“Judging by your expression, I must look a fright,” Charlie said, yawning. He placed Persuasion on his bedside table and stretched his arms overhead. Hermione smiled.
“You certainly don’t look like your normal self.” She leaned back against the door with her hands layered behind her hips.
“Uglier than ever, eh?” Charlie brushed a piece of hair out of his face but it fell right back where it started. He huffed in annoyance. “Could you help with this mess?” he asked, gesturing to the mess of hair. “It’s been tickling me for days and I couldn’t stay conscious long enough to tell someone.”
Hermione pushed off the door. “Tell me about it,” she laughed. She pointed to her own top-knot, from which curls were trying to liberate themselves. “Can you sit up?”
Charlie pressed his palms to the mattress on either side and slowly scooted backwards to brace against the headboard until he was upright. Hermione considered his posture and shook her head. “I think it will be easier if you turn to the side. If you can handle it,” she said. He took that as a challenge. Charlie raised an eyebrow and pushed the blanket off of his legs so he could hang his legs over the side of the bed. “All right?” Hermione asked. Charlie rolled his neck and ankles in unison.
“A bit cramped, and in a fog… but…” he looked up at her and a puzzled look came over him. “No more headache. Which is… new.” He narrowed his eyes.
“That’s great!” she said, touching his shoulder. His shoulder flinched at the touch and she blushed. He tried to run a hand through his hair but he was too shakey. “Here, I’ve got a comb in my bag, one sec--” She practically dove for her purse, which hung from the back of the chair. She dug for her comb and a hair tie.
He cleared his throat. “We’ll see how long it lasts, though,” Charlie said.
“Has Luna told you anything yet?” Hermione asked. She looked at him over her shoulder and his own were hunched forward, hugged by the dark green henley he wore. He pushed up his sleeves.
“No, but then again, this is the first time I’ve felt like I can keep my eyes open all week.” He brushed the hair off his shoulders towards the back.
“I can tell you what she told me, at least,” she said, stepping up behind him and gently starting to work the comb through his tangled ends. His auburn tresses curled around her fingers.
“Tell me about your presentation, first,” he said. “Forgive me for not asking sooner.”
“Oh! Well… honestly, it could not have gone better,” Hermione said. She could not hide the utter delight in her voice.
“Truly.” She paused to work through a small tangle. “It’s sort of complicated--”
“Tell me everything,” he said, amused. “I promise not to fall asleep again.”
“Well... I was right. It’s not just a comet, but a cluster of small meteors surrounded by a cloud of copper particles,” she said, combing all of his long, unruly hair back as the last of the tangles loosened. She sat on her knees and sectioned off the top of his hair into three pieces. “Hence the bright green color,” she continued, “which only appears as such as the cluster approaches the sun and the particles heat up. As it travels away from the sun and the particles cool again, the comet appears nearly black, which explains why muggle scientists think it is a new phenomenon. It’s not in danger of colliding with Earth or anything, but little meteors keep breaking off and causing mini-episodes of green flares as they collide with other space debris, which we’ve thought were just star deaths. My theory (the one I presented to the Ministry) is that the comet itself is debris from the explosion of a copper-rich planet in a collision with another celestial body millions of years ago--aaaaand I’ve totally lost you, haven’t I?”
Charlie looked at her over his shoulder, rubbing his eyes. “Two planets, smash smash, go on.”
Hermione laughed. She tugged on a lock of his hair and worked it into the first turn of the braid. “I think it’s about to turn the arc on it’s orbit and so-called ‘disappear’ once again. Because it was so bright the last month and then dimmed incrementally so quickly that I nearly lost track of it. Turns out it went behind Jupiter, BUT it’s still getting dimmer. My comet is in fact real. And nobody figured it out until me. So I get to name it.”
Charlie turned his whole body and touched her forearm. “What a beautiful brain you have, Hermione Granger.” He beamed. Hermione blushed and pushed his shoulder so he’d turn back and she could finish taming his hair into a neat plait.
“I’m naming it after one of my dearest cheerleaders, so. Everything is official and there will be a gala for all the other star nerds to celebrate sometime next month.”
“Fancy! That is wonderful,” he said joyfully. “You really did it.”
She smiled. “I did, didn’t I?” Hermione wrapped the hair tie around the tail of Charlie’s braid and patted him on the shoulder. “Do you want to have a look?”
“Sure,” he said with a shrug. Hermione dug through her purse once again for her compact mirror. She knelt behind him on the bed and held the mirror out to him over his shoulder. Charlie flicked open the tiny circular compact and peered at himself in its glossy face. Of a sudden, he swore under his breath and held the mirror close to his nose. “What is this?” he breathed. He turned to her with utter shock on his face. “Do you see this?” He exchanged glances between the mirror and Hermione. “It’s gone! How is it just… gone?”
Hermione sat back and smiled. “Luna broke the curse,” she said simply. Charlie’s eyes widened and he pulled at his forehead, which no longer puckered into tough skin.
“How in Merlin’s name did she manage that?” he exclaimed. “Last time I was conscious for any stretch of time, she was just trying to desensitize my emotions, and all she knew was the name --”
“Well, she was able to sort of trick your brain into killing off the cells that stored the effects of the curse. It’s not that simple, but something like that. You might feel different.” Hermione tried to remember what Ginny had said but she felt emotion welling in her throat watching him.
“I don’t know how she even figured out the name of the curse in the first place, let alone...”
“Actually… I did.”
Charlie snapped the compact shut and stared at her. “You-you did?”
“I did.” Hermione reddened under his gaze. “It was one of the curses from Snape’s old textbook, which explains why it behaved so much like that spell that Harry used on Draco by accident,” she explained. “‘ Divello Fragmentum ’ literally means ‘tear fracture’ and it was designed to divide the target from the thing that they want most, torturing them, until… well. Thankfully, Luna is a talented curse-breaker.”
Charlie peered at himself in the mirror once more and then held out his hand to her. She took it. He squeezed softly. “Luna is a talented healer, I’m sure, but… as far as I’m concerned, you broke it.” He released her hand. Charlie handed back the compact and patted his newly plaited hair. “New hair, new face, didn’t require much effort on my part… all I had to do was sleep for a week.” He rubbed his face and stared at nothing. He looked confused and…. Worried.
“Are you all right?” Hermione asked for the second time.
Charlie stretched a toe down to the ground and stood hesitantly. “Don’t quite know,” he said softly. He turned towards the window and braced his hands on the windowsill. “So… is a side-effect of this ‘cure’ at all related to her desensitization treatments, do you think? Am I just sort of destined to feel rather milquetoast about the world? No scar, no headaches… no feelings? Merlin, now that’s a frightening thought. Or it should be, but why am I not scared?” He scratched his head.
Hermione scooted off the bed and touched his back. “I think you’re just going to have to reacquaint yourself with… yourself. So to speak.”
“Am I having a forced mid-life crisis?”
“You’re not that old,” Hermione chuckled. Charlie shook his head and smiled.
“Still--what if I never feel right?”
“You’ll be better than ever, I know it,” she said. She felt her heart leap into her throat and she wrapped her arms around him, resting her cheek against his soft shirt. Charlie clasped a hand over hers.
“I hope certain feelings aren’t gone forever.” Charlie held fast to her hand and tried to sort his thoughts.
“They aren’t.” She laced her fingers with his.
Charlie suddenly held her hand up to his mouth and pressed his lips to her skin. He bent his head to reach it, even. “I should not have done what I did,” he murmured. “To see you with him would have done worse than scar me but I knew that if you were happy, I would find some degree of happiness in it. Someday. But it was agony.”
Hermione sniffed away unbidden tears. “Perhaps you should have considered that even I didn’t know what I really wanted.”
“Perhaps,” he said.
“ Perhaps you should not have made the decision for me ,” she said gently. Hermione tugged on her hand and Charlie released her, but he kept his back to her. She sat on the bed and pulled her knees up.
“Charlie, I… I have been inconsolable since you’ve been here,” she said. “I know reasonably that what you did was wrong and manipulative and I could be very mad at you. If it weren’t for the fact that I lived for your letters when I was in London. Not faux-Ron’s letters, not the ones you sent to mimic what you thought I wanted, but yours. You made it so much easier to shake off my nerves. I laughed reading your theories about Lucy Steele and delighted in the news of a new flatmate, the needsome and precious Charlie-cat… you are very good to me as yourself. You were a convincing fantasy Ron but you are better as Charlie. You are better for me. I… honestly, I think I’ve adored you since the moment you broke into my house to fix my sink. I have felt that intense pull to you since before I knew about your headaches or your scar, and you were handsome to me for more reasons than your impeccable beard grooming and magnificent hair.” She grinned through shining eyes. “There is so much kindness behind a Charlie Weasley smile--it’s the best sight I’ve ever beheld. I think I even loved your scar, Charlie. I love you , Charlie.”
Hermione waited for anything in return but he didn’t say a word. He didn’t even turn around. A hot tear fell on her arm and she swiped at her cheeks. She shook her head, pulling her sleeves over her hands.
Maybe he had changed too much and she was too late.
Hermione lay back on the bed and covered her eyes. She was mortified, embarrassed… sad.
A little noise ruminated in the back of Charlie’s throat. Something like a laugh.
“Well,” he said almost incoherently. “That answers that.” Charlie turned around with shining eyes of his own. Hermione peeked out from between her fingers. She sat up as he took a step toward the bed. His knees couldn’t hold him up any longer so Charlie knelt abruptly in front of the bed, at Hermione’s feet. Hermione leaned to steady his arm but Charlie’s fingers were already curling into the fabric of her shirt for purchase. He stopped short and gave her a once over. “Is that my shirt?” he asked with a laugh.
“I said I missed you, didn’t I?” Hermione blushed.
“You didn’t say that, actually.”
Hermione grabbed on to the two sides of his unbuttoned henley collar and pulled his face closer to her own. “I bloody well missed you--”
Charlie leaned up to kiss her soundly, cupping her neck with his hand. Hermione hummed against his mouth. Who knew that mustaches gave no issue in well-deserved kisses? She let him take the lead until he drew away from her with a languid sigh. Then, she renewed the kiss. She wrapped her arm around his shoulders and teased his lips slowly, forcing him to lean up. When neither of them could breathe any longer, Charlie pressed his forehead to hers.
“I feel you now more than ever,” he said.
“Well, we’ve never smashed our faces together before,” Hermione teased. She kissed his eyebrow when he raised it in amusement.
“Could we just try it again? For scientific purposes.”
“To determine what, exactly?” she laughed.
“That I am the luckiest man who ever lived.” He smiled as Hermione wrinkled up her nose.
“In order to determine that, we would have to gather data about every other man on this planet and their good fortunes… and weigh that against yours, and honestly--that could take years--”
Charlie pushed himself up to silence her with his lips once again. He kissed her cheeks, her jaw, her brow, then tucked his face into the crook of her neck and wrapped his arms around her waist. Hermione hugged him tightly, one arm around his shoulders squeezing his shoulder, and the other hand stroking the back of his head.
“I am in love with you,” he muttered into her neck. He yawned. His energy was entirely spent, but it didn't matter now. Hermione beamed.
“By the way,” she said softly. “I named the comet ‘ Charlie ’.”