A/N: I own nothing that JK already owns. Thank you to my beta for correcting my numerous mistakes!
Sorry for the delay!
In the farthest corner of the room, a famous bushy haired brunette was slouching in her seat. The normally alert and eager student had hidden herself from view as best as she could. For the first few weeks of school Hermione had tried to be stoic about her fame, stubbornly fighting to act normally in spite of her discomfort. But with the passage of time she found herself hiding in the back area of the classroom, rarely raising her hand and generally trying to make herself invisible. The results were mixed: instead of gawking at her when she was at the front of the room, students suffered trying to catch her eye and not get caught by the professor. All she really accomplished was making it more difficult for students to stare and more annoying for the professors.
"Hey your name should come up soon!" Joshua whispered loudly, causing a sea of eyes to descend upon them.
Hermione groaned and tried to sink deeply into her seat, silently cursing Joshua for his excitement. She couldn't stay mad at him for very long though, his good natured peppiness and bright golden eyes always put her at ease.
"Honestly, Joshua, keep it down!" she whispered peevishly. "You're too loud, people are staring."
"It's Josha, not Joshua." He sulked.
She couldn't help but grin at his sulky expression and recall when they first met.
For weeks she had struggled to find solitude while simultaneously suffering from loneliness. She had no friends and plenty of admirers. After the party both Veela tried to contact her but she managed to keep away from them. They made her uncomfortable with the way they looked at her and she couldn't shake the memory she had of them together. It didn't make sense, their relationship wasn't visible in public in any way so they had to be casually having sex, or perhaps hiding it from the public eye.
It wasn't that Hermione was a complete prude, and after Ron she was no longer a virgin… but there was a wariness inside her. Both women came off as if they had some other intentions for her. She wasn't even sure they lusted for her body. But they certainly lusted for… something. It was an odd, disconcerting feeling she didn't know how to pin down. All she knew was that she had to avoid them.
And it was fairly easy to avoid them, considering her desperate attempt to run from everyone in general. During her year off she had lived in a protective bubble. Because of her Muggle status, the wizarding community was strictly prohibited from following her around and making themselves obvious. Even reporters weren't allowed to track her down and take photos since they was so incompetent in their disguises. But now the protection was gone and Hermione awoke to a bed full of fan mail and gifts. Many embarrassing gifts. She still couldn't believe one lunatic had sent her his silk boxers.
"It's Hermione Granger!" Someone giggled in the distance.
While the attention had finally petered off to a tolerable level, she still couldn't believe how many people wanted to talk to her. It wasn't like that for Harry when he first arrived at school. But it made sense. When Harry arrived he was a vague legend, eleven years past the height of his celebrity. He had been a baby, which also made idolizing him difficult. There was no difficulty raising Hermione on a pedestal. Fresh from the war she actively helped win, the people were fawning over her, and she had no idea what to do.
She ignored the voice and sped up in the hallway, grateful that they weren't crowded.
"Heeeeeeyyyyyyy" called out the sing song voice.
No, she thought to herself, I'm not answering any damn questions or signing anything, I just want to get back to my dorm and call it a night.
"Aww come on!" he paused. "Ok, fine, I suppose you don't really need your potions text. They say you're a genius."
She finally froze in her place. When she turned she had to do a double take. He had rich burgundy hair that could rival a Veela and golden brown eyes.
"I'm flattered, I didn't think I could make Hermione Granger's jaw fall open." The stranger grinned broadly at her.
"Y-y-you! Just give me my book." She stammered, failing to stop herself from blushing.
"Aww come on, don't be like that I'm just teasing!" He laughed and promptly wrapped an arm around her as if they were old and familiar friends. Hermione was speechless at his relaxed demeanor and confidence, especially after having spent nearly a month surrounded by flustered teenagers, and years among awkward boys.
"My name is Joshua, buuuuut I prefer if you call me Josha. It's what my baby sister used to call me!"
He had an easy smile, one that warmed her. For the first time in her life she had a friend that asked nothing of her except her attention and amusement. She didn't know how much she could trust him and open up, but with his contagious grin she was quickly growing to adore him. To her surprise and joy he was sorted into Gryffindor. Josha was a transfer student her age but he came to Hogwarts late. She didn't think to ask him why. She found that after the war her curiosity for other peoples' business was sated, perhaps never existed except for Ron and Harry's insatiable need to pry into the secrets of others. Josha never offered a comment and she didn't bother to ask.
The soft whispers exploded into excited murmurs. In a haze of embarrassment she got up and grabbed her paper before nearly sprinting back into her seat beside a laughing Josha.
"Hermione, you really need to learn how to get used to this." He snickered while the professor continued calling out names.
"I can't get used to this! I wasn't meant for this kind of attention!" she hissed back at him. "I mean really! When are they going to get used to it and stop bothering me?"
"Hmmm maybe after a couple of centuries… by then it will be your great-great-great grandchildren who will have the privilege of having your name and reputation." He smirked at her sullen expression. "But I'm sure you'll get used to it long before then. It's inevitable. Something happens to you often enough and you can't… help but stop feeling anything for it." A brief shadow passed his face but before Hermione could mention it, his name was called up and he got up to get his paper.
She bit her lip in worry, eyes following his retreating back, and wondered if perhaps she should start asking him more about himself in the future. As happy as she was with their relaxed relationship she wouldn't easily slip into self-centeredness. It wasn't her nature.
She glanced down at her paper and sighed contently at her excellent grade. A gentle, musical laugh filled the air and before she could stop herself she turned to spot Elicia's beautiful face smiling widely over her paper. When she caught Hermione's eye she grinned broadly and winked, making the brunette blush and jerk her head away.
Clearly, Elicia's grades were acceptable. But then, it appeared as if everyone in class was satisfied with their grades. Hermione frowned, unsure if the material was as easy for others as it was for her. It certainly had felt as if the paper took a lot less effort on her part. She couldn't recall any time when so many students were happy with their marks.
"What's with the face?" Josha asked when he got back to his seat.
"Mmmm nothing… I think."
"You couldn't have possibly gotten a low mark have you?" concerned by her frown.
"Oh, no I have a high mark, like usual."
"I should hope so!" he laughed wryly. "I mean they should be even higher than usual, what with everyone being marked gently."
Hermione froze in her seat and stared at him agape.
"I'm taking Advanced Herbology, made friends with the professor and, well, she kind of let it slip that the school is going to be kinder to students when it comes to the material…" he slowed down when he saw her face turn a deep shade of red.
"They… they're going easy on us." It was more of a statement than a question, a very livid statement.
"Well… come on… most of the people here are only coming because they need their diploma… remember when everyone was asking for immunity for the students here? No one really wanted to come back here, especially after the war."
"That doesn't mean we need coddling!" She smacked a hand over her mouth when she realized how loud she was being.
"But Hermione," he added softly, "loads of people have bad memories from this place. Your last year was spent among the woods. Many students lost their lives here. They need to go easy."
She blinked quickly to get rid of the tears threatening to spill over. It was not like her to be so brash. But to have the school coddle her? Could she allow it? Could she accept it?
I am not weak, she snarled mentally.
Keeping her voice composed, Hermione closed the conversation, "Fine, but I'm going to talk to McGonagall, I still don't think it's fair. She said she was going to give us the tools to survive in the outside world. How the hell are we supposed to survive when we're being spoon fed? In the very least, I demand that I get proper training." She crossed her arms tightly.
"Ever the alpha." Josha muttered.
"Hmm? Nothing." He blew her a kiss which only warranted him a patented Granger scowl. He grinned like a boy who got just what he wanted for Christmas.
"Alright everyone, that will be all for today." The professor fumbled through the few remaining papers. "I suppose those who didn't pick up their papers today will be doing so during my office hours. Do let them know."
Fleur was one of those people. Not that Hermione wanted to admit that she noticed the girl's absence, but then how could one not notice that a woman with shimmering silver-white hair disappeared from class? At least it made things more comfortable for Hermione, only one Veela to be wary of. Yet she couldn't suppress the feeling of disappointment when she realized Fleur would not be coming to class. She half wanted to go barging into Ravenclaw and demand the blonde return. But that would be very odd, and definitely unnecessary. She wasn't a prefect, and even if she was it was up to professors to decide what needed to be done.
"Are you going to be eating with the lowly masses today?" Josha asked, breaking her thought patterns.
"Don't say it like that; you know the staring makes me uncomfortable." Sometimes his little jokes irritated her.
"Yes of course. Well this time I'm eating at the Great Hall, don't wait up for me at the common room. Niiiiight Hermes." He called as he abruptly turned away.
Hermione really wished she could figure him out. But before she could think things over, a snowy white owl landed on the window ledge and hooted at her.
"Hed- uh…" Hedwig was dead. Not that long ago. This was Harry's new owl, Remmy. She wished he hadn't chosen such a similar looking owl. It was an insult to Hedwig's memory, but then she supposed he found comfort in that familiar face.
The owl stepped away from the package Harry sent. She reached out to pat him gently but he fluttered away to the Owlry. Irrational anger surged within when she remembered how Hedwig would wait to nibble at her fingers affectionately.
She drew a deep breath, intent on calming herself before she read Harry's letter. With any luck the package contained his infamous Invisibility cloak. She nearly ran back to the dorms.
A girl – Anita - was on her hands and knees between Fleur's legs, lapping up what was left of their encounter. Fleur moaned to herself as she stretched across the bed, relaxing her tense muscles. Anita was good, so Fleur took care to memorize her name for future reference. That tongue did wonders, but those long fingers… some divinity had blessed those fantastic fingers. She looked down to see Anita's glazed expression. Only to be expected when one witnessed a naked, stretching Veela.
"Zat was very good."
"Mmmm, I am almost tempted to return ze favour."
The spike in excitement coming from the girl almost disoriented Fleur. She damned her inner-Veela for being so sensitive to others' emotions. It always messed with her head but years of control had refined her ability to ignore that part of herself.
"But we 'ave class tomorrow. And I must attend it…"
"Please… you wouldn't have to do much… or for very long…"
And that was it. Her needy little whisper completely turned Fleur off. Intellectually, she knew the girl had no choice. Fleur had been an insufferable tease.
But they always need me don't they? Constantly vying for my attention, demanding my time and energy. All of them. At once.
"Per'aps anozzer day." Fleur flinched at her accent, wishing her frustration didn't enhance the damn thing.
"Oh… um, ok then. I guess I'll go back to my bed." She murmured looking away awkwardly.
Ah no, this wouldn't do, she's too good to lose.
Fleur grabbed Anita's forearm as the girl tried to get up. She pressed her lips softly to Anita's, caressing them gently before flicking out her tongue and nibbling on the girl's bottom lip. Anita sighed as Fleur entwined her fingers into her burgundy hair. When she pulled away Anita was breathless and flustered.
Fleur could just imagine the sight Anita beheld. Her silver hair a halo in nightfall, eyes now a midnight blue, and dark swollen lips. Her inner-Veela peered out, changing Fleur's face into a practiced expression of sin and promise.
"Some'zing to hold you over… for anozzer day."
Anita melted before her, smiling like a giddy little girl before kissing Fleur on the cheek and running off to her bed.
And so Fleur was left alone on the bed. The girl was hers, her loyalty sworn in her gaze and the flutter of her heart when Fleur appeared. But Fleur didn't give a damn.
She lay there in bed trying to ignore her feelings. Normally she didn't like sleeping alone, usually kept a bedmate. But she needed to get up in the morning and actually go to class.
Things had not been going well for her. After the party Hermione avoided Fleur like the plague. To her delight, the brunette also gave Elicia a wide berth. But it was annoying; the girl was studying like a fiend and difficult to catch. Hadn't said a word to Fleur, not even a glance, and the Veela was not accustomed to such behavior.
So Elicia and Fleur were at a stalemate. But things had gotten even more complicated as the first month went by. She had really tried, in the beginning. Every morning she got up and went to class. Completely useless attempts, since she always slept poorly – if at all - due to her current bedmate-of-the-week. So she began skipping classes. She tried to make up for it by doing the course readings, and for the most part she had kept up with the subject matter.
So Fleur wasn't lying to Anita, she actually did have to get up in the morning and go to class. She wanted to check on her progress, in classes and in her… extracurricular projects. The brunette wouldn't be able to avoid her in class. True to her record, Fleur always managed to balance work and play. She had already found a few people willing to do her papers for her so she wasn't particularly worried about her written assignments. The exams would be more problematic.
She leaned over to her bedside table and grabbed her wand. After a few complicated taps on the bedside table, an invisible compartment opened to reveal a packet of cigarettes. She lit herself a fag and curled up against the headboard, resting her arms around her knees.
It was quiet, except for some soft breathing. She hated it when it was this quiet. There was a time, once, where she used to love the night. The subtle beauty of darkness. It softens every feature, is gentle on the eyes and makes one aware of the mysteries of the universe. It is also tinged with a sinister warning. She loved it as a child. Fleur smiled to herself, remembering how her mother scolded her when she caught the little Veela sleeping on balconies. Her smile grew deeper when she remembered how Gabrielle started to follow her to sleep outside. In the end her mother gave up trying and set up security spells to protect them, and temperature spells to keep the weather away.
Ah Gabrielle, she had nearly forgotten her. She decided to write to her sometime. To her shame, she couldn't remember the last time she initiated a letter to her little sister. But then, a lot of things were long past. No longer was nightfall a comfort.
She would never admit it, to herself or anyone else, but at night she was paralyzed by loneliness. As she sat there in the dark, taking drag after drag on her cigarette, she felt a heaviness in her heart. Fleur suddenly wished she could call Anita back. But calling her back would only distract her. Particularly in the morning when she should be getting ready for class, and not trying to sneak a quickie.
Her eyes drooped a little but it was futile. She could not sleep. Frustrated, she got up out of bed and stretched herself to her full height, glancing out the window in an effort to find distraction. The mountains lay just outside, awesome and beautiful. Unfortunately she didn't get a view of the lake. Her race loved the water. Sleep would have come more easily had she faced the lake, she was sure of it.
She got dressed in her school robes and checked her watch on the drawer. Three in the morning. Drained and irritable, she glanced around the room for something, anything, to focus on other than her own ridiculous emotions. She blinked when she noticed an odd book peeking out from her bed. She reached down and realized it was that book she got from… whatever his name was. The male Veela.
She ran her fingers over the worn leather. It was brown, only about two hundred pages, and nameless. She had never thanked him or affirmed that she got it. Though on thinking it over, she was surprised he didn't even attempt to meet her since the party. She decided she would talk to Elicia about setting up another one, see if she could chat with him then. Maybe even chat with Elicia. They hadn't really talked since.
She grabbed the book, shrunk it to pocket size and decided to go for a stroll. Technically there was no need for her to break curfew, she was perfectly capable of reading the book in her room. But she was restless and angry with herself. The motivation behind stupidity comes in numerous forms. Fleur pulled the curtains open from her bed, her house's blue and bronze colours all over the room she shared with a handful of girls.
Matches my eyes, she thought ruefully.
She wandered out of the common room and began aimlessly walking about the halls, using her exceptional hearing to keep from meeting any visitors unexpectedly. The book was nestled safely under her arm as she walked. After a few minutes of pointlessly risking her academic standing and subsequent inheritance, she realized she could go to the library. First time for everything, she realized, since she normally didn't care for libraries.
It was a bit of a struggle, figuring out where the library was, because the school was still a disorienting maze for her. The fault was her own, since she only ever left the grounds illegally or went straight to class. Not much exploring the castle when she was busy exploring the bodies of a select few students.
After about thirty minutes worth of dodging ghosts and one annoying, scraggly cat she managed to find the library. She opened the doors carefully and snuck inside. The interior was large and elaborately structured. It would have been beautiful in the daylight, but Fleur was unimpressed, being quite familiar with ancient, oversized architecture all her life.
She sighed and ambled around the stacks, hoping to find something interesting. She didn't have to wait long. Fleur paused when she picked up on a strange sound. It was as if someone had turned a page. Not normally an out of place sound in a library. But at three in the morning she had reason to be perplexed. Perhaps it was a professor? Did she just walk out of the frying pan and into the fire? She waited until she heard it again.
The most cautious action would be to avoid a confrontation and just leave. Return to her bed and try to force some sleep, or perhaps steal some sleeping draught from the medical wing of the school. But Fleur had long ago decided that caution disinterested her. She called upon her inner-Veela, shivering as her body slowly stiffened. Pleasure and pain seeped into her muscles as her body grew stronger and more agile. Her night vision acuity increased tenfold. She had to close her eyes, trying not to react. It was ridiculous, she rarely allowed herself to experience the change because it was so… awkwardly enjoyable. She didn't feel comfortable with how good it felt. The quicker, the better. But then, she didn't want a quick change to alert whoever was hiding around the library.
She stopped just short of completing the change. Oh, she would never have the beak or wings – thank Merlin – but she didn't like what little changes occurred. If it wasn't so useful she would never allow the transformation. She hated how much she liked it, it turned her on and made her feel powerful.
Fleur made her way to the sounds with the careful and patient movements of a predator. She stopped for long periods of time, meticulously keeping track of where the person seemed to be coming from. But Fleur was perplexed; she saw no sign of anyone in the room. No lights, no shapes, no other goddamn sound to give them away. Had to be a professor, who else could hide from her so well? But then why would a professor need to hide?
She moved forward, toward a corner of the room, well secluded by a rack of heavy tomes. It was the potions section. She peered into the corner, bemused and wary. The energy in the air suddenly became tense. Fleur froze and stared blankly at the corner. There was an empty bench and large window. She had been spotted, she knew, but the person wasn't making themselves known.
"'Ello?" She asked softly.
There was silence. She continued to stare at the corner. Her nostrils flared and she caught an odd scent.
"Who is zere?" Fleur waited. "I know you are zere. Speak up."
She remained where she was, between the rack of books and the wall, effectively pinning the person in their place. She waited, trying to ignore the anticipation. What she couldn't understand was why they weren't trying anything. Didn't they have a wand on them?
Suddenly her inner-Veela perked up, there was movement, she could sense it! The hunter in her picked up the change in air flow and she flung herself toward the wall, hearing a surprised grunt. A soft body crumbled under her as she slammed the person into the wall. Fleur frowned when she felt a strange fabric against the skin of her arms and face.
The individual groaned just as Fleur pulled the cloak away.
Damn you Harry Potter.
She had asked Harry for one favour and one favour alone: lend her the invisibility cloak. Though it was no longer common for her to open up to her old friends, she couldn't help herself and started ranting about the fame she found herself in. But she figured that everything they had been through, it should have been ok to ask for one small kindness from her friend. Indeed, Harry sent her the cloak... but it came with a request.
She shouldn't have been surprised when she got a letter from him begging her for help. Harry seemed confused, it came as a shock to him that being an Auror was a strenuous occupation. Harry was in over his head. Something was happening at the Ministry of Magic. He told her the Aurors were working with the Unmentionables but it was difficult to communicate with them because of their secrecy. The break in communication was causing strain between the two groups, each one feeling the other was disrespectful. Aurors were furious that they weren't trusted to information vital to their work, especially since they were forced to involve the Unmentionables in the first place. Of course the Unmentionables were, in turn, furious that the 'incompetent' Aurors expected them to give up sensitive information.
At that point of the letter Hermione realized what he wanted before even finishing the letter. The bastard wanted her to help him with his homework! Again! Worse than that he wanted her to do the research his team was incapable of doing. Amazing. She couldn't so much as ask for one damn gift from him after all her efforts to help him in the past.
But what could she do? It wasn't in her nature to turn down a friend, especially when there were so few she could call friend. Afterword, she would speak to him about calling on her. It had to stop. She promised herself she would only do the minimum required of her as a friend.
Harry was so relieved to hear that she would help. He wasn't authorized to tell her much, much to his chagrin. It seemed as if the Golden Trio did have limitations. They didn't want Hermione involved. So he gave her two words that were available in the public domain: Blood Realm.
Hermione had never heard of it before. She replied in the letter, telling him she had never heard those words before, but that she managed to figure out that they were searching for a place, and from the sound of it, an ominous and foreboding one.
She never implied in any way, shape, or form that she was interested in helping him. The time had long past when little Hermione played the hero of the magical world. Harry's saviour complex led him to a career as an Auror. Hermione had no intention of actively looking for ways to save people. So she told him she didn't know and left it at that, hoping he would realize that she had offered him no help and would leave her alone.
Harry fucking Potter.
In the past she had never complained, so perhaps it was her fault… but they were so young and the world was asking so much of him: to defeat a man with vastly superior magic and a deep sadistic streak, since the age of eleven. He never had a choice; everyone was expecting him to be powerful, especially the Dark Lord. Of all the children paid tribute at Hogwarts it was his lost childhood that was sacrificed the most. So she helped him willingly and enthusiastically. But it was time to grow up. Harry didn't have to choose to be an Auror. It was no longer her obligation as a friend to take care of him throughout his every challenge.
But he begged her. To her disgust, Ron had joined in and written her, begging on Harry's behalf. She promised him the least she could do: check the Hogwarts library. She knew he would be hurt, too dense to understand. She could still remember the letter, word for word, clearly in her mind.
Well thanks I guess. I was kind of hoping you could do a bit more, I mean you're the brightest witch of our age. But I guess you're busy with school, working like mad as always. But you did find time to help me with Voldemort even when you did your O.W.L.S. But I guess things are different now. I hope there's something in that library. Write to me soon.
She had grit her teeth through the short letter and could barely read it all the way through. The way he kept trying to subtly guilt her, admonish her for not offering more. Hadn't he taken enough from her?
And then Ron, ever tactful and polite:
I checked in with Harry today. Bloody hell what's happened to you? Best friend needs a little help and you aren't even trying? It's been a whole year and you barely wrote to us! Only to ask if we were going to school. School. School. School! I'm going to the archives of Britain's largest library. Least one of us will give him some help. Honestly, you study too much!
She almost wanted to write back and tell them she didn't want to help them at all. If the whole damn Ministry was incapable of figuring the situation out then she couldn't be bothered. And hell, if they were going to use her again then she should start charging them. A hundred galleons a day, she smiled grimly. Granted… the Ministry was hounding her for her attention ever since Voldemort died, but she didn't want a job. She just wanted to learn.
Normally she would have jumped to help them but for some inexplicable reason she found herself taking her time researching. It didn't help that she finally had a heavy workload reminiscent of her old days at school. But the conversation between her and McGonagall left her disheartened.
"How have you been Hermione?"
"I'm alright… and you Pro—Headmistress?"
"Ah yes… we're still getting used to that title aren't we? Headmistress." McGonagall trailed off as her mind wandered to the past. "I never thought this day would come. I think we all believed him immortal. Almost as if there were no Headmasters before him and certainly no Headmasters after him…"
The lines in her face were deeper since they had last met. It had not been obvious, with McGonagall so distant in the Great Hall, but war had taken its toll on the old woman. Hermione got the impression that her old head of house, the austere icon for Gryffindor, didn't want to be there.
"Is everything alright Prof—Headmistress?"
"Hmm? Oh yes everything is fine. But I'm sure you're here for a reason Ms. Granger, you don't usually stop by for a chat." She smiled softly.
"Uhm… well…" she had prepared herself to rant and rave about the changes in the school. But sitting before her mentor, especially in her weakened state, created feelings of guilt. It wasn't McGonagall's fault, they needed to renovate.
"Well I guess I just feel… I feel…"
"You don't like the changes." McGonagall deadpanned.
"… I just… I… I want to learn!" she breathed nervously. "I thought with the announcement you made that you would be training us for real life, much like before! Then I come here and realize that we're being marked easily and our work is lighter. It's not fair, I came here to finish my diploma legitimately! Ever since the war everyone is trying to get me to skip steps!" at that point she was quite red in the face and nearly in tears. Ron and Harry refusing to go to school. Businesses offering her positions. Everyone wanted her to just skip everything and go forward. No pauses and no breaks. There was a constant pressure, a demand for her time, screw all the rules, everyone had to have a piece of Hermione Granger. All she wanted to do was study. One normal year at school.
"I understand." McGonagall murmured to herself when Hermione finished. "Well let me make things perfectly clear to you Hermione, and I hope you keep this to yourself."
Hermione was still panting too hard to answer so she simply nodded her head.
"Currently there is great political and economic pressure on Hogwarts. We have made ourselves internationally visible. I am doing my best to keep things away from the students but… private businesses are trying to buy up pieces of Hogwarts. The government too is trying to influence us, from within our student population to the structure of the school." Her face contorted in disgust. She walked up to the fireplace, hiding her expression from a dumbfounded Hermione.
"We have made ourselves very important. They want us to expand the school itself. Some of the renovations have already been paid for by various companies. One particularly wealthy family paid for the tables in the Great Hall… Soon I will have to erect placards in honour of their… donations." She spat. "The school's face is changing. I am… doing my best to keep things together, keep them at bay."
She turned to Hermione with despair written all over her face.
"You have all suffered greatly. Hermione(,) you know you are one of the few students here that is actively seeking a challenge. I will give you that challenge out of respect for your great contributions during the war. But out of respect for their sacrifices… I must be gentle with the students. I will never allow them to leave this school unprepared. But it would be cruel to push them.
Next week I will be announcing a new system we have put into place. With the help of contributors, naturally…" she sighed. "We have hired Counselors to help students cope in a confidential and safe environment. I sincerely believe that this will help the students far more effectively than simply teaching them how to utilize their magical tools… Hermione… perhaps you might want to talk to one of them…"
Hermione's expression closed up completely.
"I'll take that into account."
"Of course… well. If it pleases you, I will tell the professors to increase your workload accordingly, if it is your wish."
She had left the room horrified and heartbroken. Everything had changed and she never had the chance to truly lay back and appreciate what used to be a second home to her.
It was over a week before she snuck into the restricted section. Disturbed by McGonagall's words and finally dealing with an adequate amount of homework, she didn't particularly care about whatever secret Harry was harboring. She had considered asking McGonagall for a note but she couldn't risk having someone catch her researching the "Blood Realm"; Harry might get in trouble for telling her what little information he gave her and revealing the Ministry's interest in whatever the hell that place was.
In keeping with her newfound taste for procrastination, it was her second night at the restricted section. She was lazily flipping through one book about opening portals, fully intending to leave in an hour. No point wasting her sleep. It was supposed to be fairly simple, just sit there and scan the book, naturally unable to find anything. At most Filch would show up, but she was safely hidden under the cloak and capable of quickly leaving if the old man showed up. But she forgot to account for one absolutely vital piece of information.
Anything connected to Harry Potter, even coincidentally, always ends up horribly wrong.
She knew this, had been by his side for seven years. Yet, when she suddenly found herself cornered by Fleur Delacour, her mouth had dropped open with shock. What was supposed to be a boring night alone in the library ended up with her sprawled on the floor under a rather alarming part-Veela. Her face looked odd, almost bestial.
"Ow…" Hermione blinked as Fleur aimed a wand in her face. "Hey! Hey… that's ok. I'm fine…"
"You 'it your 'ead," she snapped, her accent thick.
"Yes but it's not so bad, really, I don't feel any symptoms…. You can get the wand away from my face now." She scrambled to her feet.
Fleur reluctantly put the wand back in her pocket and stood up.
"I suppose I am not making great strides in improving your impression of me." She smiled wryly at Hermione.
"Heh, well it's not your fault. I was sneaking around late…"
"Yes, and just why were you hiding here? And where did you get the cloak from?" She leaned down to pick it up and examine it closely. Suddenly her eyes went wide with awe. "Incroyable! Zis – zis iz! Zis is ze cloak!" She stammered in broken English.
"Ah, yes, that's Harry's cloak." She eyed Fleur warily, the fanatic gleam in the blonds' eyes making her nervous. She wasn't sure if Fleur might steal it.
Fleur looked up and smiled at Hermione slyly, as if contemplating exactly such an act. But then her smile softened and she handed it over. A peculiar thing happened then: their fingertips brushed and Hermione suddenly felt inhumanly hard skin. Fleur jerked her hand away.
"What was that?"
"What are you doing out so late 'Ermione?"
"I… was doing research. For school." The air had changed and she suddenly felt a bit dizzy. Fleur looked… softer in the darkness. She wished she could cast a light around the room to see more clearly. Something told her she had just missed something important but she couldn't risk getting caught. Especially with Fleur.
"Research? Zis late? I know I haven't been to class lately…"
She could feel Fleur's gaze on her and it made her nervous.
"Well I'm doing extra research…. I didn't want to be here during the day because… because…" she flailed for some logical explanation. "I just don't like the attention you know… so I come here when it's empty." She nearly sighed with relief.
"You expect me to believe zat you are here at three in ze morning just because you're scared of your admirers? You could easily take out those texts in the day and take them back to your room." Hermione tensed when Fleur looked around the stacks of books. "What section are we in?"
She panicked and reached out to grasp Fleur's shoulder.
"Who do you think you are interrogating me? You're up late yourself!"
There was a heavy silence.
"I could not sleep. I suppose I am restless." She canted her head at Hermione. "You are known to be a most kind and generous girl… per'aps you would like to help me get rid of some tension?"
Fleur was standing too close. Her exotic perfume making Hermione feel dizzy. She tried to turn away, to find a way out.
"We need to get going…"
"What were you really doing 'ere 'Ermione?" her soft voice gave Hermione goose bumps.
"Hmmm zis is not ze most believable story…" She ran her fingers lightly over Hermione's hair, nails gently trailing over her cheek.
Hermione was breathing faster, which meant she was breathing more of Fleur's delectable perfume. What was it? What did it taste like?
She was dazed. What little light came through the window cast shadows over Fleur's face, making her skin look like milk and her eyes so very dark… Such soft full lips…
The blonde didn't reply, and all of a sudden Hermione could move no further, her back against the wall.
The only sound in the room was Hermione's rapid breathing. She couldn't stop staring into Fleur's eyes, she had never seen such hunger. Certainly not toward her. She had no idea what to do or what on earth was happening. Fleur was standing close. Fleur was standing really close. And oh God she could feel Fleur's breath on her, her warmth and – hands on her shoulders, effectively pinning her in place.
"Uhh… Fleur…." She breathed in surprise. Her clothes felt too tight, too warm and she could feel Fleur's body under those robes. A firm powerful body under aggravating clothing. Without thinking, her own hands settled on Fleur's waist.
Narrow hips… bones jutting out? So skinny…
Hermione blinked confusedly, but before she could process anything Fleur had lightly grazed her lips along the corner of her mouth…
There was a tightness in her lower stomach and Hermione knew exactly what it meant. The lightheadedness intensified as Fleur leaned in, fusing their bodies closer. She could feel every curve... Hermione unconsciously spread her legs… The book rack creaked loudly.
Book rack. Library. Library? The books…
Hermione froze and suddenly the tension was gone. Fleur looked at her in shock.
"Oh… nothing." She slipped away from Fleur's stricken hands, carefully nudging the books she had grabbed for Harry under the bench. She pulled away from the corner agitatedly. The thrall and it's aggravating potency. What was Fleur trying to accomplish? She had completely forgotten why she had come to the library in the first place. And she had nearly… nearly… nearly! Damn you Fleur! She was furious.
"Now just what the hell were you doing?!" She snarled as quietly as she could.
Fleur drew back, innocently surprised by her outburst.
"What do you mean?"
"Don't pretend you're that stupid Fleur! That was your thrall wasn't it? What do you want?"
"Perhaps I am that stupid. But tell me, what do you zink I want, if I used my thrall on you?" Fleur raised an eyebrow, making Hermione turn a deep shade of red. Fleur laughed at her expression.
"I am in no mood to play games! It's three in the morning!"
"Zen… we shall play games at a more convenient time for you, oui?" The temperature arose once more and Fleur chuckled at her discomfort. "I can't 'elp it 'Ermione, you are easy to tease."
"You're insufferable!" she glared at the French woman, half relieved and half disappointed that the Veela wasn't serious. "Aren't there rules against using the thrall like this?"
"Non, there are few regulations against ze Veela. We appear harmless." She smirked. Something in her expression sent unpleasant chills up Hermione's spine.
"And these regulations don't include using your thrall on hapless people?"
"I cannot 'elp it 'Ermione. It is like breathing. I am always using my thrall. And I cannot 'elp being… a bit of a tease. It is my nature."
She wasn't sure just how truthful the woman was, but until she read up on Veela she couldn't dismiss Fleur's comments. Hermione was not one to allow her own biases to cloud her judgment.
"Besides, you like it."
"I do not!"
"Oh but look at ze healthy colour on your cheeks, and I am sure you missed me in class. You enjoy being chased I am sure. All women do."
"That was offensive! I am offended!" she sputtered, irrationally worrying that Fleur could somehow know that she had been worrying over her. "And not all women do! And…. And what do you mean chasing me?"
The part-Veela gave her one enigmatic smile.
"I zink of you as someone who could be my friend… and us Veela, we are very friendly… per'aps uncomfortably so. But it is our culture. We are evolved from predators. We like to chase. I just want to play with a friend non?"
Clearly, she needed to learn more about Veela and their nature, culture and society. Fleur seemed sincere. It wouldn't hurt her to be friends with her. Hermione reminded herself that she wasn't a prude, but she might benefit from more open minded friends. Harry and Ron were… less than exemplary when it came to acknowledging Hermione's sexuality so she wasn't used to someone flirting so openly with her. True, she had seen other girls flirt with one another playfully. Straight girls. Didn't make Hermione gay if she tried to flirt with another girl. Didn't even mean that Fleur was interested.
"Well… I am sure there are ethical boundaries… but I guess I overreacted…" she muttered and trailed off when she realized Fleur was no longer listening. She had cocked her head to the side and stared off in the distance.
"We should be going 'Ermione, I zink I hear someone."
"Oh…" she grabbed the cloak tightly and wrapped it around her shoulders. "Umm did you need help? I mean I figure you've gotten here easily enough. I suppose you know a good charm or something…"
"Hmm I did not use a charm."
"So how did you get here?"
Hermione looked at her confusedly.
"So… you just walked around risking –"
"Yes, yes, I am quite the rebel, certainly ze only student to wander the 'alls so carelessly." She smiled softly as she aimed the wand at herself. Within seconds Hermione was staring at empty space.
"Huh… that's a good spell. Mind showing me how to do it sometime?"
Hermione shivered when she suddenly felt Fleur's fingers trailing along the side of her neck.
"Oui, I will show you sometime…" The fingers danced away. "But don't make it easy for me love; I like it when you run. I will always catch you…"
Hermione shivered when Fleur laughed. For the longest time she didn't move, unsure whether the woman had left or not. She still had to return the books to their place so as not to attract attention. But she couldn't move. She half expected Fleur to be hiding nearby, watching and waiting for her, hunting her just like she promised. A conflicting combination of fear and excitement suddenly hummed through her body, but just as quickly turned to embarrassment.
Being Fleur's friend would be a challenge. They were opposites in many ways. But maybe with time, she would see their similarities. Hermione smiled to herself as she put the books away and tossed the invisibility cloak over herself.
She slammed him into the wall hard and fast.
"Who are you?"
The boy squirmed in her grip. She had sensed him in the library, perhaps belatedly, watching her and Hermione. When she cast the spell to vanish, he had immediately sprinted out of the room, trying to make a run for it. For the second time that night she had partially changed. Stalking him was simple enough and once he felt the coast was clear she had him pinned.
"I asked you a question boy."
"You don't remember me?"
"I am supposed to remember you?" In the faint light in the hallway she could see his face fall.
She stared at him blankly.
"Ackley?" he emphasized, as if it made a difference to her whether he repeated it fifty times.
"I am not familiar with that name. What do you want?"
"You… we… I… we were on the train together."
"The train? What does zis 'ave to do with you following me to the library?"
If there was any disadvantage in being promiscuous it was the amount of people who felt their encounters were Fleur had some emotional value. While Fleur was certainly a memorable lover, she didn't bother to recall many faces and so she often found herself in awkward situations where she failed to remember some event an ex-sex partner found important. Normally she tried to be polite to them, it was the least she could do. But she was furious that this idiot had tried to follow her around and interrupted her just as she was making headway with the Granger girl. How long had it been going on?
"I'm in Ravenclaw." He blurted out. "I have been this whole time and you never even noticed! And I tried to talk to you! And –" she slapped him hard across the face.
"Keep quiet you fool," she hissed. "Are you trying to get us caught? I don't care what we did on ze train! You will stop following me boy or I will 'ave you stopped myself." Her glare could have cut stone. She turned away from him, quietly muttering her Chameleon spell to herself to blend in with the environment.
Too late she tasted his desperation in the air. The boy was a potential threat. She would have to contact a few people, make sure that if he did turn out to be a lunatic someone else would deal with him.
When she arrived back in her dorm she was thoroughly frustrated. What had she accomplished that night? A tentative step forward with Granger. As much as it irritated her she realized she now had added incentive to go to class. The damn girl was such a bookworm, very education-obsessed. Not that Fleur really believed her story. Hermione Granger did not scare easily and that night her nerves were all over the place.
She flopped down on her bed lazily, frowning when something poked her hip.
Back to its proper size, she tossed it in her desk. She tried to sleep.
Four fifteen in the morning.
She was grinding her teeth in agony. Nights were rarely this bad. She would stay up until two and then manage to doze off only to awaken around seven in the morning. A few naps throughout the day and she managed to function. But nights like these… she quickly decided school wasn't worth it. It wasn't as if she could be conscious in class anyway.
She sat up and grabbed the book again. If she was going to be up at an ungodly hour she might as well entertain herself…
The pages were hard and crackled with every movement. She worried they might break apart in her fingers because they were so dry and brittle, but there must have been a spell on them to keep them from falling apart. Oddly, all the spells were in English and not the traditional Latin.
There were many strange spells in the book. And some very sinister looking spells…
A spell to cause rage? A spell to… a spell to make daydreams a reality?
Fleur felt a cold settle within her. What kind of book had Reiner given her? The spells were complex and highly powerful. The daydream spell almost seemed innocent but… fantasies were a tricky thing. He said people usually screwed up the spells. They were too difficult. She couldn't even begin to fathom the many ways that spell could go horribly wrong.
She paused at the one he mentioned to her. Over ten pages were dedicated to it in great detail. From what she could gather the spell manipulated dimensions of reality. It was not an illusion; she would be in her room and simultaneously not in her room.
He turned to ash.
"Hmm…" It had been a while since she had last felt so uncertain of herself. Was she qualified to try any of these spells?
She skimmed through the rest of the book before landing on one spell that made her pause.
To switch bodies.
It was in potion form, combined with concentration and willpower. Potions were specific and far easier to control and monitor. There were only two pages of instructions and she wasn't sure if that was a good thing.
The potion appeared difficult, mainly because the ingredients were too exotic for her. Half of them she had never even heard of until she looked at that book.
From what she understood she needed to find a target to change bodies with, create the potion and consume it while focusing on the body she wanted to switch with. Done correctly, her own body would fall limp and unconsciousand her essence would switch places with the essence of the other body. She could then play around with that body for twenty four hours without repercussion. Her own body would be out of commission so the other person or animal would never know anything had happened. After twenty four hours, however, it would be increasingly difficult to switch bodies again. All she needed was to refocus on getting back to her body.
She read the paper three times, carefully. Like all the other spells, this one was dangerous and she could see how the government wouldn't want it to fall into the wrong hands. Twenty four hours was a long time to spend in the body of someone else… to do all kinds of terrible things without anyone's notice.
And, if done incorrectly, she could be stuck in the other's body, or the wrong body… or her own body might retain consciousness… essences might not exchange, she might actually switch body parts…
Fleur groaned to herself and put the book away. So many risks, was it worth it? Why was she interested in that stupid spell anyway? Why would she want to switch bodies with anyone?
She sat on her bed, arms around her knees and stared off into the darkness. Soft, steady breathing the only sound in the room, she sat and waited. She didn't know what she was waiting for. What she did know was that it was too cold. The blankets weren't helping.
It was five thirty.
A/N: Gotta go running to work now! Sorry for the long delay to this post and the short A/N (or maybe you're thankful to be rid of my long ramblings at the end of these chapters lol)
I'll try to respond to every review! Hope you enjoy!
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