“Item number 643. Cursed music-box—bag it, tag it.”
“Will do, Ms. Granger.”
“Item number 644—Bob, do not touch that. The ring has been enchanted; it’ll bite your finger off if you’re not careful.”
Her assistant grimaced, taking the item off the counter and bagging it with a tremulous levitation spell the likes of which Hermione hadn’t seen since her first year at Hogwarts – it's LeviOhsa, not LeviosAh .
“ Are you quite finished?” came a voice from the corridor, gritty and impatient. Hermione turned with irritation.
“Almost, Mrs. Malfoy. Your husband had an extensive collection of dark artefacts—the DMLE wants a comprehensive account of each and every single one.”
The quirk of Narcissa’s brow and her scrunched nose made it painfully clear she was thoroughly displeased with the young Auror. Her eyes flashed a furious silver for a second. “That’s Madam Black to you, Miss Granger. Take care that your fool of an assistant doesn’t injure himself—some of my ex-husband's items can be quite deadly.”
Hermione had a retort ready, but sure enough, Bob was dangerously close to having his nose chopped off.
“Bob!” she barked as Narcissa took the opportunity to saunter off, heels clicking away onto the polished marble. “How many times do I have to tell you? Do. Not. Touch. Anything.”
She sighed, continuing with their rather monotonous task by levitating the item into the containment bag Bob held. “Item number 645—flesh-eating goblet.”
Bob went a little green around the edges, trying to stretch the arms that secured the bag as far away from his body as humanly possible, eyeing the levitating goblet with distrust.
“Boy, Ms. Granger, these Malfoys sure had a lot of scary stuff around.”
“Indeed, Bob. That’s why we’re here.”
“You think Mrs. Malfoy’s hiding anything?”
Hermione gritted her teeth. “Madam Black,” she said, emphasizing the name a little too much, even to her own ears, “has nothing to hide. She’s the one who called me.”
Bob’s eyes went wide. “She did? But I thought her husband....”
“Her ex-husband" Hermione snapped, “had indeed a vast collection. Since they are divorced, she would like to get rid of any and all dark objects in her home.”
Bob nodded, resuming his work. However, the way he kept looking at her inquisitively every now and then began to quickly grate on Hermione’s nerves.
“Sorry, Ms. Granger. It’s just... You and Mrs. Malfoy don’t get along.”
“Madam Black,” Hermione corrected, knowing it was no use. “And?”
“Why are we here? You’re the Department Head. Why not send in another team?”
Hermione sighed. “Because she called me.”
“ Item number 912—hexed pearl earrings. That’s the last of them.”
“Whew!” Bob sighed happily, tapping his wand onto yet another Ministry evidence trunk to lock it and shrink it.
“Alright, Bob. I’ll do the final sweep down here. You take the attic. See you back down here in twenty.”
Bob nodded and scampered off, and Hermione glanced at her watch with a weary groan. Nearly six and a half hours spent at Malfoy Manor in a bubble of awkward tension, stepping on eggshells around Narcissa whenever the Mistress of the House deigned to grace them with her snooty presence, all of that having to suffer through Bob’s daft clumsiness. How her bumbling assistant made it all the way to the DMLE was truly beyond her.
She walked through the Manor’s winding halls, sometimes hearing the discreet scampering of House Elves, no doubt dusting and tidying every room the Aurors had been in.
Hermione was nearly done, already picturing herself out of this damn place and into a luxurious bubble bath back at her flat when she noticed something she and Bob had definitely not seen in their meticulous sweep of the Manor.
“Bloody fucking hell,” she cursed under her breath as a black wooden door with an intricate silver knocker seemed to sprout out of the stone wall before her very eyes. “Mrs. Malfoy!” she called. “Madam Black!”
“Narcissa!” she finally tried, growing more irritated by the second. She was about to call for a fourth time when the blonde finally deigned to appear, looking harried and haughty at once.
“What is the meaning of this racket?” she hissed.
Hermione ignored the other woman’s angry look. She motioned to the door that had just appeared, not willing to let Narcissa test her waning patience any longer.
“You tell me! Where does this door lead to? You never reported this room!”
Narcissa looked at the door, then back at the Auror, looking slightly confused. “I gave you a detailed blueprint of the house,” she deadpanned.
Hermione groaned in frustration. “Well, this wasn’t in it” she snapped. “Where does this door lead to?”
“I do not know! I’ve never seen this door before!” Narcissa retorted, looking frustrated and confused. Hermione didn’t buy it for a second.
“Bullshit! You’ve lived here for thirty years. What is behind this door and why haven’t you reported it for the Ministry sweep?”
That angry hue of silver flashed at Hermione once more.
“Are you by any chance hard of hearing, Ms. Granger, or are you naturally this dense? I’ve just told you—I have never seen this door before in my life!”
“Fine!” Hermione barked, unsheathing her wand in one furious flick. “We’ll just do a sweep right now. After you, Lady Malfoy.”
The glare Hermione received was withering, but she did not let it dissuade her. “Are you mad? I am not simply barging into a secret entrance like some daft simpleton!”
Hermione rolled her eyes. “Well, forgive me for not taking any chances in this blasted house. The last time I visited was not very pleasant.”
There was a glimmer of something Hermione could not place in Narcissa’s bright eyes—the blonde’s mouth pulled into a taut line of deep displeasure. She averted her gaze and, without a word, brushed past Hermione to open the door.
The heavy door creaked open after Narcissa tried the heavy silver knocker, revealing deep darkness within. Hermione was about to poke Narcissa with her wand to remind her to go first, but the blonde avoided her gaze and marched in, elegant and haughty as ever. She walked for only a few seconds before the click of her footsteps ceased completely.
“It’s empty,” came her voice from within.
“Are you sure?”
Hermione heard Narcissa’s scoff inside. “Yes, Miss Granger, I’m quite certain,” she said in her snootiest tone. “Come see for yourself if you do not believe it.”
The Auror cursed under her breath, lighting her wand in a hurriedly muttered Lumos.
“ What’s in there?”
Hermione scoffed. “I find it hard to believe that a secret disappearing door at Malfoy Manor is just sitting here empty.”
She heard Narcissa’s exhale of pure exasperation from deeper inside as she crossed the threshold. “Be my guest, Ms. Granger,” she said acerbically. Hermione ignored her tone, flashing the light of her wand at every corner of the room only to find that it was indeed empty.
“Strange,” she muttered. “ Tenebrae Revelio !”
“ Are you quite finished with your little games?” Narcissa quipped when the spell didn’t seem to do anything.
“You know what?” Hermione huffed, turning her angry gaze onto Narcissa. “I am getting tired of your attitude! I drop everything at work because Narcissa fucking Malfoy personally requested the bloody Head of the DMLE for a fucking house inspection, and for what? So I can hear you give me lip all day? Newsflash, Mrs. Malfoy, I don’t work for you. Don’t worry, I am quite finished. You won’t see me again. Good day.”
Hermione saw the clench of Narcissa’s jaw and the pain in her eyes, but they were too easy to ignore. She felt pure relief in getting all of that out of her chest. She could see the blonde’s lips quivering in a fruitless formulation of a response, but she doubted she was strong enough to ignore that, so she quickly turned around to make her way out.
She turned just in time to see the door swiftly swing shut with a resounding slam.
There was the unmistakable click of a heavy lock; Hermione dove to where a knob should have been, finding nothing but smooth panes of wood.
“No, no, no, no, no! Alohomora! Alohomora!” Nothing. “Bloody fucking hell, Alohomora!”
“ Salazar’s snakes, step aside, Ms. Granger,” Narcissa snapped, physically moving Hermione to the side. “Alohomora!”
Hermione choked back an incredulous laugh. “Nice one, genius. Perhaps you should try, I don’t know, Alohomora?”
The blonde sent her another of her withering glares, which Hermione shrugged off. She sidestepped Narcissa to bang on the door. “Help! Somebody, help! We’re locked in!”
“Goodness’ sakes, will you stop shrieking like an animal? I’ll handle this. Quincy!”
“You mean, your House-Elf will handle it,” Hermione muttered under her breath.
Narcissa ignored her. “Quincy! By Merlin, where is that incompetent elf? Quincy! Come to me at once!”
“Stop it. If he’s not here, it means he physically can’t be—he'll just punish himself the more you call for him.”
“Fine,” Narcissa conceded, albeit angrily. “What then, do you suggest?”
Hermione took a moment to consider their options. “We could send a Patronus.”
Narcissa sniffed, haughtily conceding the brunette’s point.
“That is not a completely useless suggestion. Send one to your little assistant, why don’t you?”
Hermione straightened, not feeling charitable enough to hide her smugness. “Still can’t form a Patronus, Mrs. Malfoy?” she ribbed unrepentantly, concentrating on her wand movements.
Narcissa looked away, mouth pulled into a tight line. “Not since Bellatrix tortured you in my living room, no.”
The young Auror bit her tongue, regretting her jab. She said it, it was no use taking it back now. She was more worried about her Patronus—the memory was strong and she felt her magic flowing; however, the Patronus seemed to fizzle out into nothing before she could get a message out.
“What seems to be the matter, Ms. Granger,” came Narcissa’s venomous voice. “Can’t form a Patronus?”
Hermione bit back her retort. Instead, she kicked the nearest wall in frustration. “Something in this damn room is stifling my magic,” she said, not really directing herself at Narcissa but thinking out loud.
A heavy silence overtook the two. Narcissa was the one to break it.
“What do you suggest we do?”
Hermione sighed, flopping rather inelegantly against the wall she had kicked to then slide into a cross-legged position on the floor.
“The only thing we can do,” she said, eyeing Narcissa as if daring the ever-pompous Lady Malfoy to sit on the floor as well. Narcissa looked disgusted at the prospect. “We wait.”
“Stop pacing, you’re driving me insane.”
Narcissa shot her an angry look, but stopped her nervous pacing around the small space, choosing instead to tap her foot in impatience. Wonderful, Hermione thought.
“We have been in here for far too long.” Narcissa said, eyeing the door in silent fury. “Surely someone has noticed our absence by now.”
“Of course. I just think a random magical closet would not be the first place they’d look—give them some time.”
“Have you forgotten the door to the room we’re currently in appeared out of nowhere? How can we know it simply hasn’t disappeared again?”
“I’ve considered that. The Ministry has ways of finding their Aurors when it needs to.”
Narcissa looked at her with an incredulous frustration.
“Miss Granger. My House-Elves could not make it through that door. We may very well starve to death before anyone figures out we’re rotting in here.”
“They’ll find us,” Hermione said firmly, though her conviction wavered.
“Not good enough,” Narcissa fumed, walking over to the door. “Help! Someone! We’re locked in here!”
“We’ve tried that already, in case you’ve forgotten,” Hermione pointed out. Narcissa shot her a scathing look.
“I don’t see you trying anything else!” she hissed. “Now where is that fucking lock... Aah!”
Hermione jumped into action at Narcissa’s sudden yelp of pain. There was a burning hiss and then the unmistakable smell of charred flesh. The Auror instinctively stepped between Narcissa and the door; Narcissa had tears in her eyes and held her left hand in her right, cradling it to her chest. Hermione noted with horror she was severely burned—several angry blisters had already begun to form upon the other witch’s delicate palm.
“Godric’s girdles, are you okay?!”
Narcissa bit back a whimper, looking away. “I am perfectly fine.”
“Perfectly fine, my arse!” Hermione barked. “You’re in pain. Let me take a look.”
“Ms. Granger,” Narcissa hissed, gritting her teeth through the obvious pain she was in. “I do not require your assistance.”
Hermione’s shoulders slumped. “Narcissa,” she tried again, more softly. “Please. Let me.”
Narcissa looked conflicted, but something in Hermione’s pleading gaze broke her stubborn resolve. She silently offered her injured hand to Hermione.
“Here,” the young witch said, producing a small phial from her robes. “Dittany.”
Narcissa looked on curiously as Hermione gently spread the dittany paste over her palm, rubbing into the skin with the utmost tenderness. She let out a small sigh of relief, and Hermione smiled. “Better?”
“Markedly,” the blonde admitted. “Do you always carry something as valuable as essence of dittany around?”
Hermione laughed, corking the phial and returning it to her robes. “Old habit. It’s come in handy quite a few times—all the Aurors carry some with them now.”
Narcissa smiled, though with a tinge of sadness. “Lucky me.”
Hermione took another look at the witch’s palm, grazing the back of her hands softly. “Hold still—I'll perform a healing charm. It should help the skin not scar too much.”
Narcissa nodded and Hermione silently waved her wand over her palm, noting with interest how the skin knotted itself together ever so slightly. The older witch flinched with the sting of the spell, but the sensation was fleeting, being replaced with the warmth of Hermione’s hands on her own.
“Thank you,” she said once the pain had subsided. Hermione still held the back of her hand tenderly, in a near-subconscious caress.
“You’re welcome, Narcissa.”
To Hermione’s surprise, Narcissa averted her gaze and pulled away, taking as many steps away from her as she could in the small space.
“Narcissa?” she asked, confused by the reaction. “What’s wrong?”
“I like it,” Narcissa whispered in a shuddering breath, “when you call me Narcissa.” She sighed, and in the dim light of the closet, Hermione could see fresh tears pooling at her eyes. “I miss it.”
Hermione exhaled deeply, sheathing her wand. In a room this small, there was no room to run away from those feelings.
“I miss it too,” she confessed, not looking to see Narcissa’s incredulous look.
“Then why...” the blonde stammered. “I... I don’t understand.”
“You should understand perfectly well,” Hermione bristled, awash in memories. Just because she couldn’t run from those feelings did not mean she could not fight them. “You lied to me. Repeatedly.”
Narcissa looked at once offended and confused. “I never lied to you!” She defended.
“Save it, Narcissa,” Hermione snapped, all of her sympathy vanishing with the force of her fury. “When I asked you about Lucius, you lied to me. When I asked you about Draco, you lied to me. When I asked you about this fucking house, you lied to me. When I asked—" Hermione stopped, choking back tears she did not want to shed “— when I asked you about your feelings towards me, you lied to me.” She wiped angrily at the tears that rolled down her cheeks despite her best efforts.
“Everything you’ve ever said to me has been an utter lie.” She turned to look Narcissa in the eye. “We were never more than another one of your lies.”
The tears she saw in Narcissa’s eyes surprised her, nearly taking the wind out of her sails. But she was too hurt—it was too raw for her to let it pass.
“It saddens me,” Narcissa murmured weakly, “that that is all you think about our time together.”
Hermione balled her hands into fists at her sides. “Was there ever anything more? Was I ever more than some fanciful affair to you?”
“Hermione,” Narcissa whimpered. “How can you say such a thing—how can you believe it?” She choked back a sob. “You were my everything.”
The young Auror let out a bark of pained laughter. “Then why all the lies?” she asked, because damn it, if she was stuck in a broom closet with the woman who had broken her heart, she might as well get some answers out of her. “Why? Help me understand. Help me.”
“Hermione,” Narcissa tried tearfully. “I never lied to you.”
“Bullshit! You told me you were done with him. But lo and behold, three months ago I get to find out—via Kingsley, by the way—that I had been sleeping with a married woman for nearly two years! How is that not a lie?”
Narcissa was crying openly. Part of Hermione desperately wanted to hold her, but her anger held her back.
“When you asked me about Lucius, I told you the truth and only the truth: I told you he was no longer in my life. I thought that was all that mattered.”
Hermione wailed in anger. “Of course it isn’t! How can you be so vague—do you not understand how it would look if it got out that the Head of the DMLE was fooling around with a married woman?!”
“Of course I understand! I’ve always understood! Why do you think I wanted to keep it a secret, why I wanted to be discreet?”
Hermione paused, biting her lip not to cry any more, looking away. She didn’t want to answer that question. Narcissa seemed to understand immediately.
“Oh,” she murmured. “You thought... you thought I was ashamed of you.” She took a step closer, raising her uninjured hand to caress Hermione’s cheek. “Oh, my darling. I would never...”
Hermione slapped her hand away. “Don’t call me that! Of course you would. How else do you explain Draco? You said to my face that you had told him about us. You never told him anything!”
“I told him I was seeing someone. That was all I was comfortable telling him at the time.”
Hermione shook her head, unwilling to concede. “Because you were ashamed of me.”
“No!” Narcissa snapped, wiping at her own tears. Her jaw was clenched painfully tight. “How could I tell my son I was seeing his old school mate, a Muggle-born he bullied for all of his time at Hogwarts?”
“See, that’s it, isn’t it?” Hermione accused. “You were ashamed. You still are! Because the mighty Narcissa Malfoy can’t be seen with a Muggle-born. Is that it?”
“No!” Narcissa wailed. “Hermione, I didn’t tell him because I was scared,” she sobbed, throwing Hermione off the rails. “I was terrified he’d make me choose.”
Hermione’s mouth moved, but no sound was forthcoming. Narcissa fell to the floor in a heap, leaning against the wall, still cradling her injured hand to her chest.
“Hermione, I am a coward. A selfish coward. I was afraid that he’d make me choose, and I didn’t want to lose either of you.” Her eyes gleamed with her tears in the darkness. “That’s why I didn’t tell him everything.”
The brunette slumped against the opposite wall, slumping onto the floor and facing Narcissa. The revelation stung in a wholly new level; one she was not prepared for. She did not want to concede Narcissa’s logic, but her traitorous heart was too weak.
“And you didn’t tell me,” she whispered in the darkness, “because you were afraid I’d make you choose.”
She could see Narcissa nodding. There was no point in telling her she would have never made her choose between her family and Hermione—the Auror had known the older witch long enough to understand, at least on a surface level, how the Slytherin’s mind worked. She had never expected her understanding to be so shallow.
“And the house?” Hermione murmured, grasping at the last straws of her anger. “When I asked you about dark artefacts because that was my line of work. You told me...”
“I told you I don’t keep any in my home.” Narcissa finished for her, looking away. “I haven’t lived in the Manor in two years.”
Hermione sat in stunned silence, mulling over the revelation. Her anger had dissipated; there was only an intense frustration left over with the way Narcissa handled things. It was the most Slytherin way to go about things—vague and ambiguous, intentionally dismissive. There had been a major gap in communication between them.
“I wish you had told me,” she insisted weakly.
Narcissa flashed a sad smile. “I thought I had. I suppose...” she sighed. “I suppose I ought to have been clearer in my meaning. But... I don’t know any other way to be. My life has always been a cluster of grey areas.”
Hermione laughed. “I can’t have that. I need clarity. I need that black on white.” She exhaled deeply. “Though I suppose I could have asked. Or listened more.” She looked to Narcissa. “When did you actually start the divorce proceedings?”
“Two years ago.”
That simple declaration spoke volumes. Still, the timeline did not make sense. “And... why did it take so long to be finalized?”
Narcissa’s voice dropped to a low murmur. “When we... began seeing each other socially, I knew did not want to be bound to Lucius any longer, in any way. The divorce took so long because it was never merely a divorce. I broke our marriage bond, for good.”
Hermione’s eyes widened, realization dawning. “You broke a magical bond?”
Narcissa nodded, raising her injured hand slightly, examining it. “Yes. I’m certain that is why the door repelled me—the Manor is rejecting me as its Mistress. My blood bond to this house is undone.”
Hermione was stunned into silence, at least for a few moments. “You... you say that as if it’s happened before.”
The blonde sniffed, laughing wryly with a sound that broke Hermione’s heart all over again. “Coming back to the Manor... it has been a series of unpleasant surprises.”
Narcissa choked back a sob; Hermione’s heart sunk. “This house does not recognize me anymore after the divorce. Neither do most of my acquaintances. Draco is not speaking to me.” She turned to Hermione sadly, “and neither are you. In my gamble to keep everything I’ve ever loved, I lost it all instead.”
The Auror froze. “What did you say?”
Narcissa turned away, wiping at the fresh tears that rolled down her cheeks. “Please don’t make me repeat myself. What’s done is done; I shall live with it.”
“No, Narcissa, wait,” Hermione murmured, crawling in the darkness to reach the other witch. She knelt by her side, taking the blonde’s face in her hands in a desperate, gentle caress. “Say it again. Please.”
Narcissa’s eyes glimmered with tears; she seemed to understand what Hermione meant. She swallowed, choking back sobs that seemed inevitable. “I lost everything I loved. Including you.” She closed her eyes, unable to bear the brunette’s questioning look. “I love you, Hermione. I’ve always loved you.”
An unimaginably strong force drew Hermione to Narcissa’s lips. It was stronger than all the hurt and all the heartbreak that had been crammed into those three unbearably long months since their explosive falling out.
Narcissa whimpered at the contact, and Hermione swallowed those whimpers with the salt of their tears. She took long moments to reacquaint herself with the sheer bliss of feeling Narcissa’s soft lips gliding against her own, to feel the warmth of her skin and the intoxicating scent of her hair.
It was easy to get lost in that bliss. They moved together as if the three months of heartbreak had never happened. Hermione easily rediscovered every curve of Narcissa’s body, every touch and whisper that made her squirm with pleasure as they tangled themselves onto each other on the floor of the disappearing closet.
The cramped space became hot and stifling, filled with their writhing movements and breathless gasps.
“You’re a fucking idiot, Narcissa,” Hermione breathed, lost in the sensation of having the other witch writhe beneath her, buckling under her heady touch. Narcissa’s response came in the form of rugged gasps escaping from her open mouth. Her hands held Hermione tightly, unwilling—afraid—to let go even for a moment.
“I love you, you insufferable woman. I’ve loved you for all this time,” Hermione said to the darkness, drowning in a sea of silver as Narcissa fell off the precipice, taking the brunette with her.
They lay together for long moments, languishing in the stifling heat of the small space. Hermione held Narcissa’s waist tight against her, afraid to let go.
“Hermione. Look.” Narcissa whispered after a long while, nuzzling her neck. Hermione looked to where she pointed—a single ray of light illuminated the room, falling upon them. They both turned to look at the locked door.
It was open.