Later on Ginny would think of it as the funniest Weasley dinner she had since James and Fred set some of WWW's new Valentine candy line on fire by accident and the whole kitchen, including the occupants of it, were covered in brightly colored heart-shaped goo. Right now though, she was quite embarrassed.
Her mother was trying to set up a blind date for her brother.
Sunday brunches at The Burrow were Ginny's favorite: having great food, meeting all of her family and above all, her dad took care of the kids.
This Sunday was special as they were celebrating Charlie's return to England for good. All her brothers and their families were invited. Surprisingly it wasn't raining, as one would expect from a February weekend. From the kitchen window Ginny could see Ron and George showing their newest products to the children who were too young to attend Hogwarts. From within Angelina was watching them with amusement as she set up the table. Hermione and Percy were talking about boring Ministry Business while cutting vegetables for the salad. Ginny herself was making pancakes when Charlie walked in looking deeply disturbed. He was blushing furiously. Their mother followed a moment later. Ginny knew Charlie wasn't easy to embarrass but their mother was a special case.
"How desperate do I look to you?" he called over his shoulder.
"You've passed your forties, you're getting old and it's time you settled down" Molly said firmly as she took over the pancake making. "Ginny dear, would you cast a chilling charm over the pumpkin juice and start on the bacon? And tell your brother to stop being so stubborn." She turned to Charlie again. "All you have to do is meet the girl, there's no commitment, really!"
"What do you have to lose? Thirty minutes of your life and three Sickles for the coffee?" Ginny winked at her stunned brother. "And leave the bacon to Harry, he'll be here in a minute and you know he likes frying them."
"I can't believe you're on her side!"
"What are you on about?" Harry walked in, shrugging off his cloak and hanging it near the door.
Ginny turned around and smiled at her husband. His hair was ruffled as usual and she couldn't resist burying her fingers in the mess. "Mum's trying to set old Charlie up on a date." She wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed his lips lightly. "I saved you the bacon."
Harry kissed his wife back, rolled up his sleeves and grabbed a frying pan. "So, what's this girl like?"
"Oh! I'm glad you asked." Molly smiled warmly at Harry and then cast a dirty look at Charlie. "Because this one here won't let me say anything. Her name is Leonora, she's a very nice witch, Muggle-born, not that it matters. My friend Mathilda already spoke to her mother to get permission. She agreed, of course, and she's waiting for your owl."
"Oh, for Merlin's pants. Give me a bloody quill, I'll write to her, maybe that'll shut you up."
"Watch your mouth, young man!" Molly scolded.
Charlie smirked. "Five minutes ago you said I was old." He scribbled something on a parchment and gave it to the family owl, Errol the Third.
Molly swatted at his head affectionately before calling out that dinner was ready. For a while the kitchen buzzed with activity as the kids ran from the back yard into the magically expanded kitchen, took their seats and dug in the delicious food.
Ginny took another bite of the her pancake sandwich, filled with bacon and eggs and covered with maple syrup, while keeping an eye on Charlie. He still had that tiny hint of a blush on his cheeks, though his ears were back to their normal shade. His hair was long now and he had a goatee, a big change from his time at the Romanian resort where his facial hair ranged between stubble to full beard but never a goatee, he used to say it was too much of a hassle to keep it neat. He mumbled to himself angrily as he ate his third helping of bacon and eggs. She could hear "private life" and "hysterical mothers" thrown in.
"How about getting a haircut for the date?" Her mother started pestering Charlie again, and Ginny was now sure it wasn't going to end very well. Charlie was known for his impatience.
"Mum…" he warned, but it was too late.
George's ears perked up in interest. "A date? You've been here for three days and you already have a date? Who set you up this time? Angie?" He turned to his wife, but she shook her head. But when their mother confirmed that it was her, George's eyes shone with glee. He looked as if his birthday had come early. After all, it wasn't every day that you got to watch Charlie blush. "Mum set you up? You must be really desperate."
"What is wrong with getting a girl's name from your mother?" Molly called out. "You went out with that girl Hermione set you up with!"
Ginny remembered that girl Hermione had tried to matchmake Charlie with. For a while Hermione and Audrey had been obsessed with finding Charlie the perfect girl. Every time he came over for a visit he'd gone out with a girl or two. Ginny was never a fan of matchmaking, but there was no mistake they meant well. The only problem was it had never turned out well.
"We all saw how that went out" retorted Charlie. "I really should stop going to blind dates. You girls are all insane."
"What was wrong with Athene?" asked Hermione. "She's really nice, smart, athletic, very pretty…"
"And she's mental"
"What are you on about? She's dead smart, had ten Outstanding N.E.W.T's"
"So? She's still a loon. She's vegetarian."
Hermione looked offended. "I didn't know being a vegetarian makes you mental."
"I'll tell you why she's mental! She's a vegetarian because she can't stand animals!"
Ron nearly choked over his mountain of pancakes. "Yeah, that's mental" he said after he calmed down from his coughing fit.
"Animals make her sick and she can't stand thinking about eating them. She won't eat dairy products as well, because it comes from the cow and that-" Charlie paused to take a bite of bacon.
"-Makes her sick." Ron finished the sentence for him.
"Oh, I forgot to say she eats cheesecakes, 'cause she likes it."
"Oh," was all Hermione could utter. And then the whole table erupted with laughter. After a few moments Hermione joined them; it was hard not to.
For a while Charlie kept telling them funny stories about his dates and Ginny couldn't stop laughing - some of the girls were so crazy. Nearly hyperventilating, she choked "Well, at least you had a laugh." And then she was off again.
"So, what did you write to her?" asked Bill from the other side of the table.
Charlie swallowed his own bite and shrugged. "It really doesn't matter, just a bit of small talk. I hate it, but that's part of the rules of dating. She'll answer me in two days anyway because she can't look too easy."
Ron wiped Hugo's mouth with a napkin and turned back to Charlie "Rules for dating? You're kidding." He looked at his wife questioningly. After all, Hermione did know everything.
"Sure there is." Hermione dismissed it with a wave of her hand. Her other hand was pushing Hugo back as he tried to climb on the table. "iWe/i went straight on snogging, but most people follow the rules. You chat a bit by owl post, it could take a week because you have to look like you're busy and have a life so you don't answer right away. Then you contact each other by Floo, but that's not really necessary, it's usually just so you can have a look at each other. Afterwards you meet for coffee and if it's going well the guy will contact the girl two days later to set another date."
Ginny had to smile, Hermione sounded just like she had in school, as if she'd swallowed a book.
"Zat eez exactly what appened wiz us, oui, mon cheri?" Fleur joined their conversation. "I did not go wiz 'im to a restaurant until our tenth date. Did not want to look silly eeting."
At that Ginny snorted. Really, Fleur couldn't look silly to Bill, not matter how hard she might try.
Two hours later Most of her family were out of the kitchen and Ginny waved her wand at the dishes in the sink and the plates started to clean themselves, followed by the glasses and cutlery. She was about to leave the kitchen when Errol the Third returned and flew over to Charlie, who was at the table still drinking his tea. Surprisingly, he held a parchment in his talons. Charlie put his tea cup down to take the note from the owl.
To offer her brother some privacy, she busied herself with giving the owl some leftover bacon. When she turned back and looked at him, he wore the most peculiar expression.
"That was quick. Did she turn you down?" she asked with a frown.
Charlie remained quiet; he just smirked and handed over the letter. She took the parchment from his hand and unrolled it warily. Inside she found Charlie's original message.
I've heard wonderful things about you from my mother.
Below it was scribbled in a messy, yet readable handwriting:
It's all lies.
Ginny lifted her eyes from the letter. "Hey, she took your line."
I know nothing about you, only that you have red hair. I'm not much into owl small talk and Floo chats hurt my knees. Want to meet at "Witch Coffee?" and talk?
Ginny smiled. "One thing's for sure, she's never read Hermione's book about the laws of dating."
Charlie snorted into his cup of tea and soon both of them were laughing uncontrollably again. That's how Harry found them and it took him five minutes to calm his wife down.
Later on Ron would think of this game as the best Cannons game he'd seen since the first time he watched them play live. They didn't win, of course. No one expected them to, but it was fun nonetheless. However right now he was really upset. The Cannons played like shit and he really didn't want to spend the rest of the game with closed eyes, trying not to watch the abysmal playing method of his favorite team. Instead he looked to his left, only to see his sister cuddling with her husband.
Ginny just came back from her pre game interviewing and was watching the game intently. Harry stood behind her, his chin resting on her shoulder. He seemed more focused on his wife than on the game. Ron groaned. He liked the fact that they were both happy, but he just didn't want to think about the details, so he looked away. To his right Angelina and Bill were talking about the new Cannons Seeker and how he would lose spectacularly to the legendary Magpies Seeker. Ron was about to join them so he could explain how the Cannons really had a chance this year, when Charlie walked in.
All eyes in the booth turned to watch him. Charlie ignored them and settled to watch the game. It was quiet for a minute.
Angelina was the first to crack. "Well, how was it?"
Ron moved forward eagerly on his seat. He could see that he wasn't the only one. Charlie stayed quiet.
"That bad? Was she really ugly?"
"Actually, it went alright" Charlie said after a moment of consideration. "She's not ugly, Ron. Quite pretty, actually. No Veela, but she has a very nice pair of–" he trailed off at the angry looks from Ginny and Angelina. "Eyes."
Ron smirked but said nothing. He could see Harry hiding his own smile in Ginny's hair. Charlie went quiet again and Ron became impatient. "And?" he prompted.
"She laughed a lot, so I guess it's a good sign, right?" Charlie scratched his head nervously. "I had a great time, she's funny. I'm not sure if we'll end up as a couple but I'm sure I'd like to keep her as a friend."
"That's a good base for a relationship."
"Wow Ron, that was deep. Too bad Hermione isn't here to hear these words of wisdom" Ginny teased him. "I hate to say it, but he's right. How long was the date that you decided so quickly she's friend material?"
"I'm not sure. We met at 'Witch Coffee?' at about nine, got kicked out at around midnight when they closed the place, then walked for a couple of hours in Muggle London."
Ron had to laugh "Five hours on your first date? That's against the laws of dating. Well, if it turned out so well why aren't you happy? You look like you were run over by a herd of Hippogriffs."
"Well, let's think…I'm well past my forties, I'm unemployed and I live with my parents. I'm not really a catch."
Ron frowned, it really wasn't like Charlie to be so insecure, though he did have a point. "Did you tell her all that?"
"Of course I did, she said it's good because no matter what my next job is, she can always say she's the reason of my success." He winked at his stunned brother. "We meet again tomorrow. We had a little argument about who's going to pay the bill. At the end she said she knows a good Muggle restaurant–"
This time Bill couldn't keep quiet, though Ron knew he tried hard not to interfere. "You have a real rule-breaker here Charlie. First she answers your letter right away, then you have a five-hours long date, during which you make a second date instead of waiting a bit. And on your second date you meet in a restaurant?"
"Well, she really likes food. We spent most of the date talking about it." Charlie grinned nervously. "She said she's a good cook and, well, you know, I'm a Weasley. Can't say no to anything involving food."
"And you know what they say, if she likes food then she's good in bed" Ron said. He was about to continue when the stands roared. The Cannons had scored their first goal this season. Ron looked at the board, it was 80 to 10. Only a real Cannon fan would understand how wonderful he felt. For the next forty minutes he yelled with the rest of the crowd until the Magpie's seeker found the Snitch and they all went out of the stadium, laughing and yelling at each other. At the end, the Magpies won 270 to 40. Ron was happy: not only his team scored four times, but the seeker almost got the snitch.
Later on Charlie would think of it as the best birthday party he'd attended in a long time. Not that he had been to a lot of parties, being in Romania and all. But now he was very nervous. It has been three weeks since his and Nora's first date. Since then they'd met every second day, been to three really good Muggle restaurants, gone to the Weird Sisters concert, sat with some of his friends for a pint at the Leaky (she was a really cheap date, drunk after half a pint) twice and walked endlessly around Muggle London. And still he hadn't kissed her. Not that he didn't want to. Really, he was dying to kiss her.
Most people thought he was very self confident and they were right, he was sure of himself in many aspects and never worried about sharing his opinion or joking about himself. But when it came to intimacy with girls he really liked he was very shy. That he kept to himself, no one really needed to know that he was too scared to make the first move. Well, no one except Ginny.
Charlie looked to his side where Ginny was taking a bottle of Butterbeer from the bar. Ron was celebrating his birthday and Hermione had thrown a party with all of his family and friends. The kids were all at their grandparents' and so everyone was loud and drunk as much as they wanted. Charlie himself was now pouring a shot of Firewhiskey into his beer. He looked over to where Leonora was standing, talking animatedly to Hermione. "Yes, she is." He smiled and took a sip from his pint.
"Mum's going to love her." Ginny smirked at her brother's scowl. "But if you're not going to kiss her soon then you're entering the friend's zone."
"Ginny–" he started, but she cut him off quickly.
"Seriously. She's great and you work together well, I can tell that. But if you don't snog her senseless soon you'll lose her. She's not going to wait forever, you know." Ginny opened her bottle and sipped slowly, still glaring at him. "She's not like the other girls you used to date and if you mess it up I'll be really pissed. Ah! No more talk from you. You're going to Floo me tonight and tell me you kissed her, no matter the time. If you didn't, by Merlin's pants I swear I'll take you by the ear and throw you at her. Understood?"
She looked so much like his mother, Charlie thought, it was scary. "Alright, no need to shout" he mumbled and she stalked away, still casting angry glances at him.
He stood there for a while, deep in thoughts.
"You're Charlie, right?"
Charlie turned to see one of Ginny's friends standing next to him. She had dirty blonde hair, cut quite short, big blue eyes that seemed mystified and a big round belly. Obviously she was very pregnant. Charlie tried to remember her name, but the only thing that came to his mind was 'Loony', and it didn't seem right to him.
She offered her hand for a shake "I'm Luna." He was expecting a weak shake but her handshake was firm. "You're the dragon keeper, right? Rolf–" she gestured toward a strange willowy looking man who was talking to Neville "–and I just came back a couple of days ago from the Brazilian dragon reservoir. We're thinking about building a mixed creature's reservoir here in England and wanted to see how such a thing operated. Ginny's told me so much about you."
"I worked there for many years, but I'm retired now. It's hard work and I was getting too slow for the vicious ones I didn't want to be the maintenance boy, so I quit." He was a bit bitter and it showed in his voice. He tried to soften it a bit. "How are you going to manage it with children and being pregnant?"
"Oh, I don't have children yet, these are my firsts." She gestured at her belly. "Rolf and I didn't have much time for children before, with all our travels. But now that we've decided to settle down it became clear that we need to reproduce. I'm just happy I have twins, pregnancy is so hard when you deal with dangerous creatures."
Charlie tried to listen to Luna but his eyes kept darting over to Leonora.
"Just do it."
Charlie turned back to stare at Luna. If Ginny said anything about his situation to anyone…
"Bogglenuckles. I was sure I felt one earlier." Charlie was so surprised by that, he couldn't manage to close his mouth. To Charlie's surprised look she kept on talking. "They are invisible creatures, they like to push people around. The best way to deal with them is to go with the flow. When they don't feel resistance they start looking for a new challenge."
Charlie looked over to his date, then back at Luna. Now he understood why she was called Loony. Bogglenuckles?
Luna apparently completely misunderstood his shocked look, because she said "Don't worry about me, Bogglenuckles never follow pregnant women. The hormones drive them crazy. Now go before they start pushing harder."
Charlie bade her farewell and walked away in a daze. Was she always this weird? He wrapped his arms around Nora and buried his face in her hair. She smelt like cookies mixed with a bit of salty sweat. He could feel her tense and then relax.
"You alright?" he whispered softly to her ear. He could feel her head moving in a slight nod. She was talking with Hermione and Ginny's ex-boyfriend Dean about Muggle stuff he barely understood. Dean looked quite nervous when Charlie walked over and after a few moments excused himself and walked over to Seamus and Parvati.
Hermione took a sip from her Butterbeer and smirked. "Would you stop scaring him?" she scolded him. To Leonora's questioning look she explained. "Dean used to date Ginny at Hogwarts, Charlie and Bill like to scare every boy she used to date."
Leonora smiled wickedly. "Oh, he did? And I bet while he threatened the poor boys he was shagging everywhere."
"But of course." He smirked and kissed her cheek.
"Hypocrite" Hermione and Nora said simultaneously. Then Hermione huffed and muttered "Weasley's" under her breath before disappearing into the crowd.
"You look nervous" Charlie observed. His arm was on her back and he offered her his pint. She declined of course.
"Of course I'm nervous I've just met your family for the first time. And I'm not a fan of big noisy parties" Nora said before leaning into him. "But your sister is really nice, everyone is nice, actually, I just don't remember their names and ties."
Charlie looked around them, he could see his sister dancing with Harry: they were laughing about something. Hermione and Ron moved closer to them, Ron said something to Harry and they all laughed. Next to them he saw Luna dancing a very strange dance with Neville. Neville seemed to enjoy it though, somehow. In the corner of the crowded room Bill and Fleur were making out. He knew that outside George and Lee were planning fireworks with the help of Angelina and Alicia. Suddenly, Charlie felt very alone in this big party.
"Want to go home?" he asked softly. At her nod he Apparated them away to her flat in London. They stood at the staircase for a while in awkward silence. He knew he should say something, probably kiss her, but couldn't.
"Splinched your tongue?" she teased him lightly. He laughed and suddenly her lips were on his earlobe. His laughter turned into a groan.
"I don't think I should find a job, I'd much rather stay like this forever."
This time she laughed, a throaty deep laugh, much different from the snorty ones she used usually. Charlie wasn't sure how it happened. He remembered Nora kissing him but somehow they moved from the stairwell to her couch. She was straddling him and her hair tickled his face when his hands roamed all over her body.
Hours later Charlie remembered he promised his sister to call her. He used Leonora's Floo connection, hoping she wouldn't mind, as she was now sleeping on the sofa.
Ginny was expecting him, he could tell. She was sitting alone in her kitchen with a cup of tea.
"We snogged, I hope you're happy now." He tried to growl, but couldn't keep the smile off his face.
Ginny studied his face for a moment, then a smile crept over her face, a smile he knew all too well and was never a good sign.
"She kissed you, didn't she?" At his blush she threw her head back and laughed. "Oh, this is great, you understand this goes into my blackmail material, yes?"
Her laugh was scary, but Charlie couldn't really dwell on it. He had to go and cuddle with someone now, didn't he?
There was no doubt, this was the best party he'd ever attended.