Author's Note: While the next chapter of Trials is in the works, I thought it would be nice to finish this piece that has been slowly developing. This truly has been a labour of love and the longest one-shot I have ever written. (Well, I s'pose this is a collection of vignettes.) I adore minor characters, so I hope everyone enjoys this different, minor pairing! As always, leave love!!



i. beginning.

She would never admit it, but the first time Padma Patil laid eyes on Charlie Weasley, her heart did cartwheels. The foreign sensation sent a shivery tingling through her body – another feeling that was thrilling yet frightening at the same time. Her experience with males at Hogwarts started and ended with one Ronald Weasley, the very brother of the one who sent her stuttering, but this is getting too far ahead in the story. See, Padma didn't quite know this the first time she met Charlie.


ii. meeting one.

As much as Padma does not like Seamus Finnegan and his horrendous jokes, she at least respects the fact that the obnoxious Irish wizard is, in fact, her twin's boyfriend and deserves some sort of present – a gesture of goodwill, per se – on his birthday. To be honest, it wasn't very difficult to figure out where to purchase such a present. Finnegan makes it perfectly clear with his awful pranks (i.e. turning Padma's hair a bright magenta and neon yellow) that he is definitely an advocate of Weasleys' Wizarding Wheezes and all those sorts of things. The dark-haired witch rationalises that it is a way to forget all the bloodshed and evil of the last year.

Diagon Alley is still recuperating. Slowly, the old stores are re-opening alongside a few new additions. Walking purposefully towards the joke shop, Padma is glad to see the rush of people on the streets. 'Just like the old times,' Padma muses. She enters the brightly coloured store, pushing past the crowd of eager students and other chattering youngsters. The young woman vaguely notices that George Weasley seems a bit more cheerful than usual. The appearance of a very confident looking Katie Bell at his side explains the situation perfectly. Yes, Padma Patil is definitely glad things were going back to normal.

Rather tentatively, she picks out a few interesting daydream charms, a Biting Quaffle, and… and… what else? As a Prefect at Hogwarts, Padma never actually used any of the items – just confiscated them. "I would recommend the Bald Hair Gel. Just a little bit goes a long way, and results are absolutely hilarious," a warm voice comments from behind her. The Indian witch, startled, whips around to face a good-natured looking bloke, with slightly curly red hair.

Somewhere in the next few seconds, Padma feels like she has lost herself in the gold flecks of his dark brown eyes. Her flutters unnaturally and her brain, for the first time, comes to a standstill. The young woman then realises that this is exactly what Parvati told her would happen 'when the time was right.' She never thought that it would happen so fast. At the time, Padma interrogated her twin unnecessarily for more information, but Parvati remained quiet. Even now, shocked into silence, Padma hears her sister scolding her in her mentally. "What in Merlin's name are you waiting for? Say something!" her mental image of Parvati says. By now, the somewhat stocky wizard is giving her a curious look. Padma wills herself to talk.

"O-Oh. T-Thank you," she stutters awkwardly, putting the Bald Hair Gel into her basket. Padma starts backing out of the aisle. She doesn't notice the large display behind her, but wonders why the very helpful wizard looks alarmed. He calls out too late. Padma runs into the display, sending the boxed pranks flying and herself to the ground. Padma's basket skids down another aisle. Oh, what a fool she as made of herself...! Wincing, Padma gingerly tries to get up. The red-haired man rushes to her and helps her up.

"You okay?" he asks cautiously. Padma nods, feeling the blood rush to her face. His hand is still on her shoulder, making the witch redden to the roots of her long, black hair. The man senses her embarrassment – not the cause – and smiles very reassuringly. "Don't worry; I'll get this mess cleaned up. You go on ahead." He pauses for a minute, lets go of her, and adds, "I'm Charlie, by the way."

"I-I'm Padma," she mumbles in response, unable to meet his eyes. Padma has never felt so jumbled up, so confused. She flashes him a small smile before dashing away without bothering to retrieve her presents for Seamus. The Indian girl has never fled this quickly in her life.

Charlie Weasley smiles again, feeling absolutely amused. "Am I that old where I terrify them? I'm only twenty-five, for Merlin's sake," he mutters to himself, getting on his knees to start cleaning up Padma's accidental mess. But Charlie is distracted the whole time, unable to get the image of the lovely, hesitant witch out of his head.


iii. prelude to the first date, or he's a weasley?

He follows Ron down a hall in the Ministry of Magic. Hemione is an intern, soon to be researcher, in the StemSpell Program. Her job is to help figure out how to help regenerate the magic in witches and wizards who somehow lost their power after traumatic events. To Charlie, sounds exactly like something Hermione would do, and with her luck, she would hopefully come out with some magnificent cure in a few years. Charlie saunters leisurely down the corridor, hands stuffed in his pockets. The dragon-keeper is on holiday right now and the consequent boredom has forced him to join his younger brother.

Walking past the Dumbledore Educational Fund office, Charlie enters the rickety elevator after Ron. Ron is about to close the lift when a rapidly moving tower of papers races into the compartment. Sheaves spill across the floor as the machinery creaks with its well-worn spell, a muffled female voice apologises profusely as more paper drifts to the floor. Being the chivalrous man he is, Charlie bends over and gathers the reports, replacing them to the top of the pile. "Try a shrinking charm next time," he comments, an amused gleam in his eyes. Ron chuckles, also amused. Interns are so entertaining to watch.

"Oh! I should have thought of that!" The slightly breathless voice exclaims in return. A bright face peeks out from behind the tower. Just as quickly, her eyes widen and the girl retreats behind the shield of her papers. Suddenly, there is something about her that is familiar, but he can't quite place it.

It is Ron who breaks the silence. "Padma Patil?" he asks curiously, attempting to get a look. "Is that you?"

"R-Ron Weasley?" The Indian witch stutters, looking uncomfortable. Padma doesn't have many pleasant memories of the Yule Ball. She sends a glance at Charlie, who is looking at her curiously, with a strangely sinking feeling.

Ron gives the pair an odd look. "Do you two—" The lift announces the upcoming floor in its matter-of-fact monotone, the younger Weasley is interrupted. Padma breathes a sigh of relief as Ron exits, but tenses once again upon noticing the warm-eyed, bright-haired, very good-looking man still standing next to her. She hopes that he doesn't bring up the incident at WWW.

But of course, he does. "We never did get around to introducing ourselves well, did we?" the stocky wizard muses. "I'm Charlie. Ron's older brother. Pleasure to meet you." He flashes her such a smile that Padma thinks she sees colours afterwards.

The statement settles in. "You're a…Weasley?" the petite witch squeaks out, cursing her luck. After all, her luck wasn't that good with Ron. Wait, why was she even considering a possible relationship with this older wizard she hardly knew? Padma begins to mentally berate herself and tries to ignore how his utterly sexy stubble is a darker shade than his hair. Charlie, on the other hand, can't seem to overlook how her arm brushes against his in such close quarters and how Padma is wearing a light jasmine scent. He is half-tempted to brush the stray hairs falling over her pretty features.

"Is that bad, Padma?" Charlie laughs, and Padma notices how fully and freely he expresses his amusement. Padma nods a 'no' imperceptibly, shyly. She decides to focus on the floor numbers flashing across the top of the lift. Her eyes wander.

Suddenly the tension is too much, and Charlie takes the initiative. "Dinner, this weekend?"

The elevator announces her destination. Padma hesitates. And then gives him her address. She rushes out of the lift, hoping her supervisor doesn't notice how red her face is.


iv. minutes before he arrives.

She sits in front of the mirror, suddenly wondering if this is a good idea. Her sister's experiences with men have made her jaded. Padma fingers the necklace of green stones around her neck, feeling nervous. Charlie sees her face, sees her body, but does he see her mind? Padma doesn't want to be used. Everything about Charlie seems vibrant and vivid. His good-natured smile, his impulsive words. Padma craves to know more about him; Charlie is everything she is not.

The young woman studies her reflection. Parvati chose her green, satin blouse and paired it with a flowy, black skirt. Her long, lustrous hair is pinned on each side, free to fall down in its carefully spelled waves. There is minimal make-up on her face; only a little kohl darkening the edges of her doe-like eyes and a bit of gloss to make her lips look fuller. Padma looks deeper and sees a hesitant young girl, comfortable with papers and books, but reserved with people. One who chooses her friends with care. One who makes decisions with a degree of uncertainty, for all her confidence. Padma tries to smile but fails. Will Charlie like what he sees inside?

The Floo in her bedroom lights up and soon he steps out of the flames, just as she told him to, unscathed by the soot. Padma watches his reflection approach in the mirror. Charlie whips out a large bouquet of brightly coloured flowers, a whole melange of sultry reds and fiery orange and delicate pinks. Padma accepts the beautiful arrangement with a genuine, dazzling smile. His face lights up with delight and the tips of his ears turn pink. Padma notices, as they go to Floo, that Charlie always focuses directly on her eyes and nowhere else.

Somehow, Padma knows she made the right decision.


v. the first date.

Padma smiles at the waiter, quickly placing her order. The waiter's interruption provides sweet relief from the awkward silence. She hopes the attraction is enough of a base to build on. The young woman watches Charlie as he orders his dinner, noticing the plethora of freckles dusting his cheeks, the bright sun-kissed skin, the sparkling intelligence in his eyes—

He looks straight at her, and Padma pretends to look at her watch, knowing well how transparent she is. "So, Charlie Weasley. What is your favourite colour?" Padma asks lightly.

A puzzled expression crosses his features. "Blue… Why do you ask?"

"No reason," she replies flippantly. Setting her elbows on the table and resting her head in her hands, Padma continues, "What was your favourite class at Hogwarts?"

"Care of Magical Creatures, and strangely, Arithmancy."

Padma glows. "Arithmancy, really? That was my favourite subject, too!"

Charlie looks impressed. "That takes a lot of hard work! Did Vector cover the Pandora Chaos Theory in relation to Arithmancy?"

"Only a very little bit," she admitted. "But it was very intriguing. What is it, exactly?"

The Weasley bursts into discussion, his jovial voice intense and his points emphasised with animated hand gestures. Soon, Padma responds just as intensely, piqued with interest.

Shortly, the waiter again stops patiently at the table. This time, they don't pay any attention.


vi. first kiss.

Charlie tries to remember whether there are rules on kissing on the first date. He thinks there are, but he really isn't sure. It has been too long since he has last been on a date. The wizard frowns slightly as he pays the bill, which does not escape Padma's attention. Unnecessarily, Padma worries that she ordered too expensive of a meal and bites her lip. Charlie collects his thoughts, looks up at Padma's worried face, and winks. Padma blushes slightly, but relaxes.

The red-haired man watches her play with the hem of her napkin and smiles to himself. She is gorgeous to him, both inside and out. He hardly knows her but does know that much. Intelligence, beauty, with. And all wrapped in one amazing package. Charlie considers himself one lucky man. All evening he's tried to avoid staring at her incredibly soft lips, and act like the epitome of a perfect gentleman. After all, he is much older than her. But Charlie can't help himself now and wonders if they are indeed as soft as they look. When Padma looks up, he averts his eyes, blushing.

The well-built wizard escorts Padma out of the restaurant and to the door of her flat, making small talk along the way. Suddenly Charlie finds himself at that awkward moment of silence, the time where they need to say good-bye. Their amiable closeness is no longer close enough, and their shy faces move closer. They press their lips together tentatively, at first, but then with vigour. Padma can't believe she is kissing someone so easily, though she has no experience at all. She smiles through another soft kiss, letting out a small moan of pleasure. 'This first kiss is just perfect,' Padma thinks. But then Logic abruptly makes her pull away. Padma doesn't want to be overwhelmed by this much intimacy so quickly, and she tells Charlie this embarrassedly in her musical, measured voice. She sees the reluctance on his face, but he does pull away. Charlie squeezes her hand gently and kisses her forehead. She enters her flat, whispers a good-bye, and clicks the door shut.

'Her lips really are soft as they look,' he muses. Charlie grins and Apparates.


vii. meet the patils.

Padma fiddles anxiously with the silverware as the family house elf brings out dinner. Charlie has hardly looked at her since arriving, and instead busied himself with talking to her parents and Parvati. 'Isn't he here to see me?' Padma complains mentally. She stubbornly quashes the slight envy she feels. This was her idea anyway – Charlie meeting the parents, the parents getting an idea of him – but she still feels a little unhappy.

Charlie is conversing with her father in hushed tones. The girl can only pick up a word here and there; a few names, a mentioning of a spell. She listens earnestly, noticing that Charlie talks to her father with such ease. Padma hears Charlie pronounce her father's name, Pratap, carefully and correctly. Mr. Patil, pleased, catches Padma's eye and nods slightly. Her heart feels like it will leap out of her.

Her mother is in soft conversation with Parvati, her bright eyes darting back and forth from 'Charles,' as she calls him, to Padma. The young woman averts her eyes to her dinner plate, demurely scooping up her mother's special spicy sambar to her mouth. Deliciously tangy flavours fill her senses and distract Padma momentarily from Charlie.

Then she feels a soft pressure on her thigh; not lecherous or forceful, but gentle. Padma tries not to blush and looks quickly at Charlie. Parvati follows her look, almost knowingly.

He smiles at her with his eyes before continuing to talk.


viii. parvati approves.

A room in the Patil estate is full of laughs and secret whispers, just like old times. Parvati and Padma are spending the night. Charlie left about an hour before. Padma sits in the window seat, inspecting the stars glittering like fragments of broken glass in the night sky. She spots the constellation Draco the Dragon, and is suddenly reminded that Charlie tends dragons. It dawns on Padma that everything is beginning to remind her of Charlie; she wonders if it is a good or bad thing. Is it love? Padma decides that it is too soon to tell.

Parvati is sitting behind her twin, also looking outside. Pitch black nights like these remind her of life under the Death Eaters. The darkness is oppressive, yet sparkling with cold, tantalising beauty; Parvati thinks of the dangerously attractive promises of power, of glory. The former Gryffindor shudders slightly and starts braiding Padma's hair.

"Vi, what… what do you think of Charlie? Your instincts are better than mine," Padma asks unexpectedly, using her pet name for her sister. Parvati stops her work, quiet for a few moments. Padma is puzzled, having expected some sort of exuberant or vehement response. She notices Parvati is seriously considering her question. The anxiety gnaws at her. The former Ravenclaw knows well that her twin's opinion will affect everything.

The young woman finally speaks, "A little old, I admit, but I always knew you would go for a mature one." Parvati grinned devilishly at Padma. "But, Charlie isn't a stodgy, grumpy bloke, but a fresh, immature one, so I think you are okay. And.. he's a Gryffindor. Heart of gold," she adds firmly. "When you see him, you just light up. I say you ought to keep him around for a while, at least." Parvati looks at her (slightly) older sister fondly.

The tension leaves the air and the twins fall silent. Parvati finishes Padma's braid and looks at her work with satisfaction.


ix. the seventh date.

Padma feels his hot breath on her face and crinkles her nose at the stale smell. Very hesitantly, she reaches out her hand and lightly touches the smooth, blue-grey-silver scales patterning his snout. "Hello, Morpheus," she whispers. Morpheus tosses his head, yellow eyes blinking rapidly. The witch pulls her hand back. She gives Charlie an uncertain look. "Charlie?"

"He is just a baby, don't worry," he assures, from next to her, looking affectionately at the rather large dragon. "Morpheus is a bit big for his age, though," he adds in afterthought, not noticing Padma's incredulous expression. 'A bit big?' she wonders, staring with a mixture of awe and fear at the immense creature.

Morpheus, curious, leans forward, and is suddenly snuffling in Padma's hair. She tenses, biting her lip nervously. The (not-so) baby dragon reels backwards and sneezes loudly. Padma gasps as the bright flames graze against her head. Charlie pushes her down quickly. Moments later, it is all over.

She looks in the mirror, later, and moans. Her hair is quite singed and hangs at odd angles. Padma again bites her lip, trying not to cry. She has to cut her hair, now. Eighteen years of nothing. A stray smudge of soot is streaked across one sweaty cheek. Charlie throws an arm around her shoulder and laughs. "It's a good look for you," he comments, looking Padma over. That isn't what Padma needs right now, at all. Padma swats him in the side. The Weasley pulls her close to him, patting her immeasurably frizzy hair gently and murmurs comfortingly as she sobs into his dirt-encrusted clothes. After a while, Padma looks up and sees that he looks worse than she does, his hair nearly black and fine dust settling on his clothes and skin.

Charlie smiles a bit ruefully, "I'm sorry everything turned out like… this." He gestures awkwardly at the compound, looking a bit crestfallen. It was supposed to be the perfect night.

Padma notices this and straightens herself out, steeling her trembling emotions for him. What is done is done, she tells herself. The young woman takes in a deep breath and takes a risk. "Who else did you want to show me?" she asks, looking into his chocolate brown eyes.

After all, there is nothing to lose.


x. meet the weasleys.

Warmth. It wraps around Padma like an old blanket, protective and comfortable. The chatter at the long table is surprisingly light, and even more surprisingly, she doesn't feel out of place. Another Weasley, almost, if one disregarded her dark hair and skin. Bill and Charlie are conversing quietly, small smiles and glances illuminating their freckled faces. They are almost like twins, Padma thinks, suddenly looking at George. He notices and smiles at her, but Padma notices that his smile doesn't seem to reach his eyes. Abruptly, the Indian witch turns to her overflowing dinner plate. It is because she is a twin. Pensively, Padma picks at the dinner with her fork, pushing the noodles around until it looks like she has eaten.

Harry Potter on her left interrupts, "Padma, okay there?" the Boy-Who-Lived asks kindly, piercing her with his aged, green eyes. From next to Harry, Ginny leans forward and affirms the question with a nod.

Padma shakes her head. "It's just a little… overwhelming, you know?" She gestures to the rest of the large family.

Harry gives her an understanding look. "Not to worry. Once upon a time, I was in your same position." Padma and Harry talk for a few minutes before Padma turns back to her heaping plate. She tries to follow all the action. Charlie steals a bite of her cheesecake, smiling cheekily. Padma goes to scold Charlie, but Mrs. Weasley beats her to it, swooping down on her son. Charlie makes faces as she lectures him on being polite to guests and Fleur chuckles amusedly from behind her napkin. Teddy is throwing his corn onto the floor with great gusto and Mr. Weasley beams at Padma, swishes up Teddy's mess with a flick of his wand, and continues his discussion with Percy.

Padma is shyly swept into conversation with Hermione, whose buoyancy and sharp wit is a little overwhelming at times. She watches Ron smile at Hermione adoringly and decides that yes, Hermione is a Weasley now.

The girl snatches her fork back from Charlie, who pouts, and takes a bite of the cheesecake. A warm pumpkin-y flavour tantalises her taste buds, and soon Padma is surprised to see she has polished off the whole plate. She leans back in her seat, content.

And Padma realises, as she listens to another one of Charlie's bad jokes, how right it truly is.


xi. fighting.

She doesn't know where it all started. Who started it, or even what it was about. But there they were. Charlie stands in front of her, face tight and his burly hands clenching-unclenching at his sides. He isn't very tall, but seems to tower over her right now.

Padma doesn't care. She grits her teeth, wondering why in Merlin's name are all Weasleys are so damn stubborn. "You alwaysdo this, Charlie Weasley! Just because I am younger than you doesn't mean that I am not smarter," the woman grates out. Her small frame tenses as he steps towards her.

"I didn't even say that, Padma!" Charlie retorts, stiffening. "But maybe you are right. You areyoung, you are smart, and you most certainly act your age." Padma can't mistake the disgust in his voice, and quails slightly. "I was stupid ever believe that this would work out," he mutters to himself, turning away sharply.

There is a quick intake of breath and Padma feels her anger fade away quickly. Playing on her greatest fear, it feels as though Charlie has twisted the knife in deeper. He freezes, wide-eyed, abruptly realising the damage done. Moving closer to her, Charlie goes to speak but Padma is in a different world now. She shies away.

– the door slams loudly soon thereafter.

Charlie listens to the erratic steps recede and collapses into the sunken sofa, head buried in his hands.


xii. run.

padma's feet pound on the wet pavement in a frenetic rhythm. her long hair flies like tassels behind her. the rush of rain and earth and city mesh together it is all becomes a blur of disbelief and endorphins. she ignores the strange looks and pushes on. her tears mingle with the raindrops. she doesn't like it. she doesn't like it. and wonders in the back of her mind, if charlie will pick up the shattered pieces of herself she left scattered the tangled grass.
it's cold now and the soles of her feet start to hurt. padma unwillingly slows down, her side heaving sharply. the cold air fills her lungs and padma suddenly relaxes. how could he take all of her insecurities and wrap them in one? it feels as though someone socked her in the gut, though that could have been from the running. she can't tell anymore. she stares at the ground as she walks, listless and drained. padma doesn't notice charlie apparating in front of her and runs into him.

"It's my fault," he murmurs, looking at her face concernedly and sadly. padma raises her head slowly and tries to pull away from him. charlie hugs her tightly to him and apologises over and over, though she is struggling. padma meets his eyes defiantly but softens once she sees the anguish and unshed tears in his. she finds it difficult to stay angry once she sees that he didn't mean it.

padma holds him close. charlie kisses her forehead softly.


xiii. i love you, she says.

They are standing in an empty tube station after a late night in Muggle London. There is a discreet Apparition point near the toilet. They have to be careful here – during the War, the Ministry of Magic, in cooperation with the Muggle government set up anti-Apparition wards around many possible targets. They walk hand in hand, shining with the after-glow of an amazing evening and the satisfaction of just being with each other. There is a content silence, peaceful and unobtrusive.

Padma looks away momentarily, considering the rusty rail tracks pensively.

"I love you," she says quietly, maybe unsurely, even. Charlie stops walking, feeling a little frantic. He likes Padma a lot, but love? The wizard doesn't know how love is supposed to feel. Padma watches the different emotions flicker across his face. She stays quiet. "You don't have to say anything," Padma ventures softly, holding Charlie's hand gently.

For a minute, only their quiet footsteps fill the silence. The fluorescent lights throw a harsh light on both of their faces. Charlie looks perplexed, feeling full and jittery and somehow strange-in-a-good-way. "How do you know?" he asks hoarsely.

Padma shrugs and gives him one of her brilliant, heart-stopping smiles. "You just do."

He frowns, trying to place her obscure words with anything he has felt. He thinks about his hand in hers, his lips on hers, and his memories with her memories. Somehow, it feels right and Charlie thinks he is ready. Maybe. "I love you, too," he says softly. Silence.

That night, they Side-Along Apparate, and before they are pulled into the nothingness, Charlie feels none of the usual nausea that comes with it. Padma is amazed as well.

And then he realises how right it truly is. (finally.)


xiv. bill's favour.

Bill and Charlie Weasley are sitting in Shell Cottage, talking.

"Padma is a nice girl. It has been about a year or so now, hasn't it?" Bill starts, sending an off-hand glance in his younger brother's direction. The elder Weasley looks out the window to the glistening water. He falls quiet, hoping his statement elicits a particular response from Charlie.

Charlie nods and replies, "About." He pauses and looks at Bill earnestly. "I think I could—"

Bill interrupts and finishes knowingly, "—spend the rest of your life with her. That we all can see." His tone is wry as he expresses what is clear to the rest of the world. Charlie looks surprised for a minute but collects himself. "What are you waiting for?" the scarred wizard asks.

"Padma loves this culture stuff, and travelling," Charlie begins uncertainly. He doesn't want his elder brother to tease him. The freckled man looks in Bill's direction; Bill is listening attentively. Reassured, Charlie continues, "Could you help me get to Egypt?"

The other wizard gives his brother a wolfish smile. "Give me a week, and it will be done. Lot of paperwork, you know." Bill claps his younger brother on the shoulder. "Let's get working on the plans."

They conspire late into the night, thick as thieves.


xv. pyramids; alternately, The End.

The night is going well, and Charlie feels satisfied, recalling Padma's ecstatic expression as they strolled through the antique bazaars. The long, international Floo lines were well worth it. Charlie can almost feel her soaking up the world around her. He smiles at her wonderment and is pleased everything is occurring just as planned.

Charlie thinks it is time to interrupt her delight and offers her a hand. "I have something to show you." This intrigues her, and she looks at him curiously. Padma clasps his hand and immediately they are in sea of warm, moonlit sand. He conjures a blanket and motions for her to sit. He sprawls on his stomach, motioning for her to join him. The freckle-faced man slowly points towards the distinct outlines Padma has yet to notices. She gasps and looks at Charlie with wide eyes. The pyramids rise majestically out of the surroundings, painting strikingly beautiful silhouettes in the pale moonlight. Charlie moves closer to Padma, throwing an arm loosely around her shoulders. It feels perfect, and the Weasley silently thanks his older brother. They remain in silence for a few minutes.

Then, a deep breath.

"Will you marry me?" Charlie whispers gently into her ear. Padma laughs and shies away little, as his breath tickles her. The question sinks in and she turn on her side so their noses are touching. Her eyes are bright, and in the twilight, it's difficult for Charlie to tell whether they are bright with tears or joy, or both.

"Of course," she breathes, clasping his calloused hand in hers. Padma presses her lips to his softly, as if to seal the promise.

They lie there in the warm Egyptian night, hand in hand, content in the silence, looking at the inky black sky dotted with twinkling stars.

Padma smiles inwardly. And to think it all began with a chance encounter.