"You really should come back inside. It's cold out here."
Hermione smiled and glanced at Charlie. "I like the cold. Besides, if it gets too bad, I can always use a warming charm."
"You doing okay?" he asked as he stepped outside into the cold frosty air. He shivered and pulled his coat tighter around him as he walked towards her.
"I'm fine," she said honestly. "It's been five years since he and I broke up, and it was a mutual agreement. I'm glad he's found someone."
Charlie studied her a moment before he nodded. "Now tell me the truth."
"I hate when you do that," she muttered as she looked away from the man that had surprisingly become one of her best friends over the past six years. "I'm not jealous that Ron's dating Hannah, Charlie. You were there when we broke up, after all, so you know that's not important to me."
"I was there," he agreed as he moved behind her and wrapped his strong arms around her. He rested his chin on her shoulder and she leaned back against him. "I remember that mutual decision and how listless you were for months afterward. It might have been the best thing for both of you, Hermione, but it wasn't as easy as you try to make it sound."
"Of course it wasn't easy," she snapped before she sighed. "Ron was one of my best friends from the time I was twelve, my first and only serious relationship, and it was a difficult decision for both of us to end things. It hurt, I cried a little, and I got over it. We've both moved on and I'm glad he's found Hannah."
"Ah," Charlie suddenly said, "he's found someone but you haven't yet. That's why you're out here in the freezing cold instead of inside by the warm fire with a glass of champagne."
"I don't like champagne."
"I know. It gives you the hiccups. Now you're just being stubborn."
"Fine. It hurts to see him with someone else. I'm not jealous of Hannah being with Ron, I'm jealous of all of them. Bill and Fleur, Percy and Pansy, Ginny and Harry…They've all got someone and I'm alone. I just needed some air, I guess."
"It can get a bit suffocating," Charlie admitted softly as he moved his hands over her arms. "It's worse around the holidays, isn't it?"
"Yes, it is," she said as she looked up at the sky. She could smell the scent of peppermint and chocolate as Charlie's breath blew against her neck and she knew he'd been drinking peppermint cocoa with Bill's kids. She wondered what he'd say if he knew the real reason she'd left the Burrow to seek some fresh air. As she'd watched all the happy couples, even Fred and George with their girls of the month, her gaze had sought out Charlie across the crowded room as it had during all such family parties for the past two and a half years.
They'd become friends during the last days of the war when he'd left Romania to join the order and she and Ron had been helping Harry search for Horcrux. They'd remained friends after he went back home, exchanging owls and occasional floo calls, and then she'd accepted a job at the dragon preserve where he worked and they'd become even closer. He'd been there when she and Ron realized the distance had given them both a chance to realize what they had just wasn't enough.
Charlie had been there when she'd moped and eaten too much chocolate and he'd forced her to go out for dinner and to the cinema with him. They'd spent holidays, birthdays, and most of their free time together. There had always been an attraction, one they both had acknowledged one late night near the end of the war but she'd been with Ron and Charlie would never do that to his brother so they'd ignored it and focused on friendship. The attraction had grown over the years, especially once Ron was out of her life, but neither mentioned the possibility of more and it seemed unspoken that they were just friends.
It had been a couple of years ago that she'd watched him feed a newborn dragon and suddenly understood that she'd fallen in love with him without even realizing it. Since then, she'd done a lot of thinking and tried to give him subtle hints that she wanted more if he wanted more. His lack of initiative or even an attempt to grope or steal a kiss was a pretty clear indication that his feelings hadn't changed and that the earlier attraction must not be reciprocated anymore.
"What are you thinking about?"
"How do you know I'm thinking? I could just be admiring the stars."
Charlie laughed softly and moved his hands down her arms until they rested on top of hers. Their fingers entwined and she felt the burn he'd just received last week against her knuckles and his calloused fingers rubbed against her own. "You never just look at the stars, Hermione. Even if you tried, you'd think about their names or what constellation they're in or whether or not life truly could exist on another planet. Your mind is always working. It's one of the things I love about you."
Hermione's heart raced faster at his casual words and she closed her eyes as she told herself he didn't mean them in that way. She tried to sound glib as she asked, "Just one thing?"
"Hmm, yeah. There's a list, you see," he told her quietly. "Not in any particular order, of course. Just things I add to it whenever I want."
"A list?" The laughter and music from inside the Burrow faded as she listened to her heart beat so loud she was certain he could hear it.
"The way your nose crinkles when you really laugh, the laugh where you snort a bit and then blush after you realize you have. The way you alphabetize your bookcase so you'll know if anyone takes anything and doesn't put it back in the correct place. The way you roll your eyes whenever I try to flirt with you, like I'm just failing miserably but you still find it somewhat adorable," he listed softly. "The way you burn toast every single time you try to make it. The way you like to curl up with a silly romance novel on rainy days even though you'd deny ever reading such a girly thing."
"I'm not done. Just don't say anything or I might not----I need to do this," he murmured as he tightened his grip on her hands to keep his from shaking. "The way you look in the mornings before you've really woken up, when you're cranky and want coffee instead of tea and your hair is an utter mess but, God, you're still one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen. The way you make me feel, like it doesn't matter if I'm not as good-looking as Bill or as smart as Percy or as clever as the twins or, well, you get the idea. The way you look at me as if I'm just fine being Charlie, loving dragons and not liking people much and you laugh at my awful jokes and your eyes follow me when I walk sometimes in a way that makes me think that maybe you, too, and I'm just so tired of pretending all I want is to be your friend. I want so much more, Hermione."
"So do I," she whispered as she looked at their hands.
"And you're not alone because you've got me and---what?"
"I said that I want more, too," she said more firmly. He inhaled sharply at her words and she smiled, feeling much more confident as she let go of his hands and turned around to face him. She reached up and brushed fringe away from his forehead as she repeated, "I want more, Charlie."
He stared at her and slowly smiled, a crooked grin that was certainly on her list of things she loved about him. "You do? Really? That's just, yeah, right. I had hoped, of course, but figured you'd need convincing or something so, uh, right. You really do?"
"Oh good grief," she muttered, a smile crossing her lips as she listened to him. She heard their friends and family calling out Happy New Year from inside and decided this required drastic measures. Actions speak louder than words, after all. She leaned up and brushed her lips against his, tangling her fingers in his short red hair as he stopped stammering and kissed her back.