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He’d had that nightmare again, the one with the tap dancing spiders. Ron sat up in bed and rubbed his eyes. Even this nightmare was familiar, and after all that he’d seen in his life it didn’t feel like a nightmare any more. It was much like a chronic illness, he mused. When a person is sick so long and finally becomes well, even that feels strange because the enduring feeling of discomfort, even though one knows it’s discomfort, has started to feel normal. That was a summary of things in his life. Things had been wrong so long that he was used to the pain. He didn’t have Harry or Hermione any more. Oh, they were alive. It wasn’t anything as mundane as death. They were just together with each other and not with him. Somehow their trio had shrunk to a duo, and he was shoved out of the picture. He’d always thought of Hermione as his, so when she chose Harry over him, he was fundamentally shocked. It was like her, though, and Ron thought he should have read the signs. She’d been enamored with Lockhart, had dated Viktor Krum and had chosen Harry, the hero, in the end. He’d gone into the newspaper trade after Hogwarts. The origins had probably begun in his third year when Ron had researched Buckbeak’s defense for Hagrid. With a friend like Hermione, he couldn’t avoid research, either. It was his friendship and short romantic relationship with his neighbor, Luna, that had been the official catalyst for his work in newspapers. As it was for his work, he had several contacts with both Wizards and Muggles. Ron got out of bed and dressed himself in Muggle clothing. Today he was to meet a Muggle in downtown London for an interview on banking and the European Union. He was writing piece on the impact of Muggle politics on the Wizard economy. He looked at himself in the mirror critically. He wasn’t vain by any stretch of the imagination, but as an adult he worked hard to wear clothing that actually looked good on him. He didn’t have a maroon thing in his closet any more. He was satisfied with his Muggle appearance in charcoal grey trousers and a navy blue dress shirt. Ron Weasley Apparated out of his small flat to his meeting in London. ................. When his work was over in the early afternoon, Ron walked the streets of Muggle London not paying attention to the people around him. It hadn’t been a bad day so far, not really, but it had been tedious. He just wanted time to clear his head. One of his Muggle contacts had turned him on to the wonders of coffee of all shapes, sizes and flavors. It was very different than pumpkin juice at Hogwarts or even tea, but he took an immediate liking to it. Ever since that time, on the days when he was working on Muggle-related business, Ron often indulged himself by at stop at the trendy and often busy coffee shop. He’d described it to his family as the Three Broomsticks or the Leaky Cauldron for Muggles. He’d brought with him his work things. His plan was to order a coffee and sit in the comfy chairs upstairs while writing--with a pen--the sketches for the article. With that in mind, he ducked into the store. Being such a tall man, he almost did literally have to duck to get into the building. Standing in the queue, Ron pondered his order. He wanted something strong and stout that could last a long time, like the coffee version of dark chocolate. When his order had been completed and he paid with the acceptable British Muggle money, he stepped away from the rest and looked out for a place to sit and work. “Café au lait, s’il vous plait,” he heard a soft, feminine voice near him say. Ron rolled his eyes at the sound of someone ordering in French. He knew this coffee shop was trendy, but if there was one thing he couldn’t abide, it was a poser. He turned back to look at the person he’d already decided was an obnoxious twit, and he stopped to stare with his mouth gaping. Ron Weasley was looking into the face of Fleur Delacour. Her silvery blonde veela-quality hair was on top of her head, contained inside a wide-brimmed hat she was wearing. The brim of the hat acted like a fame to her face, emphasizing more her lovely complexion and delicate bone structure. When she looked directly at him, he snapped out of his daze. “Fleur!” he exclaimed. To that, she gave a closed-mouth smile at him. “I was standing behind you, but you did not notice me,” she said in slow, evenly-metered English. He reddened. “I was thinking about work. Your English, it sounds very good!” “Merci!” she said with a perverse twinkle in her eye. Ron continued to ogle her because he was honestly surprised to see her. “I supposed Bill helped you with that.” “’E ‘elped a little,” she said, momentarily slipping in her speech, “but zat was a long time ago.” “Indeed,” Ron conferred with a nod. The relationship with Fleur and Bill had lasted only a year and a half before they went their separate ways. “And you?” she asked. “It has also been a long time. Do you have many babies with that witch? ‘Ermione, I think her name was.” “Hermione,” he corrected automatically. “No, though last I heard she and Harry have a boy and girl, named James and Lily, of course.” “Ah, Harry,” she said, this time pronouncing the initial H. “He was good to my sister.” Ron studied her while he took a sip of his drink. “Fleur, would you like to sit with me?” He figured it might be a long-shot for her to accept, but he was no longer a fourteen year old boy with a crush on a seventeen year old French veela. “Oui!” she answered with a look of surprise at herself that she‘d accepted. He put his free hand on her elbow to steady her as they walked upstairs to find a pair of free seats. Once there, they luckily found some by the window that were just being vacated by a laughing and kissing couple. Ron looked at them suspect, while Fleur waited. Ron did a gallant bow, and pulled out the seat for Fleur. She laughed at his gesture, and the sound fell on his ears like tinkling bells. He tried to remember if he’d heard the sound before when he’d briefly known her at Hogwarts. He thought that he hadn’t, and even though she’d dated Bill, Ron didn’t have much contact with her after the Tri-Wizard Tournament was over. He’d been too busy with the War to think of her, not that it would have been an appropriate action to have thoughts for his older brother’s girlfriend. When he sat down, Ron realized with stark terror that he just didn’t know what to say to Fleur. It was easy to make shallow references to the past, but what did he actually know about her? Looking over at her while the silence grew, he saw that she was looking out the window at the Muggles walking on the street below. “You have lovely bones,” he said, speaking out loud the first thought that clearly formed in his head. Fleur turned her eyes away from the window to Ron. “Thank you,” she said with grace. After a moment of silence, she voiced her own assessment. “I see you are no longer a little boy.” “No,” he said with his brow wrinkling in consternation. He might not be a boy in years, but when she spoke, he felt nearly as embarrassed as the one he had been when he’d asked her for a date to the Yule Ball. “I work at the Daily Prophet now,” he said, setting his work case on the edge of the table. “You know about papers after your year as Beauxbatons Champion.” “I ‘ope you write better than that woman,” Fleur said in distaste, meaning Rita Skeeter. “Anyone can write better than she can,” Ron said, “but yes, I do well.” “So tell me what you are writing now,” she invited, again using a slow and studied English delivery. “It’s about money and politics,” he said with a grimace in case she wasn’t interested in hearing the extremely minute details. She nodded in appreciation. “Most things in this word are about exactly zat! I still work at Gringott’s, and it never changes.” “Bill hasn’t mentioned you,” Ron said. When he realized his words could be taken offensively, he backtracked. “What I mean is, he hasn’t told us that he still worked with you.” “We don’t work together. It is no matter,” Fleur dismissed. “Tell me about you instead.” He studied her face as if looking for clues. “Are you sure you want to know?” “Oui!” she answered with a curt nod. Ron took a large drink of his over-priced coffee before starting. When he was ready, he plowed ahead, telling her about his job and the interview he’d had that day. It was three hours and four coffees for Ron before either of them checked that time had passed. ................. A young couple walked by Ron and Fleur’s table, bumping into them as they went. The pair only giggled over their shoulders and made shallow apologies. Instead of being philosophical about wishing he was in a relationship, Ron looked at his watch and gasped when he saw the time. “Fleur, I must go! I have a deadline and a story to finish,” he further explained. “I wish you to write well,” she answered. “I will! It was nice to discuss this with you,” said Ron appreciatively. “Talking to you has helped me sort out my thoughts before I write them.” “I will be sure to read what you have written, Mr. Weasley,” she said, looking softly up at him. He laughed and grinned so much a small dimple appeared. “Thank you,” he said. Ron held out his hand to Fleur so they could leave the table. Together they walked downstairs and out of the coffee shop. At the door of the shop, she stopped Ron, saying, “It has been a pleasure. I should like to do this again.” Ron realized, even if only to satisfy curiosities that had appeared, that he wanted the very same thing. In the event, though, that she changed her mind, he felt he should attempt to tell her one last thing. “I didn’t know you then,” he said honestly, looking away from Fleur. “You were only a face to me, not a real person. I think this is the first time for me to really talk to you. You aren’t who I thought you were.” Smiling enigmatically, she said, “None of us ever really is. It is mystique.” Ron didn’t voice another opinion on his or Fleur’s mystique. They were standing outside on the concrete street with strange looking Muggles of all kinds walking around them. When one rough looking man walked by them, staring lasciviously at Fleur, Ron instinctually put his hand on her hip and protectively pulled her closer to him. He immediately stammered and apology. “I know you can protect yourself. I just didn’t like how he looked at you.” “It is,” she said with a sigh, “my curse. It has happened my whole life.” “It doesn’t make it right,” Ron grumbled. A gust of wind suddenly came by them, making Fleur grasp her hat in surprise. Ron studied her before deciding to remove the hat. He took away the hat and several hair pins, releasing her silvery-blonde hair to tumble freely down her back. He gaped at her with an open mouth as he stared at her hair. “I’m looking at you like that, aren’t I?” he asked once he realized it. She nodded her assent and then took her hat out of his hands. Placidly she looked right back at Ron. As he looked at her, he felt an unmistakably strong desire enter him. Giving in to his primal urge, Ron plunged his hands into her hair. He closed his eyes and sighed in gratification because it felt as soft and cool as he knew it would. He rested the top of his head near hers as he reveled in the sensation. Never in his imaginings would Ron have honestly expected Fleur’s next course of action. She stood on her toes and leaned into him to give him a soft kiss on the lips. Fleur softly teased him by tugging at his lower lip with her mouth, and then she slowly pulled away. Ron kept his eyes closed as if trying to imprint every detail of the small kiss into his memory forever. His own lips were open in a soft pouting round shape that begged to be kissed again, but Fleur did not kiss him again. She waited until he opened his dazed eyes and looked at her. Ron released the breath he was holding. “That was nice,” he said while he respectfully took a step back from her. “Maybe there will be others,” she said appreciatively. “In time.” He ran his fingers through his red hair and looked at her while trying to figure out what to do next. He needed to write his article, but Ron wanted to see her again. “Tuesday?” he questioned. “Will you have coffee with me again on Tuesday?” Fleur smiled her small smile again. “Yes. I shall.” She gave him a gracious nod before leaving him to be absorbed into the London crowd. Ron reached up to lightly touch his lips. He smiled with incredulity. This was not what he had expected for his day when he had awoken from dreams of tap dancing spiders. He moved into the swarm of people, thinking beyond the article he had to write today to the coffee he would have with Fleur on Tuesday.

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