Author's Note: The thing I loved the most about the reviews for the last chapter was how lengthy some of them were. Not just something telling me "awesome chapter, please update soon", but actually telling me why you liked it. Those are the best reviews and help me as a writer because it feels like I'm doing something right. I hope you like this chapter as well and I'd love to know what you think of it.
ONE STEP AT A TIME
CHAPTER SIX: LONELINESS
Fleur was met at Charles de Gaulle Airport by her sister and the family butler. Gabrielle jumped into her arms the moment she saw her and Fleur returned the hug with fervor. She had missed her little sister and it was a true pleasure to see her again. She greeted Philippe and gave him her carry on bag after asking how he and his family were doing.
He followed them down the terminal and opened the door of the limousine parked outside waiting for them. Fleur got in followed by Gabrielle and Philippe sat in the front to give them some privacy.
"Are mum and dad at home?"
"Yes. And you better have a good explanation for flying instead of Apparating. They are anxious to see you, Fleur. It has been too long."
"I agree. Don't worry. I'm going to be here for the next six months or so."
"I hope we get to spend a lot of time together then. I have missed you, Fleur."
"And I've missed you, little one."
"I am sorry for saying this, but you look so sad. I know you have been crying."
Fleur turned her head and stared at the cars going by. "I have many things to tell you, but I'll wait until we're home to tell everyone at once."
"Is this about that idiot you married?"
"In part, yes."
Fleur took her blackberry out of her bag and started writing a text message. Gabrielle looked on intently.
"What is that?"
"A Muggle cell phone."
"What does it do?"
"I can call my friends, send them instant messages, surf the web, listen to music, and lots of other things."
"I have no idea what most of that means, Fleur. What ever happened to owls and the Floo network?"
"This is faster," Fleur answered with a smile and after pressing one more button, she put the phone back in her bag.
"Since when do you use Muggle things?"
"Since I've known Muggles, Gabrielle. Magic is wonderful and I have no idea how they manage without it, but they have a lot of interesting things in their world as well."
"Harry Potter is half-Muggle, right?"
"Who else do you know?"
"Hermione Granger. Do you remember her? She is a doctor and a healer now."
"The pretty one that likes to read?"
Fleur smiled tenderly at the question. "Yes, she's the one. She's a very good friend, as well."
Before Gabrielle could question her further, a beeping from inside her bag interrupted them. She took out the phone eagerly and looked at the screen. She had a message.
Thanks for letting me know you got in okay. I'm looking forward to your call tonight, especially since I didn't get to kiss you goodbye. I guess I understand why you did it, though. I don't know if I could have let you leave. I miss you already, sweetheart. H
Fleur smiled sadly and took a shuddering breath as she put the phone away.
"What was that?"
"A message from Hermione."
Gabrielle looked at Fleur more closely and realized there was a mixture of pain and happiness in her eyes, two very conflicting emotions for sure. She, however, knew better than to pressure Fleur and ask for things she would only divulge when she was good and ready. Instead, they talked about Gabrielle's studies, the man she was dating, and caught up with family gossip.
It was a good hour before they arrived at the Delacour Mansion and Fleur felt free the moment she saw her childhood home come into view.
"I've missed this place."
"You can always divorce that hideous man and come back."
"For now, I'm going to be here."
"So this is only a temporary visit?"
"Depending how things develop during the next six months then yes. If what I want doesn't happen, I will definitely come back to France."
Before Gabrielle could question her further, the front doors were opened and her mother came down the steps. Fleur was out of the car in an instant and ran into her mother's waiting arms. For the first time in weeks, she felt like everything would be okay just because she was in her mother's loving arms.
"I have missed you so much," Fleur whispered while tears ran down her cheeks.
Her mother held her tighter. "I have missed you, too, my darling. It was time to come home."
Apolline leaned back and dried Fleur's tears with her fingers before taking her hand and leading her into their home. Her father was seated on the sofa and got up the minute he saw her.
"Darling, you are finally here. Why didn't you come by Apparition? It would have been quicker."
"I'll explain about that a little later, once we're all sitting down. Where is grandma?"
"In her room resting. She has been asking about you."
"Let me go and say hello and then I will come back. We might as well get the reason for my sudden visit out of the way quickly."
Before they had a chance to react, she was rapidly going up the stairs.
Fleur spent a good half hour talking to her grandmother before she actually made it back down. By the time she came back, an apéritif had been served.
Once she sat down, she noticed everyone was looking expectantly at her, but she wasn't sure where to begin. Her mother took the decision out of her hands.
"Fleur, it is quite surprising that you came to visit us all of a sudden. Gabrielle tells us that you will be staying for a while as well. While that makes us very happy, we are a bit confused, love."
"I have some news. One might be expected, but the other one isn't."
"What is it, Belle?" her father asked.
"Bill and I separated three and a half months ago."
"My God! Why didn't you tell us?"
"That's only the beginning. He moved in with his lover two months and a half ago."
"That bastard! I will kill him," her father exclaimed and Apolline had to hold him down when Fleur raised her hand.
"It's over now. We divorced a little over a month ago."
"What? Why didn't you say anything before? Why didn't you come home right away, child?"
"I spent that time with a very good friend. She's been helping and looking after me for the past few weeks. I also sold my house."
"Fleur Isabelle Delacour, you should have called us," Apolline reprimanded. "We could have been there the entire time!"
"She had Hermione Granger with her, didn't you, Fleur?" Gabrielle commented softly while giving Fleur a look that said they had plenty to talk about later. "What more would someone need with the capable young doctor around?"
"Who is this Hermione person?"
"She is the one that likes to read, dad. Harry Potter's loyal best friend," Gabrielle answered before Fleur could. "She has been called the smartest witch of the age since she arrived at Hogwarts and for good reason."
"Ah, I remember her. She is a doctor now, you say?"
"Actually, she practices medicine in both the magical and Muggle worlds, dad," Fleur said proudly.
"She must be intelligent then," her father said with admiration.
"Genius level, dad."
"Can we forget about young Dr. Granger for a moment and get back to our daughter?" Apolline demanded in a very exasperated tone.
"Pardon," they all said at the same time.
"Again, why didn't you contact us until now? We had no idea you were going through so much!"
"I didn't want to worry you."
"Is there more?"
"Just one more thing."
"What is it?"
"I'm going to have a baby in six month's time."
As expected, the Delacours sat in silence for a full minute before they all exploded at once, speaking rapid French and causing quite a ruckus. Fleur put her hands protectively over her belly, wished that Hermione was there, and let them go at it. She would finish explaining once they had calmed down.
Meanwhile, Hermione went through her day as normally as she could. She tried to block all thoughts of Fleur from her mind and succeeded only temporarily. Since she was dreading going home to an empty flat, she called Luna and invited herself over for dinner. Her friend was ecstatic with the news.
Hermione drove carefully and put her windows down. She really enjoyed the ride to Harry's place out in the countryside because it was peaceful and unhurried. Time seemed to slow down the moment you left the city behind and started driving on roads blanketed by trees and still green fields. The houses or farms out there were beautiful to look at and it was like a balm for her rattled nerves. She wondered what it would be like to raise Fleur's baby out here. And then she erased the thought from her mind as soon as it popped in because they were silly musings to have so early into the game.
She finally reached the big home and smiled when she saw Luna waiting for her on the covered porch. She was sitting in a wooden bench that also served as a swing. Xavier sat on her lap.
Hermione got out of the car and smiled for the first time that day. She waved at Luna as she walked closer.
"You're a sight for sore eyes," the brunette told her friend as she bent down to kiss Luna. Xavier immediately lifted his little arms and she picked him up and kissed him as well. "How's my favorite nephew?"
"I made some lemonade. Would you like a glass?"
"I'd love one. But we better get inside soon. Once the sun sets it'll be too chilly out here for Xavier."
"You're right. We might as well go inside now. I'll check on dinner as well. Harry should be home in another hour."
"Good. We'll be able to have a nice girl chat before he gets here."
"Would this girl chat have something to do with a certain blonde Veela?" Luna asked the moment they sat down at the kitchen table.
"She left this morning," Hermione informed her while looking down, her voice sad.
"Oh, I didn't realize she would be gone so soon. Neither of you mentioned anything the other day when we came over to your place."
"I didn't know then. She just told me a couple of days ago."
"I see. How did you take the news?"
"I didn't like the news one bit."
"Why is that?"
"Because I've gotten used to having her with me. I'm used to coming home and sitting down to dinner with her. I'm used to her warmth at night. Is it really possible to get that close to a person in just a month and a half or so? How can I possibly miss her as much as I do already?"
"I think it's possible because of all the reasons you just gave me. You've been alone for too long and she filled that void for you. A void you didn't realize you had."
"I guess you're right, Luna."
"Hermione, can I ask you something without offending you?"
"Do you think it's possible that you love her?"
"Of course I love her! She's my friend."
"Right," Luna said with a roll of her eyes. "Let me rephrase that, then. Do you think, that maybe, you're in love with Fleur?"
Hermione took a shuddering breath. "I care deeply about her, Luna, but I don't believe I'm in love with her."
"But you might be getting there?"
"That's impossible," Hermione denied quickly. Perhaps a little too quickly. "We've know each other a long time, I'll grant you that. But until the past month and a half, we have never been this close. I don't think you can fall in love with a person that quickly," she said while her insides screamed at her that all she had just said was rubbish.
Luna wasn't buying it, either.
"Who came up with that, Hermione Jane? Your mind or your heart?" the blonde asked with a knowing smile.
"Logic tells me it's impossible to fall in love with someone that quickly."
"Did Fleur sleep in your bed the entire time she was at your flat?"
"Did you stop cuddling with her at all?"
Hermione blushed at the direct question. "No."
"What does hmm mean?" Hermione asked nervously.
"Did it ever occur to either of you that friends don't cuddle every night for more than a month just for the hell of it?"
Hermione looked down at her hands and fidgeted with her nails. "It always felt natural, so neither of us minded."
"I see. How are you going to sleep tonight, then?"
"I have no bloody idea, Luna," Hermione confessed looking back at her friend. "Maybe I'll hug her pillow."
"Because it will carry her scent and will make falling asleep easier?"
"Maybe. I don't know."
Luna shook her head a little and decided to go another route to see if she could help her friend understand that her actions spoke louder her words.
"When Harry and I ran into each other while traveling all over the world, we fell into that same habit after we decided to keep traveling together."
"You and Harry cuddled all that time?"
"Most of it and it wasn't planned, either. We were sharing rooms, but never slept in the same bed. One night he was having a nightmare and started trashing in bed and screaming. I ran over to his side of the room, got into his bed and hugged him until he calmed down. At first, I only did it when he had a nightmare, and then, it became an every night ritual when he confessed that he slept much better when I slept next to him."
"Why are you telling me all of this?"
"Because I fell in love with Harry that way."
"And he fell in love with me."
Luna laughed softly. "Hermione Granger, is that the best you can do? 'Oh' and 'hmm' is all I get from the smartest witch of this age?"
"Shut up, Looney!"
Luna laughed harder at the old nickname. "Do you realize that it's very possible that you could be falling for Fleur as well?"
Hermione finally nodded in acknowledgement. Luna had become a very intuitive woman as the years had gone by and while she still believed in all of the creatures only she could see, no one made fun of her any longer. Hermione had learned to trust her judgment and had learned to listen to her when she spoke. There was no hiding from her, so she stopped trying and decided to go with honesty.
"We kissed last night."
Luna's eyebrows rose at the sudden and unexpected confession. "And?"
"It was the best kiss ever."
"Just one kiss?"
"Yes, just one, but believe me, one was enough for me to know I want more."
"So what happens now? Did you guys talk about the future?"
"We had a very honest conversation last night after my parents left. We talked about what we're both feeling and she asked if I would consider taking our friendship further once she comes back to London in six months. In the meantime, we're going to get to know each other better and she wants to heal."
"So Fleur wants to be more than your friend. What about you? What does Hermione want?"
"I want it as well, Luna. She means a lot to me and when I woke up this morning to find her gone, I cried. I didn't think her absence would hit me so hard."
"And you'd be okay with her having a child that isn't yours?"
"The baby is not a problem. I would love it and help raise it as if it was my own."
"I figured as much. Now, do Doris and Jon know about any of this?"
"She cooked them dinner last night to celebrate daddy's birthday and she went all out to please them. It was an all French menu and she had my parents eating out of her hand within minutes."
"So they like her as well."
"They already think we're going out and call her my girlfriend," Hermione said with a small chuckle.
Luna smiled at that. "Why am I not surprised? Your parents are lovely people and I'm sure Fleur was her usual charming self."
"Something happened when I was in the kitchen cleaning up with mum. I came back out to the living room and Fleur was drying her tears with daddy's handkerchief. It seemed like they had been talking about something important."
"Did she say anything after they left?"
"Just that he had made her see some things more clearly."
"So now you're considering the possibility of having a romance with Fleur."
"Do you think I'm barmy for wanting one?"
"No, Hermione. Falling in love is not crazy. As long as you can handle the repercussions a lesbian relationship could encounter."
"I no longer care what others think of me, Luna. I don't have anything to prove to anyone in the wizarding world. Not to brag or anything, but I did more than most pure bloods ever thought of doing at an age I should have been enjoying being a teen. If it gets to be a problem, I'll quit my job at the hospital and lead a mostly Muggle life. Besides, by the time the baby is born and Fleur is back in London, enough time will have passed so it won't look like she jumped into a relationship with me out of spite for Bill."
Luna nodded and smiled a little. "Seems to me like you've given this a lot of thought already."
"I've thought about it all day, to be honest with you."
"You do realize that if you're willing to quit your job at St. Mungo's it sounds like you're already in love with Fleur, right?"
Hermione took a deep breath and rubbed her temples. "Do you really think so?"
"Hermione, you are not one to make decision lightly. If you're already thinking that is a possibility, to me it sounds like you've already made up your mind about spending the rest of your life with Fleur."
"I don't think I've thought that far ahead, Luna," Hermione said with a small smile.
"What haven't you thought that far ahead, love?" Harry asked as he came into the room and smiled at both of them.
He came by Luna and dropped a kiss on her lips and Xavier immediately lifted his arms so he could be picked up from Luna's lap.
"Oh, just some decisions I have to make."
"Would this involve Fleur?"
"Why would you assume that right away?"
"Because I got a message from her earlier asking me to take care of you while she is away. So if she is asking that I look after you, it's easy to assume that your decision also has to do with our blonde friend."
Hermione's eyebrows rose. "And just when did you get so smart, huh?"
"Since I became your friend and married Luna! At some point, I had to smarten up!"
"If everyone keeps shouting like idiots, Fleur will never be able to explain what is going on to any of you!" the family matriarch said as she joined them in the living room.
No one had expected her to come down and were all surprised into silence by her sudden arrival. Fleur was immediately at her side and helped her to sit on the sofa. She then sat next to her and her grandmother put her arms around Fleur's shoulder and the blonde cuddled into her side thankfully.
"Now that we are back to acting civilized, what was all the shouting about?"
After taking a warm bath, an exhausted Fleur leaned back against soft pillows and sighed. It had been the longest afternoon she could remember and having to explain to her parents what had been going on had left her drained of energy and patience. Thankfully, with her grandmother's authoritative nature, they had been able to discuss things in an easier manner.
She picked up her phone and dialed Hermione's, since she couldn't wait a second longer to hear her sweet voice.
"Hello, sweetheart!" came the happy greeting.
"Salut. It's so good to finally 'ear your voice, mon ange."
"I was getting ready to call you myself. How are you, sweetie?"
"I don't know 'ow to explain it to you. My family finally knows all that 'as been going on, and while it was very difficult at times, we managed to talk it out."
"What was their reaction to all the news?"
"Mostly surprise. Some outrage and screaming that I 'ad kept it all from them for so long and suffered alone. Maman was even crying at one point. Papa wanted to kill William. Grand-mère was a rock and stood by my side the entire time. And Gabrielle seems to be quite jealous of you," Fleur finished with a chuckle.
"Jealous of me? Why?" Hermione asked surprised.
"I guess I did mention you a few times and she picked up on it right away. We're very close and she knows me well. I think my face gave me away when I messaged you and received your reply earlier. Plus she could tell I 'ad been crying."
"Oh, baby, why were you crying?"
"Because I 'ated leaving you behind. I don't remember a time in my life when I wanted to stay somewhere so badly. I still 'ave no idea 'ow I managed to get out of that bed this morning," Fleur confessed softly.
"The first thing I noticed when I woke up this morning was the lack of warmth I've become accustomed to. I figured maybe you were in the bathroom, so when I called your name and you didn't respond, I got worried. Then I saw the note and I'll admit to crying all morning as well. I didn't think I'd miss you this much, Fleur."
"I didn't think so, either. I thought we'd be fine. I guess we were both wrong."
"How are we going to do this for the next six months, love?"
"I 'ave no bloody idea, mon ange. I don't really know 'ow I'm going to sleep tonight without you next to me."
"Tell me about it. How did this happen, Fleur? Neither of us was looking for it and now here it is."
"Sometimes things 'appen when you least expect them to. It never occurred to me that I would feel this way so soon after I got out of a nasty relationship. My plan was just to raise my baby alone and forget about relationships altogether and then you 'appen to me and there wasn't much I could do to stop this feeling from growing."
Hermione's heart was beating out of control as she listened to Fleur's heartfelt words. She figured she might as well be honest with the blonde.
"I wasn't planning on you happening to me, either, Fleur, but I don't regret anything that has taken place between us so far. I don't remember the last time I felt this happy and relaxed with anyone. I even told Luna and Harry about us today."
Fleur couldn't help but grin as she snuggled deeper under her blanket. "You did?"
"Yeah. I didn't want to go home and not have you there waiting for me, so I called Luna and spent the afternoon with her and then had dinner with them when Harry got home."
"What did they say, mon amour? Were they okay with the news?"
"Yeah, they are very supportive of me, so whatever makes me happy, they're okay with. Luna had plenty of questions and it was nice just talking to her about it."
"I'm glad you 'ave them with you. It makes me feel a little better to know you 'ave people that love and support you while I'm away."
"Did you mention anything about us to your family?"
"Not yet, but I will tell them all about my intentions with you in the next few weeks. I don't think it's wise to say anything for now. I gave them enough bad news today."
Her comment made Hermione frown. "Do you consider me bad news, Fleur?"
"Non! That came out wrong and I didn't mean it that way. I just meant that since I just got divorced and I'm pregnant, that maybe I should wait a couple of weeks before I tell them that I want to be with you."
Hermione closed her eyes as a warm smile spread over her lips. "Yeah?"
"Oui. I very much want to be with you, ma chérie."
"I think I would like that very much as well."
"I'm so 'appy to 'ear that. I've missed you so much today, 'Ermione. I'm so used to being with you during the evenings. We'd be lying in bed reading right now, or talking about your day or a potion we're working on while 'aving some tea. It amazes me 'ow easily we fell into a daily routine as if we 'ad been doing it for years instead of a few weeks."
"I know. My bed feels big and empty without you in it. I never minded my solitude or the quiet of my flat until now. I could read for hours or work on my potions and not mind that I had no one to discuss it with. You've changed all of that, love, and nothing will ever be the same in my life."
"Then I'll make sure to stick around and keep you company. I seem to be much happier when I have you close by as well. I really wish you could Apparate 'ere every night. I miss your cuddles and the scent of your shampoo and body lotions. I miss our legs tangling together while we talk. I know I sound like a total sap, but its how I feel," Fleur finished with a sigh.
"Well I guess that makes me a sap as well. We'll figure something out later on."
"That sounds promising. Now, tell me what else you did today."