Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter. Seriously.
A/N1: Written for FemSlash Advent Calendar: Dog Days of Summer 2010.
A/N2: Thanks to Emily and elikaization for the awesome beta job! Hope everyone enjoys the story.
A/N3: As always, please take a moment to review. Cheers!
It all began with a glare and an argument. It had only been a week or so since Halloween, since the selection of the Champions, and Hogwarts remained rife with baseless speculations and dodgy rumours, averted looks and adoring glances. It was late one afternoon when Hermione Granger happened to encounter one of the Champions – all of whom were now propelled to celebrity status, discounting whether or not they had previously already been such (as in the cases of either Viktor Krum or Harry Potter), whether or not they had wanted to be such.
"Is zere somezing on my face?" Fleur Delacour enquired with a lifted eyebrow, her question easily traversing the empty corridor in that heavy French accent of hers, in that sanctimonious tone of her dulcet voice – all of which managed to grate successfully on every last one of Hermione's nerves.
The aforementioned brunette grimaced.
"Is zere somezing on my face, Ms Granger?" Fleur prompted with more urgency in an uncharacteristic display of self-consciousness.
Hermione held back a smirk, a sarcastic response, an outright insult – any, or perhaps all, of her most natural reactions. Instead, she responded evenly, "Of course not, Ms Delacour."
"You made a face, Ms Granger," Fleur pointed out, her nose turned up haughtily and her eyebrow raised further as if mocking Hermione's aptitude.
Hermione just about managed to talk herself into stifling a groan in time. "I did no such thing. You must be mistaken."
"You made a face," Fleur repeated. "I am not an idiot, Ms Granger."
Hermione snorted before she could stop herself.
Fleur glowered. "Ms Granger, I happen to be one of ze four Champions! You, on ze ozer hand, are not."
Hermione smiled sweetly. "But of course, Ms Delacour. I'm convinced that that indicates your ... robust intelligence and ineffable ... quality – generally speaking."
Fleur sniffed, looking somewhat placated even if her blue, blue eyes remained highly suspicious of Hermione and grew even more so when the brunette's smile transformed almost immediately into a smirk.
"Now, if this ... delightful tête-à-tête has come to an end, I'd very much appreciate it if I could perhaps be on my way and I know you're just dying to be on yours. Good day."
Fleur sniffed again and Hermione walked away quickly, her shoulders shaking with the force of her suppressed laughter.
The second time had been about kind words and drenched adolescents. Fleur had had her arms protectively around a girl who looked like she could very well be the blonde's younger sister. Both of them appeared just as drenched and cold as the rest of them – shivering in their thick towels and sporting a shade of blue most living things should never ever be. The strange thing was it was then that Fleur seemed more human, more emotional, not so much Fleur the beauty from Beauxbatons but just Fleur the girl who was scared to death for her (alleged) sister – and, and she should not have looked so good, what with those perfect tresses of hers turned matted and the way they clung to her skin in a most unseemly manner, but she did.
There was a low hum of conversation all around them and Hermione simply could not seem to pay attention as her heart skipped a beat and began to pound like it never had before. All the while, her breath, her breath stuttered and faltered and hitched noticeably as her eyes tracked the motion of Fleur's twitching and pacing with a hunger which burned and demanded and surprised her with its intensity.
Viktor, dear, dear Viktor touched her cheek with concern, his own flushing furiously at the unscheduled contact as he queried her well-being with the sheer intensity of his eyes and the pressure of his fingers against her skin.
"I'm all right, Viktor. Trust me," Hermione assured him, tearing her eyes away from Fleur rather reluctantly and reminding herself guiltily that she was supposed to feel irritation toward Fleur Delacour.
Viktor nodded slowly after a short while, still not letting her out of his arms but his hand dropped from her cheek with the air of a schoolboy caught red-handed by his schoolmaster.
"Ms Granger, Mr Krum," a familiar (and welcomed? unwelcomed?) voice intruded. "I am pleased to find you both well," Fleur said with surprising politeness, given the nature of their interactions – or non-interactions, for that matter. "I am surprised, 'owever, zat you, Ms Granger, 'ad not come out more quickly."
"Why is that?" Hermione asked guardedly.
"Well, with ze amount of 'air you 'ave, I would 'ave expected you to surface by way of your 'air's natural buoyancy."
Hermione glared. "And I would have expected you to surface by way of your ego's naturally inflated state."
"What are you here for? If you're only here to make fun of me, you might as well do everyone involved a favour and return to your -" Hermione gestured in the general direction of the small blonde waiting anxiously for Fleur. "- well, whomever that is."
"Gabrielle. 'Er name is Gabrielle. She is my sister."
"Lovely name. And a delightful person too, I'm sure." More delightful than her older sister at the very least, Hermione thought as she smiled insincerely at Fleur.
"It is and she is." Fleur looked at Hermione and then at Viktor's arms still around her with an odd expression. "Well, perhaps I should leave and let you return to Viktor." Fleur sneered.
Hermione blushed and Viktor looked confused. "It's nothing like that!" she said as she pushed Viktor away.
"Get yourself dried, Ms Granger. You too, Mr Krum. I would not wish eizer of you to get ill. Good day, ze both of you."
Fleur walked away with slightly more bounce in her steps. Hermione wondered what had brought that about.
The third time was in a reasonably silent library and was concerned with misunderstood feelings.
"You like ze library," Fleur stated the obvious as she claimed the seat next to Hermione, glancing dismissively at the many books littering the huge desk Hermione had commandeered.
Hermione let out a long-suffering sigh. "To what do I owe the pleasure of your presence, Ms Delacour?"
"As difficult as it may be to believe, I do 'appen to enjoy a good book or two now and again."
"You're absolutely right. I do find it astonishingly difficult to believe."
"Why is it zat you are never civil with me?"
"I think the question that you need to ask, and may I point out that I am under no obligation whatsoever to answer it, is: why must I be civil with you to begin with?"
"Did I do somezing to offend you?"
Hermione muttered an oath under her breath and pushed the dusty tome which had occupied her attention away from her. "You didn't."
"Zen what is it?"
Hermione looked at Fleur with a frown. The late spring sunlight filtered weakly through the window just behind Fleur. There were dust particles dancing and swirling half-heartedly over her head. The gentle scratching of quill against parchment, rustling of old and new pages and the familiar scent of mustiness permeated the library. Except today, today there was Fleur Delacour sitting right next to her, acting civil and seemingly attempting to mend fences, but the one thing Hermione was most aware of was Fleur sitting so closely to herself – Fleur with her glossy lips, her red nails, her silky hair and her thick lashes. "I don't know," Hermione whispered before looking away with an effort.
"Zat does not sound at all responsible. And you, Ms Granger, are anyzing but zat."
"You don't know me, Ms Delacour. You don't know anything about me."
"You will be surprised to know what I know about you."
"Well, I know you like ze library. I know zat you like ze colour red, zat you prefer toast to muffins, zat you prefer milk to pumpkin juice, zat you begin and finish every meal with a glass of water and zat you tend to choose fish over meat." Hermione was gaping and Fleur dropped her eyes as she started to fidget. "I also know zat you chew your bottom lip when you zink, zat you tug your 'air sometimes when you get excited or upset, zat you get zis surprising twinkle in your eyes when you figure somezing out." Fleur was beginning to flush. "But I suppose you could argue zat I really do not know all zat much about you."
"W-what – how?"
"I observe," Fleur offered, suddenly shy.
Fleur shrugged, still not meeting Hermione's eyes. "Please, Ms Granger. Why do you dislike me so much?"
Hermione scoffed. "This is so bizarre. You! You're not at all acting like yourself."
Fleur shrugged again. "I am not lying. Zat is all I can promise you."
"Honestly, Ms Delacour -"
"Please. Call me Fleur."
"In that case, you may call me Hermione."
Fleur mouthed Hermione's name a few times, mulled it about within the confines of her mouth for several seconds as if she were a connoisseur sampling fine wine. "'Ermione," she said finally. "It is a beautiful name."
Hermione could not stop herself from blushing. "F-Fleur is not so bad either."
Fleur smiled. "Will you tell me why you find me so displeasing now, 'Ermione?"
"I don't, Fleur. Honestly."
"But you are always eizer scowling or making 'orrible faces at me."
Hermione sighed and started tapping the hard tip of her quill against the desk surface as she thought about how best to articulate her feelings. "They really don't mean anything. I don't mean anything by them."
"They really don't."
"I find zat difficult to believe, 'Ermione."
Hermione sighed again. "It's just – when I see you, I just – you know what I mean, don't you? I don't know, okay? I just get this weird sensation – like I want to just – you just annoy me! No, no, wait, no, I don't mean that! Oh Merlin, I don't even know what I mean." Hermione threw down her quill in frustration.
Fleur picked up the quill and placed it back in Hermione's hand, touching her fingertips and lingering a little, eyebrows drawn up in surprise when she could hear Hermione's breath hitching. "I was wrong," she said softly.
"Huh?" Hermione's eyes were riveted on the movement of Fleur's slender fingers on her own – the way they traced circles and loops and lines and everything else, all in the constrained inches of her fingertips.
"You do not dislike me." Fleur sounded triumphant.
"I don't see where this is going ..."
"You like me," Fleur declared with a smirk.
"What?" Hermione tried to retrieve her hand, but Fleur was deceptively strong and she held on firmly.
"You like me."
"Non, I am merely stating the truth."
"I do not like you!"
"Oh yes, you do. You like me," Fleur insisted. She leaned in suddenly and pressed her lips against Hermione's.
Hermione's eyes fluttered shut without her consent and she was responding before she realised what was going on.
Fleur sighed softly against Hermione's lips as she linked their fingers and brought her other one up to cup the brunette's cheek.
Hermione pulled away with a gasp, her hand moving to slap Fleur. "You – you – you French person!"
Fleur looked torn between smugness and hurt. "You like me," she insisted.
Hermione gathered her effects hurriedly and left immediately.
Fleur closed her eyes and touched her lips ruefully, savouring the phantom tingles which remained. "You like me, 'Ermione Granger," she whispered, burying her face in her arms.
The fourth time was years after (or away) and conversations were more civil and yet less restrained. The War had finally come to an end and the survivors had to deal with the changes which were left behind. Daily life resumed with a studied ignorance of what had been (marvellously exemplified in the way in which the heroes were assimilated into the crowd of the faceless) and progressed with a dogged push through the present toward what could be.
"You look different," Fleur remarked softly, bluntly and without a preamble. She was looking at Hermione with neither pity nor misguided compassion, just the clarity and lack of censure which had always unnerved the brunette one way or another. Years had passed since the Triwizard Tournament and its tragic conclusion, many things had occurred since and Fleur had not at all expected Hermione to accept her dinner invitation.
"Don't remind me," Hermione spat.
"It's not bad."
"Don't start with the pity for Merlin's sake."
"Zere is no need for pity, 'Ermione."
"That's not what I keep hearing. I'm damaged goods, Fleur."
"You are not."
"You don't know that."
"I observe," Fleur murmured in the vein of a past memory, of happier times and stolen kisses and surprised slaps.
"You're incorrigible," Hermione replied, allowing herself a ghost of a smile.
Fleur reached across the table, touching Hermione's fingertips and swallowed thickly when Hermione pulled abruptly away. "I'm French, remember?"
"That's right. I must have forgotten that."
"You are not damaged, 'Ermione," Fleur whispered emphatically. "You were, you are and you will always be ze most complete woman I have ever had ze fortune to have met."
Hermione hid her trembling hands within the folds of her napkin. "I'm scarred – inside and out. During good days, I function, I interact. During the bad days, I – nightmares are the least of my worries. I'm – I don't know why I'm even telling you this – I'm scared to go to sleep, Fleur. I'm scared to get out of my bed. I put on a stoic face, I give myself a pep talk every single morning. But I still hear the explosions, the dying screams, the green or the red or flashes of whatever other colours, like phantom battles enacted for my personal enjoyment. I don't know what you'd call all of those but damaged." Hermione looked down. "I'm not that girl you stole a kiss from, Fleur."
"I know. But I'm not ze same girl who stole zat kiss from you eizer. We are both women now. We're both changed. And yet – and yet my heart still beats like it did zat first time you glared at me, like zat time I saw you drenched after ze Second Task, like zat time I kissed you."
"What are you saying?"
"I still want you, Hermione."
"I want you, 'Ermione, even with, or maybe because of, all of your scars. I want you even more now. I liked 'Ermione ze girl. But 'Ermione ze woman – I might fall in love with."
Hermione sniffed and looked at Fleur with wet eyes. "You're impossible."
"Just tell me you do not want me and I will walk away. No more teasing, no more flirting, no – no more bringing up old memories. I will let ze past be just zat."
"I slapped you after that first kiss," Hermione pointed out.
"I know. It was my fault for surprising you like zat."
"Just this one chance?" Hermione finally mumbled, so softly that Fleur nearly missed her words.
Fleur looked up.
"Just this one chance?"
"Just zis one chance."
Hermione smiled. "Well, are you going to kiss me or not?"
The fifth time was a new beginning and involved happy tears.
"What are you going to call her? Or him?" Ron Weasley enquired curiously, keeping a good few feet of distance from Hermione.
Hermione rolled her eyes. "I'm pregnant, Ron, not contagious. And we don't know yet."
Fleur kissed Hermione affectionately on the cheek, placing her hands on her bulging abdomen as she settled down next to Hermione on the sofa.
"Something English?" Ron persisted.
Hermione looked at Fleur with a smile. "Or something French."
"Don't be a busybody, Ron," Ginny reprimanded.
"I am not!" Ron huffed.
"You are too," Ginny intoned.
"I'm inclined to agree," Harry volunteered.
"It was just a question," Ron grumbled.
"Doesn't excuse you from being a busybody," Ginny pointed out gleefully.
"Whatever." Ron stuck his tongue out at the lot of them.
Hermione watched her friends, her family with an affectionate grin, felt the warmth and proximity of Fleur's presence with a gentle contentment and experienced the burgeoning life inside of her with a nervous excitement. "Fleur?"
"I love you so, so much."
"Je t'aime aussi, ma précieuse, ma 'Ermione, l'amour de ma vie."
Hermione smiled and pulled Fleur down. "Well, are you going to kiss me or not?"
"Again and again," Fleur whispered. "Always and forever."