Oncle Gérard sat them in a snug in the back room of the Leaky Cauldron, and ordered a pot of tea and a plate of biscuits. "It might be more difficult, to find biscuits in a Muggle pub," he said, "but there are some advantages to our dear Wizarding world, yes?"
"Luna," Hermione said, once he'd left to Firecall Professor McGonagall, "my darling pet-sister, please understand something. I love you, and... you and Harry and Fleur and I know that we're his pets. In private, just the four of us... we'll wear our collars, and call Harry 'Master' and each other 'pet-sister.' We can even--"she blushed, but she knew she had to offer something as a bargain--"dress the way you'd like us to. In private." She paused, not sure how to continue.
"But," Fleur said gently, "I t'ink what our 'Ermione wants to say is that her parents, they will not understand, sweet Luna."
"Oh. But... my Daddy understands, and Oncle Gérard understands, and I'm sure that Harry's parents in Heaven understand. Why wouldn't your parents, Hermione?"
"They'll have to understand, eventually, Luna," Hermione said. "But for now... if we call Harry 'Master' in front of them... it could be very bad. They don't understand that we're pets because we love Harry and he loves us, not because of spells or drugs or the fact that he bought us. It's going to be hard enough for them to accept that we love each other, that we're not just silly children with a crush."
"I see," Luna said softly. "As long as... can we still hold hands? And hug, if we need to? And sleep together? I've really been looking forward to that."
"I'll sleep in another bed, if that would make them feel better," Harry said. "I don't know if I'll sleep very well, but I'm used to that. And surely they'll let you girls stay together. I mean... I don't know much about girls, but I'm pretty sure somebody told me it was all right if girls shared beds with each other."
"I don't know if any of us will be able to sleep if we're not all together," Fleur said. "But we will see. A sleepless night or two... if we must. But not unless there's no other choice."
"If we have to," Hermione said.
"If we have to," Harry said. "I don't want to take you away from your parents, Hermione. I never got to know mine, you know."
"I know, Harry," Hermione said, and clasped his hand. "I want you to know my parents. I think they'll like you, if they can open up their eyes. But I don't know if they can. And if they can't... I'll take Oncle Gérard's offer." There, she'd said it. Harry's eyes were wide. Somehow she knew what she had to say. "If I have to, I will. I love you, and Fleur, and Luna, Harry. I wouldn't be only doing it for you, I'd be doing it for them. And for me, because I'm not sure I can live without you. And because turning my back on the three of you would mean turning my back on magic as well."
"You wouldn't have to, Hermione," Harry said.
"I couldn't. It's as simple as that. I am Hermione Granger. I am a Witch who was born in Oxford with a pair of Muggle dentists for her parents. And I love Harry Potter, Fleur Delacour, and Luna Lovegood. That's the way it is, Harry. Master Harry."
"I love you, Hermione," Luna said. "If Master and all of us keeping you means I have to not call him "Master" and not call you "pet-sister," I will. I'll even take my collar off, if I must." She trembled slightly as she reached for the buckle.
"Per'aps," Fleur said gently, "our dear Master 'Arry might take off our pet-sister Luna's collar for her?"
"Would you?" Luna said.
"Of course. I'll do anything for my wonderful pet Luna." He looked slightly sheepish, as if he'd only realised what he'd said a few seconds after the words left his mouth. It's an adorable expression, actually, Hermione thought. Almost as adorable as him saying "wonderful pet Luna."
Luna had already been sitting close to him; now she pressed herself against his side. He put his arm about her shoulders. "Could I sit in your lap, please, Master?"
She settled herself in place. "Is that all right?"
"Yes." Harry hugged her, and she turned her face to nuzzle his cheek. He rubbed his cheek against her. That looks really nice, Hermione thought to herself. I hope he lets me sit in his lap, sometime soon. And I hope Luna will sit in my lap and nuzzle my face as well. Somehow the sure, calm knowledge flooded her that he would, that she would, and so would Fleur.
She reached out and took one of Luna's hands in both her own. Fleur gave her a quick approving half smile and took the other. "All right, sweet Luna?" Fleur said softly.
"Yes," Luna said. "I'm always all right, with the three of you, darling Fleur. Please, Master Harry? Would you do it? So we can keep our Hermione?"
He unbuckled the collar. Very softly, he stroked Luna's throat. She purred like a cat and raised her chin, pressing herself into the caress. "Would you like me to keep this, Luna? I mean... until I can put it back on you?"
"Would you, Harry? Please?"
"I will." He folded the collar, kissed it, and slipped it into his breast pocket.
"Would you keep mine, also?" Hermione said, taking her collar from the pocket where she'd stuffed it a few hours earlier in the front room of the Cauldron, feeling grateful to have the thing off her neck at last. She was surprised at the change a few hours had made in her feelings. The leather felt soft in her hand, and for a moment she desperately wished that Harry would buckle it back on her.
"Yes." He took it from her, kissed it, and put it next to Luna's. She felt very warm, somehow, seeing that kiss, although part of her wished that Harry had kissed her throat where the collar would rest instead.
Fleur's collar was ready in her hand. "T'ank you, dear Maître 'Arry," she said as he kissed it and put it with the other three. "I look forward to you putting them back on us."
"Thank you," he said. "Umm... shouldn't there be something for you to put on me? I mean, it doesn't seem quite fair, somehow."
"Other than many, many kisses?" Fleur said. "And a ring, someday? Well... perhaps we'll think of something."
Hermione looked towards the door, very swiftly. There was nobody about. "Master? Could I give you that kiss we were talking about? Please?"
Harry blushed. "If you want to," he said. "But... why now?"
"I'll explain later," Fleur said. "But for now, whilst there is no one watching, it would be very nice if our wonderful Maître would kiss all of his pets on the lips. Starting with the lovely Hermione, of course."
"I think we could all fit on this side," Luna said. "If we don't mind being close together."
They didn't, of course. Hermione climbed in next to Harry and Luna, and Fleur next to her. "Do you want to sit in Master's lap, Hermione?" Luna said. "I'll move." She slid off his lap, to the opposite side, and before she could think about it Hermione found herself sitting in his lap.
It felt more comfortable than she could have imagined, even though his knees were bony beneath his jeans. She turned her face towards him; it was startling to realise how close together they were. Her eyes met his. "May I take your glasses off?"
"Of course, Hermione." She lifted them off, folded them, and laid them on the table. "May I kiss you?" he said. "Although... I'm afraid I don't quite know what to do. I mean... I've heard people say there were things to do with your tongue..."
"It is all right, 'Arry," Fleur said. Her hand was feather light, caressing his cheek and then Hermione's. "We will have many years to learn all of that, together."
"Please, Harry," Hermione whispered. "Kiss me." She didn't know if she should pucker her lips first, or... somehow their lips were together. She was vaguely irritated with herself for not having thought it all the way through. After all, it was her first kiss. Her first proper kiss, in any event, not counting relations and her best friend Polly when they were six and playing house. Oh. We're still kissing. That is rather nice. She put her hand on Harry's shoulder, and let her other arm creep about his back. He folded her in his arms. There weren't any sparks behind her eyelids or rockets going off or any of the dramatic things that seemed to happen in the books with underlined bits that the girls passed about at school, but it was very, very nice.
They finally unlocked their lips. "Good heavens," Hermione said. "I'm sorry."
"Don't be," Harry said. "It was wonderful. You're wonderful." He stroked the back of her neck, beneath her ponytail. "My Hermione."
"I mean... everyone had to sit here watching us for ever and ever, and will there be time for you to kiss Luna and Fleur before Oncle Gérard comes back?"
"Chérie," Fleur said, "it was a lovely sight. And you only kissed for thirty seconds, if that long."
"But it felt like... minutes and minutes. Maybe ten or fifteen?"
"No, darling," Fleur said.
"Fleur should have the next kiss," Luna said. "After all, I already got to sit in Harry's lap."
Hermione didn't want to move. But she knew she had to. "Let me up, Fleur? Then you can move in next to Harry."
"No," Luna said. "Why don't you sit in my lap, Hermione?"
"But you're smaller than I am. I might crush you."
"No, you'll not. And I would like to have Hermione sit in my lap."
"Will you tell me if I hurt you? Please?"
"I will. But you won't." Hermione slid off Harry's lap. It was nice, actually, to have someone else to cuddle with. She thought she might have felt adrift, otherwise, after the sudden closeness of Harry's embrace and their kiss. But Luna hugged her tightly. And it was nice to watch Fleur maneuver herself into Harry's lap. The French girl was almost as much taller than Harry as Hermione was taller than Luna. It was funny that Hermione hadn't really noticed that before. Then again, they'd all only known each other less than a day. It was hard to remember that. It seemed as if Harry and Fleur and Luna ought to have been there in her earliest memories, as if they had been there, only she'd not been conscious of them.
Harry and Fleur bumped noses. That was cute. It was even cuter when they finally did meet lip to lip. Fleur was as nervous and as tentative as Harry. As they watched, Luna nuzzled Hermione's face. Somehow they were both holding each other, now. She looked the little blonde in her soft grey eyes, and moments later they were kissing each other. It was quite as nice as kissing Harry, really. A little voice at the back of Hermione's mind said there was something strange about this, but she told it to stifle itself. If this is strange, then I like being strange.
Oh. Fleur and Harry were watching them, now. "I think Luna should have her own kiss with 'Arry," Fleur said. "And me, I would like to kiss 'Ermione's lips. If I may?"
"Of course, Fleur," Hermione said. "I'd like that." She shifted over Harry's lap, somehow finding his hand in hers and giving it a gentle squeeze in passing. And then Fleur pulled her into her own lap.
"Are you sure, sweet?" Fleur said softly. "I don't mind if... if this is too much kissing, right now."
"No, Fleur, it's not. I'd like to kiss you. Unless you don't want to?"
"Of course not. I would very much like to kiss sweet 'Ermione."
"I'm not too heavy in your lap, am I? You'll tell me if I'm hurting you?"
"Of course I will. But you are not. And... I think we have talked quite enough, for the moment." Fleur's eyes twinkled; she blinked, as if she were willing back tears. But... I love her. I hope the thought of kissing me isn't so horrible it makes her cry. And then Fleur's lips were on hers, and they were kissing. Fleur's arms were about her, and she was hugging Fleur. She brought her right hand up Fleur's spine and stroked the back of her neck. It had felt awfully nice when Harry did that to her, and she hoped it might feel the same for Fleur. Assuming that holding me tighter and stroking my hair means 'Yes,' I suppose it must.
They broke the kiss at last. "Je t'aime, ma migonne," Fleur whispered. "Look over there. Are they not sweet?"
Hermione glanced over at Luna and Harry. Luna was nuzzling Harry's cheek, and might have been licking him, slightly, much as she had in the street moments after they first met, but this time Harry's eyes were closed and his hand was stroking her hair. She followed his jaw, and at last brought her lips to his. It was a soft little kiss; Hermione had the feeling that as they grew older kisses would become much more intense and complicated, in a way that school sex education curricula couldn't begin to explain. But for now... this was as lovely as anything she could imagine.
"Am I a good pet, Master?" Luna whispered.
"You are a fabulous pet, Luna. Just like your darling pet-sisters."
"Thank you, Master." Luna sighed. "And I suppose now we should eat our biscuits and drink our tea, and pretend we're only Harry and Fleur and Luna and Hermione, not a master and his pets, so that we don't have to run away to Australia to steal our Hermione back?"
"I'm afraid we should," Harry said.
"Yes," Fleur said, "unfortunately. But first, my loves..." She reached out and caught all three of them in a tight, awkward, wonderful hug. "And may I kiss you, Luna?"
"Of course," Luna said. "No, don't move, Hermione. I'm sure Fleur will let me sit in her lap later. This is fine for now." Hermione leant back and to the side, letting them bring their faces together. Her right hand stayed on Fleur's back, and with her left she stroked Luna's spine. After a moment, Harry's fingers twined with hers.
Some forces wait for no man, Wizard or Muggle, fullblood human bourgeois or part-Veela noble de l'épée. Gérard Delacour had chosen to answer the call of nature before he called Minerva. On his way to the Floo from the water closet, compelled by some paternal instinct, he stepped swiftly and quietly into the back room of the Cauldron, and just as swiftly and quietly left.
"Bon," he said to himself, smiling. Apolline will want to see this memory in a Pensieve. It was probably just as well his wife was not there; her full-Veela mother had given her some odd notions. He hoped she was only joking about wanting to watch their daughter's first kiss, but he didn't want to find out for certain. For one thing, I am far happier thinking that my dear mother-in-law did not actually watch ours. Not least because theirs had come at the advanced ages of twenty-three and twenty-five, at the end of more than ten years of sustained awkwardness with bouts of flirtation, had lasted for at least a half hour, and had barely stopped short of clothes-removal.
Silent and wandless, he cast a mild privacy charm that would last for some fifteen minutes, enough to protect the children from casual gawkers and officious busybodies who could not tell the difference between genuine love and affection and unwise experimentation, and went on his way. The Grangers would doubtless be eager to see their daughter; a pause to chat with Tom and drink a half-pint of his excellent mild ale would give said daughter and her friends enough time to steel themselves for the joyful reunion-cum-awkward introduction that was surely in their immediate future. Saint Valentine, pray for us that this may be no more painful than it must be. And that the dear girl who loves my daughter does not lose her parents even as she has gained her future husband and wives.
"Mister Granger, Mrs. Granger," Delacour said. "I am very pleased to meet you. You have raised a very bright and brave daughter."
"Hermione," Dan said, not able to think of anything else. "How is she? Where is she?"
"She is very well," Delacour said. "She and her friends are here in the Leaky Cauldron. Would you like to come through and see them?"
"Gérard," McGonagall said. "Are you sure that's wise?"
"I am, Minerva. The Grangers should meet their daughter's friends, and it would be good for them to have a better glimpse of the world in which she will be living, also."
"Wait a minute," Dan said. "Why can't she come here?"
"She could," Delacour said, "but I would like to stand you all a good meal, and I think it would be less difficulty for you to come here to the Cauldron than for all of us to go out from Mrs. Badger's door."
"Don't be rude, Dan," Emma said. "Let's go."
"Mrs. Badger," Delacour said, "would you care to join us?"
She coloured. "I'd be delighted, Mr. Delacour, but I'm afraid I really must stay here and keep an eye on my business. My daughter has the night off, you see."
"If you are sure," he said. She nodded. "Very well, then." He made some motion, and the odd-coloured patch of flame expanded into a doorway. "Please come through, Mr. and Mrs. Granger."
There were butterflies in her stomach. Stop it, Hermione thought to herself. They won't send you to Aunt Muriel. They love you. And, Muggle or not, they'll see how much you love Harry and Fleur and Luna. They agreed you'd go to Hogwarts, remember? If they can deal with owls bringing letters and Professor McGonagall transfiguring the teapot into a tortoise and back again, they can deal with this.
As long as Luna doesn't insist on Harry playing fetch with her or something, we'll be fine. And she won't. At least not until my parents aren't watching. And then... well, the thought of watching her friends... her beloved friends... play was really rather nice. Fleur's family had an estate in southern France where it was warm, and surely there would be a nice meadow for the four of them to be alone in, or even a private beach. Hermione and Fleur would cuddle on a blanket or plait each other's hair whilst they watched Harry and Luna, and perhaps they'd join in the game as well. She reckoned that in the end Luna would relent and wear a swimming costume, and Harry could probably be convinced to strip down to trunks, himself.
Speaking of Harry, he looked on the edge of panic. "Your dad hasn't got a shotgun, has he, Hermione?"
"Of course not, Harry," she said. "You know... once they get over the shock, they're going to love you. I'm sure of it."
He didn't look convinced. "Harry," Luna said, "think about our Hermione. She's bright and brave and wonderful. How could the parents who raised her be anything but just like her?"
"I wouldn't know," Harry said. "The only parents I've ever seen were people like the Dursleys."
"And zeir children, zey were just like your cousin, non?" Fleur said. "If our 'Ermione's parents were like zem, she would not be our 'Ermione."
Harry looked shocked. "I'm sorry, Hermione," he said. "I didn't mean that I thought your parents were like my aunt and uncle. It's only..."
"Oh, Harry," Hermione said. She wanted desperately to hug him. "I didn't think you did." She looked towards the door. Oncle Gérard had said that he'd bring her parents back here, so they could have privacy for their reunion and for the first meeting with her beloved friends. The coast is clear, she thought, and reached out to take Harry's hand. "Don't worry, love."
"I can't promise," he said, "but I'll try."
"Trying is all we can ask," Fleur said. "But I am sure you will succeed, M--mon 'Arry."
Someone's feet scuffled loudly on the floor outside. Merci beaucoup, Oncle Gérard, Hermione thought, and squeezed Harry's hand one last time before letting go.
"Hermione!" her mother said. Her father couldn't speak at all. It might have been minutes before either would let her go. She was so very glad to see them. But she couldn't stop thinking about her Harry, her Fleur, and her Luna. Will Daddy threaten Harry? Will Mum think Luna needs professional help? Will Daddy call Fleur a tart?
"Mum, Dad," she said at last, "these are my... friends. This is Fleur Delacour. She... I don't want to think what would've happened if I hadn't met her in that awful man's... shop."
"I am very pleased to meet you, Mr. Granger, Mrs. Granger," Fleur said. "'Ermione gave me ze strengt' to not fall apart."
"And this is Harry Potter, who rescued us."
"Pleased to meet you, Mrs. Granger, Mr. Granger. I... I didn't really do anything, but... your daughter and Fleur are the first friends I've ever had. Please don't be angry at them."
"We're not angry at them, Harry," her mother said. "We're not angry at anyone in this room. Most particularly, we're not angry at you. Isn't that right, Dan?"
"Right. Pleased to meet you, Harry." To her surprise, he stuck out his hand. Not bad, considering that I'd expected him to say "Hello, young man. Do you know that I've spent an hour working out on the punching bag every morning since I was younger than you are?"
"Pleased to meet you, sir," Harry said. Good. Daddy didn't try to crush his hand.
"And this is Luna," Hermione said. I'm not even going to try explaining. I'm sure Professor McGonagall and Oncle Gérard have said something.
"I'm very pleased to meet you, Mrs. Granger, Mr. Granger. Hermione is one of the nicest girls I've ever met. She and Fleur haven't even made fun of my earrings! My friend Ginevra's the only other girl I know who hasn't done, and I think that's only because we've known each other since we were two."
"Of course she hasn't made fun of them, Luna," Emma said. "They're perfectly lovely."
"Thank you, Mrs. Granger," Luna said, and much to Hermione's surprise, she was blushing. How adorable she is, Hermione thought.
Dinner was better than Hermione had dared hope for. Not the food, although it was very good, but the calm and cheer that lay over the table. Professor McGonagall told a long story about how Laird Alasdair, her favourite uncle, held a great hunt for wild haggis every year on the day before Robert Burns' birthday, complete with handwaving gestures illustrating how the ghillies would drive the herd of haggis across the heath to the waiting shooting party.
At seven or eight years of age, Hermione would have declared that haggis was a stuffed sheep's stomach and a teacher, of all people, shouldn't tell lies, especially to poor Harry who'd never left Surrey. Even a few weeks ago, she might have seethed inwardly through the whole story. But now, all she could think was that she was amazed how the elegant, formal Professor McGonagall could also be witty and cheerful, if not downright silly. I used to think that when I had a Chair at Oxford I'd be formal and grand, like the Queen dressed in an academic gown, and terrify undergraduates merely by looking at them. But now... I think I want to grow up to be more like Professor McGonagall.
Her father and mother told the story of how they met when her father upset a punt on the river one bright spring day in his second year of university and her mother and her mother's cousin Juliet rescued him. The story always changed slightly, but this time her mother insisted that there had been an escaped hippopotamus from a nearby safari park in the river with them, which animal they had been forced to hold off with punting poles until the keepers arrived with a basket of yams and a very large net. Oncle Gérard congratulated Emma for her courage with a wink; Hermione couldn't decide if Professor McGonagall took the story at face value or not.
Oncle Gérard insisted that nothing so interesting had ever happened in his life, but when pressed he revealed that a very wealthy young man from his year at Beauxbatons had gone on to become a famous hunter, until the day he went off to hunt bear in a mysterious Wizarding enclave in Siberia. "It was ten years before any of us heard from him, and we all presumed he had long since been eaten. But then, one bright spring morning, what arrived at our breakfast table but a very valiant and very tired eagle owl? He paused only to deliver his message, and to consume an entire basket of croissants and three cups of black coffee before winging on his way. And what do you think was his message?" "What, Papa?" Fleur said.
"A letter, of course, chérie, from my long-lost friend. The story he told was profound, and startling. Three times had he gone out to find the bear, and each time the bear, she--for this was a she-bear he tracked, a powerful she-bear well-skilled in her bear-like trade--she defeated him, thoroughly. And each time she demanded a forfeit, of course... some of this story must wait until you are older, I think. But the third time... why, she revealed to him that she was no ordinary bear. She was a bear-woman!
"They were married within the fortnight, and he enclosed a photograph of himself, his lovely wife, and their five children. And here it is!" He produced a small photograph from his breast-pocket, and passed it round. It was the usual Wizarding kind, black and white like an oldfashioned snap, but with the figures of a slender man, his vaguely Indian-looking wife, and their children waving cheerfully at the viewer.
"But... Oncle Gérard," Hermione couldn't help but say, "they... don't look like bears."
"But of course, chérie. Bear people only look like bears when they are out in the wilderness, living as bears do."
"But... are you sure your friend wasn't joking?"
"I prefer to believe that he is telling the truth, dear Hermione." He shrugged. "But, either way... I think he is happy. And that is what counts the most, non?"
"Yes," she said. I don't think I would have agreed, a few weeks ago, she thought to herself. But Harry and Fleur and Luna had changed that for her. It was startling, but she thought she liked this new version of herself.
Fleur smiled at her from across the table, and she dared a quick glance to Harry at her right side. Her parents were distracted, and she leant over to whisper in his ear. "See? No shotguns."
"Yet," he whispered back. She couldn't decide if she wanted to punch him or hug him. Neither would do, so she narrowed her eyes at him until she couldn't suppress the grin. Then it was all either of them could do not to burst out laughing.
Hastily, they both snapped their eyes front. Fortunately, her father was still discussing the last Six Nations game with Oncle Gérard and her mother was talking about the differences between Wizarding and Muggle detective novels with Professor McGonagall. Fleur winked at them, and Luna leant forward in her chair. "Were you talking about the conflict in America between the mush-mouthed snail darters and the purple-banded crayfish?"
"No, Luna, we weren't," Hermione said.
"That's good. I didn't think you were."
The only problem with dinner was that there weren't any problems. It made Hermione nervous about the night to come. If Daddy's been holding back all evening, it will only make the blow-up worse when he hears that all four of us have to sleep in the same bed.
At last, when pudding was eaten and the adults had finished their coffee, Professor McGonagall cleared her throat. "Our young people have had a long day, and no doubt they're wanting to go to bed."
"I am tired," Fleur said. Luna was nodding in her chair, almost slumping onto Fleur's shoulder. And Harry looked more than a little bleary-eyed.
"I suppose--" Hermione's yawn cut off her words. "Yes."
"Would it be all right if they stayed with you, Dan and Emma? I am sure that either Minerva or myself can alter your rooms as needed."
"Yes," Hermione's mother said. How strange, Hermione thought, I didn't notice when they changed to first names. Then she thought about sleeping arrangements, and her palms began to sweat. I'm not sure I can sleep without all three of them, but... Jesus, I've only ever been to church for the music and I've never really thought I believed in You, but... won't You please stop my Daddy trying to kill my Harry?
She was on tenterhooks the whole way back to Mrs. Badger's B&B. She barely even noticed the trip through the Floo, even though it was something she'd only read about previously and she'd been fascinated by the idea of travelling through a fire. She cast the powder, said "The Seaside Badger," and stepped through. Moments later, she was standing in front of the grate next to Fleur, waiting for the rest to come through.
Mrs. Badger had gone to check on her supply of linens, and for only a moment they were alone. Fleur gripped her hand, briefly, briefly. And then the fire flared up again, and Harry came through.
Floo travel didn't agree with him, apparently. He stumbled and fell, straight onto Hermione. Fleur tried to brace her, but her effort only resulted in all three of them falling to the floor. Oh dear. My head's on Fleur's stomach, and Harry's face is on my chest. It feels wonderful, but...
"That looks fun," Luna said, "but I didn't think we were going to do things like that where your parents could see, Hermione. Should I fall down on top of Harry, or should I help you up? I'm sorry that I have to ask, but I don't know anything about Muggle customs."
"I t'ink we should get up toute suite," Fleur said.
Hermione didn't know how they did it, but somehow they got up off the floor before the adults came through. And then Mrs. Badger was back. "My dear, it's wonderful to see you back. We were all so very worried. And... are you engaged? How perfectly lovely!"
"Yes," Professor McGonagall said. "It's been an eventful day for all of us."
Hermione was so busy worrying that she didn't notice what Mrs. Badger had said for about fifteen minutes. How did she know? Well, perhaps Oncle Gérard or Professor McGonagall said something.
She went upstairs in a daze. Oncle Gérard had gone ahead with her parents. At least he'll be there. He'll be able to stop Daddy killing Harry without either of them being hurt, I think. I hope.
Something had been done with both her parents' room and her own little single. The intervening wall had been taken out, and she could have sworn there was more space than the laws of physics should have allowed. There were two beds; her parents' was just as it had been, but in place of the little bed that had been there was one which was, if anything, slightly larger than her parents', complete with a thick duvet and four large pillows.
"I hope you don't mind sleeping here," Oncle Gérard said, "but we thought it would make your mother and father more comfortable for the first night or two, Hermione."
"Yes," her mother said.
"I've conjured you all pyjamas," Professor McGonagall said. "They've got red and white stripes--I thought dancing monkeys and Kneazles might be a bit much." Harry and Fleur blushed. Luna looked slightly disappointed.
"It's fine," Hermione said. "It's lovely. But... Mum, Daddy, are you sure? I mean... I want to, but... I thought you were going to kill Harry when you found out."
"It's so lovely to see that you'll have friends at school, Hermione," her mother said. "The fact that they're... more than just friends scarcely matters, after that."
"I became resigned to the fact that I'd someday have a son-in-law quite a long time ago," her father said. "This is earlier than I'd expected, but... well, you're a good lad, Harry. And this way I've got plenty of time to teach you to drink decent whisky before the wedding."
She didn't know what to say. If I were a cartoon character, a little voice in the back of her head said, I'd be picking my jaw up off the floor right now.
"Gérard told us a bit about, err... magical bonds and the Veela business," her father said. "Thought it was a load of... rubbish, to be honest, but I'll be... blasted if I can't almost see something, myself."
"Definitely," her mother said. "Perhaps there's more to this magic business than I credited."
"That said," her father added, "you'll change into your pyjamas separately, please. There are some things a father prefers not to know about."
Hermione was still blushing twenty minutes later when, face scrubbed and teeth cleaned, she climbed into bed between Fleur and Harry. Luna was already curled against Harry's side, drowsing, or at least pretending to.
Hermione risked a quick glance across the room. Her parents were reading in bed and ostentatiously not looking in their direction. "Are you too sleepy," Fleur said, "or would you like to read a bit of zis?" She held up the copy of The Wind in the Willows her father had bought them that afternoon.
"I'd love to," Hermione whispered, "but what if we wake Luna?"
"I'm awake," Luna said, "just not very. And I would love to listen."
So she began reading, in a soft voice: "The Mole had been working very hard all the morning..."
After a while, Fleur's arm slipped about her shoulder, and Harry's hand clasped the one of hers that wasn't holding the book. Luna rolled over, reaching her arm across Harry's stomach, and laid her hand over Harry's and Hermione's.
Midway through the chapter, almost as if they'd planned it out in advance, Fleur took over the reading. And, with suspiciously good timing, her parents clicked their light off just as Fleur reached the end of the chapter. "I t'ink zat's a sign," she whispered.
"Mmm, yes. I could sleep now," Hermione whispered back.
"Chérie," Fleur said, "I don't know 'ow to turn off the light."
"Oh. Sorry." Hermione reached over and clicked off the bedside lamp. "Do you not...?"
"Papa 'as an electric lamp in 'is study, but I 'ave never used it, and we 'ave no others at 'ome. Magical candles and oil lamps, they are brighter than the Muggle ones, and they don't start fires by accident. An les elfes de maison, they don't much like the electric. They say it smells bad and makes funny noises."
"Elves?" Hermione said. "There really are elves?"
"Not like in the books of Monsieur le Professeur Tolkien, I'm afraid. More like in your contes fées, I think. They are funny little people, very sweet, but funny. They work for us, and they... they say we own them, but I t'ink sometimes that they just as much own us."
"Sort of like you three and me," Harry whispered. Luna mumbled something, and rubbed her face against his shoulder.
"Except that... well, let us sleep," Fleur whispered. Hermione didn't quite understand why she sounded so embarassed.
I should understand, she thought, as she lay in Fleur's arms, Harry in hers and Luna a warm presence just beyond him, I really should. And I've got a feeling I'll feel like a silly little kid as soon as I do. But... my, this is nice...
Here endeþ ðe chapter.