A/N: Prepared for a weird trip into my imagination? This story is dedicated
to my lovely beta-reader Zsenya, who I discovered, is a huge fan of the
Smiths. Cheers, Z.
Shyness is nice but
Shyness can stop you
From doing all the things in life
That you'd like to
Coyness is nice, but
Coyness can stop you
From saying all the things in
Life that you want to
So, if there's something you'd like to try
If there's something you'd like to try
ASK ME - I WON'T SAY "NO" - HOW COULD I?
Spending warm, summer days indoors
Writing frightening verse
To a buck-toothed girl in Luxembourg
ASK ME, ASK ME, ASK ME…
"Ask", The Smiths
What did he think? That if he read the letter another
thirty times, the words would change?
"Come on, Ron, mate, moping never does anyone any good
- especially not if you're a Weasley," Bill Weasley ventured (Merlin's
Beard, I sound like Mum).
His approach had been somewhat more tactful than the
twins', but it got about the same level of response. All morning, Ron
had sat here at the kitchen table; oblivious to the various clatters and
bangs of people having breakfast, hunting for Ministry papers/purses/"something
small, alive, and slimy, Mum?" and eventually leaving, around him. Mrs.
Weasley's questioning ("Oh, is that from Hermione, dear? How is she?"),
Percy's usual thrilling update on work ("Of course I had to have a word.
One book on the wrong shelf, and the next thing you know, the whole Ministry
could be in confusion…") and even the twins' incessant jabs ("Yes, how
is Hermione, Ickle Ronniekins?" "Why do biirds, suuddenly appeeear..?"
"Easy, George. Animal magnetism.") - had all completely bypassed Ron.
All he'd been (and still was) focused on was a piece of parchment gripped
extremely hard in his left hand, which had arrived addressed to him via
Post Office Owl that morning.
Now the kitchen was deserted, and Bill, caught between
sympathy and amusement (and what felt almost like a tired pang), tried
"You know what the twins will do to you if they find
you're still here, don't you?" But still he sat, silent, eyes intent
on following each line down the page.
"The words "Guinea Pig" and "Weasley's Wizard Nose-Hair
Ringlets" spring to mind."
(Amazing). Okay then. But Ron was his youngest
brother, and he, Bill, was the eldest brother, and therefore there was
a connection that meant he felt he had to do something about this. Bill
removed something tatty, maroon, lace-cuffed, and despised, from the top
of Errol's cage. And took aim.
For a moment it seemed like even Ron's natural reflexes
were on hold; as the poor, wretched boy continued to sit motionless for
a second, the old maroon dress robes covering his whole head. Then:
"What was that for, you prat?!" Another moment, and
the red hair and red, freckled face reappeared, sporting a furious expression.
Bill felt an irrational sense of triumph (irrational
because he was over twenty). "Right. You, my dear baby brother, are coming
to Diagon Alley with me."
"Hmpgh. Don't think so, somehow." Bill caught the
mutter just as Ron looked prepared to resume he previous position, the
letter still in hand.
Bill hadn't forgotten: - the
turning bright red, incoherent mumbling, irrational stubbornness - all
life's most lustrous qualities, summed up in the annoyed phrase "whoever
asked to fall in love?"
"Really? Because I do," Bill said. "I think you're going
to get up; I think you're going to take this Floo powder, and I think
you're going get into the fireplace, and I also think that if Mum
comes back and sees you still here she's going to take you shopping
with her -"
"Okay, okay okay okay!" Ron jumped up, eyes vaguely
flashing - but otherwise showing no seriously furious signs. He was angry,
of course, but that had been anticipated.
"Good boy. I have to meet a friend later to - ah,
sort out some business; but we can go for an ice cream, get your school
supplies or something -"
"I always get my school supplies with Harry and -
Hermione," Bill heard Ron mumble almost incoherently, and he noticed that
the letter went carefully folded into his pocket.
It was now mid day; the sun was reflecting off the shiny,
cobbled streets and shops. Ron, having read the letter for what still
felt like the second time though it must've been the hundredth, scowled
at the world in general.
The world in general didn't seem to care. It was busy
and crowded in Diagon Alley, and while witches and wizards of all proportions
bustled onward, they were too busy to notice a sulking redhead sitting
alone under the shade of an umbrella outside Florean Fortescues. The busiest
part of Diagon Alley seemed to be Gringotts, which appeared to have more
people bustling among its strong white pillars than ever. Of course, Ron
realised. Now everyone knew, even if they pretended that they didn't,
that it wasn't true, and it wasn't happening.
Stupid, really. Cedric Diggory was there (or, more to
the point, wasn't there) to prove it. Harry was there to prove it. And
they all knew; and Ron recalled that morning's Daily Prophet headline,
and his dad saying something at breakfast about some people not trusting
the goblins and removing their gold from Gringotts, while others were
taking everything to the vaults for extra safety. Or something. Ron hadn't
really been listening. His mind had had an "occupied" sign hung over it.
Now, another image appeared suddenly in his mind, unannounced
and without grace (it was annoying how it did that). An image of a familiar
bushy-haired person hovering between the pillars, visibly greeting Harry
and Hagrid - visibly doing a lot of hugging and most of the talking.
It must've been just before their second year.
Funny how things change? Bloody hell, that was
an understatement. No Hagrid, now - probably not even at Hogwarts, but
some weird land on the other side of the world. Harry was locked up with
the Dursleys, where it was safe, apparently. And Hermione -
No. Anyway - nice weather. Bill was nowhere in sight.
He'd gone to meet this friend of his, had told Ron to get himself an ice
cream, and said he'd meet him there in a minute. Ron realised suddenly
that he felt grateful to his big brother. Bill was on holiday from Paris
(he'd been getting transferred all around the world recently) and had
been pretty decent, first to bother dragging him down here, then keeping
him company, trying to take his mind off -
"Excuse me, may I seet 'ere?" A light, accented voice
brought Ron back to attention.
"Yeah, sure," he said, barely turning as the stranger
indicated the chair opposite at his shaded table. Barely was enough however
- when Ron looked again a pulse thudded through him. He stared.
The blonde hair, the pale skin, and piercing blue eyes
(and a slight smile). Fleur Delacour, or Fleur Delacour's identical
twin, had just sat down opposite him, at his table, opposite him.
" 'ello," she said, casually. She extended an arm out
to summon the waiter (hah! Summon was the right word exactly), but kept
her eyes on him, and Ron suddenly had the strangest sensation of a calm
mother inspecting her son, making sure he was well turned-out and had
no…(I dunno)…dirt on his nose or something.
He really couldn't help it. Ron stared and stared - the
sort of staring where you're never actually looking, but more just seeing
what you know is already there. Then, as all the connections came flooding
back to him (connections of being back in the Great Hall surrounded by
laughing people, a week before the Yule Ball and very obviously, especially
partner-less), inevitability struck in…and he began to go red. First instincts
were of the "I -er - have to go - now -" sort. And he could be up and
away before she'd finished saying "double chocolat fudge sundae, pleez"
to the goggling waiter.
Except now Fleur's gaze had shifted, become less distant,
and more connected to his (he was sure) terrified eyes. There was a sort
of very subtle power there, in the gaze, only just felt. Dormant. It made
Ron wonder briefly if she was aware of the subtle strength she enforced
when she looked at someone; or whether it had just been something she'd
grown up with. (Grandmother being a veela and all).
Running-away thoughts were scrapped.
"I remember you," she said. It was a statement.
"Er - yeah - er - Ron Weasley," Ron ventured - quite
bravely, he thought.
She nodded her sleek, blonde head. "Fleur Delacour,"
she returned. But even the way she said it made it clear that they both
knew it wasn't necessary.
"Yeah - I - er - know," said Ron. (As if that helped!)
He was trying desperately to banish thoughts of Yule Balls, and unfortunate
questions, and people gasping and laughing, and being looked at as if
he were a slug. "So - er - what are you doing here?"
She gave him an odd look then, as if she was surprised
he didn't already know. "I am 'ere on business - working for ze Ministry
of Magic - on ze board of Foreign Diplomats," she said.
"Oh," said Ron (What now?)
"You are surprised? You 'ave forgotten zat I was ze Beauxbatons
champion?" came the slightly irked remark.
"Oh, no - no," Ron amended hurriedly. He had been surprised
- though, knowing she had been a champion, he knew he'd had no reason
to be. But it was somewhat difficult to imagine a girl like Fleur working
with, or alongside his father, and Percy, and Bill. Of course, in these
times, his dad had said, everybody would be working together…
"But I thought you were going to teach, or something…"
It hadn't been all, though, Ron thought - the embarrassment
and sheer madness that had come of one small question. She had kissed
him, too. After the second task, when he'd " 'elped" drag her sister to
shore. Maybe it wasn't as the delusional prat she remembered him but as
the brave, bold…
…Friend of Harry Potter? (Always comes down to that,
As she began to tuck into her ice cream (wonder what
happened to the diet) Ron noticed, for the first time, a small jagged
scar running across the girl's wrist. He realised as he did so that it
had probably come as a result of the underwater struggle with the Grindylows
in that same task.
She shrugged. "In zees times…it is vary…" and she trailed
off, almost faltering, if that word could ever be used in conjunction
with Fleur Delacour. She looked older too; Ron, for all his staring, realised
it for the first time. Only very slightly, but it was there; and when
Fleur looked about her, there was only half the reserve left of the champion
schoolgirl who'd laughed during Dumbledore's welcoming speech (funny
the things you remember), whose school refused to disclose its location.
" 'Ow is 'Arry?" She had leaned forward, and the
question came swiftly, almost abruptly. Ron felt at once a wave of relief
- and slight jealous irritation.
"He's fi - "
(No.) Not like this. He wouldn't let himself be
like this. "He's okay," Ron finished. "He's not fine, but he's alive.
And I know Harry; he'll carry on fighting. With the rest of us," he added,
But she nodded. "Brave boy. A vary brave boy. I wonder…I
do not zink…if I was in 'is position…" And there was the faltering again.
"What about your uzzer friend? Ze clever, pretty
Ron started. "Hermione? She's fine. She's on holiday,
at the moment, with her parents. They're Muggles, you see, and she doesn't
get to see them much apart from holidays. They've gone to Bulgaria, I
think. The weather's nice there, apparently…" Somewhere in the back of
his mind Ron was aware that he was on the verge of babbling. He'd also
noticed that the colour of Fleur's robes were almost exactly the same
shade of blue as Hermione's dress robes.
And he thought he could detect a slight smile on
Fleur's lips. "I remember 'er, too. Viktor Krum's most treasured possession,
"Yeah," came the reply from between gritted teeth.
"I 'ope she is alright. It must be difficult…zere
are so many who do not like Muggle-borns." She sighed a little as she
said this, then looked up at Ron again, with a determination in her eyes.
"I am but 'alf blood, you know. My muzzer is not a witch." She shook her
head. "You do not understand, how it is to be between two worlds. I 'ope
zat you take care of your girlfriend."
Ron had sat without saying a word, surprised that
Fleur had, firstly, taken such an interest in him and his friends, then
bothered confiding in someone she barely knew. He spoke quickly now, however.
"Oh, no - Hermione's not my girlfriend. Just friends." And Ron wondered
why it felt oddly strange, or wrong, saying those two words.
"Ah, pardon. My English is not yet quite - how do
you say? - Parfait." But Fleur did not meet his eye.
"Do you miss zem? 'Arry - and - ?"
"Yeah. A lot." Ron didn't need to hesitate. Then:
"It's weird, you know? It's just - after everything happening last year,
it feels wrong not being together. We write letters, but it's not the
same. I just miss them."
A kind look. "Well, you should tell zem zat. I am
sure it would be appreciated." Fleur paused. "Girls - we like to hear
zat. It's nice to know." And she winked at him.
"Oh, good, you two have been getting reacquainted,
then." While Ron stared, a hand had come down on his shoulder. It was
Bill, looking very pleased, and slightly flushed. "Sorry, I got held up
at the Owl Office, so I told Fleur to come and find you first," he explained
"You - what? You know..?"
Bill shrugged, would-be casually, still looking pleased
about nothing. "Course we do, you prat. Fleur's been working for the Ministry
of Magic in France, and you know I've being doing business for Gringotts
there recently. We work together."
Oh, I'll bet you do, Ron thought, looking
at them looking at one another, sharing a beaming smile.
"Didn't she tell you she was on the board of Foreign
Diplomats?" Bill added, still looking at Fleur with admiration. "Anyway,
can I get you another ice-cream, Fleur? You know, I introduced this girl
to double chocolate sundaes? And what do you want, Ron?"
Ron looked at the little tableau before him, and stood
up, feeling a bit dazed. "No, thanks, William." Bill had been pretty
decent today. Call it a return favour. "I think I'll go home, actually.
Do some - er - homework. Fleur, thanks for the…advice."
"Homework? Bit uncharacteristic, isn't it?" was the only
objection Bill made, as he sat down in the vacated seat. Fleur waved Ron
And Ron walked to the nearest fireplace, taking a pinch
of Floo powder from a small bag in his pocket. He had a letter to write.