Seven Years Later… May the Best Man Win
This is Part One of the companion piece to Two Years Later…
Disclaimer: as always, no infringement is intended towards any entity legally associated with Harry Potter, Warner Bros, or Scholastic Publishing.
January 26th, 2005
The tour books refer to the eerily majestic stone and mortar structure, perched high on a headland two-hundred feet off-shore the sliver land that is the Basque coastline, as Our Lady of the Sea. For only by the grace of God and the Virgin Mary could an abbey endure more than eight-hundred years of storm, surf, and social upheaval.
In truth, as is the case for magical architecture, the familial seat of the Comte Villareal de Urretxu was never an abbey. Nor was it ever a convent. No monarch commissioned its construction as a means to defend against invasion. It was the Summer House of a family whose Veela heritage stretched back in time over generations and flourished irrespective of international borders or warring factions.
The sunrise began behind them, as the front of the House faced the water. The sky took on lovely shades of pinks, corals, and ever-lightening blues as the sun broke over the horizon.
"Thank you for letting me come here. I didn't know where else to go." Flawless French tumbled from Hermione's lips as her emotions thickened her already impressive accent. The wind blew through layers of her long hair and buffeted her winter-weight pea coat against her slight frame. Her gaze remained fixed on the horizon that stretched far beyond the few meters that comprised of the open-air parapet where she stood.
Fleur, well-wrapped against the wind and early-morning chill, appreciated that she wouldn't have to respond in English. "Non; this is one thing you don't need to apologize for - not ever. You are my second sister. Gabbi and I are your Sisters. Family means sanctuary, Hermione."
"I couldn't go home, because 'they'…well, 'they' mean well…but they won't leave me alone." Frustration and exasperation underscored every emotional word. "I wouldn't get any peace at my flat, laboratory, or office - not that I do as it is. And once they've heard about what happened last night, I can guarantee you that each and every one of them will be beating down my proverbial door. Half will be looking to berate me for not telling them where I was going, the other half will be out for a pound of flesh from both Seamus and Oliver for instigating the whole bloody mess."
Her voice was so small. Fleur didn't like it when Hermione sounded so defeated.
"I can't attend or schedule any consultations at the Ministry with any Department, because Kingsley cancelled my security pass!" She repeatedly pointed a metaphorical finger at the current Minister of Magic as her righteous indignation rose. "That wizard made it ABUNDANTLY clear that because of 'them', I disrupt everyone else in the building by just being there. I don't even work for the Ministry! I'm an independent contractor, for Circe's sake! Yet Kings ORDERED me take this cock-up of a holiday!"
Pulses of outrage and hurt feelings washed against Fleur's aura. Which was completely understandable. Kingsley Shacklebolt said he understood the magical ramifications that stemmed from the night of December 9th, 1997, but here he was, six years and two-and-a-half months later, holding it against her.
"Do you know how much work I have to do? How much work I WANT to do?!" Her work on behalf of St Mungos, specifically a Charm to magically place medicine inside an unconscious and/or unresponsive patient, was an all-consuming project for the younger witch. "So many witches and wizards die needlessly! And do you know why?"
Rhetorical questions never needed answers. Especially rhetorical questions made by a certain witch who never went anywhere without her own, metaphorical, soap-box with her name stamped onto it: Hermione the Crusader
"I know 'why'. And any Healer who has ever Healed knows 'why'. But no one's ever done anything about it! They'd rather let families and friends grieve than take the time to solve the bloody problem! All because some poor unresponsive or unconscious or physically incapable witch or wizard can't 'drink' a potion, or 'swallow' a bezoar!"
Fleur knew that this new project stemmed from when Hermione witnessed Nagini rip apart Severus Snape's throat. Hermione's feelings of anger and helplessness over the fact that even if she'd had a gallon of dittany and miles of gauze in her now-legendary beaded bag, the Potions Master would've still died due to the fact that there was no possible way for him to have successfully ingested anti-venin or a coagulant to help aid in clotting his horrible wounds.
"But - NO! I can't. Why!? Because 'they' - in all their well-intentioned, albeit selfishly-motivated, mind sets, make it so that I can't have a night to myself." She ticked off on her fingers, "Someone is always stopping by: saying 'hello', bringing by take-away, escorting me to events, pairing up for dueling practices, jogging with me…"
In fairness to 'them', Fleur knew how single-minded Hermione became when she was focused on a project. She didn't eat properly because that would mean taking time away from her research to pop to the grocers or the local chippery. She didn't socialize unless it was someone's birthday, anniversary, or a function where her attendance was mandatory. 'They', in addition to herself, Gabbi, Viktor, and Fleur's husband-to-be Atanas made sure that Hermione looked at more than just her notes and reference materials when in the thralls of academic pursuits and mounting crusades against moral injustices.
"I can't even go out for Kneazle food because one of 'them' has arranged for automatic delivery from Magical Menagerie!"
Fleur was certain Crookshanks didn't mind that thoughtful gesture. And, considering the likelihood that Crookshanks' unnamed benefactor/ess sprang for the 'good' treats, she didn't think the half-Kneazle ever would.
"I can't even clean my own flat, because one of 'them' is always sending one of their house-elves to tidy up the place!"
She started to pace the parapet. The fact that Hermione was excellent about cleaning out the litter box and washing her own dishes, the witch abhorred dusting as well as folding clean laundry. Fleur wondered if the Dyson, a flat-warming present, had ever seen the outside of its box.
"One time, one of those helpful little buggers popped into my flat while I was in the shower! The shower! Scared me half out of my mind! Here I am, padding from the loo to my bedroom, drying my hair with a towel, completely starkers, thinking about my 'to do list', and suddenly I see that my laundry basket had sprouted over-sized feet, spindly legs, knobby knees, pointy ears, and was floating two feet in the air! Of course I screamed! Which made the elf scream!" A rueful chuckle only added to her rant. "To add insult to injury - we had matching towels!"
Fleur remembered laughing with Viktor and Atanas over that one until all three of them had tears in their eyes. Apparently, the little elf was so fond of the embroidery on Hermione's towels and of the witch herself, that the little guy went out and crafted a tunic made out of the same material. Adrian Pucey spent many a galleon on 'I'm sorry' bouquets over the course of the next month, as the elf was one of his. Though, truth be told, the wizard cheerfully bragged about it as, 'money well-spent', as it meant that elf-couture now included environmentally-conscious bamboo-blended terry cloth. For a Pureblood, Pucey considered his 'contribution' to making Wizarding Britain 'greener' very…Muggle-fabulous.
Hermione's arm-swinging went from punctuating her rant to bracketing her hips. Her lecture-tirade showcased her intense exasperation.
"Did you know that house-elves can circumvent Rune-infused wards? NO ONE, regardless of species, is supposed to do be able to do that! That's why I did it! That's why I spent three days at St Mungo's being treated for Magical Exhaustion. To me, it was WORTH IT to be all but drained of my bloody life-force just so that I COULD take a bloody shower without having to wonder if someone's in my flat, hoovering my lounge or pawing through my knickers or re-arranging my post-it notes according to the bloody colour-wheel!"
To classify Hermione as well-and-truly riled was an understatement. To classify Lucius Malfoy as 'a tad concerned' as he'd been the one who'd discovered a barely-breathing Hermione and had all but seized administrative authority of Level Four of St Mungo's upon arrival would be the same exercise in understatement.
"But NO! Not with ME! Not only do I end up on a hospital gurney, but I can't even be there for the full seven days that it's supposed to take to properly treat Magical Exhaustion. Why, you ask!? Because of the constant parade of 'them' coming in and out of my room: bringing gifts, disturbing other patients as 'they' argued about who's turn it was to sit with me , micro-managing - MICROMANAGING, Fleur! - everything from the placement of my intravenous, to the ingredients in my nutrient potion, to how my nurse combed out my hair! As if ANY OF THEM have ever, NEVER, done that for - or to - me! AND! AND!! This was the kicker in all this: I was UNCONCIOUS! 'They' did all this when I wasn't even AWAKE!"
Fleur, having been there for two of the three days that Hermione laid in hospital, arched her eyebrow at her friend. Hermione - grudgingly - added a smidgeon of ruefulness to her current repertoire.
"I mean, granted they were right: an attendee had made a bloody rat's nest out of my hair; thankfully someone detected the presence of vervane in my nutrient potion and subsequently saved me from anaphylactic shock; the IV port had caused edema to developed so badly in my lower arm that you couldn't tell where my wrist ended and my fingers began!"
Hermione's eyes sparkled with the levels of contrasting emotions: hopelessness over the fact the wizards and witches who doted on her would never stop doting on her, ire over the fact that they doted in the first place, and guilt for feeling so angry that they cared so much about her as to dote on her in every possible way over every possible aspect of her life.
"When I DID wake up? A 'how are you feeling, Ms Granger? Better? That's good, because we're going to need you to finish your recuperation at home because this is a place of healing and not the Who's Hermione Granger Going to Marry Show'."
That part of Hermione's story wasn't jaded by her current frame of mind. Fleur, with Viktor and oddly enough Cormac McLaggen helping, shouldered their way, with Viktor carrying Hermione, out of the hospital. Hermione's convalescence was spent in relative peace, with only scheduled visits from those who cared about the healing witch. Of course, trying to keep Sirius Black in-hand required a special amount of…patience…but even a Grim knows enough to cease when a Veela insists on a game of 'fetch' with one of her signature fireballs.
What had started as a protection detail, created by her friends and those who considered themselves beholden to Hermione, as a means to insulate the witch from the machinations of Herbert Greengrass hadn't ended with Greengrass neutralized. Quite a few of the wizards, and a few witches, who'd stepped-up to safeguard Hermione had all submitted Letters of Consideration to Fleur's father, as Comte Delacour was, essentially, Hermione's father. Not that Hermione had ever seen those letters. If she had, Fleur knew enough about her second sister to know that Hermione would run as far and as fast as she could away from those who wished Hermione to Consider them.
And not because Hermione was afraid of love or commitment. She'd do it as a means to protect them from her.
With the ocean in front of her, standing on a stone parapet built eight-hundred years ago, with one of her best female friends beside her, it was evident that Hermione Granger's thoughts were as tangled as the gusty January breezes made her hair.
The saddened witch took a deep breath and spent it on gathering her memories from the previous night and the reason why Hermione had appeared on Fleur's metaphorical doorstep in the small hours of the morning teary-eyed and shame-faced.
"It was horrible, Fleur."
Hermione turned her back to the wind. The brunette was utterly forlorn. Fleur treasured the fact that, with her, Hermione never had to pretend that cold air and salty spray made her eyes misty.
"It should have been wonderful. A respite from all…that." Hermione waved her hand in the direction that England sat, hundreds of miles away. "The annual fire festival in the Shetlands. The last Tuesday in January. Nothing was supposed to have gone wrong! Nothing!" Both her hands mimed just how wrongly 'nothing' had 'went' as her tone quickened and deepened. "But - no! Five thousand people on one tiny island, every single person celebrating the fact that this one island is one of the few places in the WORLD where Magic and Mundane co-exist in utopic harmony and I'm the one asked to leave. ME!"
The tears that welled in her eyes now fell freely - not only in sadness, but also embarrassment and outrage and unending frustration.
Fleur knew enough about her dear friend to not interrupt.
"Insults shouted in the village green escalated into an all-out brawl." She shook her head, as if to shake the memories out of her. "A celebration morphed into an international incident because Oliver Wood and Seamus Finnegan went at-it over who was going to escort me to the pub for a pint."
The extent of the melee had been well-documented in morning's edition of The Prophet. An inside-source at Wizard's Whirl sent over an advance copy of this week's cover: a full-page Wizarding picture of Wood and Finnegan, surrounded by revelers carrying lit torches in a Hogsmeade-looking town square, pummeling each other with the honor of both Ireland and Scotland on-the-line. Each wizard had his own caption, printed verbatim from an onlooker.
"Oh, yeh?! Weel - at least I dinna use potato leaves to wipe me arse!"
"Oh, yeah?! Well - at least me first girlfriend wasn't a sheep named Lass, Yous Feel So Tight!"
"Want to hear the irony? I don't even like beer."
That last sentence, a lame attempt at humor in the wake of the reason why Hermione created a portkey at three o'clock in the morning that was keyed to Fleur's magical signature, signaled that Hermione's Well of Righteous Indignation had finally subsided to its pre-Fire Festival level.
Hermione's first patent, the culmination of nearly four years' worth of work, cleverness, and ingenuity, was the creation of a portkey that would take a person to another person, rather than connect an object to a physical location. To the clever Muggleborn, the principle was the same: a traditional portkey functioned on the premise that Point B was, essentially, a beacon for Item A. With that premise, she adapted the 'beacon' aspect of a portkey so that Person B was the beacon for Person A. Of course it took her several years to achieve such an accomplishment. The Muggleborn crisscrossed continents and cultures to develop an original, fully-functioning Runic 'alphabet', akin to Mundane's advancements in mapping each component of a human's DNA, so that a Magical's signature could be transcribed, embedded, and ultimately a focal point for transporting another Magical across near or far distances.
Fleur was so proud to be able to call Hermione her sister and to be able to be a sister and friend to Hermione.
Hermione's final result far surpassed the initial hypothesis.
The development of the Person to Person Portkey - or, as it was now referred to as Pee-Three - required funds from Malfoy Enterprises, Weasley Wizarding Wheezes LLC, Black Holdings International, Prongs Investments, The Delacour Group, as well as a slew of smaller investors. Everyone who hadn't contributed wished they'd had! The return was three-hundred-and-twenty-seven percent! Andromeda Tonks placed five-hundred galleons in her grandson's name. Because of his grandmother's generosity, Young Master Teddy Lupin never would have to worry about his father ever being able to see to his every need ever again.
Fleur embraced her dear friend and second sister. Hermione's need for comfort, even as her friend sniffled and clung, took priority over all other thoughts.
Several moments passed before Fleur mentally berated Death for being a sore loser.
Her best female friend was truly a marvelous witch, person, and Magical innovator.
Hermione's powers and talents were highly attuned with three of the five Foundations of Magic: Incantations. Translations, and Interpretation. It was no surprise that her dear friend didn't have an affinity for the Foundation of Ether or Foundation of - to use the modern term - Herbology. The concept of Ether - every other aspect of Magic that was metaphysical and intangible - was too abstract for all but the most skilled and exceptionally intuitive Mages and Enchantresses, let alone for the highly logical, pragmatic, Brightest Witch of her Age. And, try as she might, and the witch certainly tried, Hermione Granger just could not cultivate a garden. Without fail, she'd killed every houseplant she'd ever acquired. It was such a shame that British education focused mainly on the off-shoots of the Foundations: Potions, Transfiguration, Charms, Divination, Astronomy, and only the Foundation that was a core-requirement was Herbology.
If British education was more on-par with Beauxbatons or Durmstrang, then Hermione would've been better prepared when she'd Summoned Death on the seventh month, fourth day, and third hour since Harry Potter had ended Lord Voldemort once-and-for-all. Had her education been steeped in the Foundations, Hermione might've been spared the emotional chaos which had been part of her life for the past six and a half years.
Which was why Hermione had allowed herself to become so engrossed with Pee-Three for so many years. Work facilitated a buffer she'd out-right exploited to put off any of the advances any of 'them' made.
Not that Hermione didn't genuinely care for each and every one of them. She did. She wasn't 'using' a single one of them in any capacity. Nor did any of them press her for more than she was willing to give: an evening out, meeting for coffee, a colleague with whom to attend a conference or seminar, a mentor with whom to propose ideas with, someone fun and light-hearted to ease the pressure she'd put on herself to make sure that the faith - and money - placed in her came to a successful outcome, or someone to while-away an afternoon with nothing but easy-going silence and camaraderie between them.
Yes, Hermione dated. Just not with 'them'. In fact, that's how Fleur met her fiancé. A disastrous double-date, Viktor and Fleur paired as friends as Hermione didn't want to meet Viktor's best friend (and her blind date for the evening) alone, had Viktor escorting Hermione to Remus Lupin within an hour and the start of an amazing romance between Fleur and Atanas.
Her friend continued to cry on her shoulder. Fleur would give her five more minutes, then she'd tell Hermione of her plan.
Bill Weasley's Petition for Annulment caught her by surprise. But, it was the best thing that'd ever happened to her. Bill's inability to reconcile his Lycan tendencies with his personal definition of what it meant to be a wizard and a man as well as his mother's passive-aggressive prejudices cost him his marriage and all parental rights to his little girl. Little Victoire was too young to remember her biological father, but that didn't mean that she didn't have a father that was absolutely devoted to her in a way William never allowed himself. Fleur had found a love greater and more profound with Viktor's best friend than she'd ever experienced with William. Atanas was everything she didn't know she was missing from her relationship with the red-headed Curse Breaker.
It was about time someone in Hermione's life took it upon themselves to offer to add something to Hermione's life, rather than ask her to sacrifice something as too add to their own lives.
There was one way to end the foolish competition between all of 'them', Hermione's would-be suitors. And Fleur's wedding day, seven years, seven months, seven days since Voldemort's defeat, with the Maid of Honor Ritual performed at the seventh hour, would be the irrefutable catalyst.
Fleur gently lifted Hermione's head off her shoulder. Fleur made sure that her friend could easily read the sincerity and sisterly love that thrummed the length and breadth of Fleur's aura.
"Mon amie, 'ermione, there is no reason why you will not have true love in your life."
Hermione could, and did, believe a lot of what Fleur Delacour told her. This, though, was different. "I've explained this to you, Fleur. It's forbidden. Death said-"
Fleur's long silvery-blonde hair lifted and fell to the same rhythm as Hermione's curls in the on-coming breeze. The chilly temperatures made their breaths plume a pale grey. Her expression was as determined as Hermione's was despondent. "Eighteen generations ago, a female Veela of Basque nobility chose a French grape-picker as he traveled with a Crusade on his way to 'reclaim' Jerusalem. Their love transcended differences in race, religion, and species This place, where you and I are standing, is a monument dedicated to that love; the physical embodiment of a promise that when a love is meant to be, it will be. Not Death, Life, or Lady Magic can interfere."
Hermione's watery frown only intensified as she chewed on her bottom lip.
Fleur gambled that this was the right time to offer a little levity.
"For you? Because you are Hermione Granger? It will take a little bit more than being in the right place, at the right time."
The wobbly quarter-smile that hovered at the corners of her friend's lips proved her instincts were correct.
Another thing that made her friend Hermione more like her sister: Hermione's pity-parties never lasted long.
"Hermione - I want to ask you something."
Her friend, her sister, fed off of Fleur's hopeful anticipation. Tears had chapped her cheeks in the January coldness of the open-air parapet, but her eyes were dry as her mind whirred as to what Fleur's question might be.
"Will you be my Maid of Honor?"
Being a Veela, even if only a quarter-Veela, was a wonderful thing. Especially when she had the power, and the true desire, to bring as much happiness into Hermione's life as she'd found in her own.