AN: I don't even want to think about how long it's been. Enjoy.
The days following her firelight reminiscing were surprisingly easier for Fleur to handle. The emotional catharsis it provided enabled her to go about her daily life at a heightened pace that made the aching in her heart a distant memory. It was ever-present, to be sure, just pushed into the back of her mind.
The difference in Fleur's demeanor was so noticeable that even Roger commented on it. She was flitting about in her boutique from customer to customer, a large smile on her face as she went. The two were on lunch break one afternoon, leaving the store in the hands of the two new witches she hired after the boom in Christmas sales gave her a chance to expand.
They made easy small talk about the state of the boutique as they ate. The two had become good friends while working together, so Roger didn't feel as awkward when he mentioned, "You know, Fleur, I think these past few days have been the most I've ever seen you smile."
Fleur looked at him, chewing her sandwich deliberately as if weighing his words. Finding the comment innocuous enough, she replied, "Well, I've got a lot to be happy for. My store is doing well and we've survived our first major holiday together. I think that's reason enough to be happy."
He nodded, apparently thinking about something deeply. He eyed her carefully as he voiced his thoughts: "I've been thinking, Fleur…"
She paused with her cup of water halfway to her mouth, stopped by his suddenly serious tone. "What is it, Roger?"
"Well, don't take this the wrong way. You just said it yourself that the store is doing great. So, I was thinking, well…" he trailed off, uncertain how to best word what he was going to say.
Fleur watched him grasp at words and quickly grew annoyed. "Just say it, Roger. Please."
"I think you should go on a vacation, Fleur. Now, hear me out. You hired me a couple of months after you opened this place up, and in all the time I've worked here you have never once had a day off. Quite frankly, I don't know how you do it. I think it's time for you to go off and relax, enjoy yourself."
Fleur sat looking at him, an amused look on her face in response to the nerve he was showing.
"Look, take a week off or something. You can leave the shop to me." When she continued to just stare at him, he kept rambling on. "Come on, Fleur. At least take the rest of today off. I can handle it." He smiled in what he hoped was an encouraging manner.
She took a drink of her water, still eyeing him. The two sat still for a moment, looking at each other while Fleur thought over his words. Finally:
"Very well. I will take the rest of today off, and think about taking a week off at some point."
"At some point soon?"
She sighed. "Yes, at some point soon. You are in charge of the shop for the rest of the day. Don't forget the extra locking charms when you close up."
Roger, finished with his lunch, stood to go back to the storefront. With a cheeky grin on his face from winning the conversation, he said "Yes ma'am" before disappearing through the doorway.
Fleur sighed. With her afternoon now free, she had to find something to do with it. But what? She knew she did not want to return to her home. She had not made many friends in England despite living there for quite some time, and the friends she had were back in France.
The thoughts crowding the back of her mind came surging to the front, and Fleur sat deliberating her next actions as she cleaned up the garbage from her lunch. With a sigh, she pulled her coat around her frame and headed out the door, mixed emotions flooding her head and heart for where she was going.
There were few things Fleur actually hated in life. The English Metro system was one of them. The cars were crowded, loud, often smelly, and the amount of muggles swarming around her made her uncomfortable. Unfortunately, at this time of day it was the best way for her to travel to her destination.
She was headed to a small city outside London. She had last been there this time of year nearly five years ago. While not looking forward to what she was about to do in the slightest, she knew that it was something that had to happen sooner rather than later.
She disembarked at her stop and inhaled deeply once she had cleared the Metro station and stood once more in clear English air. It had a different quality than French air, and although she could not really recall what the difference was, she knew she preferred the French version.
Her destination was a short walk from the station. Her stylish leather boots clicked neatly on the sidewalk as she went. As she passed muggles on the street she gave them very little thought, her mind suddenly focused as the gray shapes in the distance grew larger and larger until she was walking in their midst, the finely manicured lawns given an equivalent amount of attention as her nails.
Despite the time elapsed since her last visit, she knew the way to the tombstone like it was the back of her hand. Before it registered to her racing mind, the gray slab marking Hermione's resting place stood grimly before her in the rare February sunshine. She leaned down and brushed the small amount of accumulated snow off the stone's engraving, tears already threatening to break her carefully constructed composure.
Fleur was unaware of time's flow as she stood there. Seconds, minutes, months, years, decades, the end of time—any or all could have passed by without her knowledge of it. All she was aware of was the sudden pain in her chest, the burning of her eyes as the tears stung in the wind that suddenly picked up, and the frustration growing from the voice inside her that stubbornly told her to have faith that Hermione was alive.
Being back at the gravesite, the pain Fleur had worked so hard to get past and live through resurfaced. She now found herself on her knees in the dusting of snow that covered the ground, her makeup a mess on her face as she wept, truly wept, over the loss of Hermione. The mourning she couldn't allow herself to go through those five years ago was finally given its release.
When she reached the point where tears turned into the empty feeling of nothing, she felt her body relax. Roger was right—she needed to take a day off. Maybe his suggestion of taking a whole week to herself wasn't such a bad—
Fleur tensed as she sensed that she was being watched. Looking around, there was a family with small children visiting a grave farther down the pathway, but they were too focused on their own grief to spare her a glance. They were the only other visible people in the cemetery, and Fleur felt a chill run up and down her spine. She stood, whispered a goodbye in her voice still shaken by the intensity of her grief, and quickly made her way back to the Metro station.
Not caring about the questionable cleanliness of the car, Fleur sat in the back and did her best to discreetly clean up her face with minimal magic usage. When her face was once again presentable, she fell limply against the back of her seat and let it loll from side to side. She was emotionally, physically, and mentally drained. She closed her eyes and did her best to not think.
Several stops later, she opened her eyes to see how much longer she had to ride the train. They pulled into another station, and as she watched people board, she caught a glimpse of shoulder-length wavy brunette hair. Her heart skipped a beat in her chest, and the hopeful voice inside her jumped enthusiastically inside her.
She stood as the doors shut and the train lurched forward, and she had to grasp a handrail for balance. Continuing her way to the train connection, she opened the door to the next car just in time to see a familiar form and its accompanying brown locks disappear through into the next car up.
This mini-chase continued for two more cars, and Fleur could swear at one point that she heard the faintest trace of Hermione's laughter as she fought her way through the crowded cars in pursuit of her ghost. At the next stop, she reached the last car as the doors opened. She was halfway through the compartment when she glanced out the window and saw her lover's shadow exiting the station platform into whatever town they were at.
Fleur mentally slapped herself hard. How silly was she, following someone from Metro car to car just because she looked (and sounded) just like Hermione?
I must be going mental, she thought. Maybe I do need that vacation.
She made up her mind on the spot, knowing where she had to go to get away from it all, if even for a short time. She needed to clear her mind. She needed to do it soon.
She needed to go to Paris.