It had been a long few days for Hermione. By the end of the week, the number of repairs that had been successfully carried out at Gringotts was vast. Fleur, having struggled to perform their spell on her first attempts was now pulling it off wordlessly and Hermione had no doubt that it wouldn’t be long before the other woman was managing it wandlessly too. This display of such a powerful core of magic reminded Hermione just how impressive her partner was, and precisely why the Order of the Phoenix were keen to keep her in Britain for the war. It also struck her, quietly, that perhaps part of the reason for their compatibility was just that: Fleur had an innate aptitude and instinct for magic, whilst Hermione had the hunger for knowledge and determination for answers. Between them they formed a pretty even balance. Hermione could perform the spell herself as well, of course, and she had been doing so frequently but she could feel it draining her energy where Fleur seemed to thrive when stretching her magic.
A couple of times throughout the week, Hermione had found herself leaning back against a wall or rockface and simply observing as Fleur put their spell to work. Hermione could feel the pleasure Fleur found in the exercise. In fact, though it was probably more due to the light of her silvery blonde hair in the general dinginess of the tunnels, but to Hermione it seemed that Fleur practically glowed while she worked. If Hermione was being honest, it was a rather exhilarating experience just to watch Fleur. More than once Hermione had to forcibly remind herself to school her features before Fleur span around to catch the hungry expression she was surely wearing. Not that Fleur would mind. It seemed that since they had become a couple, those necessary moments of physical contact that they had experienced before had now become only more necessary and even more physical. Hermione felt as though she was steadily making up for the quintessentially teenage experiences she had missed out on at school, and she was relishing it. A part of her knew that Fleur was holding back still, and Hermione had several theories as to why. But, for now, Hermione was content with their pace. More than content.
Now it was Friday, late afternoon, and both witches were back in Fleur’s office preparing to leave for the day and head to France. Hermione let out a long involuntary yawn. It had been another day spent in the dark, firing their spell at collapsed tunnel walls and gaping gaps in ceilings.
‘You are tired,’ Fleur pointed out unnecessarily.
‘Aren’t you?’ Hermione laughed.
After considering the question for a moment, Fleur replied.
‘Not really. A little, perhaps?’
‘You’re quite something,’ Hermione mused.
Fleur seemed puzzled by that statement and put down the pile of papers she was organising on her desk in order to cross the room and wrap her arms around Hermione’s waist, pulling her forwards until they were pressed together. Hermione instinctively returned the embrace, looping her own arms about Fleur. Fleur leaned back and raised one hand to brush a strand of hair – possibly an imaginary strand of hair – behind Hermione’s ear. Hermione couldn’t look away from those inquisitive blue orbs.
‘What do you mean, quite something?’ Fleur murmured.
‘Just that I feel quite exhausted after a day of intense spellwork, and you seem… rejuvenated by it,’ Hermione explained.
‘You are exhausted?’ Fleur asked in concern.
‘Well, maybe not exhausted but it’s definitely tiring,’ Hermione laughed.
‘We don’t ‘ave to go to France if you are not up to it,’ Fleur said quickly, her eyes searching Hermione’s face until Hermione frowned.
‘No, no. I want to,’ Hermione assured her and then was surprised to see the flicker of something inscrutable in Fleur’s eyes.
‘Don’t you want to?’ Hermione asked in surprise.
‘I do,’ Fleur replied, ‘I just don’t want you to be uncomfortable there, with my family. I want you to enjoy it,’ she trailed off and the underlying vulnerability in that sentence was not lost in Hermione.
‘Oh, Fleur, I will enjoy it. I think I would be happy anywhere with you. But more than that, I want to see where you grew up. I want to see you where you’re most comfortable. I feel like, despite everything, there’s still lots we don’t know about each other and… I want to know.’
For that, Hermione was rewarded with a wide smile and a rare sight of Fleur’s white teeth, usually hidden behind her habitual closed-mouth smiles.
‘And you won’t mind my family?’ Fleur double checked.
‘Pshh,’ Hermione scoffed, ‘I can handle Gabrielle.’
‘Ah oui?’ Fleur asked teasingly, swaying her hips and taking Hermione’s along with her.
‘Oui,’ said Hermione with characteristic determination.
It wasn’t determination that she felt with much certainty, but she knew it was what Fleur needed to hear and that was reason enough to say it. In truth, there was the ghost of tell-tale anxiety floating in her stomach. It frequently haunted her, but today Hermione could at least assign it a solid cause. Fleur’s family were daunting and Hermione felt no match for them. But she would do her best, for Fleur.
‘I am ready then, if you are?’ asked Fleur, letting her arms drop from Hermione’s waist, but only after she had secured herself a kiss.
‘Ready,’ Hermione nodded. ‘And you’re sure you’re up for apparating? You’ve done a lot this week and I’m sure we could just floo—’
‘I am fine,’ Fleur smiled, ‘you said it yourself, I am… rejuvenated?’ Fleur gave Hermione a particular look as she repeated the word. It was a look Hermione had come to understand. Occasionally she would use a word that Fleur was not familiar with and, never wanting to display any sort of weakness, Fleur would repeat it carefully in a sentence and then assess Hermione’s reaction to make sure she had got it right. It was Fleur’s way of avoiding having to ask for help and Hermione had already filed that snippet of insight away.
‘Alors, let’s go then,’ Fleur let out, swinging her work bag over her shoulder and grasping Hermione’s hand before stepping out into the corridor. As always, the fire in Fleur’s office dropped to burning embers and the lanterns extinguished themselves once the door was shut.
No more than a couple of steps down the corridor, Fleur stopped. They were next to a door that Hermione had never paid any notice to. It had always been shut before, but now it stood ajar.
‘What’s wrong?’ Hermione asked, glancing between Fleur and the door.
Fleur released Hermione’s hand and ignored her question.
‘Bill?’ she called instead.
The sound of footsteps emanated from the room to their left and then the door swung open wider still. Bill Weasley appeared, smiling, in the doorway. His red hair tied in its customary ponytail and his face, strewn with scars gifted by Greyback. Hermione felt an odd sinking sensation in her stomach.
‘Hello, love,’ Bill said, ‘I thought I heard you next door, was going to stick my head in and say hi in a minute.’
Hermione stiffened at the term of endearment directed Fleur’s way and her discomfort only grew when she noticed Fleur’s happy smile.
‘What are you doing here?’ she asked, closing the distance between herself and Bill and reaching on tiptoes to give him a hug.
‘Just checking everything’s in order in my office before I come back next week,’ Bill explained. ‘Hey Hermione,’ he said and Hermione fought the urge to take a step backwards as Bill approached and pulled her into quick hug too.
‘Hello,’ Hermione managed. She ignored the quizzical look she received from Fleur.
‘Got time for a cuppa?’ Bill asked, looking between the two of them.
‘We’re leaving for France,’ Hermione blurted out, but her words got jumbled with Fleur’s as Fleur replied at the same time.
‘Of course,’ Fleur smiled.
Bill’s eyes found Hermione’s briefly and she saw his eyebrow twitch before he returned his attention to Fleur.
‘I’ve got a bone to pick with you, anyway,’ he told her with a tone of joking suspicion.
‘Moi?’ Fleur blurted before glancing sideways at Hermione, ‘You haven’t been listening to your mother again have you, William?’
‘Uh oh,’ Bill laughed. He looked at Hermione again, ‘if she ever full-names you, you’re in trouble,’ he told her warningly.
Hermione didn’t have time to point out that very few people shortened her name in the first place because Fleur was already striding into Bill’s office and taking a seat on a battered old sofa. Fleur appeared very at home there, and Hermione felt her nerves jangle in response.
‘It’ll just be a quick cuppa,’ Bill said to Hermione quietly as he held the door open for her to follow after Fleur.
With little option, Hermione stepped into Bill’s office. It had a similar layout to Fleur’s but was slightly larger and had a seating arrangement adjacent to the fireplace, that Fleur’s office did not have space for. Hermione perched somewhat rigidly on the sofa next to Fleur and Bill closed the door before joining them and taking his seat on an armchair opposite. He summoned a teapot, complete with steam rising from its spout and three teacups, that he proceeded to fill and pass out. Hermione took hers with a nod.
‘So,’ said Bill at last, tea successfully doled out, ‘how come I had to hear from my mother that my ex-wife has shacked up with my brother’s girlfriend?’
Hermione’s posture took on a whole new level of rigidity and her mouth snapped open to issue a harsh rebuttal, but she was too slow.
‘Is that how she worded it?’ Fleur chuckled.
‘I wasn’t his girlfriend!’ Hermione finally expelled.
‘I’m only teasing you, Hermione,’ Bill said gently. ‘To be honest, I never quite saw you and Ron as a couple. I mean, he’s my brother and I love him, but I think he would have driven you mad.’
From the corner of her eye, Hermione could see Fleur nodding in emphatic agreement. Bill laughed.
‘Of course you agree, love,’ he said, ‘when Ron turned up at Shell Cottage that Christmas, I almost had to restrain you.’
‘That is an exaggeration,’ Fleur muttered. And Bill turned back to Hermione with a smile.
‘It’s not,’ he whispered. ‘Fleur was furious with him. Wanted to send him straight back to you and Harry. She was outraged that he had left you.’
‘I was not outraged,’ Fleur insisted.
‘Outraged,’ Bill mouthed silently at Hermione and then gave her a wink.
And Hermione wanted to be amused. Wanted to find him charming like she always used to. The conspiratorial looks he had always given her when he knew Ron was annoying her returned to Hermione now. He had been what she imagined a big brother would be like. But now he was the big brother who had once married the woman she loved and that was… quite confusing. The comfortable verbal sparring between Bill and Fleur was that of a married couple and nothing about that fact would rest easy with Hermione now.
‘How is Ron?’ Hermione asked, after clearing her throat.
‘Well, he’s Ron, isn’t he?’ Bill replied. ‘He feels wounded and his vision of the future has just taken a knock. But it will do him good to gain a bit of perspective, I reckon. He’ll come around.’
Hermione nodded slowly.
‘And Mrs Weasley?’ she asked.
Bill let out a laugh and gave Fleur a grin.
‘Between you and me, I think mum is thrilled to have a reason to be suspicious of Fleur again,’ he chuckled with a shake of his head.
‘Well that’s hardly fair,’ Hermione muttered, ‘It was me who hurt Ron, not Fleur.’
‘That may be,’ Bill agreed, ‘but don’t deny mum her favourite hobby,’ he added jokingly.
Fleur rolled her eyes and laughed but Hermione failed to find the humour, a fact that Bill seemed to pick up on as he swiftly steered the conversation away from Mrs Weasley.
‘Anyway, it came as a bit of surprise to hear about you two. Though I suppose it explains why you went completely nuts when Hermione went astray the other day,’ Bill said. And then he glared good-naturedly at Fleur, ‘I can’t believe you never told me there was something going on.’
‘It was nobody’s business,’ Fleur shrugged.
‘Always so guarded,’ Bill let out wryly, ‘good luck with that, Hermione. It’s like trying to get blood out of a stone sometimes with this one,’ he nodded his head at Fleur. ‘I dread to think the lengths someone would have to go to if they wanted to extract information from her,’ he laughed.
Hermione’s stomach lurched at his words and the smell of mothballs suddenly permeated her senses. A wave of nausea passed through her and she felt the echo of a familiar muscle spasm. Beside her, Fleur sat bolt upright. Hermione was not paying attention to Fleur, but if she had been, she would have seen the fire that broke out in her eyes as she shook her head at Bill.
‘Oh,’ Bill scrambled, ‘Oh shit. I’m sorry, Hermione, I didn’t mean it like… Sorry.’
‘It’s fine,’ Hermione breathed. Willing her heart to slow and swallowing hard, taking a deep inhale through her nose and taking in the scent of wild honeysuckle. She let the breath out through her mouth and forced her shoulders to un-tense.
‘You… you said you’re coming back to work next week?’ Hermione stuttered to Bill, who she now saw was looking incredibly sheepish. His eyes kept flitting to Fleur.
‘Yeah… I thought it was about time,’ he replied. ‘I heard about your spell. Even the goblins seem pleased about the progress you guys have made in the lower tunnels.’
‘Really?’ Hermione asked doubtfully.
‘Well, they didn’t say that obviously,’ Bill allowed, ‘but they seem less… grumpy than before?’
Hermione let out a laugh. It wasn’t a real one but she could feel Fleur’s silence as loud as a shout and she needed her to break it.
‘We’ll have to teach you the spell,’ Hermione said, finally looking at Fleur and seeing her face stony and unreadable. ‘Right, Fleur?’
And Hermione had no idea why she had just suggested that. She didn’t want to teach Bill their spell, she didn’t want to give him the opportunity to replace her in helping Fleur with the restoration. Their time together at Gringotts was finite already, despite how they both avoided acknowledging that fact, why had she just shortened it even further by involving Bill?
Fleur, not-so-helpfully, shrugged. Bill continued to look warily at Fleur before he spoke once more to Hermione.
‘You said you’re off to France?’ he tried. ‘To Fleur’s place?’
‘Her parents invited us for the weekend, yes,’ Hermione replied.
‘Ah, right,’ Bill nodded. ‘Well, I never got an invite to the chateau. Clearly you’ve already made a better impression than me,’ he said with a smile.
‘It’s an entirely different situation,’ Fleur said, finally breaking her silence. Hermione turned to Fleur and raised an inquisitive eyebrow. ‘For a start, we are not on the brink of war,’ Fleur explained before adding with a smirk that relieved Hermione, ‘and I am not with Hermione purely for the citizenship status.’
Bill let out a hearty laugh.
‘I knew that’s all I ever was to you,’ he said with faux upset.
‘But of course,’ Fleur agreed, still smiling.
‘OK, OK,’ Bill let out, raising his hands in defeat but chuckling nonetheless, ‘I get enough shit down the pub for letting you get away, no need to make it worse.’
‘You don’t!’ Fleur laughed.
‘Course I bloody do! They don’t know it was all for show. Now I’m the idiot who got ditched by the Veela goddess,’ Bill shook his head and Fleur stuck out her lower lip in a pout and cocked her head to one side. ‘One of them actually called you that, by the way,’ Bill added and Fleur laughed again.
Hermione felt a little queasy.
‘I can’t wait for news of you two to hit the press. I’ll be avoiding the pub for weeks after that,’ Bill continued in the same jovial tone.
Hermione’s queasiness intensified. She hadn’t thought about the press. She felt Fleur slide a hand into her own.
‘Really though,’ Bill said, his voice turning serious, ‘this actually makes a lot of sense now that I think of it.’ He looked between the two of them with a kind smile on his face.
‘I think so too,’ Fleur said softly and caught Hermione’s eye for a moment. Hermione was constantly amazed by the warmth that could radiate from those dark blue depths and she couldn’t help but return Fleur’s smile.
‘Oh, Merlin,’ Bill let out, ‘don’t make me regret inviting you in here. I hadn’t bargained on the lovesick looks.’
‘Shut up, William,’ Fleur replied at once. ‘And anyway, isn’t it time you found yourself someone to share lovesick looks with?’
‘I have a face only a wolf could love,’ he replied.
‘Nonsense,’ Fleur said, dismissively waving the hand that was not intwined with Hermione’s. ‘You are ruggedly handsome and incredibly loyal. Anyone would be lucky to have you.’
‘Well, if you happen to bump into any of your old school friends over the weekend then put in a good word for me,’ Bill replied, but it was clear he was not serious.
‘Ah oui? Think you can handle another Veela goddess?’ Fleur teased and Bill laughed.
‘On second thoughts, no. I probably don’t have the stamina,’ Bill said, still laughing.
Hermione felt well and truly out of the loop, all she could do was nod along with a vague smile on her face. It was not a position she was accustomed to.
Fleur rolled her eyes at Bill fondly.
‘Then it’s a good thing you’re getting back to work, hmm? All that staying at home has made you lazy,’ she said with a smirk.
‘More than likely, love,’ Bill agreed, ‘and at the rate you two have been fixing this place, they’ll be sending us back out on proper jobs in no time. Where first do you think? Egypt again? Peru?’
Hermione’s breath caught, and she felt Fleur send a quick glance in her direction.
‘Who knows,’ Fleur shrugged noncommittally, her frame suddenly more tense.
‘We’ll see,’ Bill agreed.
‘Alors,’ Fleur let out, suddenly standing from the sofa and placing her empty teacup on Bill’s desk before taking Hermione’s too. ‘We ‘ad better go.’
‘Righto,’ Bill nodded and stood as well. ‘It was good to see you both, and to see you so happy together.’ He smiled, and then looked to Hermione, ‘Really, Hermione. I mean it. And don’t worry about the rest of the family. They’ll see it too in time.’
‘Thank you, Bill,’ Hermione replied quietly and returned the brief hug he gave her then stepped back as he pulled Fleur into a hug too.
‘Give my best to the Delacours,’ he told her with a grin and Fleur promised to do just that.
‘We’ll go for dinner after work one night next week!’ Bill called as Hermione headed out of the office, with Fleur being led along by the hand.
No words were spoken between Hermione and Fleur until they were out of the corridor and climbing the tight spiral staircase back to ground level. There was no room to remain side-by-side, so Hermione had dropped Fleur’s hand and taken the lead up the stairs.
‘Are you alright?’ Fleur asked at last.
‘Yes,’ Hermione replied tightly.
There was a beat of silence and then,
‘Are you sure?’
‘Why does he still call you love?’ Hermione burst out in frustration.
‘What?’ Fleur let out with a surprised laugh.
‘What?’ Hermione repeated defensively, ‘he speaks to you as though you’re still together.’
‘We weren’t together,’ Fleur said blankly. ‘I imagine he started calling me that for other people’s sake when we were pretending,’ she mused.
‘Well, you don’t need to pretend now,’ Hermione huffed, not sure if she would have raised this issue had she been actually face-to-face with Fleur at present.
‘Hermione,’ Fleur said fondly, ‘stop a minute.’
But Hermione didn’t stop, she continued her pace up the staircase and, if anything, got a little quicker.
‘I know it’s irrational,’ she confessed, ‘but it doesn’t feel good.’
‘I understand,’ Fleur said dryly. ‘I am familiar with the feeling, hmm?’
‘Do you mean Ron?’ Hermione bit out, ‘because he never called me love.’
‘He calls you ‘Mione’,’ Fleur replied, agitation now apparent in her voice.
‘That’s just a nickname!’
‘Nobody else calls you that.’
‘Yes!’ Hermione paused to think then and added, ‘sometimes. Probably.’
‘I ‘ave never ‘eard it,’ Fleur muttered.
‘It’s not the point!’ Hermione exclaimed, she was now taking the stairs two steps at a time though she wasn’t entirely sure why. She also wasn’t sure when the spiral staircase got so ridiculously long.
‘Then what is the point?’ Fleur replied, matching Hermione’s volume. ‘You know Bill and I were never really a couple. You don’t ‘ave to sit there knowing we ‘ave been… intimate or anything.’
At that, Hermione stopped abruptly and whirled around, eyes blazing.
‘You remember I was at your wedding, don’t you?’ Hermione seethed, ‘that I saw you kiss, watched your first dance? It looked pretty real.’
‘Well, it wasn’t,’ Fleur snapped. ‘You know it wasn’t.’
‘It still feels quite dreadful to sit and sip tea with the both of you,’ Hermione muttered, as she span on the spot once more and continued up the stairs.
‘As dreadful as sharing a house with you and Ron? Sitting opposite you two at meals? And I ‘ad the pleasure of knowing that you two ‘ad sex!’
‘Once!’ Hermione practically shouted. ‘At least I never married him!’
Finally Hermione was emerging, out of breath, into light at the top of the staircase and stepping out into the next corridor that led them to the main hall of Gringotts. No sooner had she set foot in the corridor though than she felt a strong grip on her hand pulling her to a stop. Fleur tugged Hermione insistently around to face her and Hermione was confronted with Fleur’s flushed face.
‘This is stupid,’ Fleur panted.
‘It isn’t stupid,’ Hermione huffed, averting her eyes from Fleur’s desperate ones.
‘ermione,’ Fleur pleaded. And Hermione sighed.
‘Fine,’ she said sharply, ‘it is stupid. It’s mad and irrational and I can’t help it.’
Fleur yanked Hermione towards her, more roughly than usual and wrapped her arms tightly around Hermione’s frame.
‘I do understand,’ she insisted, her voice near to Hermione’s ear.
‘I know you do,’ Hermione muttered. ‘I can’t imagine how you must have felt living with me and Ron,’ she added regretfully.
‘It was… unpleasant at times,’ Fleur agreed. ‘But your outburst just now suggests that you can imagine it, hmm?’
‘Maybe,’ Hermione murmured. ‘Merlin, Fleur, I did lose it a bit there, didn’t I?’
‘I should have realised seeing Bill might be uncomfortable for you right now. I didn’t think.’
‘It shouldn’t be. You were right before, I do know it wasn’t real between you… but it’s like something inside me is just… repulsed by the idea. And I did really believe that you were a couple when you were married. It’s hard to shake that.’
Fleur hummed and nodded in understanding, rubbing her cheek against the side of Hermione’s head.
‘And maybe,’ Hermione began carefully, ‘maybe he said some other things that sparked some feelings too.’
‘I know,’ Fleur said soothingly.
‘It was a lot to process in one go.’
‘We can talk about it,’ Fleur offered and Hermione nodded against her.
‘Not now though. It’s all a bit jumbled in my head. That’s probably why I focused on the jealousy,’ she said with a dark chuckle, ‘that was the clearest emotion.’
Fleur hummed again and Hermione felt Fleur’s hands slip onto her lower back and begin a slow caress there.
‘You were rather passionate about it,’ Fleur breathed, and her breath sent shivers down Hermione’s spine.
‘Fleur,’ Hermione said warningly as Fleur nosed Hermione’s hair out of the way so that she could place an open-mouthed kiss against her neck. Hermione was all too aware that they were only yards from the main hall of Gringotts, undoubtedly filled with goblins and wizards.
‘I don’t like arguing with you,’ Fleur murmured amongst more kisses that edged up towards Hermione’s ear.
‘I don’t either,’ Hermione sighed and couldn’t help but tilt her head to one side to give Fleur more space to manoeuvre her lips. ‘Although, I suppose it means that just because we know we’re compatible partners we won’t necessarily agree on everything,’ she mused.
‘Mmm, I don’t know,’ Fleur whispered, ‘I think we did agree actually. We agreed that we are both quite… possessive?’ She finished with a small nip to Hermione’s earlobe.
‘Oh,’ Hermione let out. ‘I suppose you’re right. I’m not sure how healthy that is though,’ Hermione laughed and pulled away from Fleur.
Fleur, as-ever, shrugged.
‘I will be more considerate where Bill is concerned in the future,’ she said, ‘We don’t have to go to dinner with him.’
Hermione frowned and considered that for a moment.
‘No,’ she sighed, ‘we should go. I know it’s illogical to feel jealous. And I do actually like Bill.’
Fleur smiled and moved in towards Hermione again, this time capturing her lips in a grateful kiss. Feeling Fleur’s want to deepen things, Hermione pulled away.
‘Come on, we better go or we’ll arrive late at your parents’ house,’ Hermione said regretfully.
‘And Maman would love that…’ she said wryly.