Ch. 37. Ampersand.

As the night crept in past the windows, Fleur awoke amidst soft sheets to her familiar exhaustion. She could barely make out the muffled conversation downstairs. But what she did hear, what she swore she could hear was her lover's voice. That voice clawing up the staircase before invading her room. Perhaps she did not even hear that. For she only heard it for a moment before there was silence.

And even in its brevity, the silence was painfully deafening, drawn out as Fleur strained in her bed under the weight of anticipation as she tried to hear what would happen next, wondering if there was anything left to hear at all.

The sound of footsteps came slowly to her ears. They gained speed coming up the stairs, almost reaching a run before reaching her bedroom door. As the door was flung open, instinctually, defensively Fleur shut her eyes in an effort to feign sleep to the unknown onlooker. For what if it was Hermione? For what if it was not? Softer now, the footsteps finally stopped at the edge of her bed. Her heart beat so loudly, louder even than the footsteps perhaps, she feared it would give her away.

"Fleur?" Hermione's voice was soft and tentative as if torn between wanting to wake her up and letting her sleep, wondering, perhaps, if Fleur would even, could even wake up.

And still her eyes remained closed. Fleur could not bear the look on Hermione's face, whatever look it was it could only shatter her. But more importantly she could not bear it if Hermione was not actually there.

The silence was filled with a soft sound of rustling as the fallen pillow, Hermione's pillow, was returned to its (rightful) place on the bed. The bed shifted slightly under the Gryffindor's weight as she sat down. Fleur could almost feel Hermione's eyes on her and Fleur knew how she must look to the brunette. But perhaps Hermione was looking at the floor, her hands, her feet, the dresser, where the wall met the ceiling. Anywhere but Fleur's matted hair, the bruise consuming half of her face, her fist tightly (tenderly) gripping the piece of Hermione's ripped shirt.

"Fleur, I…" Hermione began again, her voice cracking through the silence. Her finger lightly tracing the air above Fleur's bruise, for a moment hovering too close and lightly grazing the skin below Fleur's swollen eye. "I did that." And exhale, a sigh. "I freaked out, I got scared the other night and… and you changed so suddenly. So fast, really. But I don't…" Her pause seemed to fill the entire room, deafening Fleur's ears. "I love you, Fleur. I love you so much that it hurts. It hurts me how much you… because all I want to do is be with you and you just, you're just so far away. Even before the Nun's Potion… The closer I try to get to you, the more defenses you put up. And I was startled that night. It was, we were going so fast but only because we hadn't been going anywhere for so long and then... It's not that I didn't, that I don't, because I did. I do." And then for emphasis, again. "I do. So very much. But when you shifted it was all so fast, I just wasn't expecting it. And then you didn't listen. Why didn't you listen to me when I said your name? When I said stop?" The pain in Hermione's voice was so different from, so similar to, that night. "Damn it Fleur. I wish you'd wake up."

Fleur's eyes almost opened when she felt a strand of hair being tucked behind her ear. But some how she thought opening her eyes would complicate Hermione's words and she so badly needed to hear what Hermione so badly needed to say. Maybe then Fleur could find her own words.

"Luna has this theory that it was part of your withdrawal from the Nun's Potion. There is some truth in that, obviously, but I also think it's because you've been, and I'm not sure why exactly, but I know you Fleur. You've been so caught up in trying not to rush me, in being the perfect gentleman, that you haven't been paying attention. You haven't even realized that I'm ready. That I've been ready for while. I want this Fleur. I want you more than I've wanted anything in my life." Even without opening her eyes, Fleur could imagine the determined, the loving expression on Hermione's face. But if she opened her eyes, would the brunette still be sitting there, looking at her like that? "But sometimes, I don't know, I wonder about you, about us. For better or worse, I can't see myself living without you. And I wish you'd just… you'd just open your eyes and let me tell you this. For Merlin's sake, I love you so much it hurts and I don't want it to hurt anymore. And I need you to help me not make us hurt so much anymore. So if you die on me and leave me here alone like this, I am going to hex your soul to oblivion."

Fleur's eyes cracked open slowly, light pouring in, the backlit blur quickly refining into a seventeen year-old girl sitting nervously at the edge of her bed, loving her. Fleur longed, wished, needed to reach up and touch the brunette, even lightly with the tip of her fingers. To feel the warmth of her skin, to see if she could some how wipe away all the worry, sadness and frustration that Fleur had managed to carelessly cause. But for the moment, she could only smile weakly. Her voice escaping from her softly, a scratchy whisper of waking up. "Logically, it might be a bit complicated, hexing my soul to oblivion after I die. Though I do have the highest regard for your magical ability and persistence."

"Fleur!" Hermione gasped before diving down and enveloping Fleur in a hug, gripping her body desperately. Slowly, Fleur brought her arms up and around the other girl, cherishing the familiar warmth. "How are you?"

"You're here," Fleur observed, a smile clinging to her face. Her voice still nearly a whisper, as if a louder sound could blow the entire moment away.

"No thanks to you!" Hermione broke apart from their embrace, glaring down at the Frenchwoman. "How dare you. You don't respond to the parchment. You burned the port key. You burned Hogwarts, A History. My book, Fleur, and you burned it. Needlessly. And that barrier! If it wasn't for Dumbledore and your Mother and then Gabrielle dragging me out of the library, I'd still be at Hogwarts worrying and you'd still be…. For Merlin's sake Fleur, how dare you! What were you thinking?"

Fleur bit her lip. "I…" Her eyes strayed to the corner of the room where they intended to stay. "What I did… I am unforgivable."

"What happened on Wednesday was miscommunication and over-reaction. No, what's not forgivable is that infernal boundary you had up!"

"I always said that they were my specialty," Fleur began weakly. She wanted to sit up.

"I mean the physical wall was frustrating beyond measure." There was an unshakeable exhaustion to Hermione's voice. "But the one you have here," Hermione gently placed her hand flat out against Fleur's chest. "I don't know what martyr complex you have or where it came from, but it has stop and it has to stop now. You have to realize that you're not alone. You have me, you have the girl now. You've had her for a while. So turn the page and move on with the story already. After you have the girl, well, we figure things out together." There was a hard resolution to Hermione's voice. Fleur opened her mouth to protest but Hermione glared. "No. It's your choice. You can either go it alone until you… and if you honestly don't think you can let me in, I am getting up now and walking out. And I'll come back for your funeral utterly broken. Or you can finally actually let me in and save us both from a lot of unnecessary pain. But you have to let me know and you have to let me know now. I only have the strength for you to say no to me for a few moments longer."

"I know that I have been unfair, that I have been incredibly selfish," Fleur began, trembling as she pushed herself up into a sitting position. "I have been so scared of so many things and made so many mistakes. I honestly do not know if I deserve you."

"Stop it!" Hermione pleaded, demanded, tears welling up in her eyes. "Just stop it," a whisper. "If only you knew how impossible you were… I'm just me, Hermione. And I love you. And all I need right now is for you to love me back. In a way that isn't just some rubbish form of self-martyrdom. I mean, really love me. Can you do that?"

"You are an example of everything I… you are my everything," Fleur's words were soft and shy. "And somewhere along the way, I lost the plot and I ruined things. I made mistakes, I damaged our relationship, our trust. I know that now and I apologize. I have only done this once. I am still trying to understand what it means to be genuinely happy. But I want to understand how and I believe that I can. With you, I think I can."

For a moment the two women simply regarded each other. And then Fleur shifted so they were closer to eye to eye, so that they were closer, their faces only centimeters apart. It was here that Fleur had to remind herself to breathe.

"What are you doing?" Hermione's words, a soft whisper, were felt more as warm breath against Fleur's face than as words in her ear. A tear was forming in her eyes, a smile threatening to overcome her features, shaking free from whatever unreadable expression on Hermione's face.

"Letting you in, like I should have long ago." Using both arms to brace herself, Fleur leaned in and closed the distance between their two bodies. It started out shy, soft, tender, hesitant. Hermione whispered that this still did not mean that she forgave Fleur before biting her lower lip, claiming it as her own. But it deepened. Even as the hunger, the need, the desire grew within her, creeping, marching, attacking and slipping past her skin, Fleur's arms shook underneath her own weight. Carefully, lovingly Hermione led Fleur back down onto the bed.

And as much as she wanted it, as much as Fleur loved, craved, and needed Hermione's touch, she suddenly knew that they had to stop and they had to stop now. It was not out of lack of desire or her not being ready or her fear of the loss of control. No. It was a matter of strength, something Fleur clearly lacked in that moment. It was exhausting to merely move into her lover's touch. Slowly she pulled away, placing a finger on her lover's lips.

"There are no words which could express how much I want you right now and always but I can't, not tonight."

And the groan of frustration that erupted from Hermione's lips seemed to fill the room. Hermione instantly sat up pulling herself up and away from Fleur. "Merlin Fleur! You haven't changed. You say you are going to let me in and then minutes later you're still pulling away just as before. Is this is how it's always going to be, because honestly I don't have the strength for this."

"Neither do I," Fleur sighed. "That's what I'm trying to say."

Hermione looked at her, confused, searching Fleur's face.

"I physically don't…" Fleur bit her lip. "I stopped taking my potion. I doubt I can stand on my own right now, let alone… anything else." Fleur's cheeks reddened as she bit her bottom lip. "Besides I haven't bathed since, well, and my teeth, they haven't been brushed for days. I want so much more for you, for us than what I am able to offer at that this moment." Fleur exhaled, scared, frightened that this, of all things, would cause her to lose Hermione. "But you have no idea how much I want, how much I wish…"

"So what, what do you mean?" Tears streaming down Hermione's eyes. "That it's too late? It's too late and you're… Is that what you're trying to tell me?"

"No," Fleur reached out and tried to catch a tear on her finger. "Nothing like that. I need a dose, is all, my last one. And a bath and my toothbrush maybe. A night besides you and then… I promise you with every fiber of my being. I am not pushing you away. I just doubt my ability to handle any… physicality tonight. I'm telling you exactly how weak I feel and trust me Hermione, you have no idea how much it scares me to do so. But there will be a tomorrow, I promise you."

It was a slow, and at times, painful process even with Hermione's help and the potion. Fleur had never imagined her life drifting to the point where walking down the hall to the ballroom would be a surprisingly excruciating ordeal. Resting on the floor and leaning up against the cool bathroom wall, Fleur looked up silently as her girlfriend ran the bath water, carefully checking the temperature periodically with her hand. Once satisfied with the depth and temperature, Hermione turned the taps off before standing up from where she was crouching before the bathtub. She raised her arms above her head and effortlessly lifted off her own shirt. She placed it off to the side neatly before unbuttoning and slipping out of her pants. Shyly. While she and Fleur had been sharing a bed since Christmas, the two had yet to see each other naked. It has always been something they had been shy about, blushing, gentlemanly peering in the other direction at the proper moments. Changing carefully in front of the other or waiting until the other was out of the room.

"The tub is big enough for the both of us," Hermione noted by way of explanation, her arms hooked behind her back as she undid her bra. And it was, Fleur had to admit, a rather large tub. But her attention was not on the tub. Hermione shed her bra with ease, one strap at a time before placing it on the top of the growing pile of Hermione's clothes. Underwear finally shed, kicked self-consciously off onto the top of the pile, Hermione made her way over to Fleur.

Not taking her eyes off Hermione's body, Fleur felt even more ashamed of the haggard state of her own physique, the pale thinness that had claimed her at first only bit by bit and then more aggressively over the past few days. She draped her arm across her chest almost as if to protect herself. (From what?)

Hermione arched an eyebrow as she bent down to her girlfriend. "Come on now, you're not about to tell me that veelas take baths fully clothed."

"The French, actually, saves us time on doing our laundry," Fleur smirked, but withdrawing her hand from across her chest just the same.

"Luckily for me, we're in England and in England we do our washing separately like civilized people." Hermione smiled shyly as she crouched down in front of her girlfriend and began to undress her with tender concentration. She slipped the nightgown off, careful to graze Fleur's skin lovingly with her fingertips. And when the nightgown was removed, Hermione continued to kneel in front Fleur's sitting figure, the garment in hand. The two women were silent, overly aware of each other's nakedness. Blushing, eyes averting shyly in between lovingly, curiously exploring.

And then they laughed, a quiet, nervous, but comfortable laugh.

"Come on, let's get you washed up. I love you dearly, but you are right, you are beginning to smell," Hermione slipped her arm back under Fleur's in order to help her to stand up and make her way over to the claw foot bathtub. Skin against skin, it was the first time that nothing but air remained between their two bodies.

For the most part, they shared the tub silently as if the slightest word would send the moment toppling over onto itself. Instead of speaking, Hermione concentrated on scrubbing skin, massaging and rinsing out shampoo and conditioner. As the water rinsed the shampoo away, Fleur was careful not to confuse ablutions with absolution. But when Hermione poured the warm water over her head, after warning Fleur to close her eyes, it was easy to confuse the two, the shampoo with her mistakes, her frailties and her stubborn loneliness. Even if she felt reborn in that moment, she knew that she was still the same Fleur, her sins no closer to being forgiven. But to pretend gave her strength and consoled her as Hermione's fingers moved across her scalp. The Frenchwoman leaned back, tipping her face upwards she caught Hermione's lips within her own. Tender, forgiving, hungry, nervous.

They lingered in the tub longer than necessary, their fingers pruning until the water turned cold. Hermione dried Fleur off with such a surprising thoroughness. She had never before taken the time to specifically dry the undersides of her breasts. Though part of Fleur suspected that this was not something Hermione usually did either.

And when both were dried, towels wrapped around their bodies, Hermione traced the air above Fleur's bruise with her finger, as if silently disappointed that it too did not wash away. In response, Fleur silently placed her palm flat against Hermione's chest, right above her beating heart, and nodded, not quite sure exactly what she was saying but needing to say it nonetheless.

And then to sleep.

And oh to sleep in a lover's arms, cradled in her warmth. Hermione clung to Fleur's sleeping form as if even in her slumber there was a fear of her slipping through the brunette's fingers. But Fleur was where she intended to stay.

Though sleep came quickly, Fleur awoke throughout the night. Each time to the fear of an empty bed, and drifting off again with the warm assurance of Hermione's arms around her.

When morning finally crept through the windows, their bodies had shifted so now it was Fleur who was holding the younger woman's body within her own. As she had countless mornings before, she tried once again to synch her breathing with the brunette's. And like so many mornings before, she could not.

The blonde shifted slightly to kiss Hermione's neck, then her cheek and her eyelids. At first it wasn't so much of a kiss as an astonishment, a relief. Her lips melting against the other girl's skin. An attempt to not wake the slumbering, peaceful brunette. But what started out as one thing quickly grew into another, lingering longer and longer. Causing Hermione to stir, turning over to face Fleur with a contented, sleep smile.

"Mm, morning breath," Hermione opened her eyes slightly after meeting Fleur's lip in a kiss.

"You must be mistaken," Fleur protested, her mind elsewhere, her mind focused on how Hermione's nightshirt had slipped in the night.

"You have morning breath and I want to wake up to it every morning," Hermione opened her eyes completely, searching out and finding, locking onto Fleur's, her tone becoming suddenly serious.

"Perhaps I will wake up a few minutes before you, slip out to brush my teeth merely to spite you," Fleur spoke, her fingers tracing the hem of Hermione's neckline.

"We both know you're not that much of a morning person," Hermione grinned.

For a moment the two women, lying on their sides in each other's arms, merely looked at each other. Their eyes dipping in and out of each other's gaze. Hermione bit her lip.

Fleur traced the edge of Hermione's face. "It's only because I find it infinitely impossible to leave any bed that you are in. This is something, by the way, that I am not willing to work on. There are others, however, that yes I am willing to work on."

"Such as?"

"Opening up to you, letting you in more, not be so bloody impossible as you English say. However, I can only be me. And while that is not an excuse for me not to change, there are limits. I am afraid that I will tragically always be a bit bloody impossible. However I am willing to try to be less so." Fleur's finger traced the underside of Hermione's bottom lip. "But also kissing you more. I want to work on that." And with that, she captured the brunette's lips. The tenderness quickly melted away to reveal her hunger, her lust for what it was, which Hermione returned in favor, opening her mouth, letting Fleur in. Groaning when Fleur's hand slid up, over, down and beneath her nightshirt. "And maybe more than just merely kissing…" Fleur whispered as she moved her attention back to Hermione's neck, suddenly filled with the want, the need to bite her lover's neck slightly.

Fleur knew that she had to initiate. And not because Hermione would not, could not. No, in fact the Gryffindor was more than capable and willing. And if Fleur let her, Hermione would and would do so happily. But Fleur knew that it should be her, and not out of some narcissistic self-importance or need to be in control. She knew it had to be her because of how she pulled away so many times before. Hermione needed her to do it and Fleur needed, wanted to. Not only wanted, but craved, longed, desired.

Her lips still hunting, still searching for the world in Hermione's embrace. She slowly maneuvered her body far enough away to start unbuttoning her own nightgown. Too shy to start the action on Hermione, but wanting to illustrate where she was headed. Hermione's hand covered her own, stopping Fleur. The blonde looked up, blinking, before Hermione's fingers took up where she had stopped. Not waiting for her own garment to be slid off her shoulders, Fleur turned her attention to undressing Hermione.

Forward. Their bodies crashed, skin against skin, hearts pounding rapidly against chests rising and falling against each other.

And if only it was enough, but it was never enough. Each and every touch, graze, movement of tongue and finger only made Fleur want more, need more. And she made it up as she went along, guided by desire, by instinct, by love, by Hermione's looks and touches. Underwear was shimmied off, left forgotten amidst the sheets or on the floor.

Hermione slid on top of Fleur. Fleur who arched upwards, needing to be closer, always closer. And as intoxicating as it was to be beneath her lover, her necklace dangling and tracing patterns on her skin, the French woman knew for now it would not do. Shifting her weight slightly, she led Hermione back down onto the bed as she took control. Straddling Hermione, for a moment Fleur looked down at the other woman who looked up at her with so much love, so much trust.

The room was silent apart from their breathing, a gasp, a moan, an occasionally nervous, awkward laughter. Lips, necks, hands, breasts, hips. Repositioning, their bodies, their hips crashing, moving into each other. But still not enough, Fleur's hand slid down, nails grazing flesh, pausing. Fleur looked up, hunting for that one final signal of approval. But Hermione's eyes were closed.

"Look at me," came out more of a question, a request that Fleur was sure she had only breathed until Hermione's eyes fluttered open.

Hermione's eyes flickered open among ragged breaths.

And Fleur made it up as she went along, exploring the strange, new wonderful territory at her fingertips, intoxicating to the touch, at the touch. An awkward shyness, a willingness to move past it sometimes erupting in nervous laughter. And she had never felt a sensation similar to how it was to be inside Hermione, the warmth, the wetness, the closeness. Perhaps even more than kissing her lover, Fleur could see how it could become addictive.

From the corner of her eye she could see the necklace, the charm begin the glow. And she could almost feel, as if in ghost sensation… Imagined, anticipated, felt empathetically, Fleur had no time or mental ability to discern how or why. But as her hand moved along Hermione, she felt it too, distantly, within herself in a manner impossible to describe. Surprised at the sensation, Fleur paused. Stunned, so this is what it was to be a veela in love. But Hermione found Fleur's hand and guided her, holding her there despite the pain they both felt. Fleur holding still as possible, waiting for it to go away, trying to kiss it away until it finally did.

What a maddening, trembling world they had discovered where nothing was enough. There was always something more, to be shared, to be felt, to find, to discover. And how this world shook over, under, through them. Words long forgotten, control slipping, falling away in droves, only gasps and moans, the shifting of weights and body filled the room threatening to flood past, louder and louder with more urgency.

And after the deluge, breath and senses had to be recaptured. Chests rising and falling. Minds still struggling when Hermione propped herself up, silently regarding Fleur for a moment. Her finger on top of Fleur's lips as if to quiet any words that might find their way to the surface before sliding on top on Fleur. As if surveying the land, her land in front of her, Hermione grinned a lazy smile before capturing Fleur's breast within her mouth.

Hermione's lips traveled downward, nipping and lingering as they chose first one breast then the next, moving her attention to Fleur's stomach, hip bone, inner thigh and then…

And then Fleur's breath hitched, her body arching up and into the touch, the overwhelming sensation. Her hand caught in the morning tangles of Hermione's hair. Her body caught on Hermione's tongue, her fingers. And when Hermione looked up, surprised, Fleur felt a warmth that what she had felt earlier was not reserved for her alone. Hermione could feel as she had felt. So this was the all-encompassing love of a veela. Forward. And now again everything she had felt only moments before, but directly, under Hermione's touch and guidance. At times it was too much, and other times not enough. Maddening, addicting.

They lay still. Remembering to breath, hands lazily tracing each other's bodies with love and quiet astonishment. Hermione's hand held out her necklace, the charm having stopped glowing at some unnoticed point. The color now entirely different than any either had ever seen. Words were poised on her lips, but neither seemed to want to speak. So Fleur leaned forward and took the words from Hermione's lips carefully with her tongue, and moved the conversation back and forth between their lips. Faintly, with a strange sense of pleasure, Fleur realized that the taste on Hermione's lip was herself. She liked how she tasted on her lover's lips and had the rest of her life to tell Hermione this. Fleur marveled at this.

The hunger was there and Fleur knew that the hunger would probably always be there. But the deadly urgency had slipped from it and Fleur knew in time this hunger would probably change shape as the nature of their relationship evolved. Pulling apart from the embrace, her eyes quietly regarding Hermione, returning a stray hair back behind Hermione's ear, Fleur realized that this was only the beginning. The courtship ritual was only the beginning. They had the rest of their lives together. This love that had scared her to the thick of her being was anything but frightening in the end.

Somewhere in the Delacour family tree, an ampersand was forming between her name and Hermione's.

An hour later, still naked and entwined, the two women showed no intention of getting out of bed. For the most part, words were slow coming. At times they kissed or tucked a stray hair out of one's face. But mostly they laid there, in each other's arms, enjoying the warmth, the sensation. Absorbed, stunned by what they had just experienced, the two lovers only realized the door opening too late.

"Ew," Gabrielle closed her eyes and looked away, her hands covering her eyes as she stood in the doorway. "I thought you'd be done being gross by now. Clearly not, perverts."

As Gabrielle spoke, Hermione moved closer against Fleur, shielding her front from the younger girl as Fleur desperately grasped for the duvet to cover their exposed bodies. While Gabrielle had seen Fleur naked before, it had been years ago and in entirely different circumstances. This was not okay.

"You were the one who entered without knocking," Hermione retorted before Fleur could open her mouth. "You knew exactly what I was coming up here to do."

"Yeah, that was last night. It's half past one in the afternoon now," Gabrielle whined, her eyes still tightly shut, her cheeks still burning brightly with embarrassment.

"I can't help it if your sister is a bit on the slow side," Hermione teased.

Fleur swatted at Hermione playfully. "I thought you liked how I value patience."

"Not that much patience," Hermione shot her a look.

"You two just don't stop being gross ever, do you?" Gabrielle muttered. "Whatever. Lunch is ready. Mom made sandwiches. I'm sure she'll be ecstatic that you have descended to a new level of gross. However I hope that you haven't ruined my appetite because I am going downstairs now and I fully intend on eating my sandwich like a real person and maybe even try to persuade Mom and Dad to let me stay out of school a bit longer. Actually maybe your two staying in bed would actually help my case…"

Fleur followed Hermione up the long, endless flights of stairs. It was a staircase that had always intrigued her, captured her intense curiosity nearly to the point of a haunting obsession, but it had also been a staircase that she had avidly avoided since arriving to Hogwarts. Until now. And the Fat Lady was nothing like Fleur had imagined her.

After the courtship ritual, Fleur's strength had returned to her in droves. The natural grace she had been feigning and forcing, it was if it had never left. So this was what it felt like to be happy and healthy, nowhere near as scary as Fleur had made it out to be.

Even the Hogwarts community was aware of these changes, and not just in Fleur. How could they not? Even if they had not been aware of how exhausted Fleur truly was, they were now presented with a far more energetic version. As time wore on, neither Fleur nor Hermione became that successful in hiding the desire, the loving looks becoming less secretive every day.

So it was only truly the parents who looked surprised and shocked at the Hogwarts graduation ceremony when, after receiving her diploma, the Head Girl had embraced the beautiful, French professor in a demonstration of affection that far surpassed mere excitement over graduation. But even if only a portion of those gathered that day were shocked, everyone watched. It was hard not to watch the couple's first open display of affection since their kiss in the crowded hallway. Unlike the first time, it was Hermione who had initiated it, Fleur who was shocked before returning the gesture, who opened her mouth willingly letting her lover in, and no one ran off upset. Thomas Granger only turned to Lucy to shake his head at the grandiose display, wondering if it was really all that entirely necessary.

After the ceremony, it was the congratulations, the goodbyes, and trying to balance both worlds of one's family and one's life that for the past seven years was lived apart from one's family. It was exhausting, both speeding by and dragging on. The sun was threatening to set when Fleur and Hermione had both finally successfully pulled away to head back into Hogwarts Castle. In the morning, they, along with the rest of the students and a few of the teachers, would be leaving. Hand in hand with Hermione's parents walking slightly behind, Hermione had led them up to her dormitory, her home away from home since she was eleven.

Fleur walked with growing excitement as they came closer. Even after they had performed the ritual, she had stayed away, always curious but feeling that it would break the last taboo. But now that Hermione graduated, it was as if all the restrictions had finally melted away. Formalities no longer had to be observed as they no longer applied.

Lucy and Thomas waited in the common room, talking awkwardly with Parvati's mother, giving the couple privacy as the two headed upstairs.

Alone in Hermione's private Head Girl room, Fleur quietly examined the four poster bed, the books scattered on the floor, and the photos of Hermione's friends, of Fleur on the nightstand.

"This isn't exactly how it looked, I started to pack even though I promised not to," Hermione muttered shyly, kicking a crumpled up piece of paper across the floor. "And it was cleaner before finals."

Fleur sat down on the bed, testing its softness, its bounce, her hands feeling the maroon colored curtains. The room had been smaller than the one she would have had her final year at Beauxbatons if she had not gone to the tournament, but it was also larger than she had assumed the Hogwarts dorms to be. But just as drafty though. "I like it. It even smells like you." And it was true, hints of the girl's shampoo, the perfume she occasionally wore clung to the air. How long, Fleur wondered, would it last in this room after Hermione was gone?

Hermione took a seat beside Fleur, their hands instinctually becoming intertwined. Fleur smiled peacefully and used her free hand to trace the side of Hermione's face. "Your room is lovely." But they both knew she wasn't talking about the room before Fleur captured her lips. It was, like so many before, meant to be a quick kiss. But like so many before it quickly evolved.

"You need to pack," Fleur protested as Hermione moved her attentions towards her neck. The younger girl had been delighted when Fleur stopped bruising so easily, and had begun to experiment on how much she could now get away with.

"There is a spell for that," Hermione murmured, her lips following the neckline of Fleur's dress.

"Your parents are downstairs," Fleur tried again, aware of how weak her voice sounded, as Hermione began unbuttoning Fleur's dress.

"They're talking with Parvati's mother, who, believe me, never stops talking," Hermione's hand traced up Fleur's side, smiling at Fleur's reaction to her touch. "Please. I always wanted…"

But Fleur never needed much persuading, not in the end. Not when she realized that there was nothing to be scared of. So she only protested playfully for a moment longer as Hermione found the fasteners to her dress.

Even as she was being lowered down onto the bed, Fleur was aware there was so much more that had to be done. The air, in the way, was bittersweet with that. While Fleur had always known what Hogwarts had meant to Hermione—far more than Fleur had cared about Beauxbatons—she had never really seen exactly to what degree until that day. Leaving Hogwarts, living without Hogwarts to return to in the same way, Fleur knew, would be hard for Hermione. Even if the walls of Hogwarts that had restricted them, kept them in such separate lives had also fallen. Tomorrow they started their life together, truly, and it was a thrilling, frightening thought.

They were moving to France for the time being, into one of her parent's smaller properties until they could get more settled, more on their own feet. Hermione should be starting her new post at the Ministry. A honeymoon of sorts, though currently being planned, would have to wait. And then there was something else threatening their happiness, and the happiness of the entire Wizarding world, something they had avoided speaking directly about. Something Fleur only now brought up as she re-buttoned her dress, watching her lover now frantically cast packing spells.

"The ceremonies, they do not truly mean anything. They can wait," Fleur started, her words causing Hermione to pause.


"This summer, I do not believe that there is time for it, not with everything you need to do," Fleur stood up.

"What are you talking about? I am taking the summer off."

"And you should use it wisely. We both know that you do not take summers off." The war, despite their wishing, loomed above them all, casting first a subtle and then increasingly larger shadow over everything. "I know that Harry is planning something, something he is looking for to lay the final blow. And that you and Ron plan to go with him, to help him and be by his side when the time comes."

"Fleur, I—"

"No. Your place is there. He needs you, your friends need you. It would not be right otherwise." (You would not be the woman Fleur loved otherwise.)

"But what about…?" Hermione took a step forward, her face showing a mixture of emotion, hesitation. "I don't want to leave you behind, waiting."

"Who said anything about waiting?" Fleur arched her eyebrow, wrapping her arms around Hermione's waist. "Your place is with your friends, but my place is at your side. And you would be a fool to believe that I would stay at home, twiddling my thumbs waiting while you go off to war, especially not when protection and defensive spells are my specialty. No. I fully intend on fighting by your side. Do you think I cultivated my skills out of pure interest and curiosity? I have always intended on using my talents to fight for and protect the ones that I love. And this, my love, is not an option."

"Fleur…" Hermione regarded her carefully examining her with her eyes before capturing her lips. This was a conversation they would take up later, but they both knew that Fleur would not take no for an answer.

But all that didn't matter now. All that mattered at that moment was that Hermione was kissing her. Like a normal, young couple in love. No potions, no sickness, no anxiety, no fear of death or rejection. The courtship ritual was over. The war, it was true, would not, could not wait for them. But for the first time in three years, Fleur did not have to pretend to smile. She did not have to not worry. She no longer had to pretend so many things. Fleur had never felt so at peace in her entire life. But it was only the beginning and they had so far to go. The moment, after all, could not last forever.

The End.