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The strongest principle of growth lies in human choice.
~ George Eliot
Friday, July 13th ~ Evening

Getting a Dear Anne owl from someone you'd already decided not to see romantically any longer shouldn't have made her angry - but it did. Anne just needed to figure out why.

I need some mental lubrication to help me get to the bottom of this. I'm not on any medication any longer - so it's past time to get a bit tipsy, Anne decided while closing the door to her office and heading down the street. Since Charlie had apparently gone back to Romania, the Sticks was once again on her list of places she could go without running into him.

Opening the door, she looked around before shrugging and taking a seat at an empty table with her back to the bar. If Charlie's ghost passed by at some point, she didn't want to see it while sober. It was early yet and the place hadn't started to fill up, but since it was Friday it probably wouldn't be too long before it was standing room only. Georgette took her order for a glass of wine and a sandwich because Anne didn't want to get too tipsy, too quickly.
Tonks wasn't simply wandering about town waiting for Bill to get back from some sort of gathering with the blokes from work so she could go over to the cabin and say hi.

She was patrolling!

... OK, maybe not so much.

Still, she was watching the streets fairly carefully as she walked along and easily spotted Anne entering the 'Sticks.

Oh, bugger, we never did that strip-club thing. Which might be awkward now. Although he didn't mind when I was looking at Pansy, so how different really ... ... not the point, I should say something.

Ah, but did the conversation have to be in a business owned by Bill's parents? Tonks' feet did an uncertain little dance for only a moment before she took off decisively.

Why back down now?

"Wotcher, Anne." She'd waved to Georgette on the way in, just like always.

"Sampling the town's nightlife, I see."
Taking a quick glance around, Anne sent Tonks an amused glance while pulling out a chair.

"As nightlifey as it gets. Have a seat and we can plot how to liven it up a tad or two - or maybe not considering you're an Auror and I should just shut up now, huh?" Anne asked with a giggle.
"Hey now!"

Tonks shook her head warningly while accepting the seat Anne had offered.

"I'm going to tell you the same thing I tell all my friends — no matter how tempting it is to slip Dugoung solution into someone's drink and watch them dance, it's never worth the consequences. Just say no, Anne, just say no."

Her "stern" face dissolved into a grin.

"On the other hand, having an Auror at your side when you're planning something can be a wise choice. Depending on who you choose, of course."
Having seen Anne come into the Sticks, Arthur was of two minds. Since this state seemed to occur quite frequently for him, it was normal and entirely natural for him to only dither for a short time before taking the sandwich and drink order from Georgette. The other option had been to disappear into the depths of the kitchen until Anne left. After asking Georgette to mind the bar, he headed in the direction of her table. Arthur was quite relieved to see Tonks join her before he got there as he hadn't been quite sure how to approach Anne on her own.

Sorry, my second eldest son is a wanker? I have three other sons, Ron, Fred and George I'd be glad to introduce you to if you'd be at all interested in producing a grandchild or two for my wife? would probably not be the best way.

And then there were the rumors concerning Tonks and his eldest son. Arthur frowned for a moment when he caught the last part of her comment to Anne.

Blast! Is that all there is to it? He and Tonks working on a case? If so... and here Arthur paused with a slight frown on his face. Why would they go to Dorothy's - er Daphne's restaurant? Rather a romantic setting for business I'd say. And from what I've heard, neither of them were dressed for anything but funny business.

His internal pep talk gave Arthur the boost his flagging spirits needed. Charlie's decision to return to Romania when his old boss offered him his job back had thrown a complete wrench into Arthur's plans for not having a ninth child. Tending bar in the evening again was no trouble as he had missed the customers and the opportunity to spread the delightful tales of his own brood's trials of childhood. His customers did seem to enjoy hearing about them. Especially the Widow Perkins.

Doesn't mean I need new ones - still haven't run out of the old ones, he decided with a grin while placing the sandwich and glass of wine down in front of Anne.

"Good evening, ladies," Arthur said with a slight bow. "Might I join you for a bit? My feet have decided to declare mutiny unless I give them a rest."

Not waiting for an answer, because after all he owned the place, Arthur sat down and smiled again.

"I'm glad to see you both appear to be in one piece after the incident last month with Mrs Lestrange."

Remembering at the last moment that the woman had been Tonks' aunt, Arthur winced and reached over to pat her hand.

"I'm sorry, Tonks. I forgot. That was rather rude of me, although to be frank, I can't say I'll miss her."
"Wotcher, Arthur."

Tonks had been leaning forward to ask Anne some questions about how she was doing and what she'd like to do when the bar owner showed up — and she was ashamed to say she tensed up a tiny bit when he did.

Grow up, will you? she scolded herself. Some Auror you are.

It was even a near-optimal situation. If she had to encounter one of Bill's parents without him here to be the focus of attention, at least it was Arthur and not Molly.

"Did you just apologize for being glad Anne and I are both in one piece?"

She smiled as if she was simply teasing, but her eyes told Arthur she understood, and thanked him for his concern, even if it wasn't truly necessary.

"That tears it. I'll never get the hang of this 'etiquette' thing."
"I've never bothered, personally," Severus interjected. "More trouble than it's worth." Technically untrue, he was aware of what was required and took great pains when he was with Narcissa out of respect, but he couldn't be arsed to worry about a social faux pas when speaking to the average ignoramus customer in his shop.

He'd heard Arthur's voice speak Lestrange's name, and had been drawn to the table.

"Miss Perks, Auror Tonks, Arthur." He nodded at each in turn, leaning heavily on his cane.
Arthur jumped up and pulled out the other chair at the table.

"Severus! I didn't see you come in. Sit down, please and I'll have Georgette bring you a bottle of your favorite on the house," Arthur said while beaming at the other man and pantomiming what he wanted to the waitress who rolled her eyes briefly before nodding. "I wanted to visit you while you were in St. Mungo's but with Charlie running back off to Romania I couldn't get away. Probably for the best, if I'd been able to go, Molly would have sent or brought flowers or food or something like that and while those would have been good - scotch is better."

A thoughtful look passed over Arthur's face for a moment as he absently sat back down without waiting for Snape to take a seat.

"I wonder if she could make a liquor flavored icing? That might be an excellent businessman's desert for the lunch crowd. Different liquors on different days. White cake for all or would - ohh, cherry flavored cake with a creme de cocoa icing would be good I'd think."

Arthur came out of his cake induced fantasy long enough to make eye contact with Anne and he blushed lightly, remembering what he'd said about Charlie and Romania.

"I'm sure you had nothing to do with Charlie taking off to Romania again, my dear. He always loved working with dragons, not that he didn't love being around you of course," Arthur added hastily and reached over to pat her hand. "I remember when he was a small boy and he first became enamored with them. Couldn't stop talking about them and pretending he was fighting them with a toy wand. Of course that all changed when he started school at Hogwarts, or so I thought, but then he went off to work with them and I suppose they will always be his first love and I have..."

Realizing that he was on the brink of asking Anne if she would like an introduction to a few of his other sons, Arthur turned to Tonks in desperation.

"What do you think of cherry cake with creme de cocoa icing?"
Anne had intended to offer Mr Snape a replacement glass of whatever it had been at the party, but Arthur's invitation to sit and the bottle flew out before she had a chance to. She contented herself with a small smile in his direction before her attention returned to Arthur as he rambled on. The mention of Charlie going off to Romania made her eyes narrow once, but then Arthur started talking about icing and cake...

I'd love to get him into my office and find out...

How did he get from Romania and Charlie to cake and icing so quickly?

I wonder if he was dropped on his head as a child?

During Arthur's ramble, Anne had taken a small bite of her sandwich and a large sip of her wine. And another sip. Sending an amused glance in Tonks' direction, she waited to see how the other two would react.
"Sounds all right," Tonks nodded gamely to show Arthur she was following along. As best she could. "Sort of like a Black Forest cake thing, but sort of inverted."

So they weren't going to talk about Charlie being gone? Tonks looked over at Anne then back at Arthur. OK. She could go with that. After all, Anne had said she was well shut of Charlie, and frankly his absence worked out OK for Tonks because that meant there was no one else at the cabin when ... stuff she didn't even want to think about in front of Mr. Weasley happened.

Oh, fuck it. Like Snape said, etiquette was more trouble than just asking about what you wanted to know.

"So did he tell you he was leaving or make give any response to you saying it wasn't working out, or do I write my friend and point out he's a prat? No offense, Arthur."
For a moment he considered holding his tongue, there was a full bottle of scotch to keep him quiet, after all.

Severus poured himself a glass and then very carefully set the bottle out of Arthur's reach. "If he's not already aware of his pratishness, then by all means someone should point it out."
There it was - the elephant had been brought out of the corner and was smack in the middle of the table. Its weight was threatening to buckle the poor thing and Anne took an even bigger drink of her wine before shaking her head.

"Charlie's not a prat. Well, not completely anyway," she advised with a small smile. "It's not like either of us declared everlasting love for the other. I think we just met at the wrong times in our lives. Maybe someday if I'm ready to actually commit to a relationship and he's still available..."

Anne paused for a moment and glanced over at Arthur.

"Your son is not a pratt," she told him before looking at Tonks.

"I appreciate the offer, but he made it clear in the letter I received that I could pack up and join him, because he was - he is much more sure about us than I was - am. I choose not to."

The glass of wine was emptied and Anne contemplated the dregs left before she smiled and realized she wasn't angry at Charlie any longer.

"I think we both deserve someone who's willing to chuck it all for the other. Although," Anne said as her smile grew larger. She didn't know if the others knew or not, but now was as good a time as any to let the proverbial cat out of the bag and to get the elephant off the table.

"I'm sure he would have had a very long career as a male stripper if he'd been able to get over his embarrassment at being found out."
Arthur went from being fairly well satisfied that his son hadn't been a pratt to completely flabbergasted at Anne's declaration.

"Charlie?" Arthur asked in a shocked tone while one hand rose in the air. "My second oldest son, about so tall with red hair, blue eyes and - Merlin. A stripper?"

His mouth opened and closed several times while different emotions chased through his chest. Worry that Molly would have kittens and blame him for not paying Charlie enough took priority for a while. Pride finally won out and he had to ask.

"I take it he was a popular one then?"

Arthur's chest grew a little and he sucked his stomach in as much as he could before giving it up as a bad job and glancing around the Sticks.

"If I'd know he was interested in... We could have done something here - Molly would have adjusted - maybe."
Tonks' eyes went wide as saucers and she leaned forward delightedly.

"You're kidding! When you said ... I figured he was the bartender, not shaking it for tons of cash. Get out!"

The laughter burbling from her wasn't so much hilarity as sheer delight at the notion of Charlie being a stripper and Arthur's reaction and ...

"OK, OK, everyone? I get to tell Bill. Snape can tell Ginny, and the rest of 'em can be left to you, Arthur, but I get to tell Bill."

She blinked and doubled over with more giggles.

"I can't wait to see what Christmas pressies the Twins are gonna come up with for him now."
Severus blinked once, slowly, then looked down at the contents of his glass.

Either there was more than just Scotch in the glass and he was already drunk, or he wasn't drunk enough.

To hell with it.

He downed the Scotch and poured himself another. "Considering how eager he seemed to be to return to the reserve, I sincerely doubt there was a 'ton of cash' being earned, no matter how hard Mister Weasley might have been shaking it."

Horrific visions of what "it" might have been threatened to appear in his mind, and Severus quickly pushed them away.

Why couldn't Ginevra have been an only child?