birthday or not, it was a sorry show of inadequacy that Ron would have to report back to the Ministry.

Ginny was right. He had been neglecting the cadets. He hadn’t been on them to keep up with protocol or held them to any sort of standard other than the faintest of expectations. And he certainly hadn’t modeled anything but disinterest in their growth. Sure, he care for the animals himself every morning, but he wasn’t encouraging growth at the sanctuary and he most certainly wasn’t enabling them to rescue new species or release rehabilitated dragons. The program needed to be overhauled. He needed to talk to Ron.

“It was easier in Romania,” Charlie lamented, over his third pint. “The program there is hundreds of years old. The keepers grew up with the animals, and inherited their parents’ positions when they retired. It’s just instinctual. If the head keepers had any hand in turning the cogs to make it work, I didn’t notice. It seemed… self-sufficient. And I admit that I was cocky in thinking that I could create such a sanctuary without that storied background.”

“Plus, there wasn’t a nearby village to distract you,” Ron said. He nodded at a small grouping of old women who were whispering and staring at them. He waved and the women snickered.

Charlie chuckled. “The sad truth is that I like them all. I like doing things to help them. They accept me, and I repay them with little errands.”

“What’s wrong with that?”

“I mean, what sort of living could I make being Butteryhaugh’s go-man? I do it because I like these people and helping them makes me happy.”

“So, you’re being paid to do a job that you’re not really doing… and doing actual work for free.”

“Oh Merlin, when you put it like that…” Charlie put his head down on the table and groaned. “I’ve lost my way, Ron. I need your help.”

“Never known you to be lost, Charlie.”

“There’s a first time for everything,” he mumbled into the table.

“We’ll sort it out, mate,” Ron clapped him on the back. “You need to relax. Get yourself a girlfriend. Settle down your personal life, if that’s really what you want.”

“Speak for yourself,” Charlie said. “Didn’t you have a girlfriend back home?”

“Short-lived,” Ron sighed. “I have the worst luck.”

“Oh, I don’t know. I know someone who likes you.” Charlie smirked when Ron’s eyes narrowed. “And as far as witches go, she’s about as good as it gets.”

“I swear to Gods, if you say Ginny, I’ll throttle you,” Ron said.

“That’s creepy. And she’s unavailable.”

Ron punched Charlie’s arm and they both laughed. The bell on the door chimed and Charlie looked up. Hermione. He sighed. He had forgotten to tell her that Dean’s birthday do was cancelled. She spied him and waved, but gestured to the bar and pointed at Ron. Ron hadn’t noticed her come in.

“Uh, no,” Charlie said, sitting up. “It’s someone just as dear to our family. It’s Hermione.”

Ron’s mouth hung slack. “What… wh-when did you find that out?”

“Told me herself. Though, I can’t think why,” Charlie said, sipping his beer. “It’s not like you speak to her.”

“Oh, I can’t speak to her,” Ron said. He rubbed his face. “Not after… I can’t.”

“Why the hell not?”

Ron gulped. “I get… nervous. I’m too damn terrified. She… she makes me feel inadequate, and she always has, and I just know I’m going to say the wrong thing.”

“Have you tried mime?”

“I’m serious, Charlie!”

I don’t find it difficult to talk to her--”

“Yes, well, you’re not bloody in love with her, so.” Ron pressed his temples.

“Ron, how in Merlin’s name did you manage to date her as long as you did before if you find her utterly horrifying?”

“We were best friends who just… happened to like occasional benefits. And teenagers , might I add. It was nothing serious, just a bit of fun. We were distracted by the war too. But after we left Hogwarts, she started talking about our relationship in terms of a lifetime and I realized that everyone was waiting for me to propose, including her… but I couldn’t even keep a pygmy puff alive, and I, I just… I would be a terrible husband and I don’t know if I even want to have children, I mean what if she does?” Ron pulled at his hair. “I can’t talk to children about sex and what if one of them is a real arse--that means I’m a bad parent, right? I can’t take that kind of pressure! It’s not my fault my son doesn’t know how to be a decent wizard--I can’t help him with his arithmancy, so why would he go to me about anything!” Ron had slid his way down the booth and was awash in a waking nightmare of his own anxiety. “I’m a great guy, right? Charlie? Right? I’m like… a really interesting funny guy, and I’m good at my job or I wouldn’t be here. I’m a good person. I’m a good person.”

Charlie carded a hand through his hair and let out a low whistle. “Is this a bad time to tell you that she’s sitting at the bar, then?”

Ron closed his eyes in dismay. “I hate you. I hate you so much, you cad. I should buy her a drink. What does she like? Can you take it to her? Send my regards.” Ron fished for a few coins in his pocket and tossed them across the table towards his older brother. “On second thought, tell her it’s from a Secret Admirer and I’ll duck out the back. Oh, Charlie. You’re the best. I owe you one.” He scooted out of the booth and stumbled over a loose floorboard, falling face first into the table. “Shit!” He grabbed his nose and struggled to stand. Charlie grabbed his elbow to help him up.

“All right, mate?” Charlie asked. The pub had hushed but Charlie tried not to draw Ron’s attention to that fact.

“My heart is beating in my ears,” Ron mumbled into his hand. “Is she still there?”

Charlie looked over at Hermione, who was covering her mouth in concern. “She is, but she’s talking to Eliza and she hasn’t noticed.”

“You’re a liar,” Ron said. He winced and allowed himself to peek over his shoulder. The moment his eyes met Hermione’s, his stomach rolled.

He puked all over Charlie’s shoes.

 

*

 

Charlie crossed his arms and leaned against the doorway, taking in the sight of his youngest brother--the Ministry’s golden graduate of their elite magical creatures unit--face down on his bed. Poor boy. Lost his stomach and his nerve, all in one day… and in front of the entire schoal of patrons of the Lynx in the Larch, and Hermione Granger.

Charlie cleared his throat. “So,” he chuckled. “If it’s any consolation, I don’t think she saw you puke.”

“Please leave me here to die,” Ron groaned.

“It’s not that bad, I’m sure.”

“What if I missed my moment with her?” Ron lamented, head in hand. “What if I had my chance?”

“Nonsense,” Charlie scoffed. “There is no ‘right time,’, Ron. There are no chances, only action!” He clapped his brother on the shoulder. “You know what you feel about her.”

“She is the most brilliant woman I have ever met.”

“So tell her.”

“Nah,” Ron groaned. “I told you. I’m no good at that stuff. I open my mouth to make declarations, and all that comes out is hot air. Or vomit. I’ll clean your boots, by the way.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Charlie said. “I scourgified them. What if... you wrote down how you felt?”

“You’re talking love letters.”

“Meditations, let’s say. On her beauty. How she makes you feel. How the sun tucks into the flyaways of her auburn hair. How her laugh rivals any bird’s song. How the corner of her mouth quirks up when she’s intrigued,” Charlie said. “She’s an intellectual, she’d love it.”

“I don’t think she’d like to read about how she makes me feel,” Ron said. “Don’t think birds like it when you mention ‘blue balls.’”

“Mate, you’ve just got to phrase it right,” Charlie chuckled.

“What makes you think that I’ll have any better luck putting my words to paper?”

“Uh… alright, here. I’ll help.” Charlie dug a piece of parchment out of the desk and furnished a quill from the well. He tapped the paper and pulled out the chair for his forlorn brother. Ron reluctantly took his pen in hand and sat.

“Write more… metaphorically about her,” Charlie said. “More figurative.”

“Figurative?”

“Shakespearean, almost. Poetic. Wordy. Flowery. For example, tell me what you think about her hair,” Charlie suggested.

“Well… it’s brown.”

“Hazel. Russet. Umber, even. And what of it’s texture?”

“Frizzy, a bit wild--”

“Cherubic.”

“--Very curly, too.”

“Coiled like a satin ribbon around a gently swirling breeze.”

“She would never believe that I wrote something like that,” Ron sighed. Charlie nudged his shoulder.

“Nonsense, brother. You may not be the most… descriptive, but you are pedantic, and that’s certainly a step.”

“I don’t know what that means.”

“You’re good at… talking. At least to other people. Now, go on. Write her a sentence about how she makes you feel.”

Ron shook his head. “This is not helping my stomach.”

“Alright, fine. Write her anything. Just put something on the paper,” Charlie chuckled. He waved his hand for Ron to get to it. Ron sighed, and then spent the better part of five minutes scratching into the parchment. When he was done, he sat back, pushed the paper away, and pinched the bridge of his nose. Charlie picked up the missive.

“Hermione,” Charlie read aloud, “I am attracted to you like a boy who likes a girl. Will you go out with me? Check Yes or No.”

Charlie cleared his throat and turned away from his lovesick brother. “That’s certainly straightforward. But Hermione won’t be wooed by mere honesty; She needs more… effort.” She deserves it, Charlie thought. “Write down exactly what I say.”

“She’ll be lucky if she can even decipher my handwriting,” Ron grumbled.

“Hermione,” Charlie began, to the tune of Ron’s gently scratching quill. “I hardly know where to begin--”

“Oy! Don’t lay all my cards out on the table!”

“Hush, you git, and write.” Charlie turned back to the open window. “I hardly know where to begin. How can I put into words what I feel so acutely, what I see in my mind’s eye?” He turned back to his brother. “Did you get that?”

“Did… you... get--”

“Don’t write that ,” Charlie chuckled. “How do you feel when she looks at you?”

“Like I’m going to vomit or… horny.”

Charlie nodded once and pointed at the paper for Ron to continue his note-taking. “When I see you, I feel like my skin cannot contain me; when you draw near me, I am at risk of shattering into a thousand planets and revolving around one central, beaming star. A star who does not know her light.”

Ron tossed the pen down on the desktop. “She’s not going to fall for that bollocks. She hates astrology.”

“She’s an Astronomer, you numpty. And a natural born romantic. She’ll appreciate the effort, even if you think it’s ‘bollocks.’ Write.” Charlie crossed behind Ron so he could observe over his shoulder. “But were she to shine on me, I would be no less worthy than an egg, an acorn--”

“Hey!”

Charlie pointed at the paper and Ron frowned. “I would not,” Charlie continued, “I could not ever hope to be worthy of you, sole mio , except to wait every day for noon, when the shadows disappear, and your light touches every part of me. That would be enough. Yours, etcetera.”

“Laying it on a bit thick, aren’t we?” Ron’s feeble hand signed his name and threw down his quill in defeat. “What if this doesn’t work?”

“It’ll work,” Charlie assured him, scooping up the parchment and blowing the ink dry.

“What if it does work, and she wants me?”

Charlie rolled up the letter. “Then you got what you wanted, and then it’s kings to you, old boy.”

“What if it works, and she doesn’t just want to sleep with me… she wants to… talk to me?”

Charlie smiled sadly. “Brother, you sell yourself short. There’s a brain in that skull, make no mistake.”

“Not when she’s around,” Ron scoffed. “If only your voice could come out of my mouth.”

If only the sight of me was enough, Charlie thought. “Wouldn’t that be something?” Charlie tied the scroll the the leg of his beloved owl, Athena. “Hermione Granger,” he whispered. The owl hooted in confirmation and took flight out the window.

“This is a horrid idea,” Ron mumbled into the desktop.

Charlie smiled. “Get some sleep. I need your help tomorrow, figuring out how to turn this place around. Unless you think you’d like the day off.”

“No, please--distract me. I didn’t come all this way just to throw up every night in the pub. I’m actually good at what I do, believe it or not.”

“Cheers.” Charlie left his youngest brother to his devices.

He took himself on a long evening walk, down the winding driveway of the farm and towards the little village that seemed to have a trance-like hold on him. Towards the faint glow of gaslights, flickering. Toward the little bookshop, and then past it, with no glance upwards to her lit windows where she was probably reading his ghost-written declaration and thinking god knows what. He passed up the Lynx, too. He just walked. It was cold without a cloak but he took the shivers on as a kind of penance for what he had just done. In the morning, he would get up and feed the animals, and then he wouldn’t give one more thought to this tugging in his heart. He would be happy for Ron and Hermione. If Colonel Brandon could do it, so could he. Right?

Merlin. He was looking forward to less… dramatic days. Enough.