Disclaimer and author's note: Harry Potter is the property of JK Rowling. Title based on a line from Snow Patrol's 'Chasing Cars'. This was written for the Meet the Parents competition by Addicted-To-Sugar-Quills on the HPFC forum.
Charlie is tired of the argument. It feels wrong, not like anything else in their relationship – well, him and Tonks don't fight; this is the only thing they've ever argued about, unless you counted disagreeing whether Zonko's or Gambol and Japes was the better joke shop, which no one did, least of all the two of them. Calling this an argument is wrong, even – it's not so much an argument as quiet disapproval; folded arms and thinned lips and badly stifled sighs, sentences clipped off before they can finish and do any damage. It never makes it to a full-blown argument because neither of them wants it to. Charlie and Tonks are brilliant at having fun together, which has been what seventh year going out with her has been – fun. They're not as good at the other stuff.
All the what-happens-now stuff. And suddenly that's all that there is.
Because now they're on the Hogwarts Express, and the train's slowing as it steams through the London suburbs, and Tonks has just broached the subject of what he plans on doing now he's finished school.
She's staring at him a little defiantly, like she knows she's broken some unspoken rule between them. They've been dancing round the subject for months, neither of them coming out and directly asking the other.
"I still think you should try out for England," she says, so very bad at sounding casual.
Charlie glances out the window first, then at her. Her hair is pink now that term's officially over, but the tips are hovering around that depressing mousey brown that her hair turns when she's upset. "And if I don't make it?" he asks.
"You will," she says. "You're brilliant, maybe you haven't noticed? Half the teams in the League have been trying to recruit you all year!"
With a sigh, more frustrated than he means it to be, he replies, "Yeah, but I still might not. And this job in Romania's an amazing opportunity. Hagrid's been pulling for me for months. Anyway—" He breaks off, wanting to add that what he really wants is to go to Romania. To get out of Britain. To see the world. Except he doesn't want it to sound like he's trying to get away from her. That, actually, is the last thing he wants. It's the last thing he feels. "It's just for a year at first. To see if I'm any good at it."
"You will be," Tonks mutters, and it doesn't sound like a compliment. And why should it be? He's happy for her that she's been accepted into Auror training; he knows she'll make an amazing Auror, but isn't there that part of him that wishes she wasn't any good at it? That she didn't have anything tying her down here for the next three years?
The Hogwarts Express finally pulls into King's Cross with a squeal of its brakes and a huge billow of steam. The two of them heave their trunks out into the corridor and join the throng of chattering students. He bumps into Fred and George's friend Lee Jordan, going on to the twins about how he's seriously going to get a tarantula this summer, and on the platform he waves to his Keeper – well, his old Keeper, probably the next captain of the Gryffindor Quidditch team – Oliver Wood, who's caught Angelina Johnson, his youngest Chaser, by the arm. She's tugging away with a half-bemused, half-exasperated expression on her face and Charlie grins – if Wood isn't the next captain, it won't be due to a lack of enthusiasm.
Then he glances at Tonks and his smile fades. The Gryffindor team hadn't really understood why he wasn't going professional, either. Wood, in particular, had thought it a crime. His two other seventh year Chasers, Kostas and Murphy, had understood better, though Kostas had mentioned idly that she might try out somewhere in the League. Murphy was going to the Ministry. And Charlie – Charlie was going to Romania to spend his days with dragons.
He wishes him and Tonks could have a minute alone so he could say—something. Even though he never managed it through all the hours on the train.
But then she's groaning and murmurs to him, "It's my parents; bollocks, I told them I'd meet them outside…"
Charlie looks towards the couple that can only be Tonks's parents. She resembles her father, a friendly-looking man with a bit of a pot-belly who's smiling easily at his daughter. His arm is around his wife, a regal, beautiful woman with auburn hair. He wonders which one of them is the Metamorphmagus, but then he remembers that no one's sure where the ability came from; they theorise that it was on her father's side, somewhere back in the mists of time.
"Dora!" her father says as he pulls her into a hug and kisses the top of her head, and she says, "Hey Dad, hey Mum," embracing both of them. Her mother sighs something about "pink hair again," before Tonks turns back to Charlie.
"Mum, Dad," she says, "this is Charlie Weasley." Her arms are folded over her chest as she says it and she doesn't quite meet his eyes.
This isn't the way he imagined meeting Tonks's parents, but he holds out a hand anyway, smiling. Ted Tonks gives him a hearty handshake and says, "It's good to finally meet you, Charlie. Andromeda and I went to school with your parents."
"Molly Prewett and I always had something of a rivalry in Charms," Andromeda says dryly.
Charlie keeps the smile on his face. "She's still really good at them. Don't think she ever understood why I never got the hang of them, really."
"Don't blame you," Ted says. "Fiddly stuff, Charms."
Charlie hopes they don't ask him what his plans are now school's finished, but inevitably they do, and he says, feeling something radiating off Tonks, "I've been offered a job in Romania researching dragons."
Both Ted and Andromeda Tonks look surprised – maybe Tonks has told them he's thinking of playing Quidditch professionally. Or maybe it's just a surprising career. "Well, congratulations," Andromeda says, "it sounds thrilling and exotic."
"That's what I'm hoping, at least," Charlie says. He shouldn't keep his own family waiting much longer, but he stays and chats with Tonks's for a few minutes, until finally, her parents share half a glance with each other and Andromeda says, "We'll meet you outside in a moment, Nymphadora, shall we? Your father would like to buy the Sun."
"Keep up on the football," Ted adds. "Nice meeting you, Charlie."
"Yes, and tell your mother hello," Andromeda says, before the two of them walk away, arm in arm.
Before he can think twice about it, Charlie pulls Tonks aside, his hands around her upper arms. Romania will be thrilling and exotic, but it's also going to be incredibly lonely. Checking once over his shoulder to see that her parents are out of earshot, he says, "Tonks," and then pauses. He's been thinking about this for weeks now, unsure of exactly how to broach it with her. He hesitates. "Tonks, why don't you come with me to Romania?"
Her mouth falls open. "Go—Romania?"
"Yeah," he says. Her shocked look doesn't tell him whether she's pleased or horrified by the suggestion, or something in between. "It's...supposed to be really beautiful..." He's grasping at straws and her mouth is still open, and he can work out that that isn't an encouraging sign. "...and, you know, that way we could keep on seeing each other..."
"Maybe I can come and visit," she says, and it's like something slams shut in his heart. Something must change in his face, because her brow furrows in an echo of the same frustration that he'd let creep into his tone earlier. "What do you want, Charlie? I've been accepted into the Auror training program – I can't just go to Romania."
"You could," he says. "You could if you wanted to." He sees her chest heave in a sigh, though he doesn't hear it, and suddenly he knows what she's going to say. He doesn't want to force her to say it. And maybe he doesn't want to hear it. She wants to be an Auror, the same way he wants to work with dragons, and it's nothing to do with one another. And maybe that's the point, though that's contrary to everything he's feeling. "No—sorry. That was...I didn't mean that."
Tonks presses her lips together and her eyes shift away from his. "S'okay." Then she glances over her shoulder towards the direction that her parents disappeared in. "I'm gonna go, Charlie." She looks miserable, and he can see that she's putting effort into keeping her hair bubblegum pink. "Can we just—talk in a couple days?"
He wishes she'd look at him, but she doesn't. "Yeah," he says, trying to sound casual. He's just as bad at it as she is.
More brown creeps into her hair as she nods and finally flicks her eyes to meet his. Then she turns to follow her parents, and Charlie gets this feeling like he's not going to see her again, even though that's ridiculous; they've plans, definite plans, to meet in Diagon Alley for her birthday in July; but he grabs her hand and bursts out, "Tonks, I love you," hearing a note of desperation in his voice that he hates. This isn't how he imagined telling her at all, standing against the wall at King's Cross, surrounded by a press of people, her parents waiting for her and his own for him, while Fred and George harass Percy loudly enough that it carries over all the other noise of the platform.
Something flares in her eyes; something like anger tinged with heartbreak, just the way her pink hair is tinged with brown. "Then you should've said something before," she almost snaps, "because neither of us has left much room in our lives for the other, have we?"
Charlie gapes at her and she finally gives up keeping her hair pink. "I'll speak with you in a few days," she mumbles, pulling her hand away. This time, when she turns, he doesn't stop her. But then she turns back round and says, sounding a little unwilling, "I think my parents liked you."
He grunts and she disappears after her parents. He'd liked them, as well, and for a few moments back there he'd thought maybe he was meeting his future in-laws.
Now, he doesn't think he has.