Hello, my freaky darlings. This chapter is a bit short, but I have lot of things going on and wanted to get this chapter to you since I missed last week on vacation. Florida was wonderful, we managed to go right between Fiona dying down and Ian gearing up. This is barely edited, because, time is money and money is time. Enjoy.

Chapter 48 Life in the Time of the World Cup

Before departing for Spain, Hermione made two appointments for dressing hunting, one for herself and one for bridesmaids dresses. She sent the details to Narcissa, knowing her aunt would handle the finer details. Her aunt often reminded her that the wedding was in fourteen weeks. "Because it sounds shorter than three and half months," she told Marcus as they joined the team for the portkey to Spain.

He squeezed her hand, "The season is almost over. Then I can help. I will also be all yours until March."

"After which you will be training and playing until August."

"Then training and playing until August," he repeated in confirmation. She grinned and bumped him with his shoulder to show she was teasing.

"But no World Cup, so I'm yours again."

"There is that," she said wistfully. He kissed her forehead. "And this is something I agreed to. Just like you agreed to crazy research trips."

I did. Though, happily for me, your grandfather is keeping you occupied close to home."

"Grandfather? All my grandparents are dead, adopted or otherwise."

"I suppose technically he would be your mother's lover, but he acts like your grandfather. Ask anyone," Marcus shrugged.

Hermione gave him a measured look, "You may have a point."

"Thank you," he squeezed her hand again as they grabbed the portkey.

The team arrived to much fanfare and excitement only seconds before the Italian team. Camera bulbs flashed. Fans cheered. Reporters yelled out questions. Hermione hung back as the team became engulfed in the throng. "You are Flint's woman, yes?" a deep voice asked behind her.

"I am," she answered turning around. A dark haired slender man stood unacceptably close to her.

"Such a beautiful woman deserves a better man. One that would show her off. Forget him, cara, come with me." He attempted to take her hand.

"I'm engaged, please leave," she frowned.

"Ah, cara, engaged is not married. I will worship you, shower you with expensive gifts, show you exotic sights."

"I already want for nothing. I desire a partner, not a lapdog. I don't need things. And inside your pants is not nearly as exotic as you think." She glared, "Go away."

"Silly woman, you call think those things in the beginning." He switched languages. "Once you get a taste of my cock you will change your tune," he murmured seductively in her ear.

Horror and rage battled for dominance. The man displayed confusion when his tone did not cause her to melt into his arms. In a low voice Hermione responded, "You have ten seconds to apologize and leave before I walk over there and tell Marcus and the international press what you just said to me."

He scoffed, "Because the press will believe the word of Flint's latest jersey chaser over Rosco Bianchi." He spoke in his native tongue, so she responded in kind.

"Let's find out, shall we?" She stalked over to Marcus, who immediately wrapped his arm around her shoulder. "Marcus, that man over there just propositioned me. I told him I was engaged but he insisted I would change my mind once I tasted his cock." She sniffled like she was about to cry. "I said the no one would believe me if I tried to report him for harassment."

Marcus looked her in the eye, and once he realize this was a show of rage not panic he began playing his part in her little drama. He pulled her to his chest, wrapping both arms around her. "I'm so sorry, little dove. I'll have the matter reported immediately." He looked up at the half a dozen reporters surrounding them, "And you all believe her, of course."

"Absolutely. Miss Lestrange, I know you are feeling put upon, but do you have plans for Mount Cicero?"

"I have some things in the works, once they are concrete I will be making an announcement."

"Are you excited to watch Flint play?"

She beamed and looked up at him lovingly, "Always." He smiled down at her. They gazed adoringly at each other as a photographer snapped their picture.

Adrian approached them when they left the press. "What did Bianchi want?"

"To be disgusting," Hermione replied, "I need a hundred showers."

Marcus kissed her forehead, "We'll clobber him in the match."

Adrian chuckled, "I understand. He's a Lothario with delusions of adequacy. Marc and I spent a weekend stealing fangirls from him. Now he tries to return the favor."

"I wouldn't want to be with any girl he would," Hermione shuddered.

"Yeah, that's why we only did it once."

As quidditch matches went, Hermione found the World Cup Finals to be anticlimactic. The English players operated on the same wavelength, moving in sync as they flew up and down the field. The Italians never stood a chance. England took a commanding lead early on and never relinquished it. The beaters spent a good amount harassing Bianchi. The seeker never had a second of peace during the match. The capture of the snitch occurred with little fanfare. Hermione cheered with everyone else, but it seemed too easy, a foregone conclusion. Everyone simply went through the motions, like it wasn't a competition at all. The wait for the players went longer, but she assumed there was more celebration amongst the team, more reporters all having questions and wanting quotes from everyone.

A squat young woman with coarse black hair slipped into box unnoticed. She glanced around, smirking when she found her target. She beelined for Hermione. "Miss Lestrange, you are a most slippery woman."

"So, you know who I am, but alas, I cannot say the same."

"Olivia Blackwell, Wizarding Gazette. I've been trying to arrange an interview with you for months."

Hermione frowned, "I don't do interviews."

"Just a few questions, short and painless." Olivia wheedled, "Not like you can run away." Hermione's eyes narrowed. Olivia grinned in victory. "First question: why has no one heard of you before now?"

"Because the Lestranges when to prison."

"Why not have Mrs. Lestrange's sister raise you?" Olivia asked in rapid response.

"I never asked. As I was a toddler at the time my opinion wasn't asked."

"So where were you? Who raised you?"

Hermione shook her head, "I would prefer not to say as to protect their privacy. They do not deserve to have vultures descend on them."

Olivia frowned, "Since you didn't attend Hogwarts, did you attend Durmstrang or Beaubatons?"

"Neither. Look, I don't give interviews because I don't like talking about myself, especially about things that are no one's business."

Undeterred, the reporter continued on, "How long have you known Marcus Flint?"

"Quite some time. We knew each other when we were younger and recently reconnected. Childish fancy gave way to a more mature attraction."

Having come over as reinforcements, Luna glanced at the floating parchment and Quick Quotes Quill. "That's not what Hermione said. And she does not have a scheming expression," protested Luna.

Hermione snatched the parchment. She scanned the article while Olivia protested. Much like another sensational reporter this one spun half truths and fantasies painting Hermione in a poor light. Deftly she plunked the quill from the air and snapped it in two. "Hey!" protested Olivia.

"Another reporter thought her stories needed more flare than fact. She's why I don't trust or like reporters. This is why I refuse interviews. Your like cannot be trusted. Thank you for reinforcing this for me. I will point all future seekers in your direction to explain what you did. Print one word about me in your miserable rag and I will let my viciously overprotective parents deal with you. Now be gone."

Luna stood shoulder to shoulder with her, both glaring. "You broke my quill." Olivia complained.

"Better than your face," retorted Hermione. "Now leave before you have to explain why you're causing a scene." The square woman fled.

For the remainder of the evening Hermione felt annoyed. The wizarding world needed better libel laws. Sure the muggle tabloids printed exaggerations and lies, but not the reputable newspapers. She gave the players a brief recap of what happened to explain her poor mood in the face of their victory.

-o-

On the heels of England's victory, Luna triumphed by hosting a dual surprise party for Harry and Neville. She glowed for days afterwards humming happily. She had asked Hermione to review her supply list before shopping.

"I'm sure it will be fine, Lu."

"This is my first adult party. I want everything to be perfect. You make being super organized so easy. I struggle with it."

"Your talents just lie elsewhere," Hermione assured her.

"I know. And since you are talented in organization I'm asking for your help."

"Okay, hand me the list." She looked it over. "Looks good to me. Treacle tart for Harry and chocolate cake for Neville."

After his birthday Harry began seriously considering getting his own place. "Newlyweds don't need a third wheel hanging about."

"If you're sure, mate. We don't mind," Marcus told him.

"I'm not going far, I want to stay in London. Do something like Mione and Blacks did. Or not, anyone wanting to fly can pop over here or out to a country estate."

"Very true." Hermione agreed.

"I'm thinking a townhouse. It has more privacy than a flat and more room. Better chance of a garden, too."

"Sounds like you know what you want," said Hermione.

"For the most part. My account manager got me the information I need to give the realtors." Harry rubbed the back of his neck, "Can you go house hunting with me tomorrow?"

"Sure, after dress shopping. Want to come to that?"

Harry shrugged, "Why not? How bad can it be?"

Famous last words and all that. Six hours in Harry had new respect for Hermione's patience. He knew what kind of dress Narcissa favored. What kind Alva wanted. And that no one was really paying attention to Hermione. Her eyes were a little wide and growing wilder by the second. The corners of her mouth tightened slightly. Her right eyebrow had a slight twitch every seven seconds. He hadn't seen her this stressed since third year. She was moments from pulling out her eyelashes. He just didn't know why she was wound up.

"Don't fret," Vanessa assured her, "we'll find your dream dress." The muscles in Hermione's neck tightened.

"You just need to visualize how you always imagined walking down the aisle would be," Luna said in her airy voice. Britta nodded in agreement. Hermione's frown deepened.

"Or what style of dress makes you feel beautiful," Alexandria offered.

Narcissa smiled, "Or we can move onto the next shop."

Hermione nodded blankly. She picked up a dress from the pile at random and moved on autopilot to the fitting rooms. Harry followed her. "Mione," she froze at the sound of his voice, keeping her back to him, "talk to me."

"Nothing to talk about, Harry. These things take time," she said in a dull voice.

"Bollocks. I know you. I know what you look like when you're stressed. I've seen Hermione meltdowns. You are thirty seconds from ripping your eyelashes and screaming. I want to know why. Talk to me."

She turned around, tears standing in her eyes, "Still nothing to talk about."

"Yes, there is. Why are you upset?"

"Because I'm never going to find my dream dress because I don't have one. I never imagined a wedding because I never believed I would ever get married. No one wants the boring bossy swot. Not for forever. With Ron, Molly would have planned everything, and I would have looked horrible in something fussy and old fashioned. That I would have hated. The anxiety of those thoughts is what prompted me to demand to make my own selection. Even though Narcissa could have chosen one faster."

"You said these things take time," Harry pointed out.

"She would have been faster," grumbled Hermione.

"And you would have been unhappy."

"Since when has my happiness ever mattered to anyone?" she snapped angrily.

"It has to Marcus everyday since you gave him the time of day. To me since I broke the hold of those potions. To everyone who would be horrified if they knew how upset you are. Which you know because you're hiding it to keep from upsetting them."

She shook her head, "It doesn't matter, Harry."

"What you wear? You're right, it doesn't. Marcus would adore you in sackcloth rags. But your happiness does." He took her hands. "You matter." She tried to pull away. "Nope, you've helped me with everything under the sun over the last few years. I intend to return the favor. Take a deep breath and clear your mind." She took a deep breath, her chest rising and falling. "Good. Now, imagine the most beautiful bride possible." When she frowned, he continued, "No, not yourself as the bride, a stranger. Picture the most stunning woman ever as the bride."

"Okay," she sounded uncertain, but scrunched up her face in concentration. "Got it."

"Describe her. Fluffy ball gown or slim skirt? No, don't open your eyes," he commanded.

"Full ball gown," she answered.

"Are there sleeves or straps?"

"Organza sleeves that billow a little at the wrists."

"Heavy decoration or light?"

"Heavy decoration on the bodice, light on the skirt."

"Does it have a train?"

"Yes."

"Short, traditional, or cathedral?"

"Cathedral."

"Is she wearing a veil?" he asked.

"Yes, with a tiara headpiece."

"What color is the dress?"

"Champagne."

"You can open your eyes." He smiled at her, "Wait here."

"What? Where are you going?"

"To get the kind of dress you really want." He ignored her protests and returned to the shop floor.

Narcissa looked concerned not to see Hermione with him. "Where's," she started.

"I'll explain in a minute." He looked at the shop girl, "Miss? Would you bring us champagne colored dresses with ball gown shirts. Heavy decoration on the bodice, light on the skirt, with a cathedral train?" After she left he turned his attention on the group. "None of you know her well enough to recognize the signs of a panicked Hermione that is emotionally shutting down. But she was."

"Was?" questioned Bellatrix.

"Yes, was. I found a way around the hangups years of mental abuse caused. I asked her to remove herself from the equation. Now we have an idea of what she wants. And if she doesn't like it after trying on a few, we'll try again another day."

"Why not today?" asked Vanessa.

"Because she's emotionally done in and needs to regroup. Marcus would happily marry her in her old white sundress, so this doesn't have to be so stressful. She's going to wear what makes her happy, and I will hex anyone who says a word against it."

"I'm liking you more and more, Potter," Bellatrix told him.