Chapter 1 : Christmas Eve - One Year On...
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“Charlie, can you help me for a moment?” I called out to him, desperately trying not to let the hot pan fall from my grasp as I pushed the oven door closed with my right foot. Charlie appeared within seconds, trying to take the pan from me, but I stopped him before he could do so. “No, no, no! Just take that pot off the hob and put it onto that coaster please?”
Charlie did as I asked him and then began his usual begging. “Caro, can’t I just use magic for this? It’ll make it easier on you and-”
“Charles Weasley, I will not have you use magic when there’s no need. I lived without magic for nearly three decades. Besides, this is way more fun to do the traditional, Muggle way.” I was all too aware of his eyes flicking to my freshly dressed finger, which I had burnt earlier. But that could’ve happened to anyone. I mean, hot steam escapes and not even magic could save you from that sort of thing. I raised my eyebrow in a challenging way.
“Fine. Do it your way. But at least let me use magic to decorate the living room… please, Caro.” There was something to be said about a grown, burly man with a begging tone to his voice on the morning of Christmas Eve. I rolled my eyes and set the pan on the hob. After adjusting the temperature and making sure that all else was stirred and at the proper setting, I followed him into the living room. Oh my. The decorations were all over the place! The garlands were a tangled mess and the fairy lights – my own, Muggle ones – were in yet another large tangled ball on the floor.
“Charlie, what exactly did you do?” It was then that I noticed several scrunched up little balls of sticky tape on the living room table.
“I… tried. But that garland and those lights! They’re impossible to detangle and every time I got one part done, the other was worse than before and ... Why are you laughing at me?”
“I’m sorry.” I did my best to stop laughing. “I’m not laughing, I’m just… oh who am I kidding?” I laughed louder. Charlie looked so dejected and adorable I felt sorry for him. “Really, honey, I’m sorry. Go on then, use magic.” His eyes lit up and for a moment I thought he might as well be five years old. As I turned to walk back into the kitchen, he caught me around the middle and tickled me. I tried to escape his grasp but to no avail.
“Hey missus, I think you owe me a kiss at least for your outrageous behaviour.” He stopped tickling me and I turned in his arms. I could’ve melted on the spot under his stare, which made my skin hot and tingly in just a second. When he kissed me, I forgot all about everything around us, and I’d have gladly given in to his ever so eager caresses had that stupid oven clock not rung insistently just as I really began to enjoy our little encounter. I walked away and realised I couldn’t just let him have the last word.
“I shouldn’t give in to your terrorist demands anyway.” And with a florish, I closed the door to the kitchen, cutting off any remarks he threw at me. A quick glance at the kitchen clock confirmed that it would only be another half hour before our guests arrived. Damn me and my insistence to have a Christmas Eve dinner at my place. Our place, I quickly corrected myself.
I glanced in the mirror. That’ll have to do, I thought. I couldn’t believe how last minute I was once again. But the dinner was ready to be served, and Charlie had really worked his magic with the decorations. Of course, his using magic had given him more than enough time not only to change but also to have a shower and sit on the couch, lazily flicking through a magazine and making stupid remarks of how I was always last minute. Infuriating, really, but at the same time very endearing. And he looked so gorgeous in his navy blue jumper and dark blue jeans, I just couldn’t be angry with him.
A last dab of lip gloss and I would be ready to have a fun evening. And lucky too that it was clear lipgloss, because I was sure I smudged it jumping when the door bell rang.
“I’m already on my way, love. Don’t panic!”
I could hear their voices, cheerfully greeting Charlie while I threw my makeup back into its bag and stowed it away. The last thing I wanted was an untidy bathroom. Since when had I become such a clean freak? I really looked forward to tonight though, and that smile came to my face easily as I walked to greet our guests.
“And there she is, making a fashionably late entrance,” Charlie quipped.
“Well, that’s only becoming for the lady of the house. You look gorgeous,” Bill complimented, shutting Charlie up and making me blush.
“Thank you Bill. It’s good to see you.” We hugged briefly and I turned to greet Josephine, also with a hug. “Thank you for coming over, Jo.”
“I wouldn’t have missed this for anything, Caro. Thanks for inviting me. Us.” Her cheeks coloured a little and she glanced at Bill who took her hand in his. Awww.
“Well, come on in then, and for goodness sake, Charles, you could’ve at least taken their coats.” I winked at him as he looked exasperatedly first at me, then at Bill, who laughed and helped Josephine out of her coat.
“It’s okay, I got them. I know where the coat stand is, Caro. Give him time to adjust to his new role in your life.”
“Can I get you guys a drink?” Charlie asked before I had the chance to recover from Bill’s remark. He then shuffled off to get the drinks while the three of us made ourselves comfortable on the couch.
“So where’s Nicole tonight?” I asked Jo.
“She’s still with Molly and Arthur. I think she was more exited than I’ve ever seen her. It’s her first magical Christmas and she literally jumped at the chance to be there.” Jo smiled but looked a bit sad nonetheless. Bill put his arm around her.
“She’ll be fine, Jo.”
“I know. I guess I’ll just have to get more used to having a witch as a daughter… you’d think I got to terms with it after nearly 6 months, but it’s rather difficult.” She took the glass of white wine Charlie offered her and sat back against Bill. “But I won’t complain. She’s with very loving, wonderful people. And so am I. So, what do you have planned for tonight?”
It was obvious she was anxious to change the subject. She had found out about the magic world when her daughter Nicole received her letter admitting her to Hogwarts. She didn’t have as many people around explaining things to her, she literally had been thrown in the deep end. And then been left to deal with it more or less on her own when Nicole departed into this new world on the first of September.
There was no question she still needed time to digest the new twist in her life, but the new-found closeness between her and Bill seemed to say that she was well on her way to being very involved with it. I smiled, happy that the two appeared to have become a lot more than good friends and went with Jo’s desire to change topic.
“Well, first of all, dinner’s ready and I hope you brought big appetites; I daresay I cooked too much. And then I suppose we could drink some more and play some games? I bought a new Exploding Snap deck in Diagon Alley when I was there last.”
Charlie and I got up to set our drinks onto the dining table and then get the food. Out of the corner of my eye I thought I saw Bill lean in to kiss Jo. It made me smile even more.
“We’ll be right back,” I said loudly, “Please sit down.”
In the kitchen, Charlie helped me fill the potato and leek soup into bowls. “Did you see them? I think they’re a lot closer than they like to admit,” I said, quietly.
“Actually, Bill admitted quite a bit to me at the after party when we finally got a few minutes to chat…” he whispered back, conspiratiorally.
“Oh?” But Charlie just grinned at me. “What did he say?” I whispered urgently. Curiosity might kill the cat, but I wasn’t a feline.
“He’s in a lot deeper than he thought,” he murmered back, handing me another bowl. “But he thinks she’s too overwhelmed by everything for him to make a big move.”
I nodded. “He’s probably right. But she didn’t seem opposed to him holding her hand or him kissing her back there.” I made a head movement towards the other room. Charlie’s eyes went wide.
“I think so. I wasn’t going to turn and stare at them,” I hissed back while placing the last bowl on the tray. “But it sure looked like he was about to kiss her. Now, come on.”
Charlie carried the tray into the living room while I brought a basket of fresh bread rolls and the butter. I should’ve put those on the table before but had forgotten. When we arrived, Bill and Jo sat opposite each other at the table in quiet conversation, their hands close but not touching.
“Hungry?” I asked loudly, beginning to offload all the food. Amidst the murmurs of assent, the two of us sat down also and we began our dinner.
“So, what have you two been doing while I made Charlie fight with the decorations this afternoon?” I grinned at him and he made a face.
“We… erm… we,” Jo determinately avoided looking in Bill’s direction, “we went for a walk after we dropped Nicole at The Burrow. And then we had a cup of tea with Molly and Arthur while Nicole was playing with Fred and George.” She finished quickly, colour evident in her cheeks. I smiled at her.
“Sounds like you had a great day.”
“We did,” Bill agreed, smiling at Jo.
“So… Charlie, you seem to have won your fight with the decorations?” Jo, the notorious topic changer, asked.
“Well, yes, I did. After Caro agreed that I was allowed to use magic. I nearly destroyed it before. So maybe she was just afraid I’d completely wreck it if she didn’t let me use magic.”
“Hey! You make me sound like some sort of tyrant. I only suggested you not use magic today. How was I supposed to know you’re incapable of untying a few simple knots in the fairy light chain?” I replied loftily.
“A few, easy knots? Did you see that thing?” Charlie asked, in an outraged tone. “I should’ve just let you do it.”
“Now, now, there’s no need for a fight,” Jo laughed. “It was only a question! I didn’t mean to threaten the honeymoon!”
A few hours and several Exploding Snap rounds later found me yawning languidly. It appeared to be catching, because Jo followed my lead involuntarily. We both grinned.
“It was a long day, wasn’t it?” I asked.
“Yes, it was. It was a wonderful day, but long nonetheless.”
We both watched Bill and Charlie, who had taken up a game of chess across the room, for a moment. It had taken a while for them to realise that it was my dusty old, little-played chess set and not a magical one. They had initially found it hard to adjust to actually moving the pieces by hand.
“He’s a great guy,” I remarked quietly. Jo nodded dreamily. “So,” my curiosity just wouldn’t let me shut up and I continued so only she could hear me, “what’s going on between you two?”
“I can’t fool you, can I?” she whispered back as I turned up the volume of the music playing in the background using the remote. I took another sip of my wine, grinning at her and letting her continue. “To be honest, I don’t know what’s going on. But when we went on our walk earlier,” she paused to take a sip and check the boys were still occupied, “well, we talked and walked and then he took my hand and it just felt so right. Caro, I haven’t felt like this since… since Nicole’s father left.”
I nodded at her. That was a long time. If memory served right, Jo had once said that Nicole’s father left when the little one was only 2 years old.
“I just never had any time to date, you know? And no interest either, to be honest.”
“So, are you saying you and Bill are dating?” I knew I was asking way too eagerly, but this was the most open I had seen Jo since I met her in August, and I really wanted to know. It seemed like the right time to find out. She shrugged.
“I don’t know. I would like that to be the case, but I don’t know if he feels the same. One moment he holds my hand, the next he’s getting really distant again. Do you think it’s because of-”
“No,” I cut in. “No, I think he’s just trying not to go too fast,” I added, remembering what Charlie told me earlier. “And he and Nicole get on really well, don’t they?”
“Oh, yes, they do. I wouldn’t even think of considering anything if that weren’t the case. Nicole comes first.”
I nodded at her again, hoping she and Bill would be happy whatever the outcome. They sure deserved it. But before I could answer, Bill’s voice carried over with a distinct, “Checkmate!”
“I give up.”
“Took you long enough to realise that as a good plan,” Bill teased. Charlie sighed even more dramatically.
“Oh, you poor, defeated man.” I got up and went over to him, ruffling his hair. “Maybe we should call it a night soon and get to bed. You might have a better chance for revenge tomorrow if you’re well rested.”
“Yeah, make sure he rests, Caro. Don’t wear him out tonight,” Bill quipped again.
“Bill!” Jo laughed even as she admonished his remark. “But maybe Caro is right. We should go; it’s after midnight already.”
“Okay, let me get our coats.” Bill got up and walked into the hallway. We all joined him.
“Thanks a million for coming over tonight,” I said, hugging one after the other.
“No, thank you for having us. The food was great as was the whole evening. I really enjoyed it,” Jo smiled as she answered.
“We’ll see you tomorrow then, yeah?” Charlie asked. “What time will you both get to The Burrow?”
“We’re going there now, actually. Jo’s having Percy’s old room and Nicole’s in Ginny’s old room. So, we’ll see you whenever you both manage to get up and come over.”
“I’ll set an alarm. We’ll be over by late morning. Can’t be too late since my parents are coming for lunch and I’d never hear the end of it if I was late.” I grinned, glad that we’d have all the family together for Christmas. Well, almost all the family. I missed Sage and Tiffany, but they were in the U.S. this time, visiting his parents.
“Right then, thanks again and good night you two.” Bill opened the door and immediately the winter chill filled the small space. “Are you ready, Jo?”
Jo took a few calming breaths. I knew exactly how she felt. She was about to Disapparate with Bill and it really wasn’t a good feeling. “As ready as I’ll ever be. At least it beats trying to find a taxi this late on Christmas Eve.”
“That’s true. Plus we’ll be home within minutes and not a few hours’ drive. C’mon then.” They both waved at us, and Bill put his arms around her just like Charlie did with me. And then, with a pop, they were gone. We closed the door and I couldn’t suppress another yawn.
“C’mon then, Charlie. Let’s at least put the dishes into the dishwasher.”
“No need, love. They’re already done.”
“When you weren’t looking. They did themselves. And don’t be mad because I used magic. This just gives us more time to enjoy our honeymoon…”
Who was I to argue with that? I very much enjoyed being dragged into our bedroom to fall asleep cuddled up with Charlie. For a while, I let my thoughts drift to Jo and Bill, but then Charlie distracted me with a few lazy kisses, and my mind was too occupied with being selfish and thinking of us.
Merry Christmas to us, was the last thought I remembered before slowly drifting off to sleep between a kiss and a sigh.
AN: Thank you queenb23 for the betaing!
CLUE THE THIRTIETH:
The silver huntress stares at the earth
With wide and shining eye –
The monsters hidden are revealed
As she gazes widely with a sigh.
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