Chapter Sixty-One: Thursday Morning

The characters and canon situations in the following story belong solely to JK Rowling, Scholastic, and WB. I am not making any money from the publishing or writing of this story. 

beta credit:  Brightki and CoquetteKitten


“What?” Hermione looked from Lucius to Draco, puzzled by their expressions. Lucius’ countenance was still murderous, but some other emotion now warred with his anger.


Draco, on the other hand, wore a look of admiration and lust. “And that is how we won the war.” He glanced at the others nearby, gesturing toward her. “Ladies and gentleman, I present to you the Princess of Gryffindor.”


Fleur hitched an eyebrow in mild amusement, while Molly nodded with approval from where she stood with Harry’s girls. “That’s our girl! We should divide into groups and begin searching any restricted areas of the house. Lucius, I think that . . .” Molly’s voice continued on, but Hermione lost her power of concentration when a pair of strong, pale hands pulled her a few steps away from the group.


Draco was regarding her with the same expression as before. It was slightly darker now, the lust winning over the admiration, and he leaned low so that his mouth moved against her ear. “This dress was designed specifically to torture, you wicked witch.” He raised a hand between them discreetly, stroking his finger back and forth over her pierced nipple. “The emeralds of your ring catch the light whenever you move. I’m having difficulty focusing on anything else right now.”


“Nnnngh.” That was the best she could manage, between his touches and words. Thoughts of Pansy Parkinson dissolved, and Hermione pushed into Draco’s hand as much as she dared in front of the others. Not that any of them would mind if I wrapped myself around him and . . . her mind was becoming hazy, and it took a strong nudge from the covenant to clear it. She directed begrudging gratitude toward it and stepped away from her wizard. “We need to stop,” she breathed.


Draco nodded guiltily. “Forgive me. It’s far easier for me to concentrate on that than to think of you anywhere near her – if it is indeed Pansy.” He gave her a small smile tinged with worry. “I know you’re not a damsel in distress, but that doesn’t mean I want you looking for a fight. Can’t you just stay here please?”


She reached up and ran her fingers through the hair that hung slightly over the collar of his shirt. “Draco, I won’t do anything stupid and I’ll listen to the covenant this time. And I promise you that I won’t be looking for a fight. It’ll be over before Trinket finishes setting out breakfast, and then we can talk about those services you offered to me earlier.”


Her words had the desired effect. Draco’s body relaxed slightly, and he gave her a lopsided smirk. “Then I suggest we get this witch hunt started.”


The two returned to the group. Molly was just finishing, “I know it’s not what you want to hear, Lucius, but it makes the most sense. What do you think, Hermione?”


She blushed guiltily. “Errrrr, sorry – I was thinking about something else just then. Could you repeat the last bit?”


Luna piped up in her dreamy fashion. “We’ll divide into teams. That was the important part, wasn’t it?”


Ginny nodded, and Hermione noticed her redheaded friend cast a surreptitious, nervous glance toward the elder Malfoy. Lucius hadn’t said a word since she’d shushed him a few minutes ago. Hermione tugged gently on his sleeve to get his attention. She led him a few steps from the others and pleaded, “Please don’t be angry with me. It’s not my intention to be difficult.”


He appeared to be having difficulty swallowing, and his jaw was clenched. Finally he answered, “That is exactly what you are being at the moment.”


Lucius,” she implored quietly. Her grip on his sleeve tightened, and it only relaxed when he drew her into his arms for a fierce hug.


Her relief was fleeting, because then he leaned down and said quietly against her temple, “If you put so much as one of these curls in harm’s way, I will discipline you with my own hand.”


Hermione’s eyes simultaneously opened wide in shock and glazed over, and she buried her face in the front of her wizard’s robes. The implications of his words sent a lightning bolt of arousal through her body that seemed to strike every nerve from her breasts down to the apex of her legs. Lucius just threatened to spank me. She squirmed a bit in his tight embrace as surprisingly erotic mental images of such an encounter sprang to mind. I want Lucius to spank me. The young witch shook her head in an attempt to clear it of a rapidly thickening lust fog. “Agreed. We should . . .we should . . .” I sound breathless.


Obviously it was going to take more than a headshake to escape the fog. She pushed back from Lucius’ broad chest and worked her arms up and around his neck, pulling him down just enough that she could press one lingering kiss to his jaw. Before she was tempted to do more, Hermione broke from his arms and turned to address the group as a whole. “Right. We need to move quickly – by my estimation we’ve already wasted nearly ten minutes up here. I assume I’ll have to be with Fleur,” she looked toward her chaperone and at Fleur’s nod continued, “Molly and Draco can go together, and the girls can work with Lucius.”


The elder Malfoy growled audibly, grinding his words out from between clenched teeth. “No. You will be with me. Let’s go and get this over with.” He held out his hand imperiously towards her.


Hermione’s chin came up defiantly, and she opened her mouth to reply heatedly. At the last moment, though, she remembered what had happened the last time she’d done that – when she’d all but dragged him out of the bridal shower and accused him rashly of spying on her – and the lesson she’d learned. No matter how angry he gets, he speaks to me respectfully. Taking a deep breath first, she said, “I have to stay with Fleur, and each group needs at least one person who’s familiar with this house. That means you’ll need to stay with Harry’s girls.”


“Hermione is right – she comes with me. We are wasting time, Mr. Malfoy.” As Fleur spoke, there was a rush of light and motion a ways down the hall and several enormous men appeared and landed heavily on their feet, wands raised.


The curly-haired witch regarded them with interest. The guard families – the Crabbes and Goyles. Even from this distance, she recognized the strong resemblance these men bore to Draco’s closest friends. The three men approached the group and nodded respectfully to Lucius, their faces stern and forbidding. The one who looked like an older Greg Goyle simply said, “Tell us what you need done.”


“There is an intruder in the Manor, possibly the young Parkinson witch. Not only is she an Animagus, but she may have used Polyjuice to alter her appearance. Use caution – she has tried to access a restricted area. Since our bespoken one insists on joining the hunt, see to it that she doesn’t put herself in harm’s way.” He turned to look directly at Hermione, eyes narrowed in unmistakable warning. “Protect her at all costs.”


Oh, for Merlin’s . . . that’s just fantastic – now I have three more babysitters. She glared back at her fiancé. “Fine.” Hermione gestured to Fleur and the guards. “Let’s go.” She set off down the corridor at a brisk pace, suddenly eager to get away from Lucius for the moment. He’d better be ready to make good on that spanking promise, because I sure as Merlin am not backing down! “He is the most overbearing, overprotective, over- . . . unreasonable man I have ever met!” They descended the curved, open staircase that connected the five floors of this part of the house. When one of the guards chuckled quietly, she glanced up with a sharp, questioning look. “Why is that amusing to you, sir?”


The man gave her a roguish smile that was eerily familiar. “I’ve never heard anyone dare to say that out loud, but it’s all true.”


She huffed. “He’s also insufferable! You’re, errrrrr, related to Vince somehow, aren’t you?”


The man nodded. “I’m Vincent Sr., his father. This is my brother Hugo, and that’s Gore Goyle. We’re proud to serve you, Lady.”


“Thank you.” As they reached the ground floor, Hermione stole a glance at the elder Goyle. “Gore Goyle is actually your name?” That’s odd . . . but fitting for someone of his occupation, I suppose. She fought the urge to snort.


The man shook his head with a smirk. “It’s Gregory, but no one’s called me that in years. Draco gave me the nickname as a wee one and it stuck.”


They paused as a group at the bottom of the staircase. Hermione reluctantly admitted, “Someone else is going to have to lead, as I don’t know my way around the Manor yet.”


“Where would you like to go? We could search the library, if you like.” Hugo Crabbe’s voice was so deep it was more of a rumble.


Oh, no you don’t – that sounds like an attempt to keep me out of the way. She searched for the authority to take control of the situation, and found it (ironically enough) by channeling Lucius. Lifting an eyebrow imperiously and staring at each one of them in turn, she said in a soft, dangerous tone, “Gentlemen, I suggest you take a moment to decide whether you’d like to work with me or against me. I assure you I’m not nearly as helpless as Lucius would have you believe.”


The three men had the grace to look guilty, and Vincent Sr. chuckled again. “It’s not that we think you’re helpless by any means, Lady, but we do value our hides. If Lucius wants you protected, that’s exactly what we’ll do.”


A part of Hermione wanted very much to melt into a puddle of goo at her elder wizard’s very traditional views on the care and keeping of a woman. It was obvious that his main concern was for her safety and wellbeing, and there was nothing wrong with that. No man had ever stood up to her so easily and forcefully, and if she were to be perfectly honest with herself, she’d been more aroused than angered by his dominant display. However the rest of her was divided between her inherent need to make her own decisions and an almost overwhelming irritation at Lucius’ stubborn refusal to recognize this. This is something we’ll need to resolve together. After I get my spanking. I wonder if he’ll . . . She shook her head to clear it. “And you can do that by staying with me at all times. Now, I don’t know about the rest of you, but I don’t want to be stuck in this house any longer than absolutely necessary. Where are the restricted areas and what’s kept in them?”


The guards shifted uncomfortably, but Fleur spoke up confidently. “I’ve been through all of them when I was here cursebreaking. There are four specific ones – a large closet near the Great Hall, a room off of Abraxas Malfoy’s salon, another near the portrait gallery, and the potions lab in the dungeons. They’re full of family relics and objects of power, and the potions lab is probably the most advanced private lab in England.”


Hermione blanched visibly at the mention of the dungeons, but focused on the facts given. “You said ‘specific’. Are there nonspecific restricted areas?”


“The whole Manor is full of secret passageways accessible only to members of the House,” Hugo admitted in a hushed tone.


She processed that information for several seconds. “Do many people know about them?”


Hugo shook his head vehemently. “No one but the guard families. They were designed for the protection of the Malfoys.”


“Alright. I assume people don’t get tours of the rooms and closets. That leaves the potions lab, which is probably open to visitors when Draco is down there working. Does that sound right?” At a nod from Vincent Sr., Hermione concluded, “We need to go there immediately.”


The three guards must have exchanged some form of silent communication, because Gore Goyle gestured for the group to follow him with a commanding motion of his hand. They proceeded quickly across the huge house, with Hermione flanked on her sides by Vincent Sr. and Fleur and at the rear by Hugo. Passing through the kitchens, she was surprised to see it bustling with the activity of not just one but many house elves. “I thought Trinket and Bowly were the Manor’s only house elves, “ she whispered to Fleur.


The chaperone’s expression was patronizing. “Surely you didn’t think they ran this huge estate by themselves! They’re the two in charge of the Manor, but they have help.”


Hermione would have loved to continue the conversation, especially if it involved knocking Fleur down a few pegs, but they were already exiting the kitchen and entering a familiar corridor that made her hesitate in the doorway. In her mind’s eye she recalled the last time she’d gone through it – bound and dragged by Fenrir Greyback and his thugs – and it sent a shudder through her body. She fought the impulse to turn back to the kitchens and felt a heavy, comforting pat on her shoulder. She looked up to see Gore smiling at her with an understanding light in his dark eyes. “You’re safe here. Greyback is locked away and the Lestrange bitch is dead.”


“She’s dead,” Hermione repeated in a dazed manner.


Gore shook her gently. “Darkness has been banished from this House, Lady.”


The covenant gave her a mental nudge so sharp that it almost hurt physically, and she snapped out of her befuddlement. She nodded gratefully, taking a deep breath. “Thank you.” The others were looking at her with concern, so she said with more certainty than she felt, “One bitch down, one to go. Let’s find her!”


When they reached the entrance to the dungeons, the guards closed ranks around Hermione. The five of them began descending the steep stairs quietly, aided by the strong light of regularly placed torches in wall-sconces. Shadows flickered on the walls around them, but Hermione kept her eyes on the back of Gore’s reassuring, hulking form just in front of her. At the base of the stairs, they paused, and Hugo gestured to a heavy door on their left. It was partially opened, and light spilled into the dungeon corridor.


Once again communicating wordlessly, the three guards moved as one. Gore and Hugo placed themselves in front of Hermione, wands raised, and Vincent Sr. pulled the door completely open.


If Hermione hadn’t worked through every possible outcome of the situation on the trek across the house, she would have been every bit as surprised as her chaperone and guards. Oh . . . . . . well, fuck. I probably should have told them this was the most likely scenario. There, standing at a lab table with a look of complete innocence on her face, was another Hermione Granger. The guards hesitated in the doorway, and even Fleur glanced back and forth between the curly-haired witch at her side and the mirror image in the potions lab. Hermione rolled her eyes in disgust, which seemed to satisfy the chaperone.


When the guards failed to move forward, Hermione slipped around them with her wand drawn. “Game’s up, Pansy. Step away from that cauldron.”


Her doppelganger turned a shocked, worried face to the guards. “Gore, Vincent, Hugo – that’s Pansy! Stop her before it’s too late!”


Hugo stepped forward, wand aimed at the cauldron-side Hermione. His deep bass boomed, “If you’re Hermione, how did you know who we were? We just-“


A burst of light shot from the not-Hermione’s wand, and Hugo’s enormous frame was caught in a full body bind. There was a brief moment of organized defensive movement on the part of the guards where Vincent fell back, conjuring a Patronus and magically dragging Hugo’s body to safety farther down the corridor. Meanwhile, Gore filled the doorway of the potions lab with his body and deflected several more hexes flung by the imposter. He parried with one of his own.


Hermione, who had been pulled to the side by Fleur, had taken a hurried inventory of the nearest bubbling cauldrons and trays of ingredients and cried out as loudly as she could, “Both of you stop at once! There are some highly volatile substances in that room! Pansy, for Circe’s sake, watch out for that-“


Not-Hermione had dodged a particularly strong hex sent her way by the guard, and in the process knocked a large, bubbling cauldron into another. The result wasn’t immediate, but an ominous purple haze filled the room and there was a crackling sound, as of gathering energy. There was just enough time to pull Fleur down and cast a Protego over their prone bodies as a massive explosion took out the wall beside them.


Time seemed to slow. Hermione gripped Fleur’s hand tightly in her own as she watched all manner of objects fly outward from the nucleus of the blast. Heavy chunks of stone, bookshelves, tables, cauldrons and the accompanying shower of whatever they’d held – everything that hadn’t been magically secured in the potions lab was now being expelled from it forcefully. Their shield was buffeted forcefully but held strong, although it did nothing to save their ears from the deafening sound. When the worst of the explosion was over, she exchanged a brief glance with Fleur. The Frenchwoman looked both calm and deadly. At her nod, the two girls stood and, alternating defensive Protegos against the onslaught of debris, looked for signs of the impostor.


How odd that it’s so quiet. Memories of previous battles came to mind; it occurred to Hermione that she’d been temporarily rendered deaf by the blast. Movement on her right startled her, and she whipped her wand in that direction only to find a dazed, injured Vincent moving his lips rapidly. She shook her head and indicated her soundless predicament, to which the guard pointed at her and Fleur, then firmly to the stairs leading back up to the Manor. More movement showed Gore slowly hauling himself out from under a heavy slab of stone. He staggered but began working his way through the mess, clearly looking for something. Or someone. Hermione shuddered at the thought that the intruder might not have survived the explosion. Vincent began his own search in a different section.


No sooner had the guards directed their attention elsewhere, than Hermione was nearly dragging Fleur toward what remained of the potions lab. The purple haze had thickened into a fog, and progress was slow. Eventually the two witches bumped into a heavy table and ducked beneath it. This one must have been charmed to stay in place. Some sound was filtering through her ears now, and she strained to hear anything that might indicate that Pansy –because she was certain that it was indeed Pansy – also might have escaped the blast unscathed. Gore and Vincent were audible now as they hunted through the rubble, and it was plain to see that at least one of them had lost their wand. There was a scraping sound coming from across the room.


The air was heavy with dust. Hermione released Fleur’s hand to cover her mouth with the skirt of her dress and instantly regretted it as the fog suddenly thickened. She swung her arm in a searching motion but found nothing. Perfect – Fleur’s probably doing the same thing in the other direction. She stilled for a moment, whispering hoarsely, “Where are you, Fleur?”


The only response came from the same direction as that scraping noise, and it was in the form of a nasty hex. Hermione dropped to her stomach as the table above her rocked from the impact, and she crawled away from it as quietly as possible. Whoever it was knew she was there. “Pansy, if that’s you, stop it! Lucius and Draco will be here any second, and your Polyjuice won’t last forever!”


Vincent was yelling now, and he sounded angry, but Hermione was focused only on determining the location of her enemy. She moved from the spot where she’d spoken, bumping into the leg of another table. Crawling under this one, she paused to listen. Her ears had nearly recovered, and all around her came sounds of movement – there was a quiet coughing to her right, and the noise of someone stumbling over the heavy rubble farther in the same direction. That’s got to be Fleur and the guards. I’m moving clockwise around the lab. She tried to picture what the lab had looked like in the seconds before the explosion and then calculate where she might be. Back center of the room? Somewhere near there, at least. It would be foolish to begin searching for her chaperone in this fog. Fleur’s perfectly capable of defending herself. I need to do the same for myself. There had been a door slightly to the right, presumably a storeroom, and she crept toward where she gaged it to be.


Her own voice floated over the room to mock her. “No, you stop it, Pansy! Now stay still so I can hex you into oblivion, you filthy little Mu-“ The sentence was left unfinished, and instead there was an undignified yelp. Oh, yes – that’s most definitely Pansy Parkinson, and I think she’s just caught a hex. More hexes from both directions rebounded off the surrounding surfaces. Or narrowly avoided one.


Finally her fingers touched the back wall. Hermione began moving along it more quickly and soon found what she’d been looking for – the door. Turning the knob silently, she opened it and then retreated back down toward the direction from whence she’d just come. She called out again, “Would everyone please just stop!” No sooner had the words left her mouth than she flew back to the relative safety of whatever lay behind that door.


A particularly nasty curse hit the spot she’d just left, judging by the sound of it. As a volley of hexes from her own side ensued, Hermione slipped through the doorway and sought cover against the wall. A sudden memory from last week’s DADA class caused her to grin, and she ducked back out and fired off a hex of her own, certain that her choice would be effective and yet harmless should it hit a friend by mistake. She flattened herself once more against the inner wall of the storeroom and allowed herself a smug smirk when evidence of a direct hit manifested.


Pansy’s voice still sounded like that of Hermione Granger, but as it began babbling her true identity became increasingly clear. “Would you just stand still, Granger! Honestly, if you’d just gone away or died like a good little Mudblood at any point in time I wouldn’t have to be doing this! You’re like this damned rash Ronald Weasley gave me – you just won’t. Go. Away! What’s so special about you anyway? I’m . . .” Pansy continued on, punctuating her speech with wildly flung hexes. Hermione ducked out from the storeroom, wand raised to deliver another hex, when several things happened simultaneously.


First, and most obviously, the fog seemed to be sucked from the room. As the atmosphere cleared, she saw Draco had arrived and was using his wand as a siphon even as he looked around the room with desperate eyes. Near him stood Ginny and Luna, back-to-back and with their wands drawn. Molly was helping an awkwardly moving Hugo over the debris, and Fleur was walking toward the curly-headed witch with a look of disapproval on her dirty, beautiful face. Looking away hastily, her eyes finally found Lucius. He stood across the room looming over a rapidly reverting and still-babbling Pansy Parkinson in an ominous manner.


She made a brief assessment of her current condition, finding not even a scratch on her bare, dust-covered arms and upper chest. Her face also seemed to be unharmed. Well, there goes my spanking. Hermione left the storeroom as quietly as possible, not wanting to disturb the scene unfolding in front of her. Draco caught sight of her and gave a visible sigh of relief. She walked into his wide-stretched arms, wrapping her arms tightly around his torso. “Thank Merlin you’re safe,” she whispered into his shirt.


He tugged her head up gently by a handful of curls, looking down at her with disbelief. “Thank Merlin I’m safe? What on earth happened down here?”


She gestured vaguely to the destroyed dungeon area. “Oh, errrrrr – you know, when two volatile substances are combined . . . I should have thought you’d know that by now.”


Draco looked as though he was trying not to smile. “Are you talking about potions or you and Pansy?”


“I thought you’d be a bit more upset.” She couldn’t help but reach up and run a hand over the side of his handsome face lovingly.


He made a sound that conveyed both exasperation and amusement, and leaned down to murmur against the corner of her mouth, “I might be later, but right now I’m just . . . relieved.”


Hermione smiled against his cheek. “I should probably go . . .” She drew her head back and indicated the elder Malfoy with a nod of her head. Draco released her from his tight hold. She added over her shoulder, “Wish me luck.”


Pansy was still babbling away incessantly. Hermione watched in fascination as her wizard delivered the counter-curse with a violent movement of his hand and, when Pansy dared to speak, a Silencio. Lucius leaned down threateningly, snarling, “I told you once before to be silent.”


The reversion was complete and Pansy Parkinson as her own self now shrank before the elder Malfoy, pinned to the far wall at the waist by an overturned bookshelf. That was the scraping sound I heard – she was trying to get out from under it. Lucius was murmuring something – most likely a promise of something truly awful – in his silky voice, and Hermione sped up in order to hear. Pansy looked up at him beseechingly, but her pathetic expression morphed into something far uglier as Hermione approached.


Lucius turned to her, clearly assessing her condition from toe to head and back again. Seemingly satisfied, held out his hand imperiously. Hermione offered her left hand, watching him bow low over it and press a lingering kiss to the fading handmark. He raised his eyes to hers and drawled, “What on earth has happened to you, my prize?  Your hair is awry, your makeup smeared, and your dress is positively filthy.”


Hermione bit back as much of her happy grin as she could. As playful as his words had been, his eyes had been saying something entirely different: ‘We will discuss this later’. Still, he was happy to see her – that much was evident in the way he now drew her snugly to his side and wrapped one arm around her. When he continued looking at her expectantly, it became obvious he was waiting for an explanation. “We found (here she merely nodded to Pansy, not deigning to use even a pronoun for her) right away, there was an explosion caused by (here she glanced toward the offender), and a brief skirmish. But, as you can see, not one of my curls has been harmed, “ she concluded in a somewhat disappointed tone. No spanking for me.


“Oh, pet.” He tutted, a disappointed expression crossing his face, “I believe my exact words were ‘if you put so much as one of these curls in harm’s way’.” He smiled darkly down at her.


Hermione’s body reacted instantaneously, and she blurted quietly, “Does that mean I can still have my spanking?”


Lucius, who had turned his attention back to Pansy, all but whipped his gaze back to hers. He must have liked what he saw in her face, because his grip on her waist tightened reflexively for a long moment and his pale eyes burned wherever they touched her skin. “I look forward to it. Unfortunately,” Here he cast a disdainful look back to where Pansy was watching them tearfully, “We have responsibilities to fulfill first. I need to lower the wards so that the St. Mungo’s team can come fetch their runaway, and you need to bathe immediately, if not sooner.”


“I think I should help-“


“Ah, ah, ah.” He silenced her, shaking his head sternly. “You’ve had your fun for the day. Bath. NOW.


He needs to assert his dominance – after all, I did boss him around not even an hour ago in front of everyone. And he needs to take care of me as well. She acquiesced with a tiny smirk. “Yes, sir,” then went up on tiptoes to add in a whisper, “Don’t push it.”


A subtle look of amusement flashed across his face and was gone, replaced by a wolfish grin. “Mind the claws, kitten, and see if you can’t clean up that dress. I haven’t had my fill of it yet.” His eyes wandered up and down her form one last time, and then he bowed to her, effectively dismissing her.


Hermione definitely wasn’t looking forward to being alone with Fleur just yet but she went to her gamely, trying to ignore the fact that her knickers were now soaked through. Or that every nerve in her body seemed to be feeding the ache that had begun in her core. Lucius wants to spank me. I’m going to be spanked by Lucius Malfoy. She shook her head to clear it as she neared her chaperone.


“How do you feel about scrubbing off this gunk before breakfast?” To her surprise, the Frenchwoman only nodded, eyes looking everywhere but at her, and followed Hermione from the scene of the disaster. They began climbing the stairs to the Manor above. “Aren’t you going to scold me for allowing myself to be separated from you during the fight?” Fleur said nothing, so Hermione continued, “I’m sorry I let go of your hand. I’ll take full responsibility for all of it.”


“No.” Silence ensued for an entire flight of stairs before Fleur spoke again. “If anything had happened to you-“


“Mother of all magic, don’t you dare start that! I am not helpless. I am not weak, and I am most certainly not fragile!” She punctuated each of these statements by punching one tight fist into her other, open palm. “I have an Order of Merlin, First Class, and it wasn’t awarded posthumously! For Circe’s sake, I’m Hermione Granger!”


Fleur paused and took hold of her arm. “I know. You’re brave, and strong, and resourceful. That’s why it’s so important to protect you! If anything happened to you, I would have been lost – and I’ve only just met you. It would have been far worse for Molly, or Ginny and Luna.” She added softly, “The Malfoys would have been destroyed.”


Hermione was puzzled. “I don’t think I understand.”


Fleur narrowed her lovely eyes in displeasure. “Those qualities I mentioned – they’re not the only ones you have. You’re also kind-hearted, and open-minded, and honest. You befriended a half-Veela witch, for Merlin’s sake! You’re my friend, Hermione – my only friend. I don’t like the thought of losing you.” She hesitated, and then held her arms out awkwardly.


It took Hermione a moment to interpret the gesture as it was intended, but then she hugged the Frenchwoman fiercely. “You won’t. Believe me – I’m extremely hard to get rid of. Ask any of my former professors.” They began climbing the stairs again, this time hand in hand. “Just for the record, I’m sure Ginny would like to be your friend. Luna, too – but she’s . . . well, there’s only one Luna Lovegood in the entire world. And you have to be open to pretty much . . . well, everything.”