Flash bulbs blinded Hermione as she struggled to leave the Diagon Alley café. Ron held her hand tightly and tried to help pull her through the throngs of people lining up to see two members of the Golden Trio, saviours of the wizarding world.
"Ron, hey—Ron, is it true you and Hermione are dating now?!" shouted a journalist right in Hermione's ear. Hermione winced at the volume.
They finally managed to squeeze past the media and then faced the next layer of the public—the fans. Hermione knew Ron absolutely loved his fame. She shot him a look giving him permission and he guiltily smiled, pulling out a quill to sign autographs for some young kids.
Sometimes, Hermione really regretted that they had saved the world from Voldemort. It was great that Voldemort was defeated, obviously, but Hermione's life had become so artificial and bothersome now. The effect of her fame had ruined so much of life. Never could she enjoy the solitude of a public library. She never knew if she was getting top marks in her higher education course on Magical Creatures because she worked hard or because her lecturers were also fans. Similarly, people that had wanted nothing to do with her at Hogwarts had suddenly become very interested in her and wanted to be friends.
Jaded by never knowing if people respected her for her, Hermione had become something of a hermit. For the most part, she avoided socialising. When she did get out-- she really only spent time with people she had known before the fame; like Harry, Ron, Ginny, Neville and Luna. At least she knew what they really thought of her. Or so she thought. She glanced sideways at Ron who was animatedly talking about her to a group of fans.
A couple of months ago, Ron had asked her out. He had never shown interest in her that way before. Not in all the years they had been friends. Hermione had a niggling suspicion that he was only dating her because it boosted their fame even more to be together. Ron caught her eye and smiled. Hermione forced a smile back, pushing her suspicions from her mind for now. Ron returned to her, taking her hand and apparating with her to his flat.
Ron leaned in to kiss her and she turned her head at the last minute, causing him to kiss her cheek instead. She wasn't sure why, but she her body still hadn't caught up to her mind in terms of adjusting to dating Ron. She didn't enjoy kissing him and certainly hadn't let him go any further so far. Maybe the Slytherins at Hogwarts had been right when they used to bully her and call her frigid.
Ron frowned at Hermione.
"What's up, 'Mione?" he asked, obviously trying not to sulk. Hermione sighed.
"I just tire of this fame. How am I supposed to do my big research project for my course when I can't go to the forest to observe wood nymphs without a hundred reporters trampling in and scaring them off? I can't even study in the library in town anymore," she said glumly.
"Ah, I wish I could help," Ron said, ambling off to pour himself a glass of water. He paused, thoughtful. "Actually I might be able to!"
"You have a way of getting rid of our flock of fans and media?" Hermione asked, raising an eyebrow.
"I do have a way for you to have a break from them and get your assignment done," Ron said, smiling triumphantly.
Hermione was dubious, but was desperate for any solution.
"I'm all ears," Hermione said eagerly.
"Bill and Fleur's place has been empty since they properly split up last month," Ron explained, "Bill was just saying the other day if I ever felt like getting away from it all I could go stay any time."
"Ron! That's fantastic! I could head down and stay there while I complete my thesis!" Hermione beamed, "Could I go down this weekend?"
"Sure, I mean I'll have to check with Bill, but I don't see why not," Ron shrugged, "Although you'll have to go without me. I got a try out for the Chudley Cannons. Turns out the coach is a fan of the Golden Trio."
"Ronald! Are you really cashing in on your fame to get a place on that team?" Hermione said in disbelief, "What if you don't really deserve it?"
"Hermione," Ron said, looking at Hermione like she was crazy, "It's the Chudley Cannons."
Hermione finished packing her trunk that weekend and apparated excitedly to Shell Cottage. It seemed quite romantic to her to be staying in a small, secluded seaside cottage while working on her academic career. She felt like a character from one of the old novels she used to read as a child.
She was so glad that Bill had agreed to let her stay there as long as she needed. Although, she would be paying him rent, so it wasn't entirely out of the generosity of his heart.
Hermione breathed in the fresh sea air deeply, greedily. She went inside, admiring the simple yet tasteful décor. Fleur might be cold and arrogant, but the woman really did have fantastic taste. Except Fleur wasn't cold and arrogant, a small voice reminded Hermione. Hermione rubbed at her scarred arm, remembering the caring and nurturing side of Fleur she had seen during the war when she had nursed her back to health.
She selected a bedroom with a nice view out to the ocean and then moved to the living room to begin to set out her numerous textbooks, tomes and papers that she was to use in her research project. She smiled contentedly at the total silence surrounding her. It was already blissful.
Hermione stayed for about a week without incident, walking in the woods each day to observe the wood nymphs in their natural habitat, before consulting the various texts she had inside and writing up her findings. On one particular morning, Hermione decided to reward herself with a lie in, sitting in bed with a novel and a cup of coffee. She was settling into a blissful morning when she suddenly heard the shower turn on in the cottage.
Blood running cold, Hermione grabbed her wand and jumped out of bed. She was just in a pair of cotton boxers and an old faded Weird Sisters tee, leaving her feeling even more vulnerable. She wracked her brains as to who it could be. Bill was currently working in a Scottish branch of Gringotts and Fleur was in France. Hermione crept her way down the hallway, wand at the ready when she heard a melodic humming.
Hermione yelped in surprise as Fleur walked out of the steamy bathroom, clad only in her underwear. At Hermione's yelp, Fleur saw Hermione and let out a scream.
"What are you doing in my house?!" Fleur exclaimed, eyes wide.
"I, erm, Bill is renting it out to me so I can do my Magical Creatures studies away from reporters and fans," Hermione said. She was trying her best to keep looking Fleur in the eyes but found herself taking in the visage that was Fleur's body. She was really toned and athletic, but also blessed with curves. Hermione blushed lightly and looked back up at Fleur's eyes which were now filled with rage. Oh Merlin, did she catch me looking at her body? Hermione inwardly cursed.
"Fucking Bill," Fleur exclaimed abruptly, walking back into the bathroom. She returned minutes later, skirt on and pulling a shirt over her head. Before Hermione could say anything in response, Fleur apparated away.
Confused, Hermione walked into the bathroom and turned off the still running shower. She wasn't sure what to do. Should she owl Bill? She wasn't sure she wanted to get in the middle of an argument between the newly separated couple. Hermione instead got changed and set to making herself some breakfast, reading over her notes patiently while she did so.
An hour passed and there was a crack as Fleur apparated back into the cottage. She still looked furious, but her face softened when she looked at Hermione.
"You can stay," Fleur said, "But this is my house. Bill agreed that I would have it in the separation and he would take our home in Scotland."
"Oh, but…" Hermione was confused.
"He likes to spite me," Fleur explained dismissively, "I was merely on holiday in France to see my family and to give him time to move his things out of here. I guess he thought it would annoy me."
"Oh… I'm sorry," Hermione said, suddenly uncomfortable at having been used in a fight between the two, "I can find somewhere else."
"Nonsense, it is fine, this cottage is perfectly spacious for the both of us and I will not distract your studies- I return to work next week."
"If you're sure, Fleur," Hermione said awkwardly. Fleur flashed her one of her million watt smiles and Hermione smiled weakly. She wasn't sure if she had ever actually spent any time alone with Fleur before in her life, apart from when Fleur healed her up after Bellatrix. Even then, she had been in and out of consciousness a lot.
"It is fine. Besides, we have not been able to catch up much since the war," Fleur smiled.
Hermione weighed up her options. She could return to London, but then she would have to deal with the media and her fans again. Plus, there was the awkwardness of her relationship with Ron. Were relationships supposed to feel this stifling and stagnant two months in? She supposed it would be awkward staying at Shell Cottage with Fleur, especially given the fact that Fleur hadn't even invited her. But then, she was studying better than she had since the war and she loved the location and being able to observe the local wood nymphs for her paper.
By the time she had settled on staying, she was alarmed to find that Fleur had already swept away and prepared two steaming cups of tea. She handed one to Hermione before sitting on a nearby sofa and tucking her legs under herself, watching Hermione intently like a proud house cat.
"So... D'you still have to work with Bill?" Hermione asked. Fleur smiled and sipped at her tea.
"Non, dieu merci," Fleur replied, "Since he transferred to the Glasgow branch of Gringotts we have not had to interact at all at work. Probably for the best as we are not exactly on amicable terms right now,"
"Oh…" Hermione wanted to pry, but she really didn't know Fleur so it seemed rude. She played with her mug of tea awkwardly.
"What are you doing these days, Hermione?" Fleur asked politely. Hermione had always found it incredibly hard to read Fleur, and today was no different. Her tone was perfectly neutral and her face impassive. Hermione genuinely could not tell if she was interested or bored.
"I'm in academics at the moment, working on a few post graduate research projects," Hermione replied.
"In?" Fleur prompted. Again, Hermione couldn't tell if she genuinely wanted to know.
"The study of Magical Creatures," Hermione replied, "At the moment I'm doing a project on wood nymphs. I found a colony not far from this cottage actually, its considerably sped up my work being able to observe the real thing."
"Hmn, Magical Creatures," Fleur said with a smile, finishing her tea abruptly and standing up, "Perhaps you can study me sometime."
She put down her empty mug on the table, not far from one of Hermione's textbooks, before suddenly sweeping out of the room.
Hermione was left leaning against the table, unsure what to think. Had she offended Fleur by saying her discipline was Magical Creatures? Had Fleur finally grown too bored of the conversation? Or was it nothing and the conversation had merely come to a natural end?
Hermione frowned and set her mug down on the table, unsure of how to read the blonde. She supposed it didn't matter, Fleur seemed perfectly fine to have her in the cottage and she had work to do. Hermione returned to her seat and pulled her papers back towards her.
Fleur's unreadability continued as the week progressed. Hermione was awkwardly unsure whether she had taken up residence in Fleur's preferred room or not, but Fleur didn't say anything and seemed to simply take another room, breezing in after a quick knock whenever she needed to retrieve anything that was in Hermione's room. Some days Fleur was around almost all the time, quietly sitting nearby, reading a book or drinking a tea in a sunbeam. Other days she was noticeably absent, appearing only just before bedtime to shower and slip into her room. Some days she was chatty, asking Hermione lots of questions about herself in that same polite tone. Other days she was reserved, barely speaking a word.
On one particular day, she was reserved and staying near to Hermione, stretched out on the sofa reading a French novel while Hermione scratched down her daily observations of the wood nymphs. Hermione finished and rested her quill, looking up at Fleur.
It was incredible, the effect of Veela blood. No matter what she did or how she positioned herself, her looks always appeared flawless and intentional. Hermione remembered seeing Fleur's mother at the Triwizard Tournament and at Bill and Fleur's wedding. Apolline Delacour was a half-blooded Veela, the Magical Creature blood stronger in her bloodstream. Although she was probably in her late forties or fifties, it gifted her with the looks of a twenty-something year old. Hermione wondered if Fleur would forever be suspended in young beauty like her mother.
Fleur stretched as she turned a page, her white tee rising up and revealing a toned midriff. Hermione couldn't help but stare. Fleur really was incredibly beautiful, thrall or no thrall. Thinking about Fleur's thrall Hermione wondered if perhaps Fleur understood how she felt. Like Hermione's fame, she would never know whether people genuinely wanted to know her or thought she was good at something. She would probably similarly be interrupted constantly by admirers or offered ridiculous offers-- like a try-out for a Quidditch team she was by no means qualified for.
Hermione considered this as her eyes roamed slowly over Fleur's body, down to her toned long thighs, up her stomach again, past her breasts, her long smooth expanse of neck. Suddenly Hermione reached Fleur's bright azure eyes, which locked with her own. Embarrassingly, Fleur had been watching her back for God knows how long. Hermione felt her cheeks burn and cleared her throat uncomfortably.
"Do you ever wonder if people actually like you for you or for your thrall?" Hermione asked, breaking the uncomfortable silence. Fleur's eyes stayed locked with hers.
"Of course, all the time," she replied, "But a lot of people dislike me for it too, so I suppose it evens out. I'm sure you would find the same with your fame."
Can she read my mind? Hermione thought to herself, alarmed.
"Oh, erm, yeah I suppose some people have been a bit jealous as well," Hermione replied, "But... How do you make people see you for who you actually are?"
Fleur laughed and Hermione was struck by how musical it sounded.
"You could try entering a Triwizard Tournament to prove yourself to everyone," Fleur smiled.
"Is that why you entered?" Hermione asked, curious. She had always assumed that Fleur's choice to enter was driven by ego, but this new explanation made sense.
"Partially," Fleur said with a small smirk, "But also I like a challenge."
Hermione found herself incredibly drawn to Fleur in that moment. Suddenly the unreadability and mystery around Fleur was piquing Hermione's curiosity more than it had all week. First her nurturing side during the war and now this 'prove 'em all wrong' side? There were so many layers to the blonde that Hermione had never seen before.
An owl swooped clumsily through an open window and onto her table of notes, snapping Hermione out of her reverie. She absentmindedly untied a letter from its leg, still watching Fleur, who had returned to reading her novel.
Reluctantly, she dragged her eyes down to the note.
" Hi 'Mione,
Great news, the Chudley Cannons all wanted my autograph and some photos! Unfortunately we ran out of time for me to try out, but they're willing to give me a shot in the coming week.
Was planning on coming down to see you and keep you company though. Are you okay if I stay up here a little longer before visiting? I mean, it's the Chudley Cannons.
Hermione looked up at Fleur before scribbling a reply on the bottom of the letter.
" Hi Ron,
No rush. I am studying almost all of the time anyway so you would probably find it boring. Good luck for your try-out!
Tying it back on the owl's leg, she sent it off again. She wasn't sure why, but she felt guilty. Shaking it from her mind, she glanced at Fleur again before returning to her work.