The first time it’s a straight drip, black with a shot of espresso and more sugar than should ever be added to coffee. Fleur makes it without a word and hands it to the girl in the oversized jumper on the other side of the counter. She has curly hair and a beautiful face that makes Fleur pause for a second, forces a smile onto her face. It earns her a smile back, even though those eyes look beyond stressed.
In that moment, Fleur is seized by a want to make this girl’s day better. A simple gesture, she thinks, will surely make her smile. “It is on the ‘ouse,” she says.
The girl looks down at her coffee, and then up at Fleur’s face with wide, almost confused eyes. “No, I can…” she sets the paper cup down on the counter and rummages in her purse, producing a crumpled note and pressing into Fleur’s hand. “I couldn’t accept it. Thank you.”
Fleur looks down at the money in her hand for a moment. A queue is starting to form now. “De rien,” she mutters, flushed and unsure why, and gets the girl her change.
She lingers, perched in the window seat with a thick book open on her lap. She gets a refill and lets Fleur give it to her for free, she disappears into the bathroom and then comes out a few minutes later with a freshly scrubbed face. She looks, Fleur notices between customers, absolutely exhausted.
Fleur wipes down the tables in the late afternoon, as the sun streams into the store and the frizz of the girl’s curls catches the light like a halo arching over her head. She’s reading Keats, notebook curled in her lap as she underlines and circles things in her book. She glances up as Fleur walks by, a weary smile on her face.
Fleur, for all that she wishes to look away, smiles back.
The next time it is a white mocha with two shots of espresso and no added sugar with skim milk. Fleur wrinkles her nose at the order, and the girl flushes beautifully in response. She’s wearing an oversized yellow rain jacket that looks like it’d be more appropriate on a fishing boat than the city streets. “Zat is… erm… razer…”
"My parents are dentists," she supplies with a half-hearted grin and an embarrassed chuckle. "I’ve had a cavity for the first time in my life, so I’m off sugar entirely."
It is a poor world, Fleur thinks, without sugar in coffee. She tugs on her apron and gives the girl her employee discount on the drink, because it would be far too expensive for a student budget otherwise.
"It should be more," the girl protests, pointing to the board over Fleur’s head.
Fleur turns and looks, hair falling into her eyes. “Perhaps,” she says, and not caring that she’s blushing. The shop is almost deserted anyway. The shift is dragging and the girl is a welcome distraction.
Still, Fleur draws the line at slipping the girl her number with her change. She instead makes the drink and brings it out to her, watching as she settles into the window seat.
Rain is streaking down the panes, rattling in the wind.
"It’s ghastly out today," the girl says. She’s pulling more books from her bag - history this time. Fleur remembers history with the mind of a nation that was so often on the losing side. "I almost didn’t come."
"I am glad," Fleur says, brushing off some strange sticky residue from the table. "Zat you did come."
She doesn’t say that this girl is the highlight of her day.
The third time it is a straight drip with skim milk no sugar. Fleur gets it for her with an apologetic smile at the queue that’s formed - the morning rush. She’s ordered a breakfast sandwich as well, and Fleur gets the order in and takes her card.
Her name is Hermione. The name evokes such memories in Fleur, of her own studies of the classics.
“‘ermione… c’est un beau nom,” Fleur says, handing her back her card and the receipt to sign. She ignores the sign on the counter that says cash only on orders of five pounds and below.
"So’s yours," Hermione replies with a breezy smile. Fleur watches as she disappears around the corner to where there are more tables, a goofy smile on her face.
"Are you going to quit mooning over the pretty girl and get my coffee?" A pushy woman in a business suit asks, setting down exact change on the counter and crossing her arms with an annoyed scowl.
"Ah - oui," Fleur flies back into action and doesn’t stop moving for what feels like another hour. The rush is dead then, and Hermione is still in her usual spot, book propped against her knees and her coffee cup cradled to her chest as she buries her nose in an essay by Emerson. As she goes about bussing tables and collecting discarded mugs, she can see Hermione’s lips quirk upwards and she feels herself start to smile back.
She comes level with Hermione, her apron stained and dirty and Hermione looking so clean in comparison. She decides then, to do something she’s never done before. She’s got a break in five minutes, and she’s going to have a coffee with this girl.
The mugs are deposited in the sink in the back to be run through the dishwasher and she tells her coworker that she’s going to take a breather. He smiles politely at her, not quite understanding her odd combination of French and English that she still cannot help at times. “Go ahead,” he says.
Fleur gets herself a coffee, black with one sugar, and goes back to the floor. She leaves her apron behind the counter, and she swallows nervously just once before she crosses the room with confident steps and sides into the seat across from Hermione.
For a moment, she doesn’t look up. Her hair is frizzing something fierce today, and Fleur wants to reach out and touch it, to see if it feels as soft as it looks.
"You’re French," Hermione says after a moment. She looks up from her reading and her eyes are twinkling with something that could be amusement. "What are you doing here?"
Fleur shrugs. “I ‘ad wanted, ‘ow do you English say… a change of scenery.” She tilts her head. “Mais, your accent, you are not from ‘ere eizer, are you ‘ermione?”
She shrugs, almost guiltily. “Outside London. I fancied a change of scenery as well.”
They sit in silence then, and it’s good and comfortable. Fleur likes it far more than she thinks she should after only doing it once.
The fourth time it isn’t a coffee, it’s a phone number written in impossibly neat handwriting and a biscuit that Fleur gives her with a raised eyebrow. “Qu’est-ce que tu fait?” she asks as the queue behind Hermione grows ever longer.
"Playing a hunch," Hermione says with a blithe smile. Her lips are shining with a glossy lipstick and Fleur wants to reach out and touch them. She wants to kiss them. "Keep the change," she adds, pressing far more money than she should into Fleur’s outstretched hand.
She’s bewildered, staring down at the money in her hand. What had just happened?
She calls from a pay phone outside her tiny rented room, leaning against the glass wall and twirling the metal-wrapped cord around her finger. It moves stiffly and feels as awkward as Fleur does, listening to the pulse of the phone.
And there’s a moment where Fleur’s entire world freezes and she forgets how to speak English entirely. She’s never done this before, never asked someone who comes into the shop out before. She supposes that technically Hermione did the asking, but there are so many words that she wants to say but that she cannot remember.
“‘allo, ‘ermione,” Fleur says, covering herself as best she can. She doesn’t have a phone save this one, she can’t afford one.
"Fleur!" Hermione sounds suddenly flustered and out of breath. It’s intriguing in a strange sort of way, alluring. Fleur curls the cord around her hand like brass knuckles and stares down at it, a smile playing at her lips. "I’d hoped you’d call."
"Ah." She’s stumbling still, stalling until she can find the words. "I ‘ad to wait, you see. I worked ze late shift today," she says with an irritated sort of sound. " Désolé, ‘ermione, I did not mean to make you wait."
Over the phone, Hermione’s amused chuckle sounds distant, like an echo that’s been tinned, a laugh track on television. Fleur bites her lip and shifts from foot to foot. “You needn’t worry about making me wait,” Hermione says in an obviously amused tone. “I just… I dunno, I figured that you’d maybe want to go and do something together, sometime?”
The first time is two cups of coffee, ironically enough, shared on a park bench on a Sunday afternoon. Fleur never works Sundays, she’ll go to church if she wakes up in time (which is never, but it’s what she tells her mother to keep the guilt at bay) and then she does laundry at the laundrette down the road. Today, though, she’s had Saturday off as well, so the laundry is all done and all that she has to do is sit on this bench and talk to Hermione.
It is a good way to spend the day.
She’s so smart, Fleur realizes, it’s almost mind-boggling. Why she’s going to school in this far-off city and not in London is beyond Fleur. She could study in America, in Paris, anywhere, they’d have her.
"This place has a pull," Hermione says after a moment, tucking a stray curl behind her ear and turning to look at Fleur. "I can’t explain it, but it does." She tells Fleur then of how she’d gotten out of college and wanted to go to university, but she hadn’t been able to figure out where. She’d had offers from place, but this was the place that spoke to her the most. "Once," she explains. "I wanted to be a poet."
"Et… maintenant? ‘as it changed?" Fleur asks, fiddling with the cardboard sleeve on her coffee cup.
Hermione looks away, across the park. “I think now I want to go into law.” She shrugs. “Help people or something.”
"Zat is a noble endeavor," Fleur agrees.
The second time it is to a performance at the university, some cellist that Hermione knows well. “Oh, you’ll just love her, Fleur. Her name is Luna Lovegood and she’s absolutely brilliant,” Hermione gushes over the counter during a lull in the mid-afternoon rush.
Fleur agrees to go because she’d like to meet some of Hermione’s friends, and because she’s trying not to be jealous.
As they’re sitting in the audience, waiting for the performance to start, Hermione ask Fleur what she studied in school. “Finance,” Fleur says after a moment to think of the English. “I ‘ad wanted to be a banker.”
"Why aren’t you?" Hermione asks. She’s figured out that Fleur is a lot smarter than the barista job title.
Fleur gives a small shrug. She isn’t embarrassed by it. “I ‘ad a job, at a bank in London…” she trails off, thinking of how much of a disaster it had been. “It turns out zat I did not enjoy it as much as I ‘ad zought, you know? Ze real world, it is razer… different zan it is in school.”
Hermione says nothing for a long time after that.
The performance itself is spectacular. Hermione had been right, and the girl was exceptionally talented. She takes Fleur to meet her afterwards, and the cellist turns wide, adoring eyes up at Fleur. “Are you Hermione’s girlfriend?” she asks, and Fleur’s heart seizes up in her throat.
They’d never put a label on it.
"Erm…" Hermione says, and Fleur looks at her with panicked eyes. Had she completely misread the situation? "This is all so new, Luna," is all Hermione says though, and somehow it’s enough. "But maybe?"
If you’re willing goes unsaid, but it doesn’t need to be said. Fleur would say yes a thousand times over.
Later that night, when they’re walking home hand in hand, Fleur’s boots scuffing on the rain-slick pavement. Hermione is in her oversized rain jacket again. She’s beautiful in the moonlight.
"Come up wiz me?" Fleur asks, and Hermione bites her lip for just one second of hesitation before she nods and lets Fleur pull her around to the back stairs and up them to her tiny room. There isn’t much here, Fleur cannot afford much on her meager pay, but it’s quiet and she can sit and read without being interrupted.
Hermione is taken by the books at first, trailing her fingers over the French and English titles. Fleur watches her lips more than she watches anything else, swallowing hotly as Hermione sounds out a French title – a romance that Fleur’s read more times than she cares to count. She steps forward then, fingers plucking the book from Hermione’s hands. “Zis, it is a favorite of mine.”
“What is it about?” Hermione asks. They’re so impossibly close now, and Fleur doesn’t speak. She reaches out and brushes a lock of impossibly curly hair away from Hermione’s forehead. Her breath is a gentle brush of air on Fleur’s cheek and god, she wants to kiss her.
“Love,” Fleur murmurs, fingers tracing distracted patterns on Hermione’s cheek. “And loss. C’est une histoire de vie, you know?”
Hermione nods. She leans forward just as Fleur’s fingers relax to cup her cheek – they are so impossibly close. “I want to kiss you,” Hermione says and Fleur doesn’t say anything at all. She leans forward, and their lips brush. Hermione tastes of coffee and plain chapstick. She is warm and she wraps her arms around Fleur’s shoulders.
They are two people, Hermione tells her later, when they’re smoking cigarettes and blowing smoke up at the cloudy night sky overhead. They are two people who were drawn to this place for one reason.
“What reason do you zink it is?” Fleur asks with a coy smile.
Hermione giggles then, and bumps her shoulder against Fleur’s. “Probably each other,” she says with a broad smile, her fingers tangling up in Fleur’s.
Fleur thinks she might have a point.