Summary: Rapprochement: an establishment of harmonious relations; reconciliation, understanding, accommodation. On the anniversary of the fall of Voldemort, an improbable relationship germinates.
I don't want to be here.
Okay, that's not entirely true.
Every living Weasley was present, and that alone was reason to be here. To have us all in one place—my parents, all my siblings and their spouses, their children, my own children—was a rare event.
And I will admit that it is nice to see so many of my former schoolmates; although it isn't as if I don't see most of them every so often. Their children, after all, are in classes with my own, or my many nieces and nephews.
Mostly I came because it was the Right Thing to Do. Call it Honor, or Duty, or Obligation or whatever term that is equally inadequate to describe how I feel about each Anniversary remembrance I've ever attended—the fact is, I was here as a member of the Golden Trio. With all the privilege and baggage that that entails.
The Ministry had pulled out all the stops, because, after all, this was a Significant Anniversary. So the Ceremonies would be combined with a Ball, and it would all take place in the Great Hall of Hogwarts. Rather appropriate, as this was the place it had all ended—or began, depending on how you looked at it.
The ceiling had been—I glanced down at the program I'd crumpled in my hand—"charmed to progress from a darkened starry sky to the rosy glow of dawn every thirty minutes. To remind us of the moment, as the first breaking rays of light stabbed into the fractured windows of the Great Hall twenty-five years ago, that Harry Potter, the Chosen One, the Boy Who Lived, defeated Lord Voldemort, the most evil wizard in modern history." I folded the parchment and rolled my eyes. Not that I needed reminding—the entire sequence of events was forever burned in ridiculous slow motion detail in my memory.
But most of the student body of Hogwarts was in attendance, and it was good to restate the important lessons those children may have slept through in History of Magic class; that there had been a Cost That Was Paid—in lives and blood and tears and terror—in order for all to be well now.
I wanted to be here to listen to the litany of names, to mourn the dead, to see the smiles on the children's faces as they enjoyed the dance and remind myself that the Cost, though dear, had been justified.
Okay, mental pep talk is over, I thought as I pushed away from the wall I was leaning on. The real reason I didn't want to be here had just come in from the Entrance Hall, her fiancé on her arm.
I'd taken all of three steps before I felt a hand on my arm. "Ron?" I turned to my sister. Damn, she looked beautiful.
"Damn, you look beautiful, Gin."
She brushed the compliment aside. "Are you okay?" she asked. Her eyes shifted to the newly arrived couple before sliding back to me. Her face screamed sisterly concern.
I knew what this was about. "How many of you are there?" I demanded. She looked confused. "How many of my annoyingly interfering family members are in on the plot?"
She had the decency to look chagrined. "What plot?" she attempted, but I was on to her.
"I know what you are doing. You all are lurking about, ready to jump in at a moment's notice because you think I'm not going to behave myself." I crossed my arms angrily. "Grown-up here, remember? Frankly, it's insulting that you and Mum and whoever else seem to think I'm going to cause some kind of scene." Her eyes lowered guiltily, which was gratifying. "Look, sis. We've been to three other Anniversaries since the divorce and Hermione and I have managed just fine each time—"
"Yes, but that was different! She hadn't brought…" Ginny trailed off, love and distress for me all over her face.
She didn't need to finish the thought. I did it for her. The replacement. I'm man enough to admit that it hurt. Not because I was still secretly pining away for my former wife (as my Mum and others thought) but because seeing her with someone else reminded me of the monumental failure I'd helped perpetrate.
It's hard to explain to someone who hasn't experienced a break-up of a marriage how I felt—how I still feel—about my marriage ending. No one can really understand the grief that I still harbor, even though it was obvious at the time that we couldn't be together anymore. After the counseling and separating, getting back together two, three, four times—after the relief of finally admitting that stubbornness couldn't be the only cement that held us together—I still wished it could have been different. Hell, even now, when we've proven that we work much better as friends and partners in parenting in the few short years since splitting than we ever did as lovers or husband and wife, I will always feel some regret and sorrow that we weren't able to make it work.
That's just the way it is.
But it doesn't mean I don't want Hermione to be happy. She's the mother of my kids, for crying out loud. I need her to be all right.
Ginny, of all people, should understand that. She'd had the unique honor of hearing both sides of the story through the whole thing. I shook my head at her. "Look, I'm okay."
Her shrewd eyes skewered me. "Are you really?"
No, I wasn't really. The less-enlightened, annoyingly juvenile, Cro-Magnon side of me felt like tearing off some limbs as soon as I saw them walk into the room. There was a primal part of my mind that bristled at seeing any other man with her. Amazing how I could go from a (reasonably) mature forty-three year-old to an angsty boy of fourteen in zero seconds flat; it was the Yule Ball all over again.
Not proud of that, but there it is.
I sighed. Having a sister who can read you like a book is both a blessing and a curse. I love her fiercely, but now was not the time to remind me that I had issues. I needed to keep it together, damn it.
"Ron?" Her voice was soft. "Are you really okay?"
I met her gaze. "I'll have to be, won't I?"
She crushed me to her in a huge hug and kissed my cheek soundly. "I love you, you git. Dance with me later?"
I squeezed her and chuckled. "As if I'll have a fighting chance since every man here will want to dance with the stunning Mrs. Potter."
She stepped back and winked. "At least you have an inside track."
"Hmm," I agreed. "Nepotism does have its advantages."
A sharp slap to my back was followed by, "There you are!" and Harry was grinning at me as he slipped his hand into Ginny's. "You ready, mate?"
A bar had been set up in one corner of the Hall, so naturally, most of the adults had gathered there. It was later—how much later, I couldn't say since the ceiling had moved from night to day too many times for me to count—and I'd been able to get around to see just about everyone I wanted to, so I was happy to lean against the wall and quietly nurse my fire-whiskey. While secretly alternating looking daggers at my daughter and the whelp she was dancing with, and my former wife with her oaf.
"Careful, Weasley. You could murder someone with that look." The voice beside me was like silk gliding on velvet. I turned, startled, and beheld what could only be described as a blonde bombshell. Golden hair was pulled up in a neat style, blue eyes offset by a deeper blue gown trimmed with sparkly beads. Full lips were painted red, and one delicate eyebrow was lifted elegantly. Merlin, she was gorgeous. My jaw must have been hanging open, because I couldn't think of any other reason for her to smirk at me. Her smirk widened when I blinked several times.
Once I was sure this vision wasn't the result of too much liquor—not that I was necessarily admitting to being drunk—I stammered, "D-do I know you?" Oh, very smooth, I scolded myself.
She huffed out an ironic little laugh. "Not really. And twenty-five years is a long time…" She leaned against the wall next to me and her eyes roamed the room once before returning to mine. "You really don't recognize me, do you?" she asked curiously.
I shook my head, regretfully. I really wouldn't have minded recognizing her; she was certainly easy on the eyes.
"Ah, well. That puts me at the advantage, doesn't it." The corners of her red lips turned up, proving she was a woman who liked being in the position of advantage.
Probably Slytherin, then.
She lifted her glass to her lips, raised her chin, and knocked back the rest of her drink. The smile still played on her mouth, and I made a decision; I wanted her to stick around. "Can I get you another?" I asked. "What are you drinking?"
Both lovely eyebrows went up, like she wasn't expecting me to offer. She briefly looked me over before replying, "Yes, please. It's fire-whiskey."
I took her glass and moved toward the bar, practically feeling her eyes raking my back as I walked. I hoped I wasn't weaving too much; I wasn't smashed, but I was definitely on the way there. I thought it was strange that she was surprised I'd offered to freshen her drink; I mean, a looker like her must have blokes fumbling over themselves to get her drinks all the time.
I peeked back to make sure she wasn't just a mirage after all. She was still there, eyes on me, smiling slightly. I sighed in relief and ordered whiskey for her, club soda for me. If I was lucky enough to be chatting up an attractive blonde, I was sure as hell going to make sure I remembered it in the morning.
As I grabbed the glasses and turned back, Harry happened to catch my eye. He glanced at the woman meaningfully, then back at me, and rolled his eyes. I frowned, and quickly walked away toward my new companion. What was that all about? Did Harry think I was out of my league? I'll be the first to admit I'm a little out of practice, but I'm fairly sure I could still pull a bird if I set my mind—and other things—to it. And besides, shouldn't Harry be rooting for me here? The prat.
"You're glowering again," she observed as I handed her the glass.
"Or maybe I should say still."
Come on, Weasley, part of my mind coaxed, Say something at least halfway intelligent, for Godric's sake! I slapped on what I hoped was a charming grin. "Well, this way you've seen me at my worst. We've gotten that over with, so the relationship can move forward now."
"Relationship?" She sounded amused.
I turned toward her, palm flat against the wall, cutting off a good portion of the room from her view with my tall frame. I hoped I was coming across as suave. "I did bring you a drink," I pointed out.
She laughed—a very pleasant sound that made me want to keep saying things to amuse her all night long. "I see how it is! You buy a woman a drink, and you start having expectations, hmm?" She sized me up over the rim of her glass, grinning as she sipped. "Suppose I'm not that kind of girl?"
"Then I'll buy you dinner." Now why would she seem so astonished at that? She had to have offers like that all the time. "Or not…"
She recovered quickly, although her smile wasn't quite so carefree this time. "Actually, dinner sounds lovely," she said softly.
I'm not sure why her response made my heart rate go up. Was it possible she was interested in me? She was definitely British, although hints of an accent came through in her speech; Yank, if I wasn't mistaken. Who was she? I wracked my brains, trying to remember. I was going to need more information.
"Course, it isn't really a relationship if I don't know your name," I hinted. A shadow seemed to flit over her smile; for a moment, I saw wariness in her eyes. "It's like you said," I added hastily, "you have the advantage here." She nodded, but didn't say anything. "Oh, come on!" I wheedled. "It's not fair. We should at least be on even footing, here."
"That's just it," she said, so quietly I almost missed it, "I don't know if we'll ever be on even footing." Then she turned to me and smiled, which seemed to be a bit forced, and said, "But you are right; it isn't fair. Why don't you give me a name, then?"
Surprised, I decided to play along. I said the first thing that came to mind. "I'll call you Mystery Lady."
The pleasant laugh was back. "Not very original," she teased.
I leaned back against the wall again and chuckled. "You caught me by surprise. I'll work on it and get back to you."
The music changed then, from the fast rhythms the teenagers liked to a slower pace. Couples seemed to move together like magnets. I deliberately did not search the crowd; I did not want to see sweaty boy-palms holding onto my Rose's waist.
She, however, looked out over the Hall. I used the distraction to study her; she was definitely familiar—I felt like I should know her. I would have thought I wouldn't forget such blue eyes, or the way her nose turned up slightly—
Then it hit me. Upturned nose. Slytherin. Gone for twenty-five years.
Her head whipped around to face me, and in the split-second before she slapped on a completely unconcerned look, I thought I saw some regret. "I wondered how long it would take you to figure it out," she said lightly, looking away. She took a sip of her drink.
I stared at her. I had never been a favorite person of Parkinson's, yet she had deliberately come over to talk to me. Even though she'd recognized me. It didn't add up. "This doesn't add up," I complained. I glared suspiciously at my drink. It had tasted remarkably like club soda… "Merlin, I must be more pissed than I thought."
"What makes you say that?" Her tone seemed kind of sharp around the edges. Which irritated me.
"Well excuse me if it seems not likely that you would come over and talk to me if you knew who I was." Not sure if that made any sense, I crossed my arms over my chest and glared to get my meaning across. I felt very wrong-footed and I didn't like it.
She snorted. "Maybe I just came over to wind you up, Weasley."
Well, she'd succeeded. "Did you?"
One corner of her mouth twitched up. "Did I wind you up? As a matter of fact, yes. In more ways than one, if I'm not mistaken." Damned if she didn't look smug. And damned if it wasn't adorable on her—
Hang on. I figured out what was going on; the bartender must have slipped me one of those hallucinogenic potions Harry is always warning Victoire and Dominique about. Although I thought they were intended to lure unsuspecting witches into bed, and why the bartender would've… I shuddered. Wasn't going to go there. Besides, I needed to focus and get to the bottom of this.
"I meant," I said clearly, glaring at her because she looked suspiciously like she was stifling a chuckle, "did you come over with the sole purpose of winding me up?" The thing was, I wasn't sure if that would be disappointing, or just really infuriating.
"Yes. I did."
Oh. Disappointing, then, if way my stomach dropped was any indication.
"But the joke is on me," she added softly. I looked at her sharply. "I hadn't really expected I would enjoy myself so much," she explained.
My eyes goggled, and my heart did something funny. I shook my head violently; the room didn't spin. Okay, so I wasn't completely pissed then. I was really having this conversation with Pansy Parkinson. "Funny thing is…" I trailed off. But she raised an eyebrow at me—Godric, her eyebrows were really lovely—inviting me to clarify, and who was I to deny her? "I was enjoying myself, too."
She gave me a smile. "Funny thing, that."
Neither of us spoke for a few moments, and the music filled the gap. I felt like I'd stepped into an alternate world or something. "This seems very surreal. I'm not convinced I'm not just having a dream."
Her chuckle seemed real enough. "Oh this is real. I have proof." My turn to raise an eyebrow at her. "Do you honestly think you'd dream about me, Weasley?"
She had a point. "Well, if I'd known I'd dream you this nice, I'd have dreamed you a lot sooner." I think it came out less flirtatious and more earnest that I'd intended.
Her turn to look gobsmacked.
But she wasn't one to lose her composure for long. "Are we having a moment here?"
I grinned. "That jolt you just felt was the world falling off its axis." Parkinson threw her head back and laughed. It really was a nice laugh—one of those laughs a bloke could get used to hearing.
I tried to picture her as the girl I remembered; pug face, mocking scowl, dark-ish blonde hair. My mum called hair like that "dishwater blonde" which couldn't have been flattering—I remember using the term around Pansy one time and earning a painful stinging hex to the arse. She had smirked nastily all the way through Potions each time I squirmed in my seat.
But now—well, we'd all grown up, hadn't we? The upturned nose wasn't unpleasant to look at—kind of cute, actually. No trace of contempt or nastiness spoiled her rather nice-looking lips. And her hair… the color suited her. She struck me as a woman who was never meant to be halfway between blonde and brunette. She wasn't one to do anything by halves, I'd bet.
The still-rational portion of my mind chose that moment to tell me that I was in serious, serious trouble. You are attracted to Pansy Parkinson.
My world really did just spin off its axis.
"So, I read in the paper that you and Granger had split."
We had settled down at a nearby table once it had become apparent neither of us was going to run screaming from the other. I didn't know what to say to that, so I just nodded. I wasn't surprised that the news had reached her. After all, the press had had a field day over the divorce of two war heroes.
She pressed, "Was it amicable, or acrimonious?"
I shrugged. "Mostly amicable, I guess."
Then she shook her head. "Sorry. Not any of my business, I know. It's just that…"
She bit her lip. "Well, it seems to me that you aren't really over it."
I crossed my arms and scowled. "You don't know what you are talking about. Of course I'm over it."
"Really?" She wasn't being nasty about it. In fact, she sounded kind of…concerned. "Then why did you look like you wanted to tear the Bulgarian's head off?"
I felt the frown pull my face farther down. I leaned forward and answered intensely, "Because it's Viktor bloody Krum who apparently makes her happy—so happy that they are getting married in a few months—" I stopped, stunned at the intensity I'd given my answer. She seemed a little surprised too, but covered it with a sympathetic sound from her throat.
I leaned back in my chair again, and let out my breath. "And," I added, "I'm worried about how that will affect my children." I could tell she saw right through that line. "Besides, I don't want to talk about it."
Thankfully, she didn't press any further. After a few moments, she said brightly, "Speaking of your children… you have two, I believe?"
I smiled in relief. If there was one topic I could speak about, it was my kids. "Hugo will be fifteen in August, and Rose is seventeen."
She looked out over the crowd with interest. "Are they both here?" I nodded. "Will you point them out to me?" Of course she was going to need help identifying them, given the "preponderance of Weasley cousins" as Percy was so fond of saying, three-fourths at least of which were ginger.
I spotted a group of Fourth Year boys lurking awkwardly near the dance floor. I pointed discreetly to the lanky one with the mop of red curls. "That's my son, Hugo."
"I see the resemblance. He couldn't escape the Weasley hair, poor kid." She watched out of the corner of her eyes for my reaction. I rolled my eyes at her. "You do know he has a mad crush on that willowy girl in the red gown over there, don't you?" she asked me.
"How d'you know that?" I demanded, looking to see which girl she meant.
"Oh, I can sense these things." She was supremely confident. "Now tell me, which one is your daughter?"
"Over there." I clenched my jaw.
Parkinson studied her. "She's lovely." She turned to me. "Why are you green around the gills, Weasley? Is it because she's dancing with Draco's son?"
I proceeded to grind at least a millimeter of enamel off my teeth. "I was trying to spend the evening in denial, and you spoiled it, Parkinson. Thank you very much."
She huffed out a laugh. "The way you were watching them when I walked up? I hate to tell you, but you are in denial about being in denial. What has your knickers in a knot anyway? Don't tell me you are projecting the sins of the father onto the son."
That was probably exactly what I was doing. "It doesn't matter whose son he is, the fact is he has his grubby mitts on my daughter," I growled. I might as well admit it: no one would be good enough for my Rosie—even if it appeared that the Malfoy kid wasn't the evil spawn I'd worried about the day Rose left for Hogwarts.
I jumped a little when her hand brushed over mine, drawing my attention away from the couple in question. "Your daughter is a kind girl. I know my Evie has appreciated Rose's friendship from her first day here."
I felt like I was two Chasers shy of a Quidditch team. "Evie?" I asked stupidly.
"Evelyn. Evelyn Carmichael…my daughter."
I was reminded of enthusiastic letters about the new girl Rose had befriended halfway through the second term. The American transfer student who'd been sorted into Ravenclaw… "Uh, right." That explained the Yankee tinge that broke through her voice once in a while. "So, uh… your name is Carmichael now." She nodded. "And what's your story? Are you divorced, too?"
She dropped her gaze to the glass in her hand. "No," her voice was soft, "not divorced. I'm widowed."
Merlin, but I felt like an arse. "Sorry," I muttered. And then I proved myself an utterly insensitive pillock when I couldn't help but ask, "How long?"
"Almost two years."
I didn't like the sadness that had crept into her voice. "I'm really sorry," I said again.
She nodded, and took a deep breath, letting it out through her nose. "He was a good man. I was very happy."
The silence stretched out and lingered, like a Kneazle settling in for a nap, until I finally asked, quietly, "Do you think you will be again, someday? Happy, I mean?" I think she understood that I was asking as much for myself as for her.
She eyed me thoughtfully before smiling a little. "I think it's quite possible."
I was amazed when the last dance set was announced. "It's gotten quite late. How long have we been talking, anyway?" We had remained at the table, talking, and getting up only now and then for new drinks.
I had to admit, I enjoyed it.
"Well, you know what they say about time flying." Her smile made the corner of her eyes crinkle in a very nice way. She made to stand, so I jumped up to pull the chair out for her. She seemed amused at my gentlemanly gesture.
"I should have asked you to dance," I realized. Or let someone else ask her, I added to myself.
She shook her head. "No. I don't— ah." She took a deep breath. "I think I preferred chatting with you and catching up on old schoolmates." Her voice was friendly and neutral, but her eyes told a different story.
I lifted one shoulder in a half-shrug. "Yeah, I understand," I told her softly. "It's something that you shared with him."
The look on her face was newfound respect. "How did you—"
"Oh no, you don't! Don't you start thinking that I've turned into some sensitive and insightful bloke in the last quarter-century." Good, I'd made her laugh again. "It's just that… well, I've been there, you know?"
"Right." She glanced down and smoothed her skirts. When she lifted her eyes back to me, they seemed a little shimmery, but I couldn't be sure. Her smile, however, made me want to grin goofily back at her. "I must say, Ron Weasley, that I have had a most interesting evening, thanks to you." She held out her hand.
I took it, still smiling like a fool. "Yeah, the night turned out nothing like I imagined it would." There she goes with the eyebrow. "This was far better," I assured her.
She gave my hand a squeeze before dropping it and turning away. "I should go and say goodnight to Evelyn." We both looked around for her daughter, and I started to chuckle when I saw her. "Is that—" her mother began.
I couldn't help but laugh; payback was so sweet. "Yep, that's Albus Potter—Harry's middle kid. Dancing with your daughter." I laughed again at the expression on her face.
"Gryffindor, I presume?" My answer was choked by a chortle. She slapped lightly at my arm. "Oh, give it a rest! I can appreciate the irony, I assure you."
"Don't worry; he may have inherited his looks from Harry, but all the smarts and charm come strictly from the Weasley side of the family," I teased.
"Fabulous," was her soul-withering response, but the laughter in her eyes made it hard to believe she was upset.
Her hand was still resting on my forearm.
I passed my hand over hers before she removed it. "Goodnight, Mrs. Carmichael," I said warmly. "It's been a pleasure."
She inclined her head. "Yes, it has. Goodnight, Mr. Weasley."
I could feel a grin creasing my face as I watched her move into the crowd of students. I probably look like a daft idiot, I decided, but I couldn't have cared less.
Maybe my world really had been knocked off-kilter.
And that was perfectly all right with me.
A/N: This first person narrative is a departure from my usual style of writing. I hope Ron's voice and character ring true. Won't you let me know, dear reader, what you thought?