Silly Wand Waving

Happy Halloween Eve! And happy birthday to one of my favorite witches: Molly Weasley! If you’re in the mood to get your Potter on, here’s a slightly racy chapter from George & Annie: An Unofficial Biography.

October 30, 1997

“I’m very disappointed in you. Didn’t know you were such a kiss-arse. Percy would be pleased.”

“Fuck you.” Annie spat the whispered swear at George. She knew being compared to Percy was a low blow from him, even though she had yet to meet his elder brother.

George snorted. “Kiss your Gran with that mouth? Tsk, tsk.”

Annie shoved a heavy bag of groceries containing all the ingredients for dinner that night—she had offered to cook for the Weasleys in honor of Molly’s birthday—into his arms.

“I’m not your beast of burden!” he protested.

“Bye, Gran! Bye, Mrs. Finnerty! See you about eight, I expect,” she called toward the front room in a light, cheery voice that was completely at odds with the glowering look directed at George.

“Bye, dear!” came two answering ladies’ voices.

Annie smiled, pleased that Gran was up and out of bed for once. She had been so tired lately. The prospect of an evening of cards and gossip with her dear friend and neighbor had cheered her immensely.

Annie turned back to George with a stern look. “Your mother deserves a night off. Must be excruciating to be stuck in that house with no one but you lot all day for company. The poor dear must be stark raving mad by now.”

George stuck his tongue out while mimicking her pose: hand on his hips, foot tapping the floor. Annie rolled her eyes, spun on her heels, and grabbed the carefully packaged cake.

Getting to the Burrow had become a complicated process. First they drove off in the truck for Gran’s benefit—they couldn’t exactly Disapparate from the kitchen in front of her. But neither could they risk a Muggle vehicle being spotted at the Burrow, since they were never sure if the house was being watched. So they parked at random spots on the side of a deserted country road, then Apparated once they were out of sight and invisible.

“Hope you don’t get splinched, prat,” George taunted just as they were about to disappear.

Annie knew he was teasing, but that thought was never a welcome one as the oppressive blackness hit, and she fell into whatever dimension they passed through on their way. She never liked it much to begin with, but they were forced to travel this way rather often these days.

“Bloody knob,” she huffed, elbowing his ribs when they rematerialized at the back door of the Burrow.

She usually loved his predominant smart-arse streak, but he’d been a bit stroppy lately. She understood his aggravation with being forced to remain hidden in his home, his only opportunity to escape his henpecking mother was to work on his owl-order business at his unlikable Aunt Muriel’s house or trek off on what he described as “another boring, safe, and stupid” routine Order mission after dark. Understanding his grouchy mood only made it slightly more tolerable, however.

Captivity did not sit well with George, and she could tell he was itching for a victim on which to unleash his frustrations—which meant she had a target on her back. She’d had higher hopes for tonight; it felt like ages since she was last in Molly’s cozy kitchen for nothing but a simple, friendly visit. Not to mention forever since she and George had seen each other before midnight. It had been a week since they had seen each other at all.

George spilled the bag onto the kitchen table and flopped into a chair, looking profoundly put upon.

“Annie, dear!” Molly hugged her in welcome and relieved her of the cake.

At least someone seems happy I’m here. “I know it’s not easy to let someone else putter in your kitchen, Molly,” she began.

“Don’t be silly, dear. Nicest thing anyone’s done for me in the longest time. No one else even raises a finger to help around here.” She cast a disparaging look toward George, who curled his lip.

“My pleasure,” Annie replied. “I’ll still need your help operating the stove, but otherwise, you just sit back and relax.”

Molly beamed with delight. George rolled his eyes. Fred sauntered in, said hello, then joined his mother and brother at the table as Annie set to work.

Behind her, Molly continued to harangue the boys about chores that needed to be done around the house. She had to admit, being badgered like that all day long would have driven her batty as well, and she felt a pang of sympathy for the twins.

Something zapped Annie’s ear like a tiny, electrically charged mosquito. All sympathetic feelings dissipated as she closed her eyes, resisting the urge to swat at it and give him the pleasure of seeing her irritated. She redirected her focus to the potato she was peeling instead.

Reaching out for the next one, she watched as the peelings from the first potato wrapped themselves back around it.

“Oh, come on,” she muttered.

She tried peeling another with the same results. Fine. It’ll be mashed potatoes with peel, then. She chopped them roughly, tossing the pieces into a small pot. As soon as she reached for the last potato, the chopped bits floated up out of the pot, swirling around in midair like asteroids in orbit.

“Not funny.” She bit her lips to quell an amused smile.

The cubes crashed into the pot, splashing water. She huffed and grabbed a towel to mop up the mess.

She turned then to the carrots. The peelings stayed in the sink this time, to her relief. A relief that turned out to be short-lived, however, when a carrot started rapping her knuckles as she tried to chop another.

“That’s it!” She spun around to face the table, rubbing her smarting hands.

Both boys wore innocent expressions, listening intently to Molly’s current rant regarding their slovenly housekeeping habits.

“What’s wrong, dear?” Molly asked.

Annie didn’t answer, only glared at the boys.

“Serves her right, eh?” Fred mouthed in George’s direction.

George responded with a smug look.

Molly spied the carrot still jabbing Annie in the back, her expression swiftly changing from curiosity to suspicion and finally to vengeance. “I’m warning you two: stop this nonsense this instant.”

“What d’you mean?” and, “Didn’t do anything!” the twins protested. Their innocent looks were replaced by ones full of indignation.

Culpablo!” Molly’s wand appeared in her hand.

George yanked his hand out of his pocket, shaking it like he had just received an electric shock. His right hand turned red before their eyes.

“You should be ashamed of yourself, George. Apologize to Annie this instant,” Molly demanded.

“Why d’you always blame me for everything?” George whined, persisting with the shocked innocence defense.

“Shameful,” Fred chimed in, shaking his head in an attempt to egg his mother on.

“You’re no better. Out of my sight,” Molly barked.

Fred and George rose from the table, laughing at their cleverness.

“Oh, no! Not you, George. You’ll be helping Annie now.”

Fred laughed harder as he sauntered out of the kitchen. George shrugged and walked toward Annie. A malicious grin appeared on his face once he was beyond Molly’s line of sight. Annie gulped nervously, fearing she was really in for it now.

“Hand it over,” Molly commanded.

George spun back around to face her, a confused look on his face.

“Your wand. Give it to me. Clearly, you can’t be trusted with it.” She held out an empty hand.

“You’re joking,” he cried.

Accio wand,” Molly shrieked, and George’s wand flew out of his pocket and into her hand. She pointed at the sink and commanded him, “Chop!” Then she turned to Annie, smiling. “He’s all yours now, dear. Let me know if he gives you any more trouble.”

George stood in the middle of the kitchen, spluttering. Annie, just as stunned by the exchange as George, began to giggle. He shot her a glare as his mother shoved him toward the sink. Grudgingly, he began to chop carrots while Annie started on a pie crust.

“Done,” he grunted after almost a minute of work.

Annie glanced at the pile of carrot pieces. He was apparently attempting to punish her with incompetence: the irregular sizes wouldn’t cook evenly, and she suspected he knew it. She smiled sweetly, feeling full of mischief now that Molly was on her side.

“These bits are too big. Make them smaller.”

The look on George’s face told her he’d like to see her try to make him do it.

“Is there a problem, George?” Molly warned.

George scowled at Annie as she laughed, “Ah, ah, ah—be nice now. Show me a smile.”

He stuck out his tongue.

“Much better,” she teased.

George spent another minute chopping before he quit again, folding his arms on his chest in a pout.

Annie made a show of inspecting his work. “I’ve certainly seen better, but I suppose that will do.”

“What next, dear?” asked Molly, who was clearly enjoying this as much as Annie. “Pots need stirring?”

“Erm, no,” Annie chuckled. “The intent is for you to enjoy your birthday meal, which could be difficult if it’s poisoned. I’ll take it from here. Just sit on the stool and keep me company, George. I do so love your cheerful face.”

He took his perch with a dark look.

Molly proceeded to do everything in her power to make her son squirm. All she and Annie talked about were fashion (That skirt looks lovely on you dear. Is that jumper wool or cotton? I do love to knit, you know…), recipes (I like a bit of rosemary with the beef, don’t you?), and romantic stories of Molly and Arthur’s days of courtship at Hogwarts.

George spent the entire time shooting looks at Annie promising painful revenge. She couldn’t help but smile back at him. It was difficult to remember a time when she had been this entertained.

“All right, George. You may set the table now,” Molly directed.

She continued to harass her son throughout the dinner, requiring him to perform all the serving duties—second helpings, refilling beverages, clearing the table—all without the use of his wand. Fred worked his brother’s punishment to the hilt, stopping just short of insisting George feed him bite by bite. Annie was starting to feel pity for George, wallowing in sullen misery, by the time the meal was finished.

While the rest of the family sat in the living room, listening to the wireless, she walked into the kitchen with George’s wand hidden in the waistband of her skirt. Molly had slipped it to her during dinner when he was in the other room with a warning to be careful not to point it at anything valuable. She found George standing at the sink full of sudsy water, pouting.

“I’ll wash, you dry,” she offered. She was willing to help him the old-fashioned way but not so stupid as to surrender her only advantage.

“You’re enjoying this far too much for your own good,” he grumbled when he took the last dish from her dripping hands.

“Careful now. Don’t say something you’re going to regret,” she warned playfully.

“She can’t protect you forever,” he retorted, unamused, “and paybacks are a bitch.”

“Oh, dear. You had to go and spoil it, didn’t you?” Annie shook her head. “Molly! Need anything else?” she called, looking smugly at George.

“Couldn’t keep his mouth shut, then?” Molly answered from the other room. “Oh, well. Some more wood for the fire would be nice.”

George threw the dishtowel on the counter and stomped out the back door. Annie followed him outside, skipping coyly.

It was a surprisingly warm night for so late in the fall. The cloudy sky glowed a deep ruddy purple to the west. Annie leaned back against the fence and watched as he split a few pieces of wood. The sight of George hefting an axe was possibly more entertaining than witnessing him slaving away in the kitchen.

“Despicable—hiding behind my mother like that. Where’s your self-respect?” he needled as he worked.

Annie made a show of looking around. “Oh, I’m not hiding.” She drew out the wand from its hiding place and spun it between her fingers. “I suppose you want this back?”

“How long have you had it?” he gruffed, holding out his hand expectantly.

Annie shook her head and gave him her sweetest smile. “Not yet, I think. I’m having far too much fun for my own good, see.”

George returned her smile now, accepting her invitation to play. “I could just take it back, you know.”

“I rather doubt that. No tricks to help you now, Magic Boy.” She twirled his wand in lazy circles in the air.

George lunged, but Annie anticipated the move, easily dancing out of his reach. They had played similar games since childhood, and she knew his tactics well. He chased her briefly, but she managed to stay just ahead of him. They stopped after a minute, breathing a little harder now, cheeks flushed.

“Maybe you should try asking nicely?” she offered.

“Please?” He held out his hand again.

Annie shook her head and tsked, unsatisfied.

He rolled his eyes. “May I have it please?

“Something’s missing. Perhaps an apology. You know, for your horrid behavior toward me this evening.”

He gave her a half smile and a look that told her he wasn’t ready for the game to end. “Sorry. Please.”

“Surely you can do better than that.” Clicking her tongue, she drew the tip of the wand slowly along her throat, over her breastbone, down to her navel. It emitted a few tiny sparks along the way. “Ooh,” she exclaimed with a shimmy.

George’s eyes widened slightly, taking in the show: just the reaction she was looking for. Then he emitted an expansive, put-upon sigh. “I’m sorry for…?”

“Torturing me,” she prompted. She lightly tapped her chest with the wand, indicating the identity of the victim.

“I’m sorry for torturing you,” he purred, taking slow, cautious steps toward her, a fire now burning in his eyes. “Please may I have my wand back?”

She rested the tip of the wand on her lips, mimicking how she would sometimes tap her finger there while thinking. “Still sounding rather forced, I’m afraid. Not very sincere. Try again.”

George heaved another sigh. “I’m sorry—”

“On your knees, I think,” she interrupted. “And make it really heartfelt. I want to be moved,” she taunted.

George fell on his knees at her feet, an insufferably smug smile beaming up at her. His voice soft, pleading, far more patronizing than sincere, he said, “I am ever so sorry for torturing you, my love. Please may I have my wand back?”

Annie bit her lower lip, then tucked the wand into her cleavage. “Come and get it, then.”

George rose to his feet. Towering over her, his body mere inches from hers, he slowly withdrew his wand from its momentary resting place. Annie felt a thrill of electricity not entirely due to the wand being reunited with its master.

He pressed her tightly against his body with his left arm. “You ought to be more careful.” He drew the wand lightly along her jaw line. “In the wrong hands, this thing can be quite dangerous.” He pressed the tip into the flesh of her throat just slightly.

“Ooh. Promise you’ll show me sometime,” she cooed sarcastically. She had long ago demonstrated—with explosive force—what a wand could do in her hands.

“No time like the present.”

His lips claimed hers in a fierce kiss, almost bruising in its forcefulness. She threw her arms around his neck and melted into him. He lifted her up without breaking their connection and carried her toward a small nearby building, out of view of the house’s windows. He pressed her back against the rough surface of a stone wall covered in bare, dormant vines.

“Inside?” she asked breathlessly. Her knickers had somehow found themselves dangling around her left ankle, her skirt hiked up indecently. She heard the faint tinkling of his belt buckle bouncing against his thigh, the sound maddeningly arousing.

“Spiders,” he explained between kisses.

There would be no stopping him now, even if she had the slightest inkling to do so. This was what she’d wanted, after all, and she’d done exactly what she had to do to get it. Two weeks was far too long to go without, she rationalized, and the self-denial had driven them both into some sort of fiery insanity.

Annie braced her arms against the wall, a vine jabbing into her back through her thin sweater with his every thrust. She wrapped her legs around George’s waist, losing herself in the quest to take him ever deeper, to fill herself to overflowing. His strong hands were on her arse, supporting her weight, guiding her down onto him as she met his rhythm. Any second now…

It was over quickly. As they both leaned against the side of the tiny building, catching their breaths, Annie’s conscience came alive once more, mortified by her behavior. “What… was that?” she gasped, bewildered.

“How can you… expect me… to resist… such a performance?” he answered between breaths, his head against the wall next to her ear. His expression looked equally shocked by what they had just done.

Annie looked away in shame. He was right: she had incited him mercilessly. She searched within herself, casting about for some excuse that could help her feel better about what had just happened… outdoors… up against a shed… at GEORGE’S MOTHER’S BIRTHDAY DINNER!

It was no good: her behavior had been irresponsible and disrespectful. Didn’t she have some scrap of self control? “This has got to stop,” she muttered.

“You don’t want to… do this… anymore?”

She glanced at George’s stricken face. “No, I don’t mean that. Of course that part is… amazing.” Irresistible, obviously, she chided herself. “It’s all this sneaking around. I hate it.”

George nodded slowly. “I just don’t see any other option right now. Going public would put us—you, me, my family—in danger.”

Annie nodded. She knew all about the danger. More than she had ever wanted to know, in fact. And because of that knowledge, she was in it up to her neck. As a Muggle with her particular awareness of the magical world, she would be a target for persecution, as well as George and his family. But that was only the tip of the iceberg when it came to the list of crimes the Weasleys were currently involved in.

“The Ministry’s rounding up wizards just because they have Muggle parents, putting them in prison,” he added softly. He held her face close, stroking her cheek with his thumbs. “You know how I feel about you, Annie. We’d be married tomorrow if it wasn’t for…” He trailed off, unwilling to voice the rest of the thought.

“I know, love.” She gave him a gentle kiss and stroked his shaggy hair; he was in the process of growing it out to cover his missing ear. “And getting married would create far more problems than it would solve, anyway.”

George grimaced at the truth of her statement. She knew how much it pained him: the fact that they were forced to hide their relationship like it was something to be ashamed of. Their engagement was still a secret from everyone, for what was the point of celebrating something that had no reasonable chance of happening in the foreseeable future?

“It’s not your fault. I’m the one who lacks the moral fiber to say no,” she said in an attempt to lighten the mood.

“Moral fiber?” He guffawed.

She gave him a confused look—apparently it was a private joke.

George brushed debris from her curls, then hugged her from behind, resting his chin on her shoulder. “Moral fiber’s highly overrated, love. I can see I’ll just have to work that much harder next time to distract you from that guilty conscience of yours.”

“Next time? You’re being presumptuous,” she huffed.

He kissed her neck, sending chills traveling down her body into the pit of her stomach. It wasn’t fair, this hold he had on her. Like gravitational pull, almost. She inhaled deeply, willing her body back under control.

He chuckled as her body responded despite her wishes to the contrary. “Not presumptuous. Let’s call it confidence, shall we? You just admitted you can’t say no to me, remember?” His lips brushed against her ear, one hand at her hip, the other sliding up toward a breast.

“George? Annie? Time for cake and presents, you two!”

Arthur’s voice was like a bucket of cold water, dousing them with a more appropriate mental focus. They walked back inside the Burrow without contact to better diffuse any suspicions, as well as keep their own responses under control.

Fred  took one look at them as they walked by and wrinkled his nose in disgust. Thankfully, Molly and Arthur had busied themselves with cutting and serving the cake and missed his theatrical display.

As Annie sat down at the table, Fred brushed her back with his hand. He sat directly across the table from her, next to his brother. The look on his face further fueled her now very anxious stomach.

Fred flicked the tiny twig he’d plucked from the back of Annie’s sweater at George’s face. George lashed out, punching him in the arm.

The scuffle drew Molly’s attention. “What’s the matter now, you two?”

George’s face flushed. Annie felt her own do the same.

“Ask him,” Fred grumbled, rubbing his arm. “He started it.”

George shrugged under his mother’s gaze. “Happy birthday, Mum. Open this one first,” he said awkwardly, holding out his gift in a weak attempt to redirect her focus.

“All right, then,” Molly drawled suspiciously…

Coming Out Day

Logo_ncod_lgHappy Coming Out Day! For resources on coming out, HRC.org and Berkeley’s Gender Equity Resource Center have some great information. To commemorate the day, here’s a coming out scene I wrote for Charley Weasley…

 

♥ Excerpt from Here Be Dragons, a Harry Potter Fanfiction by Shanyn Hosier ♥

Slide2“What have I done?” Charlie agonized as he stared out into a vast, sparkling grey infinity that was the moonlit Atlantic Ocean. How lovely it would be to chuck all this dread weight into its depths and let the bottom feeders dispose of the mess. How had he let things get away from him so badly at the pub tonight?

“Nothing so catastrophic,” Sasha murmured, his voice concerned and comforting. He stood by Charlie’s shoulder with his hands clasped behind his back, looking out at the sea. He’d followed him when he stalked off toward the shore instead of returning to his tent like everyone else after they got back to the family’s traditional August Devonshire beachside campsite.

“You don’t think?” Charlie grumbled entirely sarcastically. His hands were stuffed inside his pockets, and his finger worried itself into a nascent hole in one of them, enlarging it. His toes burrowed into the still-warm sand, and he wondered if he could slowly dig himself into a grave that way.

He’d pulled some stupid stunts in his day—the incident with the Ashwinder nest that burned down the Burrow’s old wooden shed was a perfect example—but this one truly took the cake. He still wasn’t entirely sure how it happened. One minute, he was dancing with his brother’s pregnant wife in Muggle pub on the Devonshire coast—the next, a ridiculous confession had tumbled out of his mouth. At the moment on the dance floor, it seemed a reasonable thing to do. A harmless little confidence. Tempting, even, to lighten just a tiny bit of the secrecy load. Now, it felt like nothing less than Pandora’s box gaping open.

“If nothing else, you can rely on her to hold her tongue,” Sasha countered. “I think she’s proven she can keep a secret.”

Charlie snorted. As true as Sasha’s argument might be—the woman had certainly managed to keep an impressive collection of secrets in her time—it was a moot point. “She wants me to tell all of them. Starting with George tonight.”

Sasha sighed deeply, considering their predicament. They both knew Annie well enough to understand there was no threat behind the suggestion—blackmail wasn’t even on the radar. Nor was she the loose-lips sort—Annie wouldn’t accidentally spill the beans, either. No, the trouble would come in a far more insidious manner. If Charlie told his family the truth about him and Sasha, all hell might break loose. But if he didn’t, he got to face Annie’s disappointment, her knowledge he was a coward.

“You really think he doesn’t know already?” Sasha asked. “Discretion is one thing, but… he is her husband.”

Charlie raked his hand through his hair. “Probably,” he confessed, cracking open a whole different can of worms. He suspected that part of why it felt so easy to say the words out loud to Annie was that he knew, on some level, that she’d guessed the truth already. And if she had figured it out on her own, of course she’d have discussed the matter with her husband. Not that George was a blabbermouth, either, but if the two of them had sussed out the truth… what were the odds any of the rest of them hadn’t? Just how far had the knowledge spread? How many people were secretly disgusted by his hypocrisy? How long had they borne witness to his cowardice?

Charlie let his head fall back and gazed up at another twinkling infinity above him. “Run away with me? Let’s just forget about all this rubbish and go back home,” he begged half-heartedly, knowing it was safe to do so. Sasha would understand that, as tempting as the thought might be, Charlie was man enough to face what was coming to him.

His low, growly chuckle was as comforting as a warm fire in the midst of a blizzard. “Do you really think it will come as a shock to them?”

“Are you saying I’m such a great poncy pouf, then?” Charlie protested wryly.

The chuckle grew into a soft laugh. “I’m saying your family are clever people. And if they don’t have their suspicions already as to why their brother remains a bachelor…”

Charlie sighed. “Yeah, but it’s not the same as an actual confession, is it?”

“Perhaps not,” Sasha granted. The closest they’d come to a public announcement was a few slips of the tongue during two heated, stressful situations. Even among the other keepers, their relationship was only vaguely alluded to, if acknowledged at all. Everyone seemed to tacitly agree to ignore the issue, for the most part.

And even if all their coworkers knew, even if all his siblings knew, it wasn’t the same as his mother learning the truth. Charlie’s gut clenched at the prospect.

“You ever tell your mum?” he asked in a hushed voice without looking at his lover, sparing him the indignity of his morbid curiosity. Sasha hadn’t wanted to discuss much of anything that had happened when his mother died a few years ago, and Charlie hadn’t pressed for information.

“Not even on her deathbed,” Sasha sighed, his voice heavy with regret. After another moment’s consideration, he continued, “We were never that close, as you know. It’s not so much that I’m ashamed I didn’t tell her… More like I wish we’d had the kind of relationship where it would have mattered. We were little more than strangers by the end.”

So no help there, Charlie lamented selfishly, half-hoping Sasha would’ve shared some magical phrasing that helped him face this particular hurdle. Then another thought occurred to him. “Oh, but what about you, then? This affects you as well. If you’d rather I not—”

“Oh no,” Sasha laughed, interrupting his gutless rant. “You’ll not use me as an excuse.” After Charlie huffed his frustration, he added, “Anything that is important to you is equally so to me. Tell them if you want, or if you feel you must. I do not fear their reactions.”

“Because you’re so much braver than I am,” Charlie grumbled, hating how true it was. He kicked a clod of sand in his pique, feeling like the absolute lowest of flobberworms for dragging Sasha into this, for not proclaiming without hesitation how much he loved him, how proud he was Sasha had chosen him to love.

“No, not braver,” Sasha corrected him. “Only because I see how much they love you, Charlie. In the end, I truly believe this love will overcome any other objection they might have.”

“I really hope you’re right,” Charlie prayed aloud.

Sasha’s large, calloused hand curled around the back of Charlie’s neck, and a wave of calm coursed through him. Charlie closed his eyes to better focus on the soothing sensation. “You don’t have to face it alone,” Sasha offered.

For a moment, he pondered which would be worse: Sasha witnessing Charlie’s bumbling his way through coming out to his brother, or facing the firing squad without him at his side? It was impossible to decide, and Charlie once more wished he could be anywhere but here. A disgruntled herd of dragons suffering a bout of explosive diarrhea would be preferable to deal with.

“I’ll do it on my own,” Charlie sighed eventually. “You go get some rest.”

“The moroz and I will be waiting up for you,” Sasha promised, smiling and clapping him encouragingly on the shoulder. “We’ll get rat-arsed together either in celebration or commiseration, eh?”

Charlie nodded. Taking a deep, lung-filling, mind-clearing breath of sea air to steel him, he strode off through the sand toward George and Annie’s tent, trying to think of what to say when he got there. The words had practically blurted themselves out with Annie on the dance floor of the Muggle pub—would they do the same tonight in their tent? She’d urged him to tell George—promised to play along and pretend he hadn’t already come out to her—insisting his brother would be “easy” to tell this way.

Easy, hell. If this was fucking easy, he’d hate to see what she thought was difficult.

Annie wanted him to tell the rest of the family, too. The thought of which made him queasy. Charlie felt cornered now, a feeling he most assuredly did not relish. Began feeling resentful, even. Who the hell did she think she was, anyway?

Your very kind, very understanding, darling of a sister-in-law, he scolded himself. Absolutely your favorite, berk. All the women his brothers had married were, for the most part, good-hearted, loving wives and mothers. But compared to the often grating conceit of Fleur, the pervasive haughtiness of Audrey, and the occasional intellectual distance of Hermione, he’d found Annie’s down-to-earth, playful sarcasm to be the easiest company.

Reminding himself that Annie had been perfectly encouraging and accepting when he’d made his confession, he picked up his pace, wanting to get this thing over with as soon as possible. She hadn’t even batted an eye at the word, for Merlin’s sake! But it wasn’t Annie he was marching to face—it was George. His flesh and blood. Would he take the news as calmly?

Oi, George, I’m a pouf. How d’you like them apples?

He thought about telling the others. How would Bill react? Or Percy? What about Ron?

Ginny? Oh, God, he could never face Ginny. Never discuss anything remotely connected to his sex life with her. Never ever ever. Didn’t matter she was twenty-three years old, married to Harry and expecting her first child. She would forever be his little baby sister, eternally pure and innocent.

He stood at the tent flap for a full minute, frozen by a last-second attack of nerves. But he reminded himself that he owed Annie this. He forced himself to recall how just a few nights ago, standing right in this very spot, he’d overheard her defending his life choices to his mother when she’d been bitching yet again about his lack of matrimonial prospects. Then he remembered Annie’s heartfelt words to him on the dance floor just an hour ago.

“Charlie, George and I spent a long time hiding a relationship from the rest of the world. I know how miserable it feels not to be able to share the one you love the most with the ones who love you. Can you honestly say you want to do that forever?”

She had him there, didn’t she? Damn.

“Charlie!” she cheered in a hushed voice when he finally pushed through the tent flap. “Come in. We were just having a spot of tea.”

Annie put the finishing touches on a pot, and George reclined in his seat at the head of the table. The rest of the tent’s occupants—consisting of their four children and their good friends, the Jordans—had all gone to bed. Annie busied herself arranging the tea things and pouring a cuppa for each of them.

Charlie nervously downed his first cup in three gulps. Annie poured another. Charlie downed it, wishing something a bit more fortifying had been added to it, then cleared his throat. And said exactly nothing.

In an effort to fill the awkward silence, George quipped, “If you’ve come for a chat, I should tell you I’m forbidden from discussing Quidditch for the rest of the holiday by this one,” nodding his head toward Annie. In an instinctive move, she lightly boxed his remaining ear for his trouble while he ducked and grinned.

“That’s probably for the best,” Charlie countered. George had been yammering on about the topic all night at the pub, which had led Charlie to ask a bored-out-of-her-gourd Annie to dance, which had led to… “You seldom have an opinion on the subject worth expressing.”

“I’ve been telling him that for years,” Annie said with a roll of her eyes.

The tense mood was gentled by their soft, easy repartee and laughter, and Charlie was reminded why he’d been motivated to end his self-inflicted banishment from Devon. Spending time at Mole Hill with the warming banter of George and Annie and their noisy little family had made him feel welcome again.

“I’m here to tell you something—” But his tongue froze to the roof of his mouth like he was about to blab a Kept Secret. Then Annie gave him an earnest look accompanied by the slightest nod of her head. Go on, Charlie! You can do it! “—But I don’t know how.”

George’s eyes gleamed keenly, and he rubbed his palms together with anticipation. “Ooh, am I finally gonna hear the story about how you lost your little finger?”

Charlie’s expression darkened, displeased to be reminded of that horrible day not quite two years ago. “No.”

During the long pause that followed, George’s theatrical disappointment morphed into reserved concern. “Whatever it is, it can’t be that bad, bro.”

“You don’t know that,” Charlie warned him.

George heaved a tired sigh. After rubbing his face, he said, “Usually people this hesitant to approach me want money for something. Are you bankrupt? Considering whoring yourself unless you get a loan from me?”

“NO!” Charlie retorted in a strangled voice, trying like hell not to shout at the idiot out of consideration for sleeping children. What the bloody hell was he thinking? Just what had Annie told him to expect tonight?

George grinned triumphantly. “That’s a load off. With that ugly mug, you’d be starving by Thursday.”

“Fuck off,” Charlie grumbled with an irritated smirk, realizing he’d been taken for a fool by the legendary prankster once again.

“You do look awfully serious, though,” George chuckled. “Is it criminal charges? Are you on the lam? Looking to hide out in my cellar until the coast is clear?”

Charlie responded with a deadpan, “No.” Annie shot him a look of amused empathy, giggling under her breath. “And you watch too much damned Muggle telly,” he grumbled at his infamous brother. “And did I mention fuck off?”

George shrugged, taking a drink of tea.

“Can we be remotely serious about this for a moment?” Charlie said, hating himself for sounding so much like their mother.

George wasn’t about to let it ride, either. “Oh dear. This sounds dire, indeed,” he needled him. “If you’ve lost your sense of humor, the only explanation possible is that you must be terminally ill. Have you got some nasty dragon virus and come here to say your final goodbye to us?”

But by the end of his little sarcastic speech, his tone had suddenly sobered.

“No,” Charlie answered, his voice equally soft. I’m not ruined, not ill, not dead—is that what he’s trying to get me to realize? He glanced at Annie, her violet eyes softly glittering in the low light, her smile supportive.

“Oh, I get it now,” George said, a wry smile on his never-serious face. “It’s the worst of all possible scenarios, isn’t it? You’re ecstatically happy and in love. Please, tell me it’s anything but that!” he bemoaned facetiously. Casting his voice heavenward, he cried, “I prayed this day would never come to pass!”

Charlie rewarded him with an unimpressed snort. “You really are intent on being an arse about this, aren’t you?”

“Just spit it out already, why don’t you,” George grumbled impatiently.

“It’s not that easy!” Charlie snapped.

“Says you,” George snapped right back, looking somewhat pissed off at this point. When Charlie didn’t respond immediately, he groused, “Well, I’ve certainly labored under a very false impression about your profession. Funny how people say dragon keepers are the bravest men alive.”

“George…” Annie scowled warningly.

But George ignored her. “And I know you can yammer on like a bloody Fwooper, swearing like a mad Jarvey the entire time. I’ve been in a Quidditch locker room with you, remember? Never heard a pep talk drawn out so long. Christ, you’d just go on and on, in love with your own voice, nobody able to get a word in edgewise—”

“Will you shut it already?” Charlie growled through clenched teeth.

“Just say the bloody words, then,” George growled back.

“I’m gay, you fucking git,” Charlie snarled.

Annie stared at them both, her mouth slightly agape and her eyes as wide as the saucers on the table. George, with his lips lightly pursed, gave a single nod of acknowledgement. Only a second later did Charlie realize what had just happened. That underhanded, manipulative little shite! I would have said it on my own, dammit! Still, there was no doubt in his mind George had known exactly what Charlie was trying to confess and had tried to ease the passage in his own twisted, diabolical way.

He chewed on his tongue for another moment before grumbling, “Aren’t you going to say anything?”

George smirked. “Jolly good for you?” he sneered.

“Oh, fuck off. Really,” Charlie muttered as George and Annie began to chuckle.

“What d’you want, a medal?” George countered, ducking as Charlie cuffed him.

“I’d like to see what that one looks like,” Annie giggled. “Something sparkly and colorful, I hope.”

Charlie groaned, laying his head down on the table to hide his smile. This really was too silly for belief.

“I reckon it’s just par for the course, innit?”

“I’m not sure I want to hear this,” Charlie said warily, peeking over his arms at his brother.

“Look, the way I see it, we’ve all taken what the rest of the world views as a misguided turn down the promenade of love,” George explained, resuming a semi-serious expression. “Bill married someone who is, in very technical terms, not fully human. Gin married nothing less than the savior of British wizardry; Ron wed the very embodiment of a political gadfly; I snagged a Muggle; and Perce committed the worst sin of all for a Weasley: he married rich and titled. Explain to me how you think your situation is so very special compared to such infamous company, eh?”

Charlie responded with an eloquent snort. George did have a point, oddly enough. Perhaps his love for Sasha wasn’t all that out of the ordinary, in comparison.

“Thing is, we all married for love, didn’t we?” he continued. “Not pedigree or power or prestige. And I reckon that puts us head and shoulders ahead of the rest of the pack, no matter how mad the pairings look on paper.”

“Oh, well said, love,” Annie cooed, planting a gentle peck on George’s cheek. “And cheers for categorizing we freakish Muggles on par with non-humans. Your candor’s always appreciated.”

“I barely even scratched the surface of your freakdom, love,” he countered with a leering grin and a wink, his arm sliding around his wife’s waist. “I can keep a secret, too.”

Annie kicked her husband under the table as Charlie cleared his throat. Such blatant displays of affection in public always made him uncomfortable and a tiny bit jealous. “I’ll never marry though, will I?” he said, steering the conversation back to the crisis at hand. Such was the lynchpin of his mother’s perpetual distress, after all.

But George only shrugged. “What does a stupid ceremony and piece of parchment prove that your words and actions don’t?” he pressed, giving Charlie an intent stare. “A promise is a promise, a bond is a bond, no matter how you look at it. And unless I’m much mistaken, your commitment runs deep. Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.”

Charlie merely scratched at the stubble on his cheek, saying nothing. There was something very disconcerting about how accurately George, of all people, saw the state of things between him and Sasha, how perfectly he’d just summed up the situation. Charlie chalked his disorientation up to the fact that George never seemed like himself if he wasn’t wreaking mayhem or taking the piss out of someone.

“Thought so,” George grunted. After a pause, during which his expression morphed from Wizengamot-serious back to a far more familiar smirking smart-arse, he grinned tiredly. “That it?” he yawned.

Charlie checked his watch, noting it was after midnight already. “I suppose.”

“Brilliant!” he said, slapping his thighs. “I’m knackered, and the kids’ll be up at the bloody arse-crack of dawn, so that’s me off to bed. Check you tomorrow, then?”

“Right.” Dismissed, Charlie rose from the table and made for the door.

Annie darted over to meet him, and he heard George clearing up the tea things behind them as she hugged him, eyes glittering proudly. “You did brilliantly, Charlie!” she whispered in his ear before he left. “Well done!”

As Charlie made his way back to his own tent, looking forward to the prospect of a bottle of soothing moroz and a quiet conversation awaiting him there, he began to think that maybe this wasn’t the end of the world after all…


 

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