Amazing chapter image by my secret santa and dear friend, Kate (pandeia@TDA)!
It was one year after that night on the front steps of Liz’s home, and Charlie was quickly walking in the direction of the bar where his girlfriend was still employed. He’d promised to meet her there shortly before her shift ended, and he was on the verge of being late. Liz had arranged for another bartender to take over her shift at eight o’clock so that she and Charlie could go out and celebrate their one-year anniversary, and Charlie intended to arrive a few moments early to have a drink before they left, which was the reason for his hurriedness.
As Charlie rushed to the bar in the cold January air, he reflected on the past year and all the changes it had brought in both of his lives: The life he led in Rhode Island, and the life he was still hiding from in England. The most profound of the changes in Charlie’s Rhode Island life, of course, was the fact that he and Liz had started dating, and this change itself had brought about several more changes. Charlie had dated before, of course, but he’d never been in a long-term relationship, and he’d never even been serious enough about any of the girls he’d dated to introduce them to his family. In fact, the only member of the Weasley clan who knew that Charlie had ever had a girlfriend before was Bill. Charlie’s relationship with Liz, however, was wholly different. He and Liz’s relationship had eased the guilt Charlie felt over Fred’s death, and had brought him a joy he’d never known; it was exactly what he needed.
As he and Liz had grown closer, Charlie had gotten to know her mother very well and was often over at their home for dinner, which helped to ease his loneliness as well. And as if all of those things weren’t enough, after a misunderstanding about Charlie’s profession – in which Liz had asked what he did, and Charlie remained silent because he couldn’t say “dragon keeper” – Liz had helped her boyfriend find a Muggle job in construction. It wasn’t nearly as fascinating as his old job, but at least it was outside, and it kept Charlie occupied and helped him work off stress. It also helped him keep his apartment when he ran out of the Muggle money he’d had converted at Gringotts before moving to the U.S. There were times when it got to be a little trying, because it took several hours to do something that would have only taken minutes the magical way, but Charlie soon found that he enjoyed doing things without magic: It helped him to further distance himself from the wizarding world and his guilt.
And though he still hadn’t returned home even once to see his family, Charlie still kept in touch with each of the Weasleys, and therefore knew the changes that had taken place in his wizarding life as well. There was, for instance, the fact that he was about to be an uncle: Bill had informed him in a letter just a few short months ago that he and Fleur were expecting their first child. Then there was the fact that George, having recovered considerably since his twin’s death, was engaged to marry Angelina, Fred’s and his close friend from school; the two of them would be married in less than a year. Charlie felt bad for not physically being there for his brothers during such important milestones in their lives, but his life in Rhode Island, paired with his relationship with Liz and his still-present guilt, kept him rooted where he was. He therefore resorted to writing to his family members instead, hoping that long letters would somehow make up for his absence. He left out the details about his new life in these letters, though, taking care to keep his two lives completely separate.
Charlie often thought to himself about what would happen if his two lives collided… he knew that he’d like for Liz to meet his family someday, but he was unsure as to how that would happen, because he still hadn’t worked up the nerve to correct the misunderstanding they’d had earlier: Liz still believed all of Charlie’s family to be dead. This made Charlie feel horrible, and the only way he could convince himself he wasn’t lying to his girlfriend was by telling himself that the family thing was just a “secret” that he was waiting to reveal. After all, there was no telling how long this relationship would last (although Charlie hoped it would be for a long, long time), and there was no point in dragging the family thing into it if the relationship was just going to end anyway. But if the time ever came, Charlie promised himself he would reveal his “secret” to Liz… and if he ever did get to explain the mix-up to Liz, he’d then also have to reveal secret number two: The fact that he was a wizard.
Having dated her long enough, Charlie knew that he could trust Liz enough to tell her he was a wizard, but he wasn’t quite ready to admit this secret either, for subconsciously, being a wizard made him more connected to his family, and the guilt and shame he felt over Fred’s death. He realized that his being a wizard was something that Liz really did need to know, but he didn’t want to scare her off; there would be a plenty of time for him to tell her about this later on, if things got more serious.
As he turned onto the familiar street, Charlie ended his mental walk down memory lane; he needed to clear his head and mentally prepare himself for Liz’s and his anniversary date. He stopped just for a moment outside the bar’s door, took a deep breath, and then stepped inside. As he made his way through the crowd and over to his normal seat at the bar, Charlie’s eyes impulsively sought out Liz and found her handing a customer his drink. Seeming to sense his eyes on her, Liz looked up as soon as she’d finished helping the customer, and the smile she flashed Charlie as she made her way over to him made his heart skip a beat.
“You’re early,” she said playfully a moment later as she stood across the bar from him. “Our date doesn’t start for another twenty minutes.”
"I know,” he replied with a smile. “I thought I’d stop in for a drink before we left.”
“Oh, I see. You’re here as a customer,” Liz teased. “Well what can I get you, sir?” Rather than roll his eyes at his girlfriend’s silliness, Charlie decided to play along.
“I’ll have whatever’s on draft,” he replied with a mock tone of seriousness.
“Yes, sir, coming right up!” Liz answered, blushing and smiling as she mocked him. She immediately scurried off to get Charlie’s drink, and the redhead watched her walk with a fluttering in his chest; he was nervous. When his girlfriend returned with his order a moment later, Charlie thanked her and immediately took a sip, causing a satisfied grin to appear on Liz’s face. The moment was short-lived, however, because just then a customer halfway across the room called out for a refill, and Liz cast Charlie an apologetic look before hurrying off to help the patron.
Charlie didn’t mind Liz’s distraction, though. In fact, he was thankful for it, because it gave him an opportunity to prepare. Sliding the drink across the counter towards him, Charlie quickly delved his hand into his pocket and retrieved a small, round item. Checking to make sure he wasn’t being watched, Charlie slipped the item into his drink and wrapped his hands around the bottom of the glass, to prevent anyone else from seeing the item he’d just laced his drink with. Then the wait began, and as soon as Liz had a free moment, Charlie called her over to him in the most conspicuous way possible.
“What is it?” Liz asked, once again standing across the bar from him.
“Could you come around here for a second so I can tell you privately?” Charlie asked, leaning closer to his girlfriend to avoid being heard. When a look of confusion crossed Liz’s face, he quickly said, “It’s just that I don’t think any of the customers ought to hear this. You know, bad for business.”
Seeming shocked and concerned, Liz quickly ran around the counter without further question. “What is it?” she asked, more quietly this time, standing right next to Charlie.
Charlie got to his feet and whispered in her ear, “There’s something in my drink,” and then he handed her the glass.
Looking horrified, Liz took the glass and began peering into it in a very obvious way, and apparently she was so enveloped in her examination of the item that she didn’t notice that Charlie had gotten down on one knee right in front of her. Charlie laughed as his girlfriend began trying to dig the item out of the glass, realizing that she still had no idea what was going on.
Several of the bar’s patrons began to notice the scene around them, and by the time Liz had finally fished the small object out of Charlie’s glass, the entire bar was waiting with bated breath… though none of them was quite as anxious as Charlie.
Once she had gotten hold of the item, Liz placed Charlie’s glass down on the bar beside her and examined the piece of metal with attached diamond very curiously. “What in the world?” she asked, after a moment of examination. “Charlie,” she said, “it’s an engagement ring. How in the world did an engagement ring get in your…” Her voice trailed off as she finally removed her eyes from the ring for the first time in several moments. She first looked ahead of her to where Charlie had been standing the last time she’d looked at him, only to find the top of his head there. Her eyebrows furrowed in confusion, she looked down in puzzlement for a moment before her eyes bulged with what Charlie recognized as understanding. The look on her face caused everyone in the bar to laugh, and her hand instinctively flew up to cover her now-wide-open mouth.
Charlie smiled nervously up at his girlfriend, who, for once in her life, was nearly shocked speechless… nearly. She quickly recuperated and removed her hand from her mouth so she could speak. “Oh my God! Did you put this in there?” she asked. When Charlie nodded his head in response, Liz spoke again. “Oh my God!” she exclaimed again, glancing back at the ring momentarily before looking back down into the redhead’s eyes. “Charlie, are you… ?”
Chuckling at his girlfriend’s filter-less mouth, Charlie playfully interrupted her. “Liz,” he said.
“Yes?” she asked breathlessly.
“Shut up,” he joked. He knew Liz wouldn’t take it the wrong way, because she was used to him picking on her for her incessant talking when she was nervous or excited.
“Oh… okay,” Liz replied, looking more and more nervous with each passing second.
Glad to finally have some silence so that he could say his piece, Charlie took a deep breath, his heart beating rapidly the whole while. He’d planned this speech for what seemed like forever, but now that it came to it, all he really cared about was popping the question and getting Liz’s answer… he was impatient and nervous. He’d never proposed to anyone before, and had no idea what he was doing. A part of him had desperately wished for his older brother Bill’s guidance when he’d decided to propose, but that was currently impossible. And with or without guidance, Charlie knew that this was right; this was the girl he wanted to marry. This was the girl with whom he wanted to share a relationship like the one his parents had; she was the Molly to his Arthur. In a flash, he decided to skip the whole speech and just get right to the point.
“I love you – so much,” he said quietly, staring up into Liz’s beautiful green eyes. “Elizabeth Grace Hunter, will you marry me?”
The tears immediately started flowing from Liz’s eyes, but to Charlie’s horror, she didn’t answer him right away. In true Liz fashion, she started rambling on once more. “Oh my God, Charlie, I can’t believe this!” she said. Then she paused, and continued. “Are you sure?” she asked. “About me, I mean,” she clarified. “Are you sure I’m the one you want to marry? I mean, I can’t shut up for more than five seconds, and I…”
“Oh, for God’s sake, just answer the man already!” one of the bar’s patrons called out, causing everyone in the bar, Charlie and Liz included, to burst into laughter. Charlie took advantage of the situation.
"Yes, I’m sure,” he said quickly. “I’ve never been surer about anything in my whole life. What do you say, love? Will you…”
Before he could finish speaking, Liz was kneeling on the floor in front of him with her arms wrapped around his neck, kissing him passionately. The entire crowd cheered as they kissed, and when she released him a moment later, Liz said, “Yes,” quietly against his lips, nodding her head as tears continued to stream down her cheeks.
At the sight of her nodding her head, the entire bar erupted into cheers once more, and Charlie, his heart beating even more rapidly now, took the ring from Liz’s hand and dried it off on his trouser leg before he carefully slid it onto her left ring finger. Liz stared down at the ring for a moment before flinging her arms around Charlie’s neck once more, and the two of them remained knelt on the floor for quite a few minutes, embracing.
Due to all the well-wishers and congratulations, as well as patrons buying them both a drink, the newly-engaged couple didn't get to go on their planned date that evening… but in all honesty, neither of them minded.