Summary: Their third meeting is pre-planned. She has sparked his interest and he is determined to pursue it to whatever it may lead.
~ooO Crossing Paths (3) Third Meetings Ooo~
A quiet dark condo-flat was flooded with light from a variety of charmed crystal spheres the moment the owner crossed the protection wards for the first time in three months.
Hermione groaned as she stumbled, making her way to the over stuffed chairs set around the enlarged fireplace. She nearly tripped and fell over the edge of a carpet, barely catching herself on a sideboard.
"I really need a break." She mumbled to herself before setting herself down and sinking back into the overstuffed comfort surrounding and behind her. She closed her eyes to savour the warmth and tranquility.
The past ten weeks had been exhausting, a whirlwind of activity helping the ICW hitwizards track the statues and various criminals all over the planet through Muggle cities and Magical Enclaves. Once the statues had been secured and verified as true components for the ritual she had been 'requested' to set up the wards for their new homes. The first museum to be warded was in Kyoto, Japan. After the successful completion she had been invited to lecture and observe at Masaki Institute for Higher Magicks. It was an offer she could not refuse so she stayed as long as she could. But her commitments and obligations called so she made her farewells and travelled back to cold, dreary England.
She forced her eyelids to open. The red light on the Muggle answering machine was flashing. She rarely received voice messages on her telephone. Most of her contacts were familiar with the magical world and magical methods of communication, like owl-post, floo, or patronus. In fact the only ones who would leave messages on her Muggle phone was…
"Play Voice Messages."
"Hermione dear, this is your mother. I heard from your grandmother you had visited her old friend Isabelle Vandermeer in Gotham City. You don't know how happy I am you made the effort to socialize in the… non-magical world. I understand you met quite a few interesting gentlemen in Gotham. I would like to talk to you about that. You aren't getting any younger and you don't seem to be interested in any of the wizards you meet. Perhaps a nice non-magical gentleman might be of more interest to you. Anyways, your friend Harry said you would be back from Japan this week Friday. I'd like you to come over for a formal sit-down dinner on Tuesday, around seven. Dress nicely because we'll be having guests."
Hermione groaned. She had originally planned on being back Friday but had delayed her departure to squeeze a few lectures in. Today was Tuesday!
She glanced at the clock. It was five-thirty. If she rushed she could squeeze a long hot soak before Apparating over to her childhood home. She did not want to call and tell her mother she would not be showing up tonight. This was the first time Jane Granger had actively called her and invited her to an event she was hosting.
A bitter sweet smile curved cracked dry lips. All throughout her childhood and teen years her parents had actively involved her in their social lives and travels. She had visited museums and fairs, attended fund raising events and charity drives, seen operas and plays, travelled by bus boat train and plane. They had always been so proud of her, eager to show her off to all their friends and acquaintances. All that had changed when she Obliviated them, when they returned from Australia. Her leaving for Greece and not returning for three years did not help either.
But they were inviting her to a formal dinner! Sure they were probably trying to set her up with the Muggle son of a friend but still they would be acknowledging her in public! She pushed herself up and off the comfy chair. She had to go through her wardrobe for a suitable dress.
One hour later Hermione Apparated into the gazebo set in the backyard of her childhood home. There was no one around to witness her arrival. Hermione could hear the laughter and music drifting from the formal dining room. In warmer weather the French doors would be opened onto the large patio deck. Meals would involve something seared in the outdoor bar-be-que.
Deftly she made her way to the side entrance leading into the mudroom. With the ease of much practice she slipped off her cloak and hung it up on the closest peg to dry. A quick Scrougify removed the worst of the damp from her black ballet-style shoes.
Carefully she shook out the layers of eggplant silk and taffeta that made up the ankle-length skirts of her dress. The bodice was raw silk and fitted with a high mandarin collar accented with heavy silver beadwork, embroidery and buttons over the shoulders and bodice, down the front, and around the waist. The long cuffed sleeves were thin and sheer, revealing the slim strength in her arms.
A quick glance in the mirror reassured Hermione of her appearance. Her make-up was smooth and unmarred: mascara dark and even, lips full and glossy. Her mouth trembled slightly before the image in the mirror lifted her chin up and visibly firmed. She was a grown woman. She would like parental blessings but she did not need it.
With that thought in her fore-mind she stepped into the living spaces of the main floor, where the entertaining and cooking was done.
Jane Granger looked as youthful and elegant as ever. Her still-lithe figure clad in the traditional black dress made of silk and lace falling straight to her ankles. Unlike Hermione, Jane Granger wore a pair of high-heeled black T-strap stilettos that emphasized the slenderness of her legs. Hermione hoped she would age as gracefully as her mother and maternal grandmother.
She brushed her cheek against the older woman's.
"Hermione." The younger woman noted the suppressed excitement. "You never told me you met the most interesting people in Gotham!"
Hermione blinked. Who? The only person that stood out in her mind was Batman. "Err, I met lots of people Mother. Who are you referring to?"
Jane blinked, taken aback. "I mean Bruce Wayne!"
That rocked the witch back on her heels. "Oh. Oh him! Isabelle introduced us but I didn't think much of it. I mean he must meet lots of people at society parties."
Jane smirked. "Well, you must have caught his interest dear; because he went out of his way to visit us while you were in Japan."
Hermione froze. Her mind worked lightening fast. No, he was not here because he was romantically interested in her like her mother thought. He was here because he doing background research on her. But then why reveal himself to her parents?
Silently she allowed her mother to draw her into the midst of the party and to the guest of honour: Bruce Wayne.
Light brown, almost gold eyes met dark cobalt blue. Long lashes dipped briefly veiling gold.
Once the polite small talk was done he deftly manoeuvred her to a more quiet area of the marble tiled room currently doubling as a small dance floor.
"May I ask what you are doing here?"
Dark blue eyes studied her intently. "I'm here for my dance."
"I said next time we met we would dance. So here I am."
"You can't be serious! If you want to know about the dragon it is in Japan. I just completed designing and setting up the security wards for it and the tiger in a magical museum in Kyoto."
He studied her thoughtfully. "Your parents don't know do they?" It was more of a statement than a question.
She stiffened imperceptibly. "Of course they know I'm a witch."
She did not protest as he shifted and arranged his hands on her, forcing her to dance or look like an uncooperative rag-doll in his arms.
"They don't know what you do. That you risk your life every time you leave on your trips."
She looked away for a second before meeting his eyes with an angry glare. "No they don't. And they won't." She practically dared him to refute her words, her choice.
He did not. Instead he asked her a question she did not expect.
"Why do you do this? Accept investigations and cases that have a high probability of killing off the investigators." His eyes were troubled. "I accepted the risks but I take much more care to protect myself from potential enemies than you do."
Her eyes softened, seeing his motivation. He wanted to know. "If I don't do it who will? Besides costumes and masks do not work well in my line of work; residue from magical auras are unique identifiers, like fingerprints. I could blur my aura but it would hamper my effectiveness to an unacceptable degree."
He nodded slowly.
They danced in silence for a while. He manoeuvred them through the throng of couples dancing and to a set of French doors. Ten seconds later they were outside in the cool late Fall night.
He was standing close; close enough for her to feel the heat of his body through her dress. She shivered slightly in reaction.
"I'd like to start over."
Pale brown eyes widened as she looked up shocked.
"Excuse me?" Her voice was rich with scepticism.
"I'd like to start over." He repeated himself, but this time his voice was low and harsh; it was Batman's voice.
Hermione couldn't help but smile. She reached out and touched his arm. "I like this voice better than the air-head playboy voice. This is real and much more reliable than the other one."
Bruce blinked surprised that anyone would prefer the rough scary tones of Batman to the cultured suaveness of the Playboy.
"Excuse me?" The Playboy's words in the Batman's voice.
She glanced up at him. "The Playboy is a mask, this," She gestured at his expensive suit. "Is a pretence you use to protect yourself. Batman is a much more dominant part of your psyche. He is more real than the Playboy."
He cocked his head to one side, an echo of what she had witnessed in the GCNH Museum. "And you are not afraid?" His tone was demanding, challenging.
She smiled and couldn't resist the urge to reach out and caress his cheek, reassuringly as a mother would though her feelings for him were anything but motherly.
"This is the real you and I prefer him."
"And what about the Playboy?" He wanted to know.
Hermione was silent for a while. Then she spoke slowly.
"Every Prince must eventually become a King. Sometimes that transition is rocky and irregular but one would hope by the time the Prince becomes King he has enough maturity and wisdom to put away childish things and grow-up as it were."
He stared at her, torn and hopeful. Then he spoke.
"May I kiss you?"
She stared up at him confused and faintly hopeful all the same.
Hermione did not know what she would do if the kiss turned out to be a dud. Probably scream and demand a refund from whoever programmed her rather stunted feminine instincts.
Turned out she didn't have any need to demand a refund.
When they finally separated, both were breathing rather hard, bodies aching and yearning for more.
She brushed her painted nails over his mouth.
"I think we need to discuss the logistics of how this is going to work." She murmured.
He kissed her fingertips before answering. "I have to stay in Gotham."
Hermione nodded agreeably. "I can work from pretty much anywhere. If I delegate and plan I can reduce my travel time to a few weeks every quarter."
His eyes were serious. "I cannot guarantee anything."
"I would not expect you to. If you do I'd call you a liar."
"I'm not good at opening up."
"I'm pretty patient and good at getting my way."
"I have a lot of enemies."
"So do I."
He was quiet for a while as he brushed his fingers over her hairline.
"Do you think we can work?"
"We can only try."
And that's just what they did. In a most successful manner too.
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AN: I think it is pretty easy to imagine what comes next. I tend to be more interested in writing the tale of how they come together, and perhaps just a little bit of what comes after.