A/N: There is a brief snippet that may be a spoiler for those who haven't seen Iron Man 3.
And lastly, feel free to kindly let me know of any errors. This chapter was long, and I'm sure there's got to be a handful despite careful editing. :)
Enjoy! Please R&R! I'll try to get the next chapter up as soon as possible. That one will have more Loki in it. I promise.
Fiddling with her soldered wedding bands, Hermione gnawed on her bottom lip as the tip of Madam Mariotte's quill scratched on her clipboard. The sounds filled the silent room and to keep herself sane, Hermione pinned her gaze on her wedding portrait above the mantle. Her younger self beamed encouragingly at her.
Beside her on the sofa, Ron sat hunched over, his elbows resting on his knees. Every now and then, he'd rake his fingers through his hair or clear his throat to show his impatience. Madam Mariotte would ignore him and as if to spite him, her quill scratches would grow slower.
Ten minutes was a long time for a yes or no decision. Why the woman took sadistic pleasure in their impatience, Hermione didn't know. Mariotte knew she and Ron had waited for this long enough. Eight years of adult footsteps in a five bedroom house. It served as a lovely home for a good while, but it was too quiet and too clean. The home of Hermione and Ron Weasley hardly resembled the estates of their friends. When those friends would visit, they always complimented how organized and flawless the Weasley home was. Though their kind observations held no malicious intent, the praises rang like insults in Hermione's ears.
Finally, Madam Mariotte lowered her clipboard and placed her quill on it. From the sofa chair Hermione and Ron offered her, she sighed and took off her glasses and held them by the frame. Her severe features held the slightest amount of pity, and Hermione's insides turned to ice.
"Mr. and Mrs. Weasley," Mariotte started, "I've been doing this a long time, and I'm going to be frank with you. Indeed, you do have the means to provide for a child. Your home is exceptional, and you both possess promising employment which have great benefits. You are both in relatively good health. You two have many of the qualities needed to be granted a child. Unfortunately, I cannot do that today."
Hermione covered her mouth, tears blurring her vision.
"We've been waiting for three years to adopt, and you're telling us no!" Ron shouted.
"For now," replied Mariotte. "But I cannot and will not put a child into a home where the couple are in aggressive couple's therapy and won't even bother hiding their evident ambivalence of each other. Do you two even realize I could fit half a Quidditch team in between you two right now? A child needs and deserves parents who are not currently occupied in a more pressing ordeal. You two already have your hands full with another baby. It's called your marriage. Smooth out the wrinkles and mend the cracks. In a year, we shall see the progress and have another go at this. Good day."
Madam Mariotte got up from the chair and marched out the front door. Ron stood up the moment she left, saying, "I need some air." He stormed into the kitchen and out the back door, slamming it hard enough that the entire house shook.
Hermione paced the sitting room, inhaling and exhaling stuttering breaths, trying to plan her next move. Like Ron, she wanted out of the house. She retrieved her winter coat from the front closet and went outside in the front yard, catching one of the neighbor children's eye next door. She nodded at the boy and shuffled down the wet, cobblestone pathway to the road. The miserably, drizzly weather in Godric's Hallow had left the streets near vacant of life.
She walked into the corner market, quickly turning to face stack of Evening Prophet newspapers when seeing her husband dart towards the pub in the back of the establishment. He had the right idea, didn't he?
Grabbing the newspaper, she took it to the counter and paid for it before heading back outside. She read the headline as she walked, mentally telling herself she should be grateful for what she had.
No. Grateful wasn't the right word.
Hermione was grateful for her life. She had one, for starters. A beautiful home in a safe place that didn't feel the merciless, direct blows the Muggle World faced.
Other Worldly Attack In Muggle Greenwich: Thor saves the day, read the headline.
Yes, Hermione's life could be a whole lot worse. She could've been in Greenwich earlier and have herself a seizure when seeing those ghastly crafts and aliens tear apart the Old Royal Naval College.
The evening grew darker, and Hermione sat at a bench beneath a streetlamp to finish reading the newspaper. The minister was ever so pleased the magical authorities did not have to intervene, and the situation was handled by The Mighty Thor. The article went on an anecdotal tangent concerning Thor's first big appearance in New York City attack the previous year.
The article continued on Page 6, but Hermione didn't bother skipping to it. The story wasn't going anywhere, and she had no place to be. Ron was going to be smashed to hell when he got home, anyway.
Hermione changed her mind when flipping to the second page. Apparently, Scorpius Malfoy's eighth birthday was such a bash, it made Page 2 of the Evening Prophet.
On Page 3, there was a belated tidbit of how Stonehenge was misbehaving.
Skipping to Page 6, Hermione continued to read the main article, pleased to find there weren't any deaths, although there were people expectedly harmed and being treated by nearby health facilities.
The second photograph of the article depicted Thor. He was not posing at first, laying on his back on the grass (a little worse for wear) as a tiny brunette helped him to his feet. There wasn't a clear shot of her, for her curtain of hair shielded her profile.
After finishing the Prophet, Hermione rolled it up and headed back home, thinking of dinner. Truthfully, she wasn't terribly hungry, so she thought of her husband and what he would like. Since Ron was going to be drunk, she contemplated his mother's chicken soup recipe. As she walked into her house, she was surprised to see him sitting on the couch completely sober. She paused and then closed the door, waving the newspaper.
"Do you want to read it?"
"People were talking about it at the pub," he said, standing. Hermione set the newspaper on the coffee table in front of him anyway and then shirked her coat, draping it on the sofa chair.
"Are you hungry? I was thinking of soup, but you can have something else. We could go out," she offered. "We haven't done that in a while."
"I'm not hungry."
"Um…" Hermione folded arms and glanced at the stairs, wanting to leave him alone. Ron may not always be hungry, but he rarely turned down a meal. Ron not eating was a new development, a new thing which evolved within the last year. For almost a year, Hermione hadn't seen or heard from Draco, yet his much appreciated absence hadn't improved hers and Ron's relationship like she believed it would. On the contrary, Ron's attitude towards her soured even more.
She wanted to go to her room.
Their room had become hers. She and Ron no longer shared a bed.
Before going to her room, however, she had to ask her husband something important.
"Ron, do you even love me anymore?"
Her husband looked at her for a long while. He cupped the back of his head and stretched his arms before letting them fall to his side. Taking a deep breath, he said, "I don't know."
Nodding, Hermione turned around and climbed up the stairs. She got about halfway when Ron said, "I want us to try another counselor. One who has worked with the kind of thing we're going through. I've been going to this support group, Hermione. It's for spouses who've had unfaithful partners, and this one bloke recommended this other healer. Healer Gentry. I think we need this."
Hermione's fingers clenched the banister, and she craned her neck to look back at Ron. She swallowed and breathed in, her heart hammering violently inside of her as it settled into her stomach.
"I think…" she began thickly, "what we need right now doesn't concern one another, Ron."
She continued up the stairs and into her bedroom, leaving the door halfway open. Her hands shook as she pulled out her dusty, old school trunk from her closet and opened it, pulling out her near-forgotten beaded bag. She tossed it on the bed as well as bunch of clothes hanging on the rod. Grabbing her wand from the nightstand, she shrank the outfits and stuffed them into the bag. She repeated the notion until her closet was empty with the exception of her garment bag housing her wedding dress, and then she started on her drawers.
Ron came to the door and pushed it all the way open. "What are you doing?" he asked.
"I'm leaving," she said, shocked at how firm her own voice was.
"So you're just going to give up, is that it?"
Stuffing her folded clothes into the bag roughly, she said, "You gave up first, Ron. For almost two years, I've been paying for something I didn't commit. You tossed everything away the moment you believed Malfoy over your wife."
"There was no evidence, Ron! None! He told you lies!"
"And what of the clothes, shoes, your hair! You becoming a stranger was proof enough, sweetheart! People don't recognize you! You changed for him, I know it!"
"I changed for me!" Hermione slammed the last drawer and put her remaining clothes into the bag. "I failed at the one thing a woman is supposed to do, and I felt ugly for it."
"I never made you feel that way."
"I never said you did." Slinging the strap of the bag over her shoulder, she brushed passed Ron and started downstairs.
"Are you going to my sister's?" he asked, following her.
Hermione yanked on her winter coat, tying the belt around her waist. "There's no need to bring her and Harry into this. I'll be at my parents."
"So that's it, then? You're going leave me with the fallout? What am I supposed to tell everyone, huh?"
With her hand on the doorknob, Hermione said, "Whatever you'd like."
She opened the door, and the autumn, damp air hit her face. She paused when Ron asked, "Are you coming to my parents' for Christmas dinner, at least?"
"No." She closed the door behind her and travelled down the walkway, Disapparating when she reached the road. She appeared in Diagon Alley and went through the Leaky Cauldron to reach Muggle London where it was safe to turn on her cellphone. As she walked down the sidewalk, she called her mum's phone and damned near burst into tears when hearing her voice.
"Mum?" she said.
"Hermione? Is something wrong, dear?"
"I was just wondering if you and Dad are home."
"Your father and I are at in a conference in Paris. Is everything, all right?"
"Um…not really. Ron and I, we…aren't together right now. I was thinking I could come home for a little while."
"Oh, no. Hermione, what happened?"
"We've been having troubles, and I…just want to come home. You wouldn't mind if I did, would you? I still have my key."
"Honey, we changed the locks and put in a new security system. We got robbed a month ago."
Hermione stopped in her tracks and sniffed, wiping the stray tears from her cheeks. "I didn't know that. Why didn't you tell me?"
"You're so hard to get ahold of, and I didn't want you to worry. You have your own life."
"Mum," Hermione said, exasperated and shaking her head. "I'm sure if you're fine with it, I can manage to get inside the house without causing too much of ruckus."
"Well…oh, hold on, dear. Someone's trying to call Mummy."
Making her way to the station, Hermione waited for her mother to pick up the line again. Five minutes later, her mum asked if she was still there.
"Yeah, I'm here."
"That was Jane. She's in London. Something work related, but she plans to stay for a while and, apparently, has been trying to contact you off and on since she got here three weeks ago."
"Did you tell her I changed my number and email over a year ago?"
"I did as well as reminded her of your personal opinion of Facebook. I also did a horrible mother thing and told her you're on the way to see her right now."
"I kept it vague and told her that you're having a rough day and could use a friend."
"Hermione," she said gently, "I don't want you to be alone right now, and Jane did call me to get to you."
"I'm not going to show up on her welcome mat like a pitiful, stray cat."
"Then call her and tell her you're not coming, and that you're staying at your parents' house. Maybe she'll find her way over." Her mom sighed and continued, "I'm so sorry, Hermione. I wish I could be there. Your dad and I will be home in a few days, all right? You can explain everything to me then."
Hermione hung up, groaning and contemplating whether or not to call her cousin. In the end, she didn't and hopped on the tube, getting off in two stops and walking the rest of the way to her late Aunt Daphne's house. She knocked on the door and Dr. Selvig, Jane's mentor, answered.
He had no pants on.
"Oh!" Hermione exclaimed, keeping her eyes leveled with his. "Hi. Is Jane here?"
"You must be Hermione," he said, smiling, and stepped onto the welcome mat to embrace her. Hermione made an 'eep' sound and stood stalk still as he patted her on the back. "It's so good to meet you. I can see the resemblance between you and Janie."
"Erik!" Over Dr. Selvig's shoulder, Hermione saw Jane rush into the main room. Her cousin grabbed at the man's shirt and pulled. "Okay, Erik, let go of Hermione."
Dr. Selvig did as she requested and stepped back into the house, patting Jane affectionately on the shoulder before going back to whatever he'd been doing previous to answering the door.
"I'm so sorry about that," Jane said, breathless, her cheeks tinted pink. "Something happened to him, and now he does weird things like not wearing pants when answering doors."
"Yeah." Jane chuckled and gestured for her to come inside. Hermione stepped into the house, making note of the changes since she last visited. It had been several years since her Aunt Daphne's death, and Jane seemed to have added to the décor rather than take anything away.
Cautiously, Hermione untied the belt of her coat and then hooked it on the rack along with her bag. "My mum said you were in London for work. How's that going?"
"Well, it's-you know-work," she said and started shuffling to the kitchen. "But I'm sticking around until after the New Year. Would you like some coffee?"
Blowing out a breath, Hermione glanced at her watch. No, she didn't want coffee, but it wasn't like sleep had it out for her that night, anyway.
"I'd love some." She followed Jane into the kitchen and sat at the little round dining table. Papers and photographs littered the surface, and Hermione took the liberty of picking up a chicken-scratched piece of college-ruled paper. She tilted her head one way and then the other way, assessing the formula her cousin appeared to be struggling with. Several numbers and symbols were scribbled out and replaced with others.
"I see you're still working on the Einstein-Rosen Bridge," Hermione said, setting the paper down to hesitantly picking up a photograph of wet asphalt with runes burnt into it.
Jane pressed the button on the coffee machine, and plucked two mugs from the cupboards in front of her. "Would you believe me if I said I've finally figured it out?" She then added belatedly, "Ish?"
"Jane," Hermione showed her the picture of runes, "what's this?"
"Oh, that?" Jane chuckled nervously and rushed over, taking the photo from her. "Just, uh…physics."
"I've never seen physics like that." Except in books of Arithmancy and Ancient Runes. Thinking about it, Hermione supposed those two things, when collaborated together, could produce something similar to Muggle physics. However, physics could not refabricate magic. It was impossible.
"Well, it is," Jane said firmly, sticking her chin out.
Hermione knew how much metaphorical rotten tomatoes Jane had been on the receiving end of since she changed her nursing major to go after her dream of becoming an astrophysics over ten years ago. Even after three degrees, her cousin continued to get flack for her firm belief that the Einstein-Rosen Bridge was within the realm of possibility.
"All right." Hermione nodded, looking sheepish. "This your field, not mine. It just looks like magic hoo-ha to me."
"Magic is just science we haven't figured out yet," Jane quipped, pouring coffee into the two awaiting mugs. "I know that's hard on the ears of the most logical person I know, but trust me on this. I've seen things. I mean…you saw it on the news today probably. The attack in Greenwich and in New York City last year. I bet there are places out there in unknown galaxies where science and magic are the same thing."
Hermione's gaze drifted, taking notice of Jane's knee-high red rain boots. She kept her focus on them, even when Jane handed her a coffee mug. She thought back to the image on Page 6 in the Evening Prophet. That tiny brunette woman helping Thor to his feet had been wearing those exact same boots.
Jane sat down in the neighboring chair and blew on the steaming liquid. "You okay?"
Before Hermione could say anything, a young man and a young woman in their early twenties came bursting into the kitchen. The woman yawned exaggeratedly and said, "I smell coffee!"
"May I have some, Dr. Foster?" asked the young man.
"Dude, you don't need to be all polite and stuff," the sleepy woman said. She poured herself some coffee and announced, "And can we never do what we just did today ever again?" She took a long, drawn out gulp of her brew and then sighed happily. "Is there an all-day breakfast joint nearby? Ian actually worked up my appetite…Oh, hi! You must be Jane's cousin" The woman walked over to Hermione and stuck out her hand. "I totes see the resemblance. You both got the whole dewy brown-eye, fantabulous-hair thing going on ."
"I like your blue eyes," the young man said to her.
"Ah, I love it when you're all polite and stuff," she cooed.
Hermione took the woman's hand and shook it gently. "Hello. You must be Darcy."
"I'm Ian," said the young man.
"No one cares." Darcy sat down on the opposite side of Hermione. She took another long gulp of her coffee and then asked, "How do you feel about Jane changing her Facebook status from 'It's complicated' to 'In a relationship'? It needs to happen, right?"
Hermione jerked her head to Jane, brows arched and momentarily forgetting about red rain boots and Greenwich. "You're not back with Donald, are you?"
"Who's Donald?" Ian asked, pouring some milk and sugar into his mug
"The better question is," Darcy began, "is what are you doing to your poor, defenseless coffee?"
"No, I'm not back with Donald," Jane replied and scoffed, rolling her eyes. "And Darcy couldn't mind her own business to save her life."
"Speaking of," piped Darcy. "That's one mofo-ing set you got there on your finger. Your husband must be rolling in the pounds, am I right?"
"Where is Thor, by the way?" Ian asked, pulling out his cellphone. "I was going to have him autograph my cellphone case."
Ironically, the case had the Captain America shield logo on it.
Wait. Did he just ask where Thor was?
"Okay," Jane said, pushing away her mug of coffee and standing. "Hermione, I think we should have dinner someplace that's not here."
A half-hour later, they sat at one of the few tables in Carpo's drinking Turkish coffee and waiting for their tilapia gyros. Once Hermione allowed the pleasant, familiar taste of the drink to soothe her, she set down the tiny cup and said, "So you found your Einstein-Rosen Bridge and captured the heart of a bloke in the process. All in a good day's work, yeah?"
"Thor's more than a bloke." Jane blushed. "He's a god."
"He's a hero."
Hermione couldn't argue with that, but she knew from firsthand experience that heroes weren't perfect. "Yes. Yes, he is." She shifted in her seat and regarded Jane carefully. "But forgive me if I overstep my bounds, Jane. He didn't contact you for two years and then left again."
"What are you saying?"
"I'm saying…" Hermione shrugged and fiddled with her wedding bands. "Don't change your Facebook status."
"He's coming back."
"He had to figure stuff out with his dad and brother—"
Hermione cut her off with a deep, troubled frown.
"His brother? You're talking about Loki."
"Never mind him. Listen, this is it." Jane drew a circle with her two pointer fingers for whatever reason. "Thor's it for me."
"You said that about Donald. Remember what happened when you gave him everything?"
Jane opened her mouth and then clamped a hand over it, her eyes hard and upset. She stayed like that, even when the server delivered their meal, and a minute or so after. Finally, she removed her hand and asked, "Did you get all that?"
"I think so, but it was hard to decipher from all the colorful language."
"I'll think 'beep' next time."
They ate the majority of their meal in silence until Jane said, "Aunt Helen mentioned you were having a bad day. Do you want to talk about it?"
"If I ask you another question, will you answer honestly?"
"Depends on the question, I guess."
Jane nodded and took her last bite of gyro and drained the rest of her coffee. "Do you need a place to stay tonight?"
Groaning, Hermione shook her head. "You've a full house already."
"I can squeeze in one more person. We can share a bed like old times."
"Are you going to knee me in the arse like old times?"
"Mmhm. I'll even wet the bed."
Hermione shook her head, grimacing from the twenty-eight year old memory of sharing a child's cot with Jane who had soaked through her pull-up that night and drenched the sheets. Hermione had never let her forget it. "Please don't."
The twin bed in the second guest room was far from a child's cot, but it might as well have been for the two woman occupying it. Curled up with their heads and feet facing opposite directions, they lay uncomfortably, although Jane had managed to fall asleep unlike Hermione. Silent tears streamed down her cheeks and onto her borrowed pillow as she wiggled her rings with her thumb. She recalled the blow to the chest when Ron said he didn't know if he loved her or not. And after how he confessed to going to those support groups for people supposedly like him, she wasn't sure if she loved him anymore, either.
That scared her.
Sometime close to three or four o' clock, Hermione managed to drift into an unfit rest. When she stirred awake, the sun was up, but she couldn't have possibly slept for long. Perhaps a few hours. Jane was no longer in bed, and Hermione could hear murmuring, most likely coming from the kitchen. She rolled out of bed, her back and neck smarting, and stumbled into the loo. A few minutes later, she went into the kitchen in search for some coffee and saw Jane, Dr. Selvig, and Darcy circled around the table eating cereal. Once she got her mug-ful of morning miracle, she joined them.
"So how long are you staying with us?" Darcy garbled, her mouth full of cereal. She washed it down with some coffee, ignoring Jane's reproving glare.
"I'm leaving today. This morning, actually."
"Ahhh," she lamented. "I was thinking we could all decorate the house for Christmas."
"It's too early," Jane said.
"No, it's not because there's no pesky Thanksgiving here dictating when we can or can't put up a tree."
"I'm still going to celebrate Thanksgiving, Darcy. We'll decorate after that."
Darcy stuck out her tongue and then became distracted by her chirping phone beside her plate.
An hour later when Hermione was waiting for her turn to shower, her mother called and told her she could stay at the flat in downtown London as long as she needed. Hermione suspected she and her father had a long, heated discussion the previous night about their thirty-four year old daughter moving back home.
Hermione thanked her mum and said staying there would probably be best.
Once she showered and redressed, Hermione grabbed her beaded bag from the coat rack and said farewell to Jane, Dr. Selvig, and Darcy. Jane offered to drive her to the complex, but Hermione refused to put her America cousin through London's morning traffic.
"We'll do lunch, okay?" Jane hugged Hermione goodbye. "Soon. You're going to tell me about your bad day."
By noon, Hermione's beaded bag was empty and her things were put away in the master bedroom of her parents' flat. She stole a pricier wine from the makeshift cellar in the utility room and drank it straight from the bottle while not bothering to sit on one of the sofas when watching her mum's recordings of Downton Abbey. She cried straight through three episodes and repeated the process when the bottle became empty. Halfway through the second bottle, she contemplated returning home but then passed out before she could drunkenly weigh the pros and cons.
When she woke up, the telly remote was stuck to her cheek. She peeled it off and prodded at the imprints it left behind. She groaned when imagining how utterly spectacular she probably looked. Her feet stumbled as she made her way into the kitchen. The clock on the stove read a quarter after ten, and she opened the fridge, closing it the moment she saw nothing but wine, champagne, and ouzo on the bottom level.
Of course there wouldn't be food. The flat acted as a romantic, booze-infested getaway for her aging parents when Surrey got too dull.
It was too late to go grocery shopping, Hermione knew that, so she searched the cupboards and found a jar of crunchy peanut butter and a jar of Nutella, the latter being hidden in way in the back of the wine glass cabinet like a dirty secret. As she scooped some of it and the peanut butter into a bowl, swirling them together, she wondered which one of her sugar-Nazi parents broke the rules.
Returning to Downton Abbey, she decided to be a little classy and sit on the sofa instead of the floor while she ate her concoction and finished off her second bottle of wine.
During the night, she passed out again and woke up late in the morning to her phone ringing on the kitchen counter. She ignored it even though she was wide awake and pouring herself a gigantic glass of water. Her phone rang again while she drank her second glass, but she still let it go to voicemail. After her third glass, she checked her phone and saw it had been her dad trying to call. She called him back and listened to a ten minute lecture on how separation almost always leads to divorce. He encouraged her to go back home to Ron.
Hermione didn't argue with him, but she did tell her father that she loved him and that going home to Ron wasn't in the cards as of yet. She hung up before he could get in another word and then went into the bedroom to take a shower and get ready to go shopping.
While an afternoon rainstorm settled over the city, Hermione was juggling bags and bags of food into the flat. While putting the groceries away, she thought of how unready she was to return to work the next morning. It wasn't that she disliked her job as a (magical) liaison for Interpol, she just…didn't love it anymore. Nor was she feeling all that chipper from the shit-weekend she had.
Knowing she needed to someway find balance in her life to make her bleak future look less depressing, Hermione sent a text to Jane and invited her, Dr. Selvig, and Darcy over for dinner. She hadn't particularly wanted all the company, but she didn't want to offend Jane. Her mentor and intern were clearly dear to her.
Nevertheless, Jane had been the only one to come. She had picked up a tiramisu for dessert which they shared after a vegetarian lasagna and wine. Because of her earlier binge, Hermione limited herself to only a single glass. When they moved their conversations over to the sitting area, Hermione admitted to the reasoning behind her bad day and the very condensed, very vague version of what led up to it..
That would just confuse her.
Jane gave her sympathy and support, and Hermione thanked her by asking if she'd rather stay the night than travel back to the house. Her cousin took the offer and slept in one of the spare bedrooms.
With Hermione becoming a relatively permanent resident of Muggle London and Jane planning to stay until after the New Year, they spent a lot of their spare time together.
And with Darcy.
One could not forget her.
Hermione joined Jane, Darcy, and Dr. Selvig for an American Thanksgiving feast at the house. After everyone had stuffed themselves sick, they ate pie and drank tea and fell into a deep sleep in the sitting room. Around ten at night, they woke to a strange sound coming from the backyard. By the time the three of them managed to snap themselves fully from their comas, the back door opened and Jane tripped over everyone in the process of rushing to greet their unexpected guest.
Following a quick snog at the threshold, Jane formally introduced Hermione to Thor as a plate of leftovers warmed in the microwave for him. He took her hand and kissed the back of her hand, saying, "No, Lady Hermione, the pleasure is mine. I have yet to meet a blood relative of my Jane's, and I'm not disappointed. I see beauty runs rampant in your family."
"Oh, wow," Hermione muttered under breath, suppressing the urge to keel over and die from laughter. "I see why my cousin is so smitten with you."
As Thor laid waste to the pile of food on his plate, Hermione was reminded of Ron and how he used to have an appetite like that. She smiled morosely and quietly left Thor and Jane alone in the kitchen to catch some fresh air outside. The air was cold, but not so much as to force her back into the heated house. She paced the patio and then paused when noticing burnt markings on the dead grass. She hovered over them and fished her phone out of her jacket, snapping a series of pictures of what had to be runes. Like the ones in Jane's photos.
It then dawned on her that these were from Thor.
Or from whatever brought Thor here.
Einstein-Rosen Bridge, perhaps.
Magic and science, indeed. Maybe Jane was onto something. Still, she'd never be able to accurately interpret the markings with physics alone. She'd have to branch out and take on an entirely new field of study which wasn't taught at one's common university.
Satisfied with the number of pictures she took, she went inside and joined everyone in the sitting room. Jane and Thor stood close the front door like they were about to leave.
"We're going to get some more ice cream for the pie. Thor has never had ice cream so…" Jane slid on her jacket with the help of Thor and waved at them. "We'll be right back."
"Drive safe, Jane," Dr. Selvig said. "I think I'm going to turn in for the night. It was good to see you, Thor."
"And you," Thor replied, dipping his chin.
Jane grabbed his hand and guided him out the door as her mentor disappeared down the hallway. Darcy then said to Hermione, "I bet you a box of Pop Tarts Jane and Thor don't come back with ice cream."
Hermione frowned and was about to ask why they it wouldn't when she realized what Darcy hinted at. She whipped out her phone and thumbed in Jane's number.
"Please don't tell me you're going to cock-block them," Darcy lamented.
Finger suspended over the send icon, Hermione said, "I don't want to see Jane get hurt."
"Oh, my God, do you think he could?" Darcy blew out a breath. "I guess it's possible with him being so strong, and with the probable size of his-"
"That's not what I meant."
"I know what you meant, and Jane's a big girl. She's going to do big girl things like have sex with her incredibly hunky, heroic boyfriend. In a car."
Hermione glared at her and pressed send, cursing when the call went straight to voicemail.
"Look, I get where you're coming from. Donald was a douche in disguise, and you're worried Thor might be the same."
"You think he's not?"
Darcy shrugged and cleaned her glasses with the hem of her shirt. "I think Thor coming back after two years says something." She slipped on her specs and smirked. "And they hadn't even got to third base when he left the first time. And she told me they didn't get down to any funny business when he took her to Asgard. And when he left the second time, they only swapped spit for, like, eight seconds." A comical look crossed her features. "Maybe I shouldn't have bet you a box of Pop Tarts. What if they actually did go for ice cream?"
"I like the strawberry ones," Hermione said, smirking, even though she still felt apprehension. It's not that she didn't think her cousin a catch, for Jane was extraordinary in every way. However, she found it difficult to believe the Norse God of Thunder truly fancied a mortal woman. Aside from a pretty face and a brilliant mind, Jane couldn't offer him much more. Those attributes, though positive, were temporary compared to the lifespan of a demigod.
Jane and Thor returned an hour later and by then, Darcy had fallen asleep on the couch, and Hermione busied herself in the kitchen, cleaning up the remaining pots and pans from the Thanksgiving dinner. Jane had, indeed, brought ice cream, but Hermione kept silent when taking note of Jane's warm, flushed cheeks and swollen lips and the fact that Thor wouldn't look her in the eye.
Hermione was familiar enough with Norse mythology and Viking culture to be surprised by Thor's behavior. Acting shy following a conquest or consummating a relationship shouldn't be in his nature.
Maybe Jane requested he act normal as to not arouse suspicion of their activities, and acting unlike himself (a few dashes of arrogance marinating in an attractive amount of charisma) was the best Thor could do.
"I saw you called," Jane said, putting down the grocery sack. "Sorry, I didn't pick up."
"I only wanted you to get some java chip for me," she lied.
Jane blinked at her and then grinned toothily, sticking her hand in the paper sack and pulling out a carton of Häagen-Dazs Java Chip ice cream and waggled it. "Who do you adore more than anyone?"
It was Hermione's turn to blink, shocked. "Thank you. You can just put it in the freezer. I think I'm going to turn in for the night."
"The new air-mattress is in the front closet," Jane said, "if you want to just lay it in the front room."
"That's fine, thanks."
With the ice cream put away and Jane escorting him to her part-time childhood bedroom where they would somehow share a twin bed, Hermione moved the coffee table and set up the air-mattress. Darcy remarkably didn't stir through the process. The next morning, however, Hermione awoke to Darcy lying beside her, two couch pillows acting as a barrier between them. Hermione was grateful for the consideration. The intern seemed like the type who'd cuddle slash gyrate against the person sleeping next to her if not somewhat restrained.
In the kitchen, the clock read 6:17, and Hermione put a note on the fridge saying she had to leave for work. She took the tube and was back her apartment before seven, where she readied herself for the day.
During her lunch hour, Jane called and by her jaded tone, Hermione reckoned Thor had returned to Asgard. Hermione asked when he planned to come back and visit to which she replied with a hopeful 'soon'.
By mid-December, both Darcy and Dr. Selvig left England, the former going back to America to spend the hols with her mum and the latter leaving for Sweden once he was assured Jane would be taken care for Christmas. Hermione's parents had extended an invitation to their niece, and both women began to visit the Grangers' household more often, coming over to help decorate for the season as well as to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
To appease her mother, Hermione attended a midnight mass with her at the midnight of Christmas while Jane and her father stayed at the house and slept. Her mum was disappointed Jane didn't want to go, muttering how Aunt Daphne would be disheartened.
A little after two in the morning, Hermione and her mum got back to the house. Before she made it to the stairs, her mother asked her to flick each room with the basil holy water. She almost said no, the refusal hot and tempting on the tip of her tongue, but she swallowed it and complied with the request. It was Christmas, her mum's favorite holiday. Hermione could participate in one more tradition and not act like a petulant brat but a respectful daughter who was more or less mooching off her parents' goodwill by letting her live rent-free in their flat.
The last room she sprinkled the holy water in had been her childhood bedroom where Jane was semi-awake, laying face down on the bed and groaning softly. The lamp on the bedside table was lit, and her IPad was propped and facing her pillow-smashed face. She was watching a TED Talk given by Tony Stark.
Because she felt like it, Hermione went up to her and flicked the water on her bum and the back of her head.
Jane didn't even flinch.
"The Killantzaro won't get you now," Hermione said, setting the dish on top of her dresser.
"It already did. I'm so nauseous. I haven't puked yet, but still." Jane sighed haggardly and sank further into the bed, her eyes shooting solemn glances at she screen of her IPad. "I never got to meet him. Even though I know a guy."
"Well." Hermione sat in the ledge of the bed next to Jane and paused the screen, flipping the cover over it. "I heard he had the impressive talent of being both charming and obnoxious."
"He was a genius."
"You're a genius, and what happened to Mr. Stark was tragic. I'm sorry you never got to meet him, but…it's Christmas. Time for happy thoughts, and you need to rest if you want to stomach my mum's sugar-free baklava tomorrow."
"Mmph." She turned over onto her side, facing away from Hermione. Flicking off the lamp, Hermione left the room and closed the door behind her, going into the guest bedroom to sleep for the rest of the night.
In the late morning, when everyone was awake and surrounded by the Christmas tree opening presents, Jane still wasn't feeling well but managed to nibble at certain items during brunch. A can of ginger ale and a three hour nap later, she was feeling fine enough to eat a polite portion of roasted halibut and bits of the side entrées. Instead of sampling of the sugar-free baklava, she opted for a cup of ginger tea.
Though another night at the Grangers' was offered to Jane, her cousin chose to go home. Hermione offered to drive her, saying she shouldn't be on the road if she wasn't feeling well. Jane reluctantly agreed and handed over her lanyard of keys.
Pulling up to Jane's driveway, Hermione killed the engine and went inside the house with her cousin. Jane sat down on the couch, her eyes drifting closed. Hermione went into the kitchen and searched the refrigerator for a can of ginger ale. Finding no such luck, she grabbed a bottle of Pellegrino and nearly bumped her head on the freezer door when hearing the same sound in the backyard she had on night of Jane's Thanksgiving dinner. Hermione opened her mouth to call for Jane, but her cousin was already sprinting across the kitchen and out the backdoor. Setting down the bottle, Hermione lagged behind and paused on the back patio to see Jane jump up into Thor's arms. He said something to her she didn't quite catch, and Jane bobbed her head up and down.
Thor gave her a relieved smile and then lifted his hammer and shouted another phrase Hermione didn't quite catch. A bright light engulfed both he and Jane, shooting them up into the sky. A force-field of pressure radiated off the beam, flattening Hermione to the patio. The light then quickly disappeared, but Hermione continued to stare at the spot they once stood.
"Bye," she said, a bit breathlessly, to no one and got to her feet, pulling out her cellphone, capturing several images of the runes burnt into the dead lawn. She ran into the house and turned on the kitchen light, studying the photographs and chuckled in amazement at what she was interpreting. Admittedly, it wasn't much, for interpreting runes was a continual process of research and study, connecting bits of information to weave a story or a spell or both.
Hermione left Jane's keys on the coffee table and locked up the house before Apparating to her flat in downtown London. After a couple of days, she expected to hear from Jane but never got a phone call. New Year's Eve, Hermione called her, but it went straight to voicemail.
A week into January, Darcy and Dr. Selvig called her asking if they'd seen or heard from her. Every day for the following weeks, well into February, Hermione received calls from both, hoping for any news on Jane.
Even though she had the right to be, Hermione wasn't upset with Jane for leaving so abruptly or being gone for as long as she was. She was worried, however. Her cousin's absence was closing in on two months and other people besides Dr. Selivg and Darcy were trying to get ahold of Jane. At first it was representatives of Jane's grant foundation wanting to know how faired the progress on her research. Hermione had to direct them to Dr. Selvig.
The next party weren't so polite.
On the phone and in the middle of a conference dispute with her employer and several of her coworkers during her lunch hour at work, a smartly dressed man traipsed in and closed the door behind him. She stared at him, befuddled, and was about to tell her employer to hold on for a second, but the man reached across her desk and grabbed the phone from her, hanging it up.
He pulled out a photograph of Jane from his breast pocket and held it up for her to see. "Have you seen this woman before?" he asked, his accent as southern Yankee as they came.
Hermione blinked and sat down in her chair, suppressing the urge to vomit. "Is she all right?"
"That's what we'd like to know. You're her cousin, correct?"
"If you knew that, why'd you ask if I'd seen her before?"
The man smiled stiffly and put away the picture. "When was the last time you saw Miss Foster?"
"I'm sorry. Who are you?"
"Answer the question, Miss Granger."
"That's not…" Folding her arms, she leaned back and glared at him. The man practically screamed government. "I saw her at Christmas."
"And she went missing after that," he said, causing Hermione to frown suspiciously.
"May I ask who reported her missing?"
"May I ask why you weren't the one to do so?"
"Because she's in Norway."
Hermione knew herself to be an idiot, but she wasn't so thick as to tell this strange, foreign man the truth.
The man opened his mouth and then closed it, his eyes slit. He then dipped his chin. "I see. And that's where she told you she went."
"All right. If you want to lie, so be it. Now if you would kindly hand over those photos you took of your cousin's front and backyard back in December. We already retrieved the images from your phone earlier today, but we like to be thorough."
"We?" Hermione said faintly, grabbing her phone and went to her gallery. All pictures, videos, and downloads were gone. She discarded the device and logged into her employee email account and then into her personal Gmail.
No, no, no, no, no!
This was why Mr. Hurst reamed her and coworkers a new one. He hadn't got any of her files she sent because the files were empty. The icons and their titles were there, but the information wasn't. Whoever this 'we' was, they hacked her and Interpol's entire network database. Their thoroughness was akin to hacking up a beheaded body and depositing the bits into a wood-chipper that spout out the muck into an active volcano.
"I, um…" Hermione swallowed and scratched her temple, eyes glued to her useless computer screen. "I have some in my flat. Since you rendered my day useless, I suppose I can fetch them for you."
"It's being taken care of." He marched out of her office, and Hermione was torn in running after him and hexing him in front of everyone or dashing upstairs to plead her case to her boss as to not get fired. The ministry wouldn't like that. She was asked to be the (secret magical) liaison for the law enforcement department and Interpol because she was the best. If she got cut, Draco Malfoy would be asked to come back and no one wanted that.
Hermione chose a third option—a rebellious one. She left work, hoping Mr. Hurst would connect the dots by five o' clock and realize their system had been tampered with.
When she got to her flat, she noticed how 'clean' it was. It hadn't been messy that morning, but her kitchen floor had needed a good sweeping and dust had begun to accumulate on the bookshelves. Her bedroom, even, was organized to the point of perfection. The people who raided her apartment for those hard copies clearly had a severe form of OCD.
A little while later, she travelled to Gringotts, asking the goblin director to be taken to her vault. Ten minutes later, she entered hers and Ron's bank cellar and gravitated towards her collection of rare and priceless books. Tugging on a white pair of feathery soft gloves, she pulled one from the shelf and opened it, the book falling open to a page where a folded up piece of Muggle printing paper was wedged into the crease. She unfolded the paper and grinned smugly at her last hard copy of the runes Thor and Jane left in their wake Christmas night.
By the end of February, Erik's and Darcy's calls became infrequent as did Jane's funding foundation. Hermione's worry over her cousin began to fester into exasperation and wondered if she was experiencing karma. Was the universe duking out an obnoxious 'ha-ha' because of what Hermione did all those years ago?
At seventeen, Hermione had bewitched her parents to leave for Australia during the height of the magical war. She should've sent them to the States where her aunt and uncle lived with Jane. It certainly would've prevented the drama that smacked Hermione in the face when she meandered her way to Sydney to fetch Mum and Dad. Her thoughts had only been on them, not her extended family who'd driven themselves damned near insane trying to contact slash find the Grangers.
On the 26th of February, a soaking wet Hermione entered her flat and peeled off her raincoat and toed off her boots. She groaned at how cold and uncomfortable she felt and fantasized of a hot bubble bath, Downton Abbey, three scoops of java chip ice cream, and a glass of wine. Tapping at her balcony door stirred her from her delightful evening planning, and she padded over to the sliding glass barrier and yanked at the drapes to find Ron's drenched owl with a sizeable parcel.
"Oh, my goodness," she cooed and slid open the door, allowing Pumpkin to come inside from the cold. It flew onto the counter and hooted gratefully, happy to be out of the cold, damp London evening. Hermione ignored the soiled droplets of dew falling onto the marble surface and gave her some sausage owl treat bits.
Washing her hands, she untied the parcel from the Pumpkin's leg and then cast a temporary weather-resistant charm on the owl. She hooted again and glided back to the balcony glass door where Hermione let her go.
The parcel was wrapped and charmed to resist weather. Hermione tugged at the string and brown wrappings, revealing a thick stack of white parchment paper.
The bold heading on the first page had her sinking down on a stool and contemplating whiskey over wine. Tears clouded her vision, but she didn't get the chance to shed a single one due to her cousin bursting through the door.
The two women stared at each other for five seconds or so before the younger, more wet and icy one announced through haggard panting, "I'm getting married!"
She then darted into the hallway loo, not bothering to close the door as she doubled over and vomited into the toilet. Hermione watched from the hallway, taking in Jane's sickly and soaked appearance. She wore a lavender, floor-length dress, the material expensive-looking and sopped. On her arms and over her torso, she wore the winter coat Hermione had last seen her in and beneath that, and there were glimpses of finely molded armor covering Jane's bust and shoulders.
"Where the hell have you been?" Hermione asked.
"Asgard," Jane managed.
"This whole time? You were gone for over two months. People worried. Darcy. Dr. Selvig. Loony government people. Me."
Spitting one last time into the toilet, Jane teetered to the side and caught herself against the wall. A sheen of sweat shined over her greenish skin tone, and her chest heaved from exertion. Once she caught her breath, she said, "I know. I'm so sorry. I didn't plan to be gone for so long. I was going come back at the beginning of January, but something came up."
"Thor proposed?" guessed Hermione.
Jane nodded yes and then shook her head no, and then nodded again. She climbed to her feet and sighed. "I wouldn't call it a proposal but sure. I had to plan a wedding. I couldn't leave until now, but I have to go back as soon as possible. I…made some life-changing decisions there. I'm going to be continuing my work but not from here."
For a freshly engaged woman, her cousin seemed oddly out of sorts and extremely overwhelmed for the wrong reasons.
"Jane, are you all right? Are you in some sort of trouble?"
Her cousin blinked at her and then chuckled. "Oh, my God, you'd have to think so with the way I just broke into your apartment and barfed all over the place and talking in riddles. I'm good. Really. I'm happy and excited. Thor is, too."
"Everything's happening so fast. The wedding. How long did it take to plan your wedding?"
"You know it took year." And Hermione didn't have to plan a single thing with the exception of saying where she wanted to marry—St. Demetrio's chapel much to her mother's delight. Her mum and Molly did everything else.
"A royal Aesir wedding takes two, and somehow I'm supposed to pull one with all its bells and whistle out of my ass in six weeks. It's going to be a disaster!" Jane lunged at Hermione, holding her in a tight embrace.
"Okay, I'm sorry you're upset." Hermione combed gentle fingers through Jane's wet hair and staring at the unflushed toilet knowingly. "Would you like to tell me why you're getting married so quickly?"
"Why does anyone get married so fast?" Jane then moaned and pressed her face into Hermione's shoulder. "I'm an idiot." She sniffled and pitifully added, "The pill doesn't mean anything to his...well, you know..."
"Is Thor all right with…it?"
Jane pulled away and scoffed, rolling her eyes and an affection but tired smile appearing on her lips. "It's like he's the only one to have ever gotten a woman pregnant. He's excited." She touched the armor over her bust and then her dress. "I'd like to change. Can I borrow some clothes and then use your phone? I have, like, a million calls to make."
As Jane showered in Hermione's master bathroom, Hermione poured herself a large glass of wine and stared bemusedly at the divorce decree her husband sent her. It laid their threateningly on the counter. Mocking her. Jane's abrupt intro into her flat had shook her, erasing the need to have a good cry. Hermione wasn't sure whether to be grateful or not for that.
A half-hour later, Jane emerged from the bedroom appearing like a brand new person with the exception of the far away, almost solemn look in her eyes.
"I knew it would be a long shot and everything, but Darcy and Erik can't make it to the wedding on such short notice."
Hermione righted the sheets of parchment and shoved them into the nearest drawer. "When you say short notice…"
"I have to leave in the morning. Hermione," she said, pleading.
It then dawned on Hermione how very small Jane's social circle was. Hermione had a few close friends and a fairly sizeable support group in the magical world, yet...Jane was far more likeable than she. Her cousin was very kind and never allowed her brilliance to inflate her ego. Jane never thought less of those who weren't as academically gifted like Hermione had. Her personality wasn't suited for an acquired taste but pleasantly swotty yet playful and cuddly pink.
"To Asgard?" Hermione winced, and she couldn't believe she was actually thinking about going. It was another planet. And she had work and obligations and a divorce. "Um…" Swallowing thickly, she chuckled and asked, "How long would I be there?"
"A few days. That's all. I promise. And you'll love it. Asgard's beautiful and the palace libraries are amazing."
Three, perhaps four days, Hermione could dabble with. Maybe throwing herself into her cousin's wedding wouldn't be so bad. It would keep her mind occupied and help her put things into perspective.
It was still short notice. Hermione was going to have to drop a 'family emergency and using up all my vacation days' lie on her employers which would lead to getting an earful from both her employers. The worst they could do was fire her, and it wasn't like she couldn't find work elsewhere. She was Hermione Weasley nee Granger, for Christ's sake. It would be them suffering. They'd have to ask for Malfoy's return.
Massaging her forehead, Hermione exhaled sharply and nodded. "All right. I just have to call everyone and not actually tell them where I'm going."
After the phone calls, Hermione went to pack and stopped short when Jane instructed her not to bring clothing.
"I didn't realize Thor came from a nudists' colony," Hermione quipped wryly.
"Wear your usual tomorrow and do your hair and makeup really nice, but they don't appreciate our clothes. When we get to the palace, I'll lend you some of my dresses. You're going to go nuts when you see my wardrobe up there. No one needs that many dresses. Ugh. Now shoes? They're not shoe people, Hermione. They incinerated my Uggs. They didn't care how much money I spent on those things."
Hermione would not be bringing any of her Manalo Blahnik's to Asgard. "They?"
"My help." She blanched. "I mean my servants. I mean…I'm going to be queen. Queens don't wear Uggs."
"Oh," Hermione said, eyebrows arching in surprise. She sat down on the edge of the bed, taking in the bit of news carefully. "I didn't realize Thor was a king now.
Jane tucked a piece of hair behind her ear. "It's why he came and got me. He wanted me to be there for his coronation. After, he asked me to stay longer." She exhaled sharply and busied herself at the vanity, carefully considering Hermione's makeup, clips, and ties. "Then I was sick, and my chamber maid asked why I hadn't bled yet like it was any of her business."
Neither of the women felt the need to go to sleep for night. Instead, they stayed up and shared a pint of ice cream, a bottle of sparkling grape juice Hermione found in the wine fridge in the utility room, and watched hours and hours of Downton Abbey.
At dawn, they peeled themselves off the sofas and got ready for the trip. Hermione did as Jane requested and donned her makeup with extra care and tamed her unruly coils into springy, shiny curls with a bit of her special sauce—an enhanced serum brewed in Wizarding Paris. She then coerced her tendrils into a wad, and shoved in one of her simple but elegant hair-combs to keep it from unravelling.
Once she was fully dressed, she packed up her makeup, hair products, and toiletries in an overnight bag and went into the kitchen to prepare a cup of instant coffee while Jane paid her dues to the toilet in the hallway once more. Ten minutes later, they were both ready to leave. Hermione locked up her flat and followed Jane out the door and out of the complex. They took the tube and were at her home within an hour. When they got to the house, Jane linked their arms and guided her to the front yard.
"Hold onto me," she ordered. "You can close your eyes if you want."
Hermione's eyes squeezed shut. The moment they did, she felt herself being lifted and catapulted upwards. Inside the beam, she could sense the different temperatures and pressures on the outside. She chanced a look and gasped when seeing stars and galaxies smear by them and for a brief moment, there was nothing but blackness before new stars and new galaxies greeted them.
The entire experience lasted only ten seconds or so, but when Hermione's feet touched solid ground, it felt like she'd been flying top-speed for hours.
Hermione hated flying.
Letting go of Jane, Hermione touched her face and looked down at her body to make sure everything was intact. "That was awful," she said and then bothered to stare ahead of her to take in her golden, dome-shaped surroundings. Her focus then landed on an oddly dressed handsome, dark-skinned man standing on a platform, his strong hands wrapped around the hilt of what looked like a large sword.
"Whoo! I'll never get sick of that," Jane said, smiling and then waved at Heimdall. "Thank you. This is Hermione."
Heimdall stared at Hermione, his golden eyes metaphorically stripping back her skin to peer into her soul. His stoic face broke momentarily when the corner of his mouth twitch upwards and then returned to its intense line. He bowed his head and greeted in her in a rich, pleasant voice, "It's a pleasure to meet you, Lady Hermione of Midgard. I hope you find the realm of Asgard to your liking."
He knew what she was.
Hermione only managed to nod as Jane grabbed her hand to lead her out of the dome-like structure and onto what had to be the Asbru Bridge where a carriage awaited them. The coachman helped them into it and started the horses towards Asgard.
Popping her head out, Hermione stared down at the crystalline surface beneath them and out towards the water where it seemed to drop off into nothing. Her eyes narrowed and she said, "So Asgard is truly flat."
"Why don't you look up?"
Hermione gaped when seeing two planets neighboring them closely.
"The gravitational forces of Asgard and those two worlds don't throw each other off?" she inquired.
Jane smiled brightly at the question. "You'd think so."
The trip to the palace was longer than Hermione anticipated. Just reaching the end of the bridge and breaching the city took the better part of a half-hour. Getting to the palace took well over an hour, and Hermione was becoming restless. With the majestic scenery of her surroundings and the curious (and some loathsome) looks she and Jane were given from Asgard's citizens, she wanted to explore and ask the people a million questions.
The palace was unlike any Hermione had ever seen or studied. Her focus soaked in the beautiful architecture and landscape, a nervous chuckle escaping her lips as the coachman offered his hand to help her out of the carriage.
"What?" Jane said.
"This," Hermione waggled her hand at the object of her affection, "is going to be yours. You're not going to be offended if I still address you as Jane, are you?"
Her cousin looked at the palace as if for the first time, only a bit more guarded. She paled and then grimaced. "I'm in way over my head. I want to puke again, but I need to eat first."
They hadn't made it far into the castle before Thor graced their presence. He swept Jane into a strong embrace and twirled her, muttering into her ear of how much he missed her lovely self the night before.
"Let us never spend another night apart," he murmured, brushing kisses on her forehead.
"Okay," her cousin replied, dazed. She then melted further into his body and said, "I'm so hungry."
Thor stared at her like she confessed to being stricken with stage four cancer, and Hermione coughed into her fist, trying to look busy by assessing the grand corridors and the vast, open space. It all seemed to be exquisitely crafted from gold, granite, and marble.
One novelty led her to another and then to another. Soon, her head was tilted all the way back so she could look up into the innards of a spindly tower. She probably looked ridiculous, but who could blame her?
"It's good to see you, Lady Hermione," Thor said, tearing Hermione out of her trance.
"Hmm?" She dropped her eyes and then blinked owlishly. "Oh, you, too. Forgive me. I've never seen anything like this palace...nor Asgard. It's beautiful, and I'm grateful to be given a chance to visit."
"The honor is ours," he said graciously. "My Lady Jane speaks of your brilliance and wisdom, and no realm could possibly suffer from having another mind such as yours. I think my future queen would love your assistance, given it is her intent to build a bridge and Bi-frost such as Asgard's to benefit Midgard."
"She's only going to be here for a few days," Jane interjected. "And Hermione's awesome at physics, but she's more of a historian. She wrote an in-depth history book on the European witch trials."
"Then you must show her the libraries and allow her to become more familiar with Asgard's history." Thor then cautiously said to Hermione, "I hope war and bloodshed does not trouble you too much. I'm afraid my realm's past may be seen as...conflicting."
Hermione smiled blandly, thinking of the swimmingly good time she had in the nineties. "Mine, too."
Before she and Jane could go to breakfast, they were escorted by armed guards to Jane's chambers, so they could change their clothes and freshen up.
"Why the guards?" Hermione asked once the chamber doors closed behind them. She placed her overnight bag on the edge of bed and started unbuttoning her blouse.
"Security won't be so heavy after a while. Asgard's on good terms with the other realms, but there are other enemies who'd see a royal wedding as a great time to crash a party. Could you imagine if some lunatic tried to pull something at Will and Kate's bash, and there'd been no security?"
A lunatic had tried to pull something. Hermione thought of Alexie Dolohov who now resided in a plot next to his father somewhere in the magical part of the Ukraine.
No one could argue that she wasn't brilliant at her job.
Jane lent her a creamy beige, flowy dress that cinched below her breasts. As for her cousin, she wore a similar garment in the color of light brown. Hermione was rather surprised by the colors she chose given the extent of her cousin's new wardrobe, and Jane said, "I'm sorry, but I don't feel like wearing bold colors and shimmers at the breakfast table."
"This is more than fine," Hermione quipped, grabbing the sheer top layer of her skirt and twisting back and forth and then letting it fall. She felt overdressed enough. "When do trousers come into fashion here for women?"
Chuckling, Jane nodded at her reflection in the vanity and then turned around, her features serious. "We're going to breakfast now, and you need to understand something before we do."
Hermione pursed her lips at the change in her cousin's demeanor. "What?"
While the palace chef's prepared breakfast, four souls occupied the dining table. None of them saying a word. Hermione felt Jane's hand search for hers underneath the table and allowed their fingers to interlace. When the fifth soul arrived, her cousin tightened her grip, and Hermione returned the sentiment. She lowered her face and stared down at her lap, hating the new arrival chose to sit directly across from her.
Maybe he wouldn't notice her.
The man had better things to do than to care about Jane's bridesmaid at the dining table.
"Now, Thor. Did not mother do away with bigamy? As your primary advisor, I cannot condone you reinvent that particular marital law. I suggest you return this new attachment to whichever blind salesman you purchased her from. Unless…you intend to keep her as a concubine. Then by all means, my king, I ask that you exchange her for a younger, possibly un-plucked version. This one wreaks of overuse. Like the future queen of Asgard."