Epilogue: Secrets Kept
CHRISTMAS, TEN YEARS LATER
It was always at the end when she lost them. Young and old alike would sit in rapt attention as Hermione spun the tale of Fleur Delacour and the Osiris Song. They would sniffle when she described Bill's death. They would listen with vindictive glee as she described the veela's torture of Peter Pettigrew. They would gasp when she took them deep into the caverns of time, and showed them the face of a goddess.
Then they'd walk away.
Something would distract them. A call to dinner, perhaps, or a sudden remembered appointment. Children would start to squirm and their parents would apologize, but really, they must be getting on. And by the time the end came, there was no one there to hear it.
Secret Keeper to the gods,Hermione thought, as she tidied up Mrs. Weasley's tea things after another family gathering. I should change my name to Cassandra.
She spun around, knocking a teacup over in its saucer and spilling what remained of its contents all over her tablecloth. "Fleur!" she exclaimed, trying her best to surreptitiously clean up the mess. "Where are Bill and the girls?"
"Wiz Mere Weasley, in zee living room," the veela answered with a smile. "Would you like zome 'elp wiz zat?"
Hermione considered saying no, but something made her change her mind. "Yes, actually, that would be wonderful."
Fleur gave her another stunning smile, pulled a slender wand from her sleeve, pointed it at the table, and said, "Proprerium."
With a swirl, the teacup had righted itself and the tablecloth had whisked itself off the table, down the hall, and chucked itself into the laundry hamper in the bathroom. Smiling, Hermione took out her own wand, flicked it toward the table and said, "Lavagia!"
A sopping wet sponge appeared, gave the table a good scrubbing, and disappeared.
"Thank you," Hermione said, tucking her wand away. "Do you want to rejoin the others now?"
"Not jus' yet, si vous ples. I wish to speak wiz you about somezing which I wonder about."
"Oh. Yes, all right." Hermione gestured to a nearby chair. "How's little Isabel?" she asked as Fleur settled in. "Looking forward to her first Christmas?"
"She iz squalling more zan usual, zo I zink zee answer iz oui," Fleur answered with a laugh. "Bill keeps asking when we will be 'aving a boy, but I tell 'im zat veela children are almost always girls. 'E insists we keep trying. I do not mind." Her eyes sparkled.
Hermione laughed and sat down opposite the other woman. Even today, ten years since the events surrounding the Osiris Song, the veela was stunning. Age hardly seemed to touch her, though her face had matured into an even more elegant beauty. "I think Ron and I have our hands full enough with Harry," she quipped, thinking fondly of her little three year old with the grown man's lungs. "Ron's convinced he's going to grow up to be like Fred or George, which wouldn't surprise me in the least."
They chatted amiably for a while, swapping stories about what it was like to be a modern witch raising a family and holding down a career, the price of children's robes, the infuriating ability of their husbands to always be absent at THE most inconvenient times. It had been a long time since the pair had gotten to chat on such a candid level, surrounded as they always were by a gaggle of Weasleys and their enormous broods of children.
"I was wondering, 'Ermione," Fleur finally said, after taking a sip of a fresh cup of tea. "About zee story you tell about me. Zee Osiris Song."
Hermione tried not to choke on her own tea. "What about it?" she asked, carefully setting down her teacup and folding her hands in her lap.
"I wuz jus' wondering…" The veela trailed off for a moment, then met her eyes. "Zee stories you tell about zee uzzers - about 'Arry and 'is super broom, and Ron and zee talking badger… Oh, and zee very funny one about Neville and zee angry goat." She laughed softly. "I like zat one very much." She tilted her head, giving the younger witch a quizzical smile. "I wuz jus' wondering why it iz you make my story zo… sad. When you make zee uzzers zo 'appy and funny. I know zey are all fiction-"
"Actually, the one about Neville is true."
"-but it iz zomezing zat 'as always made me wonder. 'Earing you tell it tonight, for zee children, it made me want to ask."
Hermione thought hard for a moment. Here was something she'd never thought about. It had never occurred to her what to say to Fleur - or indeed any of the people who might choose to ask - should this question arise. She had acted too long under the assumption that no one would bother to ask.
"It's… hard to explain, Fleur," she said after a minute, trying to buy a little more time for her brain to think up an explanation. "People just… like tales of adventure like that one. They like stories about true love, and death, and glory, and gods, and second chances, and hope rekindled. They like to think anything is possible, even in the darkest times. That's what Harry's always said. That's what he said got him through every day until he killed Voldemort. It's what gets everyone through every day."
"But why me? Why not yourzelf?"
"Well, if you're going to talk about true love, Fleur," Hermione quipped, thinking fast on her feet, "who better to cast as your main character than a veela? It's hard enough writing the story - at least this way I don't have to make up characters, too."
Fleur considered her for a moment, and Hermione plastered on her best friendly smile. She didn't know what would happen if Fleur didn't believe her - perhaps Isis would appear out of thin air with a magic wand, sprinkle some fairy dust and erase everyone's memory again. It would be easier, the younger witch decided, than sitting under that gaze for much longer.
Finally, Fleur grinned. "I understand," she said with a nod. "But I still zink you should 'ave written zee story about you and Ronald. Zat, too, iz true love."
Hermione resisted the urge to let out a huge sigh of relief. "I'd never hear the end of it," she improvised, as she stood to collect their teacups. "Ron would always complain that HE wanted to be the one doing the rescuing, not me."
Fleur laughed and stood as well. "Zank you for the tea, 'Ermione," she said. "Will you be coming zoon to zee tree? Fred's little Georgie was putting up quite a fuss when I left, wanting to open 'is presents."
Hermione chuckled. "I'll be right along. I just want to finish tidying up in here, first. Mrs. Weasley has enough on her hands without cleaning up after everyone all the time."
Fleur nodded. "You mus' tell me zee ending of zee story sometime, 'Ermione. I always seem to miss it, zo I never find out 'ow it all ends."
Hermione waved a hand. "I won't bother you. It's a load of rubbish. Not very good at all, if you ask me. I'll rework it and tell you the revised version someday."
"What iz it now?"
Your eldest children give up their youth and your husband will die in another ten years, and there's nothing anyone can do to stop it.
Hermione smiled. "And they all lived happily ever after," she answered.
Fleur grinned. "Why, zat iz zee best ending anyone could ever want." She leaned forward and hugged Hermione warmly. "Zank you."
Before Hermione could say anything, a sharp wail from the doorway made both women turn their heads. Bill stood there with a squalling bundle of blankets nestled in his arms, looking desperate.
"How many of these have we had?" he asked, as Fleur crossed the room to swoop baby Isabel out of his arms. "Three? You'd think I'd know how to handle them by now."
"You will learn it someday," Fleur laughed, bouncing the crying baby until her tears turned to gurgles of delight.
"When we have a boy, I think. Boys I understand. I'll never understand veela women."
"What makes you zink you will understand veela boys?" Fleur gave him a dazzling grin. "Besides, you understand me well enuff."
Bill grinned and shook his head. "Never enough."
"Oui, you do." She nestled close to his chest. "You understand zat I love you, and zat is all zere iz to know."
Hermione watched the scene with soft eyes. THIS, she decided, made harboring her titanic secret worth all the pains and frustration it caused her. Who ever said Ever After ended at death?
"Coming, Hermione?" Bill asked, rubbing Fleur's back. "Last I saw, baby Harry was using Ron as a stepladder to get at the star on top of the tree, and big Harry was egging him on. Along with big Charlie, big George, big Fred, big Ginny…"
Hermione laughed at the mental image. "Good grief, not again. I thought Ginny knew better than that?" Sighing - but with an unquenchable smile - she followed them through the door, back to her own happily ever after, and let the future continue to work itself out without her.
AUTHOR'S END NOTE: Well, it's done! I told you it wouldn't be long. ;) I hope you all enjoyed this twisted - and often convoluted - trip into my imagination. Please come again soon! And thank you all for sticking by this story to the bitter end. You are all the best!