A foot stomped hard onto the polished hardwood floors of the apartment. The young girl stood ramrod straight, with angry tears pooled at her eyes and hands clenched into fists so tightly they trembled at her sides.
The woman looked at her with unease in her blue eyes, uncertainty evident in her body language. She tried to approach, a gesture in a last attempt at some kind of reconciliation before things got out of control.
“Rose, I...” she tried in vain.
“I hate you!” Rose cried, her shout reverberating through the apartment walls and Narcissa’s ears like the echo of a war cry preparing for battle.
Narcissa snapped her mouth shut, the shock and surprise coming with a hurt she could had never anticipated.
“I understand you’re upset, Rose. But let’s take a minute for a breather and revisit this matter once we’ve composed ourselves,” she spoke through the indescribable pain, trying to not let it through her gaze or her voice, keeping it hidden deep within.
“No!” Rose bellowed, her eyes fire and fury that could not be contained. She looked so much like Hermione when she was angry. “I’m sick of this! You keep hurting her! Those eyes, so much like Hermione’s with their flickers of gold on brown, narrowed with utter disdain. “You don’t deserve her!”
“Rose. We will revisit this later.” Narcissa tried again, her tone firmer than it had been previously. It was always so terribly difficult to navigate the line of parenting a child that hadn’t been hers from the start, even if Narcissa had come to see her as such.
“You can’t tell me what to do!” Rose yelled through gritted teeth and a fresh onslaught of tears. “You’re not my real mum! You’re not her real wife! You’re not our real anything!”
Narcissa froze, feeling the pieces of her shattered heart fall away in cracks deep within her chest. Her breath was robbed from her lungs, exiting through her throat in a strangled gasp of surprise, shock, and incredible pain. It made her feel utterly hollow, like an empty, broken, useless shell adrift in the pull of angry waves.
Rose was also frozen in place, as if she had only belatedly processed her own words.
“I-I...” she stuttered. “I didn’t...”
“Go to your room, Rose.” Narcissa said coolly. She had never, ever used that tone with Rose, but the hurt she felt inside created a need for its painful debut, a defence mechanism so that the young girl would not see the agony she felt inside. “You will speak to your mother when she gets home.”
Rose shuddered, taken aback by the ice in Narcissa’s voice.
“I... Mum, I’m so sor--”
“Now, Rose.” Narcissa bit back acerbically, unable to contain the reflex to lash out when in pain, like a wounded animal snapping its jowls in fear. Hearing Rose call her ‘mum’ only felt like rubbing salt in the wound.
When Rose did not move, Narcissa turned on her heel and left, seeking refuge in the room she shared with Hermione. She locked the door.
“Honey, I’m home!” Hermione called from the foyer as she put away her formal Wizengamot robes. Work had ended earlier than expected, and she wanted to treat her two favourite girls to some dinner in Muggle London.
“Mummy!” came Rose’s desperate cry from the hall, followed by the sound of her running feet, dashing to greet Hermione. “Thank Merlin you’re home!”
Hermione furrowed her brow in confusion, taking in the sight of her breathless daughter.
“Rose? Is everything alright?” she narrowed her eyes at Rose’s state, alarm bells ringing in her mind. “Honey, have you been crying?”
Rose nodded, then shook her head, then promptly began sobbing. Hermione instinctively gathered in her arms, shocked.
“Honey!” she cried as Rose broke down in heaving sobs. “Rosie, what’s the matter? You’re scaring me!”
“It’s Mum! I... mummy, I was awful to her and I...” she hiccoughed, sobs getting the best of her for a few moments. “I said some things I really didn’t mean, and I’ve really hurt her and... mummy, she’s locked herself in your room and she hasn’t come out!”
Hermione did her best to soothe her daughter, rubbing gentle circles on her back. She was at a loss as to what Rose could have possibly said to Narcissa that was so awful—Narcissa loved Rose to pieces.
“Sh, sh, it’s alright. What is it that you said that was so unforgivable?”
Rose swallowed through her tears, a look of deep shame overcoming her features.
“It... we had a fight, about the wedding stuff... she said... she said that she’d rather never marry again, and...” sobs wracked through the young girl’s body harder than ever; Hermione felt her shake with the strength of her crying.
“Mummy, I said she wasn’t my real mum! I didn’t mean it, I swear, I was just upset and now, now...”
“Sh, honey. It’s alright. I’ll talk to her, OK?” Hermione soothed. There would be a time to reprimand Rose for her words, but it would not be now. She seemed repentant enough; Hermione could see the sincerity of her regret.
“Please, please tell her I’m sorry, that I didn’t mean it!” Rose cried, desperate.
“I will, I will. Go to your room, alright, sweetie?” Hermione dropped a kiss to her daughter’s forehead. “I’ll talk to your mum; she’ll forgive you on the spot because you’re the apple of her eye, you two will make up, and then we’ll all go and grab a bite to eat. Sound good?”
Rose nodded weakly, wiping at her tears. Hermione waited for the door to her room to click shut before directing herself to the master bedroom.
She knocked gently.
“Hello?” she whispered against the door, in the softest tone she could. “Cissy, honey, is everything alright? Rosie told me what happened.”
There was no response. Hermione sighed, fearful that Rose had unwittingly caused more damage than she thought. It was not a well-known fact—only Hermione truly knew—but Narcissa could be incredibly vulnerable and insecure despite her famous Ice Queen façade. Especially when it came to the people she loved most.
She knocked again. “Cissy... you know she didn’t mean it. Teenagers, you know? Please let me in?”
No answer still. Hermione began to worry that something was very, very wrong.
“Cissy,” she said, hiding her worry behind a firmer tone. “Please don’t make me Alohomorra my way in.”
When no answer was forthcoming, Hermione did precisely that, nearly yanking the door off its hinges as soon as the spell had the chance to work.
Narcissa was gone.
Hermione heard Andromeda approach the door. She held a breath of anticipation and worry.
She had apparated to Andy’s place as soon as it became clear that Narcissa had left. She had told Rose to Floo to her father’s place for a little while as she tracked Narcissa down.
Her one consolation was that her fiancée had not taken anything with her besides the clothes on her back, which meant that Narcissa did not plan on staying away.
It was a small comfort. Hermione did not like the fact that Narcissa thought it necessary to leave at all.
Andromeda opened the door, eyes narrowing defensively as soon as her gaze met Hermione’s. She crossed her arms, blocking the door in one decisive move.
“What have you done this time?” her voice was accusatory. “She won’t tell me. She’s inconsolable.”
Hermione straightened, stepping directly to Andromeda with a defiant gaze.
“I haven’t done anything. I don’t appreciate the accusation.”
“I don’t know, Hermione. You pushed her to move in, you’re pushing for a wedding she never wanted. It seems pretty bloody likely you have something to do with whatever this is now.”
Hermione bristled. She understood how protective Andromeda was of her only sister, but the woman could be rather unfair. There was no need to bring up old disagreements that had long been resolved.
“I’m am not pushing her to do anything.”
Andromeda rolled her eyes.
“Of course. She just spontaneously decided to marry you after years of saying no.”
Hermione balled her hands into fists at her sides.
“It wasn’t like that, as you well know,” she bit back, frustrated. She had no time for this.
“Cissy came to see things from my point of view and we reached a compromise. Just like we did when she moved in, just like we do for everything that warrants one.” Hermione narrowed her eyes, levelling Andromeda with an accusatory glare of her own. “I’m not Lucius, Andy.”
Andromeda had the grace to look ashamed. Her expression softened and she sighed, taking a step back.
“I know. I’m sorry. I don’t mean to be such an arse,” she said, eyes turning wistful. “She’s my little sister, and I can’t stand to see her hurting.”
Hermione exhaled, relieved that Andromeda had relented.
“I don’t like to see her hurting either, Andy,” she whispered. “Please, can I talk to her?”
Andromeda stepped aside.
Hermione found Narcissa holed up in one of Andromeda’s guest bedrooms. Narcissa had always liked that room, with its pale blue walls and white furnishings.
“Hey there,” Hermione called out softly. Narcissa was sat at the foot of the bed, looking wistfully out the window. She turned, and her gaze met Hermione’s in acknowledgement, but she did not speak.
Hermione walked in, closing the door behind her.
“How are you feeling?” she tried, gingerly taking a seat by Narcissa’s side.
“I’ve had better days,” Narcissa said softly, smiling sadly. “I’ve also had worse.”
Hermione nodded, winding an arm around Narcissa’s waist and bringing her close. She was beyond relieved when Narcissa relaxed into her touch, bringing her blonde head to rest upon her shoulder.
“Rosie is really, really sorry for what she said.” Hermione whispered.
“I imagine so.” Narcissa quipped sadly. “Oh, what’s the use? I’ve already forgiven her.”
“Hm, but we are not telling her that right away,” Hermione added with a smirk, trying to lighten the mood. “We’re going to let her stew in despair and wallow in guilt for a little while longer... Hopefully long enough for her to learn a lesson.”
Narcissa laughed, albeit sadly. “Poor child.”
Hermione shrugged. “Well, teenager—much, much worse and much less deserving of our pity” she joked. “But why am I telling you that? You’ve done this before.”
The Slytherin’s laughter was more genuine this time. Hermione saw a glimmer of hope.
“Come home?” she asked. Narcissa sighed.
“I suppose I must. Poor Rose, I must have scared her, leaving like that. But...”
“You needed some space.” Hermione interjected kindly. “You were hurting.”
Narcissa hummed into Hermione’s neck, confirming it.
Hermione smiled. It was Narcissa’s modus operandi. Decades of hiding her emotions had not prepared her to actually deal with them at all when they had the occasion to surface. When the time came, Narcissa was often left scrambling with feelings she had never truly learned to process. It had taken some time and some effort, but with Hermione’s help, she was doing better than she ever had.
Still, Hermione understood, that at times things got too overwhelming. Times when Narcissa had to physically remove herself from a situation in order to deal with it emotionally. It was how Hermione knew exactly where to find her, and also perhaps why Andromeda thought what the thought of Hermione. The brunette did not mind, as long as it helped Narcissa in the long run.
“You are as much her mother as I am” Hermione said, taking one of Narcissa’s hands and squeezing it. “I know that, and Rosie knows it too. I just hope you know it as well.”
Narcissa’s smile was still tinged with sadness.
“I mean it,” Hermione insisted. “Can you imagine the table manners she would have if it weren’t for you? Look at the example her father sets...”
That made Narcissa laugh, but Hermione could see there was something else bothering her. She sighed. She would have preferred to avoid this discussion when Narcissa was so vulnerable, but clearly there was no escaping it.
She took a deep breath, steeling her nerves. They had had this conversation before—several times, in fact, over the years they had been together. It hurt to admit that Andromeda had not been entirely wrong.
But they had talked about it. In time, Hermione had come to understand Narcissa’s deeply personal reasons to never want to get married again... And Narcissa, in turn, eventually came to understand Hermione’s reasons for wanting it more than almost anything in the world. They had talked about it for years before Narcissa decided, of her own accord—despite what her sister might think—to one day surprise Hermione and say ‘yes’.
“Is this about the wedding?” Hermione finally asked, the question hanging heavily in the air. “Are you having second-thoughts?”
Narcissa turned in her arms, pressing a soft kiss to Hermione’s lips. The brunette was relieved to feel that the kiss was one of reassurance, not apology or even consolation.
“None whatsoever,” the blonde spoke with conviction, eyes, glimmering with tears that Hermione tenderly wiped away. “Rose was just... entirely too right about some of the things she said.”
Hermione shook her head.
“Rosie is just a moody teenager, Cissy. Please don’t take what she says to heart. You’re her mother, and she knows that.”
Narcissa shook her head.
“It’s not that... well, it is in part. But Rose was right about something entirely different.” She straightened where she sat, as if she were trying to gather strength.
“She was right. I keep hurting you. And I don’t deserve you.”
Hermione bristled, internally vowing to give Rose the talking to of a lifetime for hurting Narcissa in that way, even if by accident. It was time her daughter learned to rein in her temper—she took too much after Ron in that regard.
“You don’t ‘keep hurting’ me, Cissy. You never have.”
“Hermione,” Narcissa laughed wryly. “You know that isn’t true. How long have we been together?”
“Twelve years, ten months” Hermione responded immediately. “But who’s counting?”
Narcissa smiled. “And when did you know you wanted to marry me?”
Hermione shrugged. “Twelve years and ten months, give or take” she winked.
Narcissa shook her head with a laugh. “Every time you asked me, it killed me to see the hurt in your eyes each time I said no” Narcissa said evenly. “I’ve spent the better part of a decade hurting you continuously.”
“You know what actually hurt me?” Hermione interjected, stroking Narcissa’s cheek. “Only finding out how much my asking hurt you about eight years in.”
Narcissa let out another wry laugh. “We have not been the best at communicating, have we?” she pondered aloud. Hermione had to laugh at the observation.
“Not at all. It was a bit of a steep learning curve But we learned,” she held Narcissa’s face in her hands so that the blonde could see the sincerity in her eyes.
“It’s all semantics to me now, Narcissa. Wife, partner, girlfriend, lover... It doesn’t matter to me anymore. All I want is the privilege to love you until I die.
Narcissa chuckled, sighing into Hermione’s touch.
“I’m afraid you’re out of luck,” she quipped. “Because I care quite strongly for semantics. And, now that I am finally ready... I will accept nothing less than wife.”
Hermione felt her heart swell with pride, gratitude, appreciation, and a deep, all-encompassing love for the woman before her. She kissed Narcissa deeply, tenderly, hoping to convey all those feelings and more.
They separated after long, languishing moments. Narcissa still had tears in her eyes, but Hermione could see they were tears of another kind.
These were happy tears.
“Shall we go home?”
Rose was nearly asleep when the door to her bedroom was opened slightly. A familiar figure stood, backlit by the soft lights coming from the corridor.
“Mum? Is that you?” she called, bleary-eyed and tired.
“I’m sorry, Rosie, did I wake you?” he mother asked, coming in and softly closing the door as she made her way towards the young witch.
“No,” Rose said as her mother sat by her side on the bed. She could feel her voice grow thick as tears began to pool in her eyes. “No, mum... about.... about earlier...”
She was interrupted by a sob tearing through her chest and throat. Immediately, her mother’s arms were wound tight around her in a familiar, comforting embrace she had known for as long as she could remember.
Rose sobbed harder, consumed by her deep guilt and regret.
“It’s alright, my darling,” Narcissa whispered, holding tight to the little girl who had been in her life since she was two years old, intrepidly toddling around Hermione’s old apartment. “I’ll always, always love you.”