Amazing chapter image by my secret santa and dear friend, Kate (pandeia@TDA)!
It was an evening about six months after leaving Romania, and Charlie found himself sitting in a Muggle bar, feeling particularly disappointed in and angry with himself. Most of this disappointment stemmed from the failure of what he had once thought of as his brilliant plan: Getting as far away from the wizard world as possible, thereby escaping the grief and guilt that still plagued him there. But, of course, things hadn’t worked out that way.
Charlie had gotten away, though, and that in itself had been no small feat. He’d decided to do it the ‘Muggle’ way, realizing that using magical means of transportation such as the Floo Network or Apparating could be easily tracked by the Ministry of Magic. Travelling the ‘Muggle’ way, however, had taken much more time and preparation than he had anticipated. In fact, had Charlie not been absolutely determined to get away, he might have given up purely due to the lack of patience he had acquired through years of being able to Apparate nearly anywhere at a moment’s notice.
Determined as he was, though, Charlie wasn’t about to give up on his plan, no matter how long it took. He’d gone to Gringotts and had some of his gold converted to Muggle money, and then went through the agonizingly slow process of acquiring a passport. Charlie had been completely dumbfounded at the knowledge that Muggles had to have this little booklet in order to travel, but obtaining one was necessary in order for his plan to come to fruition.
Charlie temporarily rented a room from an innkeeper in Bristol, a port town, and as soon as he received his passport, he took the next available ship headed for the United States. Charlie had never been on a Muggle ship before, but he got the idea from a conversation he overheard between two passing strangers on the street. As for his destination, Charlie had thought that up on his own; it was the most ridiculous and distant destination that had popped into his mind… nobody would think to look for him in the U.S., and Charlie hoped the idea was just ridiculous enough to keep anyone from being able to find him.
The trip had been a strange and new experience, and had temporarily distracted him slightly from his troubles. When he arrived in Newport, Rhode Island, he busied himself with the task of finding suitable lodging. Once he’d accomplished that, though, Charlie had nothing to keep his mind occupied, and his troubles began to consume him once more.
Charlie had been happy to find that his choice of location did keep him from being found, but as he sat in that bar, slowly sipping on a Muggle beverage, he felt bitter over the fact that the second part of his two-fold plan hadn’t worked out as well; he hadn’t escaped his grief and guilt after all. In fact, Charlie realized that he was probably more miserable here than he would have been if he’d stayed in Romania.
The foremost reason for his misery was one that Charlie hadn’t fully anticipated: He missed his family terribly. Although he hadn’t lived at the Burrow for quite some time, the current separation from his family seemed much more permanent since he wasn’t able to Apparate back and see them at any moment… cross-continental Apparating was a very difficult and dangerous thing to do. This knowledge made Charlie feel very lonely, and was, in fact, the reason he came to this bar every night; he didn’t want to be alone. Even though they were complete strangers, something about being in this room full of people made Charlie feel more at ease… probably the fact that he was used to being in a room full of chattering people when he was with his family.
Of course, Charlie hadn’t been completely out of touch with his family all this time, but the communication he did have with them made Charlie feel even more miserable. He received weekly owls from his mother and various other family members, urging him to come home, and assuring him that they didn’t believe a word of the article that Rita Skeeter had indeed published the day after their ‘interview’. Each time he received one of these letters, Charlie responded, informing the family member that he was well, and apologizing, but insisting that he still needed some time. This insistence was due to the fact that, though reading these letters gave Charlie the urge to take the next ship back home, they also made him feel guiltier. Now he’d not only caused his brother’s death, but he’d also abandoned his family and caused them to worry at a time when they needed him most. And though this knowledge would have set most into action, it rooted Charlie to the spot, his overwhelming guilt and shame preventing him from returning to his family.
Now, however, six months into his self-induced seclusion, Charlie finally understood that this guilt wasn’t going anywhere… no matter where he was or how long he stayed there, these feelings weren’t going away. His pain got slightly less severe, of course, as most pains do with the passage of time, but Charlie had realized just that morning that by staying here, all he was doing was causing himself and his family unnecessary heartache. For this reason, he sat there at the bar for the last time, bidding farewell to the place he’d called home for the past few months. Charlie had made up his mind; first thing in the morning he was going to the port to catch a ship back to England… he was going home.
He thought about his plans for the next day as he drained the last few drops from his glass, and then he placed the glass down on the bar in front of him with a muted thud. He fidgeted around in his pocket for a moment with his left hand, retrieving the correct amount of Muggle money to pay for his drink, but when he looked up to give his money to the bartender, he found that the young man wasn’t currently standing behind the bar. Instead, the bartender was standing a short distance away with what appeared to be a group of his friends, and he wasn’t paying attention to the bar at all.
Feeling somewhat perturbed at the bartender’s lack of attention when he was in a hurry to get back to his apartment, Charlie pushed himself away from the bar and got to his feet with the money in hand, intending to hand his money to the young man so he could leave. When he was standing right behind the young man’s group of friends, however, the conversation that he overheard made him feel slightly less perturbed. He couldn’t see everyone’s faces, but he could tell that this wasn’t merely a conversation going on between friends.
“This is the new girl I’ve been telling you all about,” one of the men in the group was saying. “She just moved here from… um… where are you from again?”
“Tennessee,” a girl’s voice replied with a chuckle.
“Right!” the man exclaimed immediately. “Anyway, like I was saying, she’s just moved here from Tennessee, and she’s our new bartender. She’s served drinks before, so there’s no need to worry about having to train her…”
Having heard enough to tell him that this was some sort of meeting between the bar’s employees, Charlie felt slightly ashamed of himself for assuming the worst of the bartender. Thinking that now wouldn’t be a good time to interrupt, he decided to just re-take his seat at the bar and wait for the meeting to be finished. Strangely enough, Charlie hadn’t been back in his seat for two seconds when the group dispersed, its members heading off in several different directions. He was rather disappointed to find, however, that the young bartender who had served him earlier was walking off in the opposite direction of the bar, removing his apron as he did so.
Just as Charlie began to wonder how long the bartender would be gone, and who he should give his money to, he saw a young woman with long hair approaching, fidgeting with the strings of an apron that was clearly too large for her frame. Charlie noted that he had never seen this woman before. This must be the new bartender from Tennessee, he thought to himself as she approached. She stopped near where Charlie was sitting, her head bent down in concentration as she wrapped the strings around her waist to keep the apron from sliding down as she worked. Charlie observed her with curiosity for a moment, wondering if she’d offer to take the money from him when she finished adjusting her wardrobe.
When the young woman stopped fidgeting with her apron a moment later, she looked up and surveyed the room, no doubt trying to determine which customers might need a refill soon. Charlie extended his left hand across the bar filled with the money necessary to cover his purchase as he waited for her gaze to land on him, but when she finally did look at Charlie, giving her the money and leaving the bar was the farthest thing from his mind. Her long, dark brown hair contrasted with her flawless fair skin, and her almond-shaped eyes were a brilliant shade of green.
Charlie must have been staring at her, for she smiled politely and looked away for a moment, her cheeks blushing slightly. Charlie watched as her smile made her entire face light up, and his pulse quickened. She may not have been the most beautiful woman Charlie had ever seen, but she wasn’t far from it, either. He tried to regain his composure, though, for he was certain that it would make the young woman uncomfortable to look back up and catch him staring at her again.
Forcing himself to look away from her, Charlie instead looked back down at the Muggle money in his hand. Then, in a split-second decision, he quickly re-pocketed the money; he’d just stay here a little longer before going back to his apartment and preparing for the next day’s journey… he wasn’t sure if his decision to remain at the bar had something to do with the beautiful new bartender’s arrival, the fact that he was subconsciously looking for any excuse to delay his return home, or a combination of the two. Once he had let the paper notes and coins fall into his pocket, he rested his eyes on the empty glass before him in order to avoid being caught staring at the woman again. That plan, however, only worked for about two seconds.
Having apparently noticed Charlie staring at his empty glass, the young woman had moved closer. “Can I get you something else to drink, sir?” she asked. Charlie quickly looked up at her in response, and he noted that something about her speech was different from that of her coworkers. Though he couldn’t quite put a finger on it, he chalked it up to her being from Tennessee. Then, realizing that he was staring at her again, he began trying to answer her question and found himself stumbling over his words nervously.
“Oh! I… uh…” he began, before pausing for a moment to gather his thoughts. He hadn’t planned on having another drink, and he really did need to get back to his apartment and get ready for the long journey tomorrow… but this beautiful young bartender was talking to him, and the only way to keep her talking to him was to order another drink… and what harm could come from his just having one more drink? Charlie ran through this entire thought process in his mind before finally looking up at the young woman with a smile and saying quietly, “Yeah, sure.”
The young woman smiled and immediately took his glass from the countertop. “Another draft, then?” she asked politely. Charlie nodded his head in response, and then watched as she turned and walked away, and he didn’t avert his eyes until she started turning around to walk back towards him. She walked back over to the bar and placed the refilled glass in front of him carefully but firmly, and he thanked her quickly without daring to look up at her. He expected her to walk off, but she stood there in silence for a moment and then addressed him again.
“You’re British, aren’t you?” she asked, but her question sounded more like a statement. Charlie’s eyebrows furrowed slightly, and he chanced a look up at her in response.
“Yeah, how did you…?” he began, but she cut him off.
“It’s the accent,” she said, with a chuckle.
"But I've hardly said two words," Charlie replied, completely baffled. The young woman laughed in response.
“I know," she replied, "but I could just... tell. I'm sort of used to the British accent... I hear it at home all the time. We’re British, my mum and I.” She paused for a moment, as though contemplating something, and then burst into an explanation when she noticed the confused look on Charlie’s face. “Well, I was born there,” she corrected, “but we moved to Tennessee when I was just a baby, so I wound up with a Southern accent instead of a British one. I don’t remember anything about living in Britain, but I love to hear people speak with that accent.”
Though having someone randomly blurt out their life story to a complete stranger would seem odd to most, to Charlie it made the beautiful brunette seem even more intriguing, and he listened to every word eagerly. The young woman blushed and looked down, however, apparently having realized just how odd she must have seemed.
“I’m sorry,” she said a moment later, mustering the nerve to look back up at Charlie, but still blushing. “My mouth doesn’t have a filter sometimes. I know you’re probably thinking how odd it is for some girl you don’t even know to walk up and start talking about your accent.”
“Actually, I was thinking that, as a gentleman and fellow countryman, I should introduce myself properly,” Charlie replied with a smile, hoping to ease the woman’s embarrassment. She smiled in response, and then, following his lead, extended her hand for him to shake.
“I’m Liz – um, I mean... Elizabeth,” she said, seeming to struggle with which of the two was actually her name as she released his hand.
“Well, which is it?” Charlie asked, laughing. He failed to realize that it was the first time he’d laughed since Fred’s death.
“Elizabeth,” she replied immediately. “But my friends call me Liz.”
Charlie nodded, completely understanding the nickname/real name confusion. “Well, it’s nice to meet you, Liz,” he said, “I’m Charlie. Well, Charles, really, but…”
“But your friends call you Charlie?” she finished with a laugh. Charlie didn’t respond to this, but simply nodded his head and chuckled. “Well, it’s very nice to meet you too, Charlie,” Liz said a moment later. She opened her mouth, as though she were going to say something else at that moment, but before she could, another man seated at the bar called for her attention, and her conversation with Charlie came to an abrupt halt as she hurried off to get the man another drink.
Charlie smiled involuntarily as he watched her walk away, and, purely for the purpose of having something to do, he took a sip from his freshly-refilled glass. He felt a strange but familiar excitement building up in him, and he secretly hoped that Liz would come back to talk to him once she finished with the other customer. As it turned out, though, several other customers needed refills, and she stayed busy for quite some time. Charlie waited patiently, however, sipping on his drink and glancing over at her every so often. Soon, his glass was empty again, but before he could figure out how that had happened, Liz was back to offer him another refill.
She smiled when she approached him this time, and Charlie didn’t hesitate to slide his glass over to her. As soon as she returned with his glass, however, she was called away once more. The bar remained just as busy for the rest of the evening, which Charlie thought was rather unfortunate, and when the bar closed at one in the morning, he reluctantly paid off his tab and made his way back to his apartment.
Charlie wasn’t sure whether he accidentally overslept the next morning, or he purposely overslept to have an excuse to see Liz again and delay his return home, but one thing was certain: He didn’t catch that ship the next day.