Warning: implied torture and mass murder. Homosexuality will be mentioned briefly. Also, heterosexual sex will be explicitly described in the last few paragraphs of this chapter.
"...total destruction, Hermione," gentle hands landed on her shoulders, a brogue thick in her words.
When Hermione had walked inside her sanctuary she had honestly been surprised to see that the library had changed during the time that she had been gone. Only to be struck by horror when she realized it was because the Restricted Section had been merged with the accessible part of the library. Besides the fact that it was a great indicator of what kind of dictatorship the Carrows had forced upon the students, it could possibly make it a lot harder for her to find the books she needed. Because now there was no Restricted Section to go to, the books could be anywhere.
The words were lost to her ears, they did not register until Minerva broke the notable rule between students and Professors: no use of given names.
The library had not been in a good state when Hermione arrived, and after an hour and a half of cleaning spells it was still far from its former glory, but at least all the furniture (books included) were - mostly - dust free, all was set in its former position and she had managed to levitate the Dark Arts section (in parts) back into what always had been the Restricted Section. She knew that it was likely that there were still books from the Restricted Section between the regular curriculum, but she had no clue as to how she could find those without it being labour-intensive. It would take hours to find them, time which she would rather spend reading the books she could find.
"I am sorry, Pro- Minerva, could you repeat that?" She looked up in stormy green eyes, sadness and compassion seeped from the older woman's eyes, though Minerva's posture was still one of pride and elegance.
Through her whole life, the Muggle-born had the gift to easily get hooked by her books and forget the world around her, or, more importantly, forget the problems she could not deal with at the moment. She currently employed this tactic as well. Hours were spent in her favourite chair, with three stacks of at least half a dozen books on the side table next to her. Even she would not be able to read through all of them in one go, though if she set her mind to it she could be finished in a weeks' time, however, she would probably need more time.
She ran her fingers through her hair, her eyes were focused on the space between their feet whilst she let the news sink in. One of Minerva's hands still caressed her upper arm comfortingly.
Regularly, when researching for an essay or something else, Hermione worked very structurally, but this was anything but regular research. This could possibly be bigger than Death. Or rather, far smaller, underhanded and yet so prominent in its deception. That is if my suspicions are not incorrect. And not being one to go easy on herself Hermione planned to read from cover to back, with every single book in her stacks. The possibility that her suspicions were affirmed in the unlikeliest of chapters was too great a risk. Thereby came the fact that her suspicions were, frankly put, not really categorizable.
"What does the Muggle Government tell the crowds, what is their explanation? A major gas leak?" She knew that the answer would not change how she felt, but it was important for her to know the whole story. Even if she could do nothing with the information.
First, she had to know what happened to the body when it was hit by the Killing Curse. She had to know every single possibility. When she had figured that out she would look further into her suspicions.
"That is indeed the case, at least, from what I have found out. For it wasn't mentioned in the article. And my source is not always correct," Minerva sounded apologetic, though an unreliable source was the last thing that would trigger annoyance in Hermione.
And if she had eliminated her rediculous-suspicion - because, surely, life and death could not be that simple - Hermione would have to think about how it had been made possible.
"I need to go to the library," Hermione muttered, desperate to change the subject. Her eyes back to look Minerva in the eyes.
It was not until Hermione heard the great doors open and close that she dragged her eyes away from the pages of the book in her hands. Someone had joined her in the library and they made very little sound. Hermione memorized the page she was on and placed the book upon the side table without making any sound and, with her wand drawn, she stood up and slunk back into the shadows of a bookcase.
The Professor nodded and the ghost of a sad smile adorned her face, "Of course, come find me if you need assistance in finding certain books."
Footsteps neared and, before long, a very familiar person rounded the corner.
From her place in the shadows, Hermione asked, whilst her wand was pointed towards the person, "What happened after you promised me you would show me the Thestrals in the Forbidden Forest?"
The addressed person turned to face Hermione, whilst she answered without hesitation, "I never made that promise to you, however, you did ask me to show them to you once you would have been confronted by Death."
Hermione nodded, the answer was correct. She emerged from the shadows, sheeted her wand and walked towards the other to wrap her into a quick hug.
When they embraced each other, she said in a dry tone, "Now it is your turn to ask me a question to confirm my true identity, Luna."
She felt the Ravenclaw shake her head and then take a step backwards. Luna showed a smile as she spoke, "I have no need for that, the trail you leave behind is all I need."
Luna's response made the Gryffindor chuckle before she asked, "Am I really that hopeless?"
"Hopeless? Yes, we established that after the Battle, didn't we? Perhaps we could give names to the Wrackspurts. What do you think about Scribble, Scuttle or Munllec?"
Hermione hummed in a noncommittal way and opted to change the subject, "How is Xenophilius? And what about your house? Is it still in need of repair?"
"My father is doing alright. However, his mind is elsewhere, somewhere I can't follow. So it is alright for me to wander. I like helping here." Luna righted some books on the shelves, as her fingers glided gently over the spines.
"And your house?" Hermione repeated her question, she took a step closer and rested her hand comfortingly on Luna's arm.
"It is there, but not quite," the Ravenclaw did not look at her friend, her eyes wandered over letters on the spines of books instead.
The Muggle-born thought she understood what was bothering her friend, but she wanted to be sure. "The walls are still standing, but there has happened too much in-between them to feel like home anymore?"
"Yes and no," Luna nodded and began to walk through the library.
The older woman waited for Luna to elaborate whilst she followed the Ravenclaw through the library. Yet after a few minutes had passed, she suspected Luna would not say anything on the matter if she would not push further. "What do you mean?"
"Don't worry, Hermione, we will get there."
"But I do worry."
"I know." Earnest eyes met hers for a few seconds, then they continued their path through the labyrinth of bookcases.
"I was actually planning to visit you today," Hermione chose to say at last. The silence was good, but once in awhile it could carry too many unspoken words and it would feel like they wanted to suffocate her.
"Oh, if that is the case I can go back to my house and let you in when you knock on the door?" Luna said in all seriousness and started for the grand doors.
Luna's silliness broke through Hermione's worried expression and made her realize her own stubbornness; not letting go of her worries when her friend explicitly told her to do so, even if it was only for a little while. An embarrassed look came upon her.
From the corner of her eyes, Luna saw that she had achieved what she had wanted and made a beeline to the reading corner Hermione had vacated earlier.
They had spent many hours of their friendship in this part of the library during their years at Hogwarts. In the few weeks before Luna was abducted she had often gone here to study alone, often because she had missed or been worried about her current companion.
As she sat down the Muggle-born pulled her legs underneath herself and watched the younger one take a seat in the armchair beside hers. "I hope you don't mind if I return to my reading? I really want to get through these books as soon as possible."
Luna turned in her seat so she could look straight at her. Hermione looked exhausted, she had dark circles underneath her eyes, there was barely any colour on her cheeks and the bloody clothes (which they still were despite the fact that they had obviously been washed, thoroughly) made her look savage. The Ravenclaw shook her head, "Go ahead, I will find something to read myself."
Luna's eyes followed Hermione's hand as she picked up the book which she had discarded earlier. Upon seeing the titles on the spines of the other books, the Ravenclaw inquired, "Do you hope to find a cure for the curse on your underarm?"
The Muggle-born shook her head, eyes still on the pages. "Not necessarily, no. Though if I would, I certainly wouldn't complain."
"You don't want to tell me about your research?" Luna asked to be certain of her suspicions.
"Correct, as long as I am not sure of my theory, there is no need to worry others."
"Even though I could help you with reading through these books?"
"Even so, yes."
Luna nodded and did not press any further. She studied her friend for a little while longer before she closed her eyes and settled her head against the backrest. Instead of searching or summoning a book to read, a tune bubbled up from inside and she started to hum and sing, not unaware of the effect it could have on Hermione. Her song was one about suffering and uncertainty. The melody was not a happy one, it was slow, a caress before a poisonous scratch.
When the clock from the castle's clocktower pealed seven times Luna looked up from her book and directed her eyes to her companion. "Do you think the Elves would be willing to make us some dinner if we asked them very nicely?"
Hermione's ears perked up at the sound of food, she was hungry but, in all honesty, had not noticed until now. The idea of going to camp to mingle with so many people again in order to get something to eat was so unappealing that Hermione caved. She nodded and put a bookmarker between the pages before she gathered all the books, several at a time, and put them neatly in her shoulder bag, which had laid on the ground by her feet all this time.
This was obviously against the rules, more so since these were all books from the Restricted Section, but Hermione doubted anyone would miss them. And there was no Madam Pince to scold her. Thereby came the fact that she was confident in her ability to keep the books from getting damaged. Yet, despite these facts, she knew she should not, that this was not what a proper student - a former Prefect, no less! - would do. There were so many things that could go wrong; someone could steal the books, she could lose her bag, her bag could be set on fire (on purpose or by accident), and too many other worst-case scenarios raced through her head.
Instead of listening to these thoughts, however, Hermione continued with her packing. When she was done and looked over at Luna she was surprised to see the younger woman was gone. "Luna?" A note of fear coloured her voice.
"I am here," sounded from the far end of the library. With no other living soul in the library, they did not even have to raise their voices to be heard by one another.
Hermione shouldered her bag and turned towards the direction from which the sound had come. The constricted feeling of her bowels lessened the moment she saw the younger one's reassuring smile. Luna had taken to wait for her by the doors. I should not have let panic taken hold of me that easily, Hermione berated herself mentally.
Hermione laughed good-naturedly as Luna tried to explain the existence of an uncommon creature that resides in kitchens to some of the House-Elves, who looked full of wonderment and confusion at the information. One started to look in all kinds of places throughout the kitchen, soon joined by several others, another few looked extremely uncomfortable (Hermione suspected that they did not believe a word Luna said, but their centuries-old indoctrination kept them from arguing the point) and all the rest of the Elves who had listened did not really know what to think about it. None of them had ever seen such creatures 'Missus Lovegood' had just described after all.
It was close to midnight when Hermione brought Luna to the gates of Hogwarts, "Are you certain that you don't want to stay? I would like to spend more time with you."
"I would like that too," Luna smiled as she conceded this.
"Yet you are going home," the older one mumbled, not really surprised.
"Of course, we all have our parts to play."
Hermione nodded, "Will you come by tomorrow? Or shall I come to you, Harry will want to come along as well, if you are comfortable with that?"
"Perhaps the presence of Munllec will give some entertainment for my father," Luna smiled and looked above Hermione's head.
That settled it, Hermione would visit Luna tomorrow, with Harry in tow.
They embraced and wished each other a good night. The Muggle-born watched as Luna Disapparated.
In her Animagus form, she trotted over the path in the direction of the camp. She had no haste, knowing that Harry and Viktor did not worry. Luna had sent them her Patronus every few hours to let them know they were alright. Though Hermione wondered what Viktor's reaction had been to, "When you get to the point that silence can say more, why not go mute through life? At least books have never spoken to us, they tell," or "A pear and other fruit in a bowl is actually quite a giveaway, don't you think?". Harry had likely needed to explain the latter was a description of the painting that led to Hogwarts' kitchen.
A sudden realisation made her halt in her movement. Not a single moment that day had she thought of the letter she had to send Kingsley regarding Gringotts. For a moment she wanted to hit her own head against a tree, but instead, she turned the sudden burst of frustration into fuel for herself to speed up. With the Owlery as her destination, she sprinted through the forest and over the meadows, uncaring if students saw flashes of her red coat. They would not know any better, for all they knew she was just a normal (if a somewhat fearless) fox. The only person she had to avoid was Minerva, who had likely already her suspicions on the subject. Hermione was not foolish enough to think that she could delude Professor McGonagall.
Slightly out of breath she started to write on the parchment she had gotten from out of her shoulder bag. Using the stone wall as underground. Above her hoots, screeches and whistles filled the air. Some of the birds had been shocked and scared by the arrival of a fox, those had fled to the upper nesting places and perches. Others had been drawn by their curiosity and had watched her transform back into her human form with unblinking eyes, of which some sat with their heads turned 180 degrees in order to watch her. Even as she wrote she was seemingly entertaining enough for them. But most did not bother one way or another, they were smart enough to know that normal foxes had no ways of coming into the tower and were bored (or annoyed) by the students dashing around the place.
When she was done and the letter was sealed, Hermione looked upwards towards the birds and cleared her throat. "Good evening, I was hoping that the fastest of you could bring this letter to the current Minister of Magic? It is quite important."
At first, none of the birds seemed to stir. Though as she waited expectantly her patience was rewarded with the sound of some rustled wings. A soft screech and wingbeats were heard before a slender falcon landed on one of the lowest perches. Its impatience already visible.
"Thank you," she murmured and tied the letter to its outstretched paw. "Come to my tent when you have returned from your delivery, I will make sure I have something tasty for you."
The falcon did not bother to answer verbally, instead, it focussed on a fast exit. Something the Muggle-born appreciated. She hummed as she put the quill and ink bottle back in her bag.
She had not realized it at first, but the other birds had fallen completely silent and stared accusingly at her. If only they had known of the treat in the first place.
Hermione looked back at them in bewilderment, not truly understanding their intentions. For she still had difficulty understanding other species of animals. It made her wonder how Sirius had been able to communicate with Crookshanks so easily. A least that was how Sirius had made it sound like, the language had felt like second nature to him. If only she could have asked him the questions that bugged her when he had still been alive... If only he was not dead. The world could, possibly, be so different. Harry would still have his godfather for one. If only Bel -
No, don't go there. She instructed herself harshly. With a shake of her head and a frown on her face, she transformed back into her vixen form. Scaring some of the birds once more. The vixen chirped apologetically, with her ears flat in her neck and then made her way into the night once more. Now truly on her way to Harry and Viktor.
The next morning Hermione was the first in their tent to awaken, the early sun rays were still shy in their battle with the murky rainclouds from the night.
Just before she had arrived back at camp last night the clouds had cracked open. The rain had gushed down and completely drenched her and nature around her.
She opened the front flap to enable the crisp morning air to fill the tent's living room. And stayed in the opening for a few moments to watch other campers walk around. A lot were preparing meals, others created sitting areas, and most of them looked like sleep still muddled their brains.
Despite having slept only a few hours and feeling the tiredness in her body Hermione hummed softly to herself, one of her favourite 'Luna melodies'. Meanwhile, she busied herself with the preparation of breakfast. She had purposely let the door to their sleeping area stay open, hoping that the scent of fresh coffee would waft through the air and into the bedroom. Surely it would only be a little while now before her two men would awaken.
Instead of putting the plates and cutlery on the regular table Hermione felt that she wanted something different, just like the campers that set up the sitting areas outside. But she had no intention to eat breakfast outside. Thus, she opted to transfigure the side table near the fireplace into a Kotatsu. The round Japanese table was easily big enough for the three of them. And the heather under the tabletop would keep their feet and legs warm, the blanket trapping the heat successfully. The air from outside was a bit chilly, so they would all appreciate the warmth. She transfigured the couch and the remaining chairs into comfortable sitting cushions.
All that was left for her to do was wait for the other two to join her. She grabbed her shoulder bag, sat down by one of the plates and unpacked some of the books she had taken from the library. And while she read and waited, charms would keep the coffee, toast and omelettes warm and fresh.
Footsteps in the bedroom and the sound of running water were the first tell-tale signs that someone else had awakened.
Not long after that Viktor walked in, a wet towel in his hand. Though his hair was still damp and therefore heavy enough to fall in his eyes. It reached over his ears and was near his shoulders, with a soft wave giving it a liveliness. He must have let it grown since Fleur and William's wedding about a year ago. Hermione had always thought short hair suited him, but that was because she had not known him with a different haircut. However, if she was honest she liked this even better. And it made her wonder how shoulder-length hair would look on him, or even longer hair.
Upon entering the living room his eyes went to the regular table. He smiled at her as he noticed Hermione was near the fireplace instead and was unabashedly observing him. "Good morning, my girl."
Jitters stirred alive in her system as she watched him. She returned his smile and said softly, "I like your long hair, I didn't even know you had a wave in it." The book on top of her plate lay completely forgotten, for the moment at least.
He walked over to her, leaned down and kissed her, "Thank you." Then he walked to the front flap and outside, to hang his towel over one of the strings that were used to keep the tent standing. Once back inside he sat down beside her. And told her the story that accompanied the change of length.
"To be honest, I wasn't really aware of the length it was becoming over the last few months until my mother pointed it out one evening I came over. She didn't like it, said I should let her cut it. And I would have let her had I not looked into the mirror behind her and liked what I saw." He had scooted closer to her as he told of his experience, one arm wrapped around her lower back. The sides of their bodies touched. With his free hand, he tucked some curls behind her ear. It enabled him a clear few of the profile of her face. And he planted a few butterfly kisses on the skin of her cheek. His hand searched for hers then, and when he had found it they entwined their fingers.
Hermione had closed her eyes as she had listened, whilst she revelled in all the physical attention. It had been so long since they had had time for just the two of them. With no one around so they did not have to think about the affection they displayed.
She leaned sideways against his body, until she turned her head and body to enable their lips to meet. Electricity hit her core when their tongues touched for the first time since they had been reunited. Her free hand landed on his chest and travelled upwards, from his neck into his hair. She liked the feel of his long hair as much as she liked the view. Though her fingers did not still, for they constantly moved over his scalp. In the way she knew how he liked it.
Several minutes passed wherein they both just touched, kissed and enjoyed each other. Before the Muggle-born finally parted their lips long enough to give a verbal response. "How is your mother doing, is her Artistes stable? Have the potions helped?" She could not look into his eyes for long though, for his desire was clearly visible and only spurred hers on. Something they could not act on since Harry (and the rest of the camp) could walk in on them any given moment. A blush settled in her cheeks as she looked with sudden interest at the cutlery on the surface of the Kotatsu. During which she saw, from her peripheral view, how a knowing smile spread over his lips.
He planted a lingering kiss on her earlobe, the soft flesh underneath his lips grew warmer every second. Though when he - finally - answered her he had grown serious once more, "She is alright for now. The potions help against the pains, but she is stubborn and only takes them when she can't function otherwise. And I have given up on trying to talk sense into her. I don't want to argue with her."
Hermione looked him in the eyes, her sympathy clear in her features. Then she planted a chaste kiss on his lips and he let a deep contented sigh escape him. She knew that Viktor always tried to avoid conflict with his parents, he had seen and experienced what it could destroy. "And what about your father?"
Viktor shook his head, a puzzled expression on his face, "He has never tried to tell her what to do and won't start now. It's almost as if he doesn't care."
"You know that is not true," Hermione mumbled and untangled her hand from his hair to cup his cheek. She felt the stubble underneath her palm and fingers. It scratched and tickled, but she was not bothered by it.
He did not respond verbally, he closed his eyes and just nodded.
They were silent for some time. Hermione observed her lover's features. He was still in good health, though there were dark circles under his eyes and yet nothing else gave away any of his possible tiredness. When he opened his eyes and focus returned to his features, he looked over to the opened front flap for no apparent reason. "I am considering to talk to them about selling the house and moving to a more convenient settlement."
Hermione nodded, though she frowned slightly as she said, "I doubt your father will appreciate the idea."
"I know, it will anger him. But maybe if I bring the possibility up now it will be easier by the time they will have no other choice."
"That is a good argument, I suppose." Hermione mused over the idea, her fingers fidgeting with the hairs in Viktor's neck again. All the while a few fond memories of the family surfaced as well and she continued with the ghost of a smile on her lips, "Your mother would probably see it more like a new opportunity, to meet new people and experience new places."
"Yeah, I am also hoping that she can get through his thick skull, her enthusiasm has always tickled him to reconsider."
"The decorating of the new house would be another aspect which would make her enthusiastic about the idea."
"And that would be among the things that would drive my father crazy."
It was a combination of Viktor's tone of voice and the painful honesty of his words that made Hermione laugh out loud as she nodded her agreement.
"What is this?" Harry was smiling as he walked into the living room, "Having fun without me?"
"I can't help it, I am just hilarious," Viktor deadpanned and then smiled fondly at the young woman in his arms; his woman.
Hermione rolled her eyes and playfully swatted him on his chest, then she focussed her eyes on her friend, "Good morning. Now, sit down, breakfast is ready and I have been waiting for you two for ages."
Viktor put some distance between them, they were always mindful to keep the display of their affection civilized when others were around. Their legs, however, were contently tangled underneath the table.
The conversation was easy and light-hearted. They discussed their day's schedule and decided that all three would help for several hours with the repairs and tasks in and around the castle. But first Harry and Hermione wanted to make a visit to Hagrid, and later that day they would go to Luna, maybe stay there for dinner and return at some point before nightfall.
It was when Harry and Hermione discussed what they should take with them for Hagrid and Luna (for they wanted to give them both a heartening present), when Fleur entered their tent. Her features were calm, though controlled, and Hermione thought the quarter-Veela's smile missed its usual ease.
Fleur wished them all a good morning before she focussed her attention on Viktor and asked if he could join the gathering for the leaders of the camps.
"Vhy have ve another gathering? There vas one yesterday," a frown was on his face, he did not like the prospect of complications, which could be the only reason why there was yet another meeting.
"I don't know, Viktor," Fleur sighed tiredly, "I 'ave been awake for only 'alf an 'our, I 'aven't even eaten anything yet. And they didn't elaborate when I was awakened." The French woman glared at something outside the tent. She ran a hand through her hair in a frustrated manner as she messed with, tussled it this and that way.
Hermione sympathized and summoned a mug from the small kitchenette and let her magic pour coffee in it from the thermos can. Whilst she picked two slices of toast from out of the basket on the table, put it on her plate and smeared some peanut butter on it. A few slices of cucumber on the side and a handful of cherry tomatoes brought some healthy colours to the palette. The omelettes were unfortunately already eaten.
With a swish of her hand, she sent the mug and her plate towards the quarter-Veela, who was still in a conversation with Viktor. Until her blue eyes fell upon the food that hovered towards her.
Hermione started to explain, "Hope this will help you through the ordeal, at least until you have something decent to eat. That is if you still want to eat or would you rath-" Harry's hand on hers made her halt in her ramblings.
She snapped her mouth shut and glanced at him, then her eyes went back to Fleur, who had taken the plate and mug in her hands. Before she took her first sip she heaved the mug a little higher in a silent cheer, accompanied by another uneasy smile. Or was Hermione projecting her own feelings on the quarter-Veela? She was not sure.
After her first few sips, Fleur turned back to Viktor, "Can you be in the main tent in 10 minutes?"
Viktor nodded, "I vill. Has Olivier been informed already?"
"I believe so, yes, 'Endric went to 'im. See you een a few minutes," the quarter-Veela nodded her goodbye to the three of them and disappeared with her impromptu breakfast.
Hermione kept her features neutral as she watched Fleur go. Though uncertainties circled through her mind. Had she done well by preparing something for the older woman, or did she only aggravate Fleur with her behaviour?
This had been the first time the Muggle-born had seen more than a mere glimpse of her in camp since the day of the battle. Despite the fact that Fleur stayed in and worked for the French part of the camp, or so she had heard from Harry (who had bumped into her several times).
Why did their interaction have to be so terse, what had caused this sudden dysfunction in their friendship? She knew the moment it had started, but it was still unclear to her what precisely had triggered it.
Pondering about it was not a good idea in the company of others, thus she tried to ignore the recurring mental questions and instead listened to what her men were talking about.
"... shouldn't be long," Viktor had gone to the bedroom to get his jacket and was putting it on.
"Okay, then we will see you in the castle once you are done with being important." Harry joked lamely, garnering a grin of mock-arrogance from Viktor and a raised eyebrow from Hermione, a sparkle of amusement in her eyes.
Then the Bulgarian crouched down next to Hermione. He cupped her face with his hands, a soft smile played on his lips, "I missed you. And thank you for breakfast." He leaned forward and they shared a chaste kiss before he stood straight and made his way to the main tent.
The moment Viktor was gone Harry's focus was solely on Hermione, he had no desire to wait for the right moment any longer. He raised his eyebrows in expectation as his eyes pinned her down. And he waited.
Hermione fidgeted with the rim of her - Fleur's - sweater and shrugged, "I don't know, Harry."
He shook his head, "I doubt that, if one of us always has her own hypothesises, theories or suspicions it is you."
"Can we let this go for now?" She minutely considered to pout, though decided it beneath her.
"No," he was resolute, "What has happened between you two? Since the day we departed from Shell Cottage you have acted like complete strangers to one another. Even though in the days previous to that you seemed to grow closer with each passing hour spent in each other's company."
She sighed heavily and her shoulders sagged in defeat, "To be honest, I don't truly know what went wrong."
"Tell me your musings anyway."
For a while, there was only silence between them, during which they banished the cutlery and plates, baskets and leftover food into the basin and on the counter of the kitchenette.
She glanced at her friend, he was still waiting for her to spill the beans. His posture was relaxed as he leaned back on his hands. His facial features were soft, a glimmer of curiosity in his eyes. Naturally, he was aware she was stalling the conversation and he let her.
Another sigh, this one smaller. Then she transfigured the Kotatsu back to being a side table and made the tent flap close with a flick of her wrist. She stood up and motioned for Harry to do the same so that she could undo the transfigurations on the couch and chairs as well. Then they both sat down on the couch. One in each corner and turned towards one another.
Hermione ran her hand through her hair and opted to wear it in a braid for the rest of the day. And whilst her hands worked she finally cracked, everything that had happened in the garden of Shell Cottage, every detail she could remember, fell from her lips. From the moment she walked with Fleur outside with their breakfasts in hand, their conversation subjects and particular comments, till the moment Hermione had gone back inside after Fleur had alarmed her with the sudden stiffening of her posture.
When she had told him all that there was to know she looked at him expectantly. He looked deep in thought. He had the Golden Snitch in his hands and toyed mindlessly with it, a frown on his face.
"Maybe..." he started hesitantly, "she thought you meant it in a different way?"
Hermione raised one questioning eyebrow and tilted her head ever so slightly, "What do you me-" Her eyes widened as apprehension dawned on her. A blush followed suit. She opened her mouth to speak, but no sound came forth. Thus, she closed it, cleared her throat and tried again, "But surely... She knows... Harry, I didn't mean it that way." Her voice was a mere whisper at the end.
Suddenly their conversation had great potential to turn awkward, though neither of them felt that way. True, the subject was one they did not discuss often, if at all. Homosexuality was, after all, uncommon in wizarding society. Or at least not openly admitted and discussed. But Harry and she had gone through too much together to be bothered or ashamed in each other company. Besides, there was not anything to be bothered with since neither of them fell under the 'label'.
And even if one of us did, it would not matter, Hermione reminded herself. A memory from her mother sprung to life before her mind's eyes; telling her that love could come in all kinds of forms after a 6-year-old Hermione had asked why a boy in her class had two fathers instead of the common combination of a woman and man.
Thinking about it made Hermione wonder, for the first time, what homosexuality meant in wizarding society. Is it a taboo? Surely not... Right?
Harry's words broke through her inner musings, "I know, you were just fooling around." He tossed the Snitch towards her with a lopsided smile, "And besides, she is married and you have Viktor."
Hermione caught it and held the golden object before her eyes. As she studied the scratches on its surface she asked, "What should I do?"
"Talk to her, explain yourself." He made it sound so simple.
The young woman shook her head and said dryly, "Preferably without having to say it specifically, if you don't mind." She tossed the Snitch back to him.
He caught it one-handedly, let a sigh leave his body and looked her straight in the eyes. "Hermione, I doubt you could make your intentions obvious without specifically saying anything about it."
"That is because you aren't as subtle as I can be."
"Or you should just say it plain and simple, to forgo the trouble of creating more misconceptions."
The Muggle-born slumped in her corner of the couch for a moment, looked up at the ceiling of the tent and took a deep breath. What have I gotten myself into? She had just been fooling around, nothing more.
The cushions of the couch dipped further before they returned to their regular form. She watched Harry stand and stretch. "Let's go to Hagrid and then to Hogwarts, shall we?"
"Yes, I will send a quick letter to Luna to say that we will be there at 3 pm."
Harry held out his hand to her to help her stand up, she took it. They cleaned everything in the kitchenette, put on their shoes, as well as their coats and Harry put his pouch around his neck as Hermione took her shoulder bag with her. It would not feel good to leave without their bags. When they exited the tent, Harry laid his arm over her shoulders and she wrapped her arm around his middle. Like this, they made their way to Hagrid. Their presents for the half-Giant and Luna would come another day.
Their day went as they had planned; they stayed for two hours to talk with Hagrid, thereafter worked themselves into a sweat to help with the repairs in the castle and made a few minutes before 3 pm their way towards the Apparation point, outside Hogwarts' gate. To which they playfully raced in their Animagus forms once they were out of sight.
Hermione loved to be with both Harry and Luna at the same time. Not that surprising considering that they were her two dearest friends. When they were together, just the three of them, no one was the third wheel.
Something Harry and Hermione could no longer say about the so-called 'Golden Trio', a name Hermione had never thought fit them. For during the first few years Hermione had repeatedly been in harsh arguments with Ron, during their third year she had even been a true scapegoat. Afterwards, Harry and Hermione's bond had been mended, but with Ron, the old arguments had just been renewed. Resulting in an off-balance friendship.
In other words, there had never been an equal friendship between them.
Luna, on the other hand, fit in perfectly well with Harry and Hermione. She could effortlessly mingle with the silly banter, serious discussions and comfortable silences. And, above all, she was utterly accepting of Harry and Hermione and how they functioned together.
A game of chess started between Harry and Luna during their conversation and, at some point, Hermione got one of her books out of her bag and read contently beside them. Looking up from her pages so now and then to comment on the game or give her own opinion about something that her friends talked about.
The three of them made dinner, enjoyed the meal with easy chatter between the teenagers and Xenophilius and cleaned the table and dishes afterwards. It became clear to Hermione what had bothered Luna about her home, for her father's antics and comments could be quite strange. More so than before the war. And she wondered what had triggered this change in behaviour from the man. The most obvious answer was Luna's abduction, but she wondered if there was more to it.
It was an hour after dinner when Harry and Hermione said their goodbyes to the Lovegood family. They made promises to visit soon and Luna would come to Hogwarts the following day again.
The duo did not Apparate right away, they decided to take a short walk in the countryside surrounding Luna's house before they would head back to camp. It was already dark, even though it was not that late in the evening. The Muggle-born conjured a Lumos and adjusted the strength of its glow. It hovered a constant metre ahead of them.
They did not speak nor hum, instead, they enjoyed the sounds of nature. The wind rustled through the branches and leaves of the trees that sporadically stood beside the path, crickets chirped in the long grass, an owl's hoot came from somewhere nearby and several crows cawed as they flew overhead.
A considerable time later the lights of a house became visible in the distance. It was a farmer's house. And it reminded Harry that several hills further ahead the Burrow would be standing in all its glory. An idea hit him and he cleared his throat to garner Hermione's attention. He halted and looked at her.
"I was thinking," he began, "I would like to stay with the Weasleys for a bit."
Hermione frowned but nodded. It was quite sudden but she could not say she was surprised since they were not that far away from them.
"Tonight," Harry added.
Now her eyes did widen in surprise, she had thought he meant somewhere this week, not right this moment.
"Why this sudden need?" She asked and wondered if Harry felt alright. Had it something to do with Ginny? Or was it a desire to be with the family and be of help during the first few days of their loss?
Suddenly Harry could no longer look her in the eyes, a blush appeared in his neck and he ran a hand through his hair. Then he mumbled, "because I want to give the two of you some space."
The 'two of us', what doe-
Her eyes widened even further in understanding. She did not know what to say and she felt herself beginning to blush as well. But just when it started to feel even for the tiniest bit awkward the Muggle-born became deadly serious, "You know that you do not have to do that, right? I want you around."
"I know, Hermione. And I promise that it doesn't feel like you don't want me there. But after seeing you two this morning, I think you need it more than you realize." Harry smiled sheepishly through the nervousness.
He could be so blunt, but later Hermione would acknowledge to herself that he had been right.
Butterflies jittered in her stomach as she approached their tent. The front flap was closed but she knew from the light inside that Viktor was in the living room. As she stood at the front she took several deep breaths to calm her nerves, it did not help at all.
When she entered, her eyes had to adjust to the light, but soon she saw that Viktor sat reading near the fireplace. The sound of the tent flap closing caused him to look up. A smile instantly lit up his face, "Velcome back, Hermione, did you have a good time vith Luna?"
"Yes, it was really nice, I have to pass you a hello from her. Also, she won two times at chess today from Harry. And Xenophilius is thinking about publishing an article about the camp." As she told this she took her wand from its holster on her arm and put up the usual wards.
"That is nice," he said distractedly as he watched her in confusion, "but you are warding the tent. Isn't Harry coming shortly?"
With a shy smile on her lips and mischief in her eyes she turned and looked at him, "He is staying with the Weasleys for tonight."
Viktor raised his eyebrows but did not say nor do anything else. He just watched her. And she, in return, made herself worth to be watched.
The Muggle-born did not avert her eyes from her lover for a single second as she holstered her wand once more and carefully dropped her shoulder bag on the floor to her right. Hermione opened her coat and let it fall down from her shoulders and arms, it pooled at her feet. Fleur's sweater was unceremoniously pulled over her head and draped over her bag.
And now the fun could begin. The shy smile returned to her lips before she bit on her lower lip. With each slow step she took towards him she undid a button from the white blouse she wore, another piece of clothing from Fleur.
The Bulgarian watched, intrigued; spellbound. His facial features serious, his eyes though burned with desire as they followed her every move. He leaned forward to put his book on the coffee table that stood between the couch and the chair. Then he leaned back again, though he knew not what to do with his hands, they were restless. Until his woman stood before him.
Viktor's hands gently ran up her thighs and rested on her waist. Their eyes met as he looked up at her. He ignored the exposed skin of her stomach with both his hands and eyes, for now. It enticed him, naturally, yet he wanted more of a 'flow' between them - a sexual tension - before he would indulge himself.
Hermione felt the warmth spread from his hands through her body. A fond smile spread over her lips as she saw him deliberately not looking at, nor touching, her exposed skin. Ever the gentleman. She reached out for his face, with her fingers from one hand she stroked his cheek and jaw, whilst she ran the other through his dark, wavy hair. She felt him pull her gently towards him, his hands were her guides. And soon she sat in his lap, straddling him.
Their kiss started gentle, but once Hermione parted her lips to nibble on Viktor's lower lip she felt his whole body react. His muscles tensed as he wrapped his arms around her and firmly grabbed her ass. A moment later she was hoisted up.
After all their time apart, these kinds of touches almost felt foreign to Hermione. It had been so long since Viktor had touched her like this, with his desire so plainly visible in his features. It made her breathless.
As Viktor walked with her in his arms, Hermione hummed and affectionately murmured against his lips, "Show-off."
He grinned but said nothing, instead he concentrated on setting her down on his bed carefully. Her arms stayed around his neck, which forced him to go down with her. Together they laid comfortably in the bed. And for a second they merely enjoyed the situation and the feeling of how the tension between them charged the air around them. Viktor ran the fingers of one of his hands through her hair, only to get stuck where her braid started. With a gentle touch, he undid her braid, whilst his lips never strayed long from hers.
Hermione chuckled though was currently concentrating on largening the bed, it always was exciting to feel her magic work underneath her. However, her attention was straying in its focus as the hands of her lover began to touch her more ardently, she felt how they set her skin alight when he had - finally - let them slip underneath her clothing she lost complete control over the spell and it halted abruptly.
She arched her back and into his touch as it travelled upward. A gasp was drawn from her when his hand cupped her breast through the cloth of her bra. With one hand in his neck, she brought her lips to his and with the other, she began the challenge to undo him from all his clothes one-handedly and without magic. She loved a challenge.
"ARG!" The scream was one of pure disbelieve. An onslaught of magic crashed against the immovable platform, it cast coloured shadows. Some actually left a mark on the surface, which made thunder echo from behind the doors; yet, they still would not budge.
Denial for her Lord's absence was heavy in her thoughts. The fight is still going on. My Lord could be triumphing over that little bastard this very moment, the woman reasoned with herself. She could not acknowledge the likely possibility that she had been out cold for more than a day, let alone ponder about the prospect that her Lord may have been defeated.
Bellatrix screamed once more at the doors when her last spell's energy dissolved into slivers of dying light. The sound echoed through the tunnels into the far distances wherever they may lead. When no spells were cast there was complete darkness and silence. Except for the sound of her own heartbeat which echoed through her ears, and the sound of her breathing. She denied that the sobs were her own.
Hermione's eyes shot open, for a few moments her lungs were constricted, unable to take in any oxygen. Then instinct kicked in and she gulped in air. Meanwhile, her eyes got accustomed to the darkness. Beside her Viktor was still in a deep sleep, his slow breaths caressed her naked skin.
The Muggle-born blinked several times and looked into the darkness again. It felt as if tendrils of a heavy and dark aura still clung to her mind's subconscious, but no matter how she concentrated, there was nothing she could remember of her dream. Yet, somehow, she knew it had been different from her usual nightmare.
For a little while, Hermione was unaware of the fact that she was covered in a cold sweat, that her heart hammered against her ribcage with a worrying speed and that panic was at the edges of her consciousness. But as her mind cleared from whatever had clung to it, certain thoughts started to invade her mind.
Harry... Harry is in danger. Hermione sat up at once, her movement so sudden and uncontrolled that it stirred Viktor awake. He reached out for her, one of his hands found her waist and, with the other, he pushed himself up.
Her eyes were wide in fear, but she did not move any further, awareness of her own ridiculous thoughts growing. How could she be as certain as she was, even though she had no proof at all?
As Viktor sat up he blinked the sleep from his eyes and asked her what troubled her. Since he heard no tell-tale signs of an invasion from outside.
The Muggle-born did not respond verbally, instead, she sought out his warmth and nestled her body against his. In the hope that it would help her calm her thoughts and the panic that was trying to get to her.
He wrapped his arms around her and nuzzled her hair. Viktor closed his eyes in contentedness and rested his head with his cheek on her hair and repeated his question softly. There was no harshness to his voice, his sleepy patience was soothing to her prickled mind.
At last her response came in a whisper, "Harry... for a moment I was certain that he is in danger."
This clearly alarmed Viktor, for his relaxed body stiffened with tension. He lifted his head and leaned back to look her in the eyes, the fear he saw did not calm him. One of his arms left her waist and grabbed the blanket to throw it aside. "Let's go to the Burrow," he said and made to get out of the bed, "then ve can make sure everything is alright."
Hermione grabbed his arm to prevent him from leaving, "No, no, I am being foolish, there is nothing to worry about, he is just staying at the Burrow. We will see him in a few hours again."
She shook her head to emphasize her statement when her lover looked back at her.
Viktor frowned, "Yes, but ve should go and make certain of it." Again, he wanted to move out of the bed, but Hermione moved faster. Her lips were pressed against his. When she planted a second kiss on his lips she parted hers to trace with the tip of her tongue over his upper lip. Though before he could respond to it she broke the contact between them because she wanted to make her intentions clear.
"Let's stay here, Viktor," she whispered and took her place in his lap, straddling him just like the night before. The blanket fell away from her body. "I need to make love to you some more. It will take my mind off of the matter." She said the last words in a matter-of-fact manner as if she was telling him the answer to a difficult equation.
It made a grin break through his serious expression, yet conflicted thoughts were evident in his manner as well.
This time Viktor initiated the kiss, he leaned forward and she welcomed him eagerly. She held his jaw and cheeks, her fingers gentle on his skin and stubble. Hermione inhaled deeply, enjoyed the luxury feeling of his lips and then parted again to exhale slowly out of her mouth. Though as she did this she pressed her torso closer to his. Not completely against, but enough so that her nipples brushed against his chest. The friction made her breath hitch and her nipples hardened as the movement continued.
With more urgency than before the kiss was renewed. During which Viktor's fingertips began to dance over her spine, whilst his other hand travelled downwards to her thigh and caressed the skin from there to her ass and back again. The feel of his calloused fingers and palm on her skin made goosebumps appear and she moaned at the sensation. A delighted shudder went through her body and to her core, and she felt how her womanhood began to throb in answer.
Yet, despite their current excitement, Viktor started to murmur against her lips. She knew he wanted to convince her that they should make a visit, but she would jeopardize that plan. Because she could not give in to her fears. She had realized by now that this was not a normal fear, she knew this had to be a scar from the war. One would call it an unhealthy fear for Harry's wellbeing or even an obsession, another would call it PTSD. Hermione currently did not care to give it a name, all she knew was that she would not give in to it and that she had to distract herself.
Once more she parted her lips and slipped her tongue out between them to entice her lover. Meanwhile, she trailed a hand downwards; from his neck, over his chest and stomach and further down. He moaned against her lips as she played with his pubic hair for a bit, his manhood responded immediately.
He broke the kiss the moment she touched him to pant out her name, "Herm-one-ninny." His Bulgarian accent was heavy on the syllables.
She nuzzled his throat and planted a trail of kisses from just underneath his ear to his collarbone. His grip on her tightened whilst he turned his head to give her easier access. Meanwhile, her ministrations never halted, there was no hesitation.
She started slow, with a touch that bordered on featherlight. She wanted to drag out his orgasm, make him forget her behaviour from earlier. And she knew his weaknesses, that which could have him writhing underneath her touch for a long time.
Viktor laid back, he was not capable to stay in a sitting position with this torturously slow pace. He closed his eyes for a moment when he laid his head down on the mattress. He grabbed hold on to whatever he could get a grip on, which were the sheets. A groan escaped him whilst he tried to thrust his hips into Hermione's touch, but she still straddled him so it was to no avail.
With the hand that was not busy yet Hermione stroked his stomach, she was fascinated by the way his muscles tensed underneath his skin. An appreciative smile settled on the corners of her mouth.
She watched how the transpiration shimmered on his chest. He was steadily coming closer to the edge, she recognized it. Her free hand travelled upwards to his chest and settled there. Viktor moved a hand to cover hers and entwined their fingers.
At that moment Hermione wanted desperately to kiss him, but she knew that she would have to pause her ministrations to do so. So instead she whispered to him, "Open your eyes, love. Please."
He obeyed her, his eyes were open and dark with desire as he observed her. Pants came from him still. A luscious smile appeared on her face and a sly twinkle was in her eyes, though she was unaware of it herself.
The Muggle-born sat up, hovered above his hard penis and carefully sat down. With her hand, she made sure he penetrated her. His manhood easily slipped inside, between her wet folds. And both of them moaned at the sensation.
Her strategy was once more the slow approach. She rocked her hips and Viktor arched his into hers. Together they found their pace, their movement eager. Before long, it fastened and Viktor's grip on her waist became essential. His pants were shallow and ragged, groans leaving his throat with regularity. Then he arched his back and bucked harder and faster inside her.
Hermione closed her eyes in ecstasy as she felt his warmth spread inside her, a whimpering moan tumbled from her lips. It was an amazing sensation, she doubted she would ever get enough of it, but it was not enough for her to come. Though her breathing had become shallow as well, moans ready to come steadily from her throat.
When Viktor slowed down and regained his breath he blinked his eyes at her. They did not say anything as they regarded each other in comfortable silence. The movement of Hermione's hips never really halted.
He sat up once more and kissed her, whilst he wrapped an arm around her torso and manoeuvred them so that Hermione laid on her back with him between her legs and his manhood still inside her.
Her lover leaned down on one elbow, careful not to trap any of her curls underneath and sealed their lips. He gripped the sheets once more, this time to keep himself steady. The fingers of his other hand played deftly with one of her nipples. Whilst their tongues danced and teeth nibbled on and nipped at lips.
Until a gasp was ripped from Hermione's throat. Viktor had started to stimulate her womanhood once more. Thrusts of his hips were accompanied by his fingers which circled over and around her clitoris. He teased and pleasured. Clearly planning to take his time, to take his revenge.
"Ah," Hermione moaned and closed her eyes as she bucked with her hips. She widened her legs, for she wanted him even deeper, "Viktor, please." Her grip on his shoulders tightened for a moment, yet they started to travel. Underneath her fingertips, she could feel the defined muscles on his back move and tense, but she barely registered it, the bliss of sex fogged her mind. As her hands travelled downwards she grabbed his ass and squeezed his flesh. And continued doing so in rhythm with his thrusts.
His fingers knew her every hollow and fold. Her juices made everything slick and made some of the friction lessen, yet he made her senses sing. He teased her folds, barely touching as he slowed his pace. Hermione gave a mewled protest and dug her nails into his ass.
It garnered a groan from him and a single hard thrust of his penis.
"Oh," she moaned. This was what she wanted. "Please, please!"
He relented. Viktor's fingers began to massage and play with her clit, direct stimuli; whilst he took back his earlier pace of thrusts.
"Harder, ah, har-" her breath hitched as she felt how her lover picked up his pace, "harder, Viktor."
He complied; harder and faster. Their bodies were covered with sweat as they filled the room with the noises of their lovemaking.
Hermione's breath became shallower, her climax was closing in on her. She arched her back, "Ah!"
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