Shopping, the Dursleys, a meal, and further investigation.
"I'm sorry, Madame," Fleur said, "to contradict, but ‘e is only my cousin. I am a simple girl from ze country in France, Madame, an' too young to ‘ave a boyfriend yet."
"Right, right," she said, laughing. "Sorry, I forget how awkward it is when you're so young. Your ‘cousin' is right handsome, then. And your other ‘cousins' are lovely girls. It may seem hard to believe, but I wasn't much older than you when I met my husband and wife."
They stepped out of the shop. "Very good," Fleur said. "We ‘ave clothes for all of us that will not look too out of place on the cross-channel ferry. We ‘ave sufficient money left to get us to my family's estate. The only difficulty, I think, will be documents. I ‘ave a few ideas for that."
Hermione looked both ways. They were in a quiet street, and nobody was very close. "Fleur," she said softly, "where did you learn to do all of this?"
"All of what, /chérie/? I ‘ave ze natural fashion sense of ze French woman, of course, but..."
"Fleur, darling, that's not what I meant. The way you've been working through the shops–-first you got me a pair of flip flops, then you got me shorts at another shop so it wasn't obvious I was walking about in swimming togs and a tshirt, then you started working upwards on Harry's clothes... and now you're talking about documents. It's as if you're... a spy, or something like that." Oh, God! Hermione thought, now I've lost her. What will I do? "Not that there's anything wrong with that," she said hastily. "I mean, I'm sure you're a good spy, if you are one, and..."
Fleur laughed, and hugged her. "Sweet ‘Ermione," she said, "don't be afraid. I will not leave you, not ever. No, I am not a spy. But my Papa was one, once. I suppose I am... well, behaving as if I were in one of his stories."
"Do you think anyone will try to stop us reaching your home?"
"No, but I am not sure. Things ‘ave been very odd, you must admit. I am not sure why that pig thought he could kidnap a girl who walked into his shop, only thinking to look at the cute little owls and kittens, because she set off his ‘Veela detector.' Nor am I sure why my tour group was given a drunken old cow for our ‘guide,' especially when she ‘ad less French than does your kind Monsieur ‘Agrid. And why I was made to give her my wand ‘for safe keeping,' this also I do not comprehend. But something is odd. Perhaps it is only luck, good and bad all mixed together, but..."
"Of course things are odd," Luna said. "We're three pets, not dressed properly, not wearing leashes, and two of us not even wearing our collars. That's decidedly odd."
Fleur let Hermione go, and hugged Luna. "Luna, my darling," she said, "please don't ever change. But if we talk about these things in public, people will look at us strangely. And we must be... quiet, yes? There is much I don't know about Muggle England, but we are all a bit young to be out in the city by ourselves."
"But people always look at me strangely."
"Only because they don't know what a wonderful person you are," Fleur said. "But... if people think there is something, ah... wrong wit' us, we might be stopped by... les gendarmes. You understand?"
"The Aurors? My godfather, daddy's cousin Alastor, he's one of them," Luna said. "I'm sure he'd help us."
"The Muggle... constables, is that the word? The constables do not know your godfather, Luna. I am sure zat eventually he or my Papa or one of their friends would find us and help us. But until then... it might be hours or days, and unpleasant. For one t'ing, I don't t'ink they would let us stay wit' our ‘Arry."
"I wish I could ring my parents and tell them I'm all right," Hermione said. "I'm sure they must be very worried. But... they'll make me go home, and I can't believe they'll let me take you with me."
"I don't know why not," Luna said. "I'm sure they'd see reason, just as my Daddy did. It's obvious that we're all bound up; you only have to look at the threads that tie our hearts together. They're so bright, so strong."
Is she serious? Hermione thought. Can she see something I can't?
"You have the Second Sight, then, chérie?"
"Is that what it's called? I've noticed that other people didn't seem to see some things, but... you mean it's truly that they can't?"
"I'm afraid so," Fleur said. "I can feel it, but there is nothing that I could show to someone who didn't believe us."
"And I'm much the same," Hermione said. "My parents are Muggles; they certainly couldn't see it. And I'm afraid they'd not believe you if you told them."
"And I've only got my aunt and uncle," Harry said. "They hate having me in their house. I can't imagine what they'd say to all four of us. If they could see how we feel about each other, well, that would only give them more reason to make you leave. Or all of us, if they thought they could."
"My family will understand," Fleur said. "We are Veela, after all; Maman is half, and Papa's four-greats grandmother, the Comtesse de Razès, was a fullblood. But they are in France. And if someone meant to hurt them t'rough me, I must believe that same someone will attempt to prevent us crossing /La Manche/, what you call the Channel. Which means that we must do it as the Muggles do, and that we must be careful not to fall into the hands of the Muggle authorities, whose ‘elp could only ‘urt us."
She reached out, very suddenly, and pulled Harry into her arms. The other girls followed, as if by instinct. Hermione felt him almost struggle, for an instant, before he relaxed into the group embrace "We must be very strong for each other, my loves," Fleur whispered. "And may the Blessed Mother watch over us. Now, let us let each other go. And if anyone has seen, why, we are only silly children playing, yes?"
Fortunately, no one had been very close. Harry, Hermione thought, looked far too gobsmacked to be only a boy whose girl cousins or neighbours had thought it would be funny to pile on him in a hug. I wonder, she thought, how many people have ever hugged him before? The thought was horrible to contemplate. I don't know if you're my friend or my boyfriend or my Master, Harry, but, whatever you are, I promise I'll do my damnedest to hug you every day for the rest of our lives.
"We haven't seen the boy since your bloody great freak went away with him," the fat man said, nearly purple with rage. He smelt of sour sweat and whisky. Behind him Minerva heard sobbing, and a woman saying something that sounded as if it were meant to be comforting. "Went away with him and left my son with a /tail/, for God's sake. And I'll be content if we never see him again. With or without these daft bints you claim to be trailing after him." He slammed the door of Number Four Privet Drive shut without another word.
Minerva swore as she had not sworn in many years. Hagrid looked shocked. Gérard Delacour grinned at her. "Don't hold back for the sake of our poor masculine ears," he said. "If you have any swearing words left, why, I should like to know them."
"It's no cause for laughter," she snapped. "If Harry Potter's not here, nor the girls, then they might be anywhere at all. Anywhere but a place where we ken they're safe."
"I know," he said gently. "My daughter is one of them. It's just... well, one learns to find humour where one may."
"I'm sorry, Mister Delacour," she said. "I did not mean to snarl at you so."
"You've nothing to be sorry for," he said. "And please, call me Gérard. After all... we both are looking for our children."
"If you'll call me Minerva," she said."
"I suspect, Minerva," he said, "that the fine specimen of English manhood we've just seen would not be as welcoming as one might hope, did his nephew show up on his doorstep with three new friends. Yes?"
"I should think you were correct, Gérard."
"And, of course, I should suspect that said nephew would be well aware of this. So... is it not possible that he has told the girls of this, and that they have tried to find some other lodging?"
"I suppose they might have done," she said. "But where would they go?"
"Well," he said, "it is possible that this Selkie girl has a family with whom they might take shelter. Or, if this is not the case, it is possible that Fleur intends to take them to our family home in France."
"How would she do that? They'd have to have gone back to Diagon Alley, if they wanted an international Portkey. And surely Tom at the Leaky Cauldron would have seen them."
"I would not be surprised if my daughter does not suspect your Ministry of some... complicity in her unfortunate captivity. If so, she will be trying to convey them by Muggle routes. There would be difficulties, with money and with the appropriate travelling documents. But Fleur can be most resourceful.
"So, let us go back to that odious man's shop. Without doubt my good friend Alastor will be returned from stowing him in whatever comfortable holiday accomodation he has found. And, if we have any luck at all, we may find from where he kidnaped the poor Selkie girl. Which will at least help us in working out one of the places to which they might have gone."
They were in the back room of a café, and, blessedly, alone in the room. Hermione thought the food was a bit greasy and salty, but it was surprisingly good. Perhaps it was that it was nearly teatime and she'd not had any lunch. Or perhaps it was that she was sharing a meal with the best friends she'd ever had in her life.
"Such ‘eavy English food," Fleur said, and laughed. "Why, then, does it taste so good?" She hugged Hermione about the shoulders, squeezed Harry's hand, and reached over his head to stroke Luna's hair. "Not that I do not look forward to taking you ‘ome and feeding you what I grew up eating. I wonder, will you like the frogs' legs?"
"I quite enjoy them, actually," Hermione said.
"I knew I loved you," Fleur said, "and I suppose now I know why."
"I'm not sure," Luna said, "I've met some very nice frogs, you see."
"Other than me?" Fleur said. "Well, we shall be careful, then, /chérie/, that only mean frogs appear on our table."
"I don't know," Harry said, "but I'll eat whatever you give me. And, if you want, I'll cook it for you as well."
"‘Arry," Fleur whispered, "anyt'ing you don't like, you don't ‘ave to eat. Or wear, or do, or... anyt'ing. You are our Master, yes?"
"I never thought I'd be any such thing," Harry said, "but if I am... that means I'm yours as much as you're mine. All I know is that I saw two girls in a cage, and if I said yes, I wanted them, I could take them out of the cage and keep them safe. And then I saw another girl in the street who said she had to be mine, and I knew that I couldn't tell her no.
"I don't know anything about feelings. I don't know if you're my friends, or my pets, or if I'm in love with all three of you. But if we were all grown up, and I could marry all three of you, I would."
"Harry," Luna said, "in the Wizarding world you could marry all of us. But all that really matters is how we feel about each other. And I, personally, feel quite happy as Harry Potter's pet."
Fleur smiled. "The law says that there's no such t'ing, zat people can't be pets. But the ‘eart, that says something very different. Per'aps we'll marry, someday. Per'aps ze world will know us as ‘Arry Potter and ‘is... oh, friends or business partners or–-how do you say it?--sidekicks. But inside"–-she patted her chest–-"we're yours, ‘Arry. The magic does things like that."
"But," Harry said, "you're not slaves. I mean, I could never sell you. Or make you work, or..."
"Of course not," Hermione said, surprising herself. "If you were the sort of person who /could/, you wouldn't be our Harry. Our master. But you are, and you rescued Fleur and me, and you promised to take care of us. And then we met Luna, and she, well, she was Luna. I'm afraid you're rather stuck with us."
"Sweet Christ," Minerva said, "that's one of our new Muggleborns! Why did you not tell me, Hagrid, for blessed Merlin's sake?"
For all his faults, these including mediocre penmanship and abysmal spelling, Haman Harkness was a fairly careful record keeper. His ledger even included little photographs of each creature he'd sold, at least the more "unusual" ones. He must have developed them himself, she realised, in order to have this one already in place. The brown haired girl shown sleeping in the arms of Gérard Delacour's daughter, apparently dressed in nothing but a light blue shift with some printed design on it, tagged as "Prime Yung Selkie Girl, caut off Devon," had been in the little group of Muggleborns Minerva had led through Diagon Alley just two weeks before. A bright girl, charmingly forthright, whom she'd hoped might sort Gryffindor, whom she'd even hoped might become friends with James and Lily's inexplicably absent son. A teacher oughtn't have favourites, especially when she's also a Deputy Headmistress. But Miss Hermione Granger, I must admit, will probably be one of my favourites.
"I din't realise, Minerva," Hagrid said. "The sign said she were a selkie. I knew she weren't the pureblood selkie Harkness thought she were, but it din't come into me head that she were a Muggleborn. I'd never met ‘er afore, and she din't say a word about Hogwarts."
"Of course, Hagrid. I'm sorry. It's only that I've met her parents, and they must be worried for her, and..."
"Of course they will be. May I see it, Minerva?" Gérard said.
"I'm not sure you want to..."
"Is my daughter in the picture, also?"
"Yes, Gérard, but–-" she paused, seeing the expression on his face. "She's not being hurt or... molested, Gérard, but... she is in a cage."
"I already know she has been caged, Minerva." He took the photograph, inspected it, and, to her surprise, smiled gently. "/Bon./ At least my Fleur has found a friend in her captivity. Not that I shall let that fact temper my opinions of this Haman Harkness. After all, I now know that he has kidnaped not only my daughter, but also her very good friend."
"Well," Moody said meditatively, "he's dangling at the moment. It's almost Biblical, really."
"Alastor," Minerva said. "You didn't...? Not that he doesn't deserve it."
"Oh, he's not /hanged/, Minerva, only hanging. For the now, at least. He's rigged up in a good secure harness, suspended from the roof of a lovely cool dark cave one of my Goblin friends is kind enough to lend me the use of, sometimes when I've a special case like this. I don't think it's likely he'll manage to get himself loose. And if he does, there's a good two hundred feet before he'll find aught to break his fall."
"Are you sure, Alastor? I mean... what if he talks, afterward?"
"No fear of that, Minerva. A few well-placed Obliviates, a quick trial, and then it's off to Azkaban with our Haman."
"Even the best Obliviate can be broken, my friend," Gérard said. "Perhaps... well, one more slit throat will not add much weight to that which is already on my conscience. At least this one does not belong to an honest man who only was doing his duty. Le Bon Dieu would not have given us the Sacrament of Confession if He did not understand that sometimes we would use it."
Minerva didn't know what to say.
"Perhaps, Minerva," Gérard said gently. "You should go and find Miss Granger's parents? Tell them we are looking for her, and, we have good hopes we will find her soon. And me, I will go and look for my daughter and her friends."
"It's not ‘Arry's fault, Mister Delacour," Hagrid said. "‘E only went with the girls cos I said so, and I'm sure he's done right by them. Blame me, if you want, but not him."
"My friends call me Gérard. And I very much doubt I will be blaming young Mister Potter. I met his parents, once or twice. They struck me as good people. And... you said my daughter liked him, Mister Hagrid?"
"My friends just call me Hagrid, Gérard, as ‘Rubeus' sounds like some sort of disease. And yes, I'd say she did. I saw her and ‘Arry an' Miss Granger hold each others' hands quite a bit, for it only being an hour or two til I left them at the Underground."
"There is something about the Veela," Gérard said, "that is not often understood. As a general rule, they do not give their trust without reason. And their instincts are seldom wrong. Some might say my Apolline is an exception, but..." He shrugged. "Any way, my friends, /au ‘voir/. I hope to see you very soon, and with good news."
"Sit down, Dan," Emma Granger said. "You'll only wear a hole in Mrs. Badger's carpet."
"Damn it–-" he stopped himself saying more. "I'm sorry, love. It's... well, you know." Don't think of a chest full of mad school supplies. Don't think of it sitting there, gathering–DON'T!
"Yes, I do," she said. He sat himself down on the overstuffed sofa, and she nestled herself against him.
"Do you think," he said, slowly, not daring to hope, "that school of hers might help us?"
"Perhaps," she said, "but where would we get an owl?"
At that very moment, Mrs. Badger, the landlady of the quiet Victorian B&B where they'd chosen to spend a seaside holiday, knocked at the door of the sitting room. "Mr. Granger, Mrs. Granger? There's someone here to see you. A Miss McGonagall? She says you know her?"
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