The End of Summer
One day toward the end of July, a Ministry owl tapped on the kitchen window during breakfast.
Charlie opened the window, and the owl flew to Hermione and stuck out its leg.
She untied the letter with shaking hands. She slowly ripped open the envelope and pulled out a sheet of parchment. She unfolded it. And screamed.
She threw herself into Charlie's arms. "Ten Outstandings and one Exceeds Expectations!"
"Congratulations!" he said laughing.
"The Exceeds Expectations was in Defense, and I was expecting that. No doubt Harry was the only one to get an Outstanding in that class," she said excitedly.
Thankfully it was his day off, so he took her down to the hatchery to watch the baby dragons. The first time he took her there, she had found that she loved it every bit as much as he did. The workers had even let her feed a few of the babies, and she watched a baby Horntail hatch. It was the perfect way to celebrate in her mind.
- - -
A few weeks later, her parents arrived for the much anticipated visit.
Charlie was terrified. He knew that most men would not be pleased if their daughter was seeing a man seven years older than her, especially since she had spent the summer with him. They weren't actually seeing each other yet, but they would soon. Charlie feared the Grangers' reaction when they found out. He definitely wanted to make a good impression on them.
He borrowed Mick's truck to pick them up at the airport. Hermione was practically bouncing in the passenger seat.
When they entered the airport they went directly to the area where the Grangers would arrive.
After about an hour, the older couple was there.
"Hermione!" her mother cried pulling her into a strong hug. "Oh, you look so good; much healthier than at the beginning of the summer. We've missed you so much."
"Hey there, baby girl," her dad said hugging her as soon as her mother released her.
"I missed you both too. You remember Charlie of course," she said tugging his arm to pull him closer.
"It's good to see you both again," he said, somewhat nervously.
"You as well," Jane said kindly.
Richard stared. He'd noticed something different at the beginning of the summer, but whatever it was, was stronger now.
Charlie shook his hand in a firm grip, and submitted to the hug that Jane insisted on.
He merits watching, Richard thought to himself.
An hour later they arrived at the reserve. The Grangers had been worried when they heard that Hermione would be spending the summer around dragons, but they were pleasantly surprised by the reality of it.
Hermione led the way into the cottage when they arrived. Charlie was carrying the suitcases.
"The door only opens to me or Hermione, no one else can open it. You'll be staying in my room for the next week. I have a couch in my office that I'll transfigure into a bed for myself," Charlie explained. He led them down the hall to his bedroom door. He placed their luggage on the bed. "The bathroom is through the door on the right, and Hermione's room is directly across the hall."
Jane smiled at him. "It's lovely, dear."
Charlie left the three Grangers to each other's company while he started cooking dinner. If there was one thing that Molly Weasley insisted on teaching her oldest sons, it was cooking. Charlie simply took to it more than his brothers.
Twenty minutes later, they entered the kitchen. Hermione insisted that her parents sit down while she helped Charlie finish cooking.
"Here, give me those," she said indicating the potatoes he was about to mash.
"Thanks," he said moving aside. He pulled the roast chicken out of the oven and began to cut it.
Richard watched as his daughter and Charlie moved around each other fixing the dinner. It was like a strange dance that only they knew the steps to. They moved around deftly avoiding getting in each other's way, while still fixing the food in a timely fashion.
The four ate dinner together, chatting and laughing. Charlie got along quite well with Hermione's parents. Richard was a little aloof though.
Over the next week, Richard watched his daughter and this man behave like a married couple aside from the more intimate parts of a relationship.
It was a shock though the first time Hermione had a nightmare. She woke them all with her screams.
Charlie was the first to reach her side despite being the furthest away.
"Shh, calm down, Hermione. It was just a nightmare," he whispered. He held her tightly to his chest one hand buried in her hair and the other on her back. "It's okay, baby, I'm here," he murmured into her hair, unaware that the Grangers were listening.
In between sobs, Hermione told him her nightmare. "Death Eaters…Dolohov…the one who cursed me, he was torturing you. The Cruciatus. Bellatrix was holding me back and laughing. It felt so real. Then he…he…" she sobbed into his chest unable to finish.
"The Killing Curse," he asked softly.
He smoothed her hair back from her face and kissed her temple. "I can't promise that'll never happen, but I can promise that I won't take foolish risks. Remember what we talked about when I got burned?"
"Ye-es…" she sniffled. "Don't let my fear control me."
"That's right, Love."
She tried to smile through her tears.
He lifted a hand and gently wiped away a few strays.
"Better?" he asked. She nodded a little. "Can you sleep?" Concern was shining in his gaze.
"I think so. Thank you, Charlie," she whispered, then leaned in and kissed him on the cheek.
He waited until she was lying down again, then pulled the blanket up and kissed her forehead.
He left the room, and saw her parents waiting.
Shit, Charlie thought. I'm a dead man.
"A word," Richard said.
Charlie led them into the kitchen and began to fix tea.
When it was ready, Charlie served it and waited.
"How long has she had these nightmares?" Mrs. Granger asked.
"Off and on, all summer," Charlie replied.
Richard stared into his eyes a stern expression on his face. "And how long have you been in love with her?"
"Richard!" Jane admonished.
Charlie sighed. "I don't know. I only realized it when I found out she was hurt in June."
"Does she know?" said Jane.
"I've never told her. She does know that I care very deeply for her."
"Have you two…done anything?" Richard asked.
Charlie's head shot up. Surely he isn't implying…
"No more than kisses on the cheek and hugs," he said looking Richard in the eyes so he'd know that he was not lying.
"What are you going to do?" Jane asked softly.
"In our world, she comes of age in September on her seventeenth birthday. I'm going to court her."
"Court her? That's an awfully old-fashioned term," Mr. Granger commented.
"I'm old-fashioned when it comes to things like that."
The three sat in silence while they finished their tea.
"Hurt her and I will murder you," Richard said getting up to return to bed.
Jane smiled at Charlie. "You'll protect her? From the Death Eaters?"
"As much as she'll let me, Ma'am," he said.
- - -
The rest of the week flew by and soon they were on the plane back to England.
Hermione and Charlie went to the Burrow to spend the night before she had to be at King's Cross, while her parents returned home.
Mrs. Weasley had bought Hermione's school things for her, to save her the trip to Diagon Alley.
The next day they all went to the train station. Just before Hermione boarded the train, Charlie pulled her aside.
"I'll miss you," he said.
Tears welled up in her eyes. "I'll miss you to."
"Write me?" he asked.
He pulled her in for a hug, and kissing her cheek, whispered, "One month, Hermione, and the chase will be on."
"Do you promise?" she asked smiling up at him.
"Good." She pressed her lips to his cheek and quickly boarded the train before he could respond. She ran into her compartment and leaned out the window to wave as the train pulled away.