Preamble: This is an AU story that is canon in every way except one gigantic one – Hermione never received her Hogwarts letter as a child and never learned she was a witch. I wanted to explore another way to still get them all to the canon ending in the epilogue – and to see where things went from there. Sometimes we reach our happily-ever-after's in ways we would never expect. I adore Ron & Hermione and wanted to watch them find their way to each other in these very different circumstances. Be forewarned – this is a long, multi-chapter fanfic full of the slow burn. I love dialogue and watching these two try to work things out despite misunderstandings, missed chances and ridiculous obstacles. Tight and succinct this is not. It is M for later chapters.
I don't own Harry Potter, of course– but I am grateful we get to play with JK Rowling's incredible characters. I hope you enjoy the story, and I would love to hear your feedback, reviews, questions and hopes for this story….
Chapter 1: November 2004 –Dennis and Fiona's Wedding
Hermione sat with her mum at a table on the outer edge of the wedding reception. She had kicked her heels off under the table and was trying to discretely rub the spot on her left foot that was screaming at her for wearing such impractical shoes. Her dad had gotten up to find a scotch. Seeing Mrs. Creevey walking over to the table, she slipped the shoes back on and got up to give her a hug.
"Thank you so much for coming today, Hermione! I know you are about to start on your own great adventure, but it means so much that you were here today," Mrs. Creevey said.
"Of course! I wouldn't have missed seeing Dennis get married for anything in the world. You know that."
"Well, yes – I suppose I do, but that doesn't mean I take it for granted."
"Oh Janie, it was simply lovely. I am so happy for Dennis. I know he's all grown up, but I can't help but look at him and see that little boy who took apart his changing table when he was only 3 years old!"
"Thanks, Jean. I am so proud of who he has grown up to be. And Fiona is such a good partner for him," and then she paused, "but I do miss Collin today."
"Oh, Janie. We are all missing him," her mum said getting up from her chair to hug her friend. "But he's here in spirit today. You know he is."
"Oh, I know it. I feel him often – not just today. I guess I just haven't seen all of his school chums together at once like this since the funeral, and they've all grown up, but Collin will forever be a teenager in my mind."
Hermione watched the women embracing and felt nothing but gratitude that her mum had such a precious friend. It made it a lot easier for her to feel comfortable leaving the country for a few years knowing Mrs. Creevey would be there if her mum needed anything.
"Hermione, dear, you should go meet some of Dennis and Collin's school friends. I think you might be the only young person here who didn't head off to Scotland for boarding school."
"I will in a bit, thanks."
The two older women fell in to comfortable chatter laughing about some of the outfits people wore to the wedding. Hermione had to agree that this Scottish boarding school crowd did seem to a have a particularly peculiar sense of style. It wasn't that any one thing was off about it, it just didn't seem to all come together quite right. Usually that sort of slightly stuffy and odd style seemed to be relegated to great aunts, but here is seemed to be almost everyone. With one or two notable exceptions.
Hermione had noticed three people laughing at a table across the room. The three seemed to be good friends – a dark haired boy, a girl about Hermione's age with long red hair, and a very tall, exceedingly fit ginger haired bloke. She thought from the body language that the dark haired boy and redheaded girl were together, but the other boy seemed equally comfortable with both. Maybe he was related to the girl? Hermione wasn't quite sure. She remembered seeing the same three people at Collin's funeral. A lot of that time seemed a bit hazy, and many of Collin's friends were injured in the same accident so they looked like a rather rough lot at the memorial. But, she definitely remembered seeing the tall ginger boy. He had looked so haunted that day. In fact she was so worried about him that she remembered asking Dennis if he was alright. Dennis had simply said he'd lost a brother in the same accident and had been very involved in trying to help during all of the chaos.
There was something about him that once again captivated Hermione. As she watched the trio, she noticed Dennis and his new wife Fiona walk over to them. As they all greeted each other, Dennis seemed friendly with the girl more than the bloke, but his new bride was immediately playful and teasing with the two. She hadn't realized she was blatantly staring until Dennis looked up and caught her eye. Laughing he gestured her over. She was still shaking her head in a "no," as he walked across the room to her table.
"Come on, Hermione, you can't hide over here with our mums all night. Come meet my friends. I promise. They won't bite. Well not most of them anyway."
"Dennis, no – really, all of your school chums are already friends. I don't want to be in the way."
"How can you be in the way, Hermione? You are practically my big sister. Our mums have been best friends since before The Beatles crossed the pond. I want you meet my friends."
As she allowed Dennis to lead her across the reception she tried to calm her nerves. She had never felt terribly confident in this type of social setting. Small dinners. Coffee shops. University study groups. She could make friends in that setting. Giant wedding reception of dancing, drinking twenty somethings? Not exactly her cup of tea. And knowing she was leaving the country in a few weeks didn't exactly make her feel the need to meet new friends she would never see again.
"Everyone, I want you to meet Hermione. Hermione and I have known each other since we were born. In fact, our mums have been best friends since they were five years old, so Hermione have been more or less raised as sisters. She wasn't pleased when Collin and I headed off to Scotland. Oh, hey – Fiona and I need to catch Neville before he leaves – can I trust you to be nice to Hermione?"
Hermione smiled while cursing Dennis under her breath and shooting him the evil big sister glare.
"Great to meet you, Hermione. I'm Harry. This is my wife, Ginny, and her brother, Ron, who also happens to be my best friend."
"Nice to meet you all. Dennis and Collin would come home with the most wonderful stories from school."
"Really?" Ron asked nervously.
"Well, I didn't go to boarding school, so really getting up to any adventures without adults constantly present sounded wonderful to me at that age."
"Oh. Yeah. Right. It was a pretty neat school," he replied.
"What my most ineloquent brother means is we did have a good time there most of the time. My whole family went there, so I think we just forget that most people grow up going to a school near their homes and not having that same experience. So, what is it you do, Hermione?"
"I'm a solicitor, but I work mostly with international refugees through the UNHCR." Hermione paused as she saw both red heads look blank and shoot each other confused looks.
Harry noticed the odd look as well and quickly commented, "Wow, Hermione. That's important work. Ron and I work with Fiona as a type of detective. Actually – Ron and Fiona are partners."
"Yeah," laughed Ron. "Harry used to be my partner but went and got promoted to be the head guy, so now Fiona and I have to answer to this git."
"Must make for an interesting performance review," Hermione muttered awkwardly under her breath. "What about you Ginny?"
"Oh, actually I am a professional athlete. I am on a team up in Wales. I doubt you've heard of it. The Hollyhead Harpies?"
"No – can't say that I know it. But that's fabulous you are pursuing your dream! I played football a bit when I was younger, well I was living in American then so it was 'soccer' to the other New York girls on the team."
"Why were you in America?" Harry asked.
"Oh, I lived in America until just before my eleventh birthday. I was born there actually. My parents worked for the United Nations in New York. They're dentists and they worked with UNICEF on children's oral healthcare work around the world. So, I played football – or soccer as a little girl, but I didn't continue when I moved back to England."
"I am so happy for Dennis and Fi," chimed in Ginny. "They look so happy."
"I'm just not used to seeing Fi look like a girl. It's messing with my head a bit," laughed Ron. "At work she would never wear a dress or make up or do whatever it is that she's done with her hair. But she does look great. And Dennis makes her so happy. He's about the only person I know who she will listen to, so I suppose she had no choice but to marry him."
"Funny," added Hermione, "Mrs. Creevey said the same thing about Fiona being the only one Dennis will listen to."
They all laughed, and then the music changed to a slower song.
"Come on, Potter," Ginny said as she dragged Harry up by his tie, "you promised me one proper dance at this party."
"Sorry," Harry blushed as he was led away, "a promise is a promise."
Hermione glanced up at Ron who was suddenly beset with crimson ears. It was rather cute to see a handsome detective that nervous actually.
"Would you, um, you wanna dance too?" he sputtered.
With a slight chuckle she smiled and nodded and he led her out onto the dance floor. It was a slow, sweet song, and as he placed his hand on her hip, she felt a spark of electricity she had not expected. From the way Ron flinched, she suspected he felt it too. She felt her heart beat faster and a slight blush creep up her neck. Nonsense she thought. I am leaving the country in a week and won't be back for years. Not the right time to get a school girl crush on the handsome detective.
Ron was surprised to find himself on the dance floor with Dennis' muggle friend. He didn't dance well. He couldn't remember ever asking a woman to dance before. He had certainly never been this close to any muggle before let alone a beautiful muggle woman. And he couldn't remember the last time he'd met someone who didn't know – or at least thought they knew – his entire life history. But there was something about this woman. Could it be that he was comfortable with her because she had been friends with the Creevey brothers? Maybe. But that didn't explain that jolt to his magic when they touched. Or how it felt like he could feel every single cell on his skin where her warm breath touched when she exhaled. And it didn't explain how intoxicated he was by her hair – how it looked, how it smelled, how the insane curls bounced when she laughed. She was talking to him and smiling, laughing even and he could hardly even hear her. It was like everything was stuck in some slowing charm.
When the song ended he summoned his Gryffindor courage and asked if she wanted to keep dancing. She smiled and agreed.
"Sorry I'm not the best dancer," he apologized.
"Well, you are definitely better than I am, so maybe I'm the one who should be apologizing," she laughed.
"No! You're brilliant. I mean – well – my older brothers have always harassed me about being a terrible dancer. We have a very large family, so it felt like some cousin or distant relative was always getting married. And at every wedding Fred and George would make fun of me until I gave up and drowned my sorrows in whatever I could steal from the adult bar."
"So, you have two older brothers and a sister? That's great. I am an only child. Can't imagine having three other siblings. Dennis and Collin are the closest I have."
"Well, actually, there were 7 of us. Bill, Charlie, Percy, then the twins Fred and George, me and finally Ginny. Fred died the same day Collin did. So there are 6 of us now. I guess that's a lot, but now it will always feel too small I suppose."
"I'm so sorry about your brother. Such a terrible accident at a school. We couldn't believe it when we heard about Collin. I actually remember seeing you at his funeral. I asked Dennis about you that day as I was concerned about you. He said you were injured in the accident trying to help save other people."
"Dennis said that?" Ron said, almost coming to a stop on the dance floor. Hermione nodded and looked at him with some concern.
"Sorry," Ron replied shaking his head as if shaking the memories away. "I don't recall much about Collin's funeral. It was a difficult time, and I had to go to a lot of funerals that May."
"No, no. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to bring up painful memories. Losing Collin isn't the same as losing an actual brother I suppose, but I miss him terribly. He was always so happy and energetic."
Ron smiled. "It's quite alright. It's nice to talk about Collin again with someone who knew him away from school. I remember his first year – I was a year ahead of him. He arrived the most gung ho energetic little thing you'd ever seen. And he had a camera with him every single bloody place he went!"
"Oh yes, I don't think he went anywhere without a camera after about age 9 or so. I remember threatening him at one point when he followed me around my house for an entire weekend taking pictures every few minutes. I was so grouchy, but good old Collin, he never let anyone bring him down. He was as enthusiastic and gung ho as ever."
Ron twirled Hermione as part of song, and then she came back into his arms. When they came back together, Ron felt that jolt again as he had when they started dancing, and from the way Hermione caught her breath for a moment, he thought she felt something too. He held her a little tighter as the music switched to a slower song and he felt her relax into his arms. He was amazed at how natural yet terrifying it felt to hold this muggle woman in his arms. He glanced up over her head and saw Harry and Ginny each giving him a thumbs up. Quickly shifting his eyes from their unhelpful gestures, his head began to churn. Could he really date a muggle? His father's reaction aside, how could a non magical person possibly understand his life, and how could he bring an innocent muggle into the circus that was his life. The press would have a field day. And yet, as he felt her sigh into his chest as he pulled her closer, he wasn't sure he was willing to just let her walk away from his life.
Hermione's mind was spinning as Ron held her closer. She breathed in his scent and somehow felt at home in his strong embrace. She couldn't ever remember feeling this attracted to someone – let alone someone she just met. The rational part of her brain started kicking into overdrive. She was leaving the country for several years in a few days. She wouldn't even have a phone number. She couldn't possibly ask him to please wait for her to be back in two or three years so maybe they could go on a first date. Did she even know his last name? She didn't think so. So many good reasons to step away right now. Yet she felt herself melt a little further into his arms. She was rather certain he felt it too, as his breathing had changed as well.
The next thing they both knew someone was announcing that everyone was encouraged to head to the front entrance to see Dennis and Fiona off. Reluctantly, Ron and Hermione pulled apart.
After a moment of shared silence, Hermione ventured, "Well I suppose if they're off I should be getting back to my table as my parents will want to leave soon. I really enjoyed dancing with you, Ron. Tell your brothers that they were quite wrong in their assessment of your skills."
He smiled. "I'll be sure to that rub that in whenever I have an opportunity."
She turned to go, but he reached for her wrist to stop her. "Can I see you again, Hermione? Could I maybe take you to dinner sometime?"
Hermione sighed. "As much as I would really love that, and I really would, Ron," she emphasized as she touched his arm gently, "unfortunately I am leaving town next week. Not just leaving town really – I am headed out on a multi-year tour of refugee camps around the world for my job. I won't even have an address or a phone number."
"Oh," Ron said lamely.
"I am suddenly wishing Dennis had gotten married a year ago so I wasn't meeting you on the eve of me moving out of England."
"I think I share your wish."
"You know. Here. Let me jot down my email address. At the very least we can keep in touch, and if something changes and I come back sooner, then maybe we can try again then."
Ron smiled and nodded, though he had no idea what an email address was. He watched as Hermione jotted down a series of letters and symbols onto a cocktail napkin and handed it to him.
"I really had a lovely time tonight, Ron."
"I did too, Hermione. I hope you enjoy your work. And maybe we will cross paths when you come back."
She smiled and hugged him before heading back to her parents. Ron was torn as he watched her go. Rationally he knew a relationship with a muggle would be inherently complicated. But there was something about her that drew him like a magnet.
Harry came up to Ron and patted him on the back. "That went well, huh mate?"
"Well, it was brilliant right up to the point where she said she is leaving England next week for work."
"That's alright, you could see her when she comes back."
"Yeah – that won't be for at least two years. She handed me some gibberish muggle thing and asked me to send her email. What in the bloody hell is that anyway?"
"I'm sorry, Ron. Two years, huh? Rough. And email is like sending a typed up letter over the computer instead of through the post."
"I guess that sums it up then. I am really not cut out to date a muggle anyway. I mean – of all people – the press would eat her alive."
"I don't know. She seemed to be able to hold her own pretty well I think."
"She's a muggle, Harry! It wouldn't work anyway. Maybe it's for the best."
"Maybe this is that lump of tea leaves I could never read right back in Trelawney's class. This must be that 'you'll be happy and then you won't be happy and then you'll be happy about not being happy' part. So – I guess I owe you a firewhisky."
"You're messed up, mate."
"I know. But you love me for it," Harry laughed as he threw his arm around Ron and led him over to the bar.