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From the Ruins, We might Rise

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It probably should have taken longer for 12 Grimmauld Place to feel like a home to Harry. And yet, since the first day that he had arrived back after the lengthy clean-up operation at Hogwarts, living here, in his Godfather’s last residence, had felt right. He was endlessly grateful to Mrs Weasley and the other members of the Order for orchestrating the mass cleansing of the house back in the summer before his fifth year at Hogwarts. At the time, the scrubbing and dusting and disposal of objects rife with dark magic had not been anybody’s ideal use of their summer, but now Harry was glad to be free to make the place his own without the need to erase its dark past from scratch.

Ron had moved in so immediately that Harry was no longer sure whether he had actually suggested the idea. Clearly the thought of moving back to the Burrow was not one that Ron was keen to entertain.

And Hermione. Harry had asked Hermione if she would like to move in. At first, he had expected her to return to Hogwarts and complete her seventh year. It seemed the natural choice for the Brightest Witch of Her Age. And yet she was hesitant to choose it, Harry could see that. But if she didn’t return to Hogwarts, her options were limited. Her parents were living their own lives now, with no recollection of their brilliant daughter. Her childhood home had become a memory to her alone. So Harry had asked her to come with them to Grimmauld Place. He’d said that it wouldn’t be right without her. That she was family. And Hermione’s eyes had filled with tears as she nodded. Harry had the unsettling realisation then that, despite everything, he hadn’t seen Hermione cry for a long time.

That had been a month ago and the feeling hadn’t left him.



 

‘It just makes sense to offer,’ Harry explained, ‘you know, she works at Gringotts still. It’s mad to apparate all the way from France every day and Bill is—’

‘It’d be weird though, don’t you reckon? I mean, we’re the Golden Trio! We won the war together and now we’re living together. Just the three of us.’

‘Please don’t call us that.’ Harry muttered, ‘Anyway, Fleur is cool. She’ll fit right in. And maybe she’s just what Hermione needs right now.’

I’m what ‘Mione needs.’ Came Ron’s response. ‘She’s loads better than she was anyway.’

‘She’s… improving.’ Harry allowed cautiously. ‘But I think having another woman around might be good for her. They spent a lot of time together at Shell Cottage, anyway.’

‘Uh, yeah, when ‘Mione was basically unconscious!’ Ron laughed. ‘She never used to like Phlegm.’

‘You know not even Ginny uses that name anymore, right mate?’ Harry checked.

‘Probably because she doesn’t have to worry about having her as a sister-in-law anymore.’ Ron retorted.

Harry sighed and ran a hand through his ever-unruly hair.

‘Are you alright with this or not?’ He asked tiredly.

At that moment, the kitchen door swung open and Hermione entered with Crookshanks padding in silently behind her.

‘Alright with what?’ Hermione enquired over her shoulder as she grabbed the muggle kettle from the counter and made her way to the sink.

‘I don’t know why you use that thing,’ Ron chuckled, ‘It takes forever.’

‘The tea tastes better.’ Hermione reasoned. ‘And don’t change the subject. What are you two plotting? I thought my days of interrupting your ridiculous scheming were over.’

‘Well, I happened to be talking to Mrs—’ Harry began.

‘Harry wants to ask Phlegm to move in with us!’ Ron interrupted.

‘Don’t call her that, Ronald!’ Hermione exclaimed, whirling around to glare at Ron. ‘For goodness’ sake! After everything we’ve all been through, can’t you just be kind?’ She snapped.

Ron’s eyes widened to an almost comical degree and Harry raised his eyebrows at him in warning before Ron could say anything in response.

The room remained tense for a few moments until Harry cleared his throat.

‘Anyway,’ he started, ‘Mrs Weasley said that Bill is going to stay on at Shell Cottage but Fleur has gone back to her parents’ place in France. She’s apparating to and from London every day for work and I just thought…’

‘That’s a lot of strain on her magic.’ Hermione murmured, ‘How exhausting.’

‘Yes.’ Harry agreed, ‘Exactly. So I thought, you know, we have space here and empty rooms, and Grimmauld Place is so much nearer to Gringotts and I don’t think she’d be annoying or anything, in fact I thought…’

‘Harry thought you’d like having another girl around. Even though you’re totally one of the guys.’ Ron added.

‘I am not a guy.’ Hermione rolled her eyes.

‘Well, yeah,’ Ron laughed, ‘No one knows that better than me.’ He smirked.

Hermione’s shoulders tensed and she turned away from the table, busying herself with finding her favourite mug in the cupboard. Crookshanks, wound himself around her legs once then sat beside her, his tail flicking occasionally and his orange eyes fixed on Ron.

Harry shook his head silently.

‘So you want to tell Fleur she can move in here, is that what I’m getting from this?’ Hermione asked, keeping her back to the boys.

‘Exactly.’ Said Ron.

‘Actually,’ Harry let out slowly, ‘I sort of already owled her and she said yes.’

The mug that Hermione had finally located and was retrieving from the cupboard dropped the last inch onto the counter, landing with a clatter that sent Crookshanks darting from the room.

‘Well,’ Hermione said before turning to look at Harry and Ron once more, ‘I suppose that’s sorted then.’ She finished with a smile that Harry thought looked suspiciously strained.

‘Only if you’re sure?’ Harry tested.

‘Yes, that’s fine.’ Hermione agreed curtly. ‘It’s your house, Harry.’

‘Technically.’ Harry agreed, ‘But it’s your home too, Hermione.’

‘It’s fine.’ Hermione reiterated.

Harry looked at Ron, unsure about how to read Hermione’s response. Ron simply shrugged as if that was the end of the matter.

‘The room down the hall from you, Hermione, I thought that would be best for her?’ Harry suggested in a questioning tone.

‘Perfect.’ Hermione nodded stiffly.

She finished readying her cup of tea and made for the door.

‘See you at supper?’ Harry asked.

‘I’m making Mum’s stew.’ Ron added.

‘Lovely. See you then.’ Hermione agreed as she disappeared back out into the corridor.

‘Sorted then.’ Ron nodded.

Harry blew out a long breath.

‘I guess so.’

Harry couldn’t shake the feeling that he should have asked Hermione before mentioning the idea to Fleur. It had just seemed like the right thing to do. After all, Fleur had hidden them, fed them, kept them safe at Shell Cottage. She had personally nursed Hermione back from the brink after the events at Malfoy Manor. Harry felt indebted to the French witch. Without Fleur’s care, Hermione would have been at the mercy of Harry and Ron’s medical skills. And without Hermione… Well, the war wouldn’t have been won. Harry knew that without a doubt. He also knew that Hermione was far from recovered.

‘It’s mad, isn’t it?’ Ron broke into Harry’s worries.

‘What?’

‘Remember what Fleur was like at school?’ Ron said in disbelief, ‘Bloody hell, the most gorgeous girl I’d ever seen. But such a stuck up—’

‘I always liked her, actually.’ Harry cut in. ‘She was good to me during the Triwizard Tournament. She probably just didn’t appreciate you drooling over her all the time.’

‘I did not!’

‘Come on, mate. You did. It was embarrassing.’ Harry laughed.

Ron grumbled unintelligibly.

‘Which reminds me, she’s going to be living here, right? Are you going to be able to resist gawking at her ever day?’ Harry asked jokingly.

Ron scoffed.

‘I don’t need to gawk at Phlegm. I’ve got Hermione.’ He said with an air of smugness. ‘You’re the single one, Harry. Are you going to be able to withstand that veela thrall?’

Harry rolled his eyes at Ron. Ignoring Ron’s hint that himself and Hermione were an item. He couldn’t broach that topic again with Ron right now.

‘Fleur’s never turned me into a bumbling idiot.’ Harry reminded him with a grin instead.

Ron glared at him across the table.

‘Chess?’ He asked after a moment.

‘Chess.’ Harry agreed.

 

Hermione had retreated to her favourite spot in the house. A deceptively comfortable, shabby-looking bottle green armchair in the study, equidistant between the fireplace and the nearest bookshelf. Here Hermione sat, curled up with one hand wrapped around her as-yet-untouched mug of tea, the other hand distractedly stoking the dense ginger fur of the half-kneazle purring contentedly on her lap.

Her stomach churned. It felt now as if she could hardly remember a time when it didn’t. There was always an underlying current of anxiety. It ranged from a faint buzzing in her veins, to a full-blown sweating panic that rushed through her like a torrent, but never did it leave her completely these days. She had made the tea as an attempt to calm herself. She was safe. She was in Harry’s house; she knew both boys were in the other room. She could hear them now, bickering over yet another game of chess. She had a shelf full of books she had never read, the warmth of the fire before her, and Crookshanks blithely dozing on top of her. But she wasn’t calm. She couldn’t still her mind. No matter how much she told herself she was safe, the war was won, that woman was dead and gone, she just couldn’t find her way out of the dark. Not in the pages of a book, not in the ritualistic process of preparing tea the muggle way.

The past few years had been so focused, so dependent on her meticulously researching and planning their next move, so orientated towards the goal of finding horcruxes, of putting an end to the tyranny of He Who Must Not Be Named. Voldemort, she thought bitterly. It was time to say his name now.

And before that, she’d had Hogwarts. Her lessons, her ever-present need to know everything, to get everything right. And S.P.E.W. Her free time, when she’d had such a thing, was absorbed in the ideal that house elves deserved fair treatment. That every creature deserved fair treatment. After all, she was muggle born. She knew how it felt to be poorly treated, to be regarded with suspicion and ridicule for both sides of her being.

But now? It was done. Voldemort was gone. Horcruxes collected and destroyed. The battles fought. The lessons learnt. Her school days cut short, yes, but over just the same.

And what did she have? A curdling sense of guilt. A budding dread of stepping outside the front door. And nightmares. Relentless nightmares that steal her sleep.

There had been days, right after the final battle, when she had joined the others in jubilation. Was it jubilation? Or perhaps, in hindsight, just exhausted hysteria? Leftover adrenaline looking for an out? That sense of elation when Voldemort had been vanquished. The release from the desperate goal of ending the war. She’d celebrated. She’d hugged just about every person she came across that day. Brief squeezes for some. Clinging embraces for others. Tears of joy (or was it sorrow for the fallen) seeping into other people’s sweatshirts, then wiped onto the backs of grimy, bloodied hands.

Her and Ron had shared a kiss in the depths of the Basilisk’s domain mid-battle. Had lost their virginity to one another that night, sequestered from the celebration and devastation, in the Astronomy Tower. It had been giddy and fumbling. Life-affirming amongst the loss. Not at all satisfying, but it had somehow felt right nonetheless. It was right that it was him and her.

For Hermione, it had marked yet another ending. The end of innocence, as if that hadn’t been wrenched from her weeks earlier. A culmination of all they had been through together to reach that point, that victory.

For Ron, it had been a beginning.

Yet another thing for them to disagree over.

Hermione sighed and brought the mug to her lips. She sipped. The tea was lukewarm now and it circulated with the butterflies making their perpetual rounds in her stomach. Or were they bats?

And now Fleur was going to be joining them. Hermione had felt a stab of fear when Harry had announced that it was already arranged. Not fear of Fleur. Never that. Fleur, Hermione had come to realise, was gentle, soothing. Her ethereal nature one that had emanated serenity when Hermione had needed it most. Gone was the haughty French teenager who would have been better suited to the pages of Vogue than the bloodstained battlefield that Hogwarts was to become. Fleur had grown into a force of nature, at once an otherworldly beauty and a calculated curse-slinger.

But still, even having witnessed Fleur’s flawless wandwork that brought death eaters to their knees, Hermione would never fear her. She had felt the loving care that the other witch had poured into Hermione’s recovery. For every deadly jinx the veela had levelled at the Dark Lord’s followers, Hermione had felt the balm of Fleur’s hands working her homemade tinctures into her battered and bruised body. Had silently watched the older witch’s eyes consider the word sliced into Hermione’s arm, seen the seething fury in those deep blue orbs, but felt only tenderness in her touch.

And that was what Hermione feared.

Those memories. She couldn’t escape them in her dreams. The cackle of the Lestrange woman had her waking to sheets soaked in sweat, or worse, more nights than not. And now was she to have a constant reminder of that time residing in the next room too? The thought of bumping into Fleur in the hallways of Harry’s house, of remembering their time together at Shell Cottage, the possibility of seeing pity in those cerulean eyes. That’s where the fear lay now.

 

‘Hermione?’ Harry called, letting the kitchen door close behind him.

‘In here!’ Hermione shot back, dislodging Crookshanks from her lap as she twisted in her seat to grab a book from the shelves behind her. She just had it opened on her lap as Harry pushed open the door to the study.

‘Alright?’ He asked, entering the room and allowing Crookshanks to slink out past him into the hallway.

‘Yes.’ Hermione nodded.

There was a pause as Harry looked about the study aimlessly for a moment.

‘Are you alright?’ Hermione asked slowly.

‘Course.’ Harry agreed. ‘Just checking you were.’

‘Right. Well, yes. All fine here, Harry.’ She replied, failing to keep the confusion out of her voice.

‘Good. Good. That’s… Good.’ Harry nodded quickly. ‘Do you want to… Uh, would you help me get Fleur’s room ready?’

Hermione swallowed.

‘Now?’

‘Well, Ron’s working on dinner. In a huff because I beat him at chess.’ Harry chuckled, winning a wry smile from Hermione.

‘He’ll be insufferable now.’

‘When isn’t he?’ Harry joked.

‘A good point.’ Hermione agreed.

Harry nodded again. ‘So… Fleur’s room?’

‘Yes. Of course, Harry. Let’s go and sort it out.’ Hermione closed the book on her lap, noting with minor dismay that it was upside down.

Hermione followed Harry up the dark wooden staircase to the first-floor hallway of 12 Grimmauld Place. The house may have been rid of dark magic but it remained gloomy in its décor for the time being, a fact that none of its occupants had seen fit to alter just yet.

‘And you’re sure you’re alright with Fleur being here?’ Harry asked over his shoulder as he approached the door to the spare room.

‘Harry,’ Hermione intoned, ‘I’ve already said it’s fine. Twice.’

‘Right, right. I know. OK. That’s good. I think it’ll be good having her here. She’ll bring something else to the house, and she’s very easy to talk to, though I suppose sometimes she can still be a bit blunt. I think maybe it’s a language thing? But she’s more than her looks, you know?’ Harry rambled earnestly.

Hermione chuckled, despite her underlying nerves surrounding the conversation at hand.

‘I have met her, you know Harry?’

‘Of course. I just… Yeah.’ He finished lamely. ‘I’ll grab some sheets. We can make the bed.’

‘Sure.’ Said Hermione distractedly as she glanced about the room. It was dim and dusty, like the rest of the house, though it felt safe and familiar. Hermione was struggling to picture the platinum-blonde, effortlessly beautiful Fleur residing in this dingy room though.

She pulled her wand from her back pocket and made quick work of the dust collecting on the dressing table and the desk by the window as Harry rooted around in a trunk that looked like a hangover from the Hogwarts days.

Just as Hermione approached the window to clear the dust from its sill, a ghostly face appeared the other side of the glass.

‘Harry, get down!’ Hermione shrieked at once, preparing to stupefy whatever ghoul was peering in at them.

‘Hermione, no!’ Harry shot back at her, crossing the room in one single bound and shoving Hermione’s wand wielding hand aside.

Sparks shot from the end of her wand just as she thought the word ‘Stupefy’ and scorched a hole through the wallpaper just to the side of the window.

Hermione turned to Harry, her eyes wide and manic.

‘It’s an owl, Hermione. Just an owl. You’re alright.’ Harry said slowly, his hand still wrapped around her forearm.

‘But, I—’ Hermione began before cutting herself off. She looked back to the window, her heart hammering, and saw that the ghostly face did indeed have feathers… and a beak. ‘Oh.’ She breathed.

She cast her eyes down in embarrassment and caught sight of where Harry’s hand remained on her arm. She tugged it from his grip immediately and straightened her sleeve.

Harry heaved up the sash window and a beautiful barn owl hopped nonchalantly onto the desk. Its face was creamy-white as freshly unfurled parchment and the pale brown feathers adorning its back and wings were flecked with gold. It almost glimmered in the glow cast by the lamplight in the room.

‘Leandre.’ Harry stated, ‘He’s Fleur’s owl.’

The owl offered a small chirrup at the sound of his own name, and lifted his leg for Harry to take the letter tied there.

Hermione continued to gaze at the owl. She had, by this time in her life, seen plenty of the birds, a vast cross section of their species. Indeed, she had seen countless barn owls. And yet this specimen was by far one of the most beautiful creatures she had ever seen.

Leandre, satisfied that Harry had retrieved the message from his mistress, turned his black, piercing eyes on Hermione. She felt as though he was appraising her incredibly thoroughly and she couldn’t help but meet his eye. After a moment of considering one another, Leandre chirruped quietly again and alighted from his spot on the desk, coming to perch on Hermione’s shoulder instead. She grimaced momentarily, waiting to feel the sharp pinch of his claws through her jumper, but it never came. Instead, she felt a barely-there weight on her shoulder, and the soft flutter of downy feathers against her cheek.

She lifted her hand slowly to the bird offering a cautious finger and half expecting a nip in return. She received a gentle headbutt instead and chuckled.

‘Hello Leandre,’ she murmured, stroking the silky feathers below his beak.

‘Nice, isn’t he?’ Harry asked, causing Hermione to suddenly remember he was in the room.

‘He’s very handsome.’ She agreed, earning a proud tone of agreement from Leandre himself.

‘Definitely Fleur’s bird.’ Harry laughed.

‘So what does she say?’

‘She says, “Dear Harry… blah, blah, blah… yada, yada, yada…”’ Harry muttered, reading the letter in his hand.

Hermione’s brows furrowed in impatience.

‘She’ll be here after she finishes work tomorrow.’ He said finally in summary.

‘Tomorrow?’ Hermione gasped.

‘Yep.’ Harry nodded.

Hermione felt another nudge to her cheek from the owl on her shoulder, and raised her hand to stroke him soothingly once more.

‘We should probably sort that out then.’ Harry suggested, gesturing behind Hermione to the burn mark on the wallpaper which was still emitting small wisps of smoke.

Hermione sighed.

Chapter Text

Fleur placed a final, neatly folded, sweatshirt into her suitcase and nodded contentedly to herself. She pulled her wand from its leather holster hidden beneath her sleeve and waved it swiftly over the suitcase before her.

Réducto’ she murmured, and watched as her luggage shrank until it would fit comfortably into her jacket pocket.

She cast a glance around the room. Her childhood bedroom. It had been strange to be back here. Strange to sleep in the single bed she hadn’t occupied for years, to be back in this powder blue room that she had decorated as a child and to look upon it with eyes that had seen the horrors of war. She didn’t fit here any longer. And not just because she wasn’t used to occupying any less than a double sized bed to herself these days.

The last few weeks had been a much needed break though. The time spent with her family, a dream that had kept her going through the darkness, through the anxious waiting, through the bloodshed, had been finally realised. She had seen friends fall. She’d pried the lives from Death Eaters. She knew loss, and yet she had also made discoveries.

Her childhood bedroom didn’t suit her anymore, but she had fallen into her parents’ arms when she had seen them again after the final battle in much the same way as she would when she returned from Beauxbatons each summer. Those parts of the inner child are never truly lost. And Gabrielle. Her little sister. It had been her face Fleur had pictured when she struggled to find her way in the dark, her that she had fought for. The past few weeks had been a joy, surrounded by family and the wider Veela clan, all so proud of her efforts, her achievements, the victory she had been a part of. The part of her she had long learnt to tame couldn’t help but preen under the praise doled upon her.

But enough was enough. She still had her job, there was still work to be done, curses to break, goblins to annoy. They never had warmed to her. She was an intrinsic part of decoding and destroying the curses left on items in Death Eater’s vaults at the bank, so that they can cause no future harm. But even without her work, something called her back to England with its damp air and odd traditions, its mediocre food and baffling idioms. Slowly and surprisingly, that country and its people had become home. And Fleur could feel it tugging her back.

A part of her yearned for a home that suited who she was now. Her childhood home had been the perfect stage for her early years and her return visits from school. Even Shell Cottage, her brief marital abode, had served its purpose and provide shelter when it was most needed – to more than just its intended occupants – but now, out the other side of war, Fleur found herself longing to find new footing, somewhere more secure to belong, more her. Something deep inside told her that she would find such a place back in England, and now she had, in Grimmauld Place, somewhere from which to launch her search. She was grateful to Harry for that offer and she intended to use it well.

A tap at the window interrupted her thoughts.

‘Ah bon.’ She let out. Crossing the room to let Leandre in at the window. ‘You have returned just in time, Leandre.’

The owl swooped to land on Fleur’s forearm, keeping his talons tucked carefully to avoid hurting his mistress. Fleur ran her hand down his back and he ruffled his feathers happily.

‘You had a good journey?’ she asked him softly, retrieving Harry’s response from the owl’s outstretched leg.

She unrolled the parchment and her eyes scanned the words until she let out a relieved sigh. So Hermione and Ron had agreed to Harry’s suggestion that Fleur move in with them. Fleur felt a small burst of warmth at learning that. She was unsure how Bill’s younger brother would feel about her now, and Hermione too, for that matter. She hoped they didn’t feel betrayed, or deceived. Hoped she could explain things more clearly in person than they were bound to have been explained via whichever third-hand route the news had reached them. Of course, they might not care at all. After all, in the midst of war, what does one little marriage matter? Harry seemed happy enough to overlook it. There’s something to be said for friendships forged in war.

‘And did you like our new place?’ Fleur questioned Leandre, smoothing the feathers on the top of his head as she spoke. The owl offered a chirrup in response.

‘Not quite the Delacour estate, I know,’ she soothed, ‘but you’ll see.’

 

 

Fleur had finished the last of her packing, placing what she needed for work into her backpack and slinging it over her shoulder. She took one last look around her bedroom, shaking her head ruefully at the poster of a boy band she had been particularly besotted with in her teens, and then closed the door firmly behind her.

‘Maman!’ Fleur called as she headed down the wide curved stairs of the Delacour home and towards the large airy kitchen where she knew her mother would be indulging in the first of several cups of fresh coffee. She had already said goodbye to her father the night before, knowing that he would be leaving early the following morning for work. And Gabrielle was back at school already.

Fleur pushed open the door and, sure enough, her mother was in her usual position, leaning against the counter, coffee cup in one hand, magazine in the other. Her appearance like Fleur’s in almost every way except the slightly shorter haircut and the fact that the expression her features naturally rested in was slightly less intense than Fleur’s. Apolline’s visage offering a more open and relaxed impression, often with a teasing glint in her eye, where Fleur had been more than once described as ‘unreadable’. Not that her family would agree with that descriptor.

‘I am going now, Maman.’ Fleur informed her mother.

Apolline Delacour pushed herself away from the counter and approached her daughter until she was close enough to rest both hands on her shoulders.

‘I think understand why you’re doing this.’ She said sincerely, ‘But know that we will miss you greatly again.’

‘I know,’ Fleur replied, her eyes downcast. ‘I will miss you all too. It will be much easier to visit now though. Creature status is greatly improved in England even in the few weeks since the end of the war. Movement is far less restricted.’

Apolline nodded.

‘And you would no longer have to drag that man along with you.’ She added with a smirk.

‘Maman!’ Fleur scolded. ‘You liked Bill.’

‘I did.’ Apolline agreed. ‘In fact, I like him even better now.’

Fleur rolled her eyes, but a small smile graced her lips.

‘You’re impossible.’ She muttered.

‘And you’ve been avoiding the inevitable.’ Apolline countered good-naturedly.

‘I have not been avoiding it. I just haven’t… found it.’ Fleur replied sulkily. It’s all too easily to slip back into teenage petulance when visiting the scene of those original moments.

Apolline narrowed her eyes and considered her daughter for a moment. Fleur met her gaze briefly and then looked away, fighting to keep the heat from her making an appearance on her cheeks. Her mother had always had an uncanny habit of making Fleur feel as though she knew more about her daughter’s innermost psyche than even Fleur herself. Apolline hummed to herself. Fleur shifted awkwardly – a sight unseen to most outside her immediate family.

‘And you’ll be living with Harry Potter and his friends?’ Her mother asked, a note of intrigue colouring her question.

‘Oui. As I have already told you. Harry and Ron and Hermione.’ Fleur issued a little impatiently.

‘Hermione.’ Apolline said at once.

‘Oui.’

‘She is the one you nursed back to health, oui?’ Apolline queried.

Fleur scoffed.

‘She wasn’t some baby bird that had fallen from its nest, Maman. She was tortured and traumatised and—’

‘You are protective of her.’ Apolline pointed out.

‘Well, she—’ Fleur began.

‘And you speak very warmly of her still.’ Apolline continued, almost as though she was speaking to herself.

‘As would you, if you met her.’ Fleur muttered petulantly.

‘Perhaps I will one day.’ Her mother shrugged. ‘You should take her some flowers.’ She added pointedly.

‘What?’ Fleur gaped.

‘She is welcoming you to her home. It is only polite.’ Apoline replied casually, though Fleur considered her mother with suspicion in her eyes.

‘And Harry and Ron?’ Fleur asked, ‘Shall I take them flowers too?’

‘Non.’ Apolline frowned. ‘For them… something else. You’ll think of it.’

Fleur raised a sceptical eyebrow but Apolline simply pulled her in for a tight hug. Fleur wrapped her arms around her mother in return and took a deep breath, savouring the familiar lilac scent.

‘You will keep in touch.’ Apolline ordered.

Fleur nodded against her mother’s shoulder.

‘You will eat well and work hard.’

Fleur nodded again. Apolline hugged more tightly still.

‘You won’t marry anymore Englishmen.’ Apolline whispered.

Fleur pulled away with a laugh.

‘I promise.’ She smiled.

‘Good. Off you go then. Fly the nest yet again.’ Apolline let out in faux-anguish.

‘Goodbye Maman, I’ll visit soon.’ Fleur vowed, before grabbing a pastry from the kitchen table and vanishing with a pop from the room.

Apolline shook her head with a smile and retrieved her cup of coffee from the side. She leant back against the counter, her long nails drumming a pattern on the coffee cup as her mind began whirring with fresh thoughts.





Working at Gringotts had not been where Fleur imagined her life leading. Her strongest subject at Beauxbatons had been charms. Nothing about that had suggested a propensity for curse-breaking and yet here she was, working for an internationally renowned bank and doing just that, researching and breaking curses. Rarely a charm in sight.

She also had never expected that the majority of her colleagues would be goblins who treated her with suspicion at best and repulsion at worst, but that came with the territory at Gringotts. And, if Fleur was being totally honest with herself, it was a relief to be surrounded by individuals who had absolutely no interest in the qualities afforded her by her Veela heritage. At work, unlike throughout her school years, she didn’t have trails of hormonal teens following her every movement. She could go about her business without feeling multiple pairs of eyes appraising her constantly. It was refreshing that the goblins found her as far from attractive as it was possible to be.

Of course, it could be partly that she had a better handle on the thrall these days. Her grandmother had explained it best to her after one boy a few years ahead of Fleur at school had become dangerously attached to the notion that Fleur was trying to seduce him. While drying a distressed Fleur’s tears, her grandmother had explained that the developing thrall could act like an extension of a person’s hormones. In the teenage years, when hormones are adjusting and changing, they are out of control, volatile. Likewise, as Fleur grows up, her thrall will at times be out of control. It may have an impact on those around her, but that is not Fleur’s fault. And whilst hormones and thralls alike cannot be controlled at will, behaviours can be and Fleur is not responsible for the actions of others. The Veela thrall is a tool for finding The Mate, true enough, but the most telling thing about it is the response of the person on the receiving end of the thrall. Nobody who reacts as ‘that young man’ has will ever be worthy of a Veela’s love, Fleur’s grandmother assured her. That, she promised, is not what love looks like. When Fleur is fully grown up, and the thrall is stable, then she will understand its power.

Nowadays, Fleur has been known to forget about the thrall altogether. Whilst she used to feel it rearing its head occasionally – a fluttering in her chest, a faint fizzing in her ears – in the past few years it has seemed to be dormant. Perhaps, like everything else, it was affected by war. Perhaps adrenaline outweighs thrall, or at least disguises it, their symptoms being remarkably similar. Regardless, Fleur was glad to see the back of it for a while. She still turned heads wherever she went, and had learnt to sidestep attempted advances expertly, but there was far less accompanying embarrassing behaviour directed her way. She only hoped that hadn’t been in part also due to the ring which had, until recently, been on her finger.

 

Fleur apparated to her usual spot outside Gringotts just in time, according to the large clock on the tower across the street. She jogged up the many steps to the entrance, dodging large cracks and chunks of missing stone, her heeled boots clicking against the surface as she went. And she crammed the last bite of her breakfast pastry into her mouth as she reached the first set of vast wooden doors. She paused, brushing off any stray crumbs as the doors opened of their own accord.

‘Good morning, Mrs Weasley.’ Greeted the nearest goblin with a sneer as she entered the cavernous space of the Gringotts Lobby.

Fleur rolled her eyes.

‘Delacour. As you know, Grimflinch.’ She replied, not slowing her progress past the rows of high counters, to her own office, ‘And good morning to you too!’ She called over her shoulder.

 

The hall was filled with the sound of clinking coins and brass weights hitting scales, echoing off the marble floors and walls. The sound, however, wasn’t loud enough to drown out the grumbling of various goblins as she passed their desks.

Yes, she certainly did love working with goblins.

A draft wafted around the cavernous space and Fleur glanced up at the shattered glass panes that had once made up a complete ceiling. Now, whilst intricate spellwork kept the London drizzle from dropping on the goblins’ heads, a distinctly dragon-shaped hole remained in the roof.

Since her return from full-time duty with the Order of the Phoenix, Fleur’s focus at Gringotts had been reparation of the damage brought by Harry, Ron, Hermione and an escaped – though Fleur thought the word ‘liberated’ was more apt – guardian of the vaults. The goblins remained resentful of the golden trio’s actions, despite the direction correlation with the downfall of the darkest wizard the world had known, and would mutter curses under their breath whenever confronted with evidence of ‘Potter and his pals’. And that evidence was hard to miss. Even Fleur’s office, beneath the surface of the first layer of vaults had not escaped unscathed. Her desk now had an unnerving slant to its surface, the result of subsidence prompted by dislodging of ancient props in the tunnels further below. In fact, Fleur theorised that one of the best ways or repairing some of the oldest parts of the Gringotts structure might be to utilise a spell that might actually just remind the building of how it had stood for centuries until its encounter with the dragon.

Fleur looked upon the work ahead of her with a sense of contentment. After years under the foreboding shadow of inevitable war, with nothing but protection spells and defensive wards taking centre stage in her wand work, the prospect of reparation and restoration felt fitting. It was time to rebuild. To begin anew. And Fleur felt a buzzing excitement in her veins.

She had reached her office now and settled at her lopsided desk. She summoned a cup of strong coffee and allowed it to warm one hand whilst stirring it slowly with the other. The passageways of Gringotts were always chilly and it would take a while for the fire she had lit in her office grate with a wordless wand-flick to warm the room adequately. She looked over the blueprints of the bank that were spread across her desk and assessed which area to tackle next. It wasn’t long, however, until her mind had wandered off course and she found herself thinking about the opposite end of the day. Perhaps her mother was right, perhaps she would make a couple of stops in Diagon Alley before heading to Grimmauld Place. She hadn’t visited her favourite florist for months after all.

Chapter Text

Weekdays at 12 Grimmauld Place passed in a pretty repetitive manner these days. Harry and Ron had both begun the very early stages of their auror training. Harry, because he couldn’t think of any career path he would otherwise take. And Ron because he was flattered by the mere suggestion that he could take that path. Although, perhaps that was a little unfair. Ron did show a certain aptitude for the work as well. It was just that out of the three of them, he was most comfortable – and even a little proud – of the Golden Trio moniker that himself, Harry and Hermione had gained following the fall of the Dark Lord.

Regardless of the impetus, both Harry and Ron had taken up the mantle of auror training, both secretly – or not so secretly – hoping to fast-track the usual route and immediately begin the task of rounding up the remaining Death Eaters. So far, that hadn’t been the case. It seemed that despite their integral role in the defeat of Voldemort, the ministry was less than keen on sending un-trained personnel out into the field. Thus, the boys found themselves mostly back in a classroom from Monday to Friday, albeit with slightly more hands-on defence work on the syllabus than in their Hogwarts days.

For Hermione, the weekdays were… quiet. As an only child, she had never been afraid of her own company before. And it wasn’t that she was afraid of it now, either. Although it had been years since she had been in habit of spending much time alone, whether she would have liked to or not. And whilst she wasn’t afraid of time by herself, she was afraid of the thoughts that kept her company these days. The relentless memories that revolved in a jagged loop through her mind’s eye when given half the chance. She tried, as best she could, to keep herself busy. And so that was how, on this particular Thursday afternoon, she was sorting laundry. The best way to take up empty time, it turned out, was to do things the muggle way. And, if these sorts of tasks provided Hermione with a link to her childhood, her parents, and simpler times, then, well, there might be some small morsel of comfort to be found there too.

She knew she needed to find a direction for her life, a focus, but she felt choked. A chess piece with all avenues blocked by the opposition.

She should track down her parents and restore their memories of her and their previous life together as a family. She should at least begin researching and identifying the correct spells to do so. But what if she failed? If she couldn’t do it, then she had lost them forever. Until she actually tried to bring her parents back into her life then she couldn’t fail. And what if she did it but they didn’t recognise her? Didn’t love her anymore? She knew she’d changed. The physical changes were obvious; the weight she had lost throughout those weeks of constant travel, living in the tent with the boys and surviving on meagre supplies, had yet to be regained. Her constantly churning stomach refused to allow her to enjoy more than a few bites at most meals. She favoured baggier clothes these days, the loose-fitting fabric of the boys’ jumpers did a better job at hiding her new bonier build than her own wardrobe. Her face showed signs of the trauma too. Her cheeks more hollow and her eyes less bright. She could see this herself from the surface of the bathroom mirror, and she knew Harry saw it too though he had the sense not to mention it.

Molly Weasley, however, did mention it. And had made it her own particular focus to feed Hermione up on visits to the Burrow and to go so far as to send recipes to Grimmauld Place to ensure the three continued to eat well even in her absence. Ron’s penchant for all things edible extended, they discovered, to the preparation of food as well. He was becoming rather accomplished in the kitchen now that, for the first time in his life, there was an opportunity to do so. None of them considered the campfire cooking they had resorted to during their horcrux hunt to be anything beyond necessity. Hermione did note though that Baked Beans had not once appeared on the kitchen table of Grimmauld Place. For that, she was thankful. She expected the smell of them alone would ignite yet more miserable memories and she was not willing to test the theory.

But it wasn’t the physical changes that Hermione worried that her parents would see. Rather the changes to her personality. Where previously she had thirsted for knowledge, had devoured books by the shelf-load and thrilled at sharing her findings with those around her, now she lacked the appetite for reading. On days when she picked up a book, she found herself reading the same few lines over and over again, her mind meandering off the page and into the past without permission. Where once she had spoken with a fiery passion about the need to protect others – the house-elves, the muggle-borns and those who are different – now she found her fire had burnt out.

How could her parents love her now, with so much of herself missing? After what she had done to them, what she had become? How could anyone love her, for that matter, with her so-called sins carved so visibly into her very skin. She didn’t feel golden. She felt grey.

Her thoughts had strayed once more and Hermione shook her head as though that might get them back in order. She assessed the laundry basket she now remembered she was crouching in front of and pulled a shirt from it. One of Harry’s; a heavy cotton chequered shirt, too large for Harry as it had once belonged to Sirius, though Harry wore it regardless. It had been clean, being on the top of the pile of freshly laundered clothes ready to be returned to their respective owners. Now it was smattered with crinkled ginger fur. Crookshanks, like any cat worth its salt, knew that one of the cosiest places to doze was a fresh laundry basket.

Hermione brushed off as many of the hairs as she could with the back of her hand, casting a raised eyebrow in the direction of Crookshanks himself, who was currently watching her from his perch on the kitchen table. He flicked his tail nonchalantly as though to show his lack of remorse over the hairy shirt. Hermione let out a rare chuckle and brushed her hand against the shirt once more. As she did so, a button pinged out of place and skittered across the flagstone floor.

Hermione ducked below the table and retrieved the button. She stood, bringing the shirt with her and studied it under the light. The thread had perished, and the loose button would be the first of many by the looks of it. It could be fixed with a simple spell. One Molly Weasley had shown her once and had come in handy on the trio’s travels. It could also be fixed with a needle, new thread and a bit of time. The way Hermione’s grandmother had done it.

A glance at the clock on the wall – a housewarming gift from Mr and Mrs Weasley – showed that there was still an hour until Harry and Ron would return, both of the clock hands bearing their names pointed to Work. Hermione’s, as was almost always the case, was pointing to Home. Idly, she wondered whether a new hand would simply appear there once Fleur was also a resident of 12 Grimmauld Place. Did one of them need to somehow inform the clock? Fleur would be arriving before long too, assuming her working hours at Gringotts were reasonably regular. Hermione faltered for a moment; her mind slipping into one of its familiar ruts. Her palms felt clammy. Fleur would be here later. Fleur had seen Hermione in a state nobody else had witnessed. That’s how she’d think of her now, damaged.

Hermione clenched her fists then released them. Wiping her damp palms on her jeans decisively. She had time. She could do this. It was only one thing. It wouldn’t take long and then she could fix the shirt. That would be something she could put her mind to safely. She needed to do this. It would be good for her.

Checking her jeans pocket for some spare change and tucking her wand into the sleeve of the burgundy woollen sweatshirt she wore, – slightly lumpy and far too big, definitely Ron’s – Hermione took a deep breath. She could already feel her heart rate quickening in her chest as she reached into an earthenware pot on the shelf by the kitchen hearth and scooped out a small handful of coarse powder.

Crookshanks’ tail had stopped twitching and he eyed Hermione curiously instead.

‘Won’t be long, Crooks.’ Hermione said, thankful that the feline couldn’t comment on the slight shake in her voice. ‘Be good.’

Hermione threw the gritty floo powder into the fire and paused as the flames rose higher, turning from their usual lively orange to a pale emerald green. Hermione cleared her throat.

‘Diagon Alley.’ She enunciated with more confidence than she felt as she stepped into the grate and vanished.

The flames returned to their previous appearance. Crookshanks hopped down from the kitchen table and strolled across the flagstone floor. With one fluid movement he leapt into the laundry basket and settled in, wrapping his bushy tail around his body.


Hermione stumbled as she stepped out of a fireplace at the Floo Exchange in Diagon Alley. It had been a while since she had used the floo network and she forgotten the dizziness it induced. But it had been longer still since she’d apparated and, truth be told, she didn’t trust herself to envision clearly enough her chosen destination. Getting splinched was the last thing she needed. How would she be able to explain that one away? The Brightest Witch of Her Age, losing a limb due to lack of focus. No, the floo was safer for now.

She straightened up and swept the worst of the ash from her clothes as she looked about herself. It wasn’t too busy in the Floo Exchange. Most of the people there were intent on coming and going from whichever fireplace was at the other end of their journey. Hermione couldn’t fail to notice the gazes that flitted away from her as she looked about those around her. And if she hadn’t been able to see the unsubtle glances cast in her direction, she could feel them anyway; hot pinpricks all over her. Hermione despised the attention. She headed quickly for the main doors and out into the fresh air.

It was a damp, drizzly day in Diagon Alley and the cobbled street was littered with witches and wizards going about their business. Hermione stood to one side of the thoroughfare as she gathered her bearings. Madame Malkin should have what she needed. A single spool of dark green thread to match that which had deteriorated on Sirius’s old shirt. She could just pop in, get the thread she needed and get out, go home again and be back before the others returned from work. The shop she needed was only halfway along the street anyway. She could do this.

Dark green thread. She repeated in her head. Dark green thread. Just dark green thread.

She stepped out onto the cobbles and made her way a few yards along the street. It must be market day. There were stalls lining the next section of Diagon Alley, which weren’t usually there, and the air was punctuated with the calls of the sellers. Fresh fish. Recently baked bread. New cloaks and robes. Sweets. Broomstick wax. Stalls of many kinds, all higgledy-piggledy along the pavement.

The clock tower opposite the entrance to Gringotts chimed a quarter-hour note and Hermione felt her senses becoming overwhelmed by the cacophony of noise and smells.

Amongst the calls of stallholders and the chiming of the clock bell, she could hear her own name. Whispered. Gasped. Muttered under the breath of those passing by. She ducked her head and hurried along to Madame Malkin’s. Past the apothecary and Eeylop’s Owl Emporium. She dodged a couple of older warlocks stepping drunkenly out of the Leaky Cauldron and noticed one of them nudge the other and point at her. Past Florian Fortescue’s and the Forestry Floristry store. Finally ducking in the door of Madam Malkin’s and hearing the bell above it chime as she did so. She straightened up and released a breath she had been holding.

‘Well, bless me! Hermione Granger, what an honour!’ Came a voice she vaguely recognised.

‘Good afternoon.’ Hermione let out breathlessly.

‘Come in, come in!’ ushered the voice she now realised was emanating from Madam Malkin herself, as the older witch rounded the end of the shop counter. ‘And, really, it is an honour to have you here.’ She repeated.

‘Oh, no.’ Hermione let out, not sure where she was going with the sentence. Her heart was pounding.

‘I read about everything you did. You’re a hero, truly.’ Madam Malkin continued, undeterred. She had reached Hermione now and clasped one of her sweating hands. ‘And to think I fitted your first Hogwarts robes all those years ago!’

‘I..’ Hermione started. ‘It was all Harry. I just…’ She tried.

‘Teamwork!’ Madam Malkin exclaimed, still gripping Hermione’s hand in her both of her own. ‘The Golden Trio! And you were one of them. They couldn’t have done it without you. Your parents must be ever so proud.’

Hermione pulled her hand free and looked about her, trying to spot what it was she was looking for.

‘Dark green thread.’ She said at last, glancing at Madam Malkin who hadn’t taken her eyes from Hermione once.

‘That all? Just green? You can have the whole set if you like. We’ve got every colour you can imagine!’

‘Just dark green thread.’ Hermione repeated. ‘Please.’

Madam Malkin finally released Hermione from her intense gaze and bustled back to the counter, she ducked below it and reappeared seconds later with a spool of dark green thread.

‘Here you go, Lovie.’ She said fondly.

Hermione reached into her jeans pocket and produced a handful of change.

‘Oh, heavens no!’ Madam Malkin practically shrieked. ‘I’m not charging Hermione Granger for one spool of dark green thread!’

‘No, please.’ Hermione tried.

‘Absolutely not.’

‘I’d really like to just—’

‘I’ll tell you what.’ Madam Malkin cut in, ‘I won’t take any money, but I do have something here…’ she ducked back beneath the counter and reappeared yet again several seconds later. ‘Yes, here it is. I knew I kept it.’

She placed down onto the counter between them a commemorative pull-out magazine from The Daily Prophet. It pledged many glossy photos and all the facts you could ask for about The Golden Trio.

Hermione’s eyes nearly left their sockets.

It was written by one Rita Skeeter.

‘Would you sign it for me?’ Madam Malkin asked eagerly. ‘I’ve already got Ron Weasley! He came in here for his new auror robes. Such a handsome young man. You’re very lucky to—’

‘An autograph?’ Hermione gasped, utterly bewildered. ‘No, I—’

‘Oh please! I’d be ever so grateful.’

‘But I’m not—’

Hermione felt a quill being shoved insistently into her hand.

‘I’ll find your pages, hang on, I think they’re near the back…’

Madame Malkin licked the pad of her thumb and proceeded to flick through the magazine before her until she stopped at a certain page about two-thirds through.

‘Ah yes, here you are.’ She beamed, spinning the paper to face Hermione.

Hermione stared down at the paper in front of her. And her own face stared back. Bloodied, grimy, sweat-streaked and smiling, intermittently wiping her brow. The photo must have been taken almost immediately after the Battle of Hogwarts. But who would have been brandishing a camera at a time like that? Hermione had no memory of the photo being taken, that was for sure.

Her eyes travelled down the page to the headlines beneath, promising to unearth ‘The Muggle-born’s humble up-bringing’ insight into her ‘School Day Romances’, and even ‘excruciating details of her horrendous torture at the wand of Bellatrix Lestrange’.

Hermione stepped back as though she’d been burnt. She could feel the panic rising within her like a full moon tide, filling each extremity as it reached it and threatening to drown her from the inside out.

‘Anywhere you like, Lovie. Just so long as I can read it.’ Madame Malkin smiled generously.

‘I’m not signing that!’ Hermione wheezed at last. ‘I can’t. It’s… It’s… Just no.’ she shook her head emphatically.

Madame Malkin looked taken aback.

‘You should be proud, my dear! Look at what you’ve done. Rita Skeeter even says…’

Hermione couldn’t hear any more. Everything Madame Malkin was saying sounded like it was being said under water. She gasped for air and came up feeling like she hadn’t found any. She stuck her hand in her pocket and grabbed a fistful of change, slinging it haphazardly at the counter and snatching the dark green thread. She fled from the shop. The bell on the door issuing a clang rather than a chime at her hasty exit.

Madame Malkin stared after her for a few shocked moments.

‘Ron Weasley signed it.’ She muttered to herself.



Hermione blundered back out into the bustling street. A couple of people skittered out of her way as she appeared before them before doing a double-take once they’d recognised her.

Hermione Granger. She heard it from all angles. Repeated over and over even as she tried to block it out. Hermione Granger, Hermione Granger.

Dark green thread. Her mind supplied instead. Dark Green Thread. Just Dark Green Thread.

She gripped the thread in question tightly in her hand until it was bound to leave its mark, and headed as quickly as she could manage back towards the Floo Exchange. This had been a mistake, she decided.

Hermione Granger.

Back past Forestry Floristry.

Hermione Granger.

Back past Florian Fortescue’s.

Hermione Granger.

Dark Green Thread. Just Dark Green Thread.

Past the Owl Emporium. Nearly there now.

Hermione Granger. Hermione Granger.

‘’Ermione!’

Just a few more yards.

‘Wait! ‘Ermione!’

A hand gripped her forearm. A shimmering haze of pale blue light took over the corner of her vision and blurred the edges. Hermione screeched to a halt.

‘I thought it was you! Did you not hear me? I was calling you.’

Hermione turned in confusion, glancing at the pale hand and long fingers wrapped around her forearm and then up into a face bearing a curious expression. Silvery-blonde hair and a surprisingly familiar scent filled her senses. Fleur.

Chapter Text

It was unusual for a work day at Gringotts to drag on for Fleur, particularly now she had such a largescale and on-going project to manage. Bill had yet to return to his position, taking a bit of time off to spend with the family as they mourned the loss of Fred, and also to get Shell Cottage in order and more suited to his taste now that it was his alone to occupy. And so, in his absence, Fleur was the sole member of their department capable of leading the reparation work. Curse-breaking endeavours had been called to a halt for the time being, with the occasional exception of incidents involving clearing the vaults of recently deceased Death Eaters.

Fleur breathed a long outwards breath and leant back in her chair, stretching out her back and rolling her shoulders. She consulted her wristwatch. It was more or less the end of her day and she could knock off a little early without anyone saying anything about it. She so rarely stepped a toe out of line, she could get away with it this once. Besides, she needed to pick up a few things in Diagon Alley before she apparated to Grimmauld Place. Her mother was right, of course, it would be rude to arrive empty handed.

Grabbing her leather jacket from the back her chair, Fleur slipped it on and flicked her hair out over her shoulders. She pushed her chair back under her desk and squinted at each burning lantern in its place about her office, as she did so they one-by-one extinguished themselves. Fleur nodded to herself and left the room. The fire in the grate turned instantly to ash as she closed the door behind her firmly and paused to hear each of its enchanted locks clicking into place.

She stepped out of Gringotts’ main doors into the fresh air of Diagon Alley, responding to Grimflinch’s call of ‘Evening, Mrs Weasley’ with merely a roll of her eyes and an amused headshake this time. The name had never suited her and the sound of it used to feel like a sharp jab to the ribs, but now that it was officially not her name, it had ceased to bother her when she heard it.

After mulling over her mother’s suggestion of taking gifts to her new housemates, she found she agreed that flowers for Hermione was a good idea. For the boys, a crate of butterbeer had been her conclusion. It had been what she’d noticed them enjoying with Bill during their stay at Shell Cottage and, to be honest, she didn’t feel she knew them well enough to choose anything else.

Butterbeer successfully bought from the Wizarding Off Licence and shrunk to nestle in her pocket alongside her suitcase, she ventured further down the street, through the array of market stalls – nothing like the markets she had frequented in France throughout her childhood – and into Forestry Floristry.

‘Fleur Delacour, my most favourite customer!’ exclaimed a wizard of slim build and dark hair as he straightened up from arranging a bouquet at the shop counter.

‘Now, Simon, I’m sure that’s not true.’ Fleur replied easily.

‘You got me. I don’t have favourites. But you’re definitely my most beautiful customer. In fact… yes, your thrall… I can feel it reeling me in already… you’re all I can see!’ Simon let out in halting dramatics.

Fleur laughed.

‘And now I know you’re lying.’

‘Got me again. Your ethereal good looks do nothing for me.’ He admitted.

‘Likewise, I’m sure.’ Fleur replied with another laugh.

‘Been a while though, love. How’s things? I heard you broke the heart of that ruggedly handsome Weasley.’

‘Then you heard wrong. No hearts were broken, I can assure you.’

Simon raised his eyebrows, a hungry grin appearing across his features.

‘Is that so? Well now I am intrigued. Tell me more at once! Would you like a cuppa?’ He offered encouragingly.

‘Not today, my friend. You can have my custom, not my life story.’ She replied with an amused smile.

‘OK, OK. You’re still not a gossip, I hear you. So, what’ll it be? Roses? Is some lucky individual about to reap the benefits of a newly single Fleur Delacour? Lilies? Condolences for all those you’re still not interested in? Though I’m not sure I have quite that many lilies in stock…’ He trailed off jokingly.

Fleur ignored his teasing good naturedly.

‘A thank you bouquet for my new housemate.’

Simon nodded.

‘Want me to chuck something together? Or will you choose?’

‘I’ll choose. Your wildflowers, please?’ Fleur asked, looking at the rows of fresh flowers around her and finding most too manicured and obvious for what she had envisaged giving to Hermione.

‘At the back.’ Simon nodded towards the rear of the store and Fleur set off to where he had gestured.

15 minutes later, Simon was wrapping Fleur’s arrangement neatly in a cone of brown paper, printed with the store’s name.

‘You’re better at my job than I am.’ He grumbled, appraising the selection of wildflowers Fleur had put together expertly. ‘If you ever get tired of the goblins, just give me a ring.’

Fleur smiled.

‘Ah, but I could never flirt with the customers the way you do.’ She joked.

‘As if you’ve ever needed to flirt with anyone in your life!’ Simon let out with a bark of laughter.

Fleur shrugged knowingly and said nothing.

‘You sure you’re alright really though?’ Simon asked quietly, ‘You weren’t joking about no broken hearts?’

Fleur reached across the counter and clasped his hand.

‘I promise. These are days of beginnings, not ends.’ Fleur told him, maintaining unwavering eye contact. ‘For all of us.’

Simon nodded and squeezed her hand before releasing it.

‘Right you are, oh wise and gorgeous one.’ He smiled.

Fleur tossed her head back as she laughed, and just at that moment, the flash of somebody scurrying past the shop window caught her eye. She furrowed her eyebrows and tracked the movement of someone in a burgundy jumper until they were out of her sight.

‘Thanks for these, Simon.’ Fleur let out, lifting the bouquet from the countertop and tucking it in the crook of her arm. ‘I’ll see you again.’

‘Don’t leave it so long this time!’ Simon called after her as she made her way to the door.

Fleur lifted her hand in a backwards wave as she swept out of Forestry Floristry and back into the bustling street.

 

 

It took a moment of squinting into the throng of witches and wizards until she caught a hint of burgundy once more, keeping close to the buildings at the edge of the street and moving quickly. Fleur didn’t know why she suspected she knew that scurrying figure, but once the first whisper of the name ‘Hermione Granger’ brushed by her ear, she understood her instinct was correct.

Momentarily Fleur found herself racing to catch up with Hermione. The other woman was certainly not hanging about.

‘’ermione!’ Fleur called, inwardly cursing how occasionally her accent bettered her. That H sound really didn’t come naturally. It took more concentration than she was willing to let on to get it right. The minute she tried to do it under pressure or at volume… forget it.

Fleur pushed her way through the shoppers of Diagon Alley, getting closer and closer to Hermione, who she saw stumble slightly before righting herself and maintaining her hasty pace. Fleur frowned.

‘Wait ‘ermione!’ Fleur tried again, increasing her own speed until she was within touching distance of the slightly shorter woman who seemed to be either ignoring her, or unable to hear her for some reason.

Fleur reached out and touched her hand to Hermione’s forearm, just managing to stop herself from ploughing into the other woman who suddenly stopped dead in her tracks at Fleur’s touch.

‘I thought it was you! Did you not hear me? I was calling you.’ Fleur panted, trying to catch her breath. Honestly, not many weeks ago she was quite literally fighting fit, now she was out of breath after running down the street. Too many peacetime celebrations involving feasts and champagne.

Hermione span abruptly to look at Fleur and Fleur was taken aback by the frantic expression on the younger witch’s face. She appeared terrified.

‘Fleur.’ Hermione let out in a strained voice.

‘Oui.’ Fleur nodded slowly. Her eyes skittering over Hermione’s person in search of something causing the trauma in her face. ‘Only me.’ She added in what she hoped was a calming tone.

‘I was just…’ Hermione let out in a rush, not looking directly at Fleur but rather her eyeline darted about them at the witches and wizards passing by.

Hermione Granger. Fleur heard the name issued in hushed tones again and glanced back at Hermione, who appeared to be trying her hardest to dissolve entirely into the cobblestones beneath them.

Someone knocked into Fleur’s shoulder, pushing her closer still to Hermione, in a bid to get a better look at a member of the famed Golden Trio and Fleur watched as Hermione’s eyes seemed to lose focus altogether.

Fleur glared angrily at a couple of teenagers gawking from across the street. Usually she would assume that she herself was the focus of their stares and would not bother to acknowledge it at all, but it seemed for once the unwanted attention was directed elsewhere. At someone who clearly was not used to it.

Fleur slid her hand from where it remained loosely on Hermione’s forearm, down to her hand, linking their fingers together and feeling the cold clamminess of the younger witch’s hand.

‘I was about to head home for the day,’ Fleur announced conversationally, trying to catch Hermione’s still glazed eye. ‘Shall I apparate us both?’

Hermione’s throat bobbed as she swallowed, her eyes clearing and briefly meeting Fleur’s again at last as she nodded minutely.

‘Please.’

‘Bon.’ Fleur nodded decisively. She tugged Hermione closer to her than was strictly necessarily for side-along apparition and closed her eyes. She envisaged the façade of 12 Grimmauld Place; a property she was familiar with from long, tense, nights of Order meetings.

She felt the familiar tug behind her naval that accompanied apparition, and when she opened her eyes, she saw before her the exact location she had imagined. Beside her, Hermione unlinked their fingers immediately and stepped away unsteadily, almost losing her footing entirely.

Fleur put out her arm and secured it about Hermione’s shoulders that seemed to be trembling somewhat.

‘Apparition still makes me dizzy too sometimes.’ Fleur offered lightly, though it was a lie.

‘It’s fine.’ Hermione shot back. ‘I mean, I’m fine.’ She corrected. ‘Thank you.’

‘It was my pleasure.’ Fleur replied, ‘I’m glad I could remember the place adequately, or who knows where we would have ended up, hmm?’ she smiled warmly.

Hermione didn’t reply. Instead, she ducked free of the arm about her shoulders and made her way up the front steps of 12 Grimmauld Place, pulling her wand from the sleeve of her jumper. She tapped the lock of the door and Fleur sensed various wards around the property relaxing to admit them both. Hermione pushed against the front door and held it open behind her for Fleur.

Fleur hopped up the steps quickly to catch up, and Hermione lowered her head as Fleur brushed past her on the threshold.

‘We’ll add you to the wards.’ Hermione said quietly. ‘Come in.’ she added needlessly as Fleur was already standing in the hallway.

Hermione hovered by the front door, her sleeve tugged over her hand and she picked at the thread. Fleur was looking about herself, doing her best not to scrutinise the clearly uncomfortable woman before her.

‘It looks much better in here now.’ Fleur said kindly, ‘Feels homely. Not like when it was the Order Headquarters.’ She wasn’t lying either. Even the hallway felt brighter and warmer than it had been previously, if the décor was still as outdated as she remembered.

Hermione hummed in agreement and Fleur allowed herself a brief glance at her. Hermione appeared smaller than Fleur remembered, though it could be simply that she was swamped under that hideous jumper. That thing had Mrs Weasley’s knitting project written all over it. And the Weasley matriarch had vastly overestimated Hermione’s slight frame. Fleur cleared her throat.

‘The kitchen is still this way?’ Fleur asked gesturing to the doorway ahead of her. She severely doubted Harry, Ron or Hermione had remodelled the house so entirely that the kitchen had moved location, but Hermione seemed at a loss for what to do or say next and needed a prompt.

‘Oh.’ Hermione said. ‘Yes, it is. Shall we… Would you like a cup of tea?’ She let out, seeming to relax a little at the mere thought of having something to do.

‘Tea would be wonderful. Thank you, Hermione.’

‘The boys should be back soon. They normally finish around five.’ Hermione said, shuffling past Fleur yet again to lead the way into the kitchen.

 

In the kitchen, the fire crackled comfortingly in the hearth and Crookshanks leapt nimbly from the laundry basket as Hermione passed it. He stretched out his front paws and arched his back, yawning widely.

Hermione filled the muggle kettle with water and set it back on its stand to boil. A bit of colour had returned to her pale complexion and her shoulders had dropped somewhat from their previous position which was nearing level with her ears, Fleur noted with relief.

‘Ah, Monsieur Crookshanks.’ Fleur purred, causing Hermione to cast a look over her own shoulder. ‘How are you, my old friend?’

Fleur crouched to scratch behind the ear of the giant ginger cat, who seemed more than happy to welcome her touch.

‘He’s well.’ Hermione answered for her pet. ‘It’s nice to have him back. I don’t think Molly is his biggest fan. She was glad when I picked him up from the Burrow. Apparently he tormented the hens.’ She rambled.

Fleur hummed.

‘You and I have something in common then, hmm? She’s not fond of me either. Though I admit I never tormented the hens.’ she said to Crookshanks conspiratorially.

Hermione seemed shocked to hear Fleur’s open acknowledgement of Molly’s dislike for her and the blonde witch chuckled softly before standing up fully.

‘All’s well that ends well,’ Fleur shrugged, ‘Isn’t that one of your English sayings?’

‘It is.’ Hermione agreed slowly. ‘So you’re… happy to not be with Bill anymore?’

Fleur raised her eyebrows in surprise.

‘Nobody told you the story?’

‘Well, we were told you were getting divorced and that it was… amicable.’ Hermione supplied, pouring boiling water from the kettle through loose leaves and into a teapot.

‘Oui.’ Fleur nodded. ‘Well, almost.’ She corrected.

‘Almost amicable?’

‘Almost divorced.’ Fleur clarified with amusement. ‘Certainly amicable. But annulled, rather than divorced.’

‘Annulled.’ Hermione said softly. She opened her mouth to say something else but was interrupted by two mechanical shifting sounds as Harry and Ron’s clock hands moved to the Home position, swiftly followed by voices in the hall.

Fleur was surprised to note that the clock had four hands. One of which bore her own name, also pointed at Home. An odd surge of warmth passed through her at the sight.

The voices in the hallway grew louder until Ron burst into the kitchen with Harry just behind him. Crookshanks let out an affronted mewl and disappeared beneath the table.

‘Hey Fleur,’ Harry let out, ‘You beat us home.’

‘I did indeed.’ Fleur agreed. Crossing the room to greet the newcomers. ‘Bonjour, Harry, Ron.’

She hugged Harry warmly before turning to Ron.

‘Uh, yeah. Hi.’ Ron mumbled, scratching the back of his neck and not seeming to know where to look until he spotted Hermione preparing to pour tea into two mugs. He shuffled in that direction at once.

‘Hey ‘Mione.’ He said, leaning in awkwardly to kiss her on the cheek.

Fleur felt her eyebrows rise for a second time in surprise and couldn’t avert her eyes from the interaction. Hermione turned abruptly back towards her tea-pouring task.

‘How was your day?’ Ron asked.

‘Fine.’ Hermione supplied.

Fleur felt Harry shift on the spot next to her and she caught his eye, trying to read the pained expression on his face.

‘Hermione and I bumped into each other in Diagon Alley earlier.’ Fleur said, louder than necessary.

Ron coughed in surprise.

‘You went out? Blimey ‘Mione, that must be the first time in weeks.’ He laughed.

Fleur saw Harry’s head shaking emphatically, though Ron evidently did not.

‘Mum says you’re in danger of being some sort of recluse like that weird old woman in—’ Ron continued until Harry cut him off.

‘How was Diagon Alley?’ He asked, shooting a glare at Ron who looked bemused to receive it.

‘It was fine. You know, a bit busy.’ Hermione shrugged. ‘I needed some thread. That old shirt of Sirius’s you like needs fixing.’

‘You don’t need to do that, Hermione.’ Harry said gently.

‘Yeah, there are spells for that, ‘Mione! You used to fix our stuff by magic all the time when we were in that bloody tent.’ Ron laughed.

‘I meant she doesn’t have to do it at all, Ron.’ Harry let out through clenched teeth.

Fleur cleared her throat to disrupt the bickering that looked set to ensue.

‘That reminds me,’ she said brightly. ‘For you two…’ she added, producing the miniaturised crate of butterbeer from the pocket of her leather jacket and offering it to Ron before aiming her wand and returning it to its usual size. She noted with disguised pleasure how he had to quickly adjust his stance to bear the weight of it.

‘Butterbeer, and loads of it. Cheers Fleur.’ Ron said, clearly chuffed with the offering.

‘You didn’t need to do that, but thanks Fleur.’ Harry added.

‘And these are for you, Hermione.’ Fleur said, offering up the bunch of flowers that had rested against one arm the whole time.

Hermione, having finally prepared two steaming mugs of tea. Turned her attention to Fleur, who watched her reaction carefully. Hermione’s eyes seem to glaze once more, before she blinked them rapidly.

‘Flowers.’ Hermione pointed out. ‘I’ve actually never been given flowers before.’ She mused, as though thinking aloud.

‘Vraiment?’ Fleur failed to conceal her surprise and, in turn, her response was issued in French.

‘I could buy you flowers.’ Fleur heard Ron mutter, and saw from the corner of her eye as Harry aimed a quick kick at his shin.

‘They’re beautiful. Thank you, Fleur.’ Hermione replied, sincerely. She too must have been aware of the boys’ words and movement but pointedly ignored both.

‘You’re welcome,’ Fleur said with a one-shouldered shrug. ‘Thank you all for letting me move in. I’m looking forward to spending more time together.’ She added politely.

‘Oh, right. Your room!’ Harry said suddenly, as though just remembering Fleur wasn’t merely a passing visitor. ‘Let me show you your room.’

‘That would be nice. Thank you, Harry’ Fleur nodded, stepping towards the counter and leaning past Hermione to retrieve one of the mugs of tea. ‘And thank you for the tea.’ She said more quietly, resting a hand for a brief second on Hermione’s arm before following Harry from the room, taking her tea with her.

Hermione looked down at her arm until Ron interrupted her thoughts.

‘I didn’t know you even liked flowers.’ He said grumpily.

‘Oh, honestly, Ronald! Who doesn’t like flowers?’ She replied.

Chapter Text

The trip to Diagon Alley had not gone as Hermione had hoped. Not at all. Not only had the debacle with Madam Malkin and that horrible excuse for a magazine sent her thoughts spiralling back to her experience at Malfoy Manor, but she’d well and truly lost it in front of Fleur Delacour of all people. Well, Fleur Delacour and what felt like every other visitor to Diagon Alley that afternoon.

Yes, Hermione knew that Fleur was not the stuck-up popular girl that many of them had assumed she was when they first met her at Hogwarts. She knew that Fleur was competent and caring and actually really rather kind. But she also knew that Fleur had seen Hermione at her worst once before, when they first arrived at Shell Cottage. Though Hermione’s memory of those days is – perhaps mercifully – patchy, her visions of Fleur at her bedside and administering medicinal potions and tinctures were certainly a reality. Back then it was Hermione’s physical health that was struggling, there was little she could do to hide that. Now it needn’t be so obvious. Now it was something she had been prepared to hide. Or at least that’s what she had thought. Just the night before, Hermione had decided she was keen to show Fleur just how well recovered she was from the last time they had spent time together. Now she felt beyond embarrassed to have been seen at such a weak moment. Yet again.

The panic was nothing new. She had felt that familiar dread setting in the minute things took a turn in Madam Malkin’s and knew there was nothing she could do but ride it out, to wait for the wave of panic to recede and the ensuing exhaustion to set in. The hazy vision was new though. That pale blue, dawn-coloured, edging to her eyesight was something she hadn’t experienced before. That couldn’t be a good sign. And it had to have happened just as Fleur reached her too, of course it did.

Hermione didn’t need Fleur to see that she was flailing so completely, that she was stuck in such a rut when she should be excited for the future, not full of fear and devoid of joy. After all, they’d all been through hell. The Weasleys had lost Fred. Harry had lost Sirius, Dumbledore, Lupin. Fleur herself had gone through a divorce. (Annulment. Hermione corrected herself. That was a surprising discovery.) Anyway, they were all coping. They were moving on. Why wasn’t Hermione? What excuse did she have? None. The least she could do was pretend. To welcome Fleur to a new home without making it feel uncomfortable. And she’d already failed at that. Fleur must think Hermione has gone completely mad. Yes, Hermione had worried that seeing Fleur would bring back bad memories, but Fleur didn’t need to know that.

Hermione let out a tired sigh and stared into her half-empty mug of tea. She was seated at the large scrubbed wooden table in the kitchen. Ron was telling her about his day while he began to prep that evening’s dinner ingredients and, from upstairs, she could hear the faint murmuring of Harry showing Fleur around.

‘Anyway, they reckon me and Harry are doing really well. And they didn’t say it, but we’re definitely top of our group.’ Ron said with pride. ‘We’ll be out in the field in no time, I bet.’

Hermione hadn’t necessarily heard all of what Ron had been saying, but bits and pieces had filtered through.

‘That’s great, Ron. I’m really pleased for you. Both of you.’ She said sincerely. A part of her worried that the pair of them would be receiving preferential treatment due to the obvious fact that they recently played an integral part in bringing down a warlord. But she wasn’t going to point that out to Ron. If auror training was making him happy, then she was in full support.

‘I want to make you proud, you know?’ Ron said more quietly.

Hermione felt her stomach sink at such a vulnerable statement from Ron. She really must try to remember that despite how bull-headed and oblivious he could be at times, he was also quite sensitive.  

‘I am proud of you.’ She replied softly. ‘You and Harry are both doing really well.’

Ron said nothing, though Hermione knew he was a bit hurt at her inclusion of Harry in their discussion.

‘Ron, you know, you and I…’ she started carefully.

‘Do you want another cup of tea?’ He asked, cutting her off and placing a large hand on her shoulder as he reached for her now-cold mug of tea.

Hermione paused, contemplating the best course of action. Exhaustion overruled. She couldn’t face a difficult conversation with Ron this evening.

‘Yes, go on then. Please.’ She said at last.

‘Coming right up!’ Ron issued cheerfully, immediately setting the mug of tea to brew itself afresh with a few deliberate wand movements.

‘Bit odd having Fleur here, eh? Living with my brother’s ex-wife? Definitely weird if you ask me.’

‘I’m sure we’ll get used to it.’ Hermione replied.

‘Yeah, maybe. I still don’t get why they divorced though. They seemed pretty happy together when we were at theirs a couple of months back, didn’t they?’

Hermione frowned thoughtfully.

‘Well, I… I don’t know. I don’t remember seeing much of them together actually.’ She replied honestly. She had seen more of Fleur than Bill during those difficult days, and the few times she had seen them in the same room was meal times when every member of the temporary household was assembled. Hardly the time for intimate moments.

‘No, but I mean, they shared a room and everything. You don’t share a room with Fleur Delacour and not… Well, you know!’ Ron said with emphatically raised eyebrows.

‘I do not know!’ Hermione hissed. ‘You can’t just assume that because they shared a room that they were constantly… intimate.’ she trailed off awkwardly. ‘Besides, all of us were taking up the rest of the house. They had to share a room whether they liked it or not.’

‘They were married, Hermione! What do you think married couples do?’

Hermione scoffed.

‘Your parents are married too.’ She couldn’t resist pointing out.

‘Bleurgh! Hermione! That’s not the same.’ Ron recoiled.

‘Isn’t it?’ Hermione asked with an arched brow.

‘Of course not. Have you seen Fleur? Bill would have to be mad not to.’ Ron shot back.

‘You’re a pig, Ronald.’ Hermione said firmly, standing from the table abruptly.

‘No, Hermione, I didn’t mean… Obviously I think you’re more beautiful. You don’t need to be jealous.’ Ron tried.

Hermione let out a rare and genuine laugh.

‘I am certainly not jealous.’ She said. ‘And I’m going for a shower.’

With that, she strode from the room, stopping only to grab her flowers from Fleur. Crookshanks appeared from under the table and slunk after her.

 

Upstairs Hermione passed by the slightly ajar door to what would now be Fleur’s bedroom. From inside she heard Harry’s easy laughter.

‘I better not show my face at Gringotts for a while still then?’ He asked.

‘Non. I think perhaps the goblins like you even less than they like me.’ Came Fleur’s reply.

‘I guess that’s what happens when you fly a dragon through someone’s ceiling.’ Harry lamented.

‘You did that dragon a huge favour if you ask me. Poor thing had been trapped down there in the dark for centuries.’

‘That was Hermione’s opinion too.’ Harry agreed. ‘Wonder where that dragon is now,’ he mused, ‘I’m still waiting for a postcard.’

Hermione heard Fleur’s low chuckle at that and then continued along the landing to her own bedroom and closed the door behind her. Through the wall she could still hear Harry and Fleur’s murmured conversation and was reminded that she would need to cast a silencing charm over her own bedroom that night.

She didn’t know for sure, but she had a feeling her nightmares could get noisy sometimes when they were particularly bad. It hadn’t been much of a problem before as both boys’ rooms were on the next floor up, with Ron’s directly over Hermione’s room and she knew for a fact how deeply he slept.

The last thing she needed was for Fleur to discover yet more of Hermione’s weaknesses. It felt a little stuffy in Hermione’s room, and she pulled up the sash window a bit before heading further along the landing to the bathroom for a shower.

Always feeling tired and achy after a panicked episode like that afternoon’s, Hermione knew the hot water would soothe her muscles somewhat. Now she thought about it, she had calmed down a little more swiftly than usual. Must have been the need to concentrate on the task of making tea and conversation with Fleur that did it. Usually Hermione retreated to her favourite armchair in the study when she felt the onslaught of anxiety, and would curl up there to wait it out. Usually it took hours.

 

The hot water did its trick, and soon Hermione was feeling more refreshed than she had in weeks. She made a start on towel drying her hair and pulled on a clean pair of jeans and another over-sized jumper, this one navy blue and only marginally less lumpy than the previous. She knew that wearing Ron’s jumpers was sending him the wrong message, but she had to admit she found them comforting and they served the dual purpose of disguising her thin frame and having extra-long sleeves – even less likely to accidently rise up beyond that hateful word still carved into the flesh of her forearm. Hermione herself couldn’t look at it. She didn’t expect anyone else to either.

Still drying the ends of her damp hair, Hermione wandered back to her own room. No voices were coming from Fleur’s room now, so Harry must have left her to settle in.

The minute she closed the bedroom door behind her, Hermione felt eyes on her – a sensation she had grown particularly astute at identifying since her new-found un-wanted fame. From her desk a small chirrup sounded.

‘Oh, hello Leandre!’ Hermione let out in surprise.

The gold-tinted barn owl chirruped again in greeting before his talons scratched lightly against the wooden surface of the desk as he took off, swooping once, gracefully, and then landing gently on Hermione’s shoulder. He nudged her under the chin with his soft feathery head and Hermione smiled.

‘You must be looking for Fleur.’ She murmured to the owl. ‘She’s in the next room along.’

It was unusual for owls to misplace their people, but Hermione surmised that the windows of Grimmauld Place did all look pretty similar from the outside, and he had only missed by one.

For a mad moment, Hermione contemplated sending Leandre out of the window to find Fleur through the correct window but she shook her head to herself at that thought. She would take him there herself.

‘Let’s go and find her.’ She said softly to the owl, who headbutted her again, presumably in agreement.

Hermione knocked at Fleur’s now-closed bedroom door.

‘Fleur?’ She called cautiously. She didn’t want to disturb the other woman.

‘Oui? Hermione? You can come in.’ Came the immediate reply.

Hermione pushed on the door and entered. Somehow the room already seemed lighter, brighter, than the previous evening when Hermione had helped Harry to prepare it, as though just through her presence alone Fleur had brought a new lease of life to the room.

‘Um…’ Hermione started. Fleur was standing at the edge of her bed, her opened and re-sized suitcase across the bed in front of her, wand in hand, as she levitated her – seemingly endless – clothing into the wardrobe, piece by piece.

‘I think he got a bit lost.’ Hermione said, nodding to the owl on her shoulder.

‘Oh!’ Fleur exclaimed ‘Leandre, I was wondering where you had got to.’

‘He was in my room.’ Hermione supplied, noting that the owl’s name was much more beautiful when pronounced properly.

Leandre hooted as though quite pleased with himself. Fleur narrowed her eyes at him suspiciously but said nothing for a moment.

‘He must like you.’ She said at last. ‘He is usually quite aloof with others. He wouldn’t sit on Gabrielle’s shoulder like that for all the gold in Gringotts. She is too… jittery for him. ’

Hermione smiled. It struck her that she had heard the word ‘aloof’ applied to Fleur herself in the past and had agreed with it. Now she wondered how that was.

‘He’s very handsome. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a barn owl like him.’ She said, stroking his chest feathers and, apparently, his ego. Leandre shook out his feathers proudly and Fleur raised an eyebrow at him.

‘A gift from my grandmother on my 18th birthday.’ Fleur said fondly, ‘She has a… a knack with birds.’

‘Because she’s Veela?’ Hermione asked before realising what she was about to say.

Fleur’s gaze left Leandre immediately and she looked directly into Hermione’s own eyes. Hermione was alarmed to feel a spike of fear run through her.

‘I mean,’ she rushed out, ‘Just, you know, because full-blooded Veela can transform, right? They’re… bird-like?’ She felt Leandre hop a couple of times, unsettled, upon her shoulder.

Fleur’s eyes remained fixed on Hermione’s and Hermione discovered that she couldn’t look away. That pale blue tint was creeping back into her vision and Hermione thought for a horrifying moment that another panic attack was on its way.

‘I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have—’ Hermione tried.

Fleur shook her head gently and broke their eye contact briefly.

‘Non. You’re right. She can transform. Though I have only seen it once or twice. It is… intimidating.’ Fleur decided.

‘Can you?’ Hermione asked immediately. And then wanted to kick herself. Leandre nipped her chin as though in admonishment.

Fleur was looking at her again with that indecipherable expression.

‘Oh, yes.’ She said, ‘If I get truly annoyed then you will know at once because I will grow a magnificent beak.’ Her face was blank and Hermione could do nothing but gape at her.

And then Fleur laughed, though not unkindly.

‘Non, Hermione. I am joking. No beak, no wings, no feathers. I do not sneak out at night to devour unsuspecting voles. Just a quarter-Veela, you see, so just the pesky thrall for me, and a little extra magic perhaps.’ She said with a chuckle. And Hermione relaxed at once.

‘And the whole impossibly beautiful thing.’ Hermione added, again without pausing to consider her words.

Fleur looked thoroughly amused now.

‘Oh? You think I’m beautiful, hmm?’

Hermione could feel her cheeks reddening by the second.

‘No. Of course not.’

Fleur’s smile only grew.

‘I mean, or… yes, obviously. Everybody does.’ Hermione admitted, increasingly flustered.

‘I am teasing you, Hermione.’

‘Great.’ Muttered Hermione, now avoiding looking at Fleur at all costs and missing the flash of alarm that crossed her features before she regained control of them.

‘In answer to your question. Yes, perhaps it is her Veela nature that allows grand-mére to commune so easily with birds. I don’t really know, to be honest. It could also just be who she is personally. I don’t know that all full-blooded Veela are… owl whisperers.’ She finished carefully.

Hermione nodded thoughtfully, mulling over Fleur’s words as the other woman eyed her curiously for a moment before crossing to the desk beneath her window where she had already set up Leandre’s perch. She tapped it a couple of times and Leandre took off at once from Hermione’s shoulder and settled on his perch instead. Fleur stroked under his chin with a single finger and offered him a couple of owl treats.

‘Hermione,’ Fleur started, and it was the first time Hermione heard anything close to caution in the other woman’s voice. Hermione met her eye warily.

‘Yes?’

‘Earlier, in Diagon Alley…’

‘It was nothing.’ Hermione cut in hurriedly with an obviously false smile that in no way reached her eyes. ‘Just got a bit flustered. It was quite busy and I was in a rush.’

‘It is not easy to feel many eyes upon you, to be under such scrutiny. It is OK to struggle with that. I know how it—’

‘It’s hardly the same!’ Hermione snapped.

Fleur thought that having people stare at her, trying to find evidence of her torture, was the same as how men drool over Fleur like teenage boys?

‘They’re not looking at me because they think I’m some ridiculously attractive woman. They’re looking at me because of… because of… everything that happened, aren’t they?’

Fleur looked affronted for a moment at Hermione’s initial outburst before her face softened into something more tender.

‘Oui.’ She said simply. ‘They are. They are talking about how your role in the war led to the freedom of so many. How the world is a better place today because of it.’

‘That’s not what I meant.’ Hermione sighed. ‘They’re talking about what happened to me.’ She added almost inaudibly, like she was releasing some great secret that couldn’t be retrieved once it was spoken.

Fleur had rounded the bed in a second and clasped Hermione’s hands in her own, ducking her head to try to meet Hermione’s eyes.

‘Just because you are thinking about it, doesn’t mean they are talking about it.’ She issued deliberately, ‘And of course you are thinking about it, what you went through was—’

Hermione pulled her hands free of Fleur’s grasp and wrapped her arms around herself instead. Why was Fleur constantly trying to touch her? Hermione knew she wasn’t the most tactile of people, probably because she spent the majority of her teenage years around boys, well, and Ginny, but Ginny was far from touchy-feely. The boys weren’t particularly affectionate towards her, at least not physically. Well, Ron seemed to be often reaching for her these days, but only since their night together after the battle. And that made Hermione uncomfortable too.

Maybe Fleur’s demonstrative nature was a part of being Veela. Or French. She certainly didn’t remember Fleur being like this before Shell Cottage though.

‘Ron’s probably nearly finished making dinner downstairs.’ Hermione said simply, ‘I’ll see you down there.’

She turned on her heel and headed for the door.

‘’Ermione!’ Fleur called out.

Hermione paused.

‘It’s good to see you again.’ Fleur let out sincerely. ‘I am glad to be here.’

‘I… It’s good to see you too.’ Hermione breathed, unsure if she was lying or not, before continuing out of the door.

Chapter Text

The first dinner at her new home was a pleasant affair, Fleur was pleased to find. Well, the meal itself was pleasant at least; she was surprised to discover that Ron was a rather good cook and had created a meal for them which was both tasty and satisfying. Judging by the lack of surprise on Harry and Hermione’s faces, this was perhaps an almost nightly occurrence. The conversation, on the other hand, whilst not unpleasant, had certainly not been what she had expected. Though necessary, nonetheless.

‘This tender stem broccoli is perfect, Ron.’ Fleur proclaimed honestly and noted without comment the slight colouring that appeared on his cheeks at her words. Some things never change, after all. ‘Really, the cooking gene was not apparent in your brother.’ she added.

‘Bill never cooked for you?’ Harry asked after swallowing a mouthful of braised lamb.

‘Non. I was the cook in that household. I did not mind. I like cooking. But it is also nice to be cooked for sometimes, hmm?’ Fleur replied, not directing her observation at anyone, but noticing Ron glance at Hermione and smile proudly. He clearly felt his talents in the kitchen were a desirable trait and Fleur had just inadvertently reinforced the notion.

Hermione cleared her throat.

‘I’m afraid my cooking on the run left much to be desired.’ She said softly.

Harry laughed at that, though not unkindly.

‘None of us were great at that. We’re all morally opposed to Baked Beans these days.’ He added with a grimace.

‘Ah, but sometimes there is more important work to be done than cooking.’ Fleur smiled reassuringly.

‘Is that why you got divorced?’ Ron asked suddenly. ‘Because Bill can’t cook?’

Fleur turned to him sharply, taken aback by the question.

‘Ron!’ Hermione hissed.

‘Not now, mate.’ Harry said warningly.

‘What?’ Ron asked, ‘it’s a fair question. He’s my brother. She was my… sister-in-law.’

‘It doesn’t mean it’s polite to ask it at the dinner table.’ Hermione huffed. ‘You don’t have to answer that, Fleur.’

Fleur’s gaze remained on Ron, a fact that made him shift slightly in his seat, uncomfortable with the attention now he was getting it.

‘Non.’ She said simply. ‘I would not leave someone purely due to their lack of culinary prowess.’ She paused for a moment in thought and then added, ‘I did not leave him, anyway. It was a joint venture from the start.’

Ron looked a little confused.

‘So why—’ He started.

‘Ron!’ Hermione tried again, ‘It’s none of our business.’

‘It’s OK, Hermione.’ Fleur reassured her. ‘I really thought you would all have been made aware of the circumstances by now. I suppose Molly didn’t feel it was necessary.’ She reasoned, before adding as an afterthought, ‘And we’re not divorced.’

‘You’re not divorced?’ Ron spat.

‘The marriage was annulled.’ Fleur sighed.

Clearly, this was a conversation she was going to have to have. She found that she wanted the three of them to understand, they were going to be living together after all. And the marriage had been quite an important chapter of her life. Though she did think that Bill might have handled the explanation even if Molly had not.

‘What does that mean? You’re still together?’ Ron probed.

‘The opposite is true.’ Fleur said lightly. ‘We were never together. Not like that, at least. The marriage could be annulled because it was not consummated.’

Hermione’s eyes widened, though she said nothing. Harry was suddenly incredibly interested in his water glass. And Ron looked thoroughly perplexed.  

Fleur decided to help him out. ‘We never had sex.’ She clarified bluntly.

Harry, who had gone so far as to take a gulp of water from his glass, choked.

There was a moment of silence between them all, except for Harry’s coughing and the sound of Hermione – who had rounded the table with surprising speed – patting him firmly on the back.

‘I’m OK.’ Harry sputtered at last, ‘Thanks Hermione.’

Hermione nodded and returned to her seat next to a stunned Ron.

‘Never had sex.’ Ron breathed in disbelief. ‘Guess you were right, ‘Mione.’ He added.

Fleur, who had simply continued with her meal and allowed the other three occupants of the table to come to terms with her apparently shocking announcement, turned her eyes to Hermione in bemusement. Hermione, she noticed, had turned beet red and appeared to be grasping desperately for an explanation and finding none to hand currently.

‘You speculated about my sex life?’ Fleur asked her curiously.

‘No!’ Hermione almost shouted, before regaining control of her volume, ‘Of course not, that would be… no. I would never.’ She gasped.

Ron frowned.

‘You did.’ He said honestly. ‘We both did.’

‘Ronald, I—’

‘I said they seemed happy enough together when we were at Shell Cottage, that they shared a room and stuff and you said just because they shared a room didn’t mean they were shagging all the time.’ He recounted.

‘I didn’t say that!’ Hermione let out, horrified.

‘You did!’ Ron insisted.

‘I certainly didn’t use those words!’

‘Well, no, you would have said it, you know, like you.’

Hermione opened her mouth to reply but Fleur interrupted.

‘I think I can imagine the conversation, thank you.’ She said blankly.

It wasn’t quite true. She could not imagine a conversation between Ron and Hermione about the frequency at which herself and Bill had, or did not have, sex. Partly because she was struggling to get a read on the nature of Ron and Hermione’s own relationship. She could not imagine them discussing very much at all, and certainly not sex. But something about the way Ron acted around Hermione made her feel uncomfortably like it was a topic they weren’t entirely unfamiliar with.

‘Fleur,’ Hermione said mortified, ‘Honestly, I didn’t—’

‘Talk about me “shagging all the time”?’ Fleur interrupted. ‘Non. I imagine you did not.’ She agreed. ‘But anyway, you were right, however poetically you did phrase it. Those weeks sharing a room –  a bed –  were not particularly comfortable for Bill or myself.’ She admitted.

‘We put you in my room, Hermione. I felt you needed your privacy at that time’ She explained.

Hermione looked away at once and tugged at the sleeve of yet another awful jumper. Perhaps she ought to take Hermione shopping, Fleur mused before continuing, ‘It was not usual for Bill and I to share a bed.’

‘I don’t get it. You were married! Why wouldn’t you have sex?’ Ron let out in frustration.

‘Do you want to have sex with your friends?’ Fleur countered, feeling a little frustration rising in herself too.

Ron reflexively glanced at Hermione to his side, who seemed to purposefully avoid his eye. Fleur heard a crackling noise in her ear and took a deep breath, taking control of the conversation before any of the others could respond.

‘Non. I am not telling it clearly. Let me try.’ She said firmly.

‘I think that’s a good idea.’ Harry agreed. ‘Ron, shut up and listen, yeah?’

Ron grumbled something at that which Fleur couldn’t quite hear, but judging by the way he jolted suddenly away from Hermione, she had just aimed a kick at him under the table.

‘Fine.’ Ron huffed, throwing an arm around the back of Hermione’s chair.

Fleur just couldn’t quite figure out the dynamic between those two. Perhaps she could ask Harry about it. Though the idea of having her suspicions confirmed sat uncomfortably for some reason. She took another deep breath, willing the crackling in her ears to quiet.

‘Bill and I became good friends working at Gringotts together. It was due to that friendship that I heard about, and was later asked to join, the Order of the Phoenix. My mixed heritage brings with it a variety of magic that the Order felt could be helpful. Now, as you know, in the years that Voldemort was regaining power, it became increasingly unsafe to be… not a pureblood.’

Ron opened his mouth, his impatience winning out and clearly about to interrupt the story. Without taking her eyes off Fleur, Hermione reached a hand up to grip Ron’s hand warningly where it rested near her shoulder. Fleur’s eyes narrowed as Ron caught Hermione’s hand in return and held it there, the crackling sound became a faint fizzing in her ear which momentarily made her lose her train of thought entirely.

Hermione looked at Fleur curiously. And Fleur cleared her throat to continue her story.

‘At that time Voldemort’s followers within the ministry could not simply persecute people for their blood status, it would be too blatant, too quick of a move. It would alert people to his return before they were ready to act. They could, however, make life more difficult for people who were, for example, not British citizens.’

‘They wanted to deport you.’ Hermione realised.

‘Oui.’ Fleur nodded. ‘I was useful to the Order by that point. That was known by both sides. So Bill suggested a plan to secure my place in the country.’

‘A green card marriage.’ Harry said quietly.

‘That’s why mum never liked you!’ Ron exclaimed, ‘It was all fake!’

His exclamation was accompanied by a sudden movement that shook Hermione’s hand, dislodging her sleeve slightly and causing it to slip down her forearm. Fleur caught sight of only the barest hint of an angry mark there before Hermione retrieved her hand from Ron’s grasp and pulled her sleeve hastily down. Her eyes met Fleur’s for the briefest of moments and the look of shame Fleur found there shot straight through her. The fizzing sound in Fleur’s ears intensified and Fleur found herself feeling quite untethered all of a sudden.

‘Molly does like you.’ Hermione said softly, her tone was awkward, but it served to bring Fleur back into the moment.

Fleur raised her eyebrows sceptically at Hermione’s words.

‘Well, she… warmed to you a bit?’ Hermione tried.

‘Only after Bill’s run-in with Greyback.’ Ron said with a dark chuckle. ‘Probably thought that ruined his chances of finding a real wife so you might as well do.’

‘I do not think Bill will struggle.’ Fleur said with her own knowing chuckle. ‘Anyone will be lucky to have him. He sacrificed a lot to keep me here. He is a good man and a great friend.’

‘Your wedding though,’ Hermione said quietly, ‘You both looked so happy together.’

‘We were trying not to laugh for most of it.’ Fleur confessed with a fond smile. ‘Our marriage was a happy one, if not a conventional one. Though, I admit, sharing a bed while you were at the cottage with us was a stretch. Werewolves snore. And take up a lot of bed space.’

‘I still don’t get it.’ Ron said indignantly. ‘A whole fake marriage?’

‘Would you not do anything for your friends? I would have thought that you three, out of everyone, would understand that kind of friendship.’ Fleur stated plainly. Her words were met with a silence that she took for agreement.

‘Well,’ said Harry after a pause, ‘I’m not sure I would marry Ron. No offence, mate.’

At that, Hermione let out a startled laugh and Fleur felt a burst of warmth in her chest. It was the first time she had heard Hermione laugh so genuinely in what must be a very, very long time and it pleased her. The only thing that would please her more, she was disconcerted her to realise, was if it had been her to cause that eruption of laughter from Hermione.

‘I think you would both look very handsome in suits.’ Fleur offered.

‘Yeah, and that would be a wedding that Mum would be on board with!’ Ron laughed. ‘She’d marry any of us off to Harry given half a chance.’

A glance at Harry’s reaction to that statement told Fleur what she had long suspected; there was, in fact, one Weasley that Harry would also happily be ‘married off to’.

 

After that, the rest of the dinner conversation flowed more easily and Fleur found, with relief, that the fizzing and crackling sounds that had tormented her minutes earlier had subsided once more. And whilst Fleur had no doubt that Ron was still a little confused about the marriage between herself and Bill, it did seem as though the general idea had been accepted amongst the group. If everything she knew about Hermione was true, then she was sure the other witch had plenty of pertinent questions circulating her brilliant mind but she had the tact not to ask them at present.

At the end of the meal Hermione hid a yawn behind her hand and moved to collect the plates from in front of each of the table’s occupants.

‘My turn to wash up, Hermione.’ Harry said immediately, taking the plates from Hermione’s hands.

‘Is it? Oh, OK then, Harry. Thanks.’ Hermione replied, then let out another yawn. ‘I, uh… I think I’ll go up to bed then.’

And she did look tired. The candlelight at the table had hidden the finer details of the younger witch’s face, but now she stood nearer to one of the wall-mounted lamps Fleur could see the beginnings of dark shadows beneath her eyes.

‘Goodnight, everyone.’ Hermione said with a tired smile before heading towards the door. Fleur offered a soft smile and a raise of her hand in response and Hermione nodded, somewhat awkwardly at her.

‘Wait up, ‘Mione. I’m pretty beat too.’ Ron called after her, his chair scraping across the flagstones in his haste to follow. ‘Night guys.’ He nodded at Harry and Fleur before disappearing through the door that Hermione had just walked out of.

The fizzing sound returned. Fleur glanced at Harry to try to ascertain whether he could hear it too, or if it was indeed what she thought it was. Harry shrugged his shoulders at her and continued Hermione’s abandoned task of collecting the plates. Fleur at once began to help him.

Once the plates and dishes were collected on the kitchen counter, Fleur was surprised to see Harry turn on the tap to fill the sink with water. He noticed her look and smiled.

‘It’s a habit Hermione’s got me into. Washing up the muggle way. Ron thinks we’re both mad.’ He explained.

‘It is a lot slower.’

‘There’s something calming about it though, methodical. I think that’s why Hermione does it. For the peace.’ Harry said quietly.

‘Then I shall dry.’ Fleur decided, picking up a dish towel and holding it at the ready with exaggerated purpose.

Harry laughed again, and handed Fleur the first soapy plate which she dried carefully. It felt a very unnatural thing to do for someone so accustomed to the magic method. But perhaps she could find the quiet pleasure in it, in cleaning something with such care. It would be a therapeutic task in certain circumstances, she could see that.

‘Harry, earlier, when I met Hermione in Diagon Alley, she seemed…’ Fleur drifted off. It felt a mild betrayal to discuss a topic with Harry which Hermione herself had so obviously wanted to avoid.

‘Not herself?’ Harry suggested.

‘I do not know her all that well.’ Fleur reasoned, ‘But she seems less sure of herself than I remember from before the war. In Diagon Alley, she appeared… terrified, Harry.’

Harry sighed.

‘I’m surprised she went at all.’ He confessed. ‘She’s been struggling.’ He added scrubbing at a particularly well stuck morsel of food on a dish. ‘She doesn’t talk about it. Won’t talk about it,’ he scrubbed harder still, ‘She thinks she can hide it. And I don’t know how to help her.’ He finished almost angrily.

Fleur touched his arm gently and took the dish from him, passing her hand over it and removing the stain with a word whispered in her mind.

Harry looked at her in amazement and Fleur chuckled.

‘Told you I was a useful asset.’ She said knowingly before returning to their previous subject, ‘You are a good friend to her, Harry.’ She told him and watched as he shook his head in frustration.

‘Then why won’t she talk to me?’ He asked.

‘Perhaps she doesn’t know how? Perhaps she is scared to talk, scared to re-live things she would rather forget.’ Fleur theorised. ‘She went through an awful ordeal, Harry. When I think about how she was when you all arrived at Shell Cottage… The trauma that her body had suffered, let alone her mind—’

‘I know!’ Harry let out, before immediately apologising, ‘Sorry.’ He evened his tone before continuing, ‘I was there, Fleur. I heard her screams.’

Fleur swallowed. She could not imagine how that must have felt for Harry and Ron, to be able to hear what was happening and do nothing to stop it. For three so young they had endured far too much.

‘I’m sorry, Harry.’ Fleur said honestly. ‘I am sorry that any of it happened. It shouldn’t have.’

Harry shook his head defiantly.

‘But we did it. We won.’ Harry said hollowly. ‘We survived. But Hermione is… She’s not OK.’

‘I see it.’ Fleur nodded. ‘And I will help all I can. I think perhaps she needs time and calm, most of all. And the ability to talk when she is ready. For now, that is what we can provide, hmm?’

‘When I invited you here,’ Harry started, ‘I had, I guess, selfish reasons.’

Fleur turned a curious look to Harry as he avoided her eye and continued his washing-up. She did not reply but waited for him to continue.

‘I saw how you were with her at Shell Cottage. How caring… sort of… loving? I think she needs that now. Maybe even more than she needed it then.’

Fleur felt something in her chest warm and battled with the mild alarm that sensation caused. She had felt this before, had heard the crackling and fizzing in her ears before too. She furrowed her brow.

‘She does not get that from Ron? They seem… Are they… together?’ she finished cautiously, not wanting to hear the answer but needing to ask the question.

Harry barked out a humourless laugh.

‘Well, that depends who you ask.’ He said before continuing. ‘Ron thinks if you pretend everything is how you want it to be, then it will be. If he pretends hard enough that Hermione is absolutely fine, then one day she just will be.’

That answer did nothing to settle Fleur’s mind or answer her question. Harry passed her the last damp but clean set of cutlery.

‘I’m really glad you’re here, Fleur.’ He said with a touch of vulnerability that Fleur didn’t often see in him.

‘Me too, Harry. And I will help you, and Hermione, however I can.’ She promised. And she meant it. ‘But drying up the muggle way is very tedious.’ She added with a smirk, and waved her hand across the items she had been piling into the drying rack.

Harry watched as drops of water lifted in slow motion from the wet plates and dishes before one-by-one bursting into smaller droplets and vanishing into thin air, leaving perfectly dry tableware behind.

‘That is seriously cool.’ Harry breathed. ‘Wordless magic is one thing, but wandless too? You couldn’t do that back in the Triwizard days could you?’

‘Non. It took a long time to perfect. Another gift from Grand-mére.’ She answered with a wink.

Soon, with the washing up completed, Fleur excused herself to go to bed too. She climbed the stairs with her head full of Harry’s words about Hermione, and some of her own questions about the evening’s developments. Passing Hermione’s closed bedroom door, Fleur could perceive a spell cast around it, a shimmer she could see from the corner of her eye, that disappeared entirely if she tried to focus on it.

It must be a silencing charm. Why would Hermione cast a silencing charm on her bedroom? What sounds could she possibly want to obscure? Unless… Was Ron in there with her?

Fleur felt a rock form in her stomach generating a wave of nausea.

But so what if Ron was there? Why should it make Fleur react in this way?

She could feel an answer pulling at the instincts she was usually so attuned to but she chose to ignore it, to defend herself from what it would mean.

She was protective of Hermione, that was all. And of course she was, it was only natural. She had cared for the younger witch before, had helped her heal, she had invested her time and magic in Hermione’s well-being. That was the root of her reaction. It had to be.

Chapter Text

Sleep was a slippery creature these days for Hermione. Some nights it seemed she could grip it swiftly and fall into unconsciousness relatively quickly; and other nights it fluttered around her, just out of reach. Worst of all though, were the nights when sleep would grant her respite for a few hours, only to flit away and leave her wakened and full of dread. Those nights, she knew, were when the nightmares had visited. She didn’t always remember their content, but she knew from the feeling she awoke with, the cold sweat and racing heart, what they had contained. Who they had contained.

Tonight, however, she lay awake. The conversation from the dinner table circulated her busy mind, a turning cog that kept catching on the same crooked tooth. And it wasn’t the truth about Bill and Fleur’s marriage that was lodged in Hermione’s mind. No, it was that it had been Fleur’s bedroom she’d stayed in at Shell Cottage.

After dinner, Ron had raced up the stairs behind her. The sound of his heavy footsteps closing in behind her had sparked an irrational panic that she had just about managed to quash before he followed her into her bedroom and flung himself onto the bed. He’d wanted to discuss what they had discovered, that Bill and Fleur’s marriage had been fake all along. He seemed somewhere between amused and outraged by the whole thing and it had taken a while for Hermione to listen to enough of his thoughts on the matter for him to run out of steam.

‘Shall I stay in here with you tonight, ‘Mione?’ Ron asked, attempting to make the question seem as conversational as possible.

It was a fairly regular conversation, Hermione supposed, and yet the repetitive nature of it hadn’t seemed to deter Ron from it.

‘I don’t think so, Ron.’ Hermione sighed.

She watched Ron’s hopeful shoulders drop in defeat.

‘OK, ‘Mione. You know, I’m not going to push you.’ He said quietly. ‘We could just, you know, sleep.’

‘I know. It’s just… I sleep better by myself.’ She lied. Well, it might not be a lie. She hadn’t shared a room with anyone since the end of the war, so her hypothesis hadn’t been properly tested. She might sleep even worse if someone else was around. Or perhaps what she meant was that she doubted anyone who shared with her would sleep particularly well. Being kept awake by her tossing and turning wouldn’t be conducive to much actual rest for anyone. And waking to sweat soaked sheets was far from ideal either. No, only a lunatic would want to share with Hermione.

‘It is good having our own rooms, isn’t it?’ Ron agreed readily. ‘It feels like yonks since I had my own room!’

Hermione nodded eagerly. Ron had unwittingly offered her an out.

‘Yes, exactly.’ She agreed. ‘It’s… lovely, isn’t it?’

‘Beats a tent, that’s for sure. And a dorm with four other snoring lads.’ Ron laughed. ‘Alright, ‘Mione. Well, I guess, goodnight then?’

‘Goodnight, Ron.’ Hermione smiled as Ron hauled himself up from where he had sprawled across her bed throughout their conversation. Hermione had perched on the edge and now she stood, hovering to one side.

Ron wrapped her in a tight hug, pulling her against his chest. And it should have felt comforting. In the past it had felt comforting. She had, at one point, felt safer with his large arms enclosed around her. Now she just felt herself being squeezed into the solid weight of him and it didn’t feel safe, it felt like something she wanted to struggle free from.

‘Sleep well.’ Ron told her, releasing her from his arms.

She stepped back quickly, but not quickly enough to be rude.

‘I’m sure I will, after such a good dinner.’ Hermione said kindly.

‘Oh!’ Said Ron, just remembering something, ‘I was thinking. D’you reckon Fleur would teach me a bit of French cooking?’

That was not what Hermione had been expecting. Ron and Fleur? Cooking together? Hermione found herself fighting back a smile at that strange image.

‘I don’t see why not, Ron. You’ll have to ask her.’

Ron nodded thoughtfully.

‘I’ll give her a day or two to settle in first, yeah?’ He asked hopefully.

‘That would be a good idea.’ Hermione agreed.

‘Cool. Anyway, ‘night ‘Mione.’

‘Night Ron.’ Hermione nodded, and waited for him to close her bedroom door behind him.  

Once Ron had gone, Hermione pulled out her wand from her back pocket and aimed it at the door. Sometimes it felt like silencing charms were one of the few spells she cast now, it was no surprise that she was quite adept that them, she supposed.

‘Silencio.’ She murmured and waited a moment before being content that her charm had taken.

She changed into her pyjamas and crawled into bed. There was a small pile of books on her bedside table. None of them had been read. She let out a sigh and pressed her head back into her pillows.

Ron was right, the last time she’d had a room of her own was at her childhood home. It was full of bookshelves fit to burst, there were photos tacked up on the wall, mostly of her friends from Hogwarts, but a few of earlier friends. Only a few because she had lost contact with her early childhood friends after leaving primary school to attend Hogwarts, and there hadn’t been many to lose in the first place.

There had been glow-in-the-dark stars on her bedroom ceiling; a present from her dad one Christmas. Together they had studied his old astronomy books and then stuck the stars up in their correct constellations and positions. Her mother had worried about the marks that would be left up there on the ceiling when Hermione inevitably grew out of her interest in astronomy, but she never had.

There were footsteps on the stairs. Hermione’s silencing charm was a one-way spell for a reason. The idea that she wouldn’t be able to hear any kind of commotion in the house was unthinkable. The need to be on constant alert for attackers does not wane in a hurry. It wasn’t Harry’s footfall, his was heavier, not as heavy as Ron’s – who she had heard collapsing into his own bed in the room above a few minutes earlier. These steps were light, yet deliberate. Fleur’s. Hermione listened to her reach the top of the stairs and start to cross the landing and then stop. She was outside Hermione’s door. Hermione found herself holding her breath.

And then the steps moved on again. Past Hermione’s room and into Fleur’s own. Hermione heard the door click purposefully shut and released her breath.

Her mind returned to her childhood bedroom. She’d always put her Hogwarts trunk at the end of her bed during the summer. She remembered unpacking it meticulously on the first day of the summer and re-packing it the same way at the end of the holidays. She had been so proud of everything to do with her new life. In pride of place on her desk, where other children her age might have had their own television set or a computer, she kept her always freshly-cleaned cauldron along with her beloved copy of Hogwarts: a History.

For the briefest of moments, Hermione wondered what her room looked like now. There must be a new family living in that house, a new child living in her room, with new interests.

Hermione pushed that thought away and another crept in instead.

That hadn’t been the last time she had a room to herself. She’d had a room to herself at Shell Cottage too. Fleur’s room. The thought filled her with an odd fuzzy sort of sensation. Like warmth, but not quite. Hermione certainly hadn’t looked back on those days with anything even nearing warmth before. Why now? Why was it important that it had been Fleur’s room?

She tried to picture the room; another task she had not attempted willingly before. She struggled for a moment. For weeks she had worked on blocking all those memories. To ask her brain now to dig them out again was a challenge. She took a deep breath.

And smelt sea air. Salt and seaweed. Coming in through the slightly opened window. It was a very small window with a deep sill cut into the thick cottage walls. She could hear the gulls calling on the breeze and the faint shushing of waves lapping the shore. The bed had been soft. A feather duvet. White sheets. She remembered a slash of fear at the idea of staining that fresh linen with her grime and blood. But it hadn’t happened. The bed had remained clean and comfortable throughout her time there. Hermione’s brows furrowed. Was she mis-remembering? Every time she had pulled her exhausted body from its slumber, the bed had been pristine. It had smelt like honeysuckle. Sweet and fresh.

The whole room had smelt that way.

It was sparsely decorated. She could remember that clearly. She supposed that’s why she had assumed it was a guest room. Now she could assume it was the room of somebody who knew they would not be inhabiting it long, one way or another. The walls were a cream colour. A large wardrobe taking up much of one wall. The style of wardrobe struck her now. It was French. Beside it had been a small wooden desk, its surface empty but for two glass bottles of perfume and an open-topped jar.

Hermione could feel her body relaxing. Her limbs feeling heavier and her eyes drifting closed.

What had been in that jar on the desk? Small pieces of something. Lots of it. Turquoise, pale greens, blues, some white…

She was breathing deeply now, evenly.

It had been a jar full of sea glass. Shards of old bottles and vessels, jagged edges smoothed by years in the waves. Such lovely muted colours. Broken pieces made beautiful.

Hermione had liked the dark blue bits the best. That colour had called to her. She smiled sleepily and sighed.

 

 

Hours later Hermione woke with a start. Someone was at her bedroom door. Had they knocked? Is that what had woken her? She was frozen in place. Her body reacting to its sudden jolt into consciousness by triggering her fight or flight response. Her eyes were wide as she heard the floorboard on the threshold creak from the other side of the door.

Her breathing coming in ragged gasps, Hermione tried to reason with herself. Nobody was in the house that shouldn’t be. The wards were incredibly strong. Logic dictates that if anybody is at her bedroom door, it will be one of the house’s three other occupants.

Hermione strained her ears and could make out the familiar sound of Ron’s snores from the room above. Not him then.

So it was Harry or Fleur. Hermione decided. Neither of them was anything to be afraid of, she told herself firmly. It’s most likely Fleur. She had probably forgotten to pack something and needed Hermione to lend her… whatever it was. That was the most likely explanation.

Hermione pulled the covers off herself and padded across the room to the door. She opened it a crack.

‘Fleur?’ She asked.

But there was nobody there. The landing was dark and vacant.

Then something brushed by Hermione’s shins and she startled backwards, barely supressing a shriek of surprise.

It was Crookshanks. Of course it was Crookshanks.

Hermione sighed and closed her bedroom door quietly.

‘Did I forget about you?’ Hermione murmured softly to the part-kneazle, who was eyeing her somewhat accusingly from the floor. ‘Sorry, Crooks.’

‘Come on then,’ she said, moving back to bed and climbing in. She patted the duvet beside her and Crookshanks leapt nimbly up and settled next to her, his front paws pushing repeatedly into her thigh, kneading her firmly, as his purr filled the room.

Hermione tried to drift back off to sleep, but it was too late now. She was wide awake. The scare that had awoken her hadn’t quite left her system and she felt a familiar wave of cold stirring through her body as anxiety set back in. She shivered and pulled the duvet up to her chin, but soon found herself sweating instead. And that was how she spent the next few hours, until dawn began to break outside her bedroom window and finally exhaustion won out, dragging her back into a restless sleep just as the sun came up.

 

 

The next time Hermione awoke, it was to sunlight filtering in around the edges of her drawn curtains and a shout from downstairs.

‘Bye ‘Mione!’ Ron yelled, as he did most mornings.

‘Sshh! She’s probably still asleep.’

Hermione heard Harry’s familiar hushed admonishment followed by the opening and then shutting of the front door.  She heaved herself into a sitting position and rubbed her eyes. She felt no better rested than when she went to bed in the first place. It was often like that. She sat quietly for a moment, debating whether or not to bother getting up just yet. The days were long enough when you had very little to fill them with.

The house was completely quiet. Fleur must have left for work too.

There was a thud as something landed on the floor at the end of Hermione’s bed and then a prowling mess of ginger fur appeared next to the bedside table. Orange eyes peered up at Hermione through the darkness of the room.

‘Good morning, Crooks.’ Hermione muttered. ‘You woke me from actual peaceful sleep last night, you know?’ She asked. ‘But I’ll forgive you.’

Crookshanks turned away from Hermione and weaved his way over to the door, where he faced her again and sat, staring, his tail twitching indignantly. Hermione huffed out a small laugh.

‘Breakfast time, is that what you’re telling me?’

Crookshanks remained in the same position, his eyes still fixed unwaveringly on Hermione.

‘Alright. I’m getting up.’ Hermione sighed.

She stood from the bed and stretched. Her muscles felt somehow both worn and tight at the same time. She pulled her loose hair into a messy bun and found a pair of socks, probably clean, to put on. The floorboards of old houses like 12 Grimmauld Place were never kind to bare feet.

Crookshanks moved away to allow her to open the door and then trotted determinedly along the dimly lit landing towards the stairs, brush-like tail swaying. Hermione followed him, shuffling along and letting out a yawn.

The kitchen door was closed, and Crookshanks paced impatiently in front of it.

‘OK, OK,’ Hermione let out, ‘You’re not going to starve.’

She pushed open the door and stepped into the light of the kitchen, her eyes needing a moment to adjust to the brightness in there.

‘Salut.’ Came a voice.

Hermione nearly leapt out of her skin. She reached for her wand but it was nowhere on her person on account of being still in her pyjamas. A red tartan pair that would have done McGonagall proud.

‘Fleur!’ Hermione nearly shouted, once her brain had caught up and registered that she wasn’t under attack.

And, sure enough, sitting at the kitchen table, a steaming mug in front of her next to a half-eaten croissant, was Fleur. She was dressed already, in her dark jeans and the leather jacket that was basically her trademark at this point. Her blonde hair was loose and catching the morning light which turned it to gleaming precious metal. A copy of The Daily Prophet was open on the table.

‘Good morning, Hermione.’ She said calmly. ‘Good morning, Monsieur Crookshanks,’ she added as the creature in question stalked determinedly past her.

‘I… Uh… I thought you’d have left for work when the boys did.’ Hermione told her, not sure why she felt the need to explain that.

‘Non.’ Fleur shrugged. ‘It seems I start a little later than them, hmm?’

‘Yes.’ Hermione said and then ran out of words. She was suddenly aware of her pyjamas and messy hair as she felt Fleur’s eyes on her. She shifted from one foot to the other, unsure of where to look.

‘I like your pyjamas.’ Fleur offered with a smile.

Hermione scoffed in disbelief and then seemed surprised by the noise. Fleur’s face turned serious.

‘No, really. You look very cosy.’ She said honestly.

Hermione had no idea what to do with that statement. Was cosy meant to be a good thing? She felt a flush creeping up her neck. Thankfully, that was the moment when Crookshanks’ patience ran out. He emitted a rattly growl from where he had taken up position expectantly next to his food bowl.

‘Oh, sorry Crooks.’ Hermione murmured. Turning at once to the cupboard where the cat food was kept.

‘Would you like a croissant?’ Fleur asked.

And Hermione found herself relieved to be facing away from Fleur as she felt that flush reach her cheeks. Fleur’s accent seemed a little stronger this morning, perhaps it too took a while to get itself in order in the morning. Hermione found that she rather liked it.

‘It is a cliché, I know.’ Fleur went on, ‘But I cannot start the day without a coffee and a croissant.’

‘We always had hot chocolate with our croissants.’ Hermione let out, ‘In France, I mean. On holiday… With my parents.’ She added.

‘Ah, oui?’ Fleur seemed very interested in this. ‘You spent a lot of time in France? Do you speak French?’

It was the most excited Hermione had ever heard her.

‘Oh, not really.’ Hermione replied, wishing her answer wasn’t something that would be a doubtless disappointment to Fleur. ‘Bits and pieces. Not enough to hold a conversation, sorry.’

‘It’s OK. The English are very bad at languages, no?’ Fleur laughed.

‘It’s shameful really.’ Hermione agreed. ‘But your English is practically perfect these days. Clearly you meant it when you told us you were staying to practice your English.’ She added thoughtfully.

Fleur laughed again and Hermione, having filled Crookshanks’ bowl and placed it down for him, looked up in surprise.

‘What?’ She asked.

‘Hermione…’ Fleur let out so slowly it was almost a drawl. It seemed Hermione had said something a little silly, though she couldn’t work out what.

‘But your English is very good.’ She said haltingly, feeling more than a little exposed under Fleur’s gaze.

‘As it already was.’ Fleur pointed out in a tone that could have been construed as haughty.

Hermione considered her for a moment. Back in the days of the Triwizard Tournament, Fleur’s accent had certainly been more pronounced, but her grasp of the actual language had never seemed to waver.

‘You didn’t stay to improve your English.’ Hermione said at last, thinking about the events that occurred just before the end of that fateful year at Hogwarts.

‘Non.’ Fleur said simply.

‘You stayed because Voldemort was back.’ Hermione nearly whispered.

‘There she is. I knew the brightest witch of her age was still in there.’ Fleur replied, with a warm smile.

‘But you were basically a child!’ Hermione found herself exclaiming. ‘And you stayed to fight the Dark Lord? That’s either very brave or very stupid.’ She was shocked to hear those words in her own voice, directed at Fleur.

‘I was 18.’ Fleur replied, ignoring Hermione’s possible insult, ‘You were the child.’

Hermione had no response to that. It was a fair point.

‘Anyway, it doesn’t matter now.’ Fleur said with a dismissive wave of her hand. ‘None of us were old enough to do what we did, but we did it still, hmm?’

‘I… Yes, I suppose that’s true.’ Hermione allowed quietly. Now, she thought of it, and particularly now she knew the truth, it struck Hermione as odd that she hadn’t noticed that nobody had been all that concerned that Fleur had been getting married so young.

‘And now, we must rebuild and recover.’ Fleur let out decisively, breaking Hermione from her thoughts. ‘Starting with breakfast. So, croissant?’ She asked again. ‘I can make you chocolat chaud, like you had in France?’

Hermione had no defence for her blush now. It appeared every time Fleur used her own language it seemed. How infuriating. And the way Fleur smiled at her knowingly was not helping matters. Hermione suspected that Fleur knew perfectly well the effect of her talents.

‘Don’t you have to get to work?’ Hermione asked awkwardly.

‘Oui. In…’ Fleur consulted the silver watch on her wrist. ‘15 minutes.’

‘Oh.’ said Hermione, ‘Then, yes please. A croissant would be nice.’

‘Good.’ Fleur declared, and then, ‘Sit.’ She added, gesturing to the chair across from the one she stood to vacate.

Hermione found herself sitting obediently where told. A moment later, a plate was placed in front of her, along with a large mug of deliciously sweet-smelling hot chocolate. Hermione breathed in that smell deeply and felt instant comfort. It was only when she heard a chuckle from the seat opposite that she realised she had closed her eyes. She opened them at once and looked anywhere but at Fleur.

‘It smells like home.’ Fleur sighed. ‘That is Gabrielle’s favourite breakfast too.’

‘It is very good.’ Hermione told her, breaking off a piece of croissant and dipping it into the mug of rich chocolate.

‘I am glad you approve.’ Fleur replied, watching Hermione closely.

Hermione could feel Fleur’s eyes on her as she ate, and finally risked a glance up at her. Her eyes met dark blue and she found, for once, she didn’t immediately feel the need to look away. It felt like minutes passed, though it was surely only a few seconds before this time it was Fleur who looked away abruptly and cleared her throat. She turned her attention back to her own breakfast, polishing off her croissant while she perused the front page of the newspaper.

Even the way she conducted herself at breakfast was ridiculously elegant, Hermione mused, as Fleur picked up her coffee cup without taking her eyes from the paper and took a sip. She could see why so many of the Hogwarts girls had envied Fleur all those years ago. She was so effortlessly entrancing. At the time, it hadn’t been something the younger Hermione had spent too much time thinking about. Yes, Ron’s fawning over the French witch had been irritating. And yes, Hermione had hardly been reluctant to join in Ginny’s mocking of the Beauxbatons champion. But beyond assuming the stuck-up princess vibe Hermione had heard about was true, she hadn’t paid the other woman much thought at all.

Hermione shook her head and focussed instead on her hot chocolate. It was truly delicious; like a balm for her unsettled mind and tired body. Even better than the kind she remembered from those holidays in her childhood. To Hermione’s surprise, she found she was actually enjoying herself. The peace and calm of the early morning kitchen, undisturbed by its occupants, was soothing her in a way she hadn’t felt in a long time. And then her eye caught on the clock on the wall behind Fleur.

‘Fleur.’ Hermione let out.

‘Mmm?’ Fleur hummed.

‘It’s been 15 minutes.’ Hermione pointed out gently.

‘Merde!’ came the immediate response, along with a rattle of coffee cup as it hit the table and the rustling of a hastily folded newspaper. Fleur leapt from her seat, and if Hermione wasn’t so concerned that the other woman was about to be late for work, she would have found seeing the ever-stoic Fleur Delacour in a flap quite amusing.

‘Sorry, ‘ermione.’ Fleur let out hurriedly, ‘got to go.’

She leant unexpectedly down to Hermione as she passed her, kissing her swiftly on both cheeks as though it was something she did all the time. Hermione was startled into silence by the action.

‘See you later!’ Fleur called over her shoulder as she swept from the room and out of the front door.

Hermione was left with only the sound of a soft pop as Fleur apparated from the front step, and the lingering scent of honeysuckle on the air.

Chapter Text

It was a drizzly, grey day as Fleur pounded up the cracked steps to the main entrance of Gringotts. A typically British day, she thought, being extra careful not to slip as she hurried on the rain-slicked steps. She was never late to work. This would be the first time ever. And it was entirely her own fault.

She hadn’t had 15 minutes before she needed to leave. That had been a wilful lie. It was just that she wanted to stay and have breakfast with Hermione. Simple as that. Or at least it should have been simple. Why? Fleur thought. Why had she allowed herself to be late just to sit and eat croissants with the younger woman? By the end of those 15 minutes, she had almost forgotten she even had a job. Ridiculous.

It had been nice though. Hermione had looked adorable in her tartan pyjamas, with her hair wrestled back into that messy bun. Luckily Fleur had had the good sense to exchange the word ‘adorable’ that had been on the tip of her tongue for ‘cosy’ instead. She had a feeling that Hermione would not take well to being called adorable. Though it was precisely what she had been that morning. From the moment she had shuffled into the kitchen and been startled by Fleur’s mere presence, Fleur had been fighting the urge to reach out to the other woman and pull her into an embrace. Particularly when it seemed Hermione didn’t believe that Fleur liked her in her pyjama-clad, sleep addled state. Who wouldn’t be charmed by that?

Fleur hesitated at the large wooden doors ahead of her and groaned. She had kissed Hermione’s cheeks as she’d left. Why had she done that? Yes, it was customary and far from a romantic act. But still, she knew Hermione had stricter boundaries than others. She had felt her tense up whenever Fleur had made contact with her the day before. Hermione had practically leapt away from her after Fleur had apparated them both to Grimmauld Place. And now she had invaded her personal space yet again. It was the opposite of what Hermione needed, and yet Fleur had been unable to resist. More than that, it had felt like an invisible cord, tugging Fleur closer to Hermione, reeling her in.

Well, it was too late now. The damage was done. And judging by Hermione’s lack of response to both Fleur’s parting words and her spontaneous show of affection, Fleur imagined the damage was more than minor. She would just have to resolve herself to do better in the future. She must respect Hermione’s space. Not everybody was as tactile as Fleur. Not that she was particularly tactile. Usually.

Fleur pushed open the doors and strode into the marble hall.

‘Mrs Weasley, has your watched stopped working?’ Came a smug voice.

Fleur gritted her teeth.

‘It’s Delacour. And my watch is just fine, thank-you, Grimflinch.’ She said through her grimace.

‘You don’t catch us goblins being late.’ Came the grumbled response, which Fleur ignored as she made her way quickly to her office instead.


Five minutes later and she was sitting at her desk, studying the spread-out plan of Gringotts lower level vaults and devising appropriate spellwork to restore them. Or, that’s what she should be doing. And yet her mind kept meandering back to Grimmauld Place. She repeatedly found herself wondering what Hermione was doing. How was she filling her day? What did she do all day when the house was empty anyway? She was probably reading, Fleur reasoned, knowing the younger woman’s penchant for books. She could almost picture her, curled up in that armchair in the study.

Fleur straightened her shoulders and returned her focus to the blueprints before her. Some relatively simple charms would strengthen the damaged vaults. She could just assess which had been affected by the collapse on the level above – or the Dragon Level as she now thought of it – and get to work. Did Hermione have friends beyond Harry and Ron that she might talk to? What about Ginny and Luna?

Fleur had come to know Luna a little bit at Shell Cottage. She was airy and vague in a way that she couldn’t imagine Hermione tolerating for very long, but she was kind and thoughtful in her own slightly strange way. Had she too returned to Hogwarts like Ginny had? Fleur wasn’t sure. And what about Hermione’s parents? Surely they were concerned about their daughter’s well-being. Although, perhaps the events of a wizarding war were a little tricky to explain to muggles. Fleur was beginning to see why Harry was so concerned. Hermione really was quite isolated. And there was that flare of protectiveness rearing up again, Fleur acknowledged.

Glancing at her watch, Fleur realised she had wasted the first hour and a half of the day achieving next to nothing at all. She stood up decisively and rolled up the plans from her desk, tucking them under her arm and leaving her office. She summoned one of the carts that travelled along the tracks to the various depths of Gringotts and climbed in carefully. She wasn’t overly fond of this mode of transport, but it was a long walk to the lower levels and there was no apparating on the premises.

After an uncomfortable journey, the cart screeched to a sudden stop at the row of vaults Fleur had selected. She was almost tipped gracelessly from the cart but managed to right herself and hop out of her own accord, casting a dark look over her shoulder at the cart. If she thought the goblins could somehow make it so that she had an even less enjoyable experience of the Gringotts rail service, then she would easily believe they had worked some magic on whichever cart she used.

The vaults in question had deep cracks in them caused by rockfall from above and rendering them unusable as safety deposit facilities. Fleur eyed the wide gouges in the first vault’s metal sides. It was dark and damp down in the lower levels. She could hear a steady drip of water that echoed as it hit rock somewhere out of sight in the dark. The only light came from the lanterns that illuminated the identifying number above the door of each vault, and from the end of Fleur’s own wand. Without those sources, there would be no light at all.

Fleur found herself thinking about the dragon that had resided down here, alone and in the dark, for so long. She was relieved, not for the first time, that it had been freed. Harry had said that was how Hermione felt about it too, Fleur remembered with a burst of fondness. Hermione had always cared for other creatures. Even back at school Fleur had caught wind of that badly named organisation Hermione had tried to launch in aid of house else welfare. It had intrigued her at the time that someone would hold such compassion for the needs of those of creatures. Hermione had always been special, Fleur decided. Then she let out an uncharacteristic growl of frustration. Distracted again.

She raised her lit wand and aimed it at the crack in the first vault. It wasn’t every kind of spell that she could cast with the power of her thought alone, this one required a bit more physical input. She whispered the appropriate spell to fuse the thick metal together once more and released it through her wand.

At once, a flash of blinding light momentarily illuminated the space around her and Fleur felt herself get tossed backwards against the rockface. Her shoulder hit the rough rock with some force and a sharp pain shot through her wand hand.

Fleur groaned as she struggled to her feet once more. She assessed her wand quickly and tested it with a quick ‘Lumos’. It worked, thankfully, though its glow of light shone on a jagged gash that stretched down Fleur’s forefinger and onto the back of her hand, it was oozing blood so dark it looked black and tinged with bruise-coloured blue-green veins sprouting erratically from either side of it. The effects of a backfired curse, she recognised instantly. Fleur winced as she rolled her shoulders, one in particular answered with an angry ache.

She considered the vault in front of her. She could feel the dark magic thrumming around its walls now. Of course it was cursed. Most of these old vaults had residual curses still. How could she be so stupid as to think a simple restoration charm would work without awakening those old, and now unstable curses? She was a curse breaker for crying out loud. It was in her job description to deal with issues like this. She needed to get a grip and get her head out of the clouds and back on her work. The only saving grace was that nobody was around to see her spectacular fail. No goblins witnessed it. And mercifully Bill hadn’t been there either. It was an inexcusable and dangerous loss of concentration.

Fleur summoned another dreaded cart and returned in a haze of frustration to her office, where she remained for the rest of the day, her shoulder throbbing, drawing up a list of counter-curses to attempt on those vaults before her restoration spell might work. She made no further trips to the lower levels that day and by the end of her shift – which she had dutifully extended by 15 minutes to make up for her tardiness – she was still feeling infuriated with herself. She stomped up the narrow spiral staircase from her office corridor back to the marble hall, hoping to make it out into the fresh air without needing to converse with any of the goblins.

‘Oh dear, oh dear.’ Came Grimflinch’s whining voice, ‘Had a disagreement with a curse, did we Mrs Weasley?’ His beady eyes had honed in on Fleur’s hand. It wasn’t bloody now, but the cut remained a long angry dark still-fresh scab and the blue-green veins around it were clearly visible and would be for some days, she knew.

Fleur jammed both hands into the pockets of her leather jacket and, for once, said nothing at all to the smirking goblin as she hastened her pace out of the building.

Apparating onto the front steps of 12 Grimmauld Place, Fleur nearly lost her balance, something which she hadn’t done since her first attempts at apparition years ago. She took a moment to collect herself, a few steadying breaths. It was time to let go of her bad day.

She looked up at the door in front of her. Somebody had changed the wards. She could sense the door would now permit her entry. She had been worked into the house’s magic. Well, that was reassuring, she decided, and pushed open the door. There were voices coming from the kitchen, she could hear Harry’s laughter and Ron’s voice talking excitedly. Fleur smiled and pushed the front door shut, misjudging the bolt and knocking the newly-formed scab off a section of her cut. She hissed in pain. Perhaps her bad day was not ready to let go of her just yet. She shook her hand in a vain attempt to soothe the fresh sting in it and made her way towards the kitchen.

 

‘Hey Fleur,’ Harry greeted with a grin as Fleur entered the room.

‘Alright Fleur?’ Ron asked.

‘Harry, Ron. How are you both?’ She greeted with a lightly pained smile.

Harry frowned.

‘Great!’ Ron exclaimed, ‘You’ll never guess what’s happened.’

‘What’s wrong with your hand?’ Harry asked, spotting the awkward way Fleur was holding her hand to keep the blood away from her clothes.

‘Oh, nothing.’ Fleur brushed off his enquiry, ‘a little workplace accident, that’s all. It happens sometimes.’ She lied.

‘Blimey,’ Ron said, as he too noticed the state of Fleur’s hand. ‘That doesn’t look like a little accident, Fleur. Have you tried to fix it? You’re good at healing spells, right?’ He asked, remembering from his own time at Shell Cottage that Fleur was quite adept at first aid.

‘Non, it’s not something I can—’ Fleur began before she was interrupted by a frantic cry from the hallway.

‘Why is there blood in the hall?!’

Seconds later the kitchen door burst open again, almost smashing straight into Fleur who had barely managed more than a couple of steps into the room herself. She just succeeded in jumping out of the way in time.

‘What’s happened?’ Hermione demanded, her eyes darting about the room. ‘Harry? Ron? What have you—’ She stopped as she spotted Fleur, who hastily shoved her hand back into her pocket and grimaced. But she hadn’t been hasty enough.

‘Fleur! Your hand!’ Hermione shrieked, turning wild eyes to Fleur. They were suddenly standing rather close to each other and Fleur took a wary step backwards, unsure of this version of Hermione.

Hermione crossed the small distance Fleur had created and tugged at her sleeve insistently.

‘Let me see.’ She ordered.

‘Non. It’s fine.’ Fleur replied, trying to shrug Hermione’s grip from her sleeve. She winced again at the resulting pain in her shoulder. Now that she should have fixed herself.

‘Fleur! Show me!’ Hermione insisted again, her voice becoming more piercing by the moment.

‘I’d do as she says if I were you.’ Ron muttered conspiratorially. ‘She’ll only get scarier.’

Fleur considered Ron’s slightly haunted expression for a moment and knew he was speaking from experience. She turned her gaze back to Hermione and was met with an intense stare that she hadn’t seen from those usually warm brown depths before. It was a look that couldn’t be argued with. Where was the soft and warm, endearingly awkward, Hermione she’d had breakfast with only that morning?

Hermione held out her hand expectantly, her lips pressed together in a determined line.

‘Harry, get the dittany.’ She commanded without taking her eyes from Fleur.

Harry immediately moved to one of the kitchen cupboards and began rooting around in it. Hermione raised an eyebrow at Fleur and shook her still outstretched hand.

‘Told you.’ Ron let out under his breath. Then said a bit louder with a chuckle, ‘You know, Mione, I haven’t seen you this worked up since you splinched me.’

‘Ronald! I have asked you not to talk about that!’ Hermione uttered. ‘Now, for goodness’ sake Fleur, let me see your hand.’

Fleur was not used to being spoken to in such a forceful manner, far more familiar with most people treating her with the kind of reverence that sometimes frustrated her. But she knew when to admit defeat and she sighed as she pulled her hand from her pocket.

‘Dittany will not help.’ She informed the other woman stubbornly and placed her hand in Hermione’s. ‘But it is nothing I cannot handle myself.’

Hermione let out a gasp and Fleur felt the other woman’s hand tremble slightly at the sight of Fleur’s injury. Ron stepped closer to get a better look, leaning in to inspect the jagged gash.

‘Why’s your blood black? Is that a veela thing or something?’

Fleur attempted to pull her hand away, but Hermione caught hold of her fingers before she succeeded.

‘Non.’ Fleur said sullenly, ‘It is a curse thing.’

‘What happened?’ Hermione asked, her voice finally back to the gentle timbre that Fleur had been growing accustomed to before this embarrassing incident. She was still eyeing the wound uncertainly, but her look had lost its intensity and now seemed more troubled than anything.

Hermione’s thumb was stroking the edge of Fleur’s injured finger almost reflexively and Fleur felt her indignance at being forced to display the result of her own stupidity ebbing away.

Fleur sighed.

‘It was stupid. I allowed myself to be distracted and I cast a misplaced spell on a cursed vault. Naturally it backfired and… Voila!’ She gestured her injury and displayed a self-deprecating smile.

‘What distracted you?’ Hermione asked curiously.

The smile fell from Fleur’s face and she finally pulled her hand from her Hermione’s tender grasp.

‘I forget.’ She shrugged as nonchalantly as she could manage.

Her shoulder made its complaint known once more but this time she kept the pain from showing on her face. She smiled somewhat unnaturally instead and Hermione narrowed her eyes suspiciously at her but said nothing. Fleur looked away quickly, busying herself with smoothing non-existent fly-aways from her hair.

‘Uh… Do you want the dittany still?’ Harry asked, holding out a small bottle and looking between the two women.

‘No. Fleur’s right. Dittany won’t help.’ Hermione sighed. ‘Cursed marks aren’t easy to get rid of.’ She finished darkly.

Fleur glanced at Hermione, detecting an undertone to her words.

‘It will fade in a few days.’ Fleur said simply. ‘And that is a veela thing.’ She directed at Ron, who looked suitably impressed by the information. Fleur left out that it would still bloody hurt in the meantime.

‘Well, that’s…’ Hermione started, ‘You’re very lucky.’ She finished. And there was that undertone again.

‘We should still bandage it though.’ Hermione decided. ‘To stop you from knocking it again.’

Fleur felt her lip curl at that suggestion, offended by the idea that she couldn’t be trusted with her injury, like a cat that might lick its wounds. How humiliating.

‘I’ll get the bandages,’ Harry said quickly, turning back to the same cupboard he produced the dittany from. Moments later he was handing Hermione a roll of bandages.

Fleur turned to glare at Hermione, ready to refuse the indignity of wearing bandages, when she was met with a look of such genuine care and concern that she felt her glare melt away to nothing.

She sat compliantly at the table and placed her hand on its surface, waiting for Hermione to wrap her finger and, somehow, the back of her hand too. She was surprised to find herself disappointed when instead of taking Fleur’s hand in her own again to apply the bandages, Hermione produced her wand from her back pocket and began to magically wind the bandages.

‘Oh! Hermione, guess what?’ Ron let out excitedly, ‘I was just about to tell Fleur but I’m glad you’re here now so I can tell you too!’

‘Tell us what?’ Hermione asked distractedly, focusing on the levitating end of the bandage as it wrapped across the palm of Fleur’s hand and then around.

‘We’re on our own chocolate frog cards!’ Ron nearly yelled, ‘You, me and Harry. Kids are going to be collecting us!’

We’re what?!’ Hermione shrieked in dismay, spinning on the spot to stare wide-eyed at Ron and accidentally yanking the bandage sharply as she did so.

Fleur winced again and gritted her teeth.

Chapter Text

A couple of weeks had now passed since Fleur had joined the so-called Golden Trio and moved in to 12 Grimmauld Place. For Hermione, so far it had worked out better than she had feared. Being around Fleur had not provoked an onslaught of memories from the aftermath of Malfoy Manor. There hadn’t been an increase in nightmares. There hadn’t been a decrease either. And, whilst she wasn’t feeling better, per se, Fleur’s presence around the house certainly hadn’t made things worse. In fact, Hermione found she quite enjoyed the other woman’s company. Fleur, when she wasn’t been surprisingly petulant over a work-related injury, had a steady and calming presence that Hermione found herself rather drawn to.

She had also found herself more than a bit embarrassed about her own reaction to Fleur’s injured hand. Or perhaps it should be classified as an overreaction. But when she had seen the blood spatters on the hallway floor, Hermione’s heart had skipped several beats and her mind had at once gone into overdrive. It had felt like it had when they were in constant peril, when her worst fears were of either Harry or Ron being seriously wounded. Now, apparently, that fiercely protective nature encompassed Fleur as well. Hermione had mulled over her response for hours when she had gone to bed that evening, utterly mortified at how she had grabbed Fleur’s hand and refused to let it go. The other woman must think Hermione had lost her mind.

In the end, Hermione had replayed the incident in her head so many times that she decided she wouldn’t be able to let it go without apologising for her behaviour. She had slipped out of her room and along to Fleur’s, knocking tentatively on the door only to be immediately welcomed in, just like on her previous visit. This time, however, Fleur had been wearing just a towel, her shower-damp hair hanging about her shoulders and appearing far darker than its usual spun silver. Hermione found herself more aware of the brightness of Fleur’s eyes, as they had locked onto her, waiting for her to say something. Eventually Hermione had stuttered out her apology for being so domineering over Fleur’s wound, had stumbled over an explanation of how it seemed her instincts to fuss over her friends had kicked in. For some reason she had rambled on about how it felt as though, over the years, she had been constantly fixing up Harry and Ron’s cuts and scrapes, and how it was hard to shake that protective streak…

Throughout Hermione’s garbled apology, her eyes had been flicking about the room, her hands gesturing awkwardly before being clasped together. But every time she had dared to look at Fleur, the other woman’s gaze had remained fixed on Hermione.

Hermione had cleared her throat and swallowed uncomfortably, her mouth suddenly feeling rather dry.

‘Anyway, yes. I’m uh… sorry about that.’ She had finished at last.

Fleur had reached out and taken Hermione’s hand, giving it a gentle sideways shake, and smiled at her fondly.

‘There is no need to apologise. I am only glad to be considered a close enough friend for you to care so deeply.’ Fleur had said simply.

Hermione had at once felt that familiar flush creeping up her neck, had uttered a garbled goodnight and backed out of the room. How was Fleur able to be so eloquent like that, when Hermione, who had always had an excellent vocabulary and clear communication style, had been a mumbling mess? Hermione shook her head at herself. And she had noticed the dark bruising across the back of one of Fleur’s shoulders, but she had managed to stop herself from commenting, or worse, touching.

In the days following, a routine had started to emerge at 12 Grimmauld Place. In the morning, Hermione would awake at a regular time – or simply rise at a regular time, if sleep had evaded her yet again – and emerge from her room after she heard the front door close as Harry and Ron left for training. She would have breakfast with Fleur, basking in the comforting aroma of hot chocolate and the quiet companionship that always seemed to end too soon when Fleur had to leave for work. If she wasn’t all too conscious of the fact that her weight had still yet to return to its pre-war norm then she would be concerned about the impact of daily breakfast pastries. But it seemed that starting her days with familiarity and calm was helping the rest of the day to follow suit. Not that her anxiety wasn’t still present. It very much made itself known most days, but so far she felt she had done a decent job of disguising it around the others – particularly Fleur – since the Diagon Alley debacle. And she had not returned to Diagon Alley since. She was sure people would still stare. Children probably too, now that her face was on a blasted Chocolate Frog card of all things.

In the evenings, Ron continued to explore his new culinary interests and provided them all with delicious dinners, which Hermione managed to always eat at least some of. After dinner the boys would usually play chess, with Fleur occasionally joining them to play the winner. Whilst Hermione attempted to get back into her old reading habits with varying levels of success. Sometimes Fleur would join her in the study, taking up residence on the battered old sofa across from Hermione’s favourite armchair, where she would stretch out and do some reading of her own, be it books or letters from home. Hermione found it especially hard to focus on her own reading on those occasions. When the time came to go to bed, Hermione would cast her silencing charm and begin her nightly battle with sleep.

 

On this particular evening, Hermione was in her usual place in the study, currently attempting to tease a burr from Crookshanks’ thick fur. She had spotted the tangled mess when the part-kneazle had hopped into her lap, and trying to remove it had become quite a challenge as Crookshanks was less than appreciative of her efforts. She had just dodged another swipe of his paw when Harry appeared in the doorway.

‘Hermione,’ he said with a grin, ‘You’ve got to come and see this.’

Hermione looked up and Crookshanks saw his opportunity to make a break for it, leaping from Hermione’s lap and casting an ill-tempered look over his shoulder as he skulked across to the sofa instead.

‘See what?’ Hermione asked.

‘Just… Come on.’ Harry replied, holding the door open for Hermione to follow him.

He led her to kitchen and pushed open the door quietly. Hermione frowned as Harry put a finger to his lips and inclined his head, silently telling Hermione to go into the kitchen.

Inside, with their backs to Harry and Hermione were Ron and Fleur, both standing at the kitchen counter.

‘Non,’ Hermione heard Fleur say. ‘You don’t pronounce the Ls like that. It’s Bouillabaisse.

‘Then why even have the Ls?’ she just caught Ron’s grumbled response.

Fleur laughed lightly.

‘You think the English language makes sense?’ she asked teasingly.

‘It makes more sense than French.’ Came the reply. ‘Why have letters you don’t pronounce?’

Fleur ignored that question. Hermione imagined she was thinking the same as Fleur, that English has plenty of letters like that.

‘Now, we chop the fish. You want it in bitesize pieces, you see?’ Fleur said, clearly demonstrating Ron’s next task for him.

Ron nodded and took the knife from Fleur.

Harry nudged Hermione and looked at her with an expression of pure amusement. Hermione couldn’t help but smile back at him. It was a strange sight to see Ron’s hulking form following Fleur’s careful instructions.

‘You carry on chopping. I shall open the wine.’

‘Can’t we have butterbeer?’

‘Non. Part of the joy of good food is accompanying it with the correct wine.’

Harry could contain his laughter no longer when he saw the baffled look Ron sent Fleur’s way at that statement. Harry’s shoulders started shaking first and then his laughter escaped, prompting Hermione to let out a chuckle too.

‘Ah.’ Fleur turned to them, ‘Good evening, Harry, Hermione.’

‘Hey Fleur,’ Harry said through his laughter. ‘How’s the student?’

Ron glowered at Harry.

‘Laugh all you want mate, but soon I’ll be able to make the perfect Bouillabaisse.’ Ron said smugly.

Bouillabaisse.’ Fleur corrected, uncorking a bottle of wine with well-practiced ease.

‘Whatever.’ Ron grumbled.

‘Well, it smells delicious.’ Hermione said kindly. And both Ron and Fleur looked very pleased with themselves at her comment.

‘It won’t be long now. The fish is the last thing we add.’ Fleur explained. ‘Would you like a glass of wine?’

‘Yes, please.’ Harry nodded readily and Fleur produced a glass seemingly from nowhere and filled it with wine for Harry.

Hermione watched, uncertain. They hadn’t really had much time for the whole teenage drinking thing, what with being key figures in a major war and everything. On occasion Hermione used to have a glass of wine at dinner with her parents, but usually only the one glass. If she were to drink now, she was sure it would go straight to her head. Her head, which these days she was spending a huge amount of energy trying to control. Who knew what the addition of alcohol would bring to that situation?

‘Hermione?’ Fleur asked gently, ‘I can get you something else if you prefer?’

‘No!’ Hermione let out. ‘No, wine would be lovely. Thank you.’

She could have one glass, surely. Fleur and Ron had gone to a lot of effort with dinner, Hermione wanted to enjoy it to its fullest. Fleur poured Hermione a glass before doing the same for Ron and herself.

Santé.’ Fleur declared, and clinked her glass with Ron’s once she handed it to him, before turning back to Harry and Hermione.

Hermione felt her stomach swoop suddenly. It really was inconvenient to have such an odd reaction to Fleur speaking French, and it made no sense at all that Hermione could see.

‘Cheers,’ Harry said happily, clinking his glass with Fleur’s and then Hermione’s and perhaps doing so a little too enthusiastically as Hermione’s wine sloshed about a bit in response. Hermione put her other hand to the bowl of her glass to steady it and when she looked up Fleur was holding her own glass out patiently.

‘Santé,’ Hermione said quietly, hoping she hadn’t butchered the accent entirely. But judging by the wide smile that at once spread across Fleur’s lips, Hermione had certainly done something right.

‘Your accent is lovely, ma belle!’ Fleur gasped.

Hermione felt the flush that had already been creeping up her neck begin to colour her cheeks too both at the praise and the term of endearment. Fleur had never called her that before.

‘It was just one word, Fleur.’ Hermione muttered, embarrassed.

Fleur shrugged in the way that was becoming so familiar to Hermione and was another of Fleur’s mannerisms that Hermione found achingly charming for some reason.

‘I’ll, um… see if can help Ron with the… chopping.’ Hermione said haltingly. She hurried over to where Ron was still busy with his task, and missed the look of discontent that washed over Fleur’s features. Though Harry didn’t.

‘No, ‘Mione, you sit down. I’ve nearly finished anyway.’ Was Ron’s reaction to Hermione’s offer of assistance.

Hermione took up her place at the scrubbed wooden table that had already been laid with plates and cutlery, she sipped at her wine and felt it warm her insides. Moments later, Harry and Fleur took their seats opposite her.

‘So Fleur, how’s work going? No more trouble with cursed vaults?’ Harry asked conversationally.

‘Every day there is trouble with cursed vaults, Harry. That is my job.’ She laughed. ‘But no more have done me any damage this week, thankfully.’

Just as she had said would happen, her hand had begun healing quickly over the following few days and the wound now was a ghost of what it had been originally.

‘I don’t think I realised your work could be so risky on a daily basis.’ Hermione said. ‘I mean, I knew you and Bill used to go on expeditions that could be dangerous, but I thought at Gringotts itself you were pretty safe.’

‘Mmm. That is true usually. For a lot of my work I am sitting behind a desk, devising spells rather than casting them.’

‘You create new spellwork?’ Hermione asked, intrigued.

‘Sometimes. And I have been working on something lately, yes. You see, three hooligans flew a dragon through the bank and someone has to carry out repairs.’ Fleur replied with a look of teasing annoyance.

Hermione looked away guiltily, while Harry let out a bark of laughter.

‘I am sorry about that.’ Hermione said honestly.

‘I’m not.’ Harry confessed, at which Fleur laughed too.

‘I’m glad you did it.’ Fleur agreed. ‘Not least because it was a necessary step to win the war, but also you liberated that poor dragon.’

‘That’s true.’ Hermione said with a small smile. ‘I don’t regret that bit.’

‘What spells do you need to create for restoration work though?’ Harry asked curiously. ‘Surely there’s already loads that would work for that.’

‘Ah oui, there are lots.’ Fleur nodded, ‘But the structure of Gringotts is very old and… temperamental. It holds within it a lot of varied magic already. I have a theory that rather than ‘fixing’ certain elements of the structure, it simply needs to be reminded of how it once was.’ Fleur explained.

‘You’re working on a spell to restore memory.’ Hermione let out so softly it was almost a whisper. Harry shot her a look that Hermione missed as her gaze, though slightly unfocused, remained on Fleur.

‘Exactly!’ Fleur exclaimed.

‘How close are you to succeeding?’ Hermione asked quietly.

Fleur blew out a huff of air, sending strands of her hair flying up on the sudden breeze.

‘Not as close as I’d like.’ Fleur confessed, frustrated with herself.

‘Perhaps Hermione could help.’ Harry suggested casually.

‘What?’ Hermione gasped.

‘Yeah,’ Harry continued, ‘I bet you could.’

‘Harry, I don’t think—’ Hermione started.

‘It would be a pleasure to work with you, Hermione.’ Fleur cut in, ‘If you’d like to.’

‘Well, that’s… I mean, I can’t.’ Hermione uttered, shaking her head a little frantically.

‘Course you can, ‘Mione,’ said Ron appearing at the table with a huge steaming pot of deliciously aromatic dinner. ‘You can do anything.’ He added.

Hermione opened her mouth in response, and then promptly shut it again when no words made themselves available.

‘I agree with Monsieur Weasley.’ Fleur said softly, as though speaking to Hermione alone.

‘Anyway, dinner’s ready!’ Ron announced proudly.

Hermione took a large glug of her wine, glad that the attention was finally going to be focused on the food rather than herself.

‘Well done, you two,’ Harry said to Ron and Fleur, ‘This looks really good.’

‘It’s what we had when first met Fleur. Do you remember?’ Ron asked with a grin, ‘’ave you fineeshed wiz zee bouillabaisse?’ he added with a comically exaggerated French accent.

Hermione noticed that Ron had already consumed considerably more of his wine than anybody else.

‘It wasn’t that bad!’ Fleur exclaimed in an amusement, before continuing in her own mocking accent, ‘’ow dare you say zee zings.’

Ron guffawed with laughter at that, which Harry and Hermione couldn’t help catching too.

‘It really was that bad.’ Harry laughed, earning himself a joking glare from Fleur.

‘And you?’ Fleur asked, catching Hermione’s eye. ‘You don’t think my accent was so terrible, do you?’ she demanded with a teasing glint in her eye.

Hermione found herself fighting back a smile as she held Fleur’s gaze.

‘Well, actually…’ Hermione started.

‘Hermione! You too? Oh, you wound me.’ Fleur let out, throwing a dramatic hand over her chest.

‘It’s much better now,’ Hermione insisted through her laughter at Fleur’s antics.

‘Ah oui?’ Fleur asked, ‘I meet your approval now?’ she joked, forcing yet more laughter from Hermione, who was beginning to think the wine was already going to her head.

‘You do.’ Hermione nodded, smiling.

For a moment, the two witch’s eyes remained locked on each other. Hermione felt as though the wheels of time had suddenly slowed, and again that faint blue haze crept in at the edges of her vision. This time, however, she wasn’t afraid it signalled the onset of a panic attack. No, this time it was probably the wine, as her hearing seemed a little fuzzy too. And she was still staring at Fleur. She really should stop. But Fleur was staring back, so it wasn’t entirely Hermione’s fault. And anyway—

‘Hermione?’

Harry’s voice broke Hermione free of her sudden stupor and she tore her eyes from Fleur, blinking back the blue haze.

‘What?’ She asked dazedly.

‘I said we saw Seamus today, he sends his love.’ Harry apparently repeated, with a slightly confused look on his face.

‘Who is Seamus?’ Fleur asked immediately.

‘Oh, he’s a friend from school.’ Harry supplied cautiously, unsure of Fleur’s tone.  

‘Yeah,’ Ron confirmed with a mouthful of dinner. He chewed, swallowed, then continued, ‘Apparently they’re planning to have some sort of event at Hogwarts. McGonagall is organising it. A memorial or celebration or… something like that. Seamus said we’d all be getting invites. I mean, obviously!’

From the corner of her eye Hermione could see Fleur looking at her, her head tilted in concern, but this time she didn’t return the look. She was still trying to take in that information from Ron, trying to imagine herself back at Hogwarts, back among so many people. She couldn’t. She took another large sip from her wine glass.

‘I’m sure it won’t be for a few weeks yet.’ Harry suggested quietly.

‘I think it’ll be cool to go back.’ Ron said enthusiastically. ‘I know that we all lost a lot in the battle. But there’s lots of good memories in the old place too, right Hermione?’ He asked with a grin and nudged Hermione gently with his elbow.

Hermione felt her gaze flick towards Fleur of its own accord and found dark blue eyes already on hers. There was something in them this time though, a slightly dangerous flicker that Hermione had never witnessed before. Hermione looked away at once and offered Ron a weak smile.

Harry cleared his throat and picked up the wine bottle from the middle of the table.

‘Top up, anyone?’ He offered.

‘Yes, please.’ Hermione replied, holding her now-empty glass out to Harry.

Chapter Text

The evening meal had progressed more smoothly since the topic of the upcoming celebration at Hogwarts had faded from focus. Fleur had almost felt Hermione’s immediate spike of anxiety at the mention of such an occasion. She had always been a perceptive person, but she didn’t usually get so embroiled into another’s responses that they were nearly palpable. Perhaps she was just imagining how Hermione might feel, given her knowledge of the younger witch’s current struggle with the recent past. Either way, she was glad the topic had moved on.

Ron was, at present, relaying a story from his, Harry and Hermione’s time at the Burrow one summer in years past. From what Fleur could gather, it was tradition for Molly to set the younger members of the household to clearing the garden of gnomes, which often led to hilarity of one form or another. Harry was guffawing in that awkward way that he wouldn’t get away with so easily if he were not The Boy Who Lived, while Ron demonstrated the technique he had used for gnome-flinging that had landed both himself and the gnome in the garden pond. Hermione just succeeded in snatching her half-empty wine glass out of the collision course with Ron’s flailing arm, but she too was laughing.

Fleur could hardly bear to look away. She hoped she had an appropriately amused expression on her face to suggest she was following and enjoying the yarn Ron was weaving with his enthusiastic explanations, but really her attention was on Hermione. As it so often was these days. Hermione’s cheeks were rosy, with mirth or with wine, it didn’t matter which. She looked more alive and lovely than Fleur had seen in her time at Grimmauld Place so far and Fleur basked in the vision of it like blue skies after weeks of drizzle. Not that any time spent in the other witch’s company could be likened to drizzle, it was just that there was usually a ghost in the room with them too. A spectre of trauma that Hermione was doing her best to ignore out of existence and Fleur was too cautious to mention.

It had taken a few days, but Fleur was slowly coming to the realisation that Hermione wasn’t the only one ignoring something important. Fleur, at first, hadn’t wanted to accept the obvious. Had done what she could to avoid putting certain impulses, certain reactions, under the microscope. It had been the recurring hissing and crackling in her ears that had been the toughest to ignore. She had heard those before. Always at inopportune times, always in her teen years, and always with unwanted results. Most people in the wizarding world, or at least those who have any vague knowledge of Veela, imagine the thrall as a kind of inescapable lasso wielded by a predatory species at will to draw in their prey. Most people in the wizarding world are wrong. Veela are not predatory, and those affected by their thrall are not prey. And, more to the point, the thrall is not wielded at all. The Veela has no control over it.

At first, Fleur had passed off what she categorised as ‘symptoms’ of the thrall as a kind of hormonal shift that many might experience throughout life. That self-formed pill got harder to swallow though. These symptoms occurred only around one person. They occurred with increasing intensity. Her hypothesis fell to pieces. And so, she had put quill to paper and had written, out of mystified confusion and against her better judgement, to her mother. And earlier that day she had gained another item to add to the list of things she was ignoring: a reply that seemed to confirm her own suspicions. So it was her thrall, woken from its slumber, but there was something different now. She was not a teenager anymore, grasping in the dark for a sense of self she could form her future around. And, whilst admittedly, the timing was inopportune, the response was… near non-existent as far as Fleur could tell.

There was one thing to be thankful for though. Unlike in her teen years, Fleur’s thrall seemed to have developed a better sense of direction. As opposed to the scattergun method of puberty, when it would lash out indiscriminately and take down anyone in its radius, the adult thrall was more discerning. It knew who it wanted, whether its desire was returned or, as the case seemed to be, not. At least Harry and Ron weren’t affected.

Fleur sighed and continued her appraisal of Hermione’s laughing features.

‘I can’t believe you managed to escape gnome duty, Fleur.’ Hermione was saying. And those lips she had been watching, forming her own name, turned a tumbling ball of warmth in her stomach.

‘You’d have been excellent at it, too.’ Hermione was giggling. Honest to Merlin, giggling. ‘All elegant wand-work and precision gnome-flinging.’ She continued through her laughter and Ron now attempted to mimic what was presumably meant to be Fleur’s ‘elegant wand-work’. Hermione laughed harder and Harry failed to contain a snort.

‘No, Ron!’ Hermione exclaimed with a grin, slapping at Ron’s imaginary-wand wielding arm.

Fleur’s hearing crackled like an early muggle radio searching for a station. She cleared her throat.

‘Fleur’s far more graceful than that!’ Hermione insisted.

Fleur smiled.

‘Alas, I was using my graceful magic in the arena of dusting and cleaning the house instead.’ Fleur said with what she hoped was read as a wry sigh.

Ron laughed loudly.

‘Mum really had it in for you in those early days.’ He pointed out. ‘Which is nuts given that she knew you weren’t actually with Bill anyway.’

Fleur shrugged. It had always somewhat baffled her too. She understood that perhaps Molly thought Fleur’s presence was putting off potential real partners but still, it was in the name of the war after all.

‘Completely ridiculous.’ Hermione said with surprising conviction. ‘Who could possibly have a problem with Fleur for goodness’ sake?’

Surprising conviction, and perhaps very slight slurring, Fleur noted amusedly. She then noted something else. Harry, who hadn’t said a great deal, was positively, and possibly drunkenly, beaming at her. Fleur furrowed her brow at him, but his smile didn’t waver. She looked away, a little perplexed.

‘Well, you and Ginny had a problem with her.’ Ron laughed. ‘You used to call her—’

‘Stop speaking, Ronald!’ Hermione shrieked, clapping her hand over Ron’s mouth and turning alarmed eyes at Fleur.

‘Phlegm.’ Fleur finished his sentence for him. ‘Ginny was never very subtle. Or quiet.’

‘No!’ Hermione let out in a devastated whine, her shoulders slumping as her entire form seemed to deflate like a forgotten party balloon. ‘And you knew the whole time. How horrid.’ She said mournfully, talking to the table top rather than Fleur.

At the time, it had been rather hurtful, Fleur could admit that much to herself. But now, the look of pure remorse on Hermione’s previously lively features, made her want to reach out and wrap her arms around the other witch, to coil herself around her and banish those feelings of guilt.

‘I thought it was quite imaginative actually, as nicknames go.’ Fleur said lightly. ‘And don’t worry, ma belle, I was quite used to it.’

Hermione looked at Fleur, even more dismayed than before. Fleur’s heart sank.

‘But that’s awful. You shouldn’t have been used to it!’ Hermione enthused.

Fleur shrugged.

‘It is part of being Veela.’ She said honestly, ‘The nature of the beast, if you will.’ She added dryly. ‘Humans are jealous creatures; that often breeds hostility. For every drooling teenage boy, there is a fuming teenage girl.’ She explained, neglecting to mention that Veela are jealous creatures too, and that the impact of the thrall is not quite so binary as drooling boys and fuming girls.

Hermione did not look soothed by her words regardless.

‘I wasn’t jealous.’ She said quietly and Fleur considered her for a moment thoughtfully.

‘Non. I don’t suppose you were.’ She decided. ‘But you didn’t come up with the nickname anyway.’

‘Of course not! I would never!’ Hermione insisted.

‘I know.’ Fleur assured her. ‘Really, it is OK.’

Ron had lost interest in the discussion and gone back to mopping up the last of what was on his plate with a torn off piece of warm baguette. Harry’s interest, on the other hand, had not wavered. Then, he stood up from the table with such force that glasses and cutlery clattered. He grabbed the newly-opened second bottle of wine, topping up everyone’s glasses.

‘Let’s play chess.’ He said decisively and began clearing plates, ‘Boys versus girls!’ he added as he pulled Ron’s plate from beneath his swooping piece of bread.

‘Hey!’ Ron let out, and was ignored by Harry.

‘Hermione, swap seats with me.’ Harry ordered over his shoulder as he headed to the counter.

Fleur looked at Harry’s retreating form with narrowed eyes.

‘Oh. Um... OK.’ Hermione agreed and stood up on somewhat shaky legs, wine glass in hand.

Ron trundled off to retrieve his wizarding chess board from his room, bemoaning the loss of the last of his dinner under his breath. And Hermione rounded the table to take up Harry’s seat, while he cleared the rest of the table. Fleur took a deep breath as Hermione sat down. It seemed as though she was closer than Harry had been when he occupied that chair only moments earlier.

Hermione took a sip of her wine and placed her glass on the table beside Fleur’s. Then, to Fleur’s surprise she said very softly, ‘I have to tell you something.’

Fleur’s heart stuttered as Hermione leant closer still in order to whisper in Fleur’s ear.

‘I’m not very good at chess.’ She confessed in a louder whisper than she perhaps intended.

Harry laughed from where he was haphazardly piling plates at the counter. And Fleur cursed herself inwardly for her reaction to Hermione’s proximity. She really must get a bloody grip, as the English were so fond of saying.

‘You’re not bad at chess, Hermione.’ Harry placated. ‘You’re just not as good as Ron. Or me. Or Fleur.’ He finished kindly.

Fleur decided that all three of her younger housemates were less accustomed to wine than herself.

Hermione sported an adorable frown at Harry’s words, though she didn’t dispute them, and Fleur failed to stifle her chuckle.

‘Don’t worry, Hermione.’ She offered, ‘We’re a team this time, mmm?’

Hermione seemed to perk up at that thought and smiled at Fleur.

‘Yes.’ She agreed, reaching out and grabbing Fleur’s unsuspecting hand. ‘We’re a team.’ She interlocked their fingers and jutted out her chin challenging at Harry as he returned to the table.

‘Well, good.’ Harry nodded. ‘Ron and I are a team too.’ He countered. ‘Just don’t expect us to hold hands.’ He grinned, catching sight of where Hermione was clasping Fleur’s hand.

Hermione flushed and wrangled her fingers free from Fleur’s.

‘Sorry.’ She muttered, avoiding Fleur’s eye.

‘I don’t mind.’ Fleur shrugged, aiming for nonchalance to disguise the way her heart had been battering her the bars of her ribcage since the moment Hermione had touched her.

Hermione smiled at her again. And at these close quarters, Fleur was able to discern the constellations of light freckles that dusted the bridge of Hermione’s nose and traversed her cheekbones like the Milky Way itself.

‘Right,’ announced Ron as he re-entered the room, chessboard under his arm. ‘I hope you girls are ready to lose!’

 

And lose they did. Not spectacularly, but slowly and surely, as Fleur allowed Hermione’s suggested moves even when she could see that they would not be advantageous. They took a few pieces from the boys, but not enough to make any real headway, and sure enough the game drew to its conclusion as Fleur and Hermione’s King dutifully fell on his own sword in checkmate.

Yet the game was far from a failure in Fleur’s mind. For the duration of the game, Hermione had been just a breath away from Fleur, their knees knocking together under the table each time Hermione would lean in unnecessarily close to whisper another disastrous strategy for Fleur to obligingly undertake for them. It was bewildering that a brain like Hermione’s didn’t thrive under the rigours of chess. After all, she had spent the majority of her teen years negotiating a path through danger. Fleur could only imagine that the wine was not helping matters, though she resolved to suggest Exploding Snap next time anyway.

Still, Fleur found she had luxuriated in Hermione’s proximity. There had been no hissing or crackling to be heard. Instead, Fleur felt a kind of internal fizzing giddiness of the like she had not experienced before and she wasn’t sure whether it was thrall-related or not. She wanted to ignore Hermione’s suggested chess moves, not because of a need to beat the others at the game, but because she wanted to prolong their own eventual and inevitable defeat. She liked having Hermione at her side and she wanted to keep it that way.

But all good things must come to an end and, with the game won, Fleur leaned back in her chair and smiled serenely at the boys’ badly coordinated victory dance. Hermione flung herself back in her chair as well, almost tipping the chair backwards until Fleur caught it with a timely arm across the back. Hermione didn’t seem to notice.

‘I told you I wasn’t very good at chess.’ She said glumly.

Fleur laughed in surprise.

‘Games are not just about winning.’ Fleur reasoned. ‘I enjoyed being on a team with you.’ She added honestly.

Hermione appeared very pleased with that information.

‘Me too.’ She agreed. ‘I mean, I enjoyed being on a team with you. Too.’ She needlessly clarified.

Fleur chuckled again and nodded. Hermione hadn’t looked away from her. Fleur was acutely aware that her arm remained around the back of Hermione’s chair in much the same way she had seen Ron marking his chosen territory. Though Fleur wasn’t doing that. She was merely keeping Hermione steady. That was all.

‘Who wants fire whisky?’ Ron suddenly shouted, as though he had just had never had a better idea in his life.

‘Yes!’ Harry agreed immediately.

Fleur watched as Hermione opened her mouth, looking for all the world as though she too was going to agree. Fleur retracted her arm from Hermione’s chair and inwardly berated herself for imagining a flicker of disappointment cross other woman’s face.

‘Ah. Non.’ Fleur let out firmly before Ron could disappear from the kitchen, presumably in search of the promised fire whisky.

Fleur stood up and crossed to the cupboard, she reached up to a higher shelf and retrieved a water jug. Turning back to the table, she just caught Hermione’s eyes flitting away from her. Surely she didn’t imagine that too.

‘Water for everyone now, I think.’ Fleur said, mustering an air of authority.

‘Oh, what?’ Ron groaned.

‘Do you not have training tomorrow, hmm?’ Fleur asked him. ‘And you, Harry?’

‘Ugh. Yes.’ Ron answered, sullenly. Harry nodded.

Fleur filled the jug with water from her wand and then swilled the contents around once, watching as ice cubes formed and span through the water with a simple whispered word in her head. She missed Hermione’s look of wonder and poured out a glass each for Ron and for Harry.

‘And I have work.’ Fleur lamented, feeling a little guilty now for causing the downturned expressions on both boys’ faces. Merlin knew they all deserved a little fun. But still, not on a weeknight.

‘I don’t.’ Hermione pointed out with a grin, ‘So I can have a fire whisky.’

Fleur let out a surprised laugh.

‘You can have a water.’ Fleur told her with a faux-stern look. Pouring another glass and handing it to Hermione who thanked her quietly, and took an overly large gulp at once.

‘Tonight was fun.’ Ron stated happily, his annoyance at the lack of fire whisky passing quickly, ‘Thanks for cooking with me, Fleur.’

‘You’re very welcome. It’s been a while since I made bouillabaisse.’ Fleur replied, ‘And it was nice to cook with somebody.’

She wasn’t lying either. She had enjoyed cooking with Ron. He was eager and far better at following her instructions than she had expected.

‘I think I’m ready for bed.’ Harry said through a yawn.

‘Same.’ Ron agreed. ‘Oh, by the way, Mum wants us over there for dinner tomorrow night, ‘Mione. Harry’s coming. I’m sure you’d be welcome too, Fleur.’

Fleur caught sight of Hermione’s less than enthusiastic expression at the prospect of dinner at the Burrow. She wasn’t entirely sure what the problem was, but it was clear that there was one. Hermione, several glasses of wine deep, was failing to hide her feelings. And it seemed, thankfully, that Ron, several glasses of wine deep, was failing to read Hermione’s look.

‘Thank you, Ron. I shall see how tired I am after work.’ Fleur replied diplomatically. She wasn’t enthused at the prospect of dinner with Molly either.

‘I think I’ll sit it out actually, Ron.’ Hermione announced hastily and to the surprise of everybody in the room, including herself by the looks of it.

‘What? Why?’ Ron asked, his confusion clear.

‘That’s fine, Hermione.’ Harry cut in. ‘Isn’t it Ron?’ He added forcefully, raising his eyebrows at a still bewildered looking Ron.

‘Yeah?’ Ron replied, uncertainly.

Hermione seemed to let out a sigh of relief.

‘Well, night everyone.’ Harry let out, with a wave of his hand as he shuffled, yawning again, from the kitchen to a chorus of goodnights from the other occupants.

‘Night, ‘Mione.’ Ron said, stopping on his route towards the door to pull Hermione into a hug that looked to Fleur a little tighter than Hermione might have wanted.

Fleur turned her back on the pair of them, the faint crackling in her ears making its second appearance of the evening. She began to do the washing up. Using magic this time.

‘Night Fleur.’ Ron called as he headed out the door without waiting for her response.

Fleur heard a chair being pushed back into its place beneath the table and hesitant footsteps approaching her from behind. She abandoned her monitoring of the self-soaping tableware and turned to face Hermione who was standing a little awkwardly, still clutching her water glass.

‘Well, um. Goodnight.’ Hermione said after a moment’s silence.

‘Goodnight, Hermione.’ Fleur smiled.

Hermione held out her water glass to Fleur. Or at least that’s what Fleur had assumed she was doing, as she reached to take the glass from her, before noticing that Hermione was actually holding out both her hands. She was going for a hug, not handing over the washing-up, Fleur realised too late. She had already gripped the glass to take it from Hermione. And now Hermione was stepping back, looking both crestfallen and embarrassed at the same time. Which was quite a feat. Fleur couldn’t have that. She quickly closed the gap between them and wrapped her arms around Hermione’s slight frame. She remembered how uncomfortable Hermione had looked squished against Ron’s chest, so she made sure not to hold her too tightly.

Hermione remained stiff for a moment and then seemed to relax into the hug. Fleur used her height advantage to rest her cheek against Hermione’s hair, telling herself firmly that she must not, under any circumstance, breathe in her scent. That would be crossing a line. Count to three, and then let go, Fleur told herself. And she did. She stepped back, reluctantly.

‘Sleep well. See you at breakfast?’ Fleur said.

Hermione nodded, and gave Fleur a small smile.

‘See you at breakfast.’ She replied. And then left the room, leaving Fleur standing against the kitchen counter, with Hermione’s water glass still in her hand and an unsettled look on her face.  

Fleur remained in her place for a good few moments, her mind ruminating on the evening as the washing-up took care of itself, its gentle clinking a soundtrack to her thoughts. She really didn’t need her thrall making an appearance right now, not when she was meant to be supporting Hermione, helping her to recover from all that had happened. To find herself drawn to the younger witch in that way was uncomfortable to say the least. And confusing too. Why now? They had known each other for years. Not well, of course. But they had been at the peripheries of each other’s lives for a long time, and never before had Fleur experienced this tidal pull towards Hermione.

She had only skimmed her mother’s letter, her stomach churning at certain words. She would have to read it properly at some point, and decide on a course of action. Fleur sighed and added Hermione’s water glass to the queue being marched slowly towards the kitchen sink. She left the kitchen and extinguished the lanterns with a wave of her hand, the fire turning to smouldering embers in the same movement.

As she passed Hermione’s door on her way to her own bedroom, Fleur paused momentarily. For once, she could perceive no shimmering sheen to the old oak door. Hermione had cast no silencing charm. It was the first time Fleur had known that to be the case. She shuddered inwardly. She really hoped Ron was in his own room.


Hours later, Fleur was awoken. Her hearing was not hissing but roaring, and the crackling had intensified so much in volume that she could barely hear Leandre’s agitated shrieking and flapping above it. She sat bolt upright in her bed and looked frantically around the room. There was nothing amiss, save for the frantic movements of her usually fairly docile barn owl. Fleur willed her hearing to calm, concentrating intently until the crackling started to subside a little. And that’s when she heard something else. A murmuring sound, almost a whimpering, coming from the next room. Hermione.

Fleur’s stomach plummeted. What was she listening to?

The whimpering persisted, punctuated by louder vocalisations too.

Leandre left his perch and landed on Fleur’s shoulder, beginning immediately to tug at her t-shirt insistently.

The sounds continued and Fleur realised they were distress sounds. It was only Hermione that Fleur could hear. There was nobody with her. Something was wrong.

Fleur flung back the duvet and leapt from her bed, causing Leandre to flutter about the room though he did not return to his perch.

‘Stay there.’ Fleur told him firmly. And she rushed from the room.

Chapter Text

When Hermione had reached her bedroom after Ron and Fleur’s homemade bouillabaisse, the game of chess, and possibly too much wine, she felt, for once, at peace. It could have been the wine that was causing the contented drowsiness that slowed her bones as she struggled into her pyjamas. And it could have been the wine causing the slight haziness on the edge of her vision throughout the game of chess. But it certainly wasn’t the wine that had left the lingering scent of wild honeysuckle that Hermione was still relishing.

She collapsed into her bed, earning a disgruntled glare from the previously slumbering Crookshanks, and let out a satisfied sigh. Hugs from Fleur were unlike hugs from anybody else, Hermione decided. And, whilst a small part of her thought she might regret some of her words and actions come the morning, for now she was congratulating herself on gaining a goodnight hug from the older witch. There was something about the softness of those arms around her, something about being secured against Fleur as opposed to when Ron held her and squished her against his more solid form. That often felt like being dashed against rocks in a choppy sea. Fleur felt like a cove of calm waters. Hermione closed her eyes and drifted.

 

Hours later, Hermione was drowning. The water was over her head. She was grasping and struggling to reach the surface, her lungs burning for breath. And then the water was Bellatrix. Her weight pushing Hermione into dirty floorboards. The pungent mothball scent of her filling Hermione’s nostrils. Her cold hands pinning Hermione’s wrists in place. Hermione thrashed and whined. Bellatrix hooted with laughter, her head thrown back in glee as Hermione turned her own head until her cheek too was pressed to the floor. Anything to get away. Anything to get away.

‘Tell me, Muddy!’ Bellatrix shrieked. ‘Tell me!’

‘I don’t know!’ Hermione heard her own voice plead, repeating the same words over and over.

Her heart was racing. Her mouth dry as dust.

Bellatrix grunted in fury and then pressed lower, pushing her full weight onto Hermione. Hermione caught sight of her browned and rotten teeth before they were sunk into the flesh of her upper arm.

Hermione screamed. She could feel the bite. Burning and stinging, making her arm throb.

Then Bellatrix was laughing again, shrieking with laughter.

‘You even taste like mud!’ she declared.

Hermione was sobbing now and Bellatrix was shaking her shoulders and howling with laughter. Shaking her. Shaking her. Hermione knew what came next. She knew the knife would be out soon, glinting like the malice in its wielder’s eyes.

‘’ermione!’’

Shaking. Shaking.

‘’ermione, please!’

Hermione was shaking. But Bellatrix wasn’t shaking her.

Hermione was sobbing. But the weight of Bellatrix was gone.

‘You’re dreaming, ‘ermione. It’s not real. It’s not real.’

It’s not real.

Hermione opened her eyes. Wide and frantic. Heart hammering. She gasped for breath and struggled to sit up. Almost colliding with something solid. But it wasn’t Bellatrix. It was Fleur. Her silvery hair catching the moonlight creeping in around the curtains. For a split second, Hermione felt a rush of relief to see Fleur, wanting to reach for her and sink into her arms.

It was Fleur, whose eyes were every bit as frantic as Hermione’s, and were similarly tear-filled. Hermione’s relief turned quickly to mortification and then to despair.

Hermione closed her eyes once more, screwed them shut and wished the world away. She buckled backwards into the pillows and succumbed to wracking sobs. Her shaking hands came up to cover her face.

‘I’m sorry.’ Hermione choked after a moment; her voice croaky from the dryness of her mouth. ‘I’m sorry.’

Tears spilled silently from Fleur’s eyes as they flitted unseen across Hermione’s despairing form.

‘Non.’ Fleur demanded. She leant forward and managed to get a forearm beneath Hermione’s quaking shoulders. She pulled her into a sitting position and into her own arms. At once rocking her back and forth instinctively.

‘You’re OK.’ Fleur whispered, her mouth near to Hermione’s ear. ‘You’re OK. You’re OK.’ She repeated again and again in time with her rocking motion. ‘It’s not real. It’s not real.’ Slipping from her lips like a mantra until the words blended into one sound. Hermione could do nothing but allow Fleur to hold her close, the turmoil in her mind not allowing her to truly relax into the embrace she had so desperately wanted but the exhaustion taking away her ability to pull away.

Hermione felt her involuntary shuddering gradually slow until it was intermittent tremors rather than consistent shakes. She felt cold at once. Her pyjamas were soaked with sweat and it was chilling her skin, causing goose bumps to erupt. Fleur must be able to feel it too, Hermione reasoned, embarrassment infusing further through the residual panic.

‘It was real.’ Hermione croaked at last. She felt Fleur pull her closer still. ‘It was, Fleur.’

‘I know.’ Fleur replied, a broken whisper. And though Hermione couldn’t see her face, she could hear the strain of emotion in the other woman’s voice. ‘But it’s over. And you’re here with me. She’s gone. Dead.’ The last word was infused with a venom Hermione could never hope to muster.

‘I’m sorry.’ Hermione said again. ‘I forgot the silencing charm.’

The rocking motion stilled for a moment and Hermione felt Fleur tense. Hermione held her breath, though she wasn’t sure what for. And then the rocking started again.

‘You don’t need to be sorry. You don’t need to hide this. I just…’ Fleur murmured, ‘I want to help make it stop.’

Hermione felt the tears bubble up inside her beneath a fresh wave of hopelessness.

‘It won’t stop.’ She let out. ‘It keeps happening.’

‘I won’t let it.’ Fleur replied almost fiercely.

Hermione couldn’t reply. She had nothing to say to that.

‘Come on.’ Fleur said at last, pulling back from Hermione but sliding her hands down the younger witch’s arms before catching hold of her hands. Fleur stood from where she had clambered onto Hermione’s bed, and pulled Hermione to her feet.

Hermione’s legs were wobbly but Fleur’s hands anchored her.

‘What are you doing?’ Hermione asked, her voice as wobbly as her legs.

‘Your pyjamas are damp.’ Fleur replied, keeping her voice casual. Hermione burnt with embarrassment but Fleur offered no further comment and instead released one of Hermione’s hands momentarily and stood back slightly.

Hermione felt warmth slip over her from the top of her head, moving slowly down her body and spreading to all extremities. Hermione shivered reflexively. And then her pyjamas were dry. Fleur nodded in satisfaction.

‘Better?’ Fleur asked.

Hermione nodded.

‘I… Yes. Thank-you.’ She muttered.

‘Bon.’ Fleur replied, then started tugging Hermione from the room.

‘Come on.’ She said again, and Hermione found herself letting Fleur lead her out of the door. ‘And you.’ Fleur added.

Hermione looked at her in confusion and then saw that Fleur wasn’t talking to her, her gaze was somewhere else. She was addressing Crookshanks who Hermione now noticed lurking in the shadows under her desk. Her nightmare must have frightened him too. She imagined she had been thrashing and shouting particularly intensely given that she had woken Fleur.

To Hermione’s surprise, she watched the part-kneazle slink hesitantly into the light and follow along behind as Fleur led the way into her own room, keeping Hermione’s hand in her own.

It was like moving on autopilot for Hermione as she trailed dazedly into Fleur’s room and hovered on the rug, unsure of what Fleur expected her to do now. She felt adrift from her own skin, woken so suddenly from the nightmare, like her mind hadn’t quite caught up with the waking world. Crookshanks sat by her side, eyeing Leandre with some interest as the owl paced up and down the headboard of Fleur’s bed, more agitated than Hermione had seen him before.

‘What are we doing?’ Hermione asked at last, once Fleur had shut the door and pulled back the duvet on her bed.

Hermione was suddenly aware that whilst she was dressed in her usual matching set of tartan pyjamas, Fleur was in a t-shirt and pair of underwear. If Hermione wasn’t so confused and anxious, she would probably be blushing and averting her eyes. Fleur seemed completely unselfconscious.

‘We are having a sleepover, hmm?’ Fleur replied as though it was obvious.

‘What?’ Hermione gasped. ‘No, Fleur. I can’t. What if—’

‘Like at school. You never had sleepovers in your dorm? Shared your bed with friends and stayed up talking? Discussing boys?’ She finished with a raised eyebrow and a small smirk.

‘No.’ Hermione said blankly. She had never done anything of the sort at school. Her friends were Harry and Ron. They certainly didn’t huddle together in one bed. And Ginny was hardly the type either.

‘Non?’ Fleur replied, sounding genuinely surprised. ‘Well, all the more reason to start now.’

Hermione started backing away.

‘You don’t want to share with me. Really.’ She stuttered.

Crookshanks had grown tired of the waiting and prowled across the rug to Fleur’s bed, hopping up in one motion and curling his tail around himself. He kept one eye on Leandre, who was now nodding his head up and down a little dramatically.

‘I do.’ Fleur assured her. ‘I don’t think there will be any more nightmares tonight.’ She added. Though how she thought she could assume such a thing, Hermione had no idea.

Hermione looked down at her bare feet and shivered. She felt small. And humiliated. Far too old for nightmares. Far too old for slumber parties. Fleur must think her utterly incompetent. Incapable.

‘Please?’ Fleur broke into Hermione’s thoughts. ‘I want to keep you close.’

Such simple words, and they sounded so sincere. Hermione felt herself welling up again, felt something fracture inside her. She swallowed awkwardly and nodded, defeated.

Fleur crossed to her bed and slid in, shuffling to the other side, without dislodging Crookshanks, and making space for Hermione who haltingly followed suit. It felt so alien, getting into bed with somebody else. Lying down and allowing Fleur to pull up the duvet to cover them both. Staring at the ceiling, illuminated by the gently glowing lights. Hermione was rigid. Unsure. Uncomfortable. She felt the bed shift as Fleur moved onto her side.

‘Do they happen often? The nightmares?’ Fleur whispered. And Hermione could feel Fleur’s eyes on her profile.

Hermione furrowed her brows. She didn’t want to talk about it. Didn’t want Fleur to know about it. But she couldn’t deny her an answer.

‘They happen… sometimes. They’re not always so bad.’ She reasoned.

‘Sometimes you sleep soundly?’ Fleur enquired.

There was a long pause.

‘Sometimes.’ Hermione whispered.

‘You don’t need to lie to me.’ Fleur replied immediately.

‘I…’ Hermione started, ready to refute Fleur’s assumption that Hermione was lying. But she couldn’t. ‘Sorry.’

Fleur let out a breathy laugh, and Hermione turned to her in surprise wondering what could possibly be funny.

‘You don’t need to apologise either.’ Fleur clarified. ‘Have you tried sleeping draughts?’

‘At first. They don’t work.’ Hermione sighed, and then her sigh became a yawn. She always felt extra drained after a nightmare like the one she had tonight. And yet she could never go back to sleep.

‘I will keep the nightmares away.’ Fleur whispered earnestly.

And this time Hermione let out a hollow laugh, a disbelieving one.

‘And how are you going to do that?’ She asked, hearing the bite in her own words and regretting it.

‘Well,’ Fleur began, her tone a little teasing, ‘Do you believe in magic?’

Hermione rolled her eyes, but couldn’t keep the smile from her lips.

‘Fleur.’ Hermione started.

‘Let me try?’ Fleur interrupted before Hermione could say anything else.

Hermione sighed.

‘Fine.’ She agreed. At this point she had very little dignity left to lose. Whatever charm Fleur thought she could enact to give Hermione a dreamless sleep, Hermione was going to surrender to it. It wouldn’t work anyway. She closed her eyes and waited for Fleur to cast her chosen spell.

And then she felt Fleur’s hand wrap gently around her wrist and tug her closer until her cheek was flush against Fleur’s shoulder, and the older witch’s arm was tucked securely around her. Hermione tensed immediately. She hadn’t been expecting that. She wanted to pull away. To return to her own room. She took a shaky breath, and her senses were filled with wild honeysuckle, a scent that was becoming increasingly familiar.

‘Close your eyes.’ She heard Fleur whisper. ‘You’re safe.’

Safe. Hermione couldn’t remember the last time she felt safe. She didn’t feel safe now. She could feel her body sparking with bolts of anxiety still. And deeper than that, she could feel shame curling at the edges.

‘It’s OK.’ Fleur said. ‘You’re OK.’

Hermione took another breath, another waft of that calming scent. She could feel Fleur’s own breath, could feel her chest expanding and contracting rhythmically. Slowly her own breathing began to mimic it. She felt the buzz of fear begin to fade.

Above their heads, on the back of the headboard, Leandre ceased his pacing, huddling comfortably with his neck retracted into his fluffed feathers. Crookshanks’ watching eye drifted shut.

 

The next time Hermione awoke, she felt cocooned in comfort and warmth. She inhaled deeply and her senses were filled with fresh linen and wild honeysuckle. She was awash with tranquillity and she sighed contentedly and opened her eyes. An increasingly familiar light blue haze was encroaching on her vision, and she blinked blearily in an attempt to clear it.

That was when she took in her surroundings properly. Those weren’t her curtains. That wasn’t her desk and that certainly wasn’t her owl peering down at her from above. Hermione furrowed her brow and tried to sit up. There were arms around her, holding her securely, a warm body against the length of her back, a pair of knees in the crook of her own legs, and soft breath against the back of her neck. Hermione froze. Leandre hopped a couple of times on his spot on the headboard above her.

It all came flooding back. The wine. The hug. The nightmare. Oh God, the nightmare. The forgotten silencing charm. Fleur rushing into her room and waking her. Holding her. Rocking her like a child. The damp pyjamas. The tears.

The tranquillity turned to turmoil. The warmth to suffocation.

Hermione wanted to curl in on herself and never uncurl. The shame crept in and took root, invading every vein and artery and claiming her whole body. How had she become this person? This embarrassing mess. It wasn’t who she was meant to be. And Fleur saw it all. The whole ugly truth of it. Even Harry and Ron hadn’t had to deal with the nightmares.

She had to get out of here. Get out of Fleur’s room, Fleur’s bed, Fleur’s arms. And she had to do it now, before Fleur awoke. Assuming by the slow even breaths still passing gently across Hermione’s neck, Fleur was still peacefully sleeping. Just as Hermione had been until she returned to the waking world and remembered the disaster she’d become. It must be early. Earlier than Fleur usually awoke for work.

Hermione, as softly as possible, took a hold of Fleur’s wrist that was currently resting against Hermione’s stomach and lifted it fractionally, just enough so that Hermione could begin to edge out from Fleur’s grip.

Slowly, slowly, Hermione shuffled towards the side of the bed until she was free enough to carefully place Fleur’s arm in the warm space that Hermione had just vacated. Hermione had just swung her legs over the side of the bed, reaching for the floor with her toes, when a perturbed chirrup sounded from just behind her. Hermione turned quickly to see Leandre, hopping in agitation on the headboard and flapping his wings.

‘No!’ Hermione hissed as quietly and forcefully as she could manage. ‘Leandre! Shhh!’

The owl let out another chirrup and Hermione watched in horror as Fleur’s eyebrows tightened and her legs straightened beneath the duvet. Hermione stared, breath held, until Fleur’s eyebrows relaxed and she let out a sigh in her sleep. Her features were calm and utterly beautiful in the morning light. Hermione slowly let out her own breath, her eyes staying on Fleur’s sleeping form for another moment or two, before she turned away and stood from the bed.

Leandre chirped again. Still sounding angry but more softly this time.

‘I’ve got to go.’ Hermione whispered to the owl who shook out his feathers in response but made no further sound.

Hermione made for the door and heard the recognisable thump of a part-kneazle jumping from a bed onto hardwood floor, as Crookshanks followed her across the room. Hermione fought the urge to turn back and take another look at Fleur before she slipped out of the door, closing it silently behind herself and Crookshanks.


Back in her own room, Hermione made hasty work of grabbing her wand from where it had remained all night on her bedside table. She cast the silencing charm she had forgotten in her tipsy state from the night before, and this time added the extra flourish that would ensure she would not hear any sounds from the other side of the door either. The thought of Fleur wanting to talk about what had happened, the thought of her feeling sorry for Hermione…

Hermione raked her fingers through her loose hair, once, twice, three times and on until it felt as though she was stuck in a loop. How had she allowed herself to get into this state? This mess? She was meant to be the one who always knew what to do, and when she didn’t know what to do, she would turn to her books. When she turned to her books now, they taunted her, she couldn’t focus on them. She had tried, to begin with. That hadn’t been a lie, when she’d told Fleur that the sleeping draughts hadn’t worked. She had researched the most powerful sleeping draught. She had brewed it. She had failed. Or it had failed her. Either way, she wasn’t outstanding at potions anymore. Snape would be thrilled to know that.

Hermione used to be the one to figure things out. But whatever sleeping charm Fleur had used on her last night, whichever spell she had cast with her wandless wordless ways, it hadn’t been one that Hermione had ever thought of using. And it had worked like a… Well, like a charm. But Fleur shouldn’t have needed to cast it at all. Shouldn’t have seen Hermione like that. If she hadn’t been so stupid to forget her silencing charm, so giddy on wine and an evening of fun… That fun hadn’t lasted.

Pulling her fingers from her hair before she did any damage to her scalp, Hermione sank to the floor next to her bed and pulled her knees up to her chest before resting her forehead against them. Crookshanks padded towards her and butted his head against her leg, waiting for one of her hands to reach out and tangle in his thick orange fur, before he sat beside her in silent vigil. He knew what kind of day it was going to be.

Chapter Text

Blinking open her eyes, Fleur stretched languidly, and breathed out a deep sigh as she came awake. The morning light was filtering in through the curtains and she felt surprisingly well-rested. She lifted a hand and rubbed the sleep from eyes, adjusting them to the light. Her gaze was met immediately by the accusatory glare of a perturbed barn owl, perched at the foot of her bed.

Fleur furrowed her brows and pushed her face into her pillow a little, reaching out an arm and hoping to find the slumbering warmth of Hermione by her side. She found only cool sheets. Fleur’s confusion grew. Breathing in deeply, she encountered a scent that wasn’t usually there. Hermione. So she hadn’t dreamt the whole thing up. The other woman had been beside her.

Sitting up at once, Fleur glanced around the room and received a knowing hoot from Leandre. Aside from the two of them, the bedroom was empty. Even Crookshanks had gone.

‘Where is she, hmm?’ Fleur murmured softly.

Leandre hooted again, this time with a note of irritation. Fleur rolled her eyes at him.

‘Well, you could have woken me.’ She grumbled, reverting to French when conversing with her owl.

At that, Leandre let out an indignant chirp and took off from the bed, swooping to his perch on the desk, where he promptly turned his back on Fleur.

‘Good morning to you too.’ Fleur muttered.

She swung her legs over the edge of the bed and got to her feet, yawning as she reached for the thin dressing gown that rested over the back of the chair by her desk. She wrapped it around herself and padded out into the hallway. The bathroom door was ajar and the light was off, the room vacant. Fleur felt her chest tighten incrementally. She took a few steps down the hall to Hermione’s door.

‘Hermione?’ She called softly. ‘Are you in there?’

Nothing. No response. No sound at all.

That’s when Fleur noticed the all-too familiar sheen around Hermione’s door. A silencing charm. Her chest tightened further.

‘Merde.’ Fleur breathed out.

Why had Hermione retreated back to her room? Back to her silencing charms? Had Fleur not cared for her? Soothed her? Reassured Hermione that she didn’t have to hide these things from her? That she wanted to help? That she had helped?

She had remained awake for quite some time the night before after she felt Hermione slip back to sleep in her arms. She had felt Hermione’s tense body release its grip on consciousness and succumb to a peaceful sleep. But she hadn’t been able to follow straight away. Hermione had felt small. Smaller than Fleur had expected, or noticed during the day when Hermione was usually bundled in those hideous lumpy jumpers. The younger woman’s frame felt thin, not slim as Fleur had always thought, there was a subtle difference and Fleur could feel it in the jut of Hermione’s bones beneath her hands.

Seeing Hermione in such a state had awoken terrible memories in Fleur of when Shell Cottage had its sudden influx from Malfoy Manor. The sight of Hermione on the beach that day was one that had haunted Fleur for quite some time, until other horrors had replaced it at the final battle. Last night, however, the vision returned. Only this time, Hermione was not struggling to keep conscious on the damp sand as her blood joined the rivulets of saltwater around her. She was thrashing and sweating, her features similarly stricken and pale but shrouded in the darkness of her dreams this time. Both images had wrung clammy hands around Fleur’s heart.

At Shell Cottage, Fleur had been able to leap into action, to direct Ron to her own bedroom and tell him to place Hermione on her bed and then leave. She had administered spells and charms, ointments and tinctures. There had been clear motions to follow to improve Hermione’s immediate welfare and Fleur had, instinctively, followed them. She’d had actions to enact, ways to keep her hands busy, distraction from the desperate sight before her. Hermione’s bruised body, her blood spilling from bite marks and that accursed word, carved poisonously into her very flesh. Fleur had felt her own blood boil at that, but there hadn’t been time to dwell. She’d needed to clean and re-clothe Hermione, and she had done so with more tenderness and care than she had ever done anything in her life up to that point. The need had surged up in her to show kindness where cruelty had so recently been rife.

But last night had been different. There was nothing she could do. No spell to soothe Hermione’s pain. No injuries to tend to. No medicine to make her better. When she had first burst into Hermione’s room, she’d had to blink in the darkness to make out the shape of Hermione, contorting and spasming as though trying to escape. It had taken nearly a minute for Fleur to wake Hermione, and the other woman’s distress had been so palpable that Fleur had been close to going to wake Harry for help. Fleur’s heart had been hammering and she was near to panic by the time Hermione’s eyes had opened.

From that moment, her impulses had taken over. She couldn’t stop herself from gathering Hermione in her arms, from holding her as tightly as she dared, and using whatever words and movement she could to try and calm her. And of course she had led Hermione back to her own room, of course she hadn’t been able to let her go. She hadn’t thought, for a moment, that it might be odd to tug Hermione into bed and into her arms. There simply had not been another option. Nothing else would have been acceptable to Fleur. She hadn’t stopped to think how Hermione would feel the following day.

Fleur took one last glance at Hermione’s resolutely shut bedroom door and let out a sigh. She returned to her own room and began dressing for work. By the time she was pulling her hairbrush through her bed-mussed hair, she knew she was unlikely to see Hermione for breakfast that morning. She grabbed her leather jacket from the back of her door and left the room just as Ron was appearing from the floor above.

‘Alright Fleur?’ He grunted, voice still rough with sleep.

‘Good morning.’ Fleur nodded.

‘You were right about the fire whisky, you know. My head’s a bit fuzzy this morning just from the wine.’ He offered with a bit of a grimace.

Fleur smiled at him sympathetically. Her head was not fuzzy from wine, only from… guilt? Confusion? Worry? Something like that.

‘It was a good evening though.’ She decided.

‘Yeah. Even ‘Mione seemed to be enjoying herself. And these days she can be a bit… you know.’ Ron trailed off.

Fleur didn’t quite know which word Ron had been searching for and she was not about to help him look.

‘Anyway, see you later, Fleur. Come to the Burrow tonight if you’re up for it, yeah?’ Ron let out, as Harry’s hurried footsteps also started approaching from the top floor.

Fleur only had time to open her mouth before Harry was appearing at the bottom of the stairs.

‘Get a move on, Ron. We’re going to be late.’ He muttered. ‘Morning Fleur. How’s your head? Mine’s a bit… ugh.’ He patted a hand on Fleur’s shoulder as he passed.

‘Quality over quantity when it comes to wine, my friend.’ Fleur replied with a knowing smile.

‘Could’ve told us that last night.’ Ron grumbled as Harry hustled him along the hall.

‘Have a good day.’ Harry told her just before he rushed out of sight.

‘Bye ‘Mione!’ Ron yelled, the volume causing Fleur to flinch almost as much as Ron himself did before he followed Harry down the stairs.

‘Really, mate? My head didn’t need that.’ Came Harry’s admonishment before the closing of the front door signalled the boys’ departure for auror training.

Fleur let her shoulders drop. She glanced at Hermione’s door once more before she herself headed downstairs.

 

Regardless of the fact that Fleur had already suspected she would be having breakfast alone this morning, she had been unable to stop herself from preparing Hermione’s routine mug of hot chocolate and placing a second croissant on the plate for her usual breakfast companion.

She had half-heartedly perused the morning paper, flicking through the pages, barely skimming articles, always with half an eye on the door, hoping it would be pushed open. Just as she was about to turn yet another page her gaze caught on a particular photo. Three familiar faces captured on parchment. She knew immediately where the photo had been taken, and when. It must have been supplied to the paper by an outside source and a glance at the accompanying article told Fleur that the photo itself wasn’t related to the information offered. Clearly, there were not many photos available of the Golden Trio. Harry and Ron were both in their dress robes, smiling widely, with an arm slung around each other’s shoulder. To their side, wearing a red dress and a smaller smile, her warm brown eyes turned knowingly to the photographer, was Hermione. The boys’ images turned to each other and laughed. Hermione shook her head, her smile turning wry. And the setting? Fleur’s own wedding.

The article was about some new plaque or other that was going to be placed in Hogsmeade, commemorating yet another action of the Trio’s from the war. The photo purely a tool to pull the reader in. Fleur contemplated the image for some time. What a strange moment it unknowingly captured. A wedding for a fake marriage. Three teenagers smiling in the face of impending war. A moment before everything changed. She gazed at the Hermione before her and something coiled in her stomach. There was a quiet confidence to this Hermione, a lightness in the way she rolled her eyes at the boys’ antics. Weeks after the photo was taken, both the confidence and light would be wrenched from her.

Fleur ripped the page from the paper and folded it several times before shoving it into her pocket. Hermione didn’t need to see that. Though Fleur hadn’t seen the younger witch look at the paper once during their mornings together and now, Fleur realised, she was perhaps learning why.

A glance at the clock on the wall told Fleur two things: she needed to leave for work, and Hermione was indeed not joining her for breakfast, her hand on the clock resolutely pointed to ‘Do not Disturb’. Fleur hadn’t even noticed that option before. Had it even been there before? That clock was a baffling sort of magic. Fleur threw back the last of her coffee, performed a quick teeth-cleansing charm to rid her of coffee-breath, and left for work, taking her unsettled feeling with her.

 

The work day passed slowly. Fleur tried her best to keep her mind from wandering back to Grimmauld Place, back to Hermione. She focussed as much as possible on the work at hand; back at the vaults that landed her with a cursed cut, but this time better prepared. She knew the spells required and had a small team of begrudging goblins to assist her. She had been assigned the ‘new recruits’, goblins that had only been working at Gringotts for two or three decades rather than the more esteemed colleagues who had been there for more than 50 years. It didn’t make much difference to Fleur. None of them liked her, but they followed her instructions with reluctant obedience, which was just fine. She still found their contempt of her quite amusing and, she could quietly admit to herself, preferable to the un-earned adoration she often got from strangers.

By the end of the day, Fleur was both eager and anxious to return home. Hermione had had a day to reflect on the events of the night before. But where would that leave her? Would she have been stewing in whatever emotions had forced her back to her silencing charms? Or would she have perhaps rationalised things in that genius mind of hers and accepted that Fleur had only wanted to help, and that needing help was part of being human?

 

As it happened, her questions were soon answered on arrival home. Fleur entered the house to find Harry and Ron, freshly changed out of their training robes and into casual clothes.

‘Bonjour you two.’ Fleur said tiredly as she walked into the kitchen and dropped her work satchel onto the nearest chair. Suddenly, the lack of sleep from the night before and the day of concentrating on not worrying was catching up with her.

A look at the other occupants of the room told her that they too were a little weary.

‘Hey Fleur.’ Ron replied.

‘Long day?’ Harry asked with a bit of a grin. ‘You finally look how we feel. Maybe you did over do the wine a bit too after all?’ he added.

Fleur shot him a playful glare.

‘Such an accusation!’ She exclaimed. ‘But I am a little tired.’ She admitted, though she knew for a fact that it was not because of the wine.

‘Come to The Burrow then,’ Ron said at once. ‘Mum’s cooking and there definitely won’t be any wine as she still thinks we’re all too young to drink!’

‘You’re more than welcome to join us.’ Harry agreed. ‘Bill will be there.’ He added.

Fleur was momentarily tempted. It would be good to see Bill. She was missing his dependable presence in her life. Their marriage had been a sham, of course, but their closeness had not. They had still grown used to being around each other all the time, supporting each other through a war. It was not an easy adjustment to make when they parted, though it had been agreed they would take some space from each other. Not for their own benefit, but to make it easier for those around them to get used to the idea that it had all been fiction. She could do with the patient ear of her best friend now though. Fleur cleared her throat.

‘Hermione is not going?’ She asked, hoping to sound casual.

‘Haven’t seen her.’ Ron shrugged. ‘Said she wasn’t coming last night though, didn’t she? Dunno why.’

‘She hasn’t come out of her room since we’ve been home.’ Harry said quietly, his eyes on Fleur’s as though trying to convey a message.

There was a pause while Fleur mulled over this information.

‘I will stay here.’ She decided. ‘You’re right, last night’s wine has caught up with me and I’m tired.’

Harry nodded in understanding.

‘Will you tell Molly thank—’ Fleur began and then stopped as the kitchen door opened.

Hermione stepped in and then screeched to a halt the minute she saw Fleur.

‘Oh.’ She let out softly. ‘I thought it was only the boys who were back.’

Fleur felt a sting of hurt at her words.

‘Non.’ She shrugged.

‘No.’ Hermione agreed.

The room was quiet as Hermione shifted awkwardly and avoided looking at Fleur. Harry looked between the women with a hint of confusion on his face.

‘Um…’ Ron let out, also sensing the uncomfortable air. ‘Well, we’re going to go.’ He said slowly, ‘Harry and me, that is.’

Hermione’s eyes widened for a second.

‘I’ll come!’ She said quickly.

Ron’s eyebrows raised almost comically high.

‘Yes,’ Hermione went on. ‘I will come after all. I think it’ll be… nice to see everyone. And have a change of scene.’ She finished, her words almost garbled with how fast she was expelling them.

Harry’s confusion grew but Ron smiled, looking relieved.

‘Great.’ He said, ‘Fleur, are you sure you’re not up for it? Don’t want to come and cosy up to your hubby?’ He added with laugh, clearly pleased with his joke.

Hermione finally looked at Fleur, her expression guarded. But Fleur was still feeling wounded by the other woman’s reaction to her, and clear desire to get away from her.

‘Non.’ Fleur replied, ‘I don’t think my presence is required. Give Bill my love though.’ Fleur told Ron genuinely.

‘I’ll tell him his doting wife sends a big sloppy kiss!’ Ron laughed again.

Fleur mustered a smile at that, though she wasn’t finding it quite as funny as Ron.

‘Perfect. Thank you.’ She said a little tightly.

She was aware that Hermione had glanced at her again, though she couldn’t bring herself to meet the other woman’s eye. Her ears were ringing now.

‘I’m ready.’ Hermione let out, turning away from Fleur. ‘Let’s go.’

She held out her hand expectantly to Ron, who looked a bit taken aback but enveloped it in his own larger one nonetheless.

‘I haven’t apparated in a while.’ Hermione muttered in explanation.

‘I’ve got it.’ Ron said, almost puffing his chest out with pride. ‘Later Fleur. See you in a minute, Harry.’ He added before both he and Hermione vanished from the room with a loud crack.

Fleur found herself looking at the space they had occupied seconds before.

‘Fleur,’ Harry started cautiously. ‘Is everything OK?’

Fleur turned her gaze to Harry and forced on a smile.

‘Of course, Harry.’ She lied and Harry wasn’t buying it. He said nothing but continued to look at Fleur, waiting for more.

Fleur sighed.

‘She had a nightmare. I tried to help. I thought I did help.’ Fleur let out, defeated. ‘Now… I don’t know.’

‘Ah.’ Said Harry. ‘And that’s all that happened? There’s nothing else going on?’

Fleur’s eyes snapped to look at him. She had been told before that her gaze could be quite intense sometimes, even intimidating, and judging by the way Harry took half a step back, this may be one of those times.

‘Something else?’ Fleur asked pointedly. ‘Such as?’

‘Nothing.’ Harry let out quickly. ‘No. Nothing.’ He cleared his throat. ‘She uh, she mentioned the nightmares to me. But only once. I assumed they were getting better.’

‘I think they are not.’ Fleur replied simply.

‘I guess not.’ Harry agreed sadly. ‘But Fleur, I’m sure you did help. Hermione is just not used to needing help, you know? She’s amazing. She’s used to being the one to help everybody else.’

‘I know.’ Fleur sighed. ‘I just…’ she trailed off. She didn’t have the energy for this conversation now. She hadn’t untangled it in her mind yet.

‘You better go, Harry. They’ll be wondering where you are.’ She said after a pause.

Harry nodded though he didn’t look convinced.

‘I can stay.’ He offered.

‘Non. You should go. Enjoy the evening. I am fine, just tired. I think I’ll have an early night anyway.’ Fleur told him truthfully.

‘OK. Well, just… don’t take it to heart Fleur. She… admires you, I think. She’s probably just embarrassed that you saw her like that, you know?’ Harry said.

Fleur shrugged.

‘Perhaps, Harry. Now go! And do give my love to Bill, in case Ron forgets.’ She added.

‘I will.’ Harry promised. ‘I probably won’t mention a big sloppy kiss though.’ He added cheekily.

‘Thank you.’ Fleur smiled, ‘I think he might have been a bit alarmed to hear that.’

‘Night, Fleur.’ Harry said with a grin.

‘Night, Harry.’ She replied.

A crack filled the air and then Fleur was alone. 

Chapter Text

For a few days, the air in Twelve Grimmauld Place had contained a level of tension it had not held since Sirius Black returned to take the house over. Harry had been studiously ignoring the tension and even Ron avoided mentioning it. Hermione had continued dodging Fleur as much as possible, still struggling with her embarrassment over waking up in Fleur’s arms, her mortification at having needed Fleur like that, and beneath the surface she even felt a little awkwardness over how she had behaved around Fleur after a few drinks. All in all, it had accumulated beyond the extent to which Hermione knew how to deal with it. For her part, Fleur – as far as Hermione could tell –  was making a sterling effort to pretend nothing was wrong. And still the tension persisted.

Hermione remembered stories her mum and dad used to tell her how independent she had always been, how competent and determined. One of her mother’s favourite memories of Hermione as a toddler was the morning that Hermione had decided to dress herself for the first time. Her mother used to love describing the look of steely ambition, lovingly amused by how out of place it was on the face of a toddler. Hermione had apparently taken nearly an hour to succeed in her task – a level of focus that was, according to the parenting books, unheard of in her age category. She had batted away hands that tried to help get her into her knitted cardigan, and let out a resolute ‘No!’ every time one of her parents attempted to offer guidance. Then, eventually, she had stood with unbridled pride at the bottom of the stairs to display her chosen outfit for the day. There had even been a photo of her, standing tall in her little cardigan, her inside-out skirt and her wrinkled tights. Tights were particularly tricky to manoeuvre it seemed.

That photo would be a mystery now. A shot depicting the bottom of a flight of carpeted stairs and nothing more. But one thing remained; Hermione’s ambition and drive had always been a source of both pride and praise. She had shoved help away until it was no longer offered. And now she didn’t know how to accept it. She had grown so used to priding herself on her abilities that she now felt ashamed to ever heed help. A well-worn rut carved out since the early years is hard to deviate from.

It wasn’t easy to avoid Fleur though. For one thing, they shared a house. On a practical level, avoiding somebody you live with is no small feat. The mornings weren’t too tricky. Hermione simply stayed in her room until the house was empty. In the evenings, it required a little more skill. But it was a difficult task for another reason too. She still, despite the bubbling embarrassment and self-admonishment, felt inexplicably drawn to the other woman. One morning, when the house was vacant but for herself and the animals, and Hermione was guiltily sipping at the hot chocolate Fleur continued to leave for her, thoughtfully charmed to stay hot until Hermione claimed it. Hermione caught herself wishing she had stayed a moment longer in Fleur’s arms that fateful morning a few days earlier, that she had allowed herself time to enjoy it.

Enjoy it. Hermione was alarmed to find that thought circulating, but she was unable to deny it. For every time she found a reason to leave the table early after dinner, to linger in her room longer before being called to the kitchen, she felt an almost equally strong-willed part of her wanting to seek Fleur out.

She fought it. And she saw, on a couple of occasions, flashes of hurt in Fleur’s dark blue eyes that caused Hermione’s breath to catch. She had sat through dinner at The Burrow just to avoid being alone with the other woman and by the end of the evening she wondered if she had made the right choice. Molly had been as suffocating as ever. Well-meaning, always, but suffocating nonetheless. She had fussed about Hermione, telling her she was looking a little pale, a little skinny, that she needed to be fed up a little more. And Hermione had nodded along apologetically.

She had been seated beside Bill of all people. Bill, who she had never spent much time with but had always quite liked as he was one of the less noisy and boisterous members of the Weasley family – though admittedly, they were all somewhat more subdued these days without Fred. On that evening though, she felt herself bristle a bit at being placed next to Bill. He had tried to chat to her, was softly-spoken and kind, but she had found herself irritated by him. And when he had said he was pleased to hear that Fleur was settling in well at Grimmauld Place, she felt almost queasy. Were they still talking that often? She knew Bill was on a leave of absence from work and she assumed, because Fleur hadn’t mentioned him, that they hadn’t been in contact. Hermione had a vision of how it might have been if Fleur had joined them at the Burrow that evening. If it had been Fleur sitting beside Bill and chatting amicably. Hermione felt yet more uncomfortable still at that thought.

Bill had asked Hermione to give Fleur his love and Hermione had been more than relieved that Harry chose that moment to join the conversation, allowing Hermione to retreat from it. Yes, Hermione had certainly made sacrifices in her attempts to evade Fleur.

At home, she had reverted to using her one-way silencing charm and so she knew, had heard, Fleur’s soft knocks on her bedroom door. Her invitations to join her for breakfast. Her simple enquiries into the nature Hermione’s days. And Hermione felt torn. She wanted to open the door, to usher Fleur in, to discuss each other’s days and spend time in each other’s company. But the embarrassment persisted. And Hermione chose to stay silent. She would listen until Fleur’s footsteps would retreat from her door and then she would run her hands through her hair and berate her own inadequacy once more.

If she was feeling particularly imbued with dark humour, Hermione might have noted that at least the on-going endeavour of avoiding alone time with Fleur was providing her with something to do. And, whilst it certainly wasn’t keeping the nightmares at bay, it had in some strange way occupied her mind to an extent that lessened the frequency with which panic overcame her during the day.

One evening in particular, Hermione had ventured out of her bedroom once she had heard Fleur’s footsteps pass by her door followed by the closing of Fleur’s own bedroom door. After a short time had passed, Hermione opened her door quietly and snuck down the stairs. She would make herself a cup of tea and then curl up in her chair in the study for a while. She was getting a little sick of the four walls of her bedroom.

Tea successfully made – the muggle way, of course – and clutched in both hands for warmth, Hermione had taken up residence in her favoured leather armchair. Within moments of her sitting down, the door had been shoved open and a ginger head peered in. Crookshanks, spotting her in the chair, sauntered over and leapt into her lap, curling his body except for his large paws which kneaded at Hermione’s leg. The sound of his rumbling purr joined the crackling and occasional pops from the fire in the grate. Hermione felt a touch uneasy with the door now standing ajar, but she hadn’t heard any sound from upstairs to suggest that Fleur was on the move and she could hear the boys discussing something from their training in the kitchen. Hermione closed her eyes.

A second later she opened them again as she felt a waft of air next to her cheek followed by the sound of talons clutching at leather. Leandre had fluttered into the room and landed on the back of her armchair.

‘Oh!’ Hermione let out in surprise. ‘Hello Leandre.’ She said softly, attempting to mimic the way she had heard Fleur pronounce his name.

The owl puffed his feathers up slightly and offered a chirrup in greeting. Crookshanks appraised the bird warily but made no movement to either dislodge their new visitor, or to leave.

Hermione glanced at the door, wondering if the owl’s owner would be making an appearance as well. It would be just like Fleur to move through the house unheard in her effortlessly elegant way. But nobody appeared and Hermione told herself firmly that she was relieved, not disappointed.

Leandre hopped from the back of the chair onto Hermione’s shoulder, keeping his talons gentle to avoid puncturing any further than Hermione’s borrowed jumper.

‘Um… OK.’ Hermione murmured. Reaching up a finger to stroke the feathers of the owl’s snowy chest.

‘Looks like we’ve got company then, Crooks.’ Hermione told the part-kneazle on her lap. Crookshanks rested his head against her hip and closed his eyes. He apparently didn’t mind the intrusion.

Hermione stretched across to the side table nearby and grabbed a book. It was a book she had loved as a child. A muggle story about children who stumbled into a magical world. Those had always been her favourite kind of books to read growing up. She supposed, in hindsight, she could see why. Reading was still a struggle, but she had found that re-reading this story was a little easier than other attempts she had made, though it was still slow-going. A couple of pages in, and the flames in the grate in front of her roared to new heights and turned a shade of emerald green just before a face appeared there.

Hermione jumped in surprise, dislodging her tea and splashing it over Crookshanks who hissed in shock and sprang from her lap. Leandre tightened his talons a little painfully on Hermione’s shoulder, but remained where he was, his head cocked to one side as he too considered the face in the fire. Hermione’s heart was pumping wildly and she reached cautiously for her wand.

‘Ah, bonjour!’ Said the face. ‘I am looking for… 12 Grimmauld Place.’

The voice was familiarly accented, the pronunciation of ‘Grimmauld’ a little off, but clearly spoken. And now Hermione could see that the face itself was oddly familiar too. Like Fleur, but not quite. Almost as beautiful though, in its own way. Hermione had her suspicion as to who had just appeared before her. And now that she had, for a split-second, considered the situation, she remembered that the visitor had to be someone who shared blood with a member of the household, or they would not have circumvented the wards on the house.

‘This is 12 Grimmauld Place.’ Hermione let out slowly.

‘As I thought.’ Agreed the voice. ‘I am Apolline Delacour. And you are Hermione Granger, yes?’

‘I… Yes. Um… Pleased to meet you, Madame Delacour.’ Hermione said politely, if a little confused.

‘Is that Leandre?’ Said Apolline, squinting her eyes a little. ‘You are honoured. He has certainly never looked so comfortable on my shoulder.’

Hermione had momentarily forgotten the owl was even there. And now she wasn’t sure how to reply.

‘He is a very handsome bird.’ She said at last. ‘Fleur told me he was a gift from her grandmother.’ Why was she telling Apolline that? She surely knew that already and didn’t need to be told it by Fleur’s housemate.

Apolline smiled in amusement instead.

‘My mother has a way with birds. Perhaps you do too? Or is it just one bird in particular that has taken a liking to you?’

Hermione shifted a little in her seat.

‘Oh. I don’t know. I’ve never had an owl, just a cat. Well, sort of a cat.’ She rambled. ‘But Leandre is… very nice. I probably didn’t pronounce his name right, sorry.’

Apolline’s smile only grew.

‘Your accent is lovely.’ She assured Hermione, inadvertently reminding the younger witch of when her own daughter had uttered those same words. It had been the first time Fleur had used a pet name for Hermione, in French no less, and it had warmed Hermione from the inside.

Hermione cleared her throat.

‘I’ll uh… Shall I get Fleur for you?’ She asked haltingly and prepared to get out of her chair to do just that.

‘In a moment.’ Apolline replied calmly.

‘OK...’ Hermione let out, uncertain, and sat back fully in her chair. She wasn’t sure what Apolline expected her to do now, so she waited awkwardly, keenly aware of the other woman studying her.

‘Tell me, Hermione, how are you finding your new-found fame?’ Apolline asked at last, her question taking Hermione by surprise.

‘My what?’ She let out.

‘It can’t be easy to suddenly be one of the names on everyone’s lips. Are you adjusting well to that?’ Apolline pressed on, retaining her aura of serenity and seemingly unconcerned that her question was quite a personal one to ask someone she had never really met.

‘Well, I…’ Hermione started and then reconsidered evading Apolline’s question. ‘No. I suppose I’m not really. It’s… quite a lot.’

‘It certainly is.’ Apolline agreed. ‘You are in the papers even here in France, did you know?’

Hermione groaned. Her shoulders slumped.

‘I hadn’t really thought about that.’ She let out in a murmur. Leandre pecked affectionately at her ear.

Apolline’s eyes flitted to the owl’s movement and Hermione thought she saw one of her eyebrows quirk upwards momentarily.

‘It is not the same, of course, but as Veela we have to make our peace with being centre of attention a lot of the time.’ Apolline mused. ‘Have you discussed this issue with Fleur at all?’

‘Not really…’ Hermione replied, thinking back to the one time the topic had been raised and how she had snapped at Fleur for likening the scrutiny she felt in Diagon Alley to Fleur being drooled over by teenage boys. She inwardly cringed. Why had she been so dismissive? Of course Fleur knew how it felt to deal with unwanted attention.

Apolline hummed.

‘I’m sure Fleur would be happy to talk about it with you. My eldest daughter learned to deal with the attention gracefully once she let go of her resentment over it.’ Apolline offered. ‘My youngest… has not.’ She added with a resigned sigh.

‘Gabrielle is more likely to throw a hex than feign blissful ignorance. Fleur, at worst, was thought of as… stuck up?’ Apolline tried, unsure of the English term. ‘Gabrielle is a danger to the public.’ She finished with a smile that suggested she was mostly entertained by her youngest’s antics.

Hermione couldn’t quash the chuckle that escaped her. She had only vague memories of the other Delacour sister, but she liked the sound of the spirited younger sibling. Apolline smiled at her.

‘Is throwing a hex more your style too?’ She asked in amusement.

‘Well…’ Hermione started, ‘I did once cast a spell to create canaries that would… attack.’ She admitted, a small smile tugging at her lips.

Apolline let out a joyful laugh.

‘Oh, you must promise to never teach Gabrielle that one.’ She let out in an almost-groan.

‘I promise.’ Hermione agreed, still smiling. ‘Shall I call Fleur down now?’ She asked.

‘Yes, please. I want a word with that daughter of mine.’ Apolline replied, though she sounded far from stern. ‘And Hermione?’ she called, as Hermione stood from her seat and began to head for the door. Leandre remained on her shoulder, but took a side-step closer to her neck.

Hermione paused and turned back to the face in the fire.

‘It will get easier.’ Apolline offered kindly.

Hermione ducked her head. For some reason, she felt rather emotional at Apolline’s words and found her voice stuck in her throat. She nodded instead and then left the room.


In the hall, Hermione took a deep breath and willed the sudden threat of tears to wait a minute. She cleared her throat.

‘Fleur?’ She called hesitantly up the stairs.

From the kitchen, she heard the voices of the two boys suddenly stop. And upstairs a door opened immediately.

‘’ermione?’ Came Fleur’s curious voice, followed swiftly by her footsteps across the hall and then Fleur herself was rushing down the stairs clad in her dressing gown and with damp hair hanging loosely at her shoulders.

‘Are you OK?’ She asked worriedly, her eyes flitting about Hermione’s person as though in search of some mortal injury. Hermione felt instantly guilty. Her avoidance of the older woman had been so absolute that now Fleur thought the only reason Hermione would call her was for some sort of emergency.

‘I’m fine.’ Hermione breathed. ‘But, um… Your mother is in the fire.’

‘Quoi?’ Fleur let out, astonished. ‘What?’ She corrected immediately.

‘Yes, sorry, that was confusing.’ Hermione agreed. ‘Apolline is looking for you, from the fire in the study.’

Fleur’s face seemed to lose all its colour as Hermione’s meaning registered.

‘Maman. Here.’ She uttered, ‘And you spoke to her?’

‘Well, yes.’ Hermione replied. ‘It would have been rude to just…ignore her.’ She added in confusion.

‘Non, non, non.’ Fleur groaned. A hand reaching up to her face. ‘What did she say to you?’ Fleur asked. ‘Non. Don’t tell me.’ She added before Hermione had a chance to answer her question.

Hermione had never seen Fleur look quite so flustered. It was a strange sight to behold and it almost distracted Hermione from the discovery that Fleur’s shampoo was perhaps the source of that wonderful wild honeysuckle scent which was currently wrapping itself around her. Hermione blinked a couple of times.

‘Fleur, are you alright?’ She asked cautiously.

‘Ah, oui.’ Fleur nodded resolutely, as though steeling herself for battle. ‘Yes, I’m fine.’ She confirmed. And then she seemed to noticed for the first time that her own owl was perched on Hermione’s shoulder. Fleur narrowed her eyes suspiciously at him and Leandre shifted his feet a couple of times, but made no move to leave Hermione’s side.

Hermione glanced at the owl, and then offered an apologetic shrug to Fleur. She didn’t know why Leandre seemed so fond of her either.

‘Thank you for telling me, Hermione.’ Fleur said politely. ‘I will go and speak to Maman.’

Hermione ducked her head in a nod and moved towards the stairs. She thought she heard Fleur let out a sigh from behind her but she couldn’t be sure. She continued up the stairs.

‘Bonjour Maman.’

As she reached the top of the stairs Hermione heard Fleur’s soft greeting floating up from the study before the door closed fully.


Back in her bedroom, yet again, Hermione became aware of two things. Firstly, with crashing anguish, she admitted to herself that her treatment of Fleur over the past few days had been unfair and unkind. And secondly, as Apolline’s assurance that it will get easier replayed in her mind, Hermione knew why it had struck her with such force. It was exactly the kind of thing her own mother would be telling her if she could. At the moment, Hermione couldn’t make things right with her mother, but she could try to clear the air with Fleur.

Chapter Text

One calming deep breath was all Fleur had had time to provide herself before walking into the study to find her mother’s face in the fire. Her features had an odd green tinge to them, provided by the emerald flames.

‘Bonjour Maman,’ she let out lightly, aiming for a casual greeting as though she didn’t already know that she was in trouble from one look at the expression on her mother’s face.

‘Ah, ma fille. I was planning to ask you if something was wrong with your owl, but I have just seen Leandre looking perfectly happy and healthy. So perhaps there is something else you want to tell me?’ Apolline replied at once, foregoing a greeting and reverting to speaking French.

Fleur dropped a little heavily into the chair that was considered by all in the house to be Hermione’s Chair. Wafts of Hermione’s scent erupted from the chair as though issuing proof of ownership. Fleur breathed in deeply.

‘I’m sorry.’ Fleur sighed. ‘I had meant to reply to your letter by now.’

‘Oh?’ Apolline enquired with a raised eyebrow. ‘And what sort of natural disaster has prevented you from doing so?’

There was a teasing tone to her mother’s voice, as there so often was, but Fleur knew the question was a genuine one.

‘It has been… difficult.’ Fleur replied, her word chosen carefully.

‘Ah.’ Apolline let out. ‘As these things so often are, hmm?’ she added.

Fleur shrugged. She had no experience of ‘these things’ with which to measure the truth of her mother’s words. She said nothing.

‘Hermione is lovely.’ Apolline said after a moment of silence.

Fleur felt a smile creep onto her lips.

‘She is.’ She agreed. ‘Lovely, stubborn, brilliant, impossible, beautiful, kind… She is funny, though I am not sure she knows it, or means to be. She’s incredibly clever. And so completely… Infuriating.’ Fleur finished with a perturbed look on her face.

Apolline chuckled knowingly.

‘And why has it been difficult?’ She enquired.

‘Because she is avoiding me!’ Fleur exclaimed. ‘Because she won’t talk to me. Won’t let me help.’

‘So, she is strong-willed and independent. Better add those to your long list of adjectives to describe your mate.’ Apolline instructed with a light-hearted smirk.

Fleur looked aghast and immediately turned to glance over her shoulder to ensure the door was still firmly closed. At once, she pulled her wand from the sleeve of her dressing gown and aimed it at the door, casting a silencing charm despite her current dislike of them. She had forgotten in her fluster that any eavesdropper would have to speak French in order to gain much from their endeavour. She turned back to her mother’s amused face.

‘Don’t call her that!’ Fleur hissed. ‘What if she heard?’

‘Then perhaps things would be a little less difficult?’ Apolline reasoned nonchalantly.

‘Or they would be ten times worse because she doesn’t need anything like that to contend with right now on top of everything else.’ Fleur seethed.

‘You are still avoiding the inevitable, as I feared.’ Apolline sighed.

‘I am not.’ Fleur scowled. ‘It’s just not the right time. Please tell me you didn’t mention anything about all that to Hermione?’ she pleaded, dreading her mother’s answer.

‘Of course I didn’t.’ Apolline replied calmly. ‘It’s not my place. And…’ she went on, her tone unusually resigned, ‘For once, I think you might be right.’

Fleur raised her eyebrows at her mother and waited for her to expand her point.

‘She does seem perhaps a little overwhelmed. Understandably so.’ Apolline continued, ‘if she is as independent and reluctant to accept help as you say, then to pursue her might not be the best approach.’

‘I won’t be pursuing anything. She is not prey, Maman.’ Fleur countered indignantly.

‘Oh Fleur, always such intensity. I do not choose the language that accompanies Veela behaviour. And yes, it is outdated, but you know these are merely poor translations from the ancient lore. Don’t take it all so seriously.’

Fleur snorted and glanced away, missing Apolline’s weary eyeroll.

‘Finding a…partner,’ Apolline went on, careful this time to use a word other than “mate”, ‘it is a good thing. It is not a death sentence. The way you feel for Hermione, it is a pleasant feeling, yes?’ Apolline asked gently.

‘Mostly.’ Muttered Fleur.

Apolline sighed once more.

‘What I meant is that Hermione needs time. Give her the space she is demanding. Let her come to you. She will be already experiencing the pull of your thrall; I have no doubt.’ Apolline said patiently.

‘I do not think so. She seems entirely unaffected.’ Fleur said. ‘I don’t know that she feels anything of it at all.’

‘Nonsense.’ Apolline replied, ‘The thrall identifies good matches and it does not make mistakes. Hermione is feeling the effects, whether she is acting on them or not. And if you doubt the thrall, then just consider the actions of your owl, hmm?’

‘Leandre? I don’t think something as important as this should be influenced by the opinion of an owl.’ Fleur said in disbelief.

‘Not even an owl raised and trained by Veela? You do not remember your own lessons from Grand-mére? Leandre is well aware of what is going on, he can see the thrall, after all. He knows exactly what Hermione is, what she means to you.’ Apolline explained.

Fleur felt her breath catch. She had indeed forgotten hearing about that many years ago when it had not felt as though it would ever be relevant to her.

‘When I received your letter, I did wonder to begin with if possibly your protective feelings towards Hermione were confusing you. But, no, everything you described in your one and only letter to me sounds exactly as I remember. This is happening, Fleur. Don’t dismiss it.’ Apolline finished with conviction.

Fleur sank back in the armchair.

‘The timing is terrible.’ She let out quietly. ‘Hermione doesn’t need this now.’

‘There is no such thing as good timing.’ Apolline replied dismissively. ‘But I wonder if actually this is exactly what Hermione needs now. What you both need in fact.’

Fleur let out a sigh and reached for a paperback book that had been discarded on the nearby side table. One of Hermione’s. She flicked through its pages absentmindedly as she gave herself a moment to process her mother’s words.

‘Just go with it, Fleur. I know that is not your way,’ Apolline said with a knowing smile and earned a half-hearted glare from her daughter, ‘but sometimes you just have to let things happen at their own pace.’

Fleur nodded reluctantly and gripped the book tighter in her hands.

‘Now, more importantly,’ Apolline said with an abrupt air of changing the subject, ‘is the rest of the house as dingy as this room?’

Fleur laughed. She had wondered how long it would be until her mother would mention the décor.

 

 

Apolline had remained in the fire a while longer, asking Fleur about how her work at Gringotts was progressing and offering suggestions on developing the right spells for the reparation work, then lamenting Gabrielle’s most recent incident at school. Fleur was always amazed that her sister and herself had such different temperaments.

Once Apolline had said goodbye and promised to pass Fleur’s love to her father too, Fleur trudged back up the stairs to her room to finish getting dressed, left feeling uncertain over her mother’s instructions about Hermione. She had heard Hermione calling her from downstairs just as she had been about to dry her hair after a shower, and now she was feeling a little chilly in just her underwear and dressing gown with damp hair. Fleur was just passing Hermione’s door, closed as usual, when the door opened. She almost jumped in surprise. Then Hermione’s face appeared around the door.

‘Fleur?’ She asked softly.

‘Oui?’ Fleur replied, a little cautiously. Until earlier that evening, Hermione had barely uttered two words to her in days and had been utterly resolute in her avoidance of Fleur.

‘Do you think… Can we talk?’ Hermione let out.

‘We can, of course.’ Fleur agreed, masking her surprise as well as she could manage. A draft from the single-glazed window drifted along the hall and Fleur shivered. ‘I need to finish getting ready though. Shall we talk as I do so?’

‘I… Yes, if that’s alright.’ Came the response.

Hermione stepped out into the hall and left her door open a little behind her. She wrapped her arms about her frame and stood awkwardly until Fleur continued along to her own room and Hermione followed behind.

On entering the room, Fleur noticed Hermione was eying her with a look of slight confusion and realised she was still clutching Hermione’s book from downstairs.

‘Oh, sorry.’ Fleur said, ‘I was fiddling with it while talking to Maman.’

‘That’s OK.’ Hermione replied. ‘You can read it, if you like. It was my favourite as a child. I’ve been re-reading it. Or trying to. For… comfort, I suppose.’

That was more of an honest insight into Hermione’s current state than Fleur had been expecting and it felt an awful lot like progress. Tentative progress though, and Fleur didn’t want to force it, so she just nodded.

‘You can sit on the bed.’ Fleur directed over her shoulder as she entered the room. Hermione did as suggested and sat, slightly uneasily, on Fleur’s bed.

In the dressing table mirror, Fleur looked at Hermione on her bed and found herself wishing the other woman looked more comfortable there.

Fleur began to rummage through the drawers in her dressing table, waiting for Hermione to say something. It seemed Hermione’s words had run out for the time being. Fleur reminded herself of what her mother had said no more than half an hour earlier, that Fleur must allow Hermione to come to her. So, she continued to wait. She pulled out a dress and slung it over the chair as a possibility, then held up a sweater for appraisal. It would suit Hermione very nicely, would be a little large on her – a look Hermione seemed to favour – but not so large as to drown her in wool. Perhaps she could suggest it and get Hermione out of those bulky jumpers that she now realised belonged to Ron, and sometimes Harry. Behind her, she heard Hermione shift.

‘I haven’t been kind to you. I shouldn’t have avoided you.’ Hermione said at last, her voice trepidatious as though fearing Fleur’s response. ‘That night… you helped me, and in the morning I was embarrassed by it.’

‘We all need help sometimes, Hermione.’ Fleur replied automatically, still busying herself by choosing an outfit. She knew that if she turned to look at Hermione, she would want only to take the other woman in her arms again. And it was not the moment for that.

‘I know.’ Hermione agreed. ‘I think maybe I’m just not used to that. To needing it. I don’t like to feel… weak.’ Hermione’s voice grew softer still. ‘Especially in front of you.’

Fleur’s gaze lifted suddenly at that and found Hermione in the mirror again, Hermione was wringing her fingers together in her lap, keeping her attention on her fiddling rather than Fleur. Fleur turned and leant back against the dressing table, watching Hermione now without the filter of the mirror between them.

‘Why?’ Fleur asked simply.

‘Because normally I’m the one to help others, I suppose.’ Hermione reasoned, looking up at Fleur.

‘Non. Why especially in front of me?’ Fleur clarified. She had already been aware – and told by Harry – that Hermione struggled to accept help. But this was new information.

Hermione furrowed her brow and let out a frustrated breath.

‘Because… Because it’s you!’ She said after a while.

Fleur continued to watch her but remained silent. At that moment, Leandre fluttered into the room and took up his spot on his perch by the window, his shiny black eyes taking in both women in turn.

‘I don’t think I understand.’ Fleur confessed, casting a quick look at her owl and seeing him now in a new light. Canny creature.

Hermione’s frustration appeared to grow and she adjusted her position on the bed, her fingers still agitating against each other.

‘I’m just a mess now, and I shouldn’t be! Nobody else is.’ She let out, ‘And you’re this… perfect person, who is always so calm and confident and... together.’ Her words faded to nothing.

Fleur’s eyebrows rose to heights normally unknown.

‘Hermione,’ she breathed, crossing the room and sitting cautiously on the edge of the bed near Hermione’s feet. ‘You are not a mess. You are adjusting and recovering from a huge ordeal. And you’re trying to do it alone. What you went through…’ she trailed off, and Hermione appeared to become very interested in the thread count of Fleur’s sheets, her eyes refusing to meet Fleur’s.

‘You went through something that the rest of us did not. What happened to you was prolonged and personal.’ Fleur continued diplomatically. ‘And it has understandably taken a toll.’

Fleur ducked her head to try to meet Hermione’s eyes, and when they glanced at her briefly, she could see the tears gathering there. Fleur shuffled forwards on the bed and took Hermione’s hands, stopping her fiddling and holding one hand in each of her own.

‘Needing help is not a weakness.’ Fleur said firmly, squeezing Hermione’s hands. ‘Did you spend years helping Harry at times when he couldn’t have continued without you?’

‘Yes.’ Hermione whispered.

‘And is Harry weak?’ Fleur asked.

‘Of course not.’ Hermione replied, her voice louder, more assured, than before.

Fleur shrugged as though her point was made.

‘I want to help you because I care about you very much. Like how you care for Harry.’ That was a lie and Fleur knew it. Her feelings for Hermione were categorically not the same as Hermione’s feelings for Harry. Or at least she certainly hoped they weren’t.

‘And if our roles were reversed, I do not doubt that you would do the same for me.’ Fleur finished, her tone matter-of-fact.

‘I would.’ Hermione nodded immediately, vehemently. Fleur used her thumbs to stroke Hermione’s hands encouragingly.

‘Exactly.’ Fleur nodded. ‘I do not see you as weak. And I certainly do not see myself as perfect.’ she added.

Hermione scoffed at that.

‘Oh, come on! What possible flaws do you think you have?’ Hermione asked in disbelief.

‘I have many!’ Fleur exclaimed, releasing Hermione’s hands and gesturing with her own in exclamation. She immediately regretted letting go of Hermione’s hands, missing the warmth of them but finding no conceit under which to take hold of them again now.

Hermione looked decidedly unconvinced.

‘I do!’ Fleur assured her. ‘I am impatient. I am impulsive. I have been told many times that I can be too intense. I get easily frustrated, then I make stupid mistakes.’ Fleur listed, almost automatically, as though she had considered her own flaws multiple times. ‘And I look weird when I run.’ She finished definitively.

‘You… what?’ Hermione burst out, looking utterly perplexed.

‘It’s all true.’ Fleur shrugged. ‘I am not perfect.’

‘You look weird when you run?’ Hermione repeated in bewilderment.

‘Oui. Yes.’ Fleur nodded firmly. ‘Have you ever seen me run?’

Hermione searched her memories but came up short. Surely Fleur had run during the final battle. They had all had to run at certain moments. Yet Hermione couldn’t think of a moment where she had actually seen Fleur run.

‘Well, no.’ Hermione admitted.

‘It is not graceful. My legs, they do not behave properly.’ Fleur explained morosely.

Hermione would have laughed if it wasn’t for the genuinely troubled expression on Fleur’s face.

‘I can’t believe you do anything that isn’t graceful.’ Hermione murmured, truthfully struggling to imagine it.

Fleur shrugged again.

‘You can be intense though,’ Hermione grinned sheepishly, ‘that I do know.’

Fleur huffed out an indignant breath that disrupted a strand of now nearly dry silvery blonde hair.

‘No, really!’ Hermione promised, ‘Sometimes it feels as though you can tell what I’m thinking.’

Fleur let out a surprised laugh at that.

'I think it would make my life a little easier if I could tell what you were thinking, ma belle.’ She replied and watched with interest as Hermione’s cheeks coloured a little

‘Well, I am certainly glad that you can’t.’ Hermione muttered under her breath.

Fleur raised an intrigued eyebrow and Hermione averted her gaze once more. Fleur sensed she should not push that particular topic any further.

‘So, can we agree that it is OK need help sometimes?’ Fleur asked gently.

‘We can.’ Hermione agreed quietly.

‘Bon.’ Fleur let out.

‘Maybe…’ Hermione started, ‘Maybe you could teach me the charm you used the other night?’ she requested nervously. ‘I haven’t slept that well since… Well, not for a long time.’

Fleur felt her stomach flutter and now it was apparently her turn to blush. Fleur never blushed.

‘Ah.’ Fleur stated uncomfortably and Hermione’s eyes widened.

‘You don’t have to tell me!’ Hermione blurted, ‘if it is some sort of secret Veela charm, I understand and—’

‘Non.’ Fleur interrupted. ‘It’s just… There was no charm.’

Hermione appeared perplexed.

‘But you asked if I believed in magic…’ she murmured.

And Fleur was definitely blushing now. Had she really uttered such a cheesy line? No wonder Hermione was adamantly not falling for her thrall. Fleur cleared her throat.

‘There was no charm.’ She repeated. ‘I just thought you might feel safer if you were… held.’ Fleur finished warily, not wanting to set off Hermione’s independent streak once more.

‘Oh.’ Hermione breathed. ‘Well, I suppose you must have been right.’ She decided quietly and sounded surprised by the discovery.

Silence filled the room for a moment or two, and Leandre shifted on his perch. Fleur couldn’t tell whether Hermione was going to make an excuse and bolt or admit defeat and stay. Fleur waited until she could bear the silence no longer.

‘If it is any consolation, I also slept very well that night.’ She said at last.

Hermione met her gaze and Fleur watched her eyes flit about her face as though searching for evidence of an untruth. Fleur returned her look steadily.

‘Really?’ She asked finally.

‘Oui.’ Fleur said simply. ‘I always liked sleepovers at school.’ She added, though omitted the fact that she had never in her life actually held her friends during sleepovers. Had never stayed awake to make sure they were sleeping peacefully. Had absolutely not basked in their closeness while wishing they could be closer still.

‘It was nice.’ Hermione agreed with a small smile. And Fleur felt her heart lighten. A smile spread across her own lips too. The two continued to smile at one another until Hermione looked away. Fleur, heeding her mother’s advice and not wanting to push the moment any further, stood up from the bed.

‘Now I really must get ready. I can’t spend the evening in my dressing gown.’ Fleur said decisively as she crossed back to her dressing table and noticed Hermione’s gaze following her movements in the mirror once more.

Fleur retrieved a simple navy-blue dress that she had slung over her chair earlier and, with a glance at the mirror to check Hermione was still watching, threw caution to the wind and slipped her dressing gown over her shoulders and let it pool on the ground. She felt a pleasant buzz to note that Hermione’s eyes widened for a moment to see Fleur suddenly in nothing but her underwear before they were politely averted, cheeks coloured yet again. Fleur smiled to herself. She could follow her mother’s advice and still have a little fun along the way.

Pulling the dress over her head and flicking her hair out of the neckline, Fleur appraised herself in the mirror before turning to face Hermione.

‘Do you like this dress?’ She asked abruptly.

Hermione appeared alarmed.

‘I… um. Yes. It suits you.’ She managed.

‘It is not too dull?’ Fleur prompted.

‘No. It’s… you look beautiful.’ Hermione replied, sounding a little more certain.

Leandre hooted softly from his perch as though in agreement.

‘Bon.’ Fleur stated, and turned to lean in towards her mirror, applying lipstick in a well-practiced motion before pressing her lips together to blot it. Behind her, she could see Hermione sit up a little straighter against the headboard and furrow her brows.

‘Are you going somewhere?’ Hermione asked, puzzled.

‘I am having dinner with Bill this evening.’ Fleur replied offhandedly. She had been looking forward to it since they had arranged it the day before, longing to have a break from the tension that came with being avoided by a housemate. And though that particular problem seemed to have resolved itself, it would still be nice to see Bill.

‘Oh.’ Came the reply.

Fleur paused in her search for the right shoes and looked over her shoulder at Hermione, whose posture appeared a little rigid now.

‘I didn’t know you were still seeing each other.’ Hermione informed her quietly.

‘We haven’t had a catch up in a while.’ Fleur explained. ‘But we are close still, yes. Our marriage would not have worked otherwise, hmm?’

Fleur was intrigued to note that Hermione’s cheeks had lost the colour they had gained when Fleur had peeled off her dressing gown. Now she looked a little grey.

‘No, I suppose not.’ Hermione let out. ‘Do you… do you miss being married?’ she asked haltingly as though she didn’t entirely want to hear an answer.

Fleur had found the shoes she wanted in the bottom of her precariously filled wardrobe and was now pulling them on. She considered Hermione’s question.

‘I think I miss the partnership.’ She mused aloud. ‘Having somebody to go through things with, it is a comfort.’ Her words came as a surprise to Fleur herself, who found that though they were true, she hadn’t realised them until now.

‘That makes sense.’ Hermione agreed thoughtfully.

‘But it did not provide the intimacy of a true partnership. Bill and I were only ever friends. Even when forced to share a bed.’ Fleur concluded with an exaggerated shudder in an attempt to make Hermione laugh. And it worked.

‘I thought you liked sleepovers.’ Hermione said playfully.

‘Ours was better.’ Fleur replied at once with a suggestive quirk of an eyebrow. And Hermione was blushing once more. Fleur felt a flutter in her chest.

She consulted her watch.

‘Merde.’ She let out. ‘I ‘ave to go.’

Hermione stood up from Fleur’s bed.

‘OK.’ She said. And Fleur hoped she wasn’t imagining the hint of reluctance in Hermione’s tone and movements.

‘I won’t be out late.’ Fleur assured her, and then immediately wondered why she had felt the need to say it.

‘Have fun.’ Hermione replied, though it didn’t sound entirely genuine and she made no move to leave the room. Once again, they were simply looking at each other.

After a brief pause, Fleur lunged forward before she could stop herself and was vaguely aware of the look of shock that washed over Hermione’s features before their arms were around each other and Fleur was pulling her into a close hug. She tucked her chin over Hermione’s head, making the most of the extra height from her heels, and breathed in the citrus scent of Hermione’s hair. Suddenly she found she wasn’t in so much of a hurry to meet Bill on time. She felt Hermione’s arms tighten about her waist.

‘Can we make a deal?’ Fleur asked, her voice barely above a whisper.

‘Mmm?’ came the muffled reply, issued into Fleur’s shoulder.

‘No more silencing charms please?’ Fleur uttered hopefully.

There was a moment’s pause before Fleur heard the response.

‘Deal.’

Chapter Text

After Fleur left to meet Bill, Hermione found that she didn’t want to return to her own room, or to the study. She was restless. Inundated with a mixture of feelings. On the surface she felt a sense of relief at having successfully cleared the air with Fleur. It had been, without doubt, the right thing to do to apologise for her behaviour over the last few days. Spending time with the older woman as she had got ready to out, though awkward at first, had become comfortable and natural, as though it could be something they did all the time. Hermione on the bed, chatting with Fleur whilst she tore through her extensive wardrobe, then offering feedback on outfits. Though Hermione couldn’t imagine there was anything Fleur would look less than amazing in. And it was a bit of an alien concept to Hermione to put so much time and consideration into clothes. Anyway, it was something friends did, wasn’t it? Helped each other get ready. It was something Hermione, having never truly connected with the girls in her dorm, had only ever partaken in once, the night of the yule ball. She had seen Lavender and Parvati do that kind of thing plenty of times, though they probably didn’t blush at the sight of each other’s revealed skin. Perhaps it wasn’t quite the same scenario, Hermione inwardly admitted to herself. But it had been pleasant just the same, being back in Fleur’s orbit. And that was exactly how it felt. As though Fleur was some celestial being, beautiful and mysterious, and Hermione could no longer fight the gravitational pull towards it. A source of light in the darkness of space.

And, whilst she still had the remnants of guilt over avoiding the other woman circulating her mind like dregs of loose tea, on the whole she felt lighter. Mostly. There was also a murkier feeling lurking if she considered what it was Fleur was getting ready for. An agitation at the idea of Fleur having dinner with Bill, which Hermione simply could not justify. So what if Fleur wanted to see Bill? He was her ex-husband after all, and even if their marriage was a cover, they were still close. There was nothing wrong with that. Fleur probably needed to let loose and see a friend after the past few days with Hermione.

A peculiar part of Hemione wanted to remain in Fleur’s room rather than her own. Fleur had evidently been making a few adjustments to the décor that Hermione hadn’t even considered enacting in her own bedroom. Fleur’s room was brighter, the walls a fresh soft green colour, rather than the shade of a suspicious stain like they were in Hermione’s room. The furniture light and ornate as opposed to dark wood and utilitarian. And, of course, Fleur’s room came complete with that scent, which to Hermione now signalled safety and comfort and warmth. But no, it would definitely be odd for Hermione to spend the evening there without Fleur, even if she was sure Leandre would not be opposed to her company. Besides, the aroma of cooking was drifting up the stairs from the kitchen. Hermione would distract herself from the maelstrom of mixed emotions and spend the evening with the boys. They must have been suffering through the tension she had caused recently too.

Hermione trudged down the stairs and was just about to enter the kitchen when she heard her name and paused.

‘I’m just saying, Hermione has been jealous in the past. Remember when I was with Lavender?’ Came Ron’s voice.

‘Yeah…’ came Harry’s doubtful reply, ‘I just don’t think that’s it.’

‘I’m telling you,’ Ron continued undeterred, ‘Hermione has been off with her since the night we made bouillabaisse together.’

‘That doesn’t mean it’s because of that.’ Harry reasoned. ‘Besides, they seemed fine together that evening. Hermione was enjoying herself, you said so yourself.’

‘Well, I dunno then, mate. But girls are weird about stuff like that. Even though Hermione has nothing to worry about. I don’t even fancy Fleur. I mean, she’s gorgeous obviously. But I’d never do anything about it.’ Came Ron’s voice.

Hermione’s hands clenched into fists by her sides.

‘You know, Ron,’ Harry’s tentative voice carried through the door. ‘Do you think maybe it’s time you considered that things with you and Hermione aren’t, you know… happening.’

Hermione held her breath. The guilt that had been assigned to her behaviour towards Fleur swelled to new heights, now encompassing so much more. She hadn’t been fair to Ron either. Or Harry, for that matter. He shouldn’t have to feel like he needs to have this conversation with Ron. It had just seemed like yet another insurmountable object, to let Ron down. Yet another failure to admit that she didn’t feel for him as she thought she had.

‘It might though,’ came Ron’s immediate reply. ‘I mean, she hasn’t said anything.’

There was a pause and Hermione felt her heart clench this time rather than her fists.

‘Mate…’ Harry let out quietly. There was a long pause, and Hermione knew Ron well enough to be able to imagine the look on his face, to hear his sigh.

‘It’s just that it was always us, you know? Me and Hermione. Even when it wasn’t, even when we were just friends, it always felt like one day it would be more than that. And then the night after the battle, when we…’ Ron’s voice held a tone of defeat now as it trailed off.

Hermione let out a shaky breath.

‘A lot has changed since then.’ Harry said. ‘And people make choices during times like that, that maybe they wouldn’t normally make.’

‘It wasn’t a mistake!’ Ron burst.

And Hermione found herself agreeing. Despite her lack of romantic feelings towards Ron now, she didn’t regret what had happened then. He was right, their teen years had at times felt like they were building towards more than friendship. And Harry was right too, war had a way of warping perspective, of altering paths and changing minds. But perhaps they were discovering that peace had a funny way of doing that too.

‘I didn’t say that.’ Harry replied. ‘I just think you need to consider that maybe you’d be better just being a good friend to Hermione these days? That maybe if it was going somewhere else, it would have… gone there by now.’

Hermione couldn’t bear to hear any more. She took a deep breath and pushed open the door, doing her best to keep her expression neural, to stamp down her remorse.

‘Hello you two.’ She said casually.

‘Hey,’ said Harry slightly startled, his eyes catching Hermione’s and silently asking if she’d heard. Hermione gave a minute nod.

‘Alright Mione?’ Ron replied after a moment and cleared his throat. There was a sadness in his look at her, that caused her to swallow back yet more guilt.

‘I thought I’d see if you needed a hand with dinner.’ She offered lightly.

‘Thanks,’ said Ron, perking up a bit. ‘You can help me with these potatoes. We need to slice them really thinly for potatoes dauphinoise. Fleur wrote the recipe down for me.’ He let out, and then paused. ‘I hope that’s OK?’ he added curiously. Hermione suspected he might be hoping for a jealous response to prove his earlier point to Harry.

‘That sounds wonderful, Ron. I thought you and Fleur made such a lovely meal the other night.’ She said purposefully and watched as Ron glanced at Harry. She didn’t need Ron thinking she was worried there might be something between him and Fleur. That was just not in the realm of possibility.

‘Are things alright with you and Fleur now?’ Harry said quietly.

‘Much better.’ Hermione nodded, picking up a knife and beginning to slice potatoes.

‘What, uh… What was that about then? You and Fleur being all weird?’ Ron asked.

Hermione sighed. Weighing up how best to reply.

‘Oh, it was silly. And my fault entirely. Fleur tried to help me with something, did help me with something. And I was too proud to accept her help graciously.’

Ron looked a little confused even though Hermione thought she had answered the question as honestly as possible without going into the details. He opened his mouth to ask a follow up question but Harry got there first.

‘Well, I’m glad it’s alright between you now.’ Harry said loud enough to drown out whatever Ron was going to say. ‘Maybe now we can have another evening like that, all four of us together. It was fun. Apart from the hangover.’

Hermione smiled.

‘Yes, that would be nice,’ she said.

‘Not tonight though,’ Ron pointed out, ‘Fleur’s out with the ex tonight.’ He added with a chuckle.

Hermione’s stomach turned uncomfortably.

‘He’s not her ex, Ronald. They’re just friends.’ She said through gritted teeth.

‘He literally is though, Mione! He’s her ex-husband.’ Ron laughed.

The remorse Hermione had felt over leading him on with her inaction was ebbing away. She tried to calm her sudden temper and consciously lowered her shoulders from where they had crept up in tension.

‘Still, I think their dinner tonight is far from a date.’ Harry pointed out, ‘it would be a bit strange to divorce someone and then date them.’

‘Annul, not divorce,’ Hermione interjected with what she thought was a pertinent point.

‘My brother must be an idiot,’ Ron laughed. ‘He married her and still didn’t make a move.’

Hermione dropped the knife she was using to cut potatoes and stepped away from the cutting board abruptly.

‘I’ll set the table.’ She let out. Ignoring the way she could see Harry watching her interestedly.

‘Good idea. Shall we open a bottle of wine?’ Ron enquired, still cutting potatoes and seemingly oblivious to the tension in the room.

‘No!’ Said Harry and Hermione together.


A while later, after dinner was finished and consumed, Harry, Ron and Hermione had retired to the study where the fire blazed in the grate and conversation had turned more comfortably towards reminiscing.

‘It’s funny, you know,’ Harry said, ‘Even though the last time we were all there was less than ideal—’

‘That’s a bit of an understatement, mate. We thought you were dead the last time we were there!’ Ron interrupted.

Harry let out a laugh.

‘Like I said, it was less than ideal! Anyway, I do miss the place though. Hogwarts was home, wasn’t it?’

‘It was.’ Ron agreed. ‘I miss being with all the others, you know? Dean and Seamus, Lee, Neville… Fred and George.’ He added with a sad smile. ‘I even miss Luna. And Ginny!’

Hermione smiled. He was right, she realised. She had spent a lot of time trying not to think about Hogwarts, associating it only with the bloodshed she had witnessed and wreaked in the final battle. Even when they had stayed to help in the clean up after the war was won, Hermione could see in hindsight that she had been on some kind of autopilot. Probably in shock. Just going through the motions. Following instructions and carrying out the tasks at hand. The boys had a point though, in the years before that Hogwarts had been home. The first place she had felt like she could be herself. It had, for the most part, been a happy place.

‘I miss creeping about under the invisibility cloak.’ She voiced, ‘Remember when we were small enough that all three of us could fit under it? Sneaking down to Hagrid’s for tea and those horrid rock cakes.’ A smile spread across her lips at the memory.

‘I’ve still got it,’ Harry noted with a grin. ‘We could put it on, freak Fleur out.’ He suggested jokingly.

Ron and Hermione laughed. Hermione inwardly suspected though that it would be quite difficult to ‘freak Fleur out’, despite the other woman’s protestations that she had flaws, Hermione still saw her as pretty unflappable.

‘We definitely wouldn’t all fit under it now, mate!’ Ron burst out.

‘No, I guess not.’ Harry agreed and then paused. ‘Ginny says Hogwarts is finally starting to feel right again.’ He added.

‘Oh yeah? Keeping in good contact with my sister, are you?’ Ron asked.

Harry shifted a little awkwardly on the sofa where he was sitting next to Ron.

‘Well, you know…’ he let out.

‘Yeah, I do know.’ Ron replied, with a tone of joking menace in his voice.

Hermione chuckled.

‘Don’t be mean, Ron. Besides, wouldn’t you rather think that Ginny was with Harry instead of anyone else?’ she asked.

Ron pulled a face.

‘I’d rather not think about her with anyone, thanks Hermione. That’s my little sister.’ He grumbled. Hermione rolled her eyes.

Harry cleared his throat.

‘We’re not officially together.’ He muttered.

‘Yet.’ Hermione added, with an encouraging smile sent Harry’s way which he returned with a grateful nod.

‘Anyway, what I meant was, it sounds like McGonagall is putting things back in order.’ Harry went on.

‘Of course she is.’ Hermione replied confidently, ‘If anyone could do it, it would be her.’

‘You would think that. You always liked McGonagall. Probably because you were her favourite.’ Ron said with a roll of his eyes this time, though his words were light-hearted.

‘I was not her favourite!’ Hermione shot back, ‘I’m sure she never had favourites. It wouldn’t be professional.’

‘Hermione…’ Harry groaned. ‘You were definitely her favourite.’

‘Well.’ Hermione started, ‘I don’t think… Oh, shut up both of you.’ She finished with a smile.

Harry and Ron both laughed at that.

Just then, the door opened and Fleur entered, bringing with her a fragrance of cool night air. She had clearly just got home. Fleur was still wearing the dress and heels Hermione had seen her select earlier but now paired with the familiar leather jacket. There was something so appealing about that leather jacket, Hermione thought. She herself could never pull it off, but it looked so effortlessly attractive on Fleur. Like everything really. Hermione was reminded how grateful she was that Fleur couldn’t in fact read her mind.

‘Bonsoir,’ Fleur let out, walking into the room. ‘I thought I heard your voices in here. What are you three doing? Not plotting another break in at my bank, I hope.’

Ron guffawed at that. Of the three of them, he was the one who found the most pride in their endeavours. Harry and Hermione saw them more as necessary manoeuvres to achieve their goal.

‘No, no.’ Harry replied with a chuckle, ‘Your vaults are safe. Well, safe from us. I’m not sure they’re safe.’ He added, remembering Fleur’s bloodied hand from the cursed vault.

‘A valid point.’ Fleur agreed.

‘How was your evening?’ Hermione asked softly.

‘It was lovely, thank you.’ Fleur replied with a smile. ‘So good to see Bill again. He sends his love to you all, by the way.’ She added and then, while still standing, reached for one of the heels she was wearing and pulled it off, before grabbing the other and doing the same.

‘It ‘as been a while since I wore these things though. My feet are not ‘appy about it.’ She lamented and Hermione noted the strengthening of Fleur’s accent and the rosiness on her cheeks. She wondered if perhaps there had been wine with dinner too.

Fleur looked about the room before crossing it, now a few inches shorter thanks to her discarded heels, she perched herself on the padded arm of Hermione’s chair.

‘Sorry Fleur, guess we need to get another chair in here.’ Harry apologised. ‘I can accio one down from the attic.’ He added, pulling his wand from his pocket.

‘It’s OK.’ Fleur replied quickly and then shrugged, ‘I don’t mind.’ She settled herself more comfortably on her perch, leaning slightly into Hermione in order to balance. Harry eyed them briefly and then slipped his wand back into his pocket.

Hermione relaxed against Fleur and smiled, pointedly ignoring Harry’s glance, and Ron’s rather obvious gawping.

‘So, what are we talking about, hmm?’ Fleur prompted, her arm slid behind Hermione’s shoulders to anchor herself in place and Hermione felt a warmth erupt in her chest.

‘Hogwarts.’ Hermione replied. ‘Things that we miss.’

Fleur hummed.

‘There’s not much I miss about that draughty castle.’ She said with amusement.

Hermione glanced up at her with a small frown. She often forgot that Fleur had spent a year at Hogwarts too. They were so irrelevant to each other’s lives back then, that Hermione rarely equated the woman currently sharing her chair to the teenage Triwizard champion she had watched from afar with little more than vague interest. Hermione wanted to ask if Fleur had really had such a dreadful time back then, but she missed her chance.

‘Quidditch!’ Ron let out. ‘How could we forget that? I miss quidditch.’ He finished.

‘I don’t.’ Hermione laughed. ‘Sitting in the freezing stands watching you two whizz about on bloody brooms. And you’d always end up with some sort of injury.’

‘Not always.’ Harry reasoned. Hermione raised a sceptical eyebrow.

‘I miss quidditch too.’ Fleur cut in. ‘It ‘as been so long since I played.’ She sighed.

All three of the others turned to look at her.

‘You played quidditch?’ Ron asked. ‘Since when?’

‘Since my first year at Beauxbatons.’ Fleur shrugged. ‘I was a chaser.’

‘How did we never know this?’ Harry wondered aloud.

‘I imagine because quidditch was far from the most important topic whenever we conversed.’ Fleur laughed. ‘But oui, I played. I loved it.’

‘Huh.’ Hermione let out quietly. Picturing Fleur in a quidditch match. She could see it quite clearly. It made sense actually. Fleur had the right physique for being a chaser, the right attention to detail. Hermione could just imagine her agility on a broom.

Fleur looked down at her in amusement and Hermione was suddenly aware of how close they were to each other as she looked up at Fleur.

‘And would you sit in a freezing stand to watch me whizz about on a bloody broom?’ Fleur asked with a smile, mimicking both Hermione’s words and her accent.

‘Only if you promised not to end up with some kind of injury.’ Hermione countered, returning Fleur’s smile.

Fleur put her head back and laughed.

‘We should play! Take the brooms out this weekend and chuck the quaffle about.’ Ron said excitedly.

Harry and Fleur agreed at once. Hermione remained silent.

‘Non?’ Fleur asked her.

‘Non.’ Hermione replied resolutely and earned a fond smile. ‘I don’t fly.’

‘She can fly.’ Harry explained, directing his words to Fleur who turned to look at him.

‘But she doesn’t.’ Ron added.

‘Only in emergencies.’ Hermione finished.

‘Like when we need to catch a flying key to unlock a door to save the Philosopher’s Stone.’ Ron recalled.

‘Yeah, that kind of thing.’ Harry agreed.

‘Ah.’ Fleur said. ‘I see. That kind of thing.’

The conversation continued for a while and Hermione felt herself begin to grow sleepy with the warmth from the fire and the thoughts of happier times at Hogwarts. Beside her, Fleur seemed to be slipping nearer and nearer to sitting in Hermione’s lap rather than balancing on the arm of her chair, and Hermione didn’t mind one bit. The now-regular blue tinge to her vision was creeping in and Hermione let out a contented sigh.

‘I think I must go to bed, before I fall asleep on Hermione.’ Fleur let out during a lull in conversation.

Hermione opened her mouth to say that she didn’t mind, and then thought better of it. That might be an odd thing to say. She yawned instead.

‘It is getting late.’ Harry agreed. Standing up from the sofa and stretching.

Fleur followed suit and immediately Hermione was aware of the loss of Fleur’s body heat next to her. Fleur turned and held out both hands to Hermione, who looked at them in confusion for a moment.

‘Come on. You are yawning! It’s bed time for all of us.’ Fleur explained, her hands still waiting for Hermione’s.

Hermione reached for Fleur’s hands and allowed herself to be pulled from the chair, losing her balance slightly as she got to her feet and stumbling towards Fleur, who steading her at once with a hand on her waist.

‘Thanks.’ Hermione breathed.

Fleur just shrugged and released her hold on Hermione. Ron watched from the sofa, an unreadable look on his face.

Hermione cleared her throat and averted her gaze from Fleur’s awkwardly.

‘Right. Well, goodnight everyone.’ Hermione said hurriedly and headed out of the room to a chorus of goodnights from the others.

She was up the stairs and nearly to her own room when she heard Fleur’s voice from the top of the stairs.

‘’ermione!’ she let out softly.

Hermione turned to see Fleur hastening along the hallway towards her.

‘What’s wrong?’ Hermione asked uncertain.

‘Nothing is wrong, ma belle.’ Fleur breathed with a smile, ‘I just wanted to remind you of our little deal, hmm? No more silencing charms?’

Hermione’s shoulders sagged. She had indeed forgotten that. She was indeed regretting that now that she had been reminded. Her fingers were at once fiddling at the hem of her borrowed jumper as she searched to find a reply.

Fleur touched the back of her hand to Hermione’s chin, forcing the younger woman to look at her.

‘Please?’ she asked, ‘if you are struggling, I want to help.’

Hermione met her gaze and could find no pity there, only kindness.

‘OK.’ Hermione sighed. ‘I might not even have nightmares tonight.’ She reasoned.

‘And I hope you don’t.’ Fleur said at once, ‘But, if you do, I am here.’

Hermione nodded and Fleur leant in swiftly, leaving a kiss on each of Hermione’s cheeks.

‘Bonne nuit.’ Fleur said gently and Hermione held her breath as Fleur once again reached for her face, this time wiping what was presumably a smudge of lipstick from her cheek.

‘Goodnight.’ Came Hermione’s hoarse reply. And she edged backwards until she could slip into her bedroom and shut the door.

Chapter Text

It was not more than half an hour after she had gone to her bedroom that Fleur heard the distinct creak of the floorboards outside her door. She had been in bed for ten minutes or so, sitting against the headboard with her pillows propped behind her back. A precariously placed inkwell rested by her thigh and her quill scratched across parchment as she wrote a letter to her mother. Her mother had ended their conversation earlier by making Fleur promise to remain in better contact, and to give her any update about Hermione.

Fleur’s gaze left the words in front of her however to appraise her closed bedroom door as the creak of floorboards sounded again. On his perch, Leandre opened a glinting black eye. Then there came a timid knock.

‘Oui?’ Fleur called out at once. ‘You can come in.’

The door opened slowly and Hermione appeared, clad in her usual pyjamas that Fleur found utterly adorable.

‘Hello.’ Hermione said softly.

‘Hello,’ Fleur replied. ‘A nightmare?’ she asked, sounding a little surprised, given that she had only parted ways with Hermione half an hour earlier.

‘Oh, no. Not yet.’ Hermione replied, ‘it’s just… I think you have my book.’

Fleur’s eyes widened and she grabbed for her inkwell as she hastened to get out of bed and retrieve the book.

‘Désolée!’ She said, ‘Sorry. I didn’t mean to hang onto it.’

‘No, stay there. You don’t need to get up. I’ll just grab it.’ Hermione said hurriedly, stopping Fleur in her tracks. She stepped across to Fleur’s dressing table where she had spotted her paperback and picked it up.

‘Got it.’ Hermione let out, holding the book to her chest.

Fleur nodded, and relaxed back into bed, returning the inkwell to its previous hazardous position. Hermione remained standing in the same spot, watching Fleur but saying nothing. The air between them felt heavy with something. Leandre shook his feathers out impatiently. Fleur rolled her eyes at the owl and then had a thought.

‘Will you do me a favour?’ Fleur asked Hermione, who looked relieved that Fleur had broken what was becoming a slightly strange silence.

‘Of course.’ Hermione replied.

‘Leandre hasn’t been out for a few nights. Would you show him to the window?’ Fleur asked with a firm glance at her owl. Leandre hooted resentfully.

Hermione crossed to the perch on Fleur’s desk and held out her forearm for Leandre, who hopped at once to her shoulder instead, butting his feathery head against her cheek and giving her ear an affectionate nip, which resulted in a pleased chuckle from Hermione. Fleur grumbled under her breath and watched as Hermione opened the sash window and ushered the owl out into the inky sky. They both watched his ghostly white form swoop and then vanish from sight.

‘Thank you, ma belle.’ Fleur smiled, feeling a sense of relief at no longer having the owl’s knowing eyes watching their every interaction.

‘He’s such a lovely owl.’ Hermione smiled. ‘I’ve never known such a loving one.’

‘He is a flirt.’ Fleur replied a little darkly and earned a puzzled smile from Hermione.

‘You’re writing a letter.’ Hermione pointed out unnecessarily. ‘I’ve disturbed you, sorry.’

‘Non, non. It is not important. You don’t need to leave.’ Fleur said, and then wondered why exactly she thought Hermione would want to stay. She had only come to get her book.

‘OK.’ Hermione replied, surprising Fleur. ‘Perhaps… Could I read in here, with you, for a while?’ she asked tentatively.

‘I would like that.’ Fleur smiled. She propped up some more pillows and lifted the other side of her duvet in an invite for Hermione to clamber in. Which she promptly did. Settling herself near to Fleur but not quite touching.

Fleur did her best to ignore Hermione’s proximity, to pretend her nostrils weren’t being bombarded by the tempting scent of citrus and cedarwood, and to return to writing her letter. Only it was a bit difficult now that the subject of said letter was sitting in bed beside her. That was exactly the kind of progress her mother would be amused to read about, but it couldn’t be written currently. She was thankful that thus far she hadn’t actually written Hermione’s name, knowing without doubt that the woman beside her would likely have spotted her own name on the parchment right away. Fleur’s letter changed course and she wrote instead to ask if her mother would mind sending her broom to Grimmauld Place. She could add in the bits about Hermione later. Besides, she couldn’t send the letter tonight now anyway, having sent Leandre out. Know-it-all Owl, she thought grumpily. She wouldn’t mind being allowed to nip Hermione’s ear affectionately too—

‘Are you writing to Bill?’

Hermione’s words startled her from her inner rant.

‘Bill? Non. I only just saw him. I am writing to my mother, to ask her to send my broom so I can play quidditch with Harry and Ron.’ Fleur replied, eyeing Hermione quizzically.

‘Ah. I just thought… Maybe because you said you had missed Bill… I don’t know.’ Hermione said, trailing off in uncertainty. Fleur turned to look at Hermione and the other woman glanced down at the book in her hands.

‘Hermione, what—’ Fleur started.

‘Did you ever, you know, like Bill?’ Hermione let out in a rush.

Fleur recoiled a little in confusion. She opened her mouth to reply.

‘It’s just Ron was going on about it again earlier and it made me wonder.’ Hermione explained, her voice a tone of forced nonchalance.

Hermione wasn’t fooling Fleur though, it seemed that her sudden line of questioning was anything but casual. An interesting development, Fleur decided. And Hermione had reacted strangely earlier too when she discovered what Fleur was getting ready for. But even then, not so many hours previously, Fleur had said that herself and Bill were only ever friends. Why did Hermione need to be told that again now?

‘Why do you ask?’ Fleur replied. She kept her tone light, trying yet again to follow her mother’s advice, not to push, not to spook Hermione. It would do no good to outright accuse her of jealousy. Hermione would be out of her bed and out of the door quicker than a flick of a wand.

‘I told you. I was just wondering.’ Hermione replied tightly before attempting her casual tone again, ‘You know, you said you used to have sleepovers with friends at school and stay up talking about boys…’

‘You want to talk about boys?’ Fleur said, her tone guarded.

‘Well, I don’t know. Maybe?’ Hermione tried.

‘I never liked Bill in that way. It was never meant to be, we both knew that from the start of our friendship.’ Fleur explained blankly.

‘How though?’ Hermione replied at once, ‘how did you just know it would never be any more than friendship?’

There was a long pause. Fleur could tell her. She could take this opportunity to explain the thrall. Explain that Veela have mates and that the thrall is not some mystical fishing line thrown out at will to hook unsuspecting prey, that it was more of a divining rod to alert Veela to those who would make good partners. It would be risky though. That conversation would be one step from the precipice. Hermione wasn’t ready to know that the thrall had identified her. Fleur was barely past accepting that herself. What would become of them if Hermione knew that? It wasn’t, as her mother had reiterated, a death sentence. Hermione would not be obliged to act on the information, and neither was Fleur. The thrall did not frequently wake from its dormant state – even less so in those with diluted Veela blood – but it when it did, it wasn’t to identify a Veela’s only possible mate. Fleur cringed at the word. Mate. Like they were animals. She had never liked the term clumsily translated from early wizarding ‘research’ into Veela behaviour.

‘Fleur?’ Hermione’s voice broke her from her thoughts once more.

‘Veela have ways.’ Fleur shrugged and busied herself dipping her quill back in the inkwell. She could feel Hermione’s curious eyes burning into her.

‘I don’t know what that means.’ Hermione let out at last, an air of frustration in her voice. Hermione liked proper answers. Fleur knew that.

‘Non.’ Fleur replied simply and shrugged again. It wasn’t a response appropriate to Hermione’s statement and they both knew it.

‘Well, can’t you expl—’ Hermione started.

‘What about Ron?’ Fleur interrupted. And she immediately wanted to clap a hand over her mouth so that no more unexpected questions could free themselves from within. Why had she asked that? Hermione had implied she wanted to talk about boys after all, she supposed. She didn’t want to hear the answer though. Didn’t want her suspicions confirmed just now at the end of an already tiring day. Beside her, Hermione had tensed up. Then she released a slow breath. Fleur braced herself.

‘I liked him.’ Hermione whispered.

And Fleur’s heart dropped like a stone in a well.

‘For years, really.’ Hermione continued, ‘We were always together, just behind Harry. It felt inevitable you know? I mean, yes, he could be a complete arse,’ here Hermione let out a wry breathy laugh, ‘but he is kind too, you know? He can say surprisingly lovely things. And yes, he left us, but he also came back.’

Fleur remained silent. She had never liked that Ron had left Harry and Hermione on their horcrux hunt. That he abandoned them like that had rankled her even at the time until Bill had gently steered her to see sense. When Ron had turned up at Shell Cottage the first time, without Harry and Hermione, Fleur had been furious until Bill reminded her that they were all young and scared, that not all of them coped with that in the same way. She had warmed to Bill’s youngest brother by the end of his stay.

She couldn’t look at Hermione now though as she talked about Ron in a romantic sense. Her eyes remained fixed on the half-written letter before her. She could barely breathe, immobile, letting Hermione’s words batter her one by one, crashing waves against a sea wall.

‘God, I think we just needed each other.’ Hermione let out, ‘it intensified in the last year, when everything around us was so clearly building up to war. And he used to make me feel just a tiny bit safer. I guess I clung to that.’ Hermione finished, lost in her own thoughts.

Fleur nodded, barely moving. It was clear to her that Hermione hadn’t voiced these things before. They were thoughts flowing from her in an unstructured way, unlike Hermione’s usual carefully prepared words.

‘Used to?’ Fleur croaked and then wished she had cleared her throat of emotion before speaking. Hermione didn’t seem to notice the tone though.

‘What?’ Hermione asked.

‘You said he used to make you feel a tiny bit safer. Does he not anymore?’ Fleur replied, voice barely above a whisper.

‘No.’ She replied, with more certainty than she had in her previous musings. ‘At Malfoy Manor, when Bellatrix… He couldn’t help me then. Nobody could, of course, and I know he wanted to but… No, he doesn’t make me feel safe anymore.’

Fleur nodded again. She wanted to ask if anything made Hermione feel safer these days, if perhaps Fleur herself could fill that role. But another question emerged from her lips instead.

‘And so nothing ever came of it?’ Fleur asked. If she didn’t know that Hermione had shot her a glance just then, Fleur would have scrunched her eyes closed at that question. Did she really want to know?

‘No, it did. We had… um… we were… together. After the battle.’ Hermione whispered.

Crackling and popping filled Fleur’s ears, like flames engulfing wood and encountering pockets of moisture. She felt a sudden urge to cry. Something she didn’t do often. Hermione was still speaking but Fleur had lost the words to the cacophony in her head. She swallowed harshly and tried to tune back in.

‘…don’t regret it. It wasn’t bad or anything. I mean, it also wasn’t good, I didn’t feel what certain books had led me to believe I might.’ Hermione was rambling, addressing her own hands fidgeting in her lap as opposed to Fleur.

Now the urge to cry was replaced with a churning queasiness.

‘But I think it’s why Ron still has this idea that we could be more. Like, he’s just being patient while I sort myself out and then we’ll… I don’t know, get married and have several red-headed children or something.’ She finished with a broken laugh.

Fleur wasn’t laughing though.

‘Do you want that?’ She asked, knowing that Hermione’s answer had the potential to change plenty of things for Fleur. She waited for the hopes she had scarce had time to admit to herself to come crashing down around her ears.

‘No!’ Hermione burst out. ‘No.’ She repeated, more quietly, ‘I don’t know what I want these days. But I know it’s not that.’

The crackling and popping muted to a hissing sound instead, and the binds around Fleur’s chest loosened minutely.

‘I love him. Of course I do. But I’m not in love with him. I don’t think I ever was, not really. And I certainly don’t want a repeat of that night in the Astronomy Tower.’ Hermione finished firmly, crossing her legs subconsciously beneath the duvet.

Fleur was dizzy. She hadn’t heard the answer that would re-route her current feelings towards Hermione, but she had now been given a setting for Ron and Hermione’s intimate moment. And that was an image she did not need. She hadn’t said anything. She needed to say something.

‘Are you alright, Fleur?’ Hermione asked suddenly, twisting her shoulders to look at Fleur properly and then putting the back of her hand to Fleur’s forehand. ‘You look a little green.’

Fleur swallowed again, her mouth quite dry.

‘Perhaps too much wine with dinner,’ she let out with a tight-lipped smile.

Hermione laughed fondly.

‘I thought you must have been drinking!’ she replied, ‘You were dropping your Hs all over the place when you got back.’

‘Dropping my Hs?’ Fleur asked, baffled.

‘’ermione this, ‘ermione that.’ Hermione explained, imitating Fleur’s accent with an affectionate smile.

‘Oh. I see.’ Fleur replied quietly. She hadn’t noticed that. Maybe she actually had had more wine that she realised.

‘I like it when you say my name like that.’ Hermione reassured her gently, placing a hand on top of Fleur’s.

‘Oh?’ Fleur replied. Well that was something, she supposed. Some morsel of hope in the ditch of despair that their conversation had so far dragged her through.

Hermione hummed.

‘It’s quite… attractive.’ She said a little embarrassed. ‘You must hear that all the time.’ She flushed and shook her head.

‘Non.’ Fleur replied honestly. ‘I do not hear that a lot. Other less savoury words, yes. But not that.’

‘Oh. Well, it’s true.’ Hermione supplied, apparently less embarrassed now. ‘I’m going to get you a glass of water.’ She added, getting up from the bed and heading to the bathroom.

‘Merci.’ Fleur whispered, though Hermione was already nearly out of the door and probably didn’t hear her.

This was not at all how Fleur thought her night would go. She had half expected that she might see Hermione again, though not until much later, and probably in distress. Not that Fleur had hoped Hermione would have a nightmare that would force her to seek out Fleur, or one that Fleur would have to wake her from again. Last time it had been an unpleasant reminder of their previous interactions after Malfoy Manor and Fleur was certainly not eager to relive those memories. But she had been prepared, ready to react, eager to soothe. She had not, however, expected to see Hermione in her room so soon, and the conversation they had had, the revelations, were far from expected. Fleur still wasn’t sure how to process them, but she did know that Hermione had needed to air them. And from that, she could glean some small satisfaction in having helped. Even if she was left with a sour taste in her mouth. An unwanted image in her head. And no small sense of exhaustion. The day had been quite a rollercoaster and the last twenty minutes had wiped her out emotionally. She felt suddenly fatigued.

Fleur had given up on her letter and deposited the quill and accoutrements on her nightstand by the time Hermione returned with a glass of water to ease Fleur’s nausea. Hermione handed over the glass as she slid back into bed.

‘Thank you, Hermione.’ Fleur said softly as she accepted the water.

‘Well, thank you too. I think I needed to get that stuff about Ron off my chest.’ Hermione replied.

Fleur nodded, unwilling to revisit that conversation currently.

Hermione picked up her book and opened it to the correct page as Fleur took a sip of water and then placed the glass on the nightstand too. That’s when Hermione noticed that Fleur was no longer making any attempt to write her letter.

‘Sorry, do you want to go to sleep now?’ Hermione asked.

‘Non.’ Fleur lied; sleep was indeed calling her. ‘It’s OK. You can keep reading.’

Hermione closed the book.

‘I should go.’ She uttered. ‘I am not such a fast reader these days,’ she admitted. ‘Sometimes I read the same page multiple times. I’ll keep you awake if I stay.’

Fleur reached a hand out from under the covers and wrapped it around Hermione’s wrist.

‘Stay.’ She insisted. ‘In fact, why don’t you read to me, hmm? Then perhaps you won’t have to repeat pages?’

‘I…’ Hermione started, then furrowed her brows, ‘Actually, that’s a good idea. You don’t mind?’

‘Not at all.’ Fleur promised. ‘I would like it.’

‘I’ll start from the beginning again then. This was my favourite when I was little.’ Hermione said, sounding pleased.

Fleur hummed and settled down. She edged as near to Hermione as she dared, which turned out to be near enough that she could feel the warmth of Hermione’s thigh against her cheek. Hermione remained sitting against the pillows and the headboard, her book opened in her hands. Fleur watched as Hermione looked about the room before producing her wand from her sleeve. She aimed it at the lanterns, reducing their light to a warm glow. Fleur’s heart glowed right along with them.

‘Comfy?’ Hermione asked her.

‘Oui.’ Fleur nodded against Hermione’s leg.

Hermione cleared her throat and began reading.

‘Once there were four children whose names were Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy…’

Fleur closed her eyes and allowed Hermione’s clear voice wash over her. She heard the first page or two, was able to follow the story though it was not one she was familiar with, but soon sleep came to claim her. It must have been a light sleep to start with though, as she remained partially aware that Hermione was speaking, her voice quiet, lulling and comforting. The next time Fleur’s consciousness came to the surface momentarily she thought she could feel something stroking her hair softly, fingers running slowly through the strands, over and over. There was no fizzing in her ears, no crackling or popping, only Hermione’s voice and the periodic turning of pages.

Chapter Text

In the morning, as dawn light filtered into the room on a gentle breeze through the partially opened sash window, Hermione prepared to blink open her eyes. She felt truly rested. An entirely unfamiliar feeling that she had not experienced for more months than she could bear to consider at this point. Suffice it to say, it had been a very long time since she had felt relaxed throughout an entire night. She breathed in and was met with the same scent she was coming to love, wild honeysuckle and fresh linen. She smiled and opened her eyes to meet another pair looking back at her.

Hermione wasn’t startled though. The eyes regarding hers were bright and kind, a deep blue that she was growing increasingly accustomed to. Increasingly drawn to.

They were both lying on their sides, facing towards the middle of the bed and thus facing each other. Fleur had one long, delicate hand between her cheek and the pillow, her features placid under the first touches of the sun slanting into the room in golden light. If someone had asked Hermione how she would feel to awake and find another person staring at her, she probably would have said it would feel disturbing. And yet, it didn’t feel that way at all. For some reason Fleur’s gaze was calming not creepy.

‘Good morning,’ Fleur whispered.

Hermione hummed and stretched a little.

‘Good morning.’ She replied on a sigh and watched a smile spread across Fleur’s lips. ‘Sorry, I must have fallen asleep reading.’

‘You did.’ Fleur confirmed, ‘I woke just past midnight and took the book from you.’ She chuckled.

‘Oh,’ Hermione blushed. ‘You could have woken me; I would have gone back to my own room.’

‘Non,’ Fleur said at once, ‘You looked so peaceful. And…’ she paused, uncharacteristically shy, ‘I like having you here.’

Hermione felt a subtle swoop in her stomach.

‘I like being here.’ She admitted.

‘Oui?’ Fleur asked, ‘You slept well?’

‘So well!’ Hermione enthused. ‘Honestly, I can’t remember the last time I slept a whole night through.’

‘Well, perhaps you should stay more often,’ Fleur replied with a quirk of her eyebrow.

Hermione swallowed. It sounded a bit like Fleur was flirting with her. Surely not. But… maybe? Hermione searched herself for an ounce of courage, a little of the daring she had drawn upon in the past.

‘Perhaps I shall.’ She replied, as confidently as she could muster while hiding her uncertainty. Fleur positively beamed at her and Hermione found her words were worth the effort. Hermione cleared her throat.

‘Did you sleep well too? She asked.

‘Ah oui, very well. Merci.’ Fleur said honestly. ‘And I enjoyed the story too. Well, I enjoyed what I heard of it. I’m afraid I dropped off rather quickly.’

‘Your idea was a good one. I didn’t lose focus or have to repeat pages once when I was reading to you.’ Hermione smiled.

‘I am glad.’ Fleur said.

‘You might be less glad when I get back into reading thick dusty tomes on more dry academic topics,’ Hermione said teasingly.

Fleur shrugged.

‘Then I will just fall asleep even quicker, hmm?’ She replied.

Hermione laughed lightly and began to shuffle upwards to a sitting position. Suddenly she became aware that her arm nearest to Fleur was out on top of the duvet, that her pyjama sleeve had shifted up to bare her skin. Her marred skin. The ugly scrawl in plain view of the light of day. Hermione let out a gasp of horror and retracted her arm at once. Fleur’s vision had flitted down to her sudden movement and an unreadable expression became etched across her features. She had seen. Hermione knew it. Of course she had seen. She had been awake first, had had ample time to take in the parting gift of Bellatrix Lestrange. The scar she could never shake off. She couldn’t just have a peaceful morning for once. To wake without the instant stirrings of anxiety just once and enjoy it for longer than a few minutes, it was clearly too much to ask.

‘’ermione.’ Fleur let out gently and reached under the duvet for Hermione’s hand. Hermione pulled her hand out of reach.

‘Don’t.’ Hermione burst out. Tears threatening to well and spill. ‘It’s hideous. Don’t… Don’t touch it.’

Fleur’s expression darkened and Hermione gulped unable to decipher Fleur’s mood or thoughts.

‘Nothing about you is 'ideous.’ Fleur said, her voice erupting almost as a hiss due to its intensity.

And there was nothing Hermione could do to stop it; the tears spilled. Tumbling down Hermione’s cheeks and dropping from her jawline to pool in darkened fabric on her chest. The storm cloud lifted from Fleur’s face and grew into something lighter but still pained instead. She too struggled to sit up in the bed and began chasing Hermione’s tears with her thumb, resting a hand about her jaw and peering into Hermione’s face with concerned eyes. Hermione wouldn’t meet her gaze.

‘I didn’t want you to see it.’ Hermione managed to choke out. ‘I don’t like to see it.’

Fleur deflated, her shoulders dropping.

‘Ma belle,’ she said quietly, ‘I had already seen it though. I knew it was there. That it must still be there, hmm?’

‘I can’t remove it.’ Hermione nodded, ignoring Fleur’s reference to caring for Hermione in the aftermath of her torture. Her voice was quavering, ‘A glamour won’t even cover it.’

‘Non.’ Fleur let out gently. ‘A cursed mark cannot be disguised that way.’

Hermione sniffed, trying to will her tears to cease, trying to regain control over her emotions.

‘No.’ Hermione agreed, ‘I just have to live with it.’ She muttered bitterly.

‘It takes nothing away from who you are.’ Fleur insisted. ‘It is a war wound, hmm?’

Hermione let out a cold laugh.

‘It’s a branding.’ She spat out, ‘Property of Bellatr—’

‘It is nothing of the sort!’ Fleur interrupted, her voice rising drastically in volume and startling Hermione. ‘You are no such thing. Property of… Non. Non, ‘ermione.’ She finished forcefully.

Hermione felt Fleur’s fingers find hers beneath the duvet and then tug her arm back out into the open. Hermione winced at the sight of the word sliced into her skin, still appearing as red and raised as it had when it had first stopped bleeding.

‘This mark,’ Fleur started, ‘is proof only of your strength, your resilience, your ability to survive. That creature who made it? Did she survive?’

Hermione’s eyes were wide. She thought she had known what Fleur was talking about when she said she had been called intense in the past. This was a new level. Hermione had never been spoken to like this before, never witnessed someone’s care for her burst from them with such potency. It was overwhelming.

‘’ermione!’ Fleur said again to recapture the younger woman’s attention. ‘Where is she now?’

‘She’s dead.’ Hermione whispered, her eyes fixed on Fleur’s burning blue pair.

‘Exactement.’ Fleur nodded decisively. ‘She is dead. And you are still here. This mark, it is proof that you overcame what she could not.’

Hermione considered that for a moment, hyper-aware of the sensation of Fleur’s hand gripping her own. For the first time, she looked at the word on her arm, properly looked at it. Took in the word, the manic handwriting it was written in, and all the nonsense it stood for, everything she had fought tirelessly against. And won. And then she looked up at Fleur.

‘I had never thought about it like that,’ she confessed.

Fleur shrugged in the way she did so often. All that fiery passion evaporating as immediately as it had erupted.


‘There is nothing hideous about you, Hermione Granger.’ Fleur said plainly, repeating her earlier statement and leaving no room for argument.

Hermione swallowed again, having no response to that. She felt a final few tears streak down her cheeks, but these were not tears of despair, these were something else, something she didn’t have a name for. Fleur dutifully wiped them away with a brush of her thumb. They sat in silence for a moment or two.

‘Remember when that cursed vault injured your hand?’ Hermione said at last.

‘You mean when I was very stupid and wasn’t concentrating? Oui, I remember.’ Fleur said with a roll of her eyes.

‘The cut,’ Hermione began tentatively, ‘it was cursed, but it healed.’

She lifted her hand, the one that was still interlocked with Fleur’s own and considered the back of Fleur’s hand, where the wound had been. There was nothing there, just smooth pale skin.

Fleur sighed.

‘Veela blood.’ She let out. ‘There are some benefits to being Veela, that is one of them. It is not something I can replicate in others.’ She said sadly.

Hermione nodded in understanding. It had been a long shot, she knew that. Fleur had said that evening that Hermione had overreacted and bandaged her hand that it would heal, that her Veela blood would chase the curse out. But she had still hoped…

‘When it first happened,’ Fleur began, nodding towards Hermione’s arm, ‘I thought perhaps there was something that I could do. I read whatever I could find about cursed marks, I contacted Grand-mére even, but no… I am sorry.’

‘It’s OK.’ Hermione let out, putting aside for a moment how touched she was to hear that Fleur, even before they were particularly close, had made such efforts to heal her.

Fleur pulled Hermione’s hand towards her so that she could see the word more clearly. Hermione tensed immediately but battled her instinct to pull her hand away, forced herself to relax in the knowledge that Fleur wasn’t judging her.

‘When I see this word,’ Fleur said softly, ‘It makes me think of all the good you have done for the world. That is all.’

And then Fleur pulled Hermione’s arm closer still and placed a kiss upon the scar.

Hermione froze. Each letter of the word M U D B L O O D tingled coolly, a prickling sensation she had never experienced spreading through the cursed word. For one split second she thought the word was going to fade from her skin, that some of that Veela magic had transferred, that it was possible after all. But the word remained. It looked the same. Except that now Hermione was looking at it differently. And considering Fleur’s words. And remembering that when something cannot be changed, the only thing to do is to change how we feel about it. It was something her father had said to her when she was young. Fleur had inadvertently reminded her of that, and set her off on the right path.

‘Thank you.’ Hermione said quietly.

Fleur shrugged again and Hermione let a chuckle escape.

‘What’s funny?’ Fleur asked in confusion.

‘I always thought the gallic shrug was just a stereotype of French mannerisms,’ Hermione said fondly, ‘but you do it rather frequently.’

Fleur’s mouth opened in feigned shock.

‘Moi?’ She demanded. ‘I do not.’

‘You do!’ Hermione laughed. ‘But it’s quite cute really.’

This time Fleur’s shock was far from feigned.

‘Cute?’ she gasped. ‘I am not cute.’ She said adamantly.

Hermione’s laughter continued, and Fleur turned to her with indignance plain on her face.

‘Fine,’ Hermione relented holding up her hands, ‘You are not cute. But all the shrugging is.’ She finished.

Fleur glared at her playfully.

‘So you think it is attractive when I mispronounce your name and you think the so-called ‘Gallic Shrug’ is cute?’ Fleur said leadingly.

Hermione nodded slowly, suddenly unsure where Fleur was going with this and feeling an odd fluttering of butterflies in her stomach.

‘Do you think perhaps you have a thing for the French?’ Fleur asked with a grin.

‘Well. I mean… I…’ Hermione stuttered then paused. ‘You’re the only French person I know.’

Fleur’s mouth opened wide and her eyes took on a smiling glint.

‘Oh, so perhaps it is just me you have a thing for then.’ She said mischievously.

Hermione’s cheeks reddened at once, even as she willed them not to.

‘Fleur, I…’ Hermione started, her mouth suddenly dry. ‘I…’ she tried again.

Fleur leaned in towards her and Hermione gulped. And then she felt Fleur’s breath at her ear.

‘I am teasing you, Hermione.’ She whispered.

Hermione let out a strangled squawk.

‘Fleur!’ She cried, ‘That was unkind.’ She recoiled away from the older woman and batted at her shoulder lightly.

‘Well, I cannot always be kind, hmm?’ Fleur said and added an exaggerated shrug for good measure. Hermione glared at her, but there was no real anger in her face.

‘Now,’ Fleur let out, ‘As pleasant as this is, we cannot lounge around in bed together all day.’

Hermione felt herself flush even more at Fleur’s choice of words, and one quick glance at the older woman, suggested the choice had been quite a deliberate one. Fleur smirked at her. Hermione sighed.

‘You’re right. Time for breakfast. I have missed having breakfast with you.’ Hermione confessed.

‘I still made your hot chocolate every morning,’ Fleur replied.

‘You did. Even though I was behaving appallingly. And it was still delicious,’ Hermione nodded, ‘but it’s much nicer when we have breakfast together.’

Fleur smiled warmly at her in agreement.

‘Come on then,’ Fleur said, throwing back the duvet and standing up to stretch.

And that was when Hermione noticed that Fleur was once again clad in what was, presumably, her regular sleepwear; a simple t-shirt and underwear combination. Long toned legs on display and a sliver of stomach too as she stretched. Hermione looked away and quickly clambered from the bed as well.

‘I’m going to get dressed,’ she let hurriedly, ‘I’ll meet you down there.’

Fleur barely had time to respond in agreement before Hermione was out of the door.

 

 

Hermione pulled Fleur’s door shut behind her and breathed a sigh of… Was it relief? Contentment? She didn’t have time to decide before a voice startled her.

‘Morning Hermione.’

And, sure enough, Harry had just stepped into the hall from the stairs leading up to the floor above. He was dressed and ready to leave for training for the day.

‘Harry!’ Hermione let out in surprise. ‘Um… Good morning.’

Harry considered her with an amused smile, his eyes darting between Fleur’s bedroom door behind her and Hermione’s pyjamas and sleep-muddled hair.

‘Sleep well?’ He asked with a barely concealed grin.

‘We had a sleepover.’ Hermione let out in a rush. ‘You know how us girls are. We like… sleepovers.’ she finished awkwardly.

‘I’ll take your word for it.’ Harry nodded, humour still dancing in his eyes

Hermione felt like a deer in the headlights. Harry was watching her as if he wasn’t completely buying her sleepover story, even though it was true. But if it was true, which she knew it was, then why did it feel like she was lying? Harry was looking at her like he’d caught her up to something, and Hermione felt as though he had too. But what? That’s what Hermione wasn’t sure about. Thankfully, before their conversation could get any more uncomfortable for Hermione, Ron’s crashing footsteps came down the stairs too.

‘Alright ‘mione?’ He asked coming to a stop next to Harry and Hermione. He too looked between Hermione and Fleur’s door. ‘Oh good, are you about to go and wake up Fleur? Can you remind her to get her mum to send her broom over before the weekend? We’re thinking Saturday for our quidditch knock about.’

‘I… Yes. I’ll do that.’ Hermione stammered, doing her best to ignore Harry’s growing smile. Why had she said that? She wasn’t going to wake up Fleur at all. Fleur was well and truly awake, she knew that. She also knew that Fleur had already asked her mother to send on her broom in the letter she was writing the night before. She couldn’t backtrack now though either.

‘Cool. Thanks.’ Ron let out.

For a beat, all three of them continued to stand silently in the hallway.

‘Are you going then?’ Ron asked at last with a puzzled expression, ‘To wake up Fleur, I mean.’

‘Oh. Uh… yes.’ Hermione nodded and turned back to Fleur’s door, cringing as she knocked on the door.

‘Oui?’ They all heard from inside.

Hermione cast a glare over her shoulder at Harry, who watched with a look of pure innocence on his face as she pushed open Fleur’s door once more.

 

Now Fleur was just pulling up her tight black jeans as Hermione entered the room, her pale blue shirt unbuttoned and the middle of her bra in plain view.

‘Hello again.’ She smiled curiously.

‘Hi.’ Hermione said, studiously keeping her eyes on Fleur’s face. ‘I just… forgot my book! Again.’ It wasn’t a brilliant reason for coming back so soon, but it would have to do. Hermione was sure she used to be better at thinking on her feet.

‘Ah, oui.’ Fleur nodded and pointed to the book that was now on her own bedside table, presumably where she put it after retrieving it from Hermione’s sleeping hands the night before. Thankfully she had the good grace not to ask Hermione why she needed her book between leaving to get dressed and meeting Fleur in the kitchen for breakfast. But the look of bewilderment said it for her anyway.

‘Thanks.’ Hermione mumbled, grabbing the book and turning to leave again. She paused with her back to Fleur, listening to make sure the boys had vacated the hall. She heard nothing.

‘Are you alright?’ Fleur asked with a slightly confused laugh.

‘Yes!’ Hermione replied. ‘See you downstairs.’ And she hurried out the door for the second time that morning.

 

 

Safely in her own room, Hermione chucked her book down on her bed, startling a dozing Crookshanks in the process, and muttered to herself through the task of getting dressed. What a bizarre morning she’d had. A far cry from the previous morning when she was still on her mission to avoid Fleur at all costs. Now she was waking up next to the other woman, having spent the evening reading to her and… Oh God, she had been stroking Fleur’s hair. Thank goodness Fleur had been asleep. She had spent the night in Fleur’s bed and then lied (or not lied? She hadn’t quite figure that out yet) to Harry and Ron about it.

She heaved yet another of Ron’s jumpers over her head and hustled down to the kitchen, a now awake Crookshanks following in her wake with breakfast on his mind too. She didn’t want to run out of time to see Fleur again before she had to leave for work

 

And she was in luck, Fleur was already in the kitchen, taking a generous bite out of her customary morning croissant and perusing the front page of the Daily Prophet. Hermione ran a hand through her hair, realising she hadn’t paused to brush it in her haste to get to the kitchen. Fleur looked up at Hermione as she entered and Hermione saw a shadow of something vaguely displeased pass across her face as she took in Hermione’s choice of jumper. Hermione pulled at it hesitantly in response, but made no comment.

‘Your chocolat chaud.’ Fleur said, nodding at the steaming mug in front of the seat Hermione usually occupied at the table.

‘Thank you, Fleur. You must teach me how to make it as well as you do.’ Hermione said, taking her seat at the table.

‘Yet more Veela secrets, I’m afraid.’ Fleur replied sagely.

‘Really?’ Hermione asked.

‘Non.’ Fleur laughed. ‘Hot chocolate is not top of the Veela list of things to hide from humans. In fact… I believe the humans made it first.’ She finished in a whisper.

Hermione rolled her eyes.

‘Idiot.’ She muttered good-naturedly to a gasp from Fleur.

‘I will teach you how to make it like that.’ Fleur agreed with a smile. ‘Now, I wondered if you wanted to come to work with me today.’

‘What?’ Hermione let out, wishing she hadn’t just taken a gulp of the aforementioned hot drink. ‘Come to Gringotts?’ she asked.

‘That is where I work, yes.’ Fleur let out slowly. ‘We spoke about it the other night, remember? You were interested in the reparation spellwork.’

‘Restoring memories.’ Hermione whispered, mostly to herself. And then, a bit louder. ‘Yes, I remember. I just…’ she trailed off.

The thought of being back in Diagon Alley caused Hermione to begin to sweat, her thoughts speeding up immediately in her mind and butting up against each other. She pictured herself walking up the steps and into the entrance hall of Gringotts, all the goblins at their desks, watching her, knowing that the last time they saw her she was, for all intents and purposes… Bellatrix Lestrange.

‘You just…’ Fleur prompted, ducking to meet Hermione’s eyes.

‘I’m not sure I’m ready to come to work with you.’ Hermione confessed. ‘I want to. I do. Just… not today?’

‘OK.’ Fleur nodded at once. ‘You can think about it and let me know another day.’ She took another bite of her croissant and went back to reading the paper.

Hermione picked up her mug, her hand trembling a little and took another sip of her drink. If she could go with Fleur, if she could face that fear, she could not only feel as though she might be able to help Fleur a bit in return for all she was doing to help Hermione, but also, just maybe, she could find something to restore her parents’ memories.

‘I promise to protect you from the goblins,’ Fleur said, not taking her eyes off the paper but smiling cheekily, ‘if that helps at all.’

Hermione chuckled.

‘My hero.’ She replied wryly.

Chapter Text

When Fleur thought back to how she had been feeling the last time she sat at the desk in her office below the main hall of Gringotts, she could scarcely believe it had only been the day before. Yesterday she had been utterly miserable. Conflicted and miserable. To discover that her thrall had, out of nowhere, identified a partner for her was not something she had ever really expected. Of course, she knew it was a possibility, but the odds had forever seemed unlikely to her. Her Veela blood was diluted to only a quarter. Three quarters of her was human, why wouldn’t she be more likely to never experience the pull of her thrall outside of the turbulent teenage years? Yes, her half-blood mother’s thrall had located her father, Fleur had always known that, but for some reason, she had felt in her gut that her path would not run the same route. She had been so certain of this that she had resigned herself to it. She wouldn’t fritter her life away waiting for some perfect match that may never arise. Not that she intended to spend her life alone. She was perfectly capable of finding her own possibilities, safe in the knowledge that they may not be a long-term solution. As it happened though, the majority of her adult life had been spent in a fake marriage during wartime. And war had a funny way of distracting a person from the trivial pursuit of everlasting love.

And then Hermione.

If Fleur was being entirely honest with herself, then maybe she could have suspected some lurking feelings, stretching and yawning their way into existence, during their days at Shell Cottage. But really, it had been hard to tell one feeling from another in the maelstrom of emotion that crash landed on the beach that day along with the escapees from Malfoy Manor. There was fury, despair, desperation, fear and somewhere in there still shone flashes of hope, of tenderness for those suddenly in her care. Was that love? Was that the start of it? Fleur had felt strongest of all for Hermione, that much is undeniable, but Hermione had needed her the most.

Fleur had been graciously given ample time to consider these thoughts whilst Hermione had been dodging her, and she had still failed to tweeze them apart and find an answer. The hurt she felt at Hermione’s obvious avoidance cut deep and filled her with a swirling sense of dread that couldn’t be shaken. Her thoughts had been murky, no matter how much she had strived to put a brave face on it. The only conclusion she had come to was that Hermione was special to her, that her thrall was indeed at work, and that it little mattered which stray spark had lit the flame and when. It was burning now. Fleur could ignore it, of course, but despite Hermione’s silence she found she didn’t want to. Thus, misery and conflict had been her companions for the duration of the silent treatment.

Yesterday, Fleur saw no end in sight to that painful situation in. Today, she was lighter, brighter and full of optimism. A switch had been flicked the previous evening.

She had slept beside Hermione before. Once or twice at Shell Cottage (or perhaps more than that if she really dug back into her memories of those days) she had awoken, back sore and limbs stiff, in the chair at Hermione’s bedside, the younger woman’s clammy hand clasped in her own. And a few nights earlier, the nightmare-plagued night that had prompted Hermione’s withdrawal from Fleur, Fleur had fallen asleep with Hermione in her arms. And she had woken alone. But last night, she had dropped off with Hermione’s voice in her ears and her warmth in the bed beside her. And she had woken feeling almost euphoric to find her slumbering peacefully in the same place. Her veins positively buzzed with joy and it would be all too easy to attribute that to the same thrall that provided her with crackling in the ears, but Fleur chose adamantly not to.

All her life, everything about her, everything she did, everything she was, got chalked up to her Veela blood. Her looks, her intelligence, her skills at spellwork. ‘Is that a Veela thing?’ If Fleur had a galleon for every time somebody had asked her that, she could fill more than a few Gringotts vaults. The frustrating truth was that often the answer was yes. Her Veela blood was the source of many of her attributes. And yet, some of it was just… Fleur. Her skills at wandless and wordless magic were hard-won. They were taught by her grandmother, yes, but not all Veela could achieve such things, it took patience and practice as well as lucky blood. Blood had a lot to answer for. Veela blood, pure blood, muggle blood. What should it matter?

So yes, the elation that had been pulsing through her all day was, in all honesty, probably the thrall’s response to a night next to her partner, yet another nudge in the right direction from simple chemistry. Humans had endorphins, Fleur mused. But no. She wasn’t going to reduce away her feelings to mere biological reactions. She was happy. Hermione makes her happy. Veela, human, muggle or other. The joy Fleur was experiencing was pure and that was enough analysis of that. Hermione was speaking to her again, and in fact they were closer than ever. Today was Friday and so the whole weekend lay ahead. Perhaps it would involve more sleepovers, more teasing conversations and smattering of heartfelt confessions. Fleur had finished her letter to her mother and sent it off earlier in the day. If her mother read it promptly and sent her broom to Grimmauld Place then the weekend would definitely involve a spot of Quidditch with the boys too. And maybe, hopefully, Hermione would come along and watch as well, even if she didn’t want to fly. Or maybe, hopefully, Fleur would be the one to tempt Hermione Granger onto a broomstick. Or perhaps she was getting carried away.

And so it was that Fleur was comfortably day-dreaming at her desk, carrying out precisely none of her tasks for the day when the first tremor came from somewhere deep below her in the vaults of Gringotts.


For her part, Hermione was feeling similarly elated. After the horror of Fleur finally catching a glimpse of her scarred arm – deftly soothed by Fleur herself – and the awkwardness of her run-in with the boys outside Fleur’s bedroom, Hermione had settled happily into her day. It was not an emotion that paid frequent visits to Hermione these days, the plagues of panic keeping happiness from her threshold. But today she felt… bolstered. A good night’s sleep really can work wonders, she decided.

Fleur’s invite to accompany her to work, whilst it had immediately sent Hermione into a tailspin – the thought of all those goblin eyes on her filling her with dread – the offer had taken root and she found herself mulling it over as she sifted through piles of laundry. Domestic chores had never been a feature of Hermione’s plans, but at Grimmauld Place, faced with long days alone with her anxiety, she had found the laborious task of keeping the house clean and the clothes laundered – the muggle way, of course – a necessary undertaking to focus on. Today, it was knitwear. Before her regrettable retreat into evading Fleur, Hermione had assured the other witch that it was no bother at all for Fleur to add her own washing into the rota for Hermione to oversee. Fleur, after a moment of discourse where she informed Hermione that it was much quicker for her to do her own washing the magical way, had relented. Hermione suspected Fleur did not put out the entirety of her laundry, and what she did pass to Hermione was merely to placate and give Hermione something to do.

It was whilst she was separating various colours of jumpers from all four of the house’s occupants that Hermione’s mind circled back to Fleur’s invite to Gringotts once more. The temptation was growing. If there was a chance that, between them, they could devise a spell to not only help restore the building that Hermione herself played a key role in damaging, but also one that potentially could be tweaked to restore the memories of humans…. Well, that could be incredibly important. And, if Hermione was to venture back to Gringotts – as she would surely have to one day – who better to go with than Fleur? Fleur worked there, she was a part of the institution. The goblins must have some respect for her. And besides, Hermione felt safe with Fleur.

That had been a thought she hadn’t expected. Hermione paused in her task, her hands toying with the indescribably soft fabric of a pale green cashmere jumper. Hermione felt safe with Fleur. Huh. She examined this thought for a moment and found no flaw in it. If Hermione was to return to Gringotts, to face the scene she had last visited in the body of Bellatrix Lestrange, then she would do it at Fleur’s side. Hermione nodded resolutely and became suddenly aware of the jumper in her hands. It really was ridiculously soft, and… yes, it smelt divine too. Clearly one of Fleur’s. Hermione smoothed the fabric against her cheek and then stopped herself. What an odd thing to be doing. Still, she wondered whether Fleur would really mind… Hermione had caught the older woman’s look of displeasure more than once when Hermione wore one of Ron or Harry’s bulky jumpers or shirts. Fleur was not in possession of the stuck-up nature many had attributed to her back when they first encountered the Beauxbatons students, but she was one who took care over her outfits. It was perhaps unsurprising that Hermione’s haphazard habit of shrugging herself into the boys’ old clothes, rankled with Fleur’s interest in style.

Fleur’s jumper would certainly be a better fit, Hermione reasoned. And it wasn’t that Hermione didn’t have her own clothes, of course. It just felt that they belonged to somebody else, somebody from before who she couldn’t recognise anymore.

Without further ado, Hermione heaved Ron’s jumper off over her head and felt the sudden chill of the cold air in the house hit her bare arms as she slung the jumper into the wash pile. Her eye caught the raised and red lines on her forearm and she considered them for a moment. She had survived torture, she reminded herself firmly. The scar showed strength, not weakness. Hermione slipped her arms into Fleur’s cashmere jumper and pulled it on. At once she was shrouded in warmth and wild honeysuckle. Surely Fleur wouldn’t mind. Hermione could always take it off before Fleur got home that evening anyway.

Feeling more optimistic than she had in a long time, Hermione pulled her wand from her back pocket and searched her memories for the correct washing charm to use. She wasn’t going to do laundry the muggle way today. Today, she was ready to push herself a little bit. Progress was always made up of stages, she knew that. Before she could climb those marble steps to Gringotts, she would return to Diagon Alley once more and prove to herself that she could do it without dissolving into dizzying panic. Hermione abandoned the laundry, stood and straightened her shoulders; she grabbed a handful of floo powder from the mantlepiece by the kitchen fire and flung it into the gently smouldering ashes. At once the familiar emerald flames burst into life and Hermione, without giving herself time to change her mind, stepped into them.

‘Diagon Alley.’ She enunciated clearly.


It was the middle of the afternoon in Diagon Alley and it was bustling as always. Hermione took a deep breath and looked up and down the cobbled street. At one end she could make out the shape of Gringotts, with its climbing steps and marble pillars. Not today, she reminded herself. Today she would just… what? And only then did Hermione realise she had nothing to actually do in Diagon Alley. She cast her eyes down the street once more. A few witches and wizards were looking her way. Most had the courtesy to look away when she met their eyes, others did not. Hermione shook her head slightly. She could do this. So what if people were looking at her?

She stepped out onto the cobbles and began walking with more purpose than she possessed. She had barely made it a few yards before an older woman stepped towards her out of the steadily moving crowd, tugging a young child along with her. The child, Hermione noticed, was clutching a handful of Chocolate Frog Cards, awkwardly trying to shuffle through them whilst being herded along by the woman accompanying him. Hermione steeled herself.

‘Ow!’ the little boy let out, trying to pull his hand free from the woman’s.

‘Sorry,’ Hermione heard the woman mutter, ‘But will you hurry along? We’re going to be late. And you can look at your cards when we’re home.’

‘But I—’ the boy started. And that’s when he noticed Hermione. And dropped his handful of cards to the ground.

‘For goodness’ sake, Roger!’ The woman exclaimed, bending hurriedly to pick up the scattered cards. ‘See? This is why I told you to keep them in your pocket.’

The boy, Roger, did not reply. He remained stationary, his mouth agape, his eyes on Hermione who tried to continue on her way, side-stepping to avoid others who had clearly noticed her too and stopped for a better look.

Hermione gulped and willed the first creeping tendrils of panic away. She offered a weak smile to the boy. His eyes, though Hermione wouldn’t have thought it possible, got even wider. He issued a strangled squeak and burrowed his face into the shoulder of the woman still scrambling to gather his Chocolate Frog Cards.

‘What on earth are you doing?’ Hermione heard her ask.

Hermione hurried along, waiting no longer to hear the boy’s explanation for his sudden shyness. She stepped away from the gathering crowd and onto the pavement before ducking into the nearest shop.

A bell rang out above her as she pushed open the heavy shop door. The scent inside was damp and floral and reminded Hermione of her grandmother’s greenhouse when she would help with the watering as a child. She had stepped into the florists.

‘Welcome to Forestry Floristry.’ Came a male voice from near the back of the shop, the man’s face obscured by a tall display of vibrant irises.

‘Hello.’ Hermione let out, her voice shaking.

‘And how can I help you today…’ The man started, and then stepped away from the display so he could greet his customer, ‘Hermione Granger.’ He finished.

Hermione shifted awkwardly, anxiety edging further up her spine the minute the man said her name. He was waiting for her to reply but she had no reason at all to be in the florists, other than that she suddenly needed to be out of the crowded street. The man’s expression lifted from one of surprise and intrigue to one of understanding as he glanced out of the shop front windows. There was a small gathering of people jostling by the door to get a look at Hermione.

‘Ah.’ He said. ‘Just needed an escape?’ he offered.

Hermione nodded, easing slightly at the kind look on the man’s face.

The man nodded in return and strode across the shop to the door. With a flourish, he flipped the ‘Open’ sign on the door so that from the outside it would now read ‘Closed.’

‘That should keep the vultures at bay. I’m Simon.’ The man told Hermione, and held out his hand for her to shake. ‘And you’re the first celebrity I’ve had in all day.’ He said with a wink. His eyes were twinkling and Hermione couldn’t help the small smile that crossed her lips.

‘I’m not a celebrity.’

‘No? Somebody should tell that lot.’ Simon replied, gesturing to the people on the street.

Hermione sighed.

‘Harry and Ron don’t get this.’ She said quietly, mostly to herself but it was heard anyway.

‘Course they do!’ Simon replied, ‘I saw Ron Weasley signing some kid’s t-shirt just the other day. And Harry Potter has dealt with it forever. But people are getting used to seeing them about the place, you know? You’re the elusive one. The golden ticket!’

Hermione considered that for a moment. Perhaps there was some merit in the idea.

‘Well maybe I haven’t been seen around as much.’ She decided.

‘Enigmatic indeed, darling. Makes you even more of a catch.’ Simon said teasingly and then let out a bark of laughter at Hermione’s widened eyes. ‘Don’t worry, I’m not hitting on you. But any time you want to bring a gaggle of adoring fans in here, I won’t turn down the custom.’

Hermione smiled again. Simon seemed genuine and compassionate.

‘I’ll keep that in mind.’ She said.

‘Great. So, seeing as you’re here anyway, are you sure I can’t help you with anything?’ Simon asked.

Hermione looked about the shop. It was filled with the most beautiful flowers and she was reminded of the bouquet Fleur had brought her the evening she moved in. They had been such a lovely gift and the colour and scent they had brought to Hermione’s room had lifted her spirits whenever she looked at them. Hermione made a decision.

‘Actually, yes. I’d like some flowers for a friend.’

‘And what kind of flowers would this friend like?’ Simon replied.

‘Uh…’ Hermione started, and then furrowed her brows. She had never chosen flowers for someone before. She had no idea what Fleur might like. Simon took pity on her.

‘Tell me about this friend. Are we talking an old friend? New friend?’ he asked leadingly.

‘Well, sort of… Both?’ Hermione tried. ‘No. I mean, we’ve known each other for years, but recently it feels more…’

‘Feels more…’ Simon prompted.

‘We’re closer now.’ Hermione decided and then corrected herself, ‘We’re close now.’

Simon nodded.

‘Boy friend or girl friend?’ he asked.

‘Girl. Girl…friend.’ Hermione replied as though she was testing the phrase.

Simon nodded again, this time with a knowing smile.

‘Uh huh.’ He said, ‘And this girlfriend, what is she like?’

‘Well…’ Hermione started, ‘She’s incredibly kind. And highly intelligent. She’s a powerful witch, though most people underestimate her abilities because she’s really very beautiful, as though it’s not possible to be both.’

‘Really very beautiful.’ Simon picked out that phrase and repeated it whilst miming as though he was making notes.

Hermione’s cheeks felt warm as she heard her words repeated back to her. 

‘And the purpose of these flowers is…’ Simon began and then looked up from his imaginary notes, waiting for Hermione to fill in the end of the sentence.

Hermione frowned once more. There was no purpose for the flowers other than that she had found herself in a florists and so wanted to buy flowers for Fleur.

‘Just because.’ Hermione replied.

‘Got it.’ Simon nodded yet again. ‘I’ll put together something lovely for you to give to your really very beautiful girlfriend just because.’ He recanted with a teasing glint in his eye.

Hermione’s flush only deepened.

‘Girl friend, not girlfriend.’ She tried.

‘Of course, darling. My mistake.’ Simon replied, not looking at all apologetic.



Half an hour later, Hermione stepped out of the kitchen fire place at 12 Grimmauld Place with a bunch of carefully chosen and elegantly arranged flowers in hand. A glance at the clock told her that it wouldn’t be too long before Fleur got back from work. At present, her hand on the clock was pointed to ‘Deep in the Vaults’. Hermione should have enough time to transfer the flowers to a vase and set them up in Fleur’s bedroom before Fleur or the boys returned.

She was feeling a sense of achievement at having successfully made her trip to Diagon Alley without incident. True, she had needed to shelter in Forestry Floristry until the fervour on the street subsided, but she had also made her way calmly and purposefully back to the floo station afterwards. Her encounter with Simon had reassured her that not every stranger out there wanted to gawk at her like some exhibit at the zoo.

Hermione headed upstairs, Crookshanks waking as she passed the door to the study where he had been taking his late afternoon nap and slinking after her. She used her hip to push open Fleur’s door, her hands full with the vase of flowers. This room smelled even better than the florists and Hermione breathed in deeply. Leandre bobbed up and down on his perch as she entered and then progressed to lifting one foot and then the other in a kind of dance until she rested the vase on the desk and gave him a stroke under the beak. Owl satisfied, Hermione arranged the vase on Fleur’s dressing table and then stood back to admire her handiwork. She hoped Fleur would like them. That was when Hermione caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror behind the flowers. She was still wearing Fleur’s jumper and, though she admitted it herself, it did look right on her. She was still considering this, looking into the mirror with her head cocked to one side when Leandre gave a sudden shriek and alighted from his perch. He just managed to stop himself from smashing headlong into the windowpane by landing on the sill, where he proceeded to flap and shriek manically.

Crookshanks hissed at the disturbance and arched his back, crinkly orange fur standing on end.

‘Leandre!’ Hermione let out, crossing at once to the agitated bird. ‘It’s alright,’ she soothed, trying to stroke the bird’s feathers in a calming manner. But Leandre was having none of it. He continued his frantic actions until Hermione shoved open the window for him and he swooped at once out of sight.

Hermione frowned and turned to Crookshanks.

‘That was odd.’ She said to the part-kneazle. Crookshanks let out a low growling meow in response.

Leaving the window open enough that Leandre could get back in on his return, Hermione moved to leave Fleur’s room. She got nearly as far as the door before she stopped.

‘Maybe we’ll wait here.’ Hermione said to Crookshanks. ‘Just to make sure Leandre is alright when he gets back.’ Crookshanks looked less than convinced by this plan but followed Hermione to Fleur’s bed nonetheless and hopped up to curl by her side when Hermione settled down to wait for Leandre’s return. Feeling contended with her achievements for the day, Hermione slowly allowed a warm drowsiness to take her over.

Hours after Fleur should have returned from work, Hermione remained curled up and fast asleep in the same spot.

Chapter Text

‘Hermione.’

‘Hermione, wake up.’

Hermione scrunched her eyes more tightly closed and let out a somewhat muffled groan into the pillow beneath her cheek. Her body tensed forcefully against the idea of full consciousness.

‘Why?’ She grumbled.

She heard a soft chuckle.

‘Because it’s time to get up.’

It was Fleur’s voice, instantly recognisable. Hermione let her body relax and opened her eyes slowly. Fleur was perched on the side of the bed, fully dressed and with Hermione’s favourite mug in hand. Hermione blinked and surveyed the room around her.

‘I’m in your bed again.’ She pointed out needlessly, still not quite having gathered her senses so soon after waking.

‘You are.’ Fleur agreed with a smile.

‘Sorry.’ Hermione replied, now feeling confused. She heaved herself into a sitting position and felt softer than usual material against her skin. She looked down at her top half, now visible above the duvet.

‘And I’m wearing your jumper.’ An embarrassed flush was encroaching on her face.

‘That is also true.’ Fleur agreed again, still smiling.

‘I, ah… I just… put it on. Yesterday. I can… I’ll take it off.’ Hermione decided awkwardly.

‘I think perhaps it suits you better. I like seeing you in it.’ Fleur reasoned, and then a bit of extra colour blessed her cheeks too, ‘I like seeing it on you.’ She corrected.

Hermione nodded slowly but said nothing, aware of Fleur’s gaze moving over the image of Hermione in her cashmere jumper. Fleur cleared her throat and glanced away.

‘Tea?’ She asked, handing the mug to a grateful Hermione.

‘Thanks. What time is it? You’re already up and dressed.’ Hermione asked in confusion.

‘It’s later than our usual wake up. But not too—’

‘What time did you get in last night?’ Hermione broke in, memories of the previous afternoon returning bit by bit. ‘I must have fallen asleep before you got home from work, though I don’t remember… Where were you?’ Hermione repeated.

‘I was at work and then I came home. You were fast asleep.’ Fleur said simply, standing slowly from the bed as she spoke and turning away from Hermione to draw the curtains.

Hermione took a sip of tea and considered Fleur’s words, a puzzled look on her face.

‘You slept well?’ Fleur enquired, turning her attention back to Hermione.

‘I suppose I slept very well. I must have been asleep for ages.’ Hermione laughed, and then another memory made itself known, ‘Though I think I had a weird dream, not a nightmare as such, but… I think… something was burning.’ Hermione trailed off thoughtfully.

Fleur turned away again, this time to put an appraising hand to the flowers on her desk.

‘These are beautiful, ma belle.’ Fleur said softly. ‘You went out yesterday?’

‘Did you work late last night?’ Hermione asked curiously, ignoring Fleur’s question. There was a pause before Fleur answered.

‘Perhaps a little.’ She shrugged.

‘But what—’ Hermione started.

‘We’re going to play Quidditch this morning, the boys and I. Will you come?’ Fleur interrupted.

Hermione’s analytical mind was nudged off course by that question, forced to consider a different subject.

‘Oh. Well, I don’t really do Quidditch.’ Hermione replied.

‘Non, I know. You only fly in emergencies.’ Fleur repeated the insight into Hermione’s relationship with broomsticks that she had learnt the other night. ‘But will you come anyway? Fresh air is always good. You can watch?’ Fleur added hopefully.

‘Where are you playing?’ Hermione asked.

‘The paddock behind the Burrow. Safely out of sight of muggles there.’ Fleur explained.

Hermione grimaced. She had been to the Burrow just a few days ago and she’d filled her quota of Molly’s maternal fussing for at least a month. It seemed Fleur could follow her thoughts, though Hermione didn’t think she had ever voiced her them on this particular topic.

‘Molly never watches the boys fly. She’ll be in the house.’ Fleur promised. ‘It’ll just be us.’

Hermione considered Fleur. She looked so hopeful, her face catching the morning rays from the window and her hair radiating the same sunlight back. To have described Fleur as really very beautiful was perhaps doing the other woman an injustice, Hermione mused inwardly.

‘I’d love it if you were there.’ Fleur prompted.

‘Alright.’ Hermione agreed.

‘Bon.’ Fleur said, smiling widely. ‘Harry and Ron have already left, something about their broomsticks needing a clean after a year in the Weasley’s shed.’

‘I better get dressed then.’ Hermione let out, gulping down the rest of her tea and standing from the bed to discover that not only was she wearing Fleur’s jumper but that she was still wearing the rest of her clothes from yesterday too. She looked down in confusion.

‘I’m surprised I didn’t wake up when you got back from work, I couldn’t have been asleep for long at that point.’ Hermione pondered.

Fleur shrugged.

‘You must have been very tired, hmm? I’ll meet you downstairs.’ Fleur replied. And with that she swept out of the room, leaving Hermione to clamber out of bed feeling slightly unsettled. It was true that she was almost always tired these days. One good night’s sleep didn’t make up for months of restless slumber. That must have been it then. Hermione had fallen asleep waiting for Leandre to return and had simply slept right through to morning.

At the thought of why she had been on Fleur’ bed in the first place, Hermione looked to Leandre’s perch on the desk. Leandre was already watching her. He fixed Hermione with a long purposeful stare but made no sound.

‘At least you’ve calmed down.’ Hermione said to him before standing and stretching. So she’d spent another night beside Fleur and had no memory of the other woman’s presence, Hermione found she felt a little cheated by that.



Fleur apparated herself and Hermione to the Burrow. There hadn’t been a discussion about it. She just knew Hermione hadn’t apparated in a while and, as familiar as the Burrow was to the younger witch, it would be safer for Fleur to transport them. They landed with a jolt on the uncut grass of the Weasley’s paddock. Fleur had her broomstick in one hand, freshly polished and waxed – presumably by her mother before she had sent it on to Grimmauld Place – and the other hand was clasping Hermione’s. The way their fingers had instinctively interlocked when Fleur had held out her hand to Hermione back home in the kitchen had awoken a flutter of butterflies in Fleur’s stomach. God, she was basically a lovesick teenager at this point. She’d be embarrassed if anyone but herself was aware of these juvenile feelings.

Squinting into the early morning sunshine and ignoring the fuzzy headache she was quietly battling, Fleur spotted Harry and Ron soaring above them. Apparently Hermione had spotted them too.

‘I suppose I can understand the desire to feel that kind of freedom,’ Hermione murmured as Harry shot higher still into the sky, ‘But it just seems rather reckless.’

Fleur chuckled.

‘It is only reckless if you are not paying attention to your surroundings. And you’re right, the feeling of freedom is… indescribable. You just have to experience it.’ Fleur sighed, realising all of a sudden just how much she had missed flying. And freedom. The last time she had flown was probably when she was disguised as Harry for the sabotaged attempt to collect him from Privet Drive.

‘No, thank you.’ Hermione’s short reply interrupted Fleur from her thoughts.

‘Non? Not even with me?’ She tried. Having Hermione on her broom with her had been a feature of her daydreams yesterday before all hell had broken loose.

Hermione laughed warmly.

‘Not even with you.’ She gave Fleur’s hand a squeeze where they had remained in contact since apparating. Fleur glanced down at their hands and then up at Hermione with a smile. The butterflies in her stomach continued their antics and Fleur wondered whether it was too much to hope that Hermione had a flock of her own.

‘Mione!’

Fleur tore her gaze from Hermione to see Ron flying towards them. Hermione pulled her hand from Fleur’s and waved happily at Ron.

Ron was still coming towards them at a fair speed and was nearly upon them when Fleur was filled a sudden panic that he wouldn’t stop in time. She grabbed Hermione’s elbow and pulled her swiftly out of Ron’s path. Ron screeched to a halt at the last moment and stumbled from his broom.

‘Hi guys. Woah! Sorry, guess I’m still a bit rusty! Almost fell off a few minutes ago too.’ Ron let out with a laugh.

‘Oh Ron,’ Hermione scolded, her voice full of concern, ‘Please be careful. I don’t want you to get hurt.’

Fleur felt a couple of her butterflies give up their fluttering and sink to the base of her stomach. She shifted away from Hermione and Ron, willing the familiar crackling not to join the thrumming in her already sore head today. Hermione looked her way as soon as Fleur widened the gap between them.

‘I don’t want any of you to get hurt.’ Hermione clarified, taking a step closer to Fleur once more.

At that moment Harry drifted down towards them, stopping calmly a few feet away.

‘Hi you two. Glad Fleur could persuade you to join us, Hermione.’ Harry said with a grin.

‘Yes, well, it’s good to get some fresh air.’ Hermione replied a little stiffly.

Fleur watched Harry bite his lips to hide another smile while Hermione shot him a warning glare, though what the warning was in aid of, Fleur was unsure.

‘Right.’ Harry let out and nodded. ‘So we thought we’d just chuck the quaffle about for a while today, seeing as there’s not enough of us for much more than that. George said he might join us in a while though.’

Fleur nodded and lifted her broom, running a hand along it.

‘That sounds good.’ She agreed, ‘It will just be nice to fly again.’

‘It really is.’ Harry agreed as Rod nodded vehemently.

‘You’re all mad.’ Hermione sighed, shaking her head with amusement. ‘I’ll keep my feet on the ground just here,’ she added, and produced a picnic blanket that absolutely couldn’t have fitted in her small bag and then reached in once more and pulled out an unfeasibly large book too. Fleur raised an eyebrow and received a smirk from Hermione.

‘That’s a nice jumper, Hermione.’ Harry said wryly. ‘Is it new?’

Hermione was still wearing Fleur’s cashmere and Fleur watched as Hermione’s cheeks took on a blush to rival Ron’s hair. Fleur fought back a smile.

‘Well, no, it’s—’ Hermione began, and Fleur was intrigued to know where the sentence was heading until Ron cut in.

‘Yeah, I was going to say that.’ He said loudly, ‘You look beautiful, Mione.’

Fleur clenched her jaw, her residual headache throbbing angrily at the added tension.

‘Thank you, Ron.’ Hermione replied.

Ron was smiling proudly while Hermione turned and busied herself laying out her picnic blanket to sit on.

‘Shall we do this then?’ Harry piped up. ‘I want to see how good of a chaser Fleur is.’

Fleur rolled her eyes.

‘I’ll give you a three second head start.’ She let out slyly.

Harry and Ron glanced at each other before scrambling for their brooms and kicking off into the sky. Fleur winked at Hermione, mounted her broom gracefully, and shot after the boys. Hermione’s plea of ‘Please be careful!’ following her on the breeze. She caught up to the others in no time at all.

It was just as Fleur had remembered. Darting weightless through the air, watching birds fly beneath her feet and seeing familiar landmarks from a new perspective as she soared above them. The rushing air did nothing for her headache and she had struggled to keep the dizziness at bay as she gained altitude. But throwing the quaffle between herself, Harry and Ron, making their throws more and more difficult for each other to catch without increasingly elaborate flying manoeuvres was providing a joy she had forgotten she used to crave. And if she had, a few times, caught Hermione watching her from the ground below, well that just added further to the joy Fleur was experiencing. In fact, mild nausea be damned, she couldn’t stop herself from frequently looking below at the small figure of Hermione sitting cross-legged on the blanket in the long grass. If there was anything that could rival the thrill of flying at that moment it would be the simple act of settling down beside the other woman and contemplating the few clouds in the vast blue sky together.

It was during one of her distracting glances down to the ground that two things happened simultaneously: she spotted a red-headed figure emerging from the Burrow and heading for the paddock, and she almost missed Ron’s enthusiastic quaffle toss in her direction. Fleur swung precariously off her broom to grab the quaffle with the very tips of her fingers and from her new angle, as she gripped the broom desperately with her knees, she realised that the red-headed figure now approaching Hermione was not George Weasley coming to join them, but Bill.

‘Merde.’ Fleur gasped, using all her might to swing herself back onto her broom. She sat, regaining her composure and willing the fresh wave of nausea to abate, and watched as Bill took up a spot beside Hermione. She watched as the two exchanged words and saw Hermione’s posture stiffen even from this distance. Fleur gulped, and not just in an attempt to keep her breakfast down.

‘Pass it, Fleur!’

Ron’s voice reached Fleur from the other side of the paddock. Fleur threw the quaffle with all her might into the airspace above her and heard Ron’s yell of excitement as he and Harry raced to reach it first. Fleur took a deep breath. She couldn’t avoid the inevitable. Bill had clearly seen her now, had stood from the blanket and was staring at her in disbelief. Fleur turned her broom and pointed it towards the ground at Bill’s feet. She waited until her own feet were level with the ground before matching her flying speed with her walking speed and stepping seamlessly from her broom, still in motion. It took all her concentration to make her actions look smooth, despite feeling off-balance the minute she hit the ground.

‘Good morning, Bill.’ She tried.

‘Good morning?!’ Bill demanded. ‘What the bloody hell do you think you’re playing at Delacour?’

Hermione had stood up too and was edging towards them looking thoroughly perplexed. Fleur didn’t have a chance to reply before Bill was talking again.

‘You weren’t at Grimmauld. So I asked Mum if she knew where any of you were. When she said she you were playing Quidditch in the paddock I thought she must be going senile. Seriously Fleur! What on earth—’

Fleur sighed.

‘Who told you?’ She asked. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Hermione moving closer but she consciously avoided looking directly at her.

‘Bloody Baldlock sent me a letter this morning! And even if he hadn’t, it’s all over the papers. But I had to hear it from the goblins? Fleur! You could have been killed! We have protocols. You wait for the aurors, you don’t charge in wand-blazing!’ Bill ranted.

By now both Harry and Ron had landed, curious to know what the commotion was. Bill, unanimously known as the quietest and calmest Weasley was not often seen losing his cool like this.

‘Blimey Bill, what’s got your snitch in a twist?’ Ron gasped, mouth agape as he stared at his oldest brother.

‘How could any of you let her fly?’ Bill burst out. ‘I know full well how convincing she can be, but really!’ Bill rounded on Hermione, ‘I thought at least you would know better, Hermione.’

‘Bill!’ Fleur spoke at last, ‘They don’t know.’

‘They don’t…. What?’ Bill replied, deflating a little at last.

‘Don’t know what?’ Asked Harry and Ron at the same time.

Hermione was yet to make a sound and Fleur still couldn’t bring herself to make eye contact with the younger witch.

‘There was an incident at Gringotts yesterday.’ Fleur said as calmly as she could manage. Her vision was now potted with brightly coloured dots, but that was almost definitely nothing to worry about.

‘An incident!’ Bill shrieked, his voice rivalling his mother’s in tone and pitch. ‘One of the goblins was killed, Fleur, and you could have been too.’

Fleur could feel four sets of eyes boring into her.

‘Well, I wasn’t.’ She shrugged.

Bill threw his head back in despair.

‘You are so stubborn sometimes!’ He let out.

‘And you are being so dramatic.’ Fleur muttered.

‘It’s like they’re actually married.’ Ron whispered to Harry, loud enough for everyone in attendance to hear him. Harry elbowed him quickly in the ribs as Fleur glared dangerously at Ron.

Harry scratched the back of his head and looked at Hermione. She was staring at Fleur with a look that Harry couldn’t decipher.

‘Maybe we all need to calm down,’ Harry began, ‘and let Fleur tell us what happened?’

Bill sighed and let his arms drop by his sides.

‘Yeah,’ Ron agreed, ‘Because none of us have a bloody clue what’s going on.’

Fleur crossed her arms.

‘Fine.’ She huffed. ‘Like I said, there was an incident at work yesterday. Some people tried to break into a vault.’

‘Some death eaters tried to break into a vault.’ Bill corrected. Fleur turned an icy stare at him and he backed away from her a step or two.

‘We do not know that they were death eaters.’ Fleur clarified.

‘We do, actually,’ Bill cut in. ‘The aurors confirmed it this morning. They’ve been taken direct to Azkaban.’

‘OK,’ Fleur let out, ‘Some death eaters tried to break into a vault. They were not successful. The aurors came and the death eaters were arrested. Then there was lots of questioning about the incident and then I went home.’ She finished as though describing the events of a very mundane work day.

Bill shook his head in disbelief.

‘See, the way I was told it, was that three death eaters blasted their way into an unstable vault, damaging that particular tunnel even further and scattering curses throughout, and then you took on all three death eaters single-handedly until the aurors arrived to help. And somewhere in that time you were knocked out cold.’ Bill recounted. ‘Is that what you meant to say?’

‘Perhaps.’ Fleur replied cautiously.

‘Blimey.’ Ron breathed.

‘Are you alright?’ Harry asked.

‘I’m fine.’ Fleur said at once.

‘She’s concussed!’ Bill blurted. ‘The medic from St Mungo’s said she was barely making sense when the aurors were taking her statement but she refused to go to the hospital for further treatment.’

‘Fleur, that doesn’t sound good.’ Harry said quietly.

‘Yeah,’ Ron agreed, looking at Fleur as though she might keel over at any moment, ‘You probably shouldn’t be flying, mate.’

‘Exactly!’ Bill seethed.

‘I said I am fine!’ Fleur let out and immediately felt her headache pulse in response, ‘We have all suffered far worse than a little concussion and then got up and carried on, haven’t we?’

‘That was different,’ Bill sighed, ‘We had to do that then, it was war. We don’t have to now. And you absolutely should not be on a broomstick. Do I need to make that any clearer?’ He demanded.

‘Non.’ Fleur muttered.

‘Good.’ Bill said, finally with a smile. ‘Now, come here.’ He opened his arms out to Fleur and waited for her to step into them, which she did begrudgingly.

‘I’m so glad you’re alright.’ Bill said softly, ‘And I’m so glad you’re not my wife anymore. You’re a complete pain the arse.’

Fleur huffed out a laugh into Bill’s chest and wrapped her arms around his waist.

‘Sorry.’ She mumbled.

‘Don’t be sorry,’ Bill said, ‘Just don’t be an idiot.’

Fleur stepped out of his arms and glared at him, but there was no malice behind her look now.

‘So, uh, can we go back to flying?’ Ron asked.

‘You and Harry can,’ Bill agreed, ‘Fleur needs to take it easy.’

Fleur rolled her eyes and then wished she hadn’t as another moment of dizziness overtook her and she lost her balance for a split second. Bill raised an eyebrow at her as he steadied her.

‘I’m going to go in and get some drinks for us all. You are going to go and sit down. Now.’ Bill said firmly.

Harry and Ron took off into the sky once more, with Harry casting a last cautious look at Fleur over his shoulder as he did. Fleur sighed once more and finally looked to where Hermione had been standing. She wasn’t there. Fleur cast her eyes frantically around the paddock before spotting Hermione back on the blanket, head down and book open in her lap. When had she moved?

‘Go on.’ Bill nudged Fleur in the direction of the blanket. ‘And try to behave for once.’ He called after her jokingly.

Chapter Text

Other than the sound of birdsong from the surrounding trees and the occasional shouts from Harry and Ron above them, Fleur and Hermione sat in silence upon the picnic blanket in the Weasley’s paddock.

Fleur stretched her legs out in front of her and leant back on her hands, she had tried to watch the boys’ activities in the sky but found that the brightness of the sun, now that it had risen even higher, was playing havoc with her headache. She turned a cautious eye to Hermione instead.

Hermione’s posture was painfully rigid and she was resolutely not looking at Fleur. Instead, her eyes remained solely on the book lying open in her lap. Focused on the words before her but quite clearly not reading them. Fleur noted after a few of minutes of the strained silence that Hermione had yet to turn a page.

‘Hermione.’ Fleur tried at last. ‘I know you’re not reading.’

Hermione resolutely turned a page of her book in response.

‘Hermione.’ Fleur said again. ‘Please don’t give me the silent treatment again.’

Hermione slammed her book shut making Fleur jump.

‘I am not giving you the silent treatment!’ Hermione seethed. ‘I am trying to think of the right way to express how completely and utterly… pissed off I am!’

‘Ah.’ Fleur replied. There wasn’t a great deal more she could say to that. Hermione’s eyes were blazing with a ferocity that Fleur had not felt directed at her before. It was both alarming and strangely exciting to see.

‘Ah?’ Hermione demanded. ‘Is that all you have to say?’

Fleur shrugged.

‘The shrugging is suddenly not so cute.’ Hermione spat out. And Fleur shrank away from her.

‘Hermione, I’m sor—’

‘Why didn’t you wake me when you got in? I could have looked after you. Why didn’t you tell me this morning? I knew you were being weird!’ Hermione fumed. ‘You didn’t think to mention you had been attacked by death eaters and come away with a concussion? You want to take care of me, but I am not allowed to take care of you, is that it? Because if this, this… friendship is going to work, then it has to go both ways!’

‘I was not knocked out by a curse, Hermione,’ Fleur muttered. ‘I am far too good at shielding spells for that,’ she added with what was supposed to be a charming grin. Hermione scoffed and the grin faded from Fleur’s face.

‘Well something knocked you out apparently, so maybe you shouldn’t be so smug about your shielding abilities.’ Hermione replied.

‘Oui. Something knocked me out. But not a death eater,’ Fleur agreed and then lowered her voice, ‘it was a bit of stone from the collapsed tunnel.’ She mumbled.

‘What?’ Hermione barked.

‘I was hit in the head by falling debris,’ Fleur said louder this time, ‘and it ‘appened after the death eaters were contained.’

Hermione looked to Fleur in disbelief.

‘Hold on a minute, am I getting this right? You were knocked unconscious last night and you didn’t tell me because you’re embarrassed that it was caused by rubble rather than a curse from a death eater?’ Hermione let out.

‘Non!’ Came Fleur’s exasperated reply. ‘I didn’t tell you because I didn’t want to worry you! You don’t need to hear about the few remaining death eaters being rounded up, you don’t need reminding of all that at the moment.’ Fleur trailed off as she saw fresh anger brewing on Hermione’s face. ‘I can see now that I shouldn’t—’

‘Do you think I’m stupid, Fleur?’ Hermione demanded and then barrelled on before Fleur could reply, ‘I know there are still death eaters around! I know things like this will still happen from time-to-time. I am not scared of death eaters! I am scared of losing more of the people I love!’ She stopped to take a breath as her words washed over Fleur.

Fleur opened her mouth to reply but Hermione got there first.

‘So in the future, do me a favour and let me decide what I can handle hearing about and what I can’t.’

‘I will. I’m sorry,’ Fleur relented, feeling thoroughly chastised and hoping Hermione’s ire was cooling.

‘And another thing!’ Hermione blurted clearly too irate to let the topic drop, ‘I don’t ever want to hear that you’ve done something as completely senseless as taking on three death eaters alone again. And that does not mean you don’t tell me about it, it means you don’t do it! For goodness’ sake, Fleur, you really could have been killed. I actually could have lost you. And I don’t… I can’t—’

Hermione’s words were interrupted by a hiccupping sob that she looked alarmed to let escape.

‘Hermione.’ Fleur said softly.

‘I just don’t want to lose you, OK?’ Hermione bit out harshly and Fleur could see tears glistening at the rims of her eyes.

Fleur moved closer to Hermione on the blanket and took both of the younger witch’s hands in her own. She was surprised to find them trembling and she soothed them, stroking the backs of Hermione’s hands with her thumbs.

‘You are not going to lose me,’ Fleur promised, making sure to look directly at Hermione as she said it. ‘I am fine. Just a headache, I promise. And I will never do something like that again.’

Hermione nodded.

‘And you’ll never fly with a concussion again either?’ Hermione requested.

Fleur nodded.

‘And you’ll never keep something so important from me again?’ Hermione asked.

Fleur paused this time. There was already something important that she was keeping from Hermione, something that might explain Hermione’s response to hearing that Fleur had been in danger, something that Fleur was not ready to share yet. It was far too soon to try to explain the thrall that was affecting them both, or rather it would risk complicating things further. Fleur’s contemplation dragged on just long enough for Hermione to give her hands a shake in order to prompt a response.

Fleur nodded again.

‘OK.’ Hermione breathed. She looked reassured, but there was still anger smouldering beneath the surface. Fleur could almost feel it.

Just then they were interrupted by the sound of footsteps swishing through the long grass as Bill reappeared carrying a tray of fresh lemonade, courtesy of Molly Weasley. Hermione tugged her hands free from Fleur’s and stood up just as Bill reached the blanket.

‘I’ll go and call the boys down,’ Hermione muttered and walked off leaving Bill and Fleur both watching her stalk away.

‘Something I said?’ Bill asked once Hermione was out of earshot. Fleur flopped backwards on the blanket and closed her eyes.

‘Something I haven’t said.’ She let out.




Hermione walked until she was the other side of the paddock from Fleur and Bill. She was struggling to calm her heart that had been racing since Bill first yelled at Fleur. Standing silent and hearing first Fleur’s and then Bill’s account of what had happened at Gringotts the day before had sent Hermione’s stomach plummeting. Her mind had gone immediately to the worst-case scenario, the image of a world without Fleur in it and she had been struck dumb by the horror of that idea. And Fleur hadn’t even deemed it necessary to tell Hermione that something had happened, that she’d been hurt. Either that or she considered Hermione too weak to handle the news. And so she had to find out from Bill of all people… Fear had given way to fury then.

And that fury had mixed with another hot roiling feeling when Bill had ended his tirade by pulling Fleur into his arms. It had looked so natural, so normal for them to be in that position that Hermione just had to look away. Felt queasy. Had to get away. She glanced back at them now across the paddock. Fleur was lying on her back across the blanket and Bill sat by her side facing her. Even from this distance, Hermione could hear the murmuring of their conversation. She imagined the endless time they had spent together when they were married, just conversing simply like that. She looked away again, breathing hard through her nostrils, and searched the sky for Harry and Ron, spotting them spiralling above. Flying had never looked so appealing.

‘Harry!’ She shouted, ‘Ron! Come down and have a drink!’

The two boys pulled out of their spiral and pointed their brooms towards Hermione. This time they both made controlled landings, thankfully.

‘Bill’s brought lemonade out.’ Hermione told them once they reached her.

‘Great, I’m parched!’ Ron replied, slinging his broom over his shoulder and his arm around Hermione. It was wrong, she knew, but Hermione didn’t step out of his reach.

‘Are you alright, Hermione?’ Harry asked quietly as he fell into step the other side of her.

‘Why wouldn’t she be?’ asked Ron with a laugh, ‘Fleur’s the maniac taking on death eaters! I mean, seriously, I know she’s a talented witch but that sounds mad. She’s lucky they only knocked her out.’

Harry looked past Ron to Hermione and raised his eyebrows at her in silent question. Hermione just nodded.

‘Sounded like you gave her a right earful too,’ Ron went on, ‘we could hear you telling her off a mile away!’

‘It was a stupid thing for her to do,’ Hermione announced, ‘regardless of how talented she is.’

Ron laughed again.

‘She’s nearly as stubborn as you, ‘Mione. In fact, she might even be more stubborn! What do you reckon, Harry? Who’s worse, Hermione or Fleur?’ Ron asked.

Harry let out a slow breath.

‘I really hope we never have to find out.’ He said with grin that was answered with a swat to his shoulder from Hermione.

The trio had nearly reached the picnic blanket when Hermione saw Fleur raise her head and look towards them, shielding her eyes from the sun with her hand. Her expression darkened to a glare as she saw Ron’s arm around Hermione. A dark, rarely visited, corner of Hermione felt a shimmer of satisfaction at the sight.

‘Oi, what have I done?’ Ron asked Fleur, releasing Hermione from under his arm as they reached the blanket. ‘Hermione’s the one who gave you a scolding my mum would have been proud of!’

Hermione rolled her eyes at that.

‘You have done nothing,’ Fleur muttered to Ron as she sat up, ‘the sun is in my eyes, that’s all.’

‘It is rather bright today.’ Hermione said quietly, taking a seat next to Fleur.

‘Especially if you’ve got concussion.’ Bill laughed.

‘Oh shut up, William,’ Fleur shot back.

Ron let himself fall into a heap on the blanket beside Hermione.

‘Merlin, that was great fun. We need to do this more often,’ he sighed. ‘I really think you’d enjoy it, ‘Mione, if you just let me—’

‘Ron!’ Harry let out on a laugh, ‘stop bugging her about it. She doesn’t like flying.’

‘Thank you, Harry,’ Hermione said politely.

Ron grumbled under his breath before downing a glass of lemonade.

‘Did mum send out anything to eat?’ He asked Bill.

‘Afraid not, little brother.’ Bill replied.

Ron got to his feet once more.

‘I’m famished. Gonna raid the kitchen. Coming Hermione?’ He asked, holding a hand out to pull Hermione up.

Hermione could feel Fleur’s eyes on her without even having to look the other woman’s way.

‘I think I’ll stay put actually. The sunshine is so lovely.’ Hermione replied.

At once she felt Fleur’s gaze soften. Since when could she feel how someone was looking at her? She was probably imagining it.

‘I’ll come.’ Said Bill, ‘I’ve got to get back to Shell Cottage anyway, better say goodbye to mum first.’

Bill reached down and shook Harry’s hand.

‘Good to see you, Harry. Next time I’ll come to fly too. Boost numbers a bit.’ He smiled and Harry nodded enthusiastically.

Next, he clapped his hand gently on Hermione’s shoulder.

‘Sorry I thought you’d let this idiot fly with a concussion.’ He said softly, gesturing with his head at an indignant Fleur, ‘I should have known better. You’re the brightest one, after all.’ He finished with a wink.

Hermione couldn’t help but smile at that. She had always liked Bill. It was only recently that she started to find herself uncomfortable around him and really she had no justification for it.

‘If I had known,’ Hermione said, ‘I wouldn’t have let her leave the bed.’

Harry choked on his lemonade.

Hermione felt eyes on her again and realised with horror the implication of what she had just said. She looked to Fleur cautiously and found an amused expression waiting for her. With their attention on each other, both women missed the bemused expressions on two Weasley faces.

‘I mean—’ Hermione started breaking eye contact with Fleur and looking frantically to Bill.

‘If Baldlock contacts you again, tell him I’ll see him Monday. And that I haven’t forgotten I need to make a written statement,’ Fleur directed casually at Bill.

‘Righto,’ Bill nodded slowly. Then he leaned down and placed a kiss on Fleur’s head. ‘Don’t overdo it.’ He said lowly.

Fleur huffed out a frustrated breath but grumbled her agreement.


Five minutes after Bill and Ron had headed back to the house, Ron reappeared.

‘Mum says I can’t have any snacks because it will ruin my appetite,’ He groused. ‘She wants us all to stay for lunch.’

‘Great,’ Harry enthused, ‘We skipped breakfast.’

Hermione opened her mouth to reply but Fleur beat her to it.

‘I think I will go home and get some rest,’ she said, ‘though I probably shouldn’t go alone…’ she trailed off.

‘I’ll take Fleur home’ Hermione said decisively, relieved at the escape Fleur was offering. ‘Thank your mum for the invite though, Ron. And give her my love?’

Ron looked as though he wanted to contradict Hermione’s decision but Harry was on his feet already and heading for the Burrow.

‘Come on, Ron. I’m starving. See you at home, girls.’ He called over his shoulder.

Ron shot Hermione a slightly baleful look and then hurried after Harry.

‘Wait up!’ He yelled.

Hermione watched until the figures of the two boys were out of sight, then she let out an involuntary sigh and lay back on the blanket. It really was a gorgeously sunny day and it felt good to be out of the house. She closed her eyes against the warmth of the sun’s rays and tried to relax her body after the stress of the morning. A moment later, she felt the blanket shift beside her as Fleur returned to her prone position too. She was close enough that Hermione could feel her body heat, could reach out and touch her. But she didn’t. There was silence between them for a minute or two before Hermione spoke.

‘How are you feeling?’ She ventured softly. ‘I’d like an honest answer, please.’

Fleur hummed for a moment.

‘My head feels a bit fuzzy,’ she admitted. ‘If I move too quickly then my balance feels off. And I am tired.’

Hermione raised herself up on one elbow and peered down at Fleur in concern. She brushed a silky strand of hair out of the other woman’s face and was rewarded when the previously closed eyes opened to reveal depths of blue.

‘You do look tired,’ Hermione murmured, ‘And paler than usual.’

‘I did not sleep last night.’ Fleur whispered back, keeping her eyes fixed on Hermione, ‘the medic told me I should not sleep with a concussion.’

Hermione’s jaw clenched.

‘I really wish you had woken me,’ she sighed.

‘I should have. I can see that now. I am sorry, ma belle.’ Fleur replied, and the remorse in her voice went a long way to cooling Hermione’s bubbling temper. Hermione huffed out a breath and lay back down.

‘So you got home, found me wearing your jumper and sleeping in your bed like some kind of insane goldilocks and then you, what? Just sat up all night?’

‘I don’t know what a goldilocks is,’ Fleur said in confusion.

‘Goldilocks is a character in a muggle children’s story. She—’

‘Coming home to find you like made me feel… so much better.’ Fleur cut in.

Hermione felt as though she had just been buffeted by a warm wave. Fleur’s voice had almost cracked with honesty and Hermione was momentarily lost for words. She was struck again by the thought of what could have happened if the incident at Gringotts had worked out differently.

‘I don’t know why I did it.’ Hermione said at last. ‘I don’t know what made me put your jumper on but when I did… it sort of filled me with a confidence that I just haven’t had for such a long time. Is that mad? I know it’s mad.’

‘It’s not mad.’ Fleur said quietly. ‘It’s not mad at all.’

Hermione felt Fleur turn to look at her and, like a magnet, Hermione turned too. Fleur’s eyes had more emotion than Hermione was prepared for. They were brimming with something unsaid. Hermione waited with bated breath but Fleur said nothing more and a moment later, she moved her head to face the sky once again.

‘I was in your room because I had gone in to put the flowers there, and then Leandre sort of lost it. I’ve never seen him so frantic. I let him out and then worried if it had been the right thing to do, so I waited for him to come back. And then, I suppose I just fell asleep?’ Hermione rambled.

‘He came to the bank,’ Fleur said simply, ‘He is more connected to me than the average pet. He sensed I was in danger.’

Hermione let out an astonished breath, but then, when she thought about Leandre’s behaviour in the context of what she learnt from Bill earlier, it did make sense.

‘He is so attuned to you!’ Hermione let out.

‘Even more than I knew, it seems,’ Fleur agreed and then paused before adding, ‘it’s not just me. He knew about your nightmare the other night before I did.’

Hermione frowned.

‘Did he? That’s rather impressive. I think it’s quite unusual for owls to have that level of empathy with humans, you know.’ Hermione mused.

‘Not all humans. Just me. And now you.’ Fleur corrected.

Hermione turned her gaze to Fleur again and was met with the side of her face, her eyes remained resolutely closed. The air felt oddly thick all of a sudden.

‘Why…’ Hermione began, ‘Why would it be just you and me?’

‘He likes you,’ Fleur replied after a long pause, ‘because I like you.’

‘Well, yes. But surely you like lots of people.’ Hermione laughed. Then a memory made itself known. ‘Your mum… that time she was in the fireplace… she said she had never seen him behave the way he was with me.’

‘Oui.’ Fleur said. ‘She has not. Neither had I.’

‘But Fleur, why—’

Fleur sat up abruptly and Hermione watched as she immediately put a hand to her forehead and swayed a little.

‘Fleur!’ Hermione let out, pulling herself into a sitting position too. ‘For goodness’ sake! You even said that sudden movements made you dizzy.’

‘I forgot.’ Fleur shrugged.

Hermione let out a laugh and smiled at the other woman fondly. Fleur turned cautious eyes on her.

‘The shrugging is cute again?’ she ventured.

Hermione narrowed her eyes at her playfully.

‘Not quite.’ She grumbled and Fleur’s shoulders slumped. ‘But I think we should get you home before you do yourself any more damage.’

‘OK.’ Fleur nodded and then winced before getting to her feet rather haltingly. Hermione followed her lead and then pulled out her wand to reduce the blanket and book until they were small enough to slip back into her bag.

Fleur held out her hand to Hermione, and Hermione moved to take it before pulling her hand back a bit.

I’m apparating us this time.’ Hermione said firmly.

Fleur’s eyes flitted about her face before settling on her eyes.

‘Oui?’ Fleur checked.

‘Oui.’ Hermione confirmed.

She could do this. It had definitely been a while. But she now felt confident in her ability not to splinch both of them.

Fleur turned her hand so it was palm up and Hermione took hold of it. As before, their fingers seemed to instinctively interlock with each other. And, as before, Hermione felt a raft of butterflies erupt into fluttering flight in her stomach.

Hermione took a deep breath, envisaged home, and then both witches vanished cleanly from the paddock.

Chapter Text

On Sunday morning Fleur woke to find herself unexpectedly in an empty bed. She had Hermione had spent the remainder of Saturday, while the boys were at the Burrow, having a quiet day together. Hermione seemed incredibly concerned that Fleur take it easy. She had made Fleur something to eat, keeping it simple so as not to upset Fleur’s post-concussion nausea, and then they had sat in the study and Hermione had read more to Fleur from her favourite childhood book. Fleur had let out a light laugh every time she saw Hermione peering over the top of the book to make sure that Fleur hadn’t fallen asleep in her position stretched out along the sofa in the study with her head in Hermione’s lap.

Fleur had never felt so contented. By the evening, enough time had passed since her head injury that it was safe for Fleur to sleep without fear of repercussions. Hermione had wished her goodnight at her bedroom door and there had been a somewhat uncomfortable exchange where neither seemed to know whether or not a hug was appropriate. In the end, Hermione had stepped forward rather suddenly and wrapped her arms around Fleur for moment before bobbing her head, mumbling goodnight and hurrying into her own room. Fleur had remained in the hallway momentarily before striding the couple of steps to Hermione’s door and knocking once before opening it.

Hermione had been in the process pulling a pyjama top on over her head and Fleur felt briefly guilty for not pausing longer before barging in. She had also felt rather pleased she had not, as her eyes raked over the rare glimpse of the creamy skin of Hermione’s stomach.

‘What’s wrong?’ Hermione let out anxiously as she tugged her pyjama top down.

‘Nothing is wrong, ma belle.’ Fleur assured her. ‘I just thought maybe… Maybe you would stay with me again tonight? Just in case.’

Fleur wasn’t sure what she had meant by ‘just in case’. Was she implying that she felt nervous to sleep after her concussion? Because she did not. Or would Hermione assume she was referring to her own chronic nightmares? A few seconds passed and Fleur chose not to clarify her statement. She just wanted Hermione beside her. How Hermione chose to interpret the request was hardly relevant as long as she agreed to it.

‘Yes,’ Hermione said with a firm nod, ‘Good idea. That would probably be for the best.’ She agreed.

Hermione hadn’t elaborated on who it would be good for either.

And so, for the third night in a row, Fleur’s bed had two occupants. Well, two human occupants and one cat who was indifferent to where he slept as long as it was warm. Fleur had fallen asleep almost as soon as her head hit the pillow. She could only assume that Hermione followed soon after.

But now Fleur found herself alone. She could tell from the amount of daylight seeping into the room that it was later than usual. And the other side of the bed looked slept in but now vacant. Fleur sat up and rubbed her eyes. She looked around the room, brow furrowed and pouting slightly. It would have been nice to wake up with Hermione. Her eyes landed on the flowers on her dressing table. She had been so surprised to see them there the other night. Even through her pounding headache and cloudy vision, she had seen them for what they were; a flicker of hope that Hermione was feeling the same way as her. The idea of Hermione buying flowers for her, of Hermione venturing back to Diagon Alley when Fleur knew for a fact that it had been an unpleasant experience for her the last time, filled Fleur with both warmth and pride. She was proud of the progress Hermione had made. And the fizzing optimism from the fact that Hermione had given her flowers was only compounded when she had then noticed the slumbering form of Hermione on her bed.

She had tugged the blankets out from where Hermione had fallen asleep on top of them, and had placed them over the other witch instead, tucking her in carefully so as not to wake her. Then Fleur had set about spelling her clothes clean, singed and dirtied as they were from her entanglement with the death eaters. That must have been when Hermione had dreamt of something burning, prompted by the smoky odour from a bombardment of curses still clinging to Fleur’s clothes. Fleur had thanked Merlin that Hermione hadn’t woken and seen her in the state in which she had returned that night. As much as Fleur regretted Hermione’s later distress, she remained glad that Hermione had not witnessed her blood-spattered and disorientated. It had mostly not been her own blood, and a simple glamour had covered the gash across her hairline she sustained from the rubble. But still, better that Hermione hadn’t had to see it.

On this particular morning though, with Fleur’s body still exhausted both from the incident itself and from staying awake for so long, Hermione had clearly woken first. Fleur sighed and swung her legs out of bed. She stood, stretched and reached for the silk dressing gown slung over the back of her desk chair before slipping it on. She cocked her head from one side to the other, testing for dizziness, and found that she felt better. Still tired, but better. She left her room and headed downstairs in search of Hermione.

Yawning, Fleur pushed open the kitchen door and walked in to find Ron at the table, overflowing spoon of cereal halfway to his opened mouth. He looked up in surprise and Fleur pulled her dressing gown tighter about her waist.

‘Mornin,’ Ron nodded.

‘Good morning, Ron.’ Fleur replied, glancing about the room but finding no other occupant apart from Crookshanks sitting ever-hopeful next to his food bowl. She had no doubt that Hermione would have already fed her cat.

‘Where’s Hermione?’ Fleur asked. ‘And Harry.’

Ron had just succeeded in cramming the ambitious spoonful of cereal into his mouth, and hummed in response while he quickly chewed and swallowed what was in his mouth.

‘Harry persuaded Hermione to take Teddy Lupin to the park with him.’ Ron explained. ‘How are you feeling?’ He asked.

‘I am fine, thank you,’ Fleur replied, ‘Do they often take Teddy out?’ Neither of them had ever mentioned it to Fleur.

‘Well, Harry does. Hermione normally, you know, doesn’t really leave the house,’ Ron said thoughtfully. ‘She’s got loads better recently though, don’t you think?’ he added happily.

‘Oui,’ Fleur nodded. ‘She does seem to be doing well. You didn’t want to go with them?’

‘Mione said someone had to be here in case you weren’t feeling well this morning,’ Ron mumbled around a more appropriately sized spoonful of cereal. ‘Thought I better stay on her good side, so I said I’d stay here.’

‘I do not need a babysitter,’ Fleur let out, with a frown. ‘It was only a little head injury.’

‘Looks more than a little head injury to me.’ Ron chuckled.

Fleur’s hand shot up to her forehead and, sure enough, her fingertips encountered a raised, recently scabbed gash cutting into her hair. It was painful to press on, and Fleur could imagine the impressive bruise that framed the broken skin too. The glamour had faded.

‘Merde,’ Fleur hissed, wondering if Hermione had noticed the wound when she woke up. The injury would disappear in a day or two anyway, but Fleur had intended to keep it disguised in the meantime.

Ron laughed good naturedly.

‘You’re lucky ‘Mione doesn’t know you tried to hide that,’ he nodded at her head. ‘You’ve seen just how scary she can be now! I don’t envy you getting yelled at by her, but it was nice to see her back to her old self.’

Fleur found herself letting out a chuckle too at the earnest look on Ron’s face. Clearly he had experienced a few of Hermione’s angry rants directed his way too.

‘I think perhaps she just gets rather… impassioned.’ Fleur suggested.

‘I think perhaps she just gets a bit mental.’ Ron replied. ‘She attacked me with charmed canaries once. It was awful.’

And now Fleur was definitely laughing.

‘It wasn’t funny!’ Ron said indignantly, but then he too was laughing. ‘D’you want a coffee?’ he asked when he’d stopped laughing.

‘That would be nice, merci.’ Fleur nodded and took a seat at the table as Ron got up to make her a coffee. Whilst he was occupied, Fleur ran a finger across the cut on her head, closed her eyes and concentrated on the image of smooth, unmarked skin. She felt the scabbed skin beneath her finger even out.

‘Here you go,’ Ron said, clunking a mug of coffee in front of Fleur and returning to his seat. ‘Woah,’ he exclaimed, ‘how did you do that? Veela magic is something else.’

Fleur shrugged and took a sip of her coffee.

After a moment’s silence, Ron cleared his throat awkwardly.

‘Actually, Fleur, I was wondering… Um, because you’re like, you know, a girl and stuff. I thought maybe you could give me some… advice?’ Ron said haltingly.

Fleur surveyed him over the top of her coffee mug with one eyebrow raised warily.

‘What kind of advice, hmm?’ she asked, though she had a squirming feeling in her stomach that she already knew what was coming.

‘It’s just that things with me and Hermione have been… Not quite what I wanted them to be, or thought they would be, you know?’ he said. He was running his finger around a knot in the wooden table, his eyes on the motion of his finger rather than Fleur.

Fleur felt her mouth go dry. Her suspicions confirmed that this was indeed where Ron’s disjointed rambling was leading.

‘Have you ever just felt like something was supposed to be? Like there was someone you were supposed to be with?’ Ron asked, his eyes wide. Then he shook his head. ‘Sorry. I guess you haven’t, what with the whole marrying my brother so you could stay in the country thing.’

There was prickling behind Fleur’s eyes and she had to swallow a couple of times and clear her throat before she felt able to reply, and even then she found there was nothing she could say. Ron nodded at her in understanding. Though Fleur knew he couldn’t actually understand the reason for her lack of reply.

‘Anyway,’ he carried on, ‘After the battle, that night, Hermione and me… Well, you know, we… had sex.’ He finished in a hushed voice. ‘And it was great and everything, of course.’

Fleur took a gulp of her coffee and found it suddenly tasted ashy and bitter. Why did both Ron and Hermione feel the need to tell her this?

‘But since then, nothing,’ Ron went on, chancing a glance at Fleur, ‘I still like her, or love her, or whatever, but I just… Do you think now that she’s starting to, like, go out and stuff again, I should, I don’t know, ask her on a date or something? Harry says I need to let it go but—’

‘A date.’ Fleur repeated her voice sounding nearly as numb as she felt.

‘I know. It seems weird. Like, do we need to go on a date? We’ve practically lived together for years at this point. But girls like that kind of thing, right?’ Ron finished uncertainly. ‘And you and her seem close now, so I thought maybe she would have said something to you… about me.’

Fleur felt herself standing up from the table, heard the legs of her chair scraping on the flagstone floor. She looked about the room for something, anything to distract her from the conversation she seemed to be embroiled in. Her head was throbbing again and she wasn’t sure if it was the thrall or the concussion this time. It hardly mattered.

Crookshanks emitted a low mewl from his post at the food bowl, and Fleur reached for the cupboard where she knew Hermione kept his food.

‘Well, I have never asked a girl on a date.’ Fleur said at last, ignoring the last thing Ron had said. Her voice sounded not quite like her own, as she let out an odd reedy laugh.

‘Of course not.’ Ron replied, and she could hear the bafflement in his voice. ‘Although, that would be fine if you did, and I bet any girl would jump at the chance to date you. Or any guy.’ he added awkwardly. ‘But what I meant is you are a girl. And you know Hermione.’

‘Not as well as you do apparently,’ Fleur replied darkly and then wanted to immediately kick herself. ‘Has she shown any sign that she wants things between you to… progress?’ she asked and dreaded the answer.

There was a long pause, which Fleur spent filling the food bowl of an elated Crookshanks, who twisted himself around her ankles until she set the bowl before him.

‘I don’t know,’ Ron sighed at last. ‘She’s been so… un-Hermione ever since, you know,’ he trailed off for a moment and then lowered his voice, ‘ever since Bellatrix.’

He said the name as though he was uttering the filthiest word he knew and Fleur suddenly found that herself and Ron had more than one thing in common.

‘It’s hard to know what she wants.’ Ron admitted.

‘She has a lot to recover from,’ Fleur conceded.

And then, unbidden, the memory of the Weasley family – of which she had been a part at the time – huddled, grief-stricken around Fred’s body flitted into her mind and she added, ‘as have we all.’

Ron nodded grimly, his mouth a thin line.

‘I always thought we’d just be together, you know? But it hasn’t happened.’ Ron said, his voice laced with sadness. ‘I guess part of me is just worried that it’s never going to.’

Fleur returned to her seat across the table from him.

‘Sometimes we all have to adjust our expectations. Sometimes what was right at one time isn’t right at another.’ Fleur said at last.

‘So I shouldn’t ask her on a date?’ Ron asked, subdued.

‘I cannot advise on that.’ Fleur sighed.

She wanted to scream at him that he should absolutely not ask Hermione on a date. That if anyone was going to do such a thing it would be her, not him. But instead she found that the same burning jealousy she felt when she saw the two of them together was not present in this moment when it was just Ron, sitting opposite her, looking lost. It was a cruel turn of events that had led children into war and then spat them out the other side as adults so unable to untangle what was left.

‘You’ll have a friend for life now, you know that?’ Ron’s voice broke Fleur from her thoughts.

‘What?’ She asked, confused.

‘Him,’ Ron gestured with a nod to the ground beside Fleur’s chair.

Fleur looked down and was met with a round pair of yellow eyes watching her intently and a rumbling purr.

Fleur chuckled softly and reached down a hand which Crookshanks immediately butted his fluffy head against.

‘Sorry.’ Ron said suddenly.

‘For what?’ Fleur murmured, her focus still on the cat.

‘You probably didn’t need to know all that about Hermione and me.’ He explained.

Fleur turned her attention back to Ron.

‘It’s important to talk about the things that trouble us,’ Fleur shrugged. She was well aware of the hypocrisy of that statement.

‘I’m glad she has you. Hermione, I mean. She’s loads better since you got here.’

Fleur nodded, swallowing down a creeping feeling of guilt.

‘You sure you’re feeling better today though, right?’ Ron checked when Fleur offered no response to his previous statement, ‘because ‘Mione will kill me if I don’t look after you properly.’

Fleur couldn’t help but laugh at the look of apprehension on Ron’s face.

‘Do I seem like somebody who needs looking after to you, hmm?’ Fleur asked him, with a tone of amusement in her voice.

‘Well… No.’ Ron admitted.

‘Mmm,’ Fleur hummed then lowered her voice to a whisper, ‘I think we can both make it through the day without another telling off from Mademoiselle Granger then, don’t you?’

‘Bloody hope so.’ Ron grumbled.

‘Bon,’ Fleur nodded, ‘I am going to shower and then I must write my statement for the auror department.’ She sighed.

‘I’ve got homework for auror training to do. Homework! Can you imagine? I thought I’d seen the back of homework after Hogwarts, but no… And now I can’t even copy Hermione’s.’ Ron groaned.

Fleur laughed.

‘I will meet you back here in half an hour? We can suffer through our tasks together.’ She offered.

‘Deal,’ Ron agreed with a small smile as Fleur got up from the table. ‘And Fleur?’ he added, ‘thanks.’

‘De rien.’ Fleur shrugged. It wasn’t nothing. It had pained her to leave his hopes for a future with Hermione open-ended, and it had pained her to see the anguish on his face over it.

‘Yeah,’ Ron nodded but looked thoroughly at a loss over her response. ‘Um, you too?’

Fleur bit back a smile and left the kitchen.

 

In the shower, Fleur allowed the hot water to fall over her as she remained motionless for a moment or two under its cascade. Steam built up in the bathroom around her and she finally raked a hand through her wet hair and let out frustrated groan. When she had first accepted Harry’s invite to move in at 12 Grimmauld Place, she had thought she was doing so purely for a more convenient commute to work. She had not anticipated the disarray it would create in her life.

Putting aside the fact that she was still pinching herself that her thrall had identified anybody, let alone that it happened to be Hermione Granger of all people, and ignoring entirely the conflict she was in over explaining the situation to Hermione, Fleur now had the added weight of Ron’s feelings to bear. And he had confided in her just after she had allowed herself one reckless moment the day before when discussing Leandre’s connection to both herself and Hermione. Perhaps it was the concussion, but for one wild moment Fleur had willed Hermione to ask the right questions, for her to begin to figure it out for herself with that impressive brain of hers.

And then Fleur’s common sense had kicked in. And perhaps her mother’s warning not to push Hermione too far too soon. Fleur was not known in her family for her patience. And lying side-by-side in the sunshine with Hermione, finally feeling assured that the thrall was affecting the other woman too – enough to prompt a thorough telling off for putting herself in harm’s way – lasting happiness had felt close enough to touch. She had nearly risked their progress. And what had she expected? Hermione to figure out centuries of Veela lore and then her own place within it in the space of one conversation? And then what? Jump straight into Fleur’s arms?

Fleur threw her head back, turning her face up into the stream of water from the shower and let it wash away a few frustrated tears. Everything her grand-mére had ever told her about this stage in a Veela’s life had made her think that finding the right person was the hard part and falling in love was easy. It didn’t feel that way to Fleur, not today anyway. Progress with Hermione was one step forward, three steps back. And now she had been gifted the image of her love entwined with Ron once more. And Ron’s bewildered face at the thought of a future without Hermione as his partner. Fleur could relate to that.

Letting out one final huff of aggravation, Fleur twisted the tap and turned off the shower. She stepped out into the steam-filled bathroom and waved her hand across the mirror, an arc of glass de-fogged itself and Fleur peered into it, double-checking that her glamour had successfully disguised her injury. She surveyed the rest of her body. There were a few bruises here and there, and a couple of scrapes, but nothing that wouldn’t be hidden by clothes, nothing in any danger of being seen. How she wished that wasn’t the case.

With another wave of her hand, her body was dry and Fleur started getting herself dressed. She would be true to her word and would spend some more time with Ron as they bonded over something else they had in common – a dislike for paperwork. Fleur hoped Hermione would return soon though. Pleased as she was that the younger woman was taking yet another step out of her self-imposed separation from the outside world, Fleur had an uncomfortable feeling that the unexpected lack of Hermione was partially to blame for her own murky mood.

Chapter Text

The park was one typical of London, with wide neatly gravelled pathways and swathes of green fields dotted with various shrubberies, abundant with trees as old as some of the buildings still visible in the periphery. A Sunday morning staple for muggles and wizards alike as they exercised or strolled leisurely with friends and families. The air was rife with shrieks of playing children and the chatter of grown-ups clutching cardboard coffee cups.

Strolling around the park next to Harry as he manoeuvred Teddy about the gravelled pathways in his pushchair was a far cry from pretty much every Sunday Hermione had ever experienced. And particularly her Sundays of recent weeks, which had been spent rattling around the 12 Grimmauld Place, trying to tamper down her anxiety out of the sight of Harry and Ron whilst simultaneously side-stepping any suggestion of leaving the house. She suspected that Harry had anticipated the same response to his invite this morning, and she hadn’t missed his eyebrows raised in surprise when she accepted on the basis that Ron would be staying at home to do his homework and could therefore keep an eye on Fleur. Fleur, who had been sleeping so peacefully when Hermione had awoken beside her that she struggled to even feel perturbed that the now visible gash across the other woman’s hairline suggested she had been a little less than honest about the scale of her injury.

It wasn’t without trepidation that Hermione had ventured out of the house to somewhere public, but it was another step in her process towards going to Gringotts. A plan that, since yesterday, she had felt the intense need to bring forward quite drastically. Counter-intuitive, one might imagine, to hear of a death-eater break-in at the bank and find that instead of running scared, it made her more determined to accompany Fleur to work. Was that partially out of fear of another reckless decision from the older woman? Well, perhaps.

Hermione took a lungful of crisp fresh air and expelled it slowly, attempting to calm the uneasy tumbling sensation in her stomach as their little party of three approached a more crowded part of the park, next to the duck pond. She had noticed plenty of open stares directed their way, and a fair amount of whispering. Harry had not mentioned it though, and had not reacted to it. Hermione was trying, mostly successfully, to follow his lead.

‘He seems very comfortable with you, Harry.’ Hermione noted softly, referring to a contentedly babbling Teddy in his pushchair.

‘It’s not our first trip to the park.’ Harry laughed.

‘No, I know,’ Hermione replied, ‘but still, you’re relaxed with each other. I wouldn’t have the first idea of what to do with a baby.’

‘Neither did I at first,’ Harry confessed. ‘I just want to be the Godfather for Teddy that I know Sirius wanted to be for me. I want to do it for him as well as for Lupin and Tonks.’

‘Oh, Harry.’ Hermione stepped closer to him and wrapped her hand in the crook of his elbow. ‘That is very admirable. And it’s clear that Teddy already loves you a great deal.’

Harry didn’t reply and Hermione didn’t need to look at him to know that he was feeling choked with emotion. She simply linked her arm further through his and continued walking, doing her best to ignore the looks they were garnering from families throwing bread for the ducks. Out of the corner of her eye, however, Hermione watched a woman who was so lost in her staring at Harry and Hermione that she had thrown at least three pieces of stale bread straight into jaws of a passer-by’s dog and had missed the duck pond entirely. Hermione rolled her lips inward to stop the amused smile that was growing.

‘How’s Fleur this morning?’ Harry asked.

‘Still asleep when I got up,’ Hermione replied, distracted by the scene at the edge of the duck pond as the dog’s owner had now noticed what was going on too. And then Hermione’s words caught up with her.

‘I mean, when I checked in on her. She was asleep,’ Hermione rushed out, glancing at Harry. He kept his gaze straight ahead and his face gave nothing away.

‘It’s OK, you know,’ he said.

‘What is?’ Hermione asked cautiously. A flash of hot panic rushed through her that had nothing to do with being so exposed out in public.

‘Whatever’s happening with Fleur.’ He said simply. ‘All these sleepovers,’ he said knowingly.

‘Nothing’s happening with Fleur!’ Hermione let out, ‘They’re just that, sleepovers. It helps, I think, with the… with the nightmares, to not be alone.’

Harry hummed.

‘And yet you’ve never sought out sleepovers with me or Ron.’ He pointed out.

‘Well, that would be different.’ Hermione stated immediately.

‘Yes. That’s sort of what I mean, Hermione.’ Harry laughed.

‘Oh.’ Came the response. ‘I mean, we’re friends, of course, Fleur and I. And she has helped me to feel more… secure lately. But other than that, it’s just… you know,’ she finished vaguely.

‘I think maybe I do know,’ Harry agreed, ‘and I think maybe you do too, if you’re ready to admit it?’ he ended with a query.

‘Harry, I don’t…’ Hermione trailed off.

Harry momentarily released his grip on one of the handles of Teddy’s pushchair and put his hand on top of Hermione’s that was still wrapped around his arm. He squeezed her hand.

‘I don’t know what’s happening.’ Hermione admitted quietly. ‘I feel this pull towards her. It’s like, wherever she is… I want to be there too. I’m constantly being drawn in, and… and I like it.’

Harry nodded but stayed quiet. Hermione took a deep breath, there were so many words clamouring to get out of her, so much that she had kept trapped inside, not examining too closely for fear of what she might find. She knew once it was out, there was no going back. But it was Harry. Her best friend, basically a brother. Hermione swallowed and then spoke.

‘She just makes everything feel better, you know? She’s got this presence that is so calm and assured. And she’s so clever and so sort of quietly powerful. Did you know she can do wandless and wordless magic?’ Hermione asked.

Harry chuckled.

‘I did know that. It’s very impressive,’ he agreed.

‘It’s so impressive!’ Hermione enthused. ‘And she’s funny too. Sometimes she lets this playful side show. I had no idea she could be like that. I think I always saw her as this kind of intimidating ice queen or something, aloof and judgy, and I never paid her much attention. At least, until that time at Shell Cottage. But I know now how caring she actually is.’

‘Hermione,’ Harry started, ‘do you think there’s a chance that you have feelings for Fleur?’ He asked plainly, as though he was asking whether he might borrow a book.

Hermione took a sharp intake of breath. The wave of panic that had subsided while she was speaking reached another peak.

‘That would be… very bad.’ Hermione said softly.

‘Bad?’ Harry asked. ‘Why?’

‘Well… For a start, I don’t think for one second those feelings could be returned.’ Hermione pointed out.

Harry let out an undignified snort.

‘What?’ Hermione gasped, ‘Harry, she’s amazing and confident and—’

‘And you’re the brightest witch of our age,’ Harry reminded her. ‘A fiercely loyal and loving person. The Golden Girl of the Golden Trio,’ he finished teasingly.

‘I know you hate that as much as I do,’ Hermione reminded him in a growl. Harry laughed.

‘My point stands. You’re a catch, Hermione Granger, and I think Fleur is well aware of it,’ he said firmly.

Hermione looked at him uncertainly.

‘Well aware?’ she repeated.

‘Well aware.’ Harry confirmed. ‘And those feelings you described? That pull to be wherever she is? That sounds an awful lot like how I feel about Ginny,’ Harry said gently. ‘It also sounds an awful lot like the work of a Veela thrall!’ he added with grin.

Hermione released his arm and swatted it instead.

‘If that were case, surely you and Ron would be pining over her too,’ she said jokingly. Then she caught up with her own words and blushed at their implication. She supposed she was pining for Fleur.

‘Maybe not…’ Harry drawled with a smile, ‘I don’t know the intricate workings of a Veela mating ritual, do you?’

Hermione opened her mouth aghast, but her eyes were twinkling, enjoying Harry’s light-hearted words. Though something sparked in her mind at Harry’s teasing, it felt so good to be discussing her thoughts aloud. She linked her arm with Harry’s once more.

‘You won’t say anything, will you?’ she asked after a moment. ‘It would make things so uncomfortable if she knew. And if Ron knew.’

Harry nodded.

‘I won’t breathe a word. But I do think you should consider the possibility that Fleur feels it too,’ he suggested seriously and then his voice tightened, ‘and I do think, at some point, when you’re ready, you need to talk to Ron.’

Hermione swallowed uncomfortably and looked to Harry.

‘Not about Fleur,’ he assured her, ‘about, you know, you and him.’

Hermione sighed.

‘I know,’ she agreed. ‘I just don’t want to hurt him.’

‘It’s hurting him either way,’ Harry told her quietly.

Hermione didn’t reply. She knew Harry was right. She had known it for a while. But even that knowledge and the guilt it brought with it hadn’t pushed her to make it official, to let Ron down when she knew they had both felt like they were headed towards a future together. It was a lot to take away from someone who had already suffered a loss.

‘By the way,’ Harry said, ‘I think you left ‘unreasonably attractive’ off your description of Fleur,’ he added with a chuckle.

‘Harry!’ Hermione admonished, and then Harry swerved the pushchair away as he got out of reach of Hermione’s swatting hand. Teddy whooped at the sudden movement and then babbled more enthusiastically than before.

Harry straightened up the pushchair and was at Hermione’s side once more, offering out his elbow for her again. Hermione wrapped her hand around his arm again and leant her head on his shoulder as they walked. She sighed.

‘You are right though, she is unreasonably attractive.’ Hermione muttered.

Harry let out a bark of laughter and shook his head in amusement.

‘Come on, let’s take Teddy to the swings,’ he suggested.

 


With Teddy exhausted after a morning at the park and ready for a nap, Harry and Hermione returned him to Andromeda before heading home.

‘Thanks for coming with me, Hermione.’ Harry said on the steps of Grimmauld Place before they went inside. ‘I’m so glad you’re feeling more able to do things like this’ he went on, ‘whatever is giving you more confidence, I’m all in favour of it.’ He finished with a wink.

Hermione rolled her eyes but couldn’t hide her smile. She was pleased to have shared some of what was weighing on her chest with Harry. And his belief that Fleur might share her feelings had sent her heart soaring. Or at least it would have if she hadn’t kept her heart tethered, she had given it a bit more space to run though.

‘I had a nice morning.’ She smiled.

Harry unlocked the door and glanced over his shoulder at Hermione, ‘I wonder if Ron and Fleur have spent the morning setting up a Hermione Granger Adoration Society.’

‘You’re a pest, Harry Potter.’ Hermione told him.

Harry laughed at his own joke from the front door all the way to kitchen, with Hermione grumbling along in his wake. He pushed open the kitchen door and they both stepped in to see Ron and Fleur seated at the kitchen table with various bits of parchment scattered between them. Harry turned to Hermione, his eyes wide with glee. Hermione looked between Ron and Fleur in amazement and then locked eyes with Fleur who looked up at her with a bright smile.

‘Merlin, I think I was actually right.’ Harry whispered to Hermione.

Hermione elbowed Harry in the ribs and sent him a pointed glare, which only resulted in yet more laughter from him. Hermione rolled her eyes again.

‘What, um… What are you two doing?’ Hermione asked curiously.

‘Bloody homework.’ Ron muttered darkly.

‘My statement about the break-in.’ Fleur replied at almost the same time.

Hermione shot Harry a satisfied smirk and he held up his hands in defeat. They were not witnessing the first meeting of the Hermione Granger Adoration Society after all.

‘How are you feeling?’ Hermione asked Fleur, crossing the couple of steps separating them.

‘Much better after a good night’s sleep.’ Fleur replied, her eyes still fixed on Hermione.

Hermione hummed and lifted the back of her hand to the top of Fleur’s forehead where she had seen the wound before she left that morning. It was nowhere to be seen now.

‘Uh oh.’ Hermione heard Ron mumble from across the table. Hermione glanced at him briefly before meeting Fleur’s eyes again and raising an eyebrow. She watched the movement of Fleur’s throat as she swallowed apprehensively. So Fleur did know how Hermione would feel about the glamour charm, Hermione realised with one look at the guilty look in Fleur’s eyes.

‘Ron has taken good care of me this morning,’ Fleur said quickly, clearly hoping to divert Hermione’s attention away from the glamour charm.

‘Really?’ Hermione asked, wishing the tone of surprise in her voice hadn’t been quite so evident.

‘Oi!’ Ron let out, ‘I’m capable of being caring.’

‘I know. Of course you are. Sorry, Ron,’ Hermione said earnestly. And it was true. She did know that he was perfectly capable of being caring at times.

Hermione’s eyes met Fleur’s once again. There was something swirling in that deep blue, something that Hermione couldn’t quite get to grips with.

‘You enjoyed the park with Harry and Teddy?’ Fleur asked her softly.

‘I did,’ Hermione nodded, ‘Teddy is very sweet and it was nice to have a walk.’

‘Harry, you’ve done this essay, right? Come and give me a hand.’ Ron called over his shoulder to Harry who was standing at the sink pouring himself a glass of water.

‘I am glad you had a nice time,’ Fleur murmured, her voice dropping even softer, ‘though I missed you when I woke up.’

Hermione’s stomach did an acrobatic movement she wasn’t aware it could do. She gulped.

‘I would have stayed,’ Hermione replied, her voice equally low in volume, ‘but the others were looking for me and I thought…’

‘I understand,’ Fleur shrugged and broke their eye contact. Hermione felt suddenly bereft as Fleur’s attention returned to the parchment before her. Harry was now leaning down and reading through Ron’s untidy scrawl. Hermione steeled herself and then touched her hand to Fleur’s forearm, forcing the other woman’s attention back her way.

‘Tomorrow morning I’ll be there when you wake up,’ Hermione promised barely above a whisper.

Fleur’s eyes had an edge to them now, an anticipation amongst the swirling unknown. Hermione momentarily feared she had assumed too much with her comment. But then—

‘I look forward to it, ma belle.’ Fleur murmured.

 

As she did every time Fleur called her that, Hermione felt lighter at once, almost giddy. And giddy was a feeling that nobody in their right mind would think to accuse Hermione of experiencing. And they’d all be wrong to dismiss it because right now, standing in the kitchen of Grimmauld Place, with Fleur’s sparkling eyes on her, Hermione felt giddy. In fact, she found herself wishing that Harry and Ron were not just across the table from them, that herself and Fleur were alone. It seemed that now Hermione had voiced the feelings she had for Fleur out loud, now they were no longer abstract shadowy shapes that she was keeping out of sight but had been given form and brought into light, they seemed to be taking up even more space, demanding her attention and refusing to be ignored.

Hermione’s curiosity, that had been squashed under the weight of her relentless anxiety, was straining to pull itself free. There were questions she wanted answers to. Hypotheses she wanted to test. Theories to interrogate.

‘Blimey ‘Mione.’ Ron’s voice shattered Hermione’s thoughts. ‘She said she was feeling fine. You don’t need to give her a full examination!’

‘What?’ Hermione gasped, suddenly aware of three sets of eyes on her.

‘You’ve been staring at Fleur’s head like you can will that glamour charm away.’ Ron explained.

Fleur shot Ron an exasperated look.

‘Oh bugger,’ Ron let out. ‘Sorry, Fleur,’ he added shiftily.

Fleur waved a dismissive hand in his direction but continued to avoid Hermione’s eyes.

‘For goodness’ sake,’ Hermione said in exasperation, ‘I knew she had cast a glamour charm! You don’t get knocked out without sustaining some kind of visible injury.’

‘Ha!’ Ron let out a laugh and then gave Fleur a conspiratorial look, ‘Maybe you were right, we actually might both get through the day without another telling off from Hermione!’

Hermione raised her eyebrows at both of them. Across the table, Harry stifled a chuckle.

‘Right,’ Hermione said decisively, ‘well, I’ve got things to do, so I’ll be upstairs for a bit. Enjoy your homework both of you.’

She wasn’t annoyed with either of them in the least. Her morning had been too nice for it to be dampened by the knowledge that Ron and Fleur had discussed Hermione’s occasional… admonishments. She only got like that when it was necessary, and a part of her had always quite liked the way she could instil a little fear in people when she had reason to. She shot Harry a knowing look, and he grinned back at her.

Ron looked dejectedly down at his homework once more. And Fleur—

‘I ‘ave finished with this.’ She announced, sweeping up her parchment and quill from the table. ‘I think I will go upstairs for a bit too.’

Hermione knew Harry was still looking her way. She did her best not to react to Fleur’s immediate decision to follow her upstairs. She didn’t want to do some embarrassing like blush about it whilst under Harry’s watchful eye. So Hermione turned and left the room. With Fleur close behind.

Chapter Text

After trailing into Hermione’s bedroom after her, Fleur suspected that, despite her assertion in the kitchen, Hermione did not in fact have ‘things to do’. Fleur had watched her fold a few items of clothing and put them away in her large old oak chest of drawers. The drawers required a fair amount of strength to heave out and then even more to shove back in again. Fleur marvelled yet again at the English and their home furnishings, as Hermione’s slight frame was exerted against the will of the drawer. In France, the furniture was elegant and altogether easier to manoeuvre.

Hermione, finished with her task, turned to look at Fleur with a question in her eyes. Fleur had rather followed on Hermione’s heels for no real reason other than feeling her day had not yet had enough Hermione in it.

‘So, you really did enjoy your morning?’ Fleur questioned at last, seating herself on Hermione’s bed and making it clear she intended to stay a while. ‘You felt OK being at the park?’

Hermione beamed at her and instantly crossed the room to sit next to Fleur, close enough that their legs were touching, and enthusiastically enough that the mattress dipped dramatically on impact. Fleur felt the air rush out of her lungs at the sight of Hermione’s happiness. It was contagious.

‘Oh Fleur, I actually did!’ she enthused. ‘I mean, I was still very aware of all the looks we were getting. People really aren’t as subtle as they think when they stare like that.’

Fleur laughed.

‘Non, they are not,’ she agreed. She had her own experience of people’s unsolicited gaze on her.

‘But after a while, I managed to sort of block it out for the most part. It was even funny at times.’ Hermione chuckled as though recalling something in particular.

‘I am so glad, ma belle,’ Fleur said, ‘it is wonderful to see you like this. And you went to Diagon Alley the other day too? By yourself? I don’t feel I have properly thanked you for those gorgeous flowers...’

‘That was slightly less fun,’ Hermione admitted, ‘it’s not so easy doing it alone, and in Diagon Alley everyone is much closer together. It felt a bit suffocating once a crowd had noticed me. That’s why I escaped into Forestry Floristry. Hence the flowers.’

Fleur nodded in understanding. She could relate to being the focus of a crowd and feeling the claustrophobia of it. Then what Hermione said clicked.

‘You went to Simon’s shop. I expect he knew exactly what to do!’

‘I… yes. You know him?’ Hermione stuttered, looking oddly uncomfortable.

‘Oui,’ Fleur nodded, ‘he is a friend of mine. I’ve known him since I started at Gringotts. His shop really took a hit during the war. Not much call for flowers at times like those.’ Fleur remembered how different things had been on Diagon Alley just a few months earlier. ‘Though, business picked up right after the war. As you can imagine.’ Fleur added sadly.

Hermione looked puzzled for a moment and then—

‘Funeral flowers,’ she realised.

Fleur nodded.

‘But his arrangements have become much happier again since. Like the ones you got me. A perfect choice,’ Fleur smiled at Hermione in a way that reached right up to her eyes.

Hermione looked uncomfortable again. Her fingers were twining and untwining with each other in her lap and Fleur could not locate the source of this discomfort.

‘And you.. uh… You talk to him a lot? Simon, that is,’ Hermione asked haltingly.

‘Sometimes we have lunch,’ Fleur shrugged, ‘why?’

‘No reason.’ Hermione rushed out.

‘OK…’ Fleur let out slowly, unconvinced that there wasn’t something else going on here.

Hermione seemed to shake herself out of whatever corner she had backed into, quite literally as she shook her head and forcibly relaxed her shoulders. Fleur watched the motion interestedly and waited for whatever Hermione was going to say next. Sometimes she had no idea what was going to come out of her mouth; there was something exciting about that, Fleur found.

‘I’ve been thinking about what you said; about me coming to work with you to help with the restoration spell you’re developing. Actually, I’ve not stopped thinking about it really since you asked me.’

‘Oh?’ Fleur intoned. And she had been right, that wasn’t something she had expected Hermione to say next. ‘And you have made a decision about it?’

‘Yes.’ Hermione said at once, almost as though she didn’t want to give herself time to think the answer through. ‘I’d like to help. I’d like to come to Gringotts.’

A wide smile spread across Fleur’s lips.

‘Ma belle, that is wonderful news—’

‘Tomorrow.’ Hermione interrupted, a slightly manic look in her eye as she held her gaze with Fleur’s.

‘Tomorrow.’ Fleur repeated, keeping her eyes on Hermione’s and willing them to stay steady against Hermione’s obvious nerves. ‘Tomorrow would be perfect,’ she agreed kindly.

‘Good,’ Hermione nodded once, firmly. ‘That’s good.’

It wasn’t clear who Hermione was trying to convince with her words, but Fleur had a feeling they weren’t for her benefit. 

A slightly uneasy silence fell over the pair at that point. Fleur could feel Hermione’s leg, now tense, against her own, and was aware that her posture had become more rigid beside her. Fleur racked her brain for a way to divert Hermione’s thoughts from her imminent trip to Gringotts. She had no idea why, if Hermione was so anxious about it, she had not only agreed to come anyway, but to do it so soon. But still, if Hermione had made a decision then Fleur would trust there was solid reasoning behind it. She would support Hermione in this.

‘I apologise for using the glamour charm on my injury,’ Fleur said at last, mostly just so that she had something to say. ‘It was not an attempt to deceive you. I would have done it regardless. But I am not sorry that you didn’t see the wound when it first occurred. It was… ugly.’

To her surprise, Hermione’s previously stiffened stance deflated as she let out a laugh.

‘Fleur!’ Hermione said in amusement. ‘Only you would worry about a head injury being ugly.’

Fleur felt affronted by that.

‘Do you think I am vain?’ She demanded. A nerve had been touched and her response had been instinctive.

‘I don’t actually,’ Hermione replied, not rising to Fleur’s heightened reaction. ‘Though you would have every reason to be,’ she added with a smirk that Fleur felt heat up her cheeks at once. ‘I just meant that it was a funny choice of word. I assume you mean it was a bit gruesome?’

‘Ah. Oui.’ Fleur let out. She didn’t like using the wrong words, she always felt disappointed in herself when she did. She was proud of her capabilities in the English language and it came as blow when she felt them not living up to her standards.

‘Ugly works too,’ Hermione assured her, ‘it was just funny coming from a woman known for… being, well, the opposite of ugly.’

Fleur would have been amused by the look of mild embarrassment on Hermione’s face at having, in a roundabout way, said that Fleur was attractive, but instead she felt her age-old frustration at being known mostly for her looks resurface. The Veela curse. Fleur huffed dejectedly.

‘What’s that look for?’ Hermione said softly, nudging her shoulder against Fleur’s affectionately. ‘Have I said the wrong thing now?’

Fleur sighed.

‘Non. I am being silly. It’s not you. It’s just…’ she trailed off, it always made her feel ridiculous to complain about the downside of Veela beauty, as though she was simply fishing for compliments or whining about having something that most people envy.

‘Just what?’ Hermione pushed, her loose hair slipped down her shoulder as she leant forward to better see Fleur’s expression and Fleur caught a breath of her scent – citrus and cedar. She felt her frustration seep away.

‘Sometimes it’s not what I want to be known for.’ Fleur mumbled.

Hermione looked confused so Fleur elaborated.

‘You said I was known for being the opposite of ugly,’ Fleur shrugged, ‘sometimes it would be nice to be known for something that I have done for myself, rather than something I am purely because of my Veela blood.’

‘Oh,’ was the reply. Hermione leaned back against the headboard of the bed. ‘I actually never thought of that. Yes, it makes sense that you would feel overshadowed by people’s perception of your… genetic traits. Like how people look at what I achieve through the prism of doing it despite being muggleborn.’

‘Exactement!’ Fleur nodded enthusiastically. She hadn’t considered that Hermione would understand so immediately what Fleur was saying, but of course she would. Who else could relate more to being seen only for her blood and not her abilities?

‘I’m sorry, Fleur. It wasn’t a fair thing for me to say.’ Hermione lamented.

‘It’s OK,’ Fleur said at once. ‘With you, I know you don’t mean it like that. I know that you don’t see me like that.’

Hermione looked perturbed by that comment.

‘Well, I mean, I do think you’re beautiful,’ Hermione professed a little guiltily, ‘but I think you’re much more than that too. And actually, I very rarely think about the fact that you’re part-Veela. You’re just… Fleur.’  

Fleur felt a burst of something warm in her chest.

‘Thank you, Hermione,’ she let out quietly. ‘It’s not that I am ashamed of being part-Veela either though.’

‘Of course not,’ Hermione nodded and then looked thoughtful once more. ‘Actually, Fleur, I was wondering if I could ask you a question about Veela. Something Harry said earlier got me thinking.’

‘I am not an expert on the matter, but I shall try to answer as best I can,’ Fleur replied openly. Hermione was probably going to ask her whether she could transform. That’s what most people wanted to know if they worked up the courage to ask her anything at all.

‘Remember when you came to Hogwarts for the tournament?’ Hermione began. And a dark cloud passed over Fleur’s features.

‘Sometimes I wish I could not remember it, but yes, I do.’

‘Well, all the boys were always drooling over you and following you about the castle. Even Ron lost his mind and asked you to the ball!’ Hermione said with wide, incredulous eyes.

‘Another moment I would forget if I could.’ Fleur nodded with a dry smile.

‘It was your thrall, wasn’t it, that made them all behave like that?’ Hermione asked.

Fleur’s heart felt like it skipped at least three beats. If she had known this was going be Hermione’s line of questioning, then she would have redirected it before she got this far. What was Fleur supposed to do now? She couldn’t lie to Hermione, and yet she wasn’t supposed to rush things, to complicate things, to ruin the relationship they had forged thus far by unleashing upon it the fact they could be potentially each other’s greatest loves. Nothing could put more pressure on a situation than that. Hermione was unknowingly backing Fleur towards a precipice there may be no coming back from.

‘Mmmhmm.’ Fleur nodded; her lips closed tight.

Hermione nodded too, confirming that she had already known the answer really.

‘So why doesn’t that happen now?’ Hermione asked. ‘When I briefly thought about it, I wondered if the fact that you were married to Bill put some kind of dampener on the effect your thrall had on others. But now you’re not married to Bill, and now I know you weren’t even in love with him then anyway. So, I just wondered if you could explain it.’ Hermione finished her rambling by catching Fleur in her interested gaze.

Fleur opened her mouth to reply and then promptly closed it again.

‘Well,’ she started. And then no words followed.

‘Sorry,’ Hermione let out, ‘is this rather a personal question for Veela?’

‘Non.’ Fleur replied, finally finding a word. ‘Well, yes, in a way, but… I shall try to explain.’

She took a deep breath, her mind whirring as she tried to figure out what information to share and what information to leave out. And how to do it all without lying or telling the whole truth. Hermione waited patiently.

‘When Veela are teenagers,’ Fleur began tentatively, ‘the thrall is…volatile. It is like hormones, hmm? You remember being a teenager and having very strong emotions? Having intense crushes on people?’

‘Like Krum.’ Hermione said quietly.

Fleur’s stomach tightened uneasily.

‘Now that is something I had forgotten. You went to the ball with him, yes?’ Fleur asked.

Hermione nodded, her cheeks flushed. Fleur’s stomach tightened further and she cleared her throat.

‘But yes, if you had a crush on Krum, then I imagine that is the kind of hormone induced behaviour I am talking about.’ She said with a forced smile.

‘So the thrall just kind of lashes out without your being able to control it when you’re a teenager?’ Hermione asked.

‘It is never something that can be controlled. That is a common misconception. But it was much more… active when I was a teenager, less discerning of who it affected. It didn’t have to be people I found attractive. It was just… testing its strength, I suppose.’ Fleur confirmed.

‘And as you get older, what happens?’ Hermione said, curiosity evident in her voice, ‘because Harry and Ron aren’t falling at your feet.

‘Thank goodness, hmm?’ Fleur laughed.

‘It would make for quite uncomfortable dinner times.’ Hermione agreed with a grin.

‘Much quieter though. More staring, less talking.’ Fleur replied. She was stalling for time, hoping Hermione would think of a different question so that she didn’t have to answer the last.

‘You didn’t answer the question.’ Hermione prompted.

Of course. Fleur was dealing with the intrepid intellect of Hermione Granger and she was not going to let her question go unanswered.

‘The thrall becomes… less active. And more focused when it is active.’ Fleur tried. She could feel her whole body heating up. She was on dangerous ground. One step further and the cliff edge she was balanced on could crumble beneath her.

‘Focused how?’ Hermione asked pointedly.

The air in the room felt thick and heavy. Fleur cleared her throat, though it didn’t help the constricted feeling there.

‘The Veela thrall is a tool,’ Fleur recited mechanically, remembering her grand-mere’s words as best she could. ‘Its function is to identify and alert the Veela to her… um… to a person who would be…’

‘Her mate?’ Hermione supplied.

Fleur cringed.

‘I don’t like the word,’ she admitted, ‘but some use it, yes.’

‘Is there a better word, do you think?’ Hermione queried softly.

‘“Mate” makes it sound animalistic and purely sexual. I do not believe that is the sole purpose of the thrall. I think… partner, in the true sense of the word, is better,’ Fleur replied, ‘two people who complement each other perfectly, who balance each other, make one another feel… whole.’  

Fleur had let her vision lose focus as she spoke; her blood was simmering and she couldn’t trust herself to look at Hermione and not lay the whole thing bare, damn the consequences.

‘That sounds wonderful,’ Hermione whispered and then she surprised Fleur by letting out a laugh. ‘I wish humans had something as useful as a thrall for finding the right partner.’

Hermione’s sudden laughter had broken the tension in Fleur.

‘Well, some humans are lucky. If they are the one a thrall identifies for its Veela,’ she said in amusement.

The smile slipped from Hermione’s face in slow motion and was replaced with an expression that Fleur could not decipher. She’d done it. She’d said too much. She watched the movement of Hermione’s throat as she swallowed.

‘And what does the thrall feel like?’ Hermione let out, barely above a whisper. ‘For a human?’

Fleur’s eyes were dancing about the room, unable to find anything to focus on, but desperate to avoid Hermione’s gaze that she could feel burning into the side of her head.

‘I don’t know,’ Fleur gasped at last, accompanying her words with a hollow laugh that sounded like it came from someone else, ‘I am not a human, hmm? Not fully.’ She hadn’t lied.

‘Fleur,’ Hermione said, not joining in the laughter. ‘Has your thrall identified your partner?’

‘It’s not like that,’ Fleur choked out, ‘it isn’t one chance, one partner. There are options. A Veela can ignore the thrall, and maybe some other time, it will identify somebody else.’ She redacted the fact that for the thrall of a quarter-Veela to identify one partner was pretty rare, the idea of it finding another would be more unlikely still.

‘And the person it identifies, do they have a choice too?’ Hermione murmured, her brow furrowed and her complexion growing pale.

‘Always,’ breathed Fleur.

‘But if they both choose to succumb to the thrall?’

‘Then they will be lasting partners, the kind that I described. The thrall will not search for someone else after that.’ Fleur explained shakily.

Silence flooded the room. Neither woman seemed able to look at the other now. Fleur’s heart was rampant in her chest, beating so hard it was almost thrumming. This wasn’t how it was meant to go. She hadn’t figured out how it was meant to go yet, but this certainly wasn’t it.

‘‘ermione.’

Fleur said her name. It was all she could do.

‘I, um… I don’t have any other questions.’ Hermione managed.

‘Are you sure?’ Fleur tested.

‘Yes.’ Hermione nodded.

She was pale, Fleur noticed, paler than she had seen her in some time. But she hadn’t moved, hadn’t edged away from Fleur, hadn’t run. Maybe she wasn’t thinking what Fleur thought she was thinking after all. Maybe she wasn’t lining up Fleur’s words with her own feelings and reaching the only inevitable conclusion. Maybe Fleur was a fool for thinking it.

And then a thought occurred to her.

‘What were you and Harry talking about?’ Fleur asked suddenly.

‘What?’ Hermione replied, sounding distracted.

‘You said something Harry had said earlier had prompted your questions just now. I wondered what you and he were talking about.’ Fleur clarified.

‘Oh!’ Hermione let out, her face looking for all the world like she had just landed from a great height with a bump. And that guilty look from earlier crept back across Hermione’s features.

‘We were just discussing, you know, old times from Hogwarts. Things like that,’ Hermione went on, her voice was uncertain.

Fleur, on the other hand, was completely certain; Hermione was not being entirely honest with that answer. But she would let it slide. She nodded slowly instead, her gesture belying the fact that she didn’t believe Hermione for a second. Hermione cleared her throat and looked yet more uncomfortable. The cheeks that had been ashen a moment ago suddenly bloomed in colour once more.

‘I think I better go and help the boys with that homework of Ron’s. Those two always get distracted when left to their own devices.’ Hermione let out in a hurry and almost leapt from the bed. The mattress, once again, seemed alarmed at her sudden movement.

Fleur nodded again, concealing a smile at Hermione’s scurrying across the room. Perhaps all hope was not lost. Interesting. And then Hermione screeched to a halt before she reached the door.

‘I, um… I meant it earlier,’ Hermione said so quickly that Fleur had to mentally slow the words in her head to understand them. She cocked her head to one side, waiting for Hermione to contextualise her statement.

‘Tomorrow morning, I’ll, um, I’ll be there when you wake up.’ Hermione explained, now fully flushed. ‘You know, before we go to work?’

Fleur opened her mouth in realisation and then closed it with a smile.

‘That sounds like a plan,’ she replied genuinely.

Hermione looked relieved for a moment, then bobbed her head a couple of times and left the room. Fleur let out a little laugh of disbelief and then sighed before getting up from Hermione’s bed and going in search of Leandre. She needed to send her statement off to auror’s office.

Chapter Text

True to her word, Hermione was next to Fleur when she woke up the following morning. In fact, not only did she wake up next to Fleur but, for the second time, she woke up surrounded by the other woman. Fleur’s arms were secured about Hermione’s waist. She could feel the length of her back pulled close to Fleur’s front, the soft swell of Fleur’s breasts against her shoulder blades. And, at the nape of her neck, Hermione felt Fleur’s every gentle exhale. An involuntary shiver had filtered down Hermione’s spine when she realised what the puffs of air were, followed by a flooding feeling of warmth and security.

Judging by the steady slowness of Fleur’s breaths, she was still fast asleep. Hermione was relieved. She had feared that Fleur’s instinct upon waking might be to release Hermione from her arms, and Hermione found that was the last thing she wanted. She let out a careful, contented sigh. Hermione had only woken in someone’s embrace once before and it had been Fleur’s arms she had found herself in that time too, though the circumstances had been vastly different. That had been the morning after The Nightmare. In hindsight, that night seemed like the catalyst for a shift in Hermione and Fleur’s relationship, but at the time Hermione had been mortified and nothing more.

Last time, Hermione couldn’t get out of Fleur’s arms fast enough. This time, she couldn’t stay there long enough. She just knew that whenever Fleur woke and loosened her grip it would be far too soon. And then a thought struck Hermione. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d had a nightmare. Another factor to take into account, something else to add weight to Hermione’s suspicions. Her conversation with Fleur the day before had exposed more than she had bargained for. What began as a simple query about the nature of a Veela thrall had led Hermione down a rabbit hole she was not expecting.

Shock had been her immediate reaction, followed swiftly by a sense of disbelief. There was no way that she, Hermione Granger, could be the fateful partner of someone like Fleur. It had only been earlier that day when Hermione first considered that perhaps the reason she was so drawn to Fleur was simply down to the woman’s natural thrall. It just hadn’t occurred to her. Looking back, Hermione wanted to kick herself for taking so long to put the pieces together, but she knew that really it came as no surprise. Her mind had not been up to rigors of the constant analysis that she used to be able to carry out in her sleep. Possibly because for weeks she had got so little sleep, Hermione thought to herself wryly. Well, up until she started sleeping in Fleur’s room, that is. At that point though, she was still of the understanding that the thrall could affect anybody within sight of the Veela. Now, her understanding had changed.

And that was just it; every path her mind wandered down seemed to reach the same destination. All roads lead to Fleur. Something was pulling her closer to Fleur. Something about Fleur made her feel better, made her able to sleep, kept her nightmares away, instilled her with confidence and was, it seemed, slowly bringing back the clarity that her mind had been missing. It was only reasonable, therefore, to hypothesise that the ‘something’ pulling her closer to Fleur, a part-Veela, was in fact her thrall. The simplest explanation is usually the right one. Hermione knew that. Hermione had been content with that, if a little miffed that it took her so long to reach the simplest explanation.

If what Hermione was feeling was indeed the effects of Fleur’s thrall, then it meant something altogether rather life-altering. It had taken Hermione the rest of the day to re-organise her thoughts and quiet her shock. If somebody had told Hermione that she was destined to be one half of an intense, pre-destined partnership, then Hermione would have expected to feel some form of panic, some violation of her independence, and a desire to run for the hills. And yet, those feelings had not kicked in. The shock became curiosity, not panic. There was, of course, the creeping doubt that she could be good enough for the position of life-long partner of Fleur Delacour. But that was getting ahead of herself, Hermione had decided, putting her delicate self-esteem to one side for the time being.

Hermione concluded that it was time to fall back on her tried and tested academic model of investigation. She would not jump to conclusions. She would compile evidence and study the facts. It wouldn’t be easy, seeing as Fleur had side-stepped Hermione’s question over what the thrall might feel like for a human. Fleur had seemed uncomfortable with Hermione’s questions in general, which was rather telling in itself, though hardly constituted evidence. If only Hermione had asked what the thrall felt like from the Veela perspective. Fleur would have struggled to dodge that one. Maybe Hermione could try—

Suddenly Fleur’s arms tightened around Hermione’s waist and, from behind her, Hermione felt as much as she heard Fleur take a much sharper inward breath.

‘Mmm, you are thinking very loudly, ma belle,’ Fleur murmured, on a sigh. Her voice was laced with sleep. 

Hermione froze. Perhaps Fleur really could hear her thoughts? Was that another thing the thrall enabled that Fleur had opted not to disclose?

‘What?’ Hermione gasped. ‘How can you—’

Fleur’s chest shook against her with a chuckle.

‘I am joking,’ Fleur explained and Hermione relaxed at once.

‘Very funny,’ she muttered sarcastically.

Of course Fleur had been joking, Hermione reasoned. It wouldn’t do her any good to assume that every little thing that happened between them from now on was thrall-related. It wouldn’t do her any good to assume this thrall thing was more powerful than it was likely to be. Some of her reactions to Fleur were probably just simple human nature even if she was being affected by the thrall. Whatever a bloody thrall was anyway. Hermione found herself wishing she still had access to the Hogwarts library.

‘Were you thinking things you shouldn’t be?’ asked Fleur teasingly, sounding a little more awake all of a sudden.

‘Of course not!’ Hermione exclaimed.

Fleur offered no reply except for a small disappointed-sounding grumble that Hermione made an inward note of. They were both quiet for several seconds and Hermione waited with baited breath for the inevitable moment when Fleur let her go.

‘Is this OK?’ Fleur asked, squeezing her arms in their place about Hermione’s waist and then relaxing them once more.

‘Yes,’ Hermione whispered.

‘Bon,’ came the response. And then Fleur nuzzled her nose into the back of Hermione’s neck and Hermione felt the same shiver as earlier run down her spine once more. Fleur was being particularly bold this morning. Hermione wasn’t sure if it was sleep-induced confidence or something else.

‘You slept well?’ Fleur mumbled against her.

‘Uh huh,’ Hermione practically squeaked before chastising herself for her least eloquent sentence ever. Fleur chuckled again.

‘And you?’ Hermione asked, relieved she had managed to put two actual words together and in the right order.

‘Very well, merci,’ Fleur murmured.

Moments passed whilst it seemed both women happily basked quietly in each other’s company, in each other’s contact. Or at least Hermione could only assume that Fleur was enjoying their current position as much as she was, otherwise surely Fleur would have shifted away by now. Eventually, however, Fleur did move. But she did not move away. Instead, she stretched out in a movement that Hermione could feel against every inch of herself that touched Fleur. She was aware of Fleur tensing her muscles until they quivered slightly before letting go of the tension and the stretch with a heaving sigh. Hermione’s eyes had widened in a way she was thankful that Fleur couldn’t see.

‘I hate to say it,’ Fleur began, ‘but it is time to get up. We have to go to work.’

And just like that, the spell of blissful calm turned to stomach-churning apprehension. How had Hermione forgotten that she was going to Gringotts today? An all-too-familiar sheen of the cold sweat of panic threatened to engulf her. Fleur’s hand that was nearest to Hermione’s stomach began to stroke her skin back and forth soothingly. It seemed impossible that Hermione had failed to notice Fleur’s hand was beneath her pyjama top, and yet she could feel that fact clear as day now. And Fleur had begun her caress the minute Hermione felt the riptide of panic threatening to pull her under. Had coincidences like that been occurring all along? Was it only now that Hermione was actively compiling the case for Living Under the Influence of a Veela Thrall that she was noticing these things?

‘If it is too much too soon…’ Fleur said softly, her voice closer to Hermione’s ear than she was prepared for.

‘No!’ Hermione said at once, her hand seeking out and finding Fleur’s against her stomach and holding it there, ‘I… I quite like it, actually.’

‘Oh. I meant if it is too much to come to work with me today,’ Fleur replied hesitantly.

Hermione let go of Fleur’s hand immediately. Oh Merlin. Her whole body heated up from the inside out and the heat continued to spread until it seemed every single scrap of her was flushing with embarrassment. Hermione edged out of Fleur’s embrace until she could find the floor with her bare toes and stand up from the bed. She couldn’t look at Fleur though. Instead, her eyes found Leandre. He was in his usual spot on his perch at the desk, and he was clicking his beak at her in a way that sounded remarkably like how a human might tut in admonishment.

‘It’s fine,’ Hermione managed to get out, ‘I still want to come to Gringotts. I need to help with the memory spell. I mean, I want to help.’ She said all this while still not looking at Fleur but making a far bigger task than was necessary of finding the socks she had kicked off in the night.

‘’ermione,’ Fleur said simply.

Hermione knew Fleur was trying to get Hermione to at least look at her. But Hermione was focused on trying to hide the blush that had just worsened at the sound of Fleur saying her name in that way she sometimes did when she let her focus on the language drop and her accent became more pronounced. Hermione needed to get a grip. Just because her mind was now active in the task of figuring out their feelings for each other and the increasingly hazy boundaries that came with them, didn’t mean that’s all Fleur was thinking about.

‘I’ll go and get ready,’ Hermione said with as much conviction as she could.

She spared a glance over her shoulder at Fleur out of politeness on her way to the door, and then wished she hadn’t. Fleur was propped up on one elbow, watching Hermione with a look of concern that translated to furrowed brows and pouted lips. Her hair was sleep muddled and her t-shirt rumpled, the wide neck of it hanging to one side and exposing a collarbone that Hermione had never noticed was so enticing. Hermione looked away quickly and left the room.

Outside the door, Hermione once again bumped into Harry making his way along the hallway. He looked at her with raised eyebrows and pure amusement on his face as he saw her pull Fleur’s door closed behind her.

‘Don’t.’ Hermione growled warningly.

Harry’s amused expression slid from his face and he raised both his hands in surrender, saying nothing before Hermione strode along the hallway to her own bedroom.

 

Breakfast had been a stilted affair. Hermione was grateful at least that the boys’ schedule meant they always left earlier than Fleur and so were nowhere to be seen in the kitchen. Fleur made heavy use of her magic as she put both hers and Hermione’s usual breakfasts together, while Hermione took her time feeding Crookshanks. The two women then ate in relative quiet, exchanging no more than a few words here and there. Hermione felt her humiliation over the earlier mishap slowly give way once more to apprehension about returning to Gringotts. She was stuck in her head and it seemed Fleur was keeping her distance to allow Hermione to prepare for the day. Hermione wished she wouldn’t.

When the time came, Fleur apparated both of them to Gringotts. And, after regaining her balance, Hermione looked slowly up at the imposing building before her, the carved columns reaching upwards forebodingly. Fleur stood quietly at her side. The last time Hermione had been here, she had been forced into the body of the woman who tortured her. Forced to imitate her worst nightmare. The cost of failing to do so would have doubtlessly spelled the end for Harry, Ron and herself. The pressure had been inconceivable. The stakes colossal. The fear suffocating.

Hermione took a shaky breath.

‘OK,’ she breathed. ‘Let’s go.’

She set off up the cracked marble steps at a pace, keeping her eyes ahead and her jaw tight. Fleur hurried to keep up. At the top of the steps, when she came to a stop at the huge wooden doors, Hermione swayed. Fleur’s hand was on the small of her back, steadying her instantly.

‘You’re sure?’ Fleur said softly.

‘I’m sure,’ Hermione accompanied her words with a single, resolute, nod.

Fleur pushed open the door and stepped in, holding the door behind her for Hermione. Together they walked through the lobby to the main hall. Their shoes clicking against the polished floors. Hermione looked down at her feet and, as she walked, she watched them transform into Bellatrix’s. The memory of looking down at her own body and seeing someone else’s replayed in her mind. She saw the knotted black lace of that awful spidery dress, she saw pointed black heeled boots, not her own, and she knew that the feet inside them were not her own either. She recalled the feeling of her ankles threatening to buckle as she attempted to walk normally in the heels she was unaccustomed to, with the nerves racing through her body about to overpower her at any moment. Hermione’s breathing quickened, she felt a darkness impinging on her vision now, threatening to swallow her into its abyss. She felt a hand in hers.

A steady, warm hand. Its fingers nestled between her own and gripped securely. Hermione turned frantic eyes to her side and found Fleur looking calmly back at her. She glanced back to the ground and saw her own shoes, her own feet. She forced her breathing to regulate. They had reached the entry to the main hall.

‘Good morning, Mrs Weasley,’ came a creaking voice, its intonation snide. ‘And, what’s this? I didn’t realise it was Bring a Vandal to Work Day. Was your bump on the head worse than I heard, or did I miss the notice in the newsletter about this?’

The voice distracted Hermione from her panic, and her battle with it. Though the piercing beady black eyes of the goblin sent a tremor through her, she was too surprised at his words, at his tone, to feel the burn of his scrutiny on her.

‘Good morning to you too, Grimflinch,’ Fleur smiled at the goblin. ‘This is Hermione Granger, though you already know that. She will be working with me on restoring the lower-level tunnels,’ she informed him, leaving no room for negotiation.

‘Is that right, Veela?’ the goblin sneered, ‘how cosy.’ His flinty eyes flitted to their joined hands.

Fleur simply nodded at him and widened her smile further. Hermione watched her in astonishment.

‘Have a good day, Grimflinch,’ she told him and then tugged Hermione forward by the hand before calling over her shoulder, ‘and it’s Delacour!’

Hermione looked back at the goblin, who was now muttering to himself and shuffling papers, she caught the words, ‘get rid of one set of bank robbers and the Veela brings in another…’

Hermione then turned to Fleur who was striding purposefully towards a small door at the back of the main hall that Hermione had never spotted before. She was still so taken aback by Fleur’s exchange with the goblin, Grimflinch, that she didn’t even notice the many other pairs of goblin eyes boring into her as they passed the counters.

‘Fleur!’ Hermione hissed, still being pulled along in Fleur’s wake.

‘Hmm?’ Fleur replied.

‘Is he always rude to you like that?’

‘Ah oui. All the goblins are.’ She shrugged.

Hermione frowned. Fleur had now walked through the door and they were making their way along a narrow stone corridor with various doors off to the side, all of them half the height of a regular door. The corridor seemed to drop away into nothing at the other end as far as Hermione could see.

‘Doesn’t that bother you? Working with people who are rude to you all the time?’

‘Non. I quite like it actually,’ Fleur said casually.

‘You like it?’ Hermione asked, baffled.

They had reached the end of the corridor now and Hermione discovered it didn’t drop into nothing but became a tight stone spiral staircase, not dissimilar to the sort that could be found tucked behind tapestries at Hogwarts. The steps were worn into smooth dips from hundreds of years of footfall. Fleur released Hermione’s hand. They could not fit side-by-side down the stairs.

‘My office is down here.’ Fleur explained and headed off down the stairs. Hermione rushed after her.

‘How can you like them being so bad-mannered? That one reminded me of Snape!’

Fleur laughed.

‘It is refreshing, I think. Most of the time, people are… over-friendly to me. They can only see the Veela beauty. The goblins couldn’t care less about that. I expect they find me hideous. It is… nice.’

Hermione pulled a confused face that Fleur had no awareness of from her position ahead of Hermione on the stairs.

‘I suppose that makes sense,’ she mused. And the staircase just kept turning, they must be several floors below the ground now and Hermione was in danger of growing dizzy. ‘They could show you a little bit of respect though.’

‘That is not the goblin way.’ Fleur chuckled.

She could not quite relate to Fleur’s nonchalance over the goblins’ attitudes, but Hermione supposed she had no framework with which to understand how Fleur felt about these things. Hermione was only now learning how it felt to be treated with a reverence she did not desire. Fleur had contended with it for her whole life.

‘Here we are,’ Fleur announced, pushing open the first full sized door Hermione had seen since they left the main hall. ‘This is my office.’

Hermione followed Fleur into the office. Upon entering, a crackling fire erupted in the grate. Surely there was no chimney from all the way down here, Hermione thought. Then she rolled her eyes at herself. How long had she known she was a witch now? Years and years, and still every now and then she forgot that some things were simply… magic. The lanterns on the wall brackets sprung to life too and illuminated the room. It had the same stone floors as everywhere else in the main body of Gringotts, but here an ornate rug softened the hard floor. Most of the room was taken up by a large polished maple desk, spread with what appeared to be blueprints and various other bits of parchment. The back wall was hidden by floor to ceiling bookcases.

Fleur rounded the desk and took a seat in the green leather chair there, its frame the same polished maple as her desk. With a wave of her hand, an identical chair appeared on Hermione’s side of the desk.

‘Have a seat,’ Fleur told her with a smile.

Hermione sat. Her gaze was running over the spines of the numerous books lining the shelves behind Fleur. Fleur glanced over her shoulder.

‘Borrowed from my father’s library,’ she explained. ‘Well, duplicated.’

‘You have a library at home?’ Hermione murmured.

‘No,’ Fleur laughed and then frowned, ‘Well, actually, yes. But also my father works for the Bibliothéque Sainte-Geneviève. These books came from there. He thought they would be useful for my current project and made duplicates for me.’

‘I haven’t heard of that library,’ Hermione said in dismay.

‘Non? You would adore it. One day, if you’d like, I will take you there.’ Fleur promised with a smile.

‘That would be wonderful.’ Hermione agreed.

Down here, in the quiet comfort of Fleur’s office, it was easy to forget she was even at Gringotts. She had never been in this part of the bank. Her panic had ebbed out of existence without her notice and Hermione was shrouded in calm.

‘In fact,’ Fleur let out, ‘perhaps the books are the best place for you to start. Part of the reason it has been taking so long for me to devise a spell to restore the structure’s memory is that I have had to concentrate on other more vital parts of the restoration. Namely, the vaults which are in use rather than the lower tunnels. But, if we could crack this spell then I could use it throughout and the whole process would be…’ Fleur trailed off, her eyes on Hermione.

While Fleur had been talking, Hermione, though listening, was letting her gaze wander about the room until it had alighted on Fleur’s desk and the items that covered it. And something had caught her eye. She reached for it at the same time as Fleur tried to, but Hermione was faster.

‘Fleur, what is this?’ Hermione asked, holding the scrap of newspaper closer to get a better look. She already knew what it was though. It was a photo, torn from The Daily Prophet by the looks of it. And from it her own face was smiling back at her.

‘Ah,’ said Fleur. ‘That is… Well, what happened was… I saw it in the paper one morning, maybe a week ago? And I thought, well, I thought it might upset you to know that another article had been written about you, so… I tore it out.’

Fleur had never sounded so uncertain, like a child caught in a fib about why they had not completed their homework. Hermione bit her lip.

‘You tore it out. And then kept it. On your desk at work,’ Hermione noted.

She looked back at the photo. There was nothing particularly remarkable about it. Though she had never seen it before, she had vague memories of it being taken. Some neighbour of the Weasley’s had taken it at Bill and Fleur’s wedding. She was standing with Harry and Ron, they all looked happy.

‘I didn’t intend to keep it,’ Fleur muttered.

‘But you did,’ Hermione said. She was finding the situation rather entertaining, even more so because of how uncomfortable Fleur looked about it. It was unusual to see the other woman on the back foot like that.

‘I didn’t know you were such a fan,’ Hermione let out teasingly. ‘I’m sure we could all sign it for you if you like.’

It was a joke Hermione would not feel comfortable making with anybody else for fear they might take it seriously.

Fleur huffed and muttered something under her breath while Hermione watched in amusement. And then her amusement slipped slightly as Fleur’s perturbed expression turned mischievous. Fleur straightened her shoulders and looked steadily at Hermione.

‘Oh, I didn’t keep it because all three of you are in it,’ Fleur said with an eyebrow raised in challenge. Hermione’s mouth felt suddenly dry as she was caught in an intense look from Fleur.

‘I just thought you looked beautiful in that dress, hmm?’ Fleur said simply, her lips in a knowing smile. She added a shrug for good measure and Hermione regretted ever confiding in Fleur that she was fond of those shrugs.

Hermione’s stomach flipped, and she swallowed dryly.

‘I… uh… thanks,’ she managed to mutter. And Fleur smiled at her victoriously.

‘Now,’ Fleur said, reaching across the desk and tugging the newspaper cutting free from Hermione’s fingers before placing back where it had been on her desk, ‘as I was saying, I have had little time for researching memory charms and potential ways to reverse them, so…’ she gestured at the books behind her. ‘Perhaps that is a good task for you? Would you do some reading?’

Hermione nodded straight away. She was just pleased to have a reprieve from Fleur’s shrewd look. Hermione cursed her inwardly for turning the photo issue back around on to Hermione so adeptly. Fleur had known exactly what she was doing then, Hermione was sure of it.

‘Help yourself to whichever you think will be useful,’ Fleur said, gesturing once more at the books behind her. ‘I will make you somewhere more comfortable for reading.’

Not quite sure what Fleur meant by that, Hermione got up and began to peruse the bookshelves. Most of the titles were in French, unsurprisingly, but luckily Hermione still remembered a decent translation spell. Once she had selected a few rather large tomes, Hermione turned her back on the bookshelves and discovered that Fleur had transfigured Hermione’s desk chair into a replica of her favourite armchair at home and placed it beside the gently crackling fire.

‘Thank you,’ Hermione said softly.

Fleur shrugged.

And so Hermione’s first day at Gringotts passed mercifully uneventfully as she trawled through page after page, jotting down notes and ideas that arose from her reading. If it weren’t for the fact that the hours were punctuated frequently with glances across the room at Fleur – who was studying her blueprints and writing memos – Hermione would have felt as though she was back at Hogwarts, in the library, in her element. And if it weren’t for the fact that sometimes her cross-room glances were met with waiting depths of dark blue, then the mystery of the thrall would have left Hermione’s mind altogether.

Chapter Text

The days following Hermione’s initial visit to Gringotts with Fleur fell into a regular rhythm that seemed to suit both women well. The pattern of their lives punctuated by time spent together. Throughout the days at work, Fleur focused on the restorations she could be getting on with, flitting in and out of her office, while Hermione burrowed further into books and background information for their potential spell. Over breaks and lunches, they would discuss Hermione’s research and Fleur would make suggestions. And at night they continued their routine of sharing Fleur’s bed, falling asleep peacefully but apart and waking up, more often than not, wrapped together as one.

Their new closeness was yet to be commented upon by either of them – still fragile and vulnerable to loud noises and sudden gusts of conversation – and there was an unspoken agreement to tone it down around their housemates, but it was just one facet of the shift in their relationship that had taken place. To Fleur it seemed that, where there had been a building desire to be around each other, now there had been established a new need: just being near each other was no longer enough, now they needed physical contact. Simple touches as though to reassure each other and themselves. And there was more. Ever since their conversation about the Veela thrall, Fleur had the distinct suspicion that Hermione was testing her. Pushing at boundaries, prodding at possibilities and all the time measuring Fleur’s responses.

It was far from the reaction Fleur had expected when she considered Hermione’s response to learning about that particular… predicament, and she wasn’t entirely sure how she felt about it. Pleasantly surprised would have been how she categorised her feeling towards Hermione not vanishing into the ether at the whiff of something serious with Fleur. Cautiously optimistic as their relationship proceeded to grow closer still. In moments of doubt though, Fleur wondered if she had become just a distraction, an intriguing experiment to occupy Hermione’s mind and keep her tormenting memories at bay. Those niggling thoughts were infrequent, however, and for the most part Fleur allowed herself to enjoy their new found intimacy. If Hermione did indeed know that she had been identified by the thrall, or even if she merely suspected it, then Fleur knew that Hermione was far too kind to be playing some sort of game with Fleur’s feelings, with their potential future should they choose it. If Hermione was testing this out, then Hermione was considering her own part in it too. And, as far as Fleur could tell, Hermione seemed content with the way things were going between them. The time would come for them to communicate openly about this. But for now, Fleur was content too. Mostly.

At the moment, Fleur was standing in the kitchen of 12 Grimmauld Place preparing crêpes. It was one of the few culinary tasks she carried out exclusively without the use of magic, and there was something methodical and therapeutic in it. Fleur was reminded of Hermione’s penchant for muggle washing up, and finally found that she understood it. Ron and Harry were out on a field exercise with their Auror training class and so it was just herself and Hermione at home for dinner. Fleur hummed to herself as she poured batter into the steaming flat pan and spread it thinly with the implement specifically designed for this use only. At her feet, Crookshanks wound himself hopefully around her ankles.

‘I fed you not fifteen minutes ago, monsieur,’ she told the cat fondly.

Crookshanks let out a contradictory meow, his yellow eyes appraising his now empty food bowl.

‘Oui. Well, it is empty because you ate it all, hmm?’ Fleur chuckled.

Crookshanks appeared to consider her words for a moment before returning to his slalom efforts around and between Fleur’s ankles.

Fleur shook her head at the cat and watched as the crêpe she was working on began to bubble and crisp up at the edges. Just then, a tap at the kitchen window distracted her from her task. Leandre was on the outside sill, knocking his beak against the window pane. Fleur stepped away from the stove and leaned across the counter to push open the window. Leandre hopped in and held his leg out for Fleur. A rolled piece of parchment was tied there with gold braiding. A letter from her mother, Fleur knew at once from the tie.

‘Bonsoir,’ Fleur murmured to her owl, stroking his chest with the back of her forefinger before untying the note from his leg. ‘Smooth crossing?’ she asked and received a soft hoot in return.

Letter delivered, Leandre returned his foot to the counter and stood expectantly. Fleur rolled her eyes at her pet and plucked a piece of ham from the cutting board where she had sliced it ready for a savoury crepe. She offered it to Leandre who accepted it readily and then heard a rumbling meow from the floor at her feet. Crookshanks was watching her reproachfully, his front furry paws tapping at the flagstone impatiently as his bottlebrush tail twitched. Fleur tore off another piece of ham and crouched down to offer it to the cat, who grabbed it immediately, a sharp tooth catching against her finger in his haste.

‘Don’t tell Hermione, OK?’ she whispered.

‘He doesn’t need to,’ came a voice from the doorway.

Fleur shot up from her crouched position and whirled round to see Hermione, hair damp from the shower, leaning against the door frame and watching her in amusement. Evidently, after her shower, she had thrown on one of the boys’ sweatshirts she still had sequestered in her room.

‘Désolée,’ Fleur breathed out, ‘he was very insistent.’

Hermione laughed and pushed herself off the door frame.

‘Oh, I don’t doubt it,’ she said, bending down to scoop the cat up into her arms. ‘You weigh a ton these days, Crooks. And I think I know why…’ Hermione gave Fleur an accusing look and then pressed a kiss into the fur on the top of Crookshanks’ head.

Leandre, from his post on the kitchen counter, clicked his beak and hopped a couple of times. Hermione chuckled and returned Crookshanks to the floor before offering her forearm to Leandre. The owl hopped immediately onto her arm and Hermione pecked his feathery head too. Leandre fluffed his feathers importantly.

Fleur watched her owl with an unimpressed raised eyebrow. It had become increasingly clear to her that Leandre was a dreadful flirt. She heard a laugh from Hermione.

‘You can have one too,’ Hermione said, ‘there’s no need to glare at poor Leandre like that.’

‘I am not glaring,’ Fleur huffed, making Hermione laugh yet again.

Then, to Fleur’s surprise, Hermione crossed the couple of steps between them and swiftly rose onto her tiptoes, steadying herself against Fleur’s arm as she leaned into her to press a kiss against her cheek. Fleur found herself at once lost for words. Hermione stepped back and looked at Fleur, her warm brown eyes dancing with mirth as she tried and failed to keep the corners of her lips from quirking upwards. Fleur returned her gaze a little dazedly until she gathered her wits about her once more and tugged gently at the sweatshirt Hermione was wearing.

‘Shall we go shopping one day? Or do I need to give you more of my sweaters, hmm?’ She asked, her tone teasing but her intent genuine.

Hermione hummed thoughtfully and smiled back at Fleur, still not stepping out of her reach.

‘Both?’ she suggested.

Fleur nodded in agreement and immediately her mind began filtering through her clothing and deciding what Hermione would look good in.

‘I think you’re burning that pancake,’ Hermione pointed out after a moment’s pause.

Fleur gave a sharp intake of breath as she span back to the stove where, sure enough, her crêpe was fast approaching inedible. Fleur’s shoulders slumped. Then she felt Hermione’s hands on both of her elbows from behind, gently shifting Fleur out of the way.

‘I’ll take over there. You read your letter,’ Hermione suggested, ‘is it from your mum?’

‘Oui,’ Fleur nodded. ‘You can take over but only if you promise not to call my crêpes “pancakes” again,’ Fleur said, putting on an exaggerated English accent for the word pancakes.

Hermione shook her head in amusement. Leandre fluttered up from Hermione’s forearm to perch on her shoulder instead.

‘Désolée!’ Hermione let out, mimicking Fleur’s earlier word and earning herself a glower from the other woman. She knew though that Fleur always enjoyed it when Hermione made any sort of attempt at French, even if she was teasing Fleur.

Grabbing the rolled parchment from the kitchen counter, Fleur unfurled it as she turned and leaned back against the counter beside where Hermione was scraping the overdone crêpe from the pan.

As she read, Fleur’s eyebrows contracted as her frown grew. She let out a groan, and tipped her head back, momentarily pausing in her reading of her mother’s elegant handwriting in order to take in what she had read so far.

‘What’s wrong?’ Hermione asked at once.

‘Gabrielle,’ Fleur said and returned to reading the rest of the letter.

‘Is she OK? What’s happened?’ Hermione pushed, taking her eyes from the pan and watching Fleur in concern. Fleur didn’t reply, her eyes raking over the parchment before her.

‘Fleur,’ Hermione prompted.

Fleur heaved out a sigh, and re-rolled the parchment.

‘She is fine. Just badly behaved,’ Fleur replied. ‘Maman received a note today from Madame Maxime. Gabrielle has been suspended and will be returning home tomorrow for two weeks.’

Hermione dropped the spatula she had been holding with a clatter.

‘Suspended?’ she gasped. And despite her frustration at her sister, a chuckle escaped Fleur at the look of pure horror on Hermione’s face. Clearly to Hermione, suspension was a highly serious state.

‘Oui,’ Fleur shrugged.

‘I didn’t even know wizarding schools did that…’ Hermione muttered. ‘But what for?’ she asked, turning wide eyes back to Fleur.

‘She ‘exed a fifth year,’ Fleur explained.

‘Hexed her?’ Hermione repeated.

‘Him. Hexed him.’ Fleur sighed, ‘She used the merde d’oiseau. Something grand-mère taught her, of course.’

‘Merde d’oiseau… the bird—’

‘Bird shit. Oui,’ Fleur nodded. ‘A hex that fills a person’s mouth with bird droppings. Every time they try to talk, more of it… emerges.’

Hermione’s look of horror intensified.

‘That’s vile. Why on earth would she do that?’ Hermione asked.

‘I have a fairly good idea,’ Fleur said quietly, ‘Gabrielle is nearly thirteen, her thrall will be becoming apparent. Some people have a habit of saying things they otherwise would not when confronted with a volatile thrall. Teenage boys in particular, hmm?’

‘Oh.’

‘I confess there were times when I was tempted to perform similar spells at her age,’ Fleur admitted.

‘That’s… awful. I’m sorry, Fleur.’ Hermione replied, reaching a hand out to Fleur’s arm and giving it a squeeze.

Fleur shrugged.

‘Teenage years are not the most fun for a person with Veela blood. But, like me, she will grow out of it,’ Fleur said definitively, ‘in the meantime, she must learn to control her temper.’

‘I can’t believe they suspended her though. Hexes were often thrown about at Hogwarts… I thought that was fairly typical,’ Hermione mused.

Fleur lifted a shoulder in a half-shrug. ‘I suspect Madame Maxime wanted to… nip this in the bud?’ Fleur looked at Hermione questioningly, testing out the English phrase. Hermione nodded.

‘She knows Gabrielle. Knows she will be harder to keep in line than I was,’ Fleur reasoned.

Hermione removed another, less burnt, crêpe from the pan and plated it, keeping it warm with a wave of her wand as she poured more batter into the pan.

‘So you never actually hexed anybody at Beauxbatons then?’ Hermione enquired interestedly.

‘Non,’ Fleur said at once, ‘I used my tongue rather than my wand, hmm?’ she added rather proudly.

Hermione averted her eyes quickly and busied herself with pushing at the edges of the crêpe, though it was not ready to be loosened yet. Fleur saw a hint of colour bloom on her cheeks.

‘I meant my words,’ Fleur clarified to a swift nod from Hermione, ‘I would wound with words rather than magic.’

‘I got it.’ Hermione said hastily.

There was a moment’s silence.

‘Your parents must be cross,’ Hermione said, breaking the quiet.

‘Maman is not. She will pretend to be, for Gabrielle’s sake, but she thinks it is rather funny. Papa will be upset though,’ Fleur explained.

‘She thinks it’s funny?’ Hermione exclaimed.

Fleur nodded.

‘She understands. Gabrielle and I are only quarter Veela. I imagine Maman had it much worse. She probably inflicted more than merde d’oiseau in her time too. My mother and my sister they… have a similar temperament, I think. It is why Maman knows Gabrielle will mellow, like she did,’ Fleur reasoned.

‘But your father is upset.’

‘Papa is more like me. Or, I am more like him,’ Fleur smiled. ‘He will be worried for Gabrielle.’

‘That sounds like a reasonable response to his daughter being suspended,’ Hermione nodded.

A thought suddenly occurred to Fleur then. Something she had not, for some reason, considered before.

‘What are your parents like?’ Fleur asked casually. ‘I don’t know anything about them.’

Fleur heard Hermione’s breath catch, then watched the motion of her throat as she swallowed.

‘Kind,’ Hermione said at last, ‘Um… quiet, not particularly out-going, but caring and supportive and… very loving.’ Her voice cracked on the last word and Fleur looked at Hermione in confusion. The air had become heavy between them and Hermione was not looking at Fleur now.

‘How do they feel about you being a witch? It must be hard, living in two separate worlds,’ Fleur said, thinking aloud and wondering for the second time why she had never thought about this before. Fleur’s family meant the world to her. She couldn’t imagine having something so fundamentally at odds between herself and her parents as Hermione did.

‘It was hard,’ Hermione agreed quietly.

‘Was? It ‘as got better now?’ Fleur asked.

There was another moment of quiet between them as Hermione appeared conflicted about how to answer that. Fleur tried to ease the tension by asking a different question instead.

‘If you had been suspended from school, how would they react?’ Fleur asked with a soft smile.

‘I imagine they’d have assumed it must be a mistake.’ Hermione laughed, appearing relieved at the new direction Fleur’s questions had taken. ‘You remember me at Hogwarts, don’t you?’

‘Only a very little. I suppose you were mostly in the library.’ Fleur mused.

‘Well, quite.’ Hermione nodded. ‘Although I did have my moments of breaking the rules.’

‘Ah oui?’ Fleur asked with a raised eyebrow, ‘the Golden Girl was not always so golden?’

Hermione sent a dark look Fleur’s way.

‘Like I said, I had my moments,’ she shrugged, the action dislodging Leandre who had been resting peacefully on Hermione’s shoulder. He adjusted his wings and gave Hermione’s ear a nip.

Fleur let out a laugh.

‘You have caught my shrug! And you’re right, it is rather cute,’ Fleur grinned. Hermione rolled her eyes.

‘Oh shush,’ she let out as she plated the second crêpe and handed it to Fleur before they both set about adding their chosen fillings. Crookshanks, sniffing ham on the move once more, returned to his post at their feet.

 

Later that evening, sufficiently filled with crêpes and feeling rather drowsy, Hermione and Fleur had retired to the study where Fleur was attempting to write a diplomatic response to her mother, and Hermione was attempting to stay awake. Fleur had taken her usual spot on the sofa and Hermione had circumvented Fleur’s expectations and taken up residence on the sofa as well, rather than her favoured armchair. Fleur had not commented on it when Hermione sat down. And she still wasn’t commenting on it as Hermione’s head drooped ever nearer to Fleur’s shoulder. Before long the scratching of Fleur’s quill was accompanied by soft, slow breathing of a snoozing Hermione. Even the closing of the front door didn’t wake her.

Harry entered the room first, a small smile breaking out on his face as he spotted the occupants of the sofa. And then Ron shoved open the door a bit wider and stepped in too.

‘Hey guys,’ he let out, louder than necessary.

Fleur raised a hand in greeting and Harry elbowed Ron in the ribs.

‘Oh, sorry,’ Ron said more quietly. His eyes flitted between Fleur and Hermione before returning to Fleur with something inscrutable forming behind them. If Fleur was asked to put a name to it, she would have to call it suspicion. But it appeared more complex than that.

Normally, Ron was somebody that Fleur could read easily. He wore his heart on his sleeve and his foot in his mouth. Two English phrases that Fleur thought made perfect sense when applied to Ron. It was actually something she liked about the younger Weasley. There was no tiptoeing around things. He said what he was thinking and left no doubt about how he felt. Now however, Fleur felt herself itching to shift away from his gaze. Only the gentle pressure of Hermione against her stopped her from doing so.

‘How was training?’ she asked as casually as possible, keeping the volume of her voice low.

‘It was good,’ Harry replied, ‘nice to be out of the classroom and in the field. Right, Ron?’

Ron finally tore his gaze from Fleur and Hermione and looked at Harry.

‘Oh. Uh, yeah. Great,’ he said.

‘Everyone’s still talking about you holding off those three death eaters at Gringotts,’ Harry went on with a grin. ‘They’ll be trying to recruit you in no time, I reckon.’

Fleur smiled and shook her head.

‘No, thank you. Whilst it would be nice to get away from the office and back to curse-breaking, I do not wish to become an Auror,’ Fleur replied softly. ‘I shall leave that in your capable hands,’ she finished and sent an encouraging smile Ron’s way.

‘It’s what we do, isn’t it, Harry?’ Ron replied, breaching from his storm cloud and looking pleased at Fleur’s words. ‘We’ve been fighting dark magic since first year!’

‘With a little help,’ Harry chuckled and nodded at Hermione.

Fleur glanced down at Hermione’s face, smoothed peacefully by sleep. She knew that Hermione had been on the front line against the Dark Lord and his followers, she knew that mortal danger had been a feature in the younger woman’s life for years, and yet only now did that knowledge set her nerves jangling discordantly. Any number of seemingly minor twists in time could have rendered her future completely Hermione-less. A simple decision made differently could have drastically changed the course of both their lives. Fleur turned back to the boys with a strained smile.

Just then Hermione frowned a little in her sleep. One of her arms untucked from where she had folded it against her own chest and stretched unconsciously around Fleur’s waist instead. She let out a sigh and the frown receded.

‘And… Uh, how was your day?’ Harry sputtered, making a valiant effort in pretending not to have noticed Hermione’s movement.

Fleur risked a glance at Ron and saw a tightened jaw and rapid blinking of eyes as he looked resolutely around the room rather than at its occupants. That was more like the kind of clear expression Fleur was used to. She felt a sting of guilt that almost overwhelmed the warmth that had spread through her from Hermione’s embrace.

‘It was productive, merci,’ Fleur replied, ‘the vault that was broken into is now repaired and stable.’

‘Good,’ Harry nodded, ‘that’s good.’ He opened his mouth as though about to say something else but then—

‘I’m going to bed,’ Ron stated blankly.

‘Oh. Um, night, mate,’ Harry offered.

‘Goodnight, Ron,’ Fleur replied softly.

Ron waved his hand vaguely and then stomped from the room. Silence lay in his wake, disrupted only by his heavy footfall up the stairs.

Fleur looked to Harry, taking in his drawn in lips and saddened expression. He returned her look and sighed.

‘It will be alright,’ Harry said tightly after a moment, and Fleur was unsure which one of them he was trying to reassure. ‘But I think… I think something needs to be said. Sooner rather than later.’

His words sounded, to Fleur, a lot like Harry knew more than he had been letting on about dynamics within the house, about the myriad of words that were going unsaid and the delicate balance that was in danger of tipping past the point of no return. It also sounded like a countdown had just been set, its inexorable ticking begun, and the numbers were moving more swiftly than perhaps any of them were ready for. 

Chapter Text

In the depths of Gringotts Wizarding Bank, in a small, windowless office, Hermione Granger was hard at work even if it didn’t look like it. On this particular day, she had commandeered the large maple desk that Fleur usually worked at. Fleur herself was out among the vaults somewhere checking her previous repairs and assessing which vaults were most in need of her attention next. And so Hermione, having emerged for air from her stack of books by the fire, was testing a theory at the desk. She had borrowed a set of colourful wooden building blocks from Teddy Lupin’s extensive toy collection and was currently nudging them into a formation before knocking them down and repeating the process. There was method in this apparent madness, though Hermione did allow herself a chuckle at the thought of how she would appear to an outsider at this particular moment.

She was just in the middle of once again placing the blocks into her carefully chosen formation when her eye caught on a familiar scrap of newspaper propped up against a pot of quills on Fleur’s desk. A bloom of warmth blossomed in Hermione’s chest at the sight of it. The photo of Harry, Ron and Hermione had become a bit of a running joke between Fleur and herself at this point, with Hermione frequently threatening to sign it. Fleur, though she played along with the joke, still resolutely kept the photo on her desk. Hermione watched the print version of herself roll her eyes fondly at the boys beside her and found herself idly wondering what had happened to that dress. Fleur had said she looked beautiful in it. It must be somewhere in the cavernous depths of Hermione’s trusty beaded bag. She had yet to bring herself to delve into it, unwilling to risk the memories of those weeks on the run spilling out. She feared she’d be unpacking more than the bag if she began that process. Perhaps it was worth it to locate the dress though. Fleur would like that.

Her mind drifted from one project to another. The building blocks forgotten for the moment, Hermione let her thoughts focus on her exploration of the possibility of being chosen by Fleur’s thrall. So far, every theory Hermione had tested had returned the same result. There did seem to be an almost physical link between herself and the French witch, and it was strengthening by the day. Hermione thought back to the evening before, to making crêpes together at home, to falling asleep against Fleur in the study, and she allowed herself to imagine a future in which evenings like that were the norm. It was an image so far from what she had ever envisaged for herself. Yet the panic she kept waiting for never materialised. The idea of sharing so much of herself with Fleur should feel like a threat to the independence she had always staunchly protected. Of course, it was possible that her feelings were being dictated by the thrall itself, which was a rather uncomfortable thought.

There was, Hermione could admit to herself, a sense of dread. Not over the idea of a life with Fleur, though the reality of that was a rather large idea to get her head around. But there were things that Hermione had to do first, before she could truly consider it. Obstacles to overcome. Hurdles she had unknowingly dragged across her own path. There was Ron. Sweet, oblivious Ron, whose ability to manoeuvre through delicate situations could often be likened to a wild boar crashing through thick undergrowth. But he had a good heart and she knew he still saw a future in which the two of them were the couple they had always assumed they would be. To rip that security from him felt like a cruel betrayal of the years they had spent by each other’s side. And, truth be told, there was a part of her that clung to their shared past too, unwilling to potentially sever the tie to one of the remaining constant figures in her life. She knew that it was inevitable though, that a second, invisible, tie was pulling her into the arms of somebody else. It wasn’t fair of her, she knew that, to be treading water with both Ron and Fleur, even if she had little doubt which way the current was moving. She found, not for the first time, that she longed to talk the matter through with her mother. Her mum would be understanding and reasonable.

And that was second obstacle. There was her parents. Or rather, there wasn’t. Fleur had no idea what she’d done. It wasn’t that Hermione had chosen not to tell Fleur; it was more that she assumed the other woman knew. It wasn’t a secret amongst the trio and their wider circle, but there was an unspoken rule not to mention it around Hermione. A hidden landmine near Hermione that everybody treaded carefully around.

Hermione had seen first-hand Fleur’s devotion to her family. The constant letters that passed between them, the fondness in Fleur’s eyes when she spoke of them. How could she possibly understand what Hermione had done to her parents? How it was only very recently that she had even started to try to rectify the situation she had put them in? She had stolen everything from her parents, erased their lives. To protect them, yes, but Hermione could see how her actions might appear extreme, even heartless, to someone from such a close-knit family. Hermione knew she needed to address both of the issues that were keeping her from whole-heartedly pursuing her fate with Fleur, for everyone’s sake. And that was when the panic set in.

Shaking her head, Hermione returned her focus to the task at hand, tedious though it was. Despite hours of research and lengthy discussions with Fleur, the task of creating a spell to force an inanimate object to remember its previous position was proving… challenging. Hermione knocked the blocks down again before starting to build them back into her chosen formation. The office door bursting open made her jump, however, and her blocks were scattered noisily across the desk.

‘Fleur! Ces gobelins sont hilarants!’

Hermione turned abruptly to the doorway as a blur of familiar silver blonde hair rushed breathlessly into the room. The figure came to a stop when it noticed Hermione, and Hermione found herself face-to-face with a shorter, less willowy version of Fleur herself. The same platinum hair, though it was completed with a fringe and was straighter than Fleur’s was these days. The same blue eyes, like a clear sky just before moonrise, yet these had a mischievous glint in them that Fleur’s only occasionally contained. And the energy around this small person was altogether more chaotic than Fleur’s steady presence.

‘Gabrielle?’ Hermione guessed. She was certain Fleur’s younger sister would have been at her wedding but Hermione didn’t remember seeing her there. Her only memories of the younger Delacour were of a sodden eight-year-old shivering on the banks of the Black Lake at Hogwarts.

‘Oh,’ came the reply. And even that singular word held a thicker accent than Fleur’s would have. ‘It is you.’

‘I… yes. My name’s Hermione,’ Hermione said reasonably slowly.

Gabrielle’s lips widened in a smile that made Hermione suddenly wary.

‘Oh, I know ‘oo you are. Grand-mère ‘as told me all about you,’ Gabrielle said, her smile turning into more of a grin.

‘What? I’ve never met your grandmother,’ Hermione replied in surprise.

Gabrielle just shrugged and that was a motion that Hermione instantly recognised as Fleur’s.

‘Où est ma sœur?’ Gabrielle asked pointedly.

‘She’s… Well, I don’t know exactly. But she will be back soon I’m sure,’ Hermione said, hoping with all her might that she was right. Something about the shrewd look in Gabrielle’s eyes was setting her on edge.

Gabrielle sighed loudly and began looking about the office distractedly.

‘Aren’t you supposed to be at home?’ Hermione asked after a moment.

‘I am supposed to be at school,’ Gabrielle stated plainly, ‘but one little ‘ex and Madame, she went… folle?’

‘Folle…’ Hermione repeated, racking her brains for the meagre bit of French she had learnt at muggle school as a child. It really was a travesty that languages weren’t part of the curriculum at Hogwarts. ‘Um… mad? Or crazy, maybe?’

‘Oui,’ Gabrielle nodded.

‘Do your parents know you’re here?’ Hermione ventured cautiously.

Gabrielle’s attention suddenly turned to the blocks scattered across Fleur’s desk.

‘What are you doing? This looks… mad too,’ she decided, picking up a block in the shape of an arch.

‘I’m helping Fleur with a spell. We’re trying to devise a way to remind the lower tunnels of their previous structure so that they can be restored exactly. If we can do it then it could be used in all sorts of situations and could be hugely beneficial to many witches and wizards. It has implications for disaster relief, environmental conservation, even… human memory restoration. Up to now, memory charms have been a bit of a one-way street.’ she trailed off.

‘I didn’t understand most of that,’ Gabrielle replied blankly. ‘So my sister is working and you are… playing with bricks?’

‘No, of course not, I—’

‘Do you love my sister?’ Gabrielle interrupted.

Hermione’s head recoiled slightly in shock at the young witch’s abrupt question.

‘We are very good friends. She means a lot to me,’ Hermione replied carefully.

Gabrielle’s eyes narrowed.

‘I liked Bill,’ she said simply.

‘I… like Bill too.’

‘I liked him with Fleur.’

‘Well, they weren’t actually together,’ Hermione explained and then quickly wondered whether Gabrielle was privy to the knowledge that her older sister’s marriage had been purely an exercise in international convenience.

Gabrielle huffed in response, blowing a chunk of her fringe upwards with the sudden exhale.

‘I know that. Are you together? You and Fleur?’ Gabrielle demanded.

‘Uh… no,’ Hermione replied, her eyes flicking to the door still standing ajar from when her small companion had barged in. That was an odd question for the young witch to ask out of the blue. She really wished Fleur would stroll back in soon.

‘That is stupid. Why not?’

‘It’s not stupid,’ Hermione frowned, ‘these things take time and… you make it sound simple.’ Merlin, why had she said that? She had basically just admitted that she wanted to be with Fleur, and admitted it to her little sister rather than Fleur herself. ‘I mean—’ she started.

‘It is simple. You are being stupid. I thought you were meant to be very clever.’

‘I am very clever!’ Hermione exclaimed, then realised how conceited her answer had sounded.

Gabrielle shrugged again and gave Hermione a pitying look that suggested maybe Hermione wasn’t as clever as she thought she was. Hermione forced herself not to react. She cleared her throat.

‘Are you hungry? Do you want something to eat or drink while we wait for Fleur?’ Hermione tried, remembering her manners at last and succeeding in changing the subject at the same time.

‘Peut-être,’ Gabrielle let out slowly, eyeing Hermione carefully as though trying to assess whether Hermione knew what she was saying.

Hermione pulled her wand from within her sleeve and thought for a moment before preparing a drink for Gabrielle.

‘Chocolat Chaud?’ Hermione tried.

Gabrielle kept a sceptical eye on Hermione as she reached out and picked up the mug Hermione had just offered her, she took a sip and watched Hermione over the rim of the mug as she did so. Hermione hadn’t felt such scrutiny since her transfiguration O.W.L. Gabrielle swallowed a gulp of hot chocolate and her eyes softened a little.

‘It tastes like how Fleur makes it,’ she said, sounding pleased for the first time in their entire exchange.

Hermione wanted to breathe a sigh of relief, but fought back the urge. Why was this child giving her such anxiety?

‘Well, she did teach me,’ Hermione replied and then prepared her own matching mug and took a victorious sip.

Gabrielle took the seat opposite Hermione and, grasping her mug in both hands, she shuffled back in the chair until her feet could no longer quite reach the ground.

‘Is it true you rode a dragon through the roof?’ she asked, apparently plucking a question out of thin air.

‘Yes.’ Hermione nodded.

‘What is your Patronus?’ Another unconnected question.

Trying to keep up with Gabrielle’s conversation style reminded Hermione of those mechanical bull simulators that muggles sometimes enjoyed.

‘An otter.’

‘Fleur’s is a dove,’ Gabrielle replied.

‘Is it?’ Hermione gasped, ‘I didn’t know that. How inter—’

‘Did you ever kill a death eater?’

‘Well, I—’

‘Did you meet You-Know-Who?’

‘Gabrielle!’

Two heads snapped rapidly around to face the door where Fleur was standing looking both surprised and perhaps a little angry.

‘Salut,’ Gabrielle replied happily.

‘Salut?!’ Fleur burst out, ‘Que fais-tu ici? Hmm? Comment es-tu arrivé là?’

Definitely a little angry, Hermione decided. She hadn’t seen Fleur like this before and she found herself unable to look away.

‘By floo,’ Gabrielle shrugged. ‘I wanted to see you. ‘asn’t my English got better?’

‘You came by yourself? From school? Does anybody know where you are?’ Fleur asked hurriedly.

‘’Ermione does.’ Gabrielle smiled.

At that, Fleur’s eyes caught Hermione’s for the first time since she had returned to her office. A flutter of anxiety passed through those dark blue orbs as Hermione watched Fleur glance at her little sister and then back at Hermione. Fleur seemed to shake away whatever fear had momentarily struck her and turned her attention back to her sister.

‘I meant Maman and Papa. Or Madame Maxime,’ Fleur said, already sounding exasperated.

‘Ah. Well… Non,’ Gabrielle confessed.

‘Gabrielle!’ Fleur let out, throwing her hands in the air. ‘Tu veux aussi m’attirer des ennui? Hmm?’

Hermione was not entirely sure what that meant but judging by the look on Fleur’s face and Gabrielle’s finally sheepish demeanour, it can’t have meant anything good. Hermione fought to quell the untimely flare of attraction she felt towards Fleur speaking so passionately in her native language.

‘Non,’ Gabrielle let out quietly. ‘I just wanted to see you.’

Fleur’s shoulders slumped and the anger evaporated from her features almost instantly.

‘I wanted to see you too, mon chou,’ she relented softly. And at her words, Gabrielle clunked her mug down on the desk in front of her, ignoring the hot chocolate that sloshed out over the side on impact and Hermione’s hasty tugging away of blueprints, and flung herself at Fleur. Fleur, obviously accustomed to her little sister’s flying hugs, had steadied her stance and wrapped her arms around her sister, lifting her momentarily off the ground.

‘Vraiment?’ Hermione heard Gabrielle’s query, muffled by Fleur’s jumper.

‘Bien sûr.’

Hermione averted her eyes. The show of evident affection between Fleur and her sister was reminding her once again of the closeness of the Delacour family and, in turn, the open wound in her own life where her parents had been.

A couple of moments later, Fleur released Gabrielle and held her at an arm’s length.

‘We will both be in trouble if I don’t let Maman know where you are soon,’ she told her, speaking firmly but with a smile.

Gabrielle nodded reluctantly.

‘Can I stay with you though?’ Gabrielle asked hopefully.

‘I don’t think so,’ Fleur replied, stroking a hand down Gabrielle’s shining hair, ‘it is meant to be a suspension, not a holiday, non?’

Gabrielle pulled away from Fleur and huffed petulantly. Hermione could imagine if Gabrielle were just a couple of years younger then she would have accompanied the gesture with a stamp of her foot.

‘I will go and get an owl sent off to Maman,’ Fleur said. Her words jolted Hermione from her thoughts and she had spoken before she knew it.

‘I’ll do it!’

Fleur looked at Hermione in surprise. The Gringotts owls were stationed in another room off of the main hall. Hermione would have to venture back into the Goblin’s domain in order to send one. It was a fact Hermione had just realised too. But even passing through the Goblin’s glares without Fleur at her side seemed more appealing than being left alone with Gabrielle’s unpredictable conversation and apparent disregard for personal matters. Hermione had never spent a lot of time around children, being an only child with no younger cousins. She was now discovering that she wasn’t entirely sure how to act around those younger than herself.

‘You will?’ Fleur asked uncertainly.

‘Oui,’ Hermione nodded and then scrunched her eyes in a cringe, ‘I mean, yes.’

Fleur was looking at her with raised eyebrows, while Gabrielle failed to stifle a laugh. Hermione suspected she had no intention of stifling it, actually.

‘I’ll send an owl to your Mum. You two can… catch up,’ Hermione said, more confidently than she felt, and then hurried out of the room. She could feel Fleur’s eyes on her as she left.

 

As she had expected, the goblins stationed at their counters in the main hall did indeed turn their beady black eyes on Hermione has she passed through them. Many were speaking to customers, but those who weren’t didn’t fail to mutter something in Hermione’s direction that sounded far from friendly.

‘Miss Granger,’ came a now familiar creaking voice.

Hermione paused. Shuffling footsteps approached her from the side and soon a goblin had sidled up next to her, peering up at her with a lip curled up in what was almost definitely distaste.

‘The Veela has allowed you out from her watchful eye, has she?’ Grimflinch asked.

‘I need to send an owl,’ Hermione replied as assertively as she could manage.

‘Are you enjoying your… work experience?’ Grimflinch replied patronisingly, ignoring Hermione’s words, ‘things used to be much more exciting here when we had the dragon, you know? It’s a shame somebody… let it go.’

‘The way you kept that dragon was barbaric,’ Hermione spat, surprising herself with the venom in her voice.

A couple of the conversations that had been going on at nearby counters seemed to cease.

‘Oh ho! She bites!’ Grimflinch let out with a rattling laugh. ‘Maybe you could be a fair match for the Veela after all.’

‘She has a name,’ Hermione hissed, still unsure where this confidence was coming from but feeling increasingly outraged by Grimflinch’s comments.

‘My apologies to you,’ the goblin creaked insincerely, ‘and to Mrs Weasley, of course.’

Hermione rolled her eyes, having had entirely enough of Grimflinch.

‘If that’s all you wanted to say, then I’ll carry on with my task,’ Hermione said snippily.

Grimflinch raised his heavy brow and gave a sneering smile that displayed a row of pointed teeth, he gestured to the room where the owls were kept and Hermione nodded once at him before striding in that direction. She cast a look over her shoulder just before leaving the main hall.

‘And it’s Delacour. Not Weasley,’ she called.

Grimflinch shook his head and shuffled back towards his desk, muttering as usual. Hermione didn’t catch any of his words over the pounding of her own heartbeat but if she had, then she would have heard, ‘Not a bad match at all.’

 

 

It took Hermione longer than she would care to admit to write the simple note to Apolline Delacour and usher the Gringotts owl on its way. She chose the speediest looking owl, a sleek black one, the variety of which she couldn’t identify. And, as she made her way back down the spiral staircase to Fleur’s office, she decided that perhaps it wasn’t a bad thing that the task had taken her a while. She had given the Delacour sisters a chance to talk privately, and she had given herself a reprieve from Gabrielle’s rather anarchic conversation style.

She had left the door to Fleur’s office ajar left earlier, and now she paused outside it and could hear two voices from inside; one familiar and one less so.

‘Well, she was right. These things do take time,’ came Fleur’s steady tone.

‘I don’t see why,’ Gabrielle huffed. ‘I think you are both wasting time. If she really is your—’

Hermione’s breath caught in her throat.

‘Mon chou, these matters are delicate, hmm? When you are my age, perhaps you will understand.’

Gabrielle barked out a laugh.

‘I will never want that. I ‘ave things I want to do by myself. But you ‘ave always been a… couple person, oui? You should ‘ave stayed with Bill.’

‘I was never with Bill. We have been through this.’ Even from out in the corridor, Hermione could hear Fleur’s frustrated sigh.

‘I like Bill,’ Gabrielle muttered petulantly.  

Hermione chose that moment to return, sensing that Fleur’s usually unshakable patience was wearing thin. She could have kicked herself, however, as she heard the beginning of Fleur’s response to Gabrielle.

‘Well, I like Hermione—’ Fleur began, and then caught sight of the witch in question appearing in the doorway and abruptly changed the course of her sentence, ‘… is back! Hermione is back.’

Gabrielle hooted with laughter and Fleur’s face was a picture of mortification

‘Hello,’ Hermione said sheepishly.

‘How did you get on?’ Fleur asked, shooting a pointed glare at her little sister who was still laughing gleefully.

‘Fine,’ Hermione replied, ignoring Gabrielle for Fleur’s sake, ‘All done. An owl is on its way to your Mum.’

‘Bon. Merci, Hermione,’ Fleur smiled.

‘Oui, merci ‘Ermione,’ Gabrielle parroted in a way that sounded like she was far from grateful. Fleur aimed another glare at her sister, who this time had the good sense to at least offer tight-lipped smile Hermione’s way.

‘I suppose we had better return to Grimmauld and wait for Maman there,’ Fleur sighed. ‘Are you both ready?’

‘Oui,’ Gabrielle said at once, hopping off the desk where she had been perched. ‘Will ‘Arry and Bill’s brother be there?’

‘Oh,’ Hermione said, ‘perhaps I’ll, um… Maybe I’ll stay here and… carry on.’

Fleur frowned at her in confusion.

‘Won’t you join us? We have got a lot done this week, I think it’s OK to leave a little early today,’ she reasoned.

‘You can always play with blocks at ‘ome,’ Gabrielle smirked.

‘I’m not playing with blocks!’ Hermione let out, ‘I already explained what I’m… Oh, never mind.’

Fleur looked back and forth between Hermione and Gabrielle. One looking strained, the other highly amused.

‘Shall we?’ Fleur suggested, and gestured to the fireplace and the pot of floo powder on the mantlepiece. It wasn’t how Hermione and Fleur usually travelled, but was the simplest route with Gabrielle in tow.

Gabrielle headed straight to the fire and took a scoop of powder, slinging it into the flames and announcing her destination before hopping into the grate as though she made this journey all the time.

‘Are you alright?’ Fleur said softly to Hermione once they were the only occupants of the office.

‘I’m fine,’ Hermione nodded stiffly and a little too readily. Fleur’s eyes lingered on her for a beat longer than necessary and Hermione struggled to return her searching gaze. ‘You better catch her up,’ Hermione nodded towards the fire.

‘OK,’ Fleur agreed, ‘and you will follow?’

‘Right behind you,’ Hermione promised.

Chapter Text

The flames in the kitchen fireplace at 12 Grimmauld Place turned emerald green for the second time and Fleur stepped gracefully out of the hearth to find her sister looking curiously at the huge ginger form of Crookshanks. Crookshanks, for his part, was looking back at Gabrielle with unmistakable suspicion. Fleur chuckled at the sight.

‘Gabrielle, Crookshanks. Crookshanks, Gabrielle,’ Fleur made the introductions between the two of them. ‘Crookshanks is Hermione’s cat,’ she explained.

‘Chat?!’ Gabrielle exclaimed, ‘it is the size of a ‘orse.’

‘He is part-kneazle,’ came Hermione’s voice from behind both Delacours as she too stepped out of the fireplace.

‘Which part?’ Gabrielle asked lowly.

‘Hello Crooks,’ Hermione smiled, reaching down to scratch behind the cat’s ears as he twined himself around her legs. Hermione shuffled towards the cupboard where the cat food was stored, moving carefully so as not to trip over the increasingly frantically moving cat at her feet.

Fleur watched Hermione’s movement and found herself lost in her thoughts until she felt a poke in her side. Gabrielle was suddenly standing next to her.

‘Where is ‘Arry and Ron?’ she demanded.

‘They’ll be back in a bit,’ Hermione answered from across the kitchen. ‘They’re in training to become Aurors.’

‘Oui?’ Gabrielle asked, clearly impressed. ‘I like ‘Arry. ‘e saved me from that lake at ‘ogwarts. And I like Ron, ‘e was fun last Christmas at Shell Cottage.’

Fleur frowned at her sister. It sounded an awful lot like she was trying to make some kind of point.

‘I forgot you would have met Ron then.’ Hermione murmured, pouring out cat biscuits into Crookshanks’ bowl.

‘We ‘ad a great time,’ Gabrielle insisted with a nod. ‘Didn’t we, Fleur?’

Fleur watched a dark shadow pass through Hermione’s eyes and just knew that she was casting her mind back to the Christmas that Gabrielle was referring to. Ron had only been at Shell Cottage then because he had abandoned Harry and Hermione to some of the darkest days of their mission.

‘Don’t you miss Shell Cottage?’ Gabrielle asked without waiting for a reply to her previous question. She glanced about the kitchen dubiously. ‘You loved being by the sea.’

‘Non,’ Fleur replied immediately and firmly. ‘I am much happier here.’

Hermione looked up at Fleur then and Fleur made sure to send a reassuring smile her way. Hermione returned it a little uncertainly and both of them missed Gabrielle rolling her eyes.

‘Shall I make a pot of tea?’ Hermione asked.

‘That would be lovely, thank you ma belle,’ Fleur replied. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Gabrielle mouth the words ‘ma belle’ while shaking her head. Fleur glanced back at Hermione to see if she too had noticed Gabrielle’s action and she found that Hermione was blushing.

‘I’ll just… do that then,’ Hermione uttered, turning to busy herself with the muggle teapot.

‘Can I ‘ave another chocolat chaud instead?’ Gabrielle asked.

‘S’il vous plait,’ Fleur hissed.

‘Please.’ Gabrielle added.

‘Of course,’ Hermione agreed and Fleur watched as Hermione repeated the spell and wand movement she had taught her in order to create hot chocolate in the way she knew that Gabrielle, and now Hermione too, favoured.

So they did have one thing in common at least, Fleur mused to herself. She wasn’t sure why Gabrielle was acting the way she seemed to be towards Hermione. Jealousy would be Fleur’s first guess. The idea of Bill being close to Fleur had never bothered Gabrielle though, she had never seen him as a threat. Hermione on the other hand, she did seem to be threatened by. Fleur would have to find a moment to have a word with her little sister before she said something that crossed a line.

The three women had been sitting at the kitchen table for a while, enjoying their drinks and navigating a rather strained conversation when the fire in the hearth turned green yet again. This time, nobody stepped forth, but a head appeared in the grate. A head that was instantly recognisable to all three.

‘Gabrielle!’ was the first word it uttered.

‘Uh oh,’ Gabrielle breathed from beside Fleur.

Here followed a scolding that Fleur was relieved Hermione seemed mostly unable to translate, it lasted several minutes and Fleur could feel Gabrielle practically shrinking into her side. Her arm automatically encircled her younger sister. It was instinct. Even if Gabrielle did deserve every word being fired her way. Hermione was keeping her eyes firmly on the table top and Fleur took the opportunity to reach a long leg out under the table and nudge Hermione’s ankle with her foot. Hermione’s head shot up at once and her gaze found Fleur’s. Fleur sent a knowing smile Hermione’s way and tilted her head towards her sister before giving Hermione a wink. After a moment, Hermione nudged her own foot against Fleur’s. And Fleur’s smile grew.

Both Hermione and Fleur’s attention had drifted away from the angry rant coming from the fireplace but was captured once more as Gabrielle issued a remorseful ‘désolée’ from where she was tucked under Fleur’s arm.

‘Now,’ Apolline let out, her tone lifting dramatically as she switched to English, ‘Hello Hermione, thank you very much for your note. And how are you, hmm?’

‘Oh, you’re welcome. And I’m very well, merci, Madame Delacour.’ Hermione replied, surprised to hear herself directly addressed.

‘You must call me Apolline, I think,’ the face in the fire smiled, ‘and, yes… Yes, I do think you look quite well now.’

Fleur’s eyes widened at her mother’s interested inflection. It was far from subtle.

‘Maman,’ Fleur interjected swiftly, ‘You will let Madame Maxime know where the runaway has got to?’

‘Already done,’ Apolline nodded distractedly. Her gaze was flitting back and forth between Fleur and Hermione before flicking downwards and Fleur realised too late that from her vantage place at near ground-level, her mother would have a clear view of their feet beneath the table. Fleur watched warily as Apolline’s smile grew. She resisted the temptation to retract her foot from Hermione’s, partly because her mother had already noticed, and partly because she needed that small bit of contact with the other witch.

A moment later, Apolline had made a decision and spoke again.

‘Well, Gabrielle, since you have successfully made your way to London unaided perhaps you should stay there—’

‘Yes!’ Gabrielle hissed at once, bouncing excitedly in place.

‘Perhaps you should stay there just for tonight,’ Apolline carried on pointedly. ‘Your father and I will collect you in the morning, OK?’

Gabrielle’s face had fallen slightly but she nodded nonetheless.

‘OK.’

‘That is, if it is alright with Fleur and Hermione, of course.’ Apolline added with a look at Fleur.

Fleur looked across at Hermione and noticed she had gone a little pale at the suggestion. Fleur could hardly turn her sister away though, even if she did suspect her mother had just seized an opportunity here and planned to use Gabrielle as a bit of an unsuspecting spy. Apolline’s rant may have taken the wind out of Gabrielle’s sails, but Fleur knew well enough that her mother was not as angry as she professed. In fact, she was probably quite proud of Gabrielle’s ability to get herself all the way from Beauxbatons to Gringotts without anybody stopping her.

‘That’s fine,’ Fleur agreed, unable to bring herself to look at Hermione as she said it. Still, it was only one night.

 

 

It turned out that Gabrielle was only temporarily subdued by her mother’s chastisement. By the time the boys returned home from training, she was back to being her usual exuberant self. Thankfully, after their surprise had worn off, both Harry and Ron were pleased to see Gabrielle. And Fleur was reminded that Ron and Gabrielle had indeed got on well over Christmas at Shell Cottage. Fleur remembered it being a tense time, but that was perhaps due to the fact that she wasn’t sure if it was to be the last Christmas she was able to spend with her sister as war had loomed closer than ever, and also due to her disapproval over Ron’s abandonment of Harry and Hermione. Evidently, Gabrielle had been unaware of her older sister’s discomfort, had enjoyed her time during that festive period, and remembered Ron fondly.

‘Can we play exploding snap after dinner?’ Gabrielle asked Ron hopefully as she hovered at his side while he prepared a celebratory meal for the evening.

‘Depends,’ Ron said with a grin, ‘are you prepared to lose?’

‘Never!’ Gabrielle let out at once.

Harry chuckled from his seat at the table across from Fleur where he was just finishing a cup of tea. There was indeed an air of celebration in the room and Fleur was pleased to see her sister so happy and comfortable with her housemates. Well, two of them at least. The other one, Fleur noted, had slipped out of the room.

 

 

With Gabrielle busy helping Ron with dinner preparations – though exactly how helpful she was being was debatable – Fleur quietly left the kitchen and headed upstairs. She entered her bedroom and found Hermione gathering her pyjamas from where they had been folded on the pillows of Fleur’s bed. The pillows on what had been firmly established as Hermione’s side of the bed.

‘There you are,’ Fleur breathed as she came to a stop at the foot of the bed. ‘Are you alright?’

Hermione looked up at Fleur as she spoke and met her eyes briefly before looking away and then grabbing her book from the bedside table.

‘Of course,’ Hermione nodded, ‘Are you?’

Fleur ignored the question.

‘What are you doing?’ she asked instead.

‘Well, I assume Gabrielle will sleep in here with you tonight, so I thought I’d get my stuff out of the way before she saw it and asked questions.’ Hermione said, spotting her hairbrush on Fleur’s dressing table and picking that up too.

‘I don’t think she would ask questions; she knows we are… close,’ Fleur said haltingly.

‘Fleur,’ Hermione said blankly, ‘earlier she asked me if I had ever killed a death eater. Your sister’s curiosity knows no bounds.’

Fleur huffed out a small laugh at that. Hermione had managed to get a pretty good read of Gabrielle already it seemed.

‘Yes, I suppose she isn’t the most subtle in her questions,’ Fleur allowed.

‘That’s an understatement,’ Hermione muttered, crouching down to look under the bed and then reappearing with an odd sock.

‘Are you upset that Gabrielle is here? Because I didn’t know she was going to do this and I didn’t know that Maman would suggest she stayed,’ Fleur asked, keeping her tone as light as possible.

‘Of course I’m not upset.’ Hermione replied at once. ‘She’s your sister. It’s fine that she’s here,’ Hermione countered.

‘You are sure?’ Fleur ventured cautiously. She could feel a slight frost around Hermione that was causing her to doubt her words.

‘Well, I don’t think she likes me very much but I’m not upset about it,’ Hermione said simply.

‘She doesn’t know you, that’s all,’ Fleur replied softly.

‘Apparently she knows all about me,’ Hermione said, her expression now inscrutable, ‘from your grandmother somehow.’

Fleur had often heard English people say that something had caused their blood to run cold, but until this moment she had never really understood the expression, had always thought of it as hyperbole.

‘Ah,’ was all that she managed to say.

‘Mmm.’ Hermione nodded, her lips pressed tight together. And then silence stretched between them as Fleur’s mind rattled through possible responses and came up with nothing useful.

‘That is… odd,’ Fleur eventually said.

‘It is a bit, isn’t it?’ came the reply, complete with an arched eyebrow that caused Fleur to take a half step backwards.

‘Anyway,’ Hermione went on, side-stepping the moment of tension, ‘I am just gathering my things and then I am going to give you some space to spend time with Gabrielle.’

Fleur felt a bolt of panic.

‘I don’t want space,’ she said in a rush.

‘Fleur, I don’t think your sister is going to want to share with both of us,’ Hermione said with a short laugh.

Fleur had no response to that. Hermione was right, after all. And the only other option would be for Gabrielle to stay in Hermione’s room while Hermione remained in her usual place in Fleur’s bed. That would not be fair on Gabrielle and it would surely raise exactly the kind of questions that everybody in the house was doing a stellar job of not addressing. Plus, it wasn’t that Fleur didn’t want to spend time with her sister. It was just that suddenly things between herself and Hermione felt strained in a way that they hadn’t for weeks now and it was causing anxiety to writhe in Fleur’s stomach.

Fleur stepped forward. She tugged the pile of assorted belongings out of Hermione’s grip and placed them on the bed before she took both of Hermione’s hands in her own. She needed to feel the other woman’s touch. Hermione didn’t pull away. She offered Fleur a small smile instead.

The sound of raucous laughter reached their ears from downstairs.

‘You’re missing the fun,’ Hermione said softly, giving Fleur’s hands a squeeze. ‘Go on. I’m fine. I’ll be down in a bit.’

Fleur nodded reluctantly and then before she had even consciously decided to do it, she pulled Hermione forwards and wrapped her arms around her, tugging her in close and tucking her chin over Hermione’s shoulder.

‘She will love you in time,’ Fleur said quietly, her lips moving next to Hermione’s ear.

Hermione didn’t offer up any reply to that, but Fleur felt the slight nodding of her head and accepted that as answer enough.

 

With an extra place setting for Gabrielle, dinner time at 12 Grimmauld Place was a noisier affair than usual. Gabrielle was full to the brim with questions for Harry and Ron about their Auror training. She had been gently admonished by Fleur when she had asked both of the boys how many death eaters they had killed. At that point, Hermione shot a ‘told-you-so’ look at Fleur across the table.

‘Do you know why I got suspended?’ Gabrielle asked Harry, her voice full of pride.

Harry glanced uncertainly at Fleur.

‘Uh…’ He began.

‘Gabrielle…’ Fleur said warningly.

‘I ‘exed a stupid boy so ‘is mouth filled with birds’ shit!’ Gabrielle exclaimed.

Ron guffawed and slapped the table top with one of his hands.

‘Good one!’ he laughed.

Fleur put her head in her hand and sighed. Hermione bit her lips to hide her smile.

‘You know,’ Hermione began, elongating the second word, ‘something similar happened to Ron once,’ she said, no longer hiding her smile.

‘Don’t ‘Mione,’ Ron pleaded, suddenly not finding the conversation so funny.

‘Do ‘Mione,’ Harry said, grinning at Hermione and nodding emphatically.

‘What? What ‘appened?’ asked Gabrielle, her attention on Hermione for the first time throughout the whole meal.

Fleur found that she too was intrigued by where this story could be headed.

‘Well,’ Hermione began, ‘Ron was once hit by a spell that caused him to regurgitate slugs,’ she finished happily.

‘’Mione!’ Ron groaned, ‘I’m eating! Why did you have to bring that up?’

Gabrielle and Harry were howling with laughter and even Fleur was laughing softly at the look of disgust on Ron’s face.

‘And do you know who cast the spell?’ Hermione asked Gabrielle.

‘Oh, come on,’ Ron groaned.

‘You did?!’ Gabrielle gasped, looking at Hermione in astonishment. A look that was mirrored by Fleur, who had heard about the attacking canaries but couldn’t quite imagine that Hermione would cast something so vile as a slug vomiting hex.

‘No,’ Harry laughed, ‘Ron did! His wand backfired.’

Gabrielle was howling once more.

‘You are so silly!’ Gabrielle managed to say through her laughter.

‘Yeah, well,’ Ron started, grumpily, ‘I was only trying to defend Hermione. Malfoy had just called her a Mu—’ Ron cut his own sentence short, ‘a rude word,’ he finished.

‘What did he call her?’ Gabrielle asked at once.

Ron opened his mouth to reply and Fleur dreaded to think what his response might be, but luckily Harry spoke up.

‘Hermione did eventually punch Malfoy in the face though, so everyone got what they deserved in the end,’ he said with a one-shouldered shrug.

‘I didn’t deserve the slugs!’ Ron bellowed.

You punched a boy in the face?’ Gabrielle shrieked at Hermione.

‘Well, I don’t condone violence of course,’ Hermione said, shuffling in her seat and casting an apologetic look at Fleur, ‘but yes. I did. And it was rather satisfying actually,’ she finished with a sheepish grin.

Gabrielle barked out a laugh and Fleur watched as her sister seemed to consider Hermione in a new light. Something Fleur was doing as well, previously unable to picture Hermione punching anybody.

‘’Ogwarts sounds much more fun than Beauxbatons,’ Gabrielle huffed.

‘It is cold and damp,’ Fleur assured her.

‘It is not!’ chorused three voices at once.

Fleur shook her head dismissively.

‘What about that time Malfoy tried to hex Harry and hit Hermione instead?’ Ron piped up, ‘Remember your teeth, ‘Mione?’

‘I do,’ Hermione growled, ‘vividly.’

‘Hermione used to have these massive front teeth,’ Ron told Gabrielle.

‘They weren’t massive,’ Hermione muttered.

 ‘They were,’ Ron countered. ‘And then Malfoy accidentally hit her in the mouth with some spell that made her teeth start growing even bigger. They were a foot long the last I saw of them.’

Gabrielle’s eyes were as wide as saucers and directed Hermione’s way.

‘She got them fixed in the hospital wing,’ Harry explained quickly.

‘More than fixed,’ Ron cut in, ‘she let Pomfrey shrink them so they were smaller than they ever were to start with!’

Gabrielle looked even more impressed with Hermione.

‘My parents weren’t very happy about my new smaller teeth though,’ Hermione said with a fond smile. ‘They wanted me to continue with braces.’

‘What are braces? It sounds ‘orrible.’ Gabrielle said.

‘Hermione’s parents were toothists,’ Ron explained to Gabrielle.

‘Dentists,’ corrected Harry.

‘Were?’ said Fleur. ‘They are not anymore?’

She had never heard that Hermione’s parents were dentists. Once again, it was becoming clear that she knew nothing at all about them. She looked in interest across at Hermione and found that the other woman’s gaze was focussed firmly on the tabletop. And then she caught the look on Ron’s face next to Hermione. He was staring at Fleur in a mixture of horror and confusion.

‘Uh…’ Harry started with a nervous glance at Hermione.

Gabrielle looked about at the other occupants of the table.

‘What? Are they dead?’ she asked casually.

‘No,’ Hermione said hollowly, ‘or, at least, I don’t think so.’

‘How can you not know if your own parents are dead?’ Gabrielle said with a baffled snort.

Fleur’s confusion intensified and she tried again to catch Hermione’s eye but Hermione wasn’t allowing it. Hermione did however, look at Harry for a moment. Fleur watched as a silent conversation seemed to take place between the two of them, a coil of jealousy wound in her stomach but it was over shadowed by pure bewilderment. It seemed that whatever the secret was, it was a secret only from Fleur. And the fact Fleur that knew nothing about Hermione’s parents was perhaps not an accident. She had just inadvertently stepped headlong into the middle of something painful.

‘Hermione had to protect her parents,’ Harry said quietly, ‘they would have been an easy target for Voldemort.’

‘It’s OK, Harry.’ Hermione cut in.

Ron gave Hermione a worried look and then covered her hand that had been resting on the table with his. Fleur watched his fingers curl under Hermione’s and her jaw clenched at the sight. At her side, Gabrielle made a small noise of surprise and elbowed Fleur in the ribs before checking to see whether Fleur was also watching this moment of contact between Hermione and Ron. She saw Hermione take a deep breath.

‘I modified their memories,’ Hermione said shakily. There was a glean of unshed tears in her eyes and she was addressing nobody in particular with her words. ‘I erased all memory of myself from their lives. And then I sent them to Australia.’

For a long uncomfortable moment, nobody said anything. And then,

‘So you were not just boasting when you said you are very clever,’ Gabrielle said in quiet wonder.

Hermione gave a small humourless laugh. And Fleur said nothing.

Chapter Text

Hermione couldn’t sleep. She was, at this moment, lying in her own bed. It was a place she hadn’t spent the night in quite some time now, and it felt strange. There was a churning sensation in her stomach that, for once, didn’t stem from the fear of being suffocated by nightmares if she fell asleep. It was guilt and uncertainty and, truth be told, a little anger that had set her stomach on edge.

The rest of dinner had passed eventually. Harry had made a valiant effort to detract from the change in tone after the discussion of Hermione’s parents. And, after his wide-eyed silence at Hermione speaking so plainly about the situation, Ron had also done a good job of regaining Gabrielle’s attention and steering the conversation onto more jovial topics. But Fleur had remained quiet. Not silent, not even noticeably quiet to the rest of the table, but quieter than usual and Hermione had been able to feel Fleur’s distracted thoughts and she knew where they were circulating. There was a small part of Hermione that was relieved that her accidental secret was out in the open, and it would perhaps be an even bigger part of her had she been able to gage Fleur’s reaction.

When they had finished eating, and had all played several games of exploding snap – at Gabrielle’s insistence – Hermione had excused herself to go to bed. Before leaving the kitchen, she had made what she thought was pointed eye contact with Fleur, urging her to follow Hermione so that they might talk in private. She knew they needed to. But Fleur had bid Hermione goodnight like the others did and had then not appeared in Hermione’s room. An hour later, Hermione had heard four pairs of footsteps traipsing up the stairs and then the muffled conversation of the Delacour sisters through the wall as they got ready for bed in the room next door.

But now the house was quiet and Hermione was wide awake. There had been an unseen weight resting over her friendship Fleur for some time now. It took the form of a potential future together, of the possibility of being partners chosen for each other by some ethereal force. And, for the most part, its weight had been bearable while it was some abstract prospect. Now, however, it seemed joined by something else, being forced down further. It had become crushing. It had become clear over the course of the day that Fleur had known full well that her thrall had chosen Hermione. That she had discussed it with her family. Hermione had gathered as much from Gabrielle’s comment about having heard about Hermione from their grandmére. And what’s more, Hermione had overheard the sisters’ conversation in Fleur’s office, and she had seen the knowing look that Apolline had appraised them with from the fireplace. How long had Fleur known? How many times had she chosen not to tell Hermione? To watch her following a trail of breadcrumbs? To keep her in the dark? Well, she wasn’t completely in the dark. But the tunnel towards the truth that she was feeling her way along was far from well lit. And Fleur had been holding a lantern behind her back. Hermione had thought they were figuring things out together.

It seemed that neither Fleur nor Hermione had been entirely honest with each other.
The flash of hurt on Fleur’s face when she realised she hadn’t been told about Hermione’s parents, well, that had assuaged Hermione’s irritation at being left guessing about the thrall for a while. The idea of hurting Fleur did not sit comfortably, even when Hermione herself was feeling less than impressed about Fleur’s behaviour on other matters.  

At that moment, a soft tap at the door broke Hermione from her thoughts. Her stomach flipped, and before she even had time to call out a response, the door was slowly opening as Fleur slipped into the room. She was wearing a long-sleeved navy-blue silk pyjama set that Hermione had never seen before. Hermione had assumed Fleur didn’t own pyjamas, given her penchant for sleeping in just a t-shirt and underwear. This look was surprisingly formal and it did nothing to calm Hermione’s nerves.

‘I had to wait for Gabrielle to be asleep,’ Fleur whispered. She looked tired, Hermione noticed, and there was no smile on her face as there usually was when they were together.

Hermione nodded and pulled herself to a sitting position.

Fleur approached the bed but remained standing. The air in the room was thick.

‘Why didn’t you tell me?’ Fleur murmured at last.

Hermione swallowed dryly.

‘I only realised the other day that you didn’t already know,’ she said truthfully. ‘I assumed Bill or one of the Weasleys would have mentioned it at some point. And then the idea of having to tell you what I did… I knew you would be upset.’ Hermione whispered.

‘I didn’t know. Nobody ever told me.’ Fleur confirmed, ‘And I would not have been upset if you had told me by choice.’

There was unquestionable hurt in Fleur’s voice. Hermione shook her head.

‘No, I mean, I knew you would be upset by what I did. That you would think it was wrong,’ Hermione said emphatically.

‘Wrong?’ Fleur repeated, her brows furrowed.

‘I know how close you are with your family,’ Hermione let out, ‘I can see it with you and Gabrielle. The way you talk about your parents… What I did to mine, how could you not think I was cruel?’

Fleur’s confusion appeared to grow and then settle into something else.

‘You’re right,’ Fleur nodded. And Hermione’s heart clenched painfully even though she had known this conversation was coming.

‘I am close with my family,’ Fleur went on, ‘so do you not think that, in your situation, I too would have done anything to protect them? Absolutely anything?’

‘I don’t know,’ Hermione whispered.

‘Well, I do,’ Fleur fired back. ‘If you had just told me then I would only have wanted to support you. I could never think you are cruel for loving someone so much that you break your own heart to protect them.’ Fleur’s eyes were glinting with something Hermione couldn’t identify, and then she sighed.

‘I had hoped you would have trusted me enough to be honest and let me decide how I felt about it,’ Fleur let out.

‘I do trust you!’ Hermione replied, her voice raising well above a whisper. And then a thought occurred to her. ‘Hang on a minute,’ she said, ‘that’s a bit rich, isn’t it?’

For a split second, Hermione wanted to grab those words and shove them back down inside, out of earshot. But it was too late, they were out and, since they were, perhaps it was time to examine them.

Fleur took a step backwards and cocked her head to one side.

‘What do you mean?’ She asked warily.

Hermione steeled herself.

‘You wanted me to trust you enough to be honest about something?’ Hermione demanded, feeling prickles of irritation making their way up her spine before colouring her cheeks. She hadn’t been honest with Fleur, that was undeniable, but it hadn’t been a long-held conscious decision, and it wasn’t about something that directly affected Fleur.

Fleur’s mouth had suddenly clamped shut, a flicker of fear in her eyes.

‘Is there anything you haven’t been telling me?’ Hermione asked dangerously, folding her arms across her chest. Her anger was fuelling her confidence.

‘Hermione,’ Fleur started and then seemed unable to follow the word up with anything else.  Where her posture moments before had been that of a wounded party, now Fleur stood accused and on edge. Hermione watched Fleur closely, saw the understanding plain as day on her face. She knew exactly what Hermione was referring to.

‘You were just letting me figure it out for myself, weren’t you?’ Hermione went on.

‘You ‘ave been through so much lately,’ Fleur confessed, the words bursting out of her almost against her will. ‘I didn’t want to scare you.’

‘Scare me with what?’ Hermione prompted. ‘I need to hear you say it, Fleur.’

Fleur shifted awkwardly.

‘When you first moved in here, I used to get this strange hazy blue tinge to my vision whenever I was around you,’ Hermione told her. ‘I thought it was just another symptom of anxiety. But it wasn’t, was it?’

‘I don’t think so, no.’ Fleur said quietly.

‘You have a scent, did you know?’ Hermione asked, ‘Wild honeysuckle. I assumed it was just the perfume you wear, but I smelt that the other day from the bottle on your dresser, and it’s not the same smell.’

Fleur nodded slowly.

‘Don’t make me ask you, Fleur. Please,’ Hermione whispered. ‘Tell me.’

Hermione watched as Fleur took a deep breath and let it out shakily. She hadn’t sought Hermione out for this. Hermione knew that Fleur had come here feeling upset about Hermione’s bombshell at dinner. But somehow the two complications had become entangled and now, suddenly, everything was laid bare in the light of the lanterns in Hermione’s bedroom.

‘It’s my thrall,’ Fleur said, ‘it chose you.’

Her breath caught in her throat and Hermione’s stomach churned once more. It was one thing to know something in theory and another altogether to have it confirmed. A shattered glass that could not be put back together.

‘How long have you known?’

‘A while,’ Fleur admitted.

‘And your family? They all know?’

‘I told my mother when I first started experiencing… something. She connected the dots and presumably discussed it with Grandmére,’ Fleur said quietly.

Hermione nodded tightly.

‘And Gabrielle?’

‘I imagine Grandmére mentioned it,’ Fleur replied cautiously.

‘Right.’

‘I’m sorry,’ Fleur whispered. Her eyes were watering and Hermione had to look away before she leapt from the bed and took Fleur in her arms, whether she wanted to or not. And right now, she did not want to. Hermione sighed and picked at a loose thread in her duvet cover.

‘This is such a mess,’ she breathed.

‘It doesn’t have to be,’ Fleur replied at once, taking a brave step forward and perching on the edge of the bed.

‘I don’t know what to do with all this. I don’t know how I feel about it,’ Hermione muttered. ‘I thought we were on the same page, that we were figuring this out together as we went along. But we’re not on the same page. You’re chapters ahead of me.’

Fleur’s face was a picture of guilt as she took in Hermione’s words. And then—

‘Were you only coming to work with me so that you might be able to replace your parents’ memories?’ she asked suddenly, as though the thought had only just occurred to her and it was not a nice one.

‘No!’ Hermione replied at once. ‘I have hope that if we crack the spell then maybe, somewhere down the line, it could be adapted for use in humans and then, yes, I could get my parents back. But I knew it was a long shot. I was coming to work with you because… Merlin, Fleur, I just want to be around you all the time.’

‘That is what I want to,’ Fleur said, with the first smile either of them had shown throughout their conversation.

‘But maybe it’s not what I feel at all! Maybe it’s just what your thrall is making me feel,’ Hermione exclaimed. She wasn’t sure that she believed it, but at this particular moment her emotions were getting the better of her. The smile slipped from Fleur’s face.

‘The thrall does not make something out of nothing,’ Fleur said flatly. ‘It only shows the Veela and her… It only makes it apparent that those feelings are worth acting on. That it could be more than mere attraction.’

‘Attraction,’ Hermione repeated.

‘Oui,’ Fleur nodded decisively. ‘I have felt it for weeks. Perhaps longer.’

Hermione shifted. She was all too aware of Fleur’s piercing blue gaze on her, waiting and hoping for confirmation that Hermione had felt the same thing.

‘Haven’t you?’ Fleur asked at last.

‘Yes,’ came the reply, in a voice that cracked on the single word.

Fleur let out a quick exhale through her nose at the word and her eyes seemed to glint once more.

‘You said,’ Hermione began, ‘when I asked you about thralls, you said there was always a choice’

‘I did,’ Fleur agreed hesitantly, ‘and that remains the case.’

‘OK.’ Hermione nodded.

‘OK?’ Fleur asked, ‘OK, what?’

‘I need some time to think about it. I mean, I have been thinking about it, but I wasn’t sure if I was even correct about your thrall, and I didn’t know that you knew for certain,’ Hermione explained, ‘Or that your whole family knew,’ she added in a slight undertone.

Fleur shrank back.

‘I am sorry about that,’ she said sincerely.

‘You should think about it too,’ Hermione said, ignoring Fleur’s apology.

‘I don’t need to,’ Fleur said immediately.

‘Fleur,’ Hermione breathed.

Fleur stood so abruptly from the bed that it almost made Hermione jump.

‘I don’t need to think about it. Because you’re right, I have known for a while and nothing I have ever known makes more sense to me than you do. I know what I want, ‘Ermione. But I will give you the time to make your own choice.’ Fleur said it all with hardly time to take a breath.

‘Thank you,’ came Hermione’s quiet reply, the word sounding almost like a question.

Fleur reached a hand towards Hermione’s face and Hermione felt her eyes closing involuntarily in anticipation of feeling the other woman’s touch. But it never came. Hermione opened her eyes and Fleur had retracted her hand, was biting her lip.

‘Goodnight,’ Fleur nodded.

‘I… Goodnight,’ Hermione replied.

And she watched as Fleur walked back across her room, her silk pyjamas making a swishing sound that was the only disruption to the silence.

 

If Hermione was unable to sleep earlier, there was no way she was going to succeed now. No more than ten minutes after Fleur had left the room, Hermione kicked the duvet off, gathered a few books from her desk along with some more of Teddy Lupin’s blocks and headed downstairs. At the kitchen table, she produced some of her favourite floating purple flames and then set to work, anything to keep her mind occupied. Fleur’s promise to give her time to make a choice was all very well, but at this precise moment, the result of that choice felt unmanageably large. The knowledge that she and her potential relationship to Fleur had been a conversation topic amongst Fleur’s family for weeks, was something she couldn’t get her head around just yet. So Hermione was doing what she did best; reading and researching.

Between her arrival at the kitchen table and the watery colours of dawn gracing the skyline through the window, only one incident distracted Hermione. In the early hours of the morning, Leandre had tapped at the kitchen window and then settled to roost on the back of Hermione’s chair, fluffing his feathers and tucking his neck as his eyes drooped closed. By sunrise, Hermione had taught Teddy’s blocks to remember a specific formation and return themselves to that position after she had knocked them down. It was a start. The sun was now warming a diagonal stripe of light across the opened book before her. Hermione yawned.

‘Playing with blocks again?’

An amused voice startled Hermione from her thoughts.

‘Merlin, Gabrielle! You made me jump,’ Hermione breathed, her heart racing.

‘Sorry,’ Gabrielle shrugged, sounding less than sincere. ‘I think your giant cat thing is ‘ungry. It woke me up.’

It was then that Hermione noticed Crookshanks at Gabrielle’s feet, tail twitching accusingly.

‘Ah, yes. Sorry about that.’ Hermione yawned again. As she stood and shuffled across the room to fill Crookshanks bowl. The movement of Hermione’s chair awoke Leandre and he fluttered to Hermione’s shoulder before appearing to settle down to doze once more.

‘Is that Fleur’s owl?’ Gabrielle demanded.

Hermione hummed in assent.

‘Then there is no ‘ope at all,’ Gabrielle muttered with a roll of her eyes.

Hermione’s posture stiffened. Her frustration from the night before was quickly returning.

‘And what is that supposed to mean?’ Hermione asked pointedly.

‘It means that owl is cleverer than you,’ Gabrielle smirked.

Leandre opened an eye and glared at Gabrielle and before Hermione could open her mouth to allow more outrage to spill out, the door to the kitchen burst open so aggressively that it swung back on its hinges and knocked loudly against the wall.

‘’ermione?’ Fleur gasped, looking about the room frantically before she noticed both occupants staring at her in surprise. She was still in her silk pyjamas and was paler than usual.

‘Oh, you’re here,’ Fleur breathed, still looking stricken. ‘Sorry, I thought… your room was empty and it’s early and I thought… Never mind.’

‘Oh Merlin,’ Gabrielle sighed with a roll of her eyes. ‘You two are useless.’

‘Gabrielle,’ Fleur groaned.

‘I’m not going anywhere,’ Hermione said to Fleur, taking no notice of how the Delacour sisters were now glowering at each other. Hermione’s instinct had been to calm Fleur down, to reassure her and so she had done so without pausing for thought.

Fleur’s shoulders slumped in relief and Gabrielle let out a dramatic sigh, throwing the back of her hand against her forehead in a mock faint.

‘I reckon I could pull off that slug vomiting hex, you know?’ Hermione said to Gabrielle warningly.

Gabrielle let out a hoot of laughter, feeling no fear at all at Hermione’s thinly veiled threat.

‘Ron told me about the canaries too. It’s very Veela, to use birds in a ‘ex like that. Grandmére would love it. Would you teach me?’ Gabrielle asked, her tone pleasant for once.

‘Well, I suppose…’ Hermione started.

‘Non!’ Fleur shook her head.

‘No,’ Hermione agreed, ‘it perhaps wouldn’t be appropriate.’

Gabrielle, huffed and sat down heavily at the table.

‘I wouldn’t use it on anybody,’ she grumbled.

Another yawn overtook Hermione and she covered her mouth with her hand. Almost immediately, Fleur yawned too. Gabrielle looked between them, unimpressed.

‘You both look awful,’ she pointed out, ‘can you not even spend one night apart?’

At that, Fleur let out a barrage of French words that Hermione was too slow and too tired to translate. Judging by the tone and the betrayed look on Gabrielle’s face, however, she was being told off. And by the end of Fleur’s scolding, Gabrielle looked on the brink of tears.

Hermione didn’t know where to look. It was clear that Gabrielle was unused to seeing this side of Fleur, and Hermione was surprised by it too. She could feel Leandre – now fully awake – gripping rather tightly to her shoulder with his talons. An awkward silence fell over the room.

‘You used to be fun,’ Gabrielle let out, glaring at Fleur with shining eyes and her voice sounding strangled. ‘I knew this would change everything.’

With that Gabrielle stood up from the table and hurried out of the room.

The awkward silence returned.

‘Fleur—’ Hermione started.

‘I’m going to get dressed,’ Fleur replied stiffly, ‘Maman and Papa will be here before long.’ She followed after Gabrielle.

‘Oh, great.’ Hermione muttered when she was once again the only person in the room. Leandre nudged her head in what was presumably meant to be a comforting gesture. A quarter of an hour later, the doorbell rang.

Chapter Text

After returning to her own room the night before, Fleur’s mood had only worsened. She didn’t blame Hermione for the way she had reacted. It had always been Fleur’s intention to tell Hermione about the thrall and about what it meant for them. True, she had thought Hermione had more than an inkling about the matter already, but Fleur had followed her mother’s advice, had given Hermione time and space to adjust to the idea. Fleur knew that being the subject of other’s conversations did not sit well with Hermione these days. She knew it was a sore point. It was why Hermione didn’t read the paper, why she felt so uncomfortable in Diagon Alley. And now Hermione thought that exactly the same thing was going on within Fleur’s family. And, to make matters worse, she wasn’t wrong. So much for time and space. Fleur should have just told Hermione weeks ago and run the risk of Hermione heading for the hills in response. It could well be the outcome now anyway.

Fleur had been unable to sleep. Unable to get comfortable. The warm body beside her was not Hermione’s but Gabrielle’s. And Gabrielle had always been a fidgety sleeper. Fleur was doing her best not to resent the role her sister’s presence had played in Hermione’s upset. Though she did wish Gabrielle had been a little more guarded with what she said around Hermione. But it wasn’t Gabrielle’s fault. After all, Hermione didn’t seem to blame Gabrielle. She blamed Fleur.

At one point, Leandre had hopped from his perch and fluttered to the windowsill, demanding to be allowed out. Fleur hauled herself from the bed to appease him before returning to lie sleepless once more. Eventually though, Fleur must have fallen asleep because she awoke sometime later to find herself doused in daylight in an empty room. The sheets to her side were still warm and, with a sinking sensation, the events of the night prior slunk back into Fleur’s mind. Assuming her sister was in the bathroom, Fleur heaved herself out of bed, stumbled at the sudden throb of her head and then promptly stubbed her toe on the dresser.

Nostrils flaring, Fleur cursed under her breath as she hopped on one foot and tried to see if there had been any lasting damage to her toe. It would bruise perhaps, but nothing more. She put her weight gingerly back on both feet and stepped out into the hall. Hermione’s door was ajar and, chancing a glance through the gap, Fleur could see that the room appeared empty. She pushed the door open to double check. Hermione was nowhere to be seen. A bolt of panic shot through Fleur. What if Hermione had gone? Made her choice and left in the night, unable to face Fleur?

Fleur thundered down the stairs, ignoring the throbbing in both her toe and her head until she crashed into the kitchen, to the shock of both Gabrielle and Hermione, who looked at her as though she’d lost her mind. And perhaps she had. It certainly felt like it.



After a brief sojourn in the kitchen, where Hermione kept her distance and Gabrielle had more than tested Fleur’s patience, Fleur’s headache was in full force and she guiltily followed Gabrielle back upstairs. She shouldn’t have scolded the girl like that, Fleur knew. She could say that she didn’t know what had come over her, but that would be a lie. She felt dreadful. Both because of her treatment of her little sister, and due to the headache and queasiness that refused to grant her reprieve. She wondered if Hermione felt it too.

‘I am sorry, mon chou,’ Fleur lamented, having found Gabrielle back upstairs.

Gabrielle pointedly looked away from Fleur.

‘It is… Not an easy time at the moment and I let my temper get the better of me,’ Fleur explained.

‘It will never be an easy time again!’ Gabrielle snapped. ‘Not now you ‘ave a mate. You won’t care about me as much.’

Fleur bristled at the word ‘mate’ as much as she did at the mere implication that anything could make her care about her sister any less.

‘Hermione and I are not together,’ Fleur said blankly.

‘Exactement! And already you are mean to me,’ Gabrielle said indignantly.

‘You did not feel like this about Bill,’ Fleur pointed out, choosing not to respond to Gabrielle’s accusation.

‘You didn’t love Bill!’ Gabrielle blurted out. ‘Not like this,’ she finished more quietly.

Fleur had been standing on the opposite side of the bed to Gabrielle, and now she sank down onto it in defeat.

‘Well, I’m not sure ‘ermione loves me. So perhaps none of this matters, hmm?’ Fleur sighed, closing her eyes and rubbing her temples in an attempt to soothe them. To her surprise, Gabrielle laughed.

‘You are ridiculous. Even I can see that she adores you, and I’m only twelve!’ Gabrielle exclaimed.

Fleur frowned and then wished she hadn’t as the pressure of her headache only increased.

‘Do you think?’ Fleur ventured.

‘Yes!’ Gabrielle hissed. ‘Why else do you think I am worried?’

‘Gabrielle,’ Fleur began gently and then was interrupted by the sound of the doorbell. Both Delacours looked at each other wide-eyed.

‘Uh oh,’ Gabrielle whispered.

‘Can you answer the door, so Hermione doesn’t do it?’ Fleur pleaded. ‘I will get dressed and be down there in a minute.’

Gabrielle appeared reluctant to face their parents alone, but she nodded nonetheless and started for the door. Fleur reached for her before she got too far and pulled her back into a tight hug.

‘You are my little sister, and I will never love you any less,’ she said into Gabrielle’s hair. She gave the girl another squeeze and then Gabrielle pulled herself loose.

‘OK, calm down,’ Gabrielle said, giving herself a pat down where Fleur had rumpled her clothing. ‘So dramatic,’ she muttered as she left the room. Fleur looked after her open-mouthed for a moment and then tried to pull herself together. The idea of Hermione downstairs with not just Gabrielle but their parents too was not a pleasant one this morning and Fleur hastened to get dressed as quickly as possible.

Choosing an appropriate outfit still took thought however and by the time Fleur was heading downstairs for the second time of the morning, she could hear the murmur of familiar voices in the kitchen. She took a deep breath that did little to calm her nerves, and entered the room. Her parents were standing by the counter; her mother as imposing a figure as ever with her tall frame and tailored clothing, and her father, a little shorter but no less well put together. His arm was wrapped around Gabrielle’s shoulders. Her mother had clearly been engaging Hermione in conversation, if the shaken expression on Hermione’s face was anything to go by.

‘Maman, Papa,’ Fleur smiled, ‘Welcome to Grimmauld Place.’

‘Ah, Fleur!’ Apolline let out, rotating on the spot to get a good look at her eldest daughter. ‘Oh, but you look awful.’

Gabrielle snorted and then attempted to cover the sound with a cough.

‘I’m fine,’ Fleur assured her mother, ‘I didn’t sleep so well, that’s all.’

‘Oui? I just told ‘ermione she was looking tired too.’ Apolline explained with a rather astute look in her eye.

‘It’s true,’ Hermione mumbled, ‘she did.’ Fleur noted that Hermione did not look at her as she spoke. A fact that she was sure her mother had picked up on too. Nothing got past Apolline Delacour.

Fleur threw an exasperated look at her father, who until this point had remained quiet.

‘Bonjour, Mon Fleur,’ he said, an apologetic note to his voice, as he retrieved his arm from Gabrielle and opened both arms for his eldest daughter to step into, which Fleur duly did.

‘I’m sorry about your mother,’ he whispered into Fleur’s ear. ‘You know she is unstoppable.’

Fleur laughed despite herself.

‘Well, now that we have established that half of our party is very tired. ‘ow about some coffee, hmm?’ Apolline suggested.

‘Oh yes, I’ll do that, Madame Delacour,’ Hermione nodded.

‘No need, ‘ermione,’ Apolline replied, as a steaming pot of coffee appeared on the table beside a plate of fresh pastries. ‘And please call me, Apolline.’

‘Sorry,’ Hermione replied.

Fleur took her usual seat at the table and reached for a pain aux raisin. She needed the sugar hit this morning. Hermione sat on the opposite side of the table. Both tried to ignore Apolline as she looked with narrowed eyes at first Fleur and then Hermione from her chosen spot at the head of the table.

‘Hmm,’ Apolline sounded. Fleur marvelled at how her mother could convey disappointment with a mere noise. She didn’t dare look at Hermione.

Fleur’s father took the seat next to Hermione, and Fleur felt a ripple of relief at that. Gabrielle plonked herself beside Fleur.

Hermione pulled her wand from her sleeve and produced two mugs of hot chocolate before pushing one across the table towards Gabrielle and keeping the other for herself.

‘Merci,’ Gabrielle said quietly and Hermione nodded at her.

Apolline smiled.

‘You have behaved yourself, I hope, Gabrielle? You have not been… disruptive?’ she enquired.

Gabrielle shot a nervous glance at Fleur, who didn’t have the energy to reassure her sister at this precise moment.

‘She has been very well behaved,’ Hermione piped up. ‘It has been… lovely to have her here.’

Both Gabrielle and Fleur looked at Hermione in slack-jawed silence. And Apolline chuckled.

‘My daughters, that is not a look becoming of a Delacour, hmm?’ she said, ‘you should smile gratefully when somebody is so generously lying for you.’

‘Maman,’ Fleur sighed.

‘I could have been well behaved!’ Gabrielle gasped.

‘Ah, but I am certain you were not,’ Apolline smiled fondly, ‘thank-you, ‘ermione, for trying to spare my concern, but I know my daughters well enough. They can both be a ‘andful in their own ways, non?’ she raised an eyebrow at Hermione who looked horrified to discover that the question did not appear to be a rhetorical one.

‘Oh, well, I—’ Hermione stuttered and then paused, ‘Yes, I suppose they are,’ she admitted.

Gabrielle and Fleur once again looked put out, but Apolline’s smile only grew.

Fleur watched as her father leant close enough to Hermione to give her shoulder a nudge with his own before he said something to her under his breath that Fleur could not quite hear. Whatever it was though, it seemed to ease the tension in Hermione’s shoulders and she even let out a small laugh. Fleur felt a wave of love for her father.

‘I ‘eard there was to be an event at ‘ogwarts soon. To honour the fallen and celebrate the victory of the battle,’ Apolline said conversationally as she poured coffee for her husband and Fleur.

How on earth her mother had heard about that when even the Golden Trio had yet to receive their invites, Fleur had no idea and yet was not entirely surprised.

‘That’s right,’ Hermione nodded, ‘I think McGonagall is organising it.’

‘Can I go?’ Gabrielle asked immediately.

‘Non, I think not,’ Apolline replied. ‘You two will attend together?’ she went on, looking between Hermione and Fleur with keen interest.

The small hairs on the back of Fleur’s neck were prickling, she had an intense need to tell her mother to shut up. She repressed that desire with difficulty and clenched fists beneath the table as she tried to think of a diplomatic answer. Once again, she could not bring herself to see Hermione’s reaction to the question. Next to her, even Gabrielle shifted uncomfortably.

‘We haven’t really discussed that yet,’ came Hermione’s voice tightly. Fleur could hear the ambiguity in those words as loud as a shout.

‘Yes, I think I can see that,’ Apolline nodded slowly, ‘yesterday I thought… but no, apparently not.’

Hermione’s shoulders were tense once more and finally her eyes met Fleur’s across the table. Fleur gulped. Even when she had been thoroughly chastised after the death eater incident at Gringotts Hermione had never given her such a charged look before, and it was not charged in a good way.

‘No matter,’ Apolline said brightly, ‘there is a right time for everything.’

Fleur’s teeth were clenched together so hard they might crack. Her father cleared his throat.

‘Tell me about the work you have been helping Fleur with,’ he said gently to Hermione alone, ‘have the books I sent been any help?’

‘They really have,’ Hermione enthused, her demeanour shifting ‘I used a translation charm on them, of course, but I got a great deal of information from them. Fleur told me a bit about your library, sir. It sounds beautiful.’

‘Oh, it is. It is,’ he replied, ‘but I must ask, if you are to call my wife by her name, then you must call me Adélard.’

‘Adélard,’ Hermione repeated, careful with the pronunciation, ‘OK.’ She nodded.

‘And are you getting anywhere with your reverse memory charm?’ he asked, ‘it is a fascinating venture.’

‘Actually, I think I had a bit of a breakthrough this morning,’ Hermione smiled.

‘You did?’ Fleur asked in surprise from across the table. Hermione glanced across at her, the smile still on her face. Fleur felt her headache recede minutely, even if the smile wasn’t strictly for her.

‘Yes,’ Hermione nodded, ‘I got the blocks to learn their formation, remember it, and return to it. Of course, there is another step to conquer before it would be applicable at Gringott’s as it’s too late for the structure to learn its former position, it has to just remember it… but…’ Hermione trailed off as though suddenly aware that she had been rambling. Fleur found the moment rather adorable.

‘Anyway, yes. It’s… coming along. Thank you,’ Hermione finished, glancing between three pairs of striking blue eyes and one of a softer grey.

‘That is very impressive, Hermione,’ said Adélard genuinely.

‘Impressive indeed,’ agreed Apolline, ‘you are a talented witch.’

Hermione ducked her head to hide a blush, and Fleur couldn’t keep the smile from her face.

‘Yes, you are very good at playing blocks,’ Gabrielle nodded sagely.

‘Well, if you manage to stop getting suspended from school, perhaps you’ll be as clever as me one day,’ Hermione said lightly to Gabrielle, who promptly gasped in mock outrage.

Apolline and Adélard both laughed emphatically at this, and Fleur’s heart swelled even further. Then she remembered the precarious position her relationship with Hermione was currently balanced in and her smile turned strained.

 

 

Half an hour later, coffee and pastries devoured, the Delacours were preparing to leave.

‘Will you tell ‘arry and Ron goodbye for me?’ Gabrielle asked sadly, hanging onto Fleur’s arm.

‘Of course,’ Fleur nodded.

‘They’re hardly ever up before midday on a Saturday,’ Hermione explained apologetically.

Apolline waved a hand dismissively at Hermione.

‘There will be other occasions to see them, I think,’ she said vaguely.

‘You will visit my library in Paris one day?’ Adélard said quietly to Hermione.

‘I would love that,’ Hermione nodded with a smile.

And then Fleur watched in surprise as her father gave Hermione a quick hug and patted her reassuringly on the back. Adélard was affectionate with his daughters and his wife, but Fleur had never seen him offer more than a swift handshake outside of the family. He was a reserved man, preferring quiet to chaos and books to business. Always happiest when blending in to the background. Fleur made the mistake of meeting her mother’s eye and found herself the recipient of Apolline’s eyebrow raised in wry observation.

Fleur looked away and huffed dejectedly before feeling her mother’s long arms pulling her closer and wrapping around her back.

‘You will write to me later, hmm? Something ‘as ‘appened, non?’ Apolline muttered in French next to Fleur’s ear.

‘You told me to give her time,’ Fleur growled. ‘She found out I have known for weeks.’

‘Ah,’ was the only response before Apolline calmly stepped back and took Fleur’s chin in her hand and gave it a small shake. Fleur winced as she was reminded of her headache.

‘You worry too much,’ Apolline told her daughter and then whirled around and reverted to English, ‘Gabrielle! Promise your sister no more surprise trips to Gringotts.’

‘I promise,’ Gabrielle drawled, as insincerely as she could manage. Apolline turned swiftly once more to hide a smirk.

‘You are coming to work with me for the rest of your suspension,’ Adélard said happily and Gabrielle groaned.

Having apparated earlier, the Delacours would be returning by floo now that they had Gabrielle in tow. And, soon enough, all three Delacours had stepped one by one into the fireplace and vanished from the room. An uneasy silence fell in their wake.

Fleur gave Hermione a sideways look and swung her arms loosely at her sides, suddenly unsure of where to go, how to stand and what to say. She heard Hermione let out a sigh.

‘You were right, I can see the similarities between Gabrielle and your mother,’ Hermione said at last.

Fleur hummed in agreement.

‘They are… Characters,’ Fleur said diplomatically and Hermione nodded.

‘Your father is very kind,’ Hermione mused.

‘He clearly likes you. He is usually much more reserved,’ Fleur replied. ‘They all like you,’ she added.

‘Not Gabrielle,’ Hermione said at once. And it was Fleur’s time to sigh.

‘She is just threatened by the idea of—’ Fleur stopped short of finishing the sentence and glanced at Hermione anxiously.  

‘Of me being your life-long partner?’ Hermione suggested tensely.

‘Ah, oui,’ Fleur said nervously.

‘It is quite an intense prospect,’ Hermione said.

‘I meant what I said. I am not going to rush your decision,’ Fleur replied firmly.

And finally Hermione returned Fleur’s gaze.

‘Oh, Fleur. I know you’re not going to rush me. I was angry last night, and I suppose I’m still a bit angry at having been talked about behind my back and kept out of the loop and I feel like you have all been watching me flailing about trying to figure it out by myself and that makes me feel silly for taking so long, but—’

‘Non! That is not at all how it was. Nobody thinks you’re silly. We were not—’

But,’ Hermione interjected, ‘I do understand why you didn’t tell me straight away. I know that it came from a place of care and consideration. I know you would never mislead me. I do trust you,’ Hermione finished.

Fleur had listened in silence as Hermione’s words had come out haltingly as though she was considering each one before she allowed it out into the world, and they were said with complete honesty. Fleur felt tears welling up in her eyes. Not trusting that her voice would not betray the surge of emotion in her chest, Fleur merely nodded.

Hermione’s expression softened further still when she took a good look at Fleur’s face. She lifted a hand to Fleur’s cheek and passed a thumb beneath her eye, smoothing away the stray tear that had got that far. Fleur leaned into her touch automatically.

‘It’s a strange feeling,’ Hermione whispered, her eyes roving Fleur’s features curiously, ‘I’ve never known this pull towards someone before. I don’t think I’m a particularly tactile person,’ she went on, thumb still stroking the smooth plain of Fleur’s cheekbone, ‘but I want to touch you all the time.’

It sounded as though Hermione was thinking aloud, rather than addressing Fleur with her thoughts. So Fleur remained quiet, barely breathing, allowing Hermione to explore.

‘I sort of hate the idea that it’s your thrall that makes me feel this,’ Hermione finished sadly.

Fleur frowned.

‘I don’t think that it is. Not entirely. I told you, the adult Veela’s thrall only heightens feelings, it cannot create them. Everything you feel would be there already,’ Fleur explained. ‘You said your vision went hazy blue when you were around me to begin with? You said you can smell me… that I have a particular scent to you?’

Hermione nodded.

‘I don’t get the vision thing anymore,’ Hermione confession, ‘Does that mean the thrall is… changing its mind?’ she added, and Fleur found an odd sort of relief at the edge of fear in Hermione’s voice.

‘I think perhaps it means the thrall is having to work less hard? It was able to identify feelings between us before we were even aware of them, and now…’ Fleur trailed off, ‘My… symptoms have changed too.’

‘You had the hazy vision as well?’ Hermione asked, intrigued.

‘Non. I had… sounds in my ears instead.’

‘When you were around me?’

Fleur shifted awkwardly. The sounds she had experienced had not been related to Hermione alone. She had paused too long, and Hermione had stepped back to get a better look at her.

‘Fleur?’ she prompted.

‘When you were around Ron,’ Fleur mumbled.

‘Oh.’

‘The thrall, it… it did not like seeing that.’

‘But the thrall doesn’t create feelings,’ Hermione said blankly.

I did not like seeing that,’ Fleur corrected, ‘and the thrall filled my ears with hissing and crackling.’

Hermione looked rather sheepish and cleared her throat.

‘But not now?’

‘The sounds have stopped,’ Fleur confirmed. ‘But the feelings have not,’ she admitted.

Hermione took yet another step back and Fleur wanted nothing more than to grab her wrists and pull her back in, to bury her face in the crook of Hermione’s neck and breathe her in. She reached for Hermione’s hand and held it loosely instead. Hermione looked down at their joined hands and let out a shaky breath.

‘I’m sorry,’ Hermione whispered.

‘Why?’

‘Because I can’t do this right now. It wouldn’t be fair on… Well, it wouldn’t be fair on any of us,’ Hermione voice cracked. ‘This is bigger than just the two of us, but even if it wasn’t… I want to be sure.’

Fleur swallowed a lump in her throat.

‘I don’t know what to do now,’ Hermione confessed.

Fleur took a few deep breaths, hoping they’d be steadying.

‘We focus on our work. If you are happy to continue working together. And we trust each other that the right choices will be made.’

Hermione nodded shakily. The sound of footfall on the stairs reached their ears and Fleur allowed her hand to slip free of Hermione’s.

Chapter Text

It took Hermione all of four days to reach breaking point. Four days of stilted conversations between herself and Fleur while they edged around each other cautiously. Four nights of sleeping in their own separate rooms once more. Or not sleeping, as the case may be. And on the fourth day, Hermione cracked. Her mind was chasing its tail and she had to talk about it. To untangle her thoughts out loud.

‘Aren’t you going to say anything?’ She demanded.

‘Well…’

‘Well?’ Hermione prompted impatiently.

‘I was joking when I said it must be her thrall,’ Harry said at last.

‘Yes, well, it turns out it wasn’t a very funny joke,’ Hermione told him pointedly.

‘No,’ Harry agreed.

They were in Harry’s bedroom, on the top floor of Grimmauld Place. His room had a more lived-in feel than Hermione’s. The walls sported Quidditch posters, a shelf contained a few books and framed photographs. Clothes were hanging over the opened door of a wardrobe. In the corner, next to his freshly polished broomstick, stood a vacant owl cage – Hedwig’s – and Hermione had felt a twinge of sadness when she had first seen it. The small nods to their losses always made her catch her breath.

Minutes earlier, Hermione had been pacing back and forth across the floorboards as she spilled the details of everything she knew about the thrall and its effects while Harry, in his desk chair, watched her in stunned silence.

‘How do you… How do you feel about it?’ he asked carefully.

‘I don’t know!’ Hermione exclaimed, flapping her arms animatedly at her sides.

‘But, I mean, you told me you like her, right?’ he said tentatively.

‘Well, yes, but that was before all of this,’ Hermione said, ‘and it felt… safer then, to like her.’

‘Safer?’ Harry repeated.

‘I wasn’t in danger of locking myself into some life-long romance, was I? My feelings weren’t being scrutinised by her whole bloody family! Well, they were, but I didn’t know it then. And I felt pretty sure that as much as I was starting to like her, she wasn’t going to feel the same about me,’ Hermione finished quietly.

‘Hermione…’ Harry said gently, ‘we talked about this. You’re brilliant. You deserve the world. And Fleur is well aware of it, trust me.’

Hermione huffed and returned to her pacing.

‘You don’t believe me?’ Harry asked.

‘Of course I don’t! Harry, we’re talking about Fleur. Fleur Bloody Delacour! She could have absolutely anybody she wanted. People have literally fallen at her feet before!’

‘And?’ Harry laughed. ‘Haven’t you spent weeks with her now? You’re not some bumbling idiot who can’t stop drooling over her. You know there’s more to her than that. And anyway, she clearly wants you.’

Hermione ceased her pacing, her gaze now directed out of the window though she wasn’t really focusing on anything in particular.

‘It just feels mad,’ she breathed.

‘I admit the thrall thing is a bit mad,’ Harry agreed, ‘that must feel quite full on.’

Hermione whirled around to look at him.

‘What? Being someone’s destined partner, their perfect match for all of eternity, hand-selected by some… invisible thing? Yeah, it is a bit full on!’ she said, nodding frantically.

Harry laughed and Hermione narrowed her eyes at him. Hermione very rarely lost her cool like this. Harry adjusted himself in his seat and removed the smile from his face.

‘You said Veela could have more than one potential partner,’ he pointed out.

Hermione sent him a fiery glare. Fleur had told her that, and she had indeed repeated it to Harry, but the thought of somebody else being right for Fleur was… Well, it made Hermione feel quite ill. For a moment she realised how Fleur must feel when she sees Ron and Hermione together. She had assumed it would be how she felt about Bill, but of course it wouldn’t be. It would be much worse because Hermione had told Fleur in no uncertain terms that herself and Ron had indeed been intimate, told her that they had always assumed they would be together. It was the opposite of what Fleur had told Hermione about Bill, and that had been hard enough to hear. Poor Fleur. Hermione thought back over several conversations which, with hindsight, she could see must have been agonising for the other woman. She forced herself to focus and answer Harry’s question.

‘The thrall might identify another but only if the first chooses not to… be with the veela. Or I suppose, if the veela ignores the thrall,’ she explained.

‘Have you spoken to her much about this?’

‘Not a huge amount. I don’t want to give her false hope when I don’t know what I want,’ Hermione let out.

‘You don’t know what you want?’ Harry asked doubtfully.

There was a long pause.

‘I know what my heart is telling me,’ Hermione said, and cringed a little at the cliché, ‘but my head is another matter. And what if it’s all just being influenced by the thrall and none of it is even real?’

‘You said that’s not how the thrall works,’ Harry said in confusion.

‘It’s not,’ Hermione sighed, ‘or, at least, Fleur said it’s not. But I just…’

‘You don’t think she’d lie about that do you?’ Harry asked in surprise.

‘No,’ Hermione shook her head at once and Harry nodded.

‘You have always used your head,’ Harry said, ‘and it has got us through a lot of tricky situations. Your over-thinking has saved us more times than I can count. But this is a bit different, I guess. Maybe it’s time to listen to your heart instead?’

Hermione looked at him with conflict in her eyes then hummed distractedly and sat down heavily on the bed which was covered in a quilt that Mrs Weasley had definitely made.

‘I have missed her the past few days,’ she said quietly.

Harry looked puzzled.

‘I thought you’d still been going into Gringotts with her every day. You said last night you were making progress on the spell, that it was nearly ready to test out on the tunnels.’

‘We have been going in every day. But it hasn’t been the same. She is giving me time to think about things, and it’s… awkward between us,’ Hermione explained. ‘We avoid accidentally touching each other. Our conversations are very work focused. And I’ve been, um… I’ve been sleeping in my own room.’

‘Ah,’ Harry said, looking a little embarrassed for the first time. He cleared his throat. ‘Have your nightmares come back?’

‘I’ve had bad dreams, yes. But not the same nightmares as before. They’re not about, you know,’ Hermione gestured down at her forearm.

‘Well, that’s something,’ Harry said.

‘My head feels like it’s full of knotted rope,’ Hermione sighed, ‘just when I decide that the answer is so obvious, that of course I want to be with her, then I think of Ron and everything the Weasleys are going through after Fred and… Ron would be so hurt.’

Harry nodded slowly.

‘He will be,’ Harry allowed, sadness lacing his words. ‘But, Hermione, do you want to be with Ron?’

‘No,’ Hermione answered straight away.

‘Was that your head or your heart?’

‘…both.’

‘And do you want to be with Fleur?’

Hermione held Harry’s gaze for a long moment and then looked away.

‘You know,’ Harry said after a few moments of silence, ‘sometimes I want to kill Voldemort all over again for what he took away from our teenage years. We really should be better practiced at all this stuff by now,’ he finished with a small grin. ‘We can destroy a horcrux but we can’t tell someone how we feel about them.’

A breathy laugh escaped Hermione.

‘Give me a horcrux any day,’ she said with a smile.

‘Come on,’ Harry said, standing from his chair and holding his arms open. Hermione heaved herself up from the bed and stepped into Harry’s embrace. ‘We’ve got through worse than this,’ he said into her hair, ‘loving someone is a good thing after all. Plus, you know, people would kill to be in your position. I mean, like you said, it’s Fleur Bloody Delacour!’

Hermione laughed into Harry’s chest, her spirits feeling more lifted than they had in days.

‘It certainly is,’ she agreed and then she pulled back from Harry’s arms and her expression turned serious.

‘I think, no matter what I decide, the first thing to do is talk to Ron. I think I’m ready to do it. It’s not fair on either of them to do anything about this without telling him how I feel first,’ Hermione said reluctantly.

‘Yeah,’ Harry agreed with a grim expression on his face.

‘It’s going to be horrible,’ Hermione added.

‘Yeah,’ Harry agreed again, and he pulled her back in for another hug.

At that moment there came a shout from downstairs.

‘Oi guys!’ Ron yelled, his voice sounding as thought it was travelling all the way up from the ground floor.

‘Ron?’ they heard Fleur’s voice from the floor below them, ‘is everything alright?’ she called down.

Ron’s heavy footsteps thudded up the first set of stairs.

‘Where’re the others?’ he asked.

‘Coming down!’ Harry yelled, the sudden volume making Hermione jump.

‘Come on,’ he said to her, tugging her towards the door by her sleeve. They headed downstairs together.

‘Alright mate?’ Harry asked as they joined Ron and Fleur on the first-floor landing.

Fleur looked between Harry and Hermione for a moment, her expression guarded, and then returned her attention to Ron.

‘What were you two doing?’ Ron asked. ‘Actually, whatever. Look, these just got delivered for us.’

And Ron proceeded to hand a thick cream-coloured envelope to each of them.

Hermione looked at the envelope in her hand, it bore her own name in familiar curling green ink and she was reminded immediately of the first time she had received a letter like this. It had changed her life in every way imaginable. She turned the envelope over and, sure enough, its red wax seal was stamped with the Hogwarts crest.

‘It’s got to be our invites to the reunion,’ Ron said excitedly.

‘It’s hardly going to be a reunion,’ Harry muttered.

Hermione’s stomach did an uncomfortable somersault and she found herself looking immediately to Fleur, who was already looking her way, concern in her eyes. Hermione’s fingers toyed with the envelope in trepidation. She couldn’t bring herself to open it. The idea of returning there… she had put it out of her mind. Or rather, other more pressing matters had pushed it out of her mind. And now she was picturing herself back there, remembering the rubble and the bodies. The blood and the horror. Her heart rate had picked up considerable speed.

Ron tore open his envelope and started speed-reading aloud, the words jumbled together into one long mumble.

‘It’s in two weeks,’ he said, ‘we’re invited to stay the night. That’ll be good, won’t it? To be back in Gryffindor Tower,’ he looked between Harry and Hermione.

Once again, Hermione sought out Fleur’s steady gaze and found that Fleur was standing closer to her than she had been a moment ago. Not close enough to touch, but definitely closer than they had been allowing themselves to get.

‘They might not put us there,’ Harry pointed out, ‘it would be a bit weird to be in the dormitory again.’

‘We could have an after party in the common room though,’ Ron said happily, ‘get food from the kitchens, drinks, fireworks, the lot, like Fred and George used to do for us when we won a match.’

There was a flicker of sadness across Ron’s face as he finished his thought and Hermione’s heart clenched for him, for all of them.

‘Fred would like that, I reckon,’ Ron said, some of the excitement gone from his voice and replaced with a more sombre tone.

Harry put an arm around Ron’s shoulders.

‘You’re right,’ Harry said firmly.

Hermione nodded in agreement despite the anxiety in her stomach and the sudden wetness in her eyes.

‘Mine says I am welcome to stay too,’ Fleur read from her invite. ‘I wonder where they plan to put the non-Hogwarts guests. Not a carriage in the grounds again, I hope.’

‘You’ll stay with me,’ Hermione said before she even knew she had formulated the thought. She felt three pairs of eyes turn towards her at once. ‘I mean, you should stay in Gryffindor Tower with us. You know, for the party.’

Fleur nodded slowly and went back to reading her invite. Hermione could feel Ron’s eyes on her still though.

‘Shall I RSVP for all of us?’ Hermione asked anxiously, wanting more than anything to adjourn this little house meeting on the landing, and escape Ron’s suspicious gaze. It only served to remind her about the conversation she needed to have with him soon.

‘Good idea,’ Harry nodded quickly. ‘Thanks Hermione.’

‘You can use Leandre,’ Fleur murmured and Hermione nodded gratefully.

‘Let’s, um, let’s go and start planning the party, yeah?’ Harry said to Ron, finally pulling his attention away from Hermione and Fleur.

‘Yeah, OK. We should floo George,’ Ron agreed.

And with that, the two boys headed down to the kitchen. Once they were out of earshot, Fleur spoke again.

‘You don’t have to go,’ she said softly. ‘If it feels too much then people will understand, I am sure.’

Hermione shook her head.

‘No. You saw Ron, he needs this.’

‘I am talking about what you need,’ Fleur said firmly.

‘I know,’ Hermione said more gently, ‘I know you are. But I think… I think I need this too. For closure.’

She found as she uttered the words that they were true. Fleur nodded, her mouth a tight line.

‘Then if you want me there, I will be there as well.’

‘You mean you might not go otherwise?’ Hermione asked in alarm. If the thought of returning to Hogwarts was a stressful one, the thought of doing it without Fleur was ten times worse.

Fleur shrugged.

‘Hogwarts was never my home. I do not hold the same memories,’ she explained.

‘Please come,’ Hermione asked. ‘Some of my strongest memories of the place are now from the battle. I want to replace them with fresher, better memories. And for that, I think… I think I need you.’

Fleur looked at Hermione with an unreadable expression on her face and Hermione had to steel herself to return Fleur’s gaze. Then Fleur nodded once.

‘I’ll be there,’ she agreed. ‘Leandre is in my room, he will take the RSVPs when you’re ready.’ With that Fleur too headed downstairs and Hermione watched her until she was out of sight.

In the days since Fleur had confirmed that her thrall was indeed acting on the pair of them, had in fact identified them as partners, Hermione’s thoughts had been on a permanent pendulum. At moments like this, when Fleur simply did as she promised she would and gave Hermione space and time, it felt awful. Utterly ridiculous that they had fallen so far from where they were just a week earlier, sleeping in each other’s arms, sharing touches throughout the day for no reason other than that they wanted to. That had felt natural, and this did not. Hermione wanted to follow Fleur downstairs and hold her tightly, tell her of course she wanted to be with her, that nothing else would make any sense. But then, she wouldn’t be saying yes to something that could grow incrementally over time, something that could build as Hermione’s strength returned and her anxiety abated. She knew, without doubt, that the minute she conceded to this, they would be all in. It was a butterflies-inducing thought. And it was terrifying too.

She’d never been in any sort of relationship really. Never had the freedom to pursue anything like that, always readying herself and the boys for the next battle with darkness. To go from nothing to everything, it was as daunting as it was exciting. The pendulum swung and Hermione felt seasick with it.

Shaking her head, she hurried into her bedroom, unrolling some parchment and grabbing a quill before she could change her mind. The trip to Hogwarts was two weeks away and Hermione was faced with the surprisingly familiar feeling of having no idea where matters would stand in two weeks’ time. As it happened, events would be taking a turn much sooner than that.

Chapter Text

After another night of restless sleep, Hermione awoke, a sense of foreboding in her stomach and fuzzy headache in tow. She pulled herself out of bed. It was a little earlier than her usual wake up time. She wanted to be down for breakfast before the boys left for training. She showered quickly, lamenting the fact that normally she showered after Fleur, normally the bathroom retained some steam, some scent from the other woman and, for the last few days, that had been one of the few moments of peace for Hermione. She dressed rather robotically, pulling on jeans and then permitting herself the confidence boost of wearing Fleur’s sage green cashmere. She had resisted wearing it for a while. She knew it could be construed as sending some kind of a message, but it always made her feel more self-assured, and this morning she needed all the help she could get.

Hearing Fleur’s bedroom door open and close, closely followed by the creaking of the house’s old pipes as the shower was once again turned on, Hermione slipped out of her room and headed down to the kitchen. There, she found Harry and Ron. Harry, hovering tousle-haired over the toaster, yawning as he waited for his breakfast. And Ron, shovelling an over-laden spoonful of cereal into his mouth, eyes bleary and unfocused. At Hogwarts, the vision of Harry and Ron’s early morning reluctance was a daily sight but it had been a while since Hermione had shared this time of the day with them. She found it oddly touching, which in turn made her mission more difficult.

‘Good morning,’ Hermione said brightly as she swept into the room, exuding more assurance than she felt by a long shot.

‘Morning,’ Harry let out, mid-yawn.

Ron grunted and nodded in Hermione’s direction.

‘Tea, anybody?’ she asked and received no response.

‘You’re up earlier than usual,’ Ron finally noticed and managed to find some words to accompany his observation.

Hermione merely hummed as she set the kettle to boil.

‘You two and your muggle appliances,’ Ron muttered.

‘What’s on your agenda at training today?’ Hermione asked, ignoring Ron’s mutter.

Her question was met with a resounding ‘dunno’ from both boys and Hermione was reminded why she preferred breakfast in Fleur’s company.

‘Fleur and I are getting really close to cracking the restoration spell,’ Hermione said, more as a way to fill the silence than because she thought the boys didn’t already know this.

Ron grunted again and then twisted in his seat to look at Hermione.

‘Will you stop going to work with her after that?’ he asked. And Hermione thought she might have detected a slight edge to his voice, but she couldn’t be sure. Perhaps her nerves were creating possibilities that weren’t there.

Then his question sank in.

‘Oh,’ Hermione let out, and she stopped midway through pouring boiling water from the kettle. ‘Well, I suppose there would be no need for me to be at Gringotts after that,’ she realised.

Harry looked at Hermione in concern.

‘So yes,’ Hermione said, ‘I imagine I will stop going to work with Fleur once the spell is successful,’ she added quietly.

Ron nodded. And Hermione finished making her cup of tea, barely aware of her instinctive motions.

‘Why are you up earlier today?’ Harry asked, ripping into a piece of buttered toast.

‘Hmm?’ Hermione asked, distracted. Her mind had been rather blind-sided by Ron’s question. Somehow, amongst everything else swirling about her brain, she hadn’t stopped to think about what would happen after she and Fleur succeeded in their task. Yes, there was the potential to develop it further, to get it to a point where she could restore her parents’ memories. But she wouldn’t need to be at Gringotts for that. She wouldn’t be at Fleur’s side. She’d be back here, day-in, day-out, by herself again.

‘Mione?’ Ron cut in to her thoughts.

‘Yes?’ Hermione asked, blinking rapidly.

‘Uh… Harry asked you a question,’ Ron replied.

‘Oh! Yes. Why am I up early? Sorry,’ she shook her head and remembered her true purpose as a wave of anxiety whipped up inside her. ‘Well, actually, I wanted to catch you before you left for training,’ she explained. She shot a pointed to look at Harry and then turned to Ron.

‘Do you think we could have a chat this evening, Ron? Just... Just you and me?’ she asked a little hesitantly. It was the question she needed to ask, the key to locking in the conversation that she needed to have before any of them could move on, the conversation that she was dreading having.

Harry wolfed down the rest of his toast and immediately busied himself with washing up his plate.

Ron looked surprised for a moment and then grinned.

‘Yeah, Mione, course. I’d like that,’ he said.

‘Good,’ Hermione nodded, ‘that’s… good.’ And she took a sip of her tea despite it being far too hot to drink still, anything to avoid looking at the pleased expression on Ron’s face.

‘Right mate,’ said Harry decisively, ‘we better get going.’

Ron groaned but stood up and took his bowl to the sink. Harry took the opportunity while Ron’s back was turned to give Hermione’s arm a reassuring squeeze. It was at that moment that Fleur stepped into the room. Her eyebrows creased at the sight of Hermione already in the kitchen and drinking tea.

‘Good morning, everybody,’ Fleur let out slowly.

‘Mornin’ Fleur,’ Ron replied, ‘gotta go.’

‘Yeah, we’re off. Have a good day though,’ Harry said, smiling at both Hermione and Fleur.

‘See you later ‘mione,’ Ron said, stopping to give Hermione a hug she wasn’t prepared for and accidentally slopping tea down her jumper. Fleur’s jumper.

‘Oh,’ Hermione let out, ‘Yes, see you later.’

‘For our talk,’ Ron emphasised with another grin.

‘Mmhmm,’ Hermione nodded, her lips tightly sealed. She chanced a glance at Fleur and found the other woman studiously looking away, but her shoulders were tense.

Harry grabbed Ron’s elbow and directed him out of the kitchen and out of the house. Hermione let out a sigh and retrieved her wand to dry the rapidly cooling tea spillage on her jumper. Fleur waved a hand and the now familiar plate of croissants appeared at the table, a mug of steaming coffee by its side. She sat down and immediately opened the newspaper that seemed to have already been delivered for her. Hermione hesitantly took the seat opposite. Fleur pushed the plate towards Hermione without appearing from behind the paper.

‘Thanks,’ Hermione breathed.

Breakfast was often a quiet time for the two women, but the silence was usually comfortable. This morning it was not. Even during the days immediately before this one, their conversation flowed, even if they were carefully avoiding one particular topic. Side-stepping conversational brambles so as to stick to the approved paths.

‘Did you sleep well?’ Hermione asked cautiously.

‘Not particularly,’ came the reply, ‘Did you?’

‘No. Not really,’ Hermione admitted.

The silence crept back in.

‘That talk, the one Ron just mentioned, it’s not what you think,’ Hermione let out in a rush.

The paper in front of Fleur crinkled as she bent it until her eyes were visible over the top of it and she looked at Hermione.

‘You do not need to tell me,’ she said.

‘Fleur,’ Hermione started. She wanted to tell Fleur. Wanted to make sure the other woman knew that there was nothing for her to worry about between Hermione and Ron.

‘Those additions you made to our spell yesterday,’ Fleur cut in, ‘I was thinking about it last night and I think it is ready for us to test out today. In the tunnels.’

‘Really?’ Hermione asked, her focus successfully diverted by Fleur’s words, ‘I think so too, but I wasn’t sure if you’d agree. It’s quite a risk, and if we got it wrong—’

‘We haven’t got it wrong. I think it’s ready,’ Fleur said confidently.

Hermione smiled at her and when Fleur lowered the paper to reach for a pastry, she gave Hermione a small smile too.

 

In Fleur’s office at Gringotts, the two women went over their spell closely for a final time.

‘You really are brilliant,’ Fleur told Hermione proudly.

‘It was teamwork,’ Hermione said quickly, ‘and besides, we don’t even know if it will work yet. There are still bits that might need to be…tweaked.’

‘I think it is perfect,’ Fleur assured her, ‘but, if you like, we can consider this morning a trial run and, if it is not as perfect as I think it is, then you can make your… tweaks.’

Hermione laughed. The tension from breakfast had dissipated a little and Hermione was now focused on the task ahead. The nerves that had been circulating over her imminent talk with Ron had turned into flutters of excitement at the prospect of trying the spell out for real.

‘Deal,’ Hermione nodded and Fleur nodded back, a broad smile on her face. Hermione was struck once again, as she so often was, by the other woman’s beauty. The desire to touch her was almost overwhelming. It had only built in the days since Fleur agreed to give her time and space. To begin with, Hermione chalked it up to the thrall trying to pull her back in, but now she decided it barely mattered the cause. The fact was that it was a battle to keep her distance. She wondered if Fleur felt it too.

‘Are you ready?’ Fleur asked, the excitement plain in her voice. ‘I know just the tunnel to start with. One that is not too damaged, but large enough to really test the spell.’

‘Ready,’ Hermione agreed. And she wanted more than anything to reach for Fleur’s hand but she simply gripped her wand instead.

‘The wards are down for this particular part of the building,’ Fleur explained, ‘it was too risky to have any permanent spells acting on the volatile curse-work down there. But it does mean we can apparate. We do not need to use those dreadful carts.’

Hermione chuckled. During her time at Gringotts, Fleur had frequently complained about the carts that hurtled about the small train tracks between the vaults. She claimed that the goblins increased the speed just for Fleur and it made her irritable every time she had to use them.

‘Do you mind?’ Fleur asked tentatively.

And now there was a hand out-stretched towards Hermione and two things happened at once. Firstly, Hermione felt a pang of pain at the idea that Fleur could possibly think Hermione wouldn’t want to touch her. Secondly, Hermione had to rein herself in so as not to grab Fleur’s hand too quickly. Reins held tightly, Hermione reached for Fleur’s hand. As with every other time they had done this, their fingers entwined immediately and Hermione felt butterflies take flight.

With a gentle squeeze of Hermione’s hand, Fleur apparated the pair of them to a part of Gringotts that Hermione had never seen before. Here, the walls were cut into underground cliff faces rather than being made up of quarried stone arranged in blockwork. There was a smell of damp in the air and the light from sparse lanterns caught on the trickles of rust coloured water that seeped out of the rock in places. Hermione shivered. The air was much colder here than in Fleur’s fire-warmed office and there was a distant sound of dripping water.

‘Désolée,’ Fleur murmured, ‘it is not the most pleasant part of the bank, hmm?’

Hermione huffed out a laugh.

‘No goblins though,’ she shrugged.

‘There is that,’ Fleur agreed. Then she appeared to realise that their hands were still clasped together and she let go of Hermione’s hand. Hermione felt the loss at once.

‘So, you can see the damage ahead,’ Fleur said, her voice was louder than it had been a moment ago and it echoed off the walls around them.

Hermione looked ahead down the tunnel and saw where part of the rock cliff had slipped.

‘Just that bit?’ she asked tentatively.

‘Oui,’ Fleur nodded.

Together they surveyed the rockfall for a moment or two.

‘I suppose just go ahead then,’ Hermione said. The excitement had turned back to nerves now that she was faced with the problem head on. It was not a fully collapsed tunnel, but it was still a weighty task.

‘Ah, non,’ Fleur said, ‘this is your spell. Your research and ideas that got us to this point. I think you should be the one to prove it works.’

Hermione felt the nerves start to fizz but she nodded nonetheless.

‘It might not work, of course,’ she reiterated.

‘Hermione,’ Fleur said softly, ‘you can do it.’

Hermione held Fleur’s steadying gaze for a moment or two until she believed the other woman’s words. Then she took a deep breath.

‘OK,’ she said on the exhale and she pulled out her wand.

She shook out her wand arm and aimed at the rock fall. In her head she summoned all the background understanding necessary to make the spell work, she poured her energy and her magic into her actions and then whispered,

memento praeterita.’

The words had been Fleur’s idea. Keep it simple, she had suggested. The power of the spell is in the framework behind it, not the words that deliver it.

Both women held their breath. One second. Two seconds. Nothing.

‘Do it again,’ Fleur said, not taking her eyes off the rock.

Hermione repeated her words, allowing even more of her magic to spill out into them. She thought of how pleased it would make Fleur if this worked, how proud she would be. She pictured the rock wall as it should be. She thought of her parents one day looking at her with recognition in their eyes. Imagined them saying her name, hugging her. Imagined them meeting Fleur.

The sound of rock grinding against rock filled the cavernous tunnel. It was so deafening that Hermione didn’t hear Fleur’s shout of joy, but she did see the brilliant, open-mouthed grin on the other woman’s face. She did see her hands clenched into fists, rising above her head in celebration. Hermione didn’t watch as the wall returned itself to the position it had held for centuries. She didn’t feel the pride of carrying out a successful spell, the first ever of her own invention. All she felt was the inevitable pull towards Fleur and the inability to fight it any longer.

Inside Hermione, something snapped. She flew the couple of feet between herself and Fleur and collided with her, wrapping her arms around Fleur’s shoulders even as the other woman let out a surprised, ‘Oof.’

It took Fleur a split second to realise what had happened and to secure Hermione against herself with an arm around her waist even as she stumbled backwards until her fall was broken by her back against the wall. Hermione felt herself pulled in a tight hug, but it wasn’t what she wanted.

‘’ermione!’ Fleur laughed, her voice infused with joy. She pulled back to look at Hermione, ‘You did it!’ Fleur said excitedly.

Hermione barely heard Fleur’s words. Her eyes flitted between dark blue eyes, sparkling with happiness, and lips parted in speech. They flitted once more and then Hermione leant in. Her lips caught Fleur’s mid-word and Hermione felt Fleur let out a breath of surprise against her mouth before she closed her lips around Fleur’s lower lip for a moment as a burst of some indescribable elation shook her very heart.

‘ermione,’ Fleur mumbled, pulling back incrementally as though she was going to say more.

Hermione shook her head vehemently and captured Fleur’s lips once more. This time Fleur allowed it. She sank into the kiss and Hermione would have wept with relief if she wasn’t otherwise occupied. It felt the most natural thing in the world, as though it was both something Hermione had never experienced before and something she was accustomed to doing every day of her life. She felt Fleur lean back against the wall and adjust her grip on Hermione, tightening her arm around her waist as the other hand crept up to Hermione’s neck and into her hair. A sound escaped Hermione that she had never heard herself make before.

They were no longer in a dark and damp tunnel, surrounded by centuries of stalagmites. They were on another plain altogether where Hermione knew nothing but the feel of Fleur’s impossibly soft lips against her own and the sound of Fleur’s panted breaths and the smell of wild honeysuckle. Minutes past before Fleur pulled back and rested her forehead against Hermione’s. Her eyes remained closed for a moment and Hermione allowed her own gaze to roam about Fleur’s face, taking in her flushed appearance until her eyelids fluttered open and Hermione fell into a pool of blue.

‘I was not expecting that,’ Fleur whispered.

And the spell was broken.

Hermione hadn’t been expecting that either. It wasn’t what she had planned. And she did have a plan. She had finally organised her jumbled thoughts into some sort of linear process. That process had featured one very important first step that she had only this morning set herself up to take. And she had skipped it. She had wilfully risked the feelings of two of the most important people in her life. One of whom was right in front of her and the other was across London unaware of what was about to hit him. Guilt rose like a tide and brought the familiar tendrils of panic with it.

Hermione released her grip on Fleur and let her body slide down Fleur’s until her feet were both firmly planted on the ground. She hadn’t realised that she had physically leapt into Fleur’s arms, that the other woman had held her up so securely.

‘’ermione?’ Fleur asked, her breath was ragged. She was out of breath from their kiss. The tide of guilt was up to Hermione’s neck now, the panic a vice about her chest.

‘I shouldn’t have,’ Hermione stuttered. ‘I didn’t mean to.’

Fleur stood up straight.

‘You didn’t mean to?’ She asked incredulously.

‘I’m sorry,’ Hermione let out desperately, taking several more backwards steps. Fleur took a step towards her and Hermione held out her hands as though to keep Fleur back.

‘Hermione,’ Fleur said lowly, though she made no further movement. ‘Hermione, don’t—’

With a loud crack, Hermione was gone.

Chapter Text

‘Merde!’ Fleur hissed, scuffing her boot across the dirty stone floor, sending up a cloud of rock dust and narrowly stopping herself in time before she kicked the wall.

She threw her head back and issued a barrage of curses in both her languages. Her breathing was hard and her heart was racing; it was the after effects of the kiss and now the… the what? The anger? The fear? The emotion that filled her when Hermione had backed away and then vanished. Fleur took one glance at the now restored tunnel ahead and then span on the spot, the cliff face distorted as she vanished and then was replaced by the vision of her office exactly as she left it, not twenty minutes earlier. She stumbled with the sudden force of her apparition.

Of course Hermione hadn’t returned to Fleur’s office. It was empty. Why had she even bothered checking? Hermione wasn’t a fool and she was trying to get away from Fleur. She’d hardly come straight back to the office. Fleur should have apparated right out of the bank, like Hermione was bound to have done. Too late now though. Fleur swept from the room and tore up the spiral stairs, along the stone corridor and out into the main hall.

‘Uh oh,’ came a sneer as Fleur bolted through the door, ‘not running from your beloved, are you, Veela?’ Grimflinch asked with a smirk that Fleur thankfully did not see.

‘’ave you seen her?’ Fleur panted as she screeched to a halt. It was worth a shot.

For a split second, something not unlike surprise passed through the goblin’s beady eyes, but then they turned cold once more.

‘Other way around, is it?’ he asked, ‘she ran from you? Can’t say I blame her. Very intense, your sort.’

Fleur let out a snarl and hurtled off towards the main doors.

‘She didn’t come through here,’ Grimflinch called after her but Fleur was already gone.

 

Outside, on the split stone steps of the bank, Fleur vanished with a crack once more before finding herself back in the kitchen at Grimmauld Place. This time she lost her balance on landing and had to grab on to the back of a chair to keep herself upright. Crookshanks, who had apparently been basking in a patch of sunlight on the flagstone floor, leapt up and hissed at Fleur’s sudden appearance. He took shelter under the table, and there he flicked his tail irritably.

‘Not here either then,’ Fleur surmised from the cat’s reaction. It was clear he hadn’t been disturbed recently.

Fleur was on the verge of calling out to Leandre when she remembered with a sickening jolt that he wasn’t here. He had returned from delivering Hermione’s Hogwarts replies and then Fleur had sent him with a letter to her mother before work this morning. She cursed loudly again and received a growling mewl from Crookshanks before she left the room. She searched the house from top to bottom, knowing it was futile but needing to check anyway, needing to rule it out. She returned to the kitchen. Hermione was not at Grimmauld Place.

Icy dread was spreading throughout Fleur’s extremities now. Hermione had not apparated since the time she had brought herself and Fleur back from the Weasley’s when Fleur had a concussion. And that had been from one very familiar place to another. This morning, Hermione had apparated under distress, she hadn’t been thinking clearly. The look in her eyes before she vanished came back to haunt Fleur, it was a look of wild panic. And then she had taken herself from one place she had never been, to… Well, to Merlin knows where. Anything could have happened. She could have been splinched. There were still death eaters about, as Fleur knew all too well, and they would love nothing more than to get their hands on Hermione Granger.

The possibilities were whirring through Fleur’s mind like a zoetrope of horrors. She wracked her brain to think of where Hermione could have gone and kept coming up blank. She would not have returned to Hogwarts. The Burrow was incredibly unlikely. And Hermione’s childhood home was, Fleur now understood, an impossibility. Fleur had the awful feeling that, after everything, perhaps she didn’t know Hermione all that well if she didn’t know where she would have gone in a moment of need.

Pulling her wand from her back pocket, Fleur screwed her eyes tight and pictured the first happiest thought that came to her head. The moment her thoughts alighted on came as no surprise to her. She focused on it blindly until a silvery shape burst from her wand, it swirled in the air like ink in water before taking the shape of a collared dove and soaring through the kitchen wall and out of sight.

 

 

By the time the front door burst open fifteen minutes later, Fleur was at the kitchen table, her head in her hands. Her mind reeling.

Harry rushed into the kitchen.

‘Got your patronus,’ he panted, ‘what’s happened? Is everyone alright? Was it another break in?’

Fleur looked up at him and opened her mouth to reply before Ron raced into the kitchen too, colliding with Harry’s back in his failure to stop in time.

‘What’s going on?’ he demanded. ‘What happened?’ He looked at Fleur with wide eyes and then turned to look about the room. ‘Where’s Hermione?’

‘She’s gone,’ Fleur said, her voice trembling now.

‘Gone?’ Harry demanded at the same time as Ron issued a loud, ‘what?’

‘Something… something ‘appened,’ Fleur began, ‘and she’s gone. I don’t know where.’

‘What happened?’ Ron growled.

‘What do you mean gone?’ Harry asked before Fleur could contemplate how to answer Ron’s question.

‘She apparated!’ Fleur exclaimed, standing from the table and running her fingers through her hair in despair, ‘She just… apparated. But she was upset when she did it and she hasn’t done it in a long time and I can’t find her and… I realise now that I don’t even know where she would have gone.’

She was not looking at either of the boys as she spoke, but her eyes were flitting aimlessly about the room. They alighted on the clock. How stupid of her. She hadn’t thought of that. But Hermione’s hand on the clock was pointed resolutely at ‘Lost in the Woods’. Was that supposed to be some kind of joke? The British and their humour knew no bounds. Even their inanimate objects couldn’t be taken seriously. Fleur had a strong urge to wrench the stupid clock from the wall and smash it on the stone floor.

‘Why was she upset?’ Ron demanded, ‘what did you do?’ he advanced towards Fleur until Harry put a hand on his shoulder.

‘Steady on, mate.’ Harry murmured, though the concern was written on his face.

‘I didn’t do anything!’ Fleur insisted.

‘Well you must have done something to upset her! Bloody hell, she could be lying splinched in a ditch somewhere!’ Ron burst out.

‘I know that! That is why I sent the patronus!’ Fleur shot back. If she had hackles, they would be rising now. And if she was a full Veela then Ron would be in trouble.

‘Alright, alright,’ Harry let out, raising his hands in what Fleur supposed he must think was a calming manner. ‘Both of you sit down.’

Ron pulled a chair from the table and sat reluctantly in it, whilst Fleur paced a little more before Harry gave her a raised eyebrow look. She returned to her seat, though her knee continued to bounce impatiently.

‘We are wasting time,’ she hissed, ‘I thought one of you would know where she might have tried to go.’

‘She won’t be splinched,’ Harry said in surprising calm.

‘How do you know that?’ Ron demanded.

‘Because it’s Hermione,’ Harry explained.

‘She splinched me once!’ Ron countered.

‘Yes,’ Harry agreed, ‘and remember how mortified she was? She would never make the same mistake twice.’

Fleur opened her mouth to reply but Harry got there first.

Regardless of how upset she is,’ he added firmly.

‘You still haven’t told us why she is upset,’ Ron said accusingly to Fleur. ‘Or what happened.’

‘Non. And it is not relevant,’ Fleur replied, ‘so just think about where she will ‘ave gone and then I will go and bring her home.’

‘You’ll go? I don’t think so!’ Ron shot out. ‘No offence Fleur, but I think I should be the one to—’

‘Nobody will be going anywhere until we figure out where she might be,’ Harry pointed out.

‘Hogwarts?’ Ron suggested.

‘Non. She was already worried enough about returning for the party,’ Fleur answered straight away.

‘Really?’ Ron asked. ‘I didn’t know that. I thought she seemed excited about it when I suggested the party in the tower like old times.’

Fleur just shrugged. She did not have the time nor the patience to explain to Ron just how wrong he was about that. Harry had once told Fleur that Ron was adept at seeing what he wanted to see and missing what was right in front of him. Fleur was beginning to see what Harry meant.

‘Fleur’s right,’ Harry nodded, ‘she won’t have gone to Hogwarts. Plus, you know she was always telling us that you can’t apparate onto Hogwarts grounds.’

‘That’s true,’ Ron grumbled. ‘I could floo Mum, see if she’s with them?’

Harry caught Fleur’s eye and they shared an uncomfortable look before Harry replied.

‘I think that’s unlikely, mate.’ Harry said gently.

‘Why? Mione loves being at the Burrow,’ Ron insisted.

Fleur huffed irritably.

‘I could send an owl to Ginny at Hogwarts, see if she has any ideas,’ Harry suggested.

‘We don’t ‘ave time for that!’ Fleur let out, her impatience returning to the fore.

‘I can’t think of anywhere else,’ Ron said, ‘she can hardly go to her parents, can she? And most of her friends… I mean, Ginny and Luna are back at Hogwarts and apparently she doesn’t want to go back there, so…’ he trailed off, frustrated.

If the situation didn’t feel quite so dire then perhaps Fleur would have found some relief in the knowledge that even Hermione’s closest friends were also struggling to think of where she would have gone. Perhaps it wasn’t a reflection on the fact that Fleur did not know the other woman very well after all. But it was not time for competitive thoughts like that. She had summoned the boys and between them they were no closer to finding Hermione.

‘Shell Cottage?’ Harry said, though he sounded doubtful.

‘She did once tell me that Bill was her favourite Weasley,’ Ron mused, ‘but I had just pissed her off when she said it.’

Fleur wanted to laugh at that but she couldn’t summon the necessary joy.

‘I don’t think so,’ she said instead. ‘Bill would have been in touch by now if she was there. And anyway, I doubt the cottage holds many fond memories for her.’

An uncomfortable silence fell across the table as they were reminded of Hermione’s experience leading up to their landing at Shell Cottage. It was barely a few months back and the severity of the situation suddenly felt much starker. Hermione’s mental state, though vastly improved in recent weeks, was still not what it had once been.

‘She has nowhere to go,’ Harry said quietly.

 

 

An hour passed. In that time, Harry and Fleur had relented and allowed Ron to floo Mrs Weasley, just to give them all something to do. But, as expected, Mrs Weasley hadn’t seen hide nor hair of Hermione and was similarly stumped as to where else she could have gone. She promised to keep thinking on the matter and to ask around.

Harry, Ron and Fleur were sitting silently about the table, all looking strained and worse for wear when the flames in the fireplace turned emerald. Fleur was the first to jump to her feet.

‘’ermione?’ she gasped as the flames began to change formation.

But they took the shape of a head rather than someone stepping forth from the hearth, and Fleur sighed as she recognised the face before her.

‘Sorry, love,’ said Bill, ‘only me. Mum just told me Hermione’s gone missing?’

Fleur nodded and returned to her seat. The thin sliver of hope she was holding on to was that Leandre would return soon and then she could use him to locate Hermione. He was connected to her. Not as connected as he was to Fleur. But he had a better hope than any of them of finding the other woman. Not that it would be easy to explain to Harry and Ron why that was, but at this moment she just didn’t care.

‘Have you seen her?’ Ron asked hopefully.

‘No. Sorry. She’s not here,’ Bill said softly. ‘Will you let me know when you find her?’

‘Of course,’ Harry nodded.

Fleur had returned to pacing. This was absolutely not how she envisaged the fall out of her first kiss with Hermione. Well, she very rarely allowed herself to envisage such a thing given how out of reach it had frequently felt, and particularly recently. The desperate lack of Hermione was making her feel quite queasy now and she found herself inwardly raging at her thrall. Where was it now when it could be of some actual use? Why wasn’t the ability to locate a missing mate – and Fleur shocked herself by thinking that word – part of its repertoire? Was this the price she paid for having only quarter Veela blood? All of the hissing and crackling in her ears but none of the useful tracking abilities? Well, great.

‘Fleur?’ came Bill’s voice from the fireplace, ‘Try to stay calm?’

‘I am trying to stay calm!’ Fleur spat at once.

Both Harry and Ron recoiled from Fleur at the venom in her words. And Ron’s eyes lingered rather suspiciously on Fleur for several moments.

‘Sorry,’ she huffed and returned to her seat at the table.

‘Uh… thanks for letting us know she’s not there,’ Harry said awkwardly to Bill.

‘I’ll stay here in case she turns up,’ Bill replied and then his head vanished from the fireplace and the flames returned to flickering orange.

‘She won’t go there,’ Fleur muttered.

She might not know where Hermione was, but she knew the other woman well enough to know where she definitely wouldn’t be. And no matter how much Bill might have been Hermione’s favourite Weasley, he was also technically Fleur’s ex. And if Fleur understood anything about how a thrall made somebody feel, then she knew there was no chance Hermione would have sought solace somewhere that was undeniably Fleur’s married home. Even if it hadn’t also been the place she had landed after suffering excruciating torture.

‘I want to know what happened,’ Ron suddenly said to Fleur, ‘because you’re clearly going nuts so it must have been something big and it’s not like Hermione to do something like this. So what was it? What did you do?’

‘Ron,’ Harry said warningly, keeping his eyes on Fleur who had turned her piercing gaze to Ron, her nostrils flaring dangerously.

‘I ‘ave already told you, it doesn’t matter what happened,’ Fleur said through gritted teeth.

‘I think it does,’ Ron shot back. ‘I think you upset her and you’re feeling guilty about it because if something has gone wrong, if she has been splinched then it will be your fault and—’

Harry was looking anxiously between Ron, who had suddenly stopped talking, and Fleur, who had her hands clenched tightly into fists on the tabletop.

‘And what?’ Fleur growled, daring Ron to continue with his rant.

Ron didn’t reply. He was searching his pockets.

‘And what?’ Fleur asked, more loudly.

‘Shut up a minute,’ Ron replied and jumped to his feet before hurrying from the room.

Fleur turned to Harry in confusion and Harry just shook his head, non-plussed. They sat quietly for a moment, the only noise in the house was a crashing and banging from upstairs that sounded as though Ron was busy ransacking his bedroom.

‘I didn’t do anything. I did not upset her,’ Fleur said quietly after a moment, tracing the line of the woodgrain in the table with her finger, ‘that is not what ‘appened.’

‘No,’ Harry replied, ‘I think I can guess what happened.’

Fleur’s head snapped up and she locked eyes with Harry. Before either of them had a chance to say anything more, Ron skidded back into the room brandishing a strange tool in his hand.

‘I know how to find her.’

Chapter Text

The wind rustled through the leaves of the giant beech trees. They were green now. The last time she had been here, the trees had been bare, barren looking, and appeared as hopeless as Hermione had felt. Back then the ground had been littered with the dried brown leaves of autumn. It had been colder then too, though it was far from warm now, and Hermione pulled her knees closer in to her chest and wrapped her arms around them. She leaned forward until she could no longer feel the rough bark of the tree trunk snagging on her jumper, Fleur’s jumper, and she curled in on herself. The tears had finally stopped flowing and they had left her hollow. How could she have been so stupid? So selfish? So cruel to Ron and so careless with Fleur’s feelings?

Her forehead knocked against one of her knees and the breeze caught a few loose strands of her chestnut hair.

She had no idea how much time had passed. She didn’t know quite where she was. She knew the vague vicinity, of course. It wasn’t the first time her subconscious had landed her here. She could well have been in this very spot before, but she couldn’t remember exactly. She was numb and sick of her own thoughts, her own actions. And to make matters worse, she knew that Fleur must be furious with her.

‘You didn’t mean to?’

The other woman’s words ran on repeat through Hermione’s mind. And Fleur had every right to sound as upset as she had. She had done nothing but act exactly as Hermione had asked. She had taken a step back, she had put no pressure whatsoever on Hermione. And Hermione had gone and leapt into her arms, only to vanish a moment later. Hermione would be furious too.

And Ron. Fleur would have to tell them what had happened when they got back from training that evening and found Hermione was not there. If Hermione didn’t go home before the boys finished training for the day then Ron would find out about everything from Fleur, not Hermione, as if it wasn’t going to be bad enough for him already.

A sound broke through the birdsong and caught Hermione’s attention. It was the sound of footsteps through long grass. Suddenly she was back on the run, back evading the snatchers. Her heart gave a painful leap and set off at a gallop. And then the footsteps were interrupted by the sound of snagged clothing on a bramble and the noise of a stumble.

‘Ouch. Bugger.’ Came a voice.

Hermione unfurled herself and leaned out to look around the tree trunk behind her.

‘Ron?’ she gasped.

‘Mione!’ he exclaimed, ‘Good, there you are!’

‘What are you doing here? How did you… why?’ she stuttered in confusion and used her sleeve, Fleur’s sleeve, to wipe the tear tracks that had surely left tell-tale streaks down her cheeks.

Ron held up his hand. Clasped in it was Dumbledore’s deluminator.

‘Still works,’ he said simply.

‘You followed the light from your chest again?’ Hermione asked, and this time she couldn’t fight the sniff that accompanied her words. At least it was better than the sob that was threatening to emerge.

‘Yeah,’ Ron nodded. ‘I couldn’t hear you this time, as obviously you weren’t sitting out here by yourself talking about me. But it found you anyway.’

He rounded the tree and took a good look at Hermione. His brows furrowed and his head tilted to one side as he took her in.

‘Don’t,’ she sniffed again, ‘don’t look at me like that.’

‘Sorry,’ Ron said, shuffling a little, ‘Um… look at you like what though?’

‘Like… like you’re worried and you… and you love me.’ This time the sob couldn’t be stopped.

‘Mione,’ Ron chuckled, ‘I am worried and I do love you.’

Hermione couldn’t look at him now, she buried her face into her arms once more. She felt Ron sit down beside her, could feel the warmth of him near but not touching.

‘I’m not as worried as Fleur though,’ he said a moment later, ‘she’s going mental back home.’

Hermione’s sobs intensified and Ron put his arm across her shoulders and pulled him in to her side.

‘Why are you being nice to me?’ Hermione asked. ‘I’ve been so awful. I’ve made a mess of everything.’

‘Uh… To be honest, Mione, I don’t actually know what either of us are doing here. Fleur sent her patronus to training, called me and Harry home. She said you were upset and was worried you’d splinched yourself and was beating herself up that she couldn’t figure out where you’d gone. Well, none of us could figure out where you’d gone and then I remembered the Deluminator and… here I am.’

Hermione sniffed.

‘She didn’t tell you what happened? What I did?’ Hermione asked tentatively.

‘What you did?’ Ron asked and then shook his head. ‘Nope. She said “It is not relevant what ‘as ‘appened”,’ he said, doing a poor job of imitating Fleur’s accent.

In any other circumstance Hermione would have laughed, would have imagined the scandalised look on Fleur’s face if she had heard Ron’s impression of her. But she could find no humour here today.

‘She didn’t tell you,’ Hermione murmured to herself.

‘No. But, like I said, she’s climbing the walls back home. She got quite scary actually,’ Ron said, using his shoe to scuff a mark into the bare earth in front of them.

Hermione didn’t know what to say. She thought Fleur would be angry, not worried, and now she didn’t know which was worse.

‘Are you going to tell me?’ Ron asked at last. ‘I’d quite like to know because I feel like I’m missing something here.’

There was a note of vulnerability in his voice and it tolled like a bell in Hermione’s mind. Time was up.

‘I kissed her,’ Hermione whispered.

Ron’s foot ceased in its scuffing and now no sound interrupted the birdsong.

‘Ron, I’m so sorry,’ Hermione barrelled on, ‘I have been so unfair to everybody and I should have said—’

‘You kissed her,’ Ron repeated blankly.

‘Yes,’ Hermione breathed. ‘But I shouldn’t have and—’

‘I was right,’ Ron said in disbelief. ‘I knew something was going on. But I just thought… I thought I must be wrong. I thought you would have told me. I thought it was mad, to be honest with you, because it’s meant to be me and you. It was always meant to be me and you.’

‘I should have told you,’ Hermione agreed, swivelling so she was facing Ron’s side now. ‘I was going to tell you tonight actually, but then the spell worked and I just… I made a huge mess of everything.’

‘How long?’ Ron asked.

‘How long what?’

‘How long have you been sleeping with her?’ Ron clarified, there was no anger in his voice, there was no emotion at all.

‘I haven’t been sleeping with her!’ Hermione exclaimed.

‘You sleep in her room every night,’ Ron pointed out.

‘Well, not for a few nights actually,’ Hermione reasoned and then shook her head. That wasn’t the point she had wanted to make. ‘I mean, we were sleeping together,’ Ron looked away over his shoulder and Hermione gripped his forearm, ‘but we weren’t sleeping together.’

Ron frowned.

‘I don’t understand,’ he said.

‘We haven’t… had sex,’ Hermione said firmly, ‘we only kissed today and then I remembered how wrong it was to do that without explaining things to you first and—’

‘Hang on,’ Ron interrupted. ‘You asked if we could talk tonight. But you hadn’t even kissed her at that point?’

‘Yes,’ Hermione said slowly, not sure quite what Ron was getting at.

‘So there wasn’t nothing going on,’ Ron said, frustrated.

‘Well, I suppose, no. There was something. There has been… something, for a while.’ Hermione admitted quietly. An image suddenly appeared in Hermione’s mind, an image of Fleur’s thrall as something physical reaching towards her and wrapping itself around her. The idea filled her with a sense of warmth and belonging.

‘You love her.’

Hermione retracted her hand from where it had been gripping Ron’s arm and took a sharp breath.

‘Don’t you?’ Ron asked.

Hermione nodded.

‘I think so, yes,’ she agreed quietly.

Ron blew out a long breath.

‘And she feels the same way?’

Hermione nodded again and Ron looked away, his foot started moving again but it wasn’t scuffing the earth this time, he was knocking his heel repeatedly into the ground instead.

‘I’m so sorry,’ Hermione said, and her voice cracked on the words. Ron wiped his sleeve across his face.

‘It’s not going to be you and me, is it?’ he asked, and there was no hiding the tears in his voice.

‘Ron!’ Hermione sobbed and grabbed onto his arm again. ‘I hate this,’ she cried, ‘I hate that it’s hurting you because I love you, I do. But… Merlin,’ she swallowed a lump in her throat, ‘so much has happened to us, so much loss and fear and… Nothing is how I thought it was going to be.’

Ron ducked his head and Hermione could only watch as his shoulders shook.

‘I should never have let it get this far,’ Hermione muttered and Ron shook his head in agreement.

‘I do love you, Ron,’ Hermione said as she rubbed her hand on Ron’s back.

‘But not how you used to,’ Ron said brokenly. Hermione shook her head but couldn’t bring herself to say the word out loud.

‘I can see it, you know?’ Ron asked, lifting his head from his arms, but fixing his gaze on the middle distance rather than on Hermione.

‘See what?’

‘You and her.’

‘Oh,’ Hermione breathed.

‘If you had told me any time before she moved in, I would have laughed my head off,’ he went on.

‘OK,’ Hermione said uncertainly.

‘I mean, you and Fleur Delacour! Can you imagine?’

‘Alright,’ Hermione muttered.

‘But actually, I can see how it works,’ he admitted. ‘She understands you better than I ever have. She was there for you when I wasn’t.’

‘Ron—’

‘No, it’s true. I knew you were struggling but I just tried to ignore it and hoped it would go away, that you’d just get over it,’ he huffed out a hollow laugh. ‘Some boyfriend I’d be.’

‘That’s not fair, Ron,’ Hermione said at once. ‘We have all been dealing with things. It was not your responsibility to… to fix me. Besides, you have been going through a hard time too. I could have been more supportive.’

‘But I should have been better!’ Ron exclaimed, ‘then maybe…’

‘No,’ Hermione shook her head sadly. ‘It wouldn’t have changed anything,’ she finished as gently as she could. It wasn’t the time to try and explain the veela thrall, not least because she didn’t feel that she understood it well enough herself yet.

Ron finally looked at her and Hermione could see the tears brimming in his eyes. She threw her arms around his shoulders and buried her head against his chest as she felt the dampness of his tears in her hair. They stayed that way for several long moments. Until Ron pulled away, wiped his eyes once more and let out a slow breath. He looked at Hermione for a minute and then wiped a stray tear from her cheek with the pad of his thumb.

‘I know that you’re right,’ he said at last, ‘You’re Hermione Granger,’ he laughed sadly, ‘you’re always right.’

‘I’m not,’ Hermione huffed, ‘I have handled things terribly.’

‘Well… yeah,’ Ron agreed. ‘I meant about us though. I think probably in the future I’ll see it how you can see it. See that it wouldn’t work how I thought it would, how I wanted it to.’

Hermione watched him, her lip trembling.

‘I don’t understand why you’re not angry,’ she said.

Ron let out a humourless laugh.

‘I am angry. I’m so angry about so many things, I think. But, I dunno, there was a part of me that knew stuff with you wasn’t going to happen. I even asked Fleur what to do about it,’ he paused and shook his head ruefully. ‘That was before I saw there was something weird with you and Fleur. But then I did see and… I just didn’t want to accept it I guess.’ He hunched his shoulders as he spoke.

Hermione nodded. There was nothing she could say to that. Though the idea of Ron asking Fleur for advice about the situation made Hermione’s heart hurt for both of them.

‘Right now,’ Ron sighed, ‘right now it all feels pretty bloody awful really.’

‘I’m sorry,’ Hermione whispered.

‘I think maybe there’s other stuff I haven’t really been allowing myself to confront too,’ he added.

Hermione welled up once more.

‘I’m going to go home for a bit,’ Ron said, ‘to the Burrow. Give you some space and… spend some time with family. With George.’

‘Oh, Ron,’ Hermione cried again, diving towards him for another hug.

‘It’s going to be OK, isn’t it?’ Ron asked haltingly, patting her on the back. Hermione nodded against him.

‘We’ll still be, you know, the Golden Trio?’ He said, and Hermione felt a shocked laugh bubble out of her. She knocked her hand against Ron’s chest.‘Don’t call us that!’ she exclaimed, her voice muffled.

‘Sorry. You know what I mean though,’ he said, and Hermione pulled back.

‘I do know. And we will be,’ she promised, ‘and it is going to be OK.’

The pair took a bit of time to gather themselves and then Ron struggled to his feet and held out his hand to pull Hermione up too.

‘We’d better get back. I wasn’t kidding about Fleur,’ he said with slightly fearful eyes.

Hermione took a deep breath and nodded. She knew she had things to face up to as well.

‘I’ll apparate us, I think,’ Ron decided.

‘I didn’t splinch myself!’ Hermione let out. ‘Obviously.’

‘No, I know, but… just in case,’ Ron said with a small grin. Hermione squeezed his hand.

‘OK,’ she nodded. Ron started tugging her away from the tree they had been sitting beneath.

‘Fleur will be relieved,’ Ron said quietly, ‘and Harry, though he didn’t think for a second that you’d have come to any harm.’

Hermione smiled at that.

‘And I’ll just get some of my stuff together and then head out,’ Ron added.

Hermione pulled Ron to a stop.

‘You’re going to leave tonight?’ she asked in alarm.

‘Mione,’ Ron started, ‘I can’t… I understand it, I guess, but I can’t be around you and her. Not yet. It would be too hard.’

Hermione felt as though she was going to cry yet again although surely she must be running out of tears.

‘But—I don’t want you to feel… Fleur and I, we aren’t even… I mean, she might not—’

‘I need to go home,’ Ron said simply.

Hermione studied his expression closely and then sighed, nodded and found she was too choked to say any more. Ron gave her a sad lopsided smile and then, with a crack, they vanished. Leaving behind only the wind in the trees and the birdsong filling the air of the Forest of Dean.

 

 

They landed in the kitchen of Grimmauld Place and, looking about, found it empty.

‘This is where I left them,’ Ron said, confused.

‘Guys!’ Ron called out, striding out into the hall.

‘In here,’ came Harry’s voice from the study, ‘what happened? Did you find her?’

Hermione took a deep breath and followed Ron out into the hall and then into the study.

‘He did,’ she said quietly, standing in the doorway and pulling the sleeves of her jumper over her hands nervously. Harry was sitting on the edge of the sofa and, slumped in Hermione’s favourite armchair, was Fleur. She looked more drained than Hermione had ever seen her. Pale, tired and anxious. Crookshanks was curled in her lap, her fingers buried in his thick ginger fur. At the sight of Hermione, Fleur straightened up her posture and Crookshanks hopped from her lap. He took a couple of steps across the rug and then pushed his front paws out in front of him, leaving his back end in the air as his tail bristled in a long stretch.

‘I’m sorry I worried you all,’ Hermione let out as Crookshanks wound around her ankles.

‘Are you alright?’ Harry asked, standing up and pulling Hermione into a hug. She nodded against him and then when he stepped back again, he looked between Hermione and Fleur who had yet to make any further movement.

Ron looked between the two women too and then cleared his throat uncomfortably.

‘I’m going to get some stuff together,’ he said, his voice rough.

‘What?’ Harry asked.

Hermione turned to Ron with tears in her eyes once more. She wanted to plead for him not to leave because of her but she knew there was a bit more to it than that and she knew his mind was made up. Harry caught the look on her face and nodded slowly in realisation.

‘I’ll give you a hand, mate,’ he said, and clapped a hand to Ron’s shoulder as they left the room together.

Finally, Hermione braced herself to look at Fleur and found dark blue eyes already on her.

‘I’ve been such an idiot,’ Hermione whispered.

That seemed to snap Fleur out of whatever trance she had been in, and she stood from the chair, took two long strides towards Hermione and pushed one hand to the back of Hermione’s neck and into her hair. Their faces were now inches apart and Fleur’s eyes had not left Hermione’s. Hermione felt rather alarmed at the sudden movement and held her breath.

‘I was so scared,’ Fleur breathed out.

‘I’m sorry,’ Hermione murmured.

‘You just vanished and I couldn’t find you and you weren’t ‘ere and I didn’t know what to do,’ Fleur muttered, her eyes flitting back and forth across Hermione’s face as though checking for damage.

‘I’m so sorry,’ Hermione said again.

‘And you kissed me,’ Fleur said softly.

‘I did,’ Hermione agreed.

‘And you regretted it.’

‘No!’ Hermione let out, louder than either of them seemed to have been expecting. ‘No,’ she repeated, more quietly this time, ‘I didn’t regret kissing you. I don’t regret kissing you.’

A look of relief washed across Fleur’s face.

‘You don’t?’ Fleur checked cautiously. Hermione shook her head.

‘It was just that you were being so respectful and giving me space and then I go and… jump on you.’ Hermione paused and blushed a little before continuing. ‘And Ron. I was going to talk to him after work, tell him about everything… before anything happened with us. But then I just kissed you and then I panicked because… Because I had a plan and I didn’t do it right.’ Hermione trailed off.

‘It felt like you did it right to me,’ Fleur muttered, and Hermione was surprised to see the small smirk on her face.

‘Fleur! That is not what I meant,’ Hermione let out.

‘I know,’ Fleur soothed, schooling her features into something more serious again, ‘I know, ma belle. But I wish you had said all of that in the tunnel instead of just vanishing.’

‘I panicked,’ Hermione said again.

Fleur hummed and used the hand that was not currently tucked into Hermione’s hair to run softly down her arm. Hermione could feel Fleur’s grip on her belaying the fear that Hermione could just evaporate again at any moment.

‘I want us to be able to deal with it together when you panic, hmm?’ Fleur said. ‘Instead of you running off to…’ Fleur paused and looked puzzled. ‘Where did you go?’

‘The Forest of Dean,’ Hermione replied.

‘That what?’

‘The woods,’ Hermione explained.

‘The woods,’ Fleur murmured and then stepped back and issued a loud expletive in French that Hermione did not recognise. ‘That clock! I should ‘ave just trusted that stupid thing!’

Hermione was baffled and it must have shown.

‘It does not matter,’ Fleur shrugged, ‘I meant what I said though. Sometimes you panic, oui?’

Hermione nodded. She wanted to say that she never used to panic, that she didn’t want to panic now, that it was something that started after the war, but Fleur didn’t seem to have finished with her thought yet.

‘I want you to talk to me about it so I can help. Especially if we are going to be—’ She stopped herself short and looked away. Hermione stepped closer to Fleur and touched the side of her face so that her attention would return to Hermione.

‘Going to be what?’

Fleur took a deep breath.

‘Together?’ she asked hopefully.

Chapter Text

She was being impatient, Fleur realised. Hermione had just got back after panicking and vanishing and Fleur was already pressuring her to confirm that they would be together. Hermione had said that she didn’t regret kissing Fleur, and that she had she wanted to talk to Ron before anything happened between herself and Fleur. That suggested quite plainly that Hermione did indeed want something to happen between them. But still, Fleur must not be impulsive now. She was more aware than ever that Hermione was a flight risk, after all. She must fight her instincts and tread carefully.

‘Do not answer that,’ Fleur said at once. ‘I should not have said it.’

‘No,’ Hermione shook her head at once. She took hold of Fleur’s hand and peered up into Fleur’s eyes. ‘No, you had every right to say it and I want to answer it. I want us to be together.’

Fleur felt flowers bloom and trees burst into blossom in her chest. A happy sob threatened to erupt from her even has she willed herself to keep steady.

‘I want to be with you,’ Hermione reiterated, her voice barely above a whisper but nonetheless sure.

Fleur smiled as tears welled in her eyes, a heady cocktail of joy and relief. She wanted nothing more than to lean down and capture Hermione’s lips. She had always been aware of their minor height difference, but now that she found herself considering the reality of kissing Hermione she discovered just how fond of her height advantage she really was. Her memories of the kiss in the tunnel had served to form a perfectly adequate patronus earlier, but the kiss had been a surprise that had quickly turned to something far worse and Fleur would very much like to share another kiss, one that she could fully appreciate. She held back.

‘But you want to talk to Ron first,’ Fleur said and instantly regretted the wisp of frustration in her voice before quickly adding, ‘which is only right and fair, of course.’

Hermione’s expression turned a little uncomfortable.

‘Well, actually, we sort of already had that conversation… When he came and found me,’ Hermione explained.

‘I thought, because you were angry before I left…’ Hermione started and Fleur frowned but before she could say anything, Hermione went on, ‘I thought you might have told them what I did.’

Fleur’s frown only deepened.

‘I would never,’ she said firmly, ‘it was between us, for us. And I suppose, yes, I suppose I was angry, but mostly I was scared.’ Fleur thought back on that moment this morning that now felt so long ago.

Hermione nodded guiltily.

‘I didn’t mean to scare you,’ she said honestly, ‘and I don’t blame you for being angry. What I did was selfish and cruel, to Ron and to you. So when he came and found me and then I realised he didn’t know why I had run, I just… I told him everything.’

‘You told him… everything?’ Fleur checked.

‘Well, actually, I didn’t mention the thrall aspect of things because,’ and here Hermione let out a sound of her own frustration, ‘to be honest with you, I don’t really understand it myself. But also, I don’t even know if it’s relevant. I mean, as far as I understand it, I would feel this way about you with or without the thrall, it just perhaps wouldn’t feel as… all-consuming? So…’

Fleur bit her lip. She had always had a soft spot for Hermione’s little rants, for the look of distraction that came across Hermione’s face when her words became spoken thoughts rather than purposeful conversation.

‘That is correct,’ Fleur nodded.

‘Good,’ Hermione blustered on, ‘so I didn’t misunderstand that part of it. Anyway, I thought it wouldn’t help Ron much to know about that. So I just told him everything else.’

‘Everything else,’ Fleur repeated. ‘That you kissed me?’

‘Yes,’ Hermione muttered, colour creeping onto her cheeks that Fleur couldn’t help but smile about. ‘And the rest.’

‘That you… have feelings for me?’ Fleur asked, ‘and I for you?’

‘Yes,’ Hermione answered quickly, and Fleur had the distinct impression that Hermione might have used a different phrase in her conversation with Ron because she seemed keen to breeze past that particular question.

‘And it was… hard,’ Hermione went on, ‘He was so hurt, but oddly sort of calm.’

Fleur thought back to how Ron had been before he left Grimmauld Place to find Hermione. Nobody in their right mind could have described him as calm, and the same could be said for Fleur for that matter.

‘He said he already thought there was something weird going on with us and—’

Fleur balked at that.

‘It is not weird,’ she said at once.

‘No, not weird like… it’s just how he speaks,’ Hermione explained patiently. ‘And I think I didn’t realise how much he was struggling with already,’ Hermione said, her brows furrowed in thought.

At that, Fleur merely hummed in agreement. Nobody crawls out the peaceful side of war without carrying wounds and scars with them, of both the visible and invisible sort. Especially not those who had lost family members, friends, allies. Ron, for all his bluster and all his apparent fondness for the fame, was bound to be hurting.

Fleur had heard Ron’s words when he returned with Hermione but she had been so filled with relief at seeing the other woman safely back home that she hadn’t really taken it in. She had been busy fighting the impulse to take Hermione immediately into her arms.

‘He’s… Um…’ Hermione swallowed a lump in her throat, ‘he’s going to move out,’ she finished as her voice cracked.

The feeling was one of undeniable jealousy. The fact that the idea of Ron no longer living with them could fill Hermione with such obvious sorrow sat uncomfortably with Fleur, it perched on a shelf next to the roiling anger that it had been Ron who was able to locate Hermione. And yet Fleur knew both of these were feelings irrational. Hermione and Ron had been through thick and thin together, had formed a bond that had seen them through a war. It was no surprise that the idea of being without him was a difficult one for someone who had already lost her parents, for all intents and purposes. Fleur had to get a hold of herself. Had to remind herself why he was leaving.

‘Oh, ma belle,’ Fleur said gently, and pulled Hermione closer. She wrapped her arms around the younger woman’s still thin frame and felt her jealousy extinguished in part when Hermione tucked her head beneath Fleur’s chin and burrowed into her. She could feel the quaking of Hermione’s shoulders and she pressed several kisses into her hair, inhaling the scent of cedar and citrus as she did so.

‘I just feel dreadful that he is leaving because of something I did. I never wanted to hurt him and if I had just told him sooner—’ Hermione hiccoughed.

‘Non,’ Fleur cooed, ‘Non. If you had told him sooner then he would have just left sooner, hmm? I think perhaps when we look back on this time, we will see that it all had to happen this way.’

‘I’m sorry, Fleur,’ Hermione said, her voice muffled as she spoke into Fleur’s chest. ‘I am not always so much of a… well, a bloody disaster really. It feels like ever since you moved in, you’ve been putting up with me being completely useless.’

Fleur chuckled.

‘You are not a bloody disaster,’ she said. ‘Would I have enjoyed our first kiss more had it not occurred in a damp tunnel and ended with you vanishing into thin air? Oui, bien sur. But it will be a funny story one day, I think.’

Hermione huffed dejectedly.

‘Not today,’ she grumbled.

Fleur laughed and squeezed Hermione closer, dropping a kiss in her hair once more and then sighing in contentment at the mere fact that she was able to do such a thing. Earlier it had not felt as though she would be holding Hermione in her arms again any time soon. She was just about to tell Hermione that nobody who invented the spell that Hermione had successfully pulled off earlier in the day could be considered ‘completely useless’ when they were interrupted.

There was a knock against the door frame and Fleur realised she had closed her eyes. She opened them at once and saw Harry hovering in the still open doorway. Hermione stepped out of Fleur’s arms and looked guiltily at Harry.

‘Sorry,’ Harry murmured, ‘it’s just… Ron’s nearly ready to go. Thought I’d make sure you guys weren’t… I mean, I thought I’d warn you.’

Fleur heard Hermione take a shuddering breath.

‘Thanks, Harry. I’ll be right there,’ Hermione said sadly.

Harry nodded and then left them alone in the room once more.

‘I better go and… say goodbye,’ Hermione murmured.

‘It will be alright, mon amour,’ Fleur said softly in return. She realised the moment the words left her mouth that it was not something she had called Hermione before. Hermione’s eyes flitted to Fleur at once but Fleur simply nudged her in the direction of the door.

For a moment or two Fleur deliberated over whether to follow Hermione or wait out of sight in the study. In the end her need to support Hermione won out. And, beyond that, she owed it to Ron to see him off too. She would not lurk in the shadows. Jealousy and anger from earlier aside, Fleur did not dislike the younger Weasley. On the contrary, she quite enjoyed his company when he was not touching or talking about Hermione. Fleur rolled her eyes at herself. This level of possessiveness was not attractive and she hoped it would fade once herself and Hermione had cleared up a few things between them.

Fleur headed out into the hall where she could hear lowered voices. Ron was standing by the front door, a large backpack slung over his shoulder. He looked broken, Fleur realised, and all her ill-feelings dissipated.

‘You can come back whenever, you know?’ Harry was saying.

‘Yes,’ Hermione agreed earnestly, ‘please don’t… please don’t avoid us.’

At that point, Ron caught sight of Fleur approaching behind Hermione. His jaw clenched and his eyes hardened for a moment, but then seemed to fill with defeat instead.

‘Fleur,’ he said lowly.

And Hermione span around as he spoke, as though surprised Fleur had followed.

‘I…uh… I’m sorry I had a bit of a go at you earlier,’ he mumbled, ‘I should have known you wouldn’t have done anything to upset Mione.’

Hermione’s eyes widened at Fleur. This little insight to the situation at Grimmauld Place whilst she had been gone was news to Hermione. Fleur gave her what she hoped was a warning look. She would explain it to Hermione later, but not now.

‘There is no apology necessary,’ Fleur replied, ‘and if there was then I would owe you one as well. I think both our tempers were running high, hmm?’

‘I guess,’ Ron replied. ‘Anyway, I better…’ he gestured over his shoulder to the door.

Fleur heard a distinct sniff from Hermione. Harry stepped forward a gave Ron a firm hug.

‘See you at training in the morning? You better set an alarm,’ he added with a grin and Ron nodded with a slightly lifeless laugh.

Ron stepped back from Harry and his gaze landed on Hermione. Another audible snuffle was heard and then Hermione flew at Ron and wrapped her arms around his neck. Fleur looked away. She understood what was happening but it didn’t mean she had the stomach to witness it. Eventually Hermione released Ron, who coughed to cover his own choked sounds and Fleur returned her gaze to the pair of them. Ron’s eyes caught Fleur’s then and held them for an inscrutable moment before he nodded at her once and then left the house.

The minute the door had closed behind Ron, followed by the distinctive sound of someone apparating from outside, Hermione turned and walked back into Fleur’s arms. Fleur was ready for her and wrapped her arms firmly around Hermione’s back once more.

Harry blew out a long breath and turned to look at them both.

‘It’s been quite a day,’ he said quietly.

‘I think that might be an understatement,’ Fleur replied, one hand rubbing soothing circles into Hermione’s back.

Fleur wondered how Harry would react to seeing herself and Hermione in this position now that everything was out in the open, but he appeared to be taking it in stride and she was reminded of his earlier words. ‘I think I can guess what happened.’ She looked at Harry curiously for a moment and he offered her a small smile.

‘I’m afraid the day is about to get a little bit worse,’ he said then and Hermione lifted her head and looked at him, her eyes puffy from crying.

‘What do you mean?’ she asked fearfully.

‘Well, it’s nearly dinner time. And one of us is going to have to cook,’ he said with a chuckle.

Fleur felt Hermione’s tensed body relax against her and couldn’t help but laugh as well.

‘Beans on toast?’ Harry suggested and Hermione groaned. 

 

 

The British were not known for their showstopping cuisine, of that Fleur had been under no illusion. Beans on toast however, was not as bad as it sounded. Though she could entirely understand why Harry and Hermione were less than enamoured with it after having it as their staple meal for weeks whilst on the run. Tonight though, when paired with a good bottle of wine, Fleur made her peace with the rather bizarre meal. It was probably the wine that made it palatable. Between the three of them, they finished off the bottle and by the time dinner was over, they were all suitably drowsy.

‘I really am sorry about earlier,’ Hermione said again when they had finished eating.

‘Hermione,’ Harry chuckled, ‘you don’t need to keep apologising. We’ve all made rash decisions before.’

‘Yes, but—’ Hermione started.

Fleur placed her hand on top of Hermione’s on the tabletop.

‘No more apologising,’ Fleur said firmly.

‘But I…’ Hermione began and then Fleur squeezed her hand and gave her a pointed look, ‘Alright,’ she relented.

Harry barked out a laugh.

‘Oh, I see how it’s going to be,’ he said, ‘you’ll listen to Fleur but not me.’ He shot an accusing look across the table at Hermione.

‘Yes, well, you know…’ Hermione trailed off and then took the final swig from her wine glass as Fleur raised her eyebrows at her.

‘Yes, I do know,’ laughed Harry, ‘it’s amazing what a little thrall can do,’ he muttered good naturedly.    

Hermione brought her wine glass back down to the table with more of a clunk that she had probably intended and Fleur let go of her hand and threw both of her own hands in the air instead.

‘I knew it!’ Fleur hissed. ‘I knew you must ‘ave told ‘arry!’

Hermione turned guiltily to Fleur whilst across the table Harry was laughing uncontrollably.

‘Sorry,’ Hermione mumbled, ‘I know it was probably meant to be a secret, but when you were giving me space, I just had to talk to someone about it and… are you cross?’ she finished carefully.

Fleur scoffed.

‘Non. I am not cross. It would be a bit hypocritical, non? To be cross that you had been speaking to Harry about it, when my whole family knows,’ Fleur reasoned.

Hermione frowned as though she had forgotten that fact.

‘That’s true,’ she replied.

Harry was still chuckling to himself and Hermione shot him a glare.

‘Stop it, Harry!’ she said at last.

‘Sorry,’ Harry laughed and then slowly managed to control himself. ‘Sorry. I needed a laugh after today though,’ he admitted and Fleur shrugged, that was fair enough. Harry had needed a laugh. Fleur had needed the lion’s share of a bottle of wine. To each his own.

‘For the record though, guys,’ Harry said, his tone turning more serious, ‘I do think you’re good for each other. I know things with Ron might be rough for a while, but I think this is for the best. And for what it’s worth, I’m all in favour of the two of you, you know… being a… thing.’ He finished less eloquently than he started, but both Fleur and Hermione smiled gratefully at him.

‘You know, as long as you remember to keep your bedroom door closed,’ he added with a cheeky smirk.

‘Harry Potter!’ Hermione shrieked at once, standing up from her seat and looking wildly about her as though trying to locate something to throw. ‘That was… Don’t say things like… just… no!’ Luckily for Harry, her search for a missile was fruitless, and Fleur found herself having to hide her own smile behind her hand. Harry’s implication was fine by her.

Harry had leapt up from his seat too, clearly knowing it was time to make himself scarce.

‘On that note, I’m off to bed. Night guys!’ he called happily over his shoulder as he hurried out of the kitchen.

Hermione sat heavily back down in her chair, muttering under her breath. She turned to Fleur, her cheeks coloured with embarrassment.

‘Sorry Fleur, he was just…’ she started, ‘you know none of us hold our wine very well.’ She finished.

After the last time the household had indulged with wine over dinner, Fleur certainly did know that. However, this evening she also knew that Harry and Hermione had only had one glass each.

‘It’s fine, ma belle,’ Fleur said with an amused smile. ‘It is nice to know that not everyone is going to see me as some kind of villain who has whisked you away from your rightful partner. Harry is clearly supportive.’

Hermione frowned.

‘Ron wasn’t my… I don’t think people will… Anyway, the signs seem to suggest that you’re my rightful partner,’ Hermione pointed out, then appeared embarrassed that she had said it.

‘True,’ Fleur replied simply, hoping to dissuade Hermione’s embarrassment. It seemed to have worked.

‘Harry was right though,’ Hermione said and had to interrupt herself when a huge yawn overtook her, ‘I think we should head to bed,’ she finished and then her eyes lost their sleepy look and widened in shock.

‘I don’t mean for… I don’t want to do anything… I just—’ Hermione let out, her words garbled.

Fleur laughed once more.

‘Don’t worry, I know what you meant. I am very tired too,’ she said calmly. ‘I don’t know about you, but I have not slept well for a few nights now.’

‘No,’ Hermione agreed, ‘I could do with a good night’s sleep.’

‘With me?’ Fleur asked hopefully.

‘Merlin,’ Hermione breathed, ‘I bloody hope so.’

Chapter Text

It could have been the exhaustion left by the emotional turmoil of the previous day that caused Hermione to sleep so soundly through the night, but she knew better than that. Finally waking in Fleur’s arms again after a string of nights back in her own bed told Hermione just how much her future was entwined with Fleur’s. There was no way that this feeling was something she could give up again. The snugness of the bare arms wrapped about her, the sense of total calm and complete security. It was something Hermione had never experienced in any other situation. She had been a fool to question it. She had been a fool in most of her actions recently, it seemed.

Moving as slowly and carefully as possible, Hermione turned over so that she could see the woman pressed closely behind her. At her movement, Fleur let out a sigh and turned onto her back, one arm slipping from Hermione and the other keeping her tight to Fleur’s side. Hermione held her breath for a moment but Fleur’s eyes remained peacefully closed. Eyes roving across Fleur’s sleeping features, Hermione took in just how serenely beautiful she was, how smooth and glowing her skin was, the perfect curve of her long eyelashes, the gentle bow of her lips. Hermione found her gaze marooned on that particular part of Fleur’s face and had to consciously keep her hands to herself as the desire to trace the shape of Fleur’s lips with her finger threatened to overwhelm her.

She looked so placid in sleep, the rhythm of her slow breaths continuing to douse Hermione in tranquillity. The guilt over her behaviour the day before was still following Hermione like a shadow, and even now, especially now, as she made the most of the rare opportunity to stare at Fleur it seeped through her. She would do her best to make it right.

It took all of Hermione’s will power to ease herself tentatively out of Fleur’s arms and out of Fleur’s bed. Leandre chirruped in warning from his perch as he watched her and she quickly crossed the room and stroked a soothing finger down his chest.

‘I’m not running away,’ she whispered, ‘not again.’

Leandre seemed appeased by that and gave her an affectionate nip. On the desk next to his perch, Hermione noticed an envelope with Fleur’s name on, written in swirling script. It appeared unopened.

Leandre chirruped again and Hermione took an owl treat from the jar Fleur kept on her desk and offered it to him. She got another nip for her efforts. From behind her, Hermione heard a deep sigh and turned quickly back to Fleur. She hadn’t woken though, just turned back onto her side, her features now disrupted by a frown even in sleep as she reached for Hermione’s abandoned pillow. Hermione chuckled quietly to herself, more than touched to witness that moment of unconscious need from the other woman.

With that, she pulled on Fleur’s silk robe and tied it tightly around her waist before leaving the room.

 

In the kitchen, Hermione made quick work of feeding Crookshanks and preparing two hot drinks. One coffee, one tea. She was eager to get back upstairs and had just turned, mugs in hand, to do exactly that when Harry stepped into the room.

‘Morning,’ he yawned, eyes mostly closed.

‘Good morning,’ Hermione replied.

‘Nice robe,’ he smirked, now that his yawn had receded.

Hermione looked down at herself in Fleur’s robe and blushed.

‘I guess you two got things all straightened out last night then,’ Harry said, ‘so to speak,’ he added with a grin.

Hermione rolled her eyes.

‘Make the most of it,’ she said, ‘that joke won’t work with anyone else, I think only muggles use that terminology.’

Harry shook his head with a smile and then held up his hands in surrender.

‘No more jokes from me,’ he promised.

‘Anyway, we haven’t got things… sorted out yet,’ Hermione said, ‘there’s still conversations to be had.’

‘Well, why are you down here talking to me then?’ Harry asked exasperated. ‘Get back upstairs and sort things out with your star-crossed veela mate!’

‘Harry!’ Hermione let out. ‘You said no more jokes.’

‘And I’m not joking,’ he said with yet another grin.

‘Don’t let Fleur hear you say that then, she hates the word mate,’ Hermione explained.

‘Really?’ Harry asked in surprise. ‘I just thought it was the word they used.’

‘It is,’ Hermione nodded, ‘but Fleur says it was poorly translated and too… animalistic. It does make us sound rather like something from a nature documentary,’ she reasoned.

‘Hermione,’ Harry said flatly.

‘What?’

‘You’re still down here talking to me.’

‘Oh yes,’ Hermione said, ‘I’ve got things to do.’

Harry just raised his eyebrows a few times at her.

‘Not like that,’ Hermione huffed, ‘You know what I meant. Anyway, have a good day. And please… will you make sure Ron is OK?’

Harry’s face turned serious.

‘Of course,’ he nodded, ‘but even if he’s not OK right now, he will be. Don’t let it have any more impact on your happiness, yeah?’

Hermione nodded. Sometimes she wondered when Harry got so emotionally mature.

‘See you later,’ she said fondly and gave him a swift kiss on the cheek before hurrying back upstairs, hoping that Fleur was still asleep.

 

 

 Upon re-entering Fleur’s bedroom, Hermione was met by a surprising sight and stopped in her tracks. Fleur, one leg successfully shoved into a pair of ridiculously tight jeans was hopping as she tried to hastily shove her other foot into the other leg of the jeans. She lost her balance as her attention snapped to Hermione and stumbled backwards into the side of the bed. It was an unusually ungainly manoeuvre for somebody normally so poised and graceful.

‘What are you doing?’ Hermione laughed.

‘What are you doing?’ came the immediate counter, ‘where did you go?’

At that, Hermione stopped laughing. She heard the panic in Fleur’s voice and realised exactly why Fleur had been hurrying to get dressed.

‘You thought I’d run again,’ she said quietly.

Fleur stood up again, having abandoned her efforts with the jeans. She now stood next to the bed, wearing the t-shirt and underwear she had slept in and half a pair of jeans. She looked at Hermione rather shiftily.

‘You weren’t here,’ Fleur murmured. ‘I was coming to look for you, but I wasn’t wearing much and I couldn’t find my… robe.’

She finished the sentence as she appeared to realise, looking at Hermione fully now, exactly where her robe had gone.

Hermione raised her hands, displaying the steaming mugs in each.

‘Ah,’ said Fleur, self-conscious.

Saying nothing at all, Hermione crossed the room towards Fleur then passed her to put both the mugs down on Fleur’s bedside table before returning to stand in front of Fleur who was now looking more embarrassed than before. Hermione put one hand against Fleur’s chest and pushed her gently backwards until she was sitting on the edge of the bed, then she knelt down before her and Fleur’s eyes widened. Hermione grasped the hem of the one leg of her jeans that Fleur had managed to get in place and tugged until she had removed the clothing entirely as Fleur just watched in silence. Hermione stood, folded the jeans in half and placed them over the back of Fleur’s chair.

‘Only you could pull off jeans that tight,’ Hermione told her fondly.

Fleur seemed to regain her composure at that moment.

‘I think you pulled them off rather well,’ she replied with a raised eyebrow.

‘Everybody’s a comedian this morning,’ Hermione muttered as she circled the bed to her own side and slid back under the duvet. Again, Fleur simply watched her.

‘I was hoping you’d still be asleep,’ Hermione said. ‘Are you getting back into bed?’ she prompted.

Fleur nodded and did just that. Then passed Hermione the mug of tea and retrieved the coffee mug for herself.

‘Merci,’ she said simply and took a long sip.

‘I’m not going to run again,’ Hermione said simply. ‘I completely understand why you assumed that when you woke up and I was gone. After my stupid behaviour yesterday, I don’t blame you at all. But I’m not going to run, and I feel dreadful about yesterday and I’m still so completely sorr—’

Hermione’s rant was cut off mid-word by a single finger suddenly pushed against her lips. She opened her eyes wide in surprise. And Fleur left her finger in place as she twisted to return her coffee mug to the bedside table and then grasped Hermione’s tea and did the same.

‘You promised me no more apologies,’ Fleur said, turning back to Hermione and meeting her widened eyes with a steady look. ‘So, no more apologies. OK?’ she asked.

Hermione nodded with Fleur’s finger still pressed to her lips. She watched as Fleur’s gaze dropped to that finger, or perhaps to Hermione’s lips, and Hermione’s stomach performed a low swoop. Fleur removed her finger. Hermione remained silent, unsure of Fleur’s next move.

Fleur’s hand drifted to the edge of the silk robe that Hermione was still wearing and she smoothed it gently against Hermione’s neck.

‘You look good in this,’ Fleur murmured. Hermione’s stomach added a new move to its acrobatic display as she caught the hungry edge to Fleur’s words. She could still find nothing to say.

‘I know we need to talk,’ Fleur admitted, her voice still low and her gaze still raking over Hermione, ‘but I need to kiss you,’ she finished.

Hermione nodded in understanding. Her eyes adhered to Fleur’s even though she was not returning the look, but flitting her own gaze about Hermione’s face.

‘Can I kiss you?’ Fleur whispered, her eyes finally meeting Hermione’s and staying there.

Hermione nodded immediately once more and Fleur twisted her body towards Hermione, placing one palm flat on the bed the other side of Hermione’s waist to support her weight without letting any of it rest on Hermione as she leaned in. She gave Hermione a moment’s chance to change her mind, but the moment went un-used.

Their lips met tentatively at first and Hermione’s eyes closed. She felt a puff of air against her cheek as Fleur let out a sigh of relief through her nose. It was a mark of the desperate hold over herself that Fleur had been keeping for so long, and it spurred Hermione on to deepen their kiss. Fleur responded in kind at once and Hermione brought her hands up to cup Fleur’s cheeks, to push into her hair, to smooth a thumb down the shell of Fleur’s ear as Fleur delivered without doubt the most thorough kiss that Hermione had ever felt.

‘I ‘ave wanted this for so long,’ Fleur muttered between kisses, her lips never fully leaving Hermione’s so that she could feel them move against hers with each word.

Hermione pulled back only far enough that she could nod in complete agreement without headbutting the woman before her, then she captured Fleur’s lips once more. It felt euphoric and Hermione wasn’t sure she’d ever be able to stop. So, she didn’t; at least, not until the need for oxygen became too overwhelming and they had to pause, resting their forehands against one another and panting.

‘Désolée,’ Fleur breathed, ‘I couldn’t wait any longer to feel you like that.’

Hermione leant in and placed another fleeting kiss against Fleur’s lips.

‘If I’m not allowed to apologise for yesterday anymore,’ she began breathlessly, ‘then you are definitely not allowed to apologise for kissing me like that.’

Fleur laughed and Hermione felt it against her cheeks.

‘I won’t,’ Fleur agreed, ‘je promets,’ she said, and Hermione shivered even as her cheeks gained colour.

‘You really like it when I speak French, hmm?’ Fleur asked coyly.

‘Fleur,’ Hermione dragged out her name in embarrassment.

Fleur laughed again and regretfully pulled herself out of Hermione’s personal space, returning to lean against the headboard on her own side of the bed.

‘I will not tease you about it,’ Fleur said. ‘But your response is noted,’ she added with yet another raised eyebrow.

Hermione gulped. She wished Fleur was still hovering over her, wished they were still kissing.

Fleur handed Hermione her tea once more and then, as though she could feel Hermione’s need for contact, reached for Hermione’s hand and entwined their fingers as she took a sip of her coffee.

‘How… um… how did you sleep?’ Hermione asked after a moment or two of quiet. Of all the times to feel awkward, now, just after what Hermione vehemently wished had been their first kiss, seemed an odd time.

Fleur looked at Hermione in amusement.

‘I slept very well,’ she said, ‘when you were not here, I could hardly sleep. But with you here, being able to hold you… Oui, I slept very well.’

It was Fleur’s way of dispelling Hermione’s awkwardness, she knew that. Total honesty to quell Hermione’s uncertainty over the parameters of their new closeness.

‘And you?’ Fleur asked, ‘did you sleep well?’

Hermione took a deep breath.

‘I never sleep better than when I am in your arms,’ she said. Her words were rushed but sure and they earned a pleased smile from Fleur.

‘Is that a thrall thing?’ Hermione asked.

Fleur’s smile faltered slightly.

‘I don’t know,’ she said, glancing away, ‘I like to think it is just down to how we feel about one another. I think, now that we’re… now that we have both… I think the thrall’s work is mostly complete. I hope it is, I mean.’

Hermione squeezed Fleur’s hand in her own.

‘It is,’ she asserted. ‘Sorry, I don’t mean to assume everything is just because of the thrall. It’s only that I do sleep better with you, and that kiss was by the far the best I have ever had and I just wondered—’

‘It could not just be that I am a very talented kisser?’ Fleur asked with a teasing smile.

Her mouth opening and closing a couple of times, but no words emerging, Hermione frowned a little as she formulated a response to that.

‘Well, I don’t have much to compare to so I don’t know. But it certainly felt different to kissing Krum or Ron or—'

‘Please stop,’ Fleur growled.

Hermione looked at her in surprise. She had only been thinking aloud and had failed to really register the impact her words might have had. Her look turned guilty.

‘But,’ Hermione began, her voice turning soft as she rotated her shoulders to get a better look at Fleur’s frown, ‘kissing you makes all of that fade into insignificance,’ Hermione said boldly. And she leaned closer, balancing her tea precariously as she raised herself up to Fleur’s eye level and caught her lips in a slow kiss.

‘You,’ Hermione said pulling back the smallest fraction, ‘are a very talented kisser,’ she whispered, and closed the gap between them once more. Fleur hummed in agreement against her lips and Hermione knew she had done the right thing. Something about the quiet of the early morning, the release of tension after the day before, had left Hermione feeling more comfortable around Fleur than ever. Gone was the fleeting awkwardness after the earlier kiss and now Hermione was finding a part of herself she had never met before. And, because she was Hermione Granger, she wanted to learn all she could about it.

‘I am getting wet,’ Fleur mumbled against Hermione’s lips.

And, just like that, just as she was inwardly praising herself for her emboldened behaviour, Hermione found that yet again all human language had left her.

Hermione’s lips had stopped responding to Fleur’s and Fleur broke their kiss with a laugh.

‘I just ‘eard what I said,’ she laughed again, ‘I only meant that your tea has spilled.’

It took a second for Hermione’s mind to compute that.

‘Oh!’ Hermione leapt back to her side of the bed as she realised that sure enough, her mug of tea was lying empty in a pool of its spilled contents which were soaking into Fleur’s white bed linen and, apparently through to Fleur’s leg.

‘Oh, Fleur, that’s going to stain,’ Hermione let out apologetically and Fleur’s laughter only intensified.

‘It’s not that funny,’ Hermione grumbled, ‘I just thought it was rather a forward thing to say given that we’ve barely even kissed yet and… I’m not a prude, you know. People always assume that I’m some sort of uptight—’

‘I am laughing because you’re worried about a tea stain,’ Fleur interrupted fondly before sweeping her hand over the stain in question and returning the duvet to its previously dry, white state. ‘We are witches, Hermione,’ Fleur whispered conspiratorially.

Hermione looked suitably abashed.

‘I know that, I just… I suppose my mind was otherwise occupied,’ she muttered.

‘Ah oui?’ Fleur asked suggestively, ‘were you thinking some un-prudish thoughts?’

Hermione huffed and looked away. She lamented the loss of her tea as she would quite like something to busy herself with while Fleur was enjoying embarrassing her like this. Fleur chuckled before leaning over and pressing a lingering kiss into Hermione’s cheek.

‘I know you are not a prude. And you know that I am a very talented kisser,’ Fleur said simply before grabbing her coffee for another sip even though it must be nearly cold by now.

‘You must have become a talented kisser though,’ Hermione mused thoughtfully, ‘you can’t just be one without practice surely.’

‘Are you asking for my dating history?’ Fleur replied in surprise.

‘No!’ Hermione replied, ‘Well, not really anyway. I think I want to hear about that as much as you want to hear about Krum and Ron.’

Fleur’s face turned stormy once more and Hermione couldn’t help but let out a laugh of her own.

‘Which I am not going to talk about,’ Hermione clarified, ‘I just meant that I don’t really know much about your life before I ever met you or between the Triwizard Tournament and your marriage to Bill.’

‘I went to a boarding school,’ Fleur said blankly, ‘and unlike you, I did not spend my formative years fighting dark wizards. I will let you imagine the kind of things I got up to instead.’

It was Hermione’s turn to scowl. She did indeed briefly imagine what Fleur was alluding to and now truly understood why Fleur didn’t want to hear mention of Hermione kissing Krum or Ron. She felt a little queasy in fact.

‘Or,’ Fleur let out slowly, ‘if you prefer, you can just assume that my immeasurable skills as a kisser are down to my Veela blood.’

‘But you don’t like people assuming everything about you is down to your Veela blood,’ Hermione reminded Fleur.

‘Non, I do not.’ Fleur agreed.

‘And you don’t like me assuming everything between us is because of the thrall?’ Hermione suggested.

‘Do you like thinking that?’ Fleur shot back.

‘No,’ Hermione shook her head and Fleur shrugged as though her point was proven.

‘But there is an us now, isn’t there?’ Hermione asked quietly, ‘thrall or no thrall?’

‘I would like there to be,’ Fleur replied and then took a deep breath, ‘is it time to stop kissing and start talking?’

Hermione chuckled at that.

‘Only if you’re intending to miss work today,’ Hermione replied wryly. Fleur’s eyes took on a panicked look.

‘Merde!’ she hissed as she threw off the duvet and stood from the bed. Hermione barely had time to register Fleur’s sudden movement before the other woman was pulling her t-shirt over her head and striding to her wardrobe. Hermione stopped breathing.

‘I didn’t even owl in yesterday after I chased after you,’ Fleur was ranting, pulling shirts seemingly at random from her wardrobe and throwing them over her shoulder, ‘the goblins are never going to let me forget.’

Hermione just watched from her position in bed. She knew she should look away. Knew that Fleur probably didn’t realise that the angle of the dressing table mirror afforded Hermione a fairly good view.

Fleur span round all of a sudden, her chosen shirt clasped in her hand but making no attempt to cover her nakedness. Apparently Hermione’s guilt over her wayward gaze was unnecessary. Fleur didn’t seem to mind what Hermione saw and it was a self-confidence that Hermione simply could not relate to.

‘ermione!’ Fleur let out, ‘what are you doing? We’re going to be late!’

Hermione furrowed her brows and forced herself to look only at Fleur’s face.

‘I didn’t think I would be joining you anymore. The spell works, we did it.’ Hermione explained slowly.

‘What?’ Fleur exclaimed, ‘Non. Non, I want you with me,’ she said hurriedly and then seemed to register how that might sound, ‘I mean, only if you want to, of course. But, you could still help with actually using the spell… I have not attempted it yet! Maybe only you can do it, we just don’t know and… and I want you with me,’ she finished quietly.

Hermione let a small smile spread across her lips and she climbed out of the bed.

‘OK,’ Hermione agreed easily.

‘Oui?’ Fleur breathed.

‘Yes,’ Hermione repeated and Fleur took two long strides to Hermione, held her by the shoulders and gave her a kiss that conveyed more than Hermione had been expecting. When Fleur pulled back, she appeared rather dazed.

‘Um, Fleur?’ Hermione said quietly.

‘Mmm?’

‘You should probably finish getting dressed,’ Hermione said lightly, allowing her eyes to flicker downwards briefly. Fleur looked down at her bare torso and then back up to Hermione.

‘Ah, oui,’ Fleur nodded decisively and Hermione laughed again.

‘I’ll meet you downstairs,’ Hermione said before heading to the door so that she could gather clothes from her own room and get dressed. When she reached the threshold of Fleur’s bedroom, she turned.

‘We’ll… uh… We’ll talk about everything tonight though,’ Hermione said as confidently as she could.

‘We will,’ Fleur agreed.

Chapter Text

As she hastily, and rather more successfully, pulled on her jeans for the second time of the morning, Fleur couldn’t quite believe her luck. And, if she wasn’t already nearly late for work, she would indulge in her memories of the morning’s events more luxuriously. As it happened though, the clock was ticking and so Fleur willed her thoughts away from the ecstatic realm of Hermione’s lips which it seemed she was now allowed to kiss whenever she liked. Well, not whenever she liked; if that were the case then they would never leave the house. And sometimes Hermione might be busy talking or sleeping or eating and it would be inconvenient for her to have Fleur’s mouth in the way. Apart from that though, Fleur intended to make the most of this new development as frequently as possible, with Hermione’s clear consent, of course.

Giddiness was not a state that Fleur Delacour often found herself in, but today was different. True, they still had to get through The Talk, whatever that may entail. It did feel like they had skipped a step between Hermione returning from her sudden departure yesterday and their morning of shared and comfortable affection. And true, they should probably remain professional in the workplace. But still they were a far cry from yesterday’s dire situation when, in the aftermath of Hermione’s panic and then Ron’s departure, it seemed small steps were still the method of transport.

Slipping her feet into her lace-up boots and grabbing her leather jacket from the back of her door, Fleur left her room and struggling into her jacket as she raced down the stairs to meet Hermione in the hall. Before she even reached her, Fleur could hear Hermione’s light laughter.

‘What would Madame Maxime say if she could hear you thundering down the stairs like that?’ Hermione asked, amused.

‘Quoi?’ Fleur let out, breathless as she jumped the last step and stopped right in front of Hermione.

‘Where is the graceful, poised Veela this morning and why are you clomping about like a teenage boy?’ Hermione laughed.

Fleur raised her eyebrows and slipped one arm around Hermione’s waist, pulling her in towards her in a move that Hermione wasn’t expecting, if her slight stumble was anything to go by.

‘Per’aps you make me feel like a teenage boy, hmm?’ Fleur asked lowly.

Hermione gulped and seemed to find no response and Fleur reminded herself that Hermione was new to all this, hadn’t had the time in her own hectic teen years for those early heightened passions and lovestruck declarations. She leaned in and gave Hermione their softest kiss yet.

‘Besides,’ Fleur said, pulling back, ‘I cannot always be graceful and poised. But don’t tell anybody.’

Hermione laughed at that.

‘It’ll be our secret,’ she promised. ‘Now we really are going to be late.’

‘Ah oui,’ Fleur nodded and then stepped back and offered her hand to Hermione who took it without hesitation and followed Fleur out of the front door.

 

 

They were met, as expected, in the lobby of Gringotts by Grimflinch. Fleur gritted her teeth, ready for some jibe about her unauthorised absence the day before, or perhaps a sarcastic suggestion that her watch must be broken again this morning.

‘Miss Delacour,’ Grimflinch said instead in greeting.

And Fleur was so startled that she stopped walking entirely.

‘Good morning, Grimflinch,’ Hermione offered uncertainly, looking between the usually acerbic goblin and Fleur’s blank face.

Grimflinch turned his beady eyes on Hermione and then down to their still clasped hands.

‘You found her then,’ he said, looking back to Fleur.

‘Oui,’ Fleur nodded slowly.

Grimflinch sniffed and both women waited for the inevitable insult that would surely follow such a sound.

‘Good,’ Grimflinch said simply.

A gentle breeze could have knocked Fleur over, and Hermione appeared similarly stunned as both of them remained stock still, unsure how to respond. Grimflinch huffed almost self-consciously and then his usual frown returned.

‘Well get on with it then, Veela, we don’t pay you to stand about up here making eyes at your mate,’ he sneered.

Fleur felt herself relax and tugged Hermione’s hand to carry on their route to the office.

‘Have a good day, Grimflinch,’ Fleur called over her shoulder. She smiled when she heard the usual muttering that such a sentiment provoked in the goblin.

The rest of the goblins, the ones manning the customer-facing counters in the main hall of the bank, now paid no attention to the two witches as they headed towards the door at the far end. They were, at this point, used to seeing Fleur stride past with the girl who freed their dragon.

‘You asked Grimflinch to help find me?’ Hermione hissed in disbelief as she almost trotted to keep up with the strides Fleur’s long legs were capable of.

‘Of course not!’ came the reply, ‘I just asked if he had seen you when I ran through here yesterday.’

A silence followed that and Fleur half-expected it to be broken, along with a certain promise, by Hermione trying to apologise yet again for disappearing the day before and all the stress it brought Fleur.

‘He called me your mate,’ Hermione pointed out instead.

‘I don’t know how he knows,’ Fleur said hastily and then caught herself, ‘I mean, we haven’t even talked about it and you might not want… it’s a horrible word and I certainly don’t think—’

‘It’s fine, Fleur. I um… I didn’t mind.’

They had reached the door and Fleur stopped to hold it open for Hermione to pass through first.

‘Non?’ she said hopefully.

‘No. It felt quite nice actually, to be called that.’ Hermione said quietly.

‘Mate?’ Fleur asked, scrunching up her face in distaste. Surely Hermione couldn’t genuinely like the term. It made them sound like animals and it was worse for Hermione, she stood to become just ‘the Veela’s mate’ as though she was nothing at all in her own right.

‘Well, no, not that bit specifically,’ Hermione said. ‘Although it doesn’t bother me as much as it clearly bothers you,’ Hermione chuckled. ‘I just meant I didn’t mind being called… yours.’

‘Oh.’

Ever since she had returned from her sojourn in the woods, Hermione had been astounding Fleur in her willingness to lean in to this new possible facet of their relationship. She knew from her brief spell at Hogwarts that each of the four houses had certain attributes they required of their members. She had assumed that, were it not for the part she would play in the war, Hermione would have been firmly placed in Ravenclaw. The thought struck her that had the sorting hat indeed placed Hermione in Ravenclaw, then perhaps they would have developed a relationship sooner, what with the Beauxbatons pupils sharing the Ravenclaw dining table. It was an idle thought, one that exposed Fleur’s new found inability to imagine a life where herself and Hermione’s paths would not become intrinsically linked one way or another. In that reality, perhaps they would have attended the Yule Ball together. Hermione would never have had any kiss from Krum to compare to Fleur’s. But, in moments like this, Fleur could see that there were more layers to Hermione’s bravery than taking down the Dark Lord. Bravery could be found in smaller, quieter moments too; in lesser leaps but leaps nonetheless. Hermione was a Gryffindor through and through.

‘You’re right though,’ Hermione blurted out, ‘we haven’t discussed it yet and perhaps it’s too soon for me to say things like that.’

Fleur had been lost in her thoughts too long and Hermione’s hermit crab bravery had retreated. It was, after all, still recovering.

‘Non! It’s not too soon,’ Fleur assured her, stopping and grabbing hold of Hermione’s other hand so that she now clasped both. ‘But, if you are mine then I am also yours.’

Hermione nodded wordlessly at Fleur and looked for all the world as if she might be about to cry. Fleur’s eyes softened.

‘For me, there is no such thing as too soon. But we will do this at your pace, hmm?’ she searched the warm depths of Hermione’s bright brown eyes and found no hesitation.

‘OK,’ Hermione breathed.

Fleur nodded once and then they continued on their route to Fleur’s office.

 

 

The office was exactly as Fleur had last seen it, her papers were strewn across the desk and even her work bag was hanging from the back of her chair. She hadn’t even had cause to notice that she had forgotten it. At her side, Hermione took in the scene a little guiltily.

‘We barely had time to celebrate our spell working,’ Hermione murmured.

‘Have we run out of time to celebrate?’ Fleur enquired.

‘Well, no,’ Hermione replied.

‘Bon,’ Fleur nodded before shrugging out of her jacket and placing it over the back of her desk chair. She sat down and began ordering the papers on her desk. There was a stack of envelopes that, like every morning, had appeared in the in-tray at her side and Fleur set about opening the first one.

‘Oh! That reminds me,’ Hermione let out, taking a seat in her own chair across the desk from Fleur.

‘Mmm?’

‘There was a letter on your desk at home,’ Hermione said.

‘Ah oui? Leandre must have brought a reply from Maman when he returned yesterday.’

In the swirling anxiety of not knowing where Hermione had gone yesterday, Fleur had forgotten that she was expecting a reply when Leandre got back from France. She had been so desperately wanting him to return just so that she could send him out to find Hermione that the letter had been inconsequential. Even more so by the time Leandre did appear and Fleur was nervously, and jealously, waiting for confirmation that Ron had found Hermione. Now that she thought about it, the contents of her letter to her mother were now well and truly stale. In fact, she felt a little embarrassed by the desperate nature of them. She had written while Hermione was needing space from her, while Fleur herself was feeling hopeless over the whole business. No doubt her words would have been seen as melodramatic by her mother, but they were accurate to Fleur’s emotional state at the time. Not now though.

‘I will read it when we get home later,’ Fleur smiled across the table at Hermione.

‘You don’t think Gabrielle is in trouble again, do you?’ Hermione asked as though the thought had only just occurred to her.

‘Non. Well, probably. But she is still at home on her suspension, so the trouble, whatever it might be, cannot be too serious this time,’ Fleur shook her head at the thought of her little sister. ‘And anyway, the letter… it is a reply to one I sent a couple of days ago.’

‘Ah,’ Hermione nodded slowly and glanced away. ‘When we were… keeping our distance from each other?’

Fleur gave a one shouldered shrug and Hermione cleared her throat.

‘Are you going to tell them about this… that we’re…’ Hermione started and then trailed off, making an indecipherable gesture with her hands, which Fleur could only assume was meant to somehow symbolise their changing status.

‘I imagine my family would like to know if we are together,’ Fleur said carefully. ‘But I don’t have to tell them anything until we are ready to do so.’

Hermione nodded.

‘Gabrielle will be furious,’ Hermione said and earned a rueful chuckle from Fleur.

‘Gabrielle will be jealous,’ Fleur clarified. ‘She feels like an only-child because she is so much younger than me, hmm? And she does not like to share.’

‘Hey!’ Hermione let out indignantly, ‘I’m an only-child and I am perfectly capable of sharing.’

‘My apologies,’ Fleur said in faux formality, though she doubted that Hermione was quite as good at sharing as she seemed to think. ‘You will have to teach Gabrielle then,’ Fleur added.

‘Um… no, thank you,’ Hermione said seriously and Fleur laughed again.

‘She is not so bad. She can be very loving and sweet,’ Fleur assured.

‘To you maybe,’ came the grumbled reply.

Fleur shook her head in amusement. It would be perhaps too much to assume that everything would be plain sailing from now on. But if the only squall was going to be a bit of bickering between Gabrielle and Hermione, then Fleur could handle that.

 

 

A short while later, as Fleur was finishing up with the correspondence that had appeared on her desk overnight, it was becoming clear to both Hermione and Fleur that there was, after all, now very little for Hermione to do at Gringotts. It was a fact that they both decided to leave unacknowledged for the moment though.

‘Right,’ Fleur let out decisively, scooting her chair back from the desk. ‘I think it’s time to get to work with your spell. I would like to try it for myself.’

Hermione looked somewhat relieved.

‘Yes, let’s do that. Though it’s our spell, not my spell,’ she corrected with a pointed look.

‘Our spell, of course,’ Fleur agreed, ‘we clearly make a very good team,’ she added with a smirk.

Hermione rolled her eyes and shook her head affectionately.

‘What?’ Fleur asked with a laugh.

‘I think most people have the wrong impression of you,’ Hermione mused.

Fleur felt a lurch in her stomach at that, unsure quite where Hermione was going with this.

‘How so?’ she asked cautiously.

‘People think you’re this sort of untouchable, unattainable, ice princess, all perfectly put together and, you know… French,’ Hermione explained.

The lurch in Fleur’s stomach settled and she let out a chuckle.

‘I can assure you I am French,’ she said in amusement. She knew what Hermione meant by the word. The British had this vision of the French as sophisticated romantics and Fleur had, in the past, used it to her advantage.

‘Well, yes, of course,’ Hermione agreed, ‘but the rest is nonsense. You’re actually quite cheesy,’ she finished with a grin.

‘Cheesy?’ Fleur exclaimed, outraged. ‘What is that supposed to mean?’

Hermione laughed.

‘The whole “We make a very good team” bit,’ Hermione said, exaggerating a low, seductive tone as she mimicked Fleur’s words.

‘I didn’t say it like that,’ Fleur muttered.

Hermione smiled and crossed the room to Fleur, stepping into her space and reaching up to tuck a silvery strand of hair behind Fleur’s ear. She kept her hand cupped around Fleur’s jawline.

‘You’re a terrible flirt,’ Hermione said with a grin. And Fleur opened her mouth to dispute that claim but Hermione beat her to it, ‘but somehow you get away with it. I wonder why that could be…’ Hermione let her sentence trail off as she gave Fleur a butterflies-inducing look.

Fleur wanted to push Hermione’s point further but Hermione was reaching onto her tiptoes and Fleur would be remiss if she didn’t duck her head to meet Hermione’s lips halfway. She found herself sighing into Hermione’s mouth and felt Hermione smile against her.

‘I love being able to do that,’ Hermione whispered. ‘It doesn’t feel real.’

‘It’s very real,’ Fleur murmured back, chasing Hermione’s lips for another kiss before stepping back and taking Hermione’s hand. If she didn’t get them out of this office then she was going to struggle to achieve anything today, so instead she apparated the pair of them into the lower vaults.



‘It’s not working,’ Fleur huffed out in frustration.

And she was right. She had made five attempts at casting their spell on a damaged tunnel wall. The damage was no greater than what Hermione had managed to fix on her second attempt the day before.

‘Try to relax,’ Hermione suggested, ‘my magic doesn’t always cooperate if I get worked up.’

‘I am not worked up,’ Fleur replied, ‘I just don’t understand why it’s not working. What am I doing wrong?’

‘I don’t think you’re doing anything wrong,’ Hermione said soothingly, ‘it’s just a new spell, that’s all. Did you cast a patronus on your first try?’

‘Yes.’

‘What? Did you really?’ Hermione asked incredulously.

‘Yes,’ Fleur shrugged and then sighed, ‘some spells come more naturally to Veela than other witches. That is one of them. Anyone with Veela blood has a bird patronus.’

Hermione seemed intrigued by that.

‘Yours is a dove,’ she said nodding.

‘I…yes. A collared dove,’ Fleur said with a frown.

‘Gabrielle told me,’ Hermione explained.

Fleur nodded.

‘But why can I not cast this spell?’ Fleur demanded, her frustration returning. ‘Tell me again exactly what you were thinking as you did it.’

‘Well,’ Hermione said, casting her mind back to the day before, ‘I sort of gathered my magic and focused on what I thought the tunnel must have looked like originally and how I wanted it to look again.’

‘I did that,’ Fleur huffed.

‘Try again.’

Fleur shook out her arms and relaxed her shoulders. She slowed her breathing and focused. She knew exactly what this tunnel had looked like before the damage was done. And she pictured it as clearly as she could, she willed the rock itself to remember. With one hand she aimed her wand, and with the other, she opened her fingers and turned her palm to the wall, releasing her magic steadily. She whispered the spell.

Nothing.

Fleur’s shoulders tensed and she let out a growl. Suddenly Hermione was at her side and a warm hand was smoothing down her arm, fingers stroking between her own and then clasping her hand.

‘There must be something else I’m missing.’

She could almost feel Hermione thinking beside her, searching her mind for exactly what she had done when she successfully cast the spell.

‘Oh,’ Hermione let out so softly that Fleur almost missed it.

‘What?’

‘I think, perhaps, I sort of sealed the spell before it worked.’

‘Sealed it how?’

‘I thought of something else. By accident really. But I thought of something that hadn’t happened, something that could happen in the future, possibly. And maybe that sort of bookended the spell? I started with the past and ended with the future?’ Hermione explained haltingly.

‘That actually makes sense. What did you think of?’

‘Does it matter?’

‘It would help to know what magnitude of future event we are talking about here. Was it what you wanted to have for dinner or was it being awarded the Order of Merlin?’ Fleur said.

‘Oh. Well, it was neither of those things. But I suppose… closer to the second option?’

‘Hermione…’ Fleur said, her voice low and perhaps a little frustrated.

‘I imagined my parents,’ Hermione blurted out. ‘They remembered who I was. And I imagined them… meeting you.’

That had not been what Fleur was expecting and her breath caught in her throat. Since she had accidentally discovered what had happened to Hermione’s parents, the opportunity had not really arisen for them to discuss the subject any further. She could only imagine the pain Hermione felt around it and to hear that the idea of her parents regaining their memories now involved Fleur too felt quite monumental. Fleur pulled Hermione into a hug, the spell momentarily forgotten.

‘Do you think they will like me?’ Fleur wondered.

She felt Hermione let out a sound that was half snuffle half laugh.

‘Mum would think you’re incredibly… chic and exciting,’ Hermione said and Fleur could hear the tears in Hermione’s voice even if her view of them was obscured by the fact that Hermione was speaking directly into Fleur’s chest.

‘And your father? Will he approve?’

‘He would probably be quite awkward about it. But I think he would like how protective you are and how caring.’

Fleur rubbed her hand soothingly across Hermione’s shoulder blades.

‘I look forward to meeting them,’ she said.

‘Fleur,’ Hermione said, her voice cracking mid-word.

‘I look forward to meeting them,’ Fleur said again, ‘because you can make this spell work on buildings and you will make it work on people too.’

Hermione took a step back and looked at Fleur, there was doubt strewn across her face but Fleur met it head-on.

‘Now, let me have another go at this spell.’

Hermione stood off to one side and watched as Fleur went through her preparation for the spell again.

memento praeterita’

This time, the same sound of grinding rock that had rent the air the day before came again as the cliff wall of the collapsed tunnel returned to its previous state.

‘Ha!’ Fleur let out joyously, spinning to smile widely at Hermione who was looking similarly thrilled and nodding encouragingly.

‘You did it!’ Hermione let out.

‘I did,’ Fleur nodded and her face turned thoughtful, ‘and I seem to remember you had a particular way of ending the spell too…’

Hermione frowned in confusion and was still frowning when Fleur collided with her and pulled her into a kiss that barely got off the ground before they both broke into laughter.

‘Told you it would be funny one day,’ Fleur murmured before capturing Hermione’s lips once more.

Chapter Text

It turned out that after weeks of doing minimal amounts of magic, several hours of repairing substantial rock falls in the belly of Gringotts was quite exhausting. Nonetheless, the early evening found Hermione leaning forward against the kitchen counter at Grimmauld Place flipping through the pages of an old cookbook. She had no idea where it had come from, possibly left by an order member when the house was used as a headquarters. Behind Hermione, at the kitchen table, sat Fleur. Hermione wasn’t entirely sure what Fleur was doing, but judging from the tingling sensation at the back of her neck, if Hermione had to guess she would say Fleur was simply watching her. By most accounts, that should feel unsettling, and yet it just didn’t. There was an odd comfort to be found in it.

‘I could make spaghetti Bolognese?’ Hermione suggested idly.

‘You do not have to make anything. I am happy to cook for us,’ Fleur replied, ‘I got quite used to it at Shell Cottage.’

‘I know, but I want to cook for you,’ Hermione countered. ‘I just can’t promise that it will be… good.’

She heard a chuckle from Fleur and the scraping of chair legs against the flagstone floor as the other woman stood to approach her.

‘I’m sure it will be lovely,’ Fleur assured her. Her voice was closer now and the tingling sensation on the back of Hermione’s neck had intensified as though her whole body was anticipating Fleur’s touch.

At that moment, the front door slammed shut. Hermione turned away from the counter and found that Fleur was indeed much closer to her now. There were footsteps in the hall and the flicker of disappointment on Fleur’s face. The kitchen door opened.

‘Hi guys,’ Harry let out tiredly as he slouched in.

‘Hello Harry,’ Fleur replied, returning to her seat at the table.

‘How was your day?’ Hermione asked.

‘Long,’ Harry replied. ‘Auror training is no joke.’

Hermione nodded and put the kettle on.

‘How about you two, had a good day?’ Harry asked, and Hermione was sure she wasn’t imagining the hint of suggestiveness in his voice but chose to ignore it.

‘Good,’ Hermione replied, ‘but tiring,’ she added honestly.

Harry let out a chuckle and Hermione realised that apparently just about anything she said at the moment could be misconstrued by Harry.

‘Hermione’s spell works,’ Fleur cut in before Harry could respond. ‘We spent the day repairing tunnels.’

‘It works?’ Harry asked excitedly. ‘That’s amazing! I mean, I knew you could do it but still, this is huge.’

‘It’s not my spell,’ Hermione muttered before allowing a smile to break out on her face, ‘but it is rather exciting.’

‘You’ll have modified it for human use in no time,’ Harry continued.

‘I don’t know about—’

‘She will,’ Fleur agreed, ‘I have no doubt at all.’

Hermione saw Harry and Fleur exchange a silent look that she wasn’t quite sure how to interpret.

‘How, um… how was Ron?’ Hermione asked Harry quietly, while busying herself with pouring him a cup of tea.

Harry’s shoulders drooped suddenly, along with Hermione’s heart. He sighed.

‘He’s… Well, he’s not great,’ Harry replied. ‘I guess it’s had some time to sink in a bit now and he… he’s sad, he’s angry… But he’ll get over it.’

Hermione felt her heart clench at that. She did think that Ron had accepted the news astoundingly well the day before, perhaps she should have known part of that was shock, even if he had known there was something between herself and Fleur. She could feel Fleur’s eyes on her again.

‘He will, Hermione,’ Harry reiterated. ‘You haven’t done anything wrong. You and him… Well, it wasn’t happening, was it?’

‘No,’ Hermione agreed, ‘but I didn’t want to hurt him.’ She handed Harry his cup of tea but didn’t meet his eyes as he nodded his thanks at her.

‘You did the right thing. And so has he. He probably should have stayed at the Burrow with the rest of the Weasleys after Fred… after everything. I think he was avoiding dealing with that,’ Harry said. And then his gaze flitted anxiously towards Fleur. ‘Um… actually, about that… I mean, about the Burrow and the Weasleys and… I think you’re back in Molly’s bad books, Fleur,’ he finished carefully.

‘What?’ Hermione barked out at the same time as Fleur let out a loud laugh. Hermione glanced to Fleur at hearing her laugh but then shook her head and returned her glare to Harry.

‘What business has she got being annoyed with Fleur?’ Hermione asked, incensed.

‘Uh…’ Harry started, taking a step backwards and looking at Fleur pleadingly.

Fleur emitted a quieter laugh and got up from the table, crossed to the kitchen counter and leant back against it at Hermione’s side.

‘I imagine she is annoyed because she, quite understandably, wanted you as her daughter-in-law one day. And instead, you have fallen for the seductive call of a conniving siren,’ Fleur said with a raised eyebrow and a rather sly smile.

‘Don’t call yourself that,’ Hermione snapped. ‘And what utter nonsense! You hardly seduced me and it’s not as though Ron and I were even together and—’

‘I could seduce you,’ Fleur muttered.

Harry apparently couldn’t help but laugh at that but then instantly regretted making any sound when he found himself under Hermione’s glare once more.

‘That’s hardly the point,’ Hermione said to Fleur. ‘She has no right to—’

‘Hermione,’ Fleur said placatingly, slipping an arm around Hermione’s waist, ‘she is a mother who is upset because her child is upset. I am an easy target because she was already far from fond of me. It is fine.’

Hermione’s ire was cooled slightly by Fleur’s touch but not entirely.

‘It’s not fine,’ Hermione grumbled, ‘I’m the one who hurt Ron, not you. She should be angry with me.’

‘To be fair,’ Harry cut in, ‘I think she is.’

‘Oh,’ Hermione let out. ‘Well, that’s… OK then. I suppose I should expect that from most of the Weasleys really, and probably everyone else.’

And, truth be told, it hadn’t really crossed her mind until this moment that being with Fleur would create a ripple that reached further than the confines of 12 Grimmauld Place.

‘Bill will understand,’ Fleur shrugged. Hermione tensed at his name and, judging by the way that Fleur’s thumb started rubbing back and forth against her hip, Fleur had felt Hermione’s sudden tension.

‘And Ginny,’ Harry added.

‘Have you told her?’ Hermione asked quickly.

‘Well, no. I didn’t think you’d want me to, but I’m sure she’ll be fine about it. Probably,’ Harry finished with a gram of doubt.

‘She doesn’t hate me so much now, I think,’ Fleur added helpfully. ‘Especially since she knows that Bill and I were never actually together,’ she added with heavy emphasis directed towards Hermione.

Hermione glanced sideways at Fleur and then raked her fingers through her own hair in agitation.

‘Nobody could have predicted it,’ Harry said softly, ‘you and Fleur I mean. So, it’s bound to raise eyebrows but so what?’

‘Yes,’ Hermione huffed, ‘Ron said something similar actually. He said if someone had told him I was going to be with Fleur then he would have laughed his head off.’

A noise that sounded remarkably like a growl suddenly came from Fleur and both Harry and Hermione looked at her in surprise. There was a dark look in Fleur’s eyes.

‘I don’t see why anybody should be surprised,’ she said snippily.Hermione let loose an incredulous laugh.

‘Because you’re a gorgeous, intriguing, Veela, champion of Beauxbatons, and I’m… me,’ she explained as though it was obvious.

‘Oui,’ Fleur nodded, ‘you are the brains and the beauty of the Golden Trio.’

‘Oh, thanks,’ Harry drawled and Fleur shot him a smirk.

Hermione looked unconvinced by Fleur’s words and waved them off.

‘Anyway,’ Hermione said loudly, ‘the Weasleys are welcome to be annoyed with me, but Fleur has done nothing wrong.’

‘Neither of us have done anything wrong,’ Fleur said at once.

‘She’s right, you know,’ Harry agreed, ‘and anyway, you can always blame it on the thrall,’ he added with a grin. ‘Say you were powerless to fight it, your future is written in the stars, ancient Veela magic pulled you together… and all that.’

‘We won’t be doing that,’ Hermione said firmly and Fleur nodded.

Harry laughed and shook his head before downing the last of his cup of tea.

‘So, are we having beans on toast again?’ he asked warily.

‘No,’ Hermione said, ‘I’m going to make spaghetti Bolognese.’ She sounded more sure of herself than she felt.

‘Great,’ Harry replied, ‘I’m ravenous.’



Conversation over the dinner table had, thankfully, turned towards the more neutral territory of Harry recounting incidents from Auror training. It was a nice distraction from the thoughts left circulating in Hermione’s mind from the pre-dinner topic, though she still felt an underlying uneasiness about it all. She had been so focussed on the effect her being with Fleur would have on Ron, and indeed on her own life, that she really hadn’t thought much further than that. Though she had taken on a maternal role in Hermione’s life of late, there had in the past been tensions between herself and Molly Weasley. Hermione had retained a certain distance from the Weasley matriarch after Molly so readily believed Rita Skeeter’s printed lies about Harry and Hermione during the Triwizard Tournament. At the time it had been hurtful to know how quickly Hermione could fall out of favour for supposedly slighting one of Molly’s boys. And that was Harry, not Ron. It was probably worse now it was Molly’s own flesh and blood that Hermione had left heartbroken.

Nonetheless, Hermione would far prefer to be the one on the receiving end of Molly’s wrath than have Fleur needlessly shoulder it. Kind, generous Fleur who had done absolutely nothing wrong. Hermione had no doubt that Molly had always been suspicious of Fleur and had never taken the time to get to know her. When Hermione thought back on Fleur’s time as part of the Weasley family now, she felt terrible. In the moment, she was under the impression that Fleur was putting up with the atmosphere towards her because it was worth it to be with the man she loved. In hindsight, Fleur was there, ready to fight, ready to protect, and none of it was for her own gain. She had left her own loving family, left her country, was living a lie and being treated rather poorly by those around her. It must have been very isolating. Hermione could have treated her more kindly back then if it had even crossed her mind.

‘You are deep in thought, mon amour,’ Fleur’s soft voice broke Hermione from her troubled musings.

‘Sorry,’ Hermione replied, turning to Fleur with an apologetic smile.

Harry had disappeared upstairs and the two witches were in the study, feeling full from a surprisingly edible dinner and drowsy from the day’s work, seated side by side on the battered sofa. A fire crackled in the grate. Fleur returned Hermione’s smile and reached towards her to tuck strands of wayward chestnut hair behind her ear. Hermione leaned into her touch and closed her eyes.

‘No need to apologise. You are upset by what Harry said about Molly?’ Fleur asked.

‘Perhaps a little,’ Hermione admitted.

‘You are having second thoughts about us?’ Fleur questioned nervously.

Hermione’s eyes shot open.

‘No!’ she said at once, ‘and I’m not even that upset about probably being blacklisted from the Burrow. Molly has been kind to me lately, but I have found it rather smothering, to be honest. Always saying I’m too thin these days and pushing me and Ron together at any opportunity.’

Fleur nodded thoughtfully.

‘Well,’ Fleur said, ‘I suspect Ron was being a bit… freer with his words today as he was just talking to Harry. I am sure it is not so bad as you think. And with Molly, well, I don’t blame her for wanting you and Ron together. Who wouldn’t want Hermione Granger as part of their family?’

Hermione rolled her eyes and gave Fleur’s shoulder a playful push.

‘Um… your sister?’ she asked with a smirk.

‘Pshhh,’ Fleur scoffed, ‘she will have to get used to it. At least, I am hoping she will have to?’ she finished with uncharacteristic uncertainty.

Hermione took a deep breath before she replied.

‘We should probably have that talk, I suppose,’ she let out and Fleur nodded.

‘Ah, oui.’

There was a moment’s quiet whilst both women suddenly found it a little difficult to look at each other. The moment stretched on and then—

‘For goodness’ sake,’ Hermione let out. ‘It shouldn’t be this awkward for us to say how we feel. We’ve been all over each other all day.’

An unstoppable smile spread across Fleur’s lips.

‘Oui. And I would like to be all over you every day,’ she said candidly, ‘if you will let me.’

A blush bloomed on Hermione’s cheeks.

‘I think I would like that,’ she confessed quietly.

She wouldn’t have thought it possible, but Fleur’s smile spread even further.

‘Bon,’ she nodded and then turned more serious and Hermione felt an ounce of trepidation take root in her stomach. ‘And you understand that not everybody is going to be… thrilled about this to begin with?’ Fleur tested.

Hermione nodded resolutely, her chin jutting forward as she answered.

‘I won’t give up the chance to explore this just because some people will make up their own minds about it in advance,’ Hermione said boldly.

The uncertainty remained in Fleur’s eyes.

‘It may be a bit more serious than merely exploring things, hmm? Given my… heritage,’ she said carefully.

‘You mean the thrall?’ Hermione checked.

‘Mostly, yes.’

‘Because the fact that your thrall reacted to me means that this isn’t just some sort of fling? This could be it?’ Hermione clarified.

‘It is quite intense,’ Fleur said understandingly.

‘Well, I can’t admit that I fully understand it but I’ve been thinking about it and, as far as I can tell, the thrall should have made it simpler. It’s telling us that this thing between us… that we will work out, right? That we’re compatible?’

‘We could look at it like that, oui. That is how it feels to me, at least.’

‘I would like to learn more. But… I trust you. I trust us. I’m only sorry that it took me so long and I feel I must have given you whiplash over the past few weeks.’ Hermione shook her head in frustration at herself.

‘You don’t need to—’ Fleur started before she was interrupted.

‘Are you sure you want me?’ Hermione cut in, the words bursting out of her as though she had failed to keep them down.

‘Pardon?’ Fleur asked taken aback.

‘I’m… Well, you have seen for yourself. I am not in the best of places… You talk as though the fact that you’re part-Veela, with a thrall and everything, is something for me to consider before getting into this… but I’m not easy, Fleur. The nightmares and the anxiety and… I’m working on feeling better. But I don’t want you to regret getting into this with me.’ Hermione trailed off, but her eyes remained on Fleur and it was clear she meant every word.

‘ermione,’ Fleur whispered, swivelling on the sofa and tucking her legs up underneath herself before grabbing both of Hermione’s hands in her own. ‘I could never regret this. I… I want this. So much.’

Hermione nodded shakily. She was trying to believe Fleur, she truly was, but all of a sudden she was remembering Fleur’s question from the day before, ‘you panic sometimes, oui?’. She remembered Ron’s sentiment about the unlikeliness of Fleur and Hermione together. She was looking at Fleur, this stable and stunning woman, and wondering what on earth she herself could be bringing to the table in her current state.

Fleur, it seemed, was aware of the doubt in Hermione’s mind and had settled on showing Hermione rather than telling her how deeply she meant that she wanted this. Fleur lunged forward and captured Hermione’s lips, catching Hermione off guard and forcing a surprised squeak out of her.

‘I think you have no idea how I see you,’ Fleur husked against Hermione’s mouth.

‘You are brilliant,’ Fleur went on, punctuating her words with kisses more desperate and demanding than Hermione had received before, ‘beautiful,’ more kisses, ‘and so brave.’

Hermione could do nothing but take in Fleur’s words and try to keep up with her lips. Her heart clenched at Fleur’s sentiment; she could feel how strongly Fleur meant each word. Fleur surged further forward towards Hermione, pushing her backwards towards the armrest of the sofa. Hermione let herself be manoeuvred back under the insistence of Fleur’s lithe frame. She expected to feel the sofa against her back at any second and the full securing weight of Fleur on top of her. And then suddenly it seemed Fleur had a change of heart. She secured an arm around Hermione’s back instead and pulled her forward. Their lips broke apart for a second or two with the abrupt change in motion and Hermione gave Fleur a briefly baffled look before Fleur leaned backwards and pulled Hermione down against her, reclaiming her lips and going so far as to gently tease her teeth along Hermione’s lower lip. Hermione’s stomach swooped and she allowed her weight to settle on top of Fleur, enjoying the warmth radiating between them, and deepening their kiss once more.

‘I can see why my letter went unanswered.’

Hermione shot off Fleur so quickly that she almost lost her balance altogether and fell off the sofa. In her hasty movement, she had shoved a hand against Fleur’s chest and heard the resulting ‘oof’ but barely registered it.

The flames in the fireplace had exchanged their amber brightness for a glowing emerald green and flickered around the amused expression on Apolline Delacour’s face as it peered out from the hearth.

Chapter Text

‘Maman!’ Fleur gasped. ‘What are you doing here?’

‘You did not answer my letter. Again.’ Came the reply. And if Apolline’s shoulders were also floating in the fireplace then the trademark Delacour shrug would doubtlessly be visible.

‘So you just… barge in?’ Fleur seethed. ‘You have no respect for our privacy!’

‘Oh Fleur,’ Apolline tutted, ‘how was I to know you would be so amorously engaged? You implied in your letter that things between you and Hermione were going backwards,’ she said casually. ‘Hello Hermione,’ she added.

‘Hello Madame Delacour. I mean, Apolline.’ Hermione managed to reply.

Fleur chanced a look at Hermione and then immediately wished she hadn’t. The kiss-swollen lips and tousled hair did nothing to calm Fleur’s pounding heart or ease the shock that had spread to her extremities at hearing the unexpected voice from the hearth. More than anything though, Hermione appeared mortified at having been caught by Fleur’s mother.

‘We need to add wards to that fireplace,’ Fleur told Hermione in no uncertain terms.

Apolline rolled her eyes.

‘Or you could just improve your correspondence skills and then this sort of incident would not occur, hmm?’ Apolline suggested lightly.

‘It’s only been a day!’ Fleur replied, ‘I ‘ave been busy.’

‘So I see,’ Apolline mused. And Fleur didn’t need to look at Hermione to know that she would be blushing fiercely at that.

Fleur’s nostrils flared dangerously and Apolline had the good grace to move the conversation on before her daughter’s irritation boiled over.

‘And I am glad to see matters have progressed since your letter, hmm? You seemed very sad, Fleur. I was only concerned for you.’ Apolline said, her tone more gentle now. Fleur shifted her position on the sofa.

‘I’m fine,’ she said hastily, feeling Hermione’s eyes burning into the side of her face.

‘Bon,’ Apolline replied, ‘and Hermione, are you well too?’

‘Yes,’ Hermione said, ‘very well, thank you, Apolline.’

‘Excellent,’ Apolline nodded, ‘I won’t keep you then. I only wanted to make sure you were OK. And, as per the suggestion in my letter—’

‘I haven’t read it,’ Fleur cut in.

‘Not even read it?’ Apolline asked. ‘You really have been busy…'

‘We ‘ave been at work, Maman!’ Fleur insisted. ‘We ‘aven’t just been…’

Hermione cleared her throat loudly and Fleur left her sentence unfinished. Apolline smiled rather gleefully.

‘Had you got around to reading my letter,’ Apolline stated, ‘you would know that I suggested you might like to come home for the weekend.’

‘Come home?’ Fleur replied. She felt Hermione tense slightly beside her.

‘Oui,’ Apolline drawled. ‘You were clearly needing us and Gabrielle is ‘ere until Sunday. I thought it would do you good to… visit.’

From the corner of her eye, Fleur could see Hermione examining her own hands rather studiously. She wanted to take one of those hands in her own, wanted to soothe Hermione’s discomfort and reassure her that all was well, but she wasn’t sure Hermione would welcome more physical contact while Apolline’s knowing eyes were upon them.

‘Now, Hermione, what are your plans for the weekend?’ Apolline asked pointedly without waiting for Fleur to respond.

‘Oh,’ Hermione let out, ‘I… well, I suppose, maybe I was going to—’

‘You will accompany Fleur? We would love to have you here with us too,’ Apolline said.

‘She might not want—’ Fleur said immediately.

‘Only if you want to,’ Apolline spoke over Fleur. ‘You think about it,’ she told Hermione.

‘I… thank you. Yes, I will,’ Hermione agreed.

‘Fleur,’ Apolline said, ‘I will see you Friday night, oui?’

‘Oui,’ Fleur grumbled.

‘Bon,’ Apolline nodded and then smiled at both Fleur and Hermione, ‘then I shall leave you two to your… evening.’

‘Bye, Apolline,’ Hermione said with a small, somewhat awkward wave.

‘Goodnight Hermione. And I do apologise for… killing the mood? Is that the phrase?’ Apolline asked.

Fleur could feel Hermione struggling to find the right words to respond to that and decided to save her the effort.

‘Bonne nuit, Maman,’ Fleur let out with a groan.

‘Bonne nuit, mon amours,’ Apolline laughed lightly and then vanished from the fire.

The flames in the fireplace returned to their previous orange light and brought with them an air of tense silence until Hermione let out a long, slow exhale.

‘Well, that was rather mortifying,’ she said at last.

‘I am so sorry,’ Fleur agreed. ‘She will ‘ave loved that too. She’ll be completely ecstatic to know that we are in a better place in our relationship now. And to know that it is becoming physical… She is probably calling for champagne as we speak.’ Fleur’s face took on a scowl Hermione rarely saw as she continued her rant.

‘Fleur,’ Hermione let out softly.

‘She cannot just appear in someone’s ‘ouse like that whenever she chooses! She ‘as embarrassed you and it ‘ad only been a day since I got that letter, it’s not like—’

‘Darling, it’s OK,’ Hermione said with a small laugh at the increasing look of outrage on Fleur’s face.

And Fleur’s thought process and her barrage of words screeched to a halt. Hermione had called her darling. It had just slipped from her lips as naturally as any other word, to the point that it didn’t seem to have struck Hermione as unusual. But it stopped Fleur in her tracks like hand about her heart.

‘Pardon?’ Fleur asked.

‘I just mean that, yes, it was absolutely embarrassing that your mother just witnessed me… on top of you like that. And whilst it is certainly a bit odd to think of her popping champagne at the thought of us… being physical, it could be worse, I suppose? It’s quite nice actually, after the news from the Burrow, that at least somebody other than Harry is pleased.’ Hermione explained.

Fleur had not in fact been asking for clarification on what exactly Hermione had thought was OK, but rather wanted to check she hadn’t misheard that other precious word that she was currently cradling in gentle hands like a baby bird. But Hermione was apparently not about to repeat it. Not right now. And Fleur could wait.

‘I think pleased might be an understatement,’ Fleur grumbled.

Hermione shuffled towards Fleur on the sofa, closing the space that had ruptured between them at Apolline’s sudden appearance. Fleur felt Hermione take her hand and lean against Fleur’s shoulder, felt the warmth of her and the wave of calm that it brought. Her anger wasn’t quite quelled though.

‘We are still putting wards on that fire,’ Fleur insisted.

‘I’ll talk to Harry,’ Hermione agreed gently.

‘Bon,’ Fleur nodded abruptly. ‘I know some good spells to keep her out.’

‘Fleur,’ Hermione laughed. ‘She’s your mother. And she was only looking out for you.’

‘She embarrassed you!’ Fleur exclaimed. ‘And she… interrupted. I was enjoying that,’ she added in a mumble and prompted another quiet laugh from Hermione.

‘I was enjoying it too,’ Hermione confirmed softly and leant up to press a kiss to the smooth underside of Fleur’s jaw.

‘Vraiment?’

‘Of course!’ Hermione let out. ‘Being with you like that is wonderful.’

Fleur felt the beaming smile that overtook any residual annoyance that might have been showing on her face, but it was short lived.

‘But Fleur, what your mum said… I hate how sad I’ve made you. The thought of you writing to your mum about it, it’s awful. That is… Well, I suppose that’s sort of what I was talking about earlier, before we… You know, about whether you’re sure you want this with me?’ Hermione explained haltingly.

‘That was before though,’ Fleur replied at once. ‘I was sad because I was feeling like I had ruined my chances of having this with you by not telling you sooner about the thrall and my family knowing and… I thought we might never get to be together.’

Perhaps Fleur’s annoyance with her mother came from more than just her inopportune timing. Her mother had mentioned Fleur’s low mood when she had reached out to her a few days earlier, and it did not sit comfortably with Fleur that Hermione had been privy to that insight. She didn’t want Hermione seeing her as anything but strong and dependable. That is what Hermione needed right now.

‘I’m sorry,’ Hermione murmured. ‘My head was all over the place, but that’s no excuse for making you feel like that. The past few weeks can’t have been easy for you, I can see that now.’

‘These things never run smoothly to begin with, hmm?’ Fleur shrugged.

‘Well, I don’t have much experience of ‘these things’ so I can’t comment on that,’ Hermione reasoned, ‘but I have been so confused about this, so I can only imagine that you must have had your own struggles.’ Hermione looked at Fleur imploringly, and Fleur could feel the other woman willing her to open up about her own experience of the past few weeks.

‘Once I had figured out that it really was the thrall I could feel, then everything fell into place for me,’ Fleur said nonchalantly. ‘I have known what I wanted since then.’

Hermione frowned and Fleur found herself tugging at a loose thread in the sofa.

‘OK,’ Hermione said, drawing the word out, ‘but you have still had to contend with my reaction to everything.’

Fleur sighed.

‘Are we together now?’ Fleur asked, consciously trying to keep the impatience out of her voice.

‘Yes,’ Hermione agreed.

‘Then I am fine,’ Fleur shrugged and Hermione’s frown only deepened further.

‘I’m not sure that’s how it works,’ Hermione muttered.

‘ermione, mon amour,’ Fleur said lowering her voice and turning her full attention to the woman beside her, the woman who visibly gulped as Fleur spoke, ‘we are together, you are sharing my bed again, oui?’

Hermione nodded, not taking her eyes from Fleur’s.

‘We were having a rather nice time before my mother interrupted,’ Fleur continued softly, leaning in towards Hermione and capturing her lips in a languid kiss.

‘I am fine,’ Fleur finished as she pulled back incrementally.

For a moment it seemed as though Hermione wanted to say something else but Fleur didn’t trust her not to backpedal.

‘Now, it seems as though I have been summoned to France this weekend,’ Fleur said, returning her voice to a normal conversational volume and leaning heavily against the sofa cushions.

‘And you should go, see your family,’ Hermione reasoned. ‘I know how close you all are. When you’re not having a strop about your mother, that is,’ she added cheekily.

‘I was not ‘aving a strop,’ Fleur frowned, ‘she shouldn’t have just—’

Hermione bit her lip but a chuckle still managed to make a bid for freedom. Fleur huffed.

‘It will be nice for you to visit them,’ Hermione said placatingly.

‘It would be even nicer if you came with me?’ Fleur asked cautiously, and then hurried to add a caveat to her words, ‘but you do not have to. I would completely understand if you don’t want to. I know my family can be rather… intrusive? Intense?’

‘Both of those words work,’ Hermione nodded.

‘Exactement,’ Fleur agreed, ‘so I understand if it is too soon or too much.’

A range of emotions passed over Hermione’s features and Fleur could do little more than struggle to keep up with them.

‘I think I’d like to go,’ Hermione decided after a long pause.

It was not the answer Fleur had expected after watching Hermione’s internal deliberation.

‘Ah, oui?’ Fleur checked.

‘Yes,’ Hermione replied, a hint of hesitation remaining. ‘They’re your family and we’re… Well, if your thrall is in working order then we are sort of… I mean, this could be it, for both of us. It’s probably a bit unusual to go and stay with someone’s family just days after becoming a couple, but it feels as though it makes sense, I think.’

Fleur nodded, holding her breath.

‘I will be honest,’ Hermione began, ‘I find your mother intimidating and Gabrielle is rather feisty, but I can also see you in both of them. I can feel how much you all care about each other. And your father is lovely,’ she finished with a smile.

‘He is. I knew you would like him,’ Fleur returned the smile.

‘Just don’t expect Gabrielle and I to become best friends or anything,’ Hermione laughed.

‘I think she warmed to you after she heard about you punching Malfoy,’ Fleur mused. ‘I think perhaps you can be rather feisty yourself, hmm? I certainly didn’t know you had ever hit anybody like that,’ Fleur replied.

‘He deserved it, trust me,’ Hermione said simply.

‘I do,’ came the sincere reply. ‘And, ‘ermione, just so you know, both of my parents like you very much already. And Gabrielle will settle down.’

Hermione just smiled at Fleur and leaned in, her eyes flickering down to Fleur’s lips before she met them with her own. Fleur felt the last residual tension from her mother’s surprise visit eb away and she let out a contented sigh against Hermione.

‘It’ll be nice to get away, actually,’ Hermione decided, pulling back from Fleur and leaning against her instead. ‘And I haven’t been to France for years.’

‘Ah oui?’

‘Mmm, I used to go most summers with my parents,’ Hermione said and then paused, ‘I don’t even know whereabouts in France you’re from,’ she realised.

‘The house is just outside Orléans, in the Loire Valley. It’s not an area with a high wizarding population but my parents passed through there many years ago and fell in love with it,’ Fleur explained.‘It sounds wonderful.’

Thinking of her home filled Fleur’s head with images of showing Hermione around all the places she used to go, all the secret spots along the river where she would while away happy hours in dappled summer sunlight and her favourite haunts in town, the cafes and terraces. At once she felt how acutely she missed her life in France. It had been so long since she had felt settled there. She used to think, back in the Beauxbatons days, before the Triwizard Tournament, that France was where her future lay. And then she had seen first-hand the tumbling stones that would begin a landslide into war, and she couldn’t walk away. Ever since she returned from Hogwarts that summer, her future in France had become blurred, obscured by something bigger, and then forgotten. Or not forgotten, but rather placed in a box in the back of her mind, out of sight where the longing for it couldn’t hurt her.

After the war, after the dissolution of her marriage, when she had returned to the family home in France, she had been unable to truly enjoy being there. A relentless restlessness had itched at her very bones. At the time she had put it down as an after-effect of the trauma of living through a war and then plunging into peacetime. But now, as she considered going home with Hermione by her side, she wondered for the first time if the agitation of a few months back perhaps had a different source.

‘Do you miss it?’

Fleur was startled from her thoughts by Hermione’s voice. When had Hermione started playing idly with Fleur’s fingers like that? Her cheek was now resting against Fleur’s shoulder, her arm linked around Fleur’s as she continued to fiddle peacefully with Fleur’s hand, twirling the silver ring from her Grandmother in its place on Fleur’s finger.

‘Hmm?’

‘France, I mean. Do you miss it?’

‘I didn’t,’ Fleur replied carefully.

There was a pause.

‘Past tense?’

‘During the war,’ Fleur clarified, ‘I didn’t miss it then because there was so much else to think about. I was here for a reason, I was here to fight, to protect that life back home and everybody else’s too.’

She felt Hermione nod in understanding against her shoulder.

‘And now?’

‘And now… sometimes, yes.’

Hermione nodded again, slower this time, as though she was really considering Fleur’s few words.

‘But you came back,’ Hermione murmured.

Fleur upturned the hand that Hermione was playing with and interlocked their fingers just as there was a knock at the closed study door.

‘Is it safe to come in?’ Came Harry’s voice.

Hermione laughed.

‘You see?’ Fleur let out. ‘Why can my mother not have that kind of courtesy?’

Hermione let out another laugh and nudged her shoulder against Fleur’s.

‘She could hardly have knocked at the fireplace, Fleur.’ She said fondly.

Fleur frowned petulantly but knew Hermione was right.

‘Do I take that as a no?’ Harry’s voice sounded again.

‘Oops,’ Hermione laughed and then raised her voice, ‘Sorry, Harry! Yes, you can come in!’

She straightened herself up slightly on the sofa but didn’t let go of Fleur’s hand. The door opened cautiously and then Harry’s face appeared, topped with ever-scruffy hair.

‘Alright?’ Harry asked as he stepped fully into the room.

Hermione nodded at him with a smile.

‘We just had an unexpected floo visit from my mother,’ Fleur grumbled.

‘Oh yeah?’ Harry asked.

‘Her timing was impeccable,’ Fleur went on.

Harry looked baffled for a moment and then took in the blush that tinted Hermione’s cheeks as she remembered exactly what Apolline had interrupted.

‘Ah,’ Harry nodded in understanding. ‘Awkward.’

Fleur hummed in agreement.

‘I was just going to say,’ Harry said, ‘that I’m just finishing a letter to Ginny and I wondered if you wanted me to, you know, tell her about you guys? She probably already knows by now from one of the Weasleys but I thought if I told her then it might… help?’

Fleur looked to Hermione to gauge her response.

‘Not that I think it’ll be a problem,’ Harry added quickly.

‘That sounds like a good idea, Harry,’ Hermione decided. ‘I’m afraid I haven’t really been keeping up with letters of late, so it might be a bit out of blue if I write just to tell her about Fleur and I. But maybe… Yes, if you’re happy to break that news, that would be good.’

‘No problem,’ Harry agreed. ‘Oh, and it’s a Hogsmeade weekend coming up for Hogwarts so I thought I’d get a room at the Broomsticks for a couple of days and see Gin in person.’

‘That’ll be lovely,’ Hermione smiled.

‘Yeah,’ Harry agreed, ‘and it means you two will have the place to yourselves this weekend,’ he added.

Fleur felt her shoulders slump unconsciously at that.

‘We won’t actually,’ she sighed. ‘We are going to France. The reason for Maman’s impromptu floo,’ she explained.

Harry’s eyebrows shot up and he looked to Hermione at once.

‘Visiting the in-laws already?’ he asked, and Fleur could hear the underlying question in his voice. He wanted to know if Hermione was comfortable with this. And Fleur was torn. The rational side of her acknowledged how supportive and close the relationship between Hermione and Harry clearly was. There was another part of her, though, that bristled at the idea that she would allow anything to occur that Hermione was not comfortable with.

‘Well, I’ve met them before,’ Hermione said honestly, and then added hastily, ‘and they’re not my in-laws, Harry.’

‘A weekend away will be good then,’ Harry replied, his tone still a little uncertain.

‘It will,’ Hermione said decisively, her thumb striking up a soothing motion along the edge of Fleur’s hand. ‘I’m looking forward to it.’

Finally, Harry smiled and nodded.

‘Good. I think you got the better deal this weekend then. A trip to France over a couple of grey days in Scotland! Can we swap?’ he joked.

Hermione looked to Fleur for a moment, pretending as though she was seriously considering Harry’s request, and Fleur could do nothing but return her gaze.

‘Absolutely not,’ Hermione decided with a warm smile.

Chapter Text

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.

Hermione nodded.

‘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?’

Bill scoffed.

‘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.’

‘Harry does!’

‘Does he?’

‘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.

Fleur chuckled.

‘And Maman would love that…’ she said wryly.

Chapter Text

She knew she should have finished her packing the night before, like Hermione had done, but Fleur had been distracted then. Hermione appeared to need less time to put together a capsule wardrobe for the weekend and so, while Fleur was still assessing outfits, Hermione had been getting ready for bed. And that, for Fleur, was a distraction. Hermione was becoming more comfortable around her; she could tell that by the mere fact that the other woman hadn’t left the room to get changed into her pyjamas. But Fleur was still considerate, she did not allow her eyes to wander across the room to Hermione, though it took no small amount of effort. And while her eyes might not wander, her mind certainly did. It wandered so far from the task of packing for their weekend trip that no further progress was made, and by the time Hermione was successfully ready for bed, Fleur had abandoned her packing altogether in favour of lightly tugging Hermione closer and engaging in a much better use of time.

Physicality with Hermione was a precarious balancing act for Fleur. It was true that her experience of relationships was somewhat limited. Prior to her marriage to Bill, she had not really engaged in a real relationship, and her marriage had not been real either. Her experience of physical intimacy though, that was less limited. She hadn’t been joking when she had hinted to Hermione about how she used her teenage years at school. But in all those experiences, she had never felt the same magnetic force that she felt now. It was as though she was in constant orbit of Hermione, that if she got close enough then the gravitational pull would overpower and she would have no choice except to let them collide. As if she would choose otherwise. The desire was all consuming. And that was a new experience. An otherwise unknown intensity.

And yet, Fleur strived to be cautious, to rein herself in. Physical experiences in Hermione’s recent past had been far from pleasant, Fleur knew that all too well. It had been a close encounter with another woman that had left Hermione broken in such a way that she was still collecting the scattered pieces of her former self. Of course, love and hate were distant relations but they shared common fervour and Fleur never wanted her own proximity to spark anything other than pleasure for Hermione. She made every effort to ensure that Hermione never felt smothered by her, or trapped by her. She wouldn’t be rough or demanding, no matter how much her own body called for it.

Their mid-packing sojourn had been leisurely and languid but lengthy nonetheless and now, the following evening, Fleur was paying the price.

‘We’re only going for two days,’ Hermione let out from her spot on the bed where she was leaning awkwardly against the headboard, her legs angled so as not to get her shoes on the bed linen.

‘Oui, but I will need more than two outfits,’ Fleur reasoned.

‘Why? Are you planning on suddenly becoming a messy eater?’ Hermione laughed.

‘Of course not, but it is nice to have a choice.’

‘Did you bring all your clothes with you when you moved out?’ Hermione asked.

‘Non,’ Fleur replied.

‘So you have some clothes at your parents’ house anyway?’ Hermione said leadingly.

‘Oui,’ Fleur let out slowly, as if struggling to see the relevance of such a fact.

Hermione sighed and opened her book. They had got back from work half an hour earlier and were now running late to meet their agreed arrival time in France.

‘I thought you finished packing last night,’ Hermione murmured without taking her eyes from the page in front of her.

‘I got distracted,’ Fleur muttered guiltily and she heard Hermione chuckle.

‘Oh yes, so you did. I remember now,’ Hermione let out slowly and when Fleur glanced up at the tone of her voice, she was met with an eyebrow raised rather suggestively.

Fleur’s grip tightened on the pair of jeans in her hands and she felt herself take a step closer to the bed. Hermione stopped her in her tracks by holding her hand up, palm facing Fleur.

‘Fleur! Focus!’ Hermione commanded.

‘Stop distracting me then,’ Fleur huffed.

‘I didn’t do anything,’ Hermione laughed.

‘You don’t ‘ave to, it seems,’ Fleur muttered and Hermione laughed again.

‘I can’t help it then, can I? I’m sure there will be time later for… us,’ Hermione mused, ‘so for now, just hurry up and finish packing.’

‘OK, OK,’ Fleur breathed and turned back to her wardrobe. ‘I’ll bring this shirt, oui? I think it suits both of us, then if you want it, it is—’

‘They will let my sleep in your room, won’t they?’ Hermione let out suddenly.

Fleur flung the shirt she was holding into her bag and let out an uncharacteristic bark of laughter.

‘You think my mother would allow us to sleep in separate rooms?’ Fleur asked incredulously.

At that, a self-conscious smile crept onto Hermione’s face.

‘Of course, you’re right. I had momentarily forgotten about your mother’s oddly invested interest in our relationship. It was just a sudden fear. I don’t know if I could sleep without you now,’ Hermione trailed off.

‘I feel the same, mon amour,’ Fleur assured her gently. And it was true. The thought of sleeping separately felt treacherous at this point.

 

Twenty minutes later, Fleur was finally packed; she placed her bag neatly next to Hermione’s at the bedroom door and stood satisfied beside them. Hermione looked up from her book.

‘Ready?’ she asked.

‘Oui,’ Fleur nodded.

‘Good. And I suppose we’ll only be half an hour late,’ Hermione added a little sardonically.

Fleur rolled her eyes.

‘They won’t even notice,’ she lied.

‘Your mother will probably assume that we couldn’t keep our hands off each other long enough to leave,’ Hermione pointed out, her features showing her mix of amusement and discomfort over the idea.

‘And she would not be wrong, hmm? That is exactly why I didn’t finish packing last night,’ Fleur shrugged.

I managed to control myself,’ Hermione replied.

‘You did,’ Fleur sighed, ‘perhaps I am not enough of a temptation for you,’ she lamented.

At that, Hermione released a stunned laugh.

‘You are joking, aren’t you?’ she checked.

Fleur shrugged again and Hermione shook her head and stood up from her spot on the bed, discarding her book to one side. She began taking slow steps towards Fleur who gulped and couldn’t look away.

‘You think you’re not a temptation?’ Hermione asked leadingly. Fleur’s stomach began to churn excitedly. ‘You think I’m not constantly wishing I was touching you?’

Fleur remained silent as Hermione stalked near enough to be within touching distance. And yet Fleur didn’t move. She waited to see what Hermione would do next. Fleur felt Hermione’s arms snake around her waist and she stumbled forward slightly as Hermione insistently pulled them flush against one another. Hermione stretched up onto her tiptoes so that she was at eye level with Fleur and Fleur was at once tumbling into those warm honey brown depths.

‘I think about it all the time,’ Hermione whispered before she leaned in to find Fleur’s lips with her own.

Fleur sighed into their kiss. Whenever their lips touched – or indeed any part of them – she felt an overwhelming sense of relief. Yet another facet of their physical relationship that had been absent in every experience prior to Hermione. This was not the first glimmer of Hermione’s own desire for Fleur that had occurred between them, and this, like the scant few instances before it, took Fleur’s breath away.

Hermione deepened the kiss for a few moments and Fleur would have happily stretched those moments ever further into the future but Hermione dropped from her tiptoes and returned to her usual height, taking her lips out of reach unless Fleur chased them with her own, which she restrained herself from doing.

‘Now we’re 35 minutes late,’ Hermione pointed out and Fleur laughed.

‘It was worth it though, oui?’

‘Completely,’ Hermione agreed. ‘And, to clarify, it’s not that I don’t want you all the time, darling. I just have better focus,’ she grinned.

Fleur’s heart slammed against her ribs. That word was back. She had waited patiently for it, as though trying to catch a glimpse of an elusive wild animal, and her patience had paid off. It was a beautiful word. Fleur beamed and Hermione chuckled at the look on her face, her eyebrows twitching in confusion over what caused it. Earlier, Hermione’s anger at Bill’s use of a pet name for Fleur had, in all honesty, had seemed a bit extreme. But now, feeling her own fizzing response to a similar term of endearment directed at her, Fleur was reminded of the power those little words wielded.

‘Shall we go?’ Hermione asked.

‘Ah, oui,’ Fleur nodded and held her hand out to Hermione who didn’t hesitate to take it. Hermione’s hand was warm and comforting and fitted perfectly in her own. Fleur passed Hermione her bag and then picked up her own. She met Hermione’s eyes and searched for any reluctance. She saw apprehension but determination, a blend that she often found there. Hermione nodded minutely and Fleur looked away, closed her eyes and thought of her family home.

 

 

After the familiar uncomfortable sensation of apparition, Fleur heard as much as she felt her feet landing on small grade gravel. Hermione, still holding on to Fleur’s hand, collided lightly with her shoulder on landing. And even before Fleur opened her eyes, she breathed in the scent of home. The air was warmer here, dryer, and fragranced by the flowering wisteria that cascades in draping purple across the front of the house. A sense of comfort flowed through Fleur’s body and she opened her eyes.

She had made a conscious decision to apparate herself and Hermione to the front of the house rather than directly inside. It gave them a fleeting moment to collect themselves before the onslaught of family. It was not an entirely selfless act either, Hermione wasn’t the only one who felt a little daunted by the Delacours at times. Fleur turned to look at Hermione and found her appraising the house before them. It was a large hour, true, but Fleur had never thought it imposing. It had history and a lived-in quality that diluted its grandeur.

‘OK?’ Fleur asked Hermione quietly.

‘It’s beautiful,’ Hermione replied, eyes still taking in her new surroundings. Fleur remained quiet, the calls of the swifts darting in the sky above them the only sound to break the silence.

‘I think I finally understand why you found Hogwarts so cold and damp,’ Hermione murmured and Fleur chuckled.

‘Hogwarts is cold and damp,’ Fleur replied, ‘but I am glad you like it here so far.’

Fleur glanced about now too, trying to take in her childhood home with new eyes. She knew that the limestone wall to the side of the property concealed the rose garden and her father’s glasshouse, that the field beyond was theirs too though leased to a muggle farmer for his cows. She knew about the tumbledown barn with its warm hay smell and dancing dust motes that catch the setting sun if you visit at just the right time. And she couldn’t wait to see Hermione discover it all too.

Fleur was pulled from her thoughts by Hermione squeezing her hand.

‘It suits you, this place,’ Hermione said softly, creating a sunburst in Fleur’s chest.

And, as ever, Fleur couldn’t help but lean down and capture Hermione’s lips.

The distinctive creak of one of the slim wooden double doors that formed the main entrance to the house had not changed and Fleur recognised it as soon as she heard it. She pulled back from Hermione and muttered something uncharitable in French under her breath which she was confident Hermione couldn’t translate. There was a squeeze on her hand again, this time tighter and anxious.

‘Finally!’ called a frustrated voice from the doorway.

Gabrielle was standing on the doorstep having opened only one half of the double doors and eyeing the two women on the driveway suspiciously.

‘Bonsoir Gabrielle,’ Fleur replied with a fond roll of her eyes.

‘We thought Hermione must have been deciding not to come and that’s why you were late,’ Gabrielle called back, her voice louder than necessary for the distance between them.

Fleur heard Hermione’s disgruntled huff at that.

‘That is not what I thought,’ came another familiar voice from the doorway, quickly followed by, ‘Gabrielle, open both doors so people can get in, hmm?’

Gabrielle sighed and then disappeared back into the hall. There was the click of a latch and then the other side of the door was being opened, displaying Apolline behind it. She smiled at Fleur and Hermione.

‘Good evening, girls. It is lovely to see you,’ she said warmly.

Fleur tugged on Hermione’s hand and together they crunched across the remaining gravel between them and the front door.

‘Hello Maman,’ Fleur let out.

And Apolline pulled Fleur into a hug, before releasing her and placing a kiss on each cheek.

‘Welcome home,’ she smiled, and then turned to Hermione, ‘And Hermione, welcome to the family home.’

‘Hello Apolline, thank you again for inviting me,’ Hermione said and Fleur could hear the almost imperceptible tremor in her voice, but she knew her mother would not.

Apolline beamed.

‘You are welcome here at any time,’ she told Hermione and then pulled her in for a hug as well before placing the obligatory kisses on both cheeks.

Fleur fought to supress a laugh at the blush that had appeared on Hermione’s cheeks once she was released by Apolline.

‘Oh,’ Hermione let out, and then searched her pockets for a moment. Fleur watched in confusion until Hermione pulled something from her shirt pocket. It was, it turned out, a beautifully arranged bouquet of cornflowers and, almost as soon as it emerged miniaturised from Hermione’s pocket, it returned to its full size appearing none the worse for its journey.

‘These are for you,’ Hermione stated, holding the flowers out to Apolline rather self-consciously.

Fleur had no idea Hermione had packed flowers for her mother, didn’t even know when she had bought them, but judging by the arrangement and the ribbon it was tied with, Hermione must have paid Simon’s shop a visit at some point earlier in the day.

‘Ah, but they are beautiful!’ Apolline cooed and then turned her eyes knowingly to Fleur. ‘You never told me she is so charming.’

Hermione’s blush deepened further still and Fleur raised a warning eyebrow at her mother, knowing it would have little effect but needing to make the gesture nonetheless.

‘Are you coming in? Or are we going to spend the evening on the driveway? If we are then I will go and put some shoes on,’ came Gabrielle’s perturbed voice from behind Apolline.

‘Oh, we are coming in,’ Fleur said lowly, fixing her eyes on Gabrielle. From the corner of her eye, she saw Hermione look at her uncertainly.

‘Excusez-moi, Maman,’ Fleur muttered as she hustled Apolline to one side and stepped into the house. There was an excited smile on Gabrielle’s face even as she backed away slowly from the approaching Fleur.

‘Are you not going to greet your big sister properly, Gabrielle?’ Fleur drawled, stalking nearer to the smaller blonde witch.

‘No!’ Gabrielle shrieked, ‘Fleur, don’t!’ she called through laughter as she walked backwards for a couple more steps and then turned and raced down the hall and out of sight.

‘Give me a hug!’ Fleur shouted before following in hot pursuit.

From behind her, she heard her mother apologise to Hermione for their behaviour and say something about how they have never truly grown up. She heard Hermione’s light laughter and then her mother directing Hermione to follow her to the kitchen.

Fleur finally caught up to Gabrielle in the sitting room, hiding behind the large sofa. She ignored Gabrielle’s laughter and shrieking and grappled her sister into a hug, squeezing her as tightly as possible and swaying her back and forth. It was a game they used to play when Fleur would return from school for the summer holidays and it felt nice to return to it several years later.

‘You’ve grown so much!’ Fleur remarked jokingly, pretending she hadn’t recently seen her little sister.

‘I have not, Fleur!’ Gabrielle squawked.

‘Almost as tall me,’ Fleur continued in a reverential tone.

‘Fleur!’ Gabrielle laughed, ‘I can’t breathe!’

Fleur gave her sister one more squeeze for good measure and then loosened her arms.

‘It is good to see you,’ Fleur said honestly.

‘Don’t be sappy, Fleur,’ Gabrielle replied and Fleur tapped one finger against her sister’s nose in reprimand for her comment.

‘I shall promise not to be sappy, if you promise something for me,’ she said.

‘What?’ Gabrielle drawled suspiciously.

‘You will be kind to Hermione, hmm?’ Fleur requested, swaying Gabrielle in her arms once more.

‘I should have guessed,’ Gabrielle muttered.

‘Do it for me?’ Fleur asked sweetly, ‘your big sister who you love…’

‘My big sister who is being sappy again,’ Gabrielle pointed out.

‘Promise me you’ll try?’ Fleur said more seriously, meeting her sister’s eye and holding it while Gabrielle stared back defiantly.

‘Ugh, fine,’ Gabrielle agreed, finally breaking their eye contact. ‘I still want her to teach me that canary spell anyway.’

With that, Gabrielle wriggled free from Fleur’s arms and began to skip from the room.

‘Hurry up, it’s dinner time and I’m starving because you were late,’ Gabrielle yelled over her shoulder as she disappeared from the room.

Fleur shook her head in amusement and trailed after her sister. Suddenly aware that she had left Hermione alone with her mother, Fleur picked up her pace.

Chapter Text

Hermione had dutifully trailed after Apolline once Fleur had disappeared further into the house on the heels of a shrieking Gabrielle.

‘I apologise, Hermione. My daughters, sometimes they are still children,’ Apolline told her with a sigh, and yet Hermione could hear the fondness in her voice.

‘They’re pleased to see each other,’ Hermione replied.

‘Oui,’ Apolline agreed, ‘and I am pleased to see you.’

‘Oh,’ Hermione let out, surprised by Apolline’s frank words, ‘Well, that’s very kind of you. And I’m… pleased to see you too.’

At that, Apolline paused and threw an amused smile over her shoulder at Hermione.

‘I am sure you are thrilled to be spending the weekend with your lover’s family,’ she said wryly.

Hermione felt colour flood her cheeks.

‘She’s not my lover,’ Hermione muttered, the final word being issued in a self-conscious hush.

Apolline frowned.

‘Non?’ she asked, her tone disappointed.

‘No!’ Hermione rushed out and then paused. ‘Well, I mean, she’s not just my… We’re not just…’ she let out an exasperated sigh. ‘Lovers sounds so… shallow.’

‘Ah,’ Apolline replied, ‘so it is deeper than that between you and Fleur?’

‘Well, yes,’ Hermione replied blankly. Why had Apolline even asked that? She knew very well about the thrall and about everything else that had ever happened between herself and Fleur. Was her question some kind of test? Did she doubt Hermione’s feelings?

‘I care about your daughter very much,’ Hermione said, making her voice sound more certain than it usually did these days.

Apolline chuckled.

‘Bon,’ she nodded and then continued to stride through the house. Hermione paused for a moment, struggling to get her head around their conversation. She had barely set foot into the Delacour house and already she felt out of step.

‘Allez,’ Apolline called lightly, ‘Adèlard is excited to see you too.’

Hermione shook her thoughts away from the past couple of minutes and hastened to catch up with Apolline.

They were making their way through a reasonably sized entrance hall with a tiled floor and stone walls. A rather grand wooden staircase dominated the space and Hermione could see that it split in two directions when it reached the first floor. Fleur and Gabrielle had disappeared somewhere to the left of the staircase and Hermione could still hear their laughter. The air was cool in the house, or at least cool in comparison to the warm evening outside.

Apolline had stepped into a narrower, dimly lit hallway and Hermione followed. The tiled floor continued here and the walls featured various framed portraits of strangely familiar blonde people, all of whom seemed to be attempting to get as close a look at Hermione as they possibly could from within the confines of their canvases. Hermione felt herself shrink away from the walls as she passed each portrait.

‘It seems everyone is excited to see you, hmm?’ Apolline said, rolling her eyes at a particularly intrigued looking blonde woman, perched without saddle on a palomino horse.

‘It does,’ Hermione agreed uncertainly.

‘Ignore them,’ Apolline laughed.

‘They are all your relatives?’ Hermione asked.

‘What gave us away?’ Apolline replied, amused.

Hermione eyed her for a moment and then realised she was joking.

‘Well,’ Hermione began as though seriously contemplating the question, ‘it might have been the hair?’

Apolline’s laughter rang out again.

‘Mmm, it is quite telling,’ she reasoned, running a hand through her own silvery blonde locks. ‘Now, here we are,’ she added as she pushed open a wooden door and led them into a much lighter space.

They had arrived at the kitchen. A much more modern room in terms of its décor than the rest of the house that Hermione had seen so far. Here, the walls were plastered and painted clean white as opposed to the raw stone of the rest of the house. It was warmer than the rest of the house too, although that could be due to the steaming pots on the hob or the glowing oven. Hermione was surprised to see electric lights in the ceiling, something that was far from usual in most magical homes. In fact, as Hermione cast her eyes about, there was a large number of muggle touches about the room. A comforting aroma to permeated the air; the scent of a home cooked meal.

Turning his back on the pot he had just been stirring, Adélard smiled when he saw Hermione.

‘Bonsoir,’ he said, crossing the room towards her and then pausing when he reached her as though unsure of how to properly greet her. After a moment’s deliberation, he stuck out a hand.

Hermione found herself touched by the gesture and put her hand into his much larger one, giving it a firm shake. Adélard appeared quite pleased by the exchange.

‘That is how the English do it?’ He checked.

‘It is,’ Hermione agreed. ‘A firm handshake. Never a limp one.’

‘Never a limp one,’ Adélard repeated, as though making a mental note of that.

‘No kisses,’ Apolline sighed, ‘such an uptight people.’

‘We’re not all uptight,’ Hermione replied, ‘and it’s not that we don’t kiss, it’s just that—’

‘My wife is teasing you, Hermione,’ Adélard whispered conspiratorially.

‘I thought she might be,’ Hermione grumbled and Adélard gave her upper arm a pat.

‘You will get used to it,’ he said gently, ‘eventually.’

‘Hermione,’ Apolline said, ‘a glass of wine while we wait for dinner?’

‘Oh, um, yes please,’ Hermione replied and Apolline nodded before pouring a glass for Hermione from the carafe at the centre of the large kitchen table.

Adélard picked up his own glass from the table and then returned to his task at the hob, lifting the lid of a pot and giving its contents a stir. Apolline handed Hermione a glass of wine and then set about arranging the flowers Hermione had given her into a vase she had produced from thin air.

‘Your journey was good?’ Adélard asked over his shoulder.

‘Yes, thank you. Fleur apparated us after work. Well, not quite straight after work because she hadn’t actually packed and that—’

‘Took a surprising amount of time?’ Adélard cut in.

‘Well, yes,’ Hermione replied.

‘You will get used to that too,’ he laughed. ‘I am told Fleur takes after me, but she certainly gained some traits from her mother, hmm?’

‘And do you not love me despite these traits?’ Apolline interrupted.

‘Endlessly,’ Adélard agreed.

Hermione looked between the pair of them and felt at once warmed by their clear love for one another and experienced a stab of sorrow at the reminder that her own parents had moments like that too. Moments that she had always pretended to be disgusted by as a child, that now she longed to witness again. Hermione cleared her throat.

‘I think Fleur brought half her wardrobe with her,’ Hermione said.

Apolline simply shrugged as though that was an acceptable amount of clothing to bring on a two-day trip, and Adélard shot Hermione a knowing look as he shook his head in mock despair. Hermione found herself chuckling at both of them before taking a sip of her wine. At that moment, the kitchen door burst open and Gabrielle hurtled in, stopping only when she collided with her father’s arm as she skidded herself to a halt beside him.

‘Is dinner ready?’ she asked.

‘Another ten minutes,’ came the reply, ‘you may set the table.’

‘Oh, may I?’ Gabrielle replied, ‘may I really?’ she asked with false excitement over the task.

‘Yes, you may,’ Apolline said firmly from where she had finished arranging the flowers.

Hermione felt an arm slide around her waist and the sudden warmth of a body pressed against her side. The tension she hadn’t fully realised she was holding was released as Fleur pressed a kiss to her cheek and nuzzled the side of Hermione’s face briefly.

‘I am sorry for abandoning you to my mother,’ Fleur whispered, though apparently not quietly enough, despite the loud clattering of cutlery coming from the dinner table as Gabrielle set the places.

‘And what did you think I would do? Serve her for dinner?’ Apolline enquired lightly. ‘Veela haven’t sacrificed a human for at least a century.’

The briefest of glances at Adélard told Hermione that, as she suspected, Apolline was once again teasing.

‘Veela are somewhat birdlike in their transformed state, aren’t they?’ Hermione asked, ‘Wouldn’t you be more likely to sacrifice a vole or something?’

A silence filled the room, and Hermione felt a flash of cold as she wondered whether she had misjudged the joke. Whether veela heritage was something only the veela themselves could joke about. Had she made a terrible faux-pas already? She had already discovered that Fleur had a somewhat complicated relationship with her veela side. Why had she thought it would be alright to joke about it? And then Apolline emitted a flurry of surprised laughter.

‘Your grandmere, will adore her,’ she said to Fleur pointedly before adding, ‘but your aunt will devour her if you’re not careful.’

Hermione felt Fleur pull her impossibly closer and tighten her grip about Hermione’s waist.

‘Even her portrait was leering so much she nearly fell off that ridiculous horse,’ Apolline mused.

‘It’s not a ridiculous horse,’ Gabrielle interrupted. ‘I like that horse,’ she grumbled. ‘And I don’t see what all the fuss about,’ she added, giving Hermione a once over that seemed to go unnoticed by the rest of the family.

‘He is a very nice horse,’ Fleur agreed, ‘and aunt Iréne should focus her energies on her work with him.’

Apolline chuckled and Hermione, once again, felt a little out of step as she shifted under Gabrielle’s glare until the youngest Delacour became distracted.

‘What is for dinner?’ Gabrielle asked, now that she had finished setting the table, a task that she had imbued with more volume than Hermione knew possible.

‘Roasted vole,’ said Adélard with a wink at Hermione.

 

 

Dinner – which was thankfully not roasted vole – passed relatively smoothly. Fleur had ushered Hermione into a seat at the table before sitting beside her and immediately reaching for her hand on the table top. Gabrielle had rolled her eyes at that and Fleur had pulled a face at her sister before dipping her fingers into her water glass and then flicking droplets across the table at Gabrielle. Hermione had watched the exchange silently but Apolline had not.

‘Fleur, I think that such juvenile behaviour is unlikely to be attractive to your partner, hmm?’ She mused from her position at the head of the table.

Fleur cast a look at Hermione, who suppressed a smile at the guilty expression on Fleur’s face.

‘Good,’ Gabrielle muttered and received a warning glare from Fleur.

‘It’s not un-attractive,’ Hermione said slowly, unable to resist shooting a sly smile in Gabrielle’s direction.

Fleur let out a snort of laughter at that, and Apolline sighed loudly before taking a generous sip from her wine glass.

‘I did try to raise you both to be elegant,’ she lamented.

‘And they normally are,’ Adélard said decisively, as he lowered a steaming dish to the table with muggle oven gloves on his hands.

‘Well, I am,’ Fleur replied, using a haughty tone that Hermione had not heard her use since the Triwizard Tournament days.

‘Well, I don’t want to be,’ Gabrielle countered.

‘A toast!’ Adélard said, raising his voice more than Hermione had heard him do in her short time of knowing him. He lifted his glass in the air and then looked expectantly to Apolline.

Apolline raised her glass as well and smiled at her husband.

‘To moving forward,’ she said, ‘to new beginnings,’ she added looking to Fleur before turning her gaze to Hermione until she met her eye, ‘to light after the dark, and better times to come,’ she finished, her tone was soft but purposeful and Hermione found herself a little choked. She nodded at Apolline. Fleur shifted a little nearer to her side.

‘Ah,’ Apolline said, holding up a single finger, just as everyone was about to clink their glasses together, this time she set her sights on Gabrielle, ‘and to learning a little self-control.’

‘I have self-control!’ Gabrielle exclaimed at her mother, ‘You would have cast something far worse than a little bird shi—’

‘Santé!’ Adélard let out, and clinked his wine glass against Gabrielle’s water, before holding his glass across the table so he could do the same to Fleur and Hermione.

‘And welcome, Hermione, we are all pleased to have you with us,’ he said to her.

Hermione doubted whether Gabrielle would agree with that statement, but she felt welcomed nonetheless.

 

 

Once their plates were cleared and Hermione’s head was feeling pleasantly fuzzy after a couple of glasses of wine – Fleur had indulged in more than usual quota too, Hermione had noticed – Gabrielle let out a loud yawn, that both Hermione and Fleur almost immediately caught.

Apolline laughed at all three of them lightly.

‘Perhaps the evening has run its course, hmm?’ she concluded. ‘Hermione, I realise we have not shown you around, but I trust Fleur will do the honours tomorrow.’

Fleur nodded as she stifled another yawn.

‘I assumed you would be most comfortable in Fleur’s bedroom, but do tell me if you would rather a guest room,’ Apolline said with a suspiciously innocent smile.

‘Um, no,’ Hermione replied, willing her cheeks to remain their usual colour, ‘Fleur’s bedroom is great, thanks. I mean, that’s fine. Thank you.’

Fleur stood up from the table and pulled Hermione up by her hand too.

‘Goodnight Maman,’ She let out dryly, evidently not amused by her mother’s antics.

‘Goodnight, everyone,’ Hermione echoed. ‘Thank you for dinner, Adélard. It was delicious.’

Adélard smiled proudly and nodded at Hermione, who did her best to ignore Gabrielle’s muttering and the phrase that sounded distinctly like ‘suck up’.

Fleur released Hermione’s hand and rounded the table to her sister, who shrank down a little in her seat as Fleur approached.

‘Come on, Gabrielle,’ Fleur said decisively, hoisting Gabrielle from her seat by the elbow, ‘time for bed.’

Gabrielle shook her elbow free of Fleur’s hand but trudged from the kitchen anyway, as Fleur and Hermione followed her out.

‘I thought perhaps tomorrow I would show Hermione around Orléans,’ Fleur announced as the three of them headed along the same corridor that Apolline had brought Hermione along earlier. ‘You are welcome to join us if you think you can behave,’ Fleur told Gabrielle.

That was news to Hermione, who felt a small part of her deflate at the idea of sharing her tour with Gabrielle who was, quite clearly, not thrilled by her presence. She also wasn’t sure if she had the capacity for the stares that would likely come her way in a public setting. Apolline herself had told Hermione that she was often in the papers here too. Why would a trip to Orléans be any different to Diagon Alley?

‘I can behave,’ came Gabrielle’s immediate reply. Hermione bit back the retort to that, which danced on the end of her tongue.

‘Bon,’ Fleur nodded, ‘then we will go tomorrow morning and—’ she stopped mid-sentence and mid-step, causing both Hermione and Gabrielle to follow suit.

‘What?’ Gabrielle huffed, and then peered about until a wide smile spread across her face. ‘Oh, hello aunt Iréne!’

Hermione’s eyes shot to the portrait they had stopped in front of and, sure enough, the same woman on the horse was appraising Hermione just as avidly as she had done before. Fleur reached blindly for Hermione’s hand, not taking her eyes off the portrait of her aunt and scowling at her in a way Hermione hadn’t seen before. She felt herself being tugged in to Fleur’s side as Fleur continued their progress along the corridor. Gabrielle hung back for a couple of moments and then hooted with laughter before hurrying to catch up. Hermione decided she did not want to know what had caused Gabrielle’s mirth.

‘I can’t wait until the next family gathering,’ Gabrielle let out gleefully. And Hermione’s eyes widened.

They had ascended the stairs and reached a door when Fleur next stopped and opened the door before them.

‘This is my room,’ she told Hermione, ‘I will be back in a moment, I just want to have a word with my sister,’ she explained.

Beside her, Gabrielle took a couple of steps backwards and Hermione couldn’t help but chuckle at her.

‘See you in a bit,’ she told Fleur, ‘Goodnight Gabrielle,’ she added with a smirk that garnered little more than a frown.

Fleur herded her younger sister along the landing and Hermione shook her head before stepping into Fleur’s bedroom.

The room that Hermione found herself in was both exactly what she expected and not at all. She had known she would be seeing Fleur’s childhood bedroom, but she hadn’t really stopped to envisage such a thing. She couldn’t imagine Fleur as a child, or as any age younger than she had been when they first encountered each other. It was almost impossible to picture the woman she had come to know as such a self-assured and secure presence in her life as being anything other than that. A giddy child, like Gabrielle? It seemed unlikely. An awkward teen? Surely not.

And yet this bedroom was that of a younger Fleur. The walls were blue, which was not in itself unusual. Fleur quite often wore blue – a choice Hermione suspected was consciously made to bring out her eyes. But this shade of blue was bright, a bold colour in the place of the more subtle shades that Fleur leaned towards these days. The overly large wardrobe came as no surprise, but the single bed did.

Hermione ventured towards a desk near the window, behind it was a pinboard onto which someone – Fleur presumably – had pinned a selection of paper treasures. Tickets to concerts, scrawled notes that looked as though they had been written on torn pieces of parchment and passed between the desks in a classroom. One of these notes featured an abundant of heart shaped doodles, and Hermione wished she had a better grasp of French so that she might read it. There were photos pinned there too. The one that first caught Hermione’s eye featured what appeared to be the same palomino horse from the portrait downstairs. It was, again, without a saddle, but instead of the older blonde woman on its back, in this image it had two riders. One was a much younger Gabrielle, her face rounder than it is these days and graced with a wide smile as she fidgeted about and laughed, showing a gap in her teeth. She was being saved from fidgeting right off the horse’s back by the arms about her waist that belonged to Fleur. A Fleur who looked to be around 14 perhaps, younger than Hermione had ever seen her. Her legs looked almost too long for her body here. Hermione had never thought of Fleur as anything but perfectly proportioned, but at 14 it seemed she had been gangly, struggling to keep up with her limbs. Her hair was longer and straighter and tied in a ponytail, a style that she no longer favoured. Hermione smiled at the photo as the younger Fleur tipped her head back and laughed animatedly.

There were other photos too. Groups of teenagers in Beauxbatons uniforms. Fleur, even younger than in the horse photo, with her arms linked with two other children. One photo that Hermione at first thought must be Gabrielle as a toddler, until on closer inspection she realised it was Fleur, on the lap of a woman who looked like Apolline did now and was therefore probably Fleur’s grandmother. Fleur, maybe six years old, in pyjamas, looking tiny on a huge sofa, her head leaning against her father’s arm and both of them fast asleep. The photos were a glimpse into Fleur’s life that Hermione had never expected, had never really considered. To look through these windows into Fleur’s past began to feel a little intrusive without Fleur beside her, so Hermione averted her attention elsewhere.

On the wall above the head of Fleur’s single bed she spotted a large poster and barely concealed her laughter at realising that it was of a muggle boyband. The overly styled hair and oddly damp bare chests was reminiscent of a time gone by but still familiar from the recesses of Hermione’s own childhood, though she had been a bit young to be into that particular band. Fleur, however, had apparently been a big fan. There was even the faint tacky remnants of a lipstick mark on the face of one band member, presumably Fleur’s favourite.

Hermione heard the bedroom door open and close, heard light footsteps cross the room behind her, and then relaxed back into Fleur’s arms as she wrapped them around Hermione from behind and tucked her head over Hermione’s shoulder. Then she noticed what Hermione was looking at and groaned.

‘I forgot that was there,’ Fleur muttered.

‘You forgot?’ Hermione gasped in mock outrage, ‘but they clearly mean so much to you! It looks like you even used to kiss that one…’

‘I did,’ Fleur replied wistfully, ‘every night before I went to bed. Marc, his name is. And I thought I was going to marry him.’

Hermione chuckled at that and patted Fleur’s forearm where it rested against her stomach.

‘I must be a dreadful disappointment to you,’ Hermione replied.

Fleur sighed.

‘Ah oui,’ she agreed. ‘You do not ‘ave ‘is broad shoulders,’ she said, rubbing her chin along Hermione’s shoulder, ‘or his stubbly cheeks,’ she added, placing a lingering kiss against Hermione’s smooth cheek, ‘not his wide-set neck,’ there was an open-mouthed sucking kiss to Hermione’s own neck, that forced her eyes to flutter shut of their own accord. ‘And as for ‘is chiselled chest…’

Fleur’s hands unwrapped themselves from around Hermione and began edging their way up her stomach. They had nearly met their target when Hermione couldn’t keep her laughter in anymore, and span in Fleur’s arms to face the older woman.

‘You’re ridiculous,’ Hermione told Fleur fondly before leaning up to meet her lips in a proper kiss, which quickly developed into a deeper embrace.

‘You are nothing like Marc,’ Fleur whispered, ‘but I think you will do,’ she finished with an uncharacteristically cheeky smile.

‘Oh, thanks,’ Hermione replied with an eye roll.

‘But this bed will not do, hmm?’ Fleur let out, releasing Hermione and cocking her head as she looked at the single bed in front of them.

‘I asked Maman to sort it, but clearly she thought this would be more amusing,’ Fleur said.

‘She does enjoy a joke,’ Hermione agreed.

Fleur nodded in agreement before waving a hand at the bed and then watching as it leapt suddenly in its place, expanding from one corner at a time until it was the same size as Fleur’s bed at Grimmauld Place.

‘Voila,’ Fleur pronounced.

Feeling the low swooping in her stomach that frequently accompanied the witnessing of Fleur’s magical prowess and her issuing of any French words, Hermione wished she was still being held against Fleur’s body.

‘Much better,’ Hermione nodded and swallowed dryly. ‘And where is the bathroom? I need to brush my teeth before bed.’

‘It is very strange, this teeth-brushing. You could just do it the magical way, non?’ Fleur asked.

‘I could,’ Hermione agreed, ‘but my parents made me promise I wouldn’t cut corners when it came to dental hygiene.’

Fleur looked at Hermione as though she wanted to protest, but seemed to change her mind and just nodded instead before showing her to the bathroom.

 

When Hermione returned to Fleur’s bedroom, teeth brushed and pyjamas on, she found that Fleur was already settled into bed. Hermione smiled at her and then set about folding her clothes and rifling through her bag in search of a fresh outfit for the next day.

‘Hermione,’ Fleur said.

‘Mmm?’ Hermione hummed, trying to locate a pair of socks.

‘Come to bed, you can do that in the morning.’

Hermione looked up and found herself caught in Fleur’s cerulean gaze, struck as ever by the intensity she saw there. She dropped the pair of jeans she was holding back into her bag and stood up, crossing the room to the bed. Fleur pulled back the duvet so that Hermione could climb in and Hermione began to do just that before she paused.

‘What’s the matter?’ Fleur asked, her voice laced with concern.

‘One second,’ Hermione replied, and clambered onto the bed so that she was standing on it, ‘I just want to say goodnight to Marc,’ she added, and leant forwards so that she could place a kiss on the poster where Fleur’s lipstick mark could still be seen. She had almost made contact with it when—

‘’ermione!’ Fleur shrieked through her laughter, ‘Non!’ she exclaimed, shuffling onto her knees and wrapping an arm around Hermione’s waist to haul her away from the poster.

Hermione was laughing uncontrollably as Fleur tugged her hard enough so that they both fell onto the bed with Hermione on top of Fleur, Fleur’s arms still tightly around her. Hermione struggled to get up again.

‘Now, come on, Fleur,’ she laughed, ‘Marc will be upset if he doesn’t get a goodnight kiss.’ And she tried again to pull herself free of Fleur’s grip and return to the poster.

‘Only I get your goodnight kisses,’ Fleur replied, trying not to laugh as she gave her strongest tug yet and pulled Hermione over once more, this time getting caught in the momentum and landing on top of her.

Hermione felt her breath leave her, but it wasn’t due to the force of Fleur landing on her, it was the sensation of being pressed into the mattress by Fleur’s full weight, feeling her senses filled with Fleur, feeling so much of her body in direct contact with Fleur’s when normally Fleur held herself up above Hermione instead. Hermione was breathless, her veins buzzing with anticipation, she wasn’t laughing anymore.

And then suddenly, Fleur wasn’t laughing either. But she also wasn’t – as Hermione so desperately wanted – leaning down and meeting Hermione’s lips with her own. Her eyes were wide and then, to Hermione’s confusion, ashamed. Fleur hurried to climb off of Hermione.

‘Désolée,’ she breathed, ‘I’m sorry.’

Hermione raised herself up on her elbows to get a better look at Fleur, who was now rigidly back on her own side of the bed.

‘Fleur?’ Hermione said tentatively. Her heart was beating fast and she tried to slow it. Fleur wouldn’t meet her eye for a moment and yet more confusion descended on Hermione.

‘I am getting rid of that poster,’ Fleur said after a strained silence. And Hermione could hear the forced lightness in her voice.

‘That seems a bit extreme,’ Hermione murmured, a frown still on her face. ‘Poor Marc.’

Fleur shrugged and then, somewhat awkwardly, opened her arms for Hermione.

‘Come on, we have to survive a trip into town with Gabrielle tomorrow. We will need to be well rested,’ she said softly.

Hermione hesitated a moment,

‘Are we not going to…’ she began before trailing off. Earlier, back in Grimmauld Place, Hermione had promised Fleur that they would have time to continue their on-going exploration of each other later on. And now, while Hermione’s body was still thrumming with the kind of need that only Fleur had ever awakened in her, Fleur was trying to usher them off to sleep.

Fleur didn’t respond to Hermione’s abandoned sentence, so Hermione submitted to the unspoken request and settled into Fleur’s arms, resting her head against Fleur’s chest. She felt Fleur press a kiss into her hair, but then lay awake for some time after she heard Fleur’s breathing even out beneath her, her mind flicking through the events that led up to Fleur’s sudden change in demeanour and finding herself nonetheless confused by the time sleep claimed her.