Disclaimer: Harry Potter and all his world belong to J.K.Rowling. I'm just grateful she lets me play with them.
Christy had arrived at the International Portkey Terminal just after midday by UK time and immediately been whisked away by Hermione Weasley for lunch, despite the fact that her body still thought it was breakfast time. Hermione had insisted that they shouldn't talk about work.
'You've only just arrived and I'm sure you'll want a little time to settle in. I thought I'd take you into the Ministry and show you round, introduce you to a few of the people you'll be working with, and then take you home. I expect you'll want a nap before dinner. Then you can meet Ron.'
'That's your husband? Does he work at the Ministry as well?' Christy picked at the congealing mess on her plate looking for something recognisable to put in her mouth. She'd told Hermione she wanted to try something typically British but she had regretted that the instant she'd smelt the steak and kidney pie. Back home, they'd fed the dogs this kind of thing.
Hermione laughed. 'No. Ron's a builder.'
The way Hermione was looking at her, Christy realised she hadn't quite managed to conceal her reaction. 'I'm sorry. I'm just… surprised, I guess.'
'It's fine. Most people have the same response when they find out what Ron's doing now.'
'Now? What did he used to do?'
It was Hermione's turn to look surprised. 'Well, he started training as an Auror, but…'
'But what?' prompted Christy, thoroughly confused by now. This was obviously one of those things that everyone expected her to already know but she hadn't a clue.
'You know that I'm Hermione Granger?'
Christy shook her head. 'All your letters said Weasley.'
'Yes. My maiden name was Granger. Hermione Granger. And my husband is Ron Weasley.' She was still talking as though Christy ought to recognise their names. 'You've heard of Harry Potter, haven't you?'
'Of course.' Everyone had heard of the young wizard who'd killed Lord Voldemort.
'So you do know about the War?'
Christy nodded in bewilderment. She used to work at the Pentagram; of course she knew about the War. They'd sent a detachment of the US Magical Military to infiltrate the country when it had become clear that the new regime in the UK could no longer be tolerated. Six months later, the final showdown had claimed the lives of many of their troops, but it had been a price worth paying to secure a lasting peace across the whole of the magical world.
'And you've heard of the Horcruxes?'
They'd studied the magic of Horcrux-making in her Department. One of the wizards who'd witnessed the destruction of the final Horcrux had presented a report to Christy's colleagues.
'I'm sorry,' she told Hermione. 'I'm just not sure what you're trying to say.'
'Ron and I were with Harry for the whole year, searching for the Horcruxes and destroying them. Ron was brilliant. He was the one who remembered the Basilisk fangs.'
'Basilisk?' Christy echoed faintly.
'To destroy the Horcrux.'
'Oh, yes. I see. And your husband did that?' Christy's eyebrows rose. 'He must be quite something.'
She'd expected Ron to be fit. He was a builder, after all but she hadn't expected him to be quite so tall or so strong or just so ridiculously big. Christy had never thought of herself as a small woman but Ron towered above her and around her.
Nor was she prepared for someone quite so brightly coloured with his burnt orange hair and his sky blue eyes and his white teeth and… and… all those freckles.
And nothing in Hermione's manner had led Christy to believe that her husband would be so loud or… or… uncouth, was the word her mind dragged up. Whatever Mike's faults had been, and she knew they were many, no one could have accused him of being uncouth.
Ron hadn't seemed fazed by her incoherent response to his welcome. He merely gave her a wide grin and grasped her hand warmly before tossing her bag easily over his shoulder to take it upstairs.
'Hell of a day, Hermione,' he called over his shoulder. 'Better make mine a double.'
Christy watched as Hermione opened a large cabinet stashed with an assortment of bottles. She selected one of the biggest and poured a generous measure into a glass.
'I'm sorry,' Hermione said with a smile. 'I should have asked you first. What would you like? Wine? Butterbeer?'
'What's your husband drinking?'
Hermione held out the glass she'd just filled for Christy to smell. 'Horrid, isn't it? It's some unpronounceable witches' brew his brother gave him for Christmas as a joke. Ron seems to have taken a liking to it.' Christy wrinkled her nose up at the foul smelling liquid and wondered what kind of a person would take to something that reminded her of dirty socks and bubotuber pus.
Ron hadn't bothered to take a shower before dinner. Christy could smell the mix of stale sweat and turpentine every time he raised a fork to his mouth. He barely spoke a word to either her or Hermione, merely shovelling back three bowls of the hearty stew. Hermione let him get on with it, simply ensuring that both his plate and glass were kept filled.
Finally, Ron put knife and fork together and looked up at his wife. He leaned over to kiss her cheek.
'Awesome stew, love.' Then he turned to Christy and smiled. 'I don't suppose you play chess?'
She blinked, wondering if she'd heard him correctly. She was prepared to allow that this loutish man possessed a certain amount of bravery that he'd shown in the War. She hadn't expected him to have the kind of strategic intelligence you needed to be a chess player.
'Not really,' she admitted. 'I know the moves but I can never bring myself to sacrifice any of my pieces.'
Christy saw Ron and Hermione exchange a glance.
'Sorry,' said Hermione, evidently noticing the blank look on her guest's face. 'It's just that I'm exactly the same.'
'Not to worry,' Ron assured Christy. 'I play Exploding Snap, too.'
'Ron!' Hermione's voice rang out sharply. 'Christy's just travelled halfway round the world. She doesn't want to play silly games with you. Now can you please go and wash before she completely writes you off as an oafish boor. I apologise for him,' she added, turning to Christy.
Ron stood up and went round to hug his wife, giving her the full benefit of his unwashed scent. 'I'm sorry, Christy, I didn't think. Hermione usually lets me eat before I do anything else. She doesn't mind all this.' He indicated his work clothes. From the way Hermione was leaning into her husband's embrace, Ron was clearly right about that.
'No, I…' She wanted to be polite and say she didn't mind either. 'It's your house,' she came up with. 'Please don't feel you have to do anything special because of me. It's very kind of you to have me here at all.'
'Nonsense,' Ron told her. 'It's no trouble. Now, if you ladies will excuse me, I'd better go and have that shower.'
Christy began to stack the plates but Hermione told her to leave it.
'Ron will do it,' she insisted. 'You're our guest, remember. Now, can I get you anything else? Coffee, perhaps?'
Christy admitted that she was in desperate need of a caffeine fix.
'Of course you are. You must be exhausted.' Hermione was opening cupboards, Summoning milk and coffee and casting Charms on a professional-looking Espresso machine.
'Not really. It's only mid-afternoon at home.'
'Do you have anyone you need to contact? We have access to the International Owl Service if you'd like to send a message to tell them that you got here safely?'
Christy curled her fingers tightly round the hot mug Hermione had given her. 'No. No, there's no one.'
Hermione looked at her curiously for a moment but thankfully, decided to let it go. 'Shall we go and sit down?'
Ron joined her and Hermione in the living room. His hair was darker, slicked back after his shower and he smelled of some spicy fragrance. He sat beside Hermione on the couch, slipping an arm around her waist and pulling his wife to lean against him. Christy watched curiously as the two began to talk about their day. It seemed as if they could read each other's thoughts; they finished the other's sentences; they started laughing at jokes before the punch line had been spoken.
'You two were high school sweethearts, right?'
Ron grinned and pulled a lock of Hermione's hair. She grimaced. 'Sort of. We were at Hogwarts together since we were eleven but it took this one,' she jabbed a sharp elbow into Ron's chest, who moaned elaborately in response, 'six years before he asked me out.'
'And then we left before our last year anyway,' Ron concluded. 'So we never did get to sneak around in empty classrooms.'
'You did,' pointed out Hermione.
Ron blushed. It was an amazing sight, like a sunset. His whole body turned a soft shade of pink which, set against his flaming hair and dark freckles, looked incredible. She could see why Hermione would want to set him off.
'Yes, well, I don't suppose Christy's interested in that. Why don't you tell me about this big project the two of you are doing?'
Hermione began to speak animatedly about her plans for developing Christy's research with new applications to the European situation. 'It's not precisely the same as the Voodoo you've been working on,' she admitted, 'but I think the similarities are strong enough that you'll be able to point us in the right direction.'
While she was speaking, Christy watched Ron. He was still holding Hermione round the waist and his other hand was playing with her hair. But he was listening intently, with an unmistakeable look of pride as his wife got carried away, talking about theoretical magic in terms that fewer than a hundred people in the world understood.
After a few minutes, Christy interjected, correcting Hermione on a minor point of her research. The two of them continued to debate and discuss not only their own project but a whole range of fascinating questions that no one yet knew the answer to. This was fun, Christy realised. She'd never really had anyone who took this kind of interest in the same things she did. At home, her colleagues were always so focussed on the next funding application or the the next audit that there was little freedom just to speculate or debate. And Mike never asked about her work. He'd smile and tell her to leave it at the office.
Hermione clearly loved to talk and think and wonder and so did Ron, it seemed. Every so often, when Christy had almost forgotten he was there, he'd make a comment or offer a suggestion. She was even more surprised to see how seriously Hermione took her husband's ideas. He was just a builder, after all.
Ron and Hermione wished her a good night at the top of the stairs, then turned to go to their own room. Ron's arm was slung round Hermione's shoulders and he bent his head to whisper something in her ear. She laughed but Christy could see that elbow being put to use again.
She leaned back against the wall and sighed, wondering why she felt so dissatisfied. She was in England; she'd left her old life behind and she had no regrets.
Christy glanced back at the closed door that Ron and Hermione had entered and felt a sudden and unexpected rush of jealousy.
They were so happy together, so comfortable and easy. They trusted each other and they were proud of each other. She'd never had anything like that with Mike. Even at the beginning, when she'd been so happy she could hardly bear it, he'd never teased her like Ron teased Hermione. He'd certainly never let her just talk and talk about the things she cared about. And there'd always been that underlying struggle for control: who chose which kind of take out to get; who decided when they'd turn the light out; who got to use the bathroom first.
Somehow Christy had thought it would always have to be like that. She was a strong, intelligent woman. And men were… men. But Hermione was at least as strong and intelligent as she was and yet she'd found a man who was content with that. Not that Ron was a doormat. Anyone could see that he was bright and brave and strong. He wouldn't sit back and let his wife walk all over him.
Theirs seemed to be a match of two opposing forces that they'd learned how to keep in balance; each pulled the other towards them, rather than pushing away. Each made the other stronger.
'What if I want to be a strong independent woman?'
'Then you'll have to find a man who can make you stronger and more independent, Christy-girl.'
She'd thought her mom was talking moonshine. Men didn't make you stronger or more independent. They pulled you down and kept you in check. But Ron didn't do that. Hermione had found that elusive man who'd set her free and given her strength.
That was what Christy was jealous of. Hermione Weasley - no, Granger - had taken the last good man and Christy couldn't hope to find another.