Hermione Granger pored over her notes from her previous two years as the Transfiguration Professor at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. She was in the process of writing up some new exams for the coming term, and she wanted to make them challenging. Not enough to make her students lose too much sleep over it, of course, but enough to make them work hard for good grades. After the retirement of Minerva McGonagall from the teaching post five years prior, Hermione had large shoes to fill. And, of course, she had more than proved herself, as the present Headmistress often remarked. Still, Hermione Granger was known as many things – including brightest witch of her age – but a slacker was not one of them.
For the past five years as a Hogwarts professor, Hermione had built a reputation for being a kind and supportive mentor, albeit a strict one at times. Ron and Harry teased her mercilessly about the similarities she shared with their own Transfiguration Professor, often calling her “McGonagall 2.0” – though never to either witch’s face. Secretly, however, Hermione could not help but feel flattered by the comparison to her favorite professor.
On this particular summer afternoon, Hermione sat diligently at her desk, looking over the exams from the year before. She made sure to never repeat herself too much, and it was an extremely difficult task to come up with new material year after year, but she enjoyed it nonetheless. She was presently writing a rough draft for the first years’ exam for the upcoming term. Her desk was littered with parchments of varying lengths, and a few heavy tomes floated around her, pages open strategically. The cozy office was mostly silent, save for the sounds of her quill scratching away at a fresh roll of parchment and the chirps of Athena, her own. The massive black bird had been a gift from Harry, once she resigned from her position at the Department of Magical Law Enforcement to accept her current position at Hogwarts.
Hermione worked in peace and quiet until she heard a soft rapping against her door. She mindlessly flicked her wand at it, as her wards had not alerted her of any unsavory presences. None other than Minerva McGonagall greeted her from the other side, walking up to her former student, now colleague, with a smile.
“Good morning, Miss Granger. Hard at work as always, I see.”
The brunette smile guiltily.
“Good afternoon, Minerva.” The Gryffindor still felt awkward addressing her former Head of House by her first name, though Minerva had insisted. Funnily enough, when Hermione asked her to do the same, Minerva seemed incapable – some things never changed.
The door closed after McGonagall with a soft thud. The Headmistress took a few steps toward Hermione, glancing fondly at the office that had been her own for so many years until relatively recently. When Hermione had first moved in the former Head of House had been pleased to note their sense of interior decorating was quite similar – Hermione also preferred darker woods and tones, as well as bookshelves lining almost every wall. Sadly, the younger woman did not hold the same preference for tartans.
“To what do I owe this visit?” Hermione said with a smile, putting her quill away and facing the older woman directly.
Minerva took a seat by Hermione’s desk, still smiling at the young professor. She was incredibly proud of her former student, and would have liked no one better to take up her old position.
“Oh, no particular reason. Thought I’d pop in for a bit of a chat. How have you been?”
“I’ve been well. Summer is indeed a quiet time for us professors – Merlin knows how much we need it!” Hermione laughed.
“Quiet? Miss Granger, it certainly doesn’t look to be so quiet from where I’m standing. Pray tell, what are you trying to do, a complete exam rewrite for the next ten generations?”
“I’m not that far ahead! These are just for the next term… For years one through four. I’ll get to the rest by the end of the week.” She said gleefully.
Minerva arched an eyebrow.
“I do believe the Muggle term for you would be… workaholic?”
The young witch had taken a while to get used to the friendly banter with her former Head of House. Once she did, however, she had to admit she enjoyed it immensely.
“That would be correct. I am almost done for tonight, though. I plan on seeing Harry and Ginny later tonight.” She said.
“Good” Minerva replied “send them my warmest regards, and to little James as well.”
The two witches spent a few minutes talking – about Harry and Ginny, about a recent incident unwittingly caused by Hagrid that had the school temporarily overrun by pixies, about Hermione’s recent publications on Transfiguration Today, among other things. Conversation was easy between the two, as it usually tended to be. At some point, Dobby had been called, bringing them a pot of tea and freshly made biscuits.
After sipping her tea, Minerva turned to Hermione, her face a little more serious.
“To be perfectly honest, Miss Granger, I wanted your opinion on a matter of staff” she said, delicately munching on a biscuit.
Hermione raised her brow in wonder. The Hogwarts staff had remained mostly unchanged since she had been brought on, with Neville Longbottom stepping in for Pomona Sprout shortly after. Before that, McGonagall had taken on Charlie Weasley for Care of Magical Creatures, and Viktor Krum, of all people, for Defense Against the Dark Arts. Though Krum had been an unusual choice, he had proved to be an excellent professor, taking the position about a year after the war, after a particularly bad encounter with a bludger ended his Quidditch career prematurely. The Healers had managed to heal his spine, but he had walked with a cane ever since.
Since there were currently no open positions and no one was likely to be tired, the young Gryffindor presumed one of her colleagues was about to retire or resign.
“Staff matter? What is going on?”
Minerva sighed as she put down her teacup.
“Horace had decided to retire once and for all, before the term begins. I tried to persuade him to stay, but he says his mind is quite made up. It is understandable, I suppose…”
The young witch frowned. Although she had never been overly fond of Horace Slughorn, even she had to admit he was an extremely important part of the teaching staff at Hogwarts, as qualified Potions Masters were nothing short of a rarity. Slughorn had been the best, besides the late Severus Snape.
“That is too bad” Hermione pondered. “Finding a suitable replacement won’t be easy… Do you have anyone in mind?” she asked, her curiosity piqued.
“As a matter of fact, I do have someone I’ve been considering” Minerva said, righting herself on the chair and looking at her former student intently, as if to gauge her reaction. “I have been thinking of hiring Narcissa Black.” She finally said.
Hermione’s eyebrows shot up in surprise. She hadn’t heard of the former Mrs. Malfoy in years, ever since the very public divorce. It had made headlines for weeks on end as Narcissa and Lucius dragged each other through the mud, trying to squeeze every last Galleon from the other. Of course, being in Azkaban had not helped Lucius much – that, along with his own son testifying against him in court had led the Ice Queen to walk away with a sizeable chunk of the Malfoy fortune and assets.
Before that, Hermione had only briefly seen Draco’s mother during the notorious war trials; where Lucius had been sent to Azkaban while she and her son had been acquitted, courtesy of the one and only Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived. Hermione remembered Narcissa’s cold and menacing expression as her then-husband was taken away in shackles, seemingly giving her title of Ice Queen justice.
After the trials, however, Narcissa had sought out Hermione only once. Her icy demeanor seemed to be exactly the same, that is until Hermione looked deeply into the woman’s electrifying blue eyes and saw that they were brimming with unshed tears. The witch had maintained her stony expression and looked deeply into Hermione’s eyes for a few tense, uncomfortable moments.
“I am so sorry.”
She had walked away before Hermione had a chance to form any kind of coherent response, not that one was needed. Both witches knew exactly what was being referred to.
Hermione had been constantly plagued by nightmares those first couple of years. They were always so vivid and terrifying she was afraid to close her eyes, and outright refused to sleep at one point. Her body had very nearly shut down with exhaustion, and then she realized she wouldn’t be able to keep her eyes open forever. In her despair to escape those crazed eyes and the insane cackling of the madwoman who had tortured her mercilessly, she had taken to a generous helping of Ogden’s Finest and a phial of Dreamless Draught. That, in turn, developed into an addiction that was only broken when Harry, Minerva, and the entire Weasley clan took it upon themselves to stage an intervention for Gryffindor’s Golden Girl. She and Harry attended several therapy sessions together, and that put her in the right track again. The saving grace, however, had been Minerva’s offer of employment. Leaving her stressful job at the Ministry had helped her immensely; it was hard to chase the nightmares away when her job entailed chasing them in real life. They still happened from time to time, but nowhere as frequently as they used to. Most importantly, she managed to work through them on her own.
Focusing on teaching was strangely the best therapy. The nightmares and addictions had robbed Hermione of what she loved most of all: learning. The academic environment and the bright young faces in that temple of knowledge by the name of Hogwarts were the recipe for Hermione’s almost complete recovery.
Regardless, she wasn’t sure she had accepted Narcissa Black’s apology, or forgive her for that matter. She still remembered those electrifying blue orbs watching, as cold as ever, as her deranged sister tortured an 18-year-old girl in her own house.
That being said, Hermione didn’t hate the woman either. She had her to thank for Harry defeating the Dark Lord, even if she did it out of self-preservation, for herself and her son. As cold as she was, Hermione didn’t think Narcissa was as bad as her ex-husband, or her sister. Still, she had her reservations.
“Hermione? What do you think?” Minerva asked. Her former student blinked a few times, taken from her thoughts.
“To be perfectly honest, Minerva, I don’t know. I heard she’s a very skilled witch, but does she have the proper qualifications?”
“Out of our current possibilities, she is by far the best choice. She was an exceptionally gifted student, not much unlike yourself, and had an extraordinary talent for Potions and Arithmancy. Slughorn himself recommended her. In fact, he tells me the only reason she had never gone on to achieve her Potions Mastery was due to her marriage to Lucius Malfoy. I’m sure you know, in traditional pureblood families such as the Malfoys, it is frowned upon for the Lady of the House to work.”
Hermione frowned. She was aware of the practice; luckily it was quickly falling out of fashion. Draco Malfoy himself had encouraged his wife, Astoria Greengrass, to pursue a career of her own when she expressed her wish. She was now an accomplished journalist for The Phoenix Gazette, a publication that arose after the fall of The Daily Prophet.
“Horace also tells me” Minerva continued “That Narcissa has returned to her Mastery studies. She plans to achieve it by the end of the coming year.”
The younger witch could not hide her surprise. Narcissa Black had clearly been working on her Potions Mastery for a while; it was a laborious, academically intensive process.”
“Really? I had no idea. Was she thinking of teaching Potions?” she asked.
Minerva shook her head in the negative.
“She has been working on Potions Research for St. Mungo’s for the past few years. I seem to remember she wanted to be a Healer, back when she was a student, and it seems she has pursued that path after the war.”
Hermione laced her fingers together, contemplating.
“You can look at some of her research on The Practical Potioneer. She has made quite a few advancements in the Polyjuice Potion, I’m sure you’d be interest in that.” Minerva tried.
Hermione pondered for a moment. She wasn’t stupid, she knew precisely why Minerva was asking about her thoughts on the matter. She could just say the word and Minerva would look elsewhere; Narcissa Black would never step foot onto Hogwarts if she so wished. Anything to avoid revisiting the trauma.
On the other hand, Hermione knew Potions Masters were hard to find, especially ones that were willing to take on the teaching profession. If Slughorn had recommended the woman, she must be good enough for the position. So be it.
“Has she accepted the position?”
Minerva looked sheepish for a second.
“I have yet to send her the owl. I wanted to hear your opinion first” the older witch remarked carefully.
Hermione shot her former Head of House a reassuring smile.
“You’re the Headmistress, Minerva. If you think Narcissa Black would be a good addition to the teaching staff, then by all means, hire her.”
Ugh. OK, I know said I was not going to update this because I'm working on another story (For the Better, from The Devil Wears Prada fandom, if you're interested). But while doing some spring cleaning I came across a nearly completed chapter 2 on my notebook, so I just had to type it up and go. So here ya go. Don't get used to it! DO NOT. GET USED. TO IT.
Also, if you're someone waiting on FtB, I'M SORRY, I'M GETTING TO IT I PROMISE.
Reviews are appreciated!
“Are you sure about this, Mother?”
“I’m not known for dithering.”
Grey-blue eyes rolled.
“I saw that.”
Draco helped his mother catalogue the last bits of her research before organizing them neatly into her ornate trunk. Narcissa was impeccably organized in all facets of her life, except when it came to her research. Said research was usually scattered about the room in hastily written sheets of parchment. Now, with her impending move, the two were taking the time to properly organize everything before she started her teaching career.
The young man sighed as he took in the sight of his mother’s office. The shelves that were usually lined with books were bare. The paintings adorning the walls were gone. A couple of cabinets were slightly open, but they were just as empty.
“What of the Manor once you go?” he asked, for what seemed to be the millionth time. Narcissa was the only one still living at Malfoy Manor. His father had lost it in the divorce, not that it mattered much in his decrepit cell in Azkaban. Meanwhile, Draco and his wife were temporarily living in London.
“I told you, I want you and Astoria to move in. Make this a happy home. Barring that, burn it. I don’t care what happens to this house.” Narcissa said, rifling through a wad of papers.
“Astoria and I are quite happy at the townhouse, Mother.” Draco reasoned half-heartedly.
Narcissa rolled her eyes, eerily like her son had done only moments prior.
“You won’t be so comfortable once your little bundle of joy starts flying around on a toy broom. Trust me, you’ll want the extra room.” She argued.
Draco sighed. He knew his family would probably move into the Manor at some point. He just didn’t want to not have his mother there.
“Then why don’t you stay with us? It’s not like you’ll be living at Hogwarts… will you?” he asked. Though there were a few professors who chose to live in the castle even after term ended, he seriously doubted his mother would find the staff’s quarters sufficient.
“Perhaps. At any rate, I still have Black Manor to take care of. And the house at Charles Street.” Narcissa said, her nose turning up in distaste at the mention of her childhood homes.
“You can have our solicitor take a look at those. Sell them, then come live with us.” Draco reasoned. “Scorpius would love to have his Grandmother around. And you know Astoria would be delighted to have you.”
Narcissa gave her son a funny look. It didn’t matter how much she loved her grandson, she could still never think of herself as a grandmother.
“It’s not my place to live with a young couple. No, I’m quite decided. Hogwarts it shall be, for the foreseeable future, at least. Now go, go, don’t you have a wife and son to take care of?” She said, an unmistakable air of finality in her voice.
Draco gave her a lopsided grin, admitting defeat.
“Whatever you say, mother.” He said, leaving her to her packing.
Once her son was gone, Narcissa sat at the plush chair by the bay window with a deep sigh, overlooking the gardens of the impressive manor. For years she had been the Lady of the House. Her now office had been the only room where she could find some refuge in all of her years there. When she had first married Lucius, he had outfitted the room to be her own personal library, as he knew of her deep fondness of books.
The room held her happiest memories in the dark house. It had served as a relieving balm once she found herself overwhelmed by an arranged marriage. She had felt Draco’s first kicks while reading, curled up on that very chair. His first significant bout of accidental magic consisted of books flying off the shelves at astonishing speed. It was in this room where she had last spoken to Andromeda. The very room where she could recall, vividly, her last conversation with Bellatrix before her older sister lost her soul to the Dark Lord completely.
It was in this room where she had sought refuge when Tom Riddle himself invaded her life and her residence.
After the war, her acquittal and subsequent divorce, her library had transformed into so much more. Without the constraints placed upon her by her family and her marriage, she had outfitted it to be a fully functioning Potions lab, where she could work on everything she dreamed of working on since she was a student. She had even found some of her old Hogwarts notes tucked away with her old schoolbooks. Once she was finished, the left side of the room was overtaken by counter space, cabinets, cauldrons and measuring instruments. It felt good to delve into Potions once more.
Now, the room was bare. Her books, cauldrons, instruments and ingredients were packed. It was bittersweet, to be sure, but Narcissa welcomed the change with open arms. She never thought she would go back to Hogwarts. She hadn’t thought it once she graduated – and then she hadn’t thought it after the war, once she did return only to witness so much bloodshed.
The former Mrs. Malfoy tucked away the last of her notes, closing her trunk with a gentle tap of her wand. The click it made reminded her of her first day as a student, and she could not help but smile at the memory.
“Merlin’s saggy underpants, Cissy! What are you trying to do, take your O.W.L.S. before you’re even sorted??” cried Bella, finding her youngest sister surrounded by parchment and open books on her bed.
Narcissa smiled guiltily, but made no answer.
“Oh, Bella, she’s just excited, is all. Weren’t you, as a first year?” Andromeda pointed out gently, grinning proudly at the blonde 11-year-old sprawled in bed with notes.
“Excited, yes. Studious, Salazar help me, no” retorted Bellatrix, crossing her arms in amusement.
Narcissa blushed furiously, scrambling to gather her books and papers.
“I was just reading, that’s all!” she cried, clutching a heavy tome to her small chest.
“Really? What do we have here?” interjected Bella, forcefully taking the book from her sister with amused glee, ignoring her protests. “ ‘Hogwarts: A History’? Merlin, Cissy, at least read something you haven’t memorized yet.” She joked, delighting on how red the youngest Black was turning.
“Oh, Bella, stop it” Andromeda admonished, taking the book from her oldest sister and returning it to Narcissa. “You can read and write as much as you like, Cissy. You’re going to be the brightest witch Hogwarts has ever seen!” she said happily. The young blonde smiled.
“Just take care not to do it too much; it wouldn’t do for you to end up in Ravenclaw.” Bella piped in.
Narcissa held back the tears brimming at her blue eyes. The longing and the hurt were too much to bear. She had studied to the point of mockery from her peers; but it never lasted long. Not with Bellatrix and Andromeda by her side; no one dared mock the Black sisters.
The youngest Black sibling choked on a stifled sob. At least she had those happy memories, even if they were clouded by the dark shadows of the years that followed. Dark, terrible years. She could remember with more clarity than she cared to have, her sister’s descent into madness. With each passing year, Bellatrix’s mind was poisoned and deformed past the point of no return. Narcissa remembered her sister’s eyes becoming hollower and hollower, until they were nothing but empty shells of black. That was after Bellatrix returned from Azkaban.
And Andromeda. Narcissa had kept in secret correspondence with her after her elopement, after her own marriage to Lucius, even. She missed her sister dearly; but one day Bellatrix had found out. It had been the last time she had seen her middle sister, in her library.
Narcissa stopped her memories; it would not do to dwell in the past, when all it brought was pain and suffering. Bellatrix was dead. In fact, her sister had been dead long before Bellatrix Lestrange fell to Molly Weasley’s wand. And Andromeda… Andromeda was another matter.
She stood up, refusing think about it any longer. She had a new goal now; a new opportunity, and Merlin damn her if she did not take it. To say that Minerva’s owl had surprised her was the understatement of the century, but Narcissa was not about to say no to such an offer. She had the chance to return to the castle and make new memories; hopefully for the better this time.
She turned to her desk, where Minerva’s letter sat, open and smudged. Narcissa had read it and re-read it so many times over that the ink had begun to fade by the edges. She had been shocked Minerva would even consider her for such a position. True, Potions Masters were hard to find, but the former Mrs. Malfoy was sure the Hogwarts Headmistress could have found someone if she looked hard enough. There were quite a few notable wizards in America and France with a talent for the subject. Then again, she presumed Hogwarts would benefit most from someone in tune with its history, its struggles.
With another wave of her wand, her trunk shrunk to the size of a matchbox. Another flick and swish levitated it to her nearly empty desk, landing with a sharp thud that belied its new size. That was certainly one thing she did not miss from her times at Hogwarts; lugging the trunk to the train. Although she had to admit the red locomotive held a special place in her heart. Sadly, she would not be using it to get to the castle. She chuckled when imagining the reactions of students when none other than the Malfoy Ice Queen stepped into the compartments.
She might as well spare them until the opening feast.
“Mione! Come on in! You’re late, what in Merlin’s name were you doing, studying?” Ron joked as Hermione stepped into the Burrow, giving her a healthy clap on the back.
“Very funny, Ronald. I was preparing for the term, in case you forgot. It starts pretty soon, you know. As in tomorrow.” She retorted, wheezing from his form of greeting.
The ginger just laughed, his eyes twinkling, moving in for one of his bear hugs. Hermione reciprocated, laughing with her best friend.
“I’m so happy you could make it” he said sincerely. Between his job as an Auror and hers as a Professor, the two hadn’t had the time to hang out and talk like they used to. The Golden Trio saw each other pretty often when Hermione still worked for the DMLE, but after she left and Harry got a promotion and a family, it was hard to make the time. Ron himself had just gotten a promotion, heading a new division of the Aurors that would be stationed in Ireland in a year’s time.
“How are things going? How’s Lavender?” Hermione asked, sincerely happy for her friend. The news of his promotion and his engagement to their former classmate were the reason for the party at the Burrow, where everyone had gathered to celebrate.
“She’s doing great! Come on in, she’s expecting you.” Ron said, his smile reaching his eyes.
Hermione walked in, arm-in-arm with her best friend. Once upon a time, they both thought she’d be the one marrying him. Instead, when the dust had cleared after the war, it became clear that they simply were not meant to be. Hermione would never be a housewife and mother of half a dozen children, and Ron would never want anything else. They both wanted peace and quiet, only in completely different forms, and after about a year of trying, they realized it themselves. The former lovers parted amicably, and no one was happier for Ron and Lavender than Hermione; that is, with the possible exception of Molly Weasley.
“My Merlin, there she is! Hermione, sweetie! It’s been so long, too long!” cried the Weasley matriarch once she saw the brunette. The brightest witch of her age quickly found herself enveloped in a rib-crushing hug as Molly Weasley sang her praises and chided her for not visiting as often.
“Hello, Molly” she said, once she finally had her breath back.
The party was taken outside; there were simply too many people to dine in the Burrow’s close quarters. Instead, a long table was set up outside, candles floating high up in the air providing the light. Hermione immediately greeted Ginny Potter, with a very enthusiastic James on her lap. Little James had just begun to show some signs of accidental magic: earlier that week he had turned his father’s hair Weasley red, which nearly gave Molly a heart attack and made Ginny refuse to sleep next to him until it was fixed. Harry stood proudly (hair thankfully back to its normal hue) by his wife and son, looking happier than he had in years.
Arthur Weasley was next in greeting Hermione, quickly pledging to show her his latest modified Muggle contraption. Arthur had only recently retired from the Ministry, so he had had ample time to tinker with Muggle knick-knacks. Bill and Fleur were also there, their young daughter in tow, the spitting image of the Frenchwoman. George and a very pregnant Angelina were present, as well as Andromeda Tonks, who was on the heels of a very excitable, purple-haired child.
“Mione!” cried Teddy Lupin, jumping to the brunette with glee, nearly tackling her to the ground.
“Edward Remus Lupin, you’ll settle down right now!” called Andromeda. She looked at the brunette sheepishly.
“I’m so sorry, Mione. You know how he gets” she quipped apologetically. Hermione simply laughed.
“It’s nothing, Andromeda. Teddy here is just so happy that his favorite aunt is here, aren’t you?” Hermione teased, hugging the young boy fiercely. “And look at your hair! Purple suits you.” She said.
“Look at my eyes, ‘Mione! I can make them different colors!” Teddy said excitedly, changing one eye to blue while the other remained hazel.
“That’s impressive! Now tell me, Teddy, how’s that pig nose coming along?”
The engagement party had been peaceful and wonderful. At some point Ginny had gotten out her record player from her school days, and now they all sat at the table enjoying the smooth tones of Celestina Warbeck. Hermione sat by Neville and Luna, facing Harry and Ginny, who had handed off James to his grandmother. Ron and Lavender sat next to them, absorbed in happiness.
“So, Hermione, ready for term?” Luna asked from Neville’s side. “Neville was still working on class plans early this morning.”
“Only because I was figuring out what was wrong with the new Aconite batch I received yesterday!” her husband defended. Hermione only laughed.
“I am ready, Luna. A few days ago I was still finishing up my class plans myself. Though I am proud to say I already have an exam schedule for all my classes.” The brunette said.
“Hermione, you didn’t change much from student to teacher, y’know?” Ginny quipped, making all laugh with Gryffindor’s Golden Girl.
“To McGonagall 2.0!” Ron yipped, raising his cup of Firewhiskey, earning a glare from Hermione.
“You are pretty diligent as a professor, Mione. Not that that’s news to anyone here” laughed Neville. “Exams and class plans otherwise, how are you for this term?” he asked.
Hermione looked at him, puzzled.
“Should be fine. Same as every term, I suppose.” She replied.
“What Neville means” quipped Luna “is how are you feeling about having Narcissa on staff this year.” She clarified.
Once the name ‘Narcissa Black’ left Luna’s lips, their side of the table fell silent. Ron looked surprised, Lavender looked confused, and Harry and Ginny looked a little uncomfortable.
“Narcissa Black?” Ron said, his surprise evident. “She’s at Hogwarts?”
“Yes” Hermione confirmed. “She’s taking Slughorn’s position.”
“You were in Ireland, I guess we all just forgot to mention it.” Harry said. Hermione had spoken of Minerva’s intentions of hiring the former Malfoy matriarch a few weeks before, at his birthday dinner. Ron had been unable to attend due to his promotion.
“Why, blimey, I didn’t even know she was still around. Potions?” Ron asked, puzzled.
“Apparently she’s been working on her Potions Mastery for the past few years, the past two as a Potions Researcher for St. Mungo’s. I read some of her publications on The Practical Potioneer and The International Potions Review. I have to say, I was impressed.” The young professor pointed out.
“Still, Hermione, are you OK with this?” Harry asked, concern tinging his tone. Her peers looked at Hermione expectantly. She shrugged.
“The school needs a qualified Potions teacher. She’s qualified. That’s all that matters.” She said finally.
The group seemed to accept her answer, and quickly dissolved into its own parallel conversations. Neville scooted closer to Hermione, whispering.
“I’m glad, Hermione. I’m very excited to work with Narcissa, I was hoping you would be OK with it.” He confessed.
The brunette was nothing short of shocked. She would have never thought Neville Longbottom would be looking forward to working with Narcissa Black, of all people. Really, she’d think he didn’t want anything to do with the woman: her deranged sister had tortured his parents to the point of insanity.
Neville chuckled softly at her look of confusion.
“I know, I know… Not quite what you expected to hear from me, yes?” he joked.
“To say the least” she agreed. “What… I don’t even know how to start this question” she admitted.
The young Herbology Professor sighed deeply.
“It’s complicated… But I guess everyone will know sooner or later. Narcissa is helping mum and dad.” He whispered, looking like a huge burden was lifted off his chest.
His confession only left Hermione with more questions.
“Helping? How?” she asked. She really wanted to know how on earth Narcissa Black could help the Longbottoms. They had been interned at St. Mungo’s for most of Neville’s lifetime. Surely nothing could be done. She didn’t want to say it outright, however; it seemed insensitive.
“Part of her research is how Potions are used to heal body and mind. It’s quite interesting. I won’t go into the details as of now, but we’ve been working together on some research that might help my… well, it might help people who’ve had their minds altered by magic.” He said in a rushed whisper.
Hermione was simply stunned. Narcissa Black, ex-wife of a Death Eater and sister to the Dark Lord’s most faithful servant… Helping those who had suffered at their hands? The brunette couldn’t help but ask herself why. Appearances? Guilt? A genuine desire to make amends? There was no figuring out the youngest Black sister.
“And that’s not all” Neville continued at Hermione’s contemplative silence. “She’s donating Black Manor to St. Mungo’s. It’ll become a new permanent-resident ward. Sort of like those psychiatric wards for Muggles, I guess. We’re moving mum and dad there by Christmas.”
“She wha…” Hermione started, forgetting to whisper.
“Sh!” Neville interrupted. “Not everyone knows yet. It’ll inevitably surface by then, but for now we’re keeping it under wraps.” He clarified.
“Neville” Hermione whispered “that’s… That’s… Incredible? Surprising? I don’t really know what to say right now. How long has she been helping you?”
“She only approached me a few months ago. Her research on this has been going on for at least two or three years though. It looks really promising.” He said, and the hint of hope in his voice was unmistakable.
“I’m not getting my hopes up” he said, though his eyes belied his certainty “I know they’re too far gone. But it could help other people.”
Hermione simply nodded.
Narcissa walked down the Great Hall, alone. The students would start filtering in through the great heavy doors in just a few hours.
She had arrived earlier that day and was greeted by a very excited Horace Slughorn. Whether he was happy to see her again or to be finally retiring once and for all, she could not tell, but it frankly did not matter.
He had shown her to her classroom, office, and private quarters in the castle dungeons. Bleary, to be sure, but Narcissa could hardly contain her giddiness – Potions had always been her favorite subject; the dungeons just served to enhance the nostalgia. The good kind of nostalgia.
Horace had not waited long to leave. She supposed he was a little too eager to jump into retirement again. She soon after went to work setting up: her classroom could definitely use a little more light. With calculated flicks of her wand, her books found their new places in her shelves; her cabinets at once filled with ingredients; and her cauldrons flew right into their respective racks. With her more delicate measuring instruments, she was more careful, delicately levitating each one individually and placing them neatly on the counter.
Her scales and other finely-tuned and exquisitely calibrated instruments were her pride and joy; Draco had bought them for her once she announced her decision to return to her Mastery studies. They were of polished silver, and she never, ever altered them magically; not even to shrink them. They had been sent in separately via a special messenger (Draco) directly to the castle. He grumbled about having to transport them, but Narcissa would never simply apparate with such delicate instruments. She found that using magic on them could alter their accuracy, even if only slightly. She remembered how Slughorn had guaranteed her such a thing was all but impossible, but she nevertheless found an ally in her theory: Severus Snape. He had been the only one who shared her love and fascinations for the subject of potion-making. While Narcissa had been excellent, Severus had simply been extraordinary. She hoped she would do his skills and standards justice in her teaching.
“And to get that lighter hue, I just stirred it counter-clockwise for two extra turns before adding the wormwood powder.”
Narcissa huffed in frustration.
“That’s not what the books say! That’s not how Slughorn did it!” she cried.
“Stop thinking about what the book says, Narcissa. And you remember, Slughorn’s was slightly darker than mine anyway.” Severus retorted calmly.
The blonde threw her arms up in exasperation.
“I give up! I’ll never get my NEWTS like this.” She lamented.
Her friend merely rolled his eyes, brushing his long hair off his face.
“Stop being so dramatic, I swear to Salazar, you’re just like Bella. Listen, you’re the best Potions student in our year, or in Hogwarts, for that matter.”
Narcissa shot him an angry look.
“Besides you, you mean.” She said bitterly, earning another eye-roll from Severus.
“Don’t compare us. I have talent, sure. I experiment, sometimes recklessly. You have talent, but you also have something else: you research, you consider all variables. I’m just too bloody lazy for that.” He countered.
“Yeah, bloody right. If you’re so lazy, how did you come up with the two extra turns?”
“Two extra counter-clockwise turns.”
Narcissa could not contain a smile at the memory. Her study sessions with Severus, often drawing late into the night, were some of the highlights of her time in the castle. Only he understood how fascinating she found potions to be.
Now, standing in the Great Hall, she felt all of the good memories from her years as a student return to the forefront of her min. Despite the darkness growing beyond the castle walls, her time at Hogwarts had been a happy one.
“Reminiscing, I take it?” said a voice from behind. Narcissa turned to see Minerva McGonagall walking up towards her with a knowing smile. The blonde nodded.
“Sometimes it amazes it how it is still the same. The same today as it was in your time as a student, as in mine and as in so many more.” The Headmistress commented.
“Yes,” Narcissa agreed. “I find it quite… comforting.”
Minerva looked intently at her former student, her soft smile never wavering. She took a few moments to speak again.
“I am very happy to have you back, Narcissa.” She said truthfully, smiling at her newest hire’s confusion.
Narcissa was momentarily taken aback at the statement; but she could clearly see the honesty in the older woman’s eyes.
“Thank you, Minerva. It feels good to be back.” She said, meaning every word.
“Minerva, the train has just arrived at the… Oh, Professor Black.” Said a voice approaching from the other end of the Hall. Narcissa froze in place, and Minerva turned to greet the newcomer.
“Right. Thank you, Miss Granger. I shall call the others, we must get into position.” Minerva said, immediately walking away, leaving the other two professors alone. The two women merely looked at each other for a few seconds.
“Professor Granger…” they both began at the same time.
Narcissa looked at the young woman, noting how much she had changed in the past few years. Her hair was shorter than she remembered, falling a little below her shoulders, cascading in curls that seemed to be a lot more manageable than they had been earlier in life. Hermione had certainly developed into a strong, grown woman – she was a far cry from the teenager Narcissa remembered. Narcissa also realized the young professor looked much healthier than she had been during their unfortunate encounters during the war. Though the observation was obvious, Narcissa was glad to see the gaunt, terrified expression of a war survivor replaced by a healthy, confident glow.
Hermione also conducted a similar examination of her newest peer. In many ways, the blonde had not changed at all – she still possessed a commanding, confident posture and demeanor; her robes still looked quite expensive and impeccably stylish. Her skin was still quite pale, though a healthy glow made it look fair as opposed to the sickly complexion Hermione had come to associate with the Malfoy matriarch. Narcissa’s hair was also longer than she remembered; the silky strands ran, mostly straight, though with some waves to them, all the way down to the small of Narcissa’s back.
“Have you found your quarters acceptable?” Hermione asked, clearly not comfortable with the silence they had found themselves in. Narcissa nodded.
“Yes, quite acceptable. In all honesty, they are significantly better than what I expected.” She replied, making an honest attempt at conversation.
“Oh? I must say that surprises me; I would have thought that the dungeons would seem a bit…inhospitable.” The brunette confessed, happy that Narcissa was receptive to her conversation. She hated the silence; it gave her thoughts an opportunity to run wild.
Narcissa smiled at the Gryffindor’s comment.
“It is a common misconception,” she said “but my accommodations resemble the Slytherin Common Room; it is quite comfortable. It brings me memories of my time as a student.”
Hermione smiled; she knew the feeling well. Her own personal quarters were closely modelled after the Gryffindor Common Room.
“Ah, I understand. I believe you have an “inside view” of the Black Lake as well then?”
The blonde nodded in confirmation. She seemed to be about to respond, when suddenly she stopped herself, her expression pensive. Hermione was about to interject when Narcissa finally spoke, changing the subject completely.
“I hope you have been keeping well, Miss Granger.” She said.
Hermione contemplated the blonde for a few moments, a little surprised by the sudden turnaround. Narcissa looked to be sincere.
“Thank you. I have.” She said simply.
“Good” Narcissa said, seemingly struggling with her words. “I had hoped… I hope that my employment here does not cause you any undue stress.” She finally finished, her expression betraying a flash of deep guilt.
The young professor bristled initially, but quickly took in the sincerity of Narcissa’s words to heart. The blonde seemed truly and sincerely worried.
“Oh, no, please don’t trouble yourself. It’s not an issue, I promise.” She said confidently.
Narcissa seemed momentarily reluctant to believe her, but did not have the time to formulate a response, as they were startled by the Scottish timbre of Minerva McGonagall’s voice echoing through the hall, reverberating off the walls.
“All staff, please assemble in the Great Hall. Our students are on their way.”
Hermione would never tire of leading the expectant first years through the castle for their Sorting Ceremony. She would look at their excited, at times frightened faces and remember her very first time crossing the great doorway, walking through those hallowed halls into her new life. As a Muggle-born, she had been especially excited, not to mention worried about what the wizardry school held in store for her.
“Welcome to Hogwarts.” She said from the top of the stairs, allowing her new students some time to ogle at the wonders around them: the moving, talkative portraits, the winding torch-lit halls, the grand moving staircase, and everything else.
“In a few moments, we will be going through these doors into the Great Hall” she said as she went down to meet them. “Once there, you will participate in Hogwarts’ ancient Sorting Ceremony, in which you will be sorted into our four noble Houses.”
Hermione took a moment to let the new students process the information. Most were unfazed; after all, everything she had said was common knowledge in the British Wizarding World. However, she could pinpoint exactly the students who seemed to be particularly nervous, hanging onto her every word. The young professor smile inwardly; she could tell immediately they were Muggle-borns – she was certain she wore a very similar expression on her first time at the school. She looked forward to mentoring and guiding them through her transition.
After telling the first-years about each of the Houses and reveling in their growing excitement, Hermione led the group through the heavy doors. The oohs and aahs coming from the young pupils would never, ever bore her. This was the moment where birth or blood did not matter: all were equally amazed.
The Great Hall did that.
While Hermione was the one leading the new students to the Great Hall, Minerva had retained her position conducting the Sorting Ceremony itself. In her view, the Headmistress should maintain a more personal and involved relationship with the students, and what better way to welcome them to the great school than sorting them into their new families?
Personally, Hermione just thought McGonagall was too attached to the role to ever give it up.
The young Transfigurations Professor took her seat as the Headmistress thanked her. Neville Longbottom sat to her left, beyond the Headmistress’ chair. Narcissa Black was to her immediate right.
“I forget how young they were…” Narcissa muttered, seemingly to herself.
Hermione smiled; she thought that as well. It was hard to imagine herself at that age, even if her own Sorting had taken place later than Narcissa’s. But she understood the feeling, and was about to say so when she noticed Narcissa’s hand lightly shaking on the table. Taking a look at the blonde, Hermione at once saw the new Potions Professor looked terrified.
“Hey.” She said, taking the shaking hand in her own without thinking. “You’ll do just fine. We need a good Potions professor, and you’ll do great.” She said, reassuringly.
Narcissa was very obviously taken aback at Hermione’s gesture, perhaps too taken aback to move her hand away. Hermione was about to apologize for the possible intrusion; it was just in her nature to be caring and reassuring, even if the person who needed said reassurance was Narcissa Black.
“Thank you” Narcissa said, looking calmer after the initial shock. Hermione gave her an awkward smile in return as they both turned to listen to McGonagall. The Headmistress had just finished the usual welcoming speech tailored specifically towards the new first years; she had spoken briefly about the history of Hogwarts and its founders, the creation of the Houses and how the House Cup rules worked. Everyone in the Great Hall stilled in anticipation as McGonagall pulled out the Sorting Hat, setting it neatly on a stool. After one of its cheerful songs, the Sorting Ceremony could finally begin.
“Annette Abraham” Minerva called.
“Hufflepuff!” the Hat cried out as a small blonde girl took her seat.
The ceremony went on, as usual, with cheers coming from each House as its newest members were sorted in. Hermione counted six new additions to Gryffindor thus far, two of which she thought were Muggle-born. Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff so far had seven new students each, and Slytherin had five. She and Neville also played a game of trying to guess which House each coming student would be sorted to. As of yet, Neville had been wrong in every single one of his guesses. Hermione was not in much better shape, however: she had only two correct guesses, one for Gryffindor and one for Ravenclaw.
At some point, she noticed Narcissa seemed to be doing a similar thing all on her own; she softly whispered her guesses to Slytherin. As the ceremony went on, Hermione realized the witch had so far guessed correctly for all of her new students.
“You seem to be very good at this.” She remarked quietly at Narcissa’s eighth consecutive accurate guess.
The blonde smirked in response.
“Not exactly. Most of these students come from old, Pureblood families. A few are Half-Bloods, but from families I know quite well. So really, it is a biased guessing game. I’m just looking to get at least one wrong.” She said, which surprised Hermione.
Taking a moment to process that new information, Hermione reflected on Slytherin House. Though much had changed after the war and the message of unity was much stronger within the castle, Hogwarts’ House of Cunning had been slower to adapt. To be fair, that was not the students’ fault. Though a good part of the House was composed of Purebloods and Half-bloods, there had yet to be a single Muggle-born sorted. There had never been one in over a thousand years of history.
Of course, there were still tensions among the Houses. Hermione thought that particular aspect of Hogwarts life would sadly never change. Thankfully, disputes and anything of the sort did not usually carry deep hatred and bigotry with it. Attitudes had changed through generations; not as much as she had hoped, but enough to show significant progress, for which she was thankful.
“William White.” McGonagall’s voice echoed.
Hermione watched as one of the young boys she knew was a Muggle-born reluctantly stepped up. She recognized the name; she had helped Minerva with a few letters written specifically for Muggle families who had a witch or wizard in their midst, those whom Minerva visited personally. He was short, with green eyes that reminded her of Harry, but with a head of messy blonde hair. The poor kid looked simultaneously amazed and terrified; his eyes darted through the Great Hall with great trepidation.
“Gryffindor.” Hermione whispered. She wasn’t sure if that was her guess or her wish.
Narcissa chuckled beside her as the Sorting Hat was lowered onto the boy’s head. His hands gripped the stool, trembling.
“Hufflepuff.” She whispered playfully.
The Sorting Hat was taking its time with the boy, whose face blanched another shade whiter every few seconds or so. Hermione began to truly worry the young William would faint on the spot, but he seemed to be holding on. The whole thing was quite strange, as the Hat seemed to be taking its sweet time. A minute rolled by, then two. After five minutes, the Great Hall began to grow restless, and Hermione swore William was about to burst into tears.
Close to the six-minute mark, however, the Hat finally made its pronunciation over the nervous boy.
A collective gasp erupted from the Hall’s occupants; though Hermione heard it most prominently coming from her right. Narcissa had subconsciously grasped Hermione’s hand once again with a shocked squeeze. Truthfully, Hermione barely even registered it, too astonished by what had just happened.
Slytherin House would receive its first-ever Muggle-born student.
Hermione rushed through the corridors on her way to McGonagall’s office, after visiting the Gryffindor Common Room and seeing that her students were properly accommodated. She had introduced herself to the new first years and talked briefly to some of her older students. She had not lingered; McGonagall had called a meeting of the Heads of House in order to discuss the major development that had taken place over the Sorting.
The young professor cringed thinking of the way William White had been received once he reemerged from the Hat, trembling and afraid. For a few seconds, the poor boy seemed not to know what to do or where to go; the entire Hall was staring straight at him. Finally, a few cheers and scattered applause followed as he stumbled his way to the Slytherin table, which was mostly silent and in shock. Hermione had watched the young man, he had barely touched any food or talked to any of his peers. Hermione noticed Narcissa seemed to watch the boy as well, though she did it with an air of practiced disinterest. The brunette could see it in her eyes though; Professor Black was intrigued, to say the least.
She had barely eaten herself, she watched the boy and the other Slytherins like a hawk from her table. While no students made the effort to actually talk to him, that seemed to stem from their shock, and not from an effort to shun him. In any case, she would keep an eye on him, through the school year if that was necessary. It was clear Slytherin’s newest addition would need some special attention and care, and by Merlin, she was determined to give it.
In her rush to get to the Headmistress’ office, Hermione spat out the password and lunged up the revolving stairs. On her way in, she almost collided directly with Professor Black, who had undoubtedly just walked in herself.
“My apologies, Professor Black. Professor McGonagall.” She hissed, somewhat out of breath.
“Good evening, Miss Granger.” McGonagall greeted. Narcissa nodded in greeting, her face stoic.
In the office were the other Heads of House. Filius Flitwick was still, after all this time, the Head of Ravenclaw House. Gabriel Thurman, a Hufflepuff from before Hermione’s time as a student ,who taught flying lessons, was his House’s Head. And then there were Hermione and Narcissa, for Gryffindor and Slytherin.
“Now that we are all here” McGonagall began, taking a seat. “Please sit. We have much to discuss.” She said, flicking her wand so that the existing chairs in the office were pushed up to where the Professors had gathered around her desk.
“It seems” she continued once all were seated “that we have had a major development this year. Mr. William White, a Muggleborn, has been sorted into Slytherin. As I am sure you are all aware by now, this is the first time this has happened in the history of our school. Therefore, I thought we should have a brief discussion on how to proceed.” She looked at her staff attentively. “Thoughts?”
“It will be an adjustment, certainly.” Said Thurman pensively. “While blood purity ideals are not as prevalent as they once were, I believe we must be prepared to encounter fringe individuals who seek to perpetuate them, not only in Slytherin, but in other Houses as well.”
“I agree” Hermione said. Thurman was a Half-Blood who had been raised by his Muggle mother and stepfather. He and Hermione had worked together to develop a new Muggle Studies program that was implemented by Eleanor Everett, a Muggleborn who had been hired just after the war. Everett had previously worked at the ministry, in an undercover operation as a Muggle.
“I think we should promptly offer our support and guidance to William. He needs our help; especially at a House such as Slytherin. The students there are not used to interacting with Muggleborns in-house, so to speak. I believe we should outfit some special guidance and individual support to him.” She continued, nodding her agreement to Thurman.
“I am reluctant to go all the way to individualized treatment, Miss Granger, with all due respect” Flitwick responded politely. “I am sure Mr. White will need some special assistant from us; however, we must tread carefully: we cannot put the needs of one student over others’.” He said pensively. Hermione shook her head.
“Respectfully, Master Flitwick, I must disagree. You saw how he was during the Sorting; he is very scared. The lackluster reception coming from his House didn’t help any. Granted, that was most likely due to shock, but I fear that William will not make any friends any time soon; he needs our direct attention in order to fully integrate to the school and its courses.” She said passionately. “We need to give him special attention. If he does not have us, he will have no one.”
McGonagall hummed softly, seemingly considering what was being said. Her eyes found Narcissa, who had been quiet the entire time.
“What is your opinion on this matter, Professor Black? As Mr. White’s Head of House, I hope you have something to add to this discussion.” She said.
All eyes in the office turned to the former Malfoy. She sat stoically upon her chair, her posture impeccable, her face pensive. She took a few moments to speak.
“As it stands, I believe we should not intervene, at least for the time being.” She finally said. Hermione interrupted with an indignant shrill to her voice.
“That is absolutely out of the question! William has absolutely no knowledge of the Wizarding World! His entire life has changed at the drop of a hat, he’s far away from home, in an environment that isn’t exactly welcoming. It would be irresponsible to leave him to fend for himself!” the brunette tried to reason. How could Narcissa simply say they should leave the poor boy be? He needed guidance. Hermione fervently wished the young William had been sorted into Gryffindor instead. She had no doubts the environment would be much more accepting, and they would not need to have this discussion in the first place.
“Yes, Miss Granger. Mr. White’s world has changed, but you must consider how the very essence of Slytherin House has changed as well. Mr. White’s Sorting into Salazar’s House is an event that will be talked about in centuries to come, and while he may not realize that as of yet, his peers most certainly do.” Narcissa explained calmly. Hermione couldn’t help but scoff.
“So, you’re saying Slytherin House is more shaken by this than William?” She said.
“I said nothing of the sort.” Narcissa replied coldly. “What I am saying is that Mr. White does not yet realize the ramifications of his Sorting and its effects for Slytherin House. We Slytherins are a proud, competitive bunch, and we take care of our own. For now, Mr. White is still viewed as an outsider.”
“And as such, he doesn’t warrant our help, or that of his peer’s?” Hermione challenged, unaware of the raising volume of her voice.
“I did not say that. Mr. White has forever changed the balance of Slytherin’s identity. He must work to be accepted by his peers as one of his own, regardless of his blood. We value independence and intelligence, perseverance and cunning. If Mr. White has Professors coddling him left and right, he will become a joke, an embarrassment.” Narcissa elaborated coolly.
Hermione could not believe her ears. Was Narcissa really suggesting they simply leave the boy be so that Slytherin House would be saved of the embarrassment?
As if she had read her mind, Narcissa promptly started again.
“I am not suggesting we leave him be. We may offer our assistance, but it is up to Mr. White to seek it.”
The brunette shook her head.
“If it is left up to him, he may never do it! The kid is terrified!” she countered.
“Yes. He must get over that fear. We may offer our assistance and encouragement, but he must be the one to decide whether to take it or not. Having the special attentions of professors makes him a target for far more than ridicule” Narcissa said evenly.
“What on Earth do you mean?” Hermione asked. She could swear the blonde suppressed the urge to roll her eyes.
“As Professor Thurman has pointed out, blood purity ideals have fallen to the background. However, and take this from someone who is intimately acquainted to many of the families represented in Slytherin, they still permeate heavily in certain circles. While they are not widely advertised or perpetuated, they linger. A Muggleborn in Slytherin goes against what most of these children have been taught, and believe me, they will show it, sooner or later, and Mr. White will become a target. But, if he proves he is just as qualified to be in this House as any other Pureblood or Half-Blood, he stands a much better chance at acceptance than if he were to be coddled by his Professors.” Narcissa finally said, narrowing her eyes.
Hermione’s eyes widened at Narcissa’s blunt admission that blood purity ideals did still linger within Slytherin House. It was unsettling to hear it come from someone who had been part of Voldemort’s deadly blood purity campaign years ago.
“Can’t you understand? William is alone. He has nobody. He is in a strange world where he has no one to help him. You say he may become a target, yet you allow for no action to help him?” Hermione said through gritted teeth.
“I cannot even begin to understand what he may be going through. However, I understand Slytherins. I understand how blood purity works in their minds. And I understand that those who identify the most with the blood purity ideals feel threatened by a Muggleborn ‘infiltrating’ their noble House. Giving Mr. White preferential treatment only paints a target on his back.” Narcissa replied coldly.
Hermione didn’t like the way the other Heads of House were nodding in agreement, even if Thurman seemed to be doing it in begrudging acceptance of Narcissa’s argument. She refused to accept it. Even Minerva seemed to be seriously considered. She turned to the Headmistress in a desperate plea, ignoring Narcissa completely.
“Minerva, please! We can’t just leave William to fend for himself in that nest of vipers!” She almost shouted.
Hermione heard a muted gasp coming from Narcissa, and even Thurman and Minerva shot her incredulous looks at her outburst.
“I would appreciate it if you refrained from slandering a Hogwarts House, Miss Granger, regardless of your feelings on the matter” Minerva reprimanded her, though her eyes shone in understanding. “While you make a good case for yourself, I am inclined to defer this matter to William’s Head of House.” She said, looking pointedly at Narcissa.
“Thank you, Headmistress. I’ll be sure to ask for assistance if need be.” Narcissa said. Hermione visibly deflated at the pronouncement.
“Good. You are dismissed.” Minerva replied, seemingly eager to put an end to the discussion.
Thurman and Flitwick were the first to leave, while Minerva retired deeper within her office. Narcissa stood to leave, stopping momentarily to turn to Hermione, who still sat, defeated.
“Don’t worry, Miss Granger” she said, her voice pure ice. “I’ll make sure the vipers won’t bite.”
During the first few weeks of term, Hermione kept a sharp eye on the young William White. Despite her coworker’s decision at their meeting with Minerva, she chose to summarily ignore them. She would not let a young Muggleborn to his own devices in Slytherin House.
She felt herself fervently wishing he had been sorted in Gryffindor once again. If he had been sorted into her own House, she would have been able to help him a bit more directly. As of now, she had instructed a couple of Gryffindor prefects to keep an eye on him and offer their assistance whenever they deemed it necessary. Additionally, she sought William out every now and again after her Transfiguration lectures, to make sure he was adjusting to school well. The young boy seemed… scared of her. He stuttered and mumbled, incredibly shy, and seemed always too eager to scurry off.
Hermione huffed. The lectures were another matter altogether. William seemed to have made at least a casual acquaintance of the Ravenclaw girl he sat next to in Transfiguration – Alexandra Hall, as she recalled, another Muggleborn. While Alexandra seemed to be an excellent student, reading ahead on material and being quite adept on the subject matter, William was… the complete opposite. It broke the young professor’s heart to see him struggle so deeply with her subject. He had great difficulty grasping even the simplest theoretical concepts. Practical application was a complete and utter nightmare – William had yet to produce a single successful result.
His failings in class did not go unnoticed by the Slytherins sharing her classroom. She could hear faint whispers, but frankly no more than that. She had never truly seen him fraternize with anyone other than Miss Hall; certainly no one from his own House. At mealtimes, he shared a cordial greeting upon seating himself and leaving the table, during meals he tucked into a book harder than his actual food.
Hermione sighed, thinking of how desperately alone he must feel. She had heard nothing from her prefects about any bullying or other incidents involving White or any other Muggleborns. There were the usual pranks or late-night forages, but nothing of note.
She supposed there would be more info on the young boy at the staff meeting coming up in two days. Hermione could have asked Narcissa, the woman was after all the Slytherin Head of House, but she did not want to cross the witch’s path any more than necessary after their altercation at the previous meeting. Having to contend with the completely unfazed and indifferent Narcissa Black at mealtimes was enough.
Narcissa smiled at her young wards as they shuffled sleepily into the room. One of the downsides of being a first year was having Potions bright and early, three days a week. She wondered how long it would take for her younger Slytherins to figure out it was possible to get food directly in their dorm room, saving them a trip to the Great Halls and the long return to the dungeons.
Not that she would say a word, of course.
She spared William White a look as she busied herself cleaning her chalkboard. The boy looked better than he had at his Sorting, that much was certain. He was a very reserved young man, keeping his distance from most. Still, he seemed tranquil in his solitude, so Narcissa did not bother him. Some in Slytherin House seemed to be keeping their distance for the time being, but she hoped his performance in her class would help bolster his position.
Despite being a Muggleborn with absolutely no experience of the Wizarding World, William seemed to have a natural talent for potion-making, something Narcissa was very happy about. While many of his peers had some background knowledge on the material she was teaching them, William devoured his textbooks and engaged happily in lectures. Their only practical class thus far had been a Pepperup Potion, which she had supervised. William seemed quite interested in the use of potions in medicinal applications, and looked to be quite excited about their next project of creating a simple Bruise Removal Paste.
Her students filed in and settled without much fuss. Truth be known, Narcissa had been terrified of her first day of teaching – would she be good enough, did she actually know how to go about this, and, most importantly, what would her students think of having Narcisa Black, previously Malfoy, the Pureblooded Ice Queen, as their instructor?
Thankfully, her students seemed more fascinated by her than anything else. A few older Slytherins had expressed their regards in having her teach them, and she hilariously noted a few of her younger students seemed to be quite smitten with their teacher.
She laughed inwardly at the notion. Narcissa knew she was a woman of great beauty – it had served her well in life, as most underestimated her true abilities. Besides, she remembered what it had been like, to have a crush on a professor; not that she would ever, ever admit it to anyone.
This morning’s class was quite excited by the prospect of another practical lesson. As first years, a lot of time was spent covering the theory of potions; kinds of ingredients, their properties and uses, types of cauldrons, the importance of proper measurements and incantations, among several other things. Thus, a practical lesson was reason for excitement.
She did not have a seating chart of any kind for her classroom, though the students naturally arranged themselves in a semi-rigid organization. She was pleased to note that William seemed to have befriended a Slytherin enough to sit by them every single day. Spencer Wyndham was an exuberant half-blood with a knack for making friends, so it seemed. Narcissa had noticed him at mealtimes, amicably chatting with anyone and everyone around him.
“Good morning, class. Today, after much anticipation, we will be preparing a simple Bruise Removal Paste. Now, before you take out your materials and notes, could anyone tell me one of its three main basic ingredients?”
She was happy to see a few hands up in the air, William’s among them. A young Hufflepuff girl had been quicker, however.
“Quite right, Miss Abraham. Five points to Hufflepuff. Camphor is, in fact, the main active ingredient in this truly remarkable paste. Can anyone else tell me what form of camphor is used in its preparation?”
William’s hand once again went up like a shot.
“Yes, Mr. White?”
“It can be used as an oil, Professor, or the wood can be used in its natural state.”
“Correct. Five points to Slytherin. Now, a follow-up question: ten points to the House who gets it right, as this was not part of our notes or lectures. We will be using camphor oil in our work today; why is that preferable to the camphor wood?”
Only William’s hand shot up in the air. She suppressed a smile; the boy had read ahead.
“Yes, Mr. White?”
“The oil is more concentrated, and easier to carry and integrate in the paste. The wood chips take too long to be incorporated, and the extra uh… stuff that comes with it makes it less effective.”
“Excellent! Ten points to Slytherin. If you could all take out your cauldrons; you can work with your partner, but I would like to see individual samples of the paste. You may have your notes with you, I will check in with you all in about five minutes.” Narcissa said, moving back to her desk to organize attendance.
After a few minutes, she paced through the classroom, happy with most of her students’ progress. As she helped Mr. Abbott and Miss Kramer through a small ingredient mix-up, she heard hushed voices coming from a couple of rows behind.
“Mate, don’t worry about it, just use some of mine; what’s the difference anyway.”
“Spencer, you need all of it. You don’t have enough left over, just let me deal with it.”
“Hold off, let me ask Abraham o’er there. Oi, Annet-- ”
“No! Please, let me deal with it. Don’t make a fuss, I don’t want Ms. Black to hear.”
“Mate, how’re you supposed to make this bloody thing if you don’t have enough camphor?”
“Please, let me deal with this.”
Narcissa felt compelled to intervene; obviously Mr. White had been underprepared for class for whatever reason. Yet somehow, something told her to give the young man his space, he seemed adamant to let him ‘deal with it,’ as he had so put it. Discreetly looking over their table, she noticed the awful condition of his cauldron and his tools with a bit of surprise; she hadn’t seen them before for their previous practical, as it had been a group activity, where Mr. Wyndham had used his shiny new cauldron on behalf of his group. Additionally, she noted the scarcity of camphor up on William’s workspace; he had barely a third of what was necessary for the paste.
The professor felt a pang of guilt. Camphor oil was not the dearest ingredient, but it was far from cheap. The state of William’s materials told her everything she needed to know about the boy’s situation, and it made her think of so many things she had taken for granted. She had always had the best of the best, and provided Draco with the same.
Her musings waned as William tackled his assignment with unusual fervor. He worked the ingredients he did have meticulously and precisely, though Narcissa was saddened. Even after all that work, he would never be able to achieve a good result. Still, she decided not to mention it; William obviously did not want it. Besides, she could tell from her occasional observations that his method was beyond reproach.
After the hour was done, Narcissa called for the end of the practical, and students filled small tin containers with their finished paste. Overall, Narcissa was happy with the results; a few had been burned here and there, but most of her pupils had managed to achieve a solution consistent with a Bruise Removal Paste.
It was when she arrived at the White-Wyndham table that her biggest surprised surfaced. Wyndham’s paste was close to impeccable, and White’s was, surprisingly, the right consistency and texture. It was, however, a completely different color, a very odd shade of brown.
“Mr. White” she said softly “could you explain to me the difference in tonality of your paste?”
She thought William would cower with embarrassment, which was why she tried her gentlest tone. However, the young boy surprised her even further.
“My apologies, Professor Black. I… forgot to bring enough camphor oil, so I tried to use an uh… alternative ingredient.”
Narcissa could not hide her surprise. Alternative ingredient?
“I see. Let me ascertain something first, and then I would like you to tell me what that ingredient was.” She said with a smile. With a flick of her wand, a small but quite visible bruise immediately formed on the back of her own hand. William seemed shocked, and about to interject.
“Worry not, Mr. White. It is merely a tester charm; healers in training use it fairly frequently.”
With that said, she took some of the young man’s finished paste and gingerly applied it to her hand. To her bewilderment, the purple mark started to fade almost immediately, waning to a pale yellow in a matter of seconds. It did not clear completely as the traditional Bruise Removal Paste would have; however, it worked just as fast. It was nothing short of astonishing.
“Remarkable. Mr. White, if you would be so kind, what have you used in your version of the paste?”
William looked timid but somewhat proud of his accomplishment.
“I ground up a few arnica leaves into the mixture, Professor. I knew it has similar properties to camphor, even if it isn’t quite as… potent.” He said.
Narcissa was pleasantly surprised. Of course.
“Remarkable, Mr. White.” She turned to the rest of the class. “This is an excellent example of ingenuity coming in handy. It also serves us well as a lesson not to simply memorize ingredients and how they are added to a mixture. Any common cook can memorize a recipe, but a Potions Master knows why certain things work the way they do.” She turned to the young man, who seemed a bit apprehensive, though his desk mate was positively beaming.
“Twenty points to Slytherin, Mr. White – for your ingenuity and creativity.” She said; William looked happy until Wyndham clapped him on the back for all the points he had won Slytherin just in that class.
Once class was dismissed, Narcissa quietly asked William to remain and help with clearing up – a pretext, but not really. She planned to make it a habit to hold onto a student or two after every practical for that very purpose. But today, it gave her a chance to check in with the young boy. Professor Granger’s hysterics were unnecessary, but she could understand the other witch’s point of view, as well as her protectiveness of Muggleborns. In any case, she was glad William seemed to be an incredibly talented student; surely the quantity of points he amassed for his House would be favorable to his image in the end.
“Mr. White, what an inspired idea, the arnica leaves.” She said, startling the boy who had occupied himself with cleaning some of her communal scales – sans magic. “May I ask, how did you think of it?”
William seemed bashful, but his grin had his hint of pride. Good, Narcissa thought; a fair amount of pride went into being a Slytherin.
“It was a coincidence, really. My mother makes a lot of home-made remedies. She uses it for everything.” He said. “I noticed it growing by one of the greenhouses; Professor Longbottom said I could collect some. I didn’t quite know it would come in handy so soon, I completely forgot to bring my camphor oil. My apologies, for that, Professor.”
Narcissa commended the boy for his insightfulness, but she could spot a lie a mile away.
“Impressive indeed, Mr. White. But if I may be so bold, from what I have seen of you in my class, you do not seem like the type of student to ‘forget’ such crucial material… especially if you read ahead and knew of its significance.” She said gently.
Whatever confidence William had had just moments before evaporated into thin air, if his shocked expression was anything to go by. Narcissa tutted inwardly; the boy would need to learn how to stand his ground if he ever expected to make it in his House.
“I… I…” he stuttered. Narcissa softly tapped his shoulder in reassurance.
“At ease, Mr. White. This is no interrogation. You are a remarkable student, and your work thus far has been beyond reproach. I am commending you on account of your creative solution, not accusing you of not following the rules.”
The boy relaxed slightly, but a look of utter shame overcame his features.
“I… I’m sorry, Professor Black. I couldn’t afford all the ingredients on the school list at Diagon Alley. I… I couldn’t even afford half of them.” He confessed, his eyes welling up with tears he resolutely refused to shed.
“Oh, William” she said, turning his face towards her. “I wouldn’t worry about that. You may use anything you’d like from my personal reserves. If you wish, you can come the day before class and I’ll supply anything you need.”
Narcissa could not help a smile as the first-year’s eyes lit up.
“Oh, would you? I mean, thank you! Thank you, Professor, truly!”
“You won’t get away from my lessons so easily, Mr. White.”
His returning grin was the epitome of sheer joy.
Hermione cursed under her breath as she rushed towards the Headmistress’ office. She was late for a meeting Minerva and Narcissa had set up to discuss William White. Well, truly the meeting was meant to be between Minerva and William’s Head of House, but Narcissa had been diplomatic enough to offer the Transfigurations professor a chance to participate, knowing how much she feared for the young Muggleborn.
But now, Hermione was running late – a blasted Hufflepuff fifth year had all but blown up her classroom, reminding her of her former classmate Seamus Finnegan. The class had been attempting a more complex incantation to transfigure a parrot into a goblet. Before she knew it, it was feathers and flames all over the bloody place.
The edges of her hair were still lightly singed as she made her way up the gargoyle entrance. She could hear Minerva and Narcissa discussing softly.
“… that is indeed truly remarkable…”
“… don’t believe there will be an issue…”
“Ah! Ms. Granger, thank you for joining us” said Minerva with a knowing smirk and glance at the stray feathers on her former student’s robes. Hermione sighed. News travelled way too bloody fast in this castle.
“Apologies for the delay. There was an unfortunate incident during class.” She said diplomatically.
“Incident? I trust everything is alright?” asked Narcissa, oblivious.
“Yes… it involved a parrot or several… and an explosion caused by faulty wandwork.” Hermione quipped as she seated herself. She could have sworn she saw the blonde’s lips curl into a grin for a moment before her features were once again schooled. Narcissa offered no further comment.
“Well, shall we continue then?” Minerva said. “Ms. Granger, I believe you can tell us of Mr. White’s performance and behavior? Narcissa was just telling me of his work in Potions.”
Hermione huffed, half in worry, half in defeat.
“It is worse than I thought, Headmistress. Young Mr. White seems to have neither the aptitude nor the will to tackle Transfiguration. He interacts with no one but one student – his assigned deskmate. He shows great difficulty with the subject, both in theory and in practice. I am afraid that he is still much affected by this major transition in his life and has yet to adjust; I believe a closer and more personalized method of teaching would greatly benefit him.”
It was only once her commentary was done that Hermione realized the looks of complete shock over the other two women.
“Excuse me, Ms. Granger, but this is William White we are talking about? The first ever Muggleborn in Slytherin?” Minerva asked, clearly confused as her former student regarded her as if she had grown another head.
“Yes, of course. Why would I speak of any other student??”
Minerva and Narcissa shared a look.
“Well, Ms. Granger, your comment beggars all belief, to be frank. I could not have heard a more different account if I had asked for one” Minerva said.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, it has been my understanding that Mr. White has been doing acceptably well in all of his classes thus far. Narcissa was just telling me of his incredible performance in their practical lesson two days ago.” Minerva confessed, stunned.
The brunette turned to her coworker so fast Narcissa thought she heard her neck crack.
“You must be joking. William White? The Muggleborn in Slytherin?”
“Why, Ms. Granger. I would have thought you of all people would be aware of the limitless potential of Muggleborns.” She quipped. What an interesting turn this conversation had taken.
Hermione narrowed her eyes.
“Any Muggleborn is as witch or wizard as any Pureblood in this castle. That is not the issue. William White has yet to achieve a single passable result in my class. He does not read the material, he does not participate, and seems reluctant to perform the simplest incantations!” Hermione yipped, both in frustration and confusion.
“And that has caught us by surprise, Ms. Granger. Thus far, we have only heard positive things from William’s professors, Ms. Black included.” Minerva commented.
“That cannot be. If he presents this difficulty in Transfiguration, he must present difficulty in another, similar area. What has Flitwick said of him in Charms?”
“I hate to contradict you, Ms. Granger, but Master Flitwick has had only good things to report – Mr. White seems adequately proficient for his level, and has no trouble participating in lectures and demonstrations, though he is quite timid in general.
“What about Defence Against the Dark Arts?”
“Professor Krum has also reported satisfactory work. Mr. White seems like a shy boy, but academically, he fares decently well despite his timid nature.”
“He is not so timid in Potions” Narcissa added. “I believe his friendship with Spencer Wyndham has helped tremendously.”
“Friendship with Spencer Wyndham? This is the first I’m hearing of this.” Hermione said.
Minerva cocked an eyebrow at the brunette.
“I fail to see why you would have heard of it, Ms. Granger. If am remember correctly, Mr. White and Mr. Wyndham are in separate Transfiguration classes.” The Headmistress countered.
After the war, the Hogwarts staff had worked to make classes more diverse by creating smaller class numbers mixed with all four Houses. It had seemed to work, as most students ended up befriending those from other Houses.
“That is beside the point. Caroline Stewart and Gustav Braun have not reported any friendly interaction on the part of Mr. White.” Hermione muttered.
Now both of Minerva’s eyebrows had climbed unusually far into her hairline.
“Ms. Granger, you mean to tell me you assigned Gryffindor prefects to keep tabs on a single student?” she asked, half amused, half infuriated by Hermione’s stubbornness.
“Not ‘to keep tabs.’ Simply to check in every now and then, to make sure William’s doing alright. I constantly try to talk to him to see if there is anything I can do, but he seems terrified or conversation.” She mused.
Narcissa could not contain a snort of laughter, which earned her a glare from the brunette.
“My apologies, Ms. Granger…. But I believe we’ve arrive at the crux of the matter.”
Hermione folded her arms against her chest in denial.
“Oh, and that would be?”
Narcissa rolled her eyes. How could such a brilliant witch not see what was right in front of her?
“Ms. Granger… You with your covert observations, you little spies, your constant badgering for him to speak to you when he is clearly not willing, your over-willingness to be of use… don’t you see?”
Hermione refused to answer, but Narcissa had seen understanding dawn in those mocha-brown eyes.
“Ms. Granger… you’ve scared the boy.”
Hermione huffed as she walked around the castle in her nightly walk, thinking of the past week. She wanted the ground to open up and swallow her deep into the earth over the whole William White thing. After the strange meeting a few days before, she had grilled Neville, Flitwick, even Krum – all of them had assured her that what Black and McGonagall had told her was quite true. The young Muggleborn was doing just fine, it seemed. Except in her class.
Part of her felt hurt – surely William could understand; he had to be aware that she was only trying to help him.
Although perhaps setting Gryffindor Prefects after him was probably not the most brilliant strategy.
She sighed as she strolled over the beaten path leading to the school greenhouses. The full moon shone brightly enough that she had no need for a Lumos to guide her steps. Hermione enjoyed those midnight walks – they were a habit developed when she was still plagued by nightmares of a certain Death Eater. It had started as pacing her room like a caged animal, then it gradually evolved to full-blown walks around Muggle London. Being enveloped in the midst of Muggle nightlife, with its sounds and smells served as a blanket, cocooning her away from the furious scratching of a cursed knife and the screeched Cruciatus.
The walks were all she kept after therapy. Now they served less to shield her from her nightmares and more as a way to relax and wind down from a busy day. She enjoyed the stillness of a Hogwarts night.
She was just passing one of the greenhouses kept by Neville when she noticed movement from within. Hermione sighed; so much for stillness.
The greenhouse in question was none other than the one reserved for Faculty. Since she was quite certain none of her colleagues would be down at this time of night, the intruders were bound to be some foolhardy students on a quest for adventure or pranks.
Hermione smirked as she unsheathed her wand and slowly made her way in; all they would get would be a deduction of points. Maybe a detention, since they dared interrupt the quietude of her midnight stroll, even if unwittingly.
The glass-paned space was a maze of greenery cast in the gloomy blue light of the full moon. Hermione almost scoffed at the chaotic nature of the place. How Neville was able to get any work done in such chaos was well and truly beyond her.
The young professor heard faint whispering coming from further back. She slowly and stealthily made her way in the direction of the sound, where Neville’s worktables were situated. As she came and closer, she felt a strong smell of eucalyptus – soon followed by the sounds of a cauldron clearly on a boil and the snipping of gardening shears.
Who would be brewing potions in Neville’s greenhouse? The Herbology professor was quite inept at potion-brewing, so there was very little reason for such an activity to be taking place in his domain.
Hermione was about to make her presence known to whomever was there after hours, when a sudden smattering of light made her stop in her tracks. There to the side, at Neville’s workspace, patiently snipping the buds off a Monkshood plant, was Narcissa Black.
It took Hermione a second to realize that reflective gleam that stopped her was nothing other than Narcissa’s platinum-blonde hair illuminated by moonlight. The witch was totally devoted to the task at hand, murmuring incantations as she gingerly collected the snipped buds in a large glass phial. The young professor noticed how the youngest Black’s mesmerizing blue eyes seemed to glitter in concentration.
She looked nothing like the rest of her family, Hermione mused, thinking of one Black in particular. Bellatrix Lestrange’s crazed eyes, dark as coal, would never stop haunting her for as long as she lived. Andromeda was practically a copy of her eldest sister; so much so Hermione had had difficulty interacting with the woman immediately after the war.
Narcissa was the polar opposite of the other two, with her light hair and eyes. While different, those eyes also haunted Hermione’s dreams occasionally. They stared, unflinching, as Bellatrix Lestrange straddled and mutilated her; other times they gazed, moist with unshed tears, in the aftermath of it all.
Before she could stop to think about it, Hermione found herself face to face with those blue orbs as they found her within the bushes.
“Oh!” exclaimed Narcissa in surprise, dropping the phial she held in her delicate hands. The sound of shattering glass broke Hermione out of her musings.
“My apologies” she said regretfully, waving her wand over the mess that now sparkled on the ground. The phial reconstructed itself, the Monkshood buds falling neatly inside. With another wand-flick Hermione levitated it back into Narcissa’s waiting hands. “I saw movement inside and… I thought students were breaking in.” she explained.
Narcissa murmured her thanks, setting the phial down at one of the worktables, next to the bubbling cauldron Hermione had heard and smelled earlier. She seemed uneasy with the brunette, and silently worked on separating some of the buds she gathered for the brewing mixture.
“I didn’t mean to interrupt” Hermione said, carefully stepping closer to the witch. She sniffed the air, the scent of eucalyptus definitively came from Narcissa’s cauldron.
“What are you brewing, if you don’t mind me asking?” she said, stepping over to the other side of the worktable to get a glimpse of the cauldron. Narcissa smiled slightly at the younger witch’s curiosity.
“Wideye Potion” she said, carefully stirring the mixture. “I prefer to add fresh monkshood at this stage of brewing. My fifth years depleted my supply in class this morning, so Mr. Longbottom kindly offered some of his.” Narcissa explained, waving her hand over the cauldron in a silent incantation.
Hermione cocked an eyebrow.
“And the eucalyptus smell?” she asked. Wideye Potion was notoriously foul-smelling. Narcissa’s smile widened.
“Eucalyptus oil masks the rather nauseating smell and taste of this potion. Not to mention, in the right quantities, it can counteract the jitters that often come as a side-effect to its ingestion.”
Hermione could not suppress the expression of surprise at that little tidbit. She was not too bad a potion-maker herself, but the subject never fascinated her as much as most of the others she had studied at Hogwarts. She was a woman of results; she had not the patience to monitor potions over insanely long brew times or work out the minutia in ingredients – regardless of her precocious dealings with Polyjuice. So, while she vouched for the usefulness and tremendous importance of the discipline, she was more than satisfied with retaining her above-NEWT level of knowledge on it.
“Huh. I would not have thought of that.” She confessed, genuinely impressed. Narcissa let out a chuckle.
“Come, now. I’m sure the Brightest Witch of Her Age would have thought of something.” She said.
“Maybe, but I was never too fond of Potions. It’s a fascinating subject, just not my area of expertise.”
Narcissa seemed shocked.
“Is that so? I would have thought you made any area your area of expertise.”
“It wouldn’t do to tarnish my image as the Brains of the Golden Trio now, would it? But between us two, I was never too keen on Divination either – don’t tell anyone” Hermione said, glad that whatever initial tension there was previously had now evaporated.
“My lips are sealed” Narcissa said.
Hermione looked at the materials and ingredients spread out on the worktable, then up, towards the glass ceiling. One of the panes was open, showering the area with unobstructed moonlight.
“It’s a beautiful moon.” She commented.
Narcissa nodded her agreement. “Yes; I thought I would finish brewing in the moonlight. The full moon amplifies the magical properties of Monkshood; I expect this batch to be especially potent.”
“For Wideye Potion, you said? Why are you brewing it; is it part of the curriculum?”
Narcissa paused the incantation she had been whispering over the smoke, hesitating.
“No” she finally said. “This batch is for my own use.”
Hermione frowned at that. Generally, Wideye was used for awakening unconscious patients. Faints, sleeping potions, concussions, even as an antidote for the Draught of the Living Dead. She wondered what sort of use Narcissa would make of it.
“A certain amount of Wideye Potion prevents the drinker from sleeping.” The blonde said, as if she had read Hermione’s mind. The statement only served to further confuse the brunette, but Narcissa kept on. “I prefer it over a Dreamless Draught.” She murmured, so low Hermione could barely hear her.
The younger witch’s brow only furrowed more deeply at the statement. She had plenty of reasons to avoid sleep; she wondered what Narcissa’s were. Probably some on the other side of the coin as her own.
“Additionally,” Narcissa continued, looking at anywhere but Hermione “this potion, unlike the Dreamless Draught, has no addictive properties.”
“Everyone needs sleep at some point.” Hermione said, speaking from experience.
“Indeed. Complete physical exhaustion is what makes the prolonged use of this potion an unwise decision. But once it comes to that… There is no need for a Dreamless Draught.” She all but whispered.
A heavy silenced reigned for a few minutes. Hermione remembered how she’d gotten to the point of drinking five to six phials of Dreamless Draught every night – anything to stop the nightmares. She had it so often the customary half-phial was not cutting it; so she upped her dosage to one phial, then two, then three… When the Healers at St. Mungo’s refused to prescribe it to her, she started brewing it herself. It was to this day the one and only potion she could make with absolutely no recipe – she knew it like the back of her hand.
“I used to take Dreamless Draught. Every night for a long time.” She said, almost to herself.
“Yeah…” the brunette said sheepishly. “Shouldn’t have done it; I mean, I knew it is not meant to be used for more than a week, but… There was no other way to… The nightmares, they were just so real.” She murmured, unsure how the conversation had gone in this taboo direction. She looked at Narcissa; she had stopped her potion-making.
“Desperate times call for desperate measures. I imagine you, of all people, have dreams you would rather forget.” Narcissa whispered, so softly that Hermione wasn’t sure she had meant to say it at all.
“Yes.” She said simply. “What about you?” she asked, because damn her curiosity would never let her not ask it. “What sort of dreams make you chase sleep itself away?”
Narcissa let out a bitter chuckle.
“Much of the same as you, I suppose, as well as many other things. I’ve lived a lifetime of dreams to plague my sleep.” The blonde said.
Hermione was at a loss. Why was she talking of dreams – no, why was she talking of nightmares with someone who featured so prominently in her own?
“I dream of your sister” she said suddenly. Narcissa’s gaze snapped back to hers in shock at the admission. “Some nights, I feel her weight on me. I hear her screaming at me, and I feel her magic – I feel her Crucio like that day, all over again. I feel her k-knife, her knife, cutting into m-my arm, and you” she raised a shaky hand to point accusingly at Narcissa “were there, you were there and you looked straight a-a-at m-me” she continued in a strangled stutter, her thoughts swirling out of control. The last thing she wanted was to have a panic attack in the presence of Narcissa Black, but that was exactly what was happening. The greenhouse seemed to get darker, as if the moon had waned in an instant, and suddenly she began to struggle to breathe. She felt her blood thundering in her ears as her breaths came in increasingly shorter gasps; her arm began to throb, her Mudblood scar feeling like it had been slashed anew.
Suddenly she felt two hands gripping her shoulders with unbelievable strength. It hurt, it hurt to the point of bruising, but the pain grounded her, yanking her back from the whirlwind of emotion she had begun to cycle through.
“I did” Narcissa breathed, her face impossibly close. Those eyes, those blue eyes that watched as Hermione suffered were merely inches away from her own, and the brunette could see nothing but the sea of blue. “I stood there. I watched as my sister, as my own blood tortured a child and I did nothing. I hear her too, in my dreams. Every night since that night I hear not only my sister, but you. It is your screams that torment not only my dreams, but my every waking moment. They will until the day that I die.”
Narcissa’s sudden proximity was enough to stop Hermione’s breakdown. Hermione looked intently at the older witch, looked right at those blue eyes welling up with tears. It was only once she noticed Narcissa’s welled up tears that she felt the wet heat running down her own cheeks.
“Why?” she gasped.
Narcissa’s grip relaxed slightly. Hermione could tell she was trying to rebuild her defenses, desperately trying to don her Ice Queen mask and failing.
“I lack the courage you Gryffindors take so much pride on. I did it for my family in the end, but at what cost? If family is such a noble thing, how come not a day goes by that I don’t remember that moment in shame?”
Hermione’s breathing had calmed down, though her pulse was still racing. Narcissa had yet to let go of her.
“You apologized to me. After the trials.” She said. Why did it sound like an accusation?
Narcissa closed her eyes. She had never looked so vulnerable, so broken.
“I did. There is nothing I can ever do or say to warrant your forgiveness. I vowed I would never seek it. But you needed to know, I needed you to see that I am not as cold as the world may make me seem.” She said, finally letting go of Hermione’s shoulders.
The brunette took a few deep breaths. This was precisely the kind of situation she tried to avoid so desperately in her nightly walks.
“I’m sorry.” She said.
Narcissa looked at her, puzzled. “Why in Salazar’s name are you apologizing?”
Hermione gestured vaguely around her own person. “For all of… this, what just happened. It doesn’t happen so often anymore, but…”
Narcissa nodded in understanding. “I understand. Miss Granger, please do not hesitate to let me or the Headmistress know if my presence here undermines your…”
“It’s fine! It’s fine, damnit, when will people stop coddling me like this!” Hermione suddenly snapped. She immediately regretted the outburst upon seeing Narcissa’s shocked expression. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I… It’s fine, Narcissa. You’re a qualified Potions teacher, and we need one. I don’t have a problem with it.”
“Very well” Narcissa said, thankfully dropping the subject.
The two remained silent for several moments. Narcissa went back to her Wideye Potion, while Hermione leaned against the table, wiping at her wet cheeks and wondering why she couldn’t just walk out of the greenhouse and leave the older witch to her affairs. They had nothing left to say to one another, had they? But it was as if her feet were planted on the ground along with all the shrubbery.
With nothing to add to whatever conversation they had, Hermione looked at Narcissa work. She was staring, she knew, but the other witch truly did not seem to mind, or was ignoring her completely.
It was as if not a day had gone by since Hermione first saw her. She knew that witches and wizards aged somewhat differently than muggles, but even then… Narcissa seemed untouched by age. Her shimmering blonde hair was longer than Hermione remembered, and she always wore it down; it reached the small of her back in silky tresses. She was the picture of elegance and grace – an observation that had Hermione holding in a scoff. Of course; born into Wizarding aristocracy and married into more Wizarding aristocracy. She was bound to have had etiquette lessons or the like.
Hermione watched as the older witch carefully and methodically went about her brewing. She had perfectly manicured, dainty hands, and those hands were not finely chopping the monkshood buds with such ability Hermione was momentarily entranced by the movement of the knife.
As much as Bellatrix Black was dark, Narcissa was fair; as fair as melting snow. Maybe that was also why people called her the Ice Queen. Hermione chuckled: one thing had most definitely changed: Narcissa no longer carried the expression of someone who had just smelled something foul.
“What’s so funny?” Narcissa asked, her brow furrowed in concentration as she weighed the chopped monkshood on a small scale.
“Oh, nothing. I was just remembering the first time we met.” Hermione said, chuckling even harder at Narcissa’s confused expression.
“You and me?” she asked, bewildered at Hermione’s confirmation. “Not a particularly amusing memory, in my recollection.” She said, her voice heavy with shame.
“Not particularly” Hermione agreed. “But Harry had a way of describing the… expression you had.”
Narcissa cocked an eyebrow, urging the brunette to go on.
“It’s awful, really” Hermione said, trying hard to contain her laughter now. “Not to mention immature; but we were teenagers, and, well, you were the enemy” she explained. “He said you looked like you looked as if you had just sniffed some dung.” Narcissa’s stunned look only served to release the peals of laughter she had been trying so hard to hold in. “I am awfully sorry” she added quickly.
To her utter surprise, Narcissa let out a good chuckle herself.
“Mr. Potter’s observation does not surprise me.” She confessed, to Hermione’s astonishment. “The ‘mask of preeminence,’ as my late mother called it. Many Pureblooded families practiced this air of disgust for the world around them; as if we were far too perfect for it.” She said, a bit of guilt in her voice. “I was always quite good at it, but someone completely unexpected surpassed me in the practice.” She said.
Hermione couldn’t help it, she was curious. “Who managed such a feat?”
Narcissa smiled wickedly. “Draco, of course.”
Hermione let out an inelegant guffaw. It was funny because it was true; Draco had inherited his father’s sneer and his mother’s haughtiness. It was no contest.
The two witches fell into silence once again, though this time it felt as if a heavy fog had been cleared from the air around them. Hermione still leaned against the table, following Narcissa’s every move with her eyes.
Said witch added the last of the monkshood to her now simmering cauldron, stirring it gently so as not to disturb the mixture excessively. After a few minutes, a flick of her wand put out the fire under the cauldron, and another wave cooled the substance, now an iridescent blue. She turned to her silent companion.
“Would you mind helping me bottle these, Miss Granger?” she asked politely.
Hermione nodded, glad to be of use. Narcissa summoned several phials from a box by the table; they clattered in the air before neatly arranging themselves in rows on the tabletop. Hermione grabbed a ladle and got to work.
They worked diligently and silently for a few minutes. Hermione idly wondered what time it was, but felt no desire to leave just yet. Instead she bottled and labelled phial after phial; Narcissa had brewed quite a large batch. It made Hermione think about how much she used it.
“I remember my first-ever Potions lesson as a first-year” Narcissa spoke softly after a few moments. “I imagine Slughorn didn’t expect much of me; I had two brilliant sisters, it was unlikely that I would eclipse them. But I had read ahead. I was insufferable; I wanted to answer all the questions. At the end, poor Horace had to pull me aside. ‘Miss Black’ he said. ‘My dearest Miss Black, please do leave at least one question for your fellow students’.” She said. It was clearly a fond memory, as the corners of her mouth tugged into a slight smile.
Hermione couldn’t help a smile of her own.
“I believe I was quite insufferable as well… An ‘insufferable know-it-all’, as Snape put it at the time.”
“Severus always lacked tact… and some basic manners. It didn’t help that he disliked children with such intensity.”
“Not at all… Though some other teachers were a bit exasperated with my hand going up every time they asked a question” Hermione said with a chuckle. Narcissa smiled openly.
“I understand the feeling well. I read all of my textbooks before term had even begun. Bell… My sisters were afraid I’d be sorted into Ravenclaw.”
Hermione noticed the near slip, but chose to ignore it. Narcissa was obviously trying to avoid mentioning Bellatrix for her sake.
“I remember when I got my letter.” She said. She had never told this to anyone, but could not fathom why she wanted to share it with Narcissa Black of all people. “McGonagall came to explain it to mum and dad. I cried for two days straight.”
“I suppose it was a shock.” Narcissa said diplomatically.
“Yes. But not in the way you might think.” Hermione said. “When Minerva came and explained it all… explained me… it was like pieces of a puzzle falling into place. I had always known I was different. And then there was the answer: I wasn’t broken, I wasn’t a freak. I was a witch.”
Narcissa smiled, though she was deep in thought. She would never know such a deep feeling of displacement, of not belonging. She fought a frown at the thought of how many had tasted belonging only to have it ripped away by the blood purity ideals she herself subscribed to for most of her life.
“Hogwarts was… it felt like coming home. It didn’t last long.” Hermione added sadly, to Narcissa’s surprise.
“Kids are mean, muggle or magical. I was a freak, a buck-toothed, insufferable know-it-all.” She explained. “Even Harry and Ron didn’t want to be friends with me. That is, until a troll changed everything” she recalled with a smile.
“Ah, the troll in the bathroom incident.” Narcissa commented.
“How do you know about that?” Hermione asked.
“Draco told us about the talk of the school in a letter or two. You featured so prominently in his letters we worried he fancied you.” She admitted, laughing at Hermione’s bewilderment.
“I suppose the heir to the Malfoy family falling for a Muggleborn would have been cause for alarm.” Hermione snipped humorously, taking care to let her tone show she meant it in jest.
“Quite” Narcissa agreed, a hint of shame back into her eyes. “I like to think he and I have grown, as a family and as people since the war.” She murmured softly. Hermione smiled.
“Draco was the first person to call me a mudblood.” She said, raising a hand to stop Narcissa from interfering. “He was the first, but obviously not the last. But Draco was also the first to call attention to my friends when I went off the deep end.”
Narcissa was shocked by this, but she supposed it made sense. She knew her son and Hermione had been on much better terms, going so far as to work together in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. That was all she knew.
“And you… I know what you’re researching with Neville. I know of your plans for Black Manor, and I’ve read your medicinal research on The Practical Potioneer. I believe you both have grown, Narcissa.”
Narcissa had no words, besides a softly spoken thank you. Suddenly bashful, she went back to bottling the last of her potion. Neither witch spoke until the cauldron was empty and dozens of phials had been arranged on the countertop, glittering in the moonlight.
“Speaking of growth” Hermione said suddenly “I wanted to apologize for my comment back at our first staff meeting. The… viper talk.”
Narcissa shrugged, even this she did elegantly somehow.
“No matter. I won’t say we Slytherins don’t deserve it.” She conceded.
“Maybe, but I should have handled it better. I just… I worry about William White” Hermione confessed.
“It is understandable. How could you not? You know exactly what he is going through. You know his predicament better than most.”
“You’re his Head of House; you see his interactions within his House more clearly than I can. How is he?” Hermione dared ask. Narcissa smiled in understanding.
“He has befriended the Wyndham boy, a half-blood, with whom he shares his dormitory. I do not know how his relations are with the others in his dormitory, but he seems to maintain a cordial relationship with most other half-bloods. I know some children from older families are reluctant, but there have been no issues thus far.”
“That seems… Too good to be true.” Hermione blurted out. “I’m sorry” she added quickly, but Narcissa waved her off.
“I agree, to a point. I’m not naïve enough to think that Mr. White’s transition will be totally uneventful.” She turned to look deeply into Hermione’s eyes. “However, we must not make mountains out of mole-hills. By singling him out, he becomes a target – for what, we have yet to find out, and I hope we never do. But for now, things must go as they are – though I believe it would be good if you let him show his worth to you rather than pull it out of him.” She said gently.
Hermione huffed, not entirely happy about it.
“I know, I know… I… I just want to help him. I know I wished someone would have done the same for me when I was his age” she reasoned.
“Be that as it may, Miss Granger, you cannot treat William White as Hermione Granger would have liked to be treated. There is one great difference between you two” Narcissa countered.
“And that would be?”
Narcissa smiled; her voice was gentle, almost teasing.
“He may be a Muggleborn, Miss Granger, but he is still a Slytherin.”
Hermione always loved the turn of the seasons at Hogwarts; they always made the castle seem even more beautiful and grand, not to mention fresher, somehow. She liked the colors and smells of Autumn or the blossoming of spring as much as the next witch or wizard, but what she truly loved was the gradual descent into winter. There was something magical – she laughed at her own observation – about Hogwarts in the dead of winter. The grounds were blanketed with snow, and everything turned quiet… That is, until students started their merry snowball fights and other activities.
The weather was not quite winter-cold yet – November had only started, after all, but she could feel the beginning of changes in the wind. She could track the progression of the seasons quite beautifully from her office window; she had a perfect view of Neville’s greenhouses and the flora surrounding it.
She frowned, remembering her encounter with Narcissa at the greenhouse a few weeks prior. Hermione had been a little embarrassed by her loss of control, but to her credit, Narcissa had taken it in stride. They had even discussed William White.
William White. Hermione groaned, letting her head fall onto the quizzes she was grading with a painful thump.
Miraculously, after her little heart-to-heart with Narcissa, something had clearly changed with the boy. Hermione had called off the Gryffindor prefects she had tailing – checking in with – him, and stopped looking expectantly at him whenever they were in class. It seemed to help, as she recalled.
Hermione had been going over a few theoretical rules of Transfiguration, asking questions as she went, to make sure her students had been reading along. Many seemed to think transfiguration was simply some wand-waving with a clear vision of the end product; that could not be further from the truth.
She had made some question about one of the hardest physical qualities to translate in the transformation of one object to another. To her utter surprise, William White raised a tremulous hand in the air.
“Mr. White!” She all but gasped, clearly startling the boy, whose eyes widened.
“T-the, uh, the t-texture of a p-particular object can b-be tricky. A lot of people f-forget to visualize it.” He stammered, a furious flush creeping onto his cheeks at his every word.
Hermione must had had an utterly bewildered expression, because he only got redder when forgot to respond immediately. Her jaw hanging open was an unfortunate addition to said expression, but to be fair, it was the first time William White had opened his mouth in her class, save for attendance.
“Correct. Five points to Slytherin.” She finally gasped out – students were beginning to look concerned.
That was the first time, but certainly not the last, that William had been participative in her class. Nowadays, he always tried to answer questions; and always got the right answer, too. Incidentally, she remembered correcting his first quiz, and being so shocked by it she went to speak with him the day after – all answers were correct, down to the bonus question on the origins of the Transfiguration formulaic alphabet. It left Hermione puzzled. He was clearly ahead of the class in terms of reading, so how come his practical results were still below par, even if they were a little better than when he had started?
It was then that she started to realize something. In class practicals, she walked about the room, keeping an eye on the students’ work. Once, as they were trying to transform a match into a needle, she could tell William’s wandwork was close to perfect. Happy and intrigued, she immediately came closer, and as soon as she did, William looked like a deer caught in headlights and botched the last wand movement, creating only a slightly pointier match. He looked at her without a single word, she could only look back with the unsettling weight of her newly-discovered predicament.
She was scaring him!
She thumped her head onto her table again. After her realization, she took a few – or several steps back. Not that she wanted to, but as soon she started to almost ignore William White in practical lessons, the boy began to show results. They were not impeccable like his theoreticals, but they were far from reproach for a first year. In fact, Hermione could see that William White was decidedly average in her subject matter. Ironically, his main trouble lay in visualizing textures. It lead Hermione to come to two conclusions: one, William was simply not naturally gifted in Transfiguration. He’d be able to make good grades, but he would never be astounding. And two, and perhaps most unnervingly, Narcissa had been right on the bloody mark.
Hermione sighed, rubbing her forehead. She had wanted to pull the other witch aside and thank her, but actually speaking to Narcissa Black had proven to be an exercise in futility. The older witch had disappeared from meal times ever since their last encounter. Hermione knew she was still obviously at Hogwarts; they ran across each other every now and then and Potions lessons were still happening.
Clearly the witch was avoiding her. So Hermione decided to try alternative methods. She had gone back to the greenhouse, only to find Neville happily fertilizing some disgustingly stinky pots – it made her miss the eucalyptus smell. She went to Narcissa’s classroom, only to find it locked. She had even gone so far as to try to corner her after a staff meeting, but the witch seemed to always have some pressing matter to attend to.
So, with nowhere to turn to, she had asked Neville – he had spoken of his and Narcissa’s research and how well it was progressing. He was shocked she had even asked.
“Oh? She’s probably trying to give you some space, make you more comfortable. She knows it’s not easy for you, having her here.” He said, tucking into his shepherd’s pie contently.
His response had Hermione seeing red. She had specifically told the woman she did not wish to be treated any differently! She was also inexplicably hurt Narcissa had deliberately gone out of her way to avoid her.
Hermione had left the staff table immediately after dinner, intent on seeing the witch whatever the cost. She would camp out in her office if need be.
She had just turned the corner on her way there when she ran into none other than William White himself. They nearly collided with each other; William was so startled that he dropped a phial of what looked to be Albanian pepper grounds, judging by their bright purple color.
Hermione groaned. She was on a roll for shattering phials.
“Ms. Granger!! I’m sorry, ma’am, I did not see where I was going, and…”
She waved a hand in dismissal, flicking her wand impatiently. William’s eyes followed the phial with interest as it reassembled itself, grounds and all, and floated back into his arms.
“No need to apologize, Mr. White. I was in a rush.” She looked at his bounty. “I see you have a lot of Potion ingredients there; have you been to see Professor Black?” She asked, trying to sound as gentle as possible.
“Yes, ma’am” he said, nodding a little too fast. “She was giving me some ingredients for our Hiccoughing Potion” he explained.
“So she is in her office?” she inquired.
“Yes, ma’am, I was just there.” He confirmed.
“Splendid. Thank you, Mr. White, have a pleasant evening” she said as he scurried away. With confirmation Narcissa was present at her office, her effort to confront the witch was renewed.
The door to Narcissa’s office was slightly ajar, which was why Hermione walked straight in after a courtesy knock which had been merely a formality; she was a woman on a mission. Thus, it was quite vexing to find it completely empty. She looked towards the desk; there were a few papers scattered across its surface.
“Ms. Black?” she called tentatively, furrowing her brow when she received no response. “Narcissa?” she tried again.
When no answer was forthcoming, Hermione walked over to the desk. There was nothing interesting; the papers were Potions quizzes Narcissa had probably been in the middle of grading before William White showed up.
The boy had left with some ingredients; perhaps Narcissa was still in the stockroom. Hermione made her way there – Narcissa had obviously rearranged the office, so much so that she was not sure which door actually led to the Potions stockroom.
Just in case, she knocked on the door to the left of the other witch’s desk. It creaked open, so Hermione took that as an invitation. The room she had walked into was dark, with only the light of the moon peering in through the half-closed windows. It smelled faintly of eucalyptus.
The fireplace roared to life, and candles floating all around the space lit themselves. Hermione realized these were Narcissa’s private quarters, her sitting room to be exact. The rational Hermione Granger told her to leave immediately, but the annoyingly curious Hermione Granger was held in place by the comfortable room, with its fireplace, several bookshelves, and comfy chairs.
Her eyes snapped to one of the aforementioned chairs in complete and utter shock. There, sleeping soundly on the chair cushion, was a beautiful white fox. Hermione tilted her head in confusion; she had never seen Narcissa with a familiar before. The fox was obviously quite comfortable: its chest moved slowly up and down and again as it snored softly.
Hermione turned away from the animal, resisting the urge to run her fingers through its beautiful, snow white coat. She looked to the bookshelves and the walls, instead. They were filled with heavy tomes, most having something or other to do with potions. Moste Potente Potions, Bewildering Brews, Brewing for Healers, Perilous Potions…
The Gryffindor could never resist books. She turned away from one shelf to more closely examine the other, accidentally brushing by a stack of books that rested precariously on the edge of a side-table. The entire stack came down with resounding thuds; and the sudden noise woke the sleeping fox – it stared straight at Hermione through narrow slits in its icy blue eyes.
Hermione groaned as she leaned down to pick them up. Upon further inspection, she realized the heavy stack was composed not of books, but photo albums. She figured it out as she picked the first one up by its binding, only to have a flurry of loose photographs fall out from between the pages.
“Bugger, bugger, bugger, shit!” she cursed under her breath, lowering herself even further to gather all the pictures.
The first one her hand came into contact with had her drawing in a surprised breath. It was a black and white shot of a heavily pregnant Narcissa. She was wearing a black sleeping gown of some sort; an opening at the front showed her swollen belly, which she caressed tenderly, a serene smile gracing her features, partially hidden by her flowing golden locks. She stood by huge windows, no doubt at Malfoy Manor, as the rays of the afternoon sun peered into the room, giving the entire photo a pleasantly ethereal feeling as it shimmered off her hair.
Hermione shuddered – she knew she should not be looking. These were obviously private. And yet, as she picked up picture after picture, she could not help giving almost every one of them at least a second look.
Another picture showed Narcissa and Lucius, obviously on their wedding day. Hermione had to admit, the two made a strikingly beautiful couple. Narcissa looked absolutely radiant in her intricately ornate white dress. Lucius Malfoy was smiling, and Hermione was astonished by how genuinely happy they both seemed to be. As far as she knew, the Malfoy marriage had been arranged, like so many other Pureblooded unions. And yet, the young pair – Narcissa looked not a day over seventeen – were positively beaming, exchanging loving glances with one another before looking back at the photographer.
Hermione gasped at another picture. It was the wedding, still, but now Narcissa and Lucius were joined by their respective families. Hermione could easily recognize Malfoy’s strong genes in his father; the two looked exactly alike, and she knew Draco, too, had inherited the looks. Narcissa’s father, Cygnus Black, looked extremely proud, her mother, Druella, a bit more understated, but still happy. It was the two other people in the picture that had Hermione gasping; they were none other than Bellatrix and Rodolphus Lestrange.
It was unbelievably odd, to see Bellatrix before Azkaban, and how beautiful she had once been. If she thought Andromeda looked like her sister before, the picture made them look like twins – though Andromeda was noticeably absent from the photo, as she had likely already been blasted off the Black tapestry for eloping at that stage. Still, Bellatrix smiled confidently to the camera, a happy look on her face, something Hermione did not think possible for the dark witch. Rodolphus, a handsome young man, had his arms around her waist from behind, and the two raised their glasses to the new couple, who looked on appreciatively.
She quickly put that picture behind the others; for some reason seeing a human version of Bellatrix made her feel uneasy inside.
The next picture had her holding in a laugh. Draco, no more than a toddler, whizzed by in and out of frame on a toy broom, giggling happy. Narcissa, sitting on an easy-chair reading a book, was startled every time the boy zoomed past her; Lucius, looking every bit the proud father, openly laughed as he cheered his son on.
How strange it was, to see the lives of her past enemies in such a way. For some reason, Hermione had always imagined them in stiff Pureblood dinners to the sound of screams in their dungeons, in darkened rooms full of Dark artifacts, possibly torturing someone as entertainment later. She knew it wasn’t logical or accurate by any means, but it was still a shock to her system.
The last picture was clearly the oldest from the bunch Hermione had disturbed; it featured the three Black sisters in their childhood home, or so she guessed. Bellatrix was the only one wearing her Hogwarts robes, which led Hermione to believe that was her first year at the school. A five or six year-old Narcissa was on her back; Bellatrix seemed perfectly happy with giving her youngest sister a piggyback ride, which felt surreal to Hermione. Andromeda, one or two years younger than Bellatrix, stood close to them, brushing Narcissa’s blonde hair out of her eyes as the three sisters laughed.
“To what to I owe the pleasure of this unexpected visit, Ms. Granger?” called a voice from behind her.
“Ah!” Hermione exclaimed, none-too-gently tossing the albums onto the table in her fright. She whipped around to see Narcissa, perfectly poised on the chair the fox had previously been lying on, a cocked eyebrow in waiting for a response. Hermione at once recognized the fox’s icy blue eyes as Narcissa’s.
Her brain cycled through thousands of possible excuses to her clear invasion of privacy. Her mouth, however, was determined to disappoint her.
“You’re an Animagus!” she blurted out.
Narcissa smirked wickedly as she slowly stood up.
“My, my, Ms. Granger. Surely a Transfigurations Professor of your caliber would be remiss not to check the Ministry’s Animagus Registry every now and then.” She drawled.
Hermione flushed in embarrassment. How come she had never thought of that?
Narcissa stopped right in front of Hermione, her eyes resting upon the photo albums the brunette had disturbed earlier. A few photos had slid back out in Hermione’s fearful disposal.
“Ms. Black, allow me to apolo…” Hermione began, only to be interrupted by a finger wagging in her direction.
“You might as well call me Narcissa. It seems you got to know me rather intimately just now.” She accused, though her tone held no censure.
Hermione sighed, furiously trying to fight the intensifying rush of blood to her cheeks.
“Narcissa.” She said, amazed at how easily the name rolled off her tongue. “I am so very sorry for… for” she stammered out, somehow unable to complete her sentence. Narcissa leaned closer, and her hand found one of the pictures that had slid out once again from the album; it was one that Hermione hadn’t quite seen as she gathered them all. It showed a young Narcissa and her husband dancing thorough an illuminated garden – again, possibly in Malfoy Manor. They were beaming. With the witch so close, Hermione finally noticed the deep dark circles under her glassy eyes. The blonde looked like she hadn’t slept in weeks – possibly due to that enormous batch of Wideye Potion Hermione had helped her bottle.
“You look very happy in that photo.” She had meant to think it, not say it, but the words simply came out. Narcissa gave her a small smile.
“Yes. I was.” She murmured and turned to Hermione. “I suppose it comes as a shock to you, seeing all these people you know as despicable creatures having happy, normal lives.” She commented offhandedly, delicately nestling the photo between the pages of the album.
“I don’t find you despicable.” Hermione whispered. Narcissa did not look at her, but gave a sad laugh in response.
“Perhaps not now, Ms. Granger, but that was not always the case. Just like most of these people you saw” she motioned towards the albums “You once considered me a monster.”
Hermione began to retort, but Narcissa waved her off.
“I do not blame you for the feeling. We all did monstrous things; to you and others like you.”
“You didn’t.” the brunette muttered half-heartedly. Narcissa scoffed derisively.
“You are no fool, Ms. Granger. Please do not act like one.” she said, grasping Hermione’s arm and tenderly pushing away the sleeve to reveal the scar her sister had slashed into the Muggleborn’s skin. Hermione shivered as she felt the chill of Narcissa’s hands tracing the cursed wound.
“I did not do this to you, but I might as well have.” The blonde said coolly, gingerly letting go. Hermione suddenly felt bereft. “I keep these pictures to remind myself no one is born a monster.” Her voice turned severe. “None of us was. Not even Bellatrix. We were all made into despicable people – do not think this excuses our actions, because it does quite the opposite.” Her eyes now seemed to glow as they reflected the light of the fireplace. “It shows we made the wrong choices.”
Hermione trembled at the intensity of Narcissa’s expression, suddenly out of breath.
“But you changed your mind in the end.” She breathed.
Narcissa didn’t answer, choosing instead to make her way back to her chair. Hermione followed, unsure.
“Have a seat, Ms. Granger.” The blonde said.
Hermione did, looking more and more uncomfortable by the second. It didn’t help that Narcissa ceased speaking completely – she looked pensively to the young professor. It finally compelled the Gryffindor to talk.
“I am very sorry about disturbing your evening.”
“That is quite alright, Ms. Granger. What is it that you wanted?” Narcissa asked, summoning a tea tray with a barely perceptible flick of her wand. Hermione accepted the tea cup that subsequently came floating her way.
“Firstly, I wanted to thank you for your… advice in dealing with the young William White. He seems to be doing much better now that I’ve, ah, stepped back.” She said, the flush to her cheeks returning once Narcissa smiled.
“That is quite good to hear. Mr. White shows great potential in so many areas, it would be a pity for him to be left behind in such an important subject as Transfiguration.” She replied.
Hermione was marginally surprised that Narcissa regarded her subject with importance; however, the feeling was quickly wiped away to the sound of a duh! in her head. Of course the witch would know the importance of Transfiguration; she was a bloody Animagus!
“I actually ran into William on my way here” Hermione said. “He had a lot of supplies with him.”
“Yes; unfortunately his family’s financial situation did not allow for him to purchase all of the ingredients and materials he will need, so I have been discreetly supplying them to him. One can always buy used books or cauldrons, but such a thing cannot be done for potion ingredients, and those can be quite dear.”
Hermione frowned. It was not uncommon for Muggleborns to have some difficulty buying their school supplies. They did not own any wizarding currency to begin with, and the exchange rates could be quite intimidating, especially considering muggle money was not gold-based. She was very thankful she had not run into this problem; her parents had been quite well off in their professions. She wondered how William must feel in Slytherin, a House notorious for so many of its wealthy students.
The two witches sat in silence, sipping their tea. Hermione could not help but notice how downtrodden and weary Narcissa looked; she had never seen the witch in such a state.
“You have been away from the Great Hall for a good while.” She mentioned. Narcissa let out a chuckle.
“Yes. I thought I would take a bit of time away after our last encounter.”
Hermione’s eyes widened. So she admitted it!
“Narcissa” she began, the name still a bit unfamiliar on her tongue “I’ve told you, you don’t need to remove yourself for my benefit. You belong at the Staff Table, along with all of us.”
The blonde gave her an unreadable expression, which worried Hermione.
“Ms. Granger” she began, her voice unusually aggravated, “what makes you think my absence was for your benefit?”
Hermione froze. What? Suddenly, it dawned on her.
Narcissa wasn’t avoiding her to spare her the discomfort of remembering that night. She was avoiding her to spare herself the nightmares. The realization came with a pang to her heart – the old Hermione Granger would have scoffed at her weakness; after all, didn’t Narcissa deserve the nightmares and whatever else came with them due to her past role – even if she had cast it aside when push came to shove?
The current Hermione Granger was hardened by war, and she had matured quite a bit – enough to not wish her nightmares even upon her worst enemy. And Narcissa was not that; not even close.
“I apologize for my presumption.” She said. Narcissa waved her off.
“It’s quite alright. Removing myself from your presence was a ludicrous idea to begin with; it helped very little, if not at all.” She confessed.
Hermione was saddened by the woman’s predicament. “Have you been taking the Wideye Potion?” she inquired. Narcissa nodded.
“Every night since that moon.” She replied simply. Hermione felt guilty; she had interrupted the witch’s first sleep in weeks. “The transformation helps, in a way” she continued. “The fox is not quite as burdened; it gives me a chance to rest.”
Hermione nodded in comprehension. She knew that an Animagus’ feelings, nature, and psyche were often different in their animal form. Sirius had used his to diminish the effects of the Dementors in Azkaban, so she was not surprised Narcissa used hers in a somewhat similar way.
“How long have you been an Animagus?” she found herself asking.
“I always wanted to try it. However, with the rise of the Dark Lord, I took a step back. I did not want to make myself particularly useful with any abilities. I was unsure if my rudimentary Occlumency skills would hold up to the Dark Lord’s probing.” She confessed.
Hermione was nothing short of stunned. Narcissa had held back powers that could have been useful to Voldemort from the very beginning. What did such a thing mean?
“You’re an Occlumens?” she prodded, impressed.
“Yes” Narcissa said. “The nature of my marriage, and in later years living with the Dark Lord in my own home made it an absolute necessity.” Her eyes narrowed. “The years provided me with ample time an opportunity to practice; so much so that Tom Riddle himself could not penetrate my thoughts.” She all but whispered.
Hermione wanted to say that was impressive. Harry had often complained of his Occlumency lessons with Snape, but she knew Voldemort had been a master Legilimens, which made Narcissa’s proficiency in Occlumency quite extraordinary. Hermione had attempted to learn some of it by reading, and got reasonably far. After the war, she tried to train with Kingsley Shacklebolt himself, only to give up a few months later. Her mind had been still too fragile after the war to endure repeated attacks, even if they came from a friend in the form of practice.
Narcissa suddenly looked intently at Hermione; her eyes gentle, but her voice tired.
“Ms. Granger, apologies for my rudeness, but if there is nothing else I may help you with, would you mind excusing yourself? I am quite tired and would like to retire myself for the evening” she said, not unkindly.
Hermione stood, nodding in understanding.
“Of course, Ms. Bla- Narcissa. Again, I am very sorry for disturbing your evening. I hope you have a good night’s rest and return to the Staff Table soon.” She turned to leave.
The last thing she saw as she turned to shut the door on her way out was the white fox, curled up where Narcissa had sat. It snored peacefully.
The year progressed much in the same way it usually went – when a power-hungry psychopath with a penchant for mass murder wasn’t in the cards, at least. There were the occasional surprises, such as the time when a couple of daring sixth years enchanted several portraits to whistle suggestively whenever Argus Filch passed by their frames. Besides the occasional detentions, Hermione was very pleased with how the term was going.
She and Narcissa had not spoken again after her intrusion. Though the blonde had since returned to the Staff Table looking well-rested and overall healthier, they had not exchanged more than the passing observation on the weather or on their students. William White, who had been cause for many of their past conversations, seemed to be doing rather well in general. He had yet to befriend any purebloods in his House, but thus far things seemed quiet, so there was reason for Hermione to inquire about him.
Hermione didn’t like their stilted conversations at present. She felt absolutely awful for invading Narcissa’s privacy the way she had, but the witch had waved off any further attempt at apologizing from the brunette. It left Hermione with an odd taste in her mouth and a strange feeling in the pit of the stomach. She wanted to get to know Narcissa. Hermione Granger did not like not understanding things, and Narcissa Black was one of the biggest enigmas she had encountered after she graduated Hogwarts.
It was around mid-December that Victor Krum approached her, completely derailing the thoughts she had over the Potions Professor.
“Professor Granger” he said, in his usual, fake pretentious tone. Hermione grinned. Ever since they had reunited as coworkers at Hogwarts, he had made a big show of always calling her ‘Professor Granger’ whenever they spoke. The joke was that it was much easier to pronounce than her first name, even though his English had much improved over the years.
“Professor Krum” she responded in kind “how may I be of assistance?”
“I had an idea that I would like to run by you. Have you got a minute?”
They moved to the teacher’s lounge on the second floor, a place Hermione had been astounded to find once she was just hired. She, like Harry and Ron, had thought they knew every inch of the castle – they had found the Chamber of Secrets, for Merlin’s sake! Then again, he supposed Hogwarts would never cease surprising her.
Krum led her to the comfiest chairs in the room, by the fireplace. The lounge was empty, except for themselves and Professor Everett, the Muggle Studies Professor, who was tinkering with what looked to be an alarm clock.
“The idea” he said as they sat, steaming mugs of tea popping onto the table before they could even think about it “is to provide students with more opportunities to engage in practical activities. A bit like extracurriculars.”
“Hm. What do you have in mind?”
“I want to reopen the Dueling Club.” He said.
Hermione sat back, intrigued.
“And I would love to have you help me run it.” He added.
Hermione immediately tensed up.
After the war, Gryffindor’s Golden girl had an excellent job at the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, a job that required a certain dexterity with her wand. She had always been a competent duelist, but the nature of her job made her pursue more practice in order to fine tune her skills. With the trauma of war still deeply affecting her, dueling provided a useful, physically strenuous activity that helped clear her mind in a way – the controlled environment at the Ministry’s Dueling Practice Range helped her separate the sportive aspect of dueling from its battle component. She could be calculating, she could strategize, and, most importantly, she could get things out of her system. For a good while, it kept her from going completely off the bend when her mental health deteriorated.
After Kingsley Shacklebolt saw her obliterate the one and only Harry Potter a few too many times in practice, her took her aside and asked if she had ever thought about trying out for local dueling tournaments.
She hadn’t, but the seed had been planted. After two months of practice, Hermione took first place the Greater London Duelling Tournament, and then again at the All-England Duelling Competition. Through the years, she had even gone to a few international competitions; she got second place in her first tournament with the Fédération Internationale des Duels in Lyon, just narrowly losing to an extraordinary veteran American duelist – the man had once lost to none other than Albus Dumbledore himself.
And so it was that Hermione retained a small collection of trophies and honors from her short-lived dueling career. When she resigned from her position at the DMLE, she decided to stop dueling as well – she wanted a more quiet, calmer life for herself, and she had found it in her post at her beloved school.
“I don’t know, Viktor” she said truthfully. “It’s just… it’s just not who I am anymore, you know? I’m done with all this intensity.”
“And I understand that, Hermione. But think about it – it would be madness to create a Dueling Club without at least the input of a war hero, the Brightest Witch of her Age, and an international dueling champion. Your guidance, at least, would be something wonderful for our students.” He argued.
“Well…” she started, her tone just as uncertain as it had been.
Viktor stopped her.
“Please, just tell me you’ll think about it?”
“Goodness gracious, Draco, what are you feeding this lovely boy? He’s growing like a weed!” Narcissa exclaimed as she bounced her grandson on her knee. Scorpius giggled happily as he grasped at his grandmother’s flowy locks.
“We’ve had our first encounter with accidental magic” Draco commented with a smile. Narcissa looked horrified.
“And you did not see it fit to write me about it?” She demanded.
“It only happened yesterday! I thought I’d tell you in person!” Her son defended. “He exploded all the taps in the townhouse; Astoria thought we’d never get the landing dry again.”
She smirked knowingly, looking down at Scorpius and his bright blue eyes.
“But of course you’re already up and at it, aren’t you, sweetheart? You’ll be a powerful wizard one day.” She cooed. As the little blonde boy busied himself with some paper cranes his father had enchanted, Narcissa turned back to her own son. She could tell Scorpius would look just like his father; those Malfoy genes were strong indeed. Though he had a little bit of Astoria’s nose.
“And how is Astoria?”
Draco sipped on his butterbeer. “She’s off in Albania pursuing a story. Something about an illegal werewolf fighting ring.”
Narcissa shuddered. Her daughter-in-law was a determined reporter for the Phoenix Gazette. Narcissa appreciated the woman’s tenacity, though she sorely wished her work did not have her travelling so often, especially in the pursuit of dangerous stories. Draco’s job was also no picnic. She worried for her grandson.
“And no word on that promotion to Editorial?” she prodded. Draco chuckled.
“I think even if it did come up, ‘Ria would have a hard time accepting it. She likes it in the field.” He explained.
Narcissa huffed. She didn’t blame the woman, but her grandmotherly instincts had to go somewhere.
“I so wish you two were at home more often. I worry about you and your jobs, why could you two not have something a little more… serene?”
Draco laughed. “I think we still want to get the action while we can. Don’t worry, mother, I’ll be up for promotion soon. And then, I promise, I’ll take a cushy desk job. How does that sound?”
She huffed. “Much better, in fact.”
“And besides,” Draco continued “Molly Weasley and the Potters are always happy to have him when we’re both out of town. It works out perfectly.”
When Draco began his work at the Ministry, he inevitably happened to work more and more often directly with the Golden Trio. He remembered the first day he walked into the office. Ronald Weasley came up to him, an odd look in his face.
“Weasl…” he couldn’t even finish. Ronald had immediately punched him square in the face, knocking him to the floor. Before Draco could even think of getting up, the ginger was already pulling him to his feet.
“That’s for being an absolute ferret all those years, Malfoy. Welcome to the DMLE.” He said, clapping Draco on the back.
Draco had not appreciated the broken nose, but it did help erase any residual tension that the War brought with him. After a year, he was actually on good terms with the Trio, especially – and perhaps most surprisingly, Hermione Granger. They had worked together on several cases.
Soon Draco found that friendship with the Golden Trio came with an entire red-headed family. He felt supremely awkward when Ronald casually extended an invitation for dinner at The Burrow, and even more so when Astoria convinced him to go. But nothing could have prepared him for the onslaught of kindness and understanding coming from the Weasley’s. It had been too much; he had to excuse himself, close to tears. Potter was the one to bring him back; his second chance had finally begun.
After their respective marriages and the birth of their first children, Draco and Harry became even closer. Ginny Potter and Molly Weasley regularly took Scorpius in whenever his own parents were taken out of town for their jobs, though Draco and Astoria did their best to minimize those instances.
Narcissa’s sad look took Draco out of his musings. He cocked an eyebrow.
“What is it, Mother?” he said, worried as he noticed his mother was on the brink of tears.
“Oh, Draco. I hope you do not think me a wretched grandmother.” She choked out.
Draco immediately panicked; his mother did not usually show this much emotion.
“Why would I ever think that? You’re a wonderful grandmother, you spoil him rotten!” he exclaimed, genuinely puzzled. Narcissa sniffed, getting her tears under control before the child in her lap noticed them.
“It should be me caring for him when you’re away. Merlin knows I do not do it as I should. What must Molly Weasley think of me, leaving my own grandson to her care when his father is away?” she sniffed.
Draco understood. He reached over their table to grasp his mother’s hand in his own.
“Oh, mother. Don’t trouble yourself. We understand. Molly understands.” He scooted closer. “You are busy yourself. You’re working on your Potions Mastery, you got a job – two jobs! And you are doing so much you could never do when you were my age. This is the first time you have ever been able to just live your life; nothing could make me happier than that.” He said truthfully. The change that had come about in his mother as she dedicated herself to her life was tremendous; it was the first time he had seen her happy for as long as he could remember. “And trust me, you spoil Scorpius enough already!” he said, hoping to brighten the mood.
“You haven’t seen anything yet, darling. As soon as this little munchkin can get on a broom, he’s getting all the best ones!” she proclaimed, letting the subject drop. She did feel like an inadequate grandmother at times, but Draco had been her biggest supporter as she followed dreams she couldn’t have followed in her younger years. He understood she was making up for lost time.
“Just what we need, another Quidditch fanatic in the family.” Draco rolled his eyes.
“What, with you and Astoria both having a history of playing, did you truly think this boy has any other choice?” Narcissa joked. “He’ll make a fine Chaser. Perhaps a Seeker, too. I’ll accept anything other than a Beater.”
“No doubt he will. He’s a Malfoy! And I can bet Potter’s kid will play as well. They will create the biggest Malfoy-Potter rivalry – in the pitch, that is.” He joked back. Scorpius giggled at the proclamation.
Mother and son took some more time chatting. Since she took her post at Hogwarts, Narcissa had not had the opportunity to speak with her son other than their almost daily correspondence. He had a rare long weekend off, so he had taken Scorpius to Hogsmeade to see his grandmother. They talked for hours at The Three Broomsticks; Narcissa told him about William White, the Muggleborn in Slytherin, as well as her classes and research. She did not mention her continuous batches of Wideye Potion.
“I’m glad this William kid seems to be doing well. No trouble thus far, then?” Draco said as Mme. Rosmerta brought them tea.
“None as of yet. There are whisperings, of course. Some Pureblooded students are… surprised, still. But it seems Mr. White’s academic skill, and the points he’s won for Slytherin, have put him in the good graces of many of his Housemates.”
“That is good to hear. What about your side-project with Longbottom? I hear Black Manor is almost ready?” Draco inquired. Narcissa had tirelessly worked with Neville Longbottom and St. Mungos Wizarding Hospital to transform her childhood estate into a Wizarding Mental-Wellness Ward. As far as he knew, his mother expected it to be done by Christmas. Apparently, she had had a lot of fun getting rid of all of her family’s portraits.
“We are working on the finishing touches. At present, we have a bit of a problem reworking the wards for the place.” She said. “There are several problems; one is the very old magic guarding the grounds. Another, many patients suffer from psychological ailments that at times provoke accidental bouts of magic. We want to create a safe environment, but warding the property has proven to be exceedingly complicated.” she confessed.
“I don’t doubt it” Draco said, frowning. “Your ancestors were famous for their ancient Blood Wards. Have you spoken to Granger about it?” he asked casually.
Narcissa gave him a weird look.
“Why would I ask Hermi… Ms. Granger about it?”
Draco thought it strange his mother almost used the brunette’s first name, seemingly without noticing it, but chose not to comment. “Well, I thought you knew. She was a Ward Specialist with the DMLE; she single-handedly stripped the Mulciber Estate of its wards when we tracked a Death Eater cell there.” He commented. “She’s been excellent at warding charms since she was seventeen.”
Narcissa didn’t need to know why. It seemed Hermione Granger had become proficient at several things due to the War. She shuddered thinking about how the girl had ended up on the floor of Malfoy Manor; she was certain that, were it not for the taboo, the Golden Trio would have never been captured.
“In any case, I think you should talk to her. Perhaps she’d be willing to lend a hand.” Draco continued, unaware of his mother’s pondering.
“Yes” she murmured pensively. “Perhaps.”
Hermione had thought over Krum’s offer for long after he left the Teacher’s Lounge. She had finally returned to her private rooms, where she had a fitful night’s sleep over the proposition. Part of her missed the dueling, the activity, the strategizing.
She was interrupted out of her musings later that morning, as she sipped tea in her private sitting room. A most unexpected appearance made her almost choke on the beverage.
“Harry James Potter and Ronald Bilius Weasley, what in Merlin’s name are you two doing in my private quarters?? How did you even get in?” she all but screeched.
“Godric’s arse, Mione. Hello to you too” Ron grumbled as she flew in for a hug.
“McGonagall let us in. We have some exciting news!” Harry chirped, a dreamy expression on his face. She narrowed her eyes into slits, she had seen that very same expression before. Once she realized when, she gasped.
“Ginny’s pregnant again!?” She yelped.
“Wait, what, how did you know?!” Harry choked out as Ron burst into laughter.
“I told you, mate. It’s written all over your face.” He jabbed. Hermione threw herself into Harry’s arms, impossibly happy for her friend.
“What about you, Ron? What brings you all the way from Ireland to my humble abode?” She asked.
Harry rolled his eyes. “How come you can tell with me, but not him?”
“Oi, mate! It’s my news to tell!”
Hermione frowned. “What do you… RONALD WEASLEY!!! Lavender is expecting too!? Is this true?” She couldn’t keep throwing herself to hug one of them at a time, so she simply grabbed Ron strongly by his lapels, pulling him into an awkward, but no less happy group hug.
“Sit, sit, sit!” she commanded once she let them go of her bear hug, summoning the teapot and cups. “When did you find out?” she asked.
“Bloody funny story, really” Ron began. “Harry and I ran into each other at the Apothecary.” He said laughing.
“We both immediately knew what was going on once we literally bumped into each other in the ‘Witches’ Worries’ aisle” Harry explained, a flush tinging his cheeks a bright red. “There was not much we could say when we were both walking out with the ‘The Conceivably Expecting Witches’ Checkup Potion’, was there?”
Hermione laughed. “Have you told Molly yet?”
“Oh, yeah.” Ron said. “She wasn’t too happy about mine and Lavender’s out of wedlock situation, but Merlin, the woman’s so excited for more grandkids she forgot it right quick” he chuckled.
Hermione smiled, genuinely happy for Ron. He had wanted a family for so long, she could practically feel the joy radiating from the father-to-be. Molly would also be understandably ecstatic – Angelina was about to give birth now, and then soon after would come Ron’s and Harry’s newest additions. New life made her hopeful for the future, and seeing her friends’ jubilant faces warmed her heart in incredible ways.
“There’s more, ‘Mione.” Ron said, after they had taken some tea. “Lavender and I… We talked about it, and we want you to be the godmother of our child.” He finished, his eyes brimming with tears.
“Oh, Ron! I’d be honored. Of course, of course!” she said, leaning in to envelop her friend in yet another hug. “This calls for more than tea.” She said, summoning a bottle of butterbeer from her pantry.”
“Mione, it’s not even eleven in the morning!” Harry joked.
“Shut it, Potter. My two best friends are becoming dads – you for the second time. This calls for a toast!” She said, already pouring.
“Hear, hear!” Ron yelped happily.
The three friends toasted and reminisced for a good few hours. Hermione missed having the time to just be with her two boys. They talked about everything and nothing, just like they used to – whenever a murderous lunatic wasn’t on their tail, obviously. Ron was happy, though the unexpected news came with a bittersweet note: his promotion to Ireland had been indefinitely postponed. The Ministry had decided not to put a family man in charge. Though Ron understood the decision, it still hurt, and Hermione felt for her friend. He had been working incredibly hard.
“I’m so sorry, Ron.” She said. He waved her off.
“Ah. Nothing to be done about it” he said, his tone resigned. “I’m probably going to be reassigned to Wales; Lavender’s quite happy about it since she’s got family there.” He reasoned.
“I know, but you worked so hard to establish the Ireland division…”
“Don’t worry yourself, ‘Mione. Dean is bloody competent, he’ll do a smashing job” he said. “And in a few years, who knows, I might find myself back there.”
Hermione smiled, happy with how Ron had grown over the years. The old Ron Weasley would not be taking the news too well; he would have most likely thrown a right fit over it.
“Godric, can we stop talking about me? How’s it going in these parts, ‘Mione?” he said, eager to change the subject.
“Yeah, what of that Muggleborn student? Still scaring him?” Harry teased.
Hermione brightened red. She had written the two about William White, from the time of the boy’s historic Sorting, up to her talk with Narcissa at Neville’s greenhouse. The boys had ribbed her for her traditional overbearing qualities, they were, in their words, “quintessential Hermione.” She took it in stride.
“He’s doing much better now, thank you. Narcissa has been quite helpful.” She said.
“Excellent, excellent!” Harry said. “I’m glad things seem to be working out. What else is new?”
“Well…” Hermione hesitated. “Viktor approached me yesterday. He wants to reopen the Duelling Club.” She finished, looking at her friends expectantly.
“And?” Ron baited.
“And he wants my help running it.” She finally said.
Harry and Ron exchanged a glance between them.
“I think you should do it.” Harry said confidently. “You are an excellent duelist, you’d be able to show these kids a trick or two.”
“I agree” Ron piped in. “I know you like how quiet everything is now, but don’t you miss a bit of the action?” he teased. Hermione smiled.
“I do… I’m just… I don’t know. Dueling was a way to cope. I don’t really need it anymore.”
Harry nodded. “That’s all well and good, Hermione, but not everything needs to be a coping mechanism. You’re allowed to do some things for fun.” He resoned.
“Yeah” Ron agreed. “I bet it would be fun to school some of these kids, huh? It’s just for sport, after all.”
Hermione smiled at her friends’ encouragement.
“Alright, fine. But I might call on some of my Auror friends for a couple of demonstrations.” She winked.
“Hell, ‘Mione, as long as you don’t kick my arse again, it’s all peachy!” Harry quipped.
“But Professor Granger, George snores like a gassy hippogriff! And he leaves his dirty socks everywhere in the room; he’s told the elves not to take them just to spite me! I slipped on one just his morning. I could have died!”
“Oh, so we’re holding my breathing problems over my head now, are we, Stuart? Aye, that’s rich. And the socks delimitate the perimeter of my own bed, ya complete twat. I ought to…”
“Mr. Atticks, Mr. Davies! That is enough!” Hermione hissed from behind her desk. She really wanted to smack her two most problematic students over the heads with a book, but it turned out Hogwarts had rules against that type of thing nowadays. What a pity.
“Mr. Atticks, you let the elves take away your dirty socks. No one should live with such a mess; keep in mind your dormitory is still a shared space.” She said as evenly as possible, her eyes narrowed into slits. George Atticks still looked a little too smug for her liking.
“What about his abominable snoring, Professor?” Davies insisted. Hermione turned to him.
“I’m afraid I cannot simply change Mr. Atticks’ respiratory tract problems, Mr. Davies.” She said. “However,” she added as Stuart was clearly about to whine about it. “I can ask the elves to shield your bed from the sound at night. Would that suffice?”
Davies looked like he wanted to complain about it even more, but Hermione must have gotten McGonagall’s signature glare down to a tee, because he closed his mouth without saying anything further.
“Excellent. I would like to ask, Mr. Atticks, that you do not antagonize your dormmates. And you, Mr. Davies; it would be best to try to resolve matters amongst yourselves before escalating it to me. You will share a dorm for the duration of your Hogwarts’ career, I suggest you start getting used to each other. Good evening.” She said, dismissing the two.
Once the students finally vacated her office, she allowed a tired sigh to escape her lips. The year had been progressing quite smoothly, but her two most recent visitors were starting to get on her nerves. George Atticks was quite a popular, talented student, if a bit arrogant and proud. He was friendly with most other students, inside and out of Gryffindor.
And Stuart Davies… Her professional opinion said he was an extremely talented student, particularly in her subject. Her personal opinion – one that she reserved for after her teaching hours were done – was that he could be a bit of a twat. He came from a prominent Pureblooded Welsh family, and from what she could gather, was the first Gryffindor to be sorted in a line of Slytherins. She vaguely remembered he was sorted right before Narcissa began guessing who would be sorted into her House, but she could not recall whether the blonde had been surprised by his Sorting. He obviously had been, and had since had a hard time integrating in Gryffindor – truth be told, he was not making any effort either, preferring to fraternize with some Slytherins and a couple of Ravenclaws.
Hermione massaged her temples. She was done thinking about the two today – they had started bickering any chance they got for a week straight, and it was getting on everybody’s nerves. Davies would find fault with literally anything, and Atticks would stoke the fire for sport. She half suspected he was faking the snoring.
The young professor sighed, tired of being holed up in her office. She took up some essays she had to grade – her first years’ research on Animagi – and made her way to the Teacher’s Lounge for a change of scenery. Hermione still had about half of the essays to go through, but thus far it seemed like a good batch. She had checked the Ministry’s Official Animagus Registry before she assigned them, and sure enough, there was the Potions professor: Narcissa Malfoy. Malfoy, meaning Narcissa had already been registered before her divorce.
Hermione felt quite stupid for not checking the Registry more often, especially since Animagi were such an important facet of Transfiguration. But in reality, she never needed to – Minerva was happy to give an actual demonstration anytime they had that particular lecture, and the Registry was not really needed in the study of Animagus theory. Plus, what could beat the shocked looks on students’ faces as a cute kitty cat on Hermione’s desk suddenly transformed into their strict Headmistress before their very eyes? Hermione would not miss it for the world – it never got old.
She finally walked into the Teacher’s Lounge to find her two favorite chairs by the fire occupied by Neville and Narcissa. The Herbology professor noticed her at once and stood, motioning for her to approach.
“Come, ‘Mione. I know you like these chairs.” He said, an odd smirk on his face. Narcissa looked at him as oddly as Hermione did.
“Neville, it’s alright, I’m not taking your seat.” She protested. He waved her off.
“Sit, sit! I’m just leaving, anyhow.” He said. He turned to Narcissa. “Good evening, Professor Black.”
Both Narcissa and Hermione looked at his retreating form, puzzled.
“I suppose you should sit.” The blonde finally said, motioning to Neville’s vacated chair.
“I suppose so.” Hermione smiled. “What’s going on with him?”
“I am not certain.” Narcissa admitted. “But he was very excited about a particularly good batch of poison parsley he received from Bulgaria this morning.”
Hermione sat, shaking her head. “Poison parsley? What on Earth could he possibly use those nasty things for, besides knocking out Doxies?”
Narcissa smiled. “I believe he is working on some natural repellent for our project.” She said.
“Oh!” Hermione remembered. “Black Manor. How is that going?”
The blonde shrugged her shoulders. “A little more slowly than I would have liked, to be quite honest. I had hoped to have it ready by Christmas, but now it seems we will have to wait until after the New Year.”
Hermione simply nodded, unsure of what to say. The two women graded in silence for a few minutes – Hermione noticed Narcissa was grading some complicated theoretical work from an upper level class. Unable to help her curiosity, she squinted, trying to recognize something similar she had worked on in her years as a student. It was terribly hard to read upside down.
“Are you naturally this curious, Ms. Granger?” Narcissa said softly, not looking up from the papers she worked on. Hermione blushed furiously. She started to blubber a hasty apology, but before she could the blonde looked up with a smile.
“Sorry.” Hermione finally muttered. Narcissa’s eyes were full of mirth.
“You can just ask.” She said simply.
“Again, I am terribly sorry” the brunette blabbered on. Narcissa chuckled good-naturedly.
Hermione let out a breath she did not know she was holding.
“Sorry. Um, what is that you’re grading?”
Narcissa handed her one of the papers she had already graded.
“An assignment given to my seventh-year students” she explained. “They must research a potion ingredient and its properties, and hypothesize on a new utility for it. They must then prove it, after more research, in a practical test.” She shrugged once again. “I advised them to look for something simple, yet some of them insist on trying to rediscover more than the twelve uses of Dragon’s Blood.” She tutted.
Hermione smiled. “New utilities? Is that not what William White did in his first practical?”
Narcissa grinned openly, and Hermione could see a bit of pride in her expression.
“In a nutshell, yes. He had the right idea. However, this assignment is much more complex; it is one thing to substitute an ingredient for another of similar properties. It is quite another to devise new uses for a known ingredient.”
“Indeed.” Hermione agreed. “How do you expect them to do?”
“Oh, I doubt many, if any at all, will be entirely successful. This assignment is designed to teach them a lesson – they all read a potion recipe the same way they would a cake’s.” Narcissa murmured, clearly a bit annoyed. “There are intricacies to the study of Potions that most people dismiss.”
Hermione nodded, looking over the paper Narcissa gave her. The student had received good marks, and as far as she could tell, their reasoning for alternative uses of Wormwood seemed sound.
“How about yourself? What are you grading?” Narcissa asked, subtly tilting her silvery quill towards Hermione’s stack.
“Oh! Just some short essays from my first years’.” She said quickly.
“I see. And what topic would they be on?”
Hermione held in a nervous laugh. “They’re on the history and theory behind Animagi.” She all but whispered.
“Ah” Narcissa said softly, giving the brunette no sign she was thinking of Hermione’s previous invasion of privacy. “Animagi? Seems like a complex topic for a first-year class. We only covered Animagi briefly in fourth year, I believe.” She wondered.
The brunette nodded. “Ordinarily, I would agree with you, and yes, I cover it a bit more extensively on fourth and fifth years respectively. However, I give my students a series of essays exploring the sub-branches of Transfiguration in their first year.” Hermione explained “We have covered Unstransfiguration, Vanishment, and Conjuration in previous essays; Transformation usually takes a bit more time and research.”
“Oh, what an inspired idea. Students should know a bit about the different branches of Wizarding areas of study; I cannot count how many of my students think a Potions Master and an Apothecary are next to equivalent.” Narcissa sniffed.
Hermione laughed – the very idea had to be insulting.
“Yes, I agree. My students were not too keen on writing multiple essays, but they seem to be very interested in Animagi.” She said. Narcissa smirked once more.
“Of course they would be, it’s a fascinating thing” She said with an air of faux haughtiness. “Tell me, have you graded William White’s essay?” she asked.
Hermione was a bit taken aback at the question.
“Not yet, he is in the pile. Why?”
Narcissa had a wicked look on her face. “Tell me when you get to his. I am inclined to think it will be positively riveting.”
Hermione gave Narcissa an odd look, but felt inclined to return to her grading once the blonde did the same without another word. The pair carried on for quite a while in this fashion, with Hermione periodically stealing a glance or two at the elegant witch sitting across from her. She once again noticed how concentrated Narcissa was on the task at hand – her entire attention seemed devoted to the papers in front of her. Her blue eyes scanned the pages quickly and efficiently. They continued in silence; the only sound in the room came from the crackling fire and the scratching of the witches’ quills.
It was by chance that Hermione picked William White’s essay from the pile – she had not organized this batch alphabetically due to her little conflict-resolution session earlier, so it came sooner than she expected. She held in a laugh as she read it.
“He interviewed you.” She said suddenly, turning Narcissa’s attention to her. The other witch smiled, at once understanding what Hermione meant.
“Yes, I must say he was very thorough in his research.” She quipped.
Hermione smiled. She liked it when students went a step further in their assignments. William had referred not only to the usual texts, but to the actual Ministry Registry and additional textbooks Hermione had not mentioned. He had even quoted an article from Minerva McGonagall herself, published decades before on Transfiguration Today. As well, of course, as his own Head of House – a little footnote acknowledged her as one of his primary sources.
“He certainly appears to be. He was the only one to feature the Animagus Registry in his paper, even though I directed them all to it.” Hermione said. She looked up at Narcissa. “I even looked at it, for the first time in years – I had never needed to before, since Minerva usually gives demonstrations. I always mentioned it, but hadn’t looked at it in… forever.” She admitted guiltily.
Narcissa chuckled. “In truth, there isn’t much need. There are not many who become Animagi – at least registered ones. I was the only addition since before the War.” She explained. It was true – the Registry had been quite a static compilation since its inception. No more than a couple of witches or wizards made it to the list every few decades.
“You must have registered immediately after the War – you are still named as Narcissa Malfoy.” Hermione commented off-handedly.
Narcissa’s brows furrowed.
“And that was my mistake. I wonder if I could have that changed. I was just so eager to do it, I didn’t even think. The divorce proceedings would start shortly after, I should have waited.”
Hermione frowned. “How did you even manage it so soon? It can take years to get the opportunity finalize the incantation.”
Narcissa nodded. “It was a combination of preparation, planning, and sheer dumb luck. I had kept mandrakes in my garden at Malfoy Manor, specifically for that purpose. After only three months, I was in France with Draco, and there was a storm perfect for the incantation. I honestly did not think it would work.”
“How did it feel?” Hermione could not help but ask.
Narcissa put down her quill, lacing her fingers onto her lap.
“Terrifying. Unsettling. Exhilarating.” She murmured. “The first transformation was… I don’t think I have the words to explain the feeling. To have your body change so instantly, but to still have it be yours entirely… It is an indescribable feeling.” She finished, her eyes distant.
“I always wondered – is your Patronus the same as your Animagus form? That seems to be the case for most people I’ve known, but there’s not much research on the subject, and I know that a Patronus can change under certain circumstances.” Hermione asked, her brain already in research mode.
Narcissa looked embarrassed.
“I assume so, though I would not know. I…” she stammered, which was unlike her poised nature. “I have never been able to produce a corporeal Patronus.” She admitted, a slight flush of embarrassment tinging her cheeks.
Hermione opened and closed her mouth, unable to contain her surprise. Her shock obviously did not help ease the sudden tension at all, as Narcissa hastily went back to grading her papers, moving her quill vigorously in her discomfiture.
Hermione wanted to kick herself for her lack of tact, but she couldn’t help it. A Patronus was a complicated charm, sure enough – many witches and wizards had trouble with it, it wasn’t a rare occurrence – but Harry had managed it in his third year. If Narcissa was an accomplished Occlumens – something Harry could never do, Hermione couldn’t help her shock at learning the witch had never produced a corporeal Patronus. Clearly the witch was skilled enough; it made Hermione wonder what held her back.
“I do wonder” Hermione blabbed on, unsure of what to say to remedy the situation. “Because if that is the case, if I ever decided to become an Animagus, I would likely turn into an otter.” She smiled at Narcissa. “Not very convenient unless I’m close to a body of water.” She joked.
Thankfully her pathetic attempt at humor seemed to have the desired effect. Narcissa stopped writing and chuckled.
“I don’t think you’d have too many options; here the Giant Squid would probably mistake you for dinner.” She said.
Hermione laughed, and the two witches went back to grading. Hermione was still occasionally stealing glances to the older witch – something about her practiced elegance and poise was oddly enticing to her. It compelled her to speak, but the brunette wasn’t sure what to say, so she remained silent.
The two were interrupted by some tapping at the nearest window. Hermione looked up to see the biggest, most angry-looking owl she had ever seen tapping at the glass with its mighty beak.
“Merlin’s beard, that bird is massive!” She yelped as Narcissa stood up with a grin, clearly recognizing the gigantic bird.
“Draco’s” she said simply. “He’s always been dramatic.” She joked, letting the owl in. It perched itself, surprisingly gently, onto her arm, ruffling its golden feathers slightly. “Hello, Aurelius.” Hermione fought the urge to roll her eyes. Of course Draco Malfoy would name his owl something dumb like Aurelius. Though, she supposed, she couldn’t quite judge – her own owl was named Athena. Still, Aurelius was so… Draco.
The owl let Narcissa take the letter attached to its leg, accepting a few pats on the head. As soon as it had arrived, it departed in a flurry of gold.
Narcissa opened the letter then and there. Hermione gave the woman some privacy, returning to her grading. It wasn’t long, however, until she heard the blonde’s exclamation.
“Oh, by Salazar’s slimy snake!”
The brunette quickly looked up at the uncharacteristic expletive coming from the other witch. Narcissa had a shocked look on her face; she was rattled enough to sink rather inelegantly onto her chair. She pinched the bridge of her nose and let out a heavy sigh, Hermione was at once inexplicably concerned.
“Narcissa?” she said, clearly startling the blonde – a pair of blue eyes snapped up to meet her own, no less shocked. “Is everything alright?”
“Yes, yes.” Narcissa said, shaking her head in disbelief. “Draco has news.” She added, a smile discreetly tugging at her lips.
“Good news, I would hope?” Hermione prodded.
“Yes.” The blonde breathed out. “It seems I’m to be a grandmother once again. Astoria is expecting.” She said.
Hermione muttered something unintelligible under her breath. Narcissa looked at her oddly.
Hermione shook her head. “Must be something in the water. You might as well know; the official public announcements are coming in tomorrow – Harry and Ron are expecting. I mean, their respective partners are expecting.” She rambled.
Narcissa’s eyes widened.
“Good Godric. Babies everywhere.” She sighed, sinking even further in her chair and massaging her temples. It was quite a strange contrast to the perfectly poised woman Hermione had seen earlier.
“Pardon me, but you don’t look particularly thrilled at this news.” She said, unsure if she was overstepping.
Narcissa let out a bitter chuckle.
“I suppose it’s selfish” she said, running her delicate fingers over the words on the page. Hermione was instantly brought back to the moment when those same fingers traced over her cursed wound; her arm erupted in goosebumps at the memory. “I love my grandson to death, of course. But he… Well, being called a grandmother, it just… It makes me feel so terribly old.” She confessed in a hoarse whisper.
Hermione was stunned. She assumed it was only logical Narcissa had insecurities and doubts – she doubted anyone who had lived a life like hers would be free from them. But to discover that Narcissa Black feared aging, of all things? The woman hadn’t aged a day since the first time Hermione met her. If anything, she looked younger, without the pressures of her marriage, a war, and having the Dark Lord himself in her home.
“I wouldn’t worry” Hermione said, trying to lighten the mood. “You look beautiful, Narcissa; no one would think you’re a grandmother.” She finished, turning back to her papers before her flush caught up to her cheeks. She still noticed Narcissa’s widening eyes.
“Thank you, M… Thank you, Hermione.” Narcissa replied softly. Hermione ignored the strange shiver the mellow drawl caused to run down her back.
The two looked at each other for a few moments before Narcissa cleared her throat.
“So it seems that Potter and Draco are on their way for child number two… And Mr. Weasley on his first. How about you, Ms. Granger?” Narcissa asked off-handedly.
Hermione choked in her own saliva, strained coughs bubbling out of her throat.
“Excuse me?” she wheezed.
Narcissa smiled kindly. “Your friends are all starting families, or expanding them. How about yourself? Do you not have someone, after all these years?”
Hermione blushed; she could tell she was as red as a tomato.
“I seem to have overstepped. My apologies.” Narcissa said, one eyebrow cocked in amusement.
“No, no, no! Not at all, the question… uh, it just surprised me, that’s all.” Hermione said quickly. “Uh, no, I don’t have anyone. I dated a bit after the war, but… Well, at one point I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to… to go out. I tried after I got better, but to be quite honest, I’m not really…” she reddened even further, hyperaware of her rambling. “I’m not the casual dating type.” She said lamely. “And I quite like being married to my work.” She tried to joke.
Narcissa nodded in understanding. “Fair enough. But you are young still, Hermione; don’t let opportunities pass you by.” She said kindly. Hermione breathed a little more easily.
“What about you?” she asked reflexively.
The Potions professor was clearly startled.
“Me? What do you mean?”
“Have you got someone? After the War and the divorce, have you… been with anyone?” Hermione asked.
Narcissa shook her head, a bit too quickly from Hermione’s perspective.
“Oh, goodness, no” she almost hissed, a flush creeping up her chest and neck all the way up to her cheeks. “I am much too old for all of that” she waved her hand vaguely. Hermione rolled her eyes.
“Merlin, you talk as if you were some wrinkly old lady – which you are not. Even if you were, you could still go out and get some. There’s no reason for a gorgeous woman like you to be alone.” Hermione retorted. Narcissa looked at her as if she had grown a third head. “What?” the brunette shot back.
“Gorgeous?” Narcissa asked, a knowing smirk tugging at her lips.
Hermione felt the rush of blood flood her cheeks again. First ‘beautiful,’ then ‘gorgeous’? Had she lost all sense of propriety? Damn her mouth!
“Uh… Objectively speaking, you are, uuh, a very attractive woman.” Hermione tried in vain to recover.
Narcissa merely laughed.
“Thank you, Ms. Granger. But I think that I, much like yourself, am married to my work, so to speak.” She said, thankfully letting the matter drop. Hermione had no clue why she turned into a babbling idiot with no filter between brain and mouth whenever she was around Narcissa. She chalked it up to the blonde’s commanding presence and elegance – she found it all quite intimidating.
The hours ticked by as the two women turned back to their grading. Hermione was quite happy with the results from her first-year class. It wasn’t a hard assignment, and the majority of students had been thoughtful enough to include an extra reference or two for their research. Overall, she couldn’t complain.
As she glanced at Narcissa every now and then, she could tell the blonde grew frustrated with the occasional assignment – she would write notes upon the margins of the parchment in a neat, elegant cursive script. After one essay that left the other professor particularly annoyed, Hermione interrupted.
“Bad yield?” she tried to joke. Narcissa blessedly smiled.
“Quite.” She scoffed in annoyance. “I believe Horace was a bit lenient when he accepted a few students to his NEWT-level class.” She said, tossing the essay she had just graded onto a pile. “No doubt their prominent last names earned them a spot.”
That last part was so softly whispered Hermione wondered if Narcissa meant to say it at all. Still, she responded to it.
“Ah! The infamous Slug Club. I think I already know which students you mean.” She said, with a roll of her eyes.
Narcissa laughed. “Indeed. After Potions, rubbing elbows was Horace’s main specialty. Merlin knows he could scarcely contain his excitement when there were four Blacks under these enchanted ceilings; I thought he’d have an aneurysm.”
Hermione let out a guffaw of laughter. That sounded like Slughorn.
“Four?” she asked.
“Yes. My sisters and I, and then my cousin Sirius. Regulus came shortly after Bellatrix graduated. I suppose at that time, Blacks were in plentiful supply.” She said wryly.
Hermione nodded. “Sirius never truly liked Potions – or Slughorn, for that matter.” The other witch nodded.
“His little parties for ‘extraordinary’ students… What pitiful nightmares they were” Narcissa mused aloud. “He could justify Bella and I as good students in his disciplines, but Andromeda…” she laughed. “I think she nearly fainted once he announced he had added her to his NEWT class, since she had ‘obviously forgotten’. Dromie was always terrible in Potions.”
Hermione laughed. Part of her was desperate to ask about Andromeda – did Narcissa see her sister now? Andromeda never spoke of her.
“Potions was never my best area either” Hermione said. “Mind you, I got excellent grades, but I never really enjoyed it as much as my other subjects.”
Narcissa smiled. “Yes, the surprise of the Brightest Witch of her Age not being entirely perfect in every discipline. The horror!” she joked. She then looked earnestly at Hermione. “What were your favorite subjects at Hogwarts?”
Hermione beamed. This she could talk about for hours on end.
“Well, Transfiguration – clearly – was always one of my favorites. Charms is up there as well. Herbology, too. But I think… I think Runes and Arithmancy will always have a special place in my heart. How about you?”
“As you may expect, Potions was my calling. Otherwise, I enjoyed Herbology and Transfiguration. Astronomy was also an old favorite.” Narcissa then cocked an eyebrow at Hermione. “Runes and Arithmancy? Complicated subjects, even in my day. It is unusual for someone to like them so much.”
“Yes, I know. I can’t help but find them fascinating. It was lucky I was so good at them too; they were quite handy at my job in the Ministry.” She explained, thinking back. Damn helpful, they were – Runes and Arithmancy provided her with the tools to deconstruct and dissect even the oldest of spells and enchantments. In her mind, the two disciplines intertwined likely showcased the history of all magic on Earth.
“How so?” Narcissa asked.
“Oh, I was a Wards Specialist for the DMLE. Runes allowed me to develop counter-charms for ancient wards created centuries before our modern warding charms; Arithmancy helped me dissect and reassemble spells and enchantments. Tricky disciplines, but incredibly useful.” Hermione clarified.
“Ah, I remember now. Draco mentioned something along those lines; you broke down the ancient wards in the Mulciber Estate while you worked with him, no?” Narcissa questioned.
“Yes” the brunette confirmed, a bit surprised. “I’ve worked with many types of wards over the years, from simple defensive charms to centennial Blood-Wards.”
Narcissa looked intrigued.
“If I may be so bold, Ms. Granger… Would you be willing to help me in my project with Mr. Longbottom?” she asked. Hermione raised an eyebrow.
“With warding charms?” she pondered a moment. “I don’t see why not. Are there wards you need help with at Black Manor?”
“Yes” Narcissa began. “I am not sure if you know, but my family is notorious not only for it Toujours Pur motto and belief, but for our infamous Blood Wards. The family’s main estate and its grounds are as old as Merlin himself, and thus, so are its wards. Mr. Longbottom and I want to open the manor as a Wizarding Mental Wellness Ward; however, such a thing is impossible until all of its more unsavory wards are torn down one by one.
Hermione nodded, her eagerness for such a project clearly showing. The Black Family’s wards were all but legendary – mentions of wards as old as Wizarding Britain itself were scattered through her many Runes textbooks. The family had been using magic to safeguard themselves – and keep undesirables out – long before the advent of the wand. Narcissa regarded her pensively.
“Do be forewarned, Ms. Granger, the wards in question may be beyond even your expertise.”
Hermione narrowed her eyes, not liking to have her abilities questioned before she even gave the thing a shot.
“I think I should determine that for myself, Ms. Black.” She said, as evenly as possible.
Narcissa stood, glancing at the clock.
“It is not too late” she said. “Would you care for a short trip?” she asked, extending her arm and pulling her polished wand from within her robes.
Hermione stood without a word, her gaze never wavering Narcissa’s. She grasped the woman’s offered hand for what had to be Side-Along Apparition.
“Keep in mind, Ms. Granger, this will not be pleasant.”
And with a loud crack, they vanished.
A/N: I know one technically can't apparate to/from Hogwarts, but roll with it for the sake of my dramatics. Maybe I'll add in an explanation later.
Apparition, in Hermione’s experience, had always been somewhat of a clumsy, uncomfortable business. Nevertheless, with time, the discomfort was easily forgotten, and the lack of balance that usually plagued novice practitioners was usually gone after a few months of practice. So, while it was not the most pleasant of experiences, it was usually hassle-free if done correctly.
Which is why she was so surprised by the intense wave of nausea that hit her as soon as she and Narcissa apparated on the grounds of Black Manor. To her absolute horror, she had immediately doubled-over in pain, vomiting right by Narcissa’s pristine shoes. She desperately wanted to apologize, but the nausea and subsequent headache made it impossible for her to say anything intelligible.
“Oh, dear.” Hermione heard the other witch say, worry lacing her voice. She felt the gentle tap of a wand right at the top of her head, and a sudden warmth seemed to drip from there over the rest of her body, stopping the vomiting and vanishing her headache.
Narcissa lowered to the ground to face Hermione. She produced a phial of lilac-colored powder from her robes and held it open right under the brunette’s nose.
“Come now, deep breath in.”
Hermione obliged, taking in a strong minty scent that instantly stopped her remaining nausea. Satisfied with the brunette’s state, Narcissa held out a hand to help her up.
“Whew!” Hermione exhaled, feeling much better, but still aware of a low, persistent buzzing in her head. “I’m sorry, I’m not usually such a mess after Apparition, I promise.” She said, embarrassed. Maybe she had become unfamiliar to Side-Along?
“I do not doubt your abilities, Ms. Granger. I am terribly sorry. What you just experienced were the very wards I would like your help with. They were designed to incapacitate any sort of person deemed undesirable to my kin.” Narcissa explained apologetically.
Hermione’s eyes widened. “That’s barbaric!”
Narcissa laughed bitterly. “Believe, me, that was nothing compared to what they used to be. According to the Black Library records, before the Ministry passed laws against it, those of Muggle birth, Squibs, and half-breeds were blinded and burnt alive simply by standing where you’re standing.” She put away the phial. “Now that is barbaric.”
Hermione could only shake her head in disbelief. Rejection Wards were complicated by nature, but most of them were created with the purpose to expel an intruder should they venture to the wrong place. Most often, they were designed to simply confuse and redirect. Never in her life had she encountered Rejection Wards designated for pure and unadulterated punishment and murder.
“Merlin. And the buzzing?” she asked, motioning vaguely towards her own head.
“You are still under the effect of the wards. Unfortunately, we have not been able to stop them; we can only treat the individual symptoms brought on by the Rejection Charms. It has been terribly cumbersome for staffing matters.” Narcissa clarified.
“Good Godric. And how long until it wears off?”
Narcissa looked sheepish. “About ten to fifteen minutes.”
Hermione’s mouth dropped open rather inelegantly. She had no words. “Are you telling me I’ll have to sniff some powder every ten to fifteen minutes to remain on the grounds?”
“In a fashion, yes. However, I do not recommend it; Armenian Rose Powder can be quite destructive to the nasal passages.” Narcissa stated matter-of-factly. Hermione threw her arms up in the air.
“How in Merlin’s name am I supposed to work on wards if I can’t even be here long enough to study them?”
“Ms. Granger, I told you these might be beyond your ability to help. However, there might be a way.” The blonde stated, looking even more sheepish. It was so odd, to see Narcissa so self-conscious and uncomfortable.
“You could have told me that first hand. What is it?” Hermione demanded, a bit annoyed.
“Well. You see… well…”
Hermione thought she had entered an alternate reality. She didn’t think she had ever heard the Potions Professor stutter or stammer in any way, or even stumble over words. Why on Earth was the eternally poised Narcissa so ill at ease?
The blonde sighed, looking a bit defeated.
“There is one way that might render you ‘acceptable’ to these wards.” She started, carefully gauging the younger witch’s reaction. “Usually, the joining of two bloodlines qualifies.”
Hermione startled. “Whoa, whoa, whoa. Are you talking… What, wait, what? Marriage??” She babbled immediately.
To her surprise, Narcissa let out genuine laughter.
“Oh, no, Ms. Granger. Nothing so dramatic.” She chuckled, to Hermione’s immense relief. She didn’t know why her brain immediately jumped to such preposterous conclusions at times when she definitely knew better; she chalked it up to Gryffindor impetuousness. “Think, Ms. Granger. In all your years of study in the Wizarding World, what are some conclusions you have drawn from us, conceited Purebloods?”
Hermione took a second to think, understanding dawning.
“You Purebloods are always so bloody literal.” She grunted. Narcissa grinned
“Apt wording on your part.” She said. Hermione smiled back.
“Alright, that shouldn’t be too difficult. It’s only a pinprick, right?”
Narcissa faltered, then raised an eyebrow. Hermione immediately understood.
“I guess, knowing your family, they’re looking to be a little more… what’s the word? Barbaric.” She said. “No offense” she added quickly.
“None taken; you are absolutely correct.” Narcissa regarded the younger witch pensively. “I understand if you choose not to proceed.”
Hermione shook her head vigorously. “Are you joking? Slice ‘em up, what’s a bit of blood if this Mudblood can infiltrate the deepest of the Black defenses?” she said with a devilish grin. “Orion Black will be turning in his grave!”
Narcissa laughed. “Which Orion? My family had many.”
Hermione smirked. “All of them!”
“Very well.” Narcissa said, reaching into a delicate leather holster within her robes. She took out a small, beautifully intricate silver blade. Hermione recognized it as the kind used to chop and mince Potion ingredients, though she had never had such an ornate instrument herself. It made her want to roll her eyes a bit.
“Spanish steel” Narcissa said, smirking at the blushing Hermione who had been caught in her observations once again. “It cuts through skin like butter; it will bring you no pain.” She whispered.
The blonde reached for Hermione’s right arm – deliberately avoiding the one marred by her older sister – and gently rolled her sleeve. She took the brunette’s hand delicately between her own, and with a brief glance toward Hermione for confirmation, ran it softly over the young professor’s palm.
As Hermione watched her own blood slowly spring up and pool into her palm, she noted Narcissa had been exactly right; she had felt no more than a tickle as the blade cut her hand. The blonde rolled her own sleeve, and very quickly cut her palm the same way she had Hermione’s.
Hermione had seen more than her fair share of blood over the years, her own and other people’s. Still, there was some feeling inside of her, some tugging inside of her chest, that developed whenever she saw how red and vibrant anyone’s blood was. ‘Mudbloods,’ Purebloods, Squibs, house-elves, goblins, werewolves, it didn’t matter, it was all red – the great equalizer. And somehow, that red felt ugly and wrong flowing from Narcissa’s dainty hand; it felt dark and out of place ebbing from such a fair creature.
“Ready?” the woman asked, interrupting her thoughts. Hermione nodded.
Narcissa then took Hermione’s hand in hers, lacing their fingers together and holding on very tightly. Hermione felt more blood flowing out of their wounds at the pressure; they stung, but the pain was very mild. Their bloods dripped over their wrists, wetting the grass and the earth below.
Putting the knife away, the blonde raised her wand to their joined hands.
“Cruor Vinctum, Terra Vinctum.” She whispered.
The wand directed a bright purple light to their hands, and the mild, stinging pain Hermione felt turned into a burn. It hurt, but was not unbearable; what was strange was how it seemed to travel up her arm, through her shoulder blades and back, before settling on her chest. The sensation stayed here and pulsed strongly for a few moments. Hermione had never felt anything quite like it.
Then, in the blink of an eye, the light surrounding their hands vanished, and with it the burning Hermione felt. When she looked, their blood was gone, and she could tell her wound had knotted itself together – she could barely feel the scarring. Narcissa looked at her expectantly, pocketing her wand. Neither witch let go.
“How do you feel?” she asked, her voice a little more breathless than normal.
“Much better.” Hermione replied, pleased to note there was indeed no buzzing or any other symptom.
“Good, good.” Narcissa murmured weakly.
It was then Hermione noticed the blank and unfocused look on the other witch’s face. Narcissa’s grip on her hand suddenly faltered, and Hermione saw the blonde begin to sway backwards, clearly dizzy. Without a second to lose, Hermione swiftly launched herself forward.
She wrapped her arms around Narcissa’s waist just as the woman sunk to the ground. She held on tight as Narcissa’s arms flailed limply at her sides. Hermione was very surprised with how she felt – for someone with such an imposing presence, Narcissa felt very small and frail, so much so Hermione had no difficulty holding on and keeping her up.
“Narcissa? Narcissa, are you alright?”
Thankfully, the blonde’s fainting spell was brief. She blinked and reached an arm outward, holding onto Hermione’s shoulder. The young professor was hesitant to let go, even when Narcissa had regained her footing.
“You alright?” she repeated.
Narcissa nodded, brushing away a lock of blonde hair from her eyes. “Yes, thank you” she breathed out. “Vinctum Incantate is quite a physically taxing charm – I had read about it, but never performed it myself.”
Hermione nodded back, interested by the information. There were several old bonding charms around – many of them used in weddings, which is why her earlier hasty assumption wasn’t completely absurd. She had read about similar charms designed to tie a bloodline to a piece of land; they were common amongst the nobility in olden times, but fell out of fashion just around the Industrial Revolution, so she had never actually seen one performed.
“How do you feel? Is the buzzing gone, completely?” Narcissa asked, stepping away. Hermione almost frowned; her arm felt cold and empty all of a sudden.
“Yup” she quipped. “I don’t feel anything anymore.”
“Splendid. I believe this will also give you access to the Black Family Library.” She laughed as Hermione’s eyes instantly lit up at the mention of a library. “You see, many of its tomes are cursed not to be touched by ‘undesirables.’ You, however, have been blood-bound to this land – they are safe for you to handle now.”
Hermione could not help the beaming grin that overcame her expression. Sod it, she was a bookworm and proud, and she would devour that library at her earliest convenience. She could only imagine the wealth of knowledge contained there, good and bad.
“Now, before we discuss the warding of this place, how about a short tour?” Narcissa asked. “Would you like to see the fruits of our labors?”
Hermione smiled. “Yes!”
Narcissa gently grasped her shoulder, turning her around. “Then this is where we’ll start.”
Hermione forcefully kept her jaw shut in place, but it was hard. How she had not seen the massive construction she now faced was truly beyond her – but most likely the wards had redirected her vision. Before the two women stood a magnificent building, grander even than Malfoy Manor – truly a noble palace. It was erected in stone, with wrought iron gates surrounding the property. An impeccably maintained garden was adorned with sculptures and fountains, and a neat gravel pathway lead the two women to the ornate doors in front.
“Merlin’s soggy underpants!” Hermione breathed. Narcissa merely chuckled. As they walked, Hermione could distinguish the words onto an embellished golden plaque, surrounded by moving filigree. Black Manor Wizarding Wellness Ward, a division of St. Mungo’s Hospital.
The colossal doors creaked open as the two women approached. Hermione could at once see that the inside of the Manor was just as majestic as the outside. What had probably once been a grandiose entrance hall was now converted into a welcoming, though still greatly adorned lobby, with a seating area and circular, black marble information desk. A quick glance at a map of the manor – conveniently located by the information desk – had Hermione seeing stars.
“Godric’s girdles, this place is huge!” she yipped, taking a closer look. “And there are annexes??”
“Yes” Narcissa said. “Well, three that are in use – the old servant’s quarters, a hunter-house, and a guest house. There is also a barn up the West hill, a boat-house by the lake, and a small Quidditch pitch down the hill.” she explained, motioning vaguely where those edifices would be located on another map showcased by the desk.
“Merlin. I couldn’t even fathom what it would be like to grow up in a place like this.” Hermione wondered aloud.
“It had its memorable moments” Narcissa said cryptically. “In any case, I did not live here. We – myself, my sisters and cousins – would mostly come during summers. My grandparents maintained the place. Orion and Walburga, as you well know, lived primarily at Grimmauld Place. My own parents occupied another property, another townhouse in London, and that is where I grew up.”
Narcissa led Hermione through a very short tour of the main house – it was too big for a comprehensive exploration, but it was enough to stoke the brunette’s curiosity about many things. She was perplexed by the care and attention to detail Narcissa – and Neville, of course – had dedicated to renovating the place. An entire wing of the house had been outfitted with several rooms and living areas for patients – those were all primed and ready, with beds, bathrooms, and all other necessities. Many places had designated functions, much like St. Mungo’s itself.
Everything was immaculate; Narcissa had even gone so far as to design areas for residents to interact – the back yard had a small pond, there were small libraries scattered around the house, as well as sitting rooms and tearooms and game rooms. Hermione was incredibly impressed.
“And through there” Narcissa motioned towards a door at one point “are – well, were the dungeons. They have been converted into research labs; mostly for medicinal Potions. Upstairs, in the attic, we have a small Astronomy lab, mostly for the study of the moon for our Lycanthrope Readjustment Range.” Hermione turned to the other witch quickly. “And through the other wing…”
“Excuse me, come again?” Hermione interrupted, too floored by the information Narcissa had just imparted.
“I beg your pardon?”
“Lycanthrope Readjustment Range?” the brunette repeated, eyes wide. “You plan to treat werewolves?” she could not contain the awe in her voice. Despite a few legislative efforts, werewolves were still seen as scum by most of Wizarding Society. St. Mungo’s often refused to treat them for self-sustained injuries, and most were considered incontrollable beasts. She knew Narcissa did not subscribe to her family’s old Pureblooded ideals any longer, but she had a hard time believing the witch would go as far as to shake off the general distaste for werewolves.
To her credit, Narcissa seemed to understand where Hermione was coming from.
“Your shock does not surprise me. I will admit, I am not too thrilled at the idea. But my own blood saw fit to marry one; I can concede that there is at least more to be understood from werewolves.” She sighed. “It is a difficult notion for me to accept, I won’t deny that. However,” she hesitantly grasped Hermione’s left arm, almost unconsciously tracing the scar beneath the sleeve. “If I have understood things I thought impossible before, I must try to keep an open mind. That is all I can do.”
Hermione was bewildered. Was Narcissa saying that accepting Muggleborns had opened her mind to accepting more people – because that was what werewolves were, every night of the month except for one – that she would have thought scum otherwise? More than that, had she just acknowledged Nymphadora Tonks – and consequently her husband and son – as truly belonging to her family? She contained the impulse to shake her head. Everything had gone topsy-turvy.
She had not noticed the long period of time during which Narcissa held her arm; she only noted its absence once the other witch dropped it without another word. She looked intently at the woman’s eyes, their blue clouded by shimmering grey.
“Come with me, I believe you would like to see this.” Narcissa said. Hermione was quick to follow.
They walked through a gravel path that wound down into a small road surrounded by trees and thick shrubbery. Hermione imagined it would look beautiful during the morning light, but thus far it looked quite eerie with nothing but Narcissa’s wand illuminating their path. She had no idea how long they walked, but sensed that something, somehow, was making their walk much faster than normal – they seemed to have covered quite a long distance in a matter of minutes. Before long, she could make the outline of another building, much smaller though still impressive. This edifice had no gates surrounding it, but before they even approached, she could feel the magic of strong containment wards coming off in waves; its energy vibrated so vigorously it even distorted the view of the trees beyond.
Narcissa stopped a few feet from the house. Hermione gazed at the woman, puzzled.
“This used to be the hunting house years ago. There are about twenty acres of forestry beyond.” She explained. In a smooth movement, the light of her wand intensified, and she directed it at a plaque Hermione had not noticed at first. It read, in big, bold silver letters: R. J. Lupin Lycanthrope Readjustment Range.
Hermione could not contain her gasp at what she saw and what it meant. She quickly put all the pieces together: the hunting house and the extremely strong containment wards she just saw. Demarcating and separating twenty acres of woodlands. And, to top off this strange turn of events, Narcissa had memorialized Remus Lupin.
“You are treating werewolves. You’re letting them roam free?” She asked, flabbergasted. Narcissa gave an elegant shoulder shrug – something Hermione hadn’t thought possible.
“As free as it is safe for everyone else.” The witch explained. “The hunting house has been remodeled to provide safe lodging for up to fifteen werewolves at any given time before the full moon. Anti-werewolf wards delineate the acreage beyond the house; they cannot go through while they are transformed.”
“Why?” Hermione could not help but ask.
“As I’m sure you’re aware, most werewolves who take the necessary precautions before the full moon find themselves badly injured in its aftermath. This is not only due to the punishing physical exertion of a transformation, but also due to the conditions in which it takes place. Cellars, small locked cells – the wolf needs more space to roam and…”
“No” Hermione interrupted. “I mean, why? Why do this at all? Why Lupin?” she interjected, pointing towards the plaque bearing the name of her fallen friend and mentor, one of many. Narcissa looked uncomfortable.
“Ms. Granger, I am no paragon of integrity or generosity. Some would say I am precisely the opposite. I would be lying if I said I did not have extreme reservations about this – about all of it. But as I’ve said, there is always more to be understood. This” she gestured towards the house and towards the path they had taken there. “All of this is an attempt to understand several things – to understand and atone, even if the latter may never come to fruition.”
“As for why Lupin” she sighed. “He was well-loved by many. A war hero, not to mention my kin of sorts. If there is such a thing as a good example of a werewolf, Remus Lupin was it. I knew him in school, you know.” Hermione looked like she was about to interject, but Narcissa waved her off. “Make no mistake, Ms. Granger – I despised him them. Not because of his… condition – I was unaware of it at the time – but because of his House and allegiance to one of my best friend’s tormentors. Not to mention, his mother was a Muggle. That was just as shameful as being a werewolf in my book.”
Hermione nodded in understanding, as well as a bit of sadness. Interacting with Narcissa as she was now, it became harder and harder to remember what sort of views she subscribed to not too long ago. The older witch had noticed her now-wistful demeanor, for she approached, a hand gently lifting the brunette’s head upwards.
“My apologies. I can’t help but be aware that talk of such times brings you sorrow. Regrettably, I cannot change the past.” She whispered softly, her eyes gleaming in the moonlight. “I was never someone in the wrong place at the wrong time. All those horrible things – about you, about Lupin, the Pureblood agenda – I followed not because of circumstance, but because I believed.”
Hermione sighed, her hand moving up to hold onto Narcissa’s wrist. “But you don’t anymore.” She hadn’t phrased it as a question, yet it hung in the air.
“No.” Narcissa smiled sadly. “Not anymore.”
“Then that’s good enough for me.” Hermione declared, straightening her posture. Somehow their close proximity had gone unnoticed, but now she was keenly aware of it; it was almost as if that odd buzzing had returned, but instead of lodging itself in her head, it had spread to her entire body. It was not unpleasant.
Narcissa said nothing further; she moved to walk away from the hunting house. Hermione followed silently.
They were almost back at the main house once Narcissa spoke again.
“You are welcome to return here at your leisure, even if you decide not to work on our warding issues. It is late, but I would like to show you Black Library some other time.”
Without meaning to, Hermione let out a disappointed yelp. “Ah! The library! I can’t believe I didn’t see it!!”
Narcissa let out peals of laughter at the brunette’s sudden outburst. Hermione reddened, but pushed onward. “But I would love to work on the wards.” She said, happy with Narcissa’s surprised expression. Did the witch truly think Hermione Granger would back down from such a challenge? She was already vibrating with excitement. “I can’t make any promises, of course, but I would like to take a whack at it.”
Narcissa smiled. “Very well. You are welcome to use all resources at the Black Library – they are at your disposal. We can discuss plans more thoroughly some other time. I think it is time to return to the castle.”
Hermione nodded in agreement. She had no idea how long they had been out, but it was bound to be late. Without a word, she offered her arm to Narcissa this time, taking out her wand in preparation. The other witch took it with a smile.
With a pop, they disappeared.
And with another, they apparated right in the middle of a commotion. Several professors were in the teacher’s lounge; before they could even right themselves, Neville ran towards the two witches.
“Thank Merlin you’re back! There’s been an incident.” He huffed, his face red.
“What? What happened?” Hermione asked.
“It’s Mr. William White.” Flitwick said from behind, making the two witches turn quickly and look down. “He’s been attacked – he’s in the Hospital Wing!”
Hermione and Narcissa had all but run to the castle’s Medical Wing. To the brunette’s unending dismay, Madame Pomfrey only let Narcissa in – saying she had priority as William White’s head of House. The other witch had given her an odd look, but followed the Matron to see the young boy.
Which is how Hermione found herself impatiently pacing by the infirmary doors. Hermione felt betrayed, but also slightly validated – she knew something would happen. She had called it, and everyone had ignored her worries.
Neville had stopped by a few minutes after Narcissa went in, updating her in what had transpired – as far as he knew. Word was there had been some kind of scuffle between a few Gryffindors and Slytherins, and a duel broke out. A few other students had been caught in the middle, he said, among them William White and Spencer Wyndham from Slytherin, as well as Stuart Davies from Gryffindor, which had Hermione shocked. Davies did not seem the kind to be involved in senseless dueling in the castle corridors.
“Well” Neville had said “he was with his brother Edgar. He was one of a few of the older Slytherin students who apparently started the whole thing. My guess is he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Stuart and Spencer had already been discharged from the Infirmary with naught but a few bruises –William had caught the brunt of the spells, it seemed. Hermione seethed as she thought about him being specifically targeted, but Neville had told her otherwise.
His reasoning was that other students had undoubtedly participated, but had not been caught in time by Mr. Filch. The caretaker guessed the fight had broken out between at least five or six other students, all from upper-levels. The young first-years had not been left behind.
The idea did not make Hermione feel any better.
Narcissa followed Madame Pomfrey to one of the infirmary beds covered by a screen, her mind going a mile a minute. As they walked, the Matron filled her in on what had happened – the Potions professor was dismayed to think of her House’s role in the scuffle, but she could not say she was in the least bit surprised.
William was quite startled to see his Head of House suddenly appear, so much so he drooled out most of the chicken broth he was drinking. Despite the boy’s embarrassment, Narcissa was quite glad to see he was not hurt badly.
“P-professor Black!” He gasped, wiping his mouth with the sleeve of his hospital gown.
“Hello, Mr. White.” Narcissa said, her tone gentle. William reminded her of a young Draco at times, before her son found his self-confidence. “How are you this evening?” she asked, noting the discolored patches of yellow all over his face, which indicated heavy bruising in the process of healing.
The boy gave her a crooked, embarrassed smile that looked more like a grimace.
“Not too bad, Professor. Madam’s Bruise Removal Paste is much better than mine.” He tried to joke. Narcissa was happy about his attempt at humor.
“I have no doubt, Mr. White, that your paste would have been just as good had you been able to use the proper ingredients.”
William preened a little with the praise. Narcissa smiled briefly before turning a sterner look to the boy.
“I don’t wish to distress you, William, but I would like to ask what happened.” She said. He swallowed.
“It was nothing, Professor.”
Being a mother, a Black, and a former Malfoy, Narcissa could sniff out a lie a mile away. She was even a bit disappointed William wasted such an atrociously bad lie on her.
“I’m afraid I cannot accept that answer, Mr. White. Something clearly happened to leave you here in this state. Madam Pomfrey tells me you sustained heavy bruising, a cracked rib, and I assume the sling you’re sporting isn’t there for aesthetic purposes.” She kept her tone even, but firm. “Whoever did this must face the consequences; this can be grounds for expulsion.”
“No! Please, Professor, I don’t want to cause more trouble.” He begged, sitting up awkwardly against his pillows.
Narcissa immediately sensed there was more to this situation than met the eye. And she could also sense William might just be stubborn enough not to give any names. While it frustrated her in an administrative sense – she was still the Head of House, after all; it was her responsibility to take care of such matters – it also made her admire the boy’s Slytherin qualities; he obviously had some kind of plan to deal with what had just transpired. She only worried it might not be the best course of action – in the aforementioned administrative sense.
“We will table the discussion of names for now, Mr. White. Are you willing to at least tell me what happened?” she asked a little more gently. She would get to the bottom of this – quietly and efficiently, like any proud Slytherin.
William squirmed a bit in indecisiveness, but eventually relented.
“Spencer and I were coming down from Astronomy. We were chatting and distracted; before I knew it there were spells flying every which way” he breathed out. “I couldn’t even get my wand out.” He added, and Narcissa felt for the shame marring his features. “I wasn’t quick enough.”
Narcissa nodded and stepped closer, sitting on the chair by the side of his bed. She regarded the young boy pensively.
“From what I was told” she began in her gentlest tone “You and Mr. Wyndham were attacked by older students. Older, meaning they have had much more time and practice. Older, meaning they are nothing but cowards for attacking first-years such as you and Mr. Wyndham.” She reasoned, brushing a lock of his unruly blonde hair away from his shimmering green eyes. Narcissa could see very clearly, he still felt inadequate over his defenselessness. How Slytherin of him.
“William” she said firmly. “I am your Head of House. It is my job to deal with situations such as this.”
He nodded somberly, but offered no further comment. She sighed.
“Mr. Wyndham seemed to have no more than a few bruises, William, while you lie here in hospital. That makes us Professors think you were deliberately attacked. Do you know why?”
William nodded once again. “Because I am a Mudblood.”
Nothing could have prepared Narcissa for the shock she felt upon hearing the word coming from her most promising student. She felt something inside her break, and an intense shame washed over her entire being. How many times had she uttered that same word? To how many? She held his hand firmly in between her own.
“You are correct; however, I would like you to refrain from using that word to describe yourself, William. Take it from someone who’s uttered too many times in her lifetime – it does not and will not ever be true.”
William’s expression was somber. “But it’s true. I hear whispers in the corridors, my own Housemates talk about it when they think I can’t hear them.” He said, looking anywhere but at Narcissa. “I’m the first Muggleborn in Slytherin. I didn’t understand it at first, but I’ve read all about it. Salazar Slytherin wanted a particular kind of wizard in his House – I’m not wizard enough to be in it.” He finished sadly.
Only Narcissa’s extensive experience in hiding her true emotions could have prepared her for such a statement. She schooled her features before they had the chance to demonstrate her shock.
“Take it from someone who believed in the concept of blood purity once upon a time, William: none of it, absolutely none of it is true. If the Sorting Hat put you in my House, that is where you belong.” She said stoically.
“What if the Hat made a mistake?” he asked, his voice small.
“The Hat does not make mistakes.” Narcissa said simply, because wasn’t that the truth? “You are as Slytherin as any other pure or half-blooded witch or wizard in this noble House. With our history, perhaps you are just what we need.” She added that last part almost as an afterthought – it did not make it any less true. He looked up at her in confusion.
“What do you mean, Professor?”
Narcissa righted herself in her chair.
“I am sure you are already aware of the notoriety of Slytherin House. Through the years, we have accumulated more than out fair share or Dark witches and wizards. The late Tom Riddle – more well-known as Lord Voldemort – was from Slytherin. I’m not sure how much you know of the past Wizarding War, but he preached blood purity ideals – values that have become inherently associated to Slytherin.” She explained, wondering how much detail she should give the young man. She wondered how much he knew already, how much he had yet to discover.
“I’ve read a little about the war” he said shyly. “About Tom Riddle and his Death Eaters, and about Harry Potter.” He paused. “Professor Granger helped him defeat Voldemort.”
“Yes” Narcissa confirmed “she did. She is one of the bravest women the Wizarding World has known” She admitted.
“I have her Chocolate Frog cards – Spencer gave me some of his. She’s one of the only witches and wizards to have two runs of cards – one for the war effort, the other is for her dueling championships.” He babbled.
Narcissa smiled. “Yes, Ms. Granger is truly an accomplished witch. She was called the Brightest Witch of her Age. Between us, I don’t think the war would have been won without her.” She smiled.
“She won an Order of Merlin, did she not?” he asked.
“Yes” Narcissa confirmed. “She, Mr. Potter, and Mr. Weasley, as well as a few others, were granted the honor.”
“And… so were you, Professor, right?”
Narcissa frowned in discomfort. Her Order of Merlin, Second Class was not something she liked to bring up. It was an honor most undeserved, and yet, Harry Potter himself, would not hear of anything else. To the former Malfoy matron’s eternal and continuous embarrassment, the Boy-Who-Lived touted her praises, commending her ‘unwavering courage’ to defy the Dark Lord when it mattered most.
Narcissa loathed to hear that crock of shit.
And so it was that she found herself with a prestigious award she did not feel she deserved. If only Mr. Potter knew the shame the title caused her. If he had been a Slytherin, she would have suspected an ulterior motive on his part; to plague her eternally with the guilt the award dug out of her chest every time it was merely mentioned. She hated it.
But of course, Harry Potter was not that kind of person. He was decent, and genuinely believed the woman who lied for her family and nothing else deserved the sodding Order of Merlin for her war effort. Narcissa could not comprehend what went through Potter’s mind -- she and everyone else knew her war efforts were primarily concentrated on the other bloody side. She had the Dark Lord in her own home – what kind of war hero was that?
She realized William looked at her with an odd expression.
“Yes” she murmured uncomfortably. “However, I do not like to talk about it.”
Narcissa sighed. She did not owe this boy anything. He was her student, and nothing more. Plus, he was much too young to understand the intricacies of her upbringing, of the war, of everything that had plagued the Wizarding World before he found himself to be part of it.
“We can speak about this some other time, Mr. White. For now, I think you should rest. Do not think I have forgotten this incident – I want you to know my door is always open if you change your mind.” She said it a little more coolly than she intended, slowly standing up. William seemed to shrink back into his pillows.
“Yes, of course. My apologies, Professor, I didn’t mean to upset you. It’s just…” he stopped short. Narcissa quirked an eyebrow.
“It’s just what, Mr. White?”
“I’m sorry. It’s nothing.”
The boy sighed. “People talk. I hear them in the Common Room, in the Great Hall. They look at me and they wonder.”
“What exactly do they wonder, William?”
“They wonder how a member of the Most Ancient and Noble House of Black can stand having mud like me in Slytherin.” He whispered. “But you have the Order or Merlin for the War. I… I don’t understand.”
Narcissa sat back down, her eyes wide, searching for something in William’s emerald gaze.
“I don’t blame you” she rasped, facing the difficulty of explaining it to the boy. “Sometimes I barely understand it myself. I suppose you have read about my families? Both of them?” she said, because she knew if William had researched anything, he had most likely done it thoroughly. She was willing to bet he knew enough about the Blacks and the Malfoys to draw some unsavory conclusions that would, sadly, be correct. For the most part.
William reddened. “A little.” He admitted.
“Then you know how notorious they were, the Blacks specially, about blood purity. The very motto of my family embodies it.” She put a hand over his shoulder, not quite knowing how to phrase things. “I was raised to hate people such as yourself and Ms. Granger solely due to the circumstance of your births and my own. And for the longest time, I believed all the awful things my family taught me – I believed them so sincerely I followed my then-husband into the darkest circle of people I have ever known.”
“The Death Eaters.” William said. Narcissa nodded.
“Yes. My sister, my husband, my best friend, and even my own son were branded for the Dark Lord’s cause.” She admitted aloud for the first time in years.
“But you weren’t, right, Professor?”
Narcissa let out a bitter chuckle and pulled away the sleeve of her left arm. William gazed at the unmarred skin.
“Not in that way, no. But in another way, William, I was branded for life.”
“But” he said, his voice gaining a bit of confidence. “You changed your mind, no? I’ve read clippings of newspapers; you lied to the Dark Lord. That’s why you got the Order of Merlin. Why?”
“William” Narcissa began, a little exasperated. “Such things are complicated, and truly I am not sure if I possess the ability to thoroughly explain them.” How could she explain that she watched idly by and looked on as a girl, a teenager, a mere child was tortured and maimed in her own house? How could she explain that witnessing that – and other things – had broken something inside her in a way she never thought possible?
“I’m sorry, Professor. I’m just trying to understand.”
Narcissa sighed. “I know, William. Trust me, it’s quite alright – it’s just a hard topic to talk about. In a way, Professor Granger helped me understand the error of my ways. I think it’s best to leave it at that.” As she spoke, she turned to look directly at the boy once more. “In fact, I think you and Ms. Granger have a lot in common. You know she’s not your Head of House, but she would understand many of your worries. She would be able to help you in ways I simply cannot.”
Narcissa was shocked at the vehemence of William’s shaking head. She was about to ask, but William gasped out his response.
“I can’t go to Professor Granger, Professor. She is amazing, and I read a lot about her, but I can’t get any help from her. Please, Professor, it’ll only make it worse. I stand out enough as it is, I can’t be seen going to the Gryffindor Hero of Muggleborns for help.” He said very quickly.
Narcissa understood, but was truly surprised with how intricately William himself seemed to understand his current predicament. “Ms. Granger worries about you, William.”
“I know.” He said “but I can’t just talk to her whenever I please. And at the beginning of the year… People in the Common Room were talking about the prefects she had following me – I know she put them up to it, Professor. I know she means well, but… I just can’t.” he finished in an exasperated tone.
Narcissa smiled inwardly. She had told Hermione about how Slytherins went differently about things. Thankfully the brunette had taken her advice after a few false-starts.
“She does mean well.” She agreed. “In fact, I spoke to her recently about your work in Transfiguration. We’re both very glad you’re doing better.”
William broke out in a grin. “I’m happy too. I happen to like Transfiguration – it’s quite difficult, but I enjoy it. Maybe once things are a little calmer at the House I’ll speak to her. I could use some help.”
“Well, why don’t you see her now?” Narcissa said, the idea just now occurring to her. After all, it was one thing for William to go trotting to Hermione’s office hours; it was quite another for a Professor to check on a student in the infirmary.
His eyes narrowed. “Now?”
“If you are up to it, of course.” She replied gently. He seemed to take a moment to think, but his grin returned after only a few seconds.
The sudden opening of the Medical Wing’s heavy doors startled Hermione enough to make her miss a step in her pacing. She nearly faceplanted onto the floor, but managed to gather her bearings impressively quickly. Unfortunately, it seemed Narcissa had witnessed her slip – the blonde sported a raised eyebrow and a smirk tugged discreetly at her lips.
“Would you like a minute with Mr. White?” Narcissa asked politely. She chose not to mention the other witch’s look of surprise.
“Oh, yes, absolutely. Is he alright? Does he know who was responsible for the attack? Has he told you?” Hermione shot off in a hurry.
Narcissa shook her head. Gryffindors. “I assure you. Mr. White is doing quite well – given the circumstances. He seems to know who was responsible, but is not willing to tell me. I believe he plans to deal with the situation on his own.”
Hermione looked bewildered.
“But why?! We must do something, we can’t just stand by!”
Narcissa stopped the woman from advancing with a gentle hand on her shoulder. Always so eager, those Gryffindors; the world was always so black-and-white.
“I agree, Ms. Granger. But Mr. White does not wish to tell us – we can only assume he has his reasons.” She said, giving the brunette a meaningful look. The other witch huffed in exasperation.
“This is going to be one of those underhanded Slytherin things, isn’t it? Where we don’t do a thing we’re supposed to do because another thing affects the thing we’ll do, so we’ll find another, more subversive way to do the thing?”
Narcissa could not contain her laughter. “Something like that.” She looked at the brunette, a question in her eyes. “Will you be alright with our ‘underhanded’ Slytherin ways?” she asked.
Hermione let out a breath. “Let me make this clear – I don’t like it. If William was in my House, I’d deal with this differently. I would never let a student deal with things on their own. But” she raised her hand when Narcissa looked to be on the verge of interrupting her. “He’s not a Gryffindor. You talked to him. I’ll refer judgement to you.”
Narcissa gave the other witch a nod of acknowledgement. Truth be told, she was somewhat surprised the other witch had been so graceful – earlier in the year Hermione would have fought tooth and nail for the chance to do things her way. She was glad the witch finally understood.
“Good. Now, I’ve asked William if he would like to speak with you for a little while. He will not go to you as any other student would – he understands he will look weak to his peers if he goes to the Gryffindor Golden Girl, champion of Muggleborns throughout the land” she said in jest. Hermione rolled her eyes good-naturedly. “But he admires you” she added more seriously, taking in the brunette’s look of surprise.
Without another word, Hermione let herself be led deeper into the Hospital Wing. As they turned beyond William’s privacy screen, she could not contain a smile upon noticing the boy had done his best to sit up straight and tame his mussed blonde hair so he could look a little more presentable.
“Hello, Mr. White. How are you feeling?” she asked.
He gave her a shy smile.
“Much better, Professor, thank you”
Hermione regarded William pensively for a few moments, and the boy returned her gaze in kind. She could tell he was gauging what she knew, what Narcissa had told her, and, most importantly, what she would ask of him. Luckily for him, there would be no more interrogation tonight. As much as she disagreed with her methods, Hermione would let Narcissa handle it.
“That’s good to hear. I’m not terribly fond of the Hospital Wing – I spent my fair share of time here as a student.”
“Whatever for, Professor?”
Hermione laughed. Where to even start? She was never injured due to Quidditch or other strenuous activities – the very thought of Hermione Jean Granger hopping onto a broom willingly made her want to cackle with the absurdity.
“Well, it seemed every year my friends and myself were destined to be Madam Pomfrey’s guests at least once or twice. I’m sure she tired of seeing our faces by my second or third year.”
Narcissa left William and Hermione talking in the Hospital Wing, excusing herself so that the two Muggleborns could perhaps bond. She was no fool – Hermione Granger would in time became a great asset to young William, but for now, he needed to mark his place in Slytherin house on his own terms.
She made her way to the Astronomy Tower, an old haunt of hers when she was a student. In her younger years, she had loved the discipline, and the Tower had become a favorite place to study, to think, and to ponder. The place was such a contrast to the Slytherin Common Room and her Potions classroom – it took her from the deepest corners of the castle to its highest peak. It was there where she had made a most unusual friend as a young girl, one who would undoubtedly prove to be tremendously useful in her quest to find out what young William White was hiding. She had yet to pay him a visit now that she had returned to her beloved castle as a Professor – it was long overdue.
The Tower, to her, had always been beautiful at night, even if it now carried an aura of deep sadness and loss. She shivered thinking of her son standing there, tasked with the impossible. She sent a silent thankful thought to Severus Snape for watching over him so diligently, Unbreakable Vow or not. She thought about Albus Dumbledore and his kind eyes.
The faint rattling of chains broke her away from her thoughts. Narcissa smiled.
“Lord Albert, I summon thee.” She spoke to the darkness.
The rattling stopped. A cold draft crept up the space, chilling her to the bone. It had been so long since she had felt such a sensation, she had to stop her teeth from clattering. A few paces in front of her, mist coming from nowhere seemed to slowly condense itself into a solid form.
There he stood, with his blank eyes and his gaunt countenance. The silvery shimmer of bloodstains in his robes glittered eerily in the moonlight, and the heavy-looking chains he carried swayed slightly, dangling from his arms. Narcissa’s smile widened.
The Bloody Baron stood tall, taller than Narcissa. She had not seen the specter since she left Hogwarts all those years ago. While most of the school feared the spirit due to his frightening appearance, an eleven-year-old Narcissa had been intrigued by his silent and restrained demeanor. She often saw or heard him clanking his chains and moaning in the Astronomy Tower, and didn’t mind the noise, as she was much too concentrated in her study of the skies above.
The Baron, on the other hand, seemed miffed to have an intruder so often. Of course, students always came and went through the Tower – they attended classes there, after all. But Narcissa was always to be found there after hours, almost daily. To make matter worse, the child was relentlessly inquisitive.
“You seem to rattle around here quite often. Why is that?”
As usual, the Baron did not deign to respond. Young Narcissa wondered, as she gathered her Astronomy texts in a pile on the Tower floor, if anyone in the castle had ever heard him make a sound other than his ghoulish moans in the night.
“Everyone calls you The Bloody Baron. What is your name?” she tried. A response never came.
She kept asking every night she saw the ghost. He never responded to any of her questions, but she still babbled on as she mapped Ursa Major or studied the craters of the moon. Sometimes the Slytherin ghost would not even make an appearance, but Narcissa could still hear his chains rattling onto the stone floors. Every now and then, a chill overtook her, and she knew it was just the Baron taking a stroll.
Now, years later, he looked at her with his blank eyes as fondly as ghost could. Who knew all it took to open up the frightening Baron was a persistently impertinent child’s questions over the course of seven years? It was in her second year that she had found out his name – Bella had gotten her a book from the Restricted Section, an old tome detailing the first generations of students to attend Hogwarts. The Baron Albert Bruce Gregory had been a pupil of Salazar Slytherin himself.
“Lady Black, ‘tis my pleasure to welcome thee back to Hogwarts.” He said pleasantly. Though his appearance was ghastly, his voice was a smooth baritone that rung clearly within the walls of the tower; it was a voice so beautiful none would think it a ghost’s – especially considering his ghoulish moans.
“Thank you, sir. I am glad to be back.”
“’How may I serve thee, Madam?” he asked with a gallant bow. His manners reminded her of all the etiquette lessons she and her sisters had to attend, along with their cousins.
“My friend, I know you see all in our Noble House. You have encountered the Muggleborn student sorted this year, I presume?”
The Baron nodded solemnly.
“I has’t seen the young sir” he said gravelly. “Roaming the halls alone whilst tongues of nobler birth whisper ill-thoughts.” His void eyes seemed to harden into stone. “Danger lurks wherever he goeth.”
Narcissa furrowed her brows. “There was an incident earlier today. William was attacked, but he does not wish to share the names of his attackers.”
The specter nodded in some kind of silent pondering. “A most cunning gent – a mind like thine very own.” He commented.
“My friend, did you see who attacked him?”
“I myself has’t not, Madam. But Peeves, the knave, spake just now of students crossing wands in the corridors.”
Narcissa smiled inwardly. What luck that the one ghost she’d befriend at Hogwarts just happened to be the one and only capable of reining in the blaster poltergeist.
“Will you find out, Lord Albert? Be my eyes when I cannot see. I wish for William to prove himself in Slytherin, but I cannot let such abuse go unchecked.”
“Thy wish is my command, my Lady. I shall watch over the young sir and for any villainy against him committed.”
“Thank you, my friend.” Narcissa said gratefully.
The Baron turned and began to disappear after another courteous bow. Narcissa felt a deep chill permeate through to her very bones. A clank was heard in the dark of night, and then the Baron’s voice, echoing distantly:
“Watch for him I shall, for soon the pale-faced moon shall look bloody upon the earth.”
As Christmas approached, a bustle seemed to ingrain itself deep into the castle. Students were excited for some time off – as were their professors – and the general cheerfulness that usually accompanied the installation of Christmas decorations was palpable. The enchanted ceilings of the Great Hall seemed to show white snowy skies every day, much to Hermione’s delight. She loved winters at the castle.
But this Christmas, she looked forward to much more than the customary dinner and gift exchange at the Weasley’s. In true Hermione Granger fashion, she was looking forward to the time off she’d get to do what she always did best: research. This was to be a special kind of research though; she’d be bent over piles and piles of historical tomes finding all she could on the Black Family Wards with Narcissa.
After the commotion over William White’s attack had died down, Narcissa had made good on her promise and took Hermione to the Black Library. Hermione had scoffed in annoyance when Narcissa jokingly whispered “Please, do try to contain yourself, Ms. Granger,” before she opened the heavy oak doors.
Of course, once the older witch had opened them, Hermione’s eyes almost rolled into the back of her head – and there was nothing sarcastic about the gesture. In fact, it had been entirely involuntary. The place was unnaturally massive, with incredibly ornate floor-to-ceiling shelves as far as the eye could see. Huge windows let in a beautifully ethereal amount of light, and there were desks and comfy chairs elegantly arranged through the space. Plush rugs and exquisite artwork hung on the walls, completing the feel of the room.
“Good Godric!” she had exclaimed in awe. Narcissa had only chuckled smugly at her side.
The library rivalled Hogwarts’ in size. It certainly won over in terms of aesthetics; the entire place was absolutely gorgeous. Hermione felt like she had just stepped into a more somber version of the library in Beauty and the Beast. Not that she mentioned that to Narcissa – it was highly unlikely the blonde had ever even heard of such a movie.
In any case, Narcissa seemed very happy that Hermione liked the library – a bit relieved, as well, even more so when Hermione had tested a few of the more unsavory titles there contained. Thankfully, even some of the most expertly guarded books had no problem accepting Hermione’s touch, all the proof they needed in knowing that Narcissa’s Vinctum Incantate had worked exactly as it should.
As Hermione organized her materials after a class, she looked at the pale white line now adorning her palm. It was neat and clean, with no angry scarring, but she presumed it would never disappear. She found that she didn’t mind it. It was strange to think she had been marked by two of the Black sisters, but it gave her some inexplicable comfort to know how different the two scars were in their nature. Bellatrix had marked her in hatred, in disgust for her filth. Narcissa had then brought that supposed filth into the ‘purest’ of lines.
If that was not some kind of poetic justice, Hermione had no idea what was.
In a way, that thin white line on her palm comforted in her nightmares. They did not happen often, but when they did, her Mudblood scar would throb painfully – Narcissa’s spell mark would feel oddly soothing.
Narcissa had been a bit more reserved in the castle ever since William White’s incident. It puzzled the brunette somewhat, but the older witch truly opened up whenever they were back at Black Manor – which was at least two or three times a week these days. They had long, deep conversations by the candlelight illuminating their research, about family, Hogwarts, and the War. Touchy subjects, to be sure, but Hermione was glad they were navigating them so well.
She recalled one instance, when they sat together at Black Library. Narcissa was helping her pick a few tomes for her research on Blood Wards.
“Merlin, there must be a million books in here” she groaned under the weight of about six heavy volumes. Narcissa smiled, carrying a much more manageable pile in her arms.
“I’m not certain. There is a number somewhere – this was painstakingly catalogued – I just don’t know what that number is.” She said, carefully placing her load onto one of the desks. Hermione’s bounty was soon approaching thirty books, and the brunette could not be happier about it.
“I’m just saying; I might be the biggest bookworm to have ever lived, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many in one place!” she said truthfully. Was Narcissa blushing?
“Ms. Granger, I highly doubt that. You, such a worldly, travelled witch must have seen your fair share of beautiful libraries around the world.” The blonde countered bashfully.
Narcissa seemed surprised. “Not at all? Why, didn’t you travel around the world during your time in the Ministry?”
“I suppose” Hermione said, frowning at the realization that she had, indeed, travelled around the world for her job, and yet she had seen next to nothing of it. When she was in Paris, she was busy dismantling an international wizarding terrorist cel l; in Rome, she and Draco had almost gotten themselves killed pursuing Death Eater sympathizers ; in St. Petersburg she had been knocked unconscious by an errant curse, and so on and so forth. “I guess my job didn’t really give me time to see the sights.” She finished lamely.
“What a pity.” Narcissa whispered , separating the newly acquired tomes into neat piles onto the table. She sighed. “You must take some time someday, to see the great libraries of the world." Her expression became dreamy. "Lucius took me in our honeymoon – Coimbra, Vienna, Paris... The oldest, most magnificent libraries, Wizarding and Muggle alike . He knew how much I loved books. "
Hermione hoped she had contained her expression of surprise, but it was in vain – once again, it was as if Narcissa had read her mind.
"His care for me surprises you." The blonde said evenly. It wasn't a question.
"I can't say that it doesn't." Hermione confessed, and wasn't that the truth? Ever since she had seen Narcissa's pictures – her wedding, her pregnancy, she and Lucius dancing happily in the garden – she had found it difficult to understand the true nature of Pureblooded relationships. "I thought your marriage had been arranged?"
Narcissa nodded, neatly arranging her pile of books so it stood perfectly straight onto the desk. "Indeed , it was. " She commented flatly.
"Then... why did you seem so happy?" Hermione asked before she could think better of it. The blonde's features immediately darkened, causing the younger witch to backtrack.
"My apologies. It seems my nosy Gryffindor nature still gets the best of me at times." Hermione hissed out, mentally kicking herself.
"Oh, don't trouble yourself, Ms. Granger." Narcissa said. "I don't expect you to understand. I assume the nature of marriage is quite different for... for people of your lineage." She finished awkwardly, and Hermione smiled.
"Yes and no" she explained, drawing a confused look from the older witch. "In ancient times, the nobility often arranged marriages, you know, to keep the power and the prestige in the family. Even nowadays, some Muggle cultures practice arranged marriages, but I assume Pureblooded marriages are more closely related to the former."
Narcissa quirked an eyebrow. "Yes, I suppose. It is not totally unheard of, you know, for love to blossom out of arranged marriages." She commented. Hermione nodded in understanding.
"I suppose." The brunette agreed.
"That, of course, was not quite what happened to me and Lucius. Our marriage had my mother livid." Narcissa said, a hint of amusement in her tone.
"Excuse me? I thought your union was arranged?"
"Oh, it was. But the history behind it is quite complicated – you see, when my mother was young, she had promised to Abraxas Malfoy." The blonde clarified.
Hermione thought her chin would hit the floor. She only registered Narcissa's soft hand as the blonde gently pushed her mouth shut with a laugh.
"I know, quite unexpected. But yes, they were once betrothed , and the legend goes my mother was truly infatuated with him ... So once he married some Half-Blood from France , you understand how she came to despise the Malfoy family."
"But I thought... I thought Pureblooded unions for uh... families of your caliber were often arranged from birth?"
Narcissa nodded. "That is true. But think of it as a financial or political arrangement. Times change, and so do needs and preferences. There is little the groom or bride-to-be can do to change their situation – their respective families, parents specifically, hold all that power."
Hermione took a few moments thinking about what Narcissa had just revealed. What a different world it would have been, if Druella had married Abraxas. Draco wouldn't exist. The Black Sisters, even.
"It's funny" Narcissa interrupted, an odd smile on her face. "I wonder, had my mother married Abraxas, if the Malfoy streak would have been broken."
Hermione quirked an eyebrow. "Streak?"
"My father was always disappointed Druella never gave him any sons." Narcissa said matter-of-factly. "I wonder if that would have been the same with Abraxas – the Malfoy firstborn has always been a male. What if Lucius had been... Lucia? "
The sudden thought of a female with Lucius Malfoy's indomitable sneer was enough to bring forth a rather inelegant snort of laughter. It was enough to make the former Malfoy matriarch let out peals of laughter herself, and soon the two women were practically wheezing with the hilarity of the thought.
"In any case" Narcissa continued, wiping a tear of laughter from her eye "She was staunchly against my marriage to Lucius. But my father, of course, had the final say. Not that I minded – Lucius and I had always had a certain fondness for each other."
"I wonder who you'd have married, if not Lucius." Hermione said. Narcissa gave her an odd look, which led the brunette to babble on. "I mean, surely there must have been men knocking down your door. Your beauty has always been legendary at Hogwarts and..." She practically clicked her mouth closed as a flush furiously overcame her features.
"I suppose" the blonde said with a knowing smirk, obviously relishing in the younger witch's embarrassment. "There were always others waiting in the sidelines. Others were certainly considered. Rabastan , for example, was one – he was meant to marry Andromeda, you know?" She finished sadly.
Hermione's eyes widened. "But... Andromeda had already run off with Ted Tonks?"
"Yes" Narcissa confirmed, suddenly playing with one of the ornate rings she adorned, her discomfort uncharacteristically; evident . "She and Ted ran off before she started her seventh year. They married that summer."
A heavy silence descended upon the two women. While they had been able to talk about almost anything in their little research rendezvous, Hermione was quick to ascertain Andromeda was off-limits. Which was very strange, in her opinion – Narcissa had opened up about so many deep, dark secrets from her past, why could she not speak of her last living relative?
Narcissa's discomfort did not sit well with Hermione. With that in mind, the brunette decided to switch gears – another Muggle expression she'd have to explain some time.
" Rabastan , huh?" She said, a look of feigned disgust upon her face. "You could do better."
Narcissa smiled, evidently grateful for Hermione's effort.
"I did." She quipped.
Hermione had not realized the sun had set as she mused over past conversations. Her desk looked impeccably organized, more than it usually did – it was a clear sign she had been on auto-pilot, moving things around as she let her mind wander. She smirked to herself; not that was a useful quirk.
It was close to dinnertime, she noted, leaving her pristine office. A few scattered students were quick on their way to the Great Hall, and the Transfigurations Professor followed, leisurely strolling through her beloved castle.
A loud bang and the squeals of children startled her as she turned the corner. With the practiced ease of an experienced dueler, Hermione had her wand in hand before she had even truly seen the commotion: Peeves was making it rain pots, pans, and cauldrons over unsuspecting students.
"IMPEDIMENTA!" She shouted, stopping the volley of metal in the air. The targeted students ran off before the spell could wear off, and Peeves the poltergeist floated above it all, laughing and doing pirouettes.
"Peeves!" Hermione hissed. It had been a while since she had to deal with the exasperating poltergeist. Anytime she had to do it again, it was always too soon. "Stop this racket right this minute. Don't make me send for the Baron!" She threatened. Peeves wolf-whistled.
"Grummy-grubby-Granger not up for a night of mischief? Settle your sanctimonious self, sad, sad Granger!"
"Peeves! I will send the Baron after you!"
"Send for some slithery Slytherin to search for other sly slithery Slytherins! Someone's been naughty today already, sneaking and stealing stockings of sassafras and all sorts of slimy stuff; don't come speculating after sorry spectres such as I!"
"Peeves." A voice came, calm and collected, from behind Hermione, making the brunette spin to see Narcissa staring angrily at the jokester.
To Hermione's surprise, the poltergeist's demeanor changed completely once he directed himself to the blonde.
"Lady Black, Lady Black, do forgive us, ma'am! No need to summon the Baron, Peeves is quite well behaved, there's no need to trouble yourself, Lady Black, Lady Black." He said, disappearing in a sudden puff of pink smoke. The pots that had been suspended in the air came clattering down, crashing and banging onto the marble floors.
Narcissa waved her wand absent-mindedly, instantly vanishing the mess.
"What in Merlin's name just happened?" Hermione broke out, stunned. Narcissa merely quirked an eyebrow.
"I beg your pardon?"
"How did you just make him go away so easily? Poof, just like that, and he was gone." She said, still unable to process how effortlessly Narcissa managed to get rid of the pesky spirit. "I'm usually sat there threatening him for a half-hour" she finished sourly.
Narcissa only smiled. "Being Slytherin's Head of House certainly comes with a few perks" she explained, gracefully putting her wand away. "The Baron is quite amenable to my requests."
"I'm not going to lie, that makes me insanely jealous." The brunette quipped, much to Narcissa's delight.
The two walked in companionable silence to the crowded Great Hall. Most students and staff were already seated and eating, and Hermione noticed the Bloody Baron float through the space above them, sparing them – or Narcissa – a short nod in acknowledgement. Strange.
At dinner, Neville was particularly excited to speak to them about the progression of what he called 'The Manor Project'. Narcissa didn't care for the name, Hermione secretly loved it.
"It's unfortunate we had to push it back, but do you think we'll have it ready by summer?" He asked enthusiastically over a plate of stew.
"Mr. Longbottom, Hermione has just started her research. Let's try not to get ahead of ourselves." Narcissa said tactfully.
"I don't know, Ms. Black – you know Hermione is pretty good at this research stuff" he said, winking at the brunette in question.
"Thanks, Nev. But I did just start. I've found lots of interesting things, but nothing concrete to help us just yet." She admitted bashfully.
"Keep in mind, Mr. Longbottom – those wards are among some of the most ancient in Britain." The older woman countered, daintily swirling her honey-wine in her goblet. "To truly crack them, one needs a great deal of time and an even greater deal of talent."
Neville mock-scoffed at Narcissa. "Madam Black, do you not think the Brightest Witch of her Age has what it takes?" He snipped, hand resting dramatically upon his heart. Hermione laughed.
"Au contraire, Master Longbottom" Narcissa said, but her gaze was fixed upon Hermione's. "I have no doubt Ms. Granger will easily exceed even our wildest expectations." She finished with a sip of her wine.
Hermione couldn't help but preen under the praise, though Narcissa's cool gaze sent unfamiliar shivers down her spine. She did not have time to think about the reaction, however, as a commotion broke out at the Slytherin table.
"Help! Somebody, help!"
The three professors immediately turned to the direction of the shouts. Narcissa and Minerva were already rushing down to the Slytherin table, where a handful of students were desperately clawing at their necks, red-faced and foaming at the mouths.
"Clear out! Give us space!" Narcissa shouted, and it was the strangest sound Hermione had ever heard – she had never witnessed the blonde raise her volume in such a way, and it sounded unnatural and frightening.
Hermione and Neville joined other professors, quickly moving curious students away from the commotion; they directed a few Prefects to help trying to control the throng as Narcissa knelt by a fallen student Hermione recognized as Edgar Davies, cupping his cheeks, which were beginning to turn blue.
"Accio Bezoar!!" Narcissa whispered harshly, and soon enough students and teachers alike were ducking out of the way from flying boxes, no doubt summoned from the Potions Professor's quarters.
"Minerva, Poppy, take some; this looks like a common poison, we have no time to..."
Narcissa was unable to finish her efficient commands as the most absurdly strange thing happened. Davies' skin started to bubble, his choking began to calm. All looked to the fallen boy with a mix of uncertainty and curiosity; Narcissa had quirked an eyebrow when it happened:
An angry green rash began to form on Edgar Davies' neck and cheeks; a viscous purple plant began to sprout out of his nostrils and ears. One quick look around the area showed the six students affected, all of whom had previously been choking desperately, in similar predicaments.
Davies looked like a deer in headlights as he began to pull at the plant coming out of his ears. "What's happening to meergh!!" He barked, as fistfuls of dirt began to form in his mouth. As he panicked, he noticed the green rash – it had spread from his face to his arms and hands, slowly turning the boy into a walking vegetable.
Narcissa stood with a mighty roll of her eyes, helping the gob smacked young man to his feet. Pomfrey and McGonagall stood petrified, bezoars in hand and unsure of what to do, waiting for the Potions Professor to direct them.
"It's nothing to be afraid of, Mr. Davies" Narcissa said softly, trying to pry Edgar's attention from the dirt still spilling from his mouth. "It is merely a Green-Fingered Draught." She explained, much to the shock of most present. "I'm afraid you've been tricked by a gardener."
The declaration made the earlier gasps of horror and shock turn into crazed peals of laughter as the students witnessing the spectacle realized their peers were not in any danger. The entirety of the Great Hall erupted in raucous laughter, the Prefects' and teachers' calls for order going ignored.
"Silence!" Came Minerva McGonagall's booming voice, reverberating off the walls thanks to a Sonorus charm and quieting the Hall at once. "Prefects, lead your Housemates to their Common Rooms. You may all finish your supper in your Common Rooms; food will be brought to you. Dismissed!"
It was a good hour and a half later that all Professors were tightly packed into Minerva's office, after seeing that the affected students had been properly cared for. As it turned out, the Green-Fingered Draught was mostly innocuous – according to Narcissa, it had been created by naturalist Wizards eager to 'become one' with their gardens. She also explained it had some significant hallucinatory effects to it, which is why Edgar and the other Slytherins targeted had been confined to the Hospital Wing for observation – they had begun to see butterflies and badgers where there were none. They were also trying to pick flowers from each other's heads.
"Poppy, how are they?" Asked Minerva, turning an apprehensive eye to the Matron.
"I have separated them – the effects are harmless, but quite a handful. They should be fine by morning or soon after."
"Good" agreed the Headmistress. A wave of relieved nods seemed to permeate the room. "While the potion is fortunately inoffensive for the most part, students were essentially poisoned during dinner. That is unacceptable behavior" she said, looking stern. "I ask all of you to remain vigilant – pranks, as we know, are all too common, but this is a step too far. If someone somehow tampered with these students' food, that opens up all sorts of much darker possibilities."
Minerva then turned to Narcissa. "Ms. Black, what else can you tell us about this Green-Fingered Draught?"
"As Poppy said, it is harmless. It is a fairly simple potion to brew – simple ingredients, simple method, and simple instructions. Anyone could have brewed it."
"This potion is not in the curriculum, though it is not impossible for a student to have come across it during research. They would, however, come upon some difficulties in procuring all the necessary ingredients."
Minerva raised her brows in interest. "Why would that be, Ms. Black?"
"The main active ingredient for the Green-Fingered Draught is Sassafras Pulp. It is not in the ingredients list for any year, and I have just checked my stockroom – there is none missing." Narcissa pointed out. Hermione almost didn't listen to what the blonde was saying; instead, her mind was running a mile a minute.
"Peeves!" She exclaimed suddenly, startling all present.
"I beg your pardon, Ms. Granger? Do you actually think Peeves the poltergeist brewed a potion?" Flitwick commented, his air baffled.
"No, no, no!" Hermione said, shaking her head. "It was something he said earlier" she turned to Narcissa. "When he was dropping all those pots in the corridor."
Narcissa and Minerva looked at her with interest. "What did he say?" Narcissa asked.
"He said something about someone 'stealing stockings of sassafras and... and all sorts of slimy stuff', I think" Hermione breathed out.
"Ms. Granger, Ms. Black checked her stockroom. There was no Sassafras missing, so no one could have stolen it." Minerva said, looking a tad confused.
"Wait," Neville interjected. "Did he specifically say 'stockings of sassafras'?"
Hermione nodded. "I'm almost positive."
Neville looked triumphant for a moment. "I know where they stole it from. Come with me."
Minerva dismissed most of the professors from her office while she, Hermione, and Narcissa followed hot on Neville's heels. He spoke animatedly as they made their way down and out of the castle, walking swiftly over a grassy pathway leading to the outskirts of the Forbidden Forest.
"There's an old, old greenhouse just down South of here" he said, gesturing over the path they now walked.
"It was used for NEWT-level Herbology and Apothecary Sciences at the turn of the century. I rediscovered it last year and was thinking of making it functional again."
The group stopped by an old edifice that had obviously seen better days – a thick mesh of vines seemed to be holding it up; its stone structure was completely covered with it, and the few remaining panels of glass were either broken completely or too murky to even look like glass. But what caught Hermione's attention were the foul-smelling leather pouches hung all around, on the greenhouse, on nearby trees – there were hundreds scattered everywhere she looked.
"Sassafras stockings." Narcissa murmured.
"Yes." Neville said. "The sassafras plant keep rodents and other undesirable critters away. These pouches contain the fresh sassafras inside, left to ferment – the smell cleanses spaces of unwanted weeds, as well."
"Merlin, I think it cleanses the space of anything that breathes. Good Godric, that is foul!" Hermione snipped, covering her nose with the sleeve of her robe.
"This can't be it. The Green-Fingered Draught requires fresh Sassafras Pulp; the fermentation would render the plant ineffective." Narcissa said. Hermione saw her face return slightly to the odd look she sported when they first met – that of someone who had shit under their nose. The brunette held her laughter; at least now the blonde had an excuse.
"Maybe, but Sassafras takes months to ferment. The ones here at the front were put in two months ago. But I have several others down at the back that I only put on this morning. They'd still be fresh."
"This morning?" Minerva pressed, undeniably impressed. She turned to Narcissa. "How long does it take to brew this Green-Fingered Draught?"
"Less than a day. It's quite a simple concoction."
"We have to find Peeves" Hermione interjected. "I'm sure he saw someone. He can tell us who."
"We should also look at students who missed any classes today" Narcissa said suddenly. "While the potion itself is quite simple, one needs to watch it constantly; missing the adequate points of addition render the entire batch useless."
Hermione immediately volunteered to check the attendance records for the day. Narcissa followed, while Neville took his time examining the greenhouse to ascertain how much sassafras had been stolen. Minerva said she would personally take care of Peeves, and the group quickly disbanded.
It was shortly an hour later that Hermione and Narcissa found themselves elbow deep in attendance sheets. Hermione had come to a startling revelation: a lot of students skived off class. Narcissa had only laughed when the brunette pointed it out.
"Really, Hermione, have you never missed class in your lifetime?" Narcissa asked with a chuckle. Hermione shook off the strange tingle she felt whenever the blonde called her by her first name.
"Only under extraneous circumstances! Such as being petrified, or on the run from a genocidal maniac." She muttered sourly. She looked at Narcissa from the corner of her eye. "You?"
"I must have skipped half of my Divination lessons" Narcissa admitted with a knowing look. "I must admit I'm surprised you didn't do the same, given your dislike for the discipline."
Hermione could not help a smile, but groaned with one look at the pile of sheets on the table before them.
"This is useless" she moaned. "Many of these were in the Infirmary, and several others were in their rooms all day – no House Elves mentioned anything about students brewing potions in their dorm rooms."
"Which means the person responsible did it somewhere else." Narcissa said in a defeated tone, tossing a sheet back in the pile. "Think: what is a good corner of this castle to do things unnoticed?" She said, overly seriously, but with a hint of mirth in her eyes.
Hermione cackled. "Let me see... there are about a million." She laughed as Narcissa joined.
"Oh, this is hopeless." Narcissa snipped. "It's no use."
Hermione sat down, her head in her hands. "There must be an easier way to do this. But maybe if we talk to Edgar Davies..." She drifted off suddenly, her eyes wide as saucers.
"Ms. Granger?" Narcissa called, eyebrow quirked. "Hermione?" She tried again when the brunette said nothing.
"Davies!" Hermione suddenly shouted, startling the other witch.
"What about him, Ms. Granger?"
"He was in the scuffle with Will White! Neville told me he knew a few older Slytherins, Davies among them, were involved. But William never wanted to give us any names." She said, speaking unnaturally fast. She whipped her head towards Narcissa. "Who were the students poisoned by the Green-Fingered Draught?"
"Edgar Davies, Andrew Miller, Sarah and Louis Bodart, Genevieve Hawthorne, and Samuel Cambria." Narcissa drawled out, understanding dawning on her features. "They're all Edgar's usual posse."
The two witches looked at one another in shock, a heavy and strange silence hung in the air. Hermione was the one to break it in a baffled whisper.
"I think Will White may have done this."
Sorry for the long wait. Truth is, sometimes you have to take a little time, and I just needed more time than I thought I would. The world is full of ugly, sad, painful things, and there are times when we have to take a step back to see the good in it. Tip of the day is to take some time to breathe, take some time for yourself, and do at least one little thing with your day only for yourself. Just focus on getting through today - tomorrow may be better, or even worse, but it won't be today.
116 123 (UK)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The ‘Vegetable Incident’ was forgotten quite quickly by the vast majority of the student body by the time Edgar Davies and his crew were released from the Hospital Wing. The tips of their noses were still tinged slightly green for a few more days, but aside from that, they were not any worse for the wear.
A few professors, however, had not so easily forgotten, especially Narcissa and Hermione. Narcissa had used her influence upon the Bloody Baron to inquire as to Peeves’ whereabouts when the sassafras had been stolen. To their dismay, though Peeves had indeed seen a student run off with the smelly plant, he had not seen his face, only the back of his head.
And, to thwart the two professors’ suspicions over the Slytherin Muggleborn, the student Peeves had seen was decidedly not blond.
With no new leads to pursue, Narcissa and Hermione had resigned themselves to giving the young William White the benefit of the doubt. At best, he had not taken part in the ill-advised prank; at worst, he had an accomplice. Were the latter easy to confirm, Narcissa could even guess who – Spencer Wyndham – but with nothing concrete to tie to the two boys to the unfortunate occurrence, there was nothing they could do about it. Furthermore, they still had not determined how the potion had been added to the students' food – it had been done in plain sight after its appearance in the Hall, for the kitchen House Elves had not detected any tempering. Hermione had not liked the state of things of course, but even she had to admit their hands were tied thus far.
As it was, the thrill of Christmas had proceeded unimpeded through the castle. Students chattered excitedly about their plans for the long-awaited holiday, and even those very few who chose to remain at the school talked animatedly about possible snowball fights and other shenanigans.
It filled Narcissa’s heart with an odd kind of nostalgia, as well as a new sort of anticipation. She had never spent Christmas at Hogwarts as a child, but this year she would be spending Christmas Eve at the castle while Draco spent it with his wife and her family. She’d get to spoil her grandson rotten on Christmas Day – she’d probably ruined a few other children’s Christmas with the amount of toys she’d bought. A Black never did anything in halves.
She overlooked her office, tidying quietly after an afternoon spent in harried grading. She’d never given much thought to how much of that she’d do as a Professor – she had also not anticipated how many students would come running to her office begging for another chance at last minute assignments. Some of her sixth and seventh years were struggling; however did Slughorn accept them into his NEWT program with their abilities, she couldn’t guess.
Narcissa looked over at the notice board in her office. It mirrored the one for students’ use in the Slytherin Common Room, not that her students knew it. It made it incredibly handy in the event of inappropriate usage; just last week Rodney Hamptom had been baffled to be caught immediately after posting some less-than-savory adverts.
Its main use at the moment was keeping track of the students who were to stay over for the Holiday, along with her teacher’s ledger. Today was the deadline for declaring their intent to stay, and thus far only a handful of Slytherin had opted to.
However, now it lit up slightly – signaling another entry – as another student scribbled on their name. Narcissa was a bit surprised to see the clumsy W’s forming William White’s name, but she took note of it on her ledger and did not think of it again.
“Thank you, Ginny, but I think I’ll pass.”
“Not again! ‘Mione, come on. You gotta say yes sometime.”
“I’ll agree to a blind date when I very well please, thank you. Remember last time? You set me up with a convict!”
“Ex-convict! And how was I to know? If you can’t recall, he had stolen someone else’s identity.”
“You just made my point abundantly clear.”
“And that point would be?”
“Stop trying to set me up.”
The redhead groaned in deep annoyance as she downed the last of her pumpkin juice. Ginny had come to meet Hermione at the Three Broomsticks for ‘drinks’, though in her pregnant state, all she was allowed to have was pumpkin juice and fizzy water. It did not stop her from trying to live vicariously through Hermione, who was on her third Butterbeer of the night. Thank Merlin it was not a Hogsmeade night – having students see her inebriated would be undignified.
“Save it, ‘Mione. Mum’s close to a conniption fit because you’re the only one not married or on your way to married.”
“Why do you sound drunk when all you’ve had…”
“The point is, ‘Mione, you need someone to warm your bed in the winter…”
“Can one get drunk on fumes? Don’t breathe in my butterbeer!”
Ginny smacked her playfully. “I’m serious, ‘Mione. My mum keeps nagging us over when you’ll grace the world with your litter of bushy-haired geniuses.”
Hermione pulled a face. “Litter?”
“It’s a Weasley thing, haven’t you noticed?” Ginny laughed.
“So why is Molly so worried about me? She’s got grandkids already and some more on the way.”
“Yeah, but she sees you as a daughter, and wants you to get out there. She always says how you’re so good with Teddy, maybe you and Andromeda should have given it a go.”
Hermione wasn’t expecting to spit out her butterbeer – or for it to come gushing out her nose – but that was exactly what happened. Ginny herself almost drowned in her own saliva at the brunette’s reaction and resulting coughs.
“What?” the brunette practically screeched, her sinuses burning. Ginevra was still laughing.
“The look on your face!”
Hermione’s look soured at her friend’s amusement. “Gee, thanks, Ginny. Now I have butterbeer all over my robes.” She said sarcastically.
“Oh, come off it, Granger” Ginny quipped through her giggles, deftly waving her wand and vanishing the mess Hermione’s impromptu spit take had made. “Why haven’t you?” she added.
Hermione raised a brow. “Why haven’t I what?”
“Given it a go.”
Hermione’s eyes widened to the size of saucers – causing her friend to laugh even more.
“With Andromeda? Ginny, how much of my butterbeer have you inhaled?”
Ginny simply whacked her arm once more. “Why wouldn’t you? You’re both good-looking, bloody smart, and you’re so, so good with Teddy.”
“That doesn’t mean I should have a relationship with her. Might I add, she’s a mother and a grandmother!”
“Not that she looks it.” Ginny quipped with a suggestive waggle of her eyebrows. It was Hermione’s turn to whack her friend in annoyance.
“Alright, alright” Ginny relented, putting her arms up in surrender. “I’m not actually serious. But can you answer me something?”
“Sure.” Hermione replied with a roll of her eyes.
“Does the age thing bother you? I mean, were it a man, would it bother you?”
Hermione took a moment to think.
“I don’t think so. Honestly, I think as long as I can have a connection, a person’s age becomes secondary, you know?” she chuckled. “All I want is stimulating conversation.” She joked.
Ginny had her in. “Among other stimulating activities, I hope.”
Hermione tossed a piece of bread at her.
Despite Ginny’s nagging, it had been nice to see her friend again. With the end of term, Hermione had been busier than ever grading essays and late assignments, so it was good to take a little time to unwind.
She made her way back to the castle on foot despite the bitter cold, even deciding to forgo a warming charm in favor of feeling the gentle bite of the wind on her cheeks. The vision of the castle blanketed in snow was worth it.
Hermione had just turned a corner on her usual path leading back to the illuminated castle when movement caught her eye. There it was, the unmistakable faint flicker of a candle, coming from within Greenhouse One.
The young professor sighed in annoyance. What was it with greenhouses and suspicious movement after hours? The culprit was unlikely to be Neville – he had been with Luna at the Three Broomsticks when she left. The conclusion led her to believe there was a student messing about the greenhouse... far after curfew.
Somewhat miffed she’d be forced to play the hard disciplinarian so close to the holiday while slightly intoxicated, Hermione took out her wand as she surreptitiously made her way inside. She had barely crossed the glassy threshold when she heard the snipping of garden shears.
Hermione rounded a corner of bushes only to find William White kneeling by a short vase, pruning yellow petals into a leather pouch. The young boy seemed completely lost in his work, pruning buds and separating their petals deftly, in quiet concentration.
“Mr. White?” Hermione spoke softly.
“Augh!” the boy yipped in shock, almost knocking himself over with the strength with which he turned on his knees to face his professor. “P-professor Granger!”
Hermione sheathed her wand with a sigh. “Mr. White, can you please explain to me why you’re out here past curfew, pruning flowers?”
William looked terribly sheepish. “I’m sorry, Professor. I was collecting some Arnica buds – I want to practice making some Bruise Removal Paste. I must have lost track of time, ma’am.”
Hermione looked at her watch in disbelief. “Bruise Removal Paste? William, it’s the last day of term, why would you be practicing something I hear you’re already quite good at?”
William blushed, his embarrassment tangible. “I... I wanted to make it a gift for my mum. I can’t... I can’t buy her anything from the Wizarding World, so I thought I’d make her something. I needed a few more buds for my mixture” he confessed.
Hermione couldn’t help a smile at the boy’s sweetness, though she had to admit Bruise Removal Paste would make an odd gift. “That’s very nice, Mr. White. But why Bruise Removal Paste?”
To her surprise, William looked as comfortable as she had ever seen him. He chuckled good-naturedly, shrugging his shoulders. “It’s something I’m good at” he said with a smile. “And I thought my mum would get a kick out of it, too – she's a clumsy lady, always with a little bruise here or there.”
Hermione was mollified by the answer. Still, he was out of bed apst curfew, and she was a Professor. “While I admire your good intentions, Mr. White, you ought to know it does not excuse your breach of the rules. You know about curfew.” she said, doing her best not too sound too severe.
William looked defeated. Hermione paused to think about what his snootier Slytherin classmates would think of the Muggleborn losing them House points – even the measly five or so points that usually followed a first infraction of this kind.
“However,” she continued after pondering “since it is your first infraction, and it’s practically the holidays already, I’m inclined to let you go with a stern warning.” She finished with a smile. “I’m in a giving mood. Christmas spirit and all that.”
William smiled back. “It won’t happen again, Professor, I promise!”
“Good. Now, Mr. White, off to bed with you. Don’t let Mr. Filch catch you roaming the corridors this time of night.” Hermione warned.
With a quick nod, William gathered his supplies and swiftly made his way out of the greenhouse. Hermione could not help feeling a little bit of relief over their strange exchange; William seemed a lot more comfortable around her. She was even somewhat glad he was the one out of bed past curfew, other students would most likely need a firmer hand – her troublesome Gryffindor Atticks, to name one. Extinguishing the candle left by the student with a silent spell, she too left the greenhouse.
Hermione was almost through the courtyard when her attention was once again caught by movement coming from her peripheral vision. A shimmer of white dashed through the side, and she turned her head just in time to make out the snowy white fox that was Narcissa’s Animagus form.
Hermione’s morning started with a dry throat and a throbbing head. Despite her care the previous night, it seemed she had become unaccustomed to drinking so late in the night. She would need a good dose of Caldwell’s Crapulence Concoction if she ever expected to make it down for breakfast without hurling.
It was on her way down to the Great Hall that she met Narcissa. The blonde looked a little better-rested than she had in previous days, though Hermione suspected her late-evening stroll in her Animagus form had something to do with it.
“Good morning, Hermione.” Narcissa greeted her with a smile. She seemed to be in a good mood.
“Good morning, Narcissa.” the brunette responded in kind, still oddly thrilled to hear the impeccable woman call her by her first name. It had happened several times now, but somehow it always sounded foreign and so good to hear.
The two walked side by side, in a rhythm that felt familiar. Despite the early hour, the Great Hall was packed – students were overly excited in their last hours in the castle before going home, and those who were staying were eagerly planning out their holiday at Hogwarts. Hermione caught sight of Neville – Luna at his side wearing big sleigh-bell earrings.
“’Mione! Ms. Black! Come on over here, look at the size of these flapjacks!” Neville cheered, his cheeks rosier than ever.
Narcissa quirked an eyebrow and Hermione laughed as they took their seats. Luna was quick to intervene.
“Don’t mind him – he's had a few too many of Hagrid’s eggnog.”
Hermione cackled. “Nev, I’ve told you repeatedly that stuff is potent. Shouldn’t have it before dark.”
“Pish-posh!” Neville scoffed, waving his hand. “Lookit: the pot calling the kettle black! You’re the one who had a few too many last night, didn’t ya?”
Narcissa’s eyebrow quirked a bit more; she smirked. “Well, Ms. Granger, it seems you cannot fault Mr. Longbottom” she quipped in an over-the-top snooty tone.
Hermione laughed, happy with the air their side of the staff table carried. “I’ll have you know, Narcissa, Neville imbibed just as much yesterday as he’s done today.” She looked at her friend. “You’re just continuing the party.”
“Right, right” Neville conceded, handing Hermione a goblet. “How was it with Ginny?”
“Infuriating as usual” Hermione replied, taking one sniff of the offered goblet and immediately rejecting the eggnog.
“Oh?” Narcissa interjected, stopping Neville’s attempt to offer her some eggnog with a single pointed glare. “And how is Mrs. Potter?”
“Positively glowing” Hermione said. “Pregnancy suits her well, though she tends to get a bit overbearing.”
“I’ll say” Narcissa chuckled. “That must be why she’s joined her mother in her efforts to owl me all through this month.”
Hermione stopped the spoonful of porridge she had been directing toward her mouth. Molly and Ginny owled Narcissa?
“Ginny’s owled you?”
Narcissa simply nodded. “All through this month and the last. Her mother does it every year for Christmas – at times Mr. Potter will join.”
“What are they owling you for?”
An elegant shoulder shrug was the blonde’s initial response. “Molly has tirelessly invited me to the Weasley Christmas dinner. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve had to politely decline. They’re quite stubborn, those Weasleys” she said, though her voice held no malice, only amusement.
Hermione could not quite wrap her mind around the fact that Molly had been habitually inviting Narcissa Malfoy/Black to Christmas Dinner. Had anyone ever been planning on telling her that?
“I assume you’re busy with Draco and Astoria.” The brunette replied, opting for tact, but still puzzled.
“Oh, but Narcissa, aren’t Draco and Astoria spending Christmas Eve with the Greengrass clan this year?” Luna suddenly butted in, surprising the two other professors. They had forgotten the quirky Ravenclaw was with them.
“Is that so?” Hermione blurted out, unable to help herself. “Narcissa... you’re not spending Christmas Eve alone, are you?”
The Transfigurations Professor could tell the blonde had flushed a bit at her assumption, but Narcissa had expertly reigned it in with an expression of indignity.
“Oh, stop it, all of you. I’ll be perfectly content. Frankly, I could use some peace for a change.”
Hermione couldn’t resist rolling her eyes. What a fraud was Narcissa Black.
“Come off it. Why don’t you go to the Burrow?” Hermione said defiantly. “I’m sure you wouldn’t want to miss a night with your favorite Transfigurations Professor” she said smugly, hoping to defuse any potential awkwardness. Surely Narcissa would prefer spending an evening with her – and several Weasleys – than completely alone. Wouldn’t she?
Somehow, Narcissa’s already pale face gained an unusual pallor. “Ms. Granger... I wouldn’t want to impose.”
“You wouldn’t be. Molly invited you, didn’t she? So did Ginny?” Hermione pressed. Narcissa’s face was tinged with green.
“Be that as it may, I would rather not inconvenience others that may be present at this... gathering.”
Hermione figured she looked as puzzled as she felt; Narcissa’s face was contorted in an expression of deep embarrassment. Was she missing something painfully obvious? Luna was the one to interject again.
“I wouldn’t worry, Narcissa” the young woman said, betraying not a care in the world. “Andromeda is taking Teddy to see some of Ted’s family this year.”
Hermione wanted to kick herself, though the feeling didn’t last long. It was replaced by her biggest asset and biggest fault in one, her morbid curiosity. Was the relationship between the last remaining Blacks so frayed they had to continuously avoid each other?
“Oh, Narcissa, I’m sorry, I didn’t realize...” Hermione began. “But in all seriousness, do consider coming – you can come as my guest.” She added.
Narcissa still looked like she desperately wished for the ground to open up and swallow her whole.
“Yeah! Come on, cut Molly a break. She’s been inviting you since forever.” Yipped Neville, who had been preoccupied with yet another serving of eggnog.
“Oh, alright, alright, if I must. I suppose it won’t hurt to spend a few minutes – Mr. Potter may stop nagging me as well. That’s an added benefit.” Narcissa finally relented with a sigh.
Hermione could not suppress the genuine smile that tugged at her lips. She even felt a little smug – for what, she had no idea.
“And wipe that smirk off your face” Narcissa warned the brunette, waving a fork in her direction. “It’s undignified” she huffed.
The Great Hall had been largely emptied out a half hour later. Neville and Luna had excused themselves, but Hermione and Narcissa had remained at the staff table, chatting mostly about the blood wards they’d been so painstakingly researching. Their work had been much slower than either of them preferred, but meeting in the lounge and apparating directly to the massive Black Library had become a pleasant sort of ritual through the weeks. Hermione was looking forward to doing even more thanks to the holiday.
Somehow, the conversation turned to Christmas. Hermione was not the least surprised at how formal and stiff the Black celebrations turned out to be. She was, however, surprised to learn how Bellatrix and Andromeda had been fond of pranking a young Narcissa by hiding all of her presents, year after year. The blonde’s reminiscence made Hermione itch to ask about the situation with Andromeda, but the young professor held her tongue.
“And so it went,” Narcissa continued the story she had been telling previously. “Bella enchanted the reindeer decorations to do all sorts of unspeakable things on Christmas morning. Merlin, I thought Father’s head would explode right then and there.”
“Hah!” Hermione laughed, choosing to ignore the weird feeling she got in the pit of her stomach whenever she heard of Bellatrix doing anything even remotely human... or fun. “I’m sure similar things happen at Hogwarts all the time – Fred and George certainly would have loved to do something like that.”
“Did you not spend your Christmases at the castle?”
“Uh, maybe one or two. I spent some with my parents, others with the Weasleys... Once in a cemetery.” Hermione recalled, a shiver going up her spine. Everything that had happened, so long ago now... It did not bear thinking about.
“This would have been my first Christmas spent at the castle” Narcissa confessed. “I can’t help but admit to feeling ever so slightly curious.”
Hermione smirked. “It’s good fun. The Christmas Eve banquet is incomparable – but don’t you dare tell Molly I said that.”
“My lips are sealed. I’m surprised by how few students are staying behind; I always thought more would like to spend the holidays here.” Narcissa pointed out.
“Not really” Hermione said, her tone a little sad. “It’s a time for families. Those who stay behind usually don’t have a ton to look forward to in that regard. At the very least, they’ve got their Hogwarts family here to welcome them.”
Narcissa turned pensive. “I wonder then, why William White is staying behind. Perhaps he feels alienated by the Wizarding World? I’m uncertain of how a Muggleborn would deal with such a situation.”
Hermione paused and turned to look at the blonde in question. “William White? But he’s not staying; he’s going home. He told me so last night, when I caught him out of bed after hours.”
Narcissa’s eyebrows shot up. “That cannot be. It was only yesterday when his name was added to my list.” She paused to take her wand out of her sleeve and discreetly waved it under the table in a movement that resembled a Summoning Charm to Hermione. Suddenly, a bulge appeared in Narcissa’s side pocket, and the blonde gingerly lifted a book from it.
“My ledger” she explained to Hermione, who at once understood. Teacher’s ledgers were incredibly useful – attendance, notice boards, grades, even detention slips – practically everything was enchanted into it. It was a great way to keep track of everything. She calmly flipped through a few pages. “William’s name appeared on my notice board early yesterday evening.”
The blonde found what she was looking for, given her sigh. “And sure enough -- it was crossed out.”
“That’s very strange.” Hermione commented. Why would he sign up to stay and then change his mind so suddenly?”
“I’ll tell you what else is strange” Narcissa added. “You say you caught him after hours? I see no record of a detention slip or a reduction of points for the infraction.”
Hermione gave a sheepish sigh. “Oh, no, that was me. I let him go with a warning.”
Narcissa pursed her lips. “What was he doing after curfew?”
“Gathering some plants at Greenhouse One. He was using them for a gift for his mom, I believe.”
“That’s a serious infraction, Ms. Granger. You should have deducted points, even if just a few. This could be interpreted as preferential treatment on your part. What would his traditionalist classmates think?”
Hermione bristled – she had been precisely trying to avoid issue with said traditionalist classmates. One look at Narcissa’s expression, however, and she decided to let the matter drop. The woman was an expert on the Pureblood modus operandi -- it would be best to defer to her.
“I’ll keep that in mind. My apologies.”
“No matter” Narcissa said, deftly flipping the ledger and vanishing it wordlessly. We have another matter to discuss. It’s of great urgency and importance.”
Hermione was all years -- it sounded serious. “What is it?”
“I face the strangest of predicaments.” Narcissa turned to pierce Hermione’s eyes with her steely gaze. “What in Merlin’s name shall I bring to a dinner hosted by Molly Weasley?”
Hermione laughed. “Anything related to Celestina Warbeck.”
Thank you to all my readers for your continued support. I am tirelessly working on my life at the moment, but Perhaps and For The Better WILL continue.
Thank you for your continued support. Figured I'd post as I finished writing. This chapter ended up massive, so I broke it up in two. Hopefully the second part will come out later this week after a few edits.
“How dare you break into my house! How did you manage to get past the wards?!”
“You may blast me off the tapestry, but I am still your blood. You married into this House – as far as it knows, the blood of your blood is welcome here.”
Narcissa could feel the pain traveling up her arm from clenching her fists so hard. The silhouette standing in her personal library would haunt her dreams forever. The hand that held her wand was stiff as a board to her side, clutching it in a desperate grip, and yet it trembled so at the sight of her sister.
“Leave, now! Bella already suspects me. You shouldn’t be here.” Her voice felt cold and dead; she dared raise her wand towards Andromeda, who had just seconds before sheathed her own in a gesture of surrender. She made no movement to arm herself once more, but her eyes betrayed total and utter disappointment – it made Narcissa fell dead inside.
“You would raise your wand to your own sister?”
Narcissa found it in herself to snarl. “That is nothing compared to what Bella will do to you if she sees you. She will kill you.” She said it and at once believed it – the fury with which Bellatrix had burnt Andromeda’s name from their tapestry was just the tip of the iceberg. Narcissa had never seen hatred so pure, ire so intense.
“I can handle Bellatrix” Andromeda said with disgust. Narcissa couldn’t tell whether she believed it or not.
“Listen to yourself. No one can handle Bellatrix – not even the Dark Lord.”
“Leave this place, Cissy. Come with me.”
Narcissa’s arm faltered. Andromeda couldn’t be serious.
“You must be out of your mind. My son is here, I will not leave him!”
“Then we’ll take him with us! The Order will protect you, Cissy, I promise. Come with me, please, speak to Dumbledore – he will harbor no ill will towards you and Draco.”
Narcissa laughed; her laughter was dry and humorless. It made Andromeda back away -- it was the only time Narcissa ever reminded her of their oldest sister.
“You think it’s so easy, don’t you? You think anyone can pack up and leave, just like you did. You think anyone can turn their back on their family like you!” She accused, her wand hand trembling more than ever. Hot streaks of tears marred her cheeks; Narcissa resolutely refused to acknowledge such weakness.
“It wasn’t easy! I never wanted to leave you Cissy; it was the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do! Please, I beg of you, come with me. Bring Draco; you can still have a family!” Andromeda pleaded, daring to take a step in Narcissa’s direction.
“Do not take another step!” Narcissa practically screeched. Andromeda froze in her tracks, her face belying her shock. “I have a family! My son, my husband, my dying father! And I have my sister, the one who never abandoned me and never will, the one who loves me as a sister should!”
“I love you, Cissy! Bellatrix will abandon you; her only love is to her Dark Lord. She will leave you if it comes to it. It’s her nature.” Andromeda reasoned, her eyes resolute.
“Never!” Narcissa barked back. “You don’t know what’s she’s like, you don’t know what she’s been through or how she’s felt since she lost Ophelia. You left! She needs me!”
Andromeda’s expression held a hint of tenderness. “I cannot even begin to comprehend the pain of losing a child. But Bellatrix was on her way to madness before then, surely you must know that. She’s lost Cissy, lost forever to His darkness. Please don’t go the same way.”
Narcissa lowered her wand, and made an enormous effort to inject as much venom as she could in her voice. “Unlike you, I stay for my family. I stay for those who need me.”
The moonlight hit, unobstructed by clouds, just at the right angle for Narcissa to see the tears glimmering from Andromeda’s eyes. She gripped her wand with more fervor; it wouldn’t do to falter now.
“Cissy... please. I’m your family. I need you. I love you.”
Narcissa righted her wand. “You were my family. You left us, you left me.”
“Cissy, no. I beg of you, don’t do this, please.”
Narcissa could not move a muscle; Andromeda tried one more step towards her sister. Suddenly, the library door and surrounding wall exploded in a million pieces, scattering rocks and dirt on its wake. Both sisters coughed with the cloud of dust and turned to face the intruder; Andromeda was quick to grasp her wand and point it in their direction.
“Well look what we have here... a wee family reunion, it seems? And no one thought to invite me. I’m hurt.”
Narcissa’s blood turned cold at Bellatrix’s voice; she did not dare spare Andromeda another glance.
“Not a word from you, Cissy. I should have known. I’ve suspected it for a long time, but I never thought you’d stoop so low as to associate with filth. Frankly, I’m disappointed.” The oldest Black said, twirling her wand in her fingers, not in the least threatened by two wands pointed at her.
“Lower your wand, Cissy; don’t you dare defy me.” She shot at her youngest sister. Narcissa’s response was immediate – her arm lowered automatically, before she could even think about it. “Look at you. Pen-pals with mud! You disgust me!”
“Bella, no, I...” Narcissa tried weakly, her voice trembled with fear.
“I said not another word!” Bellatrix snarled, effectively silencing the blonde. Her gaze turned to Andromeda, whose wand arm visibly shook as she pointed it to Bellatrix’s chest.
“And you... You’ve got a lot of nerve, showing your face here, Drommie.” She gangly stepped forward, the click of her heels echoing menacingly on the marble floor. “But I’m glad. I’ve been itching to blast your face, just like I did to the tapestry.”
“I’m not afraid of you.” Andromeda declared stoically, though her expression betrayed her fear.
“We shall see, won’t we? Do you really think you can best me in a duel, filth?” Bellatrix cackled; she felt so at ease she had yet to stop twirling her wand. Nothing about her posture announced her intention to attack, yet both sisters knew full well she needed but a split second to do a lot of damage. “You, who always excelled in... what was it, let’s see... Herbology? Astronomy? Valid disciplines, of course, but if I remember correctly, you’re well known for your in-depth analysis of... Muggle Studies, is it not? So in-depth, in fact, you spread your legs and accepted mud!” she shrieked.
“Mock me if you want, I don’t care. I’m leaving, and I’m taking Cissy with me!” Andromeda barked, her determination as evident as her fear.
Bellatrix suddenly froze, and her steely gaze found Narcissa’s panicked blue orbs. “Is that so, Cissy? You’d dare leave me for this traitor and her half-breed child?”
“No! Bella, I... no!” Narcissa cried. Bellatrix looked positively murderous.
“I should hope not... Do you know what I’d do to darling little Draco if you did? I’d rip his little fat limbs apart... bite those chubby cheeks until they bleed. You know I would; I don’t care if he’s my nephew. Betray me, and all he is to me is filth – you know how I hate filth!”
“Bella, no! No, I promise, I promise I wasn’t going to!” Narcissa wailed, tears freely streaming down her cheeks. Bellatrix was unfazed.
“You monster!” Andromeda hissed. “She’s your sister, not some pawn in your sick game!”
Bellatrix chuckled darkly. “Ah, yes, she’s my sister.” She said, her voice sickeningly sweet as she stalked towards the trembling Narcissa. “Unlike you. And she’ll stay right here where she belongs – with her family.”
Bellatrix deflected Andromeda’s clumsy spell without even blinking, and her blood-red lips tugged upwards in a shark-like grin at the pathetic attempt. The only emotion her features betrayed was maniacal glee.
“You’ll regret that, Drommie.” She made to raise her wand.
The spell came from the other side of the room. Suddenly, Andromeda’s body shot through the window like a bullet, out of Bellatrix’s range, shattering the glass in a deafening burst. The force of the impact was enough to push Bellatrix backwards. Before the Dark witch could fully regain her footing, she heard the unmistakable crack of Andromeda dis apparating away .
“No!” she howled in fury. Her head turned, fast as a whip, to where Narcissa stood, her eyes wide, the wand that had just expulsed Andromeda out to safety tremulous in her hand.
“You!” Bellatrix hissed wrathfully. Before Narcissa could blink, Bellatrix had stepped over to where she was, a hand painfully grasping her long blonde locks by the roots, pulling her head backwards in one swift, furious movement .
“Bella, no!” Narcissa cried in pain; her wand clattered to the floor. Bellatrix ignored her cries as she pulled and pulled with irate force.
“I had her! You’d rather save a traitor, Cissy? Is that what you want, to join Andromeda and her Muddies? Is it? Answer me, filth!”
Hot tears flowed from Narcissa’s eyes as she shut them; she didn’t want to risk opening them and meeting her sister’s murderous glare.
“Bella!” Narcissa sobbed as she felt her sister’s wand softly touching the skin of her throat and travelling to her chest, leaving a trail of heat and fear.
“You need to learn, pick where your loyalties lie. Maybe I’ll go have some fun with my nephew; what do you think of that? Maybe that’ll help you make up your mind?” Bellatrix quipped, practically singing.
“Please, no, please! Bella, please, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, please don’t hurt him!”
Bellatrix’s grip on her scalp tightened, Narcissa whimpered. “You’ve been a bad girl, Cissy. I have to teach you a lesson.” She whispered through gritted teeth at Narcissa’s ear.
“Bella... no...” Narcissa protested weakly.
Suddenly, Bellatrix’s hand and wand were gone; Narcissa dropped to the floor on her hands and knees, weak and terrified. She heard Bellatrix’s heels stalking around her until they suddenly stopped. She did not dare look.
“Open your eyes, Narcissa.” Came Bellatrix’s voice, as cold as Narcissa had ever heard it. “I want you to see what I’m about to do to you.”
Unwillingly, Narcissa tentatively opened her eyes. Bellatrix had her wand pointed directly at her – her arm was perfectly still. She was like a statue; Narcissa couldn’t even tell she was breathing. Bellatrix smiled wickedly.
“You need to know how much I mean this.” She said in the same cold tone. Narcissa could not stop her trembling.
“ Crucio !”
Narcissa woke with the scream stuck deep her throat. Her body jolted from her bed in sheer terror, and somehow the walls of her room seemed to reverberate with the echoes of her sister’s curse. Worst still, her body felt as if the curse itself had rekindled anew, leaving a deep, agonizing burn in its wake.
The vivid memory of the first and only time Bellatrix Crucioed her had fueled several of her nightmares through the years. The last time they had plagued her dreams, however, had been when news of the mass breakout from Azkaban had reached her ears – Bellatrix herself had followed such news not long after, pallid and gaunt and crazy, barely a shadow of her former self. All that remained was the madness, ad Andromeda had warned her so long ago. Narcissa had walked the halls of her own home afraid of her sister – every twitch of her dark eyes made her flinch in expectation of the pain.
Narcissa ran a hand over her forehead, finding it dripping with sweat. Her sheets were soaked, and her nightgown clung uncomfortably to her body. It was still dark outside – not that it mattered; she would not be able to sleep again.
Huffing in disgust at her state, she angrily grabbed her wand from her nightstand and vanished the evidence of her terror as best as she could in her altered state. Another frustrated flick of her instrument summoned the clacking of a tea set in her kitchen; yet another made the water boil.
It was Hermione Granger’s fault. What was Narcissa doing, accepting the offer after the measliest kind of peer pressure there was? Her mind had withheld the scrutiny of the Dark Lord himself; surely she could decline an invitation to dinner.
But no, not when Hermione Granger and her insufferable insistence were concerned. All Hermione had to do to convince her was bat her big brown eyes.
Did it make her terribly selfish, to enjoy the girl’s companionship? Narcissa had become practically a recluse in the years after the war; it was refreshing to have intelligent conversation. Who would have thought she’d find it in Hermione Granger? Could she not have it with someone less complicated?
No, she pondered. Her choices in life had made her life complicated, and so it would be until the end. That was not something she could or would ever escape.
Making amends in silence and discretion was one thing. Narcissa would rather build a dozen Wellness Wards than suffer through one dinner under the scrutiny of all her former enemies. She didn’t fool herself to think they could ever be her friends – she did not deserve any. Surely Molly only invited her year after year out of pity or at Potter’s behest.
At least Andromeda would not be present, she mused. The thought filled her with regret and relief at the same time – Andromeda was perhaps the most complicated part of her life. Narcissa padded her way through her sitting room, her bare feet cold on the stone floors. She had a stack of rejections from Gringotts, all signed Andromeda Tonks. Andromeda would not accept her kind of apology, and Narcissa would never be able to offer anything more.
Hermione woke up late on the morning before Christmas. Her room smelled pleasantly of gingerbread biscuits – a little present from the castle House Elves. Her bed was warm, but the day ahead was one full of excitement, and a little last-minute shopping. Never let it be said Hermione Granger wasn’t a planner. She just happened to overplan – it was either finishing her grading or buying presents. The Professor in her won out in the end.
It was no matter: Hogsmead was positively glowing with holiday cheer. Even the Hog’s Head, usually so dreary and grim, managed to participate in the festivities – the actual Hog’s Head at the storefront sported red hats with enchanted bells: one on the head and one for each tusk.
For Teddy, Hermione found a beautiful desk set that came with an enchanted phial of ink: it would change color as he wrote. The young woman thought he’d get a kick out of it, especially as his first year was fast approaching.
For George and Angelina, who had welcomed little Fred into the world earlier that year, she bought a crib with a Quidditch mobile, charmed to fly around. For Ron and Lavender, she went full-Muggle – a baby monitor. Mostly, she just wanted Ron to struggle and then end up loving it.
Most of her gifts had already been bought. Now, however, she had to account for an extra guest – she had repeatedly told Narcissa not to worry about bringing gifts, but she had not included herself in that warning. She wanted the blonde to receive a gift from at elast one person, especially since she’d probably have an awkward time during the dinner. It was up to Hermione to make it go as smoothly as possible – avoid the heavy talks about the past.
The past. That gave Hermione a grand idea.
“Oh! Look at us! We’re so Christmassy!” the brunette exclaimed once Narcissa opened the door to her quarters. She desperately wanted to roll her eyes, but Hermione actually looked well put together in her deep red dress. The dress had a discreet silver trim; it was festive in an understated way.
“Red, for a Gryffindor. How predictable.” She joked. Hermione looked indignant.
“I should say the same to you, Madam Slytherin Green. It looks gorgeous, don’t get me wrong, but also very... predictable, as you say.” Hermione quipped right back.
Narcissa shrugged her shoulders in that annoyingly elegant way Hermione came to associate only to her. “What can I say? I look good in green.” She defended, her voice light and airy.
“That you do” Hermione agreed, hiding a slight flush. “Shall we get going? Our Portkey will go in a few minutes.”
Narcissa groaned. She detested travelling via Portkey. Hermione was sympathetic.
“I know, I know, but it’s better not to apparate in the Burrow. It can get cramped, y’know.”
“Ms. Granger, are you trying to come up with more reasons for me not to attend this little soirée?” Narcissa drawled. Hermione just laughed.
“Soirée! I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone actually use that term, uppity.”
Narcissa finally did roll her eyes. The night would be long.
Despite their humorous banter, Hermione could tell Narcissa grew more and more uneasy as they made their way to the Portkey she had arranged in the courtyard. She grew silent, and her posture gradually became rigid. Her mouth had set into a thin line.
“Hey” Hermione murmured, lightly touching the other woman’s arm. The Portkey – a candle holder – had begun to emit a faint glow. “We can leave the moment it gets too uncomfortable to you.” She reassured. Narcissa’s eyebrow rose up.
“We?” She inquired.
“We.” Hermione confirmed with a smile, reaching for the Portkey. “I’m the one who got you into this mess, am I not?”
Portkey travelling was as unpleasant as Narcissa remembered. Thankfully, they landed on their feet; Hermione was there, hand at her waist, ready to catch her at the slightest imbalance. They appeared exactly at the illuminated center of what looked to be an open tent, obviously charmed for warmth, where the entire Weasley Clan – plus a few others – had gathered. Their arrival dropped a blanket of complete silence onto the festivities; Narcissa wanted to disapparate on the spot, but Hermione still held onto her wand arm.
“‘Mione! Ms. Black! You came!” Cheered a joyous voice nearby.
Harry James Potter personally stepped forward to greet the new arrivals, and just like that, the party resumed. The music started back up, as did side conversations, floating trays of drink that had stopped in their tracks zipped through the air once more.
“Harry!” Hermione cheered back, letting go of Narcissa to envelop her friend in a bear hug. Thankfully, Narcissa did not have to stand alone for long – Potter quickly directed himself to her in a respectful, overexaggerated bow.
“Ms. Black, allow me to say how happy we all are that you accepted our invitation. Please, make yourself at home!” He said.
“You are very kind, Mr. Potter. I apologize for not coming sooner.”
Introductions were brief, but pleasant. Narcissa dreaded meeting Ronald Weasley, but he was so assiduously hospitable it threw her for a loop. Lavender Brown, his betrothed, was equally kind and pleasant to be around.
Narcissa had always known there were many Weasleys, but her limited and stiff interactions with the clan over the years had not painted an accurate picture. They were everywhere, and she wondered how such a family managed to proliferate so efficiently. Molly Weasley had been a busy woman, and clearly so were all of her kids – Harry and Ginevra had one rambunctious toddler and another one on the way; Bill and Fleur had an inquisitive daughter, George and Angelina touted their young son – Fred – wherever they went. Even Percy Weasley, a bespectacled man Narcissa had known from Fudge’s Ministry, married to Audrey Campbell, had managed to grace his family with twin girls – Molly and Lucy, two vivacious little devils that would no doubt bring their father several headaches.
There were simply too many to keep track.
It wasn’t long after dinner until the Weasley matriarch herself set her eyes on Narcissa. The blonde had been dreading that particular encounter, going so far as to occupy herself in conversation with almost any other Weasley she could find, even Arthur – Molly had killed her sister in cold blood... Narcissa’s family had made the Weasley’s lives unbearable at every opportunity. It was bound to be tense.
Once again, she was proven wrong. Molly, now finally free from cooking and fretting about everyone else, saw her and resolutely made her way through the throng of family surrounding them; before Narcissa could get a word in edgewise, the matron’s arms had snaked around her, squeezing with all their might.
Hermione, Ron, and Harry could not stop the peals of laughter that bubbled up once they saw the ever-stoic Narcissa Black on the receiving end of one of Molly’s famous rib-crushing hugs. Narcissa looked pathetically childish in Molly’s arms, especially with the way the woman swung her from side to side.
“You came!” Cried Molly, clearly overjoyed – for what reason, Narcissa couldn’t fathom. “I’m so glad you came! I never thought you’d come, but Draco has been adamant that it was only a matter of time! I’m happy Hermione could make you come to your senses!” She practically squealed, finally letting the other woman down.
“Thank you for your kindness, Ms. Weasley” Narcissa finally said once the air returned to her lungs. She found it in herself to shoot the Golden Trio a glare – their laughter stopped immediately.
“Call me Molly, dear. Come, let’s talk about that adorable grandson of yours!”
To Narcissa’s surprise, the evening passed incredibly quickly. At some point, everyone went from the tent to the cozy Weasley living room. Molly grilled her on all things she could talk about with ease – her grandson, her work, Draco. Before she realized, a tipsy Hermione had taken a seat by her side, and an equally inebriated George Weasley settled at her other side. They both looked giddy.
“Now! The kids ‘ave gone to bed” George whispered conspiratorially. “Time for us big kids to open presents!”
Hermione laughed; her cheeks were rosy from the eggnog she had consumed, no doubt. Narcissa found it in herself to chuckle at the brunette.
The gift exchange proceeded in utter anarchy – each Weasley seemed to compete to hand out gifts faster than the other. Each and every one comically declared their gift to be the best of gifts ever gifted. Narcissa was surprised to receive a fancy bottle of Honeywine from the Potters, as well as a rare tome on the history of the study of Potions from the Longbottoms. Molly gifted her a pair of cozy, homemade mittens that were astoundingly comfortable – though they would not go with any of the expensive clothes she owned, Narcissa truly appreciated them.
“Don’t worry about it, no one expects you to give them anything in return.” Hermione had said at one point, clearly mistakenly reading some trepidation into her posture. Narcissa rolled her eyes for the second time that night.
“Don’t be ridiculous, Ms. Granger” she said, her adopting a faux-haughty tone. “Do you truly think I would come to such a soirée” she put heavy emphasis on the word, eliciting laughter from her companion “without being adequately prepared?”
“Oh, come off it!” Hermione quipped, nudging her on the arm. She was truly inebriated for such a familiar gesture. “You didn’t have any time to prepare; don’t even pretend you managed to snag things for everyone here.”
“Ms. Granger, you underestimate me.” Narcissa said with a wicked gleam in her eye. In one swift motion, she stood in the Weasley’s cramped living room – all conversations seemed to automatically stop as her presence grew in the room.
“I would like to thank you all, especially Molly, for the wonderful evening. I appreciate your kindness from the bottom of my heart – I hope to give you all a few things as a token of my gratitude. Do accept my apologies; I was rushed to acquire them, but I do hope you like them.” Narcissa said, her voice clear and airy. All eyes were on her, and more than a few puzzled looks were aimed in her direction. Nevertheless, she continued.
“For all the fathers in the room” she said, deftly waving her wand. “I give you all a season’s pass to all Premier League Quidditch matches for the coming year.”
“By Merlin’s saggy tits!” Came Ron’s delighted squeal from one corner, followed by the muted smack of Lavender’s head connecting with the top of his head. Ginny managed to contain a similar outburst from her husband with a mere glare.
“For all the mothers” Narcissa continued with a smile “I give one year of service at Madame Dubois Wizarding Spa in Provence, France.”
“By Rowena’s perky tits!” Shouted Angelina with a happy grin as the room broke out in laughter.
“To Molly, our gracious hostess, I give something a little more special. Thank you for your hospitality, your kindness, and your welcoming arms – though I will pass on further hugs.” Narcissa quipped, earning a Molly-patented eye-roll – a good natured one. “Molly, to you I give tickets to every show on Celestina Warbeck’s upcoming tour.”
Glass shattered, screams were heard. Narcissa was once again grasped by the waist and swung side to side as Molly hysterically thanked her.
It was a long night, but in the best of ways.
“Neville told me about Black Manor. That is a wonderful, wonderful thing you’re doing, Narcissa.” said Molly, after thanking the blonde about a million times.
The party had died down. Some had gone home, some were scattered about the Burrow, napping, eating, or relaxing by the record-player. Narcissa had remained on the same couch, and Molly had joined her at some point in the evening.
“Thank you, Molly” Narcissa said, still timid around the woman, despite her display of confidence earlier in the night.
“It is incredible, what you have done with your life, darling. Harry has kept us updated, and so has Hermione. It seems you’re settling well at Hogwarts, aren’t you?” Molly inquired, her tone and eyes kind as could be.
“Yes” Narcisa confirmed. “Yes, I believed teaching suits me quite well. When I’m not dealing with incompetent seventh-years, that is” she added dourly.
Molly laughed. “Oh, I’m sure you’ll get them back in NEWT shape in no time. Hermione told us a bit about your Potions research. When is it that you’ll get your Mastery?”
“By the end of term, if all goes well.” Narcissa was inwardly giddy at the prospect of receiving her Mastery so soon. It was something she had wanted since she was a little girl.
“It will, I’m sure it will!” Molly said, and Narcissa could tell that she meant it.
Narcissa was working on formulating a response when a breathless Ronald dashed into the living room, his face beet red.
“Mum! Ms. Black! Oh, uh, there’s, uh, there’s someone you should see!” He yapped in a breathless groan.
“Move, Ronald. It’s time I speak with my sister. Will you excuse us, Molly?” came a silky smooth voice from behind him.
Narcissa felt her blood turn cold in her veins; she had gone years on end without hearing that voice, but it was unmistakable. She felt as if she had just heard it pleading with her in her personal library at Malfoy Manor.
Andromeda walked into the comfortable space, beautiful and cold as Bellatrix had once been.
“Happy Christmas, Cissy.”
Don't get accustomed to this onslaught of chapters... But it turned out putting a little work into this story helped me in more ways than one.
ALSO, quite a few people messaged me on FFNet asking if I meant to imply Blackcest in my previous chapter. Just to make it clear, the answer is uh... No. Sorry if that's what you're after, but I'm so not comfortable with writing anything in that vein.
Anyway, thank you for your continued readership and support!
Narcissa could tell part of Molly desperately wanted to stay. Andromeda’s gaze, however, was enough for the woman to slowly stand and make her way out with nary a glance to spare in her direction. Narcissa, for her part, could only stand and stare at the apparition that stood before her very eyes.
Seeing Andromeda hurt much more than she ever expected. The two oldest Black sisters had always looked incredibly alike – some even mistook them for twins early in life. But in living with Bellatrix post-Azkaban, Narcissa came to realize she had forgotten her oldest sister’s cold, devastating beauty. Andromeda looked so much like her it was like seeing a long-forgotten memory of Bellatrix.
“Don’t I deserve a greeting back? Where are your manners, Cissy?” Andromeda drawled, so much like Bellatrix her voice sent chills down Narcissa’s spine.
“I shouldn’t be here.” She gasped. Her heart felt like it could burst at any moment; she couldn’t stand hearing Andromeda’s voice coming out of this body that looked so much like Bellatrix.
“Shouldn’t you? I heard you were invited.” Andromeda said with a quirk of her eyebrow. “In fact, I heard you’ve been invited for years. How interesting you decide to turn up when I’m away.”
“I have overstepped. My apologies” Narcissa said coolly to mask her trepidation. She took a step in the opposite direction, decided on leaving the premises as soon as she could.
“Ah, I see leaving family isn’t so hard after all. If we’re still even family, that is.”
Narcissa froze in her tracks, shocked at Andromeda’s disappointed tone. Her voice was tremulous when she spoke again.
“Do not... do not even presume to understand...”
“Understand what, Narcissa? How difficult it is to lose your family? To be alone? Believe me, I understand perfectly well.” Andromeda hissed. Her words sounded angry, yet her features revealed only deep sadness.
This wasn’t how Narcissa ever imagined it would go. In fact, she had never dared imagine a reunion with Andromeda at all – this was all too much. She couldn’t pick one feeling or emotion to go with; there were too many swirling at the surface: anger, sadness, and so, so much guilt.
“I lost everyone. My sisters. Mt husband. My darling daughter, my Nymphadora.” Andromeda said, her tone getting sadder every word she spoke. “And then, my baby sister, my only family in this world, continuously avoided me like the dragon pox. I thought you needed space. Imagine my surprise when I finally do hear from you, it’s through Gringotts.” She now sounded accusatory. “After all these years, you were trying to buy my forgiveness? I don’t want your bloody money!”
“Drommie...” Narcissa murmured through tears she felt ready to surface. Andromeda raised a hand to stop her speaking.
“I wanted to come see you; Merlin, how I wanted to. Every letter unanswered was like another stab in my heart, until I stopped trying. It just hurt too much.” Her eyes were angry now. “But not as much as those blasted letters from Gringotts.”
“It hurt me, too!” Narcissa defended, hating the way her voice cracked. “How could I see you, Drommie? After everything I’ve done – to you, to your family, your friends? How could I just come back into your life after being this cold-hearted monster for so long?”
Narcissa could see her statement had shocked Andromeda, but she had found some strength to keep going.
“How could I ever write you? How could I beg for your forgiveness when it is the very thing I least deserve in this world?” She practically sobbed. “I sent you away.”
Andromeda didn’t look sad or angry any longer; she looked puzzled.
“That night” Narcissa hissed in pain; her heart felt like it would give out. The memory carried by her nightmare was still too fresh in her mind. “When Bella found out about the letters. I sent you away.”
Andromeda’s expression took a turn to dumbfounded. “You saved me, Cissy.” Andromeda pointed out, her voice suddenly gentle. “I can’t imagine what Bellatrix would have done to me had you not expulsed me from your library – Merlin, I can’t imagine what she did to you afterward.”
Narcissa visibly shuddered at the memory of Bellatrix’s Cruciatus, made fresh by her dream. Before she knew it, Andromeda had crossed the distance between them; her hands tentatively found Narcissa’s shoulders. Though the touch was timid at best, Narcissa could not contain her shiver from the long-lost contact.
“You’re all I have, Cissy.” Andromeda whispered sadly.
“Don’t say that.” Narcissa bit back. “You have a grandson – whose parents are dead because of a madman I put myself and my family behind. I’m part of the reason why Ted’s dead, Dromeda. Ted, Remus... Nymphadora.”
Andromeda’s grip suddenly tightened on her sister’s shoulders; it hurt to the point of bruises.
“Bellatrix. Not you.” She said resolutely.
“Andromeda...” Narcissa began to protest; surely her sister couldn’t be so blind?
“Bellatrix killed my Nymphadora, Narcissa. Not you.” Andromeda declared with strength to her tone.
“And I was on Bellatrix’s side for most of my life.”
“Not when it mattered.” Andromeda argued.
“Especially when it mattered!” Narcissa cried. “When you ran away, when Bella married, when she lost Ophelia, when you came for me, when the War began again – every time except one, I was right there by her side! I stood by when she did all those terrible things, I stood by while she tortured an innocent girl in my home. How can I see you again when I can never be forgiven for any of it?” She gasped, her shoulders shaking from the force of her sobs.
Narcissa desperately tried to free herself from Andromeda’s vise-like grip, only to be dismayed when the latter only tightened her hold, bringing her into an embrace. There was nothing the blonde could do but wait for her sobs to cease in her sister’s arms.
“You’re a bloody idiot, Cissy.” Andromeda said out of the blue.
“Excuse me?” Narcissa babbled, confused.
“One letter, for Merlin’s sake. One bloody letter and I could have told you I’ve already forgiven you!” Andromeda hissed in equal parts amusement and frustration.
“Face it, Cissy. The only reason you haven’t come see me is not because I can’t forgive you – it’s because you cannot forgive yourself.” Andromeda said sagely. “I’ve forgiven you ages ago. You’d know it if you had opened even one of the letters I sent you.”
Narcissa straightened herself in her sister’s embrace, thinking she probably looked just as idiotic as she felt. “What do you mean?”
Andromeda rolled her eyes. “What’s happened to you? You were never this slow.” She laughed, brushing a rogue lock of blonde hair from Narcissa’s pale face. “I’ve said it, and I shall repeat it. I’ve forgiven you, Cissy.”
Narcissa shook her head. “I don’t understand.”
“There’s nothing to understand” Andromeda declared emphatically. “I’ve been robbed of my sister for far too long. I want you in my life – you've been out of it long enough.”
“I don’t understand” Narcissa repeated. “How is it so easy for you? How can you forgive me when I myself cannot?”
“Cissy. Look around you – look at where you’re standing, where you’ve been for the past hours. Look at where you work and with whom! We have all forgiven you. We cannot let this War tear us apart any longer – it has destroyed enough.” Andromeda asserted, her eyes boring deep into Narcissa’s blues.
“I don’t deserve anybody’s kindness, least of all yours.” Narcissa said, her confusion still evident. “I don’t understand how you give it so freely.”
“Because I had no one to give it to.” Andromeda said with a shoulder shrug. “I give it to you freely – no need to buy it from me with your gold” she quipped. Narcissa found it in herself to laugh.
“Your gold” she affirmed strongly. “All I’ve been sending you is what is rightfully yours as one of the last descendants of the House of Black” she pointed out. “You’ve rejected every one of my attempts to give it to you thus far, so I’ve set it aside on a separate account for... for your grandson.”
Tears sprung from Andromeda’s eyes. “Bloody hell, Cissy. With such kindness, why are you surprised we are so ready to forgive you? Why can you not forgive yourself?” She said with a tender smile.
“I’ve got too much to atone for.” Narcissa said simply. It was the truth. There would never be enough atoning.
“Consider yourself atoned. Harry told me about Black Manor. He told me about your work in St. Mungos. He told me about your Potion’s mastery. You’ve been forgiven, Narcissa – by all except yourself.”
Narcissa couldn’t help the fresh onslaught of tears. She returned Andromeda’s embrace with a fervor she did not know she possessed, taking all the time in the world to get lost in her sister’s warmth and comfort like she couldn’t have since she was a little girl.
“Merlin, you haven’t changed a bit. So emotional” Andromeda quipped with a laugh, though her own eyes were wet with tears. She leaned deeper into the tight embrace. “You even smell the same. Eucalyptus.” She remarked, drawing a chuckle from her sister.
The tender reunion that had been so fraught with guilt and regret came to a close much the same way it had started: with an inebriated presence running into the room with a belated warning.
“Narcissa, we’ve got to scram! Andromeda’s here; sorry I lost track of...” Hermione stopped dead on her tracks at the scene before her: Narcissa and Andromeda not only in the same room, but hugging.
“I think you’re a little late, Hermione.” Andromeda said with a wide grin. “But don’t you worry, she’s safe and sound.”
Narcissa rolled her eyes at Andromeda’s joking tone. “Very funny, Drommie.”
“Look at her face, Cissy! She thought I’d kill you or something.” Andromeda laughed. Hermione still looked like a deer caught in headlights.
“Cissy? Drommie? I take it things went, uh... well?” she asked, testing the waters.
“Yes, Ms. Granger” Narcissa said. Though her intervention had come too little, too late, Narcissa was glad.
“In any case, I must go” Andromeda quipped. “I’ve left Teddy home while I... sorted this out.” she confessed.
“I’m glad we... sorted it.” Narcissa added awkwardly. They had sorted one thing yes... but how to sort out decades of their lives, missed by choice and circumstance? She believed they would eventually find a way to navigate it – it would open old wounds, that much was certain, but it only took one look at an Andromeda happy with her presence to reassure Narcissa it would all be worth it in the end.
“So am I.” Andromeda’s gaze turned intense. “Don’t be a stranger, Cissy. I couldn’t bear it.”
“I won’t, I promise. And I shall read your letters.” Narcissa vowed. Andromeda looked confused.
“I won’t need to write you, I hope. You can Floo me anytime.” She pointed out kindly.
“I mean the ones you’ve sent me.” Narcissa said tenderly. “I’ve kept them all.”
Another chapter, because what makes the most sense after a months-long hiatus other than machine-gunning chapters?
Thank you for reading!
Narcissa’s first Christmas morning in Hogwarts was an odd one. Besides Minerva and Madam Pomfrey, she was the first Professor to arrive at the Staff Table. There were only a few scant groupings of students at their House Tables – not a single Slytherin among them.
“Happy Christmas, Ms. Black” called Minerva once she caught sight of the Potions Professor. The Headmistress had broken out her Christmas-themed tartan robes for the occasion; they made her look comically less severe and more like a kind grandmother than the strict Headmistress they all knew.
“Likewise, Headmistress, Poppy.” Narcissa greeted back as she sat. “Nary a soul in sight this morning.” She commented. Pomfrey laughed.
“Oh, I believe Ms. Granger will be making her way down soon – as soon as the dose of Caldwell’s Crapulence Concoction I gave her has any effect.” she said with a humorous grin.
“I take it dinner went well at the Weasleys, then?” Minerva inquired.
“Very well” Narcissa confirmed, still giddy from her reunion with Andromeda. She would spend some time during the holiday catching up on years of letters she had not dared open. “I met with Andromeda. All is well.”
Minerva broke out in a genuine smile. “I’m very glad. It’s about time.” She quipped kindly.
Narcissa was happy to engage in pleasant conversation as Christmas breakfast continued. Apparently, a few students attempted to charm snowballs to fly around the Great Hall the night before, only to have them go rogue and begin an impromptu snowball fight. Minerva spoke of the occurrence with a bit of annoyance, but the Potions Professor could plainly tell Madam Pomfrey was thoroughly amused -- as she tended to be when shenanigans did not result in visits to the Hospital Wing.
After a good half hour of tea and talking, Hermione finally dragged herself down for breakfast, her face still tinged slightly green – a common side effect of the Crapulence Concoction she’d had to down after a night of holiday drinking.
“Good morning, Ms. Granger” Narcissa called with a knowing smirk.
“G’Morning. Narcissa, Minerva, Poppy.” Hermione rasped out. “Where’s Hagrid? I’m going to kill him. That eggnog is positively lethal.”
“You don’t look too worse for the wear” the blonde said with a laugh.
“Thank Merlin for potions such as Caldwell’s. I don’t think I’d survive the Muggle way.” Hermione quipped, groggily scooping some eggs into her plate.
“What is the Muggle way for curing drunkenness?” Narcissa asked, her curiosity piqued.
“Paracetamol, a glass of water, and a prayer, usually.” Hermione grumbled.
“Paracetamol. It’s medicine. Muggles sometimes use it for headaches.” The Muggleborn explained, remarkably patient considering her state.
“I see. Is it effective?”
Hermione laughed. “Not nearly as much as a Crapulence Concoction!”
Hermione’s mood -- and overall physical state – much improved after breakfast. On a whim, she invited Narcissa for a walk on the snow-covered grounds, and was quite pleased when the blonde agreed. The two left the Great Hall directly for the castle courtyard. As soon as they crossed the doors, Narcissa wordlessly let a warming charm drift onto them.
“I had forgotten how beautiful Hogwarts looked in winter” Narcissa said as they walked. Hermione led the pair through the path she usually took in her late-night walks – towards Hagrid’s hut, then down by the edge of the Forbidden Forest and back to the Black Lake. They had just passed the groundskeeper’s residence; the little hill they found themselves on provided a breathtaking view of the castle.
Hermione turned to look, squinting with the brightness of the sunlight reflected by the thick blanket of snow. It was beautiful indeed.
“It’s quite something, isn’t it? Remind me to bring you back at sunset – the snow turns a million different colors as the sun sets.” She turned to face Narcissa.
“I wanted to apologize, for not really keeping an eye on you yesterday. Though I think it turned out OK.”
Narcissa smiled. “Yes, thank you. I feel quite stupid, to be perfectly frank” she confessed with a muted whisper.
“So many things” the blonde said, waving a hand around herself “but particularly for wasting so much time in reconnecting with Andromeda. Having her there turned out to be the greatest gift I’ve ever received.”
“Ah!” Hermione suddenly exclaimed, startling her companion. “Gifts! I completely forgot” she yapped, comically slapping her own forehead. “I’ve got you something, but I must have been truly sloshed yesterday to have forgotten to give it to you.”
Narcissa looked taken aback. “Ms. Granger, there’s no need for you to give me anything. I certainly did not get you a gift” she added guiltily.
“Are you joking? You added me to the Black Family Blood Wards -- that’s the best thing anyone has ever given me. The very thought of Walburga turning in her grave is just delightful!” Hermione proclaimed with just enthusiasm for Narcissa to know she truly meant it. The Potions professor could only chuckle.
“I guess that may count for something – certainly not as a Christmas gift, but something.” She conceded.
“Tough luck. I’ve got you something and I’m actually excited to give it to you” Hermione declared, catching Narcissa off-guard with her eagerness. “Would you like to come up with me to my quarters? I’ve left it there last night.”
“Lead the way” Narcissa said with a grin, though she was puzzled.
The two made it back to the castle just in time for Narcissa’s warming charm to wear off. The corridors were eerily silent, with most remaining students choosing to linger in the warmth and comfort of their dormitories.
Once they finally arrived at Hermione’s private quarters, Narcissa could not contain her surprise at how the Transfiguration professor kept them. She had known Hermione to be a bookworm as a child; as a Professor, Narcissa guessed she was impeccably neat and thoroughly organized in every aspect of her life.
She had been entirely off the mark.
While Hermione’s office and sitting room had quite a cozy feel, they were littered with books, papers, academic journals, and stray pieces of parchment. Narcissa counted at least four quills, all half-used and stained with ink. Hermione’s fabled reputation as a bookworm very clearly preceded her – there were more books cluttering the space than anything else. The brunette even had no fewer than five portable chalkboards, two of which were floating neatly behind her messy desk, covered with complicated strings of Ancient Runes and complex Arithmancy equations. There was a massive birdcage in one corner – the bird was absent, but the cage was mercifully clean. At another corner, Narcissa spotted a haphazard reading nook, surrounded with several of the books Hermione had taken from Black Manor.
Hermione must have sensed Narcissa’s shock, for she turned to explain herself with a sheepish look. “My apologies. I promise it doesn’t usually look this... disorganized.”
“Merlin” Narcissa muttered before she could help it. “You are aware we’re on holiday, Ms. Granger?”
“Perfectly” Hermione retorted with a roll of her eyes. “That’s precisely why it looks like that. I got carried away with research. I promise you I’m normally much tidier than this.”
With that, the brunette stepped into a doorway that most likely led to her private bedchamber. Narcissa caught a glimpse of dark woods and drapes that were not the expected Gryffindor red, but periwinkle blue. She busied herself with examining one of the floating chalkboards as she heard Hermione rummaging through her bedroom.
It was fascinating, Narcissa mused. In her school years, she had been quite adept at both Runes and Arithmancy, especially the former, since her family had always been a kind of authority on the subject. Still, Hermione’s dusty scribbles were exceedingly complex; from what she could understand, the young woman had been trying to use a few select principles of Arithmancy in an attempt to reorganize and restructure the age-old Warding charms from Black Manor. Narcissa was nothing short of impressed, and was eager to learn more about that particular theory -- she had never seen the two disciplines being used concurrently in such a way.
“Here it is” came Hermione’s voice from behind. Narcissa turned to see the brunette with a small, wooden square box in her hands. Somehow, the young woman’s posture seemed awfully timid in comparison to her bubbliness from just moments before.
Hermione seemed to take note of Narcissa’s silent gaze. “Sorry.” She said. “Just wondering if I went a bit overboard with this.” She added cryptically.
Narcissa did not know how to respond to the pronouncement, so she let Hermione continue.
“I just wanted to say, it’s been really good to have you here as a colleague, Narcissa” she said, and Narcissa could see she spoke truthfully. “I know we’ve had our differences, but I’ve greatly enjoyed getting to know you. We’ve had a difficult past, the both of us. So, I wanted to give you a little something to remind you to look to the future.”
With that, she shyly handed the box to the older woman. Narcissa murmured a nearly-silent thank-you, but she knew Hermione had heard her.
The little box was beautiful by itself; an intricate intercalation of expertly fitted pieces of wood, alternating in color and tone. While it wasn’t heavy per se, she could feel that whatever it contained had a considerable weight taking into account its size.
Overboard, the brunette had said? That simple statement had filled Narcissa with trepidation for whatever reason. Talk about the past – and the future – usually had that effect.
With her heart beating a bit faster than she’d like, Narcissa clicked the box open. She saw what looked to be a silver chain inside, then loops, no, rings of metal surrounding glass. She gasped, looping the polished chain delicately on her fingers and lifting the item from the velvet that surrounded it, just to make sure she wasn’t going mad.
She wasn’t. Hermione Granger had given her a Time-Turner.
“How...?” She didn’t even know where to begin.
“It’s broken” Hermione was quick to say. “That’s part of the message, I guess. Can’t change the past, look to the future.” She suddenly pulled a face. “Sorry, this all sounded much better in my head, I promise.”
“I thought all Time-Turners had been destroyed.” Narcissa said, still in awe at the instrument. Its metal rings moved slowly on their own accord, but the glass was cracked, and the enchanted sand usually housed within was noticeably absent.
“Broken beyond repair, perhaps, but not destroyed, not completely. Not all of them.” Hermione said, a hint of sadness in her voice. “It’s a pretty trinket more than anything else. But I happen to like its meaning.”
Narcissa could only stare at the magical apparatus in her hand, overcome by wonder. She had known about Time-Turners, of course – the Malfoy Family even had a few that were turned over to the Ministry for safekeeping shortly after she married Lucius – but she had never seen, much less held one before. It was even a little difficult to process how powerful the little trinket had once been. But now, stripped of its function, it carried much deeper meaning. She at once understood what Hermione meant by going overboard, but Narcissa did not mind it at all. She was grateful.
“Thank you” she said in a hoarse whisper. Narcissa hoped Hermione could tell just how much she meant it. “For everything.”
“Everything?” Hermione asked in confusion.
“This” she held up the Time-Turner. “For being so accepting and kind to me, when you of all people have no reason to be. For your conversation, for your company... For dragging me to the Weasleys, for helping me reconcile with Andromeda, even if inadvertently. Thank you for believing in me.”
Hermione suddenly looked bashful. “Narcissa, you give me far too much credit.” She argued.
“I hardly think so.” Narcissa countered, grinning from ear to ear. “It is thanks to you and your friends – thanks to you I’ve been allowed to start anew, even after everything I’ve done. That, Hermione, is the most priceless gift. It’s because of you I even have the chance to think about the future.”
Hermione only smiled.
Narcissa lingered in Hermione’s private offices for long after the brunette had gifted her the Time-Turner. She was eager to talk about the intensive research the young woman was so obviously absorbed in. While both of them had been selecting tomes from the Black Library for weeks, Narcissa hadn’t thought about how far Hermione would go if left to her own devices. From what she could see, it was very far indeed.
“Explain it to me again.” She asked, practically giddy with her excitement. Her life after Hogwarts was wretchedly deprived of academia and intelligent conversation, and she hadn’t realized how much she had missed the thrill of discussing research with someone else until Hermione demonstrated the same level of unbridled excitement. It was refreshing.
“Well” Hermione preened, fully aware Narcissa was impressed, and relishing in the feeling. “I’ve borrowed the Arithmantic Transmutation Theory in order to see how I could adapt the existing Runes that form the estate’s Blood Wards. In theory, one should be able to tweak and adapt the runes so they may perform a different function.”
“I understand how one may create and mutate the artihmantic composition of a spell or enchantment; but how would this practice translate to ancient runes? They were invented before the advent of numerology.” Narcissa countered.
“Indeed” Hermione agreed, but there was a twinkle in her eyes that belied the thrill she felt at explaining it “But think about how many properties a spell, or even something as simple as a single number, may have. There are several magical properties to the number seven, for example – the same is true for every spell, every charm, every curse. The true challenge lies in redirecting its objective.” She said, motioning to the various sketches on one of her many chalkboards.
“Just as like any spell or number, Runes have their own multitude of properties.” She continued excitedly.
“But these wards were established before Wizardkind even carried their own wands. How could we establish their originally intended properties?” pressed Narcissa, amazed but skeptical.
“Therein lies the challenge” Hermione conceded, her brows furrowed. “We know it can be done: your relatives changed how the wards would deal with undesirables through the years, though the last significant change was about four hundred years ago. We need to find records on how they managed; that would be a good start.”
“That will take forever.” Narcissa said with a pout. “Is there any other way?”
“There might be one, but I’m not sure if it would take any less time, to be perfectly frank.” Hermione said. The two women stared intently at the messy chalkboard with furrowed brows.
“Well, what is it?”
“I’d need to see specifically which Runes were used. For that, we need to find the exact location of the original wards that were created solely by using Runes.” She said, an expression of utter annoyance overcoming her features.
“Merlin! That would be impossible: the property is older than Merlin himself, not to mention enormously large. And who’s to say more Runed wards were not added in later years? How could we determine which were made when?” She countered, mirroring Hermione’s expression of discontent.
“Now you see what a headache this is.” Hermione quipped. She stared at her sketches in deep concentration. “Of course, perhaps a simpler solution would be to create a ward within a ward, or a cancellation ward, if you will – providing the initial wards won’t have provisions against that sort of thing” she mused out loud.
“Now there’s an idea. That would be much simpler, no?”
“Yes and no” Hermione grunted with a defeated sigh. “If we do it and it works, that’s all well and good. However, if the existing wards were projected against something like that, the consequences could be disastrous.”
“Such as?” Narcissa asked, already dreading the answer.
“Best case-scenario... the wards close completely. No one comes in or out.” She took into account Narcissa’s expression of disbelief. “Worst case... Instant death – knowing your family, I wouldn’t be surprised.” She said. “No offense.”
“None taken” the blonde sighed with a shrug. “Is there a way to find out whether the wards were projected against creating a... a cancellation ward?”
“It takes us right back to where we started.” Hermione proclaimed. “Either we find accurate records detailing what they were projected for, or we find the original runes.”
“Well... that’s disappointing.” Narcissa lamented, leaning against Hermione’s desk and pinching the bridge of her nose in defeat.
Hermione found both the gesture and the position oddly intriguing – Narcissa was never anything other than perfectly composed, no matter the occasion. Now, she languidly leaned back; the soft rays of light coming from Hermione’s open window illuminated her golden hair while leaving part of her features obscured. Hermione caught herself staring for much longer than was considered appropriate – she immediately felt the blood rushing to her necks and cheeks. Thankfully, Narcissa was too intrigued by the Runes on the board to notice.
“Sorry” Hermione thought aloud.
“Whatever for? This is already much more than we had – it's just disappointing so many patients and patrons will have to wait so much longer.” Narcissa replied, genuine concern marring her beautiful features.
Hermione was thankful Narcissa hadn’t realized what she was apologizing for, but she was also quite alarmed by a startling realization of her own – one that she had been moderately aware of for quite some time, but that then and there, after their shared enthusiasm for the blasted runes on her chalkboard, made her breathing hitch and her heart thump a little erratically. It suddenly hit her like a galloping Hippogriff
Narcissa Black was breathtakingly beautiful.
MAN, this chapter turned massive. I planned on splitting it, but didn't really like how I'd end up doing it, so there ya go. Had a bit of fun with this one. Hope you enjoy!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Saying Hermione felt relieved once Narcissa excused herself from her quarters to spend Christmas Day with her family was the understatement of the century. Hermione thanked her lucky stars Narcissa did not seem to notice anything amiss in her behaviour as she saw the blonde out. It was a damn miracle too – Hermione was sure Narcissa would be able to hear her heartbeat pumping away maddeningly by the strength of pulsing she felt in her eardrums.
It was shock, it had to be. Such an idiotic realization to have, Hermione thought bitterly. Every wizard and witch on this green earth knew Narcissa Black was beautiful; that wasn’t exactly news. Knowing she was beautiful wasn’t exactly news; what was news was how Hermione’s stomach turned itself into little knots whenever she looked at the blonde too long.
Hermione wanted to bang her head on her desk in frustration, but she’d end up knocking a bottle of ink or several in her path of self-destruction. There had to be a logical explanation.
And there was, she suddenly thought, overtaken by a wave of optimism. It was Narcissa’s mysterious allure, Hermione was sure of it. It wasn’t that she was attracted by the woman, Merlin no. That was evidently out of the realm of possibility. She was simply intrigued, because Narcissa Black was an enigma that needed solving. And Hermione Granger was, first and foremost, most importantly, above all else, a problem solver.
That had to be it, the young professor concluded, more than happy to ignore the wretched shred of doubt that tormented her as soon as she even thought of it. She had other things to attend to.
“Happy Christmas, Narcissa. Come in!” called Astoria’s pleasant voice.
Narcissa walked into the modest foyer with a smile – she could already hear her son and grandson in the kitchen, probably up to something that would see half the house covered in flour before they were done. It was absolutely heart-warming.
“Happy Christmas, Astoria. How are you coming along?” She said, linking arms with her daughter-in-law as the two made their way to the dining room. Astoria showed practically no signs of being pregnant despite nearing her fourth months. Just as with Scorpius, the young woman’s pregnancy would likely only become blatantly obvious in the later months – with her firstborn, the Malfoys had managed to keep the secret up to the seventh month.
“Very well! No morning sickness with this little one thus far, but I’ll let Draco tell you all about my odd cravings. He didn’t appreciate having to track down a bulbous Norwegian wild garlic for my soup the other day.”
“That’s because I’m positive that blasted thing doesn’t exist!” Quipped Draco, carrying a giggling Scorpius on his shoulders.
Any worries Narcissa had about being a grandmother at her age always melted away at the sight of her chubby grandson laughing away. Seeing Draco’s family always made her want to cry a little – tears of happiness for the opportunity he had to build a family of his own, free of the awful burden she and Lucius had unwittingly placed upon his young shoulders. Nothing made her happier than seeing Draco smile like he did now.
“Of course they do!” Astoria huffed indignantly.
“You two can bicker on your own time” Narcissa said, stretching her arms out to Scorpius. “Let me hold this beautiful boy – it's time for his Grandmother to spoil him.”
True to her word, Narcissa had spoiled the kid rotten that Christmas Day. As the Malfoys settled in after a good Christmas roast to exchange gifts, Scorpius was clearly having the time of his life opening present after present from his doting grandmother. Narcissa openly laughed when Astoria turned a little green at the toy broom set she had gifted him – Draco, however, was incredibly excited.
“Look, Scorpius, you’ll fly just like Daddy!” He exclaimed cheerfully, kneeling with his son among the piles of torn gift-wrap. Before long, little Scorpius was being herded by his father on a diminutive broom that floated about two feet off the ground. Narcissa couldn’t tell who was having more fun going around the living room – Scorpius, who grasped the broom handle with pure childish delight, or Draco, who followed on foot grinning ear to ear.
“Narcissa, you know I was hoping to not get this kid on a broom for at least a few more years!” Astoria chided her humorously.
“Nonsense!” Narcissa quipped over her cup of tea. “Why, Draco had just turned three when Lucius bought him his first broom.” She reasoned.
“Yes, I’ve heard that story” Astoria retorted with a chuckle. “Didn’t that first broom also lead to his first trip to St. Mungo’s, as well as several broken heirlooms?”
Narcissa quirked a brow with mirth. “It certainly taught Lucius not to leave his things everywhere” she commented. Astoria sighed dramatically.
“Here I thought I could keep this house intact for a couple more years...”
Narcissa laughed at her daughter-in-law. “Dream on, Astoria. I heard of what little Scorpius did with the taps – he's remarkably young to show such magic. He’ll give you plenty of trouble yet!” She added, practically giggling at Astoria’s groan.
“Although, that reminds me” Narcissa continued more seriously. “Draco! Come over here. I’ve got another gift to you two.”
Draco wordlessly spelled Scorpius’ broom to keep floating in lazy circles as he flopped back down onto the couch. Astoria seemed to have sensed Narcissa wanted to discuss something important.
“Now, I know how you two are sick of hearing me complain about this house.” She began.
“Merlin, here we go again” Draco complained. Narcissa silenced him with a glare.
“Don’t you start with me, young man. This house was perfect for a young couple just starting their life together. But you have Scorpius now, plus another little one on the way.”
“Mother, the baby won’t come for a good few months. Could we not have this discussion then?”
“Absolutely not.” Narcissa retorted firmly. “Scorpius’ room used to be your home office. You have no space for a nursery, for a library, for entertaining.” She reasoned.
“We’re wizards. We’ll make the space.” Draco countered.
“Unacceptable. You won’t magic a house for years on end – that is simply not practical. I want your children to have a good, happy, carefree childhood. This gift is not for you, but for them.” She produced a small box from her robes, handing it to Draco with a look that brokered no argument. “It’s time for them to make happy memories.”
Draco took the box from his mother with a sigh of defeat. He quickly undid the white satin bow; his hand paused on the polished lid for only a moment before opening.
Inside was a sizeable skeleton key made of gleaming silver. Draco could hear Astoria’s muted gasp from his side.
“Do not start with your protestations, Draco. My mind is quite made up.” Narcissa interjected. “I am not a Malfoy any longer; I don’t belong in the Manor. You’re the head of the family now – take them there. Make it a happy place.”
“How can I?” he whispered, uncertain.
“Redecorate, for a start” Narcissa quipped, coaxing a smile form him. “Look around you, Draco. At your beautiful wife, at your son. The moment you step through those doors, you’ll have started already.” She said, holding Draco’s cheek like she had done so many times before. No matter how he had grown, no matter that he had children of his own, she would always see him as the cooing bundle of happiness Lucius had placed onto her chest after a night of pain all those years ago. He was worth every tear, every wound, everything.
“What about you, Narcissa?” Astoria asked, tears of happiness in her eyes. “Please, come live with us, at least for the summers, when you’re not at Hogwarts.”
“We shall see” Narcissa conceded, very much aware Astoria would not let the matter drop. “For now, I am quite happy where I am. But do not even entertain the notion I won’t be visiting – and often!”
“Hermione, dear, you’ve barely touched your pudding – and it’s your favourite!”
Hermione played with her spoon for a bit, her mind wandering. “Sorry mum” she apologized, still a bit distracted.
As was her custom every Christmas Day, Hermione went to visit her parents. After the war, she and the DMLE had tirelessly worked for over a year to track Wendell and Monica Wilkins down and restore their memories.
Removing her parents’ memories of her had possibly been the hardest thing Hermione had ever done. Finding them after their move to Australia had been a frantic exercise in hopelessness for far longer than she had anticipated them. Nothing in this world, Wizard or Muggle, could even begin to describe the relief she felt when she not only found them, but was able to fully restore their memories. That was her grandest accomplishment, as far as she was concerned. Not her part in the war, not her Order of Merlin, not her teaching, but her parents’ memories of her.
Of course, William and Katherine Granger’s first reaction to the news – memory erasure, life as the Wilkins, then memory reconstitution – was of complete and utter outrage, especially when Hermione explained the circumstances that led her to alter their memories in the first place.
Knowing your only child is off fighting a shadow war would do that.
Thankfully, the Grangers had taken long, laborious steps to repair their fractured relationship. With time, Hermione’s parents came to understand why she had done what she did, though they would never truly approve.
Hermione, for her part, was just glad to have them back.
“I know what that is. It’s a boy, innit?” her father said, comically narrowing his eyes. Hermione accidentally inhaled some of her pudding, and the resulting coughs only made him laugh. “See! I told you, Katie, ‘Mione’s thinking about a boy. What, with that far off look and all.”
“Not a ‘boy’, for Merlin’s sake. I’m thirty!” Hermione protested over her coughing fit.
“Fine, a man then. Tell us about him.” William pressed, still laughing.
“Oh, Will, leave her alone. Whenever she does find somebody, I’m sure she’ll tell us.” Katherine defended, only to immediately look at her daughter with an odd look. “Right, darling?”
Hermione glared at her mother. “There’s nobody! I’m just thinking about some research I’m doing, that’s all.”
“Oh, what about? Anything interesting?” William asked, his interest evident. After their reacquaintance to the Wizarding World, William and Katherine had resumed their friendship with the Weasleys – Hermione's father was known to spend hours with Arthur in the latter’s shed, discussing Muggle objects and how tinkering with magic would affect them.
“Very, actually” Hermione said, happy to talk about research and academia – it had always been her forte. “Though quite complicated, if I’m honest. I’m trying to find a way to alter very, very old spells to do something different than they were designed to.” She simplified. There was no need to go into the intricacies of Runes and Ancient Blood Wards.
“Sounds difficult. What are they designed to do?” questioned Katherine, drawn in at once.
“Well, they’re called wards. They were made to keep certain people out of a property.” Hermione explained.
“Like a magical gate, then?” William asked.
“Of sorts” Hermione confirmed, trying to summarize it in the simplest terms. “But invisible. It keeps certain people out, prevents others from even seeing the place. We want to make them not keep people out, but it’s quite hard since the magic used is terribly old and unbelievably complex.” she explained.
“We? Who’s we?”
“Oh, I’m helping Narcissa. Narcissa Black; she’s the Potions Professor this year.
“Black? Is she related to that man you and Harry spoke about, what was his name...”
“Sirius” Hermione said, slowly getting uncomfortable with where the conversation was heading. “Yes, they were cousins. Narcissa is also Draco’s mother.”
“Ah!” Katherine exclaimed in recognition. “Yes, of course. I don’t think we’ve ever met her, have we?” she asked. Katherine adored Draco – he had taken the Grangers to visit Hermione in St. Mungos every day once her mental state deteriorated. Hermione had never expected it of him, and yet, there he was with her parents, day in and day out, unwavering. She was glad he had grown to be such a good friend.
“Yes. She’s turning her old family estate into a Wizarding Wellness Ward; she plans to treat several magical maladies there, but we’re running into some issues because of the wards I’m researching” Hermione explained, fighting the blush that she felt creeping up for Merlin only knew why.
“Oh, that’s wonderful! So good of her. I imagine her family home must be quite big then, no?”
Hermione could only laugh at that. “You have no idea, mum. The Blacks are one of the oldest, richest Wizarding families in Britain. Remember when we visited Chatsworth House? It’s got nothing on Black Manor.”
The Grangers seemed suitably surprised, and with reason.
“Good God, they must have been rich indeed then” William grumbled.
Hermione wished she could put into words the amount of wealth amassed by families such as the Malfoys and the Blacks. The thought had just occurred to her – Narcissa, the only lawful Black descendant since Andromeda’s banishment and recipient of most of the Malfoy fortune. She might have even gotten the Lestrange fortune, seeing as Bellatrix and Rodolphus were the last of that line. In any case, one thing was crystal clear: the woman was filthy rich.
“Were and still are. Narcissa is the sole heir of the Black family, plus she got the bulk of the Malfoy fortune when she divorced Draco’s father. She must be the wealthiest woman in Wizarding Britain, or something like that.” T
Katherine laughed incredulously. “You don’t say! And she teaches at Hogwarts, you said?” she pondered for a moment. “I wonder why such a woman would choose to teach if she has so much money lying around. It’s hardly the most rewarding profession.”
“Hey! You’re talking to a teacher, mum.” Hermione quipped, annoyed.
“Didn’t mean anything by it, honey. But you’ve got to admit, it’s not the easiest job in the world” her mother reasoned. Hermione could only sigh.
“Maybe, but it has its own kind of reward. And in Narcissa’s case, it’s the first time she’s been able to do anything for herself.”
Her parents’ looks of confusion were enough to make her groan. It was time for another in-depth analysis of Pure-blooded customs; sometimes she forgot how little her parents actually understood of the Wizarding World.
“Narcissa and her ex-husband were part of very old, traditionalist Pure-blooded families. Their marriage was arranged, and Narcissa wasn’t permitted to work.”
“That sounds... old-fashioned.” Katherine observed.
“Sounds utterly backward.” William quipped.
“Sort of. Traditionalist families are like the nobility of old: several rules, restrictions, certain etiquette and customs... All of that is sort of a big deal to them. Narcissa was a good student in school and wanted to be a Healer, but being married forbade her from ever seeking a career. Her role was as the Lady of the House at Malfoy Manor” Hermione clarified. Her look turned dour. “She followed her husband as he followed that lunatic we fought against.”
“So she was on the other side?” Katherine questioned.
“Yes, so was Draco” Hermione said, a little defensively. “She lied to Voldemort in the end. If she hadn’t, I wouldn’t be here.” How strange that the fate of so many had been unwittingly bestowed to the hands of none other than Narcissa Malfoy. How ludicrous could fate and chance be? Hermione would sometimes lie awake at night, wondering what would have happened had Voldemort sent anyone – literally anyone else – to check if Harry had indeed fallen to his curse.
She would be dead, no doubt about it. Her parents would likely still be Wendell and Monica Wilkins – if Death Eaters hadn’t somehow tracked them and killed them. Who knew what the possibilities were?
Hermione left her parents’ house later in the day feeling happy, but drained. It was often difficult to remember how she had fared so well mingling in between two worlds when she was younger. As the years wore on, she found it increasingly odd to be in the Muggle world. The little things, such as switching on the lights or seeing the telly on, had drifted out of her everyday life to such a degree that she was always a bit startled when she returned to her parents’.
It made her feel like she was losing a part of her identity. Hermione didn’t like the idea whatsoever.
The night was young, she thought as she walked through Muggle London, something she had decided on doing after that little identity crisis. After the initial transition, she found that those Muggle sounds were oddly soothing. But she couldn’t just walk around London forever.
Her apparition to Black Manor was almost nearly as unintentional as an apparition could be; one minute she was walking down a darkened alley, the other she walked through the heavy iron gates of the massive estate.
Some more rifling through that massive library would do her mind some good. Maybe Hermione could even find some time to explore the rest of the place; Narcissa had made it quite clear she was welcome to without her company.
So, Hermione took the long way to the main library. She had yet to peruse the entirety of the main house, it was simply too big. The darkened halls were eerie when the only sound echoing from their pristine walls came from her trainers squeaking on the marble.
She tried to imagine what it would be like to be a child in such grandeur. No wonder the Blacks always behaved with such entitlement; how could one not, when surrounded by such splendour from birth? As much as Hermione tried to imagine she would have behaved differently in such circumstances, she found it hard to find any evidence to support it. Being accustomed to servants, grandeur, and so much money had to have some long-lasting effects.
Hermione passed several rooms she had not yet seen in her previous perusals. Narcissa had done a remarkable job in creating a medical care facility out of a family estate, but there were still certain rooms, certain nooks and crannies that belied the building’s initial purpose.
One such room was a small sitting room in the East Wing of the House. It had clearly been connected to sleeping chambers in the past – which had most likely since been turned into patient lodging or other such purpose of more utility. But what caught her eye in the space were the massive bay windows overlooking the manicured gardens.
Hermione instantly recognized them: Narcissa had once stood by them, heavily pregnant, tendrils of light illuminating her from behind. It had been the picture she had seen in Narcissa’s study all those months ago, when she unwittingly intruded the Potions Professor’s quarters.
How odd that the picture was taken there; Hermione had thought it was at Malfoy Manor. Did Lucius frequent Black Manor? If not, then who had snapped the photograph?
Hermione leaned closer to the window; it provided a stunning view to the beautifully arranged beds of flowers surrounding the fountain by the main gates. If she leaned closer still, Hermione thought she’d be able to see as far as the edges of the forested area that delineated the Lycanthrope Readjustment Range. So she did, grasping onto the ledge of the window nook for support.
Almost immediately she felt the forceful tug on her navel that signalled something akin to Portkey travel. The room began to spin, and Hermione instinctively tried to let go of the ledge, only to find it impossible.
She landed heavily in a heap onto a hard floor. Hermione panicked for a brief second upon hearing a loud snap, thinking it was her wand, but the sudden jolt of pain up her arm told her it was her wrist – she was too distracted with the pain to even ponder if she should be relieved or not.
“Augh!” she groaned as she moved, taking a moment to inspect her left wrist. It was definitely broken, just how badly she couldn’t tell. Perhaps a simple Episkey should do the trick, but Hermione did not want to risk doing something wrong without knowing what exactly was broken and how badly.
“Ferula” she intoned with a groan, grateful for the conjured splinter and bandage that magically tightened themselves just enough around her arm to immobilize it, easing her pain considerably. It would have to do.
Hermione turned around to ascertain where she had ended up. The whole room smelled heavily of dust; her body had left a grotesque imprint on the layer of dust covering the floor. It was dark and musty; the only light came through threadbare curtains on the other side of the room. There were few furnishings, all covered with white sheets: a side table, a couch, and a high-backed chair. Wherever she was, Hermione did not plan on staying long enough to find out.
She turned on her heel and concentrated on her private study, clearing her mind for apparition. As she waved her wand, however, there was no crack, no tugging. Nothing but a few measly sparks coming from her wand.
Wherever she was, she couldn’t apparate out. To make matters worse, whatever had served as a Portkey there was nowhere to be seen. That certainly complicated things; she had to find a way out, at least to somewhere that made apparition possible.
Hermione made to walk to the curtains to look outside, but she was startled by a shrill voice coming through the door.
“Who goes there?! Is it you, you insufferable pest? Spoiled, ungrateful child, come and look at me when I am speaking to you!”
Breathing deeply to get over her initial fright, Hermione armed herself with her wand and stepped through the open door into aa long corridor, following the sound. Whose house had she been transported to?
“Hello?” She called tentatively.
“Come to me when I speak to you, child!” shrieked the voice, much closer now. Hermione turned to an open door though which the voice seemed to have come from. She stepped inside, only to find it as empty and abandoned as the one she had been in before.
“What in Merlin’s name...” she murmured, before once again being startled by the same screams.
“Who are you? How dare you invade my Noble House! Away with you, scourge of the street!”
Hermione looked to the side of the room, only to see a massive portrait of a rather severe-looking woman, with black undulating hair, pink lips and hard, heavy-lidded eyes. She wore old-fashioned, but intricately decorated, doubtlessly expensive robes. The frame surrounding her was made of ornate gold; a nearly identical one made of silver hung next to her, but the portrait was empty. Hermione took one look at those harsh eyes and recognized them almost immediately.
She was looking at painting of Druella Black.
The woman in the painting was evidently not happy with Hermione’s look of utter befuddlement. She glared at the brunette, her mouth contorted into an expression of sheer displeasure.
“Who are you, loathsome little chit? Speak!”
“Uh... My apologies for the intrusion, Ma’am” Hermione said, quickly thinking on her feet. If this woman was anything like the portrait of Walburga Black, it would be wise to keep her cards close to her chest. Judging from her outbursts, Hermione wasn’t willing to take her chances. Not a word that would betray her heritage, extreme politeness, and perhaps with a little luck Druella may help her find her way out. “I’m not quite sure how I got here; it was an accident.”
Druella looked sceptical at best.
“One does not get into my home by accident! This is Narcissa’s doing, isn’t it? That deplorable girl, careless, and irresponsible, bringing strangers to her ancestral home!” The woman shrieked, her eyes wide and practically popping out of her head.
Hermione’s breathed had caught; ancestral home? She only knew of one Black ancestral home beside Black Manor.
“We’re in Grimmauld Place?” she asked on reflex, even if deep down she knew that couldn’t possibly be the case: Harry had been living in Grimmauld Place for years.
Druella looked all-consumed with impatience at her ignorance.
“Of course not! Grimmauld Place is my sister Walburga’s home, you ignorant peasant!” Her eyes narrowed. “How come you know of Grimmauld Place? You don’t seem the kind of witch to frequent it.” she said acerbically, pointedly looking at Hermione’s Muggle attire.
“I’ve met Walburga” Hermione said quickly. It wasn’t technically a lie. Though Walburga had been dead for quite a while... She had no idea when Druella had died, but perhaps it was safer to refer to somebody that she had met in the flesh. “I work with Narcissa.” She backtracked
“I beg your pardon” Druella said, clearly scandalized. “Did you just say you work with my ill-tempered daughter?” she squawked.
Whoops. Apparently that had been the wrong thing to say.
“I mean I do some research with her. Research. On... on Ancient Wizarding History” she lied through her teeth. Part of her was really curious about why Druella seemed to harbour such animosity towards her daughter, but that part was silenced by the priority of needing to get out of there.
Druella didn’t look like she was buying it, but nevertheless relented. “A spoiled urchin, impudent child she is, always has been. How come you have found yourself in her wretched company?”
“I’m friends with her son, Draco. We knew each other in Hogwarts.”
“Did you now?” Druella said, her eyes narrowing even further in her inspection of Hermione. “You do look slightly familiar to me... But you were not in Slytherin. A Hufflepuff Fawley? No, no, Ravenclaw, perhaps? Are you the daughter of one of the MacDougal's?”
“Yes!” Hermione said a little too quickly, desperately clinging to the lifeline Druella had unwittingly thrown her way: Isobel and Morag MacDougal had been sorted into Ravenclaw the same year she had found her home in Gryffindor. With any luck, Druella wasn’t that familiar with the family to notice any difference. “Isobel MacDougal at your service, Ma’am.”
“You look nothing like your mother, child. But we all know that is probably for the best; Meredith was never a pretty thing to look at.” The woman said with the nonchalance Hermione had seen Narcissa display so elegantly. “I can see she also neglected to instruct her daughters on the proper manners befitting a lady of your station. Where is your formal greeting for an elder, Ms. MacDougal? Such incredible impropriety; not even Narcissa would forego a proper greeting!” She chastised Hermione.
How in Godric’s name was Hermione to formally greet a Pure-blooded matron such as Druella Black? Their etiquette was so unnecessarily complicated!
“Uh...” she babbled, thinking on her feet. “Deepest apologies, Ma’am. The usual greetings have fallen out of fashion; I thought it would be improper to perform one given your status.” She shot in the dark.
Could portraits flush with embarrassment? Druella certainly looked at little pinker.
“Narcissa, that impertinent child! How dare she not keep me informed!” Druella hissed angrily. Hermione had to contain her sigh of relief for dodging that bullet. “That is so like her, insubordinate and bird-brained!”
“Hm, Madam, if I may?” Hermione dared to interrupt. Druella looked vicious, but gave her a nod as if she was permitting her to speak. “But where exactly are we?”
“I shall forgive your ignorance just this once, Ms. MacDougal.” Druella huffed. “We’re at Charles House, my family home in London.” She turned a severe glance to Hermione. “How exactly did you find yourself here, Ms. MacDougal? I heard your racket as you arrived.”
Hermione felt just a little bit giddy when she heard she was in London. That meant she could get out and eventually apparate some place.
“I’m not quite sure; I believe I was Portkeyed here, though I have no idea how.” Hermione said, the first completely truthful thing she had said to the portrait.
“Impossible!” Druella cried. “Only members of the Black Family can trespass the wards without the proper invitation. Who invited you?”
Hermione took a moment to ponder; her eyes subconsciously dropped to the faint silver scar on her palm. Druella followed her gaze.
“Impossible!” She repeated with a screech, clearly very aware of the mark’s origin. “Who dared bind you by blood to the Black Family?! Narcissa, no doubt; oh how that insolent girl vexes me so! That is the limit of all impropriety, to violate the sacred bond of blood with another witch!”
“Madam Black, I assure you, there is no impropriety!” Hermione immediately retorted with a furious blush tinging her cheeks. Pure-blooded witches were obviously not too keen on context. She didn’t want to stay another minute in Druella’s presence. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I will find my way out. I’ve got to find somewhere to apparate from.”
Her statement seemed to stop Druella in her tracks. “Are you unable to apparate within the premises?” she questioned darkly.
“I’ve tried and I couldn’t” Hermione said, then looked at the woman in the painting. “Should I?”
To her surprise, Druella’s features turned to complete and utter relief. “Oh! Merlin, my apologies, Miss MacDougal; I didn’t mean to jump to conclusions so quickly. Only those born or married into the House of Black are able to apparate to and from Charles House without proper invitation. You see where my confusion came from.” She said, her tone bordering on civil.
“Well... thanks, I guess” Hermione huffed, tired of dealing with the painting. “Now, my apologies, but I really must get going” she made to leave.
“Wait! Miss MacDougal!” Druella called. “You won’t be able to leave. The doors will not open to your touch; they’re enchanted, you see. You must leave the way you came, or with the proper invitation.” She explained.
Hermione wanted to tear her hair out. Why were the Blacks so anal about their wards?!
“Then by Merlin, how am I supposed to go home?” Perhaps she could send a Patronus out. Would the wards allow her to do that, at least?
“Do not fret, Miss MacDougal. Give me one moment.” Druella said, suddenly walking off her frame and into the silver one next to it. Hermione would never understand how Wizarding paintings worked.
“Cygnus! Get out of that blasted locket, there is a young girl here in need of assistance! Cygnus, come home at once!” Druella began screaming into the silver frame. After waiting a few moments, she returned to her own, an impatient look in her eyes.
Hermione was about to ask, but was interrupted by the appearance of a man into the other frame.
She had seen Cygnus Black in pictures and engravings before. Like the rest of his family, he always looked rather serious and harsh; his lips were practically always sealed into a thin line – the exception being Narcissa’s wedding photo Hermione had seen. Either way, she could have never expected Cygnus Black to look like he did now.
The man before her now had a completely different demeanour. He looked much younger than Hermione thought him to be, though he had smile lines that crinkled around his eyes and cheeks with the grin he sported. His gait was light and unencumbered, his hair was fair, and his blue eyes held a glimmer of mischief.
“Now, what do we have here?” he asked, his voice as kind as an old grandpa's. Hermione’s head was spinning in confusion.
“Miss Isobel MacDougal has been Portkeyed into our home somehow” Druella explained, her voice bordering on annoyed. “Do her a favour; go fetch our abominable daughter to come let her home. She cannot leave otherwise.”
“Miss MacDougal, is it? Are you by any chance Meredith and Arnold’s daughter?” He questioned genially; Hermione was so taken aback at the knowing look in his eyes she could only respond with a quick nod.
“Never fear, Miss MacDougal. I shall go and get Narcissa at once, she’ll be able to take you home.” He said with a kind smile, gingerly walking out of frame. Hermione was at a loss for words.
“That was Narcissa’s father?” she thought aloud.
“Indeed!” Druella interjected with a mean look. “He is why she was such a difficult, obstinate child, why she still is an ungrateful spawn. Left me barren, the little brat, did you know?”
Hermione didn’t know how to respond; was this how Pure-bloods made small-talk?
“You don’t say.” She replied dumbly. Druella didn’t need further encouragement.
“Always a recalcitrant child; but she could do no wrong in her father’s eyes. Married that presumptuous Lucius Malfoy, no matter how unhappy that made her mother. It was Cygnus’ idea to name her Narcissa; evidently that gave her a syndrome of self-importance and pompous nature befitting her aggravating husband.”
Hermione felt supremely awkward hearing Narcissa’s dead mother badmouthing her own daughter. She wondered how Druella felt about Andromeda, but wasn’t crazy enough to ask. She was rescued from further interaction by Cygnus’ appearance into his frame once again.
“Hello again, dear. Narcissa should be here any second; she’ll be waiting for you in the room you came through.” He said. Hermione was only too glad to leave.
“Can’t even have the decency to greet her own mother, the ingrate!” Druella cried.
“Uh, thank you, Sir. Madam Black.” Hermione said, ready to beat a scurried retreat. Druella addressed her one last time.
“Do come visit again if you find the time, Miss. MacDougal. I’ve enjoyed our little chat.”
Hermione was too baffled to respond. The last thing she saw as she left the room was the knowing twinkle of Lord Black’s eye.
A/N: The reason Hermione's parents weren't really mentioned before now was because I was still deciding whether I wanted to kill them off or nah. In the end, I decided our girl Hermione has been through enough!
Whoops, another long chapter. Whelp!
Thanks for reading!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Hermione scurried to the room she had literally fallen to in her hurry to get back. Her mind went a mile a minute in an effort to understand what in Merlin’s name had just happened. She had – unwittingly, completely and utterly unintentionally – met and spoken with Narcissa’s dead parents.
She was overcome with an intense feeling of guilt. It wasn’t the first time she had intruded upon something very private about Narcissa’s life. Hermione practically cringed with guilt remembering the blasted photographs she had found months ago. If she had kept to herself, she wouldn’t have seen Narcissa’s photograph. If she hadn’t seen it, perhaps she wouldn’t have approached the sodding window. If she hadn’t approached the window, perhaps she could have avoided her little tête-à-tête with Druella Black.
Maybe someone had cursed her. How could she keep invading Narcissa’s privacy like this? A rush of blood flooded her cheeks in her guilt. That certainly wasn’t the way to create a... a friendship?
Hermione thought of a thousand and one excuses, apologies, explanations and justifications. She couldn’t imagine how Narcissa would feel at yet another breach. She expected anger, perhaps disappointment. Hermione didn’t know which was worse.
To her surprise, Narcissa’s eyes betrayed nothing but concern and deep, deep shame. Hermione was so puzzled at seeing that look upon the blonde’s feature’s she froze at the doorstep of the room. Narcissa stood, still with perfect posture, but her presence was not commanding or poised as it was usually. No, this Narcissa looked timid and vulnerable.
Hermione would have gladly taken an angry Narcissa instead.
“Ms. Granger, I trust you’re alright?” Narcissa asked, her voice empty and tremulous.
Hermione hoped her eyes didn’t show her chagrin at hearing Narcissa avoid her first name. It had been months since the other woman had been so formal. She nodded, and was about to try and say something in return when the walls practically shook with the screams coming from the portrait room.
“Come and greet your mother properly, you impertinent child! Brazen, insupportable chit, come look at me when I am speaking to you!”
Hermione thought Narcissa would just melt where she stood, given the flush of utter embarrassment tinging her pallid cheeks. She gave her a look of understanding.
“How about we just get out of here?” She tried jovially. Narcissa only gave her a muted nod in response, reaching out a shaky hand in her direction for a Side-Along apparition.
Hermione gladly took it. They had barely touched when Narcissa whisked them away with a loud crack, drowning out her mother’s infuriated shrieks.
They landed none-too-gently in a room Hermione immediately recognized as Narcissa’s private study. It only served as a reminder of how much she had perturbed the older woman’s privacy. Hermione desperately wanted to say something, to spout one of those apologies she had spent so much energy thinking about, only to feel the keen loss of Narcissa’s contact once the blonde let go and stepped through a narrow door without a word.
Hermione stood there, feeling embarrassed and dumb, not knowing how to proceed. She debated calling or going after Narcissa, but that thought process was summarily interrupted.
“Please have a seat, Ms. Granger.” came Narcissa’s hesitating voice.
The young professor did as she was told, settling onto the chair a white fox slept on the last time she was in this room. She hated being there, sticking out like a sore thumb, being awkward and dumb, she hated hearing how timid Narcissa’s voice sounded through the door as she waited.
Thankfully, her wait was mercifully short. Narcissa reappeared carrying a small wooden box by a golden handle. Her countenance was determined, but her eyes were still clouded by shame. The Potions professor daintily sat on the ottoman by Hermione’s; a flick of her wand made the box levitate between them.
“Let me see your arm.” She said, then paused. “Please.”
Hermione obliged, turning slightly in her seat to give Narcissa better access.
Narcissa’s hands were cold as she rolled Hermione’s sleeve further back to inspect her splinter more closely. She delicately held the brunette’s arm in her hands, tilting it slightly as she examined it.
“Your Ferula charm is not half bad” she said, hands at the ligature that held the splinters together. “May I?”
Hermione only nodded, briefly wondering why Narcissa wasn’t using magic.
Narcissa slowly and silently got to work on dismantling the splinter. Her touch itself felt soothing, especially now that the numbing effects of the charm were beginning to fade and Hermione felt a sort of dull pain. Narcissa’s hands stilled as she uncovered Hermione’s scar.
Hermione didn’t know if Narcissa actually meant to do it, but suddenly she felt the witch’s fingers gracefully brushing against the jagged letters scarred upon her skin. The motion startled her, sending shivers down her spine, and Narcissa immediately stopped, as if she had just realized what she was doing.
“Forgive me.” she whispered, going back to removing the splints.
Narcissa took her wand and gently prodded at Hermione’s wrist, murmuring diagnostic charms Hermione wasn’t familiar with, her brows furrowed in concentration.
“You’ve broken it in two places, I’m afraid.” she said, turning to the floating box she had opened to reveal a number of phials. She selected one of a garish purple colour and applied some of it to Hermione’s arm. Any lingering pain the brunette felt vanished completely and the swelling of the break diminished to nothing before her very eyes.
“The good news is, the breaks are quite clean” Narcissa continued, tapping Hermione’s wrist ever so lightly with her wand. Hermione felt the pressure and heat of her bone snapping back into place, but none of the pain that usually came with bone-setting charms. “You won’t need another splinter, but I will bandage it lightly to restrict your movement until tomorrow. Then, it should be good as new.”
Hermione shot Narcissa a smile and a grateful glance. She felt relieved she hadn’t attempted to fix it with an Episkey or some other simpler healing charm – those tended to make things worse if the breaks were beyond them.
Narcissa acknowledged Hermione’s gratitude with a shy smile of her own as she silently worked on bandaging the brunette’s arm. The only sound for long moments was the gentle swish of the bandages as Narcissa tied them securely and carefully without the use of magic.
Hermione loathed the silence.
“Narcissa...” she tried, not even sure where to start from. All those apologies she had so desperately thought of just seemed to vanish into thin air.
“Ms. Granger” Narcissa interrupted, with a pained look in her eyes. “I am truly, truly sorry.”
Hermione could only blink in confusion.
“Wait” she said before Narcissa could continue. “What are you apologizing for?”
Narcissa’s expression mirrored her own confusion.
“I’m sorry for the PortKey charm at the window – it's been so many years since it has been used I neglected to correct it. I have no idea why the house let you in but not out. Also... I am especially sorry about your encounter with... with my mother. I’m afraid she’s not the easiest person – or portrait – to be around.”
Hermione tried to hold in her laugh, but was truly unable; the reaction clearly only served to further befuddle her companion.
“You’re joking, right?” She said, immediately seeing by Narcissa’s look that she was not. “Let me remind you – I spent months in a house with Walburga’s portrait. Druella is a jolly good sport in comparison.” Hermione said truthfully. Well, truthfully as far as she could tell; nothing guaranteed Druella wouldn’t have reacted just as her sister-in-law had she known of Hermione’s true blood status. “I mean, she did invite me – or rather, Isobel MacDougal, back for a chat.” She joked.
Finally, Narcissa smiled – a weak, timid one, but still a smile. Hermione counted it as a small victory.
“That was remarkably quick thinking of your part. Imagine my surprise when my father came to me, saying a ‘young Miss MacDougal’ had been unwittingly transported to Charles House.”
Hermione latched onto that little tid-bit.
“How did he warn you?” she asked. She hadn’t noticed any portraits in Narcissa’s study.
Narcissa response was to reach into her robes, taking out a small silver locket decorated with a polished shard of obsidian, which was held in place by intricate silver filigree. She clicked it open to reveal a diminutive portrait with a black background.
A grinning Cygnus Black waved his fingers to Hermione in a humorous greeting.
“Miss MacDougal, what a coincidence seeing you again.” He quipped. The knowing glint to his eye had returned; he looked at Hermione as if he could see right through her.
“Yes, um, hello.” Hermione said. So that’s where Cygnus went when his frame at the house was empty.
“Thank you, Father, for calling me.” Narcissa said. Cygnus winked jovially.
“No trouble, poppet. I’ll go back and tend to your mother now, you two enjoy yourselves.” And with that, he disappeared through the side of the locket.
“Well.” Hermione breathed. “He seems... nice?”
Narcissa had a knowing smile tugging at her lips. “Not what you expected of the great Cygnus Black?”
Hermione shook her head. “I’ll be honest... No. I’ve never expected him to look so... Fun?”
Narcissa laughed. “Your surprise is evident, but not unexpected. It’s true, my family is known for its... serious countenance, but my father was never truly a harsh disciplinarian.” she explained. Hermione’s head practically spun.
“He’s so different from what I hear about Orion... and what I’ve seen of Walburga.” Hermione muttered. From the little she had heard from Sirius and Andromeda, Orion Black was a bitter, punitive disciplinarian she had always imagined Pure-Blooded patriarchs to be, and Walburga wasn’t far off. After her little conversation with Druella, she expected Narcissa’s mother was very much the same. It only served to surprise her further with Cygnus.
“My father was never much like his sister Walburga, or his cousin Orion.” Narcissa said with a grimace that Hermione almost subconsciously replicated. One needn’t look too deep into Pure-Blood family trees to see how strangely incestual they were.
“I’m guessing your mother was more up their alley, no?” Hermione said. She had meant it as a joke, but Narcissa scoffed in what could only be described as irritation.
“Druella always thought she had something to prove. She was born Druella Rosier, you know? After her match with Abraxas Malfoy was dissolved, she wanted to prove she was deserving of marrying into the Black Family. I suppose her parenting style as a way to convince Pollux, my grandfather, that she had the steady hand Cygnus supposedly lacked.”
Narcissa suddenly stood and walked over the side table Hermione had knocked over during her first – unauthorized – visit of the study. There were still some photo albums neatly stacked on top. Narcissa grabbed a relatively thin one, decorated in red fabric with worn leather spine. She opened it and gave it to Hermione.
“That’s me there” she said, pointing to a family picture. Druella sat on a high-backed chair, looking sick and frail with deep, dark circles under her eyes. Surrounding her were Bellatrix and Andromeda, looking about five and four respectively. Bellatrix smiled widely, looking at their father, who stood proudly with a small bundle wrapped in white embroidered cloths.
“Merlin! You had black hair??” Hermione exclaimed, looking at the wriggling bundle, barely visible in Cygnus’ arms.
“Yes” Narcissa laughed. “I know some babies are usually born with lighter hair and it darkens with age; with me it was precisely the opposite somehow.” She looked tenderly at the picture, but her expression soured as she looked at Druella. “My mother never liked me.”
Hermione looked to Narcissa, then back to the picture. She had assumed as much, with the poison Druella’s portrait had continuously spouted about her daughter. Something in the back of her head said it was insurmountably odd to have Narcissa sharing so much about her family like this. But a bigger part pf her enjoyed it, feeling honoured to be able to have such a conversation with the woman.
“Yeah... she wasn’t very kind to you back there.” Hermione commented. Narcissa only chuckled.
“Not back there or ever. She had always been quite frail, and childbirth was always a risk. But mine was especially difficult – she very nearly died. In the end, she was left barren, without the opportunity to gift my father a son to carry the family name.” Narcissa said in clear distaste.
“Cygnus was always disappointed Druella never gave him any sons?” Hermione questioned. She could have sworn Narcissa herself had said something to that effect.
“Oh yes, and deeply so. The difference was, he placed the blame entirely on my mother as opposed to his daughters. It truly wasn’t fair to her, but my father loved us dearly; he called me his little angel. My mother found it in herself to love Bellatrix and Andromeda, but she could never bring herself to love me.” Narcissa finished with a little sadness.
Hermione looked at the photograph a little closer. Druella barely moved in the picture, save to spare Cygnus and the new-born Narcissa a look of intense disdain. Young Bellatrix alternated where she directed her beaming smile; to the baby in her father’s arms or the photographer. Little Andromeda, for her part, stood the closest to her mother, sparing the baby a curious glance every now and then.
Narcissa leaned to look at the picture more closely as well. “My mother could never love me, for she saw me as the last chance to give my father a son. I not only robbed her of that, I robbed her of any other potential subsequent chance she might have had.”
Hermione could understand the logic, in a twisted sort of way. Considering how important the survival of the family name was to all of the staunchly Pure-Blooded families, she supposed Druella’s disappointment made some sort of sense. It didn’t make it right.
Narcissa flipped the page; Hermione wondered if she had forgotten she was there. There, she recognized another family – Orion and Walburga, proudly holding their firstborn, wide but stiff smiles on their faces.
“Godric! I didn’t know Walburga could smile!” Hermione exclaimed; Narcissa practically chortled.
“Especially when it came to Sirius” she quipped, pointing at the hysterical infant in Walburga’s arms. “He and I were born on the same year, only a few months apart, though I was much closer to Regulus in my childhood.” Narcissa explained. “Sirius always had a lot more in common with Drommie... In more ways than we had originally thought, as we came to find out later.”
Narcissa flipped the page once again, and Hermione had happily resigned herself to a little family exploration. The blonde stopped at picture Hermione had already seen; Bellatrix with her Hogwarts robes, carrying a giggling Narcissa on her back, Andromeda laughing next to them.
“Bella’s first year at Hogwarts.” She said. “I was inconsolable after she got on the train. It only got worse the next year, when Drommie had to go and I was left alone.”
Hermione couldn’t quite relate, at least not to the same level. She missed her friends dearly when term ended, and of course she missed her parents a lot whenever she returned to the castle, but she didn’t think she’d ever understand how close one could be with their siblings.
“I’ve always wondered, what having sisters would be like.” She commented. Narcissa turned to her as if she had forgotten the brunette was even there for a moment.
“You were an only child? No Muggle siblings?”
“No, not really. I didn’t even have cousins, really, or anything like that – my parents were also only children. As far as I can remember, it was always just my parents and me. Until I went to school, that is.” She looked intently at Narcissa. “You were quite close with Andromeda and... and Bellatrix.” It wasn’t really a question.
“Yes” Narcissa said. If she had noticed any trepidation in Hermione’s voice, the blonde gave no indication of it. “I’m fully aware you only know of Bellatrix as the monster she went on to become... But she was the kindest, most caring sister one could have ever asked for.”
Hermione didn’t have to voice her disbelief; she could tell Narcissa could clearly see it in her eyes. While she knew that no one was born a monster – not even Bellatrix Lestrange – she had years upon years of trauma and dreams that told her precisely the opposite.
“Indeed” Narcissa continued, her expression kind. “She was an exuberant child, endlessly talented in practically all things. She made friends easily, but was incredibly selective, I’m sure you understand how and why. But until she joined the Dark Lord’s midst, she was a promising lady with so much potential” Narcissa’s eyes turned sad.
“How... how did it happen?” Hermione found herself asking, certain Narcissa understood quite well what ‘it’ meant. Why she held such a bitterly morbid curiosity about her late torturer, she didn’t know. Narcissa’s eyes seemed set in stone. “I’m sorry, it’s alright if you don’t want to tell me.” She backtracked.
The Potions professor sighed deeply. “I’m sure you of all people would like to know. In truth, Bellatrix’s madness was largely out of her control. Her nature had always been impulsive and explosive, but after she joined the Death Eaters – before they even called themselves that, after she married Rodolphus... Her life was a tragedy after another.”
“Before... She was a Death Eater before she even married?” Hermione asked. As far as she knew, Bellatrix had been married before even finishing her education; it meant she had pledged her allegiance to Voldemort earlier than Hermione had previously thought.
“She and Rodolphus married before Christmas on her seventh year. I was in my second, and had acquired special permission from Headmaster Dumbledore to be able to attend the ceremony at the Lestrange Family Estate in France.” Narcissa said. A deft movement of her hand sent another album flying from the stack in her direction; she grasped it delicately, flipping it open.
Another grand manor, no doubt, and another marriage composed the picture Hermione found herself looking at. Bellatrix looked absolutely radiant, and so did Rodolphus. Cygnus looked right chuffed, and even Druella looked over the moon with happiness. Rodolphus held a young Bellatrix princess-style and spun in circles as guests threw rice at the pair. Andromeda was present, but looked demure next to a pimply-faced young man, and a twelve-year-old Narcissa smiled dreamily at her older sister and her husband.
“Was their union not arranged?” Hermione questioned. The pair in the picture looked to be in love, or at least desperately happy; however, she had known them to be anything but.
“Yes” Narcissa said. “But Bellatrix and Rodolphus had always been quite fond of each other. They shared many similar ideals, you see. Rod was the one who introduced her to Lord Voldemort on her fifth year.”
Hermione choked. “Her fifth?!” she gasped out.
“Yes.” Narcissa’s tone was sad. “Quite young. Young, foolish despite her precociousness, and so terribly impressionable. Bellatrix had always wanted to be somebody, you see? Tom Riddle gave her ample opportunity.” she finished bitterly.
Hermione ran her fingers over the dancing couple. In a matter of years, the happy bride would go on become an unhinged madwoman in the service of Lord Voldemort. She pointed out Andromeda in the picture.
“Andy’s there. So this was before...”
“Yes. She eloped with Ted Tonks that summer.” Narcissa explained. Her hand joined Hermione’s onto the photograph, and she indicated the acne-ridden young man standing next to the middle Black sister. “I’m sure the wedding helped her make up her mind more quickly – my father announced her engagement to Rabastan right after the ceremony.”
Hermione’s jaw literally slacked open. “That’s Rabastan?! Merlin... He was a, uh... late bloomer, wasn’t he?”
Narcissa let out a peal of laughter. “Indeed” she chuckled “he was two or three years younger than Andromeda, I believe. They had no interaction at Hogwarts whatsoever.”
“Good Godric” Hermione said, looking at the young man who at one point was supposed to marry Andromeda. She had only seen him in person after his breakout from Azkaban, along with his brother and sister-in-law. In the picture, he looked blissfully oblivious to practically everything.
“Everyone looks so happy...” Hermione thought aloud. “Well, Andromeda maybe not too much.” She added as an afterthought.
Narcissa chuckled. “We were,” she said, flipping the pages absentmindedly. “That is, until Andromeda ran off. I thought my mother would die of heartbreak then and there; Drommie had always been her favourite.”
Hermione furrowed her brows. “I can’t imagine a parent having a favourite child.” She said. Narcissa’s eyeroll in response was surprising.
“Said the only child.” She joked.
Hermione matched Narcissa’s eyeroll. “Come off it. You’d have a favourite child?” Narcissa merely shurgged her shoulders.
“I do have a favourite son.” She said with a knowing smirk. Hermione sighed in defeat.
“Alright, that was a bad example” Hermione sighed. “But do you think someone like Molly would have a favourite son?”
“Of course not” Narcissa quipped with a smirk. “She has a favourite daughter,” she added with a knowing look which made Hermione laugh. “Perhaps Molly Weasley isn’t capable of picking favourites; the ability was not beyond my mother, however.” Narcissa’s tone turned more serious.
“My father died shortly after Draco was born – a blood malediction; there was nothing the Healers could do for him except make him comfortable in the last years of his life. My mother lived through Andromeda’s elopement and Bellatrix’s imprisonment. If it weren’t for Draco’s birth, I doubt very much she would have deigned to speak to me. She passed away in her sleep shortly before he began his second year at Hogwarts.”
Hermione looked at the Druella in the pictures, reconciling the image with the one she had interacted with at Charles House.
“I can’t imagine having my mother not speak to me.” she murmured softly, because she truly couldn’t. Hermione counted herself lucky enough to have two loving, supporting parents, who encouraged her every endeavour as a child. They had never truly disapproved of anything she did – with a few exceptions here or there. The only time her mother had ever been upset with her – memory-related incidents excluded – was when she returned from her second year, after she finagled a magical fix for her buck teeth.
“I do wonder how Muggle families operate.” Narcissa wondered aloud. Hermione laughed.
“Not much differently than most wizarding families, I would say... Pure-Blooded etiquette excluded, of course.” An idea struck.
“Come with me?”
Any awkwardness that lingered after the misadventure at Charles House had dissipated with the two witches’ impromptu family exploration. It was strange to look at Narcissa’s family through her lens; every time it came up, Hermione felt a little shock when her every expectation about them was shattered. Bellatrix wasn’t born a mad, Cygnus was a kind man to his daughters, Walburga could smile, Druella hated her youngest.
Nevertheless, she found it enjoyable to learn so much about Narcissa’s family and, by proxy, about the woman as well. She figured it would be nice to return the favour.
The two reached Hermione’s private study in no time at all, despite the long distance from the Dungeons. The castle was dark and blessedly empty, draped in an eerie silence that made their footsteps echo through the halls. Narcissa followed Hermione without a word, only the spark of curiosity glimmering in her blue eyes.
Once they reached the study, Hermione at once summoned a castle elf for some tea and biscuits, urging Narcissa to take a seat and get comfortable while she rummaged through a decorative trunk to find what she wanted. She had knelt by the trunk for a good five minutes of frustration before Narcissa questioned why she didn’t just summon whatever it was she wanted.
“Whoops. I guess that’s the Muggle in me.” Hermione said, blushing from her neck to the roots of her hair, but with an inward sense of pride. Maybe she wasn’t completely losing her identity, after all.
She summoned her childhood album, and out it came, flying and ready to her palm. The tea and biscuits materialized at the side table just as she took a seat herself.
“Let’s see how Muggle families operate, shall we?” She said with a timid smile, wondering why she’d think Narcissa would be interested at all. Perhaps this had been a terrible idea.
She needn’t have worried; Narcissa responded to her smile in kind. The blonde even seemed eager to open the album.
“Oh!” Narcissa exclaimed at the first page. “I had forgotten that Muggle pictures do not move. How incredibly odd.” She mentioned, dusting her fingertips over a shot that merely showed Hermione’s parents – Katherine round with pregnancy – posing by the building where Hermione had been born, the Royal London Hospital.
“Your parents?” Narcissa asked, pointing out the couple in the photo. Hermione herself hadn’t looked at those pictures in forever; she’d forgotten how wild her mother’s hair was.
“Yeah. Katherine and William Granger, August 1979.”
“I was born in September.” Hermione said.
“Draco was born in October, that same year.” Narcissa pondered.
Hermione suddenly thought this was a terrible idea. Narcissa had been married with a child of her own on the way when she had been born. If the blonde had any indication of Hermione’s... fondness for her, she had no idea, but if Narcissa ever came to find out, surely this would be a supremely difficult thing to get over.
“Are you alright?” Narcissa asked. Hermione realized she had been gripping the edges of the album a little too tightly.
“Fine!” She squeaked, letting go. Narcissa turned the page.
“And I suppose that’s you?” she said kindly, pointing out a bundle on Katherine Granger’s chest in the hospital room. “Is that the Muggle equivalent to a midwitch?” she asked, pointing out the doctor, who was covered from head to toe, with gloves and a mask. Hermione chuckled.
“Sort of. She’s the doctor who delivered me.”
“Ah.” Narcissa squinted, taking a closer look. “What an odd bed.” Hermione immediately knew what the witch meant.
“Those are wires and tubes. They monitor the baby and the mum’s heartbeat through that machine there” she pointed it out “and I believe this here is the IV drip – it's for medication and hydration.”
She immediately saw that she’d need to be a little more specific; Narcissa looked at her as she had spoken Mermish.
“Intra-venous drip. There’s a needle attached to a tube that goes to that bag there. It deposits medication straight into the bloodstream.” She didn’t know if she could get simpler than that.
“Merlin.” Narcissa said, looking a little green at the edges but otherwise impressed. “That’s... ingenious.”
Hermione appreciated the comment, even if it was clear Narcissa didn’t quite understand. It helped Hermione feel a little more at ease.
Soon they had flipped through Hermione’s infancy and early childhood: her first tooth, first steps, first word.
“Ah!” Hermione exclaimed when they came upon a particular picture. Little Hermione was in her high chair, looking quite angrily to the camera. “My dad still talks about this day: it was the first time they saw me perform some accidental magic!” She looked longingly to the picture; it was one of her favourite stories.
“I hated broccoli, you see. Absolutely hated it – Mum had an awful time trying to get me to eat it. Then, one night, I threw this royal tantrum over it. I just wasn’t having it. The more mum tried, the more I resisted, until suddenly poof! All the broccoli in my plate shot up to the ceiling!”
Narcissa laughed heartily at that. “I wonder what Muggles would make of such a thing. Even with Wizards, accidental magic often catches us unaware. Draco made all my books fly from my bookshelves when I wasn’t giving him enough attention to his liking.”
Hermione rolled her eyes. “That sounds like Draco,” she quipped. “James turned Harry’s hair red – just like Ginny’s.”
Narcissa chuckled. Hermione wished she had seen a red-haired Harry in person; it was way funnier than anyone could even imagine.
“I believe I was with Bella the first time I produced accidental magic” Narcissa said. “She was with me in the garden at Charles House. My mother had just ripped out the white roses and replaced them with geraniums – which I for some reason disliked intensely. According to Bella, I took one look at those geraniums and they immediately wilted.”
“Merlin. You really didn’t like geraniums, did you?”
Narcissa shot her a knowing look.
“Almost as much as you didn’t broccoli, Hermione.”
A chime of the grandfather clock Hermione kept in her study interrupted them. Somehow, they had talked for hours since their return from Charles House – it was nearing midnight. Hermione had no clue how the time had passed them by so fast.
“Oh, Salazar.” Narcissa huffed in annoyance. “I forgot, I was supposed to floo Drommie ages ago!”
“Oh no! I’m sorry. I completely lost track of time.” Hermione gasped apologetically. Narcissa waved her off.
“It’s no matter; I’ll floo her in the morning, though I should probably send her a short note explaining,” she said, standing. “I greatly enjoyed our talk.”
Hermione beamed; she could tell Narcissa’s smile was genuine. “As have I. Sorry again about... well, about the portrait thing.” She said sincerely as she walked Narcissa out.
“Don’t trouble yourself with it. I’ve told you before, I greatly enjoy your company.” Narcissa said. She paused uncertain at the door. “In the meantime... Perhaps we could do this again? Over proper tea, perhaps?”
Hermione managed to contain her surprise and content. She smiled back. “I’d love to.”
Some of you will notice I messed a bit with some timelines (Draco's birth, for example). I made all the Black sisters a little bit younger, but I wanted Narcissa to have a bigger gap between Bellatrix and Andromeda (I kind of wanted her to be the baby of the family). Quite by accident, I made her nearly exactly 20 years older than Hermione, so I guess that's a nice round number, because math really isn't my forte haha! I have a timeline I wrote for this story in particular, where I moved some things around. I'll digitize and share it on my Tumblr at some point!
OMG this turned massive... again. Couldn't find a good place to split this chapter into two. I can't really help it, I get kind of carried away writing these two, but I suppose that should be a good thing.
Thank you so much for your readership and reviews -- reading them makes my day!
15th May, 1974
I hope you have done well in your exams! I know you worry about your OWLs next year, but I am sure you will exceed even your own ludicrously high expectations. Word of advice – not that I imagine you'll heed it – stay clear of Divination; it is a complete waste of time, though I suspect you'll want to try it for yourself. Don't say I didn't warn you!
I'm sorry if I took too long to respond to your last letter. Ted and I have been running around like chickens with our heads cut off with Nymphadora. I never expected life with a baby to be easy, but she truly has made things remarkably more difficult. I told you about all the strange things happening to her in my last letter; I am happy to report all's well! She's a metamorphmagus! You probably know what it is already, since you are practically a living library, but I must say I was quite relieved when the Healers told us there's nothing wrong with her. She's just a little special.
I miss you, and Bella too – though I very much doubt she'd believe me. Which reminds me, burn these letters once you're done with them – I can never caution you enough. Ted has been lovely, but he's off to work most of the day and I just feel terribly alone. The Muggles in the neighbourhood are quite generous and kind, but I am still not quite brave enough to leave the house without Ted. Maybe someday. And don't roll your eyes at me – these Muggles are all perfectly pleasant.
Do write me during summer. I can't believe you'll soon be off in your fifth year! You've grown so much, and I am so proud of you, you little bookworm. Tell me about everything, tell me about mum, about Bella, and about Sirius as well, you know I worry about him. Don't forget to dish out on all the boys that are surely knocking down our doors as well!
I miss you terribly. I hope to hear from you soon.
All my love,
August 8th, 1975
How you managed to finagle an Exceeding Expectations in Divination is well and truly beyond me! However, I must say I am happy to hear you won't waste your time with it next year.
Regarding your last letter... Merlin! You can't just drop two lines with that sort of news! The least you could have done was tell me to sit down. You nearly gave me a heart attack!
That being said, I am so, so happy for Bella and Rodolphus, I truly am. I'll be an aunt! I think taking some time for family is exactly what Bella needs; perhaps it will slow her down a bit. I am sure having the light and love of a child in her life will do her a world of good, and I wish her all the best in this amazing journey that is motherhood.
I am a little sad Nymphadora has never met any of her aunts, and will now have a little cousin she is unlikely to ever meet, if things keep on going the way they are. Be careful, Cissy. One hears things, and Ted has been hearing quite a lot of worrying murmurs at his work. I do so hope Bella won't take any part in any of it given this wonderful new development – dare I say it fills me with hope?
Please keep me posted with how Bella's doing. Shall we wager on whether it'll be a boy or a girl? I say it'll be a boy – then again, that's what I thought with Nymphadora. I'll try my luck this time!
23rd September, 1975
Thank you for your letter. I was somewhat aware of the situation – Sirius wrote me a while ago, but he never gave me any indication he planned to run off. He just said he was sick of Uncle Orion and Aunt Walburga, but really, when is he not sick of them? In the end, I heard about it from Uncle Alphard first.
As far as I know, he's staying with his friend James Potter and all is well. I'm sure you don't really care for his well-being, but you should; he's still your cousin, no matter what Aunt Walburga does to his name on the tapestry. My name was blasted off and I'm still your sister, am I not?
Now he's not under Aunt Walburga's roof, perhaps he'll be able to visit! Uncle Alphard has come – Nymphadora loved him.
Keep me posted!
10th March, 1976
I do not even know how to respond to the news; I am truly heartbroken. I had to sit so I wouldn't faint once I read your letter, that is how shaken I felt. Even now, I can barely contain my tears.
I cannot bear the thought of ever losing Nymphadora, so I cannot even begin to imagine what sort of wretched pain Bella and Rod must be going through. I wish I could be there with you and Bella, I really, really do. I wish I could send my condolences or even extend my sympathies, but I think we both know that would do more harm than good.
Be there for her when I cannot, Cissy. Be good to her, support her in her time of pain – Bella needs it more than she will ever let on. She needs love and comfort; do not let her go down the Dark Lord's path. She needs time to heal, she needs guidance. Help her, Cissy. I know it is too much to ask of you; you are so young still. But please, please help her.
January 1st, 1977
Very nice to hear about your engagement to Lucius Malfoy in the Daily Prophet. I wish you had the guts to tell me yourself.
I'm hurt. I know you are fond of him, but please remember what I told you. He doesn't deserve you, Cissy. Forget the arrangement, I urge you to reconsider – nothing good will come of this marriage.
Happy New Year.
26th May, 1977
Happy graduation! I can't believe you're finished. Thank you for the save-the-date; it brought tears to my eyes. I am so, so happy and proud, I hope you know.
I've waited years to ask you this, but now I feel I finally can since you're of age and not a student anymore: come visit?
I know, I know, it's mad of me to ask. I know it is risky, but I think we can meet somewhere safe. There's so much I need to tell you, Cissy, and I don't dare put the words to paper. I also miss you terribly; the last I've seen of you was your engagement photo announcement on the Prophet. I've framed it – you've grown so much!
I'll understand if you cannot, but I beg of you to really consider it. There are some people I'd like you to meet. I miss you.
All my love,
P.S.: please think about it!
February 27th, 1978
You looked beautiful in your wedding gown. The Daily Prophet published some sublime pictures; I'm afraid I'll have to frame them all, even if I hate looking at your husband's face.
I'm sorry, I shouldn't say such things. I am glad you're happy, and you did look radiant. I'm happy for you, truly. I'm sure your life will be quite busy as the Lady of the House at Malfoy Manor, but don't forget to write me, alright?
March 30th, 1979
CISSY! SHUT UP! You're expecting!? What! How long? Oh, my goodness! Merlin! I'm so happy! WRITE ME!
All my love,
November 2nd, 1979
I'm happy to hear you and your baby boy are doing well. Congratulations! Do not let Lucius name him something ridiculous like Ignatius! I like your idea better; Draco keeps in nicely with a Black tradition, does it not?
In other news, I won't be able to write you for a little while. Don't trouble yourself responding for the time being: Ted and I are moving elsewhere. We don't feel safe anymore after the attacks a few towns over. I'll send you a letter when we're settled.
May 2nd, 1980
We need to talk, in person. I am so afraid. I don't care what you say about Lucius and Bella. You cannot be this blind to what they're doing with Riddle. This is getting too dangerous. How can you sleep at night? I lie awake whenever I think my own sister may have been responsible for murdering those innocent people.
Please, let's talk. I know you have Draco to worry about now, but that is precisely why we must act immediately! I have friends who will protect you. We mustn't lose faith; Dumbledore will help. Please respond quickly.
P.S.: do not make me go there. You know I would.
December 1st, 1981
I didn't know whether writing would be a good idea. I just saw Bellatrix's mugshot on The Daily Prophet and I think something inside me snapped. That was my sister once. I cannot recognize the woman who did that to Frank and Alice. I know you knew them; they were only a little older than you.
Sirius was taken in as well. I don't understand anything anymore. I don't believe it. I can't believe it. He came to see me shortly before, and I don't know how I didn't see it. Am I the blind one?
James and Lily Potter too, oh. You remember darling Lily, you must – I remember you wrote about having to do a Potions assignment with her at some point. So much death. I'm sure you've heard about their son Harry – The Boy Who Lived, they're calling him. The night it happened, people were setting fireworks and celebrating; I heard it on the streets. I found nothing to celebrate. There was just another young family, destroyed by the man you chose to put your own family behind.
I hope you're happy. I'm sure dear old Lucius is overjoyed – I just read about that sham of a trial he had. I read your testimony as well. The Imperius? That's what you two are going with?
I should send in your letters to the Ministry. I have every proof they need right there. But I won't.
This is your chance, Cissy. Voldemort is gone. Purge that shadow from your life – Merlin knows your Lucius has enough galleons to buy anybody's favour; use it to your advantage. Give Draco a good life; don't let him fall to the same hatred your husband and sister fell to.
I know you won't come visit. I am below your station, after all, aren't I? No matter. Bellatrix is gone; she'll rot in Azkaban for the rest of her life. The least you could do is write me. Please write. I'm still your sister – if I'm not filth to you after all this.
May 3rd, 1998
I don't even know how to write this to you. Please come to the funeral. Ted's gone. Nymphadora is gone. I'm all alone. You're all I have left.
Services will be this Monday at noon, at Grey's Kirkyard in Berwick.
October 10th, 2002
It has taken me a long time to work up the nerve to write. I ran past Draco at the Ministry today – he's grown into a fine young man.
I don't know what to say. I read about your divorce when it happened, and I was very happy for you. Still, I found I lack the courage those Gryffindors are always so proud of. Harry comes by every now and then – he's Teddy's godfather, you see? He has been a godsend, I don't know what I would have done without him and Ginny.
Speaking of Harry, he told me a long time ago about what you did that night. I knew you would do the right thing in the end, I just knew you would. I am very glad he told me; it made a lot more sense out of your Order of Merlin.
I don't know what I expect to accomplish with this letter, if I'm honest. I've gotten up and paced after every other line. I don't know. I suppose I would just like to hear from you. It's been lonely, and I have missed you terribly. Besides Harry and Ginny, I don't see much of people. Well, Hermione comes by fairly often as well – she sometimes stays over. That girl needs to find herself a flat, but she travels so much with the DMLE she hardly has time to settle.
She has nightmares, though she pretends she's fine. I know they're all about Bellatrix and what she did to her in your house.
I'm sorry, I don't mean to sound so accusatory. The war has scarred us all. Do you know that, to this day, the girl flinches when she looks at me? I can tell she thinks I'm Bella for a split second. It's hurtful, but I cannot blame her.
Please write me. I miss you, Cissy. I want to get to know you again. I find I barely remember your voice. I do remember the eucalyptus.
April 6th, 2003
Teddy turns five today. He turned his hair platinum blonde – the resemblance to you at that age was a little spooky. I don't know if you remember Bella telling you about it, but you were born with black hair, did you know? It only lightened up when you were about two, I think.
Please write. I miss you.
December 5th, 2003
I saw you holiday shopping today at Diagon Alley. I don't know if you saw me.
You look good. I hope you're well. I'm not.
March 17th, 2004
I heard through the grapevine that you became a grandma. Indescribable feeling, isn't it? Congratulations. Welcome to the old-ladies' club.
March 24th, 2006
I don't know why I woke up thinking about it. Ophelia would have turned 30 this month. Bellatrix would possibly be a grandma as well.
It was an odd thought. I don't know what made me share it.
February 5th, 2008
I cannot believe you. I've begged you to write me for years. I've asked and pleaded for you to meet me, to a cup of tea, or to drop me one miserable line, but no. The great Narcissa Malfoy is too good for that.
I don't want your sodding money. I don't want a bloody knut that has been in Lucius' disgusting vaults, I want nothing to do with it.
What in Merlin's name were you thinking? Are you trying to buy my forgiveness? No money in the world can pay for it.
Write me properly Narcissa, or Salazar help me, I'll... I don't know what I'll do. But do not dare try to send me more money.
April 6th, 2008
Teddy doesn't know you're the one who sent him the broom. A Firebolt Supreme? He's ten! He'll be supremely disappointed when he learns he shan't take it with him to Hogwarts his first year.
I didn't have the heart to take it away from him, but I am still furious with you. It may as well have been money. I don't want it. Stop trying. Talk to me.
May 2nd, 2008
Ten years, and you still won't talk to me. I went to talk to Bella at the family estate, and her tomb was quite a bit more talkative than you are, though I suppose the Firewhiskey had something to do with it.
I was surprised the wards let me in. What have you done to the main grounds? I can't see them anymore.
Stop the Gringotts missives. At once. Talk to me.
"They what?" Narcissa asked for the third or so time, scandalized.
Hermione sighed. She had no idea how they had gotten into this discussion.
"They drill a hole in your tooth."
"A kind of drill. It's a machine with a very fast rotating piece of metal that bores down into the bone, creating a hole removing all the decay. Then, the dentist will cover it with filling. That's how they fix cavities."
"Merlin" Narcissa hissed, an odd look on her face. She looked at the custard tart on the table before her as if it would jump to bite her at any moment. "The idea of metal drilling into one's mouth alone is reason enough to avoid sugars, then."
Hermione laughed heartily. Narcissa's reaction to practically anything from the Muggle world usually did that.
They had found themselves in Madam Puddifoot's Tea Shop in Hogsmeade after a particularly cold day. Narcissa had royally turned up her nose at the tacky decorations and endless frills – that reaction had been funny on its own. Hermione, for her part, thought the tackiness just made it hilarious. It was a good thing it was the holidays as well: no sign of snogging couples.
It was their fourth or so outing since Hermione's literal tumble into Charles House. They had found time to work on the Black Manor wards, and Hermione was starting to get used to the idea of having Narcissa Black as a friend, as weird as it seemed. It was astonishing how much they had in common.
"I've heard – " Narcissa said at some point, after she had gathered enough courage to take a bite of her tart "and this is merely Pure-Blood gossip..."
Hermione leaned in. She loved Pure-Blood gossip – it was always ludicrous to the point of insanity. It was great fun. "Yeah?"
"I heard that Paola Zabini killed her husband at this very teashop." The blonde said gravelly.
"You're joking!" Hermione exclaimed in disbelief. Narcissa quirked an eyebrow. "You're not? What!"
"Of course, it was never proven" Narcissa rebuked with a dainty sip of her tea. "But he did drop dead over jam sandwiches."
Hermione had to contain a rather inelegant guffaw. "Merlin... And here I thought atrocious, inexperienced snogging was the worst this place had seen."
Narcissa gave the place a once-over, her expression reminiscent to that 'dung has been smelled' she sported years before. "Surely you're not including the decorations in your observations" she quipped. "I must say, I think nothing at all has changed since I was here last..."
"You deigned to step in here of your own volition?" Hermione chuckled.
"Yes and no. Lucius took me on a date; I suppose he thought this was the sort of thing I'd like." Narcissa explained with a roll of her blue eyes. "It took him very little time to realize his mistake. Our next date was far more enjoyable."
"Oh? What was it?" Hermione asked, curious. What did Narcissa Black think counted as an enjoyable date?
"He snuck up to see me at the Astronomy Tower on his broomstick" Narcissa said with a smile. "It was the middle of the night, you see; we flew to patch of ice on the Black Lake and lay there watching the stars for hours."
Hermione let out a low whistle. She had to admit, as much as it pained her, that Lucius Malfoy had some game.
"That is a good date. Probably better than any I've ever been on!" She commented, realizing with a grimace that it was actually true.
"Oh, I'm sure a young man has done his best to dazzle you at some point or another." Narcissa reasoned kindly.
"Not nearly. Ron once took me to see a Chudley Cannons match. I don't like Quidditch to begin with, but that match was particularly bad. We were right behind the Keeper at these low seats that are allegedly really good, but well... The Keeper, he missed one save and I got a Quaffle to the face."
Narcissa chortled quite inelegantly; her cheeks flushed with embarrassment at her own reaction.
"I'm... Godric, I don't even know what to say." She gasped, pausing to take one hard look at Hermione. "I'm so sorry!" she laughed.
"Don't be, that wasn't even the worst date I've ever been on!" Hermione quipped. "On my sixth year, I made the mistake of going to a Slug Club party with Cormac McLaggen."
Narcissa's eyes went wide. "McLaggen? He isn't the son of Theophilus McLaggen, is he? Nephew to Tiberius?"
"The very same." The brunette confirmed, cringing. Narcissa let out an actual giggle.
"Merlin, what a small world. I went on a date with Theophilus before I was engaged to Lucius."
Hermione's eyes went wide. "What?!"
"Oh, it was quite formal – his family had bid on an arrangement with my father, you see. He talked so much, when I finally returned to speak to my father about it, I told him, 'Father, if you make me marry him I shall jump from the Astronomy Tower the minute he says 'I do''. Luckily, marrying a Gryffindor was never really a suggestion, and the Malfoys had a much better offer. Plus, Lucius and I had already been seeing each other socially for some time."
"Huh." Hermione muttered. "Out of curiosity, how many uh... families bid on you?" she asked, damning her morbid curiosity. She had heard that Narcissa had been quite popular in Hogwarts, so it was only natural to wonder.
"I'm not sure, I didn't meet them all. The Lestranges made a bid, the McLaggens... Geoffrey Flint made an offer that I know tempted my father. Edmund Rosier made one as well; my mother pushed for that one the most. And... I think there was one by the McNairs, but my father never liked them, so it was not taken seriously. A few others were made by other families not traditionally in Slytherin, but those were not considered."
"What an... odd concept." Hermione said. "I suppose you got lucky, marrying a bloke you already fancied."
"I certainly did." Narcissa confirmed, but turned pensive for a moment. "I had some reservations about Lucius; Andromeda certainly warned me about them. But at the time, I believed he wanted the betterment of our society." She said thoughtfully.
"Was... was he a Death Eater when you married?" Hermione found it in herself to ask.
"Yes. He was a couple of years ahead of me in Hogwarts; he was branded to the Dark Lord's Service on the day of his graduation." She said sadly. "I never knew how volatile he truly was until after we were married. I thought it was mostly political for longer than I should have; I was wilfully ignorant."
Hermione paused to sip her tea. That was always an uncomfortable subject. Talking to Narcissa as she was right then and there, it became harder and harder to reconcile this woman to the one who grew up hating Muggleborns and Muggles.
"You didn't know Voldemort wanted to... 'cleanse' Wizarding society?" She asked. She hadn't meant for it to sound accusatory; it just came out like that.
Narcissa was taken aback. "I... I was aware of the idea; though I didn't initially think it meant killing Muggleborns and Muggles. I thought there would be stricter separation, a clearer division." She looked into her teacup guiltily. "Muggles paralyzed me with fear. Voldemort's argument made sense to me at the time – why should we cower, live in the shadows in hiding, if our magic makes us superior?"
Hermione had no answer. She couldn't even say she understood the logic. She couldn't; not when she came where she came from, not when she was who she was.
"All my life, my family made me fear Muggleborns. They told tales of persecution, of fires and killings to eradicate magic. The only way to overcome that fear was by embracing our natural superiority." She said with a scoff. "Mr. Potter's mother, Lily Evans, terrified me at Hogwarts." Narcissa suddenly said.
"She was a Muggleborn. An incredibly talented one; I feared her overshadowing me in Potions. It's silly, but at that time it made sense to me. We got paired up for a project on my fifth year, I think, and I begged Slughorn to pair me up with anybody else. He refused. We ended up working together for the rest of the year. I think her talent scared me most of all."
Hermione examined the stain on the pink gingham tablecloth, deep in thought. She had come to understand during and after the war just how powerful fear could be as a means to fuelling hatred. Bigotry was the simple explanation, an easy illustration of prejudice that was bred into generations of witches and wizards, but fear was far more complicated. It took a little seed, watered daily with fearmongering, sensationalism, lies to give it legs and make it run like true hatred would.
It was something she had tried to dissect after the war, after realizing how afraid so many Pure-Bloods were. At first she thought they were cowards trying to rationalize their bigotry. Then came her own fear, her own hatred. It came in dreams and lodged itself deep into her chest, brooding and growing into hatred until she caught herself.
It didn't have to make logical sense, that was the beauty of it for people like Voldemort. Fear was a lot more about a visceral reaction, a flight-or-fight response that such people capitalized on. Voldemort was only one man in a history of several that came before him, and several more surely to come. Fear would always be in plentiful supply.
The brunette was startled by Narcissa's tone, realizing he pondering had left her in silence for a little longer than was appropriate in conversation.
"Sorry" she apologized. "I was just thinking about how powerful fear can be."
Narcissa nodded solemnly. "I understand that a little too well. That is one point in which I envy you Gryffindors." she commented. Hermione raised an eyebrow in question.
"Gryffindors are not exactly immune to fear."
"Perhaps not." Narcissa conceded. "But bravery – that is a good thing to envy, I suppose. Lily Evans showed me exactly how courageous you lions are."
"Oh, I did everything to terrify her. Called her unspeakable things. My Housemates would intimidate her. I'm not proud of it, but I must say she handled everything I threw at her with courage and grace. It was a lesson I should have learned then, not so many years later."
Hermione allowed herself a smile in memory of Harry's mother. By all accounts she had heard, Lily Evans had been a formidable woman.
"She was pretty brave." Hermione agreed.
"The bravest" Narcissa said. "It takes a special kind of bravery to face the Dark Lord, wandless."
Hermione at once knew what Narcissa talked about. The night Harry's parents had died, when Lily's defence of her son had forever changed the course of history. But Narcissa seemed to be forgetting something crucial.
"Not that special, considering a Slytherin did the same, seventeen years later." She said kindly. Narcissa only looked at her in question.
"I fail to see what you mean."
"Narcissa," Hermione began, being bold enough to take Narcissa's hand in hers. She was momentarily distracted by the silvery scar on the witch's palm, mirroring her own, but quickly continued, "You did the very same thing for Harry. You lied to the Dark Lord."
Narcissa scoffed, annoyed, but did not remove her hand from Hermione's gentle grasp.
"You noble Gryffindors. So foolish." She straightened in some attempt to look every bit the Ice Queen her mother had taught her to be. "I did what I had to do for Draco and no one else."
"A mother's love." Hermione stated simply. "That's what saved Harry from the Killing Curse. Twice. Once by Lily, once by you."
"Hermione, please don't..."
"I mean it" Hermione said a little more forcefully than she intended. But she needed Narcissa to understand it – Merlin knew she had had so much trouble understanding it herself after the War trials. The magnitude of the gesture had not been lost on Harry, but it had been to Hermione back then. She thought he was insane when he pushed for an Order of Merlin to the former Lady Malfoy. Now, she understood it clearly.
"Think for just one second if you hadn't done what you did. I wouldn't be here. I'd be lying dead and tortured somewhere." Hermione felt her hand being squeezed, almost as if Narcissa couldn't quite control the reflex. "Think if anyone – anyone else – had been asked to check if he was alive. We wouldn't be sitting here. Don't diminish what you did. It saved a lot of people."
Narcissa shook her head. "I will never see it as you do. That is the main difference between you Gryffindors and us Slytherins. You do what is right. We do what is necessary."
"And sometimes, those two overlap." Hermione countered. She smiled. "You will never convince me otherwise, so I suggest you stop trying."
"That's exactly what Andromeda said." Narcissa quipped, annoyed. "She was always a Slytherin, but sometimes I swear she's got some blasted Gryffindor airs about her." she joked.
Hermione could tell Narcissa wanted out of that previous line of conversation. She was inclined to think that they would never agree, so she decided to let the matter drop.
"I don't know, I think Andromeda is a Slytherin through and through. You have to see how she works her magic with Molly – how do you think she scored some of those Warbeck tickets off her?"
Narcissa laughed. "She deemed it necessary to see her." She took another sip of her tea. "Actually, you're right; Andromeda was always quite... sneaky. I pulled out some of her letters from the years we kept correspondence – she told me to burn them all, but I kept some of them."
Hermione startled. "You mean... after she eloped?"
"Yes" Narcissa confirmed it. "I was the first person she told about Nymphadora's birth."
Hermione's eyes widened. Narcissa and Andromeda had written one another after Andromeda's infamous elopement? That changed several things; for once, it at least planted a seed of doubt in Narcissa's mind much earlier than anyone had thought. Hermione suspected the blonde herself had little idea of the significance of such a thing.
"Merlin... for how long?"
"Oh" Narcissa gestured vaguely. "A few years. Bellatrix eventually found out" she said darkly, and her gaze turned cold. "It was a terrible night." she finished solemnly, her shoulders stiffening as if preparing for a blow.
Hermione looked intently at Narcissa and recognized that ghosted look upon her face at once. There was only one kind of memory that would elicit such an expression and reaction; she saw it in the mirror every night after a particularly bad nightmare. The realization made her release a gasp of breath she was unaware she had been holding.
"She Crucioed you."
Narcissa's utter surprise at the pronouncement was all the confirmation Hermione needed.
Anything Narcissa had previously told her about Bellatrix being a kind sister evaporated from Hermione's mind in a split second. She knew Bellatrix was mad, but Narcissa was her sister. Her only sister after Andromeda had been blasted off the family tree.
"How could she?" the brunette breathed out through gritted teeth.
Narcissa rubbed soothing circles onto Hermione's palm – the young witch hadn't realized how badly her hands shook with anger.
"Bellatrix was a troubled woman. Those troubles drove her insane." Narcissa explained gently.
"But she was your sister!"
"And Draco was her nephew, yet she still saw it as an honour to embark in a foolhardy mission that would get him killed." Narcissa said. "Don't try to find sense nor fairness in her actions; you're bound to find insanity alone."
Hermione took a few calming breaths; Narcissa's soothing pressure on her palm helped her a great deal. She looked once more at their matching scars, then looked at where her Mudblood wound was beneath the sleeve of her winter robe. They had both been scarred by Bellatrix and her madness.
The two witches sat in deep silence for long moments. Narcissa never stopped her motion, and Hermione eventually evened out her breaths until they came in long, calm pulls and pushes in and out of her chest.
"I'm sorry." Narcissa eventually said, so softly Hermione wasn't sure she had meant to say it out loud. She sensed this wasn't the time to argue that Narcissa had run out of things to apologize for – she had been forgiven already; it was no use.
"I know." She said instead, thinking that all the proof she needed was in those thin silver lines on their palms.
Summer was always stifling and humid at her grandparents’ house. Every year, the family would gather in the large estate for at least a few weeks, spending time together when the oldest children were not at school. It was a time for togetherness and events; balls and entertaining of guests, for playing in the garden mazes and perusing the massive library.
On one particularly hot day, Narcissa Black sat on a rock, gazing at the murky waters of a pond surrounded by enchanted magnolias – the flowers glittered on the branches like pieces of glass. She had sat there prim and proper, like her Mother had taught her a Lady should, for the better part of an hour, enveloped by the scent of the trees and a blanket of boredom.
“Hiya, Cissa !”
She turned, startled by the voice, only to see her cousin and his beaming grin.
“Hiya, Reggie” she greeted back, turning back to gaze at the pond. Regulus approached, taking a seat by another rock nearby. He was nearly a full inch taller than Narcissa, besides being two years younger, thanks to his thick, unruly hair.
“What are you doing here, all by yourself?” He asked as he stretched onto his rock. Narcissa pulled a face.
“Bella and Drommie are entertaining Hogwarts guests. Grandma said I’m not allowed; I’m still too young.” She explained, turning her nose up in distaste. “And Mother said I’m not allowed at the library.”
Regulus looked confused. “But why?” He asked. “Mum’s always telling me and Sirius to be more like you, so we become learned men or something” he joked.
Narcissa spared a smirk to the amusing thought. But her mother was Druella , not Walburga , and Druella did not care for how bookish her youngest daughter had turned out to be. In fact, Narcissa had the distinct impression her mother did not care for her at all, and she told Reggie as much.
“Ah! Nonsense!” He dismissed her with a laugh. “She’s your mum; she’s just being what all adults are, y’know ?”
“No,” Narcissa said with a frown. “I don’t.”
“Boring!” Regulus laughed. “You know what else sounds boring? Sitting here looking at this nasty water. There aren’t even any ducks to feed here.”
Narcissa merely shrugged. Her mother had forbidden her only pleasure; what else was there to do without Bella and Andy?
“Come to the creek with me and Sirius!” Her cousin suggested happily. “We might even find some Flickering Pixies! They’re much more fun than sitting here all day.”
Narcissa hugged her knees tight against her chest. “How far into the woods are you going?” she asked uncertain. Regulus’ older brother was a bit of troublemaker – she didn’t want to do anything that might displease her parents, her mother especially.
“Not far” Regulus promised. “Just up to the old ruins by the creek; remember those?”
“Alright.” She said, daintily stepping off her rock and delicately dusting off her blue skirt. “But I’m leaving if you two go any farther.”
“Sounds good to me!”
The two cousins made their way through the manicured pathways that wound through the impeccable gardens of the Black Estate, until they reached the mouth of one of the many trails their ancestors had used for hunting, generations and generations ago. Hunting what, exactly, Narcissa didn’t know, but her grandfather Pollux recounted how he himself had played in those very trails as a child.
They were almost to the creek – Narcissa could hear the water running – when they finally spotted Sirius, who sat by the side of the trail upon a great big exposed root.
“Hiya, Sirius!” Called Regulus with a cheerful wave.
“Took you long enough! I was nearly growing a beard from waiting.” The older brother called back before spotting Narcisa and sparing her a look of disdain. “What’s the Prissy Princess doing here?”
Narcissa furrowed her brow. “Reggie invited me.” She sniped. Sirius groaned.
“Reggie! This was supposed to be a manly expedition; the dangers we may face will be ‘unsurmountable’ and many!” He complained. “It is not for the faint of heart, and certainly not for a girl!”
“We’re just going to the ruins, Sirius.” Regulus reasoned.
“And the word you’re looking for is insurmountable.” Narcissa quipped. Sirius rolled his eyes in deep annoyance.
“Whatever, All-Knowing-Majesty-of-Buzzkills. You can come, but I better not hear Madam Prissy-Pants complaining about mud on her shoes or twigs in her hair, or I’m leaving you to the werewolves!”
“Mud and twigs shall be lovely; certainly, better than dealing with you.” she retorted.
Sirius didn’t deign to respond, instead turning and pushing onwards through the trail. Narcissa and Regulus shared a look, then followed quietly.
The trio progressed slowly though the uneven terrain of the old hunting trail. The path was rough with mossy rocks and branches sticking into their way; the vegetation was thick, and the woods smelled heavily of eucalyptus. At some point, Narcissa noticed Sirius began to lead them away from the main trail, sending a defiant look her way as if daring her to complain. Narcissa just matched his look with an icy glare of her own.
As they sloshed through mud and slipped on rocks and roots slick with moss, Narcissa desperately wanted to say something. Her pristine white shoes were no more, utterly ruined by mud and scuffed by rocks. She could feel her socks dampen with every step. Her favourite blue skirt was stuck on an errant branch and torn, and her hair, frizzy with the thick humidity, stuck out of her ponytail every which way, sticking itself to her sweaty forehead for good measure. But at every step she missed, every gasp of surprise, Sirius would turn back to look at her, his gaze a silent dare.
Narcissa resolutely refused to give him the satisfaction.
The three cousins finally made it to the bend of the creek where the old ruins were located. They were old indeed, barely a shell of the former edifice that once stood there, centuries ago. As far as Narcissa remembered, it had been one of the first buildings erected in the estate, and later became the servants’ quarters before turning to ruin during the Middle Ages.
Regulus happily splashed his way into the small stream, not a care in the world over the state of his leather shoes or neatly pressed trousers. Narcissa, for her part, bent down far more elegantly, exactly like a proper Lady should, and gathered some of the fresh, cool water to wash the sweat from her face.
“ Cissa , look! Flickering Pixies!” Regulus exclaimed.
The young girl smiled. The woods of the Black Estate were filled with all sorts of wonderful little creatures, magical and otherwise. Flickering Pixies were a much friendlier type of Pixie or Doxie, with wings of gold that glowed and flickered in the dark when in flight – hence their name.
“Please, Regulus, control yourself. They’re just pests, anyway.” Sirius scoffed.
Regulus visibly deflated; Narcissa turned a look of disapproval to her older cousin.
“Don’t listen to him, Reggie. He’s the only pest for miles around.” She said pointedly. Sirius made a rude gesture.
“You wound me, cousin. But fine, if you two want to bore yourselves with some dumb faeries, be my guest. That’s really too bad, though, I had grand plans for this little outing.” He bemoaned dramatically.
“What plans?” Regulus asked, his interest immediately piqued. Sirius waggled his brows.
“I’ve got something here; I think we’re going to have loads of fun with it.”
Regulus was on board already, giddy with anticipation. “What is it, Sirius, what is it?”
“It’s nothing, Reggie. He’s just having a laugh at your expense.” Narcissa declared emphatically, crossing her arms.
“Oh, ye of little faith.” Sirius retorted. “I’ve got something, alright. But, before I show it to you two, you both must solemnly swear that you shall never, ever, ever tell anyone about what you’re about to see.”
“I will never tell!” Regulus cried with childish enthusiasm.
“Do you swear to take this secret with you to your very grave?” Sirius demanded.
“On my honour!”
Sirius smiled at his brother, then turned to Narcissa with a raised brow. “How about you, Princess ‘I’ve-got-a-stick-up-my-bum-and-can't-have-any-fun'?”
She glared at him viciously. “In your dreams, prat.”
Sirius shrugged his shoulders, turning to Regulus. “Sorry, mate. Can’t do this if one of you isn’t bound to secrecy.”
Regulus’ face fell. “Come on, Cissa !” He turned to Sirius. “Can’t she just turn around or something?” he tried.
Sirius shook his head. “No can do. This is top-secret stuff.”
Narcissa rolled her eyes, both at Sirius’ antics and Regulus’ eager, pleading look. Boys could be so stupid.
“Fine, git! I won’t tell anyone. Happy?”
“Do I have your word?”
“On my honour, you have my word – and a Lady never breaks her word.” She said seriously.
“We’ll see about that, won’t we?” Sirius quipped cheerfully. He ran and jumped atop one of the big stone blocks surrounding the main construction of the ruins, pacing the flat surface in a mock-pensive state.
“Gather ‘round, boys and girls!” He exclaimed with a flourish. “Never before has someone attempted what you’re about to see today. Be very still, ladies and gentlemen, for this can be quite... Dangerous!”
In one swift motion, Sirius reached inside his sleeve, producing a wand that he then twirled in his hand with unadulterated glee. Regulus gasped; Narcissa felt the blood drain from her cheeks as she recognized their Grandfather’s birch wand with its engraved handle.
They were dead.
“Where did you get that ?!” She screeched.
Sirius only laughed, clearly delighted with her terror. “Let’s just say dear ol ’ Grandpa’s naps are a little too heavy after some Firewhisky .” He said smugly. Narcissa was unable to formulate a response; her hands shook severely, and Sirius noticed.
“Come on, Narcissa. It doesn’t bite.” He laughed, twirling it in her direction. She cowered. “I’ll have it back before he notices it’s gone.” He grinned. “Let’s have some fun with it!”
“Are you insane? We’re too young for wands! It could be dangerous!” Narcissa exclaimed. Regulus looked a mixture of petrified with terror and consumed with intrigue, but Sirius scowled.
“Merlin, what difference does it make? We’ll get our own in a couple of years anyway. Besides, it’s not like I bloody know any actual spells, do I? If I did, the first thing I’d do would be to make you shut your stupid face!”
Narcissa huffed angrily. “That’s exactly why it’s so dangerous! We don’t know what it can do!”
Sirius rolled his eyes. “Nothing, that’s what it can do! I don’t have anything to say to make it do anything!” He barked. To prove his point, he waved Pollux’s wand toward the trees above, yelling with all his might. “Abracadabra!”
Narcissa instinctively cowered in fear. However, Sirius and Regulus released peals of laughter at the green sparks the wand produced.
“You should have seen your face!” Sirius mocked her, his chest heaving with laughter.
“Another one, another one!” Clamoured Regulus, clapping his hands.
“It’s not funny! Sirius, stop it, please! Stop!” Narcissa cried.
“Or what? Are you afraid I’ll magically give you a personality?” Sirius retorted. “Hocus-Pocus!”
A shower of purple sparks burst from the tip of the wand, making loud popping sounds that had Narcissa covering her ears.
“Stop! Sirius!” She cried, holding back tears.
“Walla- walla , gabba-gabba , picklety -prick!” Sirius laughed, generating sparks and sounds as he waved Pollux’s wand erratically in the air. Narcissa trembled at every crackle and pop, at every burst of light or twig that moved with the errant magic Sirius released.
“ Alakazam !”
Narcissa had been ready to yell at her cousin one more time, but her yell was cut short before it could leave her lips as she felt a searing, slicing hot pain across her tummy.
“Ah!” She cried, falling to the ground on her knees as she clutched her abdomen tightly, wrapping her arms around herself.
“Oh, come off it” Sirius scoffed, turning to face her. “You don’t have to be so drama...”
The boy’s words evaporated once he saw the crimson of blood spreading through the fabric of Narcissa’s immaculate white blouse . Regulus noticed it as well; he ran to his cousin in a frenzy of whimpers.
“ Cissa ! Cissa ! Oh, Godric , Cissa !”
Sirius seemed to have knocked himself out of his initial stupor. He ran towards the fallen Narcissa in panic, his eyes shining with fear and his face white as a ghost.
“ Cissa ! I’m so sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry! I didn’t mean it! Help!” He shouted to the emptiness of the trees. “Help! Somebody, help us!” he cried into the darkness of the woods surrounding, hearing nothing in response but the echo of his own shouts.
Narcissa cried in agonizing pain. She held her hands tightly against her abdomen, feeling the heat and moisture of the blood gushing through her tremulous fingers, oozing into the forest floor and the stream.
“It hurts! It hurts!” She sobbed as Regulus put his hands over hers in despair as she tumbled limply onto her back. She felt her hair grow damp with the water from the creek, and saw Regulus’ eyes widen in despair as the movement prompted a stronger gush of blood.
“Somebody!” Sirius yelled helplessly at her side. “Wait! Tubby! Tubby, come! TUBBY!”
A squalid House-Elf appeared with a resounding crack; the creature had no time to even greet his young masters. Tubby had scarcely regained his footing when Sirius grasped his thin shoulders and shook them vigorously.
“Tubby! Narcissa’s hurt! Go get somebody! Send help!”
“Would young Master Sirius prefer his uncle, master Cygnus, or would he rather prefer to call...”
“Just get help! NOW!” Sirius roared. Tubby seemed to just then notice Narcissa – his leathery skin blanched to an odd shade of grey, and without another word, he disappeared with another loud crack.
“Sirius!” Regulus called frightfully, kneeling by Narcissa’s side and holding her head in his hands; her eyes were heavy and she looked unnaturally pale; even her lips were beginning to whiten.
“Bollocks, bollocks, bollocks!” Sirius muttered in fear, tossing his grandfather’s wand aside as if it had just burned him. “ Cissa ! Stay awake! Please, stay awake, don’t close your eyes no matter what!”
“It hurts” Narcissa sobbed, her voice weak. She felt frail; her vision was beginning to blur at the sides. “Papa, I want Papa...”
“He’s coming! I promise, Cissa , I promise he’s coming!” Sirius tried to reassure her, though his tone carried too much fear to be of any comfort. He angrily wiped at the tears streaming down his own face. “Where’s that bloody elf? HELP! SOMEBODY!”
The response this time came in the form of multiple cracks of Apparitions echoing through the little clearing. Cygnus appeared first, his face white with fear. He was almost immediately followed by Orion, whose expression was a mixture of worry and wrath. Then came Druella with Tubby the elf, accompanied by none other than Bellatrix. Narcissa’s sister went completely pale at the sight of her bloodied sister, lying limply on the mud, her head tremulously cradled in Regulus’ hands.
“Cissy!” She cried in sheer panic, running towards her fallen sister. In a heartbeat, her features went from fear to fury as she turned to face Sirius with the most accusing glare he had ever received.
“What have you done to her, you filthy little beast?! I’ll kill you!” She snarled, filled with anger and despair.
“It was an accident! I swear! I’m sorry, I’m so sorry!”
“Narcissa!” Druella exclaimed, rushing to her daughter’s side, unceremoniously dropping knee-deep into the mud with little care for her expensive robes. Bellatrix’ attention was diverted at the uncharacteristic gesture coming from a generally aloof mother, enough to momentarily distract her from the murderous thoughts she harboured toward her cousin. Cygnus followed suit, also dropping to his knees to cradle Narcissa in his strong arms.
“Cissy! My angel, it’s Papa. Can you hear me?” he murmured in a desperate, hushed tone.
There was no answer, only the sound of the bubbling creek running red with Narcissa’s blood. Sirius felt his father’s hand on his shoulder, grasping it with bruising strength, yet he could not even flinch.
“Narcissa?” Cygnus practically whimpered. “Angel?”
“Oh, Cygnus, Cygnus, her stomach! Cygnus!” Druella cried, pallid and afraid.
“Papa...” came a weak breath. Bellatrix held her sister’s bloodied hands in her own. “Bella...”
“We’re here, Pet, we’ll take care of you. Please, don’t close your eyes, please...” Bellatrix whimpered, feeling Narcissa’s strength slowly drain away with the blood that tainted the little creek where the family knelt. “Please...”
“We must get her out of here, immediately. She’s frail.” Orion said severely. “Tubby, prepare Narcissa’s chambers at once. Have someone call for Healer Fairweather at St Mungo’s, now!”
He turned to Cygnus and Druella . “Take her and Bellatrix.” His wrathful gaze fell upon Sirius, turning into a menacing glare that made the boy audibly gulp in fear. “I’ll take care of these two.”
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
Narcissa woke with the pounding of a headache the likes of which she had never experienced in her short life. She made an attempt of opening her eyes, but the room she found herself in was much too bright – she barely managed a blink before groaning in pain.
“She’s waking up! Bella, move! Give her some room to breathe, for Merlin’s sakes!” called a familiar voice.
“Cissy? Cissy, are you alright?” called another, much closer than the first.
Narcissa tried to sit up, only to be impeded by a sharp jolt of pain emanating from her abdomen. A firm hand on her shoulder pushed her back gently onto her fluffy pillows.
“Easy now. Don’t try to move just yet, you’ll make a right mess of your stitches.” Came the second voice in gentle admonishment.
“Bella?” Narcissa tried with a rough voice, attempting to open her eyes once again. The room was far too bright still, but she could make out the forms of Bellatrix and Andromeda surrounding her. Bellatrix sat on her bed by her side, while Andromeda observed quietly at the foot of the bed. They both exchanged worried glances.
“Hiya there, Sunshine!” Andromeda quipped with a tentative grin. “How are you feeling?”
Narcissa blinked a few more times, trying to get used to the brightness of the room and the ache around her abdomen. She registered what Bellatrix had said rather belatedly.
“I’m... wait. Stiches?” She asked, trying to move her hands to her stomach to see, only to find that they were too weak and couldn’t go far. Even if they did, Bellatrix gentle grip stopped her trying.
“Trust me, Cissy, it’s best you don’t see it.”
Narcissa's eyes welled with tears. Would she be scared forever? How bad was it, exactly? Her mind was a blur. All she could remember was Sirius waving a wand... their grandfather’s... then searing pain.
“Oh, Bella, look! You’ve made the poor girl cry!” Andromeda chastised, taking a seat at Narcissa’s opposite side and running a soothing hand through her blonde locks. “Hush now, Cissy. It’s not that bad” she cooed. “It just looks bad because of the stitching.” She reassured.
Bellatrix huffed. “Don’t lie to her, Drommie . She isn’t stupid” she hissed in clear annoyance. She turned to Narcissa, holding her cheeks in her hands to make sure her sister looked directly at her.
“Listen, Cissy. It’s bad, pretty bad, and it will probably scar. But it could have been much, much worse.” Her eyes turned sad. “You lost a lot of blood. We could have lost you.”
Narcissa sobbed, but even that hurt her stomach, which only made her cry harder. Bella hugged her tightly around her shoulders, taking care not to disturb the intricate stitching Healer Fairweather had used to close her sister’s wounds.
“Oh, Pet, don’t cry.” She whispered gently. “It’s just a few scars. You’re here with us and now you have a wicked story to tell at Hogwarts one day. ‘Oh, so how’s your family like? Well, I once survived an assassination attempt by my own cousin, so we’re a chummy bunch.’"
Narcissa let out a weak chuckle. At her side, Andromeda smiled.
“The stitches come out tomorrow, Cissy. They’re just there to help you heal faster.”
“Think on the bright side, Cissy. Mother will never keep you out of the library again!” Bellatrix pointed out with a grin.
The youngest Black smiled widely at the thought, but then remembered.
“Wait. What about Sirius and Regulus?”
Bellatrix eyes turned cold.
“Regulus got a stern talking to. Sirius, or whatever’s left of him, is grounded for the rest of the summer. I only wish Father and Uncle had let me have a go at him – he'd be blown to bits!”
Andromeda pulled a face.
“Now, Bella, settle down. He’s been punished enough.” she said with a glare. Bellatrix gave her a monumental eye-roll in response.
“Has he? Has he really? I don’t think he has; not until I see his guts spilling out of him like he did to Narcissa!” She clamoured angrily.
“My...” Narcissa gulped, feeling her stomach turn under the stitching in an unbearably odd sensation. “My guts were spilling out of me?”
“Of course not, sweetie. Bella is just being dramatic.” Andromeda whispered, shooting Bellatrix a look of warning. The latter’s silence was enough for Narcissa to question Andromeda’s reassurance. “In any case, Sirius has been duly punished. He’s very, very sorry for what he did. It was a terrible accident.”
“Ha!” Bellatrix scoffed in a laugh that dripped with sarcasm. “Accident! Stealing an elder’s wand – that's an accident. Very funny, Andy ; you should go into comedy.”
Andromeda rolled her eyes. “Of course, stealing Grandfather’s wand was an idiotic idea, but Sirius obviously didn’t mean any harm.”
“Well said. Stealing a wand is an idiotic idea, and Sirius is bloody full of them. Case closed.” Bellatrix retorted with an air of finality. “Sometimes I wonder how we can possibly be related to someone that stupid.”
“I shouldn’t have gone” Narcissa said morosely. “I should have found something else to do.”
“Nonsense!” Bellatrix dismissed her concerns with a smile. “But in any case, rejoice! Mum will never banish you from the library again after this.”
Narcissa smiled shyly. “Speaking of the library, could I have...”
“Something to read?” Bellatrix interrupted, bending to the floor just by the bed. She re-emerged with a moderate stack of books. “I’ve got your favourite, Merlin knows why, Hogwarts: A History. Shall we tuck in?”
Narcissa beamed, Andromeda laughed. Bellatrix rolled her eyes, but smirked smugly as she flipped the tome open.
“Narcissa? Are you alright?”
Narcissa practically whirled on her feet to face Hermione, who stood a few paces ahead of her with a puzzled look. Clearly she had stopped walking while Hermione went on, talking to herself.
“My apologies.” She said, embarrassed. “I caught up in a memory.”
The two witches were making use of the last day of the Winter Holiday to do a bit of field work at the grounds of the Black Estate. Hermione had been attempting to develop a ward-tracking charm, and they were testing it in the perimeter of the main house, without much success. They had gone down a few of the old hunting trails, and Narcissa remembered taking the exact same path as a child, so many years ago. The little creek was still there, running peacefully under a thin layer of ice.
“A good one?” Hermione asked.
“Not particularly.” Narcissa replied, looking in the direction she knew the old ruins would be, further down the creek they followed. She saw no reason not to share the memory with the brunette – they had been doing quite a lot of that of late. “I was injured as a child, further down this trail.”
“Oh, no. What happened?” Hermione asked tentatively. “Did you fall or something?”
Narcissa could only laugh. “If only... No, no, it was a much worse ordeal. I was walking the trail with Sirius and Regulus. I must have been... eight or nine, I believe.” She motioned to where the trail continued. “Sirius had stolen my grandfather’s wand, you see. He just wanted to play with it, I was terrified something would happen.” Her gaze darkened, her blue orbs turning a stormy grey.
“Something did happen.” Hermione said. It wasn’t a question. Narcissa gave one of her elegant shoulder shrugs that Hermione was coming to learn usually carried much deeper meaning.
“Indeed. He unwittingly recreated a movement to an obscure slicing curse.” She gestured toward her abdomen. “Cut me straight across the navel; I had to get several stitches so the wounds would stay closed long enough for the potions to reattach my skin. I still have the scars.”
“Merlin.” Hermione hissed with a shiver. The Sirius of Narcissa’s account seemed so much like Harry, in her opinion. Impetuous, perhaps with the best of intentions, but without thinking things through. It seemed to be a Gryffindor trait in varying degrees. “That must have been awful.”
“Quite” Narcissa said. “I nearly died; Bella was furious. I believe he got the beating of a lifetime as punishment, but Bella wanted to disembowel him herself.”
Hermione shuddered. Perhaps a young Bellatrix didn’t truly mean to physically maim her cousin – though she had her sincere doubts – but the Bellatrix she had known would not have hesitated.
“We never got along, Sirius and I.” Narcissa’s look soured. “He had a nickname for me: Madam Prissy-Pants, or Prissy Princess.”
Hermione scoffed in solidarity. She was no stranger to mean nicknames from boys her age. “I dare say your relationship didn’t really improve after that incident, huh?”
Narcissa laughed. “Indeed, it did not.”
“I had my fair share of nicknames in school.” Hermione mused. “Ron certainly gave me a few before we were friends. Know-It-All was the main one. Granger-Danger and bookmite also made the rounds.”
Narcissa furrowed her brows. “Know-It-All was also one of my nicknames. It took off for about a month in school, until Bella threatened everyone who bullied with bodily harm.” She smiled wickedly. “In those moments, I was glad to have sisters.”
“Why are kids so averse to learning?” Hermione had meant the question as a joke, but she did wonder. Why was it so bad to be knowledgeable?
“Not just kids, I’m afraid.” Narcissa said sagely. “I remember the only reason I went out with Regulus was because I had nothing to do. My mother had banished me from the library.”
“The horror!” Hermione quipped. “In all seriousness... why would she do such a thing? I’d think a Pure-Blood mother would like her daughters to be educated, no?”
“Educated yes. Bookish and withdrawn, absolutely not. You see, we were trained to be sociable women, with the capacity and finesse to entertain important guests and impress potential husbands. It wouldn’t do for me to be socially inept because I spent all of my time reading.”
Hermione practically snorted. She’d never imagined Narcissa being socially inept anywhere; the woman was the picture definition of poise, grace, and tact.
“I find it hard to believe you’d be socially inept anywhere.” She commented. Narcissa smiled, gracefully taking the compliment in a way that perfectly illustrated Hermione’s point. The brunette laughed, looking around the wooded area.
“I was going to suggest we go a bit further to test this thing, but I think by now it’s pretty clear it doesn’t work.” She said, looking at her wand with defeat. The charm still needed to be perfected and fine-tuned; it was going crazy with the sheer number of wards that enclosed the estate. “So, how about we just head to that gorgeous library and just settle down with a nice cuppa?”
Narcissa spared the trail a long, pensive look, as if something called her to the old ruins she hadn’t visited since that fateful day. Her memory was quite strong, with a rather odd pull to the place. Shaking it off, she addressed Hermione.
“It doesn’t work yet. It will. I know it will.” She said with a smile. “The library sounds like a grand idea. Which reminds me, I’ve got something for you there.”
Hermione looked puzzled, but Narcissa had already begun to walk back to the main house. With a shrug, she hastened to follow.
The two women were warmly ensconced in the massive Black Library, with invigorating cups of tea prepared by Bigsby, the House-Elf that headed the kitchens of the estate – Hermione had been pleasantly surprised when Narcissa offhandedly reassured her they were all adequately compensated for their work, in money or however else they preferred.
“Please take a seat. I won’t be long.” Narcissa said, leaving Hermione momentarily. The brunette took a moment to enjoy the library once more. Despite all the times she had been there, it always looked a bit different. It could look grand, cosy, eerie or comfy, all at once. The roaring fires cast dark, flickering shadows upon the built-in shelves, but enveloped her in comfortable warmth.
Narcissa returned shortly after she left, taking a seat on a plush chair facing Hermione on the other side of a coffee table by the enormous windows. She handed Hermione a black box.
“Consider it a belated Christmas gift.” She said. “It was a dear favourite of mine as a child, but I believe it will be in better hands if I pass on to you.
“Narcissa, you shouldn’t have.” She admonished, meaning every word.
“Nonsense. You gave me a wonderful gift” Narcissa rebuked. “It was only fair for me to try to return the favour.”
“You shouldn’t have.” Hermione repeated, running her fingers over the heavy box. “Thank you.” She said gracefully.
She made quick work of the red bow that held the box closed. An object, unmistakable a book of some kind, was wrapped in thick black velvet. She carefully unfurled the velvet to reveal a title she had loved for years.
Hogwarts: A History.
She squinted to see the publication date. Her eyes widened.
“Is this... Is this...” She stuttered dumbly.
“A first edition, of sorts.” Narcissa said with a grin.
Narcissa stood, walking over Hermione’s chair and kneeling daintily by her side to point out a few things on the tome. Hermione flushed with the proximity, hoping Narcissa wouldn’t notice.
“You see, Bathilda Bagshot and her publisher were on a tight deadline. Because of a mix up, her publisher sent an incomplete manuscript to be printed. Only a few runs were made before they realized their mistake, but Bathilda was adamant about correcting them. So, she took a mission upon herself and added in several handwritten chapters – with the help of a few charmed quills, I imagine.”
Hermione quickly flipped through the pages of the book with unbridled enthusiasm. Indeed, there were random pages and a few full chapters that were written entirely by hand. She held back a laugh of utter disbelief.
“Merlin!” She turned to look at Narcissa. “This... I can’t take this, Narcissa.” She said, meaning every word, as much as it pained her to admit it. This was a collector’s edition, doubtlessly ludicrously expensive, not to mention exceedingly rare. The Time-Turner had been essentially a broken trinket; this was something else entirely.
Narcissa waved her off. “I’ve had it for a lifetime. It’s in good hands. Not to mention, it would be incredibly rude to refuse a gift, Ms. Granger.” She added playfully. Hermione could only laugh.
“Then I shall take it, in the name of etiquette!” She quipped. “Thank you” she said more seriously.
“You’re more than welcome” Narcissa breathed, holding the brunette’s hazel gaze in a way that sent an unfamiliar shiver down her spine.
I've never really had to do this for anything I've written, but I don't want to catch anyone off-guard here. This is a WARNING for some things mentioned in this chapter -- in this case, physical abuse/assault/violence. There are some descriptions of injuries, but not in great detail, and that's about it. I'm not sure how to best display these warnings, so let me know if you have some ideas (or if they're even needed, but I figured better safe than sorry).
Also, funny story -- I ALMOST submitted this chapter without realizing my word-processor had auto-corrected every single Poppy to 'Poopy.' That was a close one!
As always, thanks for reading and reviewing!
Narcissa had barely slept a wink the night before the first day of the new semester. Something, an odd feeling, had gnawed at her very core for most of the night, taking her mind into twists and turns she would much rather no go through.
She had to be imagining the way Hermione looked at her. It had to be – there was no other possible explanation. She was a Black, and a Malfoy at one point – she would have never survived without an impeccable skill for seeing through the gaze. Druella’s lessons were quite hard to forget; there was practically no need to read one’s mind when most displayed their intentions so clearly in their gaze.
She had always used it to her advantage. Narcissa knew others found her beautiful and desirable; she used that desire, so evident in their eyes, to her advantage many a time. It was just like any good Slytherin would, particularly one relentlessly trained by Druella Black.
Given all her experience, not noticing Hermione’s gaze would be a grievous error, a fatal miscalculation in judgement. She had seen through the gazes of many, and the brunette should not be any different.
Therefore, she thought it safe to assume it had been a fluke, a trick played by a tired, cruel mind. There was no earthly reason for the brunette to direct that kind of gaze toward her – Hermione had no reason to even be friendly with someone like Narcissa. Anything more was categorically out of the question, she thought as the memory of Hermione’s screams echoing through the darkened halls of Malfoy Manor resounded in her mind.
Like any good Slytherin would, Narcissa had to bide her time. Like any good Slytherin, she would wait and analyse before acting. It was probably nothing; nothing more than admiration from someone who was naturally curious – and Narcissa was very much aware she was quite an enigma to Hermione. She was a puzzle, and if sating Hermione’s natural curiosity was all it took for that admiration to fade into normalcy, then she would gladly do it.
Because the alternative, truly, was too preposterous to consider; even if merely considering it kept her awake at night.
The castle was once again bustling with the energy of students. They returned from the holiday in excited throngs, eager to recount their time away from the castle to friends, and not so eager to return to their rigid study schedule. The four Heads of Houses stood at the great entrance of the castle, directing the flow of students to the Great Hall, giving the eye to whoever seemed to be thinking about playing hooky this early into the new semester.
It was chaotic, but Hermione loved it. No matter whether it was for the start of term or in return from a holiday, it always filled her with joy to see the castle begin to fill again with the excited chatter of students. It was something she would never get tired of.
The two spotted William White, walking alongside his friend Spencer with a heavy cast that went from shoulder to wrist on his left arm and a big smile on his face. He waved to the professors as he walked in.
“Bit of a holiday accident, Mr. White?” Narcissa inquired; Hermione could tell she was incredibly curious about the white cast that William rested on a sling. Wizarding medicine had never had much need for fully immobilizing casts – there were all kinds of spells for that sort of thing.
“Yeah” he said, cheeks reddening. “Had a little fall. It should come off in three weeks; I suppose I’ll have to ask Madam Pomfrey to remove it for me. I’ll just have to get used to writing with my right hand in the meantime.”
Hermione almost laughed at Narcissa’s look of surprise. While magically-induced breaks could be tricky to heal, the Pure-Blooded witch obviously had never waited that long to mend a naturally occurring fracture.
“Three weeks? No, that won’t do at all. Go to the Infirmary after dinner; Madam Pomfrey shall fix it much quicker.” She had declared, and William smiled widely.
Dinner went smoothly. Narcissa seemed to be more talkative than normal, but that was something Hermione greatly appreciated. It seemed whatever layer of awkwardness they usually waded through in their conversations had melted away; in fact, the blonde seemed almost chipper.
“I am certainly not looking forward to all the tests I’ll have to administer” she had said at one point with an exasperated look.
“Oh? How so?” Hermione asked, after properly chewing her chicken pot pie so as to not make an unintentional impression of Ron Weasley. Narcissa had often aired her grievances over some students she believed should not have been accepted into NEWT-Level Potions; apparently there were many such students, doubtlessly recruited by Horace due to their prestigious names.
“I’ve received several letters from concerned parents. They were mostly poorly disguised attempts to bribe me – financially – for passing grades. I suppose I’m derailing the career plans of several of my students, but passing them as they are is simply unacceptable.”
Hermione had to say she appreciated the blonde’s unwavering position on the matter. She also wanted to laugh a bit at anyone trying to bribe Narcissa Black. The woman probably had more money than she knew what to do with.
“Maybe take it up with Minerva? Bribery is heavily frowned upon generally, but the School Council of Governors would certainly like to hear of it. Parents must be discouraged from pursuing that course of action” she said. Having parents trying to influence their children’s grades by bribing school officials was never a good sign – though she chose to refrain to comment on how Lucius did it quite often for Draco. Not that he had needed it – once they began to work together, Hermione came to realize Draco had been quite a talented student.
Narcissa had waved her off gently. “It’s no matter. I can handle some spoiled students and their equally spoiled parents,” she said with a beaming grin. “It is, after all, my area of expertise!”
“But enough about my exasperating students. Have you got anything interesting planned for the semester?”
Hermione merely shrugged. “Oh, not quite. We’ll have a lot more practical lessons, especially with my first years – they spend quite a lot of time learning the theories behind Transfiguration. It’s time to raise the stakes a bit” she joked. “Otherwise... Oh, Professor Krum and I will finally begin planning the return of the duelling club!” She said. They had put the idea on the backburner for a while, but Victor wanted to have it up and running by the next year. He thought of holding try-outs before the year was out, perhaps creating a few workshops during the summer.
“Oh, that is a wonderful idea!” Narcissa commented. “I hear you were quite the duellist yourself – Draco told me all about your multiple awards.”
Hermione couldn’t help but preen a little at the praise. “Well... I’m not half bad.” She said modestly. Narcissa laughed.
“I can think of a few international titles that would say you’re much more than ‘not half bad’. I was never too good at duelling myself.” She commented.
“Oh?” Hermione could not help but question it. Weren’t Pure-Bloods proud of the entire... etiquette and ritual of duelling?
“Oh, not at all. Neither was Andy. Bellatrix, however, won the Hogwarts Duelling Championship four years in a row – a school record.”
Hermione suppressed a shiver – not the good kind – but her curiosity was simply too strong. “Four years? But that means she was in the club at least since her third?” She said, doing the math in her head. The mere idea of a thirteen-year-old Bellatrix besting much older, more experienced students made her stomach turn rather unpleasantly. What could the Order have done with such talent?
Narcissa nodded. “She joined in her second year, despite our mother’s protestations. Druella found duelling to be unladylike, but Bellatrix simply responded she’d never be a lady.”
Hermione could spare a chuckle to that. No lady indeed. More like a murderous machine, though she tactfully chose not to say that.
“Bella and Lucius did try to teach me the basics, but I’m afraid I never had much talent for it.”
“Was Lucius in the duelling club as well?”
Narcissa nodded. “Only for a while. He eventually was made Quidditch Captain and decided to focus on that.”
Hermione’s brows raised. She knew Draco had been a Quidditch fanatic, but she had never known Lucius was on the team. Perhaps she ought to take a closer look at the Trophy Room – she had to say Harry and Ron were a lot more familiar with it than she was, due to so many detentions served polishing trophies sans magic. Plus, she had never been one for Quidditch.
“How about you? Were you a Quidditch fan?”
Narcissa let out a rather inelegant snort of laughter, which made her mortified. “Heavens, no!” She said, composing herself. “I enjoy flying, but the game is far too violent for me. However...” She continued, looking embarrassed, almost like a child admitting to some wrongdoing “I studied the game quite comprehensively... I wanted to impress Lucius.”
Hermione smiled. “We’ll, you’re dedicated, at least! I never made that effort when Ron and I dated. I just find it so... boring.” She admitted.
Narcissa nodded her agreement. “It can be. But you don’t fly at all, then?”
Hermione shook her head a little more emphatically than she intended, her curls whipping wildly in the air around her. “No! I’d much rather ride a Thestral – brooms terrify me. I’ve even ridden a Hippogriff, and that was preferable to a broom.”
Narcissa looked exactly like Hermione expected – completely baffled by her preference of Thestrals and Hippogriffs over brooms, but it was something the brunette would forever and always stand by. She waited for Narcissa to school her features again.
“Merlin.” She turned a curious look toward Hermione. “How in Merlin’s name did you find an opportunity to ride a Hippogriff??”
Hermione had to laugh. “Funny story,” she said, her eyes glimmering with mirth. “Part of it actually involves Draco being a prat.”
It had been a busy return to the school schedule – the Welcome feast had progressed normally, but the student buzz over the holidays would take some time to die down. Narcissa had already twice intervened when overly-eager students decided to release Dung Bombs in one of the corridors – unfortunately she had already seen the need to dole out detentions. Additionally, Slytherin and Hufflepuff were beginning the semester with points taken off.
She had been preparing her lectures for the following day, elbows-deep in piles of parchment, when she was interrupted by a decisive set of knocks to her door. She glanced at the clock she kept in her office – it was much too late for a student to come seeking assistance.
“Come in” she beckoned, willing the door to open with a simple motion of her wrist. She was surprised to see Madam Pomfrey standing before her, still dressed for work.
“Madam Pomfrey? How may I help you?” She said, confused as to why the Matron needed to speak to her personally this late.
“Oh, please call me Poppy, Narcissa. I feel much too old when you call me ‘Madam,’ it’s like you’re still a student.” Poppy said, waving away the pleasantries; Narcissa blushed.
“My apologies, Poppy. Please, take a seat.” Narcissa said, wandlessly beckoning one of her chairs.
“Thank you.” The nurse said kindly, seating herself with a tired grunt. She didn’t speak for several moments, seemingly distracted while looking at Narcissa’s private office.
“How may I be of assistance?” Narcissa prompted after waiting in vain for Poppy to speak.
“You’ve come very far, Narcissa.” The matron said suddenly, startling the blonde. She was sure Poppy hadn’t come to her to talk about her accomplishments. “We’re all very proud of you.”
Narcissa’s cheeks reddened a bit, though she did not want to ask precisely who ‘we’ were. She took it as the compliment she knew Poppy had meant it as.
“Thank you, Poppy.” she said kindly. “Is there anything I can help you with?”
“Not exactly” Poppy finally said, wringing her hands uncomfortably. “This is a sensitive matter, I think. I thought it best to bring it up with you since you’re Slytherin’s Head of House, but I will go to Minerva after this, just in case.”
Pomfrey’s hesitant tone worried Narcissa at once. “Has something happened?” She asked, discarding the quill she had been writing it, her eyes wide in alert. Poppy looked at her with strong uneasiness in her eyes.
“Yes. Well, maybe – I don’t quite know” she whispered in deep uncertainty. “I only know what I saw.” She sighed. “It regards William White.”
Narcissa was on high alert at once. “What about him?”
Poppy’s shoulders stiffened. “You sent him to me to remove that... that Muggle contraption on his arm, right?”
“Yes; he told him he’d have to keep it on for three weeks. I just thought the thing to be too cumbersome, so I sent him to you so he could get it fixed a little sooner.” Narcissa recounted. “Is something the matter with his arm?”
The matron nodded rapidly. “Yes. But not just his arm... Narcissa, I... I don’t even quite know how to say it.” Poppy took several deep breaths. “I suppose I’ll start from the beginning. He came to me, and I used a mild slicing charm to cut that blasted thing off – it was hard as rock. I don’t know how Muggles manage” she said, going off on a tangent before catching herself. “In any case... He had to remove his shirt for me to get it all – the blasted thing went all the way up to his shoulder.”
Another breath, and then Pomfrey directed her gaze to meet Narcissa’s head on. “Narcissa, the boy is covered in bruises.”
Narcissa’s hands stiffened over her table-top; the colour drained from her face. She hoped, she very dearly hoped Poppy was wrong in her assumption.
“He told me he had a fall.” She said weakly before shaking her head. “I don’t suppose he’d openly advertise the alternative.”
“Narcissa, that’s not all.” Poppy interrupted. “He had bruised ribs. And when I ran a simple diagnostic charm, it showed bruising of the bone on his shins. And” Poppy swallowed. “His arm? It was like it had been pulled from its socket.”
Narcissa drew a sharp breath. The weight of the reality of William’s situation came crashing down upon her shoulders – what could she do? She was no stranger to heavy-handed parents. While Cygnus had never raised a hand to any of his daughters, Druella hadn’t been as kind, particularly to her. Additionally, she remembered the marks upon her cousin’s body, courtesy of her Uncle Orion, clear as crystal.
As a child, she had assumed all families operated similarly. After all, physical punishment was doled out in the name of discipline. What were a few slaps from her mother, if they made her a well-adjusted young witch with flawless manners?
And then, when she got to Hogwarts, she realized that wasn’t truly the case. Lucius had been baffled when she recounted her family’s disciplinary measures – his parents had always adored him and had never dare raise a hand towards him. With that in mind, she chose to adopt the same approach in their upbringing of Draco. She remembered looking at that lovely child she and Lucius had brought into the world, and could not even bear the thought of bringing him any harm – not even in the name of discipline.
“Narcissa?” Poppy said shyly, interrupting Narcissa’s thoughts. The blonde brought herself back to the present, where the ominous truth of William White’s situation hung heavy in the air. Something had to be done.
“Go to Minerva. I will speak to her myself; but first, I must speak to William.” She said, standing up in a moment of decisiveness.
“Do you think that’s wise?” Poppy asked, sceptical and uncertain.
“I don’t know.” Narcissa said, walking out the door and leaving Poppy to dwell in her uncertainty.
She had resolutely stalked to the dungeons, making her way to the Slytherin Common Room in a bout of decisiveness.
Narcissa’s breath was heavy as she reached the bare stretch of stone wall in the Dungeons, the entrance to her childhood Common Room. The password – “evergreen” – was on the tip of her tongue, but the rush of a memory stopped her from uttering it at the last possible second.
“How bad is it?”
“None of your business. Get out. ”
She frowned deeply. “Idiot, I just want to know so I can help you. Merlin knows you’ve got no one at Grimmauld.”
“I don’t need your sodding help, Narcissa. Get away from me!” Sirius hissed, his eyes teary and his jaw rigid. He had balled his hands into fists at his sides, but Narcissa had cornered him in an empty classroom.
Her gaze softened. “At least go to Madam Pomfrey .” She didn’t very much like her cousin – the feeling was entirely mutual on his part – but she had recognized his stiff steps and constricted movements the moment they had descended the train. Orion’s beatings were legendary, and Sirius, his father’s eternal disappointment, took the heavy brunt of his wrath.
“No.” He said angrily. “This is family business, I’m not bringing a stranger into it.” He scoffed adamantly.
“I’m family. Let. Me. Help. You.” She bit back, exasperated as he continuously tested her patience.
Sirius sat upon a desk, his look defeated and suspicious at the same time.
“Why?” He asked after long moments of silent, angry contemplation. “You hate my guts.”
“You’re not terribly fond of me either” She quipped, drawing nearer. “But Bella’s graduated. Drommie is gone.” Her look turned sad. “You and Regulus are all I have here. Despite everything, we’re still family.”
At any other point in time, Narcissa would take the opportunity to make fun of the tears running down Sirius’ face, or the quiet sobs he tried so desperately hard to suppress in his chest . She’d call him weak, a coward, or worse – such w ere their usual exchanges . But now, she knew not to; not when the physically imposing, strong young man her cousin had become was reduced to a mere lost child before her very eyes.
She took another step in his direction, taking a round tin from within her robes. Sirius glanced at her suspiciously; she opened it to show him the contents: a brownish-purple, thick paste.
“Bruise Removal Paste, which I have adapted to include a rather powerful Numbing Ointment.” She explained. “It won’t fix it, not really, but it’ll make it stop hurting.” She said, almost in question. Sirius took a moment to further examine the paste, then nodded in defeat, or perhaps resignation.
“Fine.” He muttered.
Narcissa stepped to face him directly, taking a healthy amount of the purplish paste in her fingers. “Open your shirt?” she asked politely.
Sirius did so reluctantly, and Narcissa tried to be as tactful as possible considering the situation. She was even mindful enough to supress a strong, sudden gasp of surprise at the varying shades of black and blue that mottled his pale skin.
Her cousin hissed in pain as she slowly applied the ointment to a particularly bad bruise. “Sorry” she whispered, because what else could she possibly say? She kept at her task, methodically covering his chest in the paste. Some of the lighter bruises had already begun to yellow, and she could tell the Numbing solution was also working as Sirius stiffness slowly melted away.
“Merlin, that’s better.” He finally conceded with a groan. “What’s that smell?” he asked with a curious sniff. Narcissa smiled.
“Eucalyptus” she said. Looking at her handiwork, she asked “Are there any on your back?”
Sirius nodded, removing his school shirt completely and turning around. Narcissa dutifully set to applying her solution.
“I’ll give you a tin of this – very useful for Quidditch injuries as well.” She said, uncomfortable with their silence and proximity , yet trying to keep conversation as light as possible.
“Powerful stuff” Sirius muttered, slightly bent over the desk so as to give his cousin better access to the ugly bruising on his back. “It’s actually great. Did you make it yourself?”
Narcissa nodded, then realized Sirius couldn’t see her, so she hummed her confirmation instead. He nodded back in impressed acknowledgement.
They fell into silence again , despite the awkwardness. It was a long time – Narcissa was almost done with his back – until Sirius spoke again.
“I hate them. I hate them both, but I hate him most of all.” He said to the dark nothingness of the empty classroom, evidently uncaring that Narcissa could hear him. She felt no need to ask him to elaborate.
Narcissa sighed, wanting to project sympathy, not pity . “Two more years” she said soothingly. “Two summers – then you’ll be of age and you’ll do what you want.”
Sirius’ shoulder s drooped. “I don’t think I can wait that long.” He whispered grimly. Narcissa couldn’t think of anything to say to that.
“There” she said instead, “all done. Though I suppose it’s better if you wait for it to dry before putting your shirt back on, or it’ll be ruined.”
Sirius nodded, turning to stare blankly at his cousin. “Thank you” he said finally. Narcissa acknowledged him with a stiff smile. “I know you hate me, but truly, Narcissa, thank you.”
“I don’t hate you” she said. “I just don’t like you very much. We’re still family.” She said. Sirius laughed darkly.
“I wonder for how long.” He muttered ominously.
Narcissa’s mind whirled back to the present, drowning out the password to the Slytherin Common Room. She had never understood what her cousin had meant, not until the next summer, when Sirius ran off to live with the Potters, earning himself a blackened spot on the Black Family Tapestry.
She remembered clearly how his pride – and his shame – prevented him from speaking about how Orion disciplined him. In truth, she very much doubted his closest friends even knew.
She wondered how she could possibly approach the subject with William White. While with Sirius she had just seen it as discipline, now she knew better – it was abuse. What she was at a loss for was how to proceed – were Muggle families harsher in their discipline?
She then remembered Hermione’s photo album, and her tales of childhood. No, that was not the case.
An enormous amount of frustration settled deep in her chest. William would not want to speak about it – that much was certain, if her experiences with Sirius were any indication. How could she possibly intervene, when as far as she knew, the school had absolutely no jurisdiction in the matter?
Narcissa could think of only one person who could help her.
“Coming!” Hermione yelled, clumsily spelling her hair dry as she stepped out of the shower to answer the incessant knocks to her chambers’ doors. Her pyjamas clung to her body uncomfortably, as she had scarcely been able to dry herself. Her brown locks stuck out in all directions – an unfortunate side effect of the Drying Charm – as she hurriedly scurried to the door.
She was surprised to find a breathless Narcissa waiting outside, her cheeks rosy, but her eyes wide. Had she run there??
“Good evening” Narcissa gasped out, sounding as breathless as she looked. “I was wondering it if I could trouble you with a few questions.”
Hermione opened her door, motioning for Narcissa to come in while eyeing the blonde quizzically.
“Uh, of course. Please take a seat. Would you like some tea?”
Narcissa waved her off, taking a few seconds to catch her breath and regain her composure as she gingerly lowered herself onto one of Hermione’s plush chairs.
“You look frazzled, Narcissa – is everything alright?” Hermione questioned, worried to see the normally composed Potions Professor so agitated. Narcissa sighed heavily, as if looking for the right words – that worried Hermione even more.
“I... It concerns William White. I need your help.” She said simply. Hermione was more puzzled than ever.
“William White? What about him? Has something happened?”
Narcissa shook her head in the affirmative. “I sent him to Poppy to remove that dreadful thing on his arm. When she examined him... She found bruises – several of them. Bruised bones in his shins, bruised ribs. She also said that the injury to his arm was... was inconsistent with a fall as he described it; it was as if it had been pulled out from its socket.”
Hermione’s face immediately blanched. She took a seat herself; Narcissa could already tell the wheels in her head were turning madly in search of a solution.
“Have you spoken to Minerva about this?”
“Poppy has.” Narcissa said. “I was going to speak to William about it but... but something stopped me. I came here as soon as I could.”
Hermione nodded. “Not speaking to him was probably a good call.” She took a moment to ponder. “This is very serious. We need to speak to Minerva immediately.”
Narcissa had barely any time to nod – Hermione jumped to her feet and took her by the hand, sending an electrifying shock up her arm and into her chest as she pulled Narcissa with her, taking off into the corridors.
Hermione only released her hand once they had practically sprinted over the Headmistress’ Office – the rotating gargoyle had not even requested a password for their admittance – it was quite clear Minerva was expecting them.
Narcissa’s heart beat wildly in her chest – she had never had to run in her life – and Hermione huffed and puffed next to her, though the glimmer in the brunette’s eyes was one of sheer determination. They stepped off the rotating staircase to be greeted by Minerva, who sat in her desk in her nightly tartan.
“Ms. Black, Ms. Granger. Thank you for coming.” She called. Poppy sat at one of the chairs facing the Headmistress.
“Poppy has filled me in on her findings” Minerva continued, motioning for the newest arrivals to take a seat.
“Minerva, we must do something and we must do it now” Hermione said, not wasting any time with pleasantries. “I don’t need to remind you of Harry.” She said severely.
“What does Mr. Potter have to do with this?” Narcissa couldn’t help but ask, utterly confused. Minerva sighed, buckling under the pressure of Hermione’s gaze.
“Mr. Potter was in less-than-ideal living arrangements for much of his schooling years.” Minerva said, looking guilty.
“Not just his schooling years. He lived with the Dursleys for eleven years before he even came to Hogwarts.”
Narcissa looked more confused than ever. “I’m sorry, I don’t follow. Who are the Dursleys?”
Hermione straightened stiffly in her seat. “They were his only living relatives – his Aunt Petunia Dursley was Lily Evans’ sister” she clarified, her eyes angry. “They treated him horribly – stuck him in a broom closet for a bedroom, didn’t feed him. They were monsters, and The Boy Who Lived should not have had to live in such conditions – no child should have to, for that matter.” She finished emphatically, sending a glare Minerva’s way.
The Headmistress looked like she was about to interject, when suddenly a voice interrupted from the other side of the room.
“In Professor McGonagall's defence, Ms. Granger, Minerva was staunchly against Harry’s placement at the Dursley’s. It was on my insistence.” Came the soft tones of Albus Dumbledore’s portrait.
Narcissa was surprised to see him speak – every time she had been in the office, he had been fast asleep like the rest of the Headmasters immortalized in portraits. Hermione turned to the late Headmaster, looking both sheepish and bitter somehow.
“It was inexcusable, Professor, with all due respect.” She said.
“It was not the best of conditions – they were truly terrible” Dumbledore agreed with a solemn nod, peering at the witches over the rims of his half-moon spectacles. “But it was the safest he could have been.”
Narcissa could tell Hermione was very nearly fuming, and was preparing a strong retort – she grounded the brunette with a dainty hand to her shoulder, which immediately calmed her down. Dumbledore smiled brightly, as if just noticing her there.
“Ah, Ms. Black. How lovely to see you. How are you finding your post?” he asked. Narcissa raised a quizzical brow.
“It... It is good, Professor” she said shamefully, without any strength to face the man her son had been tasked to kill, even if he was merely a portrait.
“Shall we remain focused?” Minerva called out mercifully. “I’m aware we have a problem at hand. However, we must be careful not to go about this the wrong way.”
“Well-put, Minerva.” Dumbledore called from his portrait. Narcissa caught a glimpse of Hermione rolling her eyes.
“First things first: is William in any immediate danger, Poppy? How are his injuries?”
Poppy sighed. “None of them were magically inflicted. He’ll be good as new tomorrow.”
Minerva nodded. “That’s very good. Now” she looked intently at Narcissa and Hermione. “Assuming William was hurt in his home, we can perhaps assume he is in no such danger while he is in the castle. However, Narcissa, I suggest you keep a close eye on him – see if there is anything in his behaviours that warrants our attention.”
Narcissa nodded, though she looked unsure.
“I’m sorry, but are we ignoring the fact that this kid had bruised bones and his arm was pulled out from its socket?!” Hermione hissed, exasperated. “We must send the authorities to his parents’ home – we need a full investigation!”
Minerva looked at Hermione, her eyes sad. “All we have at the moment is conjecture, Ms. Granger. The school has no real jurisdiction in this matter. Additionally, Mr. White’s parents being both Muggles further complicates things. Without him there, Magical Law Enforcement – or even Magical Social Services – cannot be there.
“How is such a thing possible?” Narcissa asked, because she had never truly considered how Magical Laws would apply to Muggle parents. She had naively assumed they would be considered a magical family unit due to any magical children.
Minerva seemed to inwardly cringe. “As long as there isn’t a witch of wizard in a dwelling, it cannot be considered a magical one. The Statute of Secrecy, as well as several other laws, prohibit us from intervening in such a home unless there is an immediate magical threat to its occupants.”
Narcissa felt Hermione’s shoulder stiffen angrily. “So we do nothing? Is that it?”
“I did not say that, Ms. Granger. We cannot send Wizarding Law Enforcement to directly investigate Mr. White’s home or to interrogate his parents. What we can do – and that would be my suggestion – is set up surveillance there for a while. We should also petition Wizarding Social Services –WiSer – to set up such surveillance when Mr. White returns home for summer.”
Hermione gripped the arms of her chair. “So we’ll send him back at the end of term? Like Harry was sent back to the Dursleys, year after year?”
Minerva looked ashamed. “It’s the best we can do, Ms. Granger. This school has no jurisdiction over Mr. White outside of the school year. We can’t simply remove him from his family.”
Narcissa felt the ripple of frustration coursing through Hermione’s body; she subconsciously tightened her hold onto the brunette’s shoulder.
“Can we not arrange alternative accommodation for him during the summers?” Narcissa asked. There had to be a way to remove William from the care of abusive parents.
“Again, Ms. Black, we have no jurisdiction. Additionally, Mr. White is still underage – we would need a guardian’s approval to change his living arrangements.”
Hermione scoffed. “How about Wizarding Social Services? Can they remove him from the house?”
“With enough proof, we could certainly petition for it. However, it would be highly unlikely. WiSer do not remove children from their parents’ care lightly – especially if they are Muggles. They might have them go through a re-education program; however, since they are not Magical folk, it is within their rights to refuse.”
“So, in short, we can do nothing.” Hermione declared, supremely unhappy.
Minerva sighed, defeated. “We can bide our time, Ms. Granger.”
Narcissa walked a truly unhappy Hermione back to her private quarters – she sensed the brunette needed someone to vent her frustrations to. And vent she did, airing her multiple grievances of the exasperating, old-fashioned bureaucracy that ruled the Wizarding World and its interactions with Muggles.
Sadly, Narcissa felt she had nothing to contribute. She hadn’t realized how ignorant she was in such things until now; the idea of not being able to intervene for William until it was potentially too late filled her with sorrow.
“I’m writing to Harry at once; maybe he can pull some strings in the Ministry and at least have someone competent from the DMLE do the surveillance at the house as opposed to some pencil-pusher at WiSer.” Hermione declared at a certain point, filled with righteous anger at the situation.
“I wish there was more we could do.” Narcissa said truthfully. Hermione turned to look at her.
“We must keep an eye on him. I can’t imagine how long he has lived like that – something tells me this is not new” The brunette said sadly. “We have to make sure William is well-cared for. Harry had horrible issues.”
Narcissa looked at Hermione intently. “I had no idea Mr. Potter’s relatives were so...” she struggled to find words.
“They were horrible, horrible people. I mean, his cousin eventually came around, but his uncle and aunt were... They wanted nothing to do with magic, and punished Harry terribly for it. I can’t help but fear William’s situation is similar.”
Narcissa could not supress a shiver. The magic-hating Muggle was much too close to her family’s warped rhetoric for comfort, and she could tell Hermione understood it immediately.
Hermione returned Narcissa’s intense gaze. “We need to keep an eye on him.” She left a silent question to hang in the air, hoping that Narcissa would be able to capture it without the need for words to explain it.
She was not disappointed. “I would truly appreciate your help in this matter, Hermione.”
Hermione smiled, albeit a little sadly.
“You have it.”