Actions

Work Header

Adagio

Chapter Text

She hadn’t played for so long, but the notes blossomed from her hands. 

Each one felt delicate, a tiny drop of moonlight on the tip of her fingers. Coaxing, worshipping, venerating, she drew each one out into the keys of the piano, feeling her magic follow until the note was something alive, something not entirely of her making. One followed another. Her fingers remembered. Her foot remembered how to manipulate the pedal, drawing out the echo and pulling it back. Her body remembered the light and the darkness, the shifting moods that each phrase drew. It was muscle memory, she knew that, she’d played this piece so many times that she could have done it in her sleep, but now her magic was caressing it. The piano sighed under her hands. Arpeggios swelled and diminished like waves on the sea. She had no sheet music. The melody was cradled on her skin, shaped by her movement alone. It gently pushed her palms when it needed more, drifted from her like thread when it could carry itself, its longing so entirely in tune with her own. When the last chords came, they settled like her breath, the ghost of them hanging in the room for far longer than they should have done had she not used magic. 

For the first time all evening, she felt as if she could breathe. 

She hadn’t wanted to come. She never wanted to attend Ministry functions. The place had enough of her as it was, with all the late nights and weekends worked overtime, all the lunch breaks that she had foregone and the breakfasts that she had eaten at her desk. It had taken her relationship - or no, maybe that was unfair. That should never have been started in the first place. But still, she didn’t feel as if she owed anything, least of all her Saturday night. 

Who was she kidding? She’d given plenty of Saturday nights in the past. 

She especially resented giving them like this. Dressed like a trussed-up chicken - at least that’s how she felt, uncomfortable in the formal gown that Ginny had persuaded her to buy, wearing the sparkly heels that even a cushioning charm couldn’t redeem and the makeup that made her feel like a clown. At least she had managed to tame her hair. It was piled up on her head with liberal amounts of Sleekeasy, tamed into waves rather than frizzy curls, a few strands left hanging around her face. And the colour of the dress was pretty, a periwinkle blue that shifted as it caught the light. Dancing under the chandelier, she had been aware of eyes on her as the silk swirled into hues of cobalt, duck-egg, navy, sea-foam. It hadn’t made her any more enthusiastic about being there. Most of those eyes felt uncomfortable. If there was anything that she had grown to hate more than official functions and high heels, it was being the centre of attention. 

She particularly didn’t want to be the centre of attention here. 

The chandelier she remembered was different. In fact, the whole place had been remodelled and cleansed, and she couldn’t even picture where the drawing room had been. Perhaps she had been dancing in it, perhaps not. Nothing about the place was the same, and she had surprised herself by not feeling anything stronger than a mild unsettledness that faded the more she drank. Her empty wine glass stood on the top of the piano, the last drop of red liquid pooled in the bottom. Another one would be nice. Maybe she could sneak back downstairs without getting caught.

A shadow shifted in the corner of her eye, and she spun around to face the door. 

“Apologies, Miss Granger. I didn’t mean to startle you.”

Her hands dropped off the piano keys. She didn’t realise they had been resting there as if it was hers, as if she had every right to be there, but of course that couldn’t have been further from the truth. She had wandered upstairs, leaving an official function at which she had responsibilities. She had opened a door that was closed, and found the haven she had been so desperately seeking. She hadn’t thought twice. 

She felt her face flush a deep, violent crimson. 

“I’m sorry. I know I shouldn’t be here. I just…”

“Needed a break from mind-numbing conversation? Sometimes these things are horrendously dull.”

Hermione’s eyes widened as the woman stepped further into the room. She had expected anger. A cold ticking-off for intruding, for being somewhere she shouldn’t be in a private residence. She hadn’t expected dry humour, or the quirk around the full mouth that could have been the beginnings of a smile. 

“Only sometimes?” Her hand flew to her mouth as Narcissa Malfoy smirked. “I’m so sorry. Really. I shouldn’t have…”

Her apology was cut short by a wave of the blonde witch’s hand. 

“You play beautifully.”

Hermione’s hands twisted in her lap, and her eyes fixed themselves on her silver stilettos. In the low light of the piano room, her dress was glinting a deep turquoise, almost green. She supposed she was in Malfoy Manor, but still…how very Slytherin of her attire to twist itself to the occasion. 

She didn’t know how to respond to the compliment. It was so unexpected.  

“That piano hasn’t been played in several years. I’m surprised it’s still in tune.”

She looked up, surprised at the woman’s words as much as the tone of wistfulness in her voice. What she saw made her breath hitch. Up close, Mrs Malfoy was even more stunning that she had been from a distance. Across the ballroom, Hermione hadn’t been able to see the detail on the shimmering dress, the light that caught in the full sleeves that were spun like gossamer, or the glint in pale hair that looked like moonbeams. Blue eyes were gazing at the piano: eyes that usually held the coldness of ice, but now seemed more like a clear spring day. 

“It seemed fine.”

Her voice didn’t sound like her own, but the older witch didn’t seem to notice. She simply nodded, slightly absently. 

“I’m sorry.” Hermione repeated herself, feeling the embarrassment steal over her once again. “I shouldn’t have come in. I was just…”

“If you found this room, then it must have wanted you to.” 

Hermione shrank a little under the witch’s gaze, but it wasn’t unpleasant. More…searching. Intense. Cool, but not the ice she had expected. She wondered what magic Malfoy Manor still harboured, and why on earth it would open itself to her, but before she could even think about asking the other witch spoke again. 

“I would say to stay as long as you like, but the speeches are about to start and I think they’re looking for you.”

An involuntary groan left her lips. She hated this. Harry never seemed to mind it, and these days Ron, the only one of the three of them not working for the Ministry, always got out of going at all. They always picked on her for some reason, her and Harry, the Chosen One and the Golden Girl. There would be some inane prattle beforehand, some rubbish that they’d all heard several times before. Kingsley would make a speech that his secretary could write backwards and upside down by now, and then it would be her and Harry. Brought out like puppets at Christmas. Saying what they were expected to say. After six years of it - six long drawn out years since the war had ended - she was sick. 

Looking up, she saw a twinge of sympathy in the other witch’s eyes. Hell, she really needed to get herself together. It was important. She was supposed to be enjoying herself. 

“I’ll be right down.”

Mrs Malfoy nodded and turned to leave. As she did so, her wand flicked in the direction of the piano. The drop of wine in the bottom of the glass now filled it almost to the brim. 

“You’ll be needing that, then.”

“I…” Merlin, yes. She would. “Thank you.”

But the shadow was already gone. 

 

~

 

Hermione got through the rest of the evening on willpower and alcohol. There was always someone that wanted to talk to her, someone that wanted to ask her opinion, someone who wanted to dance with her. She barely saw Harry and Ginny. She said as little as possible and danced even less, sipping her wine instead. A conversation about the potential new breeding grounds for Eritrean Hippogriffs didn’t interest her in the slightest, even though she supposed it should, but she was practised enough now that she could nod at the right time and murmur a few words of encouragement if need be. And the surroundings were certainly more enticing. There had been no expense spared, of course. Hundreds of candles made it seem like it was merely dusk, and not almost midnight. Flowers clung to the walls, vines twisting and creeping over the light gold paintwork, and the heady scent of roses and lilies and night-flowering jasmine permeated the air. Bunches of grapes dangled, charmed to flicker like marbles, and the dance floor shimmered like an enticing pool.

Only once was she left with an almost-empty glass, but a floating bottle changed course and gracefully tapped her on the shoulder before pouring her a refill. If she hadn’t already been looking, she would have missed the deft flick of Narcissa Malfoy’s fingers controlling it. Wandless magic. It sent an involuntary shiver up Hermione’s spine. She was still a novice herself, but clearly Narcissa Malfoy was an expert. And it was far more polite than her last experience of these things: a memorable New Year’s Eve when she had been determined not to drink, but an enchanted bottle had actually followed her around, tapping her on the head and dripping champagne down her neck until she gave in. 

Belatedly, Hermione realised that this was the first time she had really seen the woman since the end of the war. 

So many people had been in and out of Grimmauld Place that summer. She and Harry had been living there, more out of necessity than anything else. Neither of them had had anywhere else to go. But a constant stream of visitors meant that they were never alone. Surviving Order members, and spies. Ron of course, and Ginny. Luna and Neville and Kingsley. Snape, although his first unexpected appearance had startled Ron into hexing him; Harry had had to intervene. Lucius Malfoy and Draco, unsure of their reception even after a year of putting their lives on the line, welcomed by one of Ginny’s jelly-legs jinxes and an assurance that it made them part of the family - like the cousins you dreaded seeing at Christmas. But gradually they had all faded away, leaving Harry and Ginny to make it their home, and Hermione floating around like a spare broomstick until she found a flat of her own. Narcissa Malfoy had never shown up. 

Instead, Hermione had found herself drawing closer to Draco. In the months and years after the war, as both of them had struggled in their own way to adjust to a life beyond survival, so their friendship had grown. Sometimes she still couldn’t believe that she was sometimes more comfortable with a Slytherin than with her old Gryffindor friends. Other times she cursed the house system and the ingrained prejudice that had allowed them to pass so many years in wanting to kill each other. Because Draco was intelligent. He was funny, in a sarcastic kind of way. He could hold a conversation about something other than Quidditch, and - best of all, in Hermione’s opinion - there was no attraction there whatsoever. It was Draco who she had turned to when her relationship with Ron slid onto the rocks and lodged itself there. And, in turn, he had occasionally talked to her when his father started drinking and left the Manor. When the business was hanging on by a thread. When his mother wanted out. When the Daily Prophet finally cottoned onto what Draco had been hinting at for months, she had felt sorry but not surprised, and she had tried to support him through the divorce as best she could. But he had never tried to introduce her to either of his parents. Lucius she could take or leave. Now, though, after having sneaked upstairs and played the woman’s piano, she felt a creeping sense of guilt that she hadn’t made more of an effort with Narcissa. 

“What do you think, Miss Granger?”

All three wizards were looking at her expectantly, and she hastily swallowed her mouthful of wine, coughing as it went down too fast. 

“I’m sorry.” She cleared her throat. “I…” Missed that entire conversation? Don’t know? Don’t give a flying dragon shite?  “Excuse me, gentlemen. Headache.”

If that was the best she could come up with, it was time to call it a night. 

The entrance hall was almost empty. Only a few witches and wizards hovered, waiting for their cloaks or simply getting some air; not many were leaving yet but she really didn’t want to stay any longer. Her presence would probably be missed, but it wasn’t so early that she couldn’t get away with it. She could Floo Harry in the morning to apologise for not saying goodbye. But she supposed she should find…

“Given up already?”

“I’m afraid I have.” 

She looked up to see her cloak appearing in the hands of a house elf. Before she could take it, she felt it being slipped expertly around her shoulders. A light wave of perfume enveloped her, the softest brush of hair against her skin before her cloak covered it. Something warm plunged to her stomach.

“I was about to come and find you. To apologise again…”

“No need, Miss Granger.”

She took a deep breath. None of this fit with what she had expected - but then, really, what had she expected? Everything she knew was from another world entirely, a world of subterfuge and violence and war and desperate attempts at survival. Nothing she knew from then was relevant any more. She had learned that the hard way. Now, she knew nothing except that this was the woman who had discovered her pouring her emotions and her magic onto piano keys that she shouldn’t have been touching in the first place, and who had told her she played beautifully, and who had carefully kept an eye on her all night. An immaculate hostess, and an ex-spy. 

“Thanking you for refilling my glass. I need to expand my wandless magic, I think.”

The light laugh sent goosebumps down her arms, and she was grateful for the cloak’s covering. 

“Consider it your due for having to talk to Dawkins and Scrivener.”

There was a few seconds of silence, and Hermione shifted on her feet. Was she supposed to say something? Gods, she wasn’t a schoolgirl anymore. She should be more practiced at this, but Narcissa Malfoy spoke before she could even think of anything to say herself. 

“I was hoping to speak with you, but perhaps we can arrange another time. Draco often used to mention you when we spoke…”

He did?  

“…and I barely know you at all, even after all this time. I should have made more of an effort.”

What was she supposed to say? That she had been thinking the same? She had no idea Draco had mentioned her to his mother; she had the impression they barely talked these days. Circe, she hoped no one was getting the wrong idea. Draco was her friend. He was gay, although maybe his mother didn’t know that. He was…

“Relax, girl.” A gentle smile curved the older witch’s lips. “I can see your mind whirling from here. I know you two are just friends, of course, but my son doesn’t make friends easily, Miss Granger. You of all people should know that. I’m intrigued, that’s all.” She shrugged, the movement elegant and subtle.

Muggleborn friends? Hermione couldn’t tell if the insinuation was hanging in the air or not. 

“I…” She swallowed. Suddenly her cloak seemed suffocating, and she wished they’d had this conversation while she still had a wine glass in her hand. But as she thought of Draco, she felt her shoulders relax a bit. “He’s a good friend to me too, Mrs Malfoy.”

“It’s Miss Black now.”

Merlin. It had slipped out without her thinking - as always - even though she had been mulling over the woman’s divorce not moments before.  She made to apologise, but she was cut off with the same small wave of the hand that had stopped her in the piano room. 

“I must get back, but perhaps we can meet on a less formal occasion?”

Hermione’s head was spinning, and it wasn’t from the wine. 

“That would be lovely.”

“And also -“ Narcissa hesitated, and when she spoke again her voice was soft. “I meant what I said, your piano paying is beautiful. Talented. You must practice a lot.”

“I don’t, actually.” It came out in a rush, so much so that she missed the compliments. “I haven’t played for years, I don’t even have room for a piano at my flat and the neighbours would hate it anyway. I’m sorry, I’m not sure what possessed me tonight.”

Narcissa raised an eyebrow. 

“As I said, the room would only have opened for you if it wanted to.” She seemed to hesitate, a flash of something crossing her face that Hermione couldn’t quite catch, before the hostess mask was back on. “But if you don’t have anywhere of your own, then please come and practice here whenever you’d like.”

Hermione felt her mouth drop open. 

“Really?”

“Of course. It’s time that room heard some music again.”

She was fairly sure that her surprise was still etched clear on her face as Narcissa bade her goodbye and left her by the Floo, opened for the night to all those who had requested it as an alternative to Apparition. It was certainly there as she staggered out from her grate and into her living room. Her reflection in the darkened window looked gormless with amazement. 

As she drifted off to sleep - on her sofa, because suddenly she was too exhausted even to make it to bed - she wondered if any of it was real, or whether she’d just drunk too much wine. 

Chapter Text

The paper owl knocked on her office door on Monday, not waiting for an answer before zooming onto her desk and landing with a little ruffle of delicate feathers. 

“Lunchtime.”

She laughed. The voice was undoubtedly Luna’s, and she got up to step to the window. There, in the courtyard below, in a dress patterned with moving sunflowers and with what looked like champagne corks dripping from her ears, stood her friend. Hermione waved and gave a thumbs up. She’d tried to send the owl back with a message several times before, but had usually found it collapsed in a corridor halfway to the main entrance. 

Instead she carried it carefully in her hands as she made her way downstairs, through the endless corridors and out of the atrium into the summer sunshine.

“Thank you.” Luna waved her hand and the owl folded in on itself. She tucked it into her bag, and gave Hermione a happy smile. “You could just send it back. He doesn’t mind taking messages from other people.”

“Honestly? I’ve never worked out how.” Hermione looped her arm through Luna’s. “Where are we going?”

“I thought we could get a sandwich and sit in the park. You wanted to talk?”

“I didn’t…”

“Oh, I know.” Luna squeezed her arm, and steered them in the direction of the deli on the next street. “You didn’t have to say anything.”

Hermione shook her head, laughing. She didn’t know why she was still surprised, every time, when Luna knew things she shouldn’t or read people’s thoughts like an open book. It was part of her charm. And she was very rarely wrong. 

All morning, Hermione had been thinking. Not about what she should have been thinking about - a meeting with the Centaur Liaison Office, the annual audit of the werewolf registry, sightings of a suspected manticore in Wales and an unfortunate incident with a ghoul in Shrewsbury. Her in-tray was overflowing. No, instead she had been thinking, almost constantly, about the weekend, and how to respond to the note from Narcissa Black that still lay on her coffee table. 

 

Dear Miss Granger,

Please forgive this rather quick message, and my impatience in sending it. The house elves have banished me to my study while they clear up after the fundraiser, and - while work calls, quite literally - I find myself wanting to reiterate my invitations from last night. Neither was made due to the wine. The piano is yours whenever you would like. Would next Saturday suit for coffee? 

Narcissa Black. 

 

It had been delivered by a sleek owl knocking on her window on Sunday morning. If the bird had been human, Hermione just knew it would have raised an eyebrow at the state of her - her silk dress still lying rumpled on the floor by her sofa, an old blanket wrapped around her, her eyes lost in the daydream that had lingered from her night dream. (A piano. A shadow at the door while she played - which she now realised she had sensed long before her eyes had seen it, and it hadn’t stopped her. A hand ghosting over her shoulder along with the heavy drape of her cloak. Please come and practice here whenever you’d like. Her hands, tingling with warmth as she played, like magic.) Instead, it had accepted the owl treat she hastily offered, and left her with a square of expensive cream parchment covered in the neat cursive that she somehow knew couldn’t have belonged to anyone else. 

She hadn’t known how to respond, and so she hadn’t yet. Much as the idea of Narcissa Black being ordered around by a team of militant house elves amused her - and surprised her - there was also something that unsettled her. To try and calm her mind, she’d spent the rest of Sunday cleaning her flat with Bach playing in the background before heading over to Grimmauld Place to see Harry, and catch the gossip that she had missed. As usual, Ron had been there, and as usual, she’d left in the evening feeling a bit empty. She hadn’t wanted to share any of the previous night with her friends, and it wasn’t the first time she’d shied away from talking to them like she felt she should have done. Somehow, she couldn’t shake the feeling that they’d moved too far in different directions. 

She and Luna waited until they had bought their food and found a bench, speckled with hot sun and shade. They were late for lunch - Luna knew that Hermione would never take an early lunch, and often didn’t take one at all - but the park was still busy with people lingering, draped lazily over the grass and the benches, reading and talking and making the most of whatever excuse had got them out of returning to work.

“It’s lovely here, isn’t it?’ Luna took a delicate bite of her sandwich, but egg mayonnaise still oozed out of the sides. “I like it, anyway. The wrackspurts are calmer in the sunshine.”

“Oh.” Hermione speared a forkful of pasta salad. “Do I have wrackspurts?’

“Always.” Luna smiled over at her. “But they’ve changed today. You still have too many, but they seem less frenetic.”

“Huh.” Hermione shook her head. “I have no idea how. My in-tray is nearing the ceiling, I spent yesterday talking bludgers and babies at Grimmauld Place, and…” She broke off. Maybe it was the piano. 

“And?”

Hermione chewed thoughtfully and closed her eyes, allowing the early summer sunshine to seep into her skin. It felt good. With a pang, she realised that she hardly ever did this anymore. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d relaxed in the sunshine with a book, or taken a walk without a destination. Even the beach, once her favourite place on earth, seemed like a distant memory. If Luna hadn’t dragged her out for lunch a couple of times a week, she knew she’d never see daylight from Monday through Friday, and probably for most of the weekend as well. 

“I’m really grateful for you, Luna, you know that?”

Luna simply smiled and nodded. 

“I know. I’m grateful for you too.”

“Someone asked me out for coffee.”

“Oh?” Luna licked some mayonnaise from her thumb. “A date?”

“Merlin, no.” 

“But you’d like it to be.”

It wasn’t a question, and Hermione could tell from the look on her friend’s face that her uncanny instincts were kicking in. But still… a date? With Narcissa Black? 

Really?

She snorted. In her dreams. 

“Luna, I honestly think I’d be resorted into Slytherin before this woman would ask me on a date.”

“Hmm.”

“I’m just not sure whether to go or not.”

“Why wouldn’t you? As friends?”

“I don’t know. I just feel a bit uncomfortable.” 

It wasn’t too far from the truth. She was still unsettled, and she realised that it was her own reactions that had her out of sorts. She should have felt distressed at Malfoy Manor, and hadn’t. She thought she should have felt uneasy with Draco’s mother, and hadn’t. She knew she should never have played that damn piano, but she had, and now she desperately wanted to get back to it even though it was the last thing she had time and energy for. 

Forcefully, she stabbed the last mouthful of pasta from the plastic container. 

“Do you ever feel uncomfortable in places from the war, Luna?”

“Do you mean places that might hold unpleasant memories?”

“Exactly.” Because her memories of Malfoy Manor were nothing if not…unpleasant.

“No, I don’t think so.” Luna looked thoughtful as she crumpled her sandwich wrapper. “I mean, if I did, there probably wouldn’t be very many places left to go. Diagon Alley was awful. Our house was destroyed. The Quibbler offices were ransacked. I wouldn’t have even gone back to Hogwarts to get my N.E.W.T.S. But all of those places have been rebuilt. They look different now, and they feel different.”

“Then why do I feel so bloody guilty?” Hermione slumped back against the bench with a sigh. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean…”

“Because you’re you, Hermione.” Luna smiled as she took Hermione’s pasta salad tub, and pushed her sandwich wrapper inside it, vanishing the lot on the bench between them. “You take everything on your shoulders whether it’s for you to carry or not. Harry hated Malfoy Manor at the weekend, didn’t he?”

Hermione nodded. The previous afternoon, Harry had gone on and on about how awful he’d felt at the fundraiser, and he’d automatically assumed that she felt the same. 

“But you didn’t.”

“I actually quite enjoyed myself.”

“Maybe that just means you’ve moved on further than he has, or in a different direction or something. But it definitely doesn’t make you a bad person.”

“Hmm.”

“Do you still have nightmares?”

Hermione shook her head, and rubbed her forearm lightly. Gone were the days of waking up in the night, sweating and screaming and with her arm blazing in pain. When she had finally taken herself to St Mungo’s after almost eighteen months of increasing agony, she’d been admitted immediately. The days that followed were a bit of a haze. She’d drifted in and out of consciousness as the Healers worked, dosed up on pain potions and replenishing potions and dreamless sleep, but she’d emerged with no pain, no curse, and a scar that was barely there. Even the dreams had faded. She had no idea who had treated her or how they’d done it, but she was forever grateful. Each year, on the anniversary of her discharge, she still sent flowers to the ward, hoping that they would reach the right witches or wizards. 

“I don’t think so.” She paused as a group passed their bench, chattering loudly about their upcoming weekend plans, and waited until they were out of earshot. “Sometimes I wake up, and I don’t remember dreaming but I feel really unsettled, you know? As if it’s been there at the back of my mind all night. But mostly the awful ones have stopped. Have yours?”

“Mostly.” Luna nodded. “I know Harry still has them, though. Don’t tell him I said so.”

“Or that Ginny told you?”

“Exactly.”

They spent the rest of the hour talking about nothing in particular. Luna always had amusing anecdotes from The Quibbler, which she now managed alongside her father, and  she usually had Hermione creased up with laughter. Today was no exception, and she was sorry when the lunch break came to an end. 

“Same time Thursday?”

“Always.” Hermione pulled her friend in for a quick hug. “Thanks, Luna.”

“Hermione?” Luna called after her, and Hermione turned before she rounded the corner. “You should answer Miss Black. Preferably with a yes, but you should let her know either way.”

She waved and vanished, leaving Hermione with an open mouth and a new-found determination to work on her Occlumency. She’d never said….

Merlin. A date. 

She snorted again, and headed back into the Ministry. 

 

~

 

By Wednesday, she had made up her mind. 

 

Dear Mrs Malfoy,

 

Wrong name. Idiot. She screwed it up, and started again. 

 

Dear Miss Black,

My sincere apologies for the late reply. Work has been abysmal this week. I could bore you with excuses involving a rogue ghoul, a stack of paperwork five feet high from the Werewolf Registry, and a muggle Shetland pony that was drunkenly mistaken for a manticore in Wales…

 

Too much? She had no idea how Narcissa Black felt about magical creatures - house elves aside - but too bad. If she didn’t send this tonight, she’d start overthinking again and the damn thing would never get done. 

 

…but instead I’ll just say that Saturday would be lovely, if you’re still free. Let me know where and when. 

I would love to take you up on your offer of using the piano. Perhaps the weekend after next?

 

What in Morgana’s name was she thinking? 

 

Regards,

Hermione Granger.  

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Malfoy Matriarch Out On The Town! 

Hermione took one look at the Daily Prophet article and groaned into her coffee. It was Saturday morning. She had worked until some godawful hour the night before, trying to get everything done so that she could have something resembling a weekend off without constantly worrying about the state of her in-tray on Monday morning, and the last thing she felt like she needed was a dose of Rita Skeeter’s gloriously inflated imagination. Still, she flipped open the paper. She could always use it to line Seren’s cage afterwards. 

Two lines in, she regretted her decision. 

Spotted leaving an exclusive London establishment…extraordinarily handsome wizard…oysters and champagne…clearly the unknown gentleman comes from money, which of course will be a consideration….perhaps from Italy too….a new diversion after a traumatic divorce?

Hermione snorted. Narcissa Black had looked anything but traumatised by the absence of her ex-husband on her arm at the fundraiser ball. But then, what did she know? Nothing. Which was partly why she had decided to accept this strange invitation in the first place. Miss Black - not Malfoy, she sneered at the paper - wasn’t the only one who could be intrigued. 

But, for some reason, the article set her on edge. 

It was nothing new, she reasoned as she let hot jets of water massage her body into life in the shower. She still tensed up whenever she saw Rita Skeeter’s byline, always waiting for the next dose of carefully concealed vitriol that would be flung in her direction, or Ron’s, or Harry’s. Her breakup with Ron had been like every single Christmas come at once for Skeeter, and for several months she had stopped getting the paper altogether. It still wasn’t unusual for there to be some coverage of her. At a Ministry event, or out with her friends, or acting as spokesperson at yet another press conference for a policy that she had had nothing to do with. She was tired of it but there was nothing she could do, and so she accepted it with gritted teeth and a fervent hope that the public had more brains that Rita Skeeter gave them credit for. 

But implying Narcissa Black was a gold digger was desperate. It was also, she thought as she dried herself off and cast her wand at her curls, mildly hilarious. She knew that the witch had donated most of her divorce settlement to a newly-opened ward at St Mungo’s, dedicated to caring for curse victims. Draco had also intimated, after a bottle of wine, that she still had plenty of the Black family fortune to fall back on, and she had obviously retained rights to Malfoy Manor. Hermione hadn’t dared ask how she had managed that. 

It had been the first and last time Draco had ever spoken of his mother to her, and she felt a bit guilty. What would he say, if he knew they were meeting for coffee? 

Stop it, she chided herself. He’d probably just wish you luck in not ending up hexed. 

Her wandering mind returned to the article. Clearly the last thing Narcissa Black needed was someone else’s money, and she huffed to herself as she rubbed some curl cream into her hair and opened her wardrobe. Surely even Rita Skeeter could see that. And besides, the wizard really wasn’t that good looking. 

More importantly, what on earth was she going to wear? 

Merlin, it shouldn’t be this difficult. It was not a date, whatever Luna said or thought. It was coffee. With her friend’s mother. She’d spent plenty of time before with Molly Weasley and with Xeno Lovegood. Finally, in the absence of much else, she settled on a light green linen dress with plain brown sandals, and a cream jacket that she loved but had hardly ever worn. Waving her wand at the stray orange hairs from Crookshanks that had nevertheless managed to gather on it, she patted her curls down and started in the mirror. A touch of mascara. Eyeliner to make her freckles pop, because Luna had told her they looked cute, and with a smear of lipstick she looked presentable at least. And if she didn’t leave now, she would be late. 

 

~

 

“This place is lovely. I’ve never been.”

“It’s out of the way.” Narcissa Black settled herself in the seat opposite Hermione, and gave a quick smile but didn’t elaborate. She didn’t need to. La Fiala was famous for catering to the higher end of wizarding society, and even an espresso was more than Hermione would normally pay for lunch. But still, she was grateful that the chances of them being snapped together were greatly reduced by its discretion and privacy. Clearly, the place was used to keeping nosy reporters at bay. 

Perusing the menu gave her a chance to surreptitiously look over at the blonde witch. As usual, there wasn’t a hair out of place. A dark purple dress with cap sleeves clung to what looked like an enviable figure - not that she was looking too closely. Perfect makeup highlighted the blue eyes, the strong cheekbones, the full lips. Hermione always marvelled from a distance at witches who could be so put together, but up close they always made her feel clumsy, dishevelled, and like a schoolgirl all over again. For some reason, so far, she wasn’t feeling any of that. Perhaps it was the classical music that was playing. Mendelssohn, if she remembered correctly. From the faint smile on her companion's face, she saw that Hermione had recognised it. 

“Why am I here, Miss Black?”

Amused eyes studied her from over the menu. 

“Ever the forthright Gryffindor, I see. Because I invited you, and you accepted.”

Hermione felt a blush start to creep over her cheeks, but she was determined to get an answer. If she was going to sit here for the next hour then she wanted to know the reasons behind it. 

“Why did you invite me, though? To vet me for Draco?”

“To what?” The older witch looked confused, and Hermione realised she probably didn’t know the term. 

“Muggle expression. It means to check someone out.”

Narcissa Black raised one eyebrow. “I can assure you I am not checking you out.”

“I didn’t mean like that!” Merlin above. She groaned. Now she was feeling like a clumsy schoolgirl. “It’s like making sure someone is good enough to do something, or…Okay. Please can I start this again?”

“If you want, although it’s quite amusing.”

Hermione could have kissed the waiter, who chose that moment to come and take their order. She hadn’t even thought about what to have, but her companion, seemingly finally taking pity on her, ordered for them both. In Italian. Without missing a beat.  

Holy hell. This was going to be far worse than she thought. 

“So. Miss Granger.” Narcissa Black folded her arms on the table and looked at Hermione, who shrank a little under her smirking gaze. 

“It’s Hermione.”

“I’m sorry?”

“Since I’ve just inadvertently accused you of… checking me out, you might as well call me Hermione.”

“Oh, I don’t think there was anything inadvertent about it, dear.” The blonde witch’s smirk widened into a smile at the discomfited look on Hermione’s face. “But fine. Then I suppose you should call me Narcissa.”

“Okay.”

“Good. Well, I didn’t invite you in order to vet you - or anything else - for Draco. My son is a grown man, he can decide who to be friends with and who not.”

“But you said you were intrigued because we’re friends.”

“I am.” Narcissa shrugged. “Intrigued for myself. I wanted to know what kind of witch could become the only other person to know my son is gay, after he spent five years of school writing home about how insufferable she was. No offence meant.”

Hermione knew her jaw was dropping open, but she didn’t care. 

“None taken,” she finally managed. “He was as much a git as I was insufferable.”

To her surprise, Narcissa threw back her head and laughed. 

“Oh, I can believe that.” She collected herself, and shook her head. “He was spoiled.”

“By you.” 

Circe. Her big mouth again. Why couldn’t she learn the art of small talk? But once again Narcissa surprised her by nodding. 

“And Lucius. And most of the rest of the family. But with the way he grew up…” She paused, and then shook her head as if that wasn’t a road she wanted to go down. Hermione didn’t blame her. She didn’t much want to either. “It’s amazing that he even has his head on the right way round.”

If there was anything Hermione hadn’t expected Narcissa Black to say, it was that. 

“I’ve surprised you.”

“Yes, you have.”

“Well.” Narcissa picked up her coffee cup, steaming and smelling of amaretto. Hermione hadn’t known the liquor was even a thing in the wizarding world, but it was unmistakeable. Her own cup held the same rich sweetness. “Here’s to surprises.”

It wasn’t the first, and Hermione doubted that that would be the last. 

Their conversation was smooth. She had thought it would be - after all, Narcissa was a practiced hostess and well used to navigating potentially awkward social situations - but she hadn’t expected to feel so genuinely at ease. Narcissa asked questions about her work, of course, but soon dug deep enough to discover Hermione’s passion for arithmancy, and Hermione lost track of how long they discussed and debated the latest theories, the potential of combining arithmancy with other subjects such as potions and charms, and the relevance of numerology to the latest developments in healing. Hermione learned that, not only had the witch donated her divorce settlement to the curse-care ward at St Mungo’s, she had also developed several of the treatments the new ward was employing. Narcissa, it turned out, was a Potions Master to rival Severus Snape. 

“He encouraged me to do a Mastery when I left Hogwarts.” Narcissa smiled at the look on Hermione’s face. “He wasn’t particularly impressed when I married Lucius instead.”

Hermione wasn’t either, but she didn’t say anything. 

“I went back and finished it last year.”

Right after the divorce. Hermione sipped her second coffee. She doubted Lucius had been the type to encourage his wife’s ambitions or talents. But how come she hadn’t heard, even from Draco, that one of the most famous faces of the post-war world had obtained a mastery in Potions?

“The Daily Prophet didn’t cover it. I guess gossip about your personal life sells better than academic achievement?”

The words were out before she thought about them, but Narcissa only chuckled. 

“Indeed it does.”

“Draco didn’t say anything either.”

“He doesn’t know.”

Hermione almost choked on her drink. “Excuse me?”

“He doesn’t know.” Narcissa fiddled with the handle of her cup, and Hermione felt her discomfort. 

“You don’t have to explain…”

“We don’t speak much anymore, but I’m sure you already knew that. Besides, I want him to be able to make his own way.” Steely blue eyes met hers. “Between me, my family, and his father, he has enough baggage.”

“A Potions mastery is hardly baggage!”

“It is, of a sort. Draco isn’t that way inclined. He’s good, but not brilliant. He’s found his niche in the Malfoy family business instead - which I would be hopeless at - and I’m proud of him for that no matter what happened between me and Lucius. I don’t want him thinking otherwise, or feeling that he isn’t good enough because he hasn’t done advanced study.”

Hermione shook her head. It wasn’t her place, she knew that, and she didn’t know why Narcissa had decided to tell her in the first place. In a way, she could see the older witch’s point. She begrudgingly admitted that she was impressed both with Narcissa’s accurate assessment of her son’s abilities (and her own) and with her desire to not overshadow him, even if - in her opinion - the latter was wildly misplaced. She knew Draco, and she knew that he would be proud. And cross that his mother had somehow kept something like this from him. 

“You should tell him. He’d be proud of you.”

“Perhaps.” Narcissa shrugged. “Perhaps not.”

“Is that why you kept it out of the papers? To keep it from your family?”

“No. Your assessment of my sex life selling more copies was fairly accurate. Although this morning’s effort was fairly pathetic, I doubt that would have whetted many people’s appetites.”

“I don’t know. The picture was pretty good.”

Merlin. Too much amaretto. And Narcissa had said sex life. Did that mean…the unknown wizard…Hermione felt her cheeks flame again, and Narcissa’s smirk only made it worse. 

“Hmm. It wasn’t my best.”

“Calling you a gold-digger was a bit far, though.” Hermione tried to cover her discomfort with another mouthful of coffee. 

“You’ve had worse from Rita Skeeter, no?”

“She’s the most vile creature I think I’ve ever met.”

“Coming from someone who deals with ghouls for a living.”

Hermione grimaced. “I should have kept her in that jar.”

“Excuse me?”

“Oh,” Hermione blushed even deeper. She was so used to joking about it with her friends - and clearly she felt that comfortable with Narcissa Black - that she’d forgotten it wasn’t exactly public knowledge. “Well, she’s an Animagus - Rita, I mean - but she didn’t used to be registered. We were in school, and she was writing all sorts of horrible things about Harry, and I…well. I may have encouraged her to keep her quill to herself by trapping her in a jar in her beetle form and threatening to….I don’t know. Expose her, I guess?”

The slow smile spreading across Narcissa’s face made all the embarrassment worth it. 

“How very Slytherin of you.”

“Wasn’t it just. Except a true Slytherin would have still had her there.”

“Perhaps.” Narcissa shrugged. “Or conveniently forgotten to put air holes in the jar.”

“I did consider that.”

“I had no idea becoming a Slytherin was your goal in life.”

“It’s not. But she can’t even get your name right, for Merlin’s sake.”

“I see why Draco likes you.”

She raised an eyebrow. “I’ll take that as a compliment.”

“You should.”

Hermione was fairly sure her blush now extended all the way down to her toes. She didn’t know how she stammered her way through the rest of the conversation, or even really what they talked about. Her mind was whirling, and the only comfort she took was that, now that Narcissa had satisfied her curiosity, they would probably never be in such close proximity again. She didn’t think she would survive a second time. 

“Oh, and before I forget - of course, next weekend is fine.”

Hermione blinked. “I’m sorry?”

“Your note asked if you could use the piano next weekend - that’s fine,” Narcissa repeated, looking at Hermione closely. “If you still want to, that is.”

“Oh.” Hermione let out a long breath. “I don’t…I mean I’m not…”

“Of course you don’t have to.” Narcissa looked down at her empty cup. “I understand if you don’t feel comfortable.”

It took Hermione a few seconds to realise what she meant. 

“No! It’s not that. I mean, I expected it to be, but it’s not. I didn’t feel uncomfortable at the Manor last weekend, and I’m assuming next weekend wouldn’t be any different. I’d rather not go into that now, though, but…”

Narcissa raised an eyebrow, and Hermione sighed. She had never told anyone in the wizarding world about her love of the piano. She didn’t know why. It had just never seemed like it fit with what people expected of her, or with what she had ultimately expected of herself. Even her parents hadn’t encouraged it after her initial burst of primary school enthusiasm, and they’d got rid of the piano at home when she started at Hogwarts. She had only been able to practice at the tiny community centre near their dental practice, on evenings when no clubs or activities were taking place. And then, of course, she had stopped going home for the holidays altogether. 

“No one knows I play.” She fiddled with her empty cup. “Hogwarts never encouraged music lessons, and I never had time anyway. I practiced during the holidays when I was allowed to. But I never told anyone and I haven’t played for years. I guess it didn’t fit with the image, and now it just feels strange.”

“Isn’t the Golden Girl allowed to be talented outside of the library?” 

Hermione felt a bubble of emotion in her stomach. In one terse sentence, someone that she barely knew before today had summed it up exactly. 

“No, she isn’t.” She smiled tightly. 

“Well, maybe it’s time the Golden Girl did something for herself for a change.”

Yes. 

Maybe it was. 

Chapter Text

She had forgotten how her hands really felt. 

As the music flowed out of her, from some place that she hadn’t realised still existed, her hand felt as if they were reaching, touching, embracing. Her fingers ached to hold the notes before they disappeared completely. They sought out the shape of the melody on the keys, touching so delicately through the throbbing pulse on her skin. Her hands were alive. Seeking. Grasping, gently so as not to crush. Teasing as the music swirled to a sensual climax; caressing as the swell diminished. She was the sky and earth, the music was the rain in between. She let it go and caught it. Her magic threaded the spaces in between. There was nothing on the piano; the enchanting spells had worn off long ago, and she had no desire to replace them. Every sound came from her. 

She had forgotten what it felt like to be really alive. 

She had arrived early. Narcissa had been shut away in her study. An elderly house elf, whose name Hermione discovered was Heddy, escorted her through to the piano room and offered her tea or coffee, both of which she declined. And then she was left alone to play and practice as much as she wanted. 

She played from memory. Her fingers had fumbled at first, worried that she would make mistakes, but within a few moments she had slipped into her own space. The room around her faded. The worry that Narcissa was listening faded. The scent that hung in the room - a cool, fresh scent, of apples in winter and roses and an underlying muskiness of new parchment - faded. Magic caressed her skin and flowed through her fingertips, and she didn’t know if it was coming from the room or from her, only that it stopped when she had finally played through nineteen Chopin Nocturnes without a break. When her fingers lifted from the keys, she was exhausted. 

She didn’t know where to find Narcissa. It was Heddy who appeared by her side in the hallway just outside the music room, and escorted her downstairs. 

“Mistress be in the living room.”

Hermione couldn’t imagine somewhere as grand as Malfoy Manor even having such a thing as a mere living room, but she was grateful, at least, that Heddy hadn’t said ‘drawing room’.

“I just wanted to thank her and say goodbye.”

Heddy didn’t answer. The elf ambled along in front of Hermione, smart little cloth emblazoned with the distinctive crest of the Black family. Hermione assumed that meant Heddy worked for Narcissa personally, not the Malfoy family, and she wondered yet again why Narcissa was staying here after the divorce. She’d assumed that, pureblood traditions being what they were, the Manor and everything in it should have stayed with Lucius. 

“Heddy?” she asked hesitantly as they walked down a never-ending corridor. She didn’t remember it being so long at the Ministry fundraiser. “You aren’t employed by Mr Malfoy?” She couldn’t bring herself to say “owned by”, even though she knew it was probably closer to the truth. 

“Indeed I is not!” The little elf sounded quite put out. “Heddy has served Mistress since Mistress was small. Heddy would follow Mistress anywhere.”

“Do you know why she stays here?”

But the house elf shook her head. “Mistress is good,” she said firmly. “Mistress does her duty.”

“Yes, but…”

Heddy stopped, so suddenly that Hermione almost stepped on her, and indicated the door on the left. 

“The living room. Mistress be waiting.”

It was nice, she supposed, to see a bossy house elf. She wondered if it was Heddy who had ordered Narcissa to her study after the fundraiser. 

The room behind the door was far cosier - and smaller - than Hermione had ever imagined. Decorated in light blues and greens and creams, with large windows that overlooked formal gardens, it was filled with squashy armchairs and a sofa, three bulging bookcases, and several paintings that at first glance didn’t appear to be moving. One of them did, however, look very familiar. 

“Oh, Merlin,” she breathed as she stepped further into the room. “Is that…”

“Leonora Carrington.” 

She heard the snap of a book being shut behind her, and turned around to see Narcissa standing up from one of the armchairs. 

The Fig Mother. One of her later ones. You know her work?”

“Of course!” Hermione turned back to the picture. “She’s one of my favourite artists. But she’s a …”

She had been about to say Muggle, her surprise that Narcissa would have non-magical art on her walls clear on her face, but then she suddenly realised how that would sound. They were supposed to have moved beyond that. Before she could try and retract what she had been about to say - because she knew Narcissa knew - she caught a movement out of the corner of her eye. And another one. And another. 

“Oh,” she said weakly. “I guess not.”

“Definitely not.”

Narcissa had moved to stand next to her, and Hermione caught the same scent as in the piano room. She inhaled deeply, softly. It was beautiful. 

“I’ve never seen one of hers move before.”

“You’ve only seen them in Muggle art galleries before.”

Hermione nodded, and then her eyes narrowed as she contemplated the painting. “Wait a second.” She stepped closer. “Then that’s the real thing. It’s not a reproduction, is it?”

“Merlin, no!” Narcissa sounded horrified. “Why would I have a reproduction?”

“Oh, you know.” Hermione stepped back again, accidentally brushing her arm against Narcissa’s. The contact sent a tingling feeling straight to her stomach. “Because the real thing would have sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

“Half a million. Pounds, not dollars or Galleons.”

“Half a….? Merlin’s balls.” Hermione looked at the picture askance, but Narcissa chuckled and took her elbow, leading her over to a chair. 

“I fell in love with it, so I bought it. Tea?” She gestured to the small table in between the two armchairs which, as well as her upturned book, now held a tray with two teapots and cups, and a plateful of delicious-looking cinnamon scones. 

“Tea would be lovely.” Hermione hadn’t intended on staying, but now that she could smell the scones, her stomach was rumbling. As soon as she had spoken, one of the teapots upended itself gracefully into a cup. When it was almost full, the spout nudged the cup’s handle, and it floated through the air into Hermione’s hand without spilling a drop. 

“How was your practice?”

“Wonderful.” Hermione breathed in the fragrant steam of Earl Grey, and sighed happily. It was her favourite. “Thank you, really. I’d forgotten what it was like to just play.” She paused with her cup halfway to her mouth. “Wait - you didn’t hear me, did you?”

“No. My study is in the other wing.”

“Oh.” Hermione sat back again, relieved. “Sorry. I’m just out of practice. It probably wasn’t very pleasant to listen to.”

“Oh, I doubt that.” Narcissa caught her own cup midair. “But rest assured I heard nothing.”

“I didn’t mean to intrude on the rest of your day.”

“You aren’t. I thought you might need some refreshment. You’ve been up there for over four hours.”

“I have?” Hermione slipped her wand from her sleeve, and cast a quick Tempus. “Oh, Circe. I’m sorry. I didn’t realise.”

“Stop apologising, Hermione. It doesn’t suit you.”

“Oh.”

“Have a scone and relax.”

She did. The scones were as wonderful as they looked, and she devoured two with barely a pause. Narcissa, she noticed, nibbled at hers, as if she didn’t have much appetite. Finally, after the first bite out of her third, Hermione’s eyes were caught by the book that rested on the table. She couldn’t quite make out the title, but she did catch the author’s name. 

“Emily Dickinson?” She spluttered as some scone crumbs went down the wrong way in shock. “You’re reading Emily Dickinson?”

“You don’t approve?” Narcissa’s tone was gently mocking, and Hermione blushed. 

“No, I…I mean yes, I approve, I just didn’t think…”

“Didn’t think what?”

Damn the woman. She was enjoying this. “That you’d read a Muggle author as well as have…”

“As we’ve established, Leonora Carrington was not a Muggle.”

“Oh, no.” Hermione groaned. “You aren’t about to tell me that Emily Dickinson was a witch too? Because that would turn my little Muggle world right upside down, and I’m not sure I can deal with that.”

“Don’t worry, Emily Dickinson was not a witch. That fact does not, however, mean that she is not welcome on my bookshelf.”

“I’m sorry,” Hermione said quickly. “I didn’t mean to imply….”

“Although it was a fair assumption to make.”

“No, it wasn’t. I’m sorry.” Hermione looked at Narcissa. She’d thought the older witch might be angry, but the sparkle was still in her eyes. “You’re doing that Slytherin thing again.” 

“What Slytherin thing, dear?” Narcissa’s lips twitched.

“Dodging the question.”

“I thought I answered what you asked. But I can try and make it clearer.” She put down her teacup and reached for the book, holding it up to show Hermione before settling it on her lap. “Yes, I’m reading Emily Dickinson. As you are no doubt realising, I no longer share my family’s traditional disdain of the Muggle world and haven’t for some time. I could read you a poem if you like?”

“That’s not…”

But Narcissa flicked the book open to a page which had obviously been well-thumbed, and reached for the reading glasses that she had balanced on the arm of the chair. 

“It’s all I have to bring today —

This, and my heart beside —

This, and my heart, and all the fields — 

And all the meadows wide —

Be sure you count — should I forget

Some one the sum could tell —

This, and my heart, and all the Bees

Which in the Clover dwell.”

Hermione sat, almost entranced. Narcissa’s voice wrapped the words around her like silk. She knew the poem, but she had never heard it read before - and she had a feeling that if she ever heard it read again, it would never sound the same. 

“I love that one,” she whispered. 

“So do I.” Narcissa softly flicked through a couple more pages, and began reading again. 

“Wild nights - Wild nights! 

Were I with thee….”

Hermione wasn’t aware that she had leaned her head back and closed her eyes until Narcissa’s voice stopped, all three verses of the poem hanging thick in the air. It was hypnotic. Beautiful. Soothing, but sensual and incredibly suggestive and arousing at the same time…

She jerked her head up, narrowly avoiding spilling her tea, to see Narcissa regarding her with amusement. 

“Do I take it you like being read to?”

It seemed like such an intimate thing to be talking about, but Hermione nodded, blushing. “I do. No one’s read to me since…” She paused. “I can’t remember. I used to get audio books sometimes from the library at home.”

“Those are recordings of someone reading the book, yes?”

“Yes.”

“But that’s not the same?”

“No.” Hermione shifted under Narcissa’s intense blue gaze. “Not the same at all.”

“I see.”

“How did you discover that?” Hermione gestured to the book. “I can’t imagine it was in the family library.”

Narcissa chuckled. “No, it wasn’t. Andromeda, of course.” She flipped the book shut and ran her fingers down the spine. It looked old. Creased, and worn, and obviously well-loved. “But actually…Bella was the one who gave this to me. For my thirteenth birthday.”

Hermione almost dropped her teacup. 

“In secret. It wasn’t something our parents would have approved of. Neither did she, really.” 

Narcissa was watching her closely, as if to judge how much to say, and Hermione felt her heart thud in her chest. Hearing Bellatrix’s name on her sister’s lips, hearing the nickname spoken with something akin to affection…warring feelings of curiosity and nausea spun up in her stomach, and she gripped her cup until she thought it might break. 

“She bought you Muggle poetry? Why?” It was a whisper, but she was quite proud of herself for being able to speak at all. 

“She…do you really want to know, Hermione?”

She nodded.

“She knew I loved it. And when she was young she was a rebel, not a fanatic.” Narcissa turned to gaze out of the window, as if she couldn’t look at Hermione while talking about her sister. “She believed what our parents taught us about pureblood supremacy, but while we were at school she would also do anything to defy them. She didn’t see anything contradictory in listening to Muggle music and reading Muggle books in order to cause trouble and spite them. And she refused to be outdone by Andy. When she found out Andy had bought me Pride and Prejudice for my birthday, she went out and got this. Between them they gave me quite the grounding in Muggle literature, albeit for different reasons.”

“Oh.”

There was a pause. A long pause, in which Hermione could hear birdsong dripping through the window like rain. She’d never imagined that Narcissa would open up to her like this, and she watched as the older witch reached over to stroke the stem on one of the tall flowers in a vase. The petals burst open with a shiver, and the fragrance of lilies filled the room. 

“I apologise,” she murmured. “I’ve upset you. I shouldn’t have mentioned her.”

Hermione swallowed. “No, don’t apologise. I asked. It’s just…” She bit her bottom lip, worrying it. “It’s strange to hear her name in that context, that’s all. I can’t think of her as someone’s big sister.”

“Understandably.”

Hermione hadn’t realised that she was still biting her bottom lip until Narcissa tentatively reached over and placed her finger against the sore spot. The touch was too brief, and Hermione’s eyes widened at the unexpected contact. 

“You’ll make it bleed, dear.”

Without thinking, Hermione licked her lip, chasing the warmth that lingered there. She only realised what she was doing when she sensed, rather than saw, Narcissa inhale sharply. 

She took a deep breath. 

“May I?” 

She reached for the book and Narcissa nodded, but didn’t pass it to her. Instead, she allowed Hermione to lean over and take it from her lap. 

Hermione ran her fingers over the cover, tracing the embossed letters, feeling the softened edges of the paper. The magic that had sunk into it over the years was light, warm, full of emotion that seemed unrestrained, as if it had had nowhere else to go. There was nothing dark about it that she could sense. Slowly opening the cover, she saw the inscription on the first page. 

My darling Cissy,

I hope this is worth it….but anything for my baby sister. Always. 

Happy birthday, pet. 

Bella. 

She ran her fingers over the flowing script. It was a wild untidy scrawl, full of passion, and looked exactly like a saner version of Bellatrix herself. Always. Except it hadn’t been always, had it? She gave an involuntary shudder as she thought of the Bellatrix she had known. She couldn’t imagine losing a sister to that kind of madness, and for the first time she felt something akin to sympathy. Not for Bellatrix - she wasn’t a saint, for Merlin’s sake - but for Narcissa. It must, she thought, have been horrendous to watch. 

“I really am sorry.”

“Now who’s apologising too much?” Hermione murmured. “It doesn’t suit you either. None of it was your fault.”

“Yes, it was.”

Hermione looked up from the book to see Narcissa absent-mindedly stroking another lily. It was shivering under her touch, popping open petal by petal, and Hermione felt a warmth flood through her that had nothing to do with the book. 

“I understand, Narcissa,” she said softly. “Really. There was nothing else you could have done.”

At the word nothing, Narcissa’s head snapped over, and Hermione felt the full force of her gaze.  

“There was,” she said softly. “I did what I could, but it wasn’t enough.”

“You Occluded for me. If you hadn’t, I would have gone mad, and if you’d tried to help me any more, they would have killed you and Draco. Then where would I be now? And besides, it’s gone.” She rolled up her sleeve. “See? I don’t know how they did it, but it’s gone.”

For what seemed like an eternity, Narcissa simply looked at her. Her blue eyes were searching, deep with emotion that Hermione couldn’t define. It looked as if Narcissa was trying to decide whether to tell her something else, but eventually she simply shook her head and went back to stroking the lily.

“Yes, I know. But I don’t deserve your forgiveness quite so easily, Hermione.”

“Yes, you do.” Hermione was certain of that. “We all did terrible things. No one got out of the war clean, Narcissa. We were all just fighting for what we believed in, and in the end I think we believed the same things. That counts.”

Narcissa turned to her again, the corners of her mouth gently tugging upwards. 

“Is that the famous Gryffindor bravado?”

“No, it’s just what I feel.” Hermione returned her smile, before dipping her eyes back to the book, and tracing Bellatrix’s writing once more with her finger. She didn’t know whether it helped or not, knowing a tiny bit about Bellatrix as she was, knowing that she hadn’t always been an insane fanatic. Knowing, then, that somehow it might all have been avoided and that in another world she would still be here. Always. “I can’t imagine you as someone’s baby sister, either.”

“No, I don’t suppose you can,” Narcissa murmured, so softly that Hermione barely heard her. “But maybe one day you will.”

Chapter Text

“Earth to Hermione!”

Fingers snapped in front of her face, and she jumped. Ginny was laughing at her across the table. Harry just looked bemused, as if she’d suddenly said that she liked Butterbeer. Luna was gazing at her with more understanding than Hermione liked to acknowledge, and Draco - back from France and looking far healthier than he should have been after a supposedly taxing business trip - looked faintly amused. 

“Sorry, what did you say?”

“I said Ron’s decided to sell all his Chudley memorabilia, move in with Lavender, and learn to cook.”

“Has he? About time.”

“No, you idiot!” Ginny howled with laughter, and Harry’s frown deepened. “What is up with you tonight? I was just testing to see if you were paying attention….which clearly, you were not.” She waggled her eyebrows over the rim of her glass. “So? Spill. What’s got you mooning over your wine?”

Hermione felt herself flush. 

“Or is that a who?”

“Ginny!” Hermione shook her head. “Nothing. Just work, as usual.”

“Even you don’t find Erumpents that fascinating.”

“Actually, they’re incredible creatures.” Luna nodded. “There’s a program in Africa researching their breeding habits. Numbers have dropped so low, you see, they’re trying to find ways for them to mate more easily without blowing themselves up. It’s a tricky business. At least four wizards have been gored so far.”

The entire table flinched. 

“That may be so, but I don’t think Hermione was contemplating the mating habits of Erumpents. Maybe another species?” The suggestive tone in Ginny’s voice was unmistakable. 

“Gin!”

“I promise I’m not sitting here thinking about horny Erumpents. Or anything else along those lines.” Hermione downed her last mouthful of wine. “I’m just tired, work’s crazy. Who wants another one?”

Waiting at the bar, she blew out a soft sigh of relief. Ginny always got over-excited whenever they went out. Molly Weasley loved to babysit, but Hermione knew Ginny didn’t like to encourage her too much. She’ll whisk James back to the Burrow one day, she’d said to Hermione darkly, and then I’ll never see him again. Their nights out now were few and far between, and Ginny liked to make the most of them. 

And she had been daydreaming - not that she wanted to share it. Last week had been her fifth at the Manor, and each week had been the same. She would play for three or four hours, working her way through the scores that she had picked up on a surreptitious trip to a Muggle music shop in Camden. Then she would sit with Narcissa in the living room and they would talk, and somehow afternoons had extended into evenings. Only now the older witch was careful to keep the topics neutral, and, to Hermione’s disappointment, Emily Dickinson hadn’t reappeared. She’d wanted to hear Narcissa read again.  

She still hadn’t told any of her friends where she disappeared to every weekend. Instead, she’d made the excuse of work. It shouldn’t have been a lie - her in-tray was damn near at the ceiling - but she wasn’t sure that she felt comfortable telling Ginny or Harry or Ron the truth. She would have said something to Luna, but hadn’t quite found the words and she wasn’t sure that she needed to anyway. And Draco…she would probably have told him too. She still hadn’t figured out what, exactly, had happened to make the once-close relationship between mother and son so strained. She hadn’t asked; there were still boundaries that she was very wary of crossing, and she had resolved to not interfere. But she was learning fast, and the more she thought about it the more she was starting to wonder whether that was actually what Narcissa wanted. 

Damn Slytherins.

“Are you all right?”

Narcissa light voice cut across her thoughts, and she blinked. 

“Fine. Sorry, just thinking.”

“I can tell.”

Another cinnamon scone floated up to her plate from the small table that was nestled in between their chairs, and the teapot came right behind it to fill her cup. Narcissa, as usual, wasn’t really eating. 

“Aren’t you going ask me outright like you usually do?”

“Ask you what?”

“Whatever question it was that you were thinking.”

Hermione took a bite of her scone, wondering if Heddy would give her the recipe. “Why did you tell me about your mastery in the first place, if it’s such a secret and no one else knows? Did you actually want me to let it slip to Draco?”

“It’s not such a secret, dear, and others do know. How else do you think I got the contract with St Mungo’s? The donation certainly didn’t buy it.”

“No, of course not, I didn’t mean to imply that. But that wasn’t the question I asked. Can you Slytherins not give a straight answer?”

Narcissa laughed. “No. But since you ask so nicely…yes and no.”

“That wasn’t a straight answer."

“It’s as straight as I can give.” Narcissa shrugged, and sipped her tea. She took it black, with a squeeze of lemon and a tiny spoonful of sugar. “I hadn’t intended to tell you about it. Contrary to what you believe, I don’t plan everything. Sometimes things do just slip out, and I didn’t know our conversation would lead that way.”

“You’re right, I don’t believe it.”

“I assumed that you were well versed in keeping secrets. But yes, I will admit to wondering if you would be able to keep it from my son. I came to the conclusion that, if you didn’t, it wouldn’t be the end of the world.”

Hermione shook her head. She knew, by the tone of Narcissa’s voice, that trying to persuade her to talk to Draco herself would be hopeless. She also knew it wasn’t her place. Access to the piano did not entitle her to lecture the older witch on family dynamics - but damn, it was tempting right now. And she had no intention of being caught in the middle. 

“You two are hopeless,” she muttered instead. 

“Us two?”

“You and Draco.” Hermione scooped up the small pile of crumbs from her plate. “I haven’t said anything, by the way. I haven’t seen him yet, and even when I do I won’t mention it - although  I’m not particularly comfortable with it. But he wants to talk to you. He just doesn’t know how, and I don’t know what happened to make it that way but he has too much idiotic pride to even send an owl. You want to talk to him…”

“Don’t tell me I have idiotic pride too.”

“You said it.” She licked the crumbs off her finger, suddenly feeling her heart thump in her chest. Had she gone too far? She didn’t want to make Narcissa angry - she suspected that it would be a terrifying sight - even though they were friends. At least, she thought they were friends. It was a strange feeling, and a strange situation, but…

“I’m sorry. That was too far, I can be too forthright sometimes. I do it with Harry and Ron and Draco and Luna too, only they’re all used to it, and Luna’s just as bad as I am anyway, only in a different way, but I forget…”

“You think of me as a friend like that?”

Hermione halted, her mouth open, the words frozen in her throat at the look on Narcissa’s face. 

“Yes,” she croaked out. “I guess I do. But I won’t if you don’t want me to. I mean, I would find it hard not to now, but…”

“Stop.”

“I’m prattling again.”

“Yes.”

“Sorry.”

“No need.” Narcissa sighed, and leaned forward to put down her teacup. Her hands were shaking slightly, and she contemplated Hermione for a long moment before speaking. “I’m not used to… friends.”

“Oh.” Hermione didn’t know what to say to that, and Narcissa’s dark gaze was distracting. 

“My sisters were my friends.” The older witch fiddled with her thumbs in her lap, and Hermione stiffened. “Until they weren’t. Then I had Lucius, and Draco. Until I didn’t.” A flicker of emotion flashed across her face, too brief to catch, and Hermione resisted reaching over to take her hand. She didn’t know whether it would be welcome. “And then…” Narcissa shrugged. “Let’s just say my life has never been conducive to friendship. Or anything else, for that matter. The Prophet makes a big deal out of a few business dinners - my name is still on the company letterhead, unfortunately - and it’s easier to let them than make a fuss.”

Hermione almost choked on her tea. Gathering herself, she missed the slight widening of Narcissa’s eyes. 

“Well, I guess you’re a bit out of practice then.”

Narcissa smiled faintly. “I guess I am.”

“Want to try?”

“With a Gryffindor?” But Narcissa’s eyes were beginning to sparkle, softly, and Hermione couldn’t look away.  She already knew she wanted to make that sparkle appear as often as she could.

“Might as well learn to swim in the deep end of the pool.”

She’d been thinking about that conversation for days. Her conclusion - that friendship wasn’t exactly what she was coming to want with Narcissa - unsettled her as much as it excited her. 

“Working on Sundays is a bit much even for you, Granger.”

She turned to see Draco, leaning against the bar next to her with the last of his wine, and she smiled. She really was glad to see him. She knew that he and Harry still didn’t feel entirely comfortable with each other, and that he’d only come tonight at all in order to see her. Reaching over, she squeezed his arm. 

“I’m glad to see you, ferret. You and Luna saved me tonight, I don’t think I could have coped on my own with Ginny.”

“Yeah, well.” He brushed off the thanks with a wave of his hand, and Hermione smirked. He really was very like Narcissa. “So are you going to tell me, or not?”

“Tell you what?”

“Where you’ve been disappearing off to every Sunday while I’ve been drinking my way around the Loire Valley.”

“I thought it was a business trip?”

“It was. Didn’t you know the Malfoys own vineyards? This stuff is shit in comparison.”

Hermione laughed. “Of course they do, and of course it is. You’re still drinking it, though.” She looked over to the end of the bar, but all the staff were still busy. 

“Hey, if you don’t want to tell me who you’re seeing, that’s fine.”

“I’m not seeing anyone! You’re as bad as Ginny.” She sighed. She’d known this would come. He was her friend, after all. But she hadn’t anticipated being quite this nervous. What if he was angry with her? What if he felt she’d betrayed a trust, or somehow taken sides, or - Merlin forbid - he guessed the direction her thoughts were beginning to travel, or… “Yourmotherinvitedmetoplaypianoatthemanor.”

Draco slowly swallowed the last mouthful of his wine, and blinked. 

“Say that again, Granger, but slowly. You know, like actual words with gaps in between, and English rather than Gobbledegook.”

“Cheeky.” She took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and spoke deliberately slowly. "Your mother invited me to practise the piano at the Manor.” She squinted one eye open, and then quickly shut it again. Draco was looking at her as if she’d grown an Erumpent horn. “It was at the fundraiser. I wanted a break and wandered upstairs - I know I shouldn’t have done, but it was like something was calling me…anyway. I ended up in the piano room and started playing for a bit. She found me. I thought she’d be mad, but instead she invited me to practice there. So I have been. Every Sunday.”

“The piano room?”

She opened her eyes. Draco sounded as if he was slowly being strangled. 

“Yes.” She grimaced. “Are you cross with me? I’m sorry. We haven’t talked about you, honestly, and it’s not like…well. You’re my friend, I wouldn’t gossip behind your back, even with your mother. I mean, we’ve talked, obviously, we went out for coffee and I usually stay for a bit on a Sunday, and…”

I want to kiss her and…

The barman finally came over to them, and Hermione bit her lip as Draco turned from her to order the next round for all of them. Beer for Harry, wine for her and Ginny, and Firewhiskey for him. When it came, he downed it in one and gestured for another. 

“Is it that bad?”

“No. You can be friends with whoever you want, even if it is my mother - which I’m not actually surprised about, by the way, she can be just as insufferable as you. It’s just…I’m surprised she let you in there, that’s all.”

He was gazing at her intently, and Hermione let the teasing insult slide as she tried to concentrate. It was hard, given the errant thoughts that were now running through her mind. 

“She didn’t exactly let me in. Not the first time, anyway.” She squirmed against the bar. “As I said, I wandered up there. Afterwards she said that the room would only have opened for me if it wanted to. I didn’t really understand what she meant, and I haven’t asked since.”

Draco blew out a long breath, before casting a discreet Muffliato. “She used to play,” he finally said, quietly. Hermione had to strain to hear him even without the full noise of the bar. “There was always music in the house when I was little.”

Hermione nodded, slowly. She’d suspected. But she’d never asked. Somehow, despite everything else that they’d talked about, it felt like another one of those subjects that would be crossing an invisible line. 

“Used to?”

“She stopped when we were in fourth year.” Draco picked up his second Firewhiskey, and cradled the glass but didn’t drink. He glanced over at their table, and Hermione followed his gaze. 

“It’s ok,” she said softly. “Luna’s keeping them busy.”

Draco nodded, and turned back to his drink. “It was like she shut down completely.” He shuddered. “Like watching someone slowly dying, and there’s nothing you can do. After the Quidditch World Cup she knew damn well what was coming. She wanted to go to Dumbledore then, but father wouldn’t listen, or couldn’t, or whatever. Stupid git. Over that year she stopped playing the piano, stopped reading, stopped brewing, damn near stopped eating. Everything she had left was put into trying to keep us safe. It was only after that fiasco in sixth year that father finally listened - but then you know all that.”

Hermione let out a long, slow breath. But Draco hadn’t finished. 

“After the war, the Manor was ripped apart and redone, which you also know now that you’ve been there. And after the divorce, she retained rights to the place.”

“I don’t understand that. Shouldn’t it have stayed with your father?”

Draco nodded. “My father is incapable of managing his own affairs at the moment.” He grimaced. “He’s currently in a rehab clinic in Switzerland, on the highest and most remote mountain top we could find. Not public knowledge, so keep it to yourself. But the Manor’s magic is so powerful that it had to answer to someone in his absence. I…” He stumbled a little, and then gathered himself. “I refused, I didn’t want anything to do with the place. I was happy enough with the business, but not that. So as the only other close family member, it had to be her. They made it part of the divorce settlement that she has to stay there until he can take over again - assuming that he ever can. She was able to take back the Black name, but that’s all. It’s my fault she can’t move on.”

“Oh, Draco. Why didn’t you say anything?” Impulsively, she reached up and wrapped her arms around him, and he allowed her to squeeze him gently before pulling away. He didn’t answer her question. She hadn’t really expected him to. 

“That’s why we don’t really talk. I felt too guilty, and I didn’t know how to…anyway. The point I’m trying to get to is that she redid the piano room and then hid it. Some version of the Fidelius charm, I think. Father tried to find it once before he left and it appeared as a storage cupboard instead. I think she needed it to be her space, you know? Somewhere she could escape to. I don’t know if she ever started playing again, but maybe she thought she might.”

“But then….” Hermione’s mind was struggling to comprehend. “How did I find it? It’s not like she knew I was going up there. She couldn’t have invited me in.”

“No, she couldn’t.” Draco’s blue eyes fixed on her, and she was reminded forcefully once again of Narcissa. “Which means something in her magic - the magic she put into that room - sensed something in your magic. It knew she wanted you there, even if she didn’t.” He paused. “Maybe it knew she needed a friend.”

Hermione felt as if someone had gently punched her in the gut. 

“She never said anything.”

“No, I don’t suppose she did.”

“I’d barely even spoken to her before that evening.”

“I know.”

“But there’s powerful magic in that room,” she said quietly. “I can feel it…I think it affects my playing, sometimes.”

“That’s hers.” He turned his glass in his hand, making the Firewhiskey appear to swirl through his fingers. “I never knew you played.”

“No one did. And I hadn’t played for years.”

He didn’t ask, and Hermione was grateful. Not for the first time, she sensed that he somehow understood her need for something that was hers and hers alone, without her having to explain it. She glanced back to the table again, where Ginny was now loudly demonstrating the outcome of the last Harpies game, having charmed the empty wine glasses into tiny broomsticks. She was glad they’d had this conversation in relative privacy. She could well imagine the interrogation she would have been getting from the Potters now if they hadn’t. 

“I’m surprised you were okay in the Manor.”

‘So was I,” she said truthfully. “But I spend most of my time in that room, so maybe that’s why. It’s welcoming. And the living room, but I don’t venture anywhere else.”

Draco nodded. “You’ve never heard her play?” he asked hesitantly, and Hermione reached out for his hand. 

“No. I didn’t know for certain that she ever had.”

“You should ask her, next time you’re there.” He smiled at her, and she could tell he was remembering. “She was incredible. At least, it always sounded good to me.”

Hermione smiled. “I’m sure she was. But you know, Draco, you should ask her yourself. She really misses you.”

“I thought you said you didn’t talk about me?”

“We don’t.” Not usually. “But I can tell.”

He nodded, absently, and Hermione prodded him.

“I mean it. Send her an owl now that you’re home. Whatever her reply, it can’t be any worse than not talking to her at all, can it?”

“Have you actually met my mother?”

Hermione chuckled. “I believe I have. But she isn’t angry with you. She’s sad more than anything. I don’t think she understands why.”

“Neither do I.” Draco gathered himself. “We’d better get back. Weasley’s broomsticks are getting out of control. But Hermione?”

“Yes?” She turned to him, expecting a stern warning about not saying anything, but he smiled at her.  

“I’m glad you weren’t going into work. You’re too good for that job.”

He lifted the Muffliato and levitated the four drinks. Hermione’s mind was full as she followed him back to the table, but not so full that she didn’t catch Harry’s deep frown. He’d obviously seen her hugging Draco, and as she sat down, ignoring Ginny’s grumbles about the length of time it had taken them to get the drinks in, she felt herself bristle. It was really none of Harry’s business who she hugged. Draco was her friend as much as he was. It was really time he got past that old enmity. 

Besides, she now had far more important things on her mind. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Everything hurt. 

Her head felt as if someone had unleashed a herd of hippogriffs inside her skull. Before she’d even opened her eyes, they felt dry and scratchy; when she did peek them open, the sun shining through the gap in the curtains struck her like whiplash. She groaned, and pulled the duvet up over her face. Her stomach was already churning, and she hadn’t even moved yet. 

Hangover potion. She needed hangover potion. 

Not long after she and Draco had returned to the table, Ginny had had the bright idea of doing shots. She should have known then to call it a night - she never had been able to keep up when they hit the hard stuff - but Ginny had been very persuasive, and her last memory was of staggering outside well after midnight, holding onto Draco to keep herself upright. She had no idea how she’d even got home. Surely she hadn’t tried to Apparate on her own? 

Moving slowly, she lifted the duvet and peered down at herself. No obvious signs of damage, and she was in her sleep short and tank top set, but with her bra and knickers still on. A small vial of hangover potion sat on her bedside table along with a glass of water. Had she done that?

Oh, Merlin.  

Peeling herself off the bed, she waited for the room to stop spinning, taking deep breaths as she uncorked the vial. The potion tasted foul. Its only redeeming feature was that it worked in less than five minutes, but those minutes were some of the longest of her life. When she finally felt as if she wouldn’t throw up if she moved, she gingerly stood up and headed for the bathroom. 

An hour later, she had her head stuck in the fireplace. She hadn’t thought she could face actually stepping into it. Travelling by Floo made her nauseous at the best of times. 

“How did I even get home?”

Ginny’s only response was to groan from the Potter’s sofa. 

“Haven’t you taken any hangover potion?”

“She has.” Harry’s remarkably awake-looking face appeared in front of the grate. “But it doesn’t work the same on her, ever since the pregnancy. Want to come over for a fry-up?”

Hermione’s stomach turned. 

“No,” she said weakly. “I mean, I could try coming over. But no fry-up. Is Ron…?”

“No, he’s not here.” Harry disappeared as Ginny moaned once more. “He’s at the shop with George.”

She was relieved. Over the past few weeks Lavender had taken to accompanying Ron everywhere, and she really didn’t think she could take that this morning.

“Ok. I’ll come over. But if I vomit in your grate, it’s not my fault.”

“Ginny already has, twice this morning.”

Lovely.

When she stumbled out into the Potter’s living room, she was immediately greeted with Harry thrusting a huge mug full of tea at her. Nodding her thanks, she gripped the mantelpiece with her free hand as she tried to steady her body. The hangover potion was good, but clearly no match for whatever they’d been drinking. 

‘What in Merlin’s name was that stuff last night?”

“I have no idea,” Ginny groaned from the sofa. “I’m never going out again.”

“Until the next time.” Harry parked himself on the opposite end of the sofa, and lifted Ginny’s feet into his lap. Baby James, Hermione now saw, was lying on a rug in the corner, gurgling and playing happily with a plushy broomstick. 

“How come you’re so perky?”

“I didn’t have shots.” Harry slurped his own tea, and the noise made Ginny retch. He immediately transfigured an empty cup into a bowl, but nothing came of it and he settled back down with a grin. “One of us had to stay sober to get home, and for little man over there. Molly wasn’t impressed, though. Might be a while before we’re allowed out again.”

“No, I don’t suppose she was. Did you take me home too?” Hermione almost blushed at the idea of Harry undressing her and putting her to bed - not that it was anything he hadn’t seen before during their year on the run - but he shook his head. 

“Draco. He was ok to Apparate. I took Ginny, he took you and Luna.”

“Oh.” That was ok then. They must have gone to Luna’s first, not that she remembered. She gave a little smile. She would have to thank him later for being thoughtful enough to leave the hangover potion and the water.

“What’s with you and him, anyway?” Harry was watching her closely now, his smile faded. “You looked pretty close last night. Is he who you’ve been seeing?”

“No!” Hermione spluttered through a mouthful of tea. “I told you, I haven’t been seeing anyone. Certainly not Draco. We’re just friends, Harry. You should try it sometime, he’s changed.”

“I know he’s changed. I also know we still wouldn’t get on. I’m just surprised you do, that’s all.”

Hermione sighed. She couldn’t face interrogations this morning. And if Harry was being so childish over Draco, then she dreaded to think what he would say if she told him about Narcissa. Her head wasn’t up to that kind of argument. 

“I’ve been friends with him for years now, Harry. Get used to it. There’s nothing going on between us, and there never will be.”

“Is he gay?” Ginny piped up from the sofa. “Because I always thought he used to look like he’d rather be shagging you than cursing you, Harry.”

“Excuse me?” Harry looked so indignant that Hermione laughed. “I mean, I’ve got nothing against it if he is gay, but me? Honestly, Gin?”

“Hey, I never said it was reciprocal,” Ginny shrugged. 

“I don’t think Draco has ever fancied you, Harry.”

“Then he is gay?” Ginny pushed herself partially upright with an effort, her eyes alight at the gossip, but Hermione shook her head. She knew Draco wouldn’t thank her for outing him to the Potters. 

“That’s for him to say. Or not.”

“I knew it!”

“Ginny, leave it.”

“Spoilsport.” Ginny stuck out her tongue. She seemed to have perked up a bit. “You aren’t going to work today though, are you? Even though we all know you aren’t actually going to work. Stay for lunch?” Her colour paled again at the idea of food. “Or something?”

Shit. It was Sunday. She would normally have been at the Manor by now. 

“I…yes. I mean no. I don’t know.” She couldn’t very well turn up still hungover, and she would mangle anything she tried to play. But for some reason the thought of not going left her feeling worse. “I need to let someone know. I should head back and send an owl.”

Ginny’s faint look of triumph made Hermione squirm. She avoided it by turning her attention to baby James. Stepping over the other toys that littered the floor, she took his soft broomstick and levitated it through the air, making it duck and dive and spin, and tickled his tummy when he burbled in delight. 

“Your mummy’s being very persistent, isn’t she? Does she ever give up, do you think?”

“Is it a woman? You know we would never judge you, Hermione.”

“Ginny!” Hermione looked up in exasperation, her face reddening. “Please. My head is not up to this today.” She clambered to her feet, willing her blush to fade and trying to ignore Ginny’s barely-concealed squeal. “What time is it, anyway?”

“Almost midday,” Harry supplied. “You sure you don’t want that fry-up?”

“Positive.” She still felt queasy at the thought of food. “I think I’ll head back and try to get some work done.”

“Hermione!” Ginny almost rolled off the sofa, but Hermione shook her head firmly. She didn’t know why it was bothering her so much. She should just tell them, she thought, get it done and over with. She could cope with Harry’s probable bullshit. But something in her rebelled at the idea of them knowing, of having this one tiny thing that was all hers taken away from her. She and Ron and Harry had always shared everything, for so many years. Was it so bad to want to keep this pleasure for herself? To keep Narcissa to herself? It felt natural to have told Draco, but anyone else… 

Merlin. The realisation that she felt so possessive over the older witch was making her stomach flip with butterflies, and it wasn’t helping her lingering hangover one bit. There was no way she was up to going to the Manor today.

“You can stay, you know. At least another cup of tea? They don’t pay you enough to be in on weekends too.”

“It wouldn’t be the first time,” she huffed out a laugh. “But okay. One more cup of tea, and then I really need to get my act together.”

 

~

 

A couple of hours later, Hermione sat slumped on her sofa. She had been trying to write a note to Narcissa, but every time she tried to get something down on parchment her thoughts started swirling like the mist in a Pensieve. She had made the second cup of tea at the Potters a quick one, but had still ended up being genuinely annoyed with Ginny. To be fair, the redhead hadn’t done anything out of the ordinary. She’d always been a gossip, and had always prodded Hermione hard about her love life - or lack of it. Hermione had actually got off lightly today. It would have been far worse if Ginny hadn’t been feeling so ill, and it was nothing that she didn’t usually laugh off. 

No, she was the one who had changed.

And then there was her conversation with Draco the previous evening. She couldn’t remember all of it, but she thought she had the most important points. They were enough to give her another thumping headache. Magic that she didn’t understand - Narcissa’s magic - had allowed her into the piano room without Narcissa knowing. The look on Narcissa’s face at the fundraiser came back to her with all the detail of a photograph, and now Hermione realised that Narcissa had seemed amazed. Stunned, even. It had been so fleeting that if she hadn’t been looking so closely she wouldn’t have caught it in the older witch’s eyes. Perhaps that was why she had asked Hermione for coffee in the first place. Not because she was intrigued about the witch who was friends with her son, but because she was intrigued by the witch who had circumvented her magic. 

She groaned. She hadn’t meant to. And she didn’t even know which charm Narcissa had used.

Sighing, she reached for the parchment and quill.

Dear Narcissa,

I’m so sorry for not coming as usual this morning, and for not letting you know. There was an emergency at work and my presence was required. 

It wasn’t strictly a lie; her in-tray was an emergency, and she would go in shortly to try and deal with some of it. She sucked on the end of the quill, trying to decide what else to say.

I saw Draco last night - he’s fine, by the way - and your secret is still safe even after several shots of something I never want to taste again. Ginny Potter’s fault. She was asking questions too, both she and Harry have realised that I’m not where I claim to be every Sunday, but I don’t really want them to know. Draco knows that I’ve been coming to the Manor, but not about your mastery. 

She could see Narcissa’s raised eyebrow and delicate eye roll, the same one she did every time Hermione started to babble, and the mental image made her chuckle. 

Can we maybe talk more next time I come over? There’s something I’d like to ask you. 

Regards,

Hermione. 

It wasn’t her best composition, but given the circumstances it was the best she could do. She quickly scribbled a second note for Draco, thanking him for getting her home safely, and went through to the kitchen where Seren was snoozing in her cage. She didn’t appreciate being woken up, but Hermione gave her some owl treats and she flew off huffily. Hermione only hoped the bird had worked out her attitude before she reached the Manor. 

The note that she received in reply, delivered by a very grumpy Seren to the window of her office three hours later, was short and to the point. 

Of course. I understand.

NB. 

She hadn’t expected a reply so quickly, and she slowly folded the note up. The curtness of it stung a little. There was no acknowledgement of her request to talk - did that mean Narcissa already knew what it would be about, and didn’t want to? Was she angry that Hermione had spoken to Draco? The sudden hollow emptiness in her stomach was almost worse than the hangover. She wished she had made the effort and gone to the Manor. The apparition might have made her queasy, but at least then she could have seen Narcissa. She wouldn’t have been second-guessing herself from a one-line note. 

She couldn’t concentrate. Her in-tray was buried under folded memos, files, and scrolls of parchment that simply needed a counter-signature, but she couldn’t focus on any of it. More than once she pulled the parchment back out of her desk drawer to trace her fingers over the handwriting. There was something there that she couldn’t pinpoint. Some emotion lingering under the words that she couldn’t define. 

Hermione shook her head at herself. This was ridiculous. She could send another letter later to check everything was ok. Now, though, she really needed to get on, and half an hour later she was finally distracted by a memo that had been hiding halfway down her in-tray. Reading it, twice through and then twice more, she almost forgot about Narcissa altogether as she felt her anger rising to the point of fury. She couldn’t believe what she was seeing. 

Well, she could. She just hadn’t thought even the Ministry would be quite so stupid as to…

“Bridget?” She pushed back her chair and stormed into the corridor, shouting for the only other person she knew to be in the office on a sunny Sunday afternoon in August. “Bridget!”

“Are you trying to wake the dead, dear?” Her boss stuck her head out from her office, and Hermione faltered at the term of endearment. It reminded her of…but she shook those thoughts away. 

“What in Merlin’s name is this?” She brandished the memo, and Bridget gestured for her to enter. 

“I thought you’d already seen it.” She waved Hermione into the seat in front of her desk. It was untidy as usual, parchment and memos strewn everywhere, but Bridget somehow managed to find order in the chaos. An empty coffee cup flashed a neon red on a pile of papers. Hermione knew it would only turn to a soothing green when the cup was refilled. 

“No,” Hermione ground out. “I had so much other stuff come in on top of it that I didn’t notice it. What the hell are they thinking? They can’t just propose a law for centaur relocation without informing us, surely?”

She knew that the department had not been informed ahead of time. If it had been, she was sure Bridget would have at least called a meeting to discuss it. 

“There’s nothing I can do, unfortunately.” Bridget leaned back in her chair with a sigh. “It’s been put forward by MLE, and we all know that they won’t be turned down for anything.”

“But why?”

“Because of all the expansion. The wizarding population exploded after the war, everyone getting their kicks when and where they still could. So naturally cities and settlements need to expand as well. There are several places where they’re encroaching on centaur land, and it’s already caused conflict which MLE has had to sort out.”

“Then it’s on them to find somewhere else to build!” Hermione was incensed. “Not on the centaurs to find somewhere else to live. They didn’t mention anything about relocation at the meeting last month.”

“They didn’t know about it then. None of us did. I’ve already had a barrage of owls demanding explanations and meetings and Merlin knows what. I’ve had to direct them all to MLE, saying I don’t know any more than they do. Embarrassing, really, but law enforcement can deal with the fallout since they created it.”

Hermione blew out a breath, and sat back in her chair. It was infuriating. More than infuriating. For a long moment, she stared out of Bridget’s open window at the sky. Clear blue, shimmering with summer warmth. She shouldn’t be here. She should be outside with her friends, or reading a book in the park. She should be at the Manor, eating scones and teasing Narcissa while the breeze played through the trees. She should be at the piano. She should be doing anything but sitting here, fighting a cause that was lost before they’d even had a chance. 

“This isn’t what I signed up for.”

“I’m sorry?”

“This.” Hermione waved the memo. “And this.” She gestured around Bridget’s office, the empty hallway, the stillness of the Ministry on a Sunday. “I wouldn’t mind any of it if I thought it was making a real difference, but it isn’t. I could spend every weekend in here for the rest of my life, wading through never-ending paperwork, and things like this would still be happening. And I’m tired. I don’t think this is what I want to do anymore.”

She didn’t know where that had come from. She hadn’t thought it through, hadn’t planned it, but it felt like it was the most honest she’d been with herself for a long time. To her surprise, instead of being offended at her outburst, Bridget nodded slowly. 

“I wondered when you’d come to me with that.”

“Excuse me?” The reply threw Hermione completely off-kilter, and she watched, narrow-eyed, as Bridget rested her chin on her steepled fingers. 

“You’re bright, Hermione. You’re too good for this job. I had hoped that you would be promoted quickly, even though it would mean losing you on my team, but…” She sighed, and spread her hands in a gesture of defeat. “I have tried. Every single year. It seems to suit the idiots upstairs to keep you down here.”

“I know you’ve tried.” Hermione tried to soften her tone. She knew Bridget believed in her and the work they were trying to do, and that she had genuinely done her best. 

“I knew it would only be a matter of time before you got fed up. You should be running the whole department by now.”

“I don’t…”

But Bridget held up a hand, and Hermione fell silent.

“All I ask is that you consider for a few days. Take the week off. You’re owed holiday, and I can get someone to cover your work. If you still want to leave by the end of a week away, then I’ll accept your resignation with great reluctance, and of course give you any references that you need.”

“I appreciate it, Bridget, but I can’t take time off. My in-tray is…”

“Your in-tray doesn’t matter.”

And there it was, the root of the problem. That ultimately all of the work she did, all the paper-pushing and the meetings and the memo-writing, didn’t matter. It wasn’t making that much difference to the lives of magical creatures. It was simply making the Ministry look good. 

“Okay.” Hermione nodded, slowly. She had never anticipated this, had never even considered leaving her job before, but now suddenly it seemed like the only possibility.

As she left the building and turned her face up to the sunshine, she felt the relief thrumming through her like music. Her mind was trying to run through practical things like the hassle of finding a new job, finances while she did so, what the papers would say because they would certainly say something, but none of it seemed really important. She already knew what her decision would be, and there was only one person that she really wanted to tell.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

The Manor was lit in soft dusk, the sky streaked with salmon pinks and blues, and Hermione stood for a moment to adjust. The evening felt gentler in Wiltshire than it had in London, fragrant with the scent of leaves and grass and pine. Narcissa had added her to the wards, and the heavy iron gates slowly swung open as she approached, only just wide enough for her to slip through. She’d decided against another letter. Instead, she’d fretted for two days before deciding to take a chance. After all, that’s what friends did. She would have had no qualms about simply turning up at Luna’s flat if she thought something was wrong. 

But this is Narcissa, her mind whispered. Not Luna.  

The door was opened by Heddy, looking not in the least surprised to see her on a Tuesday evening instead of a Sunday morning. 

“Mistress is busy.”

“Oh.” Hermione hadn’t even thought of that, and she suddenly felt like an idiot. Of course, Narcissa would be busy. She was probably out, or entertaining at home. Hermione tried to ignore the sharp flash of jealousy that ran through her at the thought. “Well, can you…”

“It’s alright, Heddy, I’ll speak to Miss Granger. We won’t be long.”

Hermione blinked. Narcissa had appeared behind the house elf, a sweep of pale blue and blonde, her face set and her eyes cold. Miss Granger? 

“As Mistress pleases,” Heddy squeaked, frowning, and Narcissa gestured for Hermione to follow her. But instead of the cosy living room, she found herself being led into a kind of salon, a formal area that was evidently intended to receive guests but that hadn’t been used for a long time. The warm air outside didn’t seem to penetrate, and Hermione shivered. This room didn’t feel welcoming. 

After several long seconds of silence, Narcissa raised one eyebrow sharply. 

“Was there something you wanted, Miss Granger?”

“Miss Granger?” Hermione found her voice. “Since when?”

“I think it’s best…”

“I’m going to quit my job.” She blurted it out, and Narcissa blinked. 

“And you’ve come for…what? Career advice?”

“No, of course not.” Hermione felt something settle in her stomach like lead. This was not what she had envisaged, and she felt completely wrong-footed; small and silly, like an impulsive schoolgirl. “I just wanted to tell you.”

“Well, now you have. You could have sent another owl. If you’ll excuse me…”

“I wanted to ask about the magic on the piano room.”

Narcissa’s mouth tightened, and her eyes flashed ice. Hermione felt a shiver run down her spine. She had never seen the older witch really angry, and she didn’t know why the prospect was as arousing as it was terrifying. Neither did she understand why Narcissa was so angry in the first place. Only a week ago they had been sharing tea. They had flirted over being friends. Narcissa had reached over and tucked a stray curl behind her ear, and the tiny contact had left Hermione warm and shaky. Now, suddenly, it was back to Miss Granger? 

“You said you’d talked to Draco. I’m sure whatever he told you will suffice.”

“Are you angry because we talked about it?”

“It’s not something I wish to discuss.”

“But why?” Hermione took a step forward, her confusion and irritation growing. “It let me in, and it shouldn’t have done. I don’t even know which charm you used and I didn’t mean to bypass it, but…”

“Then perhaps you should rethink whether you truly are the brightest witch of your age,” Narcissa snapped. “I’m sure if you spend long enough in the library you can work it out.”

Hermione’s anger flared. “It’s not exactly a title I gave myself,” she snapped back. “And I have been reading. I just can’t find anything.”

“Then you’ll have to temper that irritating curiosity of yours for once. Not everyone likes indulging it.”

Hermione stepped back as thought she’d been slapped. Images flashed through her mind as if on a reel: of Narcissa debating with her on arithmancy and potions, answering her questions on the new improvements to wolfsbane, even lending her a journal that she hadn’t read yet herself because she’d thought one or two of the articles would interest Hermione more. What had all that been, then? Her anger fizzled out, and tears welled in her eyes. Furiously, she blinked them back. She wouldn’t give Narcissa the satisfaction. 

“What’s wrong?” Hermione whispered. “I don’t understand. I thought we were friends.”

Something flickered in Narcissa’s eyes.

“I might be out of practice, Miss Granger, but I am fairly certain that friends are not supposed to be ashamed or embarrassed to be seen with one another.”

“Excuse me?”

“Your note made it perfectly clear. As I said, I understand. But I think you should probably leave.”

“No,” Hermione shook her head. She still wasn’t entirely sure what Narcissa was referring to, but she wasn’t going to leave without a proper explanation and a chance to make whatever she had inadvertently done wrong right. “Narcissa, I really don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Narcissa folded her arms. There was no ice in her eyes anymore. Her expression was almost completely closed, and it made Hermione’s heart beat too heavily in her chest. 

“Do I need to spell your own words out for you?”

“Apparently so.”

“You don’t want to tell your other friends that you are coming here. I assume that associating with the ex-wife of an ex-Death Eater isn’t good for your reputation, and I do appreciate that. But given how I…” She faltered for a second before the mask was back in place. “I really do suggest you leave now.”

Hermione’s head was spinning, trying to keep up, trying to remember what exactly she had written in her note that have been construed as….

Ginny…asking questions…rather they didn’t know…

Oh, shit. She closed her eyes. 

“Narcissa, I really didn’t mean it like that.”

“Please. Don’t insult my intelligence.”

“I’m not!” Hermione’s eyes flew open, and she didn’t know whether to laugh, cry, or stamp her foot. Of all the things for Narcissa to think. “I honestly didn’t. What I meant was…”

“It doesn’t matter. I have company arriving soon. Heddy will show you out.”

Hermione snapped her mouth shut. Company. Of course. 

“Fine.” She took a step backwards, feeling suddenly drained of everything but the desire to burst into tears. “I’m sorry to have disturbed you. Enjoy your evening.”

Before Narcissa could say anything further, Hermione turned and stumbled from the room. She didn’t wait for Heddy to let her out; instead she wrenched the doors open herself and ran into the twilight, down the gravel driveway to the gates. The last thing she was aware of, before she Apparated, was Narcissa framed against the open doorway, robes shimmering in the low light, watching her leave. 

 

~

 

Salt spray blew in her face, tingling on her lips and settling lightly on her hair, and the sand felt cool under her toes. A summer storm had just blown over, but this was Hermione’s favourite time to be by the sea, when the waves were still wild and the wind was still gusting, and the shriek of gulls overhead was muffled by the weather. She’d handed in her resignation a week ago. A week in which she had handed in her resignation, cleared her desk, and left with barely a backward glance. She would miss Bridget, but the relief she had felt when she realised that all her outstanding holiday would cover her notice period had been indescribable. Then had come the fallout as she gradually spread the news. There were frantic Floo calls from Harry and Ginny and Ron, asking if she’d completely lost her mind. They had calmed down eventually, once they had got over what an un-Hermione-like thing she had just done, and had invited her over for takeout and wine. And she’d received an owl from Draco, with a letter charmed to burst open with a trumpet fanfare before shooting “Congratulations!” in glitter up into the air and all over Crookshanks. She’d laughed for hours - the only time she had managed to crack even a smile since her disastrous visit to the Manor.

Now Luna had dragged her to the beach for the day to celebrate. They’d browsed the little shops that lined the cobbled high street of the small town, drunk tea and eaten fudge cake in a little wizarding cafe, and walked along the cliffs all the way down to the bay. The wind wasn’t easing up, but it had stopped raining and she could see the clouds like bruises on the horizon, faint flashes of lightning indicating that the storm was still rumbling on. It was warm. She could feel the afterburn of salt and wind on her skin, her freckles already darker and her face glowing from so much fresh air. Her curls were blowing as wild as the weather, and she could feel her magic buzzing under her skin, swirling, reaching for something. She knew what it was, and who her magic wanted. The thought brought lumps to her throat.

“Hermione, you’re crackling,” Luna shouted above the gusts of wind. “Maybe that means you’re an air witch.”

“I’m a what?”

“Air witch. You have an affinity with air. The wind. Or maybe it’s the sea?” Luna’s blonde hair whipped around her face as she grinned at Hermione, and Hermione couldn’t help but smile back. She’d resisted coming out today. But Luna was right; she’d needed to get out and off the sofa. She’d been miserable for days, and holing herself up with a blanket and books hadn’t really helped. 

An arm grabbed hers, and Luna pulled them both round a rocky outcrop to a quiet, sandy cove where they were sheltered from the wind. 

“Sit for a bit.” She flopped down on the sand. “The storm has churned up your wrackspurts.”

“Not the storm, Luna.” Hermione settled herself on the sand next to her friend and leaned back on her elbows. “Just worries. I don’t have a job, and for the first time in my life I don’t have a plan either.”

“That is daunting,” Luna agreed. “Very un-Hermione-like. But is that what’s got you so upset that you nearly started crying over tea?”

Hermione swallowed. She hadn’t meant to get so upset. She’d simply made the mistake of ordering her tea black before adding lemon and sugar, and had then been assaulted with a memory of Narcissa, curled up in a chair at the Manor, laughing at something Hermione said while she drank her tea in exactly the same way. She should have known Luna would notice. 

“No, it’s not,” she said quietly, and took a deep breath. “It’s Narcissa.”

“Miss Black?” Luna didn’t sound surprised. “I assumed that’s where you were going on a Sunday, and that you didn’t really want people to know. I understand. Harry and Ginny and Ron are lovely, but they can be a bit overwhelming at times.”

Hermione looked at her for a long moment, before lying back on the sand and rubbing her face. She was exhausted. She hadn’t really slept much, and already she missed it. Not just the piano but the tea, the cinnamon scones, the warmth of Narcissa’s company that had been so unexpected from someone she thought was so cool and reserved. She missed the fleeting touches that no longer seemed to be accidental, and the way Narcissa’s eyes sparkled with amusement whenever she teased. She missed the passionate conversations. She missed the swooping feeling in her stomach whenever she was close to the older witch, the one that she had tried to dismiss. She missed the magic that she now knew was part of Narcissa, and the way it tingled on her skin and set every sense alight when she played. She missed her, with a force that was almost primal.  

Damn, damn, damn. 

“I’ve fucked up, Luna,” she mumbled from behind her hands. “Really fucked up.”

“Well, sometimes it helps to talk about it? You probably haven’t. Not as badly as you think you have, anyway.”

“Oh, no, I have.” Hermione gave a half-sob, half laugh. “She misunderstood something I said, and now she thinks I’m ashamed to be friends with her.”

“Ah.” Luna nodded gently. “And of course you aren’t.”

“Of course not!” Hermione protested, her eyes widening as she lowered her hands to look at her friend. “She’s one of the most amazing women I know. She’s intelligent, funny, warm, kind. Powerful and frustrating and stubborn at times, and manipulative as Merlin, and a damn Slytherin so I can never tell exactly what she’s thinking, but…” She broke off at the look on Luna’s face. “What?”

“Nothing,” Luna smiled, her voice soft. “Only it sounds like she’s more than a friend, Hermione. For you, at least.”

Hermione started to shake her head, and then stopped. 

“Oh, Circe,” she whispered. 

She’d known it. Of course she’d known it. But hearing it said by someone else made it so much more real. 

“Does she know?”

Hermione shook her head, slowly. “I don’t know.” She forced herself to think back over her visit, to remember how Narcissa had shut down, to focus on the flicker of emotion that she had seen before the ice had returned. Maybe she did know, and maybe that was what she had wanted to avoid. Maybe everything else had just been an excuse. 

But then she remembered how it had felt for Narcissa to touch her, however briefly and chastely. None of those touches had been accidents, and she was almost sure the blonde witch had felt the same spark she had. And then there was the magic…

“I don’t have much experience, but Daddy always says these things are best in the open.” Luna smiled at her, green eyes kind. “I doubt your feelings have gone entirely unnoticed.”

“It doesn’t really matter, anyway. I doubt she’ll be speaking to me again.” Hermione sighed, kicking her shoes off and wriggling her feet down into the sand. “I thought we’d got over…but anyway, she really overreacted. She wouldn’t even let me explain.”

“Hasn’t it occurred to you that she might feel the same way?”

“I don’t know.”

“I mean, I’m no expert. But I did go out with Blaise for a bit, and he was a Slytherin too.”

“You what?” Hermione sat upright. “You never told me that!”

“Oh, it didn’t last very long. It was right after the war. He was actually very nice, but I think he liked Draco more than me.”

“Oh, Merlin,” Hermione chuckled despite herself. “We need to expand our friendship group, it’s getting a bit incestuous. Did they ever go out?”

“I don’t think so. I only mentioned it because, in some ways, I think he was a lot like Miss Black.”

“How?” Hermione bit her lip, waiting for Luna to continue. 

“Slytherins don’t trust easily, Hermione. Especially the ones from pureblood families. They’re taught that everyone is out to use them for personal gain. They don’t have friends, they have allies or enemies. They don’t have relationships, they have contracts. They’ve tried to change since the war, I think, but it’s not easy. Maybe she assumed that you were ashamed to be with her because that’s what another Slytherin would have meant by whatever you said, and so she backed off. And she would have backed off harder if she also has feelings for you. Call it a kind of self-preservation.”

Hermione sat for a few moments, letting Luna’s words sink in, and then groaned. How could she have been so stupid? She knew all that already. Even Draco had had his moments of insecurity, asking her why she wanted to be friends with him when she already had Harry and Ron. She should have thought. She should have recognised it. She should have known. And self-preservation….Narcissa was nothing if not a master at that. 

“How did I get to be such an idiot, Luna?”

“You aren’t. You’ve just fallen hard for her, that’s all. It clouded your judgment.”

“Ginny’s shots were what clouded my judgment. I should never have written that damn note while I was still hungover.” She kicked her foot further into the sand, feeling the cool wetness underneath. “What am I going to do?”

“Talk to her.”

“She’ll hex me.”

“Then hex her back.”

“Luna, she’s fucking terrifying when she’s angry. And besides…” She groaned again as another thought popped, unbidden, to the forefront of her mind. “This is Draco’s mother we’re talking about. How can I have feelings for Draco’s mother? He’ll kill me!”

Luna laughed, sand skimming through her fingers as she looked out to sea. “And here I was thinking Hermione Granger wasn’t afraid of anything,” she teased. “I wouldn’t mind if you had feelings for Daddy.”

“Luna!” Hermione grimaced. “No offence, your dad is lovely, but…no. Just no. He’s like an uncle to me. That’s really weird.”

“And yet it feels right with Miss Black.”

Hermione sighed. “Yes, I suppose it does.” She turned her face up to the clearing sky, watching the clouds break apart into patches of deep blue. Her magic felt calmer simply with sitting in the open and talking, and she instinctively knew Luna was right, however hard it was to admit or accept. “I guess I’ll try and talk to her.”

“I know Draco’s a good friend, but just forget him for the moment. He’ll deal with it.” 

They sat in silence for a while, each lost in their own thoughts, before Luna stretched and stood, holding out a hand to Hermione. “Come on, I want to get some of that fudge cake to take home before the cafe closes. Will you come back for dinner? I’m making carbonara.”

Hermione grabbed her friend’s hand and hauled herself to her feet, holding onto Luna while she brushed the worst of the sand off. The thought of going back to her own flat to brood wasn’t particularly appealing, not now that she was starting to feel better. Pasta and more cake sounded like the perfect end to a day that had turned out to be not so bad. And she knew she could count on Luna and her father to make her laugh. 

“That would be lovely, thank you.” Hermione returned the glowing smile on her friend’s face, before following her back round the rocks and into the wind. “Oh! And I need to go to the florist. Do we have time?”

She couldn’t believe she’d almost forgotten. It was the anniversary of her discharge from St Mungo’s, the day when she always sent flowers to the healers. She’d been in such a funk that it had nearly slipped her mind completely. Tomorrow wouldn’t be the end of the world, but…

“Of course,” Luna nodded breezily. “Is it that time of year already? I could come with you if you like, then we can go home together.”

“Thanks, Luna.”

“You could get them to put some rowan berries in, they’ve been spectacular this year…”

Hermione happily let Luna talk as they crossed the beach and walked back up to the cliff, the words and comfort washing over her and feeling some of her energy and vivaciousness seep back. She would get the flowers, and they would be on time just as they always were. She would have a nice evening with her friends. And she would talk to Narcissa. She was determined now. She just had to think of what to say. 

 

Chapter Text

There was nobody behind the great door that swung open to admit her. No Heddy, with her smart cloth and ambling gait. No Narcissa. The entrance hall was empty and cool, the clouds from outside reflecting in the shiny floor. The flickers of sun that peeked through looked like droplets of water shimmering over the tiles. Silence hung heavy. It was unnerving, and she was about to draw her wand from her sleeve when something settled over her like a warm wave; an echo of the same magic she felt in the piano room. She wasn’t alone after all. 

Hermione let the door close behind her and took a tentative step towards the staircase, her boots sounding too loud in the quiet. She knew where Narcissa would be. But she still walked slowly, drawing each footstep out like the echo of a note, giving herself time to try and calm the cloud of butterflies in her stomach. 

Would Narcissa be angry with her again? What, exactly, was she going to say? You’re right, I don’t want to be your friend? Would the room even be appear to her anymore? She’d spent so long trying to come up with some kind of decent plan for approaching this, and now she was here with nothing. Another very un-Hermione-like thing to do. She was surprised the wards of the Manor still granted her entrance; she had been fully prepared to send her patronus in to beg, if necessary, but she had been able to Apparate as normal. It gave her a tiny bit of hope. Not much, but enough to keep going down the endless hallways, past the large windows that looked out over rolling hills and leaves that were just starting to rust around the edges. She wanted to explore it. She wanted long autumn walks and cosy evenings and the soft thrill of new beginnings, and she wanted it all with Narcissa. 

Please. 

The handle turned in her fingers, and the first notes enveloped her body. 

She knew this piece. She knew it with the orchestra, when the strings seemed to seep through her skin, softening her in preparation for the piano, and she knew the piano part alone. She had played it before. She knew every touch of the keys, but not like this. This went right to her soul. Every note sounded clear, like the softest glass. 

She knew Narcissa had sensed her, but there was no interruption. The blonde witch’s fingers swept over the keys, so lightly that they barely seemed to touch at all, but the music vibrated with so much passion that the whole room seemed to shimmer with it. Hermione felt it then as if for the first time, the soft thrumming of Narcissa’s magic underneath her skin. Tender, and powerful, and anguished. Lonely: an image came to her, of the Manor in darkness apart from a single room, a lone candle, a fire burning in the grate for one person; a solitary flicker of light in a huge house that still held too many demons. And sensual. It swept over her until there was nothing else, and she didn’t even realise that she was holding her breath until, after what could have been moments or could have been hours, the final note died away like a glimmering jewel in candlelight. The quiet that settled was too sacred to break. 

“What are you doing here, Hermione?”

Narcissa’s voice was soft as she turned, and Hermione’s breath caught in her throat. The older witch was dressed casually, in black slacks and a deep blue blouse that draped off one shoulder. Her hair was pulled back with a few tendrils hanging around her face, and she wore no discernible makeup - the first time Hermione had seen her without. Her feet were bare, deep red nail polish glinting in the light. She looked tired. Open. Beautiful. 

Hermione stepped into the room. She didn’t know what to say, really. Another step, and another. Narcissa eyed her somewhat warily, but didn’t ask her again or request that she leave. She simply watched, blue eyes following Hermione’s trail towards the piano, but instead of making Hermione nervous, it seemed to imbue her with a boldness she didn’t know she possessed. Luna’s words came back to her: talk to her. The power of Narcissa’s magic swirled around her, the palpable grief and the heartache and longing tugging at her own heart until she no longer knew whether she was feeling Narcissa’s emotions or her own. She was beginning to think it didn’t matter anyway. 

She reached the piano stool and looked down. Narcissa’s eyes were wide, darkened by her close proximity. 

“I don’t want to be your friend,” she said softly, and Narcissa blinked. 

“If you’ve come here simply to tell me what I already know…”

“I don’t want to be your friend, because I want this instead.” 

Hermione reached out a finger and tilted Narcissa’s chin up. The older witch’s lips parted slightly, flashes of shock and desire sparking across her face, and Hermione leaned down, slowly, giving her plenty of time to back away. 

The lips that met hers were so soft. Narcissa tasted of lemon and tea, and Hermione’s senses were flooded with her perfume - the same fragrance of icy apples and roses that she always noticed in the room, but that was now mixed with some undefinable beauty that was Narcissa herself. The combination was heady, and she stumbled slightly. Only when arms wrapped around her waist to hold her upright did she realise that Narcissa was standing, and that their bodies were now almost pressed together against the piano. With a slight moan, she pressed her hands to Narcissa’s waist. The resulting gasp against her lips made her smile, and Narcissa took advantage of it to dart her tongue around Hermione’s lips. Hot, and needy. Hermione groaned. Shifting her body so that she was almost flush against Narcissa, she deepened the kiss. She was completely lost, incapable of any thought except for the woman in her arms. She never wanted to let her go. 

But eventually, she had to. Narcissa pulled back, breath coming light and fast, and looked at Hermione as if she wasn’t quite sure what had happened. The uncertainty was so unexpected, so endearing, that Hermione smiled. Gently, she cupped Narcissa’s face and rested their foreheads together. The older witch was so petite. She had never realised before now. Without her usual three-inch heels, she was barely as tall as Hermione. 

“I’m sorry,” she murmured, and hastened to explain when she felt Narcissa frown. “Not for kissing you. I’m definitely not sorry for that. I meant, I’m sorry for making you think I was ashamed of you. I’m not. Not at all.”

“Hermione…”

“No,” she held a finger lightly against Narcissa’s lips. “Please, let me explain.”

Narcissa sighed and closed her eyes, sinking away from Hermione’s touch and back down onto the piano stool. Reaching for her hands, Hermione entwined their fingers.  

“I wanted this to myself,” she said simply. “My piano practice, and you. Harry and Ron and I…we shared everything, for so long. All through school it was the three of us. The sodding Golden Trio. I told you I didn’t play piano because it didn’t fit the image. Well, it was like I never had a life outside of that image. No personality, no interests, no friends, nothing. An exaggeration, probably, but that’s how it felt. It’s been so good for me, the past few years, having Draco and Luna as well. People who aren’t necessarily friends with all three of us, people that I don’t always have to share. People who I can really be myself with.”

“And this was like that,“ Narcissa whispered. 

“Yes,” Hermione let go of Narcissa’s fingers and tilted her head up once more. She could feel the set of the older witch’s jaw, and instinctively she stroked it with her thumb. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry that I was selfish like that, and I really didn’t mean for it to hurt you.”

Blue eyes searched hers for a long few seconds before Narcissa nodded, slowly. 

Neither of them said anything. Hermione could see the blue eyes working through what she had said, and she tried hard to keep her hands from shaking. She didn’t know if it had been enough. There was so much more she could give, so much more she wanted to give, but she felt as if she had a wild animal resting in her arms and it terrified her. She wanted Narcissa to say something. Anything. 

Several long moments later, when Hermione was on the verge of begging, Narcissa shifted her knees and gently tugged her closer, before leaning forward and resting her forehead lightly against Hermione’s stomach. The simple, slightly submissive gesture made Hermione’s breath hitch, and she brought her hands up to stroke Narcissa’s hair, now escaping its ponytail. 

“I need to apologise too.” The words were soft and hesitant against Hermione’s jumper, but she caught and held on to every one. She knew how hard it was for Narcissa to say. “I overreacted. I should have given you a chance to explain. I’m sorry.”

Hermione felt the tension flood out of her. Everything she hadn’t realised she was holding onto rushed from her body and she gripped Narcissa’s shoulders, allowing the relief and gratitude and warmth and desire she had been holding at bay to fill her instead. She hadn’t been thrown out. They were talking, sort of. And she was holding the witch she had wanted to hold for weeks. If she could, she thought she would bottle this moment and keep it forever. 

But there were still things she wanted to know, and Narcissa’s unexpected softness emboldened her to ask. 

“Why didn’t you? Let me explain, I mean?” She wasn’t accusing, just curious, and she sensed Narcissa smirk against her. 

“Because I forgot I was dealing with a Gryffindor, not another Slytherin.”

“Ah, of course,” Hermione chuckled, gently pulling out the band that held Narcissa’s hair, and running her fingers through the blonde strands as they fell to her shoulders. She felt some of the tension diffusing. “I had an enlightening conversation recently about that.”

“Oh?”

“Hmm. Someone very wise told me that you Slytherins don’t like trusting people. You’re always looking for an ulterior motive.”

“Did you really need someone else to tell you that?”

“Apparently I did. Because I was also guilty of forgetting that I wasn’t dealing with another Gryffindor.”

Narcissa pulled back in sudden indignation. “I am nothing like…”

Hermione laughed, her hands coming to rest either side of Narcissa’s face. “I’m teasing. Although I have wondered why the hat didn’t want to put you in Ravenclaw.”

“It did. I was a hat stall.” Narcissa mumbled it, and Hermione’s eyes widened. She stepped backwards so that she could look the blonde witch in the eyes. 

“You’re joking.”

“Six minutes. My sisters were going crazy. Can you imagine, a Black not being sorted immediately into Slytherin?” Narcissa still looked mortified, and Hermione spluttered with laughter. “I begged it, in the end. I wouldn’t have minded Ravenclaw, but the Howlers from home would have been awful.”

“You do look good in blue.”

“Don’t push your luck.”

“I’m honestly surprised you haven’t hexed me into next week already.”

“I might yet, if you don’t kiss me again. I’ve waited too long for this already.”

Hermione’s fingers traced the light shadows under Narcissa’s eyes, her breath becoming shallow as she did so. Blue eyes had darkened almost to violet, and there was something hanging heavy in the air between them. Something alive. Something that tingled under her skin. Hermione trailed one finger down Narcissa’s cheek and jaw, all the way to her exposed collarbone, and was rewarded with a sharp intake of breath. It was intoxicating. She’d never done anything like this before; never initiated anything, never been the one to ask for what she desired or to take it wholeheartedly if it was offered. She’d never wanted to. 

Already it was different with Narcissa. 

Nudging the older witch’s legs with her own, she shifted them so that she could straddle Narcissa’s lap. The feel of Narcissa’s hands on her hips made her gasp; there was too much jumper in the way and she was suddenly far too hot, and she reached down to pull it over her head, leaving the simple black shirt underneath. Cool fingers slipped underneath it, a balm on her overheated skin. Her own fingers wandered, over Narcissa’s face and through her hair, and when she leaned down to kiss her their lips met in a rush of warmth. Something flared through her body. She could feel it in Narcissa too, in the way the blonde witch trembled slightly against her, in the swallowed moans and soft gasps that came from both of them. Her whole body felt like it was high on something, every nerve ending alive and humming. Everything in her was reaching for Narcissa. For more of her. 

When their lips parted, she trailed hot, open-mouthed kisses down Narcissa’s neck, brushing blonde hair aside, her pulse quickening as Narcissa leaned her head to give her more room. 

“Your magic…this magic…let me in here.”

It wasn’t the most coherent sentence she had ever put together, but she couldn’t bring herself to care, and Narcissa didn’t answer. There was only a husky gasp as Hermione gently bit her earlobe. 

“Was that a yes?”

Still no answer, and without thinking Hermione moved her teeth to the sensitive skin on Narcissa’s neck, biting and sucking before soothing it with her tongue. The moan from Narcissa was almost enough to make her come undone completely. 

“Was that a yes?”

“Yes.” 

It was breathy, whispered, and Hermione smiled. Such a tiny show of dominance, but the thrill it gave her - and Narcissa’s reaction to it - shot right through her body and she wriggled a little on Narcissa’s lap. 

“And you didn’t want to tell me?”

She forced herself to pull back so that she could look into Narcissa’s eyes, and both of them whimpered from the loss of contact. Narcissa didn’t speak, but this time Hermione waited. 

“No.”

Hermione’s fingers ran over the older witch’s face, neck, collarbone, hair. She couldn’t get enough. 

“Which charm did you use?”

“Is this an interrogation?” Narcissa softened the words by catching one of Hermione’s hands and kissing the fingers, slowly, one by one, wrapping her words around each kiss. For a moment, Hermione closed her eyes. The sensation of such a simple touch was almost overwhelming. “A version of the Fidelius charm. But it was a little unfair of me to send you to the library. I invented it; you wouldn’t have found it.”

“That figures,” Hermione murmured. “And when you saw it was me in here?”

Narcissa’s lips pressed against her wrist, her palm, each finger again in turn. When she didn’t answer, Hermione gently pulled her hand away and used it to lift Narcissa’s chin up. Reluctant blue eyes looked up at her, still dark and heavy with desire. 

“Did you know it was me?”

Narcissa sighed. “I felt something. I knew someone was in here. When I saw it was you…” Her eyes flicked away. “I was shocked, but afterwards I wasn’t really surprised, no.”

Hermione raised one eyebrow in an almost perfect imitation of Narcissa herself, and the blonde witch huffed. 

“Do you really want to talk about this now?”

“Yes.” Hermione lowered her mouth to Narcissa’s neck again, grazing over the spot she had just marked. This time, though, her fingers dropped to the exposed skin above Narcissa’s blouse, dipping below the silk and brushing lace. A gasp came from one of them, or maybe both, and a moan caught in Narcissa’s throat. Hermione’s heart thudded against her ribs. This was so unlike her, and yet so right at the same time. 

“Then stop that.” The blonde witch’s voice sounded husky. “It’s too distracting.”

“No. Concentrate.”

Fuck,” Narcissa hissed as Hermione’s fingers dipped lower. “I could still hex you, you know.”

Hermione had no doubt of that. Narcissa’s wand was out of reach, but she had seen how comfortable the older witch was without it. 

“But you won’t,” she murmured against Narcissa’s ear. The blonde witch’s body was pliant underneath hers, back arching into her touch. It was an empty threat, although the reminder of Narcissa’s power sent a thrill through her that made her next kiss a bit rougher than she had intended.

“Be careful, Hermione.” Hands that Hermione hadn’t even registered were on her back now slipped around to her breasts, and the brush of fingers against her covered nipples almost made her cry out. Swallowing her gasp, she rocked instinctively against Narcissa’s leg, and the older witch smirked. “Don’t play with fire that you can’t control.”

“Whoever said I wanted to control it?” Hermione pressed a bruising kiss against Narcissa’s mouth. “Talk.”

“I felt….this…” Narcissa waved her hand, indicating not only the space between them but the whole room, “…before.” She leaned up to kiss Hermione’s neck, and her murmured voice sent shivers across Hermione’s skin. “A connection between your magic and mine.”

“You felt that before? When?” Hermione’s fingers slowed in their exploration as she tried to think. Narcissa was right, this was too distracting. 

“At Grimmauld Place. The first time I saw you there.”

Hermione forced her mind to think back. Grimmauld Place. The summer after their sixth year. She had often escaped there from the Burrow, needing some time away from the overwhelming Weasley family. After Molly had exhausted them with wedding preparations, the boys had retreated to Ron’s room or to play Quidditch while Hermione had made her excuses, claiming that she needed the Grimmauld Place library for research. 

But she had barely seen Narcissa. Twice, maybe three times. The Malfoy family’s defection had been so new, and they hadn’t spoken much. 

“You felt this from that?” Hermione brushed her lips against Narcissa’s neck. “And you didn’t say anything?”

“Of course not.” Narcissa pulled back a little to look at her, her breath coming short and shallow. “We both had other things on our minds.”

“You never came back there with everyone else, after the war. We could have got to know one another then…” Slowly it dawned on her. “That’s why?”

Narcissa nodded, and Hermione huffed out a slow laugh. 

“I had my reasons.”

“You were married.” Her fingers fiddled with the top button on Narcissa’s blouse. 

“Barely.”

She popped open the button. “I was with Ron.”

Narcissa inclined her head, her hands skating over Hermione’s stomach under the shirt. 

“We’d just fought a war.”

“Most of it on opposite sides,” Narcissa gasped as the second button was dispensed with. “We’d hardly spoken. You were exhausted. I was exhausted. And we had almost twenty five years between us…which, by the way, we still do.”

“Actually, that might not be as bad as you think.” Hermione lowered her mouth to newly exposed skin, the swell of a breast and the top of a black lace bra now visible underneath Narcissa’s blouse. She sensed, rather than saw, Narcissa’s eyebrow rising, and smiled. “Time turner. Third year.”

“What in Salazar's name were you doing with a time turner?”

Hermione chuckled. She decided she loved surprising Narcissa, and took her time in answering. The older witch really was surprisingly impatient. It would be so easy, she thought, to force her to wait, to make her unravel completely. 

“I wanted to take more classes than was physically possible without one.”

“And they let you?”

“Of course.” Hermione lifted her head to kiss Narcissa’s slightly open mouth. “Except I may have used it slightly more than they intended me to.”

She felt Narcissa’s hands on her shoulders, pushing her away so that the blonde witch could see her face. The stern look was captivating. 

“What do you mean, more than they intended you to?”

Hermione shrugged. “More classes meant more homework, which I needed time to do. And I did have to sleep and eat sometimes. Take a shower occasionally, that kind of thing.” She laughed at Narcissa’s expression. “Don’t worry, it wasn’t an experience I repeated. It was easier after I dropped Divination, too.”

“At least you had some sense.” Narcissa shook her head. “So - just for curiosity’s sake - how many months did this little escapade add on to your age?”

“I have no idea, I’ve never wanted to know before.” She reached for her wand, still tucked safely in her shirt sleeve. “But we can find out. I should be 24, almost 25.”

“Don’t remind me.”

Hermione smirked, and then took a deep breath. Casting the runes was easy, especially with so much magic shimmering in the room. But what they revealed made her mouth drop open. 

“Ooops.”

“Indeed.” She felt Narcissa’s eyes on her, gaze warm. “Exactly how many extra library sessions did you try and fit in?”

“Two years’ worth, clearly.” Hermione’s eyes were wide as she watched the runes fade. “Is almost twenty three years between us better than almost twenty five?”

“Not much.”

Hermione returned her eyes to Narcissa, searching for any kind of sign that the older witch was serious and preparing herself to argue. 

“Does it worry you?”

Narcissa groaned. “Not as much as it should.”

Hermione nodded, and started on the third button. She knew they should probably stop and talk properly, but she couldn’t seem to help it. Her whole body was on edge, tingling with magic and arousal, and Narcissa was already enveloping her, filling her in a way she hadn’t thought possible. By the way the older witch’s breath caught in her throat, her hands sliding back up Hermione’s body, Hermione thought she was feeling the same. 

“Then what? After Grimmauld Place. You forgot about me?”

“No.” Narcissa’s fingers spread over her breasts and flicked one nipple through her bra, and Hermione squeaked. “I just avoided you as much as possible.” Hands lifted up Hermione’s shirt, and soft lips pressed against her stomach. Heat flooded through her. She could barely breathe. “Until you came here…” kiss, “…and got bored…” kiss, “and my magic decided for me.”

“And that’s why you invited me out for coffee.”

“Of course.” Somehow, in half the time it had taken her to undo three buttons on Narcissa’s blouse, the older witch had popped open Hermione’s shirt completely. Looking down, Hermione was gratified to see heat flare in blue eyes. She liked the bra she wore, a simple dark green with lace edges, although she honestly hadn’t chosen it that morning thinking that Narcissa would see it. “My charm had no loopholes, Hermione.”

“None apart from this.” Hermione’s hands shook a little as she slowly pushed the shirt back from her shoulders. It fell to the floor behind her, and she returned to undoing Narcissa’s blouse, quicker this time. 

“So it seems.”

“Compatible magic.”

“If you want to call it that.”

“Which you didn’t think about.”

“Because I didn’t think you’d ever be here to put it to the test.”

Hermione spread Narcissa’s blouse apart, taking in the sight in front of her. Smooth, pale skin. Breasts that were rising and falling rapidly, and hard nipples pressing against black lace. Heat flooded through her body, and she almost moaned out loud. Surely this wasn’t just magic?

“Would you have stopped me?”

“No. I wouldn’t.” Narcissa shook her head. Hermione was grateful that, somehow, she had sensed the need for a little reassurance. “But now since I’m assuming you aren’t going to leave me in this state…”

“You don’t want me to?” She was teasing, kind of, but the sharp twist of Narcissa’s fingers against her breasts made her gasp. Clearly the older witch was beyond teasing, and the realisation did more for her confidence than any words would have done. 

“No, darling, I don’t. Do you?”

“No.”

“Then don’t make me beg.” Hermione’s eyes widened, and Narcissa chuckled. Reaching up, she pulled Hermione’s lips down to her own. “Not yet, anyway.”

Hermione moaned. This witch would be the death of her. 

 

~

 

She had no idea how much later it was when she finally paused in her kisses long enough to gaze down at the witch underneath her. She was still straddling Narcissa, whose blouse was now draped over the piano keys behind her and whose face was flushed a light pink, her breath coming rapidly, her lips almost bruised from kissing. Hermione knew that she must look the same. Neither of them were being particularly gentle. There was too much pent up for that. Too much that they’d only just acknowledged. 

Suddenly, she didn’t know what to do next. 

There was too much that she wanted to do. So much that she’d never been bothered about before, but now wanted to experience with an almost desperate hunger. She wanted to sink to her knees between Narcissa’s legs. She wanted to push her back against the piano and fuck her. She wanted it here, and she wanted a bedroom. Some part of her, that she’d never even known existed, wanted to somehow tie Narcissa up with her own silk blouse to see just how submissive she would be. It was so unlike her, and so liberating. 

She missed Narcissa’s eyes darkening even further. 

“Can you walk?”

“Walk?” Narcissa sounded as if she’d never heard of the idea. “No, of course not. Your fault. Why?”

“I was thinking…” Hermione dropped another kiss to swollen lips, “that we should maybe  go somewhere more comfortable. I’m squashing you.”

“My bedroom’s in the other wing.”

Hermione groaned as she buried her face in Narcissa’s neck. “Why does your damn house have to be so big….oh!” She broke off with a squeal as she felt herself falling, landing on top of Narcissa. Had they just apparated? But her stomach wasn’t twisting, and the piano was still there, and…

“Are you a witch or not?” 

Narcissa stretched out beneath her like a cat, her hair now splayed over emerald green cushions, and Hermione’s eyes widened. Narcissa had just transfigured the piano stool into a small but squishy sofa. Without her wand. 

“Don’t worry, darling, you can still get on your knees. But you’re right, this is a far more comfortable position to watch you from.”

What. The. Fuck. 

Incredulity and indignation and arousal shot through her all at once as she looked at the faint smirk on Narcissa’s face. Fuck. How could she have forgotten that the woman was a natural-born legilimens? 

“Narcissa Estelle Black…” She placed one hand deliberately either side of Narcissa’s shoulders, holding herself up so that she could look down at the blonde witch. “Did you just read my mind?”

“Not intentionally. You were thinking very loudly.” 

“Well, that’s hardly my fault. How am I supposed to think quietly?”

“Don’t bother. Your ideas are…arousing, to say the least.”

Oh, Circe. What had Narcissa said earlier? Something about playing with fire?

Hermione felt the flush creep down her neck. Suddenly, she was very aware that she had never done anything like this before. A couple of drunken fumbles at The Smoking Cauldron gay bar while keeping an eye on Draco didn’t count. She’d never tasted a witch, or fucked a witch, or - Merlin above - tied a witch up. Narcissa had let herself be kissed almost into oblivion, true, but Hermione had no real idea what she was doing. She knew what she wanted; she could still feel her magic under skin, so warm and alive it was almost burning, urging her forwards. But what if it wasn’t right? What if she messed up, or Narcissa changed her mind, or…

“Hermione.” Narcissa placed one hand on Hermione’s chest, pushing her gently upright and sitting up herself so that Hermione was, once more, balanced on her lap. “Stop thinking.”

Hermione huffed, trying to cover her whirling emotions and failing miserably. “You just told me to keep thinking loudly.”

“Only certain thoughts.” Narcissa pressed her lips gently to the top of Hermione’s breast, just above her bra, and a shiver ran through her at the touch. “I’m sorry. I honestly don’t make a habit of listening to people’s minds. They’re generally either boring or insulting. I learned a long time ago to block most of them out.”

“Apart from the ones that involve…”

“You tying me up and fucking me senseless?” Narcissa’s teeth were grazing the lace on her bra, and Hermione couldn’t help the harsh groan that escaped her throat. Damn. Fire, indeed. “Hmm. That was a particularly vivid one, dear. May I?”

Hermione felt Narcissa’s hands slip round to the clasp on her bra. Questioning eyes were looking up at her, and all she could do was nod. Narcissa slid the straps down her arms and took a nipple in her mouth in one fluid motion, and Hermione gasped. Lips and gentle teeth and tongue assaulted her, one after the other. She wanted to throw her head back and arch into Narcissa’s mouth, and watch her at the same time. She’d never known sensation like it, and she found herself gripping Narcissa’s shoulders.

“Would you…” she whispered the half-question as Narcissa released her nipple and turned her attention to the other breast, letting her hand rest where her mouth had just been. 

“Let you? Perhaps.”

Oh. 

“But not with that blouse, it’s one of my favourites and I don’t want it ruined.”

Oh. 

The rush of arousal made her back arch involuntarily, and her hips ground down into Narcissa’s leg. The blonde witch chuckled against her skin. 

“Oh, you do like that idea,” she murmured, and with a massive effort Hermione shifted backwards so that Narcissa’s lips were no longer against her skin. Looking down, she saw that the older witch’s eyes were just as dark and heavy as she knew her own were, and she felt a small surge of gratification. Power. She’d done that. 

“So do you.” Her hands moved to the clasp of the black lace bra, imitating Narcissa’s movements from earlier. When the material slid to the floor, Hermione had to resist the urge to mimic the pleasure Narcissa had just given her. Instead, she lightly grazed her palm across one stiff nipple, holding back any more, and was rewarded with a hiss and a sharp inhale. “Don’t you?”

She gently pushed Narcissa back so that the blonde witch was lying against the cushions, and for a second Hermione’s breath hitched. She lost some of her momentary nerves. Narcissa looked so beautiful. Pale skin, tinged with pink. Long hair tousled. Eyes flashing and breath coming harder now, and it was all for her. 

She’d never felt anything like it. 

“Don’t you, Cissy?” The use of the nickname was unconscious, but as she trailed her hands lightly down Narcissa’s chest she felt a subdued gasp. Smirking, she filed that information away for later. 

“Yes.”

“Good.” Hermione finally lowered her mouth and sucked, harder and then more gently, humming in satisfaction when Narcissa moaned and wriggled underneath her. “But what do you want me to do now?” She let one hand trail down Narcissa’s side to the waistband of her slacks. “Your choice.”

Hermione raised her head to see Narcissa looking down at her with an expression of such dark arousal that she almost groaned, and felt her resolve slip. She was so turned on. So wet, she could feel it soaking between her legs. She didn’t know how she was holding on this long. She didn’t know what was making them drag it out so far that pleasure was in danger of turning into pain, and from the look on Narcissa’s face she was in the same state. But she wanted to make this unforgettable. She wanted to never be able to look at the piano stool in the same way again. 

“Tell me,” she whispered. “You know haven’t done this before. Tell me what to do. Or show me.”

“I already told you, darling.” Narcissa shrugged, somehow managing to look nonchalant. “But if you insist…”

The gentle push of Narcissa’s mind on hers felt like a wave lapping at the shore. Hermione had no shields up, but Narcissa was still asking for permission and she let her in without a second thought. Then she gasped as image after image assaulted her; vivid, explicit images that held nothing back. Below her, she could vaguely see Narcissa smirking. 

“You did ask,” she said softly, and pulled back from Hermione’s mind. The loss of the older witch’s presence left Hermione whimpering, but not for long. Every nerve ending in her body felt like it was on fire. She wanted Narcissa. All of her. And if that’s what her lover wanted, that’s what she would get. 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Hermione woke to a room in darkness. Instinctively she knew it wasn’t her own, and when she cautiously reached for her wand - under the pillow, where it always was when she slept even now - it wasn’t there. She sat upright, suddenly awake and alert. Her heart pounded as she realised she was naked, and she frantically looked around for her wand - over the shadowy outlines of a huge bedroom with a canopy over the bed, an armchair in the corner, a dressing table - before she heard a door open quietly and soft footsteps slip through. 

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to wake you.”

The voice was quiet. Hermione’s eyes widened as, for a few panic-stricken seconds, she struggled to recognise it, and when she did recognise it struggled to place it here. Why was….

“Are you all right, darling?”

It hit her then, with the force of a bludger. Narcissa was here because this was Narcissa’s bed. She was in it because she had kissed Narcissa the day before, and this was where they had finally ended up. She ran a hand over her face, trying to clear the haze and slow her heart down. There was no need to panic, no need to run, no need to defend herself. She was safe. 

“My wand?”

Her voice was a hoarse whisper, betraying the sudden fear that had jolted her awake, and Narcissa pointed to the bedside table, right next to Hermione on her side of the bed. 

“There.”

Hermione went to reach for it and then stopped. She didn’t need it, she reminded herself. Breathing deeply, she sank back against the pillows instead, feeling them soft under her body and with a scent of fresh linen that was soothing, and pulled the covers up over her chest. 

“Did you have a nightmare?” Narcissa’s cool hand smoothed her hair back from her face, and Hermione shook her head. 

“I just woke up and wasn’t sure where I was. Sorry. It’s instinct by now.”

“No need to apologise.” 

Narcissa flicked her other hand, and a soft light bathed the room. Hermione could see the deep green bedcovers, the light patterned curtains that hung over large windows, the solid oak wardrobe that took up most of a wall. The walls were cream with a single picture opposite the bed, one of Georgia O’Keeffe’s lilies that swayed seductively at her. She took a deep breath and breathed in Narcissa, all apples and roses and mussed hair and silk robe, and felt the last of the panic begin to subside. 

“Would you like some water?”

Hermione shook her head. “No, I’m fine.” She looked into concerned blue eyes, and reached tentatively for Narcissa’s hand. “Couldn’t you sleep?”

Narcissa shook her head. “I think the muggle term is insomnia?” She gave Hermione a soft smile. “I often wake up in the early hours. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to wake you too.”

“You didn’t.” Hermione tugged gently on the hand, wanting the blonde closer, and Narcissa leaned down into her kiss. It was almost chaste, a gentle echo of the evening before, but it still wrung a little sigh from both of them and Hermione felt the last dregs of her panic begin to shift to arousal. 

“We’re both awake now,” she whispered, and Narcissa chuckled. 

“We are.”

“And I don’t have to go to work in the morning.” She still hadn’t got used to it, and had set her alarm on more than one occasion before remembering that she didn’t need it, that she currently had no job to go to. Each time she had felt a stab of worry. Now, though, she was grateful. 

“It is almost morning, darling.”

“I still don’t have to go anywhere.” Hermione pulled back a little. “Unless you want me to.”

“Not particularly.” Narcissa’s lips dropped to her neck, making Hermione shiver in pleasure. “Besides, I think you made me a promise last night that you didn’t quite fulfil.”

Hermione’s brain scrambled to think of what Narcissa meant, and then she felt herself flush violently as she remembered. Something about making Narcissa beg…The blonde smiled against her neck.

“I won’t hold you to it, but I was looking forward to you trying.”

Hermione shook her head. “I should never have said that out loud.”

“You were screaming it at me in your head anyway, it was impossible to ignore.”

“You’re going to have to teach me occlumency,” Hermione groaned, and squirmed under the covers as Narcissa’s lips hit a sensitive spot. “It’s completely unfair that I can’t even think without you hearing it.”

Narcissa hummed against her skin. “We could start now if you like. Early mornings are often the best time, when the mind is still…”

“No.” Hermione cut the blonde’s teasing off firmly, and pulled her down properly onto the bed. “My mind is already full of other things.”

 

~

 

Hours later, Hermione lay half across Narcissa’s body, her head resting on a breast and Narcissa’s legs wrapped around her own. She thought they might have fallen back asleep, but she wasn’t sure. Narcissa’s fingers running slowly through her hair were hypnotic; the blonde witch’s breathing slow and steady, her heartbeat a gentle echo under Hermione’s cheek. Everything was hazy. She felt wonderfully exhausted, heavy and sated; when she’d woken earlier she hadn’t been so aware of how her body ached from the orgasms Narcissa had wrung from her. Was this what it was meant to be like? She smiled against Narcissa’s skin, inhaling the scent that she now knew so well, even more alluring mixed with light sweat and sex. 

“What’s that smile for?”

Narcissa sounded half-asleep, and Hermione raised her head to press her lips against the blonde’s neck.

“You mean you don’t know?”

“I’m not listening to your thoughts, Hermione.”

“I think I made good on that promise.”

“Of course that would be it,” Narcissa huffed, her eyes still closed. But a satisfied smile was creeping around the corners of her mouth, and Hermione sat up a little more so that she could look at her. In the morning light that streamed in around the edges of the curtains, she almost seemed unreal. Drowsily content, her skin pale and golden, vulnerable and exposed and trusting. 

The sound of birdsong outside made Hermione think of the piano room, and the memory of Narcissa’s playing washed over her as she lazily traced circles on the blonde’s hip, letting the melody slide through her mind and escape. 

“Your playing is incredible,” she said softly. Feeling Narcissa stiffen a little underneath her, she continued soothing with her fingers. “I’ve never heard anything like it.”

“I don’t really play anymore.”

“I know. Draco told me.” She felt Narcissa shift underneath her, and pressed her lips to the older witch’s shoulder. “You don’t have to talk about it. I just wanted you to know.”

After what felt like several long moments, she felt her lover’s hand begin to stroke gently up and down her back.

“I’m sorry.” Hermione lifted her head. “I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable.”

“You didn’t.” Narcissa didn’t meet Hermione’s eyes. “But you were never meant to hear that. What I played. It wasn’t…”

Hermione knew what Narcissa meant, that she had never intended for anyone - least of all Hermione - to hear the pain and longing and desire that had filled the room with her music. Just as Hermione had never intended for Narcissa to hear what she had played that first night, the night of the ball, the night that had started the whole chain of events that had led her here. She whispered as much in the blonde’s ear, holding her close. I wouldn’t change it, even if I could.

There was silence for a few moments, punctuated only by the birds outside, and then Narcissa spoke again, so softly Hermione could barely hear her. 

“What else did Draco say?”

Hermione ran her fingers slowly over Narcissa’s cheek, through her hair, back down her jaw. “He said you stopped living,” she replied quietly, and Narcissa nodded slowly. 

“I did.”

“I think he’s scared that you’ve never really started again.”

Narcissa didn’t respond, but neither did she move away. They lay there, still in each other’s arms, for what could have been minutes or hours, until Hermione’s stomach began to grumble and Narcissa smiled. 

“Job or no job, we should at least get up and get you something to eat.” 

Hermione reluctantly agreed. Neither of them had eaten the night before. Peeling herself away from Narcissa, she let the blonde get up and go to the bathroom first. She didn’t know if she had pushed too hard. After a couple of minutes of worrying about it in bed, she slipped out from under the covers and into the extra robe that was lying over the chair, and drew back the curtains to let in the light. It flooded the room brightly, making her blink. Bright gold swamped the inside of her eyelids, and shadows danced at the corner of her vision like mirages. When she turned back to the room, she saw the flowers on the dressing table in shades of darkness and sun, and had to wait for her eyes to clear. 

She hadn’t noticed them before, but now her eyes widened as she slowly stepped closer and took in the bouquet. The scent was familiar and delicate, calla lilies and roses, a background to the scent of Narcissa herself that permeated the bedroom. There were the rowan berries, and the deep orange orchids that glimmered and turned their heads to show off, and the enchanted salvia that she always asked for because it represented healing. She’d stood and watched this bouquet being created, hair still windblown from the beach and Luna by her side. She’d told them to send it to St Mungo’s as usual, even though the kindly florist witch who owned the shop knew exactly what to do by now, and, just as she did every year, she’d sent up a silent wish that they reached the unknown witch or wizard who had given her back her life. 

She heard the bathroom door opening, and felt Narcissa’s eyes on her as she stepped towards the small table, the ornate vase, the streak of late morning sun that caught the lilies and turned them to gold. 

“It was you,” she whispered. Turning around, she saw that Narcissa had wrapped her own robe tightly around her body, and was biting her bottom lip in a very good imitation of Hermione herself. “You healed me?”

Narcissa looked at her for a moment before nodding. Hesitantly, she stepped over to Hermione and reached for her arm.

“May I?”

Hermione nodded wordlessly as Narcissa’s fingers pushed up the sleeve of the borrowed robe. The scar was still just visible, the trace of the letters pale against her skin, but there was no longer anything to suggest it had been cursed. None of the weeping redness or flaring pain; none of the nightmares that seemed to begin somewhere deep in her flesh before making their way, screaming and sweating, to her mind. 

Narcissa’s fingers delicately ran over the outline. Suddenly, Hermione was aware of her all over again. Her scent, her body, the soft silk of the robe that draped her body and reached to mid-calf. The soft, satisfied smile on her face as she inspected the healed skin properly for the first time. 

“It worked better than I’d hoped.”

“But you weren’t working for St Mungo’s then, were you?”

“No.” Narcissa let the sleeve of Hermione’s robe drop. “Severus sent for me. He did some work there after the war, and he was there when you came in.”

“Snape?” Hermione’s eyes widened as she tried to remember. “I don’t recall seeing him, but I was fairly out of it.”

“You terrified him. And me.” Narcissa looked at her, blue eyes unfathomable. “You almost left it too late, Hermione. Dark magic like that just gets stronger the longer it’s left untreated.”

“I had no idea,” Hermione whispered, her gaze falling to her now-covered arm. “I mean, I knew it was bad. I used to get terrible nightmares that seemed to start there - I know that doesn’t make any sense, but that’s what it felt like - and I’d wake up and the pain would be awful.”

“I know.”

“It kept opening up. Bleeding all over again. That night…I couldn’t take it anymore.”

“I know, darling.”

“Why did he send for you?”

“Because I was the only one who understood Bella’s magic.” Narcissa tentatively grasped Hermione’s fingers, as if she was scared Hermione would somehow disappear. “She’d used that curse before, and I knew how to heal it. He recognised it immediately.” 

“How did you…?” But she broke off, unsure of how to continue or even what question she was asking. 

“How did I heal it, or how did I know that she’d used it before?”

“Both,” Hermione whispered.

“Trust me, you don’t want to know.” 

“I do.” Hermione stepped closer to rest her forehead against Narcissa’s, holding the blonde’s hand tightly. “But I’ll let you get away with it for now. Why didn’t you tell me?”

“As I said last night, I was doing my best to avoid you.” Narcissa shrugged. “And I didn’t know how you would feel about your torturer’s sister being the one to heal you.”

Hermione gently disentangled her hand from Narcissa’s, and brought them up to cup the older witch’s face. 

“You are not my torturer’s sister, Narcissa.” She shook her head when Narcissa opened her mouth to protest. “You are the incredibly powerful sister of another incredibly powerful witch, and I’m lucky you answered Snape that night otherwise I wouldn’t be here.” She pressed her lips to Narcissa’s, long and slow. “So thank you. For all the times I should have said it, and didn’t because I didn’t know.” 

She hesitated, then. It was a stupid thing to suddenly be worried about, but… “Do you even like orchids?”

Narcissa chuckled. “They’re expensive and rare. Of course I do, darling.” She smiled as she looked over at the flowers. “St Mungo’s always send them on to me. I told Severus he should have them - or at least that we should alternate years - but he refused. As I’m sure you can imagine, he’s not particularly into flowers.”

Hermione couldn’t help a snort of laughter at the thought of Severus Snape being confronted with a bouquet of roses and orchids. 

“No, I imagine he isn’t.” She shook her head in amazement. Of all the possibilities she could have imagined, this would never have been one of them. “I’d like to thank him, though. Does he still work at St Mungo’s?”

“Occasionally.” Narcissa hesitated. “We keep in touch. I could pass it on for you, or tell him you’d like to see him yourself.”

“Thank you,” Hermione whispered. She knew how private Snape was and didn’t want to to intrude, but she did really want to thank him. It hardly seemed sufficient, but it would have to do. 

She wrapped her arms around Narcissa and held the blonde tightly. There were so many things she wanted to ask, so many things she wanted to know. She remembered the book of poetry, how Narcissa had talked about her sister, and how strange it had seemed hearing Bellatrix spoken of like a human being and not a monster. Suddenly, she wanted to know where it had all gone wrong. Now that she had time and distance and healing between them, she wanted to understand. 

“We should get you something to eat.”

“And you.” Hermione relaxed her hold, but neither of them moved. “You didn’t eat last night either.”

“I could ask Heddy to bring us something in the living room.”

Hermione nodded, noting Narcissa’s language with a smile. The older witch was clearly fond of the elderly house elf. It was so different to the picture Hermione had held in her head for years, of a Narcissa who willingly upheld pureblood traditions and attitudes. She wondered how wrong she had been on other things too. 

“Will you…” She hesitated, wondering whether she truly wanted this and whether Narcissa would even consider it. “Will you tell me about her?”

Narcissa pulled back, looking confused. “Who, Heddy?”

“No, although I’m sure she’s very interesting,” Hermione chuckled, a little nervously. “I meant your sister. Bellatrix.”

“Bella?” Narcissa sounded even more surprised. “You want to know about her? Why?”

“I don’t know,” Hermione replied honestly, and shook her head. “I’m sorry. I’d just like to try and understand, but I know it must be hard for you to talk about. Forget I asked.”

“No, it’s not that.” Narcissa seemed taken aback, but not upset at the request. “I just never expected you to want to, that’s all.”

“I’m not a hundred percent sure that I do.” She touched her arm again, tracing the outline of the letters by heart, and then looked at the blonde witch. “But I’d like to try. I want to know you, and I can’t avoid her forever. Whatever went wrong, she was still your sister.”

Narcissa blinked. 

“But we really don’t have to. I’m sorry, I…”

Hermione was cut off by a finger over her lips.

“I understand, darling.” Narcissa smiled softly. “At least, I think I do. But you’re right, some things aren’t easy to talk about, especially with Bella. She defied description even when we were small.”

“It’s okay, we don’t…”

“It would be easier to show you.”

Hermione looked at Narcissa blankly, until she realised what the older witch was offering. 

“You’d let me see your memories?”

“If you want to.” Narcissa shrugged. “I assume you can perform basic legilimency?”

“Of course, but…”

“Then have a think about it.” Narcissa grazed Hermione’s lips with her own. “But first, I need tea.”

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Hermione stood and looked around her in awe. She was in a library. A huge, high-ceilinged library, with ornate cornices and dark wood floors and light grey walls, and tall windows that were open to a light breeze. An old-fashioned record player sat in one corner, a stack of vinyl beside it. A small round table sat beside an armchair. Bookshelves lined two walls. She instinctively wandered over to one, her fingers itching, but all of the books looked exactly the same; all the same height, all the same colour, all with blank spines. It was the first indication that she wasn’t in a real library, and she smiled at herself. Of course she wasn’t. But she couldn’t quite believe she was in Narcissa’s head either. 

“Why ever not?”

Her eyes widened, and she groaned. 

“Of course you can still hear my thoughts when I’m in your head.”

“Louder than ever, darling, so be careful.” She sensed Narcissa huff. “Why are you finding it hard to believe that this is my mind?”

“It’s so neat. Not that you aren’t a neat person, I mean, the Manor’s impeccable and so are you, with your dress sense and everything, but….” Hermione gave up before she dug herself any deeper, but this time felt a chuckle sweep over her, warm and light. 

“I tidy up for visitors.” There was a pause. “Haven’t you ever been inside your own mind?”

“Once,” Hermione admitted. “It wasn’t what I thought it would be.”

“It takes time and practice. And your thoughts can be particularly chaotic, darling. I wasn’t teasing when I said we should work on your occlumency.”  

Hermione hummed, but her eyes were wandering. She had no idea where to start. If all of these books were Narcissa’s memories, then….

“Oh no, that would be far too easy.”

“What?”

Narcissa sounded amused. “You didn’t find yourself in this room because I guided you here, Hermione. You found yourself here because it’s the first one in my mind. Do you really think I would store everything here for any accomplished Legilimens to find on the first try?”

Hermione felt herself flush, and shook her head. Of course not. 

“Look around. Properly.”

She obeyed. Her eyes scanned the entire room, slowly, but only on the second time around did she spot the door, so seamlessly integrated with the wall that it was almost invisible. She took a step towards it. She was unsure of whether Narcissa meant her to go through or not, but she didn’t feel anything stopping her. 

“You can look.”

There was no handle on the door. She pushed it gently and it swung open; Narcissa was making it easy for her. She found herself in a long corridor, dark and somewhat gloomy compared to the library, but she could see it stretching into the distance. There were portraits lining the walls - thankfully silent - and doors leading off either side. Hundreds of doors. Her eyes widened. 

“This is all your mind?”

“Of course, darling, where else would it be?”

Hermione felt a gentle tug pulling her back into the library, and the door swung shut behind her. 

“But there were hundreds of rooms down there!”

“Not all of those doors lead to rooms. Some lead to staircases, one leads to a garden. There are more than a few cupboards. Some aren’t doors at all. Some do lead to rooms, but there’s nothing in them. It’s not designed to be easy.”

“Merlin,” Hermione whispered. She was completely in awe. “That’s….”

“I did it because I had to.”

Hermione swallowed. She couldn’t imagine how much effort and time it must have taken to construct the labyrinth that she’d just glimpsed; she certainly couldn’t imagine the strength of control needed to maintain it. 

“I was born with that control, Hermione. It’s much easier for me than it would be for you.”

“But still….”

“I got some memories out for you.”

Hermione looked around once more, and her eyes alighted on the stack of vinyl next to the record player. Tentatively, she took a step towards it. 

“Not those, although it’s a good idea. Maybe I’ll do that next time.” She felt Narcissa smile. “But while you’re there you can put one on, if you like.”

Hermione looked at the records, and then the record player. 

“I can do that?”

“Of course.”

Oh.” 

“There’s Mendelssohn in there somewhere. Songs Without Words.”

Hermione knelt to go through the pile of records. Bach, Beethoven, Satie, Debussy. Chopin and Ravel. Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro. And…

“Joni Mitchell?” She lifted it up with raised eyebrows, and sensed Narcissa shrug. 

“It’s a classic. Isn’t that what the muggles say?”

She smiled, and carried on looking. The Mendelssohn was almost at the bottom of the pile, and she slipped the record out of its sleeve and laid it on the player. Gently, she dropped the needle. The first soft notes filled the air faintly, as if they were coming from a dream, and she closed her eyes. She loved these pieces. The warm breeze that filled the room told her Narcissa did too, and for a moment she simply soaked it in. She’d never expected to feel so at peace and so comfortable in someone else’s head - but then, she supposed, this was Narcissa. She was beginning to suspect she would feel comfortable anywhere with the blonde. 

“Thank you, darling.” The voice was soft. “But now if you wouldn’t mind? Otherwise we’ll be here all day.” 

Hermione felt another gentle tug, and she opened her eyes and stood. Narcissa was leading her towards the armchair. On the table next to it was a pile of books that she hadn’t noticed before. She settled herself in the chair, sinking into the soft cushions, and hovered her hand hesitantly over the books, waiting for confirmation. 

“The earliest memories are at the top.” She heard the slight nervousness in Narcissa’s voice, and wished she could at least hold the blonde’s hand. “I won’t blame you if you stop before the bottom.”

“Are you sure about this?” Hermione asked. Maybe it hadn’t been such a good idea. The last thing she wanted was to upset Narcissa. “Maybe we should…”

“I’m sure.”

Hermione picked up the top book, and slowly opened the cover. 

 

~

 

A bedroom. It’s dark outside, but a small light glows in one corner like a nightlight. It’s enough to make out a huge bed in the centre of the room, far too big for the little girl in it, small body and blonde hair lost in a sea of pillows and blankets. It’s all a little blurred at the edges, but then Narcissa is no more than three. Everything is hazy because she’s too young to remember clearly. 

The tiny witch is crying, huddled under the bedclothes. She’s woken from a nightmare and she’s trying to stifle her sobs in the pillow, knowing that even if her mother hears her she won’t come. Narcissa’s a big girl now. Big girls don’t cry, especially not over things that aren’t real, and when the door to her room finally opens it’s her sisters that appear. Both are in nightgowns, looking sleepy. Andromeda’s curls bounce as she runs to the bed and jumps on to cuddle her little sister. Bella looks annoyed, but perches on the other side. Her dark curls are similar to Andromeda’s, but already, age six, there is something that sets her apart. Already she is the one in charge, and not only because she’s the oldest. 

“Shut up, Cissy, Mother will hear you.”

Narcissa tries to obey, but the effort just makes her hiccup. 

“Whatever it was isn’t real,” Andromeda tries to soothe her, but Narcissa shakes her head and points tearfully to the wardrobe. It’s huge, just like the bed, and imposing in dark wood. It’s made for monsters and boggarts and goblins to burst out of at night. 

“Really?” Bella gets off the bed with a sigh, and walks over to it. With a flourish, she throws open the doors to reveal a rail full of beautiful little dresses, shoes neatly lined up at the bottom, and rifles through them to prove that there’s not a monster or boggart or goblin in sight. “Okay? Nothing here.”

Narcissa looks dubious for a moment, but then sniffles and nods. She trusts her big sister. She’ll never get back to sleep alone though. They know it and she knows it, and already Andromeda is climbing in between the covers next to her, holding her tight. 

“Read a story, Bella, she likes that.”

“Why me?” Bella huffs as she sits back down on the bed, but she’s already reaching for the book on the nightstand. 

“Because I can’t read as well as you can, and Cissy can’t read at all.”

“I can!” the tiny witch protests, but she’s silenced by a look from her sister. 

“No, you can’t. You just know the stories off by heart, so you mouth the words as I say them. You’re not really reading.”

“Am too,” she pouts, but Bella just shakes her head and holds up the book. 

“Do you want me to read or not?”

Narcissa nods. “Snow White and the Seven Elves.”

“Again?” Bella groans, but opens the book and begins to read. Her voice is surprisingly soothing, and she does all the funny accents for the Elves that make Narcissa giggle. Bella doesn’t stumble over any words like she still does with other books. She knows this story too well by now; it’s the one Narcissa always wants after a nightmare. She reads until Narcissa’s eyes have closed, and then she puts the book down and slips under the blankets next to her sisters. 

“She’ll sleep now,” Andromeda says, sounding half-asleep herself. 

“She’d better,” mutters Bella, but there’s no bite to it, and she only closes her own eyes when Andromeda is asleep as well. 

 

*

 

A garden. It’s summer; all the flowers are out and the sun is hot. The lawns are manicured and the flowerbeds immaculate, and even the trees look as if they’ve been charmed to rustle their leaves exquisitely in the breeze, not a twig out of place. It’s silent apart from the birdsong. Still. Peaceful. And then, through this perfection, streaks a dark whirlwind on a broomstick. 

“Bella, slow down!” 

Bella just laughs at Andromeda. She dives close to the ground and pulls back up just in time, and her sister almost crashes into her. They hover in mid-air, not that far up now, Bella wild and joyful and Andromeda glaring. They are nine and eight, and already Bella’s magic buzzes. Already she has taken to flying as if she was born on a broomstick, while Andromeda struggles with vertigo every time she leaves the ground. 

“That’s dangerous, Bella!”

Narcissa watches them from beside a bush, her arms folded and her face sulky. She doesn’t have a broomstick yet. It’s the first time she’s felt really separate from her sisters; the first time that they have something grown-up and she doesn’t, and she hates it. She thinks that she’s old enough too. She’s six. She’s not that much younger than Andy. 

Both Bella and Andy sink to the ground, still arguing, and Narcissa walks over to them. Her blue eyes are determined. 

“I want a go,” she says loudly, and they stop shouting at each other to look at her. Andromeda shakes her head.

“No, Cissy. You know Mother won’t let you yet.”

She knows. She also knows the punishment will be severe if she disobeys, but she’s never wanted anything so badly in her life and Mother isn’t home. Mother’s gone shopping in Diagon Alley, and Narcissa wasn’t allowed to go there either. 

“Mother’s not here,” she ventures, and she sees a delighted smile cross Bella’s face. 

“You aren’t thinking of breaking the rules, are you?”

Narcissa swallows. She doesn’t like it when Bella implies she’s a mummy’s girl. She just doesn’t like getting into trouble, that’s all, but she’s confident that this time she won’t. All she wants is a tiny go. 

She holds out a hand. 

“Let me try. Mother won’t find out because none of us will tell her.”

Bella throws back her head and laughs, her curls catching the sun, and passes her broomstick to Narcissa. 

‘Bella, are you crazy?” Andromeda looks horrified, and tries to take it back from Narcissa but Narcissa steps quickly away, holding it tightly. “She might get hurt!”

“Course she won’t, I’m not going to let her fly by herself,” Bella huffs. “Get on, Cissy. I’ll hold it.”

Bella holds the back end of the broomstick while Narcissa climbs on. It’s a bit big for her, but she grips the handle tightly. She pushes away from the ground when Bella tells her to, just gently like Bella tells her to, and then suddenly she’s flying, just a few feet off the ground but still, she’s flying and she laughs in joy at the feel of the air sweeping past her face. She goes round in a circle with Bella still holding on, and then she feels Bella let go, and she’s suddenly scared but she doesn’t want to show it. She goes round in another circle, wobbling now but determined to prove that she can do it, but then she hears a shout and Bella grabs the broomstick again, and the jolt makes her lose her balance. She tumbles off into a flowerbed, gasping and crying out as rose thorns scratch her bare arms, and is quickly and unceremoniously pulled up by Andromeda. 

“What in Merlin’s name…”

It’s their father, striding out from the house, a look of anger on his face, and she swallows. 

“It was my fault,” she says quickly, tears already pricking her eyes at the thin lines of blood on her arms, and the shock and embarrassment at falling off, and the horror of getting caught after she’d been so sure they wouldn’t. “I asked…”

“And Bellatrix knows better than to say yes.” Their father turns cold eyes on Bella, and indicates the house. “My study.”

Bella walks off without a word, leaving the broomstick behind. Tears stream down Narcissa’s face. She knows Bella will be punished, and it’s not Bella’s fault. 

“Please,” she cries. “It wasn’t….”

“Quiet.”

She falls silent immediately. 

“Are you hurt?’

She shakes her head mutely.

“Then stop snivelling and get one of the house elves to clean you up before your mother gets home.”

Her eyes widen. Perhaps Mother won’t find out after all. Perhaps Bella’s punishment might to be so bad. Perhaps….

“Or do I have to drag you inside myself?”

She shakes her head and forces her feet to move. Andromeda is right behind her. A disapproving house elf cleans and heals the scratches on her arm, and she changes into a new dress. There isn’t a sound from the study and their father doesn’t tell their mother, but that night, when she has another bad dream, it’s only Andromeda who comes to comfort her. 

 

*

 

The same garden, a different summer. Narcissa is sitting on the grass, watching as her sister braids daisies together. Bella often does this, but this time it’s different because this time she’s doing it using her wand. Narcissa can’t believe her sister is old enough for a wand. She can’t believe that tomorrow Bella will be going to Hogwarts, and she’ll be left here with Andy. 

“Cissy, you look like someone’s died.” Bella frowns as a daisy slips out of the chain, and she puts down her wand to mend it by hand instead. Narcissa prefers that. It feels more familiar. “I’ll be back at Christmas.”

“Christmas is three months away.”

She’s never been without either of her sisters for longer than a day. 

Bella finishes the daisy chain in silence, and Narcissa feels guilty. But she can’t help wishing her sister wouldn’t go. She can’t help wanting to go with her. It’s alright for Andromeda, she only has to wait another year, but Narcissa has to wait for three and for two of those she’ll be entirely on her own. The thought scares her, and she pushes it away before it makes her eyes well up. She doesn’t want Bella to see and start teasing her about being a cry-baby. 

“Come here.” Bella beckons her closer, and slips the completed daisy chain around her neck. “Your hair’s almost the colour of these daisies now.”

Narcissa winces. It’s true. Her hair keeps getting lighter and lighter and straighter and straighter, no matter how much she wills it otherwise. She hates it. It’s another reason she wants to go to Hogwarts so badly: perhaps there she’ll learn a spell to change it. Whoever heard of a Black with ice blonde hair? She’s even wondered whether she might not be a Black after all, because there are other things that set her apart too. Neither of her sisters can hear other people’s thoughts like she can. At least, she doesn’t think so. She’s never asked. She’s too ashamed of it; she can’t control what she hears and what she doesn’t and it makes her feel like a freak, and so she’s never mentioned it to either Bella or Andy. The thought of asking her parents about it has never even crossed her mind. 

“Do you think I’m…” She hesitates, and Bella laughs. 

“Weird? Yes, but not because of your hair.” Rough fingers pull her ponytail, and she yelps. “You gotta learn to grow up, Cissy.”

Then she feels Bella’s wand trace her collarbone, and she freezes. But instead of a hex, or a jinx, or whatever else her sister has been reading about that she wants to try out, Narcissa feels a warmth around her neck where the daisy chain is. Each flower transforms in to a beautiful, tiny butterfly, and she watches the entire chain break apart and fly away. Her mouth drops open. 

“Like that,” Bella says softly, but Narcissa’s too amazed to listen. 

 

~

 

“Skip over Hogwarts, if you like. There aren’t that many. Bella preferred not to have her baby sister hovering round her at school.”

Hermione jumped at the voice, and almost dropped the book that was still lying open in her lap. She’d been so engrossed that she’d almost forgotten these were memories; so captivated by the young sisters that she’d almost forgotten she was in Narcissa’s head. She wondered how long she’d been. She wondered whether Narcissa was getting tired. 

“I’m fine, darling. But the longer we stay the longer it takes to recover.”

“Okay.” Hermione looked longingly at the pile of books still to go. “Can I skim them quickly?”

“Of course.”

And so she did. Seven years of school blurred together in a matter of moments: the Hogwarts Express, where Bella did indeed refuse to sit with her little sister; the Quidditch matches where Narcissa played seeker and Bella played chaser for the Slytherin team; the detention with a much younger Minerva McGonagall in which Bella spent the entire hour muttering dark things to Narcissa about how it was all her fault. She watched Narcissa kissing a boy in an alcove, only for the curtain to be blasted open by her sister and for the young wizard to be threatened with castration without magic if he ever dared to lay hands on a Black again. She watched Narcissa’s thirteenth birthday, when Andromeda gave her Pride and Prejudice and Bella gave her Emily Dickinson, the covers charmed to look like Culpeper’s Kitchen Herbal and the annual yearbook of Potions Today: Junior Edition. She watched a Hogsmeade weekend where Bella tried to order Firewhisky in The Three Broomsticks and nearly got thrown out by Madame Rosmerta, who Hermione almost didn’t recognise. 

She watched the wild, rebellious look in Bella’s eyes grow. She watched Bella become restless and bored; too intelligent for the Hogwarts classes, too whipsmart to be interested in her peers. And she watched Narcissa, once so shy and reliant on her sisters, gradually abandon vulnerability and uncertainty in favour of the cold and haughty exterior that ensured even Bella rarely teased her anymore. 

“That’s a much later one.” Narcissa sounded nervous again as Hermione picked up the next book on the pile. “Are you sure you want to?”

Hermione hesitated, and then nodded. She was fascinated, not just by the younger Narcissa but by Bellatrix too, and as long as Narcissa wasn’t too tired she had no intention of stopping now. Once more, she slowly opened the cover. 

 

~

 

A dining room. A chandelier hangs from the ceiling, illuminating the scene below in golden light. Silverware glitters and glasses sparkle, and every seat at the long, polished table is taken. A seventeen year old Narcissa is seated next to Andromeda; Bella, opposite them, is seated next to the guest of honour. He’s good-looking, charismatic, older wizard, and Narcissa doesn’t like him. She couldn’t have said why; only that, whenever he looks at her, she has the feeling that he’s trying to read her mind, and she doesn’t appreciate the intrusion. She’s come a long way from the small eight year old who didn’t know what her gifts were. She continues to nibble at her food and to sip at her wine, and she shields her mind against him with very little effort. If he talks to her, she answers his questions politely. But Narcissa can tell that Bella is fascinated by him. The two have fallen deep in conversation, oblivious to anyone else, and she nudges Andromeda under the table.

“She’d better be careful Mother doesn’t accuse her of flirting.”

“She’s not flirting.” But Andromeda looks troubled. “She’s just talking.”

The courses pass interminably slowly, and Narcissa doesn’t taste much. She never does at these things. She can feel her mother’s eyes on her, watching her every forkful, and it takes her appetite away to the point of nausea. Her dress doesn’t help. The iridescent silver against her hair gives her an ethereal glow that she quite likes, but the bodice is so tight she has trouble breathing when she sits down, never mind eating. She doesn’t understand why she’s had to dress up so much tonight. Normally, for one of her parents’ dinner parties, dress robes are fine. 

When the dessert has finally been cleared away and the party finally leaves the table, Bella stays by the wizard’s side. She only peels herself away when he is required, as tradition dictates, to go with the men to the drawing room and leave the women to amuse themselves. The sisters are used to this by now. They always take the opportunity to escape upstairs for a bit, but this time Bella doesn’t seem to want to go. 

“Fine, stay down here then.” Narcissa shrugs, and takes Andromeda by the arm. “You’ll just get dragged into some appallingly boring conversation with Mother’s friends.”

It doesn’t take long for Bella to join them in Narcissa’s room, and her dark eyes are alive with something Narcissa hasn’t seen before. It’s passion, but not in the way that Narcissa conceives of passion - not that she’s had much experience of that, of course. This different type of passion she sees in her sister’s eyes frightens her, just a little, and suddenly she wishes Bella had stayed downstairs. 

“Finally someone is talking some sense.” Bella flops onto the bed, and Narcissa winces as her sister’s black silk gown creases underneath her. 

“He’s dangerous, Bella,” Andromeda says quietly, and Bella laughs. 

“Dangerous? He’s smarter than the rest of that table put together, and that includes you two. He has ideas. He has a vision. I think that makes him brilliant, not dangerous.”

“You’re marrying Rod next month.”

“I said Tom talks sense, Andy, not that I want to marry him!” Bella sits up and glares at her sister. “I don’t jump into the arms of every man who pays me some attention, unlike some of us…”

“Stop it, Bella.”

“Shut up, Cissy.” Bella doesn’t huff anymore. She snaps, and it’s like a wolf biting on the air. “Anyway, Tom’s asked me to join him. With any luck it’ll get me out of marrying Rod.”

“Nothing will get you out of marrying Rod,” Andromeda snorts. She leans against the wall in an emerald green dress; all three gowns for tonight were picked out by their mother, coordinated in a show of Slytherin solidarity. “And what do you mean, he’s asked you to join him? Join him in what?”

“His organisation.” That look on Bella’s eyes flares, and it makes Narcissa shiver. “He says he needs brains and talent, and he’s going to really do some good. Can you imagine, a world in which we don’t have to hide anymore? A world in which we can be who we are and not be persecuted by muggles for it? That’s what I’m going to help build, while you’re running off with your pathetic Hufflepuff.”

“Ted is not….”

“What?” Bella demands, standing up. “He’s a muggle, Andy. He’s part of the problem. Just because he fucks you nicely doesn’t make him worth it.”

Andromeda’s face turns to thunder, and Narcissa steps in between them. 

“Can you please either talk without arguing, or leave my bedroom? I don’t want to spend the rest of the evening repairing my furniture.”

Bella cackles. “Always so prim and proper, Cissy. And since you ask so nicely….” She strides towards the door. “But just remember who to thank when you get matched with Malfoy. Tom knows him well, and he’s going to put in a word with Father. At least you won’t end up with a jerk like Rod.”

She slams the door shut behind her, and Andromeda and Narcissa are left in silence. 

 

*

 

Another bedroom, but not Narcissa’s. This is far too untidy to be Narcissa’s. The bed is unmade, and the wardrobe door is open revealing an almost-empty rail. The dressing table too is empty. But everything else has been left; the pictures on the walls, the books on the shelf, the old teddy bear on the bed. It’s this that Narcissa holds as she sits, perched lightly on the end of the bed as if she knows she shouldn’t be there, tears streaming silently down her face. She doesn’t tidy up. It’s not her room to tidy. It’s Andromeda’s room - was Andromeda’s room - and a tiny part of her still hopes that her sister will be back. 

“What are you doing in here?” She doesn’t look up as Bella enters, but she feels the dip in the mattress as her sister sits down next to her. “She’s not worth it, Cissy.” 

Bella’s voice is harsh, and Narcissa closes her eyes. 

“She’s my sister.”

Bella doesn’t miss the possessive pronoun, but Narcissa still has her eyes closed and doesn’t see the tiny flinch. 

“You don’t think she’s mine too?”

Narcissa sighs, and wipes her face. “You’ve made it perfectly clear that you don’t care anymore.”

“She ran off with that muggle.”

Something inside Narcissa snaps. She doesn’t know what’s happened to her older sister. She doesn’t understand why or how or when Bella changed. All she knows is she’s tired of it. Bella is married now and has barely been back to see her, and while she was upset to start with she’s starting to think it’s probably just as well. 

“His name’s Ted, Bella, and if you and Mother and Father hadn’t been so awful to her about him then maybe she wouldn’t have gone.”

There. She’s said it. She’s shaking, but she said it. 

“You think it’s my fault?”

She doesn’t reply, and Bella stands up. Narcissa feels her body shake even more. She’s grown up, but Bella is still more powerful than she is. Bella could still beat the breath out of her if she wanted to. The trouble these days is that she never quite knows if or when Bella really wants to. 

“You really condone her running off with that muggle piece of shit?”

“No, I….I don’t know.” Tears start running down her face again. She doesn’t know. She knows what her parents say, and she knows Andy, and she knows Bella, and she feels completely trapped between them all. She feels like there’s no room for her opinion anyway; there never is, on anything, and so she rarely bothers expressing one. But she senses that on this she is going to be forced to openly choose a side. “All I know is she’s my sister, and she was so unhappy that she ran away. That’s not right. I don’t care about the rest.”

“Then you need to start caring, little one.” Bella’s voice is low and dangerous, and it sends shivers up Narcissa’s spine. “Andromeda betrayed us. She betrayed our family, she betrayed our blood, she betrayed everything we are, and she betrayed you. Have you heard from her? A letter? Does she want to see you? Has she even bothered to let you know she’s alright?”

Narcissa is sobbing now as Bella’s words sink in. Of course the answer is no. The answer to every single one of Bella’s rhetorical questions - and they are rhetorical, because even Bella already knows the answer - is no. She feels that tiny word as a physical pain, that starts in her stomach and spreads outwards, and for a moment she thinks she might be sick. 

“Thought not.” Bella sits down again, and is silent as Narcissa’s sobs slowly wear themselves out. Only when Narcissa is completely drained does Bella take the teddy bear from her, with surprisingly gentle fingers, and place it back on the pillow where it always used to sit. After a moment’s hesitation, she awkwardly wraps Narcissa in her arms, and Narcissa is too exhausted and in need of comfort to resist. 

 

*

 

It’s early in the season. A soft, gentle June day when the scent of summer is still new enough to be commented on. Narcissa sits in an armchair in a living room, all the windows open to the sunlight, and a tiny newborn baby is cradled in her arms. She looks exhausted. She still looks too young to be holding a baby of her own. But she also looks happy and satisfied in a way that she hasn’t for a long time, and when she looks down at the bundle of blanket and baby all the tiredness seems to vanish. 

“Is that it?”

She rolls her eyes at her sister, who is peering at the baby with a furrowed brow, and holds one finger up to her lips. 

“Please keep your voice down, it’s taken me ages to get him off to sleep.”

She shifts the blanket so that Bella can see properly. She wants her sister to admire the perfection of him; the ten miniature toes, the ten miniature fingers, the tiny scrunched up nose, the tuft of blonde hair. He even has eyelashes, soft and downy against his skin. She wants her sister to acknowledge that this perfect thing was her doing. She made it, she nurtured it, she went through agony to bring it into the world. She’s done something good too. But she also knows better than to expect any of that, and so she’s surprised when Bella cracks a small smile. 

“He’s beautiful, Cissy.”

She smiles back, and carefully holds him out with a raised eyebrow, but Bella takes a quick step back. 

“No way, I’ll drop him. Or he’ll pee all over me. Babies always pee on me.”

“How many babies have you held, Bella?”

Bella considers, and then shakes her head. “Well, they would if I gave them the chance.”

Narcissa chuckles quietly, and for a while they sit in silence. She’s aware that Bella is watching her, and not the baby. She’s vaguely aware that the look is one of puzzlement, as if her sister can’t quite work out what she’s become, as if she doesn’t understand how little Cissy is now a mother and isn’t entirely sure what that even means. 

“Are you okay?” Bella asks eventually, and she nods. 

“Sitting for too long hurts,” she admits, “but he doesn’t like being walked around much.”

“You look even paler than usual.”

“Thank you.” Narcissa grimaces at her sister, who shrugs. “I needed a couple of blood replenishers. It was eighteen hours, Bella, it wasn’t exactly a walk in the park and tea afterwards.”

Bella winces. “I’ll stick to missions. At least they don’t last that long.”

Narcissa’s face clouds over a bit. She hates it when Bella talks about what she does, the danger she puts herself in, the destruction she causes. She hates Lucius talking about it as well, but he knows and he’s more careful these days. He thinks she’s fragile with hormones. She’s happy to let him believe that; he doesn’t need to know that she actually has a conscience and an opinion that doesn’t tally with his. She wonders how long she can keep the delicate balance going. 

Bella sees her face. But instead of rebuking her for being squeamish, she leans in and presses a soft, unexpected kiss to Narcissa’s head. 

“I’m doing it for you, little one,” she says quietly. “And for him. I want a better world for my nephew than the one we have.”

“His world won’t be any better if his aunt isn’t in it,” Narcissa murmurs, but Bella doesn’t answer and she leaves it at that. 

 

*

 

A bathroom. The steam is making it hard to see, but through the misty swirls a bath gradually takes shape. It’s full of hot water, along with every healing oil and potion Narcissa can think of, but Bella is still shivering. Bella’s skin is still covered with scars that Narcissa hasn’t yet been able to deal with. Bella’s hair is still matted and filthy because Narcissa hasn’t been able to get close enough to her sister to wash it; Bella flinches every time she’s touched, and Narcissa can’t bear to cause her sister any more pain than is necessary. She had to sedate Bella in order to heal the freshest wounds, and Bella went down screaming. Now, Bella is hunched in the bath, every single rib showing through her skin and the Azkaban tattoo like a dirty stain on her neck that will never come out, and Narcissa is filled with such a wave of hatred it scares her. She hates the prison and the Dementors. She hates the system and the society that allows such a place to exist. She hates herself, for not trying harder to stop her sister. She even hates Bella, just a tiny bit, for getting caught in the first place, for leaving her alone all these years, for coming back to her broken like this. But most of all she hates the snake-like thing - she can’t bring herself to call him a man or a wizard anymore - that Bella had started living for and that Bella nearly died for. She knows Bella made her own choices, but she also knows that in a parallel world where that dinner party had never taken place, Bella’s choices might have been different. She hates him more than she’s ever hated anyone because he took her sister away. 

She’s not naive enough to think that the Bella sitting in the bath now will ever be the same as the Bella she knew. She feels like she’s watching her own sister’s funeral, only her sister is still breathing, and she’ll have to live with the shell and whatever madness is left. 

She knows she will never, ever forgive him for that. 

Hesitantly, she approaches the bath. She needs to get her sister deeper into the water or the potions won’t work. The haunted, wild look in Bella’s eyes has been replaced with something dull and empty that is almost more terrifying, and she doesn’t know what might make Bella flip back. When she holds out a hand, she moves slowly. When she speaks, she tries to make her voice as low and as soothing as possible. 

“You need to put your whole body into the water, darling, or the oils won’t help.”

For a moment Bella doesn’t even acknowledge her. She sits shivering in the middle of the bath, knees drawn up to her chin. But when she does turn to look at Narcissa, the emptiness in her dark eyes has been filled with anguish. 

“You’ll have to do it,” she whispers, and her voice is so hoarse she can barely speak. “I can’t move.”

So Narcissa does. She quickly strips off her own clothes, not giving a damn about modesty or privacy or anything else, and climbs into the bath behind her sister. Gently she lowers Bella’s body down so that it’s against her own, under the water. She holds her sister close and lets her own body heat seep into her sister’s skin along with the steam and the oils and the potions, and all the while Bella lies like a stiff puppet in her arms. The water turns black from the dirt that comes off Bella’s body and hair, and Narcissa simply refreshes it, over and over again. She holds Bella until Bella’s body feels more pliable, and then she carefully washes her as best she can, over and over again until her sister is clean. She knows it won’t make any difference, but it’s all she can do.  

She doesn’t notice the hot tears on her own face. She’ll only notice them later, when the hatred creeps back and a plan starts forming in her mind. They’ll only fall when she realises she’ll be betraying no one that she cares about any more. She lives for Draco, but she knows he’ll willingly come with her; it’s no betrayal of him; he’s scared and wants to leave as much as she does. Lucius can do what he wants. Bella was the only thing left tying her to this hell. And now Bella is gone. 

 

~

 

Hermione blinked. She was no longer in the library but back in the living room. Cups of tea that they’d drunk hours ago were still on the table, the dregs in the bottom now stone cold. There was silence; the music had stopped. The sun had moved across the room. In its soft light she saw the Emily Dickinson, tucked into its place on the bookshelf, and she felt a little disorientated, a little stunned. Her mind was swirling, and she turned to look at Narcissa. 

The blonde was leaning back against the sofa cushions, her eyes closed. 

“Sorry for the abrupt exit, darling. I couldn’t keep that going any longer.”

Hermione didn’t answer. She knew there were more memories that she hadn’t seen, but it didn’t really matter. She’d seen enough. She wasn’t sure what she thought or what she felt, only that she suddenly needed Narcissa as close as possible. 

“Can I hold you or do you need to be alone for a bit?” she asked quietly. She knew it must have been draining and she wasn’t sure how Narcissa would want to recharge, but she felt a wave of relief as the blonde beckoned her over. 

“Are you okay?” Narcissa asked as Hermione held her close, and Hermione huffed out a laugh. 

“I should be asking you that.”

“It’s different to a Pensieve,” Narcissa said softly. “You feel everything as well as see it.”

Hermione didn’t answer, but held Narcissa tighter and for a while they were silent. She had felt everything, and she knew she would never see anything in simple terms of black and white, good and evil again. 

“Thank you,” she murmured eventually, and Narcissa hummed in response. 

“Do you….” The older witch hesitated, and Hermione shook her head. She knew what Narcissa had been about to say. Do you think worse of me? Do you think I’m terrible? She held Narcissa as close as she could. 

“Of course not,” she whispered. “How could I? You’re the bravest, smartest witch I know, Cissy. It’s not a crime to love your sister.”

“It feels like it sometimes,” Narcissa admitted quietly. 

Hermione lifted her head. “Not anymore.” She kissed the blonde gently on the lips. “All it tells me is what an incredible person you are, so please, try not to think that anymore.”

Narcissa gave a small smile. 

“Did it help?”

Hermione considered. She still wasn’t sure how she felt about Bella - except that she now realised she would never think of the woman as Bellatrix again, and that had to count for something. But she had never felt closer to Narcissa, and she nodded, returning Narcissa’s smile. 

“It did.”

Chapter Text

Hermione sat on the sofa and looked around her flat. She had already cleaned it twice, once with magic and once without. She’d given Seren’s cage a thorough scouring on top of the two clean-outs, and the owl was now refusing to go back inside until the smell of bleach had worn off. Crookshanks had disappeared the moment the hoover was brought out and hadn’t yet emerged. There wasn’t a speck of dust left anywhere. Not a single cat hair. Not a cushion out of place. There was nothing left to do, and Hermione twisted her thumbs nervously. She could sort out her books, she supposed, put them back into alphabetical order by genre the way she’d had them a few years ago. Then she could try alphabetical order by title, and see which one she preferred. A glance at her watch told her she had plenty of time. It didn’t help the nervous feeling in her stomach, knowing that she still had hours before even the possibility of any news, and she couldn’t help scouring the patch of grey sky that was visible through the window. She’d been doing the same thing every ten minutes for the last hour. 

She stepped over to her bookcase and regarded the shelves, hands on hips. She could do it in five minutes with her wand, but instead she reached up and pulled an armful of books from the top shelf. Then another, and another.  When the bookcase was empty she was surrounded with piles of books on all sides. Cross-legged, sitting on the floor in the middle, she began sorting through one by one, getting so completely lost in her task that she forgot to look out of the window, and when a face appeared in her Floo it made her startle so badly she almost hexed it. 

“Am I interrupting something vital?” Ginny’s disembodied voice sounded tinny in the grate, and Hermione shook her head. 

“No, just me procrastinating.” She clambered to her feet, trying not to knock over any of the piles. “Come through.”

Ginny emerged from the burst of green flames, blinking at the tidiness of the flat. 

“Want to come and do mine as well?”

“Not particularly. I remember too well what it was like cleaning up after boys.”

“Harry hasn’t improved much.” Ginny followed Hermione into the kitchen. “What’s with all the sudden cleaning? You seem nervous.”

Hermione flicked on the kettle. She refused to make tea with magic. She always felt like she could taste it, a residue that lingered even though other people claimed it made no difference. It was one of the hundreds of tiny little things she’d found she had in common with Narcissa, and the thought of the blonde made her look out of the window again and check her watch. Still nothing, and still a long time before she could expect anything. 

But still, her face softened into a smile. It had been several weeks since she had gone to the Manor to make things right after their misunderstanding, several weeks since she had slept over for the first time and kissed Narcissa and made love with Narcissa and seen Narcissa’s memories. Since then summer had gradually slipped into autumn, and they hadn’t spent much time apart. They’d read together, taken long walks together, slept together, studied together - because Narcissa had been serious about Hermione’s occlumency. They’d played the piano together. They’d even had a weekend in Paris together. Hermione still felt the blush creep up her neck when she remembered that night, and she tried to force the visuals away as she dropped teabags into two mugs. She didn’t need Ginny asking. 

Almost more meaningful, though, were the times Narcissa had spent here, in the flat; watching movies and trying different kinds of takeout food and reading the fashion magazines that she’d discovered one day as they walked through muggle London. Hermione hadn’t been surprised to find that not only did the blonde witch have a taste for designer muggle clothing, she also looked damn good in it. She hadn’t been able to resist taking a photograph of Narcissa one evening as she sat on the sofa with her legs curled under her, glasses on her nose as she read Vanity Fair, a soft plum jumper falling off one shoulder and jeans clinging to her curves, and Crookshanks cuddled up to her side. Despite the blonde’s protests, she’d had the picture printed out. It was now framed on her bedside table, where she could wake up to it on those mornings when Narcissa didn’t stay and when she wasn’t at the Manor - mornings which, she had admit, were becoming more and more rare.

“Hermione, since when have I drunk tea like this?”

Ginny’s bemused voice cut across her thoughts, and Hermione looked at the mug she’d just handed to her friend. The tea was black and smelled strongly of lemon. Without thinking, she’d made it as if it were for Narcissa.  

“Sorry, Gin.” She sighed, and took the mug back. “I’ll have that one.”

She added milk and sugar to the other mug and gave that to Ginny instead. 

“So where’s James today?” she asked, hoping to change the subject before the redhead got her teeth into it, but she knew it was already too late. 

“Mum’s got him.” Ginny sipped her tea. “Dad’s been away for the past week on Ministry business, and she’s bored. It was either give her James for the day, or have her drag us both shopping round Diagon Alley - and we both hate that. James would have screamed the entire time, and I probably would have joined him.” She looked up at Hermione with narrowed eyes. “And don’t think I didn’t notice the change of subject. Or the smile that just crossed your face when you were thinking about something that wasn’t tea.”

Hermione walked back through to the living room, Ginny following, and sat back down on the sofa. Despite all the time they’d spent together, she hadn’t told anyone apart from Luna about her relationship with Narcissa. Not because she was ashamed or embarrassed or anything even remotely similar - and she’d made sure that the blonde knew and understood that, this time - but because she hadn’t felt comfortable doing so when Draco didn’t know and neither of them knew how to tell him. It would have felt horribly wrong, somehow, telling Harry and Ginny and asking them to keep it quiet because her other best friend - and Narcissa’s son - had no idea. She’d tried to avoid Draco as much as she could, which hadn’t been hard since he’d been away again. And she’d barely seen Harry or Ginny. When she and Narcissa had been in her flat, she’d made sure to lock the Floo. Not that she'd minded. It had been like a honeymoon. 

“So?” Ginny settled herself at the other end of the sofa. “Who is it?”

Hermione stalled. “I’m just a bit distracted, that’s all.”

“I can see that. I’m just wondering who’s got you in such a state that not only did you put lemon in my tea, but you’ve also shelved Virginia Woolf before Tolstoy.”

Ginny nodded towards the bookcase, and Hermione groaned as she looked. The books swapped places with a flick of her wand and she buried her face in the steam from her mug, trying to avoid Ginny’s penetrating gaze. 

“Hermione, I know we’ve drifted apart lately, but…” Ginny shifted, looking slightly uncomfortable. “I’m still here for you, you know that, right?”

Hermione looked at her friend, not quite knowing what to say. 

“I mean, it’s hard with James,” Ginny rushed on. “I haven’t figured out yet how to balance a baby with a proper social life. And I know Harry hasn’t been particularly understanding over you being friends with Draco, and I’m really sorry for all those times he and Ron have acted like total…”

“Hey, Ginny,” Hermione reached out for her friend’s hand. “It’s fine.”

“It’s not fine, I miss you.”

“I miss you too.” She put down her mug as Ginny hugged her fiercely. “But you have nothing to apologise for. It’s my fault. I haven’t exactly been around much.” 

“Is everything okay?”

Hermione pulled back, and picked up her tea again. Was everything okay? She wasn’t sure yet. She could still see the look of determination on Narcissa’s face as the blonde witch had sat at her desk, the screwed-up balls of parchment multiplying at her feet as she’d tried to compose the letter. She knew how badly Narcissa wanted to reconcile with her son. When she’d tentatively asked if she’d rushed Narcissa into it, if the only reason the blonde was reaching out was because she wanted Hermione to feel more comfortable in their relationship, Narcissa had denied it. She’d also told Hermione firmly that however Draco reacted, it wouldn’t change anything between them. But Hermione didn’t know if she believed it. 

She also didn’t know how Draco would feel now about their friendship, and that was almost worse than anything. She’d half-expected to hear from him when he received his mother’s owl, and had tried not to read too much into it when she hadn’t.

“I’m not sure,” she replied honestly, and Ginny raised an eyebrow. 

“Who is it?” she asked again. 

Hermione took a deep breath. She supposed all the secrecy didn’t really matter now. 

“Narcissa Black.”

 

~

 

“Say something, Ginny.”

Hermione looked warily at the redhead, who was sitting with her eyes wide and her mouth open and her tea forgotten, and who - very uncharacteristically - hadn’t said a word. It wasn’t helping Hermione’s nerves one bit. But then she began to regret pleading for a reaction when, slowly, Ginny’s mouth cracked into a smile, and then a chuckle, and then a full-blown belly laugh that nearly had her spilling her tea all over the freshly-cleaned sofa. 

“Ginny?”

“I’m sorry,” Ginny gasped, her eyes watering. “Can’t help it. Gimme a minute.”

“I’m being serious! It’s not a joke.”

“I know.” Ginny managed to get control of herself enough to wipe her eyes and reach for Hermione’s hand. “I’m just…I’m sorry. We kept trying to guess who it was and her’s was about the only name that never even came up once, and yet you two are perfect for each other. I don’t know why I didn’t see it.”

Hermione felt a little dazed. 

“Wait…” She narrowed her eyes. “What do you mean, you kept trying to guess?”

“Well, we knew you weren’t going to work on a Sunday, and you knew that we knew because we kept asking you about it, and then these past few weeks you just about vanished completely…”

“Did you have a bet on?”

“Of course we did.” Ginny collapsed into laughter again. “I’m sorry. None of us won, if it helps.”

Hermione leaned back against the sofa, blowing out a long breath. She wasn’t annoyed. She should have been, but she wasn’t. Instead she felt a slightly hysterical giggle well up in her stomach, and within moments she was laughing as hard as Ginny. She’d missed this. No matter that they’d grown apart, she’d missed this. 

“Who did you think it was?”

“Ron reckoned you’d got back together with Viktor.”

“Seriously? I have moved on since school.”

“That’s what I said,” Ginny nodded, clearly pleased to have at least been proved right on that. “Harry bet on Draco, then he finally cottoned on that you prefer witches - and that Draco prefers wizards - so he thought it might be your boss at work - “

Bridget?”

“ - but then you quit, and because you were spending so much time with Luna he changed his bet to her.”

“What? Is he crazy? I mean, I love Luna, but definitely as a friend.”

“I said she wasn’t your type, but…”

Hermione folded her arms, her eyebrows raised. “And what is my type, Ginevra Potter?”

“Older, clearly,” Ginny smirked. “Gorgeous. Bad-ass. Slightly terrifying. Not that Luna isn’t all of those things in her own way, but…Merlin, I’m still annoyed at myself for not seeing it!”

“So who did you bet on?”

To her credit, Ginny flushed. “I may have had ten Galleons on Pansy Parkinson…”

“Ginny!”

“I know, I know, but it had to be someone you weren’t entirely comfortable with us knowing about, and she was the only one I could think of. Clearly I need to be more imaginative.”

Hermione’s laugh faded a little. “It wasn’t that I was uncomfortable with you knowing,” she said quietly. “It was just….complicated.”

“I can imagine.” Ginny also sobered up a little, and slurped her tea. “And it still doesn’t explain what’s got your broomstick in such a tailspin today.”

“That is also complicated.”

“Wanna talk about it?”

So Hermione did. She told her friend everything; about playing the piano at the Ministry fundraiser, Narcissa’s invitation, the Sundays that had turned into so much more. She explained about the magic on the room and how it had opened for her. She explained - without giving away too much detail - why Narcissa was still living at the Manor, and how the circumstances had forged the rift with Draco. She told Ginny about the past few weeks and how she’d never felt so comfortable and happy with anyone. She mentioned Narcissa’s memories, and how she’d discovered it was the older witch who had healed her arm. And she tried, haltingly, to explain why she hadn’t said anything before.

“I’m sorry, I know it sounds awful.” She fiddled with the handle on her mug, but Ginny shook her head. 

“No, it doesn’t. I get it.”

“You do?”

“Of course,” Ginny smiled, and shrugged. “When you grow up with five over-protective brothers you learn to keep things for yourself where you can.” She paused. “I begged Harry not to tell anyone I was pregnant because I just wanted to have a bit of time where it was just the three of us, you know? Of course it didn’t work out, because Mum guessed as soon as I saw her, but the intention was there.” She reached over and squeezed Hermione’s hand. “I know it’s not quite the same, but I get it.”

Hermione squeezed back, feeling tears prick the corners of her eyes. 

“Thanks, Gin.”

“So, uh….” Ginny hesitated. “Draco doesn’t know?”

Hermione sighed and checked her watch once more. 

“He probably does by now.”

Ginny raised an eyebrow.

“She sent him an owl.” Hermione swallowed. “And I think she did it because of me. I said that I wasn’t happy with other people knowing about our relationship until he knew as well, so she wrote to him and asked him to the Manor. I mean, I know she wanted to try and reconcile with him anyway, and he did with her, they were just both too idiotic and proud to even try, but I don’t think she would have done it now if I hadn’t said that, and he accepted the invitation and he should be there now, she said she’d send me an owl when he’d gone but I’m not sure if….”

“Breathe, Hermione. You’re making your tea boil.”

 She stopped and took a huge breath, and then slumped back against the sofa as the tea in her mug slowly settled. 

“She’s going to tell him about you?”

Hermione nodded. “She said I’m a part of her life now and that she isn’t going to hide it.”

Ginny gave a soft whistle. “She’s serious, then.”

“So am I. I mean, I want him to know. I can’t keep hiding it from him forever, and…”

“But you’re nervous.”

“Of course I’m nervous!” she squeaked. “What if he hates me because of it? He’s one of my best friends now, Ginny, what if he thinks I’m a terrible person?”

She sipped her tea to try and cover the shaking in her voice, but it was too hot after she’d inadvertently boiled it and she hissed as it scalded her tongue. 

“For loving his mother?”

Hermione choked as a burning sip went down the wrong way, and looked at Ginny with wide eyes. 

“I never said…”

“You didn’t need to, Hermione, it’s written all over you.” Ginny smiled. “And I’ll bet those ten Galleons she feels the same, otherwise she wouldn’t be telling her son that she’s slept with you.”

“Ginny!” 

“Okay, she probably isn’t using those exact words….”

“Merlin, I hope not.”

“…but you know what I mean.” Ginny paused, taking in Hermione’s dazed look and trembling hands and the nerves that were making her tea steam again and her hair frizz. “Do you want to talk about something else for a bit?”

“Like what?”

“I don’t know. Like Quidditch or what book you’re reading or…” Ginny smirked at Hermione’s face. “Okay. Have you thought about what you want to do since you quit your job? I mean, if you want a candy mummy then you’ve gone for the right woman, but I’m assuming…”

“A what?” Hermione laughed despite herself, and was grateful to Ginny for trying to change the subject. “What in Merlin’s name is a candy mummy?”

“You know, you explained it to me once after that movie. Where an older woman takes care of a younger one.”

“Sugar mommy, Ginny.”

“Candy, sugar, same difference.” Ginny shrugged. “It’s not really your style.”

“Definitely not.” Hermione shook her head. The last few weeks had been idyllic, but soon she would run down her savings to a point that she wasn’t comfortable with, and she had no intention of asking Narcissa for help even though she knew the blonde would willingly give it. “But I’m still not sure. I don’t just want another job that’s going to end up the same.”

“Maybe a mastery?”

“I’ve thought about it.” She’d talked about it with Narcissa; even though she had been thinking about arithmancy, not potions, she knew that the structure and demands of a mastery were very similar no matter what discipline it was, and the blonde witch had been frank about how much time and effort it would be. She’d also made very clear that she thought Hermione was more than capable, and that it would be a challenge Hermione would enjoy. “But then there’s also this.” She reached for a letter that lay on the coffee table - the only thing that hadn’t been scrubbed, polished, tidied away or thrown out in her cleaning spree - and handed it to Ginny.

Scanning it quickly, Ginny raised an eyebrow. 

“McGonagall’s offering you a teaching job?”

Hermione nodded. “Vector retired. They’d already found someone, but just on a temporary basis until Christmas. Then I quit my job and McGonagall heard about it.”

“And you’re thinking of taking it?”

“I don’t know.” She had thought about it. “I want to make a difference. That’s why I went into that Ministry job in the first place. I’ve never really considered teaching, but at least I’d never be worried that the job didn’t have meaning.”

“But?”

Hermione sighed. “But it would mean living at Hogwarts.”

“And you don’t want to leave Narcissa.”

“Not particularly.” She hadn’t told Narcissa that yet.

“You know apparition is a wonderful thing,’ Ginny smiled. “And the Floo network. And weekends, and long holidays, and…”

“I know, I know.” Hermione laughed, and swatted Ginny on the arm. “I’m thinking about it.”

“Whatever you decide will work out fine, Hermione.”

“I hope so.” Hermione sipped her tea again as her eyes strayed to the window. The sky was still empty of owls, and she settled in with Ginny to wait. 

Chapter Text

Ten months later

 

Hermione pushed open the door of the flower shop. Smiling, she found it was just the same as ever; a heady scent of roses and lilies and cosmos and chrysanthemums hung in the cool, damp air, and she could hear one of the buckets sighing happily as it refilled itself with water. In the corner, a bunch of sweet williams and stocks were arranging themselves in a delicately choreographed dance of stems and petals, before a length of ribbon wound itself around them and tied itself into a bow. The florist herself was nowhere in sight, and the charmed bell on the counter jumped up and rang loudly, twice, before flopping back down as if the effort had been too much. 

“I can’t believe I’m doing this.”

She turned to Draco as the door shut behind them. 

“Flowers not your style, ferret?”

“Not when it’s my mother’s girlfriend buying the flowers for my mother. That’s just weird.”

“Technically she’s buying them for St Mungo’s if that helps?” Luna offered, smiling as she hooked her hand through Draco’s arm. “It could be worse. At least we’re not shopping for…”

“Stop!” Draco pulled his arm free and stuck his fingers in his ears, laughing. “I don’t want to know.”

“Have the nargles got you, love?” The florist had appeared, and after casting a quick glance over the bouquet in the corner, turned her attention fully to the three of them. “They can be quite noisy at times, especially the ones that live in the orchids.”

Out of the corner of her eye, Hermione saw Luna’s face light up. Draco slowly let his hands drop, and he and Hermione shared a smirk. 

“Do you find they’re particularly badly behaved in the summer?” Luna asked, and the florist nodded vehemently. 

“Terrible. They love the shiny ribbon, you see, so I keep some to one side for them, but I came in one morning a couple of weeks ago and they’d wrapped the whole shop up in it, I couldn’t even get in the door….”

“You go on the Leaky if you want.” Hermione turned to Draco, her eyes laughing. “Harry and Ginny are probably already there, and we won’t be long.”

But Draco, for all his complaining, shook his head. 

“No, it’s fine.” He peered into a bucket of dahlias that were slowly changing colour. “I’ll wait.”

While the florist and Luna were exchanging nargle stories, Hermione wandered further back into the shop, enjoying the different fragrances that assaulted her senses. A soft smile flickered across her face as she looked back at Draco, who was now teasing a snapdragon with his little finger. She still remembered the day of waiting and worrying, so clearly it could have been yesterday. She remembered the panic she had started to feel as day had faded into dusk and still no owl had appeared. She remembered Ginny eventually having to leave. She remembered pacing the floors of her flat until Crookshanks’s scowling had persuaded her to sit down, and she remembered squealing in shock when Narcissa’s face had appeared in her Floo, full of apologies and puffy from tears, but smiling nonetheless. 

She’d never asked what exactly was said between the two of them. All she knew was that they’d talked a lot, cried a lot, and that, rather than being angry or upset about Hermione, Draco had simply shrugged and said he didn’t care as long as neither of them ever hurt the other or, more importantly, ever gave him details. When she’d first seen him after that Hermione had given him such a long, hard hug that he’d begged for mercy, but she’d meant every second of it. She knew how difficult things could have been. Since then, he’d managed to navigate his best friend dating his mother with the same kind of style and dry humour that she now knew he’d inherited from Narcissa, and she was still grateful to him for making it so easy. 

She chuckled to herself as he finally got his finger nipped by the snapdragon, and turned her attention back to the flowers. She knew what she wanted. Calla lilies, roses, orchids, salvia. The same as usual, but with one new addition. Her eyes scoured the shop until she found what she was looking for: plump white daisies with pink centres, bobbing their heads in the meadow-breeze that blew gently across their bucket. 

“She’s always liked daisies.” Draco nodded as he came up behind her, and she smiled, thinking of the little blonde girl whose sister had made her daisy chains and charmed them into butterflies. She asked the florist to add in five of them. 

She knew Narcissa would understand. 

 

~

 

Later that night, she apparated straight into the Manor and then stopped, her head on one side. A slow smile spread over her face. She couldn’t hear the notes as music, she was too far away from the piano room for that, but she felt them as a tingle over her skin. Soothing. Caressing. The sensation grew stronger with each step, and by the time she reached the top of the stairs she recognised the piece as the same one Narcissa had played all those months ago when Hermione had come to make amends after their misunderstanding. This time, though, she detected none of the heartache, none of the loneliness or anguish. This time, the notes wrapped themselves around her in soft threads of warmth, each one infused with the kind of quiet joy Hermione knew Narcissa was only now learning to express. They were light, delicate as sea-glass, and she paused in the hallway to listen. Even after a year of hearing Narcissa play, the beauty of it still caught her unawares. 

When she quietly pushed open the door, she saw the room lit by candles. Their soft, curved flames made a sensual pattern of light and shadow over the piano, and over the witch whose fingers played the keys so elegantly it looked as if she was barely touching them. The flowers shimmered and swayed, already settled in a vase in the corner. Narcissa’s silk robe, a testament to the late hour, flared in the light as she moved, the smooth fabric almost reflecting the slow flickering of the candles. She saw Hermione and smiled, but didn’t stop playing and Hermione didn’t move. The scene was too ethereal, too fragile, too beautiful. Only when Narcissa stopped playing and beckoned for her did she step inside, over to the piano stool where the blonde witch was holding out her arms. 

“You shouldn’t have waited up.” Hermione wrapped her arms around Narcissa’s shoulders and dropped a lingering kiss onto the blonde’s hair. But she was glad Narcissa had. She loved these intimate moments, especially in this room. She loved the feel of Narcissa’s head resting against her stomach, the arms around her waist, the soft lips that tilted upwards to claim a kiss. She loved how easily they settled into each other.

“I wasn’t tired.” Narcissa tugged Hermione down to straddle her lap. “Did you have a nice evening?”

“Yeah, it was good.” Hermione smiled. Over the past few months, Harry and Ron had not only accepted her relationship with Narcissa but had also been making far more of an effort with Draco. She suspected they’d been pushed along by Ginny, at least to start with, but she wasn’t complaining. It made evenings out far more enjoyable. “Draco abandoned us for Blaise Zabini, though. I think they went on to The Smoking Cauldron.”

She laughed as Narcissa groaned and buried her face in Hermione’s shirt. 

“I thought I raised my son to have better taste.”

“What, in men or gay bars?”

“Both.”

“They look cute together.” Hermione smiled. “And Draco’s liked him for ages. But for Merlin’s sake don’t tell him I said anything.”

“Don’t worry, it’s not a topic of conversation I tend to bring up.” Narcissa chuckled, and then her eyes sobered as she looked up at Hermione. The love that emanated from them made Hermione’s breath catch in her throat. “You got daisies in the flowers.”

Hermione nodded, suddenly uncertain, but Narcissa pulled her down for such a deep, long kiss that all doubt evaporated. 

“Thank you,” the blonde whispered. “I didn’t expect you to remember.”

“I remember all your memories, Cissy. And I know how much that one means to you.” Narcissa had never said anything, but Hermione had sensed it as she’d viewed the memory. Something in that one, out of all of them, had carried a kind of tender warmth that Hermione knew was Narcissa’s. 

The blonde didn’t say anything, but held Hermione tighter. A gentle silence settled around them, only broken by their breathing and by the quiet flicker of the candles. 

“Do you want to go to bed?” Hermione murmured, but Narcissa shook her head. 

“I want to show you something first.” 

Hermione shifted off the blonde’s lap, intrigued, and Narcissa muttered a quiet accio. After a moment a piece of parchment flew into her hands, expertly avoiding the candles on its way, and she unfolded it before handing it to Hermione. Uncharacteristically, she seemed nervous. 

“I don’t want to make any assumptions, darling, but…”

“Lucius is coming back?” Hermione scanned the parchment with wide eyes, and looked at Narcissa. “Here?”

Narcissa nodded. “Fit and well and full of remorse, apparently.” She gave a very un-Narcissa-like snort. “I don’t particularly want to see him more than I have to, and once the the Manor is transferred back to him then…”

“Wait.” Hermione held up a hand and read the parchment again, more slowly this time. “Lucius is now capable of managing the Manor?”

“Yes.”

“Which means….”

“That once things are officially transferred back to him, I no longer need to live here.” Narcissa fiddled with the tie on her robe. “In fact, I won’t be welcome here. The blood magic on the Manor will revert fully back to the Malfoys, and I doubt Lucius - for all his apologies - will want to adjust it to accommodate someone who is now a Black.”

A slow smile spread across Hermione’s face as the information sunk in, and she slipped her arms back around Narcissa’s shoulders. She knew exactly what this meant to the blonde. 

“So that means you’re free. And you can live where you like.”

“It does.” She sensed Narcissa hesitate. “There’s a cottage in Hogsmeade I like the look of….”

But before the blonde could finish her sentence, Hermione pulled back in surprise. 

“You’d live in Hogsmeade?”

Narcissa looked up at her and smiled softly. 

“I would, darling. I need a change of scenery. And it would be the easiest place for you.”

Hermione had taken the job at Hogwarts, encouraged by everyone including Narcissa, and hadn’t regretted it. She’d found that she loved teaching, and got much more satisfaction from it than she’d ever got from the Ministry. The only thing that had marred it somewhat was having to be away from Narcissa; she hadn’t felt as if she could ask to live outside the castle in her first year. She’d wanted to fully immerse herself in Hogwarts life again, including taking her fair share of night patrols and house duties. Narcissa had encouraged her in that too, reminding her that they could have weekends and holidays and some evenings, and that it would be far easier for Hermione to settle into teaching if she was there full time. But after the long summer holiday of living with Narcissa, of being with the blonde every day and waking up with her and falling asleep with her, Hermione had started to wonder how she would ever go back to being alone in her school chambers, sending owls and making Floo calls and visiting on weekends. She knew Narcissa had been wondering the same. 

“You’d live in a cottage?”

Narcissa’s laughter enveloped Hermione like a warm breeze. 

“And here I was thinking you were still the brightest witch of your age,” the older witch teased. “There are such things as extension charms. But yes, after years of rolling around in this place by myself, I’m ready for something a little smaller and a little more like home.” She hesitated. “There’s room for the piano. And there’s also space for a potions laboratory. I thought I might go back to some research.”

Hermione blinked, and Narcissa raised an eyebrow. 

“What do you think?”

“I think I’m speechless.” Hermione shook her head, and then smiled softly. “You’d do that for me?”

“It’s for me as well. I missed you, and I really do need a change,” Narcissa admitted quietly. “But yes, I would. If you’d like to, that is. But if you’d rather carry on living at the castle then I can easily find somewhere in London, and we can…”

This time, Hermione cut the blonde witch off with a deep kiss. 

“I want to live with you,” she murmured against Narcissa’s lips. “On the condition that the moment you get bored or sick of Scotland, then we try somewhere else. I don’t want you unhappy because of my job.”

“I don’t think I will be, but I promise.”

“Good.” Hermione sighed, and kissed Narcissa again. She didn’t think she’d ever felt so intensely happy. It was the kind of happiness she’d only ever felt with Narcissa, and she treasured it for the gift it was. “I love you.”

She felt Narcissa smile. “I love you too.”

“Can we go to bed now?”

Narcissa’s chuckle echoed against her skin, and she thought she would never get tired of hearing it. 

“Yes, darling. I think I’ve waited up long enough.”