Hermione blinked at Xenophilius and frowned in consternation.
Doubting completely that he was fishing for Freshwater Plimpies and not appreciating his mulish tone one bit, she opened her mouth to rebuke him, but at that very second, a loud crack of thunder broke above them. The sky had turned dark with low, ominous clouds flying speedily by, and the wind blew with the fierce strength of an erratic force, causing Hermione to clasp the children even tighter to her. The children cried out in fright as the sudden thunderstorm flashed its lightning bolts sporadically here and there across the sky.
Xeno jumped up, his brow furrowed, perplexed as to why Molly had not yet responded to his Patronus. Heavy raindrops began to plop down, threatening to transform into hail at any second as the wind gusted wildly. In a split second decision, Xeno turned to Hermione and said, "Come. Let me help you Apparate the children back to The Burrow."
"No," answered Hermione, rejecting his offer immediately. Even though he had been more than gallant, she irrationally disliked the thought of Lovegood taking one of her children for Side-Along-Apparation. But even more strongly, she distressfully doubted herself, so discombobulated by her night terrors she had become, affecting her magical powers. She didn't want to splinch her children, let alone herself.
A pained look crossed Xeno's face for a second, but then he waved it away and whipped his wand at the nearest tree to Summon the blanket with its contents over beside them. A multitude of leaves fluttered across the air and above them, merging with and forming a sealed canopy over the blanket. Xeno flicked his wand again, and as the rain began to pelt the improvised, leafy 'carriage', Lovegood urged, "Climb inside."
He held his free hand out to the children, while his wand hand made an opening for them to enter. "Climb on board," he instructed Hugo and Rose. "Let you travel like our mystical cousins of the East on their celestial carpets! Ms Weasley?" he urged as the rain began to beat down upon him.
The heavens opened, and Hermione could do nothing but hurry and follow her children inside.
Close by, a flash of lightning caused the children to squeal in fright, and Hermione called out to Lovegood through the sound of the storm, "And you?"
"Trust me to navigate you to shelter, at least; perhaps you can open your mind enough to see the practicality of that, Ms Weasley!" Without further ado, he swiped his wand, closing the opening, then held his wand steady, levitating the contrivance. Slowly trudging through the pouring rain, he kept them afloat and protected them from the elements.
The enclosed, canopied carpet bobbed gently to and fro like a small boat in the storm.
Hermione was both surprised and relieved that it wasn't long before they came to a halt. Where are we?
Xeno reopened the contraption and called out, "Hop on out, my dear Weasleys; we're here!"
Through the tempest, Hermione saw a doorway open with warm sconce lighting-a heartwarming sight.
The children scampered out of the makeshift protective covering and through a door that had opened for them. It led into a spacious circular room with a lit fireplace on the far side. Hermione felt the force of the gale wind as she quickly followed behind Hugo and Rose and sighed in relief once inside, looking around and noting the colourful array of unusual pieces of furniture and objects.
A dripping wet Xenophilius entered and placed the wicker picnic basket down on a low footstool beside a wall of shelved books. "I believe I've saved your basket; the blanket, however, is in need of a good drying spell."
And with that, he waved his wand and dried it. Giving Hermione an odd look, he hesitated and then suggested, "Perhaps, now, the children? May I?"
She nodded, and he quickly spelled them dry, but as he turned back to the young widow to offer her his wand, she squeaked suddenly, jumping back at seeing something moving in the room.
Hermione had spotted a spherical-shaped creature whose thin pink tongue had snaked out, aiming for the picnic basket full of treats.
The children turned in the direction where their mother's gaze was fixated. Upon seeing a furry little creature endeavour to scavenge their Grandmum's pastries with its long, squiggly tongue, they squealed and jumped in excitement, ready to run and catch it.
"Children, don't! Don't touch anything or- "
"It's one of my grandsons Puffskeins; actually, the house is full of the admirable little beasts."
Xeno knelt down to eye level with Rose and Hugo and waved to them to have a huddle with him. "Feel free to cuddle the complacent Puffskein and throw one about-if you can catch one, that is," challenged Xeno, waggling his eyebrows.
Rose and Hugo giggled, and Xeno gave them a further, hushed proposal. "However, if you willingly share a treat with one, the ever-docile Puffskein shall honour you with its gift of friendship and introduce you to our dignified Nifflers-one of whom shall certainly lead you to hidden treasures buried in the rich earth of which you may choose-"
"Mr Lovegood," cut off Hermione, "I don't believe Puffskeins will do anything of the sort, and there's no need to elaborate." She took a deep breath in order to explain calmly, "If you don't wish for my children to bother the creature, then just say so-there's no need to embellish the truth nor-"
But the excitable Weasley tots were already off and running, searching for the furry little creature who had silently crept into hiding.
Their playful hunting led them around and about in the oval-shaped room, which was a cozy blend of an open living-room space and study, with a grand round table designating a dining area surrounded by several large arched windows in its curved wall. Rose and Hugo soon discovered an adjoining room, decorated in a broad palette of pastels, which lit up magically the second they entered. Squeals of delight sounded forth as they found various clutters of animated carved creatures and other unusual objects scattered about inside. Over the children's whoops and hollers was heard Rose's joyous voice, "Oooh, toys! And-and other weird funny things!"
"Children, don't touch things that aren't yours," snapped Hermione, as a seizure of worry gripped her, remembering Lovegood's exploding Erumpent Horn from years past.
"You are welcome to play with them, little ones," called out Lovegood, contradicting her.
"Mr Lovegood!" Hermione wished not to be rude to the man in his own home, but she wasn't used to anyone undermining her authority with her children.
Her tone seemed to tell Xeno this, and he softly explained, "Please, Ms Weasley, it's only natural that they should want to play."
"That's not the point, Mr Lovegood-"
"They are my Lorcan and Lysander's play things, meant for children's entertainment," he gently rebutted. "For their joy..." The tall white-haired wizard gave her a concerned gaze, looking her up and down.
His cordial admonishment caused Hermione to feel self-conscious. Flustered, she bit her lip and was about to tell Lovegood that it was her place and hers alone to tell her children what they could or could not do, when suddenly she shuddered violently from the dampness of her drenched clothing.
Noting her chilled to the bone, Xeno offered, "Ms Weasley, may I, would you like-" He started to raise his wand to cast a drying spell over her body, but stopped, suddenly aware of Hermione's wet clothing, tightly clinging to her feminine form.
Hermione saw his hesitancy and, in the instant, understood why. Seeing his stalled gaze, a brief but definitely appreciative look - even if it was a fleeting one - caused a warm flush to bud forth on her cheeks.
This physical reaction induced her to instinctively notice the drenched cloth pasted on his tall angular form. Lovegood's cotton-tunic top outlined and revealed his lean, taut torso down to his waist. The strings tying the tunic's front had come unravelled nearly all the way down, and she bit the inside of her cheeks, unable to ignore that he had soft tufts of hair from his lean, muscular chest down to and beyond his navel, forming an eye-catching joytrail.
Hermione immediately averted her eyes, feeling a strange lightheadedness.
An awkward silence ensued.
With the children's playful sounds in the background, Xenophilius gave the curly, brown-haired witch an odd look and then offered his wand. "Please, take it." He stepped forward, very gentlemanly, holding it out to her.
His height and grace hit her. He's very tall and spare... Blinking, Hermione remembered the very first time she had ever seen Lovegood. Bill and Fleur's wedding... He was so dapper and dashing...
Another chill came over her along with a pungent sense of guilt for even noticing another man's attractiveness in such a way.
What is wrong with me? She shook her headed slightly and refocused on the here and now.
He just saved my son's life, navigated us to his home for shelter and warmth, and is still standing here soaking wet in his water-filled Wellingtons. No doubt he'll find a Freshwater Plimpie or two inside them...
"No, Mr Lovegood, dry yourself first, please," she entreated and couldn't help but add a small smile. He's kind and thoughtful, putting us before his own needs... She suddenly felt the need to explain her situation a bit. "I-I don't know what is wrong with me. I completely forgot to bring my wand, and then I couldn't Accio-"
"No matter, Ms Weasley." He continued to hold his wand out, intent on her taking it. "I insist on you first. I shan't have my guest catch cold on my account."
Feeling they would be there all night, bantering back and forth niceties, she gave in. "Thank you, Mr Lovegood, you're most kind. You're-"
"Oh!" she gasped. For as she grasped his wand with him still holding one end of it, a dull glow issued forth, causing Xeno and Hermione both to inhale in surprise.
They simultaneously released the wand, and it fell to the floor. Xeno backed away from Hermione, slumping down on top of a side table, as if all of the air had been knocked out of him. With an incredulous, awed look, he gazed at Hermione as if he couldn't believe his eyes.
A tingling had gone through Hermione's body, and a splotch of darkness burst forth in her mind, momentarily causing everything to go dark in her vision. After several seconds, she recovered from the surge of magic from Xenophilius' wand.
With only the sounds of the children playing in the next room audible, Hermione and Xenophilius gazed warily at each other.
At long last, Xeno whispered, "It was you!" His hand unconsciously touched and pulled out an object on his chest. Hanging from a golden chain around his neck, he held a glistening symbol.
"The Deathly Hallows!" gasped Hermione.
Lovegood's mouth fell open to a perfect 'O', and he grasped the triangular eye tighter and rasped, "You are a Quester, Ms Weasley?"
In the recesses of her mind, Hermione realized her folly too late. She had revealed that she recognized exactly what the dubious symbol represented, but still, she shook her head in denial and asked, "A Quester?"
"You are a Believer?" A pained look etched Xeno's face. "You seek the Deathly Hallows, too?"
"I-I don't know what you're talking about, Mr Lovegood."
Exasperated, the burdened wizard let out a doubtful huff and challenged, "Don't you, Ms Weasley?" His features had hardened, fiercely tormented by something only known to him.
Her heart thumping wildly, Hermione's eyes widened, realizing the grave meaning of his question as well as the severity of her mistake. Trying to cover her tracks as best she could, she stammered, "No-yes, I mean! No, I mean-"
A sudden pounding on the main door saved her, and Molly Weasley's voice was heard calling out, "Xeno! It's Molly! Hermione!" There was a frantic pounding on the front door's knocker, before the Weasley matriarch did away with any formalities and burst through the front door.
Molly took in Xenophilius and Hermione standing in their wet clothing, staring at one another with dazed, appalled looks, and demanded, "Xeno! Hermione! Good heavens! What has happened?"