Hermione closed her trunk and locked it with a quick spell from her wand. She surveyed the suitcase and other small trunk with calm satisfaction, and allowed herself a small smile when Fleur walked into the room, dressed in a comfortably casual outfit. Hermione shivered when her lover came behind her and kissed the back of her neck, although she knew it was meant as a gesture of comfort rather than a lustful invitation.
Nonetheless, Hermione turned her head and met Fleur's lips with a little more force than she had intended. She resisted the urge to grin when the older woman nipped her lower lip and informed Hermione that if she kept that up, they'd never get on their way. With a wistful sigh, she let Fleur pull away and shrunk their luggage to a miniscule size. She had only packed enough for a few days, but Hermione had never really settled into the house and had emptied her closet into the trunks.
Fleur made some last minute checks around the house and Hermione slid the tiny pieces of luggage into her jacket pocket, pulling up her hood and going into the living room when she heard Fleur calling for her. Her lover kissed her on the cheek and offered out her hand. While she had described her small flat in Bordeaux in detail, Hermione had eased Fleur's worries by promising that she would be taken by Side-Along Apparation rather than doing it by herself.
Hermione clutched at Fleur's hand like a lifeline and felt a jerk in her stomach as they Apparated. But when she saw her lover's house, Hermione's eyes widened. The manor could by no means be described as a 'small flat' unless they were measuring by a giant's standards. It was two stories high and the windows were made of stained glass arranged in a rather eye-catching pattern. The double doors in the front looked like they could have held even if a dragon smashed headfirst into it, and when she turned and saw Fleur's sheepish grin, Hermione laughed.
"This is what you meant by small?"
The older woman blushed. "My parents insisted on making it the 'proper home of a noble Delacour' and since the architect was in my father's pocket, I didn't really get much of a choice in the whole affair."
"I love it." Hermione placed a chaste kiss on Fleur's lips, and they walked to the front of the manor hand in hand.
When they reached the imposing set of doors, Fleur pulled out an odd-looking silver key and inserted it into the lock. As the key turned, Hermione could hear several pairs of gears grinding against each other, and a faint clicking noise. Of their own accord, the doors swung open with a gentle creak and Fleur ushered Hermione inside with a quietly proud smile.
The interior of the house was even more impressive and the younger girl tried to keep her jaw from dropping. She turned to look at Fleur, and was startled when a small albino owl flew into the room and dropped a letter into her lover's hands. Fleur, however, did not seem surprised, and when the bird landed on her shoulder, stroked it's beak before opening up the envelope.
"Who's that from?"
Fleur looked up from the letter she had just unfolded. "My parents."
Hermione raised an eyebrow. "What do they want?"
The older woman scanned the letter and made a noise of surprise. "To see me. It's just a quick note, so they must 'ave sent it ze second they felt me breach ze wards."
"We got here a couple minutes ago. Unless that owl can fly-"
Fleur sighed. "They live close. Very close. Only a mile or two away."
"Why didn't you tell me?" Hermione asked softly.
"I did not want you to worry about family affairs, 'ermione. I apologize."
"Well, if they want to see you, it can't be that bad."
"Us," Fleur corrected, "They want to see us."
Hermione gulped. "They saw the article?"
" i Non /i , they only read the local paper, but a friend of my father's mentioned zat there was a rumor that I had a lover and was living with them."
"Them? They didn't tell your parents I was a woman?"
"Apparently, my father didn't ask any pressing questions."
Hermione rubbed her temples, attempting to stave off a headache she felt coming. "When do they want to see us?"
"As soon as we can be presentable, to quote my mother. But they mean tonight."
"What is their definition of presentable?"
"It means that I have to delve into the depths of my closet."
"For me or you?"
"Myself, certainly, although I'm sure they expect you're male and going to show up in ragged robes zat 'aven't been washed in three days."
Hermione chuckled softly. "Why? Have you brought home bedraggled boyfriends before?"
"Yes, on more than one occasion. I daresay they expect it by now."
"Well, considering I'm not male, what should I wear?"
Fleur sighed softly, using her wand to Summon a quill and write a response on the back of the letter. She offered it to the white owl, who snapped it up in its beak and flew out of the room in a little blur.
"What you're wearing is fine, 'ermione. I am the one they expect to adhere to their standards, not my significant others. My parents will judge you by your character, not ze cloth on your body. They simply expect me to hold up ze Delacour name, especially in their presence."
"You're used to it."
"Indeed, i mon amour /i . I am used to the many things my parents do to retain a shred of their old pureblood pride. But France 'as changed, and now it is merit zat matters, not ze blood in one's veins."
"Do you think it's for the better?" Hermione asked softly.
"Yes, of course. Zat is something the Muggles certainly 'ave over us. They change their form of government without being bogged down in a millennium of paperwork. We 'ave never had a revolution by anyone besides ze goblins, and our arrogance gets us nowhere."
Hermione nodded and Fleur kissed her briefly on the cheek.
"I'm going to change." She looked a little worried for a moment. "Are you going to wear your hood?"
The younger girl bit her lower lip nervously before mumbling. "No. I won't."
Fleur practically crushed Hermione in a tight embrace and whispered, "My parents will be proud. They will not judge someone as strong as you."
They shared a rough and heated kiss until Fleur pulled away, her face flushed. The older woman went up one of the sets of stairs after having Hermione hand her the luggage, and Hermione sat down in one of the chairs in the receiving room, tears in her eyes. She had just said she wouldn't wear her hood, but all she wanted right now was to suffocate in the damn thing. Fleur had the best of intentions, but Hermione knew that her lover had a bias when it came to speaking about her parents, even if she considered them old-fashioned.
By the time she heard Fleur coming down the stairs, Hermione had stubbornly wiped the tears from her eyes. When she turned her head to see her lover, the younger girl's eyes widened. Fleur was wearing a stunning dark blue dress with embroidered with shining silver thread. It was obvious to Hermione that Fleur was indeed in a tight corset that matched the velvet of the dress, and she shivered at the thought.
"'ow do I look?"
When Fleur reached the bottom of the steps, she spun around once to show Hermione the entirety of the dress, and it took every ounce of Hermione's self-control not to push her lover against the nearest wall. Fleur was absolutely gorgeous, and the younger girl said so in stumbling and halting tones, a blush coloring her face.
Fleur smiled and offered her hand to Hermione, who took it with gratitude, feeling a little out of place in this amazing house next to this more amazing woman. She felt her stomach do a little flip but nodded when her lover asked her in a voice that betrayed her nervousness if she was ready to go. Hermione bit her tongue when she felt the familiar jerk of Apparation, her grip on Fleur's hand painfully tight.
They appeared in front of the entrance to a very opulent mansion, and Fleur reached up to the gargoyle-shaped knocker. Hermione winced a little at the sharp noise it made, but Fleur mouthed an apology as the doors opened. The younger girl looked a little startled when she saw the tiny house-elf that had opened the huge doors, but guessed that it had been done magically rather than by hand.
"Miss Fleur, Domestique has not seen you for so long," the elf squeaked, a truly happy smile on her face.
Fleur raised a confused eyebrow. "Domestique, I gave you your freedom a long time ago. Why are you back 'ere again?"
"The Lady and Lord grow older, Miss Fleur, and offered Domestique a room and a few Sickles a week if I took care of things in the house after you left."
Her lover looked troubled, but Hermione saw her cover it up expertly and say, "Well, I'm glad to see you, Domestique. This is i mon amoureux /i , 'ermione Granger."
The house-elf startled Hermione by running up and tightly hugging her leg. Domestique stepped back a moment later and bowed, saying, "It will be an honor to serve you, Miss Granger. Miss Fleur is so kind to Domestique, and I can tell you will be too. Miss Fleur can always tell who has a good heart."
Fleur blushed a little but Hermione leaned down and said, "Thank you, Domestique. I hope to see you around again."
With a slightly embarrassed giggle, Domestique nodded and whispered, "I must take you to the Lord and Lady. They have been waiting for you in the study, and the Lord had me bring up one of his oldest wines."
"'e must be nostalgic." Fleur said softly. "We will find our own way to ze study, Domestique. Take a break and eat some supper."
The elf looked like she wanted to protest, but instead, kissed Fleur's free hand over and over before scurrying off. Hermione felt a little bewildered, but said nothing as Fleur led her up a long flight of stairs and into a hallway. The last door on the left was open and the younger girl took steps to control her breath. She felt exposed, but Hermione wasn't going to renege on her promise, not now. It was obvious, however, that she was not the only nervous one, as Fleur had deliberately slowed the pace at which they were walking.
"It'll be alright," Hermione managed to get out.
"Ah, 'ermione," Fleur sighed, "You bring such worry to my 'eart. But, no matter what I was offered, I would not change zat."
" i Je t'aime /i ."
The older woman, who had been staring pointedly at the floor, smiled and whispered, " i Je t'aime /i ."
With that said, Fleur led Hermione to the entrance of the study, and they both walked in, guilt and concern silently plaguing them. The first thing that caught Hermione's eye was the huge fireplace, with the hungry flames within fed by what looked like at least a dozen logs. The second was the icy blue stares of Fleur's parents directed right at her.
Several emotions choked the breath from her lungs. One was fear, to be sure, but when she looked at Fleur's mother, her mouth went dry. The Lady Delacour had twice the Veela blood of her daughter, and Hermione heard Fleur curse under her breath in French. Then a crushing guilt rose and quashed the lust, and the younger girl almost let out a whimper at the thought of the hungry look she had most likely directed at her lover's mother.
"Why am I not surprised zat you brought a woman home this time, Fleur?"
"Luther," Fleur's mother hissed, "Ze least you could do is respect your own flesh and blood. Your sarcasm is ze reason why she ran off to zat foolish war in the first place, coupled with your temper."
It was obvious that Luther was tempted to make a savage retort, but took a deep sip of his wine instead and muttered, "I am not ze only reason she left, Annette."
Fleur looked furious, and Hermione winced as her lover's nails bit into her palm.
"If all ze two of you are going to do is bicker, I will go back to being estranged."
Luther Delacour did not seem like a man that took insults or orders to Hermione, but he again nursed his wine and said, gesturing to the chairs across from them, "I apologize, Fleur. Now, please, sit down."
Hermione saw a glint of her father's temper in Fleur's eyes and was surprised when her lover sat down in one of the chairs, offering the other to her. The younger girl silently watched Fleur pour wine for both of them, and thanked her in a whisper when one of the full goblets was offered to her. Taking a gulp a little larger than she intended, Hermione shifted a little in discomfort.
"Now, Fleur," Annette said calmly, "What brought you back 'ome? We 'ave tried for months to get you to come back to France."
Fleur looked at the younger girl for a moment before asking, "I assume you 'ave heard of ze Golden Trio, yes?"
" i Oui /i , Fleur," Luther raised an eyebrow and said, "But what does zat 'ave to do with do with anything?"
Watching her lover sigh, Hermione guessed that she was used to being interrupted by her father while she was trying to explain things. Her father had done the same thing sometimes, but only if he had had a particularly bad day at work. She stared into her wine, and tried desperately to pay attention to the conversation rather than delving into old memories of her parents.
"Do you know ze name 'ermione Granger?"
Annette nodded a little. Then she paused, her eyes widening a little as she i looked /i at Hermione, really looked, not at the scars (although that was there), but at the young witch who had given up so much in order to secure a future safe from the clutches of Lord Voldemort.
"You," Annette said in awe to the younger girl, "Are i ze /i 'ermione Granger?"
Hermione put her wine down on the table between them and nodded slowly, considering on how to answer the question.
"Yes, Madame Delacour. I am."
Luther choked on his wine for a second and whispered, "You're telling ze truth, aren't you?"
"I think lying is a very nasty habit, Monsieur Delacour. I am not spewing false words at you to gain praise or admiration."
"You do always choose ze ones with passion, Fleur."
"I choose nothing, father, I simply 'ave ze luck of finding them."
"Luck?" Fleur's father laughed softly, "I call it ze charms of a Veela."
"You would know, wouldn't you, Luther?" Annette said coolly.
He attempted to glare at his wife, but his gaze softened and he returned to the inebriating comfort of his wine. Hermione noted that Fleur had only taken a single sip of hers, and had her hands tensely resting in her lap, as if her lover expected a pack of Death Eaters to burst into the room at any second. After Hermione considered that frightening possibility, she wasted a few moments regaining control over her paranoia and realized that she had missed the change of subject.
"Does this love you 'ave for 'ermione mean zat we should erase any 'ope of ever 'aving an 'eir carrying ze Delacour name?"
Fleur blushed, both out of frustration and embarrassment. "I think it is far too early to be thinking of children, father. There…there are many things left to be discussed between 'ermione and I before we talk of such things."
"Like what? 'er scars?"
The tight grip Fleur had on her goblet would have shattered if it had been made of glass, and when Hermione tried to tell her it was okay, her lover stood up and yelled, "If you will not accept 'ermione unconditionally and without these ulterior motives, I 'ave nothing to say to either of you. Goodbye, mother. 'ermione, we're going. Now."
Hermione kept her mouth shut as Fleur grabbed her by the wrist and almost knocked her over with the strength of her grasp and the speed at which she was walking. The older woman waited until they were outside the front doors, and instantly pulled Hermione with her in a nauseatingly quick Side-Along Apparation. The younger girl felt a little queasy, but kept quiet out of fear that she would say something to set Fleur off even further.
After a minute of Fleur taking deep breaths, Hermione said quietly, "Go inside. I'm going to stay out here and get some air."
"I am sorry zat they were so rude, 'ermione. I 'ave never seen them like this."
"It's alright." Hermione sighed. "Just go inside. Please?"
Fleur made a flustered sound and nodded, hands diligently working to loosen the stays on her corset as she walked up the stairs. Hermione sat down on the doorstep and felt an aching need to smoke. She had picked up the horrid habit in taverns during the war, and had been able to quit after forcibly going cold turkey in Bellatrix's little cell. But the urge was still there, and Hermione pulled her lighter out of her jacket, preferring the Muggle device.
She was contemplating Transfiguring a cigarette out of some of the fallen leaves, but suddenly there was an arm wrapped tight around her throat and a rough hand covering her mouth. Hermione tried to scream, but slowly the air was choked from her lungs and the last thing she saw before her vision blurred and faded was a glimpse of black hair and a set of hungry, crazed eyes.