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The Raven's Shadow

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Hermione's lungs were burning. Her ribs couldn't expand fast enough—couldn't take in enough oxygen. Acid seeped into her muscles, slowly turning her legs into stone. Into lead. She willed them to keep moving. Knee up. Plant foot. Push. Knee up. Plant foot. Push. She couldn't stop. They couldn't stop. She could hear Harry and Ron just behind her. Their loud, erratic breathing just barely masking the grunts and shouts of the men behind them.

The Gryffindor forced herself to take in her surroundings, thankful she was still able to think clearly. The skinny trees surrounding them provided them with some reprieve as curses ricocheted and blasted off their ghostly bark. They wound farther and farther into the dense, unknown forest, and Hermione could tell the sounds were getting closer. She looked around. The ground was covered with dead leaves, still wet from the early morning rain. A shout was heard behind her and a curse flew past her head. She sent an exploding charm over her shoulder at a cluster of the snatchers and ran a quick assessment of their options.

Tree cover? Obvious. They're too close.

Outrun them? Possible, but estimating less than sixty seconds left at current speed. Fatigue will leave us more vulnerable.

Turn and attack? Heavily outnumbered.

Surrender? He can't be captured.

What if they don't know it's him?

Her brain ran through more scenarios in the span of a few seconds. A sudden muddy downslope gave her the opportunity. It might be the only one she'd get. She looked over her shoulder again and Harry was just behind her. Ron was trailing slightly. They were too close. She had no choice.

Another bombarda. And another. Tree roots and earth exploded at the feet of the snatchers, throwing off their balance and leaving her a few critical seconds. She stopped and turned, aiming her wand at Harry with an apologetic look, unable to explain before a nonverbal stinging jinx hit him square in the face. He flew backwards with the force of the spell, landing on the soft leaves with a heavy thump. Ron slowed beside her as she dropped to her knees, looking back at the men getting back to their feet and tightening his grip on his wand. Her fingertips were numb as she dropped her wand and put her hands in the air. The redhead looked confused, but she hoped he would trust her. This had to work.

They were surrounded by ugly, angry faces in no time. She looked to her brothers, heart racing and breathing ragged. Sweat was dripping down their temples, but Ron relented. He fell to his knees and dropped his wand beside her. Harry was roughly dragged to a kneeling position next to them as ropes suddenly appeared and bound their arms to their sides. Rough hands were in her hair and all over her body, checking for anything hidden. She felt a wave of nausea as a hand groped her breast. Ron yelled something at the man behind her and Hermione heard a thud and a sickening crunch. She saw his body fall forward onto the dead leaves and she struggled with the restraints, shouting back at them insolently. The last thing she saw was a wand pointing at her before she felt herself falling forward next to her friend.

*********************************

She woke up in the middle of a grand sitting room, her cheek pressed onto some cold, hard flooring. It smelled freshly cleaned and polished, and ridiculously rich. What kind of wood is this? She couldn't think of what it reminded her of, but it wasn't homey. It was far too clean for that and far too expensive. She could hear voices around her. Raised voices. She tried to move her arms slightly, but they were still trapped by the magical ropes constricting her. She took shallow breaths through her nose and opened her eyes a fraction. Shapes were moving, but it was all too blurry to see any detail. She closed her eyes again and tried to listen past the heartbeat thundering in her ears.

She could hear rustling behind her. One. A creak in the floorboard to her left. Two. A low, wheezing breather just above them. Three. A man's raised voice that sounded familiar. Four. They were talking about Harry, she discerned. The hex had fooled them, but only just. At least four. A woman spoke, and Hermione's blood froze. She knew that voice: Bellatrix Lestrange. Five.

Suddenly, the room was silent. A question was asked, but she missed what was said. The brunette tried to stay still, but the dead weight in the air was palpable. She cracked her eyes and saw pools of black looking back at her. They looked away, and then the room was filled with her shrill shrieking.

"Where did you get this?!" she screamed, her voice echoing in the cavernous room.

Some bumbling snatcher in the far corner—Six—said they found it in their tent, and Hermione's eyes widened before she slammed them shut again, desperate not to give herself away.

Silence.

Dangerous silence.

Heels clicked on the hardwood like a ticking clock, coming closer. She tightened her eyes shut, anticipating impact, but when the elder woman spoke next it was eerily calm and much closer than she expected. She could hear her excited breath by her ear.

"Put the boys in the cellar, Wormtail. I'm going to have a little chat with the mudblood."

Hermione's stomach twisted uncomfortably. Her body was starting to shake, but her mind was racing, running more dire calculations.

Method? Torture, no doubt.

Type? Likely physical and mental. Possibly sexual.

Risk of death? High. Will be drawn out, however. She needs information.

Possible escape? None. Outnumbered. Death almost guaranteed.

Plan of Action: Endure.

Endure.

Could she do that? She had no idea what true, unforgiving pain felt like. When she was nine, she fell off her bike and broke her arm. She could vaguely remember the white-hot pain at her wrist before her adrenaline consumed it for her, but this would be different, she knew. Very, very different. She had read about torture and seen the ripples of its effects in her friends, but by no means had she imagined it coming from the new-age architect of pain itself. She heard yelling, and another thud and a grunt as Ron and Harry tried fighting with Wormtail and another snatcher dragging him them from the room. She opened her eyes and tried to give them a look of courage, but it fell flat. Their shouts got louder, but then the door shut, leaving them muffled. It was just her now.

The ropes binding her were suddenly gone, and she looked around tentatively. She was breathing sharply through her nose as she slowly got to her feet. Narcissa, Draco, and Lucius were standing by the fireplace, pale and looking nervously at something behind her. Fenrir and three other snatchers were sprawled on the floor, unconscious. She couldn't see her, but she knew she was there. The nauseating feeling of fear was pooling in her stomach. She briefly wondered if she had left the–

"Crucio!"

Every cell was screaming. Burning. Transforming. She was not in her own body. Her skin was being stretched beyond its limits until it split apart like a seam. Her bones snapped at the weak points, and then they were shattered, then minced until she was made of dust. Everything was being pulled apart and every nerve was wide awake to feel it. Her organs were turning into liquid. Her body was trapped in a furnace, but her head was underwater. Deep underwater. A thousand leagues, and the pressure had ruptured her eardrums. Her brain was boiling and her lungs couldn't get any oxygen. Her throat had been stuffed with hot coals. She was dying, suffocating. Her spine was being bent backwards and she could feel the vertebrae crack under—

The pain lifted. Comically, almost. Her eyes opened and she breathed deeply again as she eyed the lavish chandelier above her. She tasted copper in her mouth and her throat was dry—logically she knew she had been screaming, but she had no idea how long. She hadn't heard anything; she hadn't seen anything. The pain was everything. Her mind was jarringly quiet, unable to form any coherent thought as shock took its hold in her trembling muscles. She knew she needed to stay here. Fight it. Harry. Ron. Ginny. Her parents. Harry. Ron. Ginny. Her parents.

She scrunched her eyes tight. Bellatrix put a boot on her chest and asked her something about the sword. The Gryffindor somehow had enough sense to mutter something about it being fake before she was spat on.

Hermione opened her eyes again and saw black craters watching her in disgusting, unhinged glee. It wasn't over. This demon wanted her pound of flesh. Fight it. She saw a red light and the pain began again. Screams and maniacal laughter filled the room, but she couldn't hear it.

*********************************

Hermione felt like laughing herself when Bellatrix slid the knife over her skin. She had no idea how long it had been. She tried to keep track, but after the third round they were all starting to blur together. Surely, this should feel worse, though. She should be fighting; she should be screaming. Her mind dimly knew that a knife to her skin was supposed to elicit a negative reaction from her. She was doing nothing. She was laying there, watching. Her head felt foggy and her mouth was claggy, but this wasn't the pain so it was good. She felt the blade carve into her again and she sighed a little. The reprieve gave her brain a moment to come back online.

I'm bleeding out……..I don't care.

I can't die here….I don't care.

My parents? Harry?I…don't….

Endure. Harry. Ron. Her parents. Hell, herself. What the fuck? Where did she go? Her eyes widened as Bellatrix moved the blade over another part of her skin with a childish giggle. The pain was coming back. Dull in comparison, but it was back, and she knew she didn't want it. Shouldn't want it. She squirmed, and black eyes were on her again, excited. The deranged woman liked the struggle. She was straddling her hips and the brunette felt a sharp pain in her ribs when her knees squeezed her tightly.

"What else did you take from my vault, muddy?" she breathed hotly against her cheek.

"Fuck you," Hermione spat out, uncaring. She'd be dead soon anyway, she hoped. The pain would be back before that, though. Her stomach dropped like a stone in the sea at the thought. She closed her eyes, finally hearing her own cries as Bellatrix growled like an animal and bit the meat on her bicep. She cackled while she held her down harder and kept slicing into her forearm.

Some of her other senses were coming back momentarily. She could feel her tears cooling as they raced down her cheeks. Her muscles were aching; her heartbeat felt slow. There were sharp pains in her ribs with every inhale. She could distantly hear Ron's faraway voice yelling her name, but then everything was gone and it was the pain again.

Nothingness would be better than this.

*********************************

Reprieve. Kind of. The pain stopped again, but it still hurt. Everything hurt. It's…aftershocks, her reasoning sluggishly supplied. Every few seconds her skin would be on fire again. It would come in waves, from the base of her skull down her neck, spine, and then out to her fingers and toes. She hated the toes the most. Her feet were cramped from curling like claws in her shoes every time the sharp sensation whipped at her nerve endings. Fingers were easier to deal with for some reason.

She knew it would come again, the pain. Each time it was longer, and each break was getting shorter. She wanted to die. She couldn't make it another round. If she had a voice she would tell the madwoman to just kill her already, but evidently some self-preserving part of her told her that would just make it last longer. She was a mudblood, and there would be no taste of mercy.

Her skin felt like a live electric fence, as if someone would be shocked if they were to touch her. But that couldn't be true. Bellatrix had been touching her plenty. She vaguely remembered her on top of her, cutting open her shirt and decorating her skin in more savage designs with her tongue between her blackened teeth in concentration. Some voice was telling her this was in her head, the pain, but she didn't know if she believed it anymore. She couldn't listen to it. Her back was broken, cranium crushed, after all. Fingernails were pulled off and joints dislocated. Skin branded, flayed, and barbequed. They would find her here, bruised and battered and bleeding from her eyes and ears. Her body would be twisted and contorted, bones sticking out at all the wrong angles. She wasn't Hermione anymore; she couldn't be.

Nothingness would be better than this.

She opened her eyes again despite her splitting head. Everything was blurry. Maybe she was blind now, but then she blinked and the tears in her eyes fell away, clearing her vision. It was hard to focus. Every atom she was constructed from was in agony, and she couldn't stand the waiting. What was taking so long? She just wanted this to end. Sounds came rushing back in and there was shouting around her. She couldn't move. Didn't want to. Soon she would be back, and Hermione wondered how she could speed this up. She wanted it to be over.

The shouts were getting louder, and she could feel vibrations in the wood beneath her as bodies fell like bricks onto the mahogany.

Mahogany, that's what it is.

A squeaking noise above her distracted her from her musings. She tried to blink away the cloudiness in her eyes so she could see what was going on, but then a large mass above her was suddenly getting larger. Maybe it's Death. She distantly hoped this would be the end before everything shattered around her, inside of her. She barely felt it, too delighted she was finally be able to let the night take over.


Fleur was in the kitchen making a cup of coffee when she heard the first pop. She frowned, wondering if it the wind or if her mind was playing tricks on her. Bill was in the doorway then, however, his brow furrowed and his wand out. He must have felt the wards shift. Perhaps Ron was back? The blonde set her mug down. Another pop was heard in the distance and they sprang into action. Bill ripped the door open first and Fleur was hot on his heels, her wand tight in her fist as her feet sank into the cold sand. The salty air, usually bright and uplifting, was looming and dark. The wind was hurling itself against the bluffs, blowing sand off the peaks as they assessed the scene of intrusion.

She was ready for a fight, but once she saw the trespassers she knew they were in no immediate danger. An old man with cheeks so sunken was being half-carried by a tall man and a blonde girl. They were all covered in grime and their clothes were hanging from their diminished frames. It looked like they hadn't seen food or a shower in weeks. Bill was already running down the ridge to the second group and Fleur stopped in front of the blonde. There was yellowing around the vibrant blue of her eyes, but she looked at her with a dreamy smile despite her appearance.

"Hi, Fleur," she said in a hoarse whisper.

"Are you okay?" the veela was looking over the three of them, anxiously looking for any immediate injuries. The tall man spoke up next, his own eyes gaunt and bloodshot.

"We'll be fine. You need to help Hermione," he said, and dragged them wearily along to the Cottage.

Hermione..?

"Non…" Fleur said under her breath as she looked down the sand ridge. Bill was making his way back up the hill with her tightly in his arms, the wind angrily whipping his hair across his face. Harry and Ron were crouching around some small figure laying in the sand but didn't seem to be wounded themselves.

When they got closer, Fleur let out a gasp at the sight of the Gryffindor. She was less dirty than the others, but still unwashed and underfed. Her pallid face was covered in tiny cuts. Her lip was split open and bleeding, and a purple bruise was forming around her eye. Bill reached the top of the slope. She briefly met the look of horror in his eyes before continuing her assessment. Blood was steadily pouring down one arm, leaving a trail of blood in the sand behind them. Her t-shirt was cut open. A crescent-shaped bite mark on her arm was beginning to swell. Dark red lines crisscrossed all over her arms, chest, and neck. They were bleeding slowly and steadily, dampening her shirt in crimson.

Though she was unconscious, the brunette's body would seize suddenly as they journeyed back to the house, and Bill had to tighten his grip so she wouldn't fall out of his arms. The veela was filled with a blinding rage when she realised what that had to be from. They were inside now, the howling wind muted once Fleur kicked the door shut behind them. She hurried upstairs after him, entering his bedroom just as he was laying her down on his side of the bed. Hermione's body was wracked in convulsions again and Fleur's hands shook as she took her wand out again and started healing some of the wounds.

Bill was there silently, watching and holding her down as gently as he could while tears streamed down his face. The blonde couldn't cry. She knew she'd fall apart if she let herself give in to emotions, and Hermione needed the strength right now. Fleur gently took the brunette's wrist, noting her hands were clenched in tight, shaking fists despite being unconscious. She slowly moved her to get a better look at the injury bleeding the most, waving her wand over the area to clean up the carnage.

MUdbLOoD

"Oh, my god," Bill muttered beside her. Fleur swallowed the lump in her throat at the crude word carved childishly into her skin. The blood was seeping out quickly already. She summoned a bottle of dittany from their bathroom and muttered a Veela incantation before pouring the solution over the wound with shaky hands. The letters hissed and black smoke furled from her arm vengefully.

They waited, holding their breath until it cleared. Still there; still angry. Bleeding slightly less now though, at least. Fleur did it again, and they watched as more black smoke filled the air.

Bill was looking at her with wide, concerned eyes, "Dark magic," she said tightly. He swallowed and nodded, impatiently wiping at the moisture around his eyes. The blonde poured again as she explained, "It won't close, but I can try to stop the bleeding a little. I need you to go downstairs and get the other bottle of dittany and the Blood Replenishing Potion in the cabinet. After, please check on the others. I will tend to 'Ermione."

"Okay," he had disappeared and was back in less than fifteen seconds with her requests. She continued speaking in Veela and pouring, not noticing when he left again. Less smoke came out each time. She knew she wouldn't be able to get it all out with just this. The spell was love, essentially. It was very, very old magic passed down for generations. Fleur was pouring love into the younger witch and trying to siphon, to persuade, the evil to escape with the dittany. It wouldn't really work as an antidote, she knew, but veela magic had strong reactions with dark magic. She just wondered how she'd get the rest out.

She continued closing up the other cuts, frustratingly noting they all remained angry and red despite her best efforts. The blade must have been cursed. She bandaged the slur and gently applied some dittany to the bite on her arm and the injuries on her face, thankful they healed up immediately, at least. She spent all afternoon tending to the Gryffindor, grateful she had some basic healing knowledge. She never allowed herself to cry, even after she peeled off her stiff clothes to reveal more bruises and broken bones adorning her frail frame.

"Qu'est-ce qu'ils t'ont fait, petite lionne?" she whispered in a shaky voice, trying not to dissolve into tears.

She worked her way down, hands working tirelessly and magic flowing effortlessly to get her back to some semblance of physical recovery. She just hoped her mind—that gorgeous mind— wasn't lost. She had no idea how to check. She supposed they would find out in time. She chanced a few looks at the unconscious witch as she worked. Fleur couldn't be sure, but she swore she was smiling a little.


Hermione didn't know how long she had drifted in and out of consciousness, but she knew every time she could feel her body again, she wished she was back in the nothing. Everything hurt, but at least it was a more manageable hurt now. Her bones were aching. Her jaw felt sore. She tried to flex her fingers, but her tendons felt sprained and her joints were inflamed and irritated. She knew she wasn't dead, and a small, selfish part of her despaired from that information. She didn't want to wake up. Her throat was dry. Her tongue felt swollen in her mouth.

There was a sound nearby, and she flinched slightly, inhaling sharply as she waited for the pain again. Her mind was filling with memories. Horrible, horrible recollections of onyx eyes and unending anguish. She waited and waited, but it never came.

"'Ermione?" a soft, angelic voice full of concern spoke. She felt like she knew that voice, and she wanted to open her eyes to see for herself, but couldn't. She didn't trust her eyes yet. She scrunched them up instead, too scared that this was a trick and it would be the pain again. Her brain felt slow and foggy. She felt a gentle hand on her shoulder and she recoiled from it, a sharp sting spreading through her torso. A whimpering sound, like a beaten dog, slipped out from the back of her throat and she stayed frozen, shaking as she waited for the pain. It had not come yet, but she knew it should be any second.

She was feeling the lull of unconsciousness again, and she tried to will herself to stay awake, but she knew it was useless. The darkness was coming once more and she couldn't do anything to stop it. She just hoped she wouldn't have to do this again.

Nothingness would be better than this.

"'Ermione, you are safe now," she heard distantly, like it was the beginning of a dream, just before she lost consciousness.

*********************************

There was a scratching sound nearby. It wasn't loud, but it was enough to pull her out of her deep slumber. Her eyelids were less heavy now, and she nearly sighed in relief when she felt a semblance of alertness again. It felt like she had been in and out of wakefulness for days. She blinked an eye open carefully to take a peek at her surroundings, her tongue trying to pull at the thickness in her mouth. She needed water.

The room looked unfamiliar, but it was warm and cosy. Nothing like the last room she was in. Blue and white sheets were laid over her legs up to her waist, and the cream-coloured walls were clean and undecorated. A small dresser at the foot of the bed was adorned with a half a dozen seashells. The sound of gulls could be heard from the cracked window and she could smell salt in the air.

Must be near the ocean.

There were bandages across her ribs and covering a majority of her arms. The bandage on her left forearm had started to bleed through in a few spots. Hermione continued to scan, her eyes catching movement in her peripheral vision. A stunning woman was seated at a small desk in the corner, writing what seemed to be a lengthy letter. Her long, silvery-blonde hair was immediately recognisable.

Fleur Delacour.

The doors of Hermione's library of knowledge opened before her as she remembered Ron talking about Bill and Fleur's place on the seaside.

Shell Cottage. Safety.

So they made it out. She was no longer in imminent danger. She continued to watch Fleur as she scratched at the parchment. With her hair tucked behind her ear on one side, Hermione could just make out her profile. She saw the muscles in jaw clench once, twice, thrice in the span of twenty seconds. Her posture may have fooled anyone, but the Golden Girl was not just anyone. She could see the overcorrection, the forced nature of it.

Conscious posture from someone with unconsciously perfect posture. Clenched jaw. Knuckles white from tight grip on fountain pen. She is tense.

She supposed she knew the reason for that. Hermione continued to watch her in silence. She didn't know why she didn't say anything. She should tell her she was awake and ask for some water. The Saharan state of her mouth was begging her to at this point. She knew she should, but she didn't want to. She just continued to watch her delicate hand fly across the parchment as she took in more information.

Left-handed. No wedding ring and no suntan line, indicating it hasn't been worn for some time. Pen flourishes indicate she is including accents not found in English—likely writing to her family. Spot of blood on her jeans and sand on the floor. Less than a day has passed, then. She'd have noticed. Hermione grimaced at the pain in her neck as she turned her head to look back out the window on the other side of the room. Dark sky, but some blue hues. Either 9pm or 5am.

The Gryffindor looked around the room a little more, taking in more. She knew then she was on Bill's side of the bed because the drawer was worn and open slightly. She assumed that Fleur likely didn't sleep in here with him anyway considering there was nothing on the other nightstand and no women's shoes in the closet. Based on the two toothbrushes she could just make out in the bathroom, she could tell Bill was likely seeing someone else that wasn't his wife. Only one photo of the Weasley family was on display, and they were all looking at her with concern. She looked away from Molly's pitying gaze and back to the room's other occupant.

Fleur was staring at her now. Hermione's face didn't change, she just continued to observe her.

Stunning, as always, but tired underneath the mask. Looks skinnier. Likely my only caretaker. Hair looks brittle despite its natural shine. Hands shaking slightly. Hungry? Nervous?

Her blue eyes scanning apprehensively as she set down the fountainpen and slowly made her way to the edge of the bed.

She thinks I am brain-dead, probably.

"'Ermione?" she asked quietly.

Hermione swallowed the tar-like feeling in her mouth but didn't respond. Fleur said down timidly by her knee, her deep eyes flickering between her own as she searched for any signs of life. The brunette had always loved her eyes. She was good at reading people—always had been, and the eyes were an easy entryway into someone's emotions and intelligence.

Fleur's eyes were excruciatingly deep, and they gave her pause every time. She'd never seen eyes so unnaturally blue. They were like the bottom of a tropical ocean; unfiltered and unfettered by human touch. She always liked how the blonde used them too. Not many people had control over their eyes. It was an easy tell for most. Harry, for example, couldn't seem to keep his feelings out of his eyes, but the veela had learned to disguise hers. She could put a wall of blue ice up when she so wished, and Hermione loved seeing that. It made her even more fascinated with her. Right now, though, there was no guise. She was looking at her with nothing less than concern written plainly across her stunning features.

"I'm not dead," Hermione said, her voice cracking like split wood. Fleur's eyes betrayed her happiness at hearing her speak, but she frowned at the statement. She opened her mouth but closed it again soon after. She didn't know what to say to that. Instead, the blonde shifted a little closer, her brow furrowed again in contemplation. The brunette waited for her to come to a decision, watching her expression again. Her hand was pressed tightly against her thigh.

Veela are physical creatures, she remembered. Likely toying between physical comfort or not.

Hermione sighed, and blue eyes darted to her apologetically. She pulled her wand out and the brunette eyed in warily as she wordlessly summoned a glass of water and held it close to her mouth.

Brown eyes looked at her in mild annoyance before she leaned forward a little, gasping at the pain that shot across her ribs. Fleur's hand shot out to her leg automatically to comfort her, and Hermione flinched away from the touch without a second thought. Her eyes met frightened blue.

"Je suis désolé," she said quietly, bringing her hand back to her side. Her voice sounded tired despite its elegance.

The brunette grimaced again and reached out to grab the water still clutched in the delicate hand. She knew it was only a small weight, but it felt like picking up a block of cement. She clenched her teeth and brought it to her mouth, though, gulping down a few greedy swallows before her arm couldn't hold it up anymore. She held it out and Fleur took it from her, setting it on the bedside table.

"Harry and Ron?" she asked, her voice still low and rough. Her throat felt raw, and she knew it was from the screaming.

"They are okay," Fleur smiled sadly, "I don't know what you remember, or if you even want to talk about—"

"It's fine," she said abruptly. The blonde held her gaze for a moment before nodding solemnly. Her accent was less prominent now, but still there. Hermione found she was happy about that.

"They were taken down to the cellar at the manor. Luna, Dean Thomas, Ollivander, and a goblin by the name of Grip'ook were down there held captive. 'Arry managed to get help from this broken mirror he 'ad, and Dobby apparated into the cell within minutes. 'E took the others 'ere first, and then 'Arry and Ron overpowered those in the drawing-room, likely from surprise as I understand it. Dobby…'e loosened the chandelier to create a distraction, but it fell on you," she took a deep, shaky breath. Hermione watched her, intrigued in her display of emotion as she regaled the miserable tale.

"Dobby, 'e—he did not make it," she finally said, and the brunette felt a pang of sadness at that. He was a brave friend to them, after all.

Fleur continued, "You 'ave been asleep mostly. I tried to care for your wounds, mais…you will always have the scars, 'Ermione. I am so sorry," she looked down in shame, and the English witch was again struck by how much feeling her caretaker was displaying.

"It's doesn't matter," she said flatly, looking away from her.

It didn't, really. Who cares about some scars? She had been standing at the mouth of hell itself, and frankly, there were more important things to worry about.

She decided to change the subject, "I need to use the toilet," she said. Fleur nodded and moved to help her up, but she just scowled at the outstretched hand. Blue eyes were looking at her with a pained expression. For once, she missed the iciness in those eyes.

"You need 'elp, mon amie," she said softly. You can't do this on your own.

"No, I don't," she said stubbornly, putting her hands on the bed next to her so she could scoot herself off. As soon as she tried, she felt another crack of pain shoot through her torso and she yelped. Fleur stood up suddenly at the side of the bed, effectively blocking her from moving further. When she spoke next, she had lost all the patience in her voice. It was replaced with irritation as she looked into indifferent amber eyes.

"You 'ave three broken ribs that are still healing. You 'ad a ruptured spleen, a fractured pelvis, 'and, ankle, and occipital bone. Oh, and four broken fingers. You 'ave been tortured repeatedly with the Cruciatus Curse, your upper body sliced open with a cursed knife, and you will not accept my 'elp?" she was breathing heavily as she glared down at her, and the Gryffindor couldn't remember seeing her looking so angry and so unbelievably beautiful. Her fierce blue eyes were boring into hers, challenging her.

Hermione had always had a soft spot for the Frenchwoman, and this was why. Ever since the Triwizard Tournament, she had taken a liking to her, both physically and emotionally. Truthfully, she hadn't really found anything she didn't like about her. She was intelligent, intense yet friendly, resourceful, competitive, and arrestingly gorgeous. Her classmates viewed her as stand-offish and critical, but Hermione had come to learn she was often harassed and objectified, so it made sense to her that she was protecting herself. In the brunette's blossoming adolescence, she initially had no idea that the feelings she had towards her were attraction, but she was glad when she figured it out so Ron could finally give it a rest. She came out to her friends a year or so after the tournament, throughout which she found herself staring harder and longer at the athletic blonde in that damn silk uniform. Since then, the brunette had tried to keep a respectful distance from the now-married woman responsible for her sexual awakening.

Now, though, that woman was glaring at her with those electric eyes and asking to let her help, and this felt much different than a schoolyard crush. She was different now. She was no longer the little girl plagued by O.W.L. results and managing timetables. Accepting help felt like a failure, somehow.

Maybe she wasn't being fair, though. Fleur already had helped. Hermione would likely be dead if it weren't for her, by the sounds of it. It didn't mean she wanted to be looked after now, though. She didn't want to be coddled. She didn't want anything. She didn't want anything from anyone, let alone Fleur Delacour.

However, she knew she'd piss the bed before being able to get herself over there.

Today, she thought, One day of help, and you're on your own. Never again.

"Fine," she said, raising her arms with a wince, "But you're not staying in there."

Fleur pursed her lips but finally relented, throwing her hair over one shoulder before leaning down. Hermione hid her face in her blonde's shoulder as she gently wrapped her arms around her. She could smell vanilla and jasmine as she lifted her up, and she focused on that instead of her protesting muscles with every slight movement. Thankfully, the blonde gave her a moment to herself in there. After gritting her way back up to a standing position she put her bandaged hands on the countertop and looked at herself in the mirror for the first time in months.

Her hair looked dull. Her eyes were lifeless. Her skin was pale and dry. Her outer shell looked exactly how insides felt; empty, hollow. She knew what she should feel right now, and it wasn't this. She should feel embarrassment, anger, perhaps some semblance of survivor's guilt. She should want to splash water on her face and get some colour back into her pitifully pallid cheeks. She should take some step towards restoration—some small, swing of optimism to attempt to recover and come back into her old self. She knew this, but she felt nothing when she looked into those dead eyes. She couldn't feel anything. She couldn't see herself in there. And you know what? She didn't really care.

Chapter Text

Fleur was clearing the half-eaten sandwich into the waste bin, deep in thought now that Shell Cottage was quiet for the first time in what felt like ages. Their visitors had arrived over a month ago now. Bill, Harry, and Ron were outside trying to kick some white ball the size of a Quaffle across the sand. Dean had got them all into it, but he, Luna, and Ollivander had left a week ago after they regained their strength, which made things a little easier to manage.

Thankfully, the boys were useful around the house, and more than willing to help Fleur with taking care of Griphook. In fact, the trio seemed to be with Griphook a lot these days. Bill was concerned about it and constantly grumbled under his breath when he detected the silencing charms on the goblin's locked door, but Fleur didn't think that worrying about the unknown was going to get them anywhere. They were obviously unwilling to discuss what they were up to, so they would just have to play their role as best as they could.

She was trying to make everyone comfortable but never had she felt so out of place in her own home before. It was strange for her and Bill to suddenly try to play the happily married couple when they were anything but that. Her "husband" was gay, and she needed a visa to stay in London until the war ended. It made sense for them to pair up and help one another out seeing as Bill was still nowhere near ready to tell his family that he had a steady boyfriend.

The sudden landing of their guests changed things for them rather quickly. War had always been there in the back of her mind and deep in her bones she knew it was coming soon, but now it had been bleeding at her doorstep. It was sleeping in her bed, literally. Bill had moved back to his room after Hermione moved into hers. Thank goodness, too. Fleur didn't think she could handle his deafening snoring any longer, but the brunette came with her own challenges, admittedly. The veela transfigured her chair into a comfortable cot and tried to find sleep between the fitful nightmares of her ward.

Hermione thrashed around constantly in the night, and between the two of them they didn't get more than a few hours sleep every night. She would cry, kick, and scream, and Fleur had learned not to touch her unless she began scratching at her own skin. She would just lay down on the bed next to her and speak softly in French, which seemed to help. Somewhere in there, she thought the brunette could tell she was not going to harm her; that she wasn't Bellatrix. Most nights she woke herself up repeatedly in a cold sweat and Fleur would stay in bed with her until her breathing returned to normal. They never spoke, which she assumed is what the Gryffindor preferred. 

She was trying to give Hermione her space, but she was growing more worried for her as the weeks went on. Her first concern was her physical health, which seemed to be recovering. The brunette had gained back the weight she lost, at least, but it still didn't seem like enough. Fleur felt like her grandmother with how much she was trying to feed the skinny witch, but she only ate sparingly which maddened her to no end.

Thankfully, her broken ribs were healing nicely, and she stopped feeling the aftereffects of the torture curse. That was probably the most concerning aspect for Fleur, but they had subsided after a long week of tremors and random convulsions. She was incredibly glad they had, too, for those painful episodes would send the brunette into long hours of catatonic silence for which the blonde could only sit and wait beside her until she came back to reality. The nightmares were her only reminder now, but at least there was no more physical pain.

Next was her mental faculties. Harry and Ron had told her what they knew of her torture experience, but none of them had actually been there. All they could say was she had been screaming on and off for what felt like twenty minutes, which was a long time to be at the hands of Bellatrix Lestrange. Fleur often daydreamed of what she would do to the deranged witch if she ever got her hands on her. 

Luckily, Hermione had retained her mental capabilities. Fleur had heard she was an exceptional student all those years ago. "The Brightest Witch of Her Age," was a common phrase that circulated around Hogwarts during the tournament, and the blonde had seen it herself. The bushy-haired witch was reading nearly every waking moment at that drafty school. When she wasn't with her two best friends, she was spending her available hours deep in the library researching and writing foot after foot in her neat scrawl, fingers nearly always covered in ink stains. Fleur knew this because, even then, she had been fascinated by the young woman. She didn't stalk her, per se, but she liked being in the same section of the library as her. There was something soothing about her intensity she couldn't explain. Now, though, the veela realised there was much more than book smarts in there. So much more that she had never seen simply because she had never plucked up the courage to get to know her.

Hermione was incredibly perceptive and intuitive. She seemingly noticed every detail around her and filled in the gaps with unbelievable accuracy. Fleur found this out first-hand when she brought up her soup the second day. She was still unable to move much, but she refused to let the blonde spoon feed her, so they spent nearly two hours together as she finished the bowl with shaking hands. It was about halfway through when she was taking a break, that she spoke to her.

"You're wearing your ring," she said. Fleur's eyebrows drew together in mock confusion despite her surprise.

"Oui, I am married," she replied flippantly, but she felt a little hot under the gaze of her light brown eyes.

"But you're not, really, are you?" she said quietly, still watching. There was no judgement, as much as she wished there was. Hermione had been exceptionally unfeeling since she had awoken. The only time Fleur had seen emotion was at night when her nightmares took over. But now, she was just examining her apathetically. Her eyes were capturing every detail she knew was written on her face. Should she lie? Clearly, she would spot a lie if she had noticed all this in one day. No, she thought it better to just be straightforward. Somehow, she knew the brunette wouldn't take this information farther than this room.

"Non, we are not," she finally said, nodding a little and subconsciously spinning the ring around her finger. It felt so foreign there. She had never liked it.

"He's gay," she said bluntly, looking away and picking up her spoon slowly again, and Fleur couldn't stop her eyes from widening this time.

"'Ow do you…?" she started to ask, but the brunette just shrugged as best as she could, wincing a little when she did.

"I watch," she replied simply.

And watch she did. Fleur was impressed by how much detail was collected and processed by her sharp mind. It was often little things. She knew when Fleur had been gardening, even though she washed her hands twice. She knew Luna and Dean were romantically involved having only seen them for three minutes in separate rooms. She knew when Fleur had been down at the beach because her hair looked different. She knew her favourite colour, foods, and books, even though the veela had never told her. She knew when she had visited her family because her accent was slightly more pronounced for a few hours. Considering her observation skills, it was no wonder she excelled academically.

It scared Fleur a little. Everything was taken in by those intelligent eyes, but nothing was given, no matter how hard she tried. And Merlin she tried, but she also wanted to give her space if that's what she needed. She was captured by the woman recovering on her bed. She knew it was silly—foolish, even—to want to heal someone, if that's what this was. That wasn't her role anymore. She had done the physical part, and now it was up to the Gryffindor to heal on her own. Or want to, at least, with professional help. And she would, eventually, right?

She thought things would get back to normal. Or, some semblance of normal. There would be a lot of healing she would have to go through, but she thought she was more than capable of dealing with her trauma in a healthy, constructive manner. But after a few weeks, Fleur wasn't convinced anymore. There was something lacking behind those stunning eyes now. There was no hurt, no rage. Not once did she shout or fall apart. Not once did she scorn her situation or complain about the pressure on her to be the brains of the war effort. Not once did she try to talk to anyone about that horrifying day and what that woman had put her through. Fleur had enough sense not to try.

The veela knew she had feelings beyond indifference. She had seen it at Hogwarts herself. There was a twinkle in her eyes and a certain pitch to her laughter. There was a bounce in her step and an adolescent impatience she found endearing. There was stubbornness and tenacity in that small frame, and a deep thirst for knowledge at nearly every waking minute. Those were gone now, though. Or hidden, at the very least. Now, all she saw was vacancy nearly all the time. She just looked…bored. Uncaring.

There were sometimes flashes of more, but they were fleeting and hard to untangle. Being of creature descent, Fleur had a certain knack for detecting the emotional state of those in her vicinity. It had always been a talent of sorts, sensing strong waves of emotion like sadness, anger, and joy. She could use it to soothe others in times of turmoil or remove herself from escalating situations. At school, in particular, she used it to avoid hormonal boys and jealous classmates. So when she first detected desire from the brunette witch, the blonde had to admit she was surprised—and pleased if she was honest—but it didn't exactly help the overall situation.

She knew the brunette had likely seen her own interest. It was hard to miss, frankly, and subtlety wasn't exactly her strong suit (she was French, after all). Since becoming her caretaker of sorts, she had grown used to being around her, and their relationship had started to shift into something neither of them had the gall to vocalise.

It was mostly when she had to treat her cuts again. Fleur still remembers the first time she did it. It was nearly a week after they had landed at the cottage, and Hermione had just moved into her room. She had walked into her bedroom without a second thought, searching for the notebook she left in there.

Hermione had her arms in the sleeves of a fresh t-shirt with the expanse of her bare back facing the door. Her head quickly snapped to the side to see who had intruded before seeing the veela there. Fleur muttered an apology but seeing her shirtless it got her thinking of how her scars were healing. She swallowed and watched the muscles in her back flex gently as she pulled a shirt over her head.

The blonde walked in fully and closed the door gently, "Ermione, I've been meaning to talk to you, actually. I think we should treat your wounds again if you don't mind."

The brunette turned around, her expression wary, "Why?"

"There is still dark magic lingering in your blood. I can smell it. I—I asked my grand-mere 'ow to get it out, and she gave me a Veela salve we can try."

There was a long pause as she considered it.

"Okay, you can just give it to me," she held her scarred hand out, "I can do it myself."

"Ah, well it needs to be used in conjunction with a spell. A Veela spell," she added shyly, "Désolé, " She knew the witch didn't like accepting her help, but there weren't many options in this case.

Hermione's eyes darted around, trying to come up with another solution, but  she  finally relented. Her shoulders sagged in defeat, "Fine. Where do you want me?"

Fleur took a deep breath and gestured to the bed. She walked to her desk and opened the drawer to get the salve. Unscrewing the lid, she followed the Gryffindor and found her sitting in the middle of bed with her back against the pillows so that she was propped at a slight angle. The Frenchwoman sat by her hip at the side of the bed. She tucked her leg up to get comfortable as she faced her, an apology already on her lips.

"I'm sorry, but I 'ave to sort of…check something…" she trailed off, vaguely gesturing towards her body. Hermione quirked an eyebrow and tilted her head, suspicious evident in her body language. Fleur was too embarrassed to ask out loud, so she just slowly leaned forward, stopping a few inches away when the brunette froze against the pillows.

Fleur looked up to meet her distrustful eyes, "I won't 'urt you, je promets," she said quietly.

Hermione searched her face for a few moments before relaxing, but her eyes still displayed her confusion. The veela shifted to get closer and leaned forward again. She saw amber eyes widen slightly as she neared her face, but then she dipped, her nose stopping just above her pulse point. The blonde closed her eyes and inhaled deeply, and she heard the Gryffindor's breath hitch slightly before she pulled back.

A light blush was dusted on her freckled cheeks, and Fleur grimaced, "Sorry. I need a baseline, so I know it's working," she explained.

"It's fine," she said, avoiding her eye contact.

Fleur smiled awkwardly but didn't respond. She just dipped her hand into the salve and looked to Hermione for permission again before she smoothed it over the scars on her right hand and wrist. She murmured the Veela incantation and felt the skin warming beneath her hands followed by a slight glow. The Gryffindor let out a short huff of air, and the blonde looked up to make sure she wasn't in any pain before she continued.

The brunette was watching her as Fleur worked her way up her arm. She finished with her right, and then moved wordlessly to her left. A few more minutes passed in comfortable silence before the veela spoke again, her hands stopping to rest in her lap.

"Um, it may be easiest to continue if you took your shirt off," she said quietly, avoiding her indifferent eye contact.

Hermione hesitated for a moment before nodding. Wincing slightly as she sat up, she pulled the t-shirt over her head and settled back down gently onto the pillows. Fleur scanned her briefly, trying to avoid looking at her breasts with great difficultly and quite unsuccessfully. She noted the hash marks on her upper chest and neck looked red and angry. Taking another deep breath, she scooted closer and dipped her hand into the ointment again, hesitating for just a moment before speaking.

"Do you mind where I start?" she asked quietly.

Hermione shook her head, so she started with her right shoulder. Fleur felt her chest dip as a deep breath left her body, and she could feel the younger woman's arousal start to creep across her skin like a shiver. At least it felt good considering that reaction. Blue eyes roam over her scars again, taking in the utter lack of pattern. When she met the Gryffindors eyes again, she was watching her with an unreadable expression.

"What's it like, being a veela?" she asked lowly, her bright eyes still not betraying her emotions.

The blonde was surprised, but the normal defensiveness that usually came with that question filled her belly. She weighed up her options. She never liked answering these sorts of things, but saying something would be better than nothing if it meant Hermione would keep talking. She forced herself to relax and continued rubbing in the salve as she answered.

"It depends on the veela you ask, I suppose," she responded diplomatically.

Hermione's expression didn't change, but the blonde could practically hear the eye roll in her answering tone, "I'm asking you. You don't have to tell me. I can see you're uncomfortable," she replied. Fleur's hands moved to her collarbone, her eyes glancing up briefly, and she spoke the incantation before speaking. The sensitivity made the Gryffindor inhale sharply and the feeling of desire coming from her skin increased again. She glanced at her, but the young witch only shook her head in silent reply.

"It's fine. I 'ad more challenges when I was younger and couldn't control my thrall. Not many teenagers are understanding of it, and they believed I used it intentionally," she confessed with a shrug.

Hermione hummed in agreement. Fleur's hands moved to the side of her neck, and this time her eyes fluttered shut and a shuddering sigh slipped out. Her hands tingled from the increasing feeling of lust the veela could sense on her skin. This was becoming more challenging than she anticipated. She swallowed and internally coached herself to relax as the brunette spoke again, her eyes still closed.

"It's ironic I think, our arrangement," the Gryffindor continued in a bored tone, tilting her head to give her more access, "You, my caretaker, couldn't be imperfect if you tried, and I'm basically a living bruise, marked forever."

The blonde stopped, her hands still on her neck. Hermione opened her eyes and looked back to her. Fleur's gaze swept over her face, her chest, and then met her resolved gaze with one of equal passion.

"Is that what you think?" she murmured.

"Yes," she answered immediately. Blue eyes narrowed and her finger twitched against her throat.

"You are a fool then," she snapped, finally looking away and picking up more salve.

Hermione frowned, "How am I a fool?"

The veela incanted the spell again as her hands rubbed more firmly into the base of her throat and top of her sternum. The pressure probably made it burn a little hotter, and a quiet moan escaped from her patient. She could feel it vibrate against her hand.

"You are speaking about the importance of appearances to a veela, as if I am not marked forever just as much as you," she explained tiredly, "Of course, I grew into this knowingly and steadily, whereas you did not and so in that regard, non, we cannot compare. My external beauty is its own curse, 'owever, and though it may look different it is one I have spent years trying to reconcile with, just as you will spend years reconciling with yours."

She moved to the other side of her neck and muttered her veela charm, letting Hermione collect her thoughts. Half a minute passed before she spoke again.

"You're right, I'm sorry" she finally said, looking away.

She stopped again, "Are you?" she asked seriously. 

The brunette's head snapped back to her, anger finally filling those beautiful brown eyes after a week of emptiness, "Of course I am."

Fleur met her hardened gaze but shrugged eventually, letting it slide. They could get into her emotional capacity another day, perhaps. She was just glad to see some fire in her again. She moved her hands to her other shoulder, working into the uneven skin.

"Perfection is overrated anyway." Hermione was still studying her, and she took it as a sign to continue, "Trust me," she added dryly, "People look at me and only see one thing: sex. I am built to attract; to entice; to lure. What do you think people see on a deeper level, hm? Anything? Or is it just that? Based on my experience, it's mostly that," she said quietly, her hands continued their circular patterns, "You 'ave 'eard that scars tell a story, oui? Yours was gruesome, and I am sorry for what you went through, but it is a part of you and you should wear them proudly," she paused for a few moments before adding, "They make you look strong and...courageous."

She paused again, longer this time. She didn't know if she was speaking so much out of nervousness, but her skin felt itchy with Hermione's steady gaze on her as she continued to move across her chest to the swell of the top of her breast. She had no idea what the emotions were coming from her scarred skin now. It was starting to muddle with something unfamiliar.

The veela spoke again, more to herself than anything, "Perhaps I am playing the fool now, 'owever, and I am pushing my own biases onto you. I am envious of your imperfections, which probably sounds ridiculous, but it's true. Courage, bravery, sacrifice—these things can be left on the skin like a badge of 'onour, but my 'eritage will always overcome those reminders with blood made only to be beautiful," she spat, disgusted by the concept, "So, forgive me if it offends you, but I think they are perfect in their own way."

Hermione just continued to watch her blankly, but Fleur could feel her heart racing beneath her tingling palms.

Hermione remained quiet after that, and Fleur took the opportunity to quickly finish the rest of her upper torso. She asked permission before inhaling her scent again, pleased that it was less than when they started and that the lines covering her upper body looked less irritated. She had tried to keep her wandering mind in check, but she couldn't deny she had some less-than-innocent thoughts throughout her occupancy at Shell Cottage. The truth was the blonde thought the Gryffindor was gorgeous, scars and all.

Fleur knew her self-control wasn't great, and because Veela are physical creatures, she had been somewhat touch-starved having married a gay man against her better judgement. Having a beautiful, intelligent woman lying half-naked in her bed and sighing with her hands on her neck made their platonic treatment much more challenging for her, but it was helping and she needed to stay focused on that. Unfortunately, she knew they'd have to repeat it at least three more times to get it all out. During their final treatment, Hermione had spoken to her again.

"I feel your thrall, you know," she remarked absently, eyes focused on some spot on the ceiling. Fleur stopped over her shoulder for a moment.

She knew that already, but decided to play coy to keep her talking, "You do?"

"I think I do," she clarified slowly, as if unsure herself.

The veela nodded confirmingly. Not many people had a good understanding of how the thrall functioned, but it could be felt by men and women who found the female form attractive. Women tended to have better control around it and often redirected the feeling to infatuation rather than outright lust. Fleur's teenage years had her running rings around various female suitors, for she was always too annoyed and disgusted by the inelegant male advances. It was always nice to find someone who could still manage a conversation despite the effects of the unique sensation, and though she rarely had the patience to talk to others about how her thrall felt for them, Hermione was so clear-headed around her and she was interested in her experience.

"What does it feel like to you?" she asked lightly, hoping the brunette would want to go on.

Hermione looked pensive for a moment and Fleur watched with delight as she collected her curious thoughts, "It's…I can feel it on my skin. It reminds me of being in water. Sometimes it's light and playful, but sometimes it's heavy and forceful. Like currents, but the currents change according to your mood, I think."

Fleur smiled at that vivid description. It sounded similar to how she could feel her emotional state, "How does it feel right now?" she asked, but her hands slowed their patterns, unsure she actually wanted to know the answer.

Hermione finally looked at her and Fleur could feel her cheeks warming up with the lingering gaze. Her palms prickled with that same feeling again. Desire. Lust. Craving. She looked away and moved her hands again to distract herself, rubbing the cream gently over the scars on the side of her neck as she waited for an answer.

"It feels good," was all she said.

It was maddening, frankly. After weeks of having her there, she would sometimes see these small glimpses of the real Hermione in there. It wasn't just sexual tension, either. Although that was abundant, she was just glad they had finally got all traces of dark magic out. No, it was more than that. It was small glimpses of her curiosity, confusion, or fascination with a topic someone was talking about. Or the way her eyes blazed when a bee got in the house and she was a tornado in action to make sure no one squashed it.

It was so rare that she felt she may be manufacturing it in her head, but she knew she needed to see more of it. Fleur didn't consider what it meant that the younger witch came alive in her presence, but she knew she'd be there for her if that's what she needed. Everything else was so…lifeless. The Hermione she thought she had come to know in tiny segments was so far and few between. She didn't want her to be a shell of the person she once was, whoever that was. Fleur was determined to keep eye on her after the war was over. She would be damned if this stunning woman got lost inside her own head indefinitely.

***********************

Fleur was vaguely aware that this was a dream. A nice one, but strange and she didn't know where it was going. It was the middle of a bright, sunny day and she was on the beach with Hermione and Bill. The redhead was whistling and flinging small stones lazily into the swaying tide with his jeans rolled up, and the brunette was sitting beside her on a towel. She could feel the sun warming her skin as the Gryffindor reached into a bag beside her and pulled out some sunscreen.

"My turn," she said with a smirk, and she pushed the blonde onto her back with a firm hand to the middle of her chest. The veela had her mouth open in anticipation as the brunette straddled her hips and squirted some sunscreen into her hands. Watching in awe as the cream-covered hands reached her stomach, and she moaned at the feeling at first, but then looked down when she felt a stinging sensation. Her body was covered in cuts. They were bleeding openly and it was turning into a pinkish paste from the sunscreen. The paste was becoming redder and redder, but Hermione was happily humming to herself as she worked her own blood into her skin. The stinging finally stopped when she removed her hands.

"There. All done," she beamed, raising her bloody hands. A bead of crimson raced down her wrist, "Now you can be beautiful too."

Fleur shot up suddenly with a gasp. The following breath she released was a little shaky and her hands were clammy as she gripped the blanket. She briefly reflected on how odd her dream was, but she paused that thought as she tuned in to her surroundings. Something was off. The room was eerily quiet and the bedside light she usually kept on for the brunette was turned off. She got up silently, a sinking feeling in her stomach as she pulled on the lamp's chain. The bed was empty. Wide awake now, she fully lofted herself over it to the other nightstand and ripped the drawer open. Bellatrix's wand was gone.

"Merde, merde, merde," she whispered to herself, jumping over the bed again and running out the door to the landing, flinging open the next door. Empty. She kept going to the next door. Empty.

"Putain! William!" she yelled, storming towards his door at the end of the corridor. She threw it open and found him sitting up, rubbing his eyes in a sleepy daze.

"What's happening?"

"They're gone," she said.

"All of them?" he asked, his eyes going wide and worry clear in his voice.

"Ouais."

"Fuck."

***********************

Bill and herself landed in the Hog's Head with their wands at the ready, not knowing what to expect but following the instructions of Arthur's patronus. The blonde was surprised when all she spotted was a dingy bedroom and an old man with a thick white beard looking at them expectantly, his arms crossed over his chest as he leaned against a fragile doorframe.

He pointed a thumb towards the far wall, "Through that tunnel there," he said gruffly. His blue eyes watched them as Bill dragged her to the passageway. They had to duck their heads as they ran. Heavy breaths echoing around them as they got closer to the source of light at the other end. They could hear cheers and laughter behind a picture frame that suddenly opened, revealing them to a huge room filled with beds, clothes, and familiar faces. Ginny and Molly were talking to a small group of students. Tonks, Remus, Arthur, and Kingsley were clustered together, and Bill made his way over them. Fleur looked around, spotting the trio by the door speaking in hushed whispers.

The veela frowned, watching them. Whatever they had to do, she didn't think it had to be alone. What bullshit. She looked at Hermione, watching as Bellatrix's wand was twirled comfortably between her fingers. She was looking at the floor, distracted as Ron and Harry whispered to each other. Fleur bit the inside of her cheek and looked away.

McGonagall made an announcement and suddenly everyone was scrambling. Bill grabbed her hand and pulled her beside him. He began reciting the plan as they made their way to their stations, but she interrupted him after five seconds.

"You go. I am going to follow them," she insisted, pointing to the three people most valuable to this effort who had started to move towards the door unnoticed. 

Bill looked over to them, and then back to her decisive face. He knew there was nothing he could say to convince her otherwise. He was a smart man and she was certain he knew what was going on.

"Okay," he said, "I will be on the offensive. Send a Patronus if you need me and…please be careful, Fleur."

She nodded, and he gave her a quick hug that she felt deep in her chest. She gripped the back of his jacket before letting go. He ran after Kingsley and Remus without a look back. She turned her attention to the trio. She narrowed her eyes as they left the Room of Requirement. Moving towards the door, she cast a Disillusionment charm on herself. The familiar feeling of a cool liquid being poured down her head settled before she silently followed them down the empty corridor.


Hermione was trying to control her breathing. The boys were gasping beside her as well, and it was too loud. They could easily be overheard. They were hiding behind a tapestry as a few Death Eaters passed by. Her hand twitched when she saw their black cloaks through the small gap. How simple would it be—a simple flick of the wrist and they'd be left blind, deaf, or dumb. She could manage them easily, then. She considered it, but a shout and a loud blast at the end of the hall pulled her out of her daydream.

Explosion to the west. Wait for traffic to pass, then engage towards it.

She pulled on Harry and Ron's sleeves to hold them back, and they all stilled until they heard footsteps stampeding past them. She let go, peeking around the end of the tapestry before she made her way west. The boys shouted her name behind her, but it was only two of them wreaking havoc on this part of the castle and the Gryffindor knew she could handle it. The big one was blowing up everything he could see, and the other was casting a shield charm so they could continue uninhibited.

Take out the shield.

She took two strides and cast a wordless blasting curse towards the shield, slightly surprised by the force of the spell she felt leaving the unfamiliar wand. The big Death Eater was shifting his stance.

Another, but prepare to move.

She sent it again and the shield weakened, fragmented. The large Death Eater sent a stunner her way and she rolled out of the way just before a shield was cast in front of where she had just been standing. She'd have to thank Harry for that one.

Options? Distract, then attack.

Her eyes scanned briefly and she directed her wand at the floor, covering the floor beneath their feet with water before freezing it with two wordless incantations. They yelped, slipping around on the icy surface, and she redirected her wand and blew out the glass from the windows towards them. The big one had to put up his own shield towards the glass, and she hammered the other shield with three heavy blasting curses as they fought to find their balance and defend the incoming glass shards. Each blast on the shield rang out like a bell until it finally cracked.

"Stupify!" she bellowed, and the force of the spell sent the one with the shield flying halfway down the hallway, landing onto the flagstones with a dead thud.

Hermione aimed her wand at the larger one again, who had foolishly dropped his shield to switch and attack her, but she was too quick. Ropes flew from her wand to restrain him as he knelt on the floor. She walked up to him. His sweaty blonde hair was sticking to his forehead, dark brown eyes looking at her in disgust. She was pretty sure she mimicked his appearance. She pointed her wand between his eyes, breathing heavily, as the world around her dulled and all she saw was his fear swallowing his irises. Just kill him. She pressed her lips together, pushing the tip of her wand farther into his skin, and seriously contemplated that decision.

"Hermione," she heard behind her, and she turned around quickly, training her wand on the intruder.

Harry. It was just Harry. He had his arms raised; eyes wide. She lowered her arm, her magic crackling in the air around from the potential threat. Her wand was sending out purple sparks in a show of sudden volatility.

"We need to move," she said firmly and quickly turned again to stun the Death Eater, who dropped to the stone floor. She strode down the hallway past Ron and Harry without looking at their speechless expressions. A few paces past them, a slight shimmer occurred on the right of her field of vision, and the smell of vanilla and jasmine reached her nose. She trained her eyes forward and hid her knowing smile.

***********************

Two spells colliding a few feet above her and produced a kaleidoscope of colour as she lay on the ground, waiting.

Incoming fatal curse. One, two, roll.

A spell hit the ground where her body just resided, blowing the grass apart like it was dust in a strong wind. She got to one knee, gripping her wand and aiming it at the attacker.

Strong build, strong shield. Surprise attack.

She rolled again as a curse flew by her and aimed her wand at her forehead, casting a hasty Disillusionment charm on herself and becoming mostly invisible under the dark night sky. She stood silently and rounded back towards the confused Death Eater, slowing as she reached his back. He was pointing his wand at Ron now, who had frozen in fear on the grass with his wand held loosely at his side. She knew what he was going to do and her stomach dropped at the thought. She was behind him now.

"Aaavada—" he started, but she reached around and stuck her wand in his mouth from behind, halting the spell as he choked on it. 

"Diffindo," she said calmly and watched as his upper jaw grotesquely separated from the lower, sliding off and falling densely onto the ground below. The rest of his torso collapsed pathetically into the grass. She observed for a few moments as the dead man bled out at her feet. His brown eyes were staring up towards the sky, the only source of light now coming from the castle reflected in them.

Feelings of shock, horror, and disgust should probably have registered by now, but her mind felt oddly quiet considering she just killed someone for the first time. 

Could have just silenced him, she reflected eventually, but she chased that thought away, He was going to kill him. Good riddance.

Ron was looking over in a mixture of revulsion and gratitude and Hermione realised he still couldn't see her entirely, which was definitely a good thing. Shouting in the distance redirected her attention, and she moved away from the dead man before lifting the spell on herself.

She found Harry on her way back around and grabbed both their wrists as she passed, dragging them in the direction towards the Shrieking Shack. Towards him. They reached a damaged and drooping Whomping Willow just as two giants roared and smashed through the tall stain-glass windows of the castle. The trio ducked and ran as fast as they could down the constricting tunnel, Hermione taking up the rear as a feeling of dread and anticipation filled her stomach at what they would find on the other end. A fourth set of footsteps echoed from the mouth of the tunnel behind her.


Fleur watched as Hermione silently conjured a small flask and handed it to Harry. He stepped towards Snape and collected the weeping memories from the potion's professor and the brunette looked over to Ron to meet his anxious gaze.

She was standing on the opposite side of the trio in a large sitting room in this strange run-down shack. Invisible and trying to stay silent, Fleur shifted her weight, but froze as the floorboard creaked loudly beneath her foot. She held her breath as the brunette turned her head to the side instantly, her wand gripped tightly in her right fist.

Idiot! Silencing charm!

Brown eyes started scanning the room, and the veela could only watch nervously as those perceptive eyes took in each detail. Her Disillusionment charm was good, but it wasn't failproof and Hermione knew exactly what to look for, no doubt. All she could do was wait and grip her own wand, ready to cast a shield for protection against the deadly witch.

Her amber gaze flitted over her for just a moment before Harry returned with his eyebrows furrowed in deep thought. Ron clapped him on the back comfortingly and they started back towards the tunnel, leaving Hermione and Fleur alone in the groaning room. The blonde was breathing in short spurts from her nose, trying to stay silent and ensure the floor didn't creak again with even the slightest movement.

Hermione wasn't even looking her way, thankfully, and the veela thought there was a chance she had missed her. The brunette was watching the boys retreating backs, but then took two steps forward and started walking directly towards her. Fleur's eyes widened. Shit. Her heart was hammering in her chest. She considered lifting the charm to show herself but found she couldn't move a muscle. She was cemented to the floor. The brunette was half a foot away now, though, and didn't look like she was going to attack her at all. Instead, she was somehow looking directly into her eyes with the strangest expression on her face. 

"You should really be more careful, Fleur," she said quietly, and butterflies let loose in her stomach when her name rolled off her tongue. Hermione flicked her wrist and the charm lifted, exposing her finally as the cool feeling slithered back up her neck and head. The blonde let out a shaky breath she had been holding for a while.

A moment passed and the Gryffindor's eyes climbed up her newly presented body to meet her gaze.

She swallowed the lump in her throat, "I'm worried about you," the veela replied honestly.

The corner of Hermione's mouth pulled up and her eyes flashed, "Why?" she challenged.

The blonde didn't respond immediately. She glanced down at Hermione's lips. 

"I think you know why," she whispered. 

The air was thick between them as brown eyes bored into her, digesting her meaning easily. The younger woman's magical energy was rolling off her in waves, holding her in place against the wall. Her breath kept tickling her neck and causing goosebumps to trail down her arms. Fleur could feel it again - that creeping, seductive feeling emanating from the younger witch that she was coming to know well by this point - coming to rest heavily between her legs. The room creaked around them impatiently. Honey eyes glanced down at her mouth. Fleur's heart was drumming so loudly in her ears she swore the brunette could hear it.  

Hermione sighed, breaking the moment. She looked down and shook her head, "You shouldn't," the daring in her voice gone now. She sounded...sad. Her brow was furrowed. 

When she glanced back up, the life in her eyes had disappeared again. 

Something about the brunette's tone and the way she was looking at her made it seem like she wouldn't get this chance again. Fleur leaned down slightly, closing the distance between them and pressed her lips gently against hers, sighing at their softness. Hermione let out a small sigh of her own and her mouth parted slightly. Her lips tingled—tickled almost—at the light touch, and she could feel the desire simmering on the brunette's skin dangerously. A wave of heat coursed through her body when smooth lips slid against hers. It was wonderful, just as a first kiss should be, but she needed more. She needed to taste more, feel more. Her hand came up to pull her closer, to twist into her wild hair and open her further, but Hermione suddenly pushed against her hips and took a step back.

She stood there for a moment with that same pained expression. Fleur could see some internal debate going on behind her eyes before she set her jaw and the brilliance left those brown orbs once more. They just looked back at her vacantly, like she was just a part of the wall again. Invisible. Just as she was about to take a step towards her, the brunette turned on her heel and left without a word, leaving a confused and speechless veela in her wake, heart still pounding in her chest and a mild throb between her legs.

She didn't go after her. There was no use and they had to get back, she knew.

Fleur had seen everything tonight and she never imagined she'd see such a powerful display from the Gryffindor. It was a little frightening, to be honest, but she couldn't deny she was in wonder of how she seemed to anticipate each assault. Hermione was clear-headed and immeasurably focused on the attack, calculating each variable, finding nearby resources, and creating distractions when it was required. Fleur was ready to shield the three of them at every moment, and she did more than once with the other two, but Hermione never actually needed it. She was remarkable. Dangerous. 

And the fact that she knew she was there - likely the whole time - made her want to blush, but it also excited her and she didn't know why exactly. The veela didn't know what she was thinking when she kissed her. She barely even knew the woman and they were in the middle of a war for crying out loud! There was just…something had happened over Shell Cottage. Small, infinitesimal behaviours day after day that she suddenly realised she didn't want to be without. That she didn't want to leave behind. Plus, the look in her eyes just now twisted her gut uncomfortably, and she couldn't piece together what it portrayed or what the hell she meant.

You shouldn't.

Fuck that. Fleur didn't care. The way her heart was racing was proof enough that she needed more of her, whatever she was willing to offer. You couldn't fake that kind of connection - it was something she had been searching for her whole life. Something real and unpredictable. Someone who could see her; the real her. The blonde would be patient and supportive. She would be whatever she needed; a friend, a companion, a lover. Whatever she desired, and she would do anything to get through that tough shell. Anything. Everything. 

Little did she know that she wouldn't get that chance, for those were the last words Hermione Granger spoke to her before she disappeared.

Chapter Text

Five years later, in a small village square near the southern French coastline, a dozen restaurants and cafés were buzzing with the new day's waking energy. Tables and chairs were already set up outside and occupied with university friends gathering, working parents running late, and solo travellers enjoying the serenity of the tourist-free springtime. In the far corner of the square stood a café that was in dire need of a paint job, but it had the loveliest hanging flower baskets of the entire courtyard. It was the café that would feel the sun's morning rays last and the afternoon's rays the longest, and some of its customers preferred that so they wouldn't sweat through their work clothes before they got to the office. Out of its two current patrons, only one seemed to mind such a thing, and it wasn't the young brunette woman reading lazily with her back to the restaurant glass.

The young woman had loose chestnut curls that hung past her shoulders and light brown eyes speckled with flecks of gold that were currently hidden behind a pair of dark sunglasses. A few smatters of freckles across her nose and cheeks looked more prominent than usual since she had caught some sun recently. The brunette sipped on her coffee contently as her eyes scanned across the pages of the book in her hands. Her sunglasses had slipped down her nose slightly, so she pushed them back up and turned a page of her book.

No one would know it, but Hermione Granger wasn't actually reading Jane Eyre. She'd already read it, technically. Not that she minded reading books twice, especially Brontë, but she was working, and the book was a prop right now. She stretched her legs out and flipped another page. It was late morning, and the sun was just starting to peek over the roof of the apartments sitting atop the restaurants on the eastern side of the courtyard. The warm light was inching its way towards her little table at the front of the café, slowly shortening the shadow cast from the large statue displayed in the centre of the busy marketplace.

For April, it was just cool enough to get away with jeans and a grey jumper, so her beige coat was hanging behind her on the chair. It wasn't cold enough to really need it, but it would come in handy later. She turned another page of her book, body posture relaxed as her eyes swept around the busy square beneath opaque lenses.

Ninety seconds, heading North.

With an exaggerated sigh, she closed her book, threw some money onto the table, and stood, stretching her arms out though she didn't need to. She faffed around for a few moments to organise the things in her bag so she could put the book away. Finally, she pulled out her phone, dialling a fake number and tucking the phone between her cheek and shoulder as she shrugged her coat on. Without another glance, she began walking up the small boulevard across the square with the phone to her ear, the time ticking down steadily in her head.

Forty seconds.

She started chattering away in French to no one as she reached the corner, turning and gesturing with her free hand and laughing loudly at something her imaginary friend, Arlette, said on the other line. Hermione stopped walking when she reached a rose-coloured wall covered in vines and looked at the ground, nodding along to the fake conversation in her head as a smile stretched across her face.

Ten seconds.

Wooden-soled shoes could be heard hitting the cobblestones and she chuckled into the phone again, scoffing in disbelief that Stephen didn't even have a hand towel in the loo when Arlette visited. 

"Sûrement pas!" she exclaimed.

The brunette suddenly moved away from the wall in her animated state to gesture with her free hand, but distracted as she was, she accidentally bumped into someone behind her. She dropped her bulky phone and it skidded a few times into the empty street. Hermione swore, as did the man she ran into, who had dropped his briefcase and an unbound leather folder. The papers in the folder went flying, and the brunette started moving to stop them before they could escape in the slight breeze.

"Oh merde, je suis désolé monsieur! Je ne regardais pas. S'il vous plaît, permettez-moi!" she apologised rapidly, scurrying forward and disregarding her phone on the ground as she bent to collect his papers. Her coat fanned out behind her like a cape as she hastily gathered everything she could from her crouched position, reprimanding herself out loud for not paying attention.

The man was tall and lanky, with silver hair that was starting to recede and a severe expression. He grunted and mumbled something about youngsters not paying attention to anything as he bent down behind her to get his folder. Once they were all collected, the brunette stood up and turned to him, handing over a small stack of loose papers and his fallen briefcase before apologising profusely again and picking up her phone from the ground.

"Arlette? Tu es encore là?" she said loudly into the phone, "Ah, bon!" and she laughed again as her imaginary companion made another joke.

The man huffed once more and shook his head imperceptibly before continuing on his way down the empty road. Hermione glanced down the street and watched as the skinny man turned the corner before closing her phone and sticking it in her jeans. Facing the vine-covered wall and opening her coat, the brunette pulled out a dozen papers she had tucked into a hidden pocket. She folded them neatly and stowed them in a manila envelope she had in her bag that was pre-stamped and ready to mail.

She had already started walking in the opposite direction, sealing the envelope closed and depositing it in a post box on the corner of her way out of the quaint shopping square. Hermione walked for ten more minutes and sat down in a wooden chair at a different restaurant. She gracefully plopped herself next to a small fountain with a fantastic view of the ocean in the distance. The fog was just beginning to burn off on top of the water, and the sun was bright and beating down on her already as she ordered her second coffee for the day from a young man in a white apron. After he left, she pulled out her phone again—a different one this time—and constructed a text that read:

Documents on their way and tracking device planted in briefcase. Payment expected within 24 hours. Thank you again for your business–this number will no longer be active.

-The Raven

Hermione pressed send to the one number she had in there and turned off the phone. Moving it discretely under the table and out of view she pulled off the back cover and battery, sliding out the SIM card before snapping it with her thumbs and throwing the pieces into the dribbling fountain next to her. Watching idly as they floated to the bottom with the array of wishing coins, she pulled the screen back on the flip phone until that snapped in two as well, stowing the pieces in her bag and waving her hand to vanish them wordlessly. Hermione shrugged off her coat again and hooked it onto the back of her chair, sighing now that she was finally able to enjoy the French sunshine with one job down.

The Raven was an alias she had to pick eventually. As her experience grew in her particular field, she needed something so that she could grow her little business. It was a dual tribute of sorts. On the one hand, it was something of a joke. During her sorting at Hogwarts, the hat on her head toyed with the idea of putting her in Ravenclaw for some time, but in the end, it thought her innate sense of moral direction would be better suited for Gryffindor.

She snorted to herself as she sipped on her coffee. What a joke. She often wondered what the hat would say now if it fell upon her head.

The second reason was one that ironically came after she had already chosen the name. Months and months of going through the arduous process of becoming an unregistered Animagus, and the animal she fatefully turned into was, of course, a raven. Oh, how she loved a full circle. The serendipity wasn't lost on her, but after years of working in her field, she couldn't have picked a better disguise as it turned out. Not only did she have excellent sight and hearing in her animal form, but she had the ability to go unnoticed in nearly all public spaces. 

Plus, she thought she looked rather good in black.

The brunette had two more jobs in France before her schedule cleared up. A few needy clients had requested her services in England, but she turned them down. She needed a break for a week or two and she hated going back there anyway. It wasn't her home anymore, thankfully, but she avoided going back whenever she could. Digging through her bag once again she pulled out her other phone, reading through her messages as the sun climbed higher and beat down on her more intensely.

By noon, she was nearly sweating as she read through the background details for her next job. She pushed her sleeves up to her elbows, thankful that her tattoos now hid the offensive scars still branded on her skin. She couldn't imagine Muggles being very receptive to them, and considering how important it was that she has the ability to blend in she chose to redecorate, so to speak. She always hated looking at them anyway—they just reminded her of…never mind. Anyway, if you looked closely you could still see them, but rarely did anyone come close enough to her now.

Hermione pulled off her glasses and ran a hand through her hair, taking a break from her notes. Over the past five years, she had learned to tame the frizz and manage her curls. The experience in disguising herself lent a hand in that. Her line of work saw that she travelled all around the world, and she was sporting a little tan from basking in the foreign sunshine whenever she got a chance, such as now. 

It wasn't all unicorns and rainbows, however. There was always more work to be done and Hermione was something of a workaholic, you could say. She had been going non-stop now nearly six months, bouncing all over the place and booking herself up, but now there were two more assignments to complete and then she swore to herself she would take a holiday. Sighing, she sat up and put her head in her hands, closing her eyes and reciting the job again.

Target is Sergey Ibramonov. Non-Magical - a Russian diplomat and illegal arms dealer. He will be arriving at the InterContinental Marseille-Hotel Dieu at 1800 hours in a blacked-out Mercedes. He will be escorted by two armed guards up to the penthouse suite where they will be stationed outside the door for the evening, each armed with two handguns and a switchblade. Dinner will be brought up at 1900 –steak, steamed vegetables, and a bottle of Stolichnaya. He will be watching T.V. in bed and asleep by 2300. Operating window to recover flash drive between 0100 and 0400 hours. Deposit in PO Box 3859 at 140 Rue de Billon by 0415.

She played over various scenarios in her head that could complicate her task and variables that hadn't been accounted for yet, like if he woke up or the guards suddenly came in. This one was quite straightforward, thankfully, but she'd had "easy" assignments before that left her hanging upside-down in a Croatian warehouse, so she had learned to run through every set of circumstance beforehand. Her hands moved to her lap as she ran through it one more time, nodding to herself as she visualised herself at the hotel.

Target is Sergey Ibramonov. Non-Magical - a Russian diplomat and illegal arms dealer. He will be arriving at the InterContinental Marseille-Hotel Dieu at 1800 hours in a—

"'Ermione?"

The Raven froze, her eyes widening in surprise. That voice. Fuck. What a moron. She knew she should have used a disguise. Too many people around to use magic here. Heels clicked closer and her eyes darted around quickly, taking in the setting in more detail.

Thirty-five feet away coming from due east. Five-inch heels and a tight dress. I could easily outrun her. Closest opportunity to disapparate? Restaurant has back alley entrance.

The brunette discretely gripped her bag in one hand and her coat in the other. She knew she shouldn't, but she a chanced a look to the side at the approaching blonde before she moved. It was only a second or two that their eyes met, but it was enough. Those eyes. That deep, dark blue she hadn't seen in five years were pouring out emotion, just like she remembered they could do. Surprise. Anger. Disbelief. Pain. Everything was swimming plainly in her stunning depths. Hermione's eyes flitted over her, memorising everything she could in two-and-a-half seconds and trying to ignore how incredible she looked:

Still no ring—divorced now? Were her cheekbones always that high? Right arm has glamour for her wand, meaning it's holstered like Law Enforcement. No more curse-breaking, then. Auror? Based on time of day, her slight tan - Merlin, those legs - and the partial logo on the folder sticking out of her bag, she's with the French Ministry now.  

Normally, the information she gathered like this was stored somewhere useful and she moved along with her day. Fleur Delacour, though, she had rooted her for exactly 1.5 seconds longer than she knew was necessary. She was staring now, and the Raven never stared. Her heart was thudding dangerously in her chest when she remembered the last time she saw her; the feeling of her lips, the sound of her shaky sigh.

Fuck.

The blonde was getting closer, and the brunette finally unglued herself from the floor, bolting through the restaurant door and once again leaving an angry veela standing in shock by her small table. A pair of dark sunglasses and a half-empty cup of cold coffee left as her only reminder that Fleur did, in fact, see Hermione Granger.


Fleur had been sitting at the same table at the seaside café for nearly two hours now. She couldn't move. She couldn't think. She was replaying the scene over and over in her mind, and every time it got more and more confusing.

She had been running an errand in the nearby square before she had to get back to the office. It was a beautiful day for this time of year. One of those clear, blue-skied days that made her ever grateful she had decided to move back to France a few years ago. The spring rains had just passed, seemingly giving new energy and life to everything and everyone. Yes, she was glad she moved back. After her divorce was finalised, she received an offer from the French Auror office and began working for them in Paris. Her training as a curse breaker was fun and interesting, but she had always wanted to do more than that.

She reached out to the French Ministry after the Battle of Hogwarts, and they said they were interested in having her but wanted to see some training before taking her on. She quit Gringotts immediately after and studied for a year in the British Ministry team along with Harry, with whom she got very close to throughout the course. When she finally graduated with top marks, her home Ministry was more than willing to transfer her over.

That was four years ago, and now she was the Lead Investigative Auror for International Crime and Counterterrorism. She was…startlingly good at it, she found. The veela senses helped, but in order to be successful, you had to think like a criminal, which she was surprisingly adept at as well. Plus, there was a blend of understanding a suspect's psychology, detecting patterns, and following her gut. Luckily, her gut hadn't failed her yet, and she quickly gained notoriety at her department for her unique abilities. It was a long journey and she all but gave up her social life for work's demanding requirements, but she enjoyed it and it kept her mind off… other things.

Hermione things, namely. Fleur hadn't seen her for five years. Five years of not knowing why she left, or where she was. Five years, and not a word about her. Was she dead? Injured? She had no idea. No one did. No one had heard anything from her since the battle. Sure, there were whispers and rumours, but Fleur didn't know what to believe anymore. Some said she flew to Australia to get her parents and stayed, but that didn't make sense. Her parents were back in England with their memories restored, and they said their daughter came back with them.

Some said she was just travelling abroad and reading on secluded beaches. More likely, she had to admit. One rumour claimed she was a muggle librarian in New York, trying to get away from the wizarding world entirely. Another claimed she had tried to backpack through the Alps with a stray dog she befriended and fell down a ravine accidentally. The veela hated thinking about that possibility. Finally, one rumour claimed she was an assassin, which made Fleur double over in laughter when she first heard it.

Aside from Fleur, the only person who was still actively searching for her was Harry. They spoke at least once every other month about Hermione's whereabouts, as they were both in law enforcement and had nothing better to do that brainstorm about where their long-lost friend had disappeared to. It was painful for both of them, but they never stopped trying. She didn't think they ever would. 

Fleur was rounding a corner to a spot she knew she could disapparate at when she spotted a young woman sitting alone at a seaside café. The veela stopped in her tracks and her breath stopped. From her angle, she could only see the woman's profile, but Fleur would know that sloping nose and jawline anywhere. Those lips she had only known for a moment were slowly mouthing out something to herself. Blue eyes raked over her form greedily, taking in everything she could, still not convinced what she was seeing was real. She shook her head as if it would clear up the mirage in front of her. 

Hermione was in denim jeans and a grey sweater with the sleeves pushed up. Her hands, forearms, and the sides of her neck were covered in black tattoos that she couldn't make out the design of, and she was running a hand through wavy brown hair that hung just past her shoulders. She looked…well, to be honest, Fleur thought she looked amazing. Her legs and arms were toned, indicating she was definitely taking care of herself. Her olive skin was tan and healthy, and the veela wished she were closer so she could see if her freckles were still there. She couldn't move though. She could only watch as designed hands moved under the table slightly, connecting the thoughts circulating in her head like she was conducting an orchestra.

"'Ermione?" she asked, still in disbelief this was real. 

The brunette's hands froze. It was her. Fleur finally started moving again. She needed to speak to her. It had been five years, and her heart was hammering in her chest again like they were still in that room at the Shrieking Shack. There were so many things she needed to ask. How? Why? What could possibly have led her to think this was the only viable option? Did she really not trust us—her—enough? 

Hermione looked at her then, just for a moment, and it wasn't like their time at Shell Cottage. There, she could hardly see anything in the depths of her eyes, but this was different. She looked…not scared, but startled, definitely. And there was curiosity and something else that made her body temperature increase. Fleur could feel her eyes raking down her body like her nails lightly scratching over her skin. She wanted more of it, like she had always fantasized about, but then the eyes met hers again and they were apologising.

And then she was flying, darting through the restaurant doors with her coat and bag in a tight grip. Fleur ran after her through the restaurant and into the kitchen, calling her name over and over, but it was too late and she was too slow in these damn heels.

Hermione wasn't completely lost, or dead. She was alive and well, and…working? Reciting something in her head? What was she doing here? Out in the open like this if she was in hiding? It just didn't make sense.

The veela knew she should move from the table. She should get up and go to the office and apologise for missing two meetings, but she couldn't shake the feeling of seeing the younger witch. It had taken years for her to get over her disappearance, and even then, it was so hard to just forget her. She always thought there had to be something; some way of finding her.

Fleur realised, with a painful finality that felt like an icepick to her heart, that she just desperately didn't want to be found.


Hermione was scowling. It was nearly two in the morning and she was bouncing on her toes to try to stay alert as the cold, crisp air slowly numbed the tip of her nose. Her eyes were starting to burn with exhaustion and probably looked just as red and angry as the cherry on her cigarette. She took a deep pull, feeling the familiar rush to her head for a few moments before she exhaled. She watched the smoke furl away into the clear night sky before sticking her head out of the entranceway she was standing under, checking down the street again. Amber eyes followed down the line of cars parked on the right side of the street before landing on a characterless window near on the second floor above the distant street sign.

Still no signal.

This is the part no one tells you—how boring this line of work can be. The waiting, and the planning, and then more waiting. Normally she was quite good at keeping herself focused and she hadn't had a cigarette in months, but tonight felt different and she needed something to settle her nerves. She was watching for a light to click on and off three times in a row from that second-story window, but it was taking longer than she expected and she just wanted to go home now. This was her final job before she was going to take a break, but the downtime just let her mind wander to Fleur again and she couldn't help but get lost in thoughts and painful memories.

Yesterday had been a kick to the gut for the Raven, who had all but forgotten her past life exceptionally well up to this point. She didn't think about them anymore, nor did she want to. She was fine on her own and wanted to keep it that way. Over the years there was a lot she had to learn about herself, and it took effort to get here. Hard work that took years to build and strengthen that she didn't want to just get liquefied in an instant. She had a history, yes, but that didn't matter. There were only two main lessons about her past that mattered to her now after some painful retrospection of her torture experience.

Lesson One: she would never depend on her wand again. Hermione's helplessness at the hands of Bellatrix Lestrange was the first time she realised she relied on that stupid piece of wood far too much. After the battle, she toyed with the idea of keeping it. It was powerful, Bellatrix's wand, but it was a symbol of her own suffering. It was the very tool used to break her apart, and she wouldn't depend on it to build her back up. She wouldn't depend on any wand again. The brunette threw it in the ocean somewhere in Australia one humid evening on her trip to get her parents back. It looked like a peaceful goodbye, floating away in the clear blue waves, but she knew in time that would change. The wood that ripped her open would roll around in the whitewash and the brine would slowly leach into its permeable skin. It would swell and rot and disintegrate into nothing—into meaningless particles—just like that fucking bitch was doing underground somewhere.

She chuckled to herself at the thought and took another drag, checking down the street once more through the cloud of smoke rearranging itself into the night sky. Still nothing.

After Australia, the Gryffindor spent the next year practising wandless and wordless magic like her life depended on it. It was hard at first. Hermione felt like a first-year again trying to concentrate on the simplest of spells. Without a wand to channel her magic, she felt her power drain more quickly as she tried to get used to focusing her energy. At some point, however, everything just clicked. She found out exactly how to use her fingers and hands for each spell, and learned that intention and attention were critical in her accuracy and endurance. By now, she was even more powerful without a wand when it came to her magical strength and ability, and she would never be without that control again.

Lesson Two: she was weak. Physically and mentally. They were easily caught by the snatchers, and she succumbed to mindless suffering at the hands of Bellatrix without even putting up a fight. She blamed herself for being so vulnerable. Since the Battle of Hogwarts, she demanded more from her body. She would run or swim every day at varying speeds and lengths. She had found a Muggle training facility that taught various self-defence classes, and she started boxing, wrestling, and practicing Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. She became a regular at the gym and nailed down other self-defence forms such as Krav Maga and Muay Thai. She took weekend trips to shooting ranges (mainly for her resume, more than anything) and spent her nights concocting potions and poisons in her spare room. After months of researching the best way to do so, she slowly started introducing herself to certain common poisons in small doses to build up her immunity. She learned how to handle various weapons, but she mostly she trained without for the same reason she learned to use magic without a wand: she'd never be caught off guard again.

Hermione discovered she was also mentally vulnerable. At Shell Cottage, she was exhausted and trying to understand and process what had happened to her at the Manor. She distanced herself from, well, everything, physically and emotionally. Or she tried to, at least. It took her a while to figure it out, but eventually she realised her friends, family, and sense of self left her exposed, so she cut them all out. It was better for everyone that way anyway. No sappy goodbyes. No questions she wouldn't have the right answers to. No explanations that made no sense to anyone. She didn't want to open herself up again—find herself helpless again—and they wouldn't understand regardless. She was not the same person she once was, and she never would be. She didn't want to be.

So, she ran. She pulled all her money out of Gringotts—which was quite a large sum after the Ministry dumped in a truckload for her "efforts" in the war (apparently, getting branded for life came with a hefty price tag, but at least it was enough to disappear for a while). After returning from Australia with her parents, she told them she would be travelling for some time. They didn't know why, and she had kept her involvement in the war to herself, but she knew they heard her screaming at night and they had certainly seen her scars. They didn't fight her, not that it mattered. Without a word to anyone else, she blended in as a Muggle for a year. She got a job in a run-down bookstore under a fake name and spent her days reading, training, and planning her new future.

There were plans in place for Hermione Granger to become something. Everyone knew she had potential, but the potential for what? She was smart. Of course, she was smart. She had been told she was smart for twelve fucking years, but that didn't matter. Lots of people could recall facts and think critically, and obviously it didn't make much of a difference for her when she was convulsing under Bellatrix's sturdy boot, did it?

No, intelligence meant little to her now aside from a means to get what she wanted. And what did the Golden Girl want? Safety, sanity, and solidarity. The Golden Girl wanted to be left the fuck alone, and she knew she couldn't do that as Hermione Granger anymore. She had to create a new life; find something she was good at that didn't leave her out in the open; something that she liked that would give her renewed agency. The Brightest Witch of Her Age would have to dissolve and become someone new entirely.

And because she was Hermione Granger, she did.

But then Fleur Fucking Delacour comes trouncing right back into her life in all her divine glory like some runway model trying to strut all over her self-inflicted isolation. Like all of that hard work was just some practice test. Like the years of meditation and training to drill her and everyone else she knew out of her foolish head was useless. As if the years she spent becoming someone else - becoming no one - was all for nothing.

Hermione squished the end of her cigarette butt into the wall behind her and pulled out another one, lighting it and taking another deep, satisfying pull. She let her mind linger on Fleur again.

She never felt like nothing around the veela, irritatingly. That bloody veela had an unnatural ability to make her feel seen, even when she didn't want to be.  Just as Hermione was able to observe those around her, she knew the blonde was just as good at reading her and it drove her insane. Whilst she could hide her unravelling mind at Shell Cottage from the boys, she always knew the Frenchwoman saw right through her cunning charade.

The blonde could tell she was withdrawing. She knew see she was disinterested in everything and everyone. Well, except her. Fleur knew, and Hermione knew that she knew. And the battle—Hermione thought of that day often. More often than she cared to admit. Fleur was watching her. Or, watching over her more than anything. The brunette knew if it had been anyone else, she would have been offended, or at the very least irritated with the idea of being babysat. With Fleur…she was excited. It felt like a game at first, strangely, but the feeling radiating from her body as their lips held each other in a brief whisper felt like anything but that.

She sometimes wondered what would have happened if she had stayed. If she had let her conflicted, perverted heart carry her a step towards the veela instead of her reasonable head dragging her back.

She would have pulled her mouth open and tasted her fully, completely. She would have run her fingers through her hair, testing if it really felt as soft and full as it looked. She would have savoured the sweetness she knew was waiting on her golden skin, and traced her lips down the fine muscles in her neck that she had been eyeing for weeks. She would have marked the places where the veela responded to her the most, creating a map for herself to navigate through again later because it couldn't be the only time. She would have pressed the veela's firm body against the moaning wall until she moaned louder, and Fleur would have fought back with a bite to her lip and nails digging into her scalp in exchange. And maybe it would have been brief and desperate, but she would have opened herself to her and let her take whatever she wanted; whatever she needed in those few, frantic seconds. And she would have taken what she needed, too. Fleur would have let her, she knew. 

She didn't do any of that though. Hermione couldn't stay. She had never planned to.

That was the first instance she realised she had fallen for the veela, and it was the strongest driving force to start anew. To get away. The brunette didn't want to admit it that she liked her—or more, even, if she was capable of that sort of thing—but she knew that's what it was. Shell Cottage was uncomfortable as she navigated the dark, meaningless thoughts bouncing around her head, but Fleur was kind, careful, and didn't her ask a lot of questions. She was just there. A beacon of light and peace that helped ground her when she got too lost in the shaded corners of her mind. She hated how bright it all was sometimes, and she wished she could just look away from her glare but it never fucking worked.  

It was the little things, really. Hermione liked watching her write. Her hand would flex and fly across the paper, and her stunning façade would always betray small moments of joy and unease. She watched her read, too. Books in English, Hermione would see her mouthing the words to herself, still trying to commit herself to the challenge of fluency. Books in French she got lost in entirely, and her clear blue eyes wouldn't surface back up to reality for hours.

The brunette would close her eyes and fight a smile when she hummed her favourite songs to herself unthinkingly. And whenever she spoke, however irregularly, it was so full of passion and intellect. The brunette would watch her eyes as she tried to translate complex subjects to English in real-time for her. The concepts she couldn't translate easily always had a way of being painted in vibrant colours by her overly descriptive words. The brunette had started studying French in her downtime, certain that she would be even more colourful in her native tongue.

And of course, the treatment to get the dark magic out of her blood was something else entirely. Hermione often thought about those fingers and palms pressing into her. The mild burning sensation she would endure from whatever sacred veela spell she had used on her, and the effort it took not to tell her how light she always felt around her. Not just her physical form, either. Fleur was just easy to be around. If Hermione asked her something she would answer, and she was honest with her. She never once appeased her for the sake of making things seem easier.

The veela would stay silent otherwise, letting the brunette watch her wordlessly as she worked and not questioning why she did so intently. She wished she could tell her how good her hands felt on her; how her skin tingled deliciously whenever she was near her and how it had nothing to do with her thrall; how the weight of things seemed fractionally lighter when she was in the same room; how she thought she was the most beautiful thing she'd ever seen, and how she made her feel beautiful, even though she was marred and broken.

Hermione was too chickenshit to say anything, though. She didn't want to confess anything, especially not with the uncertainty of war still looming over them. And…she was fairly sure she would get over her infatuation in time. So the Gryffindor just observed in that bizarre and silent manner of hers, and suppressed the weightlessness in her stomach whenever she got a whiff of vanilla and jasmine.

Ironically, as great as Hermione was with deducing the world around her, it took a while before she realised her feelings were likely reciprocated. She would often catch the veela staring, but whether it was out of concern for her recovery or something else she didn't know. The brunette did know the blonde had a habit of chewing on her bottom lip when she stepped out of the shower in a towel, and she often caught her eyes drifting over her form when she thought she wasn't looking.

Hermione had always thought there was something there—something wicked and depraved in those eyes she had grown addicted to—and then the kiss happened, and she knew for certain what it was, but it wasn't depravity. It was too kind, too careful, too haunting to be that. And the brunette had to make a decision about who she was and what she wanted. She still didn't know if it was the right one. For a while it felt like it was, but the ache in her chest now had little to do with the smoke filling it for the last hour.

Hermione sighed, taking another drag of her cigarette and trying, now for the eighteenth time today, to stop thinking about the Frenchwoman. She kept circling back to those long legs and pained eyes, letting her double-crossing mind wander. She wondered what she was up to these days. Was she dating consistently? Did she see her family often? Did she still speak to Harry, and the Weasleys? Was she happy? She looked bloody amazing, but that didn't mean anything, Hermione knew.

Anyway, none of that mattered. Fleur spotted her, and now she'd have to make sure she never saw her again. There was no way she could go back there. She couldn't open that door, it was too dangerous.

A light at the other end of the street flicked on, and the brunette took a long drag as it turned off a moment later. On. Off. On. Off. She exhaled, flicking the glowing butt onto the ground and putting it out with the toe of her boot before heading down the street in the opposite direction for her final job.

I am really going to enjoy a little vacation, she thought tiredly, as she flicked her wrist to unlock a heavy metal door halfway down the block. Her boots echoed as she descended the wooden stairs to a damp cellar where three men were already waiting. One had his arms and legs tied tightly to a chair with a pillowcase over his head. The fabric was fluttering in time to his heavy, panicked breaths. The other two stood behind him with their backs against the wall, staring ahead and avoiding eye contact with her entirely. The only light in the room was coming from a single bulb hanging from the ceiling. The air was thick with moisture and she could see the plain grey walls sweating, failing to contain the body heat in the stifling room.

The Raven stood in front of the whimpering man for a moment before pulling the bag off his face, watching as his brown eyes adjusted to the sudden light. He looked around frantically, the muscles in his neck strained as he pulled against the restraints with a hysterical yelp and a whispered prayer in another language. The Raven pulled off her leather jacket and threw it in the corner. The man's black t-shirt was sticking to his chest with sweat and his chest was rising and falling rapidly as she walked closer and stood over him again. She leaned down so she was at his eye level. He tried to avoid it, but he eventually met her steady gaze.

"Tienes muchos enemigos, Señor Vasquez. Estás listo para hablar ahora?" she asked quietly, and his eyes widened.

"No, no, por favor! No hice nada!" he yelled, though his voice shaking as it bounced around the confined space. He started praying again, reciting those same futile lines over and over. They weren't going to help him. 

Hermione sighed and straightened back up, pulling out her cigarettes again and tapping one out of the case. She really didn't prefer these assignments, probably due to her own experience, but they paid well and rarely did she need to get physical. That felt too obvious, and it was actually pretty startling what you could get once you know someone's personal information. Knowing the birth dates and names of the favourite stuffed animals of his two daughters, Elisa and Maria, for example, would probably work just fine to get under his skin.

Plus, The Raven was selective of the jobs she chose. You wouldn't know it from looking at his soft face, but Señor Sergio Antonio Vasquez was the third in command of an international sex trafficking ring that kidnapped, drugged, and sold underage girls and boys all over the world. He happened to be in France for a "scouting" visit, so she wouldn't mind if it got a little physical. It would do her good to let off some steam, and she was rather adept at healing her own broken knuckles now. Merlin knows she could do with a distraction that wasn't in the form of chain-smoking.

"Pues," she said slowly, pausing to stick the cigarette between her lips. His fearful eyes followed her every move as she flicked her lighter open and took a quick pull. She exhaled the smoke in the man's face and continued quite factually, "Va a ser una noche larga para ti."

Chapter Text

A huge fist landed in the middle of her stomach with a wet thud, and Hermione groaned, bending over in pain. Sweat was dripping down the side of her face and every inch of exposed skin was slick with moisture. She took a breath and focused on gripping the balls of her feet to the mat.

"Again."

Thump. Grunt.

"Again," she gasped.

Thump. Grunt.

"Again."

"Sure you don't want a break?"

She just gave her trainer, Jason, a withering look. He shrugged before winding up and slamming his heavy fist back into the brunette's toned stomach. Her fingers were interlocked tightly behind her neck to keep from countering, but she couldn't help but curl up and groan again and again at each incoming assault. She took a moment to breathe before she flexed again. Nodding to him, he did it again.

Although she ditched her shirt long ago due to how hot it was in the sweltering gym, she had still managed to sweat through her sports bra and running shorts. Her bare skin was bright red from his repetitive beatings, but that was nothing new. It was Sunday, after all, and Sunday's were her ab day. Jason was used to this unusual request by now, in which she finished her hour-long core routine with one hundred punches to her abdomen, fifty spiderman push-ups, and a mile run flat out. She still had twenty-eight to go.

Thump. Grunt. Thump. Grunt. Thump. Grunt.

"How's work going?" Jason asked, alternating hands. A light sweat had started to form on his brow, and his wavy brown hair was sticking to his forehead. Her stomach was completely numb by this point, but she couldn't stop tensing now or each hit would be ten times more painful.

Thump. Grunt.

"Pretty good," she gritted out, tightening her hands together behind her head. Thump. Grunt. "Taking some time off for a week or so though." Thump. Grunt.

"You?" Thump. Grunt. "Taking time off?" Thump. Grunt. "What has the world come to?" he joked.

Hermione chuckled, but then groaned louder again as a punch landed. She braced tighter. Thump. Grunt. "I know," Thump. Grunt. "I have no idea what to do with myself," Thump. Grunt. Thump. Grunt.

"Travel?" Thump. Grunt. "Lay on a beach somewhere?" the ex-marine switched hands again. Thump. Grunt. "Go on a date for once?" Thump. Grunt. Thump. Grunt.

"Dating is my last priority right now," she answered honestly. Thump. Grunt.

Thump. Grunt. Thump. Grunt. Thump. Grunt.

"You could do with," Thump. Grunt. "getting out there, you know."

Hermione rolled her eyes. Thump. Grunt. Jason and she had gotten close over the past two years, despite his painful American-ness and their initial awkwardness when he tried to hit on her. She let him down easy, of course, having explained she was Kinsey-six gay and entirely uninterested in the male population. As it turns out, they ended up bonding over his disastrous dating adventures, which Hermione found all too amusing. He was a great mixed-martial arts trainer and something of a friend now, she supposed, but she didn't need the lecture on her lack of recreational activities. He barely knew the prologue to her story, after all. He stopped to wipe his sweaty forehead on his shoulder before continuing.

Thump. Grunt. Thump. Grunt.

"I am doing just fine," she said through her teeth.

Thump. Grunt.

"When was the last time," Thump. Grunt. "you had some babe," Thump. Grunt. "breathing all hot and heavy underneath you?"

Thump. Grunt.

He drew his fist back again and swung it forward, but this time Hermione shifted her hips, coolly leaned back, and Jason lost his balance as the blind swing sailed past her. She lightly kicked the back of his knee on his supporting leg and he topped over onto the mat with a high-pitched yelp. He rolled onto his back with a groan of his own, still breathing heavy with a smile on his face.

Hermione lowered her arms from the back of her head and looked down at him with a grin, "Right now, babe," she winked, and he let out a booming laugh so loud that the young girl at the front desk jumped off her stool. Jason propped himself up on his elbows.

"I deserved that," he chuckled again, "That was a hundred?"

"Of course," she replied with a curt nod, getting down to her knees next to him and placing her hands on the mat, shoulder-width apart.

"I'll never understand how you keep track so well," he said.

"You mean pay attention?" she joked, and he just rolled his eyes with an underhand comment that was intended to be heard.

She smiled again before lifting her knees off the floor. Getting herself into a decent plank position, her stomach still sore from all the blows, she began doing her push-ups, lifting a leg out to the side every time her chest reached the floor until her knee touched her elbow.

Jason finally sighed and heaved himself off the mat, evidently realising the brunette would be incapacitated for the next few minutes or so. Hermione could see him shift his weight a few times in her peripheral vision, and she focused on breathing as she waited for whatever he was about to say.

A few moments later, when she was halfway done with her fifty, he finally spat it out.

"I'm serious, you know," he said, and the brunette sighed and got back to her plank, gulping down a few breaths.

"About?" she asked, and continued her reps.

"Enjoying your vacation," he explained, "I know you work hard with your consulting business, and you drag your ass here nearly every day, rain or shine. Just…I think you should try to find some time to relax, or there won't be any point to taking a holiday at all."

Hermione just grunted again, touching her right knee to her elbow again.

"You're not going to listen to me, are you?"

"Probably not," she huffed, and he sighed. She could practically see him throwing his hands up in exasperation, the big drama queen. He walked away and let her get on with it uninterrupted.

After finishing on the mat, she got up and jogged outside to start her mile. When she hit the street-post marked as her start line, she opened up her stride on the familiar route and let the mild burn in her lungs take over her other senses. Six minutes. Six minutes. Six minutes when her legs felt like they caught fire, and her stomach ached with each foot pounding onto the hard pavement. She yearned for this feeling and had to admit it had become a little addicting. It was strange, pushing yourself more and more until you were both entirely numb and wholly agonised at the same time. The longer she ran the more her body ached, and her muscles longed for her to stop. Her mouth was parched, and after four long minutes, the world began to fade around her until she was transported somewhere else entirely.

She could hear the sounds of tree roots exploding around her. The hot snort of a heavy breathing werewolf behind her. Draco Malfoy to her right with his hand over his pale lips, holding back his nausea. Ron's muffled shouts in the background.

Less than a minute now. She could see the entrance to the gym in the distance.

Black eyes and charcoal teeth were in front of her, and a surprisingly delicate hand wrapped around her neck and started to squeeze.

She couldn't breathe. She couldn't breathe. Pain. Pain. She winced and pushed her legs to move faster.

The grip became tighter, and she struggled to find any oxygen. Her head was getting light. She could hardly feel her arms, but she tried clawing frantically at the hand around her neck.

Everything hurt, but she kept pushing. Kept breathing. Kept going. She couldn't breathe. She couldn't breathe. Pain. Pain.

The hand tightened again and her ribs expanded pointlessly. Her muscles twitched in need. She longed to feel air, even just a whisper crawling down her throat, but nothing could make it past her crushed windpipe. She looked up into black depths.

Her vision was tunnelling and darkening around the edges. She was suffocating. She couldn't breathe. She couldn't breathe. Pain. Pain.

Her arms went limp and her eyes rolled back in her head as her chest heaved for air again. Her lungs expanded desperately, but there was nothing there for them and the seductive night began to wash over her.

And then it was over.

Six minutes. She stumbled to a stop and dropped her hands to her knees in front of the gym door. She gasped and gulped, pulling in as much air as she could. A few beads of sweat fell from the tip of her nose and splatted on the pavement between her trainers. The oxygen she was urgently swallowing slowly overcame the acid that had built up in her muscles, and her wheezing gasps started to lengthen and quieten as she finally caught her breath. She looked at her watch. Six minutes.

Only six minutes, but they were the absolute best minutes of her day.


The blonde pursed her lips as she read through the file in her hands. She was hunched over her desk, fervently scanning the document and trying to consolidate everything she was reading. Her left knee was shaking up and down, a frustrating but predictable symptom of the fourth cup of coffee she just mainlined.

"Delacour!"

Fleur jumped in her office chair and glared at the bright wispy badger hovering in her doorway, "My office please."

She stifled a theatrical sigh and slowly stood up, her neck popping as she tilted her head to the side and rolled her shoulders. She hated when her boss did that, especially when he knew she was in one of her work grooves. Putting her hands on her hips, she stretched her lower back a little with a light groan and mentally reprimanded herself for another too-long occupancy in her office chair.

Once again, she had gotten lost in her work for the better part of the day. Having just wrapped up a case, she was catching up on the mountain of paperwork it entailed. The perpetrator had a fondness for throwing a muggle acid concoction on the politicians involved in the new magical imports policy, and she had put a team together for an undercover operation that, thankfully, went quite smoothly. Well, aside from one of her agents kneeling on a puddle to restrain the gentleman thinking it was water on the floor. She had to be rushed to the healers. Other than that, though, she was pleased with how it went. The blonde had mixed experiences with covert ops, and although it sounds adventurous and interesting, after four years she knew it generally just meant an eternity of waiting and about full three days of paperwork and debriefing afterwards.

A short, but much-needed walk to the opposite side of the department floor had the veela standing in another office that was a similar size to her own. Unlike her own, however, in which she tried to maintain some semblance of order and a modicum of décor, her boss tended to work in what could only be described as utter mayhem. Confidential folders were lying open on the floor. Post-it notes were stuck all over his walls with illegible scribbles and drawings that Fleur could never connect to their work. Papers were strewn on every available horizontal surface, some stacked so high they reached his chin when he was seated at his desk, such as now. His brown tabby cat was on its back in the corner, playing with a crumpled newspaper its owner had charmed to float around six inches off the floor.

Julian Rambourg was the Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement for the French Ministry. He was quite a skinny man, and a few inches shorter than the blonde. She always knew that bothered him, but he made up for his small stature with a classic, albeit fairly mild Napoleon complex in which he spoke too loud and tried to assert himself far too often. After years of working with the man, she found it quite harmless and learned he actually had a brilliant mind for organised crime and murder. He, too, had gotten to know her past the visage of beauty, which she appreciated. When it came down to it, all he really cared about was that she got the work done. Considering how many hours she spent in her office and how many cases she had solved, he had nothing to complain about pertaining to her performance.

"Delacour," he said, not looking up from the file he was reading. His free hand was in his hair twisting a greying lock around his middle finger, a nervous tick that Fleur noticed he did when he didn't like what he was reading. "How are you getting along with the acid asshole?"

"Good, sir," she said, nodding although he still wasn't looking at her, "At this rate I should be done and filed by the end of tomorrow."

"Good, good," he said distractedly, his brow furrowing as his eyes continued to scan the file he was reading. Fleur waited a few moments before speaking again.

"Was there something you needed me for, sir?"

Julian sighed and shut the manila file, frustration plain in every movement. He slapped the folder onto the only space on his desk not covered with papers and stuck a skinny index finger onto the middle of it, "You're on this one."

"Counterterrorism?" she asked, her interest piqued.

"I don't know."

She raised an eyebrow.

"International victims?"

"No," he confessed.

Fleur let out a huff, "Well, what do you know, and why do you want me on it then?"

"I don't know, blondie. I just don't like the look of it and I want you on it," he demanded, and they stubbornly had a stare-off for a few moments until she relented. 

"Fine. I will have a look at it, but if it's not my field I don't know how helpful I will be," she admitted.

"It's not that," he said, leaning back in his chair until it creaked and looking tiredly at the ceiling, "It feels funny, and you have a good eye for the funny ones."

Fleur sighed, resigned. Julian had done this before. He would sometimes pick out cases that didn't exactly fit her area of expertise just to get her take on them. He liked her gut instincts, and he told her as much a few times. She knew he respected her as an investigator, but never before had he asked her to lead a case start to finish that wasn't counterterrorism or murders across state lines.

"What is funny about it?" she asked, shifting her weight ever so slightly.

He leaned forward and put his elbows back onto the desk, reciting the details routinely, "A middle-aged muggle was found dead in his home with distinct signs of magical foul play. His son found him, and they ruled it as a heart attack, but obviously we know differently," He picked up the file and handed it to her. She peered at it, sorting through the first couple of pages as he went on, "Two hundred miles north and eighteen hours later, a twenty-nine-year-old magical business owner was found dead in her locked office with similar traces. In both cases, there were no witnesses, no signs of a struggle, and some sort of signature left at the scene."

"Signature?" she inquired, glancing at two of the attached photos. One was a close up of a man with a thick beard laying face down a kitchen floor with a wooden spoon in his hand. The other, a woman with straight brown hair slumped forward on her desk, one brown high heel on its side a few feet from her desk.

"Yeah, I don't get it," he muttered grumpily, running his hand through his greying hair again, "These artistic freaks trying to make murder into some sort of finger-painting declaration of how their mommies didn't pay enough attention to them."

Fleur raised her eyebrows and he sighed and shook his head, "Never mind, I just hate these fuckers and their fucking symbolism. It's the only thing tying these two cases together and that classifies it as a serial investigation. Maybe you can sort out what the hell it's supposed to mean," he shrugged nonchalantly and pointed behind her. Fleur turned around and followed his finger to two brown evidence boxes stacked on top of another by his door labelled "11989-A" and "11989-B."

"Everything you need is in there. We'll meet again next week to go over it," he said abruptly. She took that as her cue to leave before he started swearing at her this time.

With a nod to her boss and a flick of her wand, she tucked the files under her arm and made her way back to her office, the two evidence boxes levitating dutifully behind her. After closing her door and unceremoniously dumping her new case details in the corner, she wrote a quick note to Harry and left again to find an available department owl. They had dinner plans, but with the amount of work now unloaded on her by a short Frenchman, she knew she would be late. Maybe she could just make it for drinks instead.

After the owl took off, she got back to her office and made her way over the evidence boxes. Pulling the lid off 11989-A, she carefully sorted through the few of the larger items catalogued by the forensics team. The victim's t-shirt and jeans were folded and zipped individually. A watch. A wallet. Two worn converse sneakers. Sifting through everything, she remembered what Julian said about a signature and began sorting faster, trying to find whatever he was referring to. Moving an evidence bag containing a wooden spoon still stained with pasta sauce, her eyebrows furrowed as she looked at the last small clear bag at the bottom of the box.

"What the hell?"


As much as she hated to admit she was wrong, Jason might have had a point. It was now the fifth day of her vacation, and Hermione couldn't exactly say she had done a lot of classically relaxing activities. She skipped the recommendation to get drunk on some tropical beach all week, and instead bumbled about her house and enjoyed what she considered to be moderately soothing tasks. She therapeutically cleaned her house the muggle way from top to bottom, baked some home-made muffins, reorganised her bookshelves, caught up on the newest transfiguration research, replaced the brake fluid on her Ducati Monster, restocked and relabelled her potion inventory, sharpened her knife collection, and cleaned her sniper rifle.

All week she made sure to keep busy because, unfortunately, she kept seeing a certain shade of blue out of the corner of her eyes. She tried not to, but every time she looked there would be nothing there. Look, she knew there was nothing there, but it kept happening anyway. It happened when she was cooking dinner and taking a shower. It happened when she was getting ready for bed and waiting for her cup of tea to steep. It happened when she was working out, and that shade of blue was like an evil spirit strategically skirting out of her vision. Each time she felt like she was going mad, and an onslaught of memories of Fleur flooded her thoughts. Wounded, wide blue eyes. Those fucking eyes. Chiselled jaw dropping slightly before it clenched. Perfect, rosy lips parted in surprise.

Hermione had to close her eyes and take a few deep breaths to shake herself out of it. She kept repeating to herself that she couldn't go back; that she didn't want to.

I can't go back. I don't want to.

She knew it was a figment of her imagination and that she was just shocked to see her, is all. She just needed time to adjust again and then it would all be okay. Nevertheless, her internal mantras didn't stop her cerulean hallucinations, and by Friday evening she decided that her cheeky trainer was right: she desperately needed to get out of her house and distract herself more effectively.

That is how the Raven found herself back in central London, her fists stuffed deep into the pockets of her black overcoat. Rain started to pelt down and she grimaced as the heavy drops dinged against the metal of the car parked in front of her. She was across the street of a prominent muggle lesbian bar, standing under the overhang of some kebab shop and watching as four high-spirited women laughed and stumbled ungracefully into the establishment, just narrowly avoiding the sudden downpour. Her fingers twitched against her palm, itching to have another cigarette but she knew she would only be stalling. Why was she doing this again?

Biting the inside of her cheek, she gave herself one more mental pep talk to suck it the fuck up and started walking, her boots splashing in the puddles that had already accumulated on the uneven cobblestones. With her head down, she hustled to the door and wrenched it open, shaking out her now-damp hair before stepping through another set of glass doors into the warm atmosphere of the dive bar.

A few curious eyes landed on her, but she kept her gaze down and made her way directly to the bar. It was always nice coming to Muggle spots. After her mishap in France, she came up with a new personal rule about disguises in public spaces, but the inside of a dingy bar in the middle of Shoreditch was different and she knew she was safe here. It was one less thing to worry about, and she grew tired of butterbeer anyway. 

Overwhelmed by the sudden temperature change, she shrugged off her coat and hung it on the coatrack. Dressed in combat boots, ripped black jeans, and a loose black t-shirt, she started walking towards the bar. Based on her initial assessment, it looked as though the place was split into two areas that were used for distinct purposes.

The first room, the one she was currently walking through, was a warmly lit bar with a handful of high tables scattered around the footprint. Twenty or so women sipped on beers and cocktails, and a catchy Fleetwood Mac song was playing from the speaker. The other room, separated by a pair of double doors, was dark, loud, and tightly packed with bodies swaying to an unrecognisable beat. Reaching the bar, she pulled herself onto a stool and waited for the bartender to make her way over. After twenty-six seconds, a thick hand slapped down on the sticky wood in front of her.

"What'll it be, love?" a brusque Northern voice asked. Yorkshire. Hermione looked up at the bartender, an overweight middle-aged woman with short grey hair and a rainbow flag necklace tucked under her neckline.

Owner. T-shirt is wet and nose is red. She just took the trash out and hasn't replaced the lining yet. Worn vocal cords. Smoker. Habitual nail-biter when stressed. Wait, previous smoker, then. She's trying to quit again and keeps chewing on them. Cat hairs on her jeans. Not married, but the age of the initials tattooed on the inside of her wrist indicates she is likely in civil partnership.

"Red wine, please," the brunette answered after a moment.

The bartender betrayed her displeasure with her order. Well, not intentionally, but Hermione could see her lip quirk and her eyes narrow fractionally.

Sneer. She has a prejudice against the wine drinkers that frequent her business. Statistically, more "feminine" presenting customers stick to the non-beer drinks, and their drunkenness irks her more than the women she can directly relate to. Considering the increasing youthfulness of the area, she is glad for the business but misses the old clientele.

A mostly clean glass of red wine was set in front of her, and Hermione turned on the charm. She donned a smile and thanked her, asking how much she owed and how her night was going. Again, the woman's stoic face betrayed her. Fractionally, but enough that she caught it.

Surprise. Relief that a younger customer is being friendly. She is sweeter than she looks. Lonely, even. Probably cries every time she watches Titanic.

They chatted for a few minutes, and the Raven found herself genuinely engaged in the light conversation. Deb, it turns out, was down a bar hand, but had thankfully gotten a hold of someone to cover before the rush came in. Another woman came up to the bar to order a drink, and the brunette internally groaned as Deb became preoccupied again.

Come on, Granger, you're a bloody mercenary for crying out loud, she thought, throwing back a healthy portion of wine before she'd have to make her way into the sea of women.

"This seat taken?"

Hermione choked, nearly spraying it all over her herself but hoping she managed to save herself by turning it into a few dry coughs. Unfortunately, even after a few painful seconds, her eyes were still watering and she very much doubted there was any suaveness to her little episode.

"Sure," she said with another small cough, gesturing to the open seat. She thumped on the centre of her chest with her fist and cleared her throat again.

The woman next to her let out an obnoxiously fake laugh, and she heard the stool scrape as a weight settled into the chair next to her.

"Haven't seen you here before," the woman said. Hermione finally glanced over, her watery eyes quickly gathering data on her new companion.

Natural blonde, but not naturally straight. Late twenties. 157cm and 60kg. Heavily contoured make-up. She thinks her face is too round. Scar on her left ear from an earring being ripped out when she was a kid. Slightly uneven shoulders. Played sports when she was younger. Paper cut on her dominant hand and angry callus on the index finger. Not used to writing a lot. Got a new admin job recently.

"Yeah, it's my first time," she replied.

"How are you liking it?" she asked, her speech slowed a little as she reached the intonation. The woman's hazel eyes were shining in the warm lighting. Her posture shifted, and the brunette catalogued the movement.

Trying to get closer. Cheeks flushed. Already drunk. Came with the brunette in the corner who keeps looking over. Not their first time. They come together pretty often. Going to be touchy once she gets comfortable. She's moving to the beat a little and will want to dance later.

"It's…familiar," Hermione answered tactfully, but the blonde didn't notice. She started talking about how long she had been coming here and how much better it was than the other place across town. The brunette smiled and nodded along, but she knew this wouldn't work. As much as Jason would struggle to believe, she had done this before. Many times, in fact, and she had a few specific prerequisites that needed to be met when she did.

Blonde was not one of them. Magical? Fine, but it could get complicated. Blue eyes? Preferably not, but if so, they'd have to turn off the lights. Tall? Maybe, but only if she was demure. French? Absolutely. Not.

They spoke cumbersomely for the five minutes or so, and Hermione decided she wouldn't want to take her home anyway. The entire conversation was filled with brief mentions of her ex. Psychologically, she probably thought this made her seem more available and sought-after, but the Raven knew it was because she was lonely and only came here hoping to run into the woman. The brunette excused herself after some time and made her way through the double doors into the other room. The deep bass from the music could be felt in her chest, and she leaned comfortably against the wall to watch the dancers.

Over the next ten minutes, the music had started changing. Bodies rolled faster and the lights got darker. It was getting hotter, and she thankfully sipped on the rest of her cold beer (she switched, much to Deb's palpable delight). Honey eyes scanned over the sea of swaying bodies, taking in the details of various women and categorising them into the unnecessary corners of her organised mind.

Attractive, but too young.

Too drunk. She'll be sick within the hour.

Daddy issues, but could be fun.

Likes to control but won't give anything in return.

Experimenting. Married to a man with two kids. 

Hermione's eyes caught a flash of red and her eyes trained on a petite woman with long auburn hair in the middle of the dancefloor. A small smile slowly crept across her face.

The woman was moving back and forth to the sensual beat, her arms sliding up over her head and her eyes closed to shut out the rest of the world. She was in jean shorts that came up to her bellybutton and a cropped white tank top left little to the imagination. A thin gold necklace kept shimmering under the pulsing lights and she had a small scripted tattoo that ran down the length of her forearm. A sheen sweat had started to form on her freckled shoulders as she continued to rock to the song.

Perfect.

The Raven downed the rest of her beer, left the glass on a nearby table, and started to make her way into the throng of pulsing bodies. The lights above her moved and flashed and the dancing figure she was focused on was fractured in picture frames. The temperature observably increased, and the heat started weighing on her as the space between the women became packed more tightly. She trained her eyes forward, weaving through everyone with a steady hand; a touch of the elbow here, a hand to the small of a back here.

She reached her winding target and stopped a few feet away, waiting. Maybe it was another kind of magic that tends to happen between humans, but it was like the woman could tell one body from the next, and that Hermione's was asking hers for something. Her fluid rhythm stopped and she opened her eyes.

Blue. Fuck. Whatever.

Energy started to build between them as they spoke in a silent conversation. Blue eyes skimmed down and back up. Hermione took half a step forward and paused, asking permission. The woman smirked. Her tongue darted out to wet her lips and her teeth captured her bottom lip for a brief moment. The brunette reached for the skin on her waist. Blue eyes lingered on her mouth and a hand came up to wrap around her neck. Hermione took another step and pressed against her. The woman shifted and guided her leg between her own, and then they began to move together.

Hips leaned and swayed. Hands clutched and explored in time with the persuasive beat of the music. The pulsing lights contoured and led them in waves of purple and black and green over the next few songs, and the brunette rolled back against the silent pressure that was mounting. The stranger's lips hovered over one of the black runes on the side of her neck. Temptation. Ironic. Short nails pulled her out of her thoughts, raking roughly against the skin at the base of her skull as they tangled into one another. A leg drove forcefully between hers before the redhead turned around and dizzyingly ground her ass back into her.

Definitely the right choice, Hermione thought with a grin before grabbing her waist and rolling in time with her.

Close to an hour later, in a dark bedroom, a breathless voice was crying out her fake name from a mouth that kept tugging painfully on her earlobe. Fingers gripped her shoulders tighter with every practised thrust of her hand until a long whine escaped from the back of the woman's throat. And then finally, as she reached farther into the fluttering warmth of the stranger straddling her lap, who shuddered and threw her head back with a low, guttural wail, was the Raven able to forget about that deep—fuckingpitiful—shade—of—fuckingblue.


Fleur stepped out of floo and into the Potter's living room at Grimmauld Place close to nine o'clock that evening. As expected, going through the new case details took ages, and though she still had to finish up her other reports she was feeling the familiar pull of curiosity at the new information. Her head was already reeling with possibilities of what could have happened, and unfortunately, none of them seemed to be very likely.

The muggle man was in the construction industry, a recent divorcee, and liked to grab a beer with his friends on the weekends after his son's football games. He liked to work with his hands and spent a night in jail once when he was in his twenties for public indecency. The business owner was a single half-blood from an affluent family up north, had a membership to the local theatre, and enjoyed painting in her spare time. She had a clean record but was well-known by her neighbours for calling the police on anyone making noise past 10 PM. Both of them, upon first glance, had absolutely nothing in common that she could connect to an underlying motive.

Fleur was hanging up her coat as Harry entered the living room, a glass of red wine in his hand. The veela groaned in appreciation, gratefully accepting the glass and giving him a quick peck to both cheeks.

"You are a lifesaver, mon ami," she said as she pulled away.

He chuckled and waved his hand, "It's no problem. I know the feeling. Come on, Ginny still has some food out if you are hungry."

The Quidditch star did, in fact, have a plethora of food out on the large island, but it was disappearing rather quickly considering she was busy eating it herself. Currently dragging a chip through some creamy sauce, she eyed Harry and the blonde entering and let out a cheer.

"Phlegm! You made it! I thought you'd be here around midnight," she exclaimed, accepting two kisses to the cheek from the veela, who rolled her eyes at the old nickname.

She grabbed a chip for herself and started to dig in beside her, "Me too, but my brain stopped working around eight and I thought it best to just give up and start again tomorrow."

"Mmmm, yeah, good move," she agreed passionately, taking a huge bit of pita bread.

"'Ow are you two? Still training, Ginny?" she asked as she filled up a small plate with some crackers, cheese, and a few pieces of fruit.

"Oh, yeah, still going. Just entering the preseason in a few weeks, so it's pretty full-on right now," she said before stuffing half a pizza in her mouth. Harry and Fleur looked at one another with a shared grimace before the blonde laughed.

"Is that why you are eating like your brother?"

"Hey," she held up a finger as she to chew through the wad of cheese and dough in her mouth. Finally swallowing with a gasp as she came up for air, she shot back, "At least I keep my mouth closed."

Fleur smiled and shook her head, "And 'ow about the baby things? Are you still trying?"

Ginny paused with the other half slice halfway to her mouth and looked at Harry with a loving smile, "We are going to wait a few more months to start again. I want to make it through the whole season, and he just got a bunch of cases dumped on him. Not the right time yet," she shrugged, and took a more respectable bite this time. 

Fleur nodded understandingly and turned to him, "New cases? Anything interesting?"

"Ugh," he groaned, "Don't get me started on it. I have three—"

"No, no, no," Ginny interrupted with a startling resemblance to her mother, "You know the rules. You get to go off and talk about all your Auror things later, but for now, we talk about normal things."

"Yeah, yeah, you're right," he relented, "How is Gabrielle?"

The veela smiled and dove into a story about how she charmed her charms professor's hat to grow every time she said 'wand.' The redhead was in tears by the end of the story when Fleur explained that the professor was standing under a hat that reached the ceiling by the time she noticed, and the little blonde troublemaker was dragged by the ear to the Headmistresses' office. 

They spent the next hour going over this and that. Luna and Neville were due to come by over the weekend, and Ron would be over sometime during the week to catch up. Eventually, Ginny determined that she had eaten too much and excused herself to digest horizontally, which left Fleur and Harry at their usual armchairs by the fireplace. A warm glow filled the cosy sitting room as the veela worked through another glass of wine and Harry sipped on a butterbeer. They watched the flames contentedly for a moment, happy to get lost in them before diving into the nuances of their long days and overworked minds.

After five minutes or so, Harry spoke up, "So how is everything, Fleur? I haven't seen you in a few weeks. Rambourg keeping you busy over there?"

She nodded solemnly, "Oui, I 'ave a few new cases this week that are going to keep me occupied for the foreseeable future."

"Yeah, me too," he sighed heavily, "My department head asked me to help out with this one down in Brighton that's connected to another one up north. Kind of a strange case..." he trailed off.

"I am sure you'll come up with something."

"Well, same goes to you," he paused and looked into the fireplace, sadness washing over his features, "I wish Hermione was here. She would have been so good at this kind of stuff."

A wave of guilt spread like bile in her gut, and she took a few moments reprieve to sip on her wine and collect herself. She knew they would talk about Hermione—they nearly always did in some way or another—but she was still riddled with this horrible feeling of shame.

She toyed with the idea of telling Harry that she saw her—she knew she should tell someone, at least, and he was obviously the best option. He would be so hurt, though if he knew, once and for all, that she had left them willingly. Fleur didn't even know what she thought about it, to be perfectly honest. She hadn't allowed herself to ruminate on it too long, thankful, for once, that she was completely slammed at work.

The fact that she saw her a week ago and hadn't told anyone was stressing her out. She was probably required to notify at least some authority that the Golden Girl wasn't dead, but she hadn't. Call it intuition, but she thought something was up. Hermione was panicked and she fled, but she was fine and healthy. She tried to understand her personal choice to disappear, but it hurt so much more than the alternatives. Fleur considered the implications of the brunette's actions over and over again this past week. She had forced herself to comprehend the brunette's choices. It was the only way she could swallow the bitter pill of rejection.

Hermione had been hurt by the war. Hurt in so many ways that she didn't expect her to ever recover from. Fleur knew this, so she slowly, slowly reasoned that she had to leave. She had to leave everyone behind without a word because that was the only way she would be able to find herself at all. 

So, if Fleur told Harry, then what? Teams would be notified and posted across the borders; floo networks would be shut down. Another huge witch hunt would be afoot to try to find the Gryffindor, and she would take herself to the other side of the world to get away from it, knowing the veela was responsible for it. It just wasn't sitting right with her. Hermione was a friend, first and foremost, and the blonde was just happy to see she was alive, even if it hurt that she left them.

That she left me.

Fleur didn't know what they had between them, but it had never been nothing. No, she didn't understand and she probably never would, but she couldn't betray her trust, even after all the pain she had been saddled with. 

"She would be," she replied softly, and he nodded, still staring into the fire vacantly. The fire cracked and she could see the shooting embers reflected in his pained green eyes. 

She changed the subject before her guilt made her do something she was going to regret, "Tell me more about this case you are working on."

Harry shook his head and gave her an appreciative smile that twisted the knife in her stomach more.

"Yeah, it's a weird one," he started, sitting up a little, "Three cases across England, but no connection between victims at all."

Fleur frowned, "That's interesting. I am working with a similar issue, actually," she said slowly.

Harry ran a hand through his messy hair, "Yeah, and the only reason we know they are connected is this little clue they keep leaving."

The veela's eyes widened, and her voice came out abruptly, "What was it?"

Green eyes looked at her and frowned when they took in her tense posture. "Um, well, they keep leaving a black feather next to the body."

"Mon Dieu," she whispered.


The Raven leaned against the doorframe. The bedroom was still dark, but she could see the outline of the pale figure quite clearly now that her eyes had adjusted. Taking a few moments to look around, she noticed a small TV in the corner and a pile of laundry on the floor by the en suite. One drawer of the dresser was open, and a picture frame of the stranger and what looked to be her brother was placed on top of it.

Her fingers twitched again. Merlin, she really needed that cigarette now. It was time to get a move on anyway. Sighing, she silently walked up to the side of the bed and ran her eyes over the moonlit skin. She was good—really good, in fairness—but this had to happen. It was easier this way and she had made mistakes before. Not anymore though. She had to be more careful.

The redhead sighed a little and mumbled something unintelligible between her soft lips. She shifted and tugged on the duvet. The brunette waited, looking at the body on the bed with a final air of appreciation as she settled onto her side with a heavy sigh. The Raven lifted her right hand and opened her palm. Her lips moved soundlessly as fingers formed an intricate pattern. A soft white glow emitted from her fingertips for a few seconds, and the woman in bed mumbled once more in her sleep, and then it was over. 

Sorry, love. It's better this way, she thought to herself before walking away, closing the door with a flick of her wrist behind her. 

Chapter Text

Eleven.

Eleven files were now on her desk. Eleven bodies found across five different countries with a black feather connection. Whoever this person was, they had been quite busy over the past two months and Fleur was at something of a loss, which was unusual for her.

There was a distinct non-pattern with the victims that, in and of itself, was a still a pattern. To the Auror, the obvious irregularities would generally mean a reduced chance of detection, but that only made sense if there wasn’t a signature. The killer had hopped across a span of one thousand miles. They had diversified their victims across muggle, magical, female, male, tall, short, black, white, and all of the above. There was no “type,” essentially, which was frustrating, but not nearly as frustrating as the murders themselves.

Outside of France, there was only one murder that had a similar cause: the Killing Curse. All other murders were committed across a range of means; poison, manual asphyxiation, pummelled to death with a blunt object, knife wounds, gunshot, and various dark curses that she had never even heard of.

The range and breadth of all comparable factors was mystifying, and it just didn’t make sense. Fleur had been wracking her brain for weeks. Who goes through all of that—all of that effort to incorporate varying victims and methods in a manner that would be otherwise impossible to track in any semblance of order or relation —only to leave a huge, stinking thumb print that connects them easily? What was the point? If there was no meaning to each kill, then fine, there was no meaning, but the obvious links were meaning in some regard. What was the statement if there was no trend across kills? Was the absence of a statement the statement? It felt like the only possible explanation at this point, but it also meant that she was nowhere near being able to get a glimpse at the killer proactively. How do you stop someone with no discernible pattern?

You don’t. Maybe that’s the point.

The only thing she had to go on were these fucking feathers. The forensic teams came back after a few days with some details on them, thankfully. They were from a single raven tail.

That was it: a raven tail. Her entire investigation was riding on the meaning behind that. She spent ages poring through various literature references and historical accounts for the significance behind a raven, and there was a surprising amount of complexity to wade through. They were seen as an omen more often than not, but that was a characteristic commonly associated with black animals. Still, the omen signification was somewhat obvious from her perspective. Eleven bodies, eleven omens. Sure, easy. The killer could have an omen thing.

The raven also symbolised omniscience and knowledge. They were considered to be wise, prophetic animals in some cultures, and the gatekeepers to the spirits of the afterlife. Fleur wasn’t quite sure how that fits into her victims, but it was still a reasonable consideration and something she’d have to keep in mind.

Overall, the case was providing too little and too much. There was too much to cover in terms of victim placement and yet there were no underlying patterns she could detect, even with her enhanced skills. She had visited a few “witnesses,” but they had conveniently all been busy, didn’t notice anything unusual, or forgot what they were doing at the time.

All she knew, without any shred of a doubt, was that she had never wanted to strangle a fucking bird more than she did now.


Beau was one of the few people in her line of work the Raven could trust. He went by a few names, depending on what he was needed for: Slug, Boomer, Goose, or Sleepy, but she liked to call him Beau, much to his chagrin. If you ask her, she thought he was secretly flattered by her personal nickname, but he'd just never admit it. Really, he would never admit it.

If you need it spelled out for you, Beau was a dealer of all things not sold at your friendly convenience store. His main choices of merchandise were guns, explosives, drugs, and poisons (hence the respective nicknames), and he was exceptionally not interested in the what happened to any of the products he pushed. Hermione liked that best about him.

Beau was probably close to seven feet tall, and about as wide as a barn door. He had thick, curly brown hair that hung in tight ringlets in a loose afro, one big diamond earring on his left ear, and biceps just about as thick as her thighs. He was a pretty domineering figure, to be fair, but the brunette knew he had a soft side somewhere in there. Granted, she had yet to really find it, but she was pretty sure he liked her. Well, mostly sure. Hermione had only seen him smile once when a guy came in to buy some Special-K and tried to talk him down on the price.

Oh, that was another thing: Beau had set prices. You didn't barter with the best, and he knew he was the best. He had a fair fee for everything and everyone knew it. Well, not that one guy, but everyone else knew it. The massive shopkeeper threw the guy outside as easily as if he were taking out the trash. On his way back in she asked if she would get the same kindness if she tried to haggle, and he smiled at her. It was more alarming than anything, like he'd never actually smiled before, and it came across as more of a menacing jeer so that was the first and last time she asked. The shop was in London, which always made her feel jumpy since she had a higher risk of being recognised, but there was nowhere else she would rather go.

Her vacation had ended over for over a month ago now, but she did end up enjoying it. She returned to work with a renewed vitality and promised herself she would take them more frequently. It was good to fool around sometimes, and though she hated using memory charms on people she slept with, it was a necessary evil. In her earlier years she got a little too close to some women and it came around to bite her in the ass. At least she had gotten rid of her hallucinations by the end of her holiday. Now that she was back, though, she'd have to refocus again. She picked up a few good surveillance jobs that helped ease her back into a routine, and just yesterday got offered a big hit she was fairly excited about.

Hermione was in the back of his shop in her usual disguise here—short brown hair, slightly longer nose, no freckles, and tattoos covered. The shop was basically just a garage, and about the size of a large shipping container. Beau only opened between midnight and sunrise for fairly obvious reasons. The shopkeeper had worked the space so there were sectioned areas depending on your interests. She was currently fiddling with a switchblade in what she called the "Pointy Things" aisle. The spring on hers was getting a little worn so she was in the market for a new one. She snapped it open again and rolled it expertly between her fingers a little, testing out the weight.

Beau was in his normal stance at the register with his arms folded. He looked guarded and a little displeased, but he pretty much always looked like that. Hermione threw the open knife in the air and watched it spin before she snatched it at the handle with her left hand. She rolled it some more between the fingers on that hand before snapping the blade shut with a satisfied hum.

She pulled out her wallet and walked over the shop owner.

He looked down at her final choice, "You look at the double action OTF?" he asked in his low baritone.

"Nah, too high tech for me. I like a bit of nostalgia."

He snorted. Hermione liked to count those as laughs in her head (she was up to thirteen now).

"Right, so what do I owe you?" she asked, putting the knife on the counter and pulling out some bills.

He looked down at her again and answered, "Two-hundred."

Hermione stopped counting and looked up with a frown, "That's not enough." These knives were military grade. It should run her close to double that.

He didn't move, but his black eyes bored into her, "My price is my price."

The brunette just shrugged with a small smile and handed over the cash, "You're too good to me, Beau."

He just grunted in response, laying the bills neatly into his money tin.

She made to leave, slipping the knife in her back pocket and grimacing as she looked out at the rain pouring down outside. Fucking England, she thought, just as her normally mute arms dealer spoke again.

"I heard a rumour," he rumbled behind her. She turned around, with a polite yet questioning look at her enormous mountain of a friend.

"A rumour?" she asked. This was unusual for him. You never talked shop in the shop—that was his general modus operandi.

"A rumour," he repeated with a curt nod, "You've heard about the hits here and across Europe."

It wasn’t a question. Hermione nodded slowly, her eyebrows coming together as she crossed her own arms. She had heard. The hits were starting to gain some notoriety in more unfavourable circles, but she was pretty clueless as to the details beyond that. She didn’t really pay a lot of mind to anyone else’s work.

"There's been a black feather left at each scene," he said simply.

"A black feather…" she said slowly. Her brain started to do that thing it always did. Everything was quiet but so, so very loud as she sifted through a hundred scenarios in the span of a few seconds. Beau kept quiet about a lot of things, but he was damn insightful, and she knew he could put some pieces together. She wasn't surprised he had guessed her little character and it's not like he knew who she was beyond that.

But the feathers. Logically, she knew what it meant, but after running a few estimations she came up blank to any sort of sensible answer. The Raven was discreet; she kept out of everyone’s way and did her own thing. Sure, she’d made some enemies, but this? She must be missing a variable somewhere. Some detail that would shed some light on an overarching theme.

Something. Someone. Fuck, think!

She couldn’t come up with an answer. She had a few vague ideas, but they were weak and she doubted they would come to any fruition. It couldn’t be that. All she knew was that this couldn't be good. Nodding to the shopkeeper again, her mind was still elsewhere as she made her way out of the shop and into the rain.

The Raven would have to check. She’d have to make sure it was true, and if it was– fuck, fuck, fuck!

"Oi," Beau called to her once again, his voice carrying across the empty parking lot despite the rain slapping against the puddles at her feet. She turned again and waited. He uncrossed his arms, shifting a little on his huge feet. "Take care of yourself," he said reluctantly.

The Raven, despite her erratic thoughts, cracked a smile at him. Her hair and clothes were soaked now as rain pelted her, but a little warmth spread in her chest at the display of kindness by her odd companion.

"Always do, Beau. I'll see you," she said, and heard him grunt before finally walking out of view and disappearing from London again.

*************************

There were always people you had to know in this line of work. Beau was the guy for the muggle “bad girl” goods, but at least he kept quiet. Petra was her contact for intelligence, but she couldn't keep her damn mouth shut, ironically. That's pretty much why she was so sought-after, though. She was a rumour-mill, always sticking her nose into other people's business and trading their secrets. And that was her currency. She didn't take cash, she took information. You had to give in order to get, and it had to be useful. Hermione had used her services a few times out of necessity, but generally speaking, she hated the business model. She liked keeping to herself and even though she wasn't giving Petra her own information, the more one person knew the more dangerous they were in her opinion.

This, however, was another necessity. Black feathers left at a dozen murder scenes? That was hardly a coincidence and she needed to backtrack and figure out who was trying to set her up. There were no friends in this game. Eventually, the people you trust turn on you. She had learned to see everyone as a threat to her, just at different stages of retaliation. Some wanted her head on a platter for dinner tonight while some still thought she could join their agency. All were dangerous, but time was the deciding factor in terms of defensive prioritization.

She reached a green door and knocked three times, paused, then knocked two more times. Her disguise was the same as the last few times she was here: a middle-aged woman with a blonde pixie cut and rather crooked teeth. She waited as three deadbolts and two chains were removed before the door cracked open and a brown eye stuck itself through the small gap.

"Hej?"

"Petra," Hermione said with a nod.

"Ahh, you are back," said with a slight Swedish accent. The door opened further, finally revealing the occupant. Petra was…a weirdo, basically. Most of the Swedes she'd met were, but Petra was a different breed of weird. Not just in appearance, either. Hermione didn't judge based on that. She was only about five feet tall, but her spiky green hair gave her an extra inch or two so that the top of her head came up to the brunette’s chin. She had one blue eye and one brown that wasn't aligned properly so she was slightly cross-eyed. Her face and ears were covered in piercings, and she had a pet iguana that hung out on her shoulder like it was the most ordinary thing in the world.

Hermione stepped over a broken shoe rack and slipped off her boots before following Petra into her living room. The carpet was littered with soda cans and empty crisp bags. Broken and dismantled electronics were thrown haphazardly into a teetering pile the corner, and a guitar with no strings was propped against the only wall not covered with wires and screens. There were six huge desktop screens set up next to one another across three desks that nearly took up all her other space. A single office chair was stationed in the middle of them, facing two of the monitors covered with complex code.

The green-haired, glorified gossip was a freelance software developer by day, but basically a hacker and internet sleuth on the side. Interestingly, she was one of the few witches the Gryffindor had met who preferred Muggle technology to magical. She said she found it more useful to her needs, despite not being Muggle-born, and she made a better living off of it. Her ability to gather information started in this very chair, but she learned she was able to build on it by maintaining "partnerships" with other unfavourable individuals in the business.

Why, considering the danger it invited? She was just ridiculously nosy and bored, at the end of the day.

Petra went to sit in the chair, and the Gryffindor took the sofa on the opposite side.

"Vatten?"

"Nej tack," the Raven replied, turning down her offering for water.

"So, what do you need?"

"Information."

"No shit," she jeered. Hermione switched her gaze to her blue eye and curbed a biting comment.

"I need to know more about the murders and who is trying to pin them on the Raven."

Petra leaned back in her chair, and the iguana shifted so its tail didn't get squished. Its beady little eye was looking right at her. She stared back at it until its owner spoke again.

"How do you know the Raven is being framed?"

Hermione just gave her a look as if to say, "Do I look like a moron to you?"

"Fine, fine! I have heard about it, yes. What can you give to me?"

"I have a few things you might like. Firstly, Conor McCarthy is running guns now out of Edinburgh."

"Really?" Petra asked, her hand coming to rest under her chin in contemplation.

"Yes, he got a shipment from Israel."

"Who?" Her eyes widened.

"Un-uh," the brunette rejected, "Answers first. Who is trying to pin the murders on the Raven?"

Petra shifted a little and the iguana moved its gaze to the corner of the room, "I don't have anything concrete yet. Just rumours. Most in the business know she’d being staged, but no one is talking too much. Some say it's Poling based on their history."

Hermione stifled a snort. Westin Poling was an idiot and she knew it likely wasn't him, but she couldn't deny that remark. They definitely had their history.

Petra continued, "Some say it's Nicolai Sandoval. The Raven is good and takes a lot of the clients from them these days, as I am sure you know."

"Hmm, okay," she nodded to herself, "Have they found anything on her yet?"

Petra clicked her tongue at her, and Hermione rolled her eyes.

She held up one finger, "Shipment was from Aviv," and then a second finger, "Kinberg is feeding information to the Polish Ministry for immunity," she stated quickly, giving her two payments. Petra's eyes widened again in glee.

"Really?" she asked, too entranced by the overload of gossip to form a decent question.

The Raven just nodded in response and waited.

Petra looked down at the lizard on her shoulder and cooed at it briefly before responding, "They don't have anything on the Raven, as expected. Even with everything I know, I don't have a clue as to who she is," Petra suddenly stopped and looked at her with her brown eye, as if she just realised she was a real person in her living room.

"Hold on. You wouldn't happen to know who the Raven is, would you?" she asked breathlessly, "The amount of information I would give you for her name is…well, let's just say I would be wildly indebted to you." Her eyes were wide with hope, but Hermione just quirked an eyebrow. She always anticipated this question.

"I don't know the Raven. I work for someone who would sorely miss her, however," she replied.

Petra's face fell a little bit, but then she was sparked again by the small nugget of information she could cling on to.

"You work for the Americans, then?"

Hermione gave her a stern look, and Petra sighed in defeat, waving her hand for her to continue. She had one more question to cash in.

"Who is heading the investigation?"

The green-haired woman hummed, "I heard the French had a team tackling it internationally, but each nation is required to have their own internal investigation, as I'm sure you know."

"I meant specifically. The lead—do you have a name?"

"Oh! Nej, buuuuut," she spun her chair around and started clicking away at her mouse, "I can find out," she said confidently.

Two of her enormous screens changed to a black background and Petra's hand was flying across her keyboard and green, pink, and white code started swallowing up the space. Hermione just stood and watched as the far screen to her right suddenly changed.

A large logo filled the screen with a login box that read: Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure. Petra was still smashing at her keyboards and the code was running some sort of algorithm as numbers and letters filled the screen faster than Hermione's eyes could keep up.

After a minute or two, the login box was filling itself out with little black dots and the far screen changed again. Petra was humming a what sounded suspiciously like a Disney tune to herself as she gained access to the French intelligence portal as easily as if she were playing solitaire. A few more searches and key words and she clicked her tongue again, indicating she found what she was looking for.

"Okay, so…the investigation is being tackled by the Parisian Police Department officially, but considering the magical victims they are using someone from the Ministry to head it under their agency," she explained, staring up at one of her screens.

"And who is that?" Hermione's eyes were trying to read from the opposite side of the room unsuccessfully.

A few more clicks and she was on another page.

"A Fleur Delacour, apparently. Head of International Crime and Counterterrorism at Parisian Police. I imagine she does something similar with the Ministry."

Of-fucking-course she does.


The veela could tell she was being followed. They were pretty sly, truth be told, but she had an eye and an ear for this sort of stuff. The first indication was a shadow more than anything. On the way to work, she spotted the distinct shaded outline of a person in an alcove across the street from the place she normally apparated to. On this particular day she was about ten minutes early, but once she rounded the corner to get a look into the alcove she was disappointed. It was empty except for a few cardboard boxes, and the shadow was gone.

Fleur knew it was Hermione. It made her want to laugh that the Golden Girl, as clever as she was, didn't realise she had a nose like a bloodhound—she could smell her from a hundred yards away. Being a quarter veela meant she didn't transform, but she still carried certain creature traits. Her reflexes, strength, and sense of sight and smell had always been far above human capabilities, and her thrall was quite inhibiting when she needed it to be. All things considered, it wasn't too difficult to pick out who was tailing her. It helped that she had all but lived with the woman for over a month at one point, in which she memorised her scent as much as her ex-husband.

When she first got to Shell Cottage, the Gryffindor smelled of freshly laid asphalt. The dark magic flowing in her veins was so thick and oppressive and it made her dizzy with how strongly it filled the room. By the end of her stay she knew her true scent, however. It was something reminiscent of the smell before rain, coffee in the morning, and worn books with cracked spines. Admittedly, Fleur grew to love her unique fragrance. It was light, yet musky, and it made the hairs on the back of her neck stand up when she got a whiff of it a month ago after seeing her in France.

So, Hermione was tailing her. She'd caught her scent around the Ministry, near her home, and all places in between. Fleur apparated randomly sometimes to throw her off, and somehow the woman still found her within the hour. Days had passed now, however, and the veela was expecting the brunette to come up to her at some point. Talk to her. Leave a message. A fucking writing on the wall. Anything! She must have had a reason for the incessant stalking, but as the week crept on Fleur was getting more frustrated with the lack of initiation. She had tried spotting her, but she had only seen the shimmer of a Disillusionment charm once. Every other time it was just a faint, faraway scent - like she was in the air or something. 

She wished she was more patient. It had been five years, yes, but she had her limits and this was starting to feel mildly invasive. Now, it was late afternoon, and she left work a little early to get a head start on the weekend. She apparated to a narrow allow by her flat that was nearly always empty. Fleur tried not to scowl when she caught the familiar aroma as the breeze shifted. She was here, of course. 

The blonde kept walking, keeping her expression neutral as she crossed a busy intersection and skirted down a smaller lane to get home. She was in jeans, sneakers, and a lavender blouse, and silently thanked her choice of outfit because enough was enough already. A week of this and she was done. She wanted answers and she was going to get them. Why the hell was Hermione following her? What did she want? And why didn't she just stay last time if she was so interested in what she was doing? Couldn't they just catch up like normal people?

Fleur took her normal route home for a while, knowing the brunette was following her familiar pattern easily now. She could tell by the strength of her scent that she was closer today. On foot, hopefully. The blonde took a left turn at the light post. Another left. Straight, to the end of the road, then a right after the fire hydrant. After turning the corner, she took a detour to the right and hid in a small nook where the entryway for three apartment doors met, surrounded by grey stoned tiles. Then she waited, holding her breath.

She couldn't see her, but a wave of coffee and rain wafted by, and the veela flicked her wand to remove the impressive invisibility charm the brunette had placed on herself before grabbing her wrist and pulling her into the nook with her. The only thing she saw were brown eyes widening in surprise before Fleur threw her into the wall and slammed her body against her, using her moment of imbalance to her advantage. Her front pressed tightly to the brunette's back, she moved again to keep her there.

One of Fleur's hands remained tight around her right wrist, pinning it to the wall. The brunette's other arm was trapped in between her body and the wall at an awkward ankle. From what she could see and feel, Hermione didn't have a wand, but the blonde assumed she was probably more than adept at wandless magic by now. Fleur quickly slid her hand down further, wrapping it over her closed fist so she couldn't manoeuvre her exposed fingers. The veela's other hand—her left—had her wand pressed sharply under the Gryffindor's exposed jawline. Fleur pushed her chest forward harder, spreading her feet and positioning herself more securely. She heard a groan as the younger woman struggled against her.

"Rebonjour 'Ermione,” she said in a mockingly sweet voice, “It’s lovely to see you too. Now, may I ask why you are following me?” She kept her voice low lest they were overheard. Thankfully, this little neighbourhood was nearly always deserted during the daytime, but it didn't mean they couldn't get unlucky.

"Fleur, get the fuck off me," Hermione gritted through clenched teeth, bucking her hips back and trying to pull the hand out of her grip. The blonde had to admit she was strong, but it would take a lot more than this. The veela's muscles were already shaking in anticipation; the mostly dormant creature in her blood readying for a fight or flight response from the brunette. She gripped her fist tighter, feeling a knuckle pop as she pressed her wand farther into her neck.

"Non, tell me why you are following me," she whispered harshly in her ear. The brunette’s cheek was pressed firmly against the wall, but Fleur could see her intelligent eyes darting side to side, calculating her way out. She readied herself for an attempt to escape, but brown eyes closed for a moment before she spoke again.

"Mere curiosity. Now get off of me, or I am going to hurt you," she said between sharp breaths. Her voice was low and impatient, and the veela stilled at the threat, her heart fluttering for a moment before she regained her composure.

Now that she was closer, the veela was stunned by how striking she looked and her scent was nearly overbearing as it invaded her sharp senses. Hermione was wearing a pair of fitted jeans and a black cable-knit jumper. A few tattoos of some strange symbols snaked up the side of her neck, covering the few scars Fleur knew were still there, and she had three small silver hoops dangling from her ear. Her hair was up in a loose bun with a few wisps framing her face, and a little dark makeup around her amber eyes made them stand out against the grey tiles.

"I don't think that you are in a very good position to make threats, ma cherie," Fleur replied haughtily, “Tell me what you want,” she pushed her hips in farther and the brunette groaned again against the wall.

"I'm warning you, Fleur" she growled through her teeth, her eyes still closed shut.

"I want to know why you are following me," the veela repeated, but her arrogance got the better of her when the back of Hermione's head slammed into her nose a moment later.

"Putain de merde!” she yelled, losing her hold on her as she instinctively grabbed her nose. Blood starting to run into her mouth. She looked back at the Gryffindor, but she was gone from the wall.

What the hell…?

Her legs suddenly buckled, and she fell to her knees onto the stone floor. Her wand arm was grabbed and twisted behind her back as an arm wrapped tightly around her neck. Hermione kept bending the arm back and tightening the chokehold.

"Drop it," she said firmly from behind her, her tone leaving no room for discussion. Fleur was feeling riled, however, and considered not letting go of her wand. Evidently, Hermione caught onto her line of thought and she tightened her hold even further. Blood was dripping down the back of her throat and the constriction around it was making it hard to breathe. As much as she hated to submit, she really didn't want to pass out right now. With a strangled groan she dropped it, hearing it clatter and roll somewhere to her left.

"I told you to get off me," the brunette said simply, relaxing her grip slightly. The blonde took a deep gulp of fresh air.

She's just as arrogant as me, she thought before she took another half-breath and braced her core. Fleur tucked her chin under the brunette's arm and simultaneously reached up behind her with her free hand. She gripped the back of a sweater tightly and crunched her body down as best she could, knowing it would throw off her captor's balance. Pulling hard on her sweater, she ducked a shoulder, feeling her weight roll over her as the momentum pulled the Gryffindor over the kneeling blonde and flat onto her back on the stone tiles.

"Oooft!" she heard as the air left her lungs upon impact.

Fleur stood up, spitting the pool of blood that had collected in her mouth into the corner of their semi-private stone nook. She walked over to the brunette breathing heavily on the cold floor. She stood over her, looking down at bright eyes that were completely indiscernible, but blazing with intensity. 

"And I,” she grit out between blood-soaked teeth, “told you to tell me why you are following me."

A slow smile stretched across Hermione's face. 

Merde.

Chapter Text

The Raven smiled up at her from the floor. She didn't exactly expect to get into a fight with her beautiful stalking victim, but this was turning out to be quite the afternoon. In fact, she was more or less just watching her over the past week to see where her investigation landed her. She hoped the blonde might have some leads she could follow on her own. Somehow, the veela caught onto her, even though she was in her animal form for the majority of the week. She’d have to put a pin in that.

Alas, things were not going to plan, but it's not like she could just roll over now. Fleur was looking down at her with livid eyes and blood running down her mouth and chin. Her straight white teeth were bright red when she spoke. The brunette's hand still hurt from where she had crushed it and she was just about catching her breath again from being slammed onto her back. It was all quite frightening and…oddly arousing. Another pin would be needed for that one.

Hermione lingered on the strange realisation for just a moment before swinging her legs around abruptly.

Kani Basami: one leg behind knees, one in front of pelvis. Rotate hips. 

Fleur was thrown backwards with the sudden off-balance, and Hermione clambered to get behind her. They grunted and cursed in French and English as they wrestled and rolled on the floor, but she finally got into the position she wanted. The brunette wrapped both her legs around her from behind as Fleur struggled to get her off. She squeezed, tucking a heel between her legs as her arm tightened around her neck again. Hands grabbed at her forearm.

Submit, submit, she pleaded, tightening the hold more. She’s going to lose consciousness in twenty seconds.

Fleur suddenly heaved herself forward into a seated position, bringing the surprised brunette off the ground with her before slamming her back down and breaking the arm hold around her throat. She flipped so they were facing one another with the blonde between her legs, and Hermione tried to get a grip on her again, but the veela felt like a bloody tank and almost had her wrists in her strong grip. She ran another assessment of her options.

Fifteen percent chance you’ll get out of a pin. Move.

The brunette twisted her arm and checked her hips, pushing off the floor with her right leg to roll them once again before scrambling to untangle herself and stand up. The veela stood more slowly, her own breath coming back. She was still bleeding from her nose steadily, her narrowed eyes dark and dangerous. Hermione grimaced as she backed up out of the nook, flicking her hand towards the Frenchwoman and incanting a spell wordlessly to stop the bleeding and clean her up a little.

The blonde was still stalking towards her, either not noticing or completely ignoring her moment of compassion. The Gryffindor was retreating into the empty street taking in as many details as she could. Fleur looked wildly incensed by this point, but Hermione was having more fun than she'd had in ages. She stopped in the middle of the street as the veela gained on her. Planting her feet in a readying stance, she cocked her head, waiting and watching her body language.

Fleur stopped early, though, and the brunette saw her eyes lighten to a bright, electric blue. Interesting. They just stared at one another for a moment, heavy breaths echoing around them. Hermione could see her calculating, thinking of ending it here, but the brunette didn't want it to be over yet. Not yet.

Piss her off.

Relaxing her posture a little, Hermione beckoned her closer with her index finger and goaded her with a cocky smile, "Don't be scared, Fleur. Come to daddy."

That did it. Fleur's eyes actually turned black, and her nostrils flared as she stepped closer again with an enraged growl. Hermione telegraphed each frame of her incoming stance.

Weight shifting to back foot. Incoming left jabDodge, then respond with your own to diaphragm. 

She avoided the quick left, and her own fist connected, but man Fleur's toned stomach felt like it was made of marble. She retracted her fist and flexed it a few times. The veela was smiling back at her now, a menacing look written clearly in her black eyes. She was prepared for that one.

Okay, it's on, the Gryffindor smirked back as the blonde's weight shifted to the left again.

You're too close. She will attempt a grab. Another blow, then roll and reset. 

Hermione knew she needed to stay on her feet. She was scrappy and resourceful on the ground, but Fleur had a height, weight, strength, and reach advantage over her, and she was not naïve enough to think she didn't know what she was doing by this point.

The veela's left hand reached out for the grab and the brunette leaned back, letting it shoot past her before gripping her wrist and swinging her own left elbow to connect with her jaw. She kept pulling, using her momentum against her as the veela’s right swing clipped her cheek and cut open the skin below her eye. She let go of her wrist and ducked from another grab attempt. 

Now reset.

A sudden flash of silvery blonde caught her eye before her feet left the floor entirely as the veela fully tackled her in the middle of the street.

Merlin, she is so fucking hot, she thought in mid-air before landed on her back with a deep grunt. Shooting pain seared down her spine. It felt like a truck had run into her, and the weight on top of her was shifting but she couldn’t make her lungs inflate yet. She wheezed and coughed, trying to find her breath again with her back aching against the rough cobblestones. There was a pressure on her pelvis, and she opened her eyes again to see Fleur straddling her hips with her wand pointed directly between her eyes.

Fuck.

Realistically, she figured she’d summon it eventually, but that meant this had to end—whatever this was. They were breathing heavily. Fleur still had blood all over herself and she was fuming, black anger lacing the blue in her eyes. Hermione's chest hurt with each breath, but she wasn't ready for it to be over yet. She slowly raised her empty hands in surrender.

"Cheater," she said breathlessly, disappointment laced in her voice. Fleur's eyes narrowed. The wand didn't move.

"What 'ave you gotten yourself into, 'Ermione?" she asked sadly, defeatedly.

*************************

Hermione was looking up her, reading her again. With a gleam in her eyes she raised her forehead, pressing the wand harder against her skin. It was another challenge, but Fleur was tired. Sighing, she dropped her wand back to her side. It wasn't surrender if she didn't know how to win this stupid game.

The Gryffindor tilted her head at the act and her gaze softened. Her cheek was cut and bleeding slightly, and her sweater was torn at the shoulder. In a strange moment of déjà vu, the veela's heart was thudding in her chest, feelings of anger and danger being quickly replaced by desire in her close proximity.

Instead of more aggression, honey eyes roamed over her face, looking oddly concerned despite being the reason for her injuries. She slowly moved her hands lower, tentatively, until her palms rested on the tops of her thighs. Even through her jeans, Fleur’s skin felt like it was on fire and she fought the urge to close her eyes at the light caress. A million thoughts swam around her conflicted head, but only one surfaced that she truly needed the answer to.

"W—Why did you—"

"Don't," the brunette interrupted, her eyes flashing in warning.

The air was heavy between them with the weight of five years of things unknown and unsaid. Hermione rolled her head to the side and looked away. Fleur watched her eyes make some sort of decision before they came back, resolved. Just like the Shrieking Shack, she had no say in the matter.

"I told you to be careful, remember?" she said. Fleur could see her throat bob when she swallowed. She had the strange desire to lean forward and kiss it. Hermione was looking at her lips. She swallowed again, "Just…please be careful."

"'Ermione, don't you dare—"

The brunette grimaced and Fleur sank hard onto the cobblestones as the weight underneath her disappeared into thin air.

"Son a bitch!!

Fleur was left swearing in the middle of the street between angry huffs. Her jaw was killing her; her nose was throbbing; her thoughts were racing.

Can she disapparate without a wand? What was with the fistfight? And why the hell does she always have to disappear like we are in some muggle movie? 

She kicked over a garbage bin in frustration and walked back over to the nook to pick up her wand. Resting her back against the wall, she mulled over what the hell just happened and caught her breath.

That wasn't exactly how she thought her confrontation with the brunette would go. She thought if she ever spoke to the brunette again, she would calmly and collectively explain how much her absence had hurt her. She would ask her questions and listen wholeheartedly to her reasonings without judgment. She didn't expect to have an all-out brawl in the middle of Paris, and she definitely didn’t anticipate the frenzied rage she still felt in her shaking muscles.

Calm and collective, my ass, she thought.

The physical escalation was surprising, but now was she more than certain some of those rumours were true: Hermione Granger was some sort of illegal…something. Not many people were so cunning and impressive in hand-to-hand combat unless they were Aurors, and obviously, she wasn't one. It would explain her reluctance to be seen and why she scampered off the other day. So, who was she working for? Was she on her own, or a part of a larger operation? What was the extent of her skillset? Was she…hurting people, or was more operational? Regardless of the answer, Fleur was slowly becoming aware of the sense of responsibility that came with this information.

On one hand, Hermione was a friend. She had helped her recover from one of the most traumatic events of her life—if not the most—and she had become incredibly fond of the witch over those weeks. Well, fond didn't seem to cut it, now that she thought about it. She hadn't stopped thinking about her all these years. Truthfully, seeing her was wildly confusing. The brunette was beautiful, intelligent, captivating, but fucking hell did she want to throttle her today.

On the other hand, however, the Gryffindor was dangerous. Evidently, dangerous, powerful, and exceedingly elusive. Fleur's duty as an Auror was fairly straightforward when it came to people like her.

Her eyebrows knitted together. If she could disappear without a wand that whole time, why didn't she do that from the beginning? She could have saved herself a headlock and some. Perhaps she wanted the interaction? Did she really want to hurt her? That seemed unlikely. Fleur noticed her smiling more than once, and that fucking cocky smirk set her blood on fire. Was she just toying with her the whole time? Maybe she was testing her. Feeling her out? Or perhaps this was all a big joke to her and she just wanted a sparring session? The veela wasn't sure, but she knew the brunette surprised the hell out of her with her athleticism, and she wasn't exactly put off by it.

But then, her gentle touch at the end; her concern. And when she spoke, it was like no time had passed at all, yet Fleur could feel more weight to her cryptic words.

I told you to be careful, remember?

What was that supposed to mean? Was that a threat? A warning? Things at work were starting to get strange, and her cases weren't making sense at all. Did Hermione know something about them? Was she involved? Was she okay?

She didn't know if it was the back of a skull to the face or the overwhelming amount of information she was trying to process, but Fleur was getting a splitting headache.

"I need a fucking drink," she grumbled to herself, before kicking off the wall and disapparating directly in front of her wine collection.

__________________________________________________________________

118, 132, 144…Shit, passed it.

She titled to her left and hooked a quick U-turn, gaining a little more height with a few beats of her black wings. Slowing down a little this time over the cluster of building to her right, she tried again.

She glided gently towards a wrought-iron gate across the street, beating her wings a few more times to slow her incoming momentum. Gripping the gate with her claws, she cocked her head to listen to the surroundings.

A car alarm was going off in the distance, and someone down the lane had just thrown a few bottles in their recycling bin. Other than that, there was nothing out of place. It was just a residential neighbourhood, after all; a copy and paste of semi-detached brick home after semi-detached brick home, in no outstanding order or fashion. The curve of copies down the mellow lane was much like the street she grew up on, actually. Easy to get lost in and easy to stand out in, but now wasn’t the time to get into that.

The Raven watched the house for close to an hour, much longer than she normally would. The sun had fallen and she knew the air was cold but she couldn’t feel it. She just kept watching until her sensitive ears caught a distinct pop in the distance. She waited another ten minutes, studying the curtains across the street with a beady black eye. The sun’s absence cast started to cast more shadows from the light inside, and finally, a shape moved across the living room. A silhouette she knew well. She stretched her wings and beat them against the cool air up into the darkening sky.

The jet-black bird disappeared from view, but a few moments later a young brunette woman with straight hair and clear skin was standing on the doorstep of the same house. She knocked lightly and waited.

The door creaked open, and the brown eye peering down at her through the gap widened when it spotted her under the porch light. The oak door opened further and she gave a small smile before entering the familiar home.

It reminded her a little bit of her own home these days. Papers were strewn everywhere but there was still a general neatness that was hard to describe and even harder to recognise if you weren’t the owner of the mess. The living space was filled with trinkets and innovations of every size, shape, and style. The air was filled with a strange, multidimensional smell that always seemed to invade her senses in waves when she crossed the threshold.

On the wooden coffee table, a quill scratched across an open journal. Six glass tumblers were filled with a swirling bright blue liquid at various stages of luminescence. A thermometer kept rotating between them in steady intervals, and the quill would scratch the results down.

Behind the worn leather couch was a hovering ball of what looked to be small black beads. They looked like the little rubber bullets she would find by the park she played at when she was in primary school, but they moved like magnets or something just as remarkable. It was as if there was an outside force acting upon them, and all of a sudden the beads would shift and reshape. They would buzz around in crazed patterns and then settle into slower, undulating waves. She watched them for a few moments before moving on.

She walked past the other experiments and side-projects without much of a second glance: a shapeshifting form in a cage in the corner; ten Velcro-looking straps next to a stack of black boxes on a side table; a small pile of dissected wands; a full-length mirror that rippled when she passed, like someone had thrown a pebble onto liquid mercury.

They entered the kitchen together and Miles, the homeowner, half-heartedly apologised for the state of chaos. Tinctures and beakers were all over the place, and no less than four cauldrons were simmering on the dining table, varying in colours and endogenous smells. Hermione shook off her coat and hung it on a kitchen chair before plopping down comfortably.

“Nothing I haven’t seen before,” she said with another smile.

Miles chuckled and the brunette watched as he anxiously tried to tidy up. He picked up his wand and a simple flick sent two dented lids flying onto the bubbling cauldrons and the herbs and extract bottles back into the cupboards.

This was the home of, arguably, her only friend in this day and age. Miles and she met after a few months into her new life. It was a strange experience actually—one she could hardly forget.

She was working at the muggle book shop under a fake name with a heavy glamour at the time. She was putting away a few classics when the bell jingled at the front of the store. She peered through the gap in the shelves to get a good look. The first thing she noticed was how tall the customer was. He had to duck a little under the small doorframe, but most men didn’t. He was muscular but skinny, like a cyclist without the crazy quads. One of those body types that ate everything and struggled to gain any weight. His short brown hair was a little damp from the rain coming down outside.

It wasn’t exactly freezing out, but it was October in England and Hermione thought it was odd that he was only dressed in a faded t-shirt and jeans. She finished putting away the small stack of books in her hand and made her way over. He was hovering between two stacks, and his throat bobbed up and down a little as he read the category descriptions.

“Can I help you find anything?” she asked, coming nearer. He turned his hips to look at her without shifting up his feet. The Gryffindor could tell from that alone that he was fairly laid-back and had limited interest in how other people perceived him.

“I’m alright, thanks,” he replied slowly in a distinct southern accent. He looked up and down at her, and his brow furrowed for a split second.  

She nodded just as slowly and replied with, “Well, if you need anything let me know,” she turned around to head to the back of the store.

“You’re a witch,” he said suddenly, and she froze mid-step. Her fist clasped by her side. Sure, she had been practising wandless magic for a few months, but she was nowhere near adept enough to duel or even defend herself at this point. She hoped she wouldn’t have to, and she silently thanked her luck the store was empty aside from the two of them.

Turning slowly, her jaw tightly clenched, she appraised the customer more thoroughly.

Relaxed posture. Dirt under his fingernails and a cut on his thumb. Works with his hands. Left arm hanging awkwardly away from his hip. He’s got a wand holster on his forearm and he’s not used to it. Right-handed. Bulky cell-phone in his front pocket. Likely Muggle-born.

He raised his hands up as her eyes ran over him, “I mean no harm,” he continued quietly, “I can just tell.”

She narrowed her eyes, still not relaxing her stance, “How can you tell?”

His face suddenly split into a huge smile, and he took a step towards her. She moved back at the same time and his giddiness fell a little. He ran a hand over the back of his neck sheepishly, “Sorry, I-uh, I know that’s probably a bizarre conversation starter. I’m a researcher. I do a lot of work on magical signatures and yours is pretty strong,” he explained.

“Magical signatures? You can isolate them?” her interest piqued. She relaxed a little, fairly certain he wasn’t going to harm her.

“Well, that’s what I’m trying to find out! It’s fascinating stuff, really,” he rambled enthusiastically, digging his hands into his jean and bouncing on the balls of his feet, “I’ve learned that you can harness some magical properties, but not others. It depends on a few constraints and it’s been a real challenge to get right.”

A huge grin still plastered across his face. She determined that this stranger, however affronting in some respects, was non-threatening. She could normally detect lies quite easily, and his openness and eagerness were palpable. He was positively giddy now, and Hermione felt like she was speaking to an oversized puppy.

She didn’t know if this was wise. Her aim was to get away from the magical world, and this could potentially be a hairline fracture in the beginnings of the steady ossification she been fortifying for months. Then again, she knew she’d realistically have to come back, and it’s not like he had to know who she was, right? The prospect of chatting with someone doing their own research on such a fascinating topic was swaying her resolve considerably. It couldn’t hurt, and she could tell he wanted to talk about it just as much as she wanted to hear about it.

She stuck out an unblemished, glamoured hand, “I’m Jean,” she said. His smile grew and his brown eyes twinkled as he pressed his own hand into hers with a firm grip.

“Miles,” he said.

That visit began their strange friendship. Miles visited her a few more times at her Muggle bookshop that year, but eventually she told him she would be moving on and he offered his address if she ever wanted to catch up. She didn’t for some time, but his innovations and research were as addicting as his unpretentious personality.

They formed a unique bond over the next few years. She went to visit him every couple of months to chat about his newest projects, and slowly they began to work on projects together. He didn’t know anything about her ‘job,’ but she played off her interests in certain topics as ad-hoc projects from current clients. Miles didn’t care. He just wanted to get stuck into things that were unexplained. He was quiet and nerdy, but together they built a fairly impressive little lab of inventions and magical research findings, some of which had helped her immensely on a few assignments.

Miles set a cup of tea in front of her and she burned her mouth on a greedy gulp. He took the seat opposite her and appraised her, his brown eyes twinkling despite his poor kitchen lighting.

“You look like shit, Jean,” he said through a smirk, and she glowered over the lip of her steaming mug.

“Yeah, well, you look a bit peaky yourself,” she mumbled, and he gave an enthusiastic hum and nodded, his eyes on the kitchen counter behind her.

“Work’s been busy,” he shrugged, “I’m lucky if I can squeeze ten hours of research in a week at this rate.”

“I definitely share your sentiments there,” she spoke quietly, but his sharp ears picked it up.

“Busy on your end as well I take it? I thought you just had a holiday!” he grinned, mischief sparking in his warm eyes.

“See? I told you, this is why I don’t take vacations. You end up coming back to twice the work that has to be done in half the time.”

“Yeah, yeah, cry me a river. We all know you love to be busy, you psycho,” he waved a hand and she tried to glower again but she knew a smile was breaking through. He chuckled and took a sip of tea, and a comfortable silence settled between them. She peered into the closest cauldron, humming to herself as the swirling pattern on the surface of the purple solution.

“Dreamful sleep,” he explained. She looked back at him with a quirked eyebrow. He smiled, giddiness spreading across his face as they always did when he started talking about his research.

“I was thinking, you know, what if you wanted to sort of like, experience a dream state?” his hands started waving around, punctuating each word, “So I replaced the lavender with Voacanga Africana, but it’s pretty psychedelic so I may have to tone it down. I kept valerian and mucus, but we’ll see. I think I might have to increase the mucus. Doesn’t seem thick enough to me,” he rambled, his eyes off in the distance as he watched the swirling pattern.

Hermione watched it too, her brow furrowed as she considered his problems. Mucus would thicken it, but it could also reduce the effects of the active ingredients.

She looked back to him, “No mucus, but extend the brew time two minutes and add 50% more nettle. Should thicken as it interacts with the wormwood and you won’t lose the integrity.”

His eyes lit up as she spoke and he leaned over to his right in a frantic search for his notebook in an unorganized pile of papers on the table.

“Nettle! Bloody brilliant. Can’t believe I didn’t think of that,” he whispered humbly, writing down the recommendations in penmanship that looked a four-year-old had done it.

“You can repay me with another project,” she said deftly, and he looked up in surprise.

“Oh? Anything fun this time?”

“Well, I think it’s pretty cool. How familiar are you with Animagus scent?”

The gleam in his eyes told her he was not, but that he would soon remedy that.


She was waiting behind the mirror of the interrogation room. A man in his late thirties with a startling bald patch was whistling to himself and drumming his fingers against the metal table. Every so often he would stop, and the drumming would cease. He’d look around, his curious eyes glancing over her steady gaze in the mirror before looking to the blank wall in front of him. He’d sit still for less than a minute before he was whistling again. His fingers continued their drumming.

A fidgeter. Good, I like those. 

This wasn't a suspect. She still didn't have any of those after another month of dead ends. This man—Fleur looked at the notes again in her hand again—Jonathan Fauvet, was an American expat currently living in Rome. He worked in the corporate office of a meat packaging plant, and apparently had a tip-off about her murder case. Normally she'd just do this interview in her office, but she had a strange feeling about how this was going to go. It was very unusual to get any useful information on a serial murder case, so she thought the interrogation room might be better suited for her needs considering how high-profile this case had become.

Fleur closed the file and opened the door to the room.

Jonathan's eyes widened as he watched her self-assured stride into the room. She took a seat and crossed her legs. His bulging eyes watched the movement. The veela refrained from glaring as he got control of himself. He was a Muggle, so the magical element of her thrall was less inhibiting, but she could tell he was still affected by her presence.

"Monsieur Fauver," she started, opening his file and pulling out a muggle pen from the pocket of her blazer. He seemed to collect himself and shook his head. She continued, "Thank you for giving us a call. You may call me Detective Delacour—I am the lead on the string of murders you claim to have some information about."

The man shifted uncomfortably in his seat and took a drink of water, trying to avoid looking at her. Fleur waited. Men like this can never deal with silence for too long, and they tend to overtalk once they get going.

Another sip of water.

Fleur clicked her pen a few times.

He cleared his throat, “I just want to make sure I’m not gonna get into any trouble for this. I’m not, right?”

She stifled a sigh, “I will remind you that you asked for this meeting. If you feel the information you are providing will implicate you, then I would suggest we continue with a lawyer present. If not, you may continue,” she gave him a small smile and gestured for him to continue. The smile did it. His posture relaxed a little and he let out a long breath.

He looked longingly at his glass of water but didn’t take a sip this time. A bead of sweat on his forehead shone against the fluorescent lights. Fleur waited.

"They call her The Raven," he finally said. She raised an eyebrow, as if unimpressed by the answer, but the speeding train inside her brain was slamming on its brakes. She swallowed and shifted a little in her seat. She clicked the pen again.

"Her?" the Auror questioned, trying to keep her voice in check.

"Yeah” he nodded, “It's a woman, but no one knows who she is or what she really looks like. She always has disguises and can change the sound of her own voice, apparently. Who knows how. She moves around, and never keeps the same contact information longer than one job."

Oh, this can't be good, she thought, her stomach dropping the more he went on.

"And…what does the Raven do?" she asked lightly.

"She murders," he answered immediately, and Fleur furrowed her brow. His forehead was shiny with sweat and he took another drink before continuing, "She's a serial killer. It started off as a job, I think. You know? Like people hired her to kill, but she got cocky, some say. She started to like it. And now she seeks people out on her own."

Fleur's mind was trying to process this quickly. Too many details were missing. She started with logistics.

"'Ow did people contact 'er for jobs before?" the blonde asked. The question surprised him, and his eyebrows drew together.

"Oh, um, I'm not sure. My people are in the business, and they said they just always had a way to reach her if they needed a job done. Said she got back to them quickly, usually."

The veela hummed but didn't follow up with another question. He was squirming again after twenty seconds.

"She, uh, she likes the kill, apparently. Some people think she was wronged, and some think she's just a crazy bitch with some deadly skills, but she can't control herself now and she needs to be stopped."

Fleur watched him as he spoke. Maybe it was his nervous demeanour, but something wasn't sitting right about this. It was both obvious and abnormal. Too easy, almost. It was time to change her tactic. She began clicking her pen over and over in an irksome rhythm. She waited until he glanced at her hand before she stopped and asked, "And what do you think?"

"Me?"

"Oui, you," she indicated with her other hand to the empty room aside from the two of them.

"Well, I dunno. I'm not supposed to tell you what I think. I'm supposed to tell you what I know."

"See, that interests me," the blonde said, leaning forward on her elbows. His eyes darted to her breasts before he looked back up at her. She could see beads of sweat forming on his upper lip. She pressed the end of the pen onto the metal table and started making intricate, nonsensical designs. The light scraping sound was enough to draw his attention. His eyes kept bouncing between the pen and her feigned oblivious expression.

She laid the accent on a little thicker, "Why throw zis Raven under the bus, knowing she iz so dangerous? Do your 'informants' not value your safety, and vice versa?" she asked sweetly, tilting her head a little as if she was worried for him.

"Uh—uhh, I never thought—"

She kept dragging the pen across the metal, "And if zat's ze case, zen I would zink getting protection would be your 'ighest priority. Considering 'ow skilled you claim 'er to be, I am sure she will know if she is wronged in any way, non?"

"Umm, y—yes, I suppose she would. I—"

"And if you are, in fact, assured of your safety, zen I would inquire as to 'ow zat can be so," she furrowed her brow in mock confusion. 

"W-Well, I am pretty sure I—"

Fleur cut him off again, losing all the softness in her voice, "Why are you coming forward with this information?" she asked, leaning back in her chair.

His eyes bugged a little at her change in tone before he could school his features. He cleared his throat, "W—Well, like I said, she's dangerous, and I thought the authorities should know all the details so they can stop her."

"But your informants are,” she held up both hands to air quote, “'in the business,' as you 'ave described, and the Raven 'murders,' as you mentioned. This leads me to believe your contacts 'ave their 'ands in various illegal activities. So, excuse my confusion, but why put themselves at risk to bring forward a name for a string of crimes they are not responsible for?"

He finally stopped talking, evidently realising where she was going with this.

Fleur continued, her icy blue eyes boring into him, "Unless, of course, your employers have ulterior motives for bringing forward that name. In which case, I still might recommend that you seek protection considering the minimum sentence for perjury in France is ten years, but I thank you for the lead regardless," she left a heavy pause, "I will follow up on it, Monsieur Fauver—you can be assured of that. Merci."

With that, she scooped up his file and left, her stomach in knots and her mind racing. This couldn't be good. Her already complicated case just got a lot more complex, and she was pretty sure a certain freckled brainiac was wrapped up in the middle of it. Whether or not she was innocent…well, she probably wasn't innocent, but whether or not she committed these murders in particular, Fleur would have to see.

For now, she had to deal with a more pressing problem: How the hell do you find someone who is an expert at not being found?

Chapter Text

"Okay, ready?" Miles asked, slipping his goggles back on over his eyes.

"Ready," Hermione nodded, her eyes cast forward towards the small object in the middle of the messy garden.

"Three…two…one…," he flicked his wand.

The ground pulsed under her boots and a loud explosion rang out. A small plume of black smoke rose from the object, rolling upwards until it met the top of their wards where it dispersed in all directions. Miles ripped off his goggles with a grin and bounded over to the site. Hermione got out from behind her makeshift blockade and wiped the dirt off the back of her khakis. She pulled her goggles up to her forehead and grabbed the black notebook on the lawn chair next to her.

Her pen poised over the chart, she called out to Miles, "Readings?"

Miles flicked his wand again and a tape measure stretched across the lawn. He tilted his head and called back, "24.5 by 18-centimetre footprint," he flicked his wand again and a thermometer stuck itself into the centre of the brown box, "141 Celsius. Aaaand, let's see," he reached over to the decibel meter they had placed nearby. "Huh, still 120 dB," he frowned, staring down at the object.

Hermione set down the notebook after logging everything in the corresponding columns and made her way over.

Standing beside his towering form, she looked down at the fortified brown box. It was filled with gunpowder and a newly designed magical compound they created intended to silence the reaction upon explosion. Miles came up with the idea after learning about silencers on muggle guns, and they had been toying with the formula all weekend.

"Well, the footprint got smaller," Hermione noted, staring at the patch of blackened grass, "But that's not exactly helpful. Do you think we are reducing the strength of the explosion by adding more of the mixture?"

Miles was scratching at the stubble that had grown on his cheeks, his brown eyes staring down at the box in thought, "I don't think so. The temperature is staying relatively constant. We haven't changed the mass of the gunpowder."

"I don't understand how the footprint changes without changing the temperature or sonic output. It's like our mixture is creating more expansion without actually creating more expansion," she mused.

"Maybe we need to go back to the formula again," he sighed, just as his stomach grumbled loudly.

She chuckled and pushed him playfully on the shoulder, "Let's eat first. Quite sure we could use a little break anyway."

They divided and conquered on lunchmaking and Miles ate three turkey sandwiches in the time Hermione finished one. They finally got to talking about research again as the heavy meal digested a bit.

"Oh, any luck with the Animagus scent?" she asked, suddenly remembering her last visit as a cauldron hissed from the floor.

"Actually, yeah" he nodded, putting down his cup of tea and standing up to grab another journal filled with notes and scribbles. He threw in on the table and flip the pages until he found what he was looking for.

"Mmmmm, there," he flipped it around and pointed to what he was referring to. Hermione could hardly read his chicken scratch writing, but it looked like another table of measurements. They tended to work in tables and charts, so she tried to discern what she was looking at.

Miles jumped in and helped her after fifteen seconds of increased squinting efforts, "There's a distinct difference in scent between someone in their Animagus form and their human form. I had a few friends help out who are registered, and we tested it with a few different noses."

"All human?" Hermione asked, listening intently.

"No! That's the cool bit. I have a cousin who knows a werewolf, and another who used to work with a vampire. The scent differences are off the charts for them, but basically undetectable for humans as you'd expect."

"So…what's more potent?" she asked.

"Well, human form is more potent and complex, but the werewolf could still detect a known Animagus scent from half a mile away. Pretty incredible, really. The vampire could detect the Animagus from 600 metres."

Hermione furrowed her brow, "You said known scent. Can they tell it's an Animagus versus an animal without knowing beforehand?"

Miles grinned, "Yep. They said they would have known is because there was a layer of the scent that was distinctly human. 'Like sniffing perfume on a dog' the werewolf told me," he chuckled, "She said it was too unusual to be an animal."

The Raven hummed in agreement, "That's…really interesting, thanks Miles."

"No problem! Hopefully that answers your client's question," he shrugged, putting the notebook away.

"Ohhh, yes, I think they will have a much clearer picture now," she said dryly. That would definitely explain how Fleur could detect her. She wished she knew more about Veelas and their capabilities, but their secretive culture made it nearly impossible to uncover without making herself more noticeable.

Miles was too busy to notice the change in tone. He had already grabbed their silencing mixture and was heading back outside.

"Come on! I think I have an idea on this," he shouted. Hermione smiled and finished her tea in two gulps and joined him back in the sunny garden for more pyrotechnics.

By the late afternoon they had made much more progress. It turns out their formula worked on plastic explosives, but not powder-based materials so they adjusted their mixture so that it was more of a paste than a liquid and viola! Mostly soundless explosions.

The sun had sunk hours ago and it was far past dinnertime now. She still had a few cases to go through tonight so she asked Miles if they could pick up where they left off next week. She was slowly cleaning up the backyard under a starless sky when Hermione felt a tugging sensation in her navel. She groaned internally. This was so not good timing.

She flicked her wrist and everything shot across the lawn and onto the kitchen table. Miles was organising the charts when she strode in.

"Hey, sorry," she started, "I've got to rush, I forgot I have an early meeting tomorrow."

"No worries," he waved her off, and stood to walk her out. They often acted out the charade of coming and going through the front door considering Miles was in a Muggle neighbourhood. "Oh, here," he flicked his wand back towards the kitchen and a black notebook came flying towards them, "For the Animagus project. If you need the findings," he explained with a shrug.

"Oh, perfect. Thanks again for this, I really appreciate it. I'll see you next weekend?" she asked, already halfway out the door.

"Yep, I'll be here. See you, Jean. Don't work too hard," he said with a grin.

She rolled her eyes, "Oh, you know me. I would never."

She could hear him chuckle a little behind the closed door. Tightening her coat around her as the wind cut across her face, she hurried her pace up the street as another tug pulled at her stomach.

"Oh bloody hell, fine!" she grumbled under her breath, "Can't even have one quiet weekend."

She stopped under a broken streetlight and closed her eyes as the tugging pulled at her again, only this time she turned on the spot to follow it.


When Fleur first started in international crime, she had a few hard lessons to learn. First, there was no such thing as good and bad. She'd met muggle police chiefs who were cleared of rape charges and convicted murderers who were proven innocent after forty years. Just because your profession was one of an upstanding citizen didn't always mean you were one.

The second thing Fleur had to learn was that sometimes you had to do a little of a bad thing to get a lot of a good thing. That sounded like an excuse for bad behaviour, and it basically is, but it's just the way things are done. Everything is grey and no one is a saint no matter how much they claim to be. Except maybe Harry Potter, but he's an anomaly.

It's not like it was illegal to go undercover, but she was supposed to be doing it with the force behind her, not on her own. Desperate times, as they say. Another murder in Belgium cropped up this week and she felt like time and control were slipping through her fingers like water.

The blonde was staking out a British nightclub that often frequented the less-than-innocent magical clientele. She knew she was recognisable so she had a glamour and a passable disguise of a brunette with a short haircut. It was the thrall that was trickier to mask, but there was not much she could do about it. Fleur walked up to the sparse bar. She had thought this over at length. She didn't want to mark herself as an outsider, but sometimes being up front was the best way to navigate around these people. It could bite her in the perfect ass, but she didn't plan on staying long.

She sauntered over to the bar like she knew where she was going. The bartender caught her eye and made his way over. He was overweight and had short grey hair that shone under the pulsing lights.

He leaned over the bar when he got close enough, "What can I get you, love?"

"I'm looking for someone," she said brusquely, making sure to look at him through her eyelashes.

"Oh? Who might that be?"

"The Raven," she replied, and he straightened up quickly and looked around. Merde. A few moments passed, and Fleur was prepared to make a run for it, but he finally relaxed again. Evidently, whatever threat he suspected was not there. He leaned against the bar and met her eyes again, curiosity and wariness evident on his face.

"What's a pretty little thing like you doing looking for her? Got an ex who needs disappearing?" he jeered, but his voice was distinctly quieter.

She just smiled sweetly, letting him draw his own conclusions.

"Do you know how I can find her or not?" she asked.

"Sorry, love, I just make the drinks. I don't get mixed in all that. Ha! Mixed, get it?" he snapped his dishrag onto the table, "I'm a bartender," he looked to her expectantly. The veela just stared at him unflinchingly until he shrugged and moved on, "Anyways, you're in the right spot. I'm sure someone here can help you out," he gestured vaguely to the establishment.

Fleur bit back a snarky retort and ordered a glass of red wine instead, ignoring his advice and choosing not to look around. She'd have to assess the club a little more in detail before seeking out VIP booths and getting cosy with criminals. She'd need a backstory or at the very least a second wand for backup. The blonde was halfway through her glass when the young woman sitting two stools away spoke up.

"I know the Raven," she said with a faint accent Fleur tried to place. Maybe Portuguese? The Auror looked over to her and held back her surprise.

The woman was stunning. She had skin the colour of a smooth espresso and long, silky jet-black hair that tumbled in gentle waves down her back. Her tight cream dress accentuated her feminine curves, and a manicured hand glittering with obscenely large diamond rings and luxurious bracelets was twirling a glass toothpick around the olive in her martini. Her eyes were so black when she finally met Fleur's gaze that the blonde couldn't see her pupils.

"What do you want with her?" she asked, her white teeth flashing in contrast to her smooth skin in the low lighting.

"I don't think that's any of your business," the veela replied immediately, but the back of her neck prickled with the possibility of actually getting somewhere.

The woman chuckled, and the silkiness of it made her want to shiver in discomfort, "I suppose that's true. Just be careful. She's…different," she said. Fleur frowned, but then schooled her face again. She was trying to get a read this woman but was having some difficulty, despite her openness. Her tone felt…off, somehow.

"'Ow so?" she questioned carefully.

The woman shrugged half-heartedly but Fleur noted she spoke with no hesitation in a dull voice this time, "She can be everywhere and nowhere," she explained, "She makes you feel watched—all the time—even when you know she probably isn't. She is gifted, but also frustratingly down-to-earth. She's…dangerous, but charming; captivating, if you get a real glimpse at her." She sighed like a woman in heartbreak and the veela felt something acrid in her chest spreading.

Fleur cleared her throat, "You sound like you know her well," she tried to say it lightly, but her tongue felt heavy in her mouth. She took another sip of wine.

"I had a glimpse or two a few years ago," the woman said shortly, but the veela felt like that wasn't the entire story, "Then again," she continued, "Maybe I haven't, who knows? That's part of the allure I suppose," she said dryly, taking a sip of her own drink. Her eyes were focused on the stem of her glass, as if the blonde wasn't even there.

"Now you make it sound like you're in love," Fleur replied with a wry smile. The woman looked over at her again.

"Love, hm?" she chuckled smoothly again, and her eyebrows pulled together before she let out another short huff of a laugh, "Não. Não é possível," Fleur frowned, but picked up the meaning after a moment. The woman let out a deep sigh and continued, "I had a little phase where I wanted more, but who knows what that means. It doesn't matter anyway. No one can be in love with the Raven," she said matter-of-factly, but her voice sounded far away. Her eyes were watching some movie that Fleur couldn't see.

"Why not?"

"Because the Raven is no one," she said confidently now, coming back to reality, "It's like being with a mirror, or a boggart," she took another swig of her drink, "In my culture, we have many demons, and my small village believed greatly in their power. When I was six or so, another boy told me the besta-fura would come for me in the night. This was not a nice threat you see. Cuca is the demon for children who misbehave, and we heard that all the time, but besta-fura? Well, I cried and cried, determined I could not go home, or I would put my family at risk too," she smiled sadly at the memory.

Fleur nodded, silently urging her to continue.

The stranger continued, "There was an elder woman named Giovanna who lived on the outskirts of the village, and mainly kept to herself after her children moved away. She found me and asked me what happened. When I told her she just let out this big, bellied laugh and told me to follow her. We walked to the woods, and she told me that besta-fura is a legend just as much as la Cuca," she paused to take another sip and rubbed her lips together before continuing quietly.

"She said that the true devil walks amongst us, and that I would never know him any differently from Giovanna herself if I came across him. The devil would look like me, talk like me, and know all my secrets and desires. The devil would be whatever it needs to be for me to trade my skin for sex and sin, she said. Now, I was young and I nodded along and ran off back home. I was just happy that I wouldn't be responsible for the besta-fura killing my family, but I never forgot what Giovanna said. I didn't really think much of it, but there are some people you meet that just…they can see too much. And you fall for them, and then what? You don't realise you sold half your soul until it's already gone," her voice trailed off, and her eyes were looking at something not there once again.

The veela's brows came together.

"So…you think…the Raven is the devil?" Fleur asked slowly, disbelief lacing her voice.

The woman let out a short laugh, her eyes gleaming in the light as she looked over at the blonde, "Não, minha querida, it's just a story. I am saying that I don't know if what I saw was really her. She's dangerous. She makes you see what you want to see, and by the end, you have no idea if it was your own fantasy filling in the gaps or reality. That is why she's so deadly."

Fleur frowned, and the woman finished her drink and popped the olive into her mouth before standing. She fished a sickle out her purse and left it on the bar before putting on her coat.

"You don't need to find her. She'll find you. She probably already knows you're looking."

Fleur's eyes narrowed at that, "'Ow does she know that?"

The woman shrugged as she buttoned her coat up, "No idea. She just does. Good luck," she said, and then she left.

Fleur watched her back as she left the club, her mind buzzing. The barman came back. She ordered a martini for herself, thinking she needed something a little stronger than wine before she tried to dissect whatever the hell all that meant and why her heart was still pumping sour jealousy into her veins.

******************************

Another week and she was still running in circles. Dead-end after dead-end was putting her in a foul mood. Her boss at the Ministry was still annoyingly confident she could figure this out and find the Raven. Fleur had told him she was looking for a female with impressive magical and concealment abilities but hadn't mentioned the fact that she knew who it was. She wasn't sure how she was going to get out of that one forever.

It was as difficult as expected to track her down. A few nights at the dodgy club in London gave her some insight into the types of business deals that were being hashed there, but she was still nowhere closer to locating the woman. Rambourg was pushing her to keep going on her own though, even when she admitted she was at a standstill on the one lead she had.

After the first night, Fleur backtracked and went back to the boring rule book. She requested backup, and she sat through four nights of "undercover" in which a team was outside waiting just in case something went down, but it was no use. Nothing happened and everyone at the establishment had the same sort of vague answer:

"If you want to find her and she wants to find you, she will."

Fleur at least had an idea of how that worked now, but she couldn't exactly be certain without completely scaring the brunette off again. It was putting her on edge. Everything in her logical brain was telling her Hermione was dangerous and not to be trusted. Based on the whispers she heard at the club, the Raven was a well-paid and well-respected Jane-of-all-trades, and master-of-all. It seemed that there wasn't a job she couldn't do well, but she was picky about what she chose, evidently. Fleur hadn't been able to inquire about why without setting off alarms.

Her gut was telling her there was more to this story, but she acknowledged her heart could be overshadowing that feeling more than anything. She wanted to be wrong. She wanted this all to be some sick joke that everyone seemed to be in on. She wanted to wake up from this ridiculous nightmare and find herself alone in her flat with no clue as to where and what the younger witch was doing with her days. She wished she had never seen her at that café in Nice. She wished her life hadn't been upturned by a genius with the most incredible honey eyes. She wished…she just wished she could talk to her.

Fleur gave up on her spiralling thoughts to focus on her surroundings again. She was meeting someone tonight regarding the case. This was another information-gathering meeting, however this time her boss had set it up for her with someone he knew to have multiple contacts in the business. Some big wig detective from Belgium who did an undercover stint a few years ago and could help her put some faces to certain names. She was told to look decent, so Fleur was in some smart trousers, a cashmere turtleneck, and black boots. Her hair was down and curled slightly, and she had hastily thrown on a splash of make-up. Even in her mostly casual attire, she felt she was overdressed.

The restaurant was completely empty except for a few kitchen staff, which she thought was strange considering it was nearly seven o'clock on a Friday. Then again, considering the décor perhaps that wasn't all that surprising. Fleur looked around at the empty restaurant, taking in the gaudy chandelier and outdated wallpaper since she had nothing else to look at. The red carpet was worn and discoloured from constant foot traffic. A tank in the corner held a few little stripey blue fish that were idly swimming in circles. A basket of bread and a carafe of water was placed at the centre of her table. She eyed the paper napkins distrustfully and chewed on the inside of her cheek. Rambourg was going to get an earful from her next time she saw him, and she was picking the restaurants from now on.

Apparently, her dinner companion had no sense of etiquette, either, for they were nearly twenty minutes late. She told herself she'd give them ten more minutes before she'd give up and call it a night. The leftover curry and bottle of wine chilling in her fridge were practically calling her name by this point.

With a sigh, she unstopped the carafe and poured herself a glass just as she saw a pair of shoes enter her peripheral vision. They came to stand next to her as she finished pouring, and she was about to tell the man off for being so late when coffee and rain filled her senses. Her breath caught in her throat as she looked up.

Hermione was looking down with a devilish smirk, holding her hands behind her back. She was dressed in tailored grey cigarette pants, white sneakers, and a leather jacket. Her hair was in a bun with a few wisps framing her sun-kissed face. With a wry smile, she moved one hand from behind her back, presenting a single pink rose. The rose was being slowly spun between her thumb and index finger as she shyly looked at the still-stunned blonde.

Their last interaction came flooding back to the veela and Fleur's look of surprise quickly transformed into one of anger. Hermione raised her hands when she saw her expression change, "Woah, woah, hold on. I come in peace," she said, and gestured to the other chair, "May I join you for a moment? It seems your date has not arrived yet."

"It's not a date," Fleur said through her teeth, "'Ow do you keep finding me?"

Hermione grinned again but didn't answer. Instead, she unzipped her jacket before pulling out the chair and sitting down, perfectly at ease. She wordlessly picked up the carafe and poured herself a glass of water before sticking the rose in the half-empty bottle to decorate their table.

A lengthy pause encompassed them as Fleur regarded her new guest with suspicion and her guest regarded her with unveiled curiosity.

"You've been looking for me," she finally said, reaching forward and grabbing a piece of bread from the wire basket. Fleur watched her spread a little butter on it before taking a small bite. She swallowed, and blue eyes narrowed.

"You know why," she replied angrily. Hermione hummed and nodded, chewing on another bite of bread.

She finally swallowed again before taking a small sip of water, "That I do…" she trailed off with a frown, looking into the glass with a confused look on her face. Fleur scoffed.

"You're the Raven," the veela said firmly, leaning forward, and amber eyes looked up from her glass in surprise. Fleur could feel them roaming over her face, her hair, and finally landing on her lips before she met her eyes again. She refrained from squirming in her seat at the steady gaze.

Hermione smiled serenely, setting down the bread roll and shaking out the white napkin set out.

"You work quickly, I'll give you that, but I'm not the person you should be looking for," she explained. Fleur continued to glare. She knew this already, but something about Hermione telling her how to do her own job was rubbing her in all the wrong ways. Like she couldn't figure it out for herself? Who the hell does she think she is telling her who she should or shouldn't be looking for? As if she'd listen to her anyway! She is a criminal! Fleur could feel her temper start to rise and her pulse quicken. She schooled her features, much like she was used to doing in the interrogation room.

She leaned forward and spoke in a dangerously low voice, "I am 'aving a 'ard time believing anything coming out of your mouth right now," she spat. Her hands were starting to shake and she clenched them into fists under the table. Goddess, this woman could get under her skin so easily.

Hermione grimaced slightly and met her eyes sincerely, "Well, that's what I am here to rectify, sort of. And, to apologise. For last time…I—I didn't expect things to get so out of control. I'm sorry."

Icy blue eyes hardened even more, distrust evident in her closed-off body language, "You are not forgiven."

She let out a long breath, "Right, well I suppose that is to be expected."

"You—"

"What do you know about the Raven?" she interrupted, wiping her mouth gently with the napkin.

Fleur narrowed her eyes at the movement. The arrogance of it all, and that fucking smirk still stretched across her lips as she waited for a response. The blonde lifted both hands to count off on her fingers as she spoke, "I know she's a powerful witch. I know she has a taboo on her name. I know she's an unknown contract operative with a unique set of skills used for very illegal activities. I know she is nearly impossible to find in both the muggle and magical communities. I know she is the top suspect for the connection of thirteen murders across Europe, and I know it's you, 'Ermione," the blonde reported hotly, her voice shaking with anger as she tried to keep her volume down.

Hermione leaned back into her chair and continued to observe her silently. Her index finger was delicately stroking the groove along the length of her glass. The veela was breathing heavily through her nose, trying not to lose her shit and flip the table over. She didn't want to have another screaming—and likely physical—altercation again in the middle of a restaurant, regardless of how few patrons were present. She needed to get to the bottom of Hermione's involvement, and she knew that meant keeping her here and keeping her talking, but the Gryffindor's comfort was unsettling her.

"Who told you I had a taboo on the name?" she finally asked.

The veela scoffed, "No one told me. It's the only logical way you can keep up with new clients without giving yourself away."

Hermione furrowed her brow slightly, "Go on," she urged.

Fleur rolled her eyes, but played along, "No one knows how to reach you, but somehow you know where to find them whenever they need you? Either you 'ave a million lookouts, or you 'ave an illegal taboo set at certain locations. Considering your…preference for working alone, it wasn't 'ard to figure out," she reasoned.

Hermione was looking at her with a glint in her amber eyes.

"See, you say that, but you're the only person who seems to have figured it out," she chuckled to herself, "I'm impressed," she admitted, leaning back in her chair, one side of her mouth lifting up in a smile.

A hot blush started to creep across her cheeks, but the veela stamped it down. She refused to be flustered by a simple comment from the estranged woman who held her heart for so long. She glared, her anger coming back when she remembered that this was not normal and Hermione had vanished off the face of the earth for five fucking years.

"Why are you even 'ere? Shouldn't you be 'alfway across the world by now, 'iding away again?" she asked bitterly.

"Shouldn't you be arresting me?"

Blue eyes glared again, and Hermione chuckled softly, "You're smart, Fleur. You know it isn't me."

"I don't know that, actually," she bit back petulantly, "I don't know you, 'Ermione. You made damn sure of that. For all I know you could want to kill me."

A flash of something that looked like hurt crossed the brunette's face, but that couldn't be right. Hermione didn't care. She never had and she never will. Fleur took a deep breath to collect herself as rage filled her once again.

A few moments of awkward silence filled the space between them. She could hear silverware clattering in the kitchen and the hum of the fish tank in the corner. The veela sighed and lifted her glass just as the brunette took another swallow of her own drink, only this time her brown eyes widened, and she slammed the glass back down as her other hand reached for her.

"Don't!" she said abruptly. Her fingers twitched and Fleur felt the glass slip out of her hand as she went to tilt it towards her mouth. The glass was hovering in front of her face for a moment before it slowly lowered back onto the table. The blonde had murder in her eyes and a string of curses on her tongue when she looked back at the Raven, but she was already out of her chair and her lips were next to her ear.

"There's a lethal dose of hemlock extract in that water. Who were you meeting here?" she whispered quickly and quietly.

Fleur's eyes widened and shot around at the empty restaurant instinctively. Poison? What the…? She looked towards the carafe, and the pink rose that was just placed there was already wilting and drooping over the side of the rim.

Hermione was so close she could feel her breath move her hair. Her hand was resting on her shoulder lightly and it was making her skin buzz. The veela's mind was racing. Should she respond to that? What if she planned this somehow? She leaned back and looked at her, but Hermione's eyes were trained on the skeleton staff in the kitchen. She looked…pretty livid, and Fleur could tell she was just as surprised as she was.

"'Ow do you know that?" she asked. If that were true the brunette could be dead within a few hours, and she looked alarmingly unperturbed having drunk it herself. The phone rang in the restaurant and the brunette stiffened as a man in a chef's uniform swung out of the kitchen door and answered.

"Mithridatism," Hermione answered quietly, still not taking her eyes off the staff, "Who were you meeting?" she repeated. The man was speaking in hushed tones and glanced over to their table.

"Sais pas," Fleur finally said quietly, looking between the brunette and the chef in confusion, "My boss set up the meeting. I never got a name."

Hermione looked down briefly at blue eyes and seemed to be thinking something over before she held her hand out with her palm up. She looked back to the man on the phone, her other hand in a fist at her side.

"Do you trust me, Fleur?" she asked. The man hung up the phone and walked back through the swinging kitchen doors.

The veela looked down at her offered hand before gazing back up at her. Trust. Trust. Do I trust her? She had no idea what she's been doing the past five years, but she knew she wasn't visiting the local orphanage every day. Then again, something was happening here that she didn't quite understand, but the back of her neck was prickling like it did when her gut was telling her that something wasn't right. Fleur didn't think she wanted to hurt her, but trust was another thing entirely.

"I don't think I should," she said, her voice soft.

"Probably not," Hermione admitted, "but we're not safe here." Her eyes looked to be begging her, "Please…I—I need to explain some things to you. I need to—I... Merlin, we don't have time. We need to get out of here," she said, her hand coming a little closer.

Fleur sighed. She didn't exactly have many other options. Just as she was about to reach up the kitchen doors swung open again. In a split second the veela moved unthinkingly. She jumped from her chair and wrapped her arms around the brunette's waist, forcing them to the ground just as an explosion rocked through the restaurant.

Glass and dishware shattered and flew everywhere as her body landed on top of another. When the clinking of broken glass stopped and the room quieted again, the blonde cautiously opened her eyes. The table they were at was swept far across the room from the force. The fish tank was blown apart and water was pouring onto the carpet. Her ears were ringing, but she could still hear a deep voice yelling in the background. With a groan, she shifted and looked to her left towards the kitchen. There was a blurry shape of someone in white coming closer. Glass was cracking beneath their shoes. Her eyes tried to focus on the person advancing, but there was a hazy film in the way. She could just make out the tell-tale blue iridescence of a shield charm engulfing them in a protective bubble before she felt a pull in her stomach as the most wanted woman in Europe apparated them to an unknown location.

Chapter Text

"Ooft!"

"Ow!"

Fleur's back met hardwood flooring. She groaned when a solid weight landed on her chest, her body tensing as her eyes flung open to pitch blackness. They were inside somewhere, but there were no signs of natural light. Not even a sliver of a shadow, like someone had their hands over her eyes. Either she was in some dungeon underground where she would meet her final days or Hermione had magically altered wherever they had landed for unknown guests. She rather hoped it was the latter.

There was a grumble coming from above her as Hermione shifted, and Fleur stilled when she realised the position they were in. The Gryffindor stilled then too, and the blonde swore she could feel her heartbeat thrumming against her chest. A leg was wedged in between her own, rather tantalisingly, and she could feel a warm cheek against her neck. Arms were underneath her shoulders as if they were embracing.

Two sets of lungs seemed to exhale at the same time, melting them further together. Fleur's hands were on her back. She couldn't see anything, but the younger woman's scent so close was making her head feel light. Hermione shifted a little again. Fleur felt the tip of her nose on her neck. That small, diminutive touch was enough to set the veela's body on fire. Her fingertips gripped onto the back of her jacket. How easy it would be to just pull her closer. Grab two fistfuls of leather and make her see what she had been missing out on. Her legs shifted and more weight was pressed into her. The brunette exhaled and the warm air tickled her neck.

The beautiful stranger's voice at the club suddenly echoed in her mind, She's dangerous. She makes you see what you want to see.

Fleur's eyes shot open and she froze again. Hermione stilled above her. They were both breathing far too heavily in the quiet room.

"'Ermione," she finally said, hating the way her voice sounded. She dropped her hands from the younger witch's back.

"Yes?" she answered quietly. She felt the breath on her ear.

Fleur swallowed, "Why are you still on top of me, and why is it pitch black?" she asked.

"Oh shit, sorry," she said, scrambling to get up, "I forgot you can't see."

Fleur felt her shift again, and all of a sudden everything was visible to her, as if someone turned the lights back on to the world even though it was still light outside. Hermione was the first to stand up, her cheeks a little pink as she pulled Fleur up from the floor as well.

Getting to her feet, she straightened herself before meeting the Raven's expectant gaze with a steely one of her own. They stood awkwardly in the middle of the brunette's entryway room for what felt like ages. The veela stepped closer to her with one thing in mind and saw her hold her breath. She looked as if she was going to speak, but Fleur was too fast. She slapped her across the face as hard as she could, her head whipping to the side from the impact.

"Bloody hell!" she whined, her hand coming up to rub her reddening cheek, "What was that for?"

The blonde glowered, "You know what that was for. You broke my nose."

"You tore my favourite jumper," she spat back, still rubbing her face.

"You 'eadbutted me."

"You tackled me!"

"You deserved it!"

"You wouldn't let me go!"

"You left!" Fleur shouted, her voice echoing around them. Her chest was heaving. She was trying to calm down but it felt like she was reaching a boiling point.

Amber eyes glanced between her own for a moment, reading her. She hated how calm she looked all of a sudden. Hermione ran her tongue over the inside of her cheek before she spoke again, although this time it was much quieter, "You're not going to get what you want from me, Fleur."

The veela took an intimidating step closer and looked down at her with narrowed eyes, "And what is it you think I want?"

"An apology," she said harshly, looking up with fire in her eyes, "Me, grovelling on my knees for leaving without an explanation. I don't owe you anything. I don't owe anyone anything. If that's what you think this is, you can leave," she said, breathing heavily through her nose by the end of her outburst.

"You think that's what this is? You," she jammed a finger to her sternum, "came to find me."

Hermione clenched her jaw and poked her back, "And you were about to swallow Death. I'm trying to help you!"

"'Elp me? Ha, that's rich," she said humourlessly and got even closer until they were practically nose to nose, "You're the reason I'm in this mess! Do you think all the restaurants I visit end up blown to pieces?! You're a wanted woman and I'm an Auror! Don't pretend this isn't just to save your own backside."

Another paused filled the space between them. Hermione eyes suddenly glinted wickedly and one of her eyebrows flicked up. Her mouth slowly pulled into that smirk that Fleur was really starting to dislike.

"Been thinking a lot about my backside, have you?"

"Oh my god, I can't fucking believe you!" she cried, throwing her hands in the air. She began walking towards the living room to avoid slapping the infuriating witch again, cursing under her breath the whole way.

"You know I can speak French?" Hermione yelled from the entryway.

"Does it look like I give a shit?!" she shouted back. She made her way past the foyer into a modest living room. Books and papers were strewn across every horizontal surface in the living room, which housed a plush beige sofa and a modern coffee table. The shelves to her right were filled to the top with books of all shapes, sizes, and colours.

Hermione followed her after a few moments, her cheek still red and streaked with her handprint. The veela took a few deep breaths at the sight and tried again, hopefully setting her anger aside this time. The younger witch edged into the room cautiously, looking anywhere but her blue eyes.

She took two more deep breaths, her heart rate finally slowing down. After opening and closing her mouth a few times, she finally got it out, the thing that she should have said instead of hitting her, "I'm sorry. I shouldn't 'ave done that. It's just…this is a lot."

Hermione took a deep breath before her shoulders dropped, "Yeah, well, it's a lot for me too," she said simply before walking past her to the kitchen.

Fleur sighed. She knew they had more pressing issues right now, but it would be difficult to just completely avoid their past forever. Just seeing her felt like she was in a dream still. She didn't know how to navigate it all. There was so much they had to discuss, but how do you do that without bringing everything else in along with it? She didn't know what she expected from the brunette, but she reasoned that patience, understanding, and respect was going to be needed. Hopefully Hermione was feeling the same.

A deep corner of her mind questioned if she should feel safe here, but her gut told her she was probably safer here than anywhere else.

She finally followed her into the kitchen after a few more calming breaths, finally taking in more of her surroundings. There were no personal items anywhere. No photos or cards. Not even a music collection. No indications that she did anything besides work and read. Hermione wasn't paying attention to her curiosity. She was currently pulling out a few glasses from her cabinet.

Fleur continued to take in every detail of the comfortable house, "This is…"

"My place, yeah. Well, one of them. Sorry for the mess," she said, flicking her hand at her living room as all the books and papers flew onto the shelves and into a neat filing folder.

"One of them?" she inquired, coming up to the kitchen table to lean against it as the brunette rummaged in another cabinet. Fleur could hear glass clinking as she spun a few wine bottles around to read the labels.

"Yeah, I, erm, bounce around a lot, as you might have guessed," she said distractedly before humming and finally making a decision for wine. She set it on the counter by the glasses.

"And where are we now, exactly?" Fleur asked, crossed her arms comfortably and looking out the window to the setting sun atop an unknown hillside outside.

Hermione marched across the kitchen to her refrigerator. She stopped with her hand on the door and looked back to the veela watching her. Her warm brown eyes glanced down before she caught curious blue again and gave a crooked a smile, "If I told you that, I'd have to kill you," she said, pulling open the door and hiding herself from view as she rummaged and muttered to herself.

Fleur rolled her eyes, "Oh, now we're speaking in clichés? How original," she said sarcastically, but something about the reality of the situation settled in her stomach uncomfortably.

She was in Hermione's home, wherever the hell that was. She was standing five feet away from the woman she thought to be dead or missing not three months ago. The woman she had recently discovered was anything but those things and was actually an exceptionally talented mercenary who was now wanted for murder. The woman who she was supposed to be tracking down and bringing back to the Ministry to interrogate legally. The woman who had her in a headlock last week, yet saved her life a few minutes ago. The woman that drove her to the top of every wall, but who she thought she might have very strong feelings for. Even after all these years. Even though she knew what she represented; who she is and what she does.

She is dangerous.

A sudden retching sound distracted her. Hermione had her back to her and was leaning over the sink with two fingers in down back of her throat. Fleur's nose wrinkled as the younger witch emptied the contents of her stomach a few times. Though she was somewhat incapacitated, her other hand was still flicking this way and that and the blonde was getting whiplash trying to keep track of everything still moving in the kitchen.

A few wedges of cheese, a sleeve of crackers, apple slices, and grapes zoomed onto a cutting block that levitated over to the coffee table in the living room. She whirled back to see the hunched over brunette flick two fingers of her unused hand at the wine bottle as the cork slid off with a satisfying 'pop!' The bottle tilted itself and poured out two measured glasses of dark red wine. A small red bag suddenly whizzed past her head and landed next to the sink, where the Gryffindor had finally stopped making herself sick.

Unzipping the bag, she pulled out a toothbrush and toothpaste and hastily began scrubbing for a few minutes before standing and waving her hand again to banish the mess in the sink. Fleur still had a look of mild disgust as the brunette passed her a glass of wine on her way to the sofa, a smile ghosting her lips.

"Sorry about that. This one's not poisoned, I promise," the Raven said with a wink as she took herself over to the couch.

"That definitely could 'ave been accomplished in the toilet," Fleur remarked, slowly following her to the living room. Hermione just shrugged and started cutting up slices of cheese.

The veela reluctantly followed. Her mind was still racing and her stomach felt a little queasy. This whole thing felt surreal. She took a sip of wine to settle her nerves. Standing by the couch, she watched as Hermione casually nibbled on a cracker as if this was the most normal circumstance in the world. How was she so calm right now? Didn't she care that they hadn't seen one another in so long? That the last time they were alone and this close they had beaten the shit out of one another? That the time before that they had kissed? That—

"Will you sit down? You're making me nervous just hovering there," Hermione said, gesturing towards her.

Fleur rolled her eyes again, took another sip of wine, and sat on the opposite side of the couch. The distance between them felt strange and misleading, like she was close enough to reach out and touch her, but still miles away. Silence took hold of the room. She could hear the Gryffindor's sharp jaw click a few times as she chewed on an apple. She had so many questions—so many things she needed to know—but this would only work if she respected her unspoken wishes to not drudge up their history. What a task, but Fleur was willing to try. She started elsewhere.

"Why do you need to make yourself sick if you've immunised yourself?" she asked.

Hermione hummed as she took a sip of wine before setting down her glass, "I might not die, but if I'm not administering the dose myself there's never a guarantee. Even if I survive, I can still feel some side effects."

Fleur nodded slowly in understanding, the scene at the restaurant replaying in her head. The conversation, the water, the chef, the shield charm protecting them. It all happened so fast.

"Thank you, by the way," she started, "I—"

"It's fine," the brunette interrupted, "Come on, eat something. I know you need some food after your dinner plans were blown apart," she said with a smirk before she threw another grape in her mouth.

Fleur glared at her again, but her mind kept whirring. Where was the distant Hermione at Shell Cottage? The one who wouldn't speak for days on end and stared blankly at the walls as the weeks dragged on without her. Did she really heal? Was this…occupation—the distance—actually helping her? And who was this, then? Was this her? The one Fleur wanted to get to know? Making jokes and being surprisingly hospitable and…flirty? Or was she someone else entirely?

She's dangerous. She makes you see what you want to see.

She shook her head, as if it would rid herself of these spiralling queries. Her stomach was in knots, as it had been seen Hermione sat down at the restaurant, but she knew she needed to try and eat. They nibbled on the charcuterie in silence again. Minutes passed awkwardly. The salty crackers felt like a dry paste in her mouth, but she swallowed them down with a few gulps of wine.

Hermione reached for an apple slice. Fleur watched her designed hand bring it to her mouth. Blue eyes roamed up, taking in more of the black ink on the side of her neck until it dipped below her neckline.

"You covered the scars," she said, before she could stop herself. So much for starting elsewhere.

Hermione didn't look at her, she just nodded and gave her a quiet, "I did," as she stared intently at something on the wall.

"Why?"

"For work. I'm around a lot of Muggles," she explained impatiently, looking to Fleur expectantly, as if she knew there would be more questions.

"Ah, yes…work," Fleur repeated, trying and failing to hide the distaste in her voice. She could see Hermione shake her head out of the corner of her eye. Another silent pause filled the space between them.

The blonde looked over at the designs on the hand resting on her thigh, "What are they?" she probed.

The Gryffindor leaned back with a huff and ran her hand through her hair. She glanced over at the veela perched uncomfortably on her couch and let out a long breath through her nose, looking grumpy and irritated. Amber eyes assessed Fleur for a few seconds, like she was trying to see something written behind her face.

Finally, she looked away again having made her mind up about whatever she was looking for. Speaking in a calmer tone she explained, "They're runes, mostly. Symbols of good and light on one side; evil and darkness on the other. A balance—or struggle, depending on how you look at it—of both realities."

Fleur watched her, taking in everything. From the bob in her throat as she swallowed anxiously to the tight muscle in her jaw. The symbolism of her tattoos wasn't lost on her. Based on her reaction, she very much doubted she had ever told anyone that before. If there was anything to be appreciative of, it was that. Fleur could tell she was trying just as much as she was despite how strained this felt.

"They look good on you," the veela commented.

Dipping her head, she muttered a, "Thanks," into her wine glass.

Another tense silence. Fleur wondered how many there would be tonight. Perhaps she should start counting them.

"So," she tried again, "You mentioned you need to tell me some things. Am I to infer that it 'as something to do with my attempted murder?" she asked, quirking an eyebrow.

Hermione perked up at the impersonal question, setting down her glass and getting comfortable.

"Yes, exactly, but you need to start. I need to know what you know," she said offhandedly.

The veela frowned, "Non. That is not 'ow this is going to work. You are a criminal. I am law enforcement. You are going to tell me what I need to know, or I will drag you back to the Ministry."

Hermione looked at her for a few beats, seemingly torn between fighting her on this. A sudden grin stretched across her face, "Alright, fine. I will tell you what I know, and you will drop the case."

"Quoi?" she spluttered, nearly spilling her wine.

"I said," she met her eyes, "I will tell you what I know if you agree to drop the case. Give it to someone else."

"Why the 'ell would I do that?"

"This is dangerous, Fleur. It's not some game. Someone is framing me, which I know you've likely caught on to because you aren't trying to detain me, but you were nearly killed just now! You're a target, and you need to get as far away from this case as you can," she explained heatedly.

"You 'ave no grounds to ask that of me," she spat back, her temperature rising again, "I am a trained Auror, an exceptional investigator, and not someone who will simply roll over because you asked me to!" Fleur retorted, "And 'ow dare you presume I can't take care of myself!"

"I am not trying to presume anything, it's just…I don't know who it is, okay?" she ran her hand through her hair again, "I have a few ideas, but for them to go to this extent seems crazy. Why not just deal with me directly if they have a bone to pick? No, it doesn't make sense and I have been racking my brain for a month trying to work it out, but until I do there's a very strong chance that you are in danger in the meantime."

"So?" she asked incredulously, "That's my job, 'Ermione. There's obviously something going on and I intend on figuring out what it is."

Hermione made a noise of frustration and stood up. She began pacing in front of the couch, a hand coming to rest on her chin as her brow furrowed and her thoughts spilled out uninterrupted.

"Okay, fine, fine, but I need to think. I need to think. Let's start at the beginning. How did this happen? Where did it start for you?" she asked. Fleur knew it was rhetorical, this was a method she herself used frequently.

Hermione walked the length of the living room and back, talking to herself and staring at the rug beneath her feet, "A few murders cropped up in France. You were assigned to the case," she started, her eyes distant and her hands gesticulating as she spoke, "The murders continued. You, or someone, found out they were across Europe. The Ministry starts looking for a connection, but the only similarity is a black feather. The feather of a raven, which doesn't mean anything until you got a name: The Raven. That name means something in my circles, and it's fairly obvious off the bat that it's a setup. I mean, who would be stupid enough to leave a clue like that at a dozen murders? The Raven doesn't have a signature. Never has, but law enforcement didn't know that. No, they wouldn't have known…" she trailed off, her eyes far away for a moment before they came back.

"You must have learned about the name from someone, maybe a tip-off?" she paused and looked over to Fleur for confirmation, who narrowed her eyes but gave a curt nod. Hermione continued pacing, "Okay, so someone went to the Ministry and planted this seed. Sure, makes sense, makes sense…but then…how do you know it isn't me?" she asked, her intelligent brown eyes coming back to her. Fleur sighed. Evidently, she would need to share some information.

"Intuition, I suppose," she shrugged, "It didn't add up. The informant described a woman called the Raven with a set of unique skills, which led me to believe you were involved. Not that you need the reminder, but advanced combat with an Auror combined with your lengthy disappearance didn't exactly 'elp you out there," she remarked dryly.

"Anyway, the motive wasn't fitting and there was an undertone of foul-play that was easy enough to pick up on. They should have picked someone with more than four brain cells to deliver their message. 'E kept talking about us needing to take you out because you were a risk, which is ridiculous because 'is informants were in just as risky of a position by telling us. In the end, I suspected that whoever the Raven was, you, was being framed. 'Is response to my theory more or less solified my hunch," she shrugged, finally looking back to the brunette.

Hermione was looking at her with a glint in her eye, "You are really good at this, aren't you?" she said softly. Fleur tried to beat the blush down, but she felt the tips of her ears getting warm.

"I like to think so," she replied swiftly before clearing her throat and continuing, "I began looking at the establishments we know of where a certain lawlessness is not uncommon. I asked around for the Raven but got the same answers. I 'ave been reaching out to turncoats that we 'ave under our protection. Trying to see if they could 'elp me locate you or pinpoint me to anyone who would want to 'arm you. Needless to say, your list of enemies is not unsubstantial."

Hermione cracked a quick smile and sat back down. She popped a grape into her mouth and Fleur suddenly felt a little warm as she watched her swallow it.

"You're not wrong there," the brunette admitted, "I have a few loose ends I need to tie up, but something tells me it's not that simple. So, what you're saying is this…informant…was aware of your suspicion?"

Fleur grimaced, but nodded slowly, "Unfortunately, yes. I made it quite clear I 'ad my doubts about the credibility of what 'e was sharing."

"Shit," Hermione muttered, "So they know you know it's a set-up, and they are targeting you too to silence you."

"Oui. The other side must know. In the event of my untimely demise, someone else would be assigned to the case—someone who 'as no affiliation to you—and they would seek out the Raven without a second thought. Considering my theory is unsubstantiated it's the only thing they have to go on."

"Have you shared your suspicions with your boss? Or anyone else?"

"Not directly, thankfully, but it's all in the transcripts. If someone wanted to find it they could."

The Raven nodded, her eyes far away before they came back. Amber eyes flicked over to her for a moment before she looked at the carpet. Her brow furrowed. Fleur just waited, knowing what was coming.

"And you're sure I can't convince you to—"

"Non."

Silence. Hermione grumbled to herself and grabbed another cracker, "Fine, but you need to keep your guard up. No more walking to work, no more showing up at clubs in London, okay?" she said, gesturing with the cracker in her grip.

"I am well aware I need to be cautious moving forward. Please stop acting like I 'ave no clue what I am doing, okay?" she mimicked, and Hermione's grin grew.

"You're right, I'm sorry. I suppose I am a little…out of touch," she admitted.

There was another pause.

"You don't 'ave to be," Fleur said softly. Hermione didn't look at her, but she could see her shoulders sag slightly.

"I do, Fleur. Look, I…I…." she sighed, and turned to face her, "I don't want you get the wrong impression about this," she gestured between them, "I am not…good, okay? I do bad things to bad people, but they are still bad things. I am perfectly content with that, and you, as an Auror and…whatever else… you have to know that whatever fairy tale ending you are envisioning here isn't going to happen. I am not coming back. I'm never coming back."

"You can't do everything alone forever, 'Ermione. Think about us, now, hm? Does it really 'urt so bad to let someone in? To get some 'elp?"

"I don't want help," she said with an air of finality, pressing her lips together in a thin line.

"I don't want 'elp either, but 'ere we are," Fleur replied with a small smile. Hermione looked at her, and her stern expression cracked after a moment. The corner of her mouth twitched upwards and she shook her head, looking away again. The silence fell over them again, but it was moderately more comfortable this time.

Fleur plucked a few grapes off the stem and waited.

"Look, maybe we just need some ground rules, okay?" she ran a hair through her curly hair again, "We keep this focused and impersonal. We don't even have to see each other. I will do whatever I can to figure out who is behind this, and you can just run rings at the Ministry until it's handled."

"Non, I will be investigating this case to my fullest power. I told you, I am not going to roll over because of a close call," she said firmly.

"But you don't have any leads!" Hermione cried, "You don't know anyone in the business. You don't know my contacts."

"Then I suppose we will 'ave to work together on this, non?"

"No. No way. Not happening."

"'Ow else do you expect to do this?"

"Well, I was hoping you would sit this out and I can figure it out on my own, considering it's my mess, as you so kindly phrased earlier."

"It is your mess, but for the last time, I am not sitting anything out," she gritted out, "Either you work with me or you don't, but I'm not going anywhere," she said, crossing her arms.

The Raven narrowed her eyes. Fleur stayed put. She knew she had the upper hand on this one. There was no reasonable way she could make her quit the case. Ten slow seconds passed and Hermione finally let out a short sigh.

"Fine. We need to talk more about your boss, then," she said.

"My boss?"

"You said he set up your meeting."

"Ouais," she replied slowly.

"The meeting that ended up with your chair being blown to halfway to New Zealand. I think it's safe to say he's a suspect, don't you?" she questioned.

Fleur leaned back on the sofa with a frown. She hadn't had a chance to consider that yet, but she supposed there was an element of truth to it. Julian had been adamant that she attend the dinner tonight, and the lack of patrons and her dinner guest was somewhat obvious.

"Rambourg is…not someone I would normally consider—"

"But—"

Fleur held her hand up, silencing the brunette as she continued, "But, considering the events that took place this evening, I think you are right. I will pay closer attention. Same goes with the gentleman I was supposed to be meeting with. Everyone is a suspect at this point."

Hermione nodded, a little sheepishly, "Okay, good."

"Okay," she paused, thinking briefly about how illegal it was to be doing this, but there were crazier theories out there than an inside job. No, she needed to do this alone. Well, alone with the help of the main suspect.

Fleur rubbed at the headache starting to form in her temple, "Who do you suspect on your end?"

Hermione squirmed in her seat, "I have…some ideas, as I alluded to earlier. Don't worry about me. I will handle them."

"That's not what I asked," Fleur said with a scowl. The imbalance of this arrangement was starting feel much more pronounced.

The Gryffindor looked over when she caught onto her tone. She opened and closed her mouth a few times, "Look, I—I know you are capable of taking care of yourself, and I know I am being unfair, but I just...Can you just believe me when I say I will sort my end out?"

"Non. As I mentioned earlier, I don't think I need to believe anything you say at face value."

Hermione huffed again, "It's not that simple, Fleur. I can't just…tell you everything," she said exasperatedly.

"And why not?" she snapped, her blue eyes boring into hers, "I am putting my job on the line by even speaking to you. I am putting my life at risk, and for what? To prove your innocence? What does that even mean? We both know you aren't innocent in any capacity," she spat, "You could be keeping things from me, or outright lying for all I know. Where is my assurance in all of this, hm?"

Hermione dropped her gaze again. 

"You don't mean that," she spoke quietly.

Fleur took a deep breath, "I don't know what I believe, 'Ermione. This is…I just don't know."

"I wouldn't do anything to hurt you," she said, stronger this time.

The blonde looked down at the wine glass between her palms, "I don't know that either," she replied.

Hermione leaned forward and put her head in her hands. Fleur watched her ribs expand as she took two deep breaths. Sitting back up, the look in her eyes was carefully devoid of any emotion.

"Okay, what do you want to know?"

"Who do you suspect on your end?" she repeated her question from earlier.

"I have two leads," she said, staring at the plain wall again, "One is Westin Poling, an ex-client who got a little handsy once and ever since we have had a rocky relationship. He likes to get what he wants, so it's become something of a project for him to try and…persuade me," she said distastefully, her eyes burning for a moment before the wall was back up.

"Next is Nicolai Sandoval. He runs an agency in my line of work. As my clients grew, I started to take some of his business. He tried to recruit me, but that didn't work so he has taken to threatening me over the years. It was nothing crazy; a finger in my P.O. Box here, a poisoning attempt there," Fleur raised her eyebrows, "I think he's interested in scaring me rather than killing me, but this lavish serial murder scheme seems too risky for him. Nevertheless, I will check him out."

"Bon. Merci," she said, digesting that information slowly. Whatever 'means' Hermione would need to use to get that information she didn't need to know. Or, rather, she didn't want to know. "So, 'ow will this work, exactly?"

"I'm not sure," she admitted, looking down at her knees.

"Well, we need to figure it out. We're going to get nowhere if we can't communicate effectively."

Hermione didn't meet her eyes. She just muttered, "We'll see," before they fell into more silence. 

After a minute or two the Gryffindor finished her wine and picked at a loose thread on her throw blanket, lost in her thoughts. The veela tapped her finger on the armrest to an unknown beat in her head as she ran through her own, but then the quiet brought her back to the reality of where she was.

The silence was fine for Fleur. She was comfortable in interrogation rooms where hours had passed without a word or sound, but this felt different. It felt like a permanent one. It wasn't weighty and stifling like silences could be. This was like the silence in your head as you're stood at a loud bar, staring down into the dregs of your drink. It was the kind of noise that the child who eats his lunch in the bathroom stall hears. The kind of quiet that a widow hears as she looks down at a new gravestone.

It was the sound of solitude, of loneliness. Fleur pictured the room without her own presence. Just Hermione sitting on the couch with a sad glass of wine and the company of a cheeseboard and books. The quiet she must hear between these four walls all the time. The isolation, the void of anything lasting and anyone that matters, day in and day out.

For the first time this evening, Fleur felt she needed to break the silence, but she couldn't think of anything except melancholy and heartbreak.

"Harry misses you," she blurted out, and then grimaced when she realised what she had done. Shit.

It was as if she flicked a switch. Amber eyes shot to her, anger written clearly in their depths. The veela catalogued each movement as tattooed hands twitched and gripped the meat above the knees they had been resting on. She let go. Fleur's heart was thudding in her chest.

The Raven set her glass on the coffee table and stood up, "I think you should go now," she said in a low, wavering voice. Her fists were clenched loosely by her sides and veela could see them shaking a little.

For the first time since being in her home, Fleur felt wary. Unsafe. She slowly set her own glass down and stood up.

"I'm s—"

"Don't."

Hermione walked away. She quietly followed, letting out a trembling breath and reprimanding herself for being such an idiot. It wasn't as if she made herself unclear that she wanted to keep this away from their personal history.

They made their way down a well-lit hallway and the brunette opened the first door on the left. A library. She stifled the laugh that tried to escape. As if the hundreds of books in the living room weren't enough, the thousands in here must be closer to the mark. A soft cream colour coated the small portion of the walls that weren't covered in bookshelves. The large wooden desk that held an inkpot and quill was positioned beneath a window that overlooked the rolling green hills outside. Fleur took a deep breath in through her nose and grinned to herself a little. It smelled overwhelmingly like Hermione in this room. The air was still, but a strange ambience surrounded her snugly, like it was enveloping her in a hug.

The clearing of a throat interrupted her trance. The Raven was standing next to the hearth with a black bag in her hand. She could practically feel the anger vibrating from her rigid form. Fleur walked over, an apology already on her lips but Hermione silenced that with another austere look. She sighed, sticking her hand into the floo powder and making her way onto the pile of ash in the fireplace. She was biding her time, she knew, but she had to ask.

She turned around and met honey eyes, "When will I see you again?"

"If all goes well, you won't."

"And if all doesn't go well?"

Hermione walked a few paces to put the bag of ash on the mantle. She met blue eyes with an apathetic gaze, her honey eyes skilfully masking the anger Fleur knew was still in underneath somewhere.

"You can see yourself out," she left the bag on the mantle and walked away again, shutting the door to the library behind her.

The blonde let out a shaky breath and eyed the empty room again, taking one more deep inhale of its unique presence. Stating her address, she threw the floo powder down and twirled away, wondering if she'd ever get to see it again.

The rushing sound of flames had just died down into stillness again before a muted yell followed by breaking glass could be heard in the other room.