However, when it meant he could curl up in the old ratty chair by the floo and watch her read without being noticed, well, he wasn’t about to complain. He’d spent many an afternoon since arriving at the Burrow last month doing nothing more than watching her. Always carefully hidden so she wouldn’t get comfortable at the idea of her best friend’s older brother watching her. He was glad she was staying there doing research for some educational program she was part of because he’d had a chance to get to know her better.
It wasn’t that she was too young. She wasn’t quite seven years younger than him, after all, which made her twenty-two. It wasn’t that she was too beautiful. While he found her absolutely ravishing, her looks were somewhat plain. Pretty but nothing above average. He knew, with some time and effort on her part, though, that she could be stunning. He liked that she didn’t care enough to bother with all that. Too many girls wasted hours tarting themselves up but she, well, she was lovely just being herself.
He didn’t really know what scared him about her. He was nearly thirty, after all. He’d had lovers since he was sixteen, some even reasonably serious. Flirting with her was easy. She’d roll her eyes or laugh, treating him like one of her boys, which rankled if he was quite honest. He wasn’t one of her boys. He was a man who fancied a girl he shouldn’t. Even if he asked her out and she said yes, he knew that he wasn’t good enough for her.
She was brilliant. Top student in her year, would have been Head Girl if not for the war, and a mind that never failed to amaze him. Okay, so she wasn’t smart in all areas. Book smarts, she was tops, but more practical things, well, she wasn’t so adept in those sort of things. He knew it bothered her, not being as quick to think of solutions to sudden problems and having to rely on things she’d read or a logic that took her time to analyze.
She hated playing wizarding chess because she wanted to take time to study moves and plot and those she played with were much faster at seeing and making decisions. She just saw too many choices is what he thought might be her problem. Not at all impulsive or rash, almost always thinking of every possible outcome before making a decision, and she tended to bite her lip in those circumstances, which he took to mean she was a bit anxious about her choices. Sometimes he wondered how she survived the months on the run during the war when everything could change suddenly and there hadn’t been a way to plan out every move.
“I don’t bite.”
The words made him blink, and he noticed that she was no longer reading her book. Instead, she was looking at the mirror and smiling slightly. He decided not to say anything in case she was just reading aloud since he wasn’t going to give himself away by accident.
“Charlie?” Hermione took away any doubt by saying his name. “I know you’re there. You are watching me, aren’t you? If George is playing a prank on me, I’m going to hex him so much that he’ll end up in St. Mungos.”
“He might be a prat, but he’s still my little brother, so try not to hex him too badly.” Charlie cleared his throat and stood up. “Sorry ‘bout that. Didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable or anything.”
“You didn’t.” Hermione smiled shyly and fiddled with her hair as she looked at him. “There’s a reason my favorite reading spot becomes the window seat in Ginny’s room when you’re outside doing chores or flying around on that silly broom.”
“Really?” He slowly smiled, liking the way her cheeks flush at her admission. “Is it the muscles or the tattoos that are making you blush like that?”
“You’re rather cheeky for a man who’s been sitting around watching me read for weeks,” she pointed out. “George said he had to tell me because it was becoming pathetic to see his big brother reduced to such lows.”
“You’re going to have to get in line for hexing him,” Charlie told her. “And you didn’t answer the question.”
“Neither,” she said, shrugging a shoulder when he narrowed his eyes. “It’s the whole package, Charlie.”
“You’re nibbling your lip, love. No need to be nervous about this choice.” At her surprised look, he smiled sheepishly. “I’ve been watching you a lot. You always do that when you get nervous.”
“I was going to invite you to go get an ice cream in Diagon Alley,” she admitted. “I just wasn’t sure if it was too forward or if I should wait to see if you’d just been watching out of boredom or for more personal reasons. If you’ve noticed my habits that well, though, I think I might know the answer.”
“Definitely personal reasons,” Charlie said. He decided not to tell her that he wasn’t entirely sure that he was good enough for her because he wasn’t above taking advantage of her own lack of awareness regarding that fact. She was much smarter than he was, after all, and she seemed to think he was worth asking out for ice cream. “I’d love to go out with you, Hermione. Ice cream would be brilliant on a hot day like this.”
“Really?” She blinked at him then smiled brightly. “That’s wonderful. Would you like to go now? I’ve reached a stopping point in my book, and I think we have sufficient time before dinner that we won’t ruin our appetites indulging in a sweet.”
“Now is good for me.” He offered her his hand and pulled her against him. He might not be clever, but he knew how to use what he did have to his benefit. “I’m pants at Apparating, but I’ve heard you’re great at it.”
“Uh, right. I’d thought we’d just Floo but Apparating is good, too.” She was touching his arms hesitantly and biting her lip again, but he didn’t think it was because of the usual reason. He flexed a little, pleased when she noticed and seemed to approve.
“I’m all yours, love,” he said, catching her gaze and smiling when she seemed to understand that he didn’t mean just for Apparating to get ice cream. Her smile made him feel butterflies in his belly, and he held on tight because he didn’t want to miss a single moment of being with her.