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Out of Ashes

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“Minister, you cannot be serious!” Hermione Granger startled at how shrill her voice rang through the room. Kingsley Shacklebolt had called her to his office to discuss a new and, according to his own words, exciting opportunity. While Hermione refrained from criticizing authority figures, calling this delusional suggestion an opportunity indicated that the minster had been hexed. Maybe confounded? He didn’t seem confused otherwise.

“Of course!”

“How did…who decided this?”

“No one. Remember when you suggested the ministry should apply some of that Muggles scientific method to its operations?”

“Yes, but I fail to see how—”

“It’s randomized!”

Hermione’s eyebrows rose. “What?”

“Such a decision would have been difficult, given the sensitive nature of the topic, and most people wouldn’t volunteer for such an assignment, not to mention that they’d usually consider them either a reward or a punishment, but your idea about that Muggle method, it solved all our problems.” His dark eyes shone with excitement.

“I’m not sure I follow,” Hermione said.

“No one is keen on mentoring the pureblood families who have stood by…Voldemort, and as I said, they’d see it as a reprimand if I were to tell them their services are needed here.”

“Understandably so,” Hermione grumbled.

“Yes, so we randomized these assignments. The Department of Finance and Prevention of Finagles developed a spell for it. No one chose this, so no one can complain.” He cleared his throat at Hermione’s blank stare. “Well, I understand your reluctance, but this is a tremendous opportunity for you.”

“How is being assigned Narcissa Malfoy’s mentor an opportunity?” Hermione struggled to keep her voice even.

“Black. Narcissa Black. Her divorce was finalized a few months ago.”

“I don’t see how that changes anything. She played host to Voldemort and she let her…” Hermione’s jaw tightened, and her hands clenched in her lap.

“I know, but she has changed. Healer Trunblood’s assessment of her work and attitude during the first year of her community service at St. Mungo’s is full of praises. There was no conflict, and she has a surprisingly tender bedside manner. Who’d have thought.” Shacklebolt laughed.

“If things ran so smoothly at St. Mungo’s, why doesn’t she finish her community service there?”

“All Voldemort sympathizers who were sentenced to community service may choose from several different departments, and they also decide if they wish to work with two or four departments over their two-year community service sentence.”

“How nice,” Hermione muttered.

“We need to reintegrate them into the community, so it makes sense to offer a semblance of choice…free will is important.”

Hermione dropped her head and inhaled sharply. She’d joined the newly created Department for the Integration of Muggle-born Witches and Wizards after finishing her NEWTS in an accelerated owl-post program that was offered to everyone who’d missed the seventh year due to the war.

She’d figured education and interaction would help, ease the distance between the two communities and make the integration of Muggle-borns and their families easier. Hermione wanted to promote tolerance and openness, preventing another festering of hatred and division. This fit well with the studies she’d read about how contact with unfamiliar groups lowered negative attitudes toward that population since one could no longer rely on stereotypes. She wanted to help and felt her background and experiences offered a unique perspective on this. But now this had all turned around on her.

Hermione still had nightmares. They’d lessened, but everything remained so close. They were only a few months away from the second anniversary of the Battle of Hogwarts. How was she going to do this? Face the steely blue-eyed witch whose gaze had locked on her when Bellatrix had straddled her and… She’d let her sister torture… Hermione swallowed hard and her hand found her arm, covering the hateful words etched into her skin. She didn’t understand back then, nor could she explain now what had drawn her gaze to Narcissa, who had stood there, rigid, never shifting, expressionless, yet her eyes…

“Hermione, are you still listening?” Shacklebolt asked, concern coloring the deep timbre of his voice.

“I’m sorry, minster,” Hermione said and shook her head.

“Kingsley,” he said. “I’m asking too much of you. Your history is…complicated and—”

Hermione released a humorless chuckle. “That’s one way of putting it.” She cleared her throat. “What exactly would this entail? I must admit I have paid little attention to this program.”

“I understand. Let me walk you through, here” he handed her a sepia colored parchment scroll. “This contains information on the entire schedule and your role. We can set up a first meeting between you two and you can decide, after, if…if you are willing to do this. I still believe this will be a splendid opportunity for you, but I’ll leave it up to you. You may reject this assignment without consequences.”

“Thank you, Kingsley. I appreciate it.”

“You’re welcome,” he said and watched her exit his office.

***

“Salazar’s snakes,” Narcissa Black slumped back against her chair, the piece of parchment she’d just read still clasped in her hand. “Out of all the people in the ministry. I should have chosen another Department,” she grumbled into the empty study of Malfoy manor.

While the divorce from Lucius had been finalized not too long ago, with him in Azkaban and Draco’s completing his internship at the Wizengamot, she’d remained at the manor. She’d planned to stay here until her community service ended. By then, Lucius would be back from Azkaban and she didn’t relish sharing a house with him.

Despite her original plan, she contemplated leaving the manor earlier, but she hadn’t decided where to live instead, even though her London townhouse seemed the only logical option. The Black estate stirred memories she’d rather not revisit, and the same held true for her current domicile. Narcissa hadn’t set foot into the drawing room since that night, since she’d stood by and watched, allowing her sister to torture a child.

She closed her eyes and heaved a heavy sigh, refusing to go there, not during the day at least, given that her subconscious dragged her there most nights. Out of all the things she’d experienced during both wars, that moment, and the fearful, wide brown eyes pleading with her was seared into her memory, etched into her mind like those Muggle metal sculptures she’d seen in the windows of Muggle art stores.

Even with most of her hours spent at St. Mungo’s or visiting her son and his delightful fiancée Astoria, this place continued to haunt her. Rightfully so, and while she was drowning in guilt, self-flagellation wasn’t in her nature. Something had to change.

The memory of having the Dark Lord live with them for months, his rancid stench all around, soaking up the chill his presence injected into any room, along with his sibilant voice drenched in hatred and self-grandeur, still sent shivers of fear down her spine. Shallow breaths bled from her lips while pictures of the last several years coursed through her mind and sweat pooled at her lower back as her vision blurred. This is why she didn’t revisit that time; the flood of images and emotions left her dizzy and she wished, not for the first time, the power to occlude her own mind from herself. There were potions, but…

Narcissa gritted her teeth. Working with Muggle-borns would not only show broader society that she’d changed and aid in paving her way out of her current pariah status, it also seemed the right place to try to make amends, to atone for the hateful thoughts and ideas that she’d held for most of her life.

As if this wasn’t hard enough, now she was assigned Hermione Granger as her mentor, and Shacklebot insisted on meeting them for a cup of tea to sort out any potential issues. What issues? That she stood by motionless during what were undoubtedly the worst eight minutes of Ms. Granger’s life? That the girl’s screams had frozen her solid onto the ground? That she still heard those cries in her dreams most nights? That Ms. Granger, likely and rightfully, abhorred her mentee? Those issues? Yes, let’s have a cup of tea. That should solve it.

***

“English Breakfast?” Kingsley offered to fill both witches’ cups with his red polka-dotted enchanted tea pot.

“Yes, please,” Narcissa said, her voice ringing as cold and collected as Hermione remembered, and she suppressed a shudder. The blonde witch sat prim and proper, with a straight back inches away from the backrest of her chair. Her long hair up in a traditional chignon bun with no strand out of place, while her surely expensive and finely tailored forest green robes gave her a sophisticated and intimidating appearance.

“Sure, thank you,” Hermione rushed out, sticking her hands under her lap while her gaze flickered across the room. Did the minister always have such a comfortable sitting room or is this something Kingsley had magicked for their meeting?

“You’re very welcome. I’m so glad you both were able to join me. Now, let’s get to business. Ms. Black, I’ve told Ms. Granger about your excellent tenure at St. Mungo’s and that we’re happy you’ve chosen the new Muggle-born Department for your second year of community service.”

Narcissa stayed silent, as unmoving as ever.

“Right,” Hermione said. “So, uh…why did you… you must admit, it’s an unexpected choice for you to pick the IMWW Department.”

Narcissa gazed at Hermione stoically and Hermione had to force herself to hold her gaze. Her azure eyes shone almost gray today, and they lacked the disdain she’d remembered. Or Narcissa had gotten better at hiding it? Now that her side had lost, again, and she needed to play nice? Oh, if Harry only hadn’t insisted on testifying on her behalf. Sodding bleeding heart.

“It might appear to be an odd choice, given my…history with Muggle-borns, but I already know all there is to know about our community. I… The prospect of learning more about Muggles and their struggles to adjust to our world seemed beneficial.”

“Beneficial for what?” Hermione shot back, not trusting a benign motive from a Malfoy, Black. Whatever. She had to refrain from rolling her eyes at herself.

“Nothing nefarious. I’m interested in…expanding my horizons,” Narcissa said and narrowed her eyes. “Even though I am sure you’ll find that hard to imagine.”

“Now, now, ladies. Let’s suspend all…suspicion and hard feelings. The past is over and done with, correct? We need to move on,” Kingsley said and drank a sip from his tea, choking the moment both witches glared at him.

“Minister, you will find that some pasts are incredibly active and stubborn specters clawing their talons into your flesh,” Narcissa said and her gaze flashed to Hermione before returning to her own teacup.

“How morbid,” Kingsley said. “But I suppose it makes sense, given the history between the two of you.” He sighed. “Ms. Black, do you wish to complete your community service in a different Department?”

“No,” the blonde witch said curtly.

“I see. Do you object to Ms. Granger as your mentor?”

“No,” Narcissa said. “Maybe you should address this question to Ms. Granger?”

Hermione raised her chin. “Why? Do you think I can’t handle you?”

“No, my dear. Of course not. But I’m loath to force my presence on you. I…I do not wish to cause you pain.”

“Right. Unlike your sister,” Hermione spat.

Narcissa flinched for a second before raising her head and holding Hermione’s gaze. “That is correct.”

Hermione didn’t react.

“Ms. Granger, I want to—”

“No. Don’t. Don’t say it,” Hermione ground out.

“Maybe this really isn’t such a good idea. I’ll ask the FPF Department to re-do their spell and find another match for you, Ms. Black,” Kingsley said.

Both witched ignored him while holding eye contact.

Hermione wasn’t sure what Black was up to, but she’d figure it out. There was no way she was into this to learn about Muggle-borns and their struggle. To expand her horizons? Please. She’d delighted in her disdain for Muggles and Muggle-born witches and wizards. No, she was up to something, and she was just too Slytherin to show her cards, but Hermione would bide her time and watch her before exposing her for all to see. People didn’t change, not like this.

“It’s fine, minister. There’s no need for it. Since Ms. Black doesn’t object to this assignment, we will make it work.”

Narcissa narrowed her eyes. “I agree.”

Hermione offered a grim nod to both Kingsley and Narcissa and rose. “I’m afraid I have another appointment. If you excuse me. I’ll owl you my new schedule. We can meet on Monday morning in my office here at the ministry and go over the plan for the week. Let’s say at nine?”

“That sounds acceptable,” Narcissa said.

“Excellent,” Kingsley said and rose. “Thank you, both.”

***

On Sunday, Hermione met with Harry and Ron at Andromeda’s house. She had wanted to discuss her recent assignment with them, but Harry had a playdate with his godson, so they met at Andromeda’s place. Tonks was out on a task but had said she’d try to join them later. Hermione hesitated at first, not sure about mentioning Narcissa in the presence of her older sister, but her desire to talk about this won.

Harry grinned and bounced a squealing Teddy on his lap when Andromeda handed them all tea and cake.

“It’s so good to see you three together again. I love having you over,” she said smiling and took a sip of tea.

“Thanks for having us,” Hermione said.

“What did you wanna talk about?” Ron mumbled between bites of his cake.

Hermione frowned at him.

“What?”

Harry laughed. “You could finish chewing first. I’m sure your mother taught you that.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Ron waved them off. “You sounded frazzled.”

“I sent you an owl. How do you sound frazzled in a letter?” Hermione asked.

“I dunno,” Ron said and shrugged his shoulders. “You just did.”

“Do you need me to give you some time to talk alone?” Andromeda asked.

“No, thank you. I mean, you might want to leave on your own once you realize what this is about, and that’s of course up to you and all, but your opinion on this will be more accurate and—”

“Hermione, breathe,” Harry said while both Andromeda and Ron stared unblinkingly at her.

She ducked her head and folded her hands on her lap. This was harder than she’d expected. They were her best friends, and Andromeda had become almost like a favorite aunt to them since the war ended, yet…talking about this meant they’d bring up the drawing room, and she didn’t… “Have you heard of the community program for Voldemort sympathizers?”

They all nodded but remained silent.

“Kingsley said the FPF Department randomly selected me to be Narcissa M…uh, Black’s mentor for a year.”

“What?” Ron said and coughed, almost choking on his cake.

“I’m glad her divorce went through,” Harry said, blowing raspberries at a giggling Teddy.

“Mate, that’s all you gotta say?” Ron asked.

“Well, I am. She was unhappy, and, you do remember she saved my life and helped us beat Voldemort. Without her—”

“Yes, yes,” Hermione said while Ron rolled his eyes.

“I take it you’re not comfortable with this assignment?” Andromeda asked.

“Yes, no. She’s up to something.”

Andromeda leaned forward in her chair. “What do you mean?”

“I asked her why she’d choose to work with Muggle-borns. She said she wants to broaden her horizons. Can you believe that? What does she care about them? She hates Muggles and—”

“That’s not true,” Andromeda said.

“What?” Hermione asked.

“Or at least I have my doubts. We were raised to hate them, or to look down on Muggles. Our parents were even more extreme than the Malfoys when it came to blood purity. My sisters and I usually repeated what they wanted to hear because that’s how you stayed out of trouble. Narcissa was always very tender and kind-hearted with an innate curiosity for everything.”

“You are talking about Lucius Malfoy’s wife, right?” Ron asked.

“Ex-wife,” Hermione corrected without taking her gaze of Andromeda.

“They, Bella and Narcissa, eventually accepted my parents’ ideas, but if…she worked at St. Mungo’s for a year, and if she now chooses to work to help Muggle-borns, she must have changed her views.”

“What if it’s all a trick?” Hermione asked.

“For what?” Ron chuckled which earned him a dark look from Hermione. “Oy. Stop glaring at me. I don’t like anyone with the last name Malfoy, and divorce or not, she’ll always be a Malfoy to me. I’m not gonna trust them either, but what scheme could she have that requires her to help Muggle-borns? Is she gonna hex the bread warmer?”

“Toaster,” Harry and Hermione corrected at the same time.

“That’s hardly the point,” Ron said.

“He’s right,” Harry said. “She’s changed for the better.”

“That’s because you always see the best in people!” Hermione snapped and rose before pacing behind the couch.

“Was that an insult?” Harry muttered to Ron who shoved another piece of cake in his mouth.

“If you’re that uncomfortable being her mentor, I am sure you can ask for a different assignment,” Andromeda said.

“Kingsley offered me an out already,” Hermione said, still pacing.

“Why didn’t you take it?” Harry asked, trying to prevent Teddy from tearing out more of his hair.

“What? With her right there? Caving because I’m scared of a pureblood? No, thank you,” Hermione huffed.

“You’re being surprisingly irrational,” Harry said before Teddy knocked his glasses off his face. “No, Teddy, be careful.”

“I’m the irrational one here? I’m pointing out that Narcissa Black might be up to something and you’re all dismissing me?”

“It’s understandable that you have…issues with Narcissa, given what happened to you at Malfoy manor,” Andromeda started.

“It’s not about that.” Hermione sighed and plopped back on the couch. “I…I just don’t trust her, and how could I be a mentor to someone I don’t trust? Won’t this backfire?”

“It could, which is why I suggested you ask for a different assignment. However, it could also be a chance to deal with your past. You could look at this as an opportunity and try to work on your…”

“Biases? Kingsley said something similar,” Hermione grumbled.

“You could try it. See how things are between you and then decide.”

“I was afraid you’d say that.”

“No one should force this on you. If you’re not comfortable, don’t do it,” Harry said.

“Comfort is overrated,” Ron said, grabbing the last slice of cake form the plate.

Both Hermione and Harry stared at him.

“What?”

“You’re saying comfort is overrated?” Hermione laughed. “That’s rich.”

“Hey! I’m not talking about a warm bed or food. You’re always ready to learn stuff, and you keep telling us to be open and not judge things right away,” he said. “Give it a try, Ronald, you might like it!”

“I don’t sound like that,” Hermione said but couldn’t hold back a laugh.

“Comfort is for the intellectually lazy,” Harry added.

“Stop it,” Hermione said and threw a pillow at Ron.

“Hey! He said that.”

“Yes, but he’s holding Teddy,” Hermione said and grinned at her friends. She was glad she talked to them about this. Maybe they were right. Maybe she was overreacting, and it might be worthwhile to solve the riddle of one Narcissa Black and her new and benevolent outlook on life.

***

Monday came too early, and having overslept, Hermione was running late to her meeting with Narcissa. As she’d both suspected and feared, the other witch was waiting outside her office. She stood tall, as put together as always, and with an air of calm confidence around her that frazzled Hermione’s nerves even more.

“I apologize, Ms. Black,” Hermione rushed out. “I overslept,” she added, feeling her cheeks heat up.

“No worries, Ms. Granger. It happens to the best of us.” She stepped to the side to allow Hermione to open her office. “Long night?”

Hermione almost dropped her bag. “Huh? What?”

“Did you have long night?” Narcissa followed Hermione and gazed at her expectantly.

“Uh, no. We…we had visited An…a friend yesterday for tea. Did you have a pleasant weekend?” Hermione asked, her voice squeaking. What was going on? She couldn’t let Narcissa rattle her like this.

“It was acceptable.”

Silence spread and neither witch shifted a muscle until Hermione cleared her throat. “Please, sit down.” She gestured toward the seat in front of her desk and rushed to sit down in her chair. Once she sat down, several memos zoomed in, trying to get her attention. Hermione cast a quick arresto momentum on them.

“Thank you,” Narcissa said, a slight smile tugging at her lips.

“They are usually not that aggressive.”

“Don’t mind me. Attend to your messages. It might be important.”

“That’s fine. They’d also screech if they’re urgent,” Hermione said.

“Efficient,” Narcissa said. “Have you thought some more about being assigned my mentor at the IMWW Department?”

“I have. I…I’m not going to lie. This isn’t easy for me. Our history is difficult and…” Hermione said, biting her lower lip.

“I understand, but I didn’t choose this either,” Narcissa said.

“But you did?”

“I chose the Department because I owe certain debts and they are best paid in this manner, but I didn’t choose you as my mentor,” Narcissa said, and Hermione heard the silent ‘and I never would have chosen you’ hang in the air. Not that she’d have chosen Narcissa, but she still felt a slight sting at the perceived rejection.

“All right. I do wish to make this work, or at least, let’s see if we can work together. Join me on my case tomorrow and we’ll call it a trial run. After we’re done, we revisit this conversation and see if we want to continue. That is, if that is what you prefer?”

“I am still here, Ms. Granger, aren’t I?”

Hermione blinked rapidly at being exposed twice to a semi-smile in a short amount of time. She’d never expected the former Malfoy matriarch capable of smiling, or at least, of smiling with anything but disdain.

“True. OK, let me write down the address for tomorrow. It’s a new family that I haven’t met yet. The Richards. They have twin girls and one of them received a Hogwarts letter. We will meet with them and talk, see if they have questions, how they’re adjusting, and if we can be of service,” Hermione said before handing a piece of parchment to Narcissa.

“Thank you. That sounds like a decent proposal.”

“As opposed to an indecent one?” Hermione said and her eyes widened the moment the words she’d just uttered registered with her brain. Why would she say something like that?

Narcissa laughed. “And people say you’re the strait-laced good girl of the Golden Trio.”

“I don’t…I apologize. I don’t know what came over me,” Hermione stuttered.

“No need,” Narcissa said and rose. “What time will we meet tomorrow?”

“Ten. Is that all right?”

“Of course. I shall see you tomorrow, Ms. Granger. Have a lovely day.”

“You, too,” Hermione said and the moment Narcissa left her office, she dropped her head against her desk with a resounding thud.

Chapter Text

Hermione arrived at the Richards’ residence five minutes early. She didn’t want to give Narcissa the impression that she was habitually late. At ten on the dot, an apparation crack rang out and Hermione started when Narcissa popped up right next to her, once more the picture perfect of pureblood high society with fine emerald robes and an austere coiled bun.

“Good morning, Ms. Granger. Shall we?”

“Uh, yes. Hello, I mean, good morning,” Hermione said and closed her eyes, suppressing a groan. If she didn’t know any better, she’d think the other witch enjoyed flustering her.

“I am assuming they are expecting us?”

“Yes. We communicate with email or phone first, depending on the family’s preference.”

“So no owls then?”

“No owls.”

“You must explain this Muggle…what’s the word again? Tichknolgy?”

“Technology, and sure. I’ll give you a crash course later.”

Narcissa furrowed her brows. “Why does this technology involve accidents? There are courses in mishaps?”

Hermione chuckled. This should be fun. “No, crash course just refers to a kind of quick overview.” She rang the doorbell of the London townhouse. Hermione did a double take when a woman opened the door who, for all intents and purposes, could be Narcissa’s sister. Same height, same calm and haughty expression, same posture and bearing. The only difference, Ms. Richards had black hair and dark eyes, compared to Narcissa’s blonde locks and sharp blue eyes.

“You are here for Tara? I’m Kate Richards,” the woman introduced herself and shook both Hermione’s and Narcissa’s hands. “Come on in. Tara must be close to pacing a hole in the carpet by now,” Kate said, and a smile spread across her face, transforming her severe look.

“Yes, we are. Thank you, Ms. Richards for inviting us to your home,” Narcissa said and both witches followed Kate into the hallway.

“Over there. My family is waiting for you in the sitting room. And please call me Kate,” she said, focusing most of her attention on Narcissa.

Figures, everyone will think I’m her junior partner. Hermione couldn’t blame Ms. Richards, given that authority is more often held by the older person, still, it would be a lie to say it didn’t rankle her a bit.

When they entered the sitting room, Mr. Richards, or John, as he introduced himself, had been reading the newspaper, and one girl, Tara, did indeed march across the room with a wired energy that rushed over Hermione, while the other girl, her twin, Anya, sullenly sat on the sofa.

“Have a seat,” Kate said. “You, too,” she addressed her pacing daughter.

Everyone sat down, Hermione and Narcissa on the loveseat, while the Richards all sat on the opposite couch together.

“Oh, I forgot. Can I offer you anything? Tea?”

“We’re fine, thank you, Kate,” Hermione said. “As I’ve informed you during our correspondence, we are here to talk to you about what it means to have a witch in the family, and to answer all potential questions you may have.”

“Where can I buy all that stuff my Hogwarts letter mentions? I searched through all the ad papers but none of them sell cauldrons or wands,” Tara rushed out. “I even called the public library to see if they have Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, but they only laughed at me.”

“Of course they laughed at you! You’re a freak,” Anya spat.

“Girls, none of that. We talked about this,” John admonished the twins.

“I didn’t do anything!” Tara shrieked.

“You must excuse us. This change has been…difficult to handle so far,” Kate said, the worry lines around her eyes deepening for a moment.

“That’s understandable. It’s never easy to adjust, especially for a sibling who is afraid of being left behind, of losing their sister, in this case.”

“I’m afraid of nothing!” Anya said. “Magic isn’t real. This is all some kind of hoax you’re playing on Tara because she’s a freak. You’re trying to make all the weird stuff happening around her seem normal.”

Narcissa’s eyes flashed for a quick second and Hermione tensed in reflex. Then, without moving or reaching for her wand, Narcissa levitated the magazines and newspapers off the coffee table, allowing them to float in mid-air. “Magic is real, Anya,” she said, her tone velvety soft. “Our children often have bouts of wild magic that can seem, I suppose, like ‘weird stuff’ happening to non-magical folk.”

Anya’s mouth hung open and her gaze was locked on the gliding items.

“Wow,” Tara said.

“I promise you, your sister is not a freak, and you shouldn’t treat her as such. The bonds between siblings are powerful and important, and you need to take better care of them,” Narcissa said. The magazines and newspapers drifted back down to the table.

“Will I learn how to do that?” Tara asked with wide eyes.

“Yes, that and more,” Hermione said, smiling.

After answering all the remaining questions of the Richards, they set another appointment to meet later in the week to discuss the reading material they’d left behind for the family to review.

They’d exited the townhouse and silently stood on the sidewalk before Narcissa cleared her throat. “Can I interest you in having lunch? There’s this lovely little café nearby that makes the most amazing tomato soup.”

Hermione stared at Narcissa for a drawn-out moment, but once she noticed the other woman shifting and saw how her open expression closed, she hurriedly nodded. “Yes, yes. I’d like that.”

Narcissa smiled. “That’s settled then. Follow me,” she said and led the way.

After placing their orders, Hermione took a sip of her tea, contemplating how to phrase the question that’s been on her mind since Narcissa’s brief show of magic at the Richards.

“That was both wandless and nonverbal, wasn’t it?” Gryffindor bluntness it was then.

“Excuse me?” Narcissa asked.

“When you floated the magazines and books at the Richards.”

“Oh, yes.” Narcissa warmed her hands on her teacup. “Don’t look so surprised. It was only wingardium leviosa.”

“A wandless and nonverbal wingardium leviosa,” Hermione said.

“I may have an aptitude for wandless and nonverbal magic,” Narcissa said and took a sip of her tea.

Hermione released a choked breath. “Do you…do you think this is something you could teach me?”

Narcissa tilted her head. “Teach you?”

“Never mind. It’s a dumb idea,” Hermione muttered and lowered her head.

“I’m not adverse to it, Ms. Granger. I’m surprised you’d ask me to teach you.”

“Oh, right. That makes sense,” Hermione said. “I’ve been reading up on wandless magic and—”

“Naturally,” Narcissa said and chuckled.

Hermione blushed, not sure if the heat crawling up her neck and bleeding into her face came from the light teasing or the unexpected sound of Narcissa’s soft chuckle. “Anyway. Many experts seem to agree that the most efficient and effective way to learn wandless magic is to have a teacher who has a natural talent for it.”

“That is correct,” Narcissa said. “However, I’m not the only one with such a gift. What about Professor McGonagall?”

“She’s busy with Hogwarts and…” Hermione shrugged her shoulders. “We’re already working together and, no offense, but it doesn’t seem like you are that busy.”

“None taken,” Narcissa said. “Are you sure you want to commit to spending more time in my presence?”

“I’m already doing that,” Hermione said and smiled.

Narcissa’s brows furrowed a little before she leaned back in her chair, one of her hands still holding onto her teacup.

Hermione’s gaze locked on the blonde witch’s index finger trailing over the rim of her teacup.

“Touché,” Narcissa said, at which Hermione’s gaze snapped back up to focus on her companion.

“So you’ll do it?”

“If you wish,” Narcissa said.

“Great. You did well, by the way.”

“With picking this spot for lunch? Our food isn’t even here yet.”

“No, no, the verdict is still out on that. I meant with the Richards, especially with…the way you tried to get Anya to come around and not be so…”

“Awful to her sister?”

“Yes,” Hermione said.

“Sibling rivalry,” she said and sighed. “It’s all fun and games until it isn’t,” Narcissa said, her voice dropping at the end and she lowered her gaze.

“I wouldn’t know. I’m an only child.”

“I’d assume you’d know quite a bit from your fiancé,” Narcissa said the moment their waiter arrived with the food. “Stop staring in the air and eat your food. It’ll get cold,” Narcissa said and picked up her spoon.

“I’m engaged?” Hermione finally found her voice again.

“Aren’t you?”

“Not to my knowledge,” Hermione said, still not having touched her food.

“My mistake. I apologize. I heard rumors about you and the youngest Mr. Weasley,” Narcissa said before eating a spoonful of soup.

“What? No. What rumors? Sure, there was the moment in the Chamber of Secrets, but…we’re friends. We quickly figured out that we want different things in life, so. Yes. We’re just friends.”

“I didn’t mean to upset you.”

“You haven’t.”

“You also don’t owe me an explanation.”

“I don’t,” Hermione said.

“Please eat, Hermione,” Narcissa said and Hermione’s face once more flushed.

“This better be good,” Hermione mumbled, and she felt a small sense of elation at hearing Narcissa chuckle once more when she tore a piece off her bread.

“It’s delicious, even to unrefined taste palettes,” Narcissa said, her eyes alight.

***

“How did it go? She didn’t turn you into a toad or anything?” Ron asked the moment Hermione entered his flat.

She rolled her eyes. “Where’s Harry?”

A pop sounded and Harry apparated in the middle of Ron’s flat. “Oy! It’s rude to just pop in a bloke’s living room like that.”

“Sorry, I was late. You wound me. I thought we’re best mates,” Harry said and sat down in the sofa chair.

“Whatever. Need to set up some apparation shields. I could’ve been naked.”

“You two are killing me,” Hermione said and sat down on the couch next to Ron.

“You still think she’s up to something?” Harry asked.

“No, you guys were right. I was being paranoid. She was sweet and helpful with the non-magical twin,” Hermione said, playing with her fingers.

“Sweet? Narcissa Malfoy?” Ron laughed. “You sure she didn’t hex you?”

“It’s Black, and yes, I’m sure.”

“How was she helpful?” Harry asked.

“It must be hard, your twin got magic and is going away to this school you’ve never heard of, living a completely different life while you’re left behind. There were some anger issues of the twin who didn’t get the letter.”

“Like my aunt,” Harry said.

“I thought of that, too.”

“What about your aunt?” Ron asked, grabbing a handful of peanuts from the bowl on the table.

“Back when…when Snape showed me his memories. I saw how jealous aunt Petunia was, and how much she resented my mom for going to Hogwarts. She’d wanted to go, too.”

“Didn’t know that,” Ron said still chewing.

“You did. Harry told us this before,” Hermione said and glared at Ron.

“Do you think it’ll destroy their relationship, too? That it’s natural for that to happen?” Harry asked.

“I hope not. We will work with them and hopefully we can mend some fences,” Hermione said. “Narcissa seems to have strong feelings about sibling bonds,” she said and gazed at her hands.

“I’d say so, with the nutter of a sister she’s had,” Ron said, and then had Harry glaring at him. “What? Lestrange was insane.”

“No one questions that, but Ron,” Harry said, tilting his head to nod toward Hermione who was still inspecting her hands.

“Oh. Right. Sorry, ‘Mione,” he mumbled.

She raised her head. “What?”

“Nothin’,” Ron hurried to say.

“What’s on your mind?” Harry asked.

“It’s just…she sounded so sad when she spoke about sibling bonds and how important they are. I think…she misses Andromeda.”

“Fat chance. She’s a blood traitor in her eyes,” Ron said.

“I’m not so sure about that. She was…nice. We had lunch afterwards, and well, I might have asked her to teach me in wandless magic,” Hermione rushed out, her gaze flitting between and open-mouthed Harry and a wide-eyed Ron.

“You’re mental!” Ron said.

“It is a bit odd. You went from not wanting to be her mentor and suspecting she’s got some nefarious plan up her sleeve to spending even more time with her? Not to mention, letting her teach you? It’s not even been a whole week.”

“Mental! You must have been hexed!”

“I have not been hexed, Ronald. And yes, I can see how this looks but…she’s interesting, like a mystery, or a puzzle and—”

“You cannot stand not knowing,” Harry said and laughed.

“Yes, but it’s more than that. She’s a natural in wandless magic, and who knows when I have another chance to learn wandless magic from someone like that? She’s even talented at nonverbal spells.”

“But?” Harry said.

Hermione deflated a bit. “I still have nightmares, and I…I’m still angry and hurt that she just stood there, b…back then, in the drawing room. Bellatrix is dead, and there wouldn’t have been a reconciliation with her ever because she was, well, insane, but Narcissa…I don’t know what it is, but there’s something and…what if this will help me put this to rest? Maybe that’s what Kingsley meant when he said this is a great opportunity for me, for us.”

Harry and Ron exchanged a quick glance.

Hermione bit her lower lip and swallowed hard, suppressing the sting behind her eyes. “You think I’m crazy?”

“No, of course not,” Harry said and reached out to take Hermione’s hand. “We are worried, you know, that you’re expecting too much.”

“Too much?” Hermione asked, willing her voice to stop shaking.

“What if she…what if she doesn’t regret it?” Harry whispered and squeezed Hermione’s hand.

“I doubt that. She’s not a heartless monster,” Hermione said.

“We just don’t want you to get hurt, and while I don’t doubt that Ms. Black has changed, she’s not known to be…well, overly emotional?”

A teary chuckle fell from Hermione’s lips. “No, that she isn’t. But she…she doesn’t seem bothered by me and she agreed to teach me wandless magic. I…she’s so sad, Harry. There are moments when she thinks no one is watching her and her mask slips for a second and there’s this ache in her eyes. I can’t describe it, but I want to see if I can help her, and well, if all this helps me with that, then…” she rubbed her arm and shrugged.

“OK. You’ve always done what you thought was right, but just remember one thing,” Harry said.

“What’s that?” Hermione asked.

“Ms. Black isn’t a wounded baby bird.”

“Yeah, more like a dragon who will bite your head off,” Ron grumbled.

“Noted,” Hermione said and squeezed Harry’s hand. As insane as they’ve driven her over the years, she wouldn’t know what to do without Harry and Ron in her life.

Chapter Text

What was she thinking? Not only did she agree to teach Hermione wandless magic, no, she had also suggested to do so at her townhouse in London. She didn’t have the heart to invite the other witch to Malfoy manor, given all the memories…no, that wouldn’t do, but the London townhouse was her refuge, and the only other person to ever have set foot in there was Draco.

Narcissa had been surprised by the ease with which the two of them got along. She’d expected their interactions to be awkward, heavy, and strained. Instead, they were light and humorous. She delighted in flustering the young Gryffindor, and she’d found herself in better spirits around the other witch than she had been in a long time.

There were moments, though, when the drawing room and her inaction fell over her like a suffocating veil, threatening to snuff out all the light she had tried to reclaim since the end of the war. She’d never ask for forgiveness because she didn’t believe there was any, or that she was deserving of it, and while this guilt weighed on her, she felt no desire to stop this something, this tentative tendril, akin to closeness she could feel and see sprouting between them.

Before she could sink further into rumination of her current situation, the doorbell rang. Narcissa inhaled deeply and smoothened her robes before answering the door.

“Hello, Ms. Granger. Right on time,” she said.

“Hello,” Hermione said and hesitated before entering. “Since we will be spending a lot of time together this year, that is, if we’re compatible for wandless magic training, could you maybe call me Hermione?”

Narcissa froze for a moment, eying the other woman before regaining her composure and nodding. “Very well, Hermione,” she said. Spending a lot of time together? She should have thought this through before agreeing to teaching the young witch still standing motionless.

“Forgive me, come inside and follow me,” she said and stepped to the side before leading the way to her living room. With a quick glance over her shoulder, she said, “you should call me Narcissa.”

Upon entering the room, she poured tea she had prepared before and handed a cup to Hermione. “Here. Please sit down.”

“Thank you, Narcissa,” Hermione said and sat down.

Narcissa had to reign in a physical reaction to hearing her name fall from the dark-haired witch’s lips. This will take some time getting used to, she thought and drank from her cup.”

“I read the books you assigned, and I’m wondering, how is wandless magic even possible?” Hermione asked.

“Where does magic come from?” Narcissa asked.

“What do you mean?”

“Is magic something that is within you or in our environment, in nature?”

“According to everything I’ve read, magic is an innate trait that we possess, and that Muggles don’t.”

“Yes, that’s what all the books say,” Narcissa said and placed her cup back down on the table.

“I take it you disagree?” Hermione said. “That’s strange, coming from someone with your background.”

“My background?”

“You’re a pureblood. Isn’t all this, ‘we are better and special because we have magic and you don’t’ attitude the basis of the belief that purebloods are superior?”

“In a way, yes. Along with the belief that mixing with non-magical folk dilutes our power.”

“But you don’t believe that magic is an innate trait?”

“Hmm, did I say that?”

“You insinuated it,” Hermione said. “Please explain.”

“You really don’t like it when there’s something you don’t know.”

“I don’t.”

“The brightest witch of her age,” Narcissa said and her eyes shone.

Hermione only raised her eyebrows but remained silent.

“We are special in how we can pick up on magic that permeates all of nature.”

“So it’s nature and nurture.”

“Excuse me?” Narcissa asked.

“Never mind. Please continue.”

“There are tomes of ancient knowledge in the Black library, to be honest, the library is the only reason I haven’t sold the estate yet,” Narcissa said and upon noting Hermione’s wide eyes, shook her head and chuckled. “I’ll take you there, one day. This training might make it necessary. It’s…rather difficult to remove certain books from the library, not to mention the manor itself.”

“And these ancient books, they discuss a different theory on the origin of magic?” Hermione asked.

“Yes. There was a time when people channeled magic within them, but still accessed it from nature. Eventually, people realized that it would be easier to feed all this focus, all their energy into an inanimate object. Hence, the wand.”

“Why…I’ve never heard of this. You’d think there’d be papers on this, discussions at least, but the origin of magic seems to be set in stone.”

“It made casting more uniform, I suppose. Not every witch or wizard feels magic the same way, or let’s say, is as sensitive to magic. Once you use a wand, things equal out. It’s amplifying your energy, and it also requires less concentration.”

“When did…how did you start using wandless magic?”

“Remember the wild magic of children?” Narcissa asked.

“Yes.”

“I never was like that. My magic as a child was deliberate. I changed my clothes because I didn’t like what I was wearing. I disappeared Bella’s dolls because she didn’t want to share them. I…I changed the dish the elves had prepared because I hate peas.”

Hermione laughed. “You hate peas?”

Narcissa scrunched up her nose. “They are disgusting. The texture, the flavor.” She shuddered.

“What happened next?” Hermione asked.

“Nothing. The usual. I got my Hogwarts letter, my wand, and I went to school.”

“That was not the end.”

“No, it wasn’t. But I didn’t set out to practice wandless magic. It just happened. It still does sometimes, which might be why I am more careless with the location of my wand than most people are.”

“You misplace your wand?” Hermione asked.

“Don’t sound so scandalized. I sometimes get lost in thoughts and do something without remembering to bring my wand along. It doesn’t happen often anymore. The wars saw to that.” A dark shadow fell over Narcissa’s face. She closed her eyes. Why did every conversation always lead back to this?

“That’s understandable.”

Narcissa opened her eyes and held Hermione’s gaze. There was no judgment, anger, or even hatred in the other witch’s expression. She was a Gryffindor, though, and as such forgave too easily, but there wasn’t even a hint of suspicion in those dark eyes, and Narcissa had to drop her gaze to not fall into her mind.

“You’ve never learned to occlude?”

“What? Oh, no. Harry, well, Professor Snape tried to teach him how to occlude and while I read the theory on it, I am not too keen on the practical part of learning that skill. It sounded rather…awful,” she said, an awkward laugh leaving her.

“Severus was a genius, but a terrible teacher. Studying occlumency doesn’t have to be painful, though there are invasive or more intimate aspects to it, which is only natural since to practice and teach it, you must enter each other’s minds.”

“Right,” Hermione said and fiddled with her teacup.

“It’s easier if there’s a rapport between the teacher and the student,” Narcissa said.

“Who was your teacher? Do they teach this in the Slytherin common room?”

“Funny, Ms. Granger,” Narcissa scolded but her eyes revealed her mirth. “That would be pointless because Slytherins learn occlumency at home when they are children.”

“Wow. You truly are a paranoid bunch,” Hermione said and laughed.

“And you are brave and foolhardy idealists who rush into danger before contemplating the consequences.”

“Guilty as charged, though Harry and Ron are worse than me.”

“That I believe,” Narcissa said.

“All right, if magic is out there, that means that a wand isn’t necessary, but how do you cast spells without one? What’s the process? And will we combine non-verbal spells with wandless magic?”

“One at a time, Hermione.” Narcissa said, delighted at the eagerness of the other witch. It was so rare that she had the pleasure to interact with someone who seemed to love knowledge as much as she did. “When you’re about to cast a spell with your wand, what’s going on inside you?” Narcissa asked.

“In my head? I decide on the spell, then I say it, and make the correct wand movement.”

“Yes, and no. This is the approach to spellcasting you were taught at Hogwarts, and I’m not saying that it’s wrong.”

“Then what are you saying?” Hermione asked.

“Take out your wand and close your eyes.”

Hermione did so.

“Now, let’s try wingardium leviosa,” Narcissa suggested. “Let me just first move our teacups. There. Levitate your saucer.”

Hermione nodded before saying, “wingardium leviosa!” and flourishing her wand in the required motion. The saucer floated in the air.

“You didn’t have to see the plate to do this, correct?”

Hermione opened her eyes. “No. I remembered it from before, so I just pictured it in my mind.”

“Exactly. Now end the spell.”

Hermione did.

“Give me your wand,” Narcissa asked, preparing for an outright refusal from the other witch, but to her great surprise, Hermione handed over her wand without a moment of hesitation. If she had been in Hermione’s position, she doubted she’d done the same. How could she be so trusting? Was that a Gryffindor trait or one unique to the dark-haired witch? Narcissa kept staring unmoving at Hermione.

Hermione tilted her head. “What now? Is something wrong?”

“No, I apologize. Everything is all right.” She cleared her throat. “Please close your eyes again,” Narcissa said and continued to marvel at the young woman who sat without a wand, with her eyes closed, alone in the house of the ex-wife of a former Death Eater. A woman who’d played host to the Dark Lord, and who had stood by and watched Hermione’s torture. Yet, there was no doubt, no fear. Hermione merely had an air of excitement about her.

“Say the incantation,” Narcissa rasped.

Wingardium leviosa!” Hermione called.

Narcissa smiled. “You don’t have to shout it.”

“It didn’t work, did it?” Hermione opened her eyes and her shoulders slumped at the unmoving saucer that still firmly rested on the coffee table.

Narcissa’s eyes widened. “You didn’t expect to succeed the first time, did you?”

“Maybe we should use a feather instead of a saucer. I’ve gotten excellent results with feathers on my first try of this spell.”

“I bet,” Narcissa said. “But you’ll succeed with the saucer. It’ll take some time and you have to be patient.”

Hermione huffed.

“I’m assuming you struggle with patience?”

“Yeah. We’re not friends. I’m patient, but it takes too long and—”

Narcissa burst out laughing and wiped an errant tear away.

Hermione gazed at her with wide eyes.

“I suggest you revisit the definition of patience, Ms. Granger.”

Hermione grinned.

“When I asked you to close your eyes, I expected you to focus on the spell itself and therefore not succeed.”

“You set me up?”

“No, it’s a common error to make.”

“First you set me up and then you call me common? That’s a steep fall from the brightest witch of her age.”

“I meant no harm, I assure you, Hermione—”

“I’m joking, Narcissa. I’m sorry, go on.”

“Oh, all right. Where was I? Yes. Don’t focus so much on the words. Try to feel the magic around you, soak it in, and then mold it, channel it outward to do your will.”

“All right. I’ll try.”

“Don’t strain yourself. Just sit there and feel. Pay attention to your body and your emotions.”

They sat in silence and Narcissa marveled at the calm concentration written across Hermione’s beautiful face. With her keen eyes closed, she looked peaceful. Her eyes often spoke of a trouble and worry far beyond her years. War and torture will do that to a person. Was that why they appeared to connect so effortlessly?

When interacting, she forgot their age difference because they were equals then. Did the war cause that? All Hermione had to endure, most of it at the hands of her own blood. Narcissa ducked her head. They had to talk about this at some point, even though, if this darkness only arose in her mind, she’d be averse to raise the issue. As long as Hermione didn’t suffer from those shadows in her presence, she could bear it. A well-deserved sentence.

“What do you feel?” Narcissa asked after the silence had stretched out between them.

“Warm, a bit like a buzz?” Hermione whispered.

“Good. Can you access it?”

Hermione tilted her head and her brows furrowed. “It’s bouncing? I don’t know how to describe it.”

“Envision shifting it so it jumps toward your hands. You must channel it somewhere, and since we’re used to wands, it’s the easiest to direct it it toward your hands,” Narcissa muttered, the volume of her voice adjusting to Hermione’s.

More stillness trickled by until the spell once more fell from Hermione’s lips.

Narcissa’s gaze shifted from Hermione to the coffee table and a large smile bloomed on her face. “Well done!”

Hermione’s eyes flew open and she still saw the saucer shake and jump on the table. “That’s good, right?”

“Yes, dear. That is excellent. It has been your true first attempt armed with the correct instructions on how to do this. I’m impressed,” Narcissa said and had to hold back a laugh when Hermione preened a little at her praise. “You must practice some more at home.”

“Now that I have an idea about the practical approach to this, I’ll—”

“Don’t overdo it,” Narcissa said and raised her hand. She loved the excited sparkle in Hermione’s eyes, but worried the younger witch would work herself too hard. “Wandless magic requires more energy than casting spells traditionally. It is even more exhausting when you’re just starting out.”

“I won’t,” Hermione said and caught Narcissa’s gaze who remained skeptical. “I promise,” Hermione added, smiling. She reached out and grasped Narcissa’s hand who had to refrain from jerking away at the contact. “Thank you, Narcissa. I really appreciate you taking the time to help me with this.”

Narcissa held Hermione’s gaze. “It’s my pleasure, Hermione.” She let go of Hermione’s hand but to avoid making the other witch feel as if she was rejecting her, patted the back of her hand before withdrawing. Physical contact still felt too raw, especially coming from someone so full of light and goodness.

***

Hermione may have practiced wandless magic more than Narcissa had in mind, but she’d stopped and taken breaks, more so than she’d have done without her promise to the older witch.

She was on her way to the Richards’ residence and tried to suppress the nervous energy running through her. She’d spent too much time contemplating Narcissa and how to go about helping her reconnect with her sister. They had yet to talk about that, and as soon as that thought crossed her mind, Hermione scolded herself for it. They weren’t friends and why should Narcissa talk to her about her feelings? Hoping for that would only lead to disappointment. Then again, intimacy that establishes a friendship was a two-way street, and so far, Hermione had also shied away from anything too personal. She groaned, not realizing she had just walked straight passed the Richards’ residence when a hand took hold of her arm.

“Hermione, are you OK?” Narcissa asked, frowning.

“What? Yes.”

“You sounded like you’re in pain and you strolled right past me,” Narcissa said, letting go of Hermione.

“Sorry. Lost in thought,” Hermione said and felt her cheeks heat up.

“All right.” Narcissa’s gazed remained on Hermione who shuffled her feet at the intense stare. Did she have jam stains on her face from breakfast and never noticed it? But she’d surely have seen that when she brushed her teeth?

“Are you ready for another chat with the Richards’?”

“Yes,” Hermione said, releasing a shuddered breath. She stepped up the stairs and rang the bell.

“Welcome back!” Kate greeted them.

In the Richards’ living room, the twins were notably absent.

“Where are Tara and Anya?” Hermione asked, taking a seat next to Narcissa.

“They are still with friends, but they should be here any moment,” John said before turning to his wife. “Go ahead. Tell them.”

“Tell us what?” Narcissa asked. “Are the girls all right?” Narcissa sounded alarmed, and Hermione was touched by the care the blonde witch held for those children.

“Yes, yes,” Kate said and wrung her hands. “It’s not about them, but my nephew…”

“What about him?” Hermione asked.

“I’m originally from Germany. I came to the UK as a student, and I met John, and well…We started a family in the UK. We still go back to Germany every year, and…when we were there last, about a month ago, my nephew, Sebastian, he was acting strange.

“Strange how?” Hermione asked.

“Not like himself? He’s a teenager, so we thought, well, you know how it is,” Kate said, grabbing a tissue from the table.

“Yes,” Narcissa said.

“My sister wrote to me and…it’s been getting worse. She thinks he’s taking drugs and they had him tested, negative. There were no drugs in his system.”

“That’s good,” Hermione said.

“But he’s still not himself.”

“What about depression? Have they spoken with a psychologist?” Hermione asked.

“Yes, and in her view, all evidence points toward addictive behavior.”

“Why are you bringing this to our attention?” Narcissa asked.

“Because of this,” Kate rose and walked to a desk standing in a corner of the living room. She opened a drawer and withdrew something before returning to the couch. She opened her hand and held it out to Narcissa.

The blonde witch picked up a vial with sunshine yellow liquid.

“They found it in Sebastian’s room. This is what’s left over. My brother-in-law works in a chemistry lab and he analyzed the liquid, and he said it’s harmless, but…when you drink it…”

Narcissa had opened the vial and sniffed the liquid. “You become irrationally euphoric?”

“Yes! How did you…this is magic, isn’t it?”

Narcissa handed the vial to Hermione who smelled it. “The Euphoria Elixir,” she said. “Why did your family become so concerned about Sebastian being…exhilarated?” Hermione asked.

“It’s not that he’s too joyful or anything. Whenever he takes this liquid, he seems relatively normal, but when he doesn’t…”

“He gets angry and violent?” Narcissa said.

“Yes! Exactly. I was…when my sister told me about all this and well, once Stefan couldn’t find anything, I’d asked her to send me some of the liquid they’d found on my nephew because I just knew it was magical.”

“None of your other family members are magical?” Narcissa asked.

“No, and I didn’t talk about my suspicions with them,” Kate said.

“Thank you for bringing this to our attention. We shall investigate this further,” Narcissa said and Hermione nodded.

“Thank you so much! Can I interest you in some tea or coffee? We have scones.”

“Yes, please,” said Hermione the moment the door flung open and the twins entered the home, shouting at each other.

“I’ll get them,” John said, rising from the couch.

“Thank you,” Kate said. “I’ll be right back.” She left for the kitchen.

***

“Why would that potion cause dependence? How do you know about these side effects anyway?” Hermione asked as soon as they left the townhouse.

“Not here,” Narcissa said. “May I apparate us…to the manor?”

Hermione blanched but nodded. “Books?”

“Yes,” Narcissa said and took hold of Hermione’s hand, apparating them to Malfoy manor.

“No one else is home,” Narcissa said. “Lucius, is, well, he’s still in Azkaban, and Draco moved into a flat in London.”

“I wasn’t worried about that,” Hermione pressed out, standing frozen in the entrance hall.

“That’s not…” Narcissa’s gaze found the floor. “I just meant you need not hide. It must be difficult to be back here and—”

“I can’t talk about that. Not here.”

“I understand. I’m sorry for bringing you here but there are books you need to see and I cannot remove them from the library. Though I could have copied the text for you and—”

“It’s fine,” Hermione said and took a deep breath. “I just never expected to be at the manor again, and it all happened so fast.”

“I can apparate you someplace else and I’ll just take notes of the books in question.”

“No, no. I’m already here, and this will be quicker. You seem worried.”

“I might imagine things,” Narcissa said. “Please follow me.” She led the way to the Malfoy library.

“Wow. This is amazing,” Hermione said gazing upon the numerous towering shelves filled with books.

Narcissa chuckled. “The Black library is twice this size,” she said.

“I definitely want to go there,” Hermione said, her gaze still wandering from one book spine to the next. “How are you still able to be here, after the divorce, I mean. I’d assumed the wards would reject you since you’re no longer a Malfoy.”

“I’ll always be part of the family for having given birth to the next heir of the Malfoy family. My parents might have burned Andromeda off the family tapestry, but they weren’t able to remove her from the family,” Narcissa said.

“But I thought divorces were frowned upon? Do they happen often?”

“Divorces rarely occur because it means a dilution of power, but they’re not impossible, and there have been cases here and there in the past where a divorce was granted. Today, it’s much easier, especially since the war.”

“That makes sense.”

Narcissa stepped toward a bookshelf in the back corner of the room and Hermione followed her. Running her fingertips over several book, Narcissa muttered, “where is it again?” and after a moment, she pulled an old, lavish leather-bound book out of the shelf and placed it on a desk.

Anciente Potione Rituales?” Hermione read out loud.

“Yes, and please let that be the last thing you ever read out loud in this library,” Narcissa said and winced.

Hermione sat down in the seat next to Narcissa. “Oh, I’m sorry.”

“Let’s see,” Narcissa said, opening the book. “I wish they’d have taken the time back then to create proper indices,” she muttered after a moment of skimming pages.

Hermione held in a chuckle, surprised that she no longer felt any of the dread that had spread through her once they had appeared in the manor. For a second, she thought she would throw up, but Narcissa’s concern grounded her. And this library? It was worth the discomfort and memories. The latter, she’d shoved down, hard, and put a lid on. She should be able to keep them away for a few hours, though she’d pay for that tonight in her dreams.

“Here,” Narcissa said and shifted the book so Hermione could read along. Both witches read in silence for a few minutes.

“This is…nauseating,” Hermione said and leaned back against her chair.

“Most of the books in here are less than palatable,” Narcissa said and heaved a sigh.

“What are you thinking?”

“The Euphoria Elixir is harmless, especially to magical folks. Muggles sometimes react differently to our potions, which is one reason why we should not supply Muggles with potions.”

“I didn’t know that,” Hermione said.

“Severus didn’t get to that or he didn’t deem it necessary for you to know.”

“How do you know so much about this?”

“I’ve always loved potions. I wanted to be a potions master, but…my family had other ideas.”

“I’m sorry,” Hermione said, gripping the seat of her chair to not reach out to Narcissa.

“It is what it is,” Narcissa said. “The Dark Lord employed many ways of torturing Muggles,” she said and bowed her head.

“Can we maybe call him something else?”

“Oh, of course. Habit, I’m afraid,” Narcissa said, seemingly avoiding Hermione’s eyes. “What would you prefer to call him? Voldemort?”

“How about Tom?” Hermione said.

Narcissa’s head snapped up and she stared blankly at her, opened her mouth, and then closed it again before releasing a deep chuckle. “You are more devious than people seem to give you credit for, and you’re a Gryffindor. Maybe you were sorted into the wrong House.”

“I doubt that, still, thank you. That’s high praise coming from a Slytherin.”

“You bet it is. All right. Tom,” Narcissa said and grew serious again. “He hated Muggles, as you know, but he also loved to inflict pain.”

“I’m afraid of where this is going,” Hermione said.

“You know where this is going.” Narcissa tightened her jaw. “Without being graphic, his favorite remained the cruciatus curse, but he also loved to poison people. The more painful and the longer the effects, the better.”

Hermione clenched her jaw.

“He sometimes did it just for fun, to see how long someone could last and then he’d ask Severus to refine the potions.”

“That’s horrible.”

“The Euphoria potion can be brewed in a way that turns it dark. It’s the intent that matters, but there is also a subtle change to the ingredients. For the darker version of this potions, you don’t peel the Shrivelfigs.”

“That’s enough to turn the potion dark?”

“Intent is a powerful thing. Remember, potion making is a delicate craft where a counterclockwise stirring can make or ruin a concoction, so why wouldn’t adding the peel of an ingredient change its effects?”

“True,” Hermione said. “But how did Sebastian, a Muggle, gain access to that potion? And according to Kate, he didn’t just get one dose.”

“I don’t know. The laws of the German magical community regarding magical interactions or interference with Muggles are as strict as ours here, at times even stricter.”

“We will have to report this to the ministry.”

“Agreed, but let us research this a bit longer. I would like to run a few tests on the potion Kate gave us. I have a potions lab at my townhouse, and I can work there.”

“What sort of tests?”

“Nothing bad or dark. I promise. May I walk you through them?”

Hermione held Narcissa’s gaze. “That’s unnecessary. I believe you.”

Both witches smiled at each other and Hermione was glad she followed her instincts. Friendships demanded trust, and she’d decided she’d become Narcissa’s friend, whether the other witch liked it or not.

 

Chapter Text

“Oh, no,” Narcissa muttered, lowering the flame underneath her cauldron. She’d braided her hair and wore black slacks and a dark short-sleeved shirt – Muggle clothing – because they were so much more efficient and prevented her from melting in the heat of her potions’ lab.

There was something she hadn’t shared with Hermione because she didn’t want to worry her. She could be wrong, after all. To figure that out, she needed to determine the exact list of ingredients used for the Elixir of Euphoria. Back then, the Da… Tom…. That Hermione had gotten her to call him Tom still shocked her.

Toward the end of the second war, he had Severus work on a version of common potions that made them much more addictive in general, even more so to Muggles. Severus had told her about this, and he had shared his unease with this avenue of research with her. He’d told her about this potion prodigy in Germany. She’d forgotten his name; other things were taking up too much space in her mind back then. Tom had been interested in acquiring this man’s services after Severus seemed to struggle with these new potions, but then things had come to a head here and she doubted there ever was an attempt to procure this man’s services.

According to Severus’s research, potions that contained wormwood, like the Euphoria Elixir, could be made more addictive, and more toxic, by exchanging wormwood with mugwort. Its oil contained thujone, which added a menthol smell and was toxic in large quantities. However, this could also be achieved by using oil that was imbued with a higher potency of mugwart during its distillation. Potions brewed with such oils turned out both more addictive and more toxic.

Narcissa had placed her cauldron under high-pressure and the liquid inside was spinning at high velocity. She’d used a centrifuge spell to separate the ingredients based on their highest reached speed and then she’d added rock crystals at the bottom which would collect the different components. Once she cast nigrum lux on the stones, she’d be able to identify the various components of the potion.

She was placing the stones on her workbench when the door to her potions lab opened.

“Mother! There you are. I was worried. I’ve been calling you and you never answered my owl from this morning,” Draco said and entered the room.

“Oh, darling, I’m so sorry. I never meant to worry you. What time is it?”

“Past eight in the evening. How long have you been in here?”

“I lost track of time. I came down here right after breakfast. I must have just missed your owl. Is everything OK? It’s good to see you, my little dragon.”

“Mom,” Draco said and cleared his throat.

“I’m afraid you’ll never be too old for me to call you that,” Narcissa said and smiled at her son.

“I’m fine. I just wanted to know if you’d like to have dinner at my flat tomorrow evening. Astoria will be there, too.”

“How lovely. I’d love to join you.” She tilted her head at her son’s restless shuffling. “You’re not already making me a grandmother are you, Draco?”

He blanched. “What? No! Not everyone is in such a hurry to spread their genes as Potter,” he spat the name with much less venom than during his youth.

Narcissa sighed. “I wish you’d let go of these childish quarrels from your past.”

“Sorry, mother. Reflex. I…we get along these days.”

“That’s good to hear.”

“I’ve heard about your new mentor for your work with Muggle-borns. I still think you should have continued at St. Mungo’s. You loved it there! Is… I hope she isn’t giving you any grief. It’s not your fault that—”

“Hush, Dragon. It was time for a change. Hermione and I get along perfectly well. There were some…hiccups at the start, but all is well now.”

“That’s good to hear. Not a surprise, though. Granger has always been a bit of a bleeding heart.”

“Draco, be nice.”

“What? That wasn’t mean. And there’s no one else here anyway.”

“I just… I’ve been alone since after the war and—”

“That’s not true. You have me!”

“Yes, my dear boy, I do.” She smiled fondly at her son. “But you are establishing your own life and future, as you should,” she said and raised her hand when Draco once more opened his mouth. “It’s not the same, though. My old friends….we hold a different vision of the future we are pursuing and most people who stood on the side of the light during the war…”

Draco crossed his arms in front of his chest. “I thought you said Granger is nice to you?”

“She is. Much more so than I deserve,” Narcissa said and cast her gaze to the stone floor. “It’s difficult to find my place, and I very much enjoy my growing relationship with Hermione, so—”

“Relationship?” Draco’s arms fell to his sides and he stepped forward.

“Friendship. We’re in establishing a friendship,” Narcissa said. “At least that’s what it feels like. It’s been so long that I’ve been involved in a friendship of my own choosing that…” She played with the rings on her fingers.

Draco sighed dramatically. “Well, if you insist on a friendship with Granger, I suppose I can live with that.” 

“That’s very generous of you,” Narcissa said drolly.

“I shall just consider it penance for some of my bad deeds in school,” Draco said and smiled at her.

“Oh, you,” Narcissa said and stepped forward to ruffle his hair.

***

“You wanted to talk to me? Andromeda ushered Hermione into her living room.

“Yes, though I mean no offense and if you think I’m meddling and need to mind my own business, feel free to say that.”

“You’re babbling again. I’m assuming this is about my sister?”

“Yes,” Hermione said and sat down.

“What did she do?” Andromeda asked.

Hermione’s eyes widened. “What?”

“Oh, I just assumed that…I thought you had an argument or that she upset you.”

“No, Narcissa has been friendly, and kind. We get along well.”

“OK. That’s a good thing, right? Or do you still think she has some ulterior motives with her choice to be assigned to the Muggle-born Department?”

“No, I don’t. I feel bad that I ever did.”

“Really? Wow. She must have put on her charm thick then.”

Hermione felt heat creep up her neck and tried to suppress it. “What are you talking about?”

“Narcissa is excellent at charming people. Making them see what they wish to see, and she appears to be the one being able to give you what you need, right when you need it.”

“You make her sound…manipulative.”

“If you want to call it that,” Andromeda said and shrugged her shoulders.

“You think she’s manipulating me? To what end? What I can do for her? I have nothing to offer.”

“What? Are you serious? You’re part of the Golden Trio, the one reason the other two survived their school years and beyond, and no offense to your friends, but I mean that literally.”

“That means nothing. How could any of that help Narcissa?”

“My family has always had a talent for sniffing out other’s weaknesses. You are a very kindhearted witch. Your reputation in our world is beyond dispute, unlike Narcissa’s whose loyalty to the losing side in two wars speaks for itself.”

“You are saying she’s using me somehow?”

“That wouldn’t surprise me. It would be straight out of my parents’ playbook. You’ve met my dear aunt Walburga and are familiar with her attitude toward non-pureblood witches and wizards?”

“Yes, but Narcissa isn’t like that.”

“You sang a different tune last time we spoke,” Andromeda said.

“So did you! You were defending her then! What happened to that?”

Andromeda sighed. “Old ghosts. Forgive me, Hermione. I don’t know my baby sister anymore, if I ever did at all.”

“I’m sorry, Andy. I didn’t mean to open old wounds.”

“It’s fine. I don’t know. I must have woken up on the wrong side of the bed this morning. I’ve been cranky and irritable all day. Go ahead. What is your concern with Narcissa?”

“You, actually. Or better, your relationship,” Hermione said.

“We don’t have a relationship.”

“Exactly.”

“Hermione, there are things you cannot fix, and meddling between Black sisters,” she said and released a choked laugh.

“Not a good idea?”

“Most definitely not,” Andromeda said, reclining in her seat. “My sister has made her choice back then, and it wasn’t in my favor,” Andromeda said.

“So much time has passed, uh, wouldn’t that change things?”

“Sometimes time isn’t enough.”

“What happened? If I may ask,” Hermione said.

“My parents disowned me once I ran away with Ted, as you know. They were furious. They forbade my sisters any contact with me. Knowing them, they even banned my name from ever being mentioned again.”

“That’s awful.”

“That’s who they were. At first, Narcissa would still write to me. In her last letter, about six months after I’d run away, she begged me to meet with her. She said there was something she had to tell me, but that she didn’t dare to put it in writing. I waited all night for her to show up, but she didn’t. I never heard from her again.”

“Do you think your parents found out?”

“Possible, but even if they did, it doesn’t explain why she never wrote again, why…it’s been two years since the war ended and she still hasn’t…I still don’t have my sister back,” Andromeda said, blinking tears away.

“I’m so sorry, Andy. I  have no answers for you, but I’ve been spending a lot of time with your sister recently, and she…the way she talks about the importance of siblings, and, Merlin, she’s been so lonely.”

“Did she say that?”

“No, of course not. A Slytherin admitting to a weakness?”

Andromeda snorted.

“I’m sure she loves you,” Hermione said, grasping Andromeda’s hand.

“I love her, too.”

***

“Promise you won’t get upset,” Narcissa said the moment she opened the door for Hermione.

“Has anything good ever happened after such a request?” Hermione asked and groaned but entered the townhouse and followed Narcissa to the living room.

“I apologize. It just occurred to me you might be upset about what I’ve done, but I promise I didn’t realize this before and I only did it because I wanted to avoid causing undue distress, given that my suspicions could have been incorrect.”

Hermione stuffed her hands in her pants pockets and remained in front of the couch, facing a still standing Narcissa. “You’re distressing me right now.”

“Forgive me.”

“Just say it. What did you do?”

Narcissa paled. She’d handled this terribly. No one in Slytherin or of her previous acquaintances would have batted an eye at this but then she realized that not only was Hermione a Gryffindor, she was also unlike anyone she’d ever met or interacted with, and as such, she might react differently. After having worked herself up into a frenzy all morning, all manners had deserted her, and she hadn’t even greeted the other witch upon arriving at her home. She dropped on the couch and heaved a heavy sigh, clasping her hands in her lap to keep from fidgeting.

“Narcissa! What did you do?”

“I’ve analyzed the potion Kate gave us.”

Hermione opened her mouth and closed it again. She shifted from one leg to her other, before glaring at Narcissa. “But you said you’d do that.”

“Yes, but I hadn’t given you all the information, or better, I’d never shared my suspicions with you.”

“That’s it? You’ve analyzed the potion and there was an aspect you were worried about and you didn’t share that with me before? Did you think I’d be mad about that? I’m not your supervisor, and you’re not a prisoner.”

“Yes, but… I wasn’t fully forthright with you last time, back when we were at Malfoy manor.”

“In what way? What worried you about the potion?” Hermione asked and sat down across from Narcissa.

“Severus told me something else about Tom’s desire for these more addictive potions. To brew them, they had to exchange ingredients, often to something that made the potion more toxic. He was after a brilliant potion master from Germany, and I wonder—”

“If that’s who we’re up against.”

“Yes, but I…I wanted to test the elixir we had first, so when I ran the test in my potions lab—”

“Why did you feel you had to hide that from me? I could have helped you, at least with research.”

Narcissa bit her lip. “Information is a precious commodity and—”

“You don’t trust me?” Hermione said in a hushed whisper.

“What? No!” Narcissa rose and sat down next to Hermione instead. “I was raised differently than you, aside from the Muggle-born – pureblood distinction, and this mindset was only reinforced during my time at Hogwarts and beyond. These are difficult routines to break.”

“I still don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“No, I suppose you don’t,” Narcissa said and stared at her hands. “You don’t share what you have until you have all the answers. That way, you have a better chance of convincing others of your point. Independence is a great value and expected. Asking for help, it’s…”

“A weakness?”

Narcissa nodded. “But it was more than that. For sure, these old habits played a role and they were also the ones that stopped me from considering that you’re likely coming at this from a different perspective.”

“What else was there?” Hermione asked.

“You wanted to take this to the minister, and yes, I want to have as much information as possible to present at such a meeting, but I was concerned about you.”

“About what? What you did wasn’t dangerous.” At Narcissa’s silent reply, Hermione sat up straighter. “It wasn’t dangerous, right?”

“No, no,” Narcissa said and smiled. “You are so kind, and tender. You worry about others, and how to prevent them from suffering. Knowing that this…this potion might be brewed intentionally to hurt Muggles…I knew this would upset you tremendously, and I thought if I were wrong, I could spare you from even worrying about this.”

“That’s sweet, still very Slytherin, but sweet.”

Narcissa released a shaky breath, relieved at the tension leaving her body. When had it become important to her to be on good terms with Hermione?

“I take it your suspicions were confirmed? Otherwise there’d be no need to even tell me about this.”

“I am afraid so. The potion contained mukwort, and in an incredibly high concentration at that.”

“That’s toxic in high quantities!” Hermione explained.

“Even more so for Muggles,” Narcissa agreed.

“Do you remember this potions master Tom wanted to work for him? His name, location, anything?”

“No, I’m sorry. Back when Severus told me about this, I was preoccupied with everything…Draco, and—”

“I can imagine. That’s fine. Don’t worry about it,” Hermione said and reached out for Narcissa’s hand, but immediately withdrew it when Narcissa stiffened. “I’m sorry.” Hermione hugged herself. “I’m a tactile person, but I’ll try to temper that in your presence. I don’t want to make you uncomfortable.”

“You didn’t,” Narcissa said and sighed. She might as well tell her because she couldn’t bear the self-recrimination that etched itself onto Hermione’s face. “I’m not used to physical contact, other than from Draco, that…that has no, shall we say, ulterior motive or intention to harm.”

“Oh,” Hermione said and scrunched up her face. “That’s terrible.”

“Not your fault. Just be patient, please. It’ll take me some time to adjust.”

“Of course,” Hermione said and Narcissa felt lighter when a smile spread over Hermione’s face. “But we really need to take this to Kingsley. I’m sure he will wish to have a chat with the German ministry of magic.”

“We can do that tomorrow. Do you wish to continue your wandless magic lessons today or postpone that for another day?”

“No, no. I was looking forward to that. I want to show you something,” Hermione said, a light blush creeping up her neck.

“Oh? Go ahead,” Narcissa said.

Chapter Text

A month later, Kingsley requested for Hermione and Narcissa to meet him in his office at the ministry.

“Thank you for joining me,” Kingsley pointed toward the two seats in front of his desk and both witches sat down. “How are things between you?”

Narcissa and Hermione exchanged a quick glance.

“We’re fine, minister. If you wanted a progress report—”

“No, no, Ms. Granger. I’ve only heard and read wonderful reports about your work with the IMWW, and as expected, Ms. Black seems to integrate well into the Department. You’ve been quite busy. I never realized we have that many Muggle-borns each year.”

“She is,” Hermione said. “It has been a particular active year so far.”

“Good, good. I’m glad to hear that.” He picked up a scroll of parchment. “I’ve heard from the German ministry of magic regarding the Potions and Muggles statue violation and sadly, they are at a loss.”

“They never found the wizard then?” Narcissa asked.

“Not only do they not have any leads, but the issue is spreading into additional states of Germany and is garnering national attention among Muggles. A drug crisis with no known drug,” Kingsley said, handing the scroll to Hermione. “Here’s the detailed report on their findings and conclusions.”

“Minister?” Hermione asked, frowning.

“You seem to be working well together,” he said.

“We are,” Hermione replied, her brows remained furrowed while she held the parchment she’d automatically accepted still up in the air. 

“The two of you combined have a formidable skillset and influence. Together, you will have access to many areas others won’t as easily.”

“You want us to go to Germany and investigate this matter,” Narcissa stated.

“Yes.”

“But minister, we’re hardly qualified for this. This is way outside of our job description and—”

“Says the witch who helped defeat the Dark Lord in her seventh year at Hogwarts, while on the run through the countryside,” Narcissa said and smiled at Hermione’s wide eyes and outraged huff. Gryffindors were too easy.

Hermione shifted her gaze back to Kingsley. “Surely magical law enforcement is the better choice for such an objective?”

“I cannot force you to do this. It is outside of your job description, and yes, the MLE Department would usually handle something like this, and to allay some of your worries, you’d have a support MLE team on your side in Germany for the entire mission. To be honest, the report the Germans sent…I don’t want to start any rumors and I ask you to keep this between yourselves, but they appear to be compromised or have a leak in their midst.”

“Of course not,” Narcissa said, at once understanding what sort of task he had in mind for them and why he’d chosen them.

“What can we do that others cannot?” Hermione asked.

“You have built a rapport with the Richards’ family, which allows you direct access to the affected community. Ms. Black is an expert in potions and as such, she can discern different potions and their effects, and maybe you’ll be able to look for a cure,” he nodded at Narcissa whose facial expression remained unchanged. “Moreover, it will be believable for you to contact certain darker elements of the German magical community. Your potions background will give you even more credibility.”

“What darker elements and what potions background?” Hermione glanced between Kingsley and Narcissa.

“The German pureblood society and their Voldemort sympathizers,” Narcissa said without looking at the younger witch, too concentrated on maintaining her unaffected facial expression and guarding against the shame that flooded her system.

“Narcissa isn’t a dark witch!” Hermione said, and warmth blossomed in Narcissa’s chest at that immediate defense.

“No, not anymore, but her reputation precedes her. She is also widely known for her brewing skills. Aren’t you about to finish your mastery in potions?”

“What?” Hermione asked.

“Yes. The results of the examinations are due any day.”

“Excellent. This will work out splendidly,” Kingsley said.

“And who am I in all of this?”

“Uh, you—”

“My protegee and potions apprentice,” Narcissa said, smiling at Hermione who narrowed her eyes.

“You are enjoying this way too much,” she said.

“This was my idea as well since it shows a mending of fences between the dark and light sides here in Britain, which will also encourage the lighter side of the magical community in Germany to seek you out and share information with you. You are quite famous there, too,” Kingsley said.

Hermione groaned. “But won’t that cause a conflict for the more Voldemort minded people? How will me being there help Narcissa in her quest to convince them to help us?”

“They will assume that I am corrupting you, dear,” Narcissa said and suppressed a smile at the pink that spread over Hermione’s face. If she’d only known that flustering Gryffindors could be this entertaining.

“Are we still on for dinner?” Narcissa asked when they were leaving the ministry.

“Yes, unless you want to postpone it since you must be so tired after cramming for your potions mastery,” Hermione huffed.

“Are you angry with me?” Narcissa stopped and stared at Hermione who also halted, then moved to the side as a rushing wizard almost ran into her, muttering something about cauldrons and acid.

“We should discuss this over dinner,” Hermione said and marched ahead.

Narcissa gaped at Hermione for a second before remembering her location and snapped her mouth shut, hurrying after the dark-haired witch. She’d never understand these self-righteous Gryffindors.

***

They apparated to Hermione’s flat, she’d planned to introduce Narcissa to the concept of pizza night.

“Why are you angry with me?”

“When did you even have time for all of this? We’ve been dealing with so many Muggle families, and our lessons, and…we’ve spent so much time together this month,” Hermione said and paced. “Or…you don’t have a time-turner, do you? That would make sense, but Minerva had said they were all destroyed and—”

“Hermione!” Narcissa called, stopping her in her tracks. “I signed up for an accelerated potions mastery course as soon as it became clear that Azkaban wasn’t in my future,” she said and trailed off. “Are you all right?”

Hermione had shuddered at the mention of Azkaban, her mind immediately placing Narcissa in that dreadful place and her ire died, and instead, despair flitted over her. She swallowed hard and rushed into the living room where she fell on the couch. She hadn’t had a panic attack in a while, but the last month, all the magic practice, and now Kingsley’s ambush combined with feeling like an idiot for thinking they’d established a real friendship, meanwhile the blonde witch was still hiding…but it was her life, and Hermione had no claim to her time or the inner workings of her plans. Oh, Merlin. Hadn’t Narcissa asked her to be patient?

“Do you wish for me to leave?” Narcissa stood at the doorway to her living room; her eyes as guarded as they had been when they’d first met in Kingsley’s office over a month ago.

“No, I’m sorry. Please sit down. Let’s start this over.”

Narcissa still didn’t move. “Are you sure?”

“Yes, come on.” Hermione patted the seat next to her.

“All right,” Narcissa said and ambled closer to younger witch before sitting down next to her.

“I’m sorry. You asked me to be patient and we’re very different people, apparently, but…I thought we were friends and to learn that you’re doing something so significant without ever mentioning it to me, well, it hurt my feelings,” Hermione whispered the last bit. “I might also be under more stress than I’ve realized, and Kingsley really freaked me out,” she hurried to add on when Narcissa gazed at her silently.

“You thought we are friends?” Narcissa asked in a voice so soft Hermione almost had to strain to hear it.

“Yeah, silly me. I know, I know. I’m sorry and—”

Narcissa raised her hands. “No, no! Don’t take it back!”

“What? I don’t understand…” Hermione released a teary chuckle.

“I have had no genuine friends in…” Narcissa raised her head to the ceiling before returning her gaze to Hermione. “Longer than I want to admit. After the war, during the trial, especially when I was convinced that I’d end up in Azkaban, I thought my life was over. And I deserved it.”

“Narcissa—”

“No. Please let me say this.”

Hermione nodded.

“The community service at St. Mungo... It was supposed to be a punishment, but to me, it was a lifeline. Without that, I’d undoubtedly would have sat at Malfoy manor drowning in my regrets and fears. I’d have gone mad like Be…” Narcissa clenched her jaw and lowered her gaze.

“Hey,” Hermione reached out her hand and patted Narcissa’s arm. “You can say her name.”

Narcissa raised her head and watery blue eyes locked on Hermione’s russet ones.

“And I disagree. You wouldn’t have gone insane, and you’d never be like her,” Hermione said.

“You don’t know the things I’ve done, what I’ve said. Or even worse, the moments I remained silent and allowed horrible deeds to happen! When you were there, and when B…Bella—”

“Why did you save Harry?”

“What?” Narcissa’s eyes widened.

“When Tom asked you if Harry was dead, you felt his heart and you knew he was still alive, yet you’d told Voldemort that he was dead.”

“I did it for my son. I’d asked Harry if Draco was still alive. Don’t turn me into something I’m not. I may not be like my older sister, but I’m much closer to her than I’ll ever be to you.”

“What would you have done if Harry had said no?”

Narcissa choked and her hands balled into tight fists. “I can’t. I can’t go there. I cannot imagine him…Please don’t make me.”

“No, no. It’s fine. I’m sorry. I believe you’d have done the same thing. You’d have lied, too. You were sick of this war, sick of its cost and the suffering.”

“You don’t know that,” Narcissa’s voice broke.

“We’ll never know for sure, but I believe it, and you’ll just have to live with it.”

Narcissa laughed, shook her head, and wiped her eyes. “You bleeding-hearted Gryffindor,” she scoffed.

“I’ll take that as a compliment,” Hermione said, smiling at Narcissa.

“You would. Though aren’t Hufflepuffs the soft ones without spines?”

“Hey!”

Narcissa chuckled before her expression once more sobered. “I’d be honored to be your friend.” She reached out and grasped Hermione’s hand. “I didn’t tell you about the potions course because I didn’t want to jinx it. My name and my past…I thought they might find fault in my work because of that, or maybe because I’m not good enough to be a potions master.”

“That’s nonsense. I’ve seen you brew! Snape had nothing on you.”

“Don’t flatter me.”

“I’m not!”

“Anyway,” Narcissa said. “I wanted to tell you once I’ve received the results. I’d started working on this degree during the end of the trials, and the last round of testing finished the week before my year at St. Mungo ended.”

“That makes sense,” Hermione said, absentmindedly rubbing circles with her thumb on the web of Narcissa’s thumb.

“And for the record, I sincerely doubt I would have been able to get any work done during this month.”

“Yeah, that’s what I thought, which is why I asked about the time-turner.”

“I have a feeling there’s a story behind that.”

“There might be, yes, but it’s ancient history.”

“Ancient history?” Narcissa laughed. “You’re what? Nineteen years old?”

“I’m almost twenty-one, thank you very much.”

“Well then, ancient it is. You must still tell me about it. Maybe while we prepare this pizza you speak of so fondly?”

“Sounds like a plan.”

***

The pizza dish turned out to be more palatable than Narcissa had expected.

“Is this something Muggles do a lot? Have pizza nights?” Narcissa asked, pointing at the slice on her plate.

“It’s popular. Of course, so are movie nights, though we had both at home. My parents would send me to brush my teeth right after eating pizza,” Hermione said before clearing her throat and gazing intently at her plate.

“Movie nights?” Narcissa said, stowing away the shift in Hermione’s mood for a later moment.

“Oh, yes, those are fun. You sit together and watch a movie, uh, a film.”

Narcissa gave her a quizzical look.

“You know how wizarding pictures move?”

“I’ve heard that Muggle pictures are stationary.”

“That is correct. However, they also have something called video cameras where they capture movement. It’s like theater? People are acting out a script and a movie camera films it. It’s then distributed on tapes or disks and people can watch it in the movie theater or at home.”

“I’ve seen a movie theater in London, but I never gave it much thought.”

“We could go there one day,” Hermione said and bit in her pizza slice.

“I’d like that,” Narcissa said and smiled. She contemplated the next topic for she was sure it would change the more easy-going mood they had just established, but her curiosity, as always, got the better of her. “Are you close to your parents?” She asked, running a finger over the rim of her wine glass.

“Uh, yes.” Hermione said, not meeting her gaze.

“Did something happen?”

Hermione shook her head, but her body trembled.

“Dear, what is it?”

Hermione attempted to smile. “It doesn’t matter.”

“You’re upset, and that matters to me,” Narcissa said and hesitated for a moment before reaching out and grasping Hermione’s hand.

“I, uh…I have always been close to my parents. When…when Harry, Ron, and I ran away after the interrupted wedding to finish our mission, we…we knew what we were getting into. I saw this coming, way before then. I wasn’t sure when it would happen, but I was sure the moment would come. Harry, he’d had a big target on his back from the start, but they were aware of Ron and me, too.”

“You were targets, too,” Narcissa said.

Hermione nodded. “I’d studied the first war, how Tom operated and… He’d come after my parents and so…Merlin.” Hermione ground her teeth. “I changed their memories, made them for…forget they ever had me and planted the idea to move to Australia in their heads. And they did.”

Narcissa’s jaw clenched and she withdrew her hand. “You did what?” She didn’t mean for her voice to contain such a chill, but what Hermione had just told her…she could barely fathom.

“I had to keep them safe, and I saw no other way so—”

“Why didn’t you talk to them?”

“I did! They refused to leave. They wanted to be there for me.”

“Because they are your parents and they love you!”

“Yes, but they didn’t understand! They had no concept of the danger they were in. They were helpless. Do you know what they would have done if they found them?” Hermione shrieked.

“Yes, Ms. Granger. I am well aware of what would have happened.” A wave of exhaustion spread over Narcissa and she fought the urge to withdraw within herself.

“Ms. Granger?” Hermione said after a moment of silence, her voice low and her eyes shone with unshed tears.

Narcissa’s shoulders slumped. “Hermione,” she said and sighed. “My son is the most important person in my life. I would die for him, and I would kill for him. While I used to believe in blood purity, I’d lost any such notions long before Tom returned. I had no desire for his cause, but I stayed, and I acted like I supported it all because of Draco. It was the only way to protect my son.”

“I believe you.”

“Then you may understand why your…behavior toward your parents is upsetting to me. You violated their trust and obliterated their free will! If anyone, if Draco took away my memories of being his mother…” Narcissa balled her hands into fists before dropping them in her lap.

Hermione flinched, then licked her lips and lowered her head. “Do you think Draco would want you to die for him?”

“Of course not! But that’s hardly his decision to make. He’s my child!”

“What about his free will?”

“That’s different.”

“Why? Because it’s always easier to sacrifice ourselves for the ones we love than to accept their sacrifice for us?”

“Damn you, Hermione,” Narcissa rasped, averting her gaze.

“Listen, when Draco was little, did he fly around your house or garden on a toy broom?”

“I don’t see how this relates—”

“Please, Narcissa. Indulge me.”

Narcissa grumbled. The nerve of that woman. “Yes, he did.”

“Did you cast cushioning charms around the Manor for him?”

“Of course!”

“Because he could have easily gotten hurt without them.”

“What is your point?” Narcissa asked, now glaring at Hermione.

“You protected him against dangers he was too young to understand.”

“Yes.”

“A lot of Muggles play football. It’s a popular game for kids, too. There have been many accidents, quite a few fatal, where children ran after their ball into the streets and collided with oncoming traffic.”

“I fail to see how this connects to our discussion either,” Narcissa said, finding it difficult to maintain her anger at the sincere expression on Hermione’s face.

“If you saw your child running into traffic because they want to retrieve their ball, and you saw the car coming as well because you have a different perspective, being taller, and a different focus, being more mature, you’d swoop up your child and stop them from getting the ball, and you wouldn’t care if the ball gets destroyed in the process.”

“I am not familiar with these…cars, but I know enough that they are dangerous. So no, I wouldn’t allow my child to collide with such a steal trap,” Narcissa said, trying to shake off the haughty air that was taking hold of her.

“That would violate your child’s will as well because they want to get their ball, yet you stop them from it.”

“So they don’t die!”

“Exactly. That’s what I’ve done with my parents.”

“Your parents aren’t children!”

“No, but they are Muggles!” Hermione rang out, seemingly running out of patience. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes while Narcissa froze.

“What?”

“I don’t mean it like that. I’m not saying we are superior to Muggles, but they cannot defend themselves against magic. There’s no bullet-proof vest that will protect them from the killing curse. There’s no hiding from homenum revelio! Yes, they understood that Tom was a madman and that he was dangerous, but they couldn’t fathom the true dangers they were in. I didn’t make the choice to change their memories lightly,” Hermione said.

Narcissa eyes narrowed. She hated when others had a point about something she was so convinced of.

“I lost them, too! They didn’t suffer because they no longer remember me, but I remember them, and they were gone. I didn’t know for how long, if it would work, and if I’d ever get them back.”

“And now?”

“What now?”

“Are they back?”

“In a manner of speaking,” Hermione muttered. “It seems I’m better at modifying memories than at restoring them,” Hermione said, tears once more filling her eyes.

“What happened?” Narcissa said, angling her body toward Hermione.

“They remember, but sometimes, it’s like they have two sets of conflicting memories, and they don’t know which is real? They get confused. And angry.”

“And your relationship has suffered because of this,” Narcissa said and sighed.

“Yes,” Hermione whispered through tears. “I’m not sure how to fix it.”

“Oh dear,” Narcissa said and patted Hermione’s hand, who immediately held on to her.

“I know how important Draco is to you, and I’d never…I don’t go around modifying people’s memories.”

“I’d hope not,” Narcissa drawled. “I may have overreacted. Draco is all I have left…” Narcissa trailed off and her eyes grew distant. “But I understand you, and you made a fair point, even with all your strange Muggle examples.”

Hermione laughed. “Thank you. That means a lot to me.”

 

 

Chapter Text

“Are you ready to send Kingsley our answer?” Hermione asked, folding her legs underneath her while sitting on Narcissa’s sofa in the townhouse.

“Yes and no. We’ve discussed the report and overall findings, but there’s something else, and…this is a condition for me to accept the assignment, but it relates to you,” Narcissa said.

“To me? OK. What is it? I thought you were eager to start the investigation?”

“I am, but that doesn’t change one particular concern. You cannot occlude your mind.”

“Oh, that. Yes. We’ve talked about this,” Hermione said, pulling at her fingers.

“I understand that the mere mention of the topic makes you nervous, and it’s logical, given your experience, but if we go on this mission, not only will we encounter a potions master who is intentionally harming Muggles, we will also be around many people who share Tom’s ideas, or similar versions of it. They have a particular mindset of blood purity that makes you…”

“Unwelcome?”

“The enemy,” Narcissa said, holding Hermione’s gaze.

“Isn’t that a bit melodramatic? You act as if we are still at war.”

“We are not, on the surface, but just because Tom is gone, that doesn’t mean his ideas and old prejudices have died out.”

“True. It’s depressing, but likely accurate,” Hermione said and sighed. “You want to teach me occlumency?”

“What?” Narcissa’s eyes widened and she sat up straighter. “No. I need you to learn it. I…I’m not saying that I should be your teacher.”

“Why not? Who else is there? Snape is dead and—”

“I’d never allow Severus in your mind!”

Hermione blinked rapidly, then laughed. “OK. Minerva is busy, and the minister doesn’t wish information on this to spread. I assume there are people in the ministry who can teach occlumency to me, but that would likely take up more time than we have.”

Narcissa stared at her. She couldn’t form words. Her thoughts were too fast and too heavy for her to even consider expressing them in something as fallible and inadequate as words.

“Are you OK?” Hermione asked and it took another moment of silence for the warmth and concern of Hermione to reach Narcissa.

“Yes,” she croaked. “I appear to have gotten lost in my head.”

“If you don’t wish to teach me, I suppose I’ll speak to Kingsley and try to arrange an augmented schedule to learn occlumency,” Hermione said.

“I’m not…adverse to teaching you, and yes, it would be a more efficient approach time wise, but…” her gaze fell to her hands and she toyed with the rings on her fingers. “I’m more proficient at occlumency than legilimency, though that’s not my chief concern.”

Hermione tilted her head. “Then what is it?”

“We’ve talked about this before. The practical aspect of teaching occlumency is, or it can be, invasive. I’d have to enter your mind and it would be possible for me to see and feel things you’d rather not share.”

“That’s why you said it’s best to learn from someone you trust or with whom you have a good rapport. I remember.”

“Then you understand my concern.”

“I…we just talked about this. We’re friends and I’d argue we share a great rapport. I do trust you, Narcissa.”

“Oh,” she said and avoided Hermione’s gaze. “Are you sure?”

“I am. Besides, even if you’re somewhat skeptical because you assume that I’m too trusting and all that, learning this with the help of a complete stranger at the ministry isn’t…let’s just say I’d rather not.”

“That…makes sense.” Narcissa said.

“That’s settled then. When do we start?” Hermione asked and Narcissa released a small chuckle.

“Always eager to learn.”

“We’re on a tight schedule.”

“Correct. We can owl Shacklebolt that we agree to lead the investigation but that we need another week to ten days to prepare. I refuse to take you into that viper pit without you mastering occlumency first. It’s way too dangerous, and your mind is particularly unguarded.”

Hermione frowned. “It is? How do you know?”

“I’ve had to restrain myself several times from merely stumbling into your mind. You carry your thoughts for all to see,” Narcissa chided.

“I’m sorry?”

She huffed. “Be that as it may, we will need enough time to work on this. I’ll also suggest we request to be relieved of our regular duties for the time we practice occlumency.”

“Wow. You sound serious.”

“Have you ever known me to be anything else?” Narcissa said and smirked at Hermione’s answering laugh.

“No, of course not.”

***

Hermione hated occlumency. They’d been practicing for the last five days, and she just couldn’t keep Narcissa out of her mind. She’d erected a forest as her first line of defense, followed by a library where she’d hidden her thoughts in the infinite pages of the endless shelves filled with a varied accumulation of books and scrolls. She’d buried some of her thoughts in a chest and hidden that in a maze. It usually took Narcissa all of three minutes to get to the chest after strolling through the maze like she’d built it.

“Either you’re too familiar with me or you are better at legilimency than you claim to be,” Hermione panted after another attempt to prevent Narcissa from finding the agreed upon memory – Hermione being sorted into Gryffindor. “The memory could be too specific. Someone else wouldn’t know what they are looking for, right?”

“Yes, but that’s not an improvement. We agreed upon this memory because it’s harmless and me seeing it won’t cause you any distress. I don’t just want to go on a loose goose chase and stumble on something you don’t wish me to see,” Narcissa said, moving a golden strain of hair out of her face. “And I’m average at legilimency.”

It pleased Hermione that their training sessions seemed to exhaust the other witch as well, even though she didn’t seem too strained once inside Hermione’s mind. She mumbled something along those lines under her breath, but Narcissa didn’t react to that.

“You also have to remember, anyone not searching for something specific would look at everything in sight.”

“Yes, yes,” Hermione said, suppressing a sigh.

“Concentrate,” Narcissa muttered, before once more raising her wand, “legilimens.”

Once more Narcissa waded through her mind at a fast pace, flattening her trees and planting a path to her library where there shouldn’t be one. Changing tactics this time, Hermione created a bed of quicksand that surprised Narcissa the moment she stepped off the path and strode to enter the library. Instead, the quicksand engulfed her, and she faded from Hermione’s mind.

“Well done,” Narcissa said and stumbled a little.

“Yes, but it’s not enough. I knew the path you’d take so I could prepare. I need something that blocks people out from even getting that far.”

“You’re right,” Narcissa said and frowned. “How about a fresh approach? If you were to enter my mind, you’ll get a better idea, a more practical approach on how to better shield your own mind.”

“Are you sure?”

“Of course. I wouldn’t have suggested it otherwise. Look for the memory of my sorting ceremony.”

“All right. I’ll try it.” Hermione stood straighter and rose her wand, “legilimens,” she called and all air left her body when she landed on her behind in a blackened space. Suddenly, roaring filled the area and bright light flickered and reflected of a sea of mirrors, blinding her.

“Merlin, that’s aggressive,” Hermione grumbled and rose, shielding her eyes with one of her hands. “Where to go?” She stepped closer to one mirror and smiled. There was Draco, not older than two years old, flying on a broomstick with Narcissa on his heels.

“You’re distracting me,” she said.

Where should she go? There were mirrors and lights as far as she could see. She closed her eyes and focused. She wanted to see Narcissa, and what Narcissa didn’t want her to find. When she opened her eyes, the mirrors were gone and instead, she stood on a barren field with an old, abandoned well in the middle. She marched toward the well and amidst a creaking sound, pulled at the rope that held something in the well. Eventually, a bucket spilled out, and in it? Hermione sighed. Water. What a surprise. Water from a well.

Her gaze drifted across the field and farther down she saw a tiny house, a shack, with smoke rising from its chimney. She didn’t notice some of the water splashing out of the bucket and onto her hands. The water burned and she screamed, falling backward. Pain raced through her hands, climbing up her body while she scrambled farther back.

“Hermione, are you OK?” Narcissa appeared and knelt right next to her.

“My hands,” she cried.

Narcissa touched her arm, and the moment she did, the stinging ebbed. The field disappeared, and instead, a forest rose, with an old manor rising to its side. Narcissa faltered. “No, that’s impossible,” she murmured.

“What is it?” Hermione asked, clambering to her feet.

“You shouldn’t…we need to get back. We need to get out of here.”

“What? Why…” Hermione trailed off and fell silent when she saw a young Narcissa sneak out of the manor and race into the woods.

“Please don’t,” Narcissa said before the world shook and shattered to ashes in front of their feet. In the next moment, they were both standing in Narcissa’s den, pale and panting, before Narcissa crumbled onto the floor.

“What just happened?” Hermione asked.

***

Narcissa’s eyes were shut and she sat trembling on the floor of her den.

“Are you OK?” Hermione asked, and warmth seeped into Narcissa from the younger witch’s touch on her shoulder.

She nodded, unsure of her ability to form words.

“We don’t have to talk about it, but I’m here if you want to...talk,” Hermione whispered and squeezed her shoulder before withdrawing her touch.

For a second, Narcissa thought Hermione would leave, but then she felt her sit down next to her.

After minutes in silence, Narcissa’s composure fused back together. She opened her eyes and raised her head, one of her hands playing with her braided hair. “That was Black manor,” she said through clenched teeth.

“I thought so,” Hermione said, her gaze steadily trained on Narcissa.

“It was the beginning of one of the worst nights of my life,” she said.

“You really don’t have to explain. It’s fine. I can make us a pot of tea and we can just sit together for a bit,” Hermione said and made movements to rise, but Narcissa grabbed her arm.

“Stay, please. I don’t…this isn’t easy and if I don’t tell you this now, I never will and…this was a memory out of my vault. There’s no way this was an accident and—”

“I swear, I was looking for the sorting ceremony. Merlin’s pants. I had no idea what I was doing, and invading your privacy is the last thing—”

“I’m not accusing you of anything,” Narcissa said and relaxed once tension seemingly drained out of Hermione’s body and the dark-haired witch settled down again.

“I’d never do that,” Hermione said.

“I’m aware of that. I only meant that maybe something in me wants you to know this story, to share it with someone, someone who’d never use this against me.”

“I wouldn’t. I swear. We can add a magical contract.”

“No, thank you. That’s sweet of you to offer, but it won’t be necessary. I trust you.” Narcissa held back a smile when Hermione flushed.

“Thank you.”

“It was half a year after Andromeda had left to be with Ted. My parents had forbidden Bella and me to see her or even talk to her. You couldn’t even say her name anymore,” Narcissa scoffed. “I’d written her a letter, begged her to meet me. We had kept in secret communication before but there had never been a plan to meet. It was too dangerous.”

“Why did you want to meet her?”

“I wanted to leave, too. I was young then, Merlin, I was only sixteen years old. But I was so sick of my family and Andromeda sounded happy in her letters. She missed Bella and me, but she was glad to be out from under my parents.”

“What happened?”

“My parents had changed the wards,” Narcissa said and closed her eyes for a moment. “As a member of the family, you could pass through it with no issues, but they’d added a laqueus diaboli charm to the ward.”

Hermione’s brows furrowed. “I’m familiar with the plant, but I’ve never heard of such a charm.”

“I’m not surprised. It’s an archaic, dark hex that…it… reacts violently to an underage wizard or witch trying to cross it.”

Hermione’s eyes widened. “Violently how?”

“It lifted me in the air and held me...it was shrieking, like I was causing it pain and there were bright lights. The ruckus woke my parents and they came running, disappointment written across their faces. They asked where I was going. I lied,” Narcissa said and cleared her throat, twisting her fingers in her lap.

“They could tell it was a lie?”

Narcissa nodded. “The wards alerted them and…” she swallowed hard, suppressing the shudder going through her. “It burned me. It felt like my skin was on fire.”

Hermione covered her mouth. “Did they command the wards to free you?”

Narcissa laughed. “No. They repeated their question. I refused to tell them the truth, which only made the burning worse.”

“That’s barbaric,” Hermione whispered.

“It’s the Ancient and Most Noble House of Black,” Narcissa said.

“That’s child abuse!”

“That wasn’t the worst part,” Narcissa said and Hermione’s mouth fell open, but she remained quiet.

“The wards left burn marks all over my body once they finally released me. And…my parents, they brought me back to the manor. They didn’t lift me or carry me. They didn’t use magic. They physically dragged me there.”

“Even though you were burned?”

“That was the point, I suppose.” Narcissa shrugged her shoulders. “At home, they healed all but one wound. They left a burn mark on my left thigh.”

“For what?”

“As a reminder of the price of disobedience.”

“Couldn’t you heal it yourself?”

“They placed a curse on it, so no. I cannot heal it. It…” Narcissa made a face. “Whenever I’d disobey them, the scar would burn, like fire. I’d fall to the floor and cry, but after a few times, I stopped. It became easier to obey them.”

“Merlin,” Hermione muttered.

“After that, I no longer dared to contact Andromeda. If they did that to me, what were they going to do to her if they ever got her back, or if they gained access to her? I refused to risk my sister’s life, and rather…I rather just did as they asked.”

“I’m so sorry they did that to you,” Hermione said and wiped her eyes. “Were you ever able to heal the scar?”

“No. I’ve…I’d tried before my marriage to Lucius, concerned he’d be disgusted by it, and I was right. He…he didn’t say anything, but I could tell.”

“Have you tried ever again? Especially once your parents…once they passed away. Doesn’t that often release the hex?”

“It didn’t break the curse, and I eventually gave up. I tired of trying and failing. It’s what it is.”

“Narcissa, I have a confession,” Hermione said after another moment of stillness.

Narcissa’s head snapped up. What was this about? Did she make a mistake in telling Hermione about this? She was beyond exhausted. Both the training over the last several days and the memory had her barely conscious and now Hermione wanted to confess something? She braced herself for whatever disappointment was about to rain on her and nodded for the younger witch to continue.

“It’s not too bad, at least I don’t think so, but we’ve established that we’re quite different, so I’m not sure how you’ll react to this, but I swear, I’m not trying to be intrusive or to mingle in your affairs and—”

“Hermione! Stop babbling and get to the point!” She snapped.

“Right, sorry. I’m close to Andromeda,” she started.

Narcissa’s eyebrows rose, but she said nothing.

“After the war, after losing Ted and with Tonks injured, Harry, Ron and I became sort of part of the family? Harry is young Teddy’s godfather, and so he spends a lot of time there anyway, though that might change soon now that Ginny’s pregnant and all.”

“And?”

“A couple of weeks into our…budding friendship then, uh, I felt that you’re missing your sister.”

Narcissa groaned. “Merlin, Hermione, what did you do?”

“Nothing bad,” Hermione rushed out. “I just spoke to her about you, and I asked why…why you guys haven’t reconnected since the war ended.”

Narcissa sat up straighter. “What did she say?”

“She said you’d made your choice against her before the war, right after she’d left with Ted. You’d asked her for a meeting and never showed. That you’d stopped all contact then.”

“Oh,” fell from Narcissa’s lips and her eyes stung.

“That’s the same night, right? She said she was waiting for you for over an hour at your meeting place, but you never came. That was the night with the wards…burning you.”

“Yes,” Narcissa rasped.

“She thinks you don’t love her,” Hermione whispered.

Narcissa tried to ward off the memories that flooded her mind, threatened to drown her with thoughts, images, and emotions she’d kept locked up because releasing them would surely destroy her. But everything that had happened over the past month, together with the strain of the last week and Hermione’s revelation proved to too strong an onslaught, and her walls crumbled.

Her sister thought, believed that she hated her, instead of seeing that it had been Narcissa’s own shame and guilt that had kept her away. How could she have approached her lost sister who had suffered such losses thanks to the very people that had surrounded Narcissa most of her life?

There was no forgiveness, but to realize that Andromeda thought she hated her, abandoned her…She couldn’t hold it back, and her final thoughts before breaking down and sobbing was that at least this happened in front of someone as kind as Hermione who rushed to Narcissa and enfolded her in her arms, whispering words of solace.

***

Hermione had owled Narcissa, telling her she’d be late for their next occlumency session. She needed to talk to Harry, and he’d agreed to meet her at her flat.

“Are you OK?” Harry asked.

“Yes, yes,” Hermione said and waved him off.

Harry frowned. “You said it was urgent. What’s going on?”

“Snape taught you occlumency,” she said.

“He tried to, at least, but you know that,” Harry said.

“How… you were struggling with it, but I’m sure there must have been memories you didn’t want Snape to see.”

“Loads. Almost all of them,” he said.

“How did you hide them? I’m not talking about little embarrassing memories, but something big. Something you absolutely didn’t want him to see?”

“What’s this about? Are you taking occlumency lessons? Why? Who’s teaching you?”

“Never mind that, please. Did you find a way to prevent him from seeing something big?”

“The problem is that the more you want to hide something, the more it’ll be on the forefront of your mind. It ends up being everything you can think about, so it gets even harder to hide it.”

“I was afraid of that,” Hermione said and rose to pace. “I’ve tried many different ways to keep her out, but she always finds a way in. It’s usually just the memory of my sorting, and I thought maybe it’s because I don’t care if she sees it? Could that be it? Why am I so bad at this? This is worse than flying!”

“Who is teaching you?”

“What? Oh. Narcissa. She said…well, she said my mind was too open and it would be beneficial for me to learn how to occlude, and you know me and knowledge. I want it all,” Hermione said, an almost hysterical sounding laugh bubbling out.

Harry’s brows furrowed. “Right. You’ve guys been hanging out a lot. We hardly see you anymore.”

“We’re busy at work,” Hermione said, sitting back down.

“And socially? Is it because you feel sorry for her?”

Hermione startled. “What? Why would I feel sorry for her?”

“Never mind. It’s possible that she finds your memory so easily because it’s not a revealing memory. Maybe…”

“What?”

“Well, have you thought about that you might want her in your mind?”

Hermione folded her arms across her chest. “Excuse me?”

Harry rubbed the back of his neck. “Snape and I never got along, so these lessons were brutal. They were painful, too, because neither of us wanted to interact with the other like this. Have you felt any pain during your sessions?”

“No, not at all. Well, there was this one moment yesterday when she thought I might get better by trying the other side, using legilimens on her, and some ward in there, it hurt, but she stopped it right away and then we were dragged into a memory from her vault, and it was…intense. We talked about if after…and…it...” Hermione said.

“It affected you?”

“Yes.”

“You wouldn’t spend that much time together if you guys didn’t like each other and get along. Ms. Black seems to be…let’s say she doesn’t appear to be someone you sit by the fire with and talk about your feelings,” Harry said and grinned at Hermione’s laugh.

“That’s accurate.

“But becoming friends…it’s, you need to be open to that. You need to share stuff, and it’s got to be a two-way street, right?”

“Yes, but what—”

Harry raised his hands, “Woah, let me finish. If it’s hard to get Narcissa to share stuff, you could be trying to show her she can trust you by being open with her, so you have this need for her to know you. Maybe that’s why none of your defenses work against her because you actually want her to see it all,” he said and shrugged his shoulders.

Hermione jumped up and resumed her pacing. “That’s insane!”

“A strong denial for something that’s not true,” Harry said and chuckled.

“When did you become insightful anyway?” Hermione said, barely stopping herself from pouting. He used to be denser than that.

“I’ve…I’ve been seeing a psychologist for a while now. “

“Oh Harry,” Hermione said and dropped her arms. She stepped closer to Harry and squeezed his shoulder. “That’s great.”

“Yeah, well, it’s different, but it…it helps.”

“How do you explain magic?”

“I don’t. I just mostly talk about it all as if…as if Voldemort was a cult leader.”

“Fitting,” Hermione said and sighed.

“Why do you suddenly want to hide something so badly from Ms. Black?”

Hermione blushed, and for the millionth time despaired for either a different complexion or a lower threshold that didn’t make her turn into a tomato at the drop of a hat.

“‘Mione?”

“I had a dream last night, after that…like I said, the previous session was intense, and we’ve been training a lot and it all…I had an insane, inappropriate, no good dream and I’d die of embarrassment if Narcissa ever saw it, and now that’s all I can think about!”

“You could always stop the lessons for a while?”

Hermione bit her lower lip. “That’s not possible.”

“I got nothing else. I was crap at occluding. You could attack her when she gets close to that memory.”

“I’m not going to attack her!”

“No, not…you can cast legilimens on her as a defense. That got Snape out of my head once.”

“I don’t like this,” Hermione griped.

“Yeah, I can tell,” Harry said. “So, what dream was it exactly? He raised his eyebrows and smiled.

“Harry James Potter!” Hermione called and threw a pillow at him. “How’s Ginny doing? Are you excited about the baby?”

Harry broke out into an enormous smile. “She’s great. Totally! I can’t believe we’re gonna be parents. I convinced her to go to a Muggle obstetrician so we can get an ultrasound done.”

“Oh wow. I’m impressed.”

He rubbed his neck. “It was a tough fight. She thought they’d take the baby out of her to take a picture and—”

“What?” Hermione sputtered.

“You don’t know the half of it,” Harry started. “It took ages to convince her that this is safe and…”

Hermione leaned back and smiled as Harry continued his story.

***

“Are you unwell?” Narcissa asked the moment she ushered Hermione into her den. “Should we even continue our lessons today?”

“I’m fine, don’t worry,” Hermione said. “And yes, I want to continue. I have some new ideas on how to make this more difficult for you.”

Narcissa observed Hermione. She’d fretted all morning since receiving Hermione’s cryptic message, asking for a delay in their daily session. She couldn’t quite place her finger on it, but after having spent a good amount of time with Hermione over the last seven weeks, she’d gotten to know the other witch quite well, and something wasn’t right.

 At first, she’d wondered, worried, in fact, that her little break-down the previous evening had made Hermione uncomfortable and that the younger witch was now withdrawing from her. But then she’d reviewed her memories of the moment and she never had gotten the impression that Hermione had been bothered by it – upset about what Narcissa had relayed to her about her past – but not about Narcissa’s reaction.

“All right. If you are sure, we may continue,” she said after a moment.

“I’m sure,” Hermione said and stepped forward to stand across from Narcissa.

While keeping eye contact, Narcissa called “legilimens!” Her world went dark, then cold. She stumbled inside of Hermione’s mind and gasped. There was no forest, no library lay ahead. There was only cold and a wide-open field full of…nothing?

“Taking a page from my book, I see,” Narcissa murmured, but pride swelled in her chest. “Let’s see.” She took a few steps but slid on the icy surface. “Clever witch,” she said and right away Hermione’s warmth rushed over her. She clung to it and it transported her out of the cold into…was that her den? Did she get pushed out of Hermione’s mind again? But no, that wasn’t her den…the colors of the walls were off and where did that dreadful cerise rug come from?

Dread crept up her neck and she recognized it as Hermione’s emotions washed over her like a wave.

“If you don’t want me to be here, you better push me out,” Narcissa called out with a slight smile which faded when shadows bloomed around her. She tilted her head. Those shades…they were shaped outlines of two people sitting on a rug.

She stepped closer. “I’m still here, Hermione,” she said.

The color of the room shifted, and everything turned to gray. The specters, though, they became clearer, taking on corporeal form and…were those? Was that her and Hermione from last night?

Heat permeated the room and both anguish and red-hot embarrassment flooded her senses before the image made her gasp.

“Hermione, what—” A booming noise cut her off and flung her out of Hermione’s mind.

“What happened?” She gasped, sitting on the floor, leaning back on her arms, she raised her head, but Hermione had her back to her. Narcissa scrambled up. “Are you hurt?” She pressed closer to the other witch and hesitated but still touched her shoulder when she realized tremors cascaded through Hermione’s form. “You did well in there. I didn’t even get close to your memory and—”

Hermione spun around, her eyes wide and she jerked back. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t…it was only a dream and I don’t... I tried to lock it away but it was like Harry said, the more I wanted to hide it, the harder it became to do so but you must know, I’d never—”

“Hush, calm down,” Narcissa said and took a few tentative steps toward Hermione and clasped their hands together. “It’s fine. You did nothing wrong, and we need not talk about it if you’re not comfortable with it.”

“Me? You’re the one who should be uncomfortable,” Hermione said, releasing Narcissa hands.

Taken aback, Narcissa remained silent but kept her gaze on Hermione. What was this about? Was this a Muggle issue? She’d heard of Muggles being more conservative and restrictive about these things than their society, but surely, by now, Hermione would know better? Or was it not the topic itself but the subject? Was it because of her?” Her stomach quailed and a long-forgotten emotion crept over her. No, she refused to go there.

She also wouldn’t jump to conclusions and instead formulate a plan on how to best approach Hermione with this again once the situation was less strenuous for the younger witch. In the end, it was irrelevant anyway because real life would allow no such development. Narcissa’s heart slowed and grew heavy at this realization, but she was used to shoving her emotions and yearnings into her vault. There was never a need to torture yourself with something that could never be or would never change. She wouldn’t start with that nonsense now, especially at her age. Despair belonged to the young.

“Are you overall more comfortable with occluding your mind?”

“I think so,” Hermione said. “I should go home now. I…there’s something I need to do and… I’ll be back tomorrow,” she said and caught Narcissa gaze, who held back a gasp at the visible torment in Hermione’s eyes.

“As you wish,” she said. “You’re always welcome here.”

“Thank you,” Hermione said and apparated.

Chapter Text

“Have you ever been to Germany?” Hermione asked when they walked up the steps of their hotel. She hated small talk but that seemed all she was capable of since their last disastrous occlumency lesson. Hermione had bowed out of the next day’s meeting after all, feeling too raw and embarrassed by Narcissa having seen that sequence of her dream.

The other woman hadn’t seemed to mind her cancellation, saying that she’d made enough progress to start the mission the following Monday. That had been it, and Hermione had spent the rest of the weekend staring at her walls, groaning, and covering her face every time she’d remembered the incident. There were definite benefits to living alone, though Crookshanks had appeared less than impressed by her behavior.

“Yes,” Narcissa said, dressed in a dark blue Muggle business suit and sunglasses. Her hair once more coiled in an impeccable bun, she seemed more closed off than she’d been in a while, and looked even more unapproachable than when all this started. Hermione had done a not so discreet double take at the older woman’s attire when they met at their apparation point.

“Did you ever stay at a Muggle hotel before?” she asked.

“No,” Narcissa said.

Hermione frowned. This would be a long and awful trip.

Once inside the hotel, Narcissa spoke in German with the receptionist. “Guten Tag, wir haben eine Buchung. Black und Granger.”

Hermione opened her mouth to ask another question but quickly closed it. She wasn’t in the mood for another monosyllabic answer. Shouldn’t she be the one who was all moody and withdrawn? She was the one who embarrassed herself. Then again, she likely made Narcissa uncomfortable, so the older woman resorted back to her Ice Queen persona around her. It was likely for the better. That realization didn’t alter the ache that grew in her chest at the thought.

The receptionist was friendly, but something seemed to be wrong and not understanding German, Hermione had no clue what was going on. She could tell, though, that Narcissa was growing more and more agitated.

Nein, das kann nicht sein,” Narcissa said and took off her sunglasses.

She looks tired, Hermione thought, and her gaze drifted to Narcissa’s hand. The left one, not holding her sunglasses, balled into a fist.

Narcissa sighed and turned to Hermione. “The ministry didn’t realize that there’s a large-scale event taking place this week in the city, the opening of a garden show, and…” she closed her eyes. “They can only offer us one room for the first three days. Then they’ll have more vacancies.”

“Oh, I see,” Hermione said and ducked her head. She’d messed up. Having to share a hotel room with Narcissa didn’t sit well with her either, for many reasons, but it still stung to see Narcissa so visibly vexed at that notion. “We’ll have to deal with it, won’t we?” She said and raised her head in time to see Narcissa’s eyes widen for a second before the public mask of bored indifference once more slipped over her features.

“Indeed,” Narcissa said and turned to the receptionist who seemed relieved by whatever Narcissa had said to her then.

They’d walked to their room in silence, and once inside, Narcissa hesitated, but then stepped forward and placed her purse on the desk.

Relief flooded through Hermione when she noticed a couch in the living area that didn’t look too terribly uncomfortable. She sat down and placed her bag on the floor. “This will do,” she muttered.

“What did you say?” Narcissa asked.

“Oh, I just said this couch is fine. Shouldn’t be too uncomfortable to sleep on.”

“Nonsense. You’ll sleep in the bed. The couch will hurt your back, and we need to be sharp for this mission. I won’t have you distracted by aches and pains from sleeping on…that contraption,” she said and waved at the couch as if it had personally insulted her.

“I could transform it into a bed? What about you?”

“The bed is big enough.” She stepped closer to it. “Leave it to the Germans,” she said. “It’s one bed but there are two mattresses. Look, even two separate blankets. Unless you’re uneasy with—”

“No, no,” Hermione rushed to say. “If you’re sure. I don’t want to make you uncomfortable,” she said.

“Oh please,” she said and sighed. “I’ll go freshen up. Let’s order lunch in and go over our plan for tonight. We have a party to attend. I hope you brought appropriate clothing?” Narcissa said, and at Hermione’s nod, turned and strode into the bathroom.

“That went well,” Hermione murmured and picked up the dine-in menu.

***

Narcissa glared unblinkingly at her reflection in the bathroom mirror. She hated uncertainty. It made her freeze up and withdraw. After Hermione canceled their last training session, Narcissa had concluded that their burgeoning friendship had started its downward spiral, which was to be expected. They weren’t fit to be friends. Too much baggage from a past that still gripped them in its hold in the present.

She chided herself for the disappointment and sorrow that spread through her. What else did she expect? Narcissa was used to superficial and fake friendships, loose alliances forged over common goals or similar disdain. Back when she lost Andromeda, she’d also lost her last genuine friend. Bella…their relationship had been complicated, even before her descend into madness after Azkaban, and everything had fallen apart once her oldest sister became enamored with that monster Tom Riddle. He’d ruined almost everything in Narcissa’s life, though she’d allowed it. What did that make her? No wonder Hermione withdrew in utter disgust.

Narcissa shoulders sunk. She didn’t want to be so cold and distant to the younger witch, but she was unmoored and insecure and whenever that was the case, she fell back into the life-long trained response of withdrawal, growing cold and freezing out the world, and with it, its potential to burn her. She took a deep breath. She had promised herself she wouldn’t jump to conclusions, and here she was breaking it at the first instance. Maybe she should try, one more time, to see what was going on in Hermione’s mind. Not literally, for she’d never violate another person like this. Though she’d lie if she said it wasn’t tempting. Such an effortless way to find an answer, if only it wasn’t also so distasteful.

She washed her face and clutched the towel. She needed to get a grip. If her fears had merit, well, she’d adjust, and it was better to know sooner than later. False hope had never been her friend.

***

Narcissa didn’t blush. Despite her pale complexion, she was rarely caught by surprise enough that the heat blooming in her belly would make its way to her neck and cheeks. However, witnessing Hermione exit the bathroom, dressed up for the night’s party with the German pureblood elite, left her speechless, dry-mouthed, and with a hot neck and cheeks. She spun around with the pretense of searching for something in her purse.

“Is this too much?” Hermione asked and smoothed the hem of her black dress. “I just thought black works for most occasions?”

Narcissa raised her head. “Hmm.” Her gaze reluctantly traveled back to Hermione, and she had to force herself to keep her eyes from roaming over the other witch’s form. Hermione usually either wore plain robes or dressed in Muggle jeans and jumpers. None of which had prepared Narcissa to seeing Hermione in a form-fitting, elegant dress. 

“You look lovely, dear,” she voiced with a low timbre and cleared her throat before grabbing her purse. “Are we ready to leave?”

“Yes, uh, I’m nervous that I’ll mess this up,” Hermione confessed.

“Don’t worry. You’ll be fine. When in doubt, just smile and remain silent,” she said, reaching out for Hermione’s hand whose gaze trekked down Narcissa’s body before settling back on her face. She grasped Narcissa’s hand and they apparated to the foyer of a large convention center.

“Just imagine you’re at an all Slytherin party,” Narcissa said and led the way to the main ball room.

“That should be fun,” Hermione griped.

“Oh, stop pouting. Not all the little snakes are terrible,” Narcissa said. “Remember, we’re supposed to be here because we want to be, so it would be helpful if you didn’t act like you’re attending your own funeral.”

Hermione faltered. “Hey!” She said, and after be a couple of steps, she leaned closer to Narcissa and whispered, “you do realize that people don’t attend their own funeral. They’re usually the guest of honor.”

Narcissa held in a laugh at that unexpected morbid quip. While she didn’t enjoy surprises, she’d come to treasure the moments where the younger witch offered a glimpse of a more unexpected side to her. Still, her current delight dampened by the knowledge that certain boundaries had to remain.

They entered the ball room where the party was already in full swing. Narcissa introduced Hermione to a few of the people in attendance she was familiar with, before Beatrice Arthur, a loose acquaintance of hers and the queen of gossip in the German pureblood society, joined their little circle and pulled her to the side.

She sent an apologetic smile in Hermione’s direction who nodded and carried on her own conversation with the mild-mannered wizard Jonathan Stand, who appeared charmed by the younger witch. Narcissa only knew him in passing and vowed to monitor the young man.

“Narcissa, it is so good to see you again,” Beatrice said and air kissed Narcissa’s cheeks who returned the gesture.

“Likewise, my friend.”

“Congratulations are in order, in multiple way, it seems,” Beatrice smirked and gazed at Hermione.

“How so?”

“You’ve divorced Lucius. You’ve had a soft spot for him, but he only held you back. Then there’s your potions master! Well deserved, and might I add, I wouldn’t say no to a discount for a special order of a variety of quality potions,” she said.

“Is that so,” Narcissa drawled. “I’m sure that can be arranged. And thank you. It was time to move on,” Narcissa replied, taking a sip of her wine.

“I can imagine,” Beatrice said and laughed, once more glancing at Hermione. “Did you choose her because she’s a war hero? I’m sure it must do wonders for your reputation just to be seen with her. Or was it merely because she’s pretty? Who knew we shared a preference for younger lovers. Good for you.”

Narcissa choked on her wine and coughed. “Excuse me,” she pressed out.

“Are you all right?” Beatrice asked and clasped Narcissa’s arm who shook her off.

“Fine, fine. It went down the wrong way,” she said and coughed.

“I hate that,” Beatrice said.

“I’m not…Hermione and I are not involved. She’s my first potions apprentice,” Narcissa said.

“Sure. Is that the official story? I understand keeping it a secret. Your divorce is still recent, right?”

“Yes, and no, it is the truth. We are from different worlds, and I…she’s too good to be sullied by a romantic association with me. It’s enough of a risk to her to be working with me in the first place,” Narcissa said and almost groaned. She didn’t mean to reveal that much to such a gossip as Beatrice Arthur, but this had been so heavy on her mind, and she needed to say it out loud, trying to get her heart to agree with her head. “Not to mention, she’s the same age as my son!”

“And? All of this is nonsense. Who cares about reputations, or age? That’s just a number. It’s important to follow your heart.”

Narcissa raised her eyebrows. “You have certainly changed your tune from the last time we met. What prompted this…change in world views?”

“Let’s say I’ve had a somewhat life changing encounter that has opened my eyes to how stifling our traditions truly are.”

“This life changing encounter, I’m assuming a young man is involved?”

“Perhaps,” Beatrice said, laughing, and drinking from her glass. “Fortune favors the brave, my friend.”

“Yes, it does,” Narcissa said, her gaze drawn to Hermione who laughed at something Jonathan said. She swallowed hard, then turned back to Beatrice. “On the note of potions. I’ve heard rumors of this prodigy potions master who is creating the most interesting potions. Are you familiar with him?”

Beatrice eyed her surroundings. “This isn’t the time. We should have brunch tomorrow morning. Say at ten? I’ll pick you up and we can first take a walk through the Altstadt. Where are you staying?”

“All right. We’re at the Saks.”

“Of course you are. That’s convenient. I’ll wait for you in the hotel lobby at ten tomorrow. Come on. I want to introduce you to Isabella. You’ll love her,” Beatrice said and guided Narcissa further away from Hermione.

***

Hermione’s gaze zeroed in on Narcissa when she heard the woman cough violently. She watched her shrug off the other woman’s hand and Hermione took a step in their direction, but then Narcissa seemed to recover, and Jonathan touched her elbow.

“Excuse me, I was just checking on my friend,” she said.

“Ms. Black,” he said and nodded. “It seems odd to see you in association with her. I’ve been to school in America, but I’m familiar with the Hogwarts houses, mostly because my cousin went there. I’d think a lion wouldn’t wander voluntarily into a snake pit. Unless the goal was to stomp them out?” He asked. “Ms. Black seems to be an unlikely target, though. Rumors have it she’s capable of bringing down a lion herself.”

Hermione laughed, both at the imagery and the notion that painted them as a lion and a snake pitted against each other. Though that happened in the not too distant past. Yet, it seemed as if in that regard, the war occurred eons ago. “Believe it or not, inter-house friendships exist, though for sure, there aren’t too many Gryffindor-Slytherin friendships, which is a pity because working with Narcissa has taught me that we can be quite compatible.”

“Good, good. Working partnerships are important,” Jonathan said. “What did you say again has brought you to Germany? I was too distracted by your beauty when Tina introduced us earlier.

Hermione had to stop herself from rolling her eyes. “We’re here for the potions convention later this week, and Narcissa wanted to use this opportunity to socialize with some old acquaintances.”

“And you’ve decided, after everything you’ve been through, and given your status as a famous war hero, to become a potions apprentice?” Jonathan asked. “Forgive me if this is too forward, given that we’ve only just met, but it seems an odd choice.”

“Maybe it is precisely because of what I’ve been through and the most unwelcome popularity that has befallen me since the war that I’m seeking something as grounded as a potions apprenticeship,” Hermione said and frowned.

“Yes, but given Ms. Black’s own notoriety, doesn’t it seem a peculiar choice?”

“Narcissa has been tried and the British magical government didn’t convict her of any crimes.”

“That’s not the same as being innocent, is it?” Jonathan asked. “A lot of purebloods, both here and in America, are still clinging to the old ideals, despite Voldemort’s downfall.”

“What is your point?”

“We should keep an eye on that.”

“I’m sure all our governing bodies are aware of this.”

“Let’s hope so,” Jonathan said and picked up a cheese stick from a plate that floated past them.

They were joined by Tina who had brought along her husband Markus.

“It’s good to see you two getting along,” Tina said. “Where did Narcissa disappear to?” Her gaze darted across the room. “Oh, of course. Beatrice has her in her grasp. This could take a while,” she said and laughed before turning back to Hermione. “Have you been to Germany before?”

“No, I haven’t,” Hermione said and swallowed a sigh. This gathering was becoming tedious. She understood that Narcissa had a role to play and wouldn’t be able to stick by her side all night, but by now she should try to come back. Not enough that she had to entertain Jonathan who, albeit smiling, had continuously tried to read her mind throughout the entire conversation, now she was forced to endure more small talk.

***

Hermione had read these books a million times in her quest to rid herself of the curse Bellatrix’s knife had inflicted upon her, and while that had born no results, she recalled seeing something in there that might help her with Narcissa’s scar. She had said nothing to the other woman so far because she didn’t want to get her hopes up only to end up in one dead-end street after the other. She’d figured there might be some downtime in Germany for her research, and the morning after the party proved to be just that.

Narcissa had gone out to meet with Beatrice from last night for brunch, arguing that she would be more talkative away from other purebloods and war heroes. That’s what she’d called Hermione, and to her great frustration, she’d once again blushed at the blonde witch’s words. It’s not like she hadn’t been called that before, plenty of times in fact, and while she’d always been embarrassed by that title, she’d never flushed over it before. It was maddening.

Hermione had wanted to accompany Narcissa, at least to sit in a nearby café to be close in case anything happened. While they didn’t have an argument, Hermione could tell that Narcissa had been frustrated and so she let it go, especially after the older witch had agreed to bring along one of Hermione’s charmed rings that would alert her if Narcissa rubbed her thumb over it three times. Once activated, Hermione’s twin ring would glow and heat up and could be spelled to point her to the location of its counterpart.

Hermione had been so engrossed in her reading that she didn’t notice Narcissa returning to their room.

“What are you studying so earnestly?” Narcissa asked, slipping off her shoes.

“Oh, these are…just some research, really,” Hermione said and closed the book.

“About our potion problem?” Narcissa asked.

“No,” Hermione said and tapped her quill on the scroll she’s spread out on the desk.

“I see,” Narcissa said after holding Hermione’s gaze for a moment before disappearing into the bathroom.

Hermione released a shuddering breath. She hated the tension between them. Both seemed to keep secrets and tip-toed around each other. It ground on her nerves.

Narcissa exited the bathroom in dark yoga pants and a long green shirt.

“You’re wearing Muggle clothes,” Hermione said.

“They are comfortable,” Narcissa replied and sat down on her side of the bed.

“How did it go with Beatrice? Did you learn anything about the potions maker?”

“We had a pleasant time, but she had nothing new to offer. I’d hoped she’d know more, but all everyone has heard seems to be rumors and innuendo.”

“We’re just here for the second day. This was bound to take some time. I checked in with the MLE team. Everything looks good on their end,” Hermione said, to which Narcissa only nodded. She picked up her reading glasses and a book, never once looking at Hermione.

After ten minutes of trying to get back to her research and failing, Hermione threw her quill on the desk and jumped out of her seat. She marched to the bed and halted when Narcissa raised her head and looked at her. Had her eyes always been this blue or did her glasses reinforce the color, but how would that even work? Glasses don’t—

“Yes?” Narcissa said after Hermione only stood there and stared at her.

“I’m sorry. I’m not sure what I’ve done, but whatever it was, I didn’t mean to upset you or anything. Can we…can we talk about this?”

Narcissa held her gaze before shutting her book and taking off her glasses. “You did nothing, and you are entitled to your privacy. We are here on a mission, and you don’t owe me your time or attention.”

“Wait, what? Where’s all this coming from?”

“All of what?”

“You’re acting like we’re merely colleagues, or worse, strangers.”

“We are colleagues.”

“We’re friends, too! Or at least I thought we were,” Hermione whispered the last part.

Narcissa said. “Come sit,” she said and patted on the bed.

Hermione sat down.

“I’m not good at being friends. I…I haven’t had an actual friend since…before you were born,” Narcissa scoffed.

“That doesn’t mean we can’t be friends. You need practice, and that’s OK. We just need to talk to each other.”

“You’re one to talk,” Narcissa ground out.

“Excuse me? Why? Because of the books?” Hermione pointed toward the desk, and when Narcissa remained silent, she rose and stomped to the table, snatching up the book on top. She crawled back on the bed and threw the book in front of Narcissa who held her gaze at first, but then fixed it to the book.

Evil Hexes and Curses and How to Save Your Flesh,” she read out loud.

“I’d…it’s been part of my research to…to get rid of…” Hermione rubbed her arm.

“Bella’s scar,” Narcissa whispered, dropping her gaze, she pulled the book closer.

“I haven’t been successful. So far, everything I’ve tried failed.”

“That wasn’t an ordinary curse,” Narcissa said.

“I know, but there’s something I’m missing, but either way, that’s not why I was revisiting this book. There’s nothing in there to help me.”

“Then why did you bring it with you? Why did you study it now?”

“I…” Hermione cleared her throat. “I didn’t tell yet you because what if it didn’t work and what if what I thought I saw in there wasn’t there, then it would have all been for nothing and all I would have done was just gotten your hopes up only to disappoint you and—”

“Hermione!”

“Huh?”

“What are you trying to do?”

“Heal your scar.”

Narcissa’s mouth opened, then fell shut and she turned her head to the side and closed her eyes.

“Like I said, I didn’t want to say anything, but I think I’ve found something that could help but…” she trailed off. “Did I offend you? I had the impression you’d wanted to heal the scar?”

Narcissa bit her lip and turned to face Hermione with shimmering eyes. “No, no. I had tried to get rid of the scar, but like I told you, I’d given up ages ago,” she said.

“I remember,” Hermione mouthed. “What I’ve found, I’m not sure it’ll make the scar disappear, but it should clear it up, sort of make it less visible? I’m only assuming that it’s an angry looking scar, much like mine. Not that I’ve seen it.”

Narcissa laughed. “Yes, it’s a red, angry scar that still pains me when I do something that I know my parents would disapprove of. Divorcing Lucius wasn’t easy in that regard.”

“Oh wow. I’m so sorry,” Hermione said. She wanted to reach out to Narcissa but was afraid of spooking the older woman who had shivered from just mentioning this. “Why else are you upset?”

Narcissa’s brows shot up. “Excuse me?”

“You’ve been withdrawn since we got here. You were different at the party last night, but that was acting, right? But here, when it’s just the two of us, you’re quiet and distant.”

“You’re the one who canceled our last lesson and didn’t say a word over the weekend, and you’ve not been any better here,” Narcissa huffed.

“I was trying to give you space!”

“Space? From what?”

Hermione sighed. She really would make her say it. “You know. The last lesson.”

“You did well!”

“That’s not…” Hermione bit on her lower lip, then groaned. “My dream. I’m sorry, all right? This is all so awkward, which is why I’d tried so hard to hide that memory.”

“Same sex attraction isn’t frowned upon in our society. I’ve heard this is different for Muggles, but you must know by now that our kind sees this in a different light.”

“It’s not about that,” Hermione said.

“I see,” Narcissa said and folded her hands on her lap.

“What do you see?”

“You are perturbed by having had such a dream about me.”

“Yes! It’s rude and it’s wrong because it…” Hermione grunted.

“Do not worry, Hermione. I won’t take it personally.”

“Ugh, that’s not it either,” Hermione said, covering her face with her hands.

“I am at a loss here. Do you think I will consider this dream an invitation of sorts? I assure you, that’s not the case.”

Hermione spluttered. “No! Merlin, no.”

“Then what is it?”

“I’m embarrassed, and I feel terrible, OK?”

“Because you had a dream in which you kissed me? Am I that offensive to you?”

Hermione’s eyes widened. “What? That’s not…” She scrunched up her brows. “All right, let’s slow down and start this over. I dreamed of kissing you right after you told me the story about your parents, and the wards. My dream placed us right there.”

“It was an emotional moment,” Narcissa said and shrugged her shoulders.

Hermione sat up straighter. “Exactly! I’d never do that to someone who is vulnerable. You don’t do that. You don’t initiate physical intimacy when someone is emotionally vulnerable and hurting!”

You don’t, or are you saying that’s generally a taboo?”

“It should be a general taboo, but for me, I’d never do that.”

“Because the other person is too emotional?”

“It’s…all right, when something intense happens, don’t you…haven’t you ever done something in the spur of the moment that you ended up regretting later on, once the emotion had passed or wasn’t as strong anymore?” Hermione asked.

Narcissa tilted her head. “I suppose,” she said. “I’ve never thought about it in this way though, and I most definitely have never applied it to physical intimacy.”

“It’s the same as if you were drunk. When people are too emotional or drunk, they cannot make rational decisions, so starting…something then, it wouldn’t be fair. I’d feel like I’d be taking advantage of them.”

“So you only have sex after rationally discussing your desire for the other person? Do you require written consent as well?”

“Who said anything about sex?” Hermione stared at Narcissa for a moment, blinking in utter disbelief before she registered the look of mischief in the blonde’s eyes and she shoved her shoulder. “You are making fun of me.”

“Yes and no. I understand your point, and it’s…quite chivalrous, but I also find this all more complicated. I agree, and I’d also never take advantage of someone’s weakness in that manner, but you cannot just take heightened emotions out of the equation. What if you have a fight with your lover and the mood shifts from anger to desire?”

Hermione swallowed hard and fiddled with the string on her pillow. “That’s different. You said lover, so there’s already an established sexual relationship. I was referring to people who don’t share that connection and then to start something in a moment of vulnerability. That’s wrong.”

“Like it would have been between us, hypothetically, had that taken place that night.”

“Yes, hypothetically, that’s true,” Hermione said, fidgeting.

“But why did all this cause you such grief and make you withdraw?”

“Why did you withdraw?” Hermione countered, feeling she had exposed enough of herself for today.

“Because I thought your dream had disgusted you and you preferred to end our personal association. That this dream had awoken you to that.”

“That’s insane,” Hermione said and Narcissa glared at her. “I’m sorry, but it is. Why would I want to end our friendship because of that dream?”

Narcissa still said nothing and Hermione sighed.

“The dream did not disgust me, and I cannot picture any person feeling revulsion at the prospect of kissing you,” she said and for once fought off her blush, unlike Narcissa, and it made Hermione’s stomach flip to see pink travel up Narcissa’s neck.

“That is…kind of you to say, but you’d be surprised.”

“They’re idiots then,” Hermione said and smiled.

“If you say so,” Narcissa said, returning Hermione’s smile.

 

Chapter Text

The next day, they visited a little café in the center of the city. Once seated at their table, Hermione cast a silent muffilato.

“Do they have something like Diagon Alley in Germany?”

“Yes, but such areas are mostly found in bigger cities. I’ve been to the ones in Berlin and Munich before.”

“There’s no real magical meeting place nearby?”

“Not that I am aware, however, we travel much more efficiently than Muggles, so distance doesn’t matter as much.”

“True,” Hermione said and warmed her hands on her hot chocolate. “I like those German rolls.”

“They are delicious,” Narcissa said. “What is on your mind, dear?”

“Huh?”

“Your expression,” Narcissa said. “You’re trying to solve a problem. Your brows furrow a little and your eyes…they… it is an intense expression.” Narcissa said and drank from her teacup.

“No one’s ever mentioned that. Well, to be honest, I’ve been thinking more about Jonathan.”

“Oh? In what way?”

“He tried to read my mind the entire evening.”

Narcissa sat up straighter. “Excuse me? Why didn’t you tell me about this before, I—”

“There were distractions, as you well know. I wasn’t keeping this from you.”

“But you weren’t about to tell me this now if I hadn’t ask about your face!”

Hermione offered a blank stare before she burst out laughing, which made Narcissa shake her head and smile. “I wasn’t done thinking. I would have addressed this soon. Anyway, he was nice and unassuming at the beginning of our conversation.”

“You surely seemed to enjoy his company,” Narcissa said dryly.

“Well, someone left me alone in enemy territory. What was I supposed to do?”

Narcissa chuckled. “I was very much aware of you, and we were both wearing your charmed rings.”

“I didn’t say I was scared.”

“All right then.”

“My point is, he acted as if he were harmless.”

“You think he’s planning something? Could it be related to the potions?”

“That would almost be too easy,” Hermione said. “He acted as if he liked you but it seemed more like he expected me to slip up on something and to either confess my disdain for you or to rat you out and say you’re up to something pure-bloody evil.”

“Pure-bloody evil? I see you’re making up words along with spells. Is that all part of the brightest witch of her age parcel?”

Hermione blushed and ducked her head. “Be serious.”

“It is not uncommon for the environment that we were in that people aren’t forthright, that is, that they’d be nice to your face and then hex you the minute you turn around.”

“How do you bear that?”

Narcissa blinked owlishly and shrugged her shoulders. “You get used to it. It keeps you focused.”

“Constant vigilance,” Hermione said with a faraway gaze. “I couldn’t live like that.”

“It gets exhausting. But it is also the reason I demanded you learn occlumency.”

“It’s a good thing you did. I doubt I’d have noticed it and our true purpose here would have been exposed on our first night out.”

The waiter interrupted their conversation and brought out their lunch.

“Will we see a lot of them at the potions conference?”

“Some, but most who attended the party will likely find such an event too boring,” Narcissa said. “What time are we meeting with Kate’s family again?”

“At three. It’s not too far from here, so we have time.”

“I wasn’t worried about that,” Narcissa said.

“Jonathan will be at the conference tomorrow.”

“You believe he is involved in this potions misuse story then?”

“Not necessarily. He doesn’t like you, though he tried to hide it with humor, but he generally doesn’t seem to like purebloods very much.”

Narcissa snorted. “You have something in common after all.”

“That’s not fair. I like some purebloods just fine. But seriously, he acted like he was worried about Tom-friendly people, and how we all need to keep an eye on them.”

“That is not incorrect,” Narcissa pointed out.

“But it’s different when you say it, or when we talk about it or when Kingsley raised this issue.”

“In what way?”

Hermione placed her spoon next to her bowl. “It’s hard to explain. It’s one thing to be worried about a genuine threat, to be on the lookout and make sure that what happened with Tom, that something like this can be stopped in its tracks next time.”

“But?”

“You’re not paranoid about it.”

“Jonathan seemed paranoid to you?”

“There was this look in his eyes. I’m not sure, but there were moments when I felt extremely uncomfortable in his presence. Like a part of me urged me to get away, and that was especially the case when he was talking about his worries about purebloods.”

“Hmm, you should definitely take such feelings seriously. Your magical senses pick up more than your traditional ones. We should likely come up with a signal, a way to communicate that one of us is in distress that is not quite as alarming as your rings.”

“That’s an excellent idea,” Hermione said. “Perhaps we could use my coins. I’d added the protean charm to them in fifth year, while that toad Umbridge was there.”

Narcissa scrunched up her nose. “I never liked her.”

“You’re preaching to the choir. I might have to tweak the charm a bit, though we’d likely be able to activate it wandlessly. There’s one problem, though.”

“Go ahead,” Narcissa said.

“It’s one thing to keep the coin in your pocket because you’ll feel it get hot once you get a message. How will that work with you constantly wearing dresses?”

“You dislike my dresses?”

Hermione dropped her spoon with a clang and sputtered. “That’s not…that’s… I didn’t say…” She narrowed her eyes. “Stop teasing me.”

“Stop making that activity so amusing.”

Hermione gasped. “You’re impossible, not to mention, no help at all.”

“You wound me, Ms. Granger. What if I told you I’ll attend the potion conference in robes? They have pockets.”

“Right. Are they close enough to your skin, though? You don’t have any jeans you could wear under them, do you?”

“Of course not.”

“Then let’s change that.”

Narcissa placed her hands in her lap. “What?”

“Once we’re finished, we’ll go shopping. We’re in the middle of the pedestrian zone.” She glanced at her watch. “We’ll have over ninety minutes to get that done before we have to apparate to meet with the Bayer family. We’ll find you some jeans.”

“We’ll go to…Muggle stores?”

“You have Muggle clothes. How did you get them?”

“I ordered them. I’m not in the habit of shopping in Muggle mills.”

“Malls, they’re called malls. I’m not sure they have malls here in Germany. Come on. It’ll be fun.”

“Famous last words, Ms. Granger,” Narcissa said and sighed. 

***

Shopping with Narcissa Black proved to be an event Hermione wouldn’t soon forget. Her facial capillaries also never had seen this much activity before. They were currently sitting in the living room of the Bayer family. Their son, Sebastian, sat next to his parents on the couch. He seemed unable to sit still, fidgeting the entire time. His jerky movement reminded Hermione of a friend’s reaction from kindergarten to having ants crawl up his pants.

“Here’s another one of these vile liquids,” his mother, Eva, said and handed Narcissa a vial containing a pink liquid.

“Where did you get this? I thought Sebastian has been under house arrest,” Narcissa asked while examining the liquid.

“He is! We don’t understand it either. He won’t tell me,” Eva said and glared at her son who didn’t even seem to be part of this conversation and instead clawed at his arm, aggravating the red skin and blisters further.

“We found it in his room,” Stefan, Eva’s husband, said. “Since all of this began…” He rubbed his cheek. “We’ve been randomly searching his room and his belongings. Sebastian hasn’t gone anywhere for weeks. The only people he’s had contact with are the two of us, and we obviously don’t supply our son with drugs!”

“No one is accusing you of that,” Hermione said. “This vial could be a part of an older batch?”

 “That’s impossible. We had searched every millimeter of his room, and we’ve gone through all his clothes. This is new,” Eva said.

“Sebastian, where did you get this?” Narcissa asked, holding up the vial.

He didn’t react, still scrubbing his arm raw.

“He hardly talks anymore,” Eva said, her eyes filling with tears. “Neither the doctor nor his psychologist know what to do.”

“And you cannot think of any of his friends or acquaintances who could be involved as well?” Hermione asked.

“We’ve talked to the parents of all of this friends. None of their children have similar issues. If he got it from a friend, we don’t know that person,” Stefan said. “What is it you do exactly? Katie was a bit vague.”

“We are investigating a similar outbreak of unknown addiction in England and have joined forces with the German government in determining the origin of this issue,” Narcissa said.

“Would you mind if we took this vial with us for further analysis?” Hermione asked.

“Sure. We have no need for it,” Eva said.

“No! Don’t take it! I need it!” Sebastian shouted while leaping out of his seat to tackle Narcissa.

Hermione jumped up, clasping her wand and called “immobilis,” freezing the entire Bayer family on the spot.

Narcissa slumped down a bit before leaning back. “Quick thinking. Thank you.”

“Of course. Should we use veritaserum on him? I could add it to his tea,” Hermione asked, still standing with her wand clutched in her hand.

“He will not drink it. I’m also not comfortable with adding more potions into his system. There could be severe side effects. We need his family’s cooperation since they are our only link to this.”

“That’s true,” Hermione said, sitting back down. “They must have established a delivery system where they need not meet up. I doubt they’re sending the potions via owls.”

“I agree,” Narcissa said. “You should stop the spell. I want to go back to the hotel and run an analysis of the potion.” She opened the vial and smelled it. “I don’t recognize this at all.”

Hermione laughed. “You sound so offended by that.”

“As if that is an unfamiliar emotion to you when knowledge slips from your grasp.”

“Possibly,” Hermione said and pushed the coffee table closer to Sebastian. “Are you ready?

“Yes,” Narcissa said and settled in the same position she had held before Hermione had stopped all motion.

Hermione straightened and returned to her previous position before ending the spell.

A thud rang out followed by a groan when Sebastian crashed into the table and fell to the floor.

“Sebastian!” Eva shouted. “Are you both all right?” Her gaze flickered from her son to Narcissa and Hermione. “We’re so sorry.”

“Don’t worry,” Narcissa said. “We are unharmed. However, we must leave, but we’ll be in touch,” she said and rose while Hermione followed suit.

“It was nice to meet you, despite the difficult circumstances. Let us know if you come across any other vials or substances,” Hermione said and shook Eva’s and Stefan’s hands.

***

“I can’t believe you brought a potions lab to a Muggle hotel,” Hermione said and observed Narcissa with wide eyes while the blonde witch increased the flame underneath her cauldron.

“Why wouldn’t I? I expected that we might come across further potions,” Narcissa said. “And don’t think I haven’t heard of this wondrous bag you brought along on your adventure with Mr. Potter and Mr. Weasley.”

“Oh, yes. That,” Hermione said.

Steam rose from the cauldron.

“Uh, I know you cast a disillusionment charm on all of this,” Hermione said and waved her hand at the potion’s lab, “but did you immobilize the fire alarm?”

Narcissa’s head snapped up. “What fire…”

“Oh boy,” Hermione muttered and turned around and cast a wandless “immobilis” at the fire alarm over their door.

“You’re enjoying this newfound skill,” Narcissa said with a smile.

“You bet,” Hermione said and returned her focus to the book in her lap.

Fire alarm. Who’d ever heard of such a thing? Though she’d admitted it sounded useful. Thankfully, Hermione had remembered and prevented whatever disaster that alarm would have caused.

It irked her to no end that she could not place the potion. It smelled sweeter than any potion she’d ever encountered, sickeningly sweet, in fact. She recognized roses, plums, and that infernal mukwort again, which was no actual surprise given that these potions seemed to be designed to increase addictive potential and sicken people. Sebastian had been in a sorry state, and Narcissa felt for his parents. It must be horrible to see their son suffer so much.

Her own parents surely rolled in their graves at the sympathy Narcissa held for Muggles, and how she worked to help them. And then there was Hermione, a Muggle-born witch, even more of an affront to her parents than mere Muggles. If they only knew. Narcissa scoffed.

“What is wrong?” Hermione asked, looking up from the book she brought to try to heal Narcissa’s wound. How in Merlin’s name was she supposed to be unaffected by the younger witch? Contrary to popular belief, she was not made of ice.

“Nothing. I’m frustrated.”

“No luck in figuring out the potion?”

“I’ve established most of the ingredients, but I’ve never come across this configuration, much less do I have even an inkling as to its purpose.”

“Well, if all else fails, we can just try it.”

“What do you mean?” Narcissa asked, because Hermione couldn’t be foolish enough to imbibe an unknown potion brewed by malcontented wizards or witches.

“I’ll drink it and we’ll see.”

“For someone called the brightest witch of her age, you just uttered a remarkably stupid sentence,” Narcissa said and folded her arms.

“I might have spent too much time around Harry and Ron, but—”

Narcissa raised one sculptured eyebrow. “You think?”

“You make it sound crazy but—”

“Because it is insane! It’s beyond foolish, even ahead of what I expect of Gryffindors. ‘I don’t know what it is, it could be a poison and kill me, but let’s drink it!’”

“I don’t talk like that,” Hermione said, closing her book and standing up.

“That’s hardly the point.”

“It’s risky, but,” she raised her hands, “let me finish! I swear if you interrupt me one more time!”

Narcissa got too distracted by scarlet that once more suffused Hermione’s cheeks, albeit for a different reason, to interrupt her. Instead, she silently held her burning gaze.

“We are running out of time and we’re nowhere with our search for who creates these potions, or why they are doing it. If we know what this one does, we might ask better questions at the convention tomorrow and—”

The phone rang.

Narcissa tilted her head but remained still.

Hermione growled and snatched the phone receiver out of its cradle. “Yes?” She snapped.

Narcissa couldn’t hear what the lady on the other side was saying.

“I’m sorry. I don’t understand German,” Hermione said.

Narcissa was about to ask to speak instead when she recognized the switch in languages.

“No. We’re fine where we are, and we won’t need separate rooms anymore.” Hermione hung up without another word and returned her attention to Narcissa.

Narcissa’s eyes widened. Hermione hadn’t even consulted her about this decision, and while the room issue had slipped her mind, normally such behavior would incense her. It had always infuriated her whenever Lucius had made decisions that concerned them both or worse, their son, without conferring with Narcissa. Yet, at this moment, her mind focused instead on the throbbing pulse in Hermione’s neck and the concentrated, almost pinched gaze tinged with both rage and exasperation. Her stomach plunged and she bit her lip.

“It’s not up to you to make such decision for me. I’m not a child! You are a potions master, so don’t tell me there’s no bezoar in your supply kit. I’d be taking a calculated risk with the awareness that someone with the ability and skill to help me if something goes wrong is nearby.”

“Yet it was acceptable for you to make that decision for me?”

“What decision?”

“The room situation,” Narcissa said.

“Oh. I…uh, I’m sorry. I can call them back and say that we’ve changed our minds. I was just so angry and then they called and… I didn’t think you minded being in the same room and—”

“I don’t,” Narcissa said.

“OK, then why…. Right. I should have asked you. I’m sorry.”

“It’s fine. And I apologize as well. I should have known you wouldn’t make a completely harebrained Gryffindor decision.”

Hermione laughed. “You are a master at apologizing while also handing out an insult.”

“It’s a gift,” Narcissa drawled. “I suppose you have a point, still, I’m not willing to risk your well-being in this manner,” she said. “Please allow me to finish.”

“All right,” Hermione said and sat back down.

“We need answers, and your suggestion is sound, aside from one point.”

“And that is?”

Instead of answering, Narcissa picked up the vial and drank what was left of the potion in one quick swallow.

Hermione sprang up. “What? No! That’s not what I said or wanted. You’re not supposed to…” She stomped her foot.

“It’s done,” Narcissa said and grabbed hold of the chair next to the desk when a wave of dizziness swept through her.

“Narcissa!” Hermione rushed and steadied her. “Are you OK? You should sit down. Where’s that bezoar?” She led Narcissa to the bed and returned to the potions lab, searching through Narcissa’s supplies.  

“It’s in a small brown container,” Narcissa gasped and shut her eyes, focusing on the sound of Hermione rummaging through her potions ingredients and supplies.

“Got it!” Hermione rushed over to Narcissa. “Here, take it.”

“No,” Narcissa said. “It’s getting better. I don’t feel poisoned.”

“Oh, good. Are you sure?”

Narcissa nodded.

“What do you feel.”

“Dizzy, at first. But that has cleared up now. I feel…light?”

“But not euphoric or happy?”

“No. It’s almost as if all my emotions are gone.”

“Gone?” Hermione sat down next to Narcissa. “That’s awful. I’m sure it’ll wear off soon. Right?”

“I didn’t take a large dosage, so…” Narcissa trailed off when her eyes caught Hermione’s concerned gaze and a wave of worry, alarm, and self-recrimination flooded her. “Oh Merlin.” She closed her eyes again.

“What is it? Are you ill again?” Hermione said and clutched Narcissa’s arm.

Narcissa groaned. The physical contact intensified the strength of the emotions that threatened to drown her senses. She needed to tell her, she needed to know, but forming words proved to be challenge amidst this suffocating current of Hermione’s emotions.

“Dear,” she pressed out and inhaled a deep breath. She shifted to the side, loosening Hermione’s grasp on her arm before the younger witch released her hold.

“Am I hurting you?” Hermione stood.

“No, not…” Narcissa swallowed hard. “The potion. It…my emotions are gone but I can sense yours.”

“Mine? You…you can tell what I’m feeling? Right now? In this moment?”

Narcissa once more caught Hermione’s gaze. “Yes, though I wouldn’t need that to know you’re panicking right now.” She released a deep breath. Even though Hermione was panicking, Narcissa’s system stabilized after adjusting to this change. “It’s getting a bit easier.”

“That’s good, right?” Hermione said and paced the room, wringing her hands.

“It’ll wear off soon,” Narcissa said, trying to calm the younger witch.

“Yes, yes. Of course. I’m just glad you’re all right.”

And she was. Under a thread of panic lay a mixture of worry and relief. Most of all, though, and Narcissa almost had to concentrate to wade through the jumble of mixed emotions, underneath all that there was warmth and light at an intensity and pitch foreign to Narcissa. She caught her breath. Surely this couldn’t be?

“Are you sure you’re all right?” Hermione asked and once more stepped closer to her.

“Yes,” was all she could say while the emotions inside of Hermione inundated her. Once she’d pressed passed the surface of worry, concern, and panic, and once she’d gotten a taste of what lived beneath, she could no longer tune it out. It echoed louder and louder, reverberating in her chest and head. Worst of all, she didn’t just feel the emotions, she understood them, their context and target. Hermione lay bared before her and Narcissa neither wanted nor could disengage. Instead, she fell backwards on the bed and covered her face with her hands.

“Is there something I can do? Or should I leave? What if you need me and I’m gone?”

“Shhh,” Narcissa said. “Just sit with me. It’ll pass soon.”

“OK,” Hermione said and after a moment of hesitation, stepped closer and lowered herself on the bed next to her.

“I won’t break, dear,” Narcissa said and without conscious thought grasped Hermione’s hand who intertwined their fingers and with her other hand, wiped at the tears streaming down Narcissa’s face.

Chapter Text

They didn’t talk about what had happened the previous day, neither in the direct aftermath, where they were both exhausted and went to sleep, nor during their morning preparations for the conference. Hermione observed Narcissa for any unforeseen side effects of the potion, but also because she tried to see if the older woman was upset by what she’d sensed.

Hermione wasn’t even sure what she’d felt, never mind what of that became accessible to Narcissa through the potion. She only hoped it wasn’t too bad. So far, the blonde witch seemed fine. She was quiet, but that wasn’t unusual in the morning.

Hermione couldn’t fathom why someone would choose to create a potion that would allow you total access to another’s emotions. What was the purpose of it, and why would anyone ever want to take such a draught? Narcissa hadn’t taken a large dose, and only Hermione was present, yet she was severely affected by it. What would happen to a person surrounded by many others? Did this hit Muggles harder than magical beings?

“What’s making you think so hard?” Narcissa asked, finishing her cup of tea.

“I don’t understand the potion. What’s the purpose of it? Why would anyone want this?”

“There was peace,” Narcissa said after a moment of pause.

“What do you mean?”

“At the beginning, my emotions were gone, but I wasn’t numb. There are potions that lower the intensity of your emotions, but they make you drowsy and numb. That wasn’t the case here.”

Hermione frowned. “But then it flipped because you felt my emotions and that didn’t seem particularly pleasant.”

Narcissa laughed. “Your emotions were much kinder to me than I’ve ever been or than I’ve ever experienced, outside of Draco, that is.”

Hermione’s eyes widened. “What? How…but you seemed…overwhelmed by it?”

“The beginning was difficult. I had to adjust, but… it became…acceptable.” Narcissa cleared her throat and rose to finish getting ready for the conference.

“That still doesn’t explain the purpose of this potion,” Hermione said, still seated but angling her body toward Narcissa who stopped walking but didn’t turn around.

“Given your general emotional state, I’d assume it’s hard for someone like you to imagine that it might be a blessed relief to escape one’s own emotions.”

“General emotional state?” Hermione muttered. “What if you took such a potion and you’d be around…well, not necessarily Tom, but someone hateful, or someone who hates you?”

“That would just be a different shade of gray,” Narcissa said and disappeared in the bathroom, while Hermione fell back in her chair.

She’d tasted darkness. It visited her still on too many nights. She learned it from Tom, and his obsession with Harry, and she knew it thanks to the witch who shared Narcissa’s blood, who’d shared her home. Hermione gritted her teeth. Still, Narcissa was right. Most of her inner state was light and easy-going. What would she have felt if she’d drunken the potion? And what was she supposed to think of the mixture of dread, curiosity, and excitement that spread like white-hot lava through her at the mere thought of this?

***

The potion convention in the Kammgarn proved to be busier than Hermione had expected. They were striding from stand to stand where Narcissa inspected ingredients, buying a few select items, and chatted with other potion masters and buyers. Hermione followed along quietly. She spent most her time coming up with non-workable ideas for their next step to solving their potions mystery. The data set she’d received from several German hospitals had shown nothing novel, aside from the fact that a majority of these new drug addicts were young males.

She was lost in thought and didn’t realize at first that someone was addressing her, not Narcissa.

“It’s so good to see you again!” Jonathan said.

Hermione suppressed a sigh. “Hello, Jonathan. How are you?”

“Fine, fine,” he said, stepping next to her. “I want to introduce you to someone. This is my good friend, Nils.” He introduced a lanky young man with snow white hair and black eyes.

“Hello,” Hermione greeted the man.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you. Jonathan here can’t stop talking about you.” He leaned closer, “between you and me, he has a crush on you,” Nils whispered the last part.

Hermione had to steel herself not to lean away from Nils. He reeked, a nauseating mixture of sage and musk. “I’m sure you’re mistaken,” she said.

“Are you all right?” Narcissa turned toward Hermione, ignoring both men.

“Yes, of course,” Hermione said.

“Don’t worry about her,” Jonathan said. “She’s in good hands with us. Come on, Hermione, let us show you around.”

“I’ll meet you here,” Hermione said and held Narcissa’s gaze for a moment.

“Yes, dear. Be sure you remember where to find me,” Narcissa said.

***

Narcissa had rarely been this emotionally drained, at least not in this manner. What happened during the war, and her constant fear for the safety of Draco were different – now, she was exhausted by the fight between sentimental urges and reason. Hermione had awakened her to a life that seemed not only foreign and abstract, but also impossible a mere two months ago.

Yet, here she was, reminded of Andromeda by coming across a rare feather collection she knew her older sister would love, which increased the rising desire to reconnect with her sibling. She contemplated if all of this were still lingering effects from being exposed to Hermione’s emotions the previous day.

 Narcissa had no inkling on how to handle this persistent hope that festered in her heart. So, she’d acted like everything was normal, purchasing what caught her eye, yes, even that sodding feather collection. Then, out of nowhere, Jonathan showed up, this time in tow with another young and handsome man, and together, they’d taken Hermione away. No, that wasn’t right. She went away with them.

Narcissa’s mood had shifted the moment she’d watched the retreating form of her younger companion. She didn’t owe Narcissa anything, and for sure, this convention had to be excruciatingly boring to the dark-haired witch, but still. Didn’t she realize the dangers of her action? She didn’t know these wizards. Merlin knew what they were up to! Not to mention, they were here on a mission, not to make friends.

Her brooding was interrupted by an old woman patting her arm. “Why are you frowning like that? You don’t like your son’s girlfriend?”

Narcissa stared at the stranger for a moment. “My son’s girlfriend?”

“I saw you watching them, and your young lad seems smitten, though he might have competition from that young friend who was with him. The one with the dark hair and shifty eyes?”

Narcissa did a double take, bouncing her gaze between the old woman and…did she imply that this blond beanstalk was her son, and Hermione his girlfriend? She gritted her teeth and returned her focus back on the old woman. “Hermione isn’t the girlfriend of this…young man, and he’s most definitely not my son!”

“Huh, could’ve fooled me. He looks a lot like you, and you were staring daggers after them. Are you interested in the lad?”

“What? No!” Narcissa griped. “Excuse me. There’s some place I need to be.”

Narcissa stalked away. She tried to make out Hermione in the crowd, but the other witch was nowhere to be seen. Her hands found the coin in her jeans pocket. It was cold to the touch. That should be more reassuring than it was. Narcissa sighed, chiding her own foolishness and marched to one of the main attractions of the convention, the Wolfgang Sommer stand of high-quality potions and ingredients.

“Ms. Black! It is a pleasure to finally meet you in person after corresponding with you for so long.”

“Thank you, Mr. Sommer. Our letters were immensely helpful to my studies,” Narcissa said, shaking the man’s hand.

“How may I help you?”

“I was wondering, and I’d prefer for this to remain between the two of us.” She smiled at the man.

“Here, let’s step over there. Less traffic.” He led her to a deserted corner in the hall.

“With the war ending in England, many people are suffering from the aftereffects,” she started.

“Oh yes, of course.”

“The traditional potions we use to remedy such trauma usually leave you sluggish, drowsy, and they only dull the impact of your emotions. I’ve heard rumors of a potion that eliminates all your emotions with none of the side effects or overall methods of our traditional treatments.”

“Have you now?” Wolfgang asked and stroked his beard.

“Is there a way you could connect me with the potion master or masters who’ve designed that potion?”

“I just might, but…they are an odd bunch, Ms. Black, and I doubt they are looking to help people, if you know what I mean.”

“I’m familiar with that sort of people,” she said airily, though her stomach sank. She hoped he wasn’t in any danger, and that her request wouldn’t get him in trouble.

“Yes, so I’ve heard.”

“Can you assist me in making their acquaintance?”

Wolfgang hesitated before sighing. “He’s here today. Let me see,” he said and stepped forward, scanning the crowd. After a minute of silence, he tapped her arm. “Over there, on the arm of the beautiful dark-haired witch. She’s laughing right now.”

Narcissa followed Wolfgang’s gaze and froze. He was pointing at Hermione who indeed, held on to the arm of the beanstalk while laughing out loud at something he said. Jonathan stood right next to them with a sour expression on his face.

***

“Oh, Nils, you’re too funny,” Hermione said and patted his arm.

“Yes, he’s a regular comedian,” Jonathan groused.

“Isn’t that you friend storming toward us?” Nils said.

“Huh?” Hermione said and turned her head, and indeed, Narcissa was rushing toward them. Did something happen? She loosened her hold on Nils’s arm and trod in the direction of the blonde witch who’d stopped once she reached them.

“Excuse me, gentlemen,” Narcissa said with a look that seemed eerily familiar to Hermione but that she couldn’t quite place until she remembered the Quidditch world cup, the first time she’d ever met the other woman. “I need to talk to Hermione,” she said and held out her hand.

Hermione frowned but accepted her hand and allowed Narcissa to pull her away. She gazed over her shoulder and called, “I’ll be right back, guys!”

“Are you drunk?” Narcissa hissed under her breath when they came to a halt behind one of the stands.

“What? Of course not.”

“Then why are you all over this…man. Do you even know who he is? He’s—”

“The one!”

Narcissa recoiled. “What?”

Hermione stepped closer and leaned into Narcissa to whisper, “the one we’ve been looking for? The potions guy?”

Narcissa stood still, then bit her lower lip.

Hermione’s brows furrowed. “Are you OK? I thought something was wrong with the way you were rushing over here.”

“I’m fine. I had just received the same information, and I was…worried about you.”

“Oh, OK. I was in no danger. They are both a bit…too in love with themselves. They can’t stop talking, so I listened. Then Jonathan tried again to read my mind, so I showed him how in love I am with Nils.”

Narcissa stepped back. “You’re what?”

“What is it with you? I’m seeking to get us information here and you keep acting like you’ve seen a ghost! Did something happen?”

“No, no. Go on.”

“Jonathan quit then, but shortly after that, Nils started. Is seriously everyone always trying to read each other’s minds? Did they all do that to me before I learned how to occlude?” Hermione hissed.

“Certain segments of society, yes. But you used to not move in those circles, unlike for this mission.”

Hermione locked eyes with Narcissa. “In case I haven’t expressed this clearly enough, but thank you so much for insisting that I learn how to close my mind before coming here.”

“You’re welcome,” Narcissa said and smiled.

“I’ll be right back. We should head back to the hotel soon because I have a lot more to tell you. But first, Nils was about to hand me an exquisite new potion.”

“Oh, I understand. I’ll just settle my accounts. Come find me when you’re done and we’re leaving.”

“Great,” Hermione said and squeezed Narcissa’s arm before returning to the young men who were deeply involved in a conversation. 

***

Narcissa didn’t know to believe her eyes or her ears. She didn’t trust easily, and aside from Draco, no one ever had seemed worthy of her trust. She’d trusted Andromeda and Bella, when they were children but that was so long ago and so much had happened in between, she didn’t even consider these moments incidents of where she felt safe trusting another person.

Hermione was the first person she’d encountered in her adult life who made her want to trust her. She’d sensed her emotions and they were loud and clear on the other witch’s regard for Narcissa. And maybe that was the issue, she’d felt all that, and had allowed herself to lower her guard, only to then be confronted with these images at the conference. Once more she was met with concrete evidence on why trusting another person who wasn’t her son was foolish and would forever lead to her downfall.

The conundrum she faced now, though, was that she wanted to trust. Did that make her weak? She’d always considered others pathetic for blindly trusting someone. It made them a target for unimaginable hurt and ridicule. Would Hermione do that? Was that where they were heading, even without ever…

“Hey,” Hermione said, leaving the bathroom. “Do you want tea or something stronger?”

“I’m in a firewhiskey mood tonight,” Narcissa said.

Hermione chuckled. “All right. Did you bring any?”

Narcissa raised a sculptured eyebrow at the younger witch.

“Of course you did,” she said. “Accio firewhiskey,” Hermione called and stretched out her hand and caught the bottle. “I’ll join you,” she said, pouring two glasses and bringing them to Narcissa before settling on the couch next to her.

“You had a lot to tell me?”

“Yes,” she said. “Accio purse,” she said and then dug through her purse. “Here it is.” She handed Narcissa a deep purple potion.

“Did your admirer say what this does?”

“He was vague. He commented on my mental shields, though, and said they wouldn’t work on someone who drank this.”

“A legilimency potion?” Narcissa said and sat up straighter. “Those are illegal!”

“I doubt that would stop Nils.”

“You seemed quite taken by him,” Narcissa said, emptying her glass and rising to refill it.

Hermione scoffed. “Please. Give me more credit than that. I am not interested in people who belittle me or reduce me to a pretty trophy on their arm. He’s smart, I’ll grant him that. But it’s the kind of cold, calculating intelligence that is lacking all compassion that would damper some more harmful impulses.”

“Like Tom,” Narcissa said, taking another sip of her drink.

“Yes, though I’m not sure Nils is quite that far gone.”

“Just greedy then. They appear to be making a lot of money with their business.”

“That, and he’s really enamored with himself. I can’t stress that part enough, and while it was tiresome, flattery also made it a lot easier to get information out of him,” Hermione said and refilled her glass.

“You were acting then? Not really enjoying his company?”

“Of course I was acting. I wanted to squeeze out every bit of information on this potion business. It was difficult, pretending that I like him. He stank. I couldn’t wait to get away from him.”

“Hmmm,” Narcissa said. “How did you figure out that he’s the potion master?”

“Remember when I said I showed Jonathan I’m in love with Nils?”

“How could I forget,” Narcissa mumbled.

“Well, while creating that image, I may have stumbled into Jonathon’s mind,” Hermione said and shuddered. “Not a pretty place. He…he was thinking about the emotions potion you took last night, and…he planned on asking Nils to brew some for him.”

“That’ll do.”

They sat in silence for a moment before Hermione sighed. “I told Nils I’d meet up with him the day after tomorrow.”

Narcissa stiffened but said nothing.

“He said I could tell him how I liked his potion,” Hermione said and stared in her glass.

“Absolutely not!”

“I won’t drink it around you, don’t worry. I wouldn’t want to invade your mind like that.”

“That’s not…” Narcissa said, biting her tongue to arrest what else wanted to gush from her lips.

“It’ll be hard to fake what this does or feels like, and I want him to trust me. We need to learn more about his operation, and this is our best bet. I’ll only take a little. You’ll be safe from me. I swear,” Hermione whispered the last sentence.

“What about you? Will you be safe?”

“You took the potion knowing even less about it,” Hermione pointed out.

“That’s different.”

“Because you were the one who took the risk?”

“Yes!” Narcissa said and her eyes widened before she ducked her head.

Hermione clasped their hands together. “I get this is scary. I was…terrified yesterday after you drank the potion, but I don’t think he wants to harm me. Not yet, at least.”

“That’s not reassuring, and you can’t be sure of that. There are other ways to harm a person aside from a full-on assault!” Narcissa withdrew her hands.

“I know that!”

“You don’t act like it. What if there’s something in there that messes with your mind, that…makes you more…pliable?”

“Pliable? The potion is supposed to allow me to enter the minds of others, not the other way around.”

“So he said. You only have his word.”

“Again, you had nothing and still drank it.”

“To stop you from drinking it! To prevent you from being hurt!” Narcissa snapped.

“What if I wish to do the same?” Hermione asked, not meeting Narcissa’s gaze.

The rage within Narcissa melted away and she reached out to Hermione. “I will not leave you here all alone, taking this...potion.”

“But—”

“No. These are your choices. You either take it with me there, or you don’t take it at all.”

“I don’t want to take it, but I feel like I have to,” Hermione said.

“All right. We’ll do that tomorrow then. Together,” Narcissa said and cupped Hermione’s cheek. She swallowed hard when Hermione leaned into her gesture. What was she getting herself into?

***

Hours later, Hermione slumbered peacefully while Narcissa tossed and turned in the bed, unable to quiet her mind and allow sleep to draw her into its realm. She grumbled and flung the covers off her before easing out of the bed. A glance at the nightstand clock showed it to be 3:10 am. Wonderful.

Narcissa sighed and opened the blinds before settling on the chair near the window. It was a bright and clear night and she’d remembered many of such nights she’d spent with her sisters in their room, up late at night, giggling and hushing each other so their parents wouldn’t hear them. There were also those nights hosting Tom and his Death Eaters that she’d spent restless and sleepless, staring at the moon, wishing to be anywhere else instead. She’d longed to take Draco and disappear, but where would they have gone?

Narcissa wasn’t afraid of Hermione, and she wouldn’t have been even without having experienced the other woman’s emotions. Hermione would never try to harm her, but that didn’t prevent accidental injury, though even that wasn’t at the forefront of her mind. No, Narcissa worried that what the dark-haired witch would glimpse in the recesses of her mind come morning would change how Hermione saw her. That all the good will, all the affection between them would be extinguished in the blink of an eye, and there’d be nothing Narcissa could do to restore it.

The sense of loss that rushed through her at this thought, while not unexpected, was staggering in its intensity. Narcissa was no fool, and she’d always been well aware of her feelings and desires. That she rarely, if ever, acted on them didn’t change that.

She closed her eyes and heaved another sigh. Narcissa could only hope that while the potion would render occlumency useless, it would permit her to choose what memories Hermione had access to, or at the very least, it would allow her to employ a distraction. She’d never granted anyone access to her mind in this manner, and the idea alone was a total anathema to her very nature.

Everything she was ever taught rebelled in her at the mere thought and urged her to run, to never look back. So what if Hermione wanted to take that infernal potion? Narcissa didn’t have to be there for it. She could take it right before a housekeeper appeared and read their mind, meanwhile, Narcissa could sit in one of the small cafés nearby, enjoying a cup of tea. But she owed Hermione. She’d had access to the younger witch’s feelings, and Hermione had never once complained about it. She also hadn’t known what would happen, and so didn’t have time to worry all night before letting Narcissa have this access to her inner most feelings.

She wasn’t that selfish, though, moreover, she was too afraid of what that beanstalk had planned, and how this potion might hurt Hermione. Narcissa would never allow harm to come to her, not when she could prevent it. Abandoning her wasn’t an option, and so she would grit her teeth and endure this, but it didn’t mean she had to enjoy it. It also didn’t mean that her fear wouldn’t get the better of her and keep her up all night.

A peck on the window drew her out of her rumination. She smiled at the sight of Styx, Draco’s great gray owl rapping at the window. She hurried to open it and cooed at the owl that settled on her outstretched arm before she took the letter off his leg. Narcissa had no treat, but instead petted the beautiful bird. He preened, nipped Narcissa affectionately and flew away.

Hermione stirred and mumbled something unintelligible before flipping around, facing away from the window, continuing to sleep. Narcissa, who had stood still, hoping she hadn’t awoken the younger woman, relaxed and returned to her seat to read her precious boy’s letter.

 

Dear Mother,

I hope this letter finds you well. Please remember that there are ways to notify me in case you need my assistance, no matter what the nosy ministry demands of you. We are repentant but that doesn’t mean our lives are expendable. I’m sure Granger is boring you to tears with quotes from Hogwarts: A History. Maybe you can use that time to come up with new potion ideas? As long as you nod every now and then, she won’t notice you’re not listening. Just make sure your eyes don’t glaze over.

Please be careful. I hope you’ll join us for lunch or dinner again when you get back home. Stop worrying about everything. I miss you.

Draco 

 

Narcissa held the letter against her chest and smiled. This was the first time she’d heard from her dragon since they’d been here, and his sweet note came at the right time, as usual. Whenever anxiety reared its head, her son would somehow chase it away. As much as she regretted so many of her choices in the past, being Draco’s mother has remained the best part of her life, and if only to ensure she’d retain this status, she’d live the same life over, infinitely.

Still, that didn’t preclude her from charting a different, a better path into the future. Her gaze drifted to Hermione’s still sleeping form, and she recalled the warmth and affection that lay within the witch and that, together with Draco’s letter, calmed the nerves and anxiety that threatened to devour her, and instead, she crawled back under the covers and fell asleep the moment her head touched the pillow.

Chapter Text

Hermione had doubts. Not so much about taking the potion, but about Narcissa being there. She didn’t want to invade the blonde witch’s privacy, but that’s what she’d be doing with this potion. No shield would keep her out.

She twirled the potion vial in her hand and turned her gaze to Narcissa. “What if you lock away everything you don’t want me to see into a vault or a chest, and I just won’t go there.”

“It’s not that easy,” Narcissa said and placed her book to the side. “Legilimency potions are banned for a reason. First, they can have serious side effects, for both people involved. They…they can almost work like an imperius curse because it’s possible to plant false memories in someone’s mind and—”

“I’d never do that!”

“I’m not worried about that,” Narcissa said. “There are also ways to put a trace in potions, to add something that is not part of the original potion, but that allows the brewer access later on, which is especially troublesome with potions that affect the mind.”

“Like a Trojan Horse,” Hermione said. “That trace would be in my mind then because I’m the one who drinks the potion.”

“Yes, but what is a Trojan Horse?”

“Muggle history, and now also used for a type of computer virus. It’s something that looks harmless and you allow it inside, but then it turns out to be harmful. Only by then, it’s too late and the damage is done.”

“That about sums it up, yes,” Narcissa said. “This is why I wish you’d change your mind about taking the potion.”

“What about you?”

“I trust you, and while this isn’t easy for me, not the trusting you part, that is surprisingly easy,” Narcissa said. “Granting anyone unfettered access to my mind is…daunting.”

“I can take it alone and—”

“Then what’s the purpose? How will you learn how it works and show that…man that you’ve taken it and can be trusted, if no one is there with you? Whose mind are you going to enter? The tiny people on the screen over there?” She pointed at the television. “More importantly, I won’t leave you alone through this.”

“Would you recognize it if Nils had added something to the potion that would,” Hermione said, pausing, while her gaze returned to the vial still in her grasp. “Mess with my mind?” She hated sounding so weak. She didn’t need to give Narcissa any more ammunition to shoot down this idea.

“Not before it’s too late,” Narcissa whispered. “While I could analyze the ingredients of the potion, you’d have nothing left to take afterward. Even if I figured out all components, I’d likely be unable to tell if he added something that shouldn’t be in there. It’s more than what is in there, it’s also how he added it. I’m sorry. I wish I—”

“No, no,” Hermione said. “I…I’m choosing this, and it’s not your fault, either way. I doubt Nils would mess with me yet, not when he’s not sure where my allegiances lie and whether or not he can trust me.”

“Once more, that is not as reassuring as you believe it is,” Narcissa groused and pulled a purple dotted pillow close to her chest.

“All right then,” Hermione said and uncorked the vial. “Here goes nothing.” She drank half the vial and smacked her lips. “It’s gross.”

Narcissa remained silent and held onto the pillow.

“May I sit next to you?”

Narcissa nodded.

Hermione rose and sat next to the older witch. So far, she didn’t feel any different.

“This will not work unless you try to enter my mind,” Narcissa said after several moments of silence and stillness had trickled by.

“Oh, OK. That doesn’t make sense. How would that work for Muggles then?”

“Muggles aren’t trained to occlude.”

“You’re occluding now?”

“I…we should check if what he said is true. Can you access my mind through my shields?”

“Right. Good idea.” Hermione cleared her throat and sat cross-legged on the couch, facing Narcissa. She concentrated and her eyes fluttered shut before she opened them again. “Wait, do I need to cast legilimency?”

“Try it first without. Just concentrate on me and my mind,” Narcissa said, her pale hands gripping the pillow.

“OK. Are you sure? You seem tense and—”

“Let’s get this over with!” Narcissa said. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to snap at you.”

“It’s OK. Don’t worry about it.” Hermione stopped herself from fidgeting, sure that showing her nerves to Narcissa right now wouldn’t improve the situation. She released a deep breath and once more closed her eyes. She pictured Narcissa in her mind and allowed her curiosity of the other witch’s mind to fill her being, and before she knew it, she was there. In Narcissa’s mind.

There were no obstacles or barren fields with strange fountains and toxic liquid. Instead, a meadow stretched out as far as she could see. A burbling stream meandered through the grass and the sun was shining high in the sky. Were those birds chirping? Hermione did a three sixty and her eyes widened at the colorful trees, flowers, and bushes that sprouted from the soil around.

“You’ve made it,” Narcissa said, appearing right next to her.

Hermione jumped before smiling. “Is this…you? Behind all your walls and fortresses?”

“Hmm, all that you’ve seen so far is me, but yes, this is an area that you wouldn’t have access to with my shields up.”

“It’s beautiful,” Hermione said, her eyes trained on a bird flying overhead. “It’s not too bad, is it?”

Narcissa said nothing but followed Hermione’s gaze and shuddered, the bird screeched before trembling and falling to the ground.

“What  happened?” Hermione rushed toward the bird. “Is it OK? What does that mean?”

“Hermione, stop!”

But Narcissa’s voice faded in the background while Hermione dashed to the fallen bird. When she reached it, she fell to her knees by its side. It was dead, but it reeked and decaying flesh full of maggots hung off its skeleton. Hermione gagged and fell back. Shadows rose and swirled around her as wind picked up, howling. More birds screeched and the earth shook before the scene shifted.

Hermione clambered backward before rising to her feet. This was…Malfoy manor, the drawing room. She recoiled when she recognized the insane cackle of Bellatrix Lestrange filling the air. Hermione pressed her body against the wall, trying to blend in even though no one here could see her. These were just memories.

The door flung open and Hermione groaned when she saw her younger self pushed into the room and Bellatrix tossed her to the floor.

“Please don’t,” she muttered and shut her eyes, trying to block out the hurtful insults Bellatrix hurtled her way, along with her own sobbing screams. Merlin, how did she get into this memory? She clenched her jaw and opened her eyes, seeking Narcissa from the past since the other one, the one sitting beside her on the couch in a hotel room in Germany, wasn’t anywhere nearby.

When her gaze locked on Narcissa, she froze before treading closer. She tilted her head, taking in the tight grip Narcissa had on her wand. Her arm quailed with the strain and she jerked each time Hermione’s younger self screamed, begged for Bellatrix to stop. Narcissa’s pale complexion seemed sallow and sickly here, and the trembling only got worse as time passed.

Hermione halted in front of the quivering woman and suppressed the urge to reach out, to place the loose hair strand that had fallen into her face behind her ear. Narcissa’s eyes were wild and they flickered across the room until…Hermione remembered.

She looked over her shoulder and saw her younger self locking eyes with Narcissa who still stood rooted to the spot but held her younger self’s gaze. Up close though, Hermione noticed the tears that filled Narcissa’s eyes, tears that never trickled across her cheeks. Unable to resist any more, she reached out and touched Narcissa’s arm.

Hermione gasped the moment her fingers made contact and a current of shame and loathing rushed over her like a tidal wave. She shivered, the feelings drowning her, digging into her flesh, and sinking into her bones.

“Hermione, don’t,” her Narcissa, returning to her side, mouthed and pulled her away, back to the meadow. It was dark there and heavy gusts of wind blew all around them. “I didn’t wish for you to see that,” Narcissa said, seemingly unable to meet Hermione’s eyes.

“I don’t think it works like that,” Hermione ground out, still shaking from the drawing room.

“No, you seem lured to all I crave to hide,” Narcissa said with a trembling voice.

“I’m sorry. I should leave.”

“Wait. You…you should stay a while longer. Try and see if you can access my vault.”

“What? No way!”

“I’m giving you permission.”

“Then how would that even count? Aren’t I supposed to overcome resistance?”

“Oh, there will be resistance. Or there should be. I’m not removing my wards, it’s…you have my consent to try,” Narcissa said.

“Fine. Just no more rotting birds, please,” Hermione said, once more closing her eyes. Her surroundings shifted even before she opened her eyes, but when she did, not only was the meadow gone and she now stood in an ancient library, Narcissa had disappeared as well.

“Great,” Hermione mumbled. She edged forward and gazed at the rows of tomes and scrolls that filled the shelves and spattered the floors. When she turned to march farther down the aisle, vines sprouted from the ground, attempting to ensnare her body but it was as if she wasn’t even there. They never got a hold of her.

She kept on walking until she shrieked and ducked when knives shot her way. Like the vines, they never even scraped her. “Nice one, Narcissa. A warning would have been great,” Hermione groused. She marched on, drawn to something at the core of the library, while her heart jackhammered in her chest. What would she find? Was she ready to see whatever Narcissa had hidden here? What if this changed everything between them?

In the middle of the library the floor opened, and a banister covered a circle. She stepped closer and when she gazed down, she realized she’d reached the highest story and endless floors full of shelves spread out below her. Now what?

A crack echoed through the room and the balustrade shattered, turning to dust and with it, Hermione tumbled down into darkness, a resounding scream torn from her throat. She landed with a thump while dust soaked the air around her, but she was unhurt. Hermione coughed and stumbled to her feet.

The lowest floor turned out to be a reading room with opulent, dark leather chairs and heavy wooden desks. Hermione hesitated but then drew closer. There were several books on the tables. Most of them resembled her own favorite copies, well read and worn. She first picked up a gray book that instead of text shot out images of…baby Draco? Merlin, he was tiny! The images sped through time and she saw him zooming on a toy broom, baking cookies with Narcissa, losing a tooth, and waking up crying from a nightmare only to fling himself into his mother’s arms. Hermione smiled at seeing this side of the boy who had tormented them throughout their school years. She closed the book and picked up one bound with a blue cover that called to her. Hermione thumbed it open and once more images and voices streamed out.

Three little girls, laughing and running after each other in an opulent garden. Thunder cracked in the air, so loud, it startled Hermione. Rain pelted onto the girls while they were still playing, now jumping in small puddles that formed on the ground.

One dark-haired girl grabbed a broom and flew up high in the air while the other two cheered her on. Lightning filled the area along with a loud crack. All noise stopped before a sorrow tinged scream tore from the mouths of the girls on the grass. They rushed to the slumped figure of their sister, crying for help.

A loud bang followed by footsteps introduced a tall dark-haired man and a blonde-haired woman to the scene. They were shouting, but Hermione couldn’t make out the words. She cringed when the man yanked the fallen girl off the floor and while she hollered and cried inconsolably, he dragged her over grass, dirt, and stone into the house. The woman turned toward the two younger girls and they rose into the air, invisibly retrained, their arms locked at their sides and they shouted, at least until the woman tilted her head and both girls fell silent, though their mouths remained open in agonized screams.

Hermione’s vision blurred at their tear-stained and despairing faces, and her own tears brimmed the moment the girls resigned, dropping their heads - they stopped struggling. More and more similar scenes played out, and the girls got older, and fought with each other, then, sullen teenagers were punished for disagreeing with their parents. The moment she saw Narcissa sneak out of the Manor, Hermione turned away and fell to her knees, a sob ripping from her as she sat there, coiled up within herself until warmth engulfed her and the scene changed again.

She expected to be back at the meadow, but instead she was at Narcissa’s townhouse. It was that night when the blonde witch had told her the story of her scar. She stood across their past selves, huddled together on the floor and watched herself console a sobbing Narcissa. This time, though, she sensed Narcissa’s emotions. The warmth that had allowed her to escape from the vault and had transported her here was directed at her, it was, or had been caused by Hermione.

She’d felt cold at first, ice slithering up her body when she’d seen Narcissa trapped in that memory, but then heat melted the strain and instead left a comforting warmth behind that the older witch seemed to associate with her. Could this…? Hermione still couldn’t move and unlike in the vault, here she welcomed Narcissa’s emotions filling her, painting a picture with the combined forces of heat, affection, and something she didn’t dare to name that told the tale of Narcissa’s feelings for her.

After the darkness of the vault, a buoyant laugh bubbled up from deep within her and she flung her head back and enjoyed the emotions playful turn. The heaviness had ebbed away and now there was light, in all its different shapes and sizes. Happy, she opened her eyes and found herself back in their hotel room, with a tearful Narcissa sitting beside her, still clutching that ridiculous pillow. Tears filled Hermione’s eyes and she shifted forward, removing the pillow from Narcissa’s hands before engulfing the other woman in a crushing hug.  

***

She hated crying, especially with an audience. Her swollen face, and her puffy, red eyes, along with her complexion painted the sad picture of a dying beached sea animal.

There had been no defense against the potion, and all her wards had failed. Nothing had stopped Hermione in her vault, and even before then she could draw any memory to her, even the ones Narcissa desperately wanted to hide. They hurled to her as if she was a magnet tuned into the perfect frequency. At times, Narcissa could appear beside her, but often, when the scene Hermione was watching was too heavy, she found herself trapped, lodged in her own mind.

Now she was clutching the younger witch like a lifeline, and she still couldn’t stop crying. To get Hermione away from experiencing the memory of her scar, she had to allow her feelings for the younger witch to flow free, and Narcissa struggled to fathom how Hermione’s reaction to that was one of joy and happiness instead of disgust and loathing.

For sure, she liked to tease the young woman, but there was a difference between finding someone physically attractive and realizing that that person was in love with you. She wouldn’t have let Hermione endure that memory even if it meant exposing what she’d tried to squash out of existence, and when that had failed, had vowed to keep a secret. Her love had never led to a happy ending for anyone involved. Even her dragon had suffered.

“Are you OK? Did I hurt you?” Hermione breathed in her neck and Narcissa shivered before pulling away.

“I’m fine. Don’t worry about me. What about you? Any ill-effects? Does anything feel off?”

“I’m OK. Still worried about the Trojan Horse?”

“Yes, that, too.”

“What else?”

“Hermione, what you’ve seen and felt in there, I—”

“I won’t tell anyone. I’m…Merlin, your parents…” Hermione croaked.

“Hey,” Narcissa cupped Hermione’s cheek and wiped away a tear that had spattered across her face. “They’re dead. It’s in the past.”

“They are in your vault.”

Narcissa dropped her hand. “My vault is…complicated.”

A soft laugh fell from Hermione’s lips. “That’s one way of putting it.”

“Some memories in there are too precious for me to lose or to be tainted.”

“Baby Draco,” Hermione said with a slight smile and Narcissa nodded.

“Others are…they are there because their presence closer to my conscious mind can be…distracting.”

“I believe it. Still. They were so awful. Both of them,” Hermione said and her eyes shuttered close while her entire posture tightened.

“Shhh, it’s all right,” Narcissa said and grasped Hermione’s hands.

Hermione’s gaze fell to their intertwined hands and Narcissa had to stop herself from withdrawing. They might as well get it over with.

“Do you…” Hermione raised her head and Narcissa tried not to drown in her dark eyes. “Should we talk about this?”

“I don’t see what that will accomplish,” Narcissa said.

Hermione tilted her head. “You…I’m assuming when you took that potion, the one where you sensed my feelings…I’d assumed you…you were too polite to talk about it, or even too appalled,” she said. A small frown etched itself on Hermione’s features that Narcissa longed to wipe away.

Yet, she remained still and silent.

“But after…after the vault and the memory of that night at the townhouse, I—”

“You’re attracted to me. That’s fine. Why on earth would I be appalled by that? If anything, it’s flattering. Still, we don’t have to make a big deal out of it.”

“That’s not what I meant, and that can’t be all you’ve gotten from my emotions,” Hermione said, squeezing Narcissa’s hands. “There’s much more to it than that, though, yes,” she dropped her gaze again. “You are an incredibly attractive woman, but that’s not…”

 Those beautiful eyes were back and they were brimming with so much genuine affection and hope that the thing in Narcissa’s chest that only caused trouble lurched to a grinding halt before galloping so fast, she was afraid it would shatter her rib cage and break free. How fitting if her heart ran away from her. “Hermione, dear, this isn’t going to work,” she said and closed her eyes. She mourned the loss of Hermione’s touch when the younger witch withdrew her hands.

“But…what…you feel the same way!”

“I do. You are smart, beautiful, and kind. You are the most compassionate person I’ve ever met. There’s goodness, warmth, light and beauty within you that takes my breath away and—”

“Then what is the problem?”

“You’re the same age as my son.”

“I’m older!” Hermione protested and at Narcissa’s raised eyebrows added, “A few months at least.” She shook her head. “I don’t believe that this is it.”

“It’s part of it.”

“But it’s an easy part to overcome. I’m not a child. I’m also not a virgin, if that’s what you were worried about.”

Narcissa cringed and raised her hands. “No, I’m quite aware that you’re not a child.”

“Then why should age matter? Wizard and Witches live much longer than Muggles and we could still have a lifetime together.”

Narcissa’s mouth opened but she couldn’t form words at the awe and wonder that spread through her. A lifetime? “It wouldn’t be fair. You’re still so young. Hermione, you should enjoy your youth and go out there, experience life now that the war is over. You have so many opportunities ahead of you.”

“I could do that by your side, too. You make it sound as if being with you would stop me from living my life.”

“It might as well,” Narcissa muttered.

“I still don’t understand this. I thought you liked me, but not... I didn’t think you shared my feelings, and so I’d never hoped but now… I know you do, yet you say it won’t work. But all your reasons are nonsense. None of them would prevent us from being together…unless that’s the problem? What’s wrong with me?”

“Nothing, Merlin, there’s nothing wrong with you. You are wonderful,” Narcissa rushed to reassure the other witch.

“Then what is the problem?”

Narcissa sighed. “If you were a Slytherin you’d have let this go by now.” She pinched the bridge of her nose.

“I’m not.”

“I’m well aware of that. You foolish, brave bunch of idiots,” Narcissa said under her breath.

“Hey!”

Narcissa waved her off. “All houses are idiots, just for different reasons.”

“OK?”

“I have…or let’s say my love has the tendency to taint, or even ruin its target.”

“That’s not true! How can you even say that?”

Narcissa smiled at the outraged expression on Hermione’s face.

“Lucius is in Azkaban, Bella is dead, Andromeda lost her husband, and Draco…he suffered so much because I didn’t protect him well enough, and I…I allowed Lucius to bind him to the…to Tom,” she said and clenched her hands. Her eyes fell shut. She wouldn’t cry again.

“Wow. You’re more powerful than I thought,” Hermione said after a moment of utter silence.

Narcissa’s eyes snapped open and found Hermione’s. “What?”

“You made all that happen? How did you do that?”

“I’m not sure I follow.”

“I’m talking about you carrying crosses with which you had nothing to do!”

“What crosses?”

“Damn purebloods,” Hermione mumbled.

“Excuse me?”

“Cultural reference, doesn’t matter,” Hermione said and took a deep breath. “You are not responsible for any action Lucius took. Bella made her own choices. She followed Tom, that was on her, not you. Did you force her to do that? Did you force Lucius?”

Narcissa shook her head.

“All right. Andromeda followed her heart to be with Ted, and yes, she got the impression you abandoned her, but that’s not true. You wanted to meet with her, you wanted to leave back then, and you can still have her back.”

“It’s not that easy,” Narcissa protested.

“No, it’s not. It’s hard seeing people you love make awful choices, or make the right ones and still get hurt, and still lose.”

“What about my son?”

“What about him? He’s alive because of you. You have done everything in your power to protect him.”

“You don’t know that!”

“Yes, I do. You lied to Tom about Harry being alive. What would have happened to you if Tom had checked himself or asked someone else to check as well?”

Narcissa flinched.

“You know better than I do what they’d have done.”

“I watched Bella torture you in my drawing room and did nothing!” Narcissa yelled and jumped off the couch. She was panting as she towered over Hermione, her eyes wild.

“That…it wasn’t your fault. I saw…I was there with you, both times. When…when it happened and just now. Your memories. You wanted to help me!”

Narcissa paced. “I didn’t, though. I allowed my sister, my own flesh and blood to torture a child in front of me!”

“What would they have done to you if you’d helped me?”

Narcissa halted with her back turned to Hermione. “I don’t know.”

“What about Draco?”

Narcissa’s shoulders slumped but she still didn’t turn around. Those were avenues of thought she had refused to travel. Every decision she had ever made had been centered on protecting the ones she loved, no matter the cost to herself. If…if her intervention had only cost her back then, but there was always Draco to consider. She’d never sacrifice her son, but she also wouldn’t sacrifice Hermione now. She wouldn’t allow her to suffer because Narcissa had the audacity to fall in love with her. “None of that matters. It won’t work, Hermione.”

“Because you’re too scared.”

Narcissa spun around and stalked towards the dark-haired witch.

“I am not scared! I know when to quit, when following my selfish desires will end in pain and ashes. I will not ruin you!”

“You wouldn’t ruin me,” Hermione said and Narcissa had to close her eyes. That near, Hermione was too dangerous. She stepped back again.

“This discussion is over,” she said. “I hope you can respect my decision and drop this.”

Hermione scoffed. “I’d never force myself on someone, and you know that.”

“That’s not what I meant—”

“Forget it. It’s over, right?” Hermione said and rose, snatching a book off the nightstand and settled on the desk, continuing her research. Her research on how to heal Narcissa’s scar. Narcissa stood in silence in front of the couch and gritted her teeth. Oh, that infuriating woman! 

***

Another night that found her wide awake in bed while Hermione slumbered on. How she could sleep so soundly after this draining day, after wading through horrific memories, and after their blow-up that was followed by an uncomfortable evening with truncated silence suffocating the room. Or maybe that was only how Narcissa felt. Maybe Hermione functioned differently and moved on at the drop of a hat. There were plenty of other witches and wizards out there more suited for the young witch’s affection, and more welcoming of it.

Narcissa pressed her eyes shut. She was being ridiculous. She’d rejected Hermione’s affections yet was already heartbroken over the inevitable, over the dark-haired witch seeking and finding love elsewhere. Narcissa had resigned herself to just be Hermione’s friend, if the other witch was even still interested in that, and though she knew it was the right decision, it weighted her down like a ton of lead strung around her neck.

She’d drifted off to sleep shortly after four o’clock in the morning and still hung in that place between sleep and wakefulness when Hermione shifted and trembled. Narcissa tumbled awake when low whimpers were followed by groans morphing into shouts that grew in volume. She quickly cast a wandless silencing charm to avoid waking the rest of the hotel.

Narcissa scooted closer to Hermione and noticed that the younger witch was covered in a sheen of sweat while she appeared stuck in a taut lock that reminded her of…Oh no. This was all her fault. Narcissa reached out and nudged the other witch’s upper arm.

“Hermione. Wake up. It’s just a dream.”

Instead of easing out of her nightmare, Hermione thrashed and twisted, her body growing stiffer and her screams, interrupted by sobs and unintelligible words, increased while the pain etched on her features and the tears streaming down her face tore at Narcissa’s heart.

“Darling, you’re safe, shhh,” Narcissa muttered before pulling Hermione close, wrapping her arms around her shaking form.

The shouts lulled into groans and whimpers.

“It’s all right, you’re safe, love” Narcissa mouthed and kissed the crown of Hermione’s head. After a seemingly endless moment, Hermione’s arms snaked around her and pulled her closer while the younger witch buried her face in her neck and wept. Narcissa rubbed Hermione’s back that shuddered under the onslaught of her tears.

“You’re all right, dear. You’re all right,” Narcissa repeated again and again until Hermione stilled, then pulled back. She wiped her face.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t—”

“Don’t you dare apologize for having a nightmare, especially after everything that happened yesterday.”

Hermione offered her a watery smile and Narcissa, convinced she was on the cusp of losing her mind, could only take in how achingly beautiful Hermione looked. “Thank you. I usually…I often see these nightmares coming and cast a silencing charm on myself.”

“Again, please don’t apologize. You shouldn’t have to suffer through this alone.”

“It’s better…better than it was right after…” Hermione cringed.

“Do you want to talk?” Narcissa asked and hesitated before reaching out and tucked a thread of hair behind Hermione’s ear which made the other witch smile.

“It’s…the drawing room,” Hermione said, and tears once more filled her eyes. “We don’t have to talk about it. This is hard for you, too, and I don’t want to—”

“Silly woman,” Narcissa said and once more pulled Hermione into an embrace before she shifted back, seeking Hermione’s eyes. “How about I make us a pot of tea and we talk, about anything that’s on your mind. Don’t worry about me, all right? I can take it.”

Hermione nodded and relinquished her hold to allow Narcissa to exit the bed.

 

Chapter Text

They were sitting at their table having breakfast when a hare patronus burst into the room.

“Help! My family is being attacked. We’re at my store on the Bahnhofstrasse. Hurry!”

Hermione leapt up. “Who’s that?”

“A friend. Wolfgang Sommer. We have to help them.”

“What about the MLE? Should we bring them along?”

“No time. I’d told them they’re safe to apparate back to London for a progress report and asked that they be back here for lunch, for your meeting with that…man,” Narcissa ground out the last part.

“Right. Let’s go,” Hermione said, and they rushed out of their hotel room.

They entered a ransacked store. Shelves stood empty or contained only debris of broken potion vials and ingredients. Books littered the floors, some of them drenched in liquid while others lay open with torn out pages. Chairs and tables strewn overturned on the floor, one chair missing a leg.

“Who’d do that?” Hermione said and treaded through the rubble on the ground, mindful not to step in any liquid.

“Wolfgang…we never talked much about anything but potions and our families. He was worried about the potion brewer and said they’re not a particular pleasant or well-meaning group of people,” Narcissa said and trailed behind Hermione.

“We’ve established that,” Hermione said while spying a door that blended in with a decorative archway. “Through here.” She stepped toward the entrance and ran her wand along it. As soon as the wand touched the wood, the hair on her arms rose and a chill trailed down her spine from the magical current that rushed from her hand through her body. “There’s a lot of magic here,” she muttered.

“Let me through first.” Narcissa had also drawn her wand before stepping up to Hermione.

“I don’t need protection,” Hermione retorted but ducked her head when Narcissa balked. “Sorry.”

“It’s fine. I’m not doubting your abilities, dear. Please indulge me.”

Hermione nodded after holding Narcissa’s gaze, assuring herself that there was no pity in the blonde witch’s eyes. She wasn’t an invalid, and she refused to let anyone treat her as such, even the woman she was hopelessly in love with.

Narcissa cast a silent alohomora and the gate creaked open. They crept along a narrow and dark hallway that led them down into the building. Candles flickered on the walls farther down, right before they reached a large and heavy oak door. It was locked and alohomora failed.

“How much force are you comfortable using?” Hermione asked.

“If they are behind it, we will surprise them with a lot of force, but what if they are not? Then we’d be ringing an alarm with bombarda,” Narcissa said the moment a scream rang out from the other side. Both women exchanged a quick glance before yelling “bombarda maxima” at the same time. The door shattered and they rushed through its empty frame into a cold and damp room.

“Watch out, the floor is wet,” Narcissa said and pointed at the glistening cobblestones.

“Is there a leak somewhere? What is going on here?” Hermione said, her gaze flitting across the area.

After a moment, darkness fell over the room and multiple apparation cracks rang out while smoke billowed up around them.

“It’s a trap,” Narcissa rasped, pushing Hermione behind her.

Hermione wanted to object and at the minimum stand right next to Narcissa when a stabbing pain boomed in her skull. She groaned, one hand shooting up to cradle her head while she sunk to her knees.

“Hermione!” Narcissa spun around. “What is it?” Her gaze flickered between Hermione and the approaching shadows. She turned back, facing their attackers, casting protego seconds before a stupefy hurled their way and bounced off her shield.

Hermione, locked in a haze of pain and confusion, slipped to the ground the moment Narcissa appeared to alter her shield charm with an incantation Hermione had never heard before. The shield spread all around them, forming a protective bubble that reflected all the curses that rained down on them. Narcissa’s “Hang in there, Hermione!” was the last thing she heard before passing out.

***

They were outnumbered, and now Hermione had collapsed. Narcissa’s heart pounded and sweat pooled at her lower back. Her sanctum shield would only hold so long. She hoped Wolfgang had sent out his patronus to more people and that they would join in any moment, but she knew she was deluding herself. No one was coming. The MLE group had no idea where they were, and no one else would find them here. Did Wolfgang mean for this to happen or were these the same attackers that got to his family? Did that matter?

She needed to protect Hermione, but the spells that hammered against her shield only became more aggressive and the barrage required her to pump more and more force into her shield. Would it be smarter to reserve her energy instead of bleeding it out all here on the spot? It was only a matter of time before they’d break through.

She kneeled beside Hermione and touched her chest. Narcissa concentrated and muttered an old protective spell from an ancient tome she’d found one night at the Black library. She’d only ever guarded Draco that way, before his sixth and seventh year at Hogwarts. The charm imbued a person with an internal shield that would lessen or ward of physical attacks. She stroked Hermione’s hair after she finished the incantation. “I’m so sorry I got you into this,” she whispered before dropping her shield. She crouched over Hermione with her wand stretched out, but the attacks had stopped. Water dripped onto stone somewhere and for a drawn-out moment it was the only sound in the room.

Then the beanstalk stepped out of the shadows, applauding. “Who’d have thought Narcissa Black would care for anyone but herself?”

“What do you want?” Narcissa spat, aware of the other witches and wizards that had appeared in a circle around her and behind Nils. They’d cast themselves in silhouettes and had their wands drawn and pointed at them. She hadn’t spent years around Death Eaters not to be familiar with this spell or to be remotely intimidated by it.

“I didn’t expect you to recognize me or—”

“I recognize you. We’ve met at the potions conference,” Narcissa said with impatience, fear, and outrage thundering through her veins. Why couldn’t these people ever get to the point? No, instead they first needed to share their life story to fabricate some inane excuse for their madness and wrongdoings.

“No, no. Our families go way back. I was surprised to learn that you were here, and I’ll admit, you’ve complicated my mission and I had to speed things up, but thanks to your little pet here,” he said smirking, “it all worked out.”

Narcissa clenched her jaw. “Hermione isn’t a pet.”

“No.” Nils tilted his head. “But you’d love for her to be yours.”

Narcissa reinforced her mental shields. She had felt no intrusion, and even if the beanstalk had taken that wretched potion, she’d still have noticed his presence in her mind.

“Take care of them,” he said before turning and strolling away.

She’d expected stupefy, but they cast incarcerous and ropes tied her arms while shackles drew around her legs. The shadows lifted and a wizard pulled her to her feet and shoved her forward while another picked up Hermione’s unconscious form and carried her behind them.

What type of wizard would carry someone instead of levitating them? A slight frown marred Narcissa’s features and while shuffling along, she craned her neck to ensure the wizard wasn’t harming Hermione any further.

***

Nausea coiled through Hermione in waves and her head resembled a shattered pavement after a run-in with a jackhammer gone wild. What on earth happened? Oh, wait, they’d been attacked and instead of fighting back, she’d fainted. Where was Narcissa? Was she OK? Hermione fully opened her eyes and blinked before rising to her feet. She was in a cell and, she patted down her body, they’d taken her wand.

“Narcissa, are you here?” She called, clasping the metal bars with both hands.

“Hermione! Thank Merlin. Are you all right? What happened?” Narcissa said, stepping to her own cell door across from Hermione.

“I have no idea. I couldn’t do anything back when they attacked us. My head…”

“That potion! It must have been the potion. That horrible man added something to it.”

Hermione released a heavy sigh. “That was the Trojan Horse? How?”

“Probably. I’m not certain what he added exactly but it’s too convenient that you’d collapse the moment Nils and his goons ambush us.”

“Wait, what? Nils was there? I was just thinking that I’ll miss our lunch and won’t discover more about them.”

“We’ll learn everything about them. He really enjoys hearing himself talk.”

“He does, doesn’t he?” Hermione said. “I should’ve listened to you. There was another way to get to them and now we’re trapped.”

“It’s fine. Your plan was reasonable, and apparently, without me in the mix, it might have worked.”

“What do you mean?”

“I appear to have a history with Nils and his family, one that I cannot seem to recall.” She crossed her arms in front of her chest.

“Oh, OK.”

“I’ve done many things I’m not proud of, but you’d think I’d remember something that had spurred another wizard on a wild chase for revenge.”

“Sometimes we don’t see how we’re hurting others, especially if we’re too focused on dealing with our own issues,” Hermione said and sat back down. “I’m assuming they also took your wand?”

“Yes,” Narcissa said and sunk onto the cell floor.

“Can you produce a patronus without your wand?”

“Maybe, if I could cast one in the first place. Too bad Nils is an idiot, not a dementor.”

“No,” Hermione chuckled. “I meant to use it like your friend Wolfgang did, to send a message to the MLE guard back at the hotel.”

“Oh, right. The patronus charm is never close to my mind.”

“Why can’t you produce a patronus?”

“Let’s discuss that another time, in a different setting with less…ears to overhear that conversation,” Narcissa said, rubbing the back of her neck.

“Right,” Hermione said, chiding herself for not thinking of that. They were likely listening in on them. “You can’t think of why he has a grudge against you?” Hermione asked after a moment of silence.

“No, but I’m sure he’ll tell us.”

“I’ve been in tighter spots. We both have, and we’ll get out of here again,” Hermione said, not liking the defeated appearance of Narcissa.

The door opened, and Nils entered.

“I don’t agree with that. You, my lovely Hermione, have never been in a spot like this before,” he said and sauntered over to her cell.

“You know nothing of me,” she spat.

“This is where you are wrong. Again. Your British papers are gushing over you, integral part of the Golden Trio, best friend of the Boy Who Lived. I don’t think he even knows you’re here. What about your ginger boyfriend? Do you think he will charge in here and save you? Is he aware that Black over there is pining for you?”

Hermione blanched but said nothing.

“Can you do more than just talk?” Narcissa drawled, and Nils spun around before stalking to her cell.

“I assure you I have many skills.”

“That’s just more talk,” Narcissa said, and Hermione marveled at how she could seem so calm and bored while imprisoned in a basement in a foreign country. Without their wands.

Nils grabbed the metal poles and pushed his face close to Narcissa. “You are arrogant and heartless, and I’ll make you pay for what you’ve done to my family.”

“It can’t have been much, given that I don’t remember you, or your family,” Narcissa said, her arms folded.

Nils clenched his jaw. “You’ve ruined my family, besmirched my father’s name and destroyed his reputation.”

“What do you expect? That I apologize for something I don’t remember doing? I’m not sure your father would approve of what you’re doing right now.”

“He’s dead. He died a broken man with his reputation still in tatters, years after you attacked him!” Spittle flew from Nils’s mouth.

“You bore me. Can you please get to the point?”

“Narcissa,” Hermione hissed. Why was she provoking him? How would that help their situation.

“You should listen to your pet,” Nils said and took a step back.

Narcissa ground her jaw.

“This will get you thinking,” he said and strode toward Hermione’s cell again.

“Leave her alone! She has nothing to do with this!” Narcissa called and clutched the metal bars.

“Yes, she’s just…collateral.” He raised his wand and yelled “alarte ascendare,” resulting in Hermione flying into the air and slamming against the ceiling before the force of the spell smashed her down, banging her against concrete. She groaned.

“Hermione!” Narcissa called. “Leave her alone, you bastard!”

Hermione shook herself and ambled up onto her feet. Her head stung and when she checked, and her fingers encountered sticky wetness.

“This is all her fault,” Nils bellowed.

“She…didn’t just slam me against the ceiling and the floor like a ragdoll. You did,” Hermione griped.

“Silence!” Nils closed his eyes.

“What do you want from me?” Narcissa asked.

“I want you to suffer, like you’ve made my family suffer!” He shouted. “An eye for an eye. You’ve at least heard of that, haven’t you?” He addressed Hermione.

Hermione stayed silent and released a trembling breath when he left the room again.

“Hermione, are you all right?”

“Yes, I’m fine. Nothing’s broken.”

“I’ll end this bastard!”

“We need to find a way out of here.”

“We must wait for an opportune moment. Right now, Nils has the upper hand.”

“If you believe that, why were you provoking him earlier?” Hermione asked and cringed in pain at the throbbing in her head.

“I’m sorry,” Narcissa said and pulled her legs closer to her chest. “I thought he’d release his anger on me, and that I might get him to reveal something useful. If I’d known, I’d—”

“That doesn’t make it better! I don’t want him to hurt you either!” Why would Narcissa even consider this an alternative option? Then again, going by their conversation from last night…

They remained alone, and silent for several hours. By now, evening should have come around. Finally, the door opened again and instead of Nils, two wizards she’d never seen before opened her cell door and dragged her out of the room.

“Where are you taking her? Let her go!” Narcissa shouted after them.

They led Hermione through another corridor that opened into a spacious but barren room, aside from a desk and two chairs.

“Sit,” one wizard grumbled.

Hermione sat down and they left. She remained still for a moment and then turned around. The door was closed and there was no one else in here. What was this about? Would…what if they went after Narcissa while she was gone? She jumped out of her chair and dashed to the door, but it was locked. Cursing, she closed her eyes. After a moment, she muttered “alohomora,” and the door sprang open.

She crept along the hallway, trekking back toward their prison cells. When she drew closer, she heard a loud bang, followed by a shout. Hermione nudged the door open and ducking low, she sneaked into the room.

Nils had opened the door to Narcissa’s cell, and with his wand out, he crouched over the blonde witch who lay unmoving on the floor.

Hermione’s heart plummeted and bile crawled up her esophagus. She was no match against Nils without her wand, but she needed to help Narcissa. Her gaze flitted across the room but there was nothing useful in sight. Meanwhile, Nils berated Narcissa, who still hadn’t moved. What had he done to her? Maybe a surprise attack? Once more closing her eyes, she prepared to cast a wandless stupefy at Nils when the pain in her mind returned. Red-hot tendrils of agony sizzled through Hermione’s brain and she cried out, both hands flying up to hold her head. Her vision blurred and nausea spread, balled like a fist in her stomach. Her knees gave out and she buckled onto the floor, vomiting before passing out with Nils laughter ringing in her ears.

***

Narcissa groaned and touched her head. She’d come to at the tail-end of Hermione’s collapse. The younger woman lay motionless and Narcissa had no way to help her, unless she tricked Nils somehow. It was worth a try. “What did you put in that potion?” She croaked.

“That was one of my more brilliant inventions. Are you familiar with the unbreakable vow?”

“Quite,” Narcissa said and rose to her feet.

“I found a way to bind a witch or wizard to me if they drink a specific concoction I’ve created. I can add the incantation to any potion I want, but I figured given how Hermione had been ogling you at the conference, she’d be the most tempted by a potion that allowed her access to your mind.”

“There’s nothing going on between us,” Narcissa grumbled.

“That’s hardly the point. I knew she’d fall for it, and she did.”

Dread bloomed in Narcissa’s stomach. “How is she bound to you?”

Nils gaze shifted from Hermione’s prone figure to Narcissa. “Nothing so crass.”

“Tell me!”

“You haven’t guessed it yet? I thought you were smarter than that,” Nils said and smirked.

Narcissa clenched her jaw. “You’ve messed with her magic.”

“In the most delicious of ways! If she tries to use her magic to harm or injure me in any way…”

“She is punished,” Narcissa said and pursed her lips.

“When you ruined my family, you not only destroyed my father’s potions business, but you also ended my parents’ marriage and turned my father into an alcoholic who neglected his family, bent on drowning the pain you caused! And my sister…” His hand balled into a tight fist.

“Your family had a potions business?” Narcissa asked, her head spinning. She remembered an altercation with an arrogant and vile young man when she was visiting relatives in Germany with her family. She must have been no older than seventeen.

Nils just stared at her.

“Your father…Hein, Hans?”

“Heinrich Richter!”

“Oh,” Narcissa said. She remembered, though the story she recalled didn’t align itself with the tale Nils was spinning.

“You remember us after all, huh?”

“I remember a presumptuous oaf neither understanding nor respecting the word no, and who’d tried and failed to garner favor with my family to market his subpar potions in England.”

“Subpar…my father was a genius, and deeply in love with my mother before you came along! You were the one trying to come between my parents, and when he rejected you, you embarrassed him in front of all his colleagues and business associates at a dinner party. His reputation was shattered, and he never recovered from it.”

“Whoever spun this tale told you nothing by lies. That isn’t what happened!” Narcissa spat.

“You destroyed my family!” Nils shouted and screamed “crucio.”

Narcissa fell to the floor, not again, she thought before her mind retreated into her sanctuary while pain stabbed through every cell, incinerated every nerve ending and spread like a wild fire through a forest that hadn’t seen rain in a decade.

***

The sound of pained screams and harsh breathing pierced the fog in her mind, and Hermione blinked rapidly, her arms still weak but she pushed off the floor. She stumbled forward, the screams continuing and echoing in her head. Suddenly, Hermione was back in the drawing room at Malfoy manor and she heard insane cackling rumble in her ear. The scar on her arm burned and she clutched it while pressing her eyes closed. No, no…this couldn’t happen now. She couldn’t…

“How are you enjoying your front seat to my revenge?” Nils asked, taking his eyes off Narcissa, grinning at Hermione. “Here,” he said and removed a wand out of his back pocket and threw it at Hermione. “Enjoy the torment of watching the woman you love lose her mind. It’s a fitting punishment given what that Black scum has done to my family.”

Hermione had caught the wand in reflex. It was her wand. Why was Nils returning her wand?

“All you’ll be able to do is watch because even with your wand, you’re helpless.”

Understanding dawned on Hermione and her gaze fell to her wand. The Trojan Horse Narcissa had warned her about prevented her from directing her magic at Nils, at least not without pain and fainting spells.

“You didn’t see that coming, huh?” Nils laughed and returned his focus to Narcissa, “Cruc—”

Expelliarmus!” Hermione shouted and fought against the hammering in her head and ignored the blood trickling down her nose.

“What? How?” Nils said while his wide-eyed gaze tracked the flight of his wand to the other corner of the room.

Incarcerous,” Hermione said, her knees sagging, and she reached out to steady herself against the wall. Her breath turned shallow and her vision blacked out for a second. She took a deep breath, steadied herself and stumbled to Narcissa’s cell.

“You won’t get away with that,” Nils hissed.

Silencio,” Hermione mumbled and fell on the floor, half on-top of Narcissa. Every part of her body ached as if she were mere minutes away from passing out. She checked for Narcissa’s pulse, and the weak but rapid flutter under her fingertips flung a weight off her shoulders before igniting the energy needed to summon Narcissa’s wand and to apparate them back into their hotel room where she passed out.

 

 

Chapter Text

She’d awoken in a stupor right after midnight. She’d levitated Narcissa into their bed and after checking on her, she’d apparated close to Hogwarts to get medical supplies from Madam Pomfrey. They had come prepared, but neither was expecting the cruciatus curse, and Hermione wanted to make sure Narcissa received the best care possible.

Back at the hotel, she’d first informed the MLE group about Nils and his attack, as well as reassuring them they didn’t need any help at this point. They had been searching for them all over town and had informed her they have the ministry’s backing to go after Nils and his group. They’d been also tasked with ensuring the safety of Wolfgang Sommer and his family. After a discussion for which Hermione had been too tired, they insisted on keeping watch of their hotel room in case Nils tried to come after them here.

When she entered their room, Narcissa still hadn’t regained consciousness. Poppy had instructed her to get several restorative and pain-numbing potions into Narcissa as soon as possible. Hermione searched through her supplies until she found the right potions, and with them in hand, she trod to the bed. She gently lifted Narcissa’s head and while muttering reassurances, she managed to, bit by bit, drip the potion into Narcissa’s mouth. 

After casting a monitoring spell on the blonde witch and setting it to alert her to any changes, she went to the bathroom to take a shower. It had been a while since she’d stood crying in a shower stall but once under the hot stream, a dam broke, and Hermione bawled helplessly. She’d been so stupid! She should’ve listened to Narcissa and poured that damn potion down the drain. Because of her stubbornness Narcissa was tortured and she’d been useless, worthless. Hermione sank to the floor and pulled her legs close to her chest, still crying.

It took her a while to gather her strength and finish the shower. She left the bathroom and drank the healing potions Poppy had added for her before crawling into the bed. Her monitoring spell had stayed quiet and had still shown no change. Poppy had said it’d be likely that Narcissa wouldn’t wake up before the morning and told Hermione not to worry too much. Before drifting off, she registered Narcissa shifting and curling up against her side.

***

Narcissa drifted to consciousness sore and with an odd pressure on her chest. She was surrounded by warmth, and even through the aching in her body, she registered the softness of the bed. She started when memories of the previous day flooded her mind and opened her eyes, blinking several times. She was in their hotel room and, her gaze shifted to her chest, Hermione’s head lay on her chest and her own arms were wrapped around the dark-haired witch. They’d made it out. How did Hermione manage that? The last thing Narcissa remembered was Nils casting the cruciatus curse on her right after Hermione had collapsed to the ground.

Narcissa stroked Hermione’s back and kissed the top of her head. They were safe. At least for now. Merlin, how she hated that unforgivable curse, though she was glad Nils had cast it on her and not on Hermione. After having been on the receiving end one too many times, Narcissa had created a sanctuary in her mind to hide and withstand the curse mostly unaffected, at least mentally. The physical part was still hell, and her body would ache for days. Age didn’t improve that situation at all.

She buried her face in Hermione’s hair and at the clean, citrusy smell of the other witch’s shampoo, she relaxed and drifted back to sleep only to be woken in what felt like a blink of an eye by Hermione stirring and then scrambling up, withdrawing from Narcissa.

“I didn’t mean to…” She waved between them.

“Use my breasts as a pillow?” Narcissa said and chuckled at the blush that immediately spread over Hermione’s features.

“That. Yes.” She cleared her throat. “How are you?”

“Physically or mentally?”

“Both?”

“My body aches, but my mind is mostly fine. I’ve learned overtime to withstand the cruciatus curse without too much of a negative mental impact.”

Hermione’s eyes widened and she opened her mouth but Narcissa interrupted her.

“Not now, please. I’m sure I’ll tell you all about this one day, but not today.”

“Of course. You don’t have to say anything that you’re not comfortable with sharing.”

“I know that,” Narcissa said and grasped Hermione’s hand. “Thank you for getting us out of there.”

Hermione pushed a lock of hair behind her ears.

“Come here, dear.” Narcissa held out her hand.

“But…I thought you didn’t want…”

Narcissa frowned.

“Or can’t?”

“That hasn’t changed, but…I’m…your presence and warmth helped, and if it wouldn’t be too much of an imposition on you, then—”

Hermione rushed forward and nestled closer to Narcissa. “No imposition, none at all.”

“Thank you,” Narcissa said, wrapping her arm around Hermione and pulling her close.

They remained like this in silence for several minutes before Narcissa had to ask. “You got me potions.”

“I’d apparated to Poppy and she gave me everything I needed. She also examined me and reassured me that the thrall Nils put into the legilimency potion will fade away with time.”

Narcissa leaned her cheek on Hermione’s head. “That’s good. How…how did you get us out of there?”

“He hurt you. I heard…I heard your screams and at first, I was right back, back when…”

Narcissa pulled the younger witch closer to her body. “Bella.”

“Yes.” Hermione cleared her throat. “Nils gave me my wand back.”

“He did what?”

“I was confused, too, but then realized that the potion was preventing me from using any magic against him, and that he counted on that to keep him safe.”

“He was sure his potion wouldn’t fail him.”

“It didn’t fail,” Hermione said while her fingers traced patterns on Narcissa’s arm.

“What do you mean?”

“I disarmed him, then I tied him up and—”

“You used physical force?”

“No, I used my wand.”

“But how?”

“I didn’t use it against him. Magic is about intent, and once…once I shifted my intent to you, I could cast spells. My intent was no longer to harm him, but to save you.”

“That is incredible,” Narcissa said. “You truly are the brightest witch of your age.”

“When I came to, you were still on the floor, motionless. I wasn’t sure if…you’d even still be alive,” Hermione said and Narcissa felt the warmth of her tears against her nightgown.

“You were very brave,” Narcissa muttered and kissed Hermione’s temple. “My little lioness.”

“Some stupid lion!” Hermione spat and her hand tightened on the blanket.

“Don’t disparage yourself.”

“It’s true! Without me drinking that stupid potion we’d have stood a chance when they first attacked, or they wouldn’t even have lured us there because for what?”

“Nils wouldn’t have known you didn’t drink it, so the attack still would have happened.”

“But I was useless because I didn’t listen to you. You were hurt because of me!” Hermione rushed out and raised herself to a sitting position, and Narcissa was breathless for a second from the loss of Hermione’s nearness, the anguish on her beautiful face, and by the desire to pull the dark-haired witch close and never let her go.

“Hermione, you didn’t mean for any of this to happen.”

“That doesn’t change—”

“No, dear. Please listen to me,” Narcissa implored. “You are not responsible for what Nils did. No one forced him to brew those potions, to expose so many innocent Muggles to them, to get back at me for some fantasy slight that never happened. That’s all on him.”

Hermione tilted her head. “You remember what happened?”

“Yes, but that’s not the point. I’ll tell you later. First, I need you to understand that this wasn’t your fault, and I hold nothing of what happened yesterday against you. I forbid you to carry this burden!”

“You forbid me?” Hermione laughed, though a few tears escaped and rolled down her cheeks.

Entranced, Narcissa sat up and reached out to cradle Hermione’s cheek, wiping away her tears. “Yes. I won’t allow you to suffer,” she whispered and fell helplessly in Hermione’s soulful dark eyes. Her heart lurched and her breathing increased. She bit her lower lip and leaned in, slowly, while voices in her head shouted at her to back away, but Narcissa was convinced she’d die without tasting Hermione’s lips. Before she could connect their lips, Hermione surged forward and captured her lips in a bruising kiss. A gasp fell from Narcissa’s mouth that was followed by a low moan from Hermione who pushed her back down on the bed, straddling Narcissa without ever breaking their kiss.

Hermione’s arms snaked around Narcissa’s neck while she lowered her body until she lay stretched out on top of the other woman and her legs fell between Narcissa’s.

Narcissa’s hands found purchase on Hermione’s back, pulling her closer while her stomach clenched, and a shudder ran through her the moment one of the younger witch’s legs shifted and pressed against the heat at the apex of her thighs.

Hermione broke their kiss and instead trailed kisses and nibbles down Narcissa’s throat, who threw her head back with a guttural groan to allow Hermione better access.

Narcissa was drowning in the sensation of Hermione pressed against her, the weight of her body, and her sweet smell that overwhelmed her senses. Heat pooled between her legs once Hermione drifted lower and nuzzled at her cleavage. Her hands shot up and cradled Hermione’s head. “Hermione, dear.” She moaned when Hermione’s hot tongue snuck below the lace of her night gown. “Stop. We need to stop,” she panted, raised her head and shut her eyes.

“Are you OK?” Hermione asked, and the concerned tone of her voice proved to be Narcissa’s undoing. She covered her face with one of her arms and wept while Hermione scooted up and embraced her, pulling her close.

“Shhh, it’s all right. We’ll work it out. Don’t worry. We’ll figure it out,” Hermione muttered, pressing soft kisses on Narcissa’s head while the blonde witch sobbed into her neck.

Narcissa got a hold of herself after several long moments, and a forgotten and taught shame clung to her at first, having lost control so thoroughly and going after what she should never even desire awakened demons she should have vanquished years ago. Her tears stopped and she drew back from Hermione’s embrace. “I’m sorry,” she murmured.

“There’s no need to apologize.”

“I don’t usually break down like this, and before…I led you on and—”

“Look,” Hermione said and positioned herself in a way that she caught Narcissa’s gaze while grasping both her shoulders, commandeering the blonde witch’s entire attention. “What happened yesterday…it was a lot. You were tortured by an insane wizard with the cruciatus curse for, I don’t even know for how long, but one moment is too long. You have every right to be upset and to cry, and please don’t think you led me on. Just let this go.”

“That’s easier said than done,” Narcissa said.

Hermione flipped around to lie on her back. “We can talk about what happened with Nils, while I was out.”

“Not now. We should talk to the MLE, maybe they got to Nils and hopefully they found my wand. If they didn’t destroy it,” she said, and a grim expression crossed her features.

“No need. I’d gotten your wand back right before apparating us out of there. It’s on the table over there. Beside the supplies I’d gotten from Poppy.”

“You did?” Narcissa’s eyes widened and she had to hold back the urge to topple and kiss Hermione.

“Of course.”

“Thank you, dear. You’ve done so much for me and all I did—”

“Stop it. Please. I… Nothing can ever happen between us again because you got it into your head that you’re no good for me—”

“It’s the truth.”

“It’s a matter of opinion, and we disagree. I don’t want to talk about that right now, and I’d rather keep what happened as a fond memory instead of hearing how much you regret it.”

“But Hermione, I don’t—”

“Please, Narcissa,” Hermione said, and her wounded expression made Narcissa close her mouth. She didn’t regret it because she was too selfish for that, but that wouldn’t make Hermione feel any better, nor did it change her overall resolve.

“All right.”

“All right,” Hermione repeated and sighed. “Mind telling me what Nils thought you did back then to his family?”

“Can we first order something to eat? I’m assuming you don’t want to head out for food.”

“Right. Of course.” Hermione sat up and leaned over Narcissa to grab the telephone.

Narcissa froze, swallowing hard at the nearness of the dark-haired witch. She squeezed her eyes shut and counted to ten, in English, German, and French while Hermione placed their order.

“Sorry for crowding you. It’ll be about forty minutes,” she said and settled back in the bed.

Narcissa could tell by the little smile on Hermione’s face that the younger witch was anything but sorry. “You were saying about Nils?”

“Oh, OK.” Narcissa cleared her throat. “I believe it was in the early ‘70s because I was still at Hogwarts. It was during a summer holiday when we traveled to Germany to visit family.”

“I didn’t know you had family here.”

“What? In all your extensive research on the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black you didn’t come across a family branch in Germany?” Narcissa teased Hermione and laughed at the predictable flush that right away overtook the other witch. “You’re making this too easy, dear.”

“I’d say you’re enjoying this too much,” Hermione grumbled.

“That is correct,” she said before turning somber once more. “My relatives here have long since passed away, without heirs. Back then, my aunt and uncle were in the potions business and as a prominent pureblood family, their word carried a lot of influence.”

“Naturally,” Hermione said.

“The Richter family, Nils’s parents, were new in town, but they also came from a long line of successful potions brewers, but that talent seemed to have skipped a generation because Heinrich was a quack.”

“That’s Nils’s father?”

“Yes. After about a year in the new city, he took over his father’s potion business. He was around twenty years old then, and his wife was pregnant.”

“With Nils or did they have more children?”

“I’m not sure. Nils mentioned something about a sister when we were in the basement, but he didn’t go into details.”

“Go on.”

“I’d like for you to keep in mind, if you could, the general attitude of my family, especially when it comes to…”

“Muggles? Toujours Pur. Yes. I recall,” Hermione said and Narcissa lowered her head. “Hey.” Hermione reached out and clasped Narcissa’s hand. “You’re not like that. I’m not going to judge you based on their behavior or beliefs. And I really don’t like your parents.” 

“I used to share their beliefs, though, and while I’m not taking all the blame, the story I am about to share is not pretty, and my role in it…”

Hermione squeezed her hand. “You can trust me. I won’t hold anything against you.”

“You shouldn’t hand out a carte blanche in this manner. There are things you cannot promise.”

“We all made mistakes when we were young, and I doubt you’re about to confess a brutal, cold-blooded murder, so I’m feeling pretty OK with my promise here.”

Narcissa chucked. “No, no cold-blooded murder.”

“All right then. Please continue.”

“Heinrich was insufferable, but his father had been an incredibly talented potions brewer. His mother was a Muggle, though, and that fact alone made my family less inclined to any business involvement. Still, they were competition and my aunt and uncle invited them, Heinrich and his wife, to an important dinner one night.”

“That’s when it all happened?” Hermione said.

Narcissa nodded, still holding on to Hermione’s hand. “I’d never been fond of such formal dinners, though at seventeen, I hadn’t the patience I’ve accumulated since then to endure them. My parents were a bit laxer about me constantly being present since it wasn’t one of our own dinner parties, and so I took that opportunity to head out on a balcony, away from it all.”

Hermione’s thumb stroked over the back of her hand and Narcissa wondered if she was even aware of that.

“Soon enough, Heinrich joined me on the balcony. Small talk, and all that. I don’t…I’m afraid I don’t recall everything that was said that night. It’s a time in my life, my youth in general, I try not to revisit.”

“That’s understandable,” Hermione said.

“He made several innuendos which I ignored, but I suppose he took my silence as an acquiescence and tried to kiss me. I pushed him away and threatened to hex him. He laughed, and then said something that he could have me if he wanted. I told him he was delusional, or something in that vein.”

“I’m sorry,” Hermione said.

“It doesn’t matter.”

“Did you tell your parents?”

“What? No. That wouldn’t have made a difference,” Narcissa said. “Either way. Later, during dinner, he kept staring at me, yet his pregnant wife sat right next to him.”

“He sounds horrible.”

“Eventually, the potions brewers talked shop and the women were supposed to either leave the room and gossip amongst themselves in the parlor or sit quietly and smile at their husbands.”

“How charming,” Hermione drawled.

“Quite,” Narcissa said and sighed. “Those were the pureblood ways of old. Heinrich was bragging about his sales and about how powerful his potions were. I knew he was a fraud because a friend a mine had told me about his diluted potions and dwindling sales. She’d even showed me one of his potions. She’d shopped there before, and while his father was in charge during the first year, their potions were of prime quality, but then he had gotten sick and Heinrich took over.”

“None of the other potions masters knew?”

“I don’t know, but…he drew me into the conversation and… I was still upset from before and the entire situation, the vacation, Andy’s departure,” she groaned. “I wasn’t in a good shape overall, and when he…he was so condescending and there was no way I was letting this excuse of a man talk to me like that.”

“What did you say?”

“I don’t recall it verbatim, but I insulted his heritage, and said something about how delusional he must have been to think a half-blood abomination like him could ever belong in this group, and that his potions were subpar and well, that he was a talentless hack without a future.” Narcissa loosened her grip of Hermione’s hand, sure the younger witch would withdraw it any moment.

Hermione laughed. “But you don’t recall it verbatim?”

Heat crawled up Narcissa’s neck.

“Why did you go for the heritage part?”

“Because it would stick. He’d tried to hide it, or at least hope that no one would find out. His potions truly were dreadful. Any third-year student at Hogwarts could do better, but…the blood status carried more weight among my family, and…to be honest, I loathed that about him, too.”

“Would that still be your focus today?” Hermione asked, intertwining their fingers.

“Of course not! He was vile and he disgusted me, no matter his blood status, but back then, it added to it. Today, that wouldn’t even cross my mind.”

“So why are you so afraid that I’ll judge you for what you’ve said to this awful man back then?”

“Because I was no better than any of them! I was the same snobbish, bigoted, heartless coward as the rest of them.”

“You’ve changed, though.”

“Yes, but Nils wasn’t that far of. I was cruel to his father, and…his potion business never recovered. He didn’t get a chance to market his products in England and—”

“One night of embarrassment and losing a trade deal won’t ruin a business, and it most definitely doesn’t make you responsible for however Heinrich acted because of it.”

“I don’t know…”

“You loved Lucius, right?”

Narcissa’s eyes widened. “What?”

“It was an arranged marriage, I’m assuming?”

“Yes.”

“He comes from an old pureblood family, too, so he was also taught the same attitudes towards Muggles and Muggle-borns?”

“Yes, of course.”

“And you loved him?”

“After a while, I grew to love him, yes.”

“My experiences with your ex-husband have been…unpleasant, to say the least. He has shown nothing but utter disdain for me and my friends. He mistreated Dobby, and he believed Tom. He…you said that you couldn’t forgive him for endangering your son.”

“Yes.”

“When did you decide that Tom’s teachings were nonsense?”

“I don’t understand the purpose of these questions,” Narcissa said and drew back, breaking her physical contact with Hermione.

“I’m not judging you, and I’m not trying to trick you. Please.”

“I don’t know. There was no set date. I didn’t look at the calendar and make a mark. It was more of a process. When Tom…” Nausea swept through her at the memory. “He killed Charity Burgage, your Muggle Studies teacher. He did it at my house, on my dinner table.” Hot tears ran down her cheeks. “He tortured her, and toyed with her, and her screams,” Narcissa said and her bottom lip trembled.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t…I just wanted to make a point that Lucius and you had similar upbringings, but he didn’t change through it all, or at least if he has regrets, it relates more to where he is now, but you’ve changed, even before your side lost.”

“My side,” Narcissa muttered and withdrew further.

“I…I don’t see sides when I look at you. I don’t think of you like that,” Hermione rushed out.

“How do you think of me? You didn’t want to be my mentor, so even if you don’t view me like you used to, I was much the same to you as Lucius is now.”

“That’s not true! I didn’t know you, and we hardly interacted. Part of my reluctance also came from what happened in the drawing room. Either way, you saved Harry, and—”

“For Draco! I might have changed my way of thinking and realized that blood isn’t what separates us or makes us special, but most of what I’ve done that you consider good was for selfish reasons. I protect whom I love and if the rest of the world goes up in flames, as long as mine are safe, so be it!”

“Is that why you are working on a cure for all the Muggles addicted to Nils’s potions?”

Narcissa’s mouth opened and then closed again. “How…how do you know?”

“I came across some of your notes. I’m sorry, I wasn’t spying or anything, but your handwriting is so beautiful and then your notes were fascinating, and I couldn’t stop reading at first but then—”

“Breathe, Hermione, breathe,” Narcissa grabbed Hermione’s shoulders. “I’m not mad at you.”

Hermione swallowed hard. “I don’t want to upset you. After everything you’ve been through…”

“You were trying to help me, though your path there certainly lacked any Slytherin finesse.” Narcissa clasped their hands together. “I believe I understand what you were trying to make me see, but much like…the drawing room is still an issue for you, for us, so is this. Reason and logic are sometimes outmatched by our hearts.”

“I know,” Hermione said.

“Lucius loves us in his own way, and yes, he was too enamored by his family’s beliefs and traditions, too power-hungry, and if my parents hadn’t been so…harsh, I’d have clung to their beliefs stronger, and longer, too.”

“B…Bellatrix did,” Hermione mouthed and ducked her head.

Narcissa sighed, wondering if Bella would always take up so much space between them. “Hermione, look at me,” she said and once the other witch caught her gaze, continued. “I loved Bella. I love Andy. They were my world growing up. We were all we had, all the love and affection we didn’t get from our parents, we gave that to each other.”

“I understand,” she said.

“No, I don’t think you do. I don’t approve of Bella’s actions, and Andy and I had begged her not to follow Tom. She was so smart. And funny. Such a wicked sense of humor. I still don’t know why Tom drew her in like he did, but she made her choices, and I made mine. So did Andy, and we all lost each other,” Narcissa said and squeezed Hermione’s hand. “The woman who did this to you,” she pointed at the younger witch’s arm, “that wasn’t the sister I loved. That sister had died long before, even before Azkaban robbed her of the last bit of her mind.”

“I’m afraid now I don’t follow,” Hermione said, tears welling in her eyes.

“You cannot save me, dear, not from the demons of my past, not from how they are still clawing at me and dragging me down at times. No, hush,” she said when Hermione opened her mouth. “I love that you want to. It’s much more than anyone aside from my dragon ever tried to do for me. But this is a fight that I have to win on my own.”

Hermione held her gaze and then sighed. “I get it. But…do you think we could keep each other company?”

“For what, dear?”

“The repair. We…we can be there for each other. I might not be able to fight your battles, and I must conquer my own demons, but while we’re doing that, can we sit together? Physically, yes, but also mentally. I’d like to be there for you, in any way you want me to.”

“Hermione, you know I—”

“No, no. This isn’t…it’s not about that.” She fidgeted. “I won’t lie and say that your decision about us, when it comes to being more than friends, that…that it doesn’t hurt me, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t want to be there for you. As your friend. I…I accept what you can give me, and I promise, I won’t push for more. But please allow me to be there for you.”

Hermione’s earnest gaze and pleading words shifted something in Narcissa. While she wouldn’t allow them to become more than friends because that would be, without a doubt, the most selfish act she could commit, and oh, how she wished and longed for it to be different, but more than that, and more than ever, she yearned to be Hermione’s friend. If that’s all she could ever be, she’d be the best friend Hermione had ever had.

“I’d love that,” she said and smiled.

 

 

Chapter Text

Back in London, the ministry had set the trial date for Nils Richter. Germany had extradited him since the use of an unforgivable curse carried a greater sentence than violating the statute that prohibited magical folk from trading in potions with Muggles. The British ministry had also agreed to aid in the research of a potion that could heal the affected Muggles in Germany, an easy promise, once Narcissa had informed Kingsley of her progress on developing such a cure.

After they’d arrived, Narcissa and Hermione were drawn into different directions, and even though they still worked with families of Muggle-borns, they hardly saw each other.

Hermione, determined to finish her research on how to heal Narcissa’s scar, had a new mission. She wanted to reunite Narcissa with her sister Andromeda. They both deserved it, and she was convinced both witches longed for it, yet were too stubborn or too afraid to make the first step.

“Hermione, it’s so good to see you again,” Andromeda said and ushered Hermione into her living room.

“It’s good to see you, too. Is Teddy asleep?” She asked after sitting down.

“No. Dora took him to the zoo with Harry and Ginny. How was your trip? Did my little sister give you any trouble?”

“No, no,” Hermione said and fought off a blush. “Narcissa was…great. No issues.”

Andromeda observed Hermione for a while, to the point that saw Hermione fidget with loose strings of the pillow next to her. “I’m glad to hear that. Not that I’m not happy to see you, but what brings you here?”

“You’re a hard woman to keep secrets from,” Hermione said.

“When you grew up as a child of Cygnus and Druella Black, well, let’s leave it at that, shall we.”

“I came to talk to you about Narcissa again.”

“I thought everything was all right between you two?”

“It is. Why wouldn’t it be? What could be wrong between us?” Hermione wanted to slap herself, or at least take back what she’d just said. Why was she unable to hide her emotions? Yes. She was preoccupied with thoughts of Narcissa, and she missed the other woman more than she’d thought possible. She was also still upset that Narcissa had dismissed the feelings that had grown between them, but that was so not what she had come here to discuss with her older sister.

“Hermione?” Andromeda asked, her voice rising. “Did Narcissa upset you? You can tell me.”

“No, she didn’t do anything. We got along well. I’d even say we became friends. That’s why I’m here. I’m…not much for subterfuge or subtlety, so I’m just going to say it. I think you should contact Narcissa and try to mend fences.”

Andromeda stared at her, then blinked before throwing her head back and laughed. “That easy, huh? I write to her or show up on her doorstep, or better, why don’t I floo into her living room and say, oh, Cissa, how about we bury the hatchet?”

“I’m serious!”

“We’ve talked about that before, and I thought you’d understood. Narcissa has made her choice, and it wasn’t for me, for us. She still hasn’t contacted me, and it’s been two years since the war ended!”

“Maybe there’s a reason and you won’t know until you talk to her.”

Andromeda halted and narrowed her eyes. “You know something. What did she tell you?”

“I, uh, she didn’t…” Hermione said and pulled at her fingers. “It’s not that easy. I won’t betray her confidence, but I am positive that if you were to reach out to her, it would make her happy.”

“And that’s something you want?”

“I want you to two to patch things up and be a family again.”

“No, not that. Make her happy. Is that what you want to do?”

Hermione couldn’t stop the heat crawling up her neck and bursting into her face.

“I see,” Andromeda said and leaned back in her chair. “Friends, huh?”

Hermione groaned and covered her face with her hands. “Fine. I have a crush on your sister, but that doesn’t change the fact that I think it would be good for both of you to reunite! I care about both of you.”

“I don’t doubt that,” Andromeda said. “Is your crush hopeless?”

Hermione’s eyes filled with tears. “What do you think?”

“That my baby sister is more of a fool than I’d thought.”

Hermione wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. “What…you…you believe she…that it would be OK for us to…”

“Not if you’re stuttering around like that and can’t even say it. Do I have a problem with you and Narcissa being romantically involved? No. She might not be my first choice for you because that relationship would be a struggle and—”

“I don’t care if others wouldn’t approve!”

“I wasn’t going there yet,” Andromeda chuckled. “It would be a struggle because of Narcissa and—”

“She’s a wonderful person, not a hardship or a struggle!”

“My! This sounds more serious than a mere crush, my dear.”

Hermione clenched her hands and lowered her gaze to her lap.

“I’m not trying to upset you, and I’m not insulting my sister. Narcissa isn’t a terrible person, she never was. Remember, I still love her. But there…so much has happened, and I missed most of the trauma of her adult years, but I’m familiar with our childhood and so know there are demons that would rear their heads and make your relationship difficult.”

“Some things are worth fighting for,” Hermione said.

“Oh, I agree. That’s one reason I turned my back on my family and ran away with Ted, even though it broke my heart to leave Bella and Narcissa behind.” Andromeda’s eyes turned unfocused and her gaze shifted to a window.

“I know that must have been hard.”

“Yes, but it’s odd because it was both one of the easiest and hardest decisions I’ve ever made. But enough about me. Why don’t you do it then?”

“Do what?”

“Fight for her.”

Hermione’s shoulders slumped.

“She doesn’t reciprocate your feelings? That is something you cannot fight. I’m sorry—”

“No, that’s not it. If it were that, I’d…it would be OK. It would hurt but you cannot choose who you fall for and you cannot force these things—”

“Unless you’re an old pureblood family keen on selling off your offspring,” Andromeda said, and the bitter tone of her voice made Hermione raise her head.

“I’m sorry,” Hermione said.

Andromeda waved her off. “What is it then?”

“She believes that being with her…that it would ruin me.”

“She’s not wrong,” Andromeda said.

Hermione vaulted off the couch. “Yes! She is! I don’t care what people would say or how they’d judge me! It’s still my life and I get to make such decisions, she shouldn’t…” Hermione clenched her jaw and fell silent.

“What would you do if Harry turned you away? If you lost the Weasleys? What if all the witches and wizard who admire you, who offer you opportunities because you’re one of the Golden Trio, what if all of them looked at you with disgust instead?”

“I’m giving my friends more credit than that. We’ve been through so much and we love each other. They wouldn’t turn their backs on me because I have feelings for Narcissa. Ron might call me mental and Harry might get uncomfortable and polish his glasses a lot, but they wouldn’t reject me. And if they did, so be it.” Hermione raised her chin.

“All right. And the rest?”

“I hate the attention I’m getting because of what happened during the war. Good riddance to all of it!”

“Even if it meant you’d miss out on amazing job opportunities? A successful career?”

“I’d find something to do. If the Wizarding world is so pig-headed, we could always live in the Muggle world where no one would know us.”

“Do you think Narcissa would do that?”

“That’s a moot question given she’s decided we can’t be together.” Hermione sank back on the couch.

“You’d leave everything behind for her?”

“Yes, but again, it doesn’t matter.”

“It does matter, Hermione. It matters a great deal.”

Hermione noticed for the first time that Andromeda’s eyes shimmered with tears.

“I’d have done the same for Ted. I did the same, and I lost. I lost so much, even Ted, and I almost lost Dora…I still don’t understand how Bella’s curse missed.” She cleared her throat. “We grew up in a loveless house, and sometimes it seemed that we’d never find another love other than the one we had between us. When I left… I know it hit my sisters hard, but I thought they’d be OK. They still had each other.” Andromeda shook her head. “Narcissa hasn’t known a lot of love in her life, and more often than not, she lost the people she’d loved, or they were put in danger for reasons outside of her control.”

“I know,” Hermione mumbled.

“It fills me with hope that you feel this strongly about her. So once again, tell me, why don’t you fight for her?”

“How can I do that when it goes against her wishes! I promised I’d let it go, that I’d accept that friendship is all we can have and—”

“You’re a fool, too.”

“Excuse me?”

“The way you talk, that…fire in your eyes. Your love blazes bright, and I know if my sister feels the same way, she burns just as intensely. You’ll never be friends. You cannot be friends with such heat between you.”

“What else is there? I don’t want to lose her, Andy.” Hermione closed her eyes when she could no longer hold her tears at bay.

“Come here,” Andromeda said and sat down next to Hermione, pulling the other witch into her arms. “You’ll find a way. You Gryffindors always do. Just be prepared to put up a fight. You can still respect her wishes while showing her how foolish her decision is. Be there for her, for each other.”

***

“Almost there,” Narcissa muttered and increased the fire under her cauldron, stirring the potion twice clockwise before making one slow counterclockwise rotation. The potion turned lilac and she smiled before hurrying to her desk to add to her notes. Her cure was coming along nicely. A few more test-runs and she should be there. She’d been spending all her time either trying to alleviate the concerns of Muggle parents whose children were about to go to Hogwarts to study magic or tinkering on her potion to heal all these poor Muggles in Germany.

It had been two weeks since their return from Germany, and while she missed Hermione more than she’d admit, seeing her only in passing between appointments, she’d also taken this time to regain her equilibrium, and she felt stronger now, and in a better position to stick with her resolve to freeze her relationship with the dark-haired witch at the friend level without being tempted to push for more.

“Mother, have you ever heard of bowling?” Draco said, entering her lab.

“Bowling? No. I don’t think so. Why?”

He huffed. “That’s where I’m heading, and I’d hoped you could prepare me a bit more.”

Narcissa frowned. “Why are you going to a place called bowling without knowing what it is?”

“No, bowling isn’t a place. We are going to a place where you can play bowling.”

“It’s a game. A muggle game then?”

“Yes. It apparently involves heavy balls you’re supposed to use to knock out sticks? I got bored when Potter tried to explain it to me. He also mentioned something about borrowing shoes.” He shuddered.

Narcissa’s eyes widened. “You’re going out to play some Muggle game with Harry Potter?”

“Hey! You’re one to talk. You’ve been cozying up with Granger all these months now.”

Narcissa ducked her head, and no, she wouldn’t blush like a schoolgirl in front of her own son! “That’s not…I’m not criticizing you.”

“Are you all right, mother?” Draco said and stepped closer, touching her shoulder.

“Yes, my love.” She stood straight and patted his hand. “How did this all come about?”

“Astoria and Ginny are friends. Who’d ever heard of a Slytherin-Gryffindor friendship,” he grumbled and withdrew his hand.

“It’s not entirely…uncommon,” Narcissa said. “I’m glad you’re getting over old school-time feuds.”

Draco snorted. “That’s one way to call it. I need to figure out how to do that bowling correctly. I’ll never live it down if I lose against scar-head.”

“Dragon, be nice.”

“Yes, yes.” He sighed. “Are you any closer to a cure?” He sniffed at the bubbling potion.

“I am. I believe I’m near perfecting it.”

“Of course you are, mother,” Draco said and smiled. “I have to get ready. Don’t want to be late for an exciting double-date with the boy who just wouldn’t die.”

“Draco,” Narcissa said but chuckled and kissed his cheek.

“I’m getting it out of my system. Don’t forget to eat dinner. You’ve already skipped lunch,” he said.

“All right, darling. Have a good time.”

“Thank you,” he said and left.

Life indeed had changed for the better since that blasted war had ended, since Tom had found his rightful downfall. And who would have guessed that the young Gryffindor hot-heads who dealt the final blow to Tom and his Death Eaters would be so instrumental in allowing Draco and Narcissa to turn the tides in a struggle that had threatened to drown them.

That evening, when Narcissa retired from her lab and entered her kitchen to grab a bite to eat, she heard a beak clacking against her living room window. A small tawny owl fluttered inside as soon as she opened the window.

“Who are you?” Narcissa cooed and stretched out her arm. The little bird flapped a few laps through the room before settling with a hoot on her wrist. “You got something for me, huh?” She released the scroll from his foot before walking to the kitchen and grabbing a few owl treats that the bird gobbled whole. “You’re a cute little thing,” Narcissa said and stroked the owl’s throat. She released him back into the night and closed the window before settling on the couch and unfolding the note.

“Please meet me for tea, tomorrow, 4pm at my place. ABT.” She read out loud and then dropped the scroll in her lap. Could this be? Why now? What had happened that made her sister want to have tea? Narcissa shook off her daze and rushed off the couch to pace her living room. Tea? After everything that had happened, she invited her to tea? She expected Narcissa just to show up, with no further note or explanation? That was so typical of Andromeda. Always leaving her with more questions than answers.

What was different now? The war ended over two years ago and now she wants to see me? Shouldn’t Narcissa be pleased that her sister had reached out to her instead of questioning her motive? She was happy, ecstatic even, though also still cautious because an invitation to tea didn’t promise they’d be able to repair their relationship.

The face of a dark-haired witch with russet eyes, who never remained far away from her thoughts, and who made her heart lurch and then speed up, popped into her mind. She wouldn’t. Surely Hermione didn’t go to Andromeda and…what? She sat back down on her couch.

No. The younger witch wouldn’t betray her trust like that. If she did suggest a meeting between Andromeda and Narcissa, she wouldn’t share what the blonde witch had told her in confidence. She didn’t trust easily, and while there was a small part of her that still fretted, and likely forever would fret, even over the fate of dinosaurs if all other worries were long gone, Narcissa knew that her trust in Hermione was both deserved and well-placed.

She didn’t sleep well that night and rose early only to once more flee to her potions lab to distract herself from her upcoming meeting with her sister. They’d be in the same room, intentionally, for the first time since Narcissa was a teenager. She had contemplated reaching out to Hermione to ask her about this letter, about this…unexpected request, but she didn’t want to know. She wanted to go there and see for herself, unprepared, and hoping for the best.

Besides, she had heard little from Hermione and had wondered if the dark-haired witch’s feelings had cooled down, now that they were no longer in daily close contact. Therefore, potions it was since she’d otherwise only pace a hole in her carpet.

Narcissa had changed her clothing several times before deciding to wear the Muggle jeans she had bought with Hermione in Germany underneath her robes. She’d even once more put the enchanted coin the younger witch had given her into her pocket. Not that she’d expected harm at Andromeda’s but it…just felt right.

When she ambled along Andromeda’s driveway, her steps slowed. Nervous energy shot through her while queasiness settled in her stomach. She swallowed hard and after hesitating, her knuckles rapped on her sister’s front door.

Silence. Then the sounds of footsteps marching toward the front door before it opened, and there she stood, Andromeda, in the flesh, holding on to the door and taking in her younger sister who resembled a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.

“You came,” Andromeda rasped before tears streamed down her face and she fell forward, hugging Narcissa and weeping in her neck. Narcissa froze for a fraction of a second before she pulled her older sister closer, releasing an anguished sob while her hands balled into fists as she clung to Andromeda’s robes.

“Come inside,” Andromeda said after a while and clasped Narcissa’s hand, leading her inside.

Narcissa gazed at the set-up of tea and an assortment of scones laid out on the table. “You believed I’d come.”

“I’d hoped you would, yes.” Andromeda cleared her throat. “Sit down. Here,” she poured tea and handed a cup to Narcissa before sitting down herself.

Both witches sat in silence, drinking tea.

“Do you—”

“How did—”

“You first,” Andromeda said.

“How…how did this happen?”

“That I sent you the message?” Andromeda asked.

Narcissa nodded but remained silent.

Andromeda sighed. “I’ve been wishing to reconnect with you for years, then the war happened and once more the distance seemed insurmountable.”

“I was thinking about you, too. All the time, though to be honest, I tried to suppress and burry most of these thoughts. They were too…”

“Painful?”

Again, Narcissa nodded.

“I also thought you’d reject me,” Andromeda said and lowered her head. “Like you did back then…”

“I didn’t, and I wouldn’t have now. I doubt I’d ever rejected you.”

“That’s good to know.” Andromeda placed her cup on the table. “What happened then? Why didn’t you show up?”

Tears filled Narcissa’s eyes. “I wanted to. I was on my way when…” Her eyes fell shut. “Let me show you,” she said and after a moment of hesitation, she felt her sister’s presence in her mind.

***

Nils Richter was tried and found guilty on the use of the unforgivable cruciatus curse on Narcissa, and also charged with and convicted for his plot to use Muggles as his guinea pigs to create potions intending to torture and harm witches and wizards in both Germany and the UK. Healers from Germany had shown up and testified about the detrimental impact of Nils’s potions on the German Muggle community. Hermione and Narcissa had attended his trial and given evidence about the events in Germany. It had been the first time in almost a month that saw them together in the same room for a prolonged time.

“Do you…Would you mind joining me, at my flat. I’ve…there’s something I’d like to discuss with you.” Hermione asked on their way out of the ministry.

“Right now?” Narcissa said.

“Yes, but if that’s not convenient for you, we can meet another time. I just…it’s been a while and I—”

“I’ve missed you, too,” Narcissa said and smiled. “I’d love to spend time with you. Lead the way.”

Hermione returned Narcissa’s smile and together, they headed for her flat.

“You’ve been busy these last few weeks,” Narcissa said, trailing her hands over scattered books and scrolls on Hermione’s desk.

“There was a lot to do. Nils, the Department and,” she stopped, collecting her thoughts. “I’ve had a breakthrough.”

Narcissa held her gaze. “Oh? In what?”

“Remember back in Germany when I’d told you I was close to finding a way to help with your scar?”

“Of course, dear.”

“I did it. I found a way.”

“That is amazing,” Narcissa said. “However, I’m sensing some hesitation. What’s wrong?”

“It…I had to invent the spell and I’ve tried it, and it works and—”

“Wait, slow down. You invented a spell to heal my wound?”

“Yes, but it wasn’t out of nowhere. My research led me to it, and while they were all close before, they never got there all the way. I’ve figured it out, though, and I first tested it and—”

“Tested it how? This is a cursed scar!” Narcissa grasped Hermione’s arm. “You healed it?”

“What? No, no. I told you what I’ve done wouldn’t work on mine.”

“That is true,” Narcissa said and released Hermione’s arm before pacing. “I’ve looked into your scar. It’s…” She licked her lips. “It’s complicated and I don’t want to share anything yet, but there might be a way to help.”

“You don’t have to and…” Hermione trailed off at Narcissa’s glare.

“How did you test it then?”

“I used test subjects from Muggle medical schools.”

Narcissa froze and her mouth fell open before she closed it. A moment of silence stretched between them before she found her voice again. “You cursed Muggles?”

“What? No! I mean, yes, but they were dead.”

“I’m afraid I don’t understand.”

“It doesn’t matter. I may have committed breaking and entering if you want to be technical, but then again, is it breaking and entering if you don’t get caught?”

Narcissa blinked. “You’re sure the hat didn’t want to sort you into Slytherin?”

Hermione laughed. “No. I’m not Harry.”

Narcissa did a double take. “What?”

“Never mind that. I didn’t hurt anyone. Some Muggles donate their bodies to science after their death, and so medical students use them to learn and practice their craft.”

“That’s barbaric!”

“That’s not the point. I just wanted to assure you I didn’t harm anyone.”

“What if your spell hadn’t worked? Wouldn’t Muggles have noticed the difference?”

“I’d have disillusioned the scars.”

A frown marred Narcissa’s features but she nodded. “Of course.”

“It worked, though. It healed the scar. Now, your scar is older and brought on by ancient magic from your wards, so I doubt it’ll make it disappear, but it should turn it into a normal scar.”

“I understand.”

“Does…does your scar still hurt today?”

“Sometimes,” Narcissa said, folding her hands in her lap.

“If you ever—”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” Narcissa snapped. “I apologize.” She sighed. “I…it’s been a lot, these last few weeks and I doubt talking about this will do me any good.”

“We don’t have to. I just meant to say we could, at any point, like, whenever you feel like it. That can be never, too.”

“Thank you,” Narcissa said.

“Do you want to try to heal the scar today or another time? It’s a long and complex spell and you’d have to hold still for it.”

“We might as well get it over with now.”

“If you’re sure.”

“That way, there’s less of a chance that I’ll talk myself out of it.”

“What? I don’t understand. Why would you do that?”

“Being vulnerable isn’t a particular strength I possess,” Narcissa said, seemingly avoiding Hermione’s gaze.

“I’d never hurt you. Or judge you or anything like that.”

“I know that,” Narcissa said and raised her head to meet Hermione’s gaze. “That doesn’t erase a lifetime of habit, of being told…” She clenched her jaw. “Let’s get this started.” She rose and opened her robes, revealing a form-fitting dark purple dress.

Hermione rubbed the back of her neck and averted her gaze. “Right. Uh, you can lie on the couch there?” She hoped Narcissa wouldn’t comment on the way her voice had just cracked.

***

She’d been good, so, so good, but that had only worked because she hadn’t been in Hermione’s presence for an extended time, and never alone. Now, everything came crashing down. Part of this could be blamed on recent events, the stress of Nils’s trial, her deposition, and reconnecting with her sister, but try as she might, all her good intensions crumbled with one gaze of the younger witch.

Still, even though she couldn’t control her emotions, that didn’t mean she had to act on them. Though this would be much easier without having to lie on the couch at Hermione’s flat with her dress bunched up and her legs spread. Merlin, don’t go there.

“Are you OK?” Hermione asked, gazing up from inspecting the long, red, and jagged scar that darted up Narcissa’s left thigh from right above her knee.

“Why wouldn’t I be?” Narcissa asked, refraining from biting her lips. Why did Hermione have to look at her like this while kneeling next to her? She’d never get that visual out of her head.

“You groaned, and I thought you might be in pain.”

“No, no. Just not good with…”

“Being vulnerable, all right. Let’s see.” Hermione’s gaze returned to the blonde witch’s scar and Narcissa clenched her jaw. This couldn’t be over fast enough.

Hermione raised herself up a little and pulled out her wand. “Are you ready? I don’t think it’ll hurt, though it might get hot and your skin probably will grow tight.”

“Go on,” Narcissa pressed out.

“Hey,” Hermione said and grasped one of Narcissa’s hands, rubbing her thumb over tightened knuckles. “We don’t have to do this. If you’re that uncomfortable, it’s not such a good idea. I only want to help you and—”

“Hermione?”

Dark eyes locked onto hers. “Yes?”

“Cast the spell!”

“Right. OK,” she said and focused on the scar once more.

Narcissa leaned back and her eyelids fluttered close. Hermione’s murmurs of the incantation bled into her mind and blended like white noise. Heat crawled up her leg and as the other witch had predicted, the skin around her scar tightened, but neither sensation approached her pain threshold. Quite the opposite. She bit her lip, drawing blood from trying to remain silent, struggling to keep her body still, from making the choice of either spreading her legs wider or pulling them close together. Her breathing quickened and her hands tightened on Hermione’s couch while the magic of the dark-haired witch drummed through her body.

The air around her seemed to electrify and ignite while a sheen of sweat accumulated on her body. She still managed to be quiet, though her eyes remained pressed shut. She refused to look at Hermione, sure it would break any resolve that still had her clinging to what was left of her sanity.

After what felt like an eternity, Hermione fell quiet.

Still, Narcissa eyes remained closed.

“This is as good as it’s going to get,” Hermione said, and her voice seemed unnaturally loud in the otherwise silent room. “Does this hurt?” she asked when the featherlight touch of here finger ran up the scar on her thigh.

Narcissa trembled and her back almost spasmed from her attempt to keep still, yet a low groan fell from her lips. She opened her eyes and once more locked on Hermione’s gaze. They were quiet; their labored breathing the only sound reverberating through the room. Hermione’s pupils were blown, and Narcissa didn’t doubt that they were matching her own. The one finger that had trailed up her thigh was joined by the rest of Hermione’s hand and at the gentle touch, Narcissa’s eyes fell shut again. Heat once more suffused her skin and she fell back down on the couch, covering her face with her arm. She should stop this.

“No,” she sighed. “It doesn’t hurt.” That’s not the right no, she thought but forgot in the same moment why that even mattered.

***

Hermione had been so focused on healing Narcissa’s scar that she was slow to recognize the shift in mood, or that the tension in Narcissa had a different source than she’d first assumed. When she did though, it hit her like a reducto blast. Every piece of her shattered, turned to ashes by the heat that raced through her body. Her stomach clenched and the wave of arousal that washed over her at the sight of Narcissa sprawled on the couch with her legs spread made her dizzy. She stared at her own hand on warm, delicate flesh and feared she might faint.

Narcissa had clarified that her touch didn’t hurt, and Hermione was torn. The blood drumming in her veins and the rapid flutter in her chest pulled her in one direction, while her mind worried, as always. She’d promised Narcissa she would stop, that she’d accept the blonde witch’s decision that they’d just be friends, so pushing thing beyond this point…even though she wanted nothing more, it seemed… Hermione’s thoughts arrested, faltering as if caught in tar when Narcissa dropped her right leg, opening herself up further and moaned. 

Hermione’s wand slipped from her fingertips when she pushed herself off the floor and crawled on-top of the couch, hovering over Narcissa who uncovered her face and opened her eyes. Hermione’s greedily drank in Narcissa’s flushed face, the way her teeth worried her lower lip while her chest rose and fell as if she’d just finished a marathon.

Narcissa’s hands held on to Hermione, pulling her down on top of her. Both witches groaned when their bodies meet. Narcissa’s breath caressed Hermione’s cheek and when she shifted, raising one leg and pressing it between Hermione’s, the dark-haired witch’s back arched and her hands slammed down next to Narcissa’s head.

Then the blonde witch chuckled.

Hermione’s hands moved to cradle Narcissa’s face and she bowed her head and captured her lips in a hungry, open-mouthed kiss. Her eyes fell shut at the heat and taste of the older witch’s tongue that rushed to tangle with her own while Hermione’s body rocked against Narcissa’s leg.

Narcissa’s hands glided up and down Hermione’s back before sneaking below her jumper and Hermione shuddered when Narcissa’s fingernails scratched down her back. Their kiss intensified and so did Hermione’s jerky movements against Narcissa’s leg. She ached to feel Narcissa’s hand against her heat but couldn’t draw her mouth away from the taste of Narcissa’s lips to utter such a request.

A buzz rang out, followed by a hissing sound that made Narcissa break their kiss.

“What is that?”

“What?” Hermione tried to shift her focus from Narcissa’s warmth to her words. “Oh.” She scrambled off Narcissa and the couch. “My wards. Shoot.” She ran a hand through her messy hair. “Harry and Ron must be on their way here. I’d promised I’d tell them the result of the trial right after and then…well, I forgot, and they likely got worried.”

“How do you know it’s them?” Narcissa asked, sitting up and straightening her dress before fixing her hair into a neat bun.

“I set my wards to allow certain people to knock? They all have a unique resonance or sound. Ron’s the buzzing sound, and the hissing is Harry because, well, he’s a parseltongue. It was kind of a joke and—”

“Shall I leave?”

“What? Why? We’re…we never checked on your scar…”

Narcissa raised one eyebrow at her but remained silent.

“That doesn’t count,” Hermione said, her hands finding her waist. “We need to discuss this further,” she said and waved between them, “since your proclamation about a platonic friendship between us seems to be more difficult than expected. Unless you’ve changed your mind?”

Narcissa sighed and lowered her head.

“Right. I’ll let the boys in. Please stay.” Hermione said and before dropping her wards, she reached out and cupped Narcissa’s face. “We’ll figure it out.”

Narcissa smiled softly and nodded.

***

While it wasn’t the longest hour of Narcissa’s life, by the time Harry and Ron were ready to leave, she had to retrain herself from tapping her foot. A large part of her had wanted to escape, not so much to avoid Hermione’s guests, but to get away from the younger woman who shattered her resolve faster than a golden snitch flattering out of its restraints. Narcissa had never struggled to stick to a resolve, and no matter how much she’d yearned for something in the past, if she’d decided to forego it, that’s what she’d done. Temptations hadn’t fazed her, until now.

“Sorry this took so long, but they’re both still terrible at reading a room and picking up on subtle hints,” Hermione said once she rejoined Narcissa after saying goodbye to her friends. She stood in front of the couch, her jumper a size too big, and one of her hands pulled at the sleeve of the other arm, playing with a loose string.

“Sit down,” Narcissa said. “You wanted to talk, and I prefer for you to sit, too.”

Hermione sat down. “How kind of you to ask me to sit down in my own flat.”

“Kindness is my middle name,” Narcissa said and smirked.

“How…how will we do this?”

“Do what?”

“You know exactly what I mean. How do we manage to just be friends?”

“We could stop spending time together.”

Hermione’s face fell and Narcissa’s heart clenched at the sight and the prospect.

“Is that what you want?”

“No,” Narcissa said and shifted in her seat.

“I don’t want that either. It would also ruin a proposition I wanted to make today.”

“Dare I ask?”

“It’s nothing bad, or…particularly intimate,” Hermione said and cleared her throat.

Narcissa chuckled. “Tell me.”

“We should train you in how to cast a patronus. There’s no touching involved in that, and we won’t have to enter each other’s minds or drink potions that get us in trouble.”

“I’ve concluded that Mr. Potter isn’t the only member of the Golden Trio who is a magnet for trouble.”

“At least you’re not claiming that we’re going out searching for it,” Hermione griped.

“Excuse me?”

Hermione waved her off. “A left-over bitterness from Hogwarts. We were often accused of seeking trouble. That’s hard to do when a mad-man wants your best friend dead every new school year.”

“Hmm. I can imagine how that led to some resentment.”

“What do you think?”

“About your proposal?”

“Yes.”

“I’m in the last stages of my cure for the affected German Muggles. I’m hoping to provide the first batch to the ministry this weekend, but after that…it might be smart to work on my patronus. Using it as a messenger would have been helpful in Germany.”

“That’s what I was thinking. Your background, or…the history of the wars, they’ve left you open to attacks out of nowhere.”

“Not out of nowhere, and I’m not helpless.”

“I know that! I’m not implying that you are. But there are still people on the run with a potential grudge against you and your family, and so…the patronus charm is something you should be able to cast.”

“I’ve done it before.”

“You have? When? What was your patronus? But you said you can’t cast it?”

Narcissa laughed. “I haven’t cast it since I’ve left school. I cast one in Hogwarts, during my fourth year. I’d discovered the spell in Andy’s textbook, and it fascinated me, so I practiced it and eventually, it worked. I could produce a corporeal patronus. It was a falcon.”

“Wow.”

“Bella and Andy would tease me, first that I’d had nothing better to do than studying a spell book two years away from my actual curriculum, but also because of the shape of my patronus.”

“What’s wrong with a falcon?” Hermione asked.

“Nothing. They connected it to Ravenclaw, me being studious, always disappearing behind books, then I’d produced a bird as my patronus.”

“I’ve did some research on patronuses as well and—”

“Of course you did,” Narcissa said and a fond smile spread across her face.

Hermione ducked her head. “Yes, well, it seems that the memory we use to produce them for the first time influences their shape.”

“But patronuses rarely change for a person, and I doubt we always use the same memory when casting them.”

“It’s like an imprint, that first memory, it shapes the patronus and unless something major happens, either love, like with Tonks, I mean, your niece, when she fell in love with Remus and her patronus changed into a wolf or…Snape. After Harry’s mom passed, his patronus changed into a doe to resemble hers.”

“That’s still love, though,” Narcissa said. “Love led to both changes.”

“Yes, but I’d still argue there’s a difference. Remus wasn’t dead, he…he just didn’t think they should be together,” Hermione said, avoiding Narcissa’s gaze.

“Because he knew their association would harm her.”

“Yes, but only because so many in our community hold prejudices against werewolves and other magical beings,” Hermione retorted.

“Some of these beliefs are more than mere prejudices. Werewolves are dangerous.”

“Remus wasn’t dangerous! He was a victim, and he needed treatment. The wolfsbane potion, it worked and I’m sure if we’d put more money and effort toward researching for a cure or at least a better treatment, we could help them and we wouldn’t have to shun wizards and witches who were bitten.”

Narcissa stared at Hermione for a moment. “I admire your passion for beings that the wizarding community has viewed as the dregs of society for eons.”

“But?”

Narcissa shrugged her shoulders. “Werewolves are dangerous.”

Hermione groaned. “You must be the most infuriating person I’ve ever met.”

“That goes both ways,” Narcissa said and held back a laugh when Hermione’s head snapped up and her eyes widened.

“Excuse me? Me? I am the infuriating one? How? I can’t… I don’t…”

“You are speechless? We should mark that in a calendar somewhere. The day I robbed you of all words.”

“You’ve done that a few times already. In Germany, earlier today,” Hermione said.

Narcissa’s gaze found the floor. “Yes, well, that’s not what I had in mind. I wanted to apologize for that.”

“It’s fine. You were not alone.”

“But I started it.”

“That’s not how it looked from where I was sitting,” Hermione said. “Is the scar better? It looked less…angry.”

“It is markedly improved. Thank you. I…” There were no words to explain to the dark-haired witch what her spell had done. The jagged cut on her leg now looked more like an ordinary scar – she had excused herself earlier to visit Hermione’s restroom to check it out – but that was only the surface.

While the scar appeared bothersome, or painful when visibly inspecting it, that only touched upon the horrors that lay beneath. The scar had tethered her to her parents, even after their passing. She’d wake up some nights, panting, crying in agony and clutching her leg that felt as if a horde of bullet ants was gnawing at it, gorging on her flesh from the inside out.

Narcissa had long since stopped believing in her parents ideas about the world and her role in it, but the magical bond that exists between parents and children not only ensured that she knew what aspects of her wishes, desires, and actions were abominations to her parents and therefore would have been punished, but the wards’ interference during that fateful night of her missed meeting with Andromeda had indelibly bound Narcissa to her parents via the scar. The scar she’d failed to heal for decades, and that was now rendered toothless by the Muggle-born witch sitting across from her. That was the tie Hermione had severed. She’d set her free.

“You don’t have to explain,” Hermione said. “I’m just happy it worked.”

“It did,” Narcissa said, blinking away moisture.

Hermione cleared her throat. “All right then. Want to set up our first training session for getting you back into the habit of casting a patronus?”

“Yes. We can meet at the townhouse next week. Would Tuesday work for you, after work?”

“Yes. You can owl me if anything changes,” Hermione said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

“Wotcher, auntie,” Tonks said when she opened the door for Narcissa. “Mum’s in there, broodin’ about somethin.’ Have fun!” She waved at her and apparated before Narcissa could return her greeting.

“Andy? Are you all right?” Narcissa called out when she entered her sister’s house. “Dora just left and said—”

“Drop it, OK.” Andromeda appeared out of nowhere, a glass with smoking liquid in her hand.

“Isn’t it a bit early in the day for firewhiskey?”

“It’s five o’clock somewhere, isn’t it? You want some? Come on. Let’s go sit down.”

“Sure, why not,” Narcissa said and joined her sister in the living room. “Should we act like true Blacks and ignore what is going on and merely get drunk, or do you wish to talk about whatever this is?”

“Hmpf.” Andromeda took a sip of her drink. 

Narcissa kept her gaze on her sister while she drank. They’ve only been reconnecting for several weeks now, and maybe she was pushing it, but Andromeda appeared both angry and sad. She had dark rings under her eyes and her complexion almost resembled Narcissa’s own paleness. They were all pale, the Black family members, but Andromeda, much like Bella, had a darker complexion than their youngest sibling.

“I’ve recently realized that talking is more effective than brooding.” She trailed a finger over the rim of her glass.

“Is that so,” Andromeda said and leaned forward. “What, or should I ask who, brought you to that insight, baby sister?”

Narcissa couldn’t suppress the heat that rose in her cheeks. “It doesn’t matter,” she said and pressed her tumbler to her lips, taking a large gulp and hoping the burn of the whiskey would distract her from the inappropriate images of Hermione’s hand on her thigh. They had continued their conversation after setting a date for the first patronus lesson, but nothing much had changed. They disagreed, and each of them was convinced they were right. Yet, they both deemed ending their friendship unacceptable.

“Then neither does this here. We’re all in a poor mood sometimes.”

Narcissa rolled her eyes. “Something is bothering you.”

“The same could be said for you.”

“We…we could share our misery? Like we did when we were young.” Narcissa’s heart picked up its pace, but she wasn’t sure if this was because of the prospect of sharing something with her long-lost sister, or the topic. Should she tell Andy about Hermione? What would she think of her?

“I’ve slept with someone I shouldn’t have touched.”

“What? Oh. Why? Is he married?”

Andromeda chuckled. “No, that wouldn’t faze me as much.”

“It can’t be that he’s a Muggle or…is he a pureblood and his family hates you?”

“That would have been a better scenario,” Andromeda said with a sigh.

“I cannot think of what could be so bad that you’d feel like that.”

“Are you sure about that?”

Narcissa blanched. Andromeda couldn’t be implying… “When did this happen?”

“Two nights ago. Dora had some friends over and—”

“He’s a friend of your daughter? Oh, don’t tell me it’s Dora’s boyfriend?” Narcissa’s eyes widened.

“My daughter isn’t over Remus to even contemplate dating someone else.”

“Of course. So, you had guests and?”

“It was fun, I suppose. I was playing hostess for the longest, chatting in between with Dora’s friends and…” She ran her hand over her face.

“Were you drunk?”

“I wish I was. I’d have handled things better.”

Narcissa raised her eyebrows.

Before Andromeda could continue, an owl knocked on a window.

“Excuse me,” Andromeda said and rose to accept her mail. She offered a treat to the bird and sat back down.

“Go ahead.”

“It’s fine. I’ll read it later.”

“Is it from your companion?”

“Yes. I wasn’t as convincing as it seems.”

Narcissa choked on her drink. “This might be too much information.”

“What? Merlin, no!” Andromeda covered her eyes. “Not that!” She sighed. “I tried to end it and…it’s an awful idea, but I appear to be the only one who sees that.”

“Tell me about it,” Narcissa muttered.

Andromeda grinned and emptied her drink before refilling their glasses. “Did you sleep with Hermione yet?”

If Narcissa had held her glass in that moment, she’d have dropped it, and if she were about to take a sip of her whiskey, she’d have spit out her drink, Black upbringing or not. Judging by the glint in her sister’s eyes, Andromeda had been aware of that and had timed her question for the perfect moment, neither wasting her whiskey nor getting spit at. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she finally pressed out.

“You used to be a much better liar,” Andromeda said, raising her glass.

“Did…did Hermione talk to you about…that?”

“Not in great detail, just that there are feelings and that you’re too pig-headed to act on them.”

“I doubt that’s how Hermione expressed herself,” Narcissa sniffed.

Andromeda laughed. “That’s my version of it, sure, but it doesn’t change that it’s true.”

“Apparently, we have something in common, falling for the wrong people. Though unlike you, I have shown more restraint.”

Andromeda ducked her head.

“I’m sorry, Andy. That was uncalled for,” Narcissa said. “To be honest, only the incessant knocking of Messrs. Potter and Weasley prevented me from being in your predicament.”

Andromeda snorted. “That’s good to know. They’ve always had terrible timing.”

“Who is it, Andy? I won’t tell and I’m in no position to judge. Not that I’d have done so otherwise,” she whispered.

“It’s not a wizard, it’s a witch,” Andromeda said. “In fact, she’s a classmate of Hermione’s.”

Narcissa’s eyes widened. “Not Pansy?”

“Give me more credit than that.”

Narcissa tilted her head.

“Luna, all right? I slept with Luna Lovegood, and apparently, she’s been enamored with me for a while. Merlin knows why,” she mumbled the last part.

“That’s…interesting. She’s another person I owe an apology to.”

“She told me about her time at Malfoy manor.”

Narcissa lowered her head.

“Luna.” Andromeda closed her eyes. “She doesn’t hold grudges.”

“That’s an admirable trait.”

“Also the most un-Slytherin trait ever.”

“There’s that,” Narcissa said, refilling their glasses. “Here’s to the Black sisters. May our parents roll in their graves knowing their daughters are seducing witches half their own ages!”

“You’re drunk,” Andromeda said but raised her glass, clinking it against Narcissa’s.

“Like you’re far behind.”

“Perhaps we should lie down after this one? Take a nap.”

“I like that idea, but first I’d like for the tapestry to stop spinning.” Narcissa pointed her wand at the wall.

“No!” Andromeda shouted. “You will burn a hole in my wall.”

Narcissa sighed but shoved her wand back into her sleeve. “Very well. Tell me, why did you turn down Ms. Lovegood when she’s so obviously smitten? You don’t have a dark, twisted history between you, and you fought on the right side in the war.”

“Is that why you’re turning down Hermione?”

“There’s no future for us. Can you imagine?” She scoffed. “The headlines. ‘Wife of Former Death Eater Corrupts Member of the Golden Trio.’ It would only hurt her, and that is the last thing I want.”

“But you are hurting her. She knows you have feelings for her.”

“I’m not denying that, but that’s a hurt she’ll get over. She’ll find someone else,” Narcissa said and her lips tightened. At that point, she’ll likely leave Britain. The Americas might be an appealing alternative. Or Italy. She’d always loved the Italian countryside.

“What about you?”

“That hardly matters.”

“Hmm.”

“What?” Narcissa asked.

“Nothing. I’m assuming you’ll agree with me then. I also have no future to offer to Luna. I haven’t been with anyone since Ted. I’m a grandmother, for Merlin’s sake! I…” she said, shaking her head. “It’s doomed. And I don’t think I could watch it fall apart, so it’s better to just…”

“Set it on fire before it starts,” Narcissa said and her vision blurred, holding her sister’s watery gaze. They were so alike, despite their divergent outer appearances and choices during their youths.

***

Narcissa had finished the cure for Nils’s vile potions, despite first having to deal with a hangover, courtesy of her sister’s firewhiskey. The minister had been delighted and mumbled something about goodwill from the German minister of magic before instructing her to send her batches of potion, along with instructions for brewing it, to the medi-witches and wizards.

She’d spent the rest of the weekend with Draco and Astoria and was elated to find out that her son seemed to integrate well with the light side of the war. She’d worried that he’d be ostracized and made to suffer for his transgressions. Narcissa didn’t think there should be no consequences for what they’d done or had allowed to happen…but her Dragon had paid enough. He pretended that spending time with Harry Potter was an unbearable hardship, but she knew her son well enough to tell he was secretly delighted by their burgeoning friendship.

Narcissa was plagued by nightmares during the night before the first patronus session. She was once more catapulted into the drawing room with Hermione on the floor and Bella… She’d woken up in tears and to her own shouts, with her nightgown clinging to her trembling body. Returning to sleep had been far from her mind, so Narcissa had jumped out of bed, showered, and prepared tea before proceeding to bake way too many cinnamon scones. Cooking and potion brewing were quite alike and Narcissa had learned early that either of them often aided in calming her nerves or distracting her enough to avoid drowning in the misery and recrimination of her mind.

The lack of sleep and the memories of the dream made the day more strenuous and had her patience on edge. By the time lunch rolled around, she’d mostly shut down, once more transforming into the aloof woman people used to refer to as the Ice Queen. Hermione and she worked on separate projects today, so she didn’t see the other witch until her doorbell rang at close to six in the evening.

“You are aware that you can apparate here? The wards will allow you access,” Narcissa said and ushered Hermione inside.

“Right, but…I don’t want to disturb you or anything.”

“How thoughtful, though truly unnecessary.”

Hermione smiled and followed Narcissa to her den.

“I have to warn you. I’m sleep deprived and had a terrible day at work, so I don’t know how successful I’ll be at casting a patronus tonight.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. Do you want to talk? We don’t have to practice tonight. Or I can leave, and you can get some rest?”

“No, no. Don’t leave. There’s nothing to talk about, just people’s incompetence testing my patience.”

Hermione chuckled. “Here,” she rummaged through her bag and then pulled out a rectangle wrapped in silvery foil. She broke off a piece, unwrapped it, and handed it to Narcissa who took it without thought.

“Chocolate?”

“It makes everything better, especially this one.”

“I rarely indulge in many desserts, and I already have too many cinnamon scones resting under a cooling charm.”

“Oh, I love cinnamon scones. I’ll gladly help you with those,” Hermione said.

Narcissa laughed. “To be young,” she said and sighed.

“Please. It’s not a lot,” Hermione said.

“Fine,” Narcissa said and ate the piece of chocolate. She’d never admit it, but she loved chocolate, though it was true, she rarely indulged. Her eyes closed when the warmth of the treat spread through her body, lifting her mood and easing the tension that had wreaked havoc in her all day. “Thank you,” she whispered.

“Anytime,” Hermione said. She once more shifted her attention to her bag and pulled out several books.

“Is that, by any chance, your famous bag that contains the entire Hogwarts library?”

“Ha ha,” Hermione said before sitting straighter. “This is one of my charmed bags, yes. I thought it might be a great idea to bring some of the patronus theory along with us. Just in case.”

“All right,” Narcissa said and smiled. 

“Since you were a child when you last cast it, you probably need to choose a fresh memory because I’m not sure whatever you used in the past would still be strong enough, though it might.”

“Are you still using the same memory?” Narcissa asked.

Hermione ducked her head. “It’s…my memory back then was a mixture of my childhood, Ron and Harry, and Hogwarts, obviously. These memories have now either shifted, like with the boys, or, well, they are tainted?”

Narcissa’s eyebrows rows. “I understand Hogwarts, the battle and the war, but why are the memories of your childhood tainted?”

Hermione heaved a sigh.

“Forget it. Let’s just continue,” Narcissa said, unable to bear the sadness that had spread over the dark-haired witch’s expression.

“No. I’ve been meaning to talk to you about this. It’s not easy... I’d gone home to see my parents over the weekend, and it’s…” she pressed her lips together. “I told you I’d changed their memories and then gotten them back but…”

“They’re not completely right, still.”

Hermione nodded. “Everything was fine at first, and we had an enjoyable time. It’s still awkward and stilted, but…I’d thought, or I’d hoped that with time…” Tears welled in her eyes. “We were having tea and just talking when my dad’s eyes glazed over and he stared at me for a moment, and then…”

Narcissa grabbed Hermione’s hand when tears trickled across her cheeks. She longed to pull the younger witch close and comfort her, but they’d agreed to limit physical contact.

“He jerked up and shouted at me…he said…he said who are you, get out of my h…house,” Hermione whimpered and furiously wiped at her eyes.

“I’m so sorry, dear. This must be so difficult.”

“Thanks,” Hermione mumbled. “I’m still searching for a way to fi...fix it. There has to be a spell or I could create one again, but I’m scared to mess it up even more. What if they forget me completely and I can’t reverse it anymore?” She sobbed, bending down and contrary to their agreement, because certain pacts were meant to be broken, Narcissa pulled Hermione into her arms. She rubbed her back, murmuring comforting words. Hermione clung to her and cried, seemingly unable to form any more words.

They sat like that for a while, and neither moved until Hermione calmed down and her crying stopped. Narcissa reluctantly drew back and gave Hermione’s hand one last squeeze.

“I’m sorry for blubbering all over you like that,” Hermione said and fished out a tissue from her bag.

“Don’t worry about it,” Narcissa said.

“Can we still do the lesson? It will help me not get lost in these thoughts.”

“Whatever you prefer,” Narcissa said.

“Thank you. All right. You know the incantation. Have you thought about what memory you’ll use? Draco maybe?”

Narcissa cringed.

“Are you OK? I’m sorry if I overstepped and—”

“No, no. It’s fine. I did spend a lot of time contemplating which memory to use. My original ones revolved around my sisters, and while I’m working on repairing my relationship with Andromeda, and thank you for that gift,” she added and smiled at Hermione’s blush, “there’s still too much baggage for it to work.”

“I understand,” Hermione said.

“Draco…it’s complicated. Our relationship is fine, and I don’t think he bears any resentment toward me, but…I’m still guilty of not protecting him better, of not preventing his suffering, and for failing him over the years.”

“That sounds complicated. I disagree with you, but that won’t change your predicament.”

“Indeed.”

“For what it’s worth, I’m sure Draco would disagree, too.”

Narcissa swallowed hard and blinked away the moisture that filled her eyes. “Thank you. That means a lot.”

Hermione’s eyes glowed. “What else is there?”

Narcissa laughed. “What indeed. I’ve chosen something, but…I would like to try instead of talking about it.”

“Sure. You don’t have to tell me what memory you’re using.”

“Obviously,” Narcissa drawled and rose. She pulled out her wand and focused on reuniting with her son when the battle was over. She hoped that the pure joy of the moment would overshadow the guilt and worry for her son. “Expecto Patronum!” She called, picturing pulling Draco into her arms, and even the kinship with Lucius, having survived the war and being reunited with their child.

A pearly wisp seeped from her wand and glided across the floor. She concentrated harder. Trying to remember the smell of Draco’s hair and the feeling of his beloved body in her arms.

The mist on the floor twirled and rose for a moment but then images of Draco’s shaking form and the bitter tears he’d wept in her arms flooded her, along with the guilt, and the sorrow that she’d put her boy in this position intruded and overwhelmed her, and with that, the sliver smoke disappeared, sinking into the floor.

She sighed.

“That was a good first try. At least you weren’t worried about your wand transforming into maggots and consuming you.”

Narcissa frowned. “Maggots? Hermione, what old-wife tale tomes have you been exploring during your research on the patronus charm?” She laughed.

“Every single one of them?”

“You’re unbelievable,” Narcissa said, delighted with Hermione’s macabre attempt to lighten her spirits.

***

Luna had asked Hermione to join her for a butterbeer in Diagon Alley and so Hermione found herself sat across her friend and former schoolmate at the Three Broomsticks pub.

“How’ve you been?” Hermione asked.

“I’m doing well, though all the Nargles have disappeared lately,” Luna said with a brief sigh and picked up her butterbeer.

“You said you wanted my advice on something?” Hermione asked, choosing to ignore the infamous Nargles.

“Yes. I was wondering how you convinced Narcissa to be with you. I’ve slept with Andromeda, and it was wonderful. I’ll admit to being enchanted with her since my growing friendship with Tonks brought me to their home regularly, and…” Luna tilted her head. “Are you all right?”

Hermione waved her off, trying to breathe through her coughing fit. Leave it to Luna to spring something like that on her while she’s in the middle of swallowing a large gulp of her drink.  “Who…” she wheezed, then coughed again. “How do…you…know about…”

“Narcissa and you? The Nargles told me. Right before they disappeared. I assumed that meant that I’m supposed to seek your counsel.”

Hermione closed her eyes. “Narcissa and I aren’t in a relationship. We’re just friends.”

“That makes you unhappy?”

“Yes, uh, no. Both? I love being her friend, and if that’s all we can ever be, it’s better than nothing, right?”

“But you’ve had sex?”

Hermione flushed crimson and gazed at her butterbeer. “No. We…we kissed. Twice. And last time, Merlin. But no. We haven’t slept with each other.”

“I should have done that, too.”

“What?”

“The friendship route. It all happened so fast with Andromeda, and now she says there’s no future.”

“She sounds just like Narcissa. I’m sorry. If Andy is as stubborn as her younger sister…” Hermione said and heaved a sigh.

“Fancy meeting you guys here,” Tonks said and plopped in the seat next to Luna, her own butterbeer in hand. “What have the Black sisters done now? A certain stubbornness comes with the territory of being a Black.”

Heat returned to Hermione’s cheeks and she picked up her glass, hoping to avoid drawing Tonks’s gaze her way, but to no avail.

“Ohh, this must be good. You’re blushin,’ Hermione. Tell me. Did they threaten to hex you if you steal their firewhiskey? Mind you, they almost emptied ours the other week. Reckon mum was real hungover the next day. Didn’t wanna talk about it, though.”

Hermione prayed to God, because she was afraid Merlin wasn’t enough, that Luna would show more tact than she had with her.

“I slept with your mom and Hermione wants to sleep with Narcissa but both of them don’t want a relationship with us,” Luna said, and Tonks froze, then threw her head back and hooted.

It was too much to ask. Merlin or God, they were all hapless fools when it came to Luna.

Neither Hermione nor Luna joined in Tonks’s laughter and after a moment, she stopped. Her gaze flickering between both. “You’re serious? You slept with my mum??” She gawked at Luna. “And you want to sleep with my aunt?” She turned to Hermione. “Oy, Rosmerta. Can we have some firewhiskey here, please.”

“We really don’t need to talk about this,” Hermione said.

“Oh, but we do. You can’t just drop somethin’ like that in my lap and expect me to ignore it, can ye?”

“Yes? It makes you uncomfortable,” Hermione said. Not to mention, she felt like being swallowed up by the floor who should open for her at this point. Where were Death Eater attacks when you needed them?

“Mind, I don’t want any details, from either of you, especially you,” Tonks said and pointed at Luna.

“I didn’t plan on sharing details of my night with your mother.”

“Now that sentence here,” Tonks started, “thank you,” she said to Rosmerta when the woman placed three smoking glasses in front of them. “That sentence, we’re not gonna do that.”

“All right?” Luna said. “I am sorry this makes you uncomfortable. I didn’t choose to fall in love with Andromeda. It just happened.” She shrugged her shoulder.

“No wonder you were always keener on meeting at my place,” Tonks said and snorted when Luna blushed. “Right. What about you, Hermione?”

“What about me?” Hermione asked, cursing her voice for squeaking.

“I’m assuming you didn’t mean to fall for Narcissa.”

Hermione laughed. “Most definitely not.”

“And they both turned you down, huh,” Tonks said with a faraway look in her eyes.

“In a manner of speaking,” Hermione said.

“All right. First things first. What are your intentions for my mum and aunt? Are you serious about them?”

“Yes!” Luna and Hermione said at the same time.

“Good, good. I have some ideas on how we might convince them to reevaluate their current attitude,” Tonks said and grinned. 

***

There were many reasons why Narcissa avoided returning to her family’s mansion. Happy memories proved sparse, and the few she had were now intertwined with Bella’s madness and cruelty. Before reconnecting with Andromeda, the outlook of the long winding gravel path and the manor overgrown with ivy left her more desolate. Then there was the scar that always flared up whenever she set foot onto the Black property. However, she’d pilfered through her own books and even ventured to the Malfoy library, but so far, she hadn’t found the book on memory restoration she was looking for.

She halted half-way up the steps to the front door. Narcissa could have apparated inside, but she preferred the walk up to the mansion, using the time to collect her thoughts and prepare herself. She touched the door and it sprang open. The faint scent of pinewood and wood polisher greeted her while she blocked images and sounds that sprung up in her mind as soon as she stepped inside the house; shoving them into her vault, Narcissa marched to the library. She might as well get this over with.

Narcissa had pored over books for hours, and most of the tomes she’d picked up and skimmed were full of dark curses and offensive spells, hexes and jinxes to overpower and subdue enemies. There were also endless histories of the Ancient and Most Noble House of Black. She snorted. Would Hermione and Luna pop up on the Black tapestry wall if Andy and she were to marry them? The book in her hand slipped from her grasp at the thought. Those were dangerous contemplations she needed to stay far away from.

She strode back to the shelves and dragged her finger over their spines, mumbling their titles when she started. A book from a higher shelf next to her had tumbled to the floor.

“And what are you about?” She picked up the book and returned to her seat at the table. While leafing through it, she right away recognized Bella’s tiny scrawl in the margins on most pages. She’d flipped it close to read the title but there was none, neither on the cover nor inside. When she read further into the first chapter, her blood ran cold. These were Bella’s spells and theories about spells. Their history and…did she?

Her face turned ashen and she sped through more pages. “Bella, you insane, sadistic witch,” she muttered under her breath, tracing the words at the bottom of a page past the middle of the book. While this wouldn’t work for fixing Hermione’s parents’ memory lapses and confusion, if offered a solution for another issue Narcissa had been working on, one that was close to her heart, yet had only offered dead ends. She smiled when she closed the book. This was the solution, but she’d have to hit her potion lab first.

Chapter Text

Hermione pinched the bridge of her nose. She should have known Narcissa would have quite the temper, but really, there was no need to set pillows on fire.

“I never liked them anyway,” Narcissa groused, crossing her arms after she’d cast augmenti to douse the fire.

“Well, they were your pillows.”

“Why won’t this work? I don’t have that many happy memories but why is none of them working?”

“I doubt you’ve tried them all,” Hermione said, and her gaze found her sneakers upon Narcissa’s stony stare.

“How about your sister—”

“Really? We went over this!”

“If you’d let me finish,” Hermione snapped before taking a deep breath. “A recent one. Maybe when you first reunited? That was emotional, and happy, at least that was my impression from what you’ve told me.”

“Hmm,” Narcissa said. “That might work.” She loosened her stance and closed her eyes.

Hermione struggled to avert her gaze from Narcissa. The blonde witch was always stunning, but when she concentrated on a task, a slight furrow appeared on her forehead, right between her eyes and while Hermione didn’t understand why, the sight of a focused Narcissa Black left her breathless. It proved difficult to stop her mind from imagining that focus sharpening on her, like that day on the couch when Hermione had healed Narcissa’s scar.

She swallowed hard. Friends. They were friends. Didn’t some people have friends who sometimes casually made out? She wished she’d fallen for someone else, someone more attainable. Someone less likely to shatter her heart. Or at least, that this pull, this fascination had just been a crush, but no, she had to fall hard for a woman who saw no future for them.

Expecto Patronum!” Narcissa called.

A much stronger silver stream flowed out of her wand, descending to the floor and molding, were those paws? Hermione inched closer, but then the mist lost its shape, instead, spreading out and descending into the ground once more.

“For crying out loud!” Narcissa cried and covered her eyes with her hand.

“Hey. Don’t be so hard on yourself. This was your best effort yet.” She stepped closer and rubbed Narcissa’s upper arm.

Narcissa shook her off and withdrew.

Hermione frowned, her hand still hanging in mid-air. “What is it? Are you OK?”

“Yes, yes. I apologize,” Narcissa said with her back turned to Hermione. She gazed at the ceiling. “This won’t ever work. I’m not made for such light magic,” she whispered.

“That’s not true! You almost had it. Your patronus started to form. I think I saw paws.”

“Paws? My patronus is a falcon. You saw what you wanted to see,” Narcissa griped.

“Stop being silly, and for Merlin’s sake, look at me. What happened?”

Narcissa sighed but turned around. “I was thinking of Andy, about how…when we realized we wanted the same, and we hugged. I thought of that. I remembered how I felt and…”

“What happened next?”

“Childhood memories, good ones for a second, but then…it shifted, and I heard Bella and that led me back to the manor, back when…when he lived there.”

“Oh. That would crush any patronus. It had nothing to do with you. We just need to find a happy memory that doesn’t have any negative connotation.”

Narcissa chuckled without humor. “Good luck with that, dear.”

“I like it when you call me that, but I prefer less sarcasm.”

“Oh really? How about this. You cast a patronus, dear. Show me how easy this is.”

Hermione narrowed her eyes. “All right.” She cleared her throat and turned around, wand out, she called, “expecto patronum!” A silver torrent shot out of her wand and she pictured Harry and Ron, how they were laughing and eating sweets on the Hogwarts Express, dancing with Harry during their time in the forest, beating Ron at chess, but then she was riding a bicycle and she heard her dad’s laugh and her mother’s shout in protest, telling them to be careful. As soon as her mood shifted, the loosely shaped vapor disintegrated in front of them, and with it, Hermione collapsed on the floor and cried.

Narcissa rushed to her side and placed a warm hand on her back. “What just happened? Are you all right? I’m sorry. I never meant to push you.”

After a moment, Hermione stopped crying. “It’s OK,” she said and wiped her eyes. “My memories did the same thing. They shifted. Maybe…maybe because this is close to what I always used to conjure a patronus in the past, before everything, and so my mind immediately drew on my parents because that’s what worked.”

“But it didn’t.”

Hermione shook her head, not daring to speak, afraid she’d start crying again.

“There’s something I’ve been meaning to talk to you about, though I wanted to be in a different position first, but it…you need to hear this.”

“What is it?”

“There might be a way to help your parents. I’ve been searching for a book on memory charms. It’s ancient, and I’m sure it’s somewhere in the Black library. I wouldn’t know where else I’d seen it. I already searched through my books here at the townhouse, as well as the relevant sections at Malfoy manor.”

“Isn’t it hard for you to return to Black manor?”

“That doesn’t matter. I’ve already been there and…I was distracted by something else, though that’s more complicated. Needless to say, I didn’t find it. But it might be worth going back. I wanted to show you the library anyway and maybe…we could go there. This weekend? If you don’t have any other plans.”

Hermione smiled and reached out. She grasped Narcissa’s hand that rested on her knees while she sat crouched down next to her on the floor. “I’d like that. Thank you for trying to help my parents. It means everything.”

“Of course,” Narcissa said and squeezed Hermione’s hand.

“We will continue the patronus sessions, too. Not today, but in general,” Hermione said and grinned when Narcissa made a face and rolled her eyes.

“If we must,” she grumbled.

“We must,” Hermione said.

***

“This is amazing,” Hermione said, doing a half-circle in the Black library with wide eyes and an open mouth. “If I lived here, I’d never leave. I’d put my bed right there,” she said and pointed at an enormous bay window at one end of the room.

Narcissa chuckled. She fell for Hermione without realizing it, and so many of her qualities drew Narcissa to her, but her sharp mind and unquenchable thirst for knowledge was at the top of her list. Luckily for the dark-haired witch, her parents had encouraged her strive for expertise, unlike her own family. What use was knowledge if you ended up married with the sole purpose of producing more pureblood children?

“This is one of my favorite rooms as well,” Narcissa said, still drinking in Hermione’s joy and wonder.

“You should renovate the manor. Get rid of all the old memories and make it your own. It would be a pity for all this to go to waste.”

“That’s an interesting idea. However, it’s too large for just one person,” Narcissa said, though the notion of renovating her family home sparked something in her. “There are a few ground rules for interacting with most of the tomes in the library.”

Hermione stopped and focused her attention on Narcissa who struggled not to get lost in her dark gaze.

She cleared her throat. “OK, first rule, do not read anything out loud. If you want to show me something, tell me, and I’ll come over and read what you’ve found.”

 “I remember that warning from the Malfoy library,” Hermione said. “Given the history of your family, that sounds more like common sense.”

“You’d think so,” Narcissa said, vividly remembering careless classmates and ignorant Death Eaters who learned that lesson the hard way. “Second, the books over there,” she pointed at an iron cage filled almost to the top with books, “can only be touched with dragonhide gloves.” At Hermione’s questioning look, she shook her head. “Don’t ask. I’m hopeful we won’t have to venture there.”

“Noted,” Hermione said, still staring at the book cage.

“Lastly, there are harrowing, dark books here, in fact, most of these volumes don’t have healing in mind. There will be gruesome drawings and descriptions.”

“I’m not a delicate flower,” she said laughing. “I can handle that. Remember, Tom has been after us since we started at Hogwarts.”

“I never said you’re a delicate flower,” Narcissa said and her voice dropped. They held each other’s gaze for a long time before Hermione smiled.

“Good. That’s good. Where do we get started?”

“Over here,” Narcissa said and led her to the shelf next to the one she’d found Bella’s annotated spell book.

“All right. Let’s get started,” Hermione said and pulled out the first book.

They’d pored over close to one hundred books and the sun had set by the time Narcissa groaned and plunked her head on the desk. “It has to be here somewhere.”

“We’ll find it. You don’t recall the title of it? Not even a part of it?” Hermione asked, stretching.

Narcissa’s gaze caught the sliver of skin that appeared when Hermione leaned back, and her jumper rose. She forgot the question the younger witch had just asked her. “Excuse me?”

“The title of the book? We could summon it?”

“The summoning spell doesn’t work in this library. My ancestors were more worried about theft than convenience or usability.”

“Naturally,” Hermione said and sighed, closing the latest book she’d perused.

“Let’s have a tea break,” Narcissa said.

“In here?”

Narcissa laughed. “Don’t look so scandalized,” she said. “Dolly,” Narcissa called out and a small house elf apparated into the library, startling Hermione.

“Yes, mistress Black? How may I serve you?”

“Would you be so kind and get us some tea and cinnamon scones?”

“Right away,” the elf said and disappeared.

“I didn’t know you had elves.”

“My family always had house elves. They sometimes come check on things in the townhouse, but mostly, they are taking care of the manor.”

The food and tea appeared on the table between them.

“Oh, stop scowling. I’m paying them and they have time off.”

Hermione’s eyes widened and she sat up straighter. “You are? They do?”

“Yes,” Narcissa said and picked up her cup. “I’d read your article in the Daily Prophet. The one where you argue for better treatment of all magical beings.”

“That was not long after the war,” Hermione said.

“Yes,” Narcissa said, not elaborating further.

“That’s…I…thank you.”

“I didn’t do it for you,” Narcissa said and took a delicate bite of her scone.

“It still means a lot to me.”

“Eat something. Dolly hates it when food goes to waste,” Narcissa said, balling up the hand in her lap to keep from trembling. Hermione’s facial expression and her eyes shone with warmth and affection, and Narcissa didn’t know what to do with that, but it caused a tremor in her chest.

After they’d finished their tea break, Narcissa pulled Bella’s book from her purse and placed it on the table between them.

“What is that?” Hermione asked, not touching the book.

“It…I found this last time. I told you I’d searched for the memory book before and well, this distracted me,” she said and placed her fingers on the cover of the book. “It’s Bella’s.”

Hermione recoiled, but remained silent otherwise.

“I think this holds the solution to healing your scar,” Narcissa lowered her voice.

“My scar?” Hermione asked and her hand shot to her arm. “I thought we’re here for my parents?”

“We are. I just…” Narcissa closed her eyes. “Before you told me about your parents again, I’d been researching how to heal your scar. I knew this isn’t an ordinary scar, but there still has to be a way to heal it, or at least, make it less bothersome?”

“To you or to me?”

Narcissa’s eyes widened. “What?”

Hermione pulled her sleeve up, exposing the red, inflamed letters etched into her skin. “Does this remind you of her or of what I am?”

“Excuse me?”

Hermione licked her lips. “There’s no way to heal it. It’s cursed.”

“There always is a way. You just haven’t found it yet.”

“It doesn’t matter.”

“How can you even think I—”

“How was it? Living at Malfoy manor with them? With your sister and Tom?”

Narcissa’s mouth opened and closed. She refused to snap at Hermione. Something was off, and she’d figure out what. But first, she had to calm the racing pulse pounding against her neck and palpitating in her chest. Narcissa leaned back in her chair and eyed Hermione who sat still, but so, so small across from her.

“We’d housed them for months. Lucius had surprised me one night, announcing that the Dark Lord would move in with us,” she started and tried to box the memories, so she’d be able to tell this story without breaking down. Hermione deserved to know if that’s what she wanted. She deserved everything. “They showed up the same night. I doubt Lucius was given more warning either.”

“How many?”

“It became a revolving door. At any point, we had about ten Death Eaters living with us, not including Tom and my sister. More lurked around, but most didn’t stay the night.”

“How did it feel to have them there? To have Tom walk and sleep in your home? To have your sister back?”

Narcissa shuddered. “I never got Bella back,” her voice trembled. “We spent this time in a constant state of alert terror, most days none of us slept until exhaustion would knock us out. We couldn’t stomach eating with them at the same table, and often wouldn’t eat until late at night when hunger pains drove us to the kitchen.”

“We had days where we got nothing to eat, back when we were on the run. Drove Ron insane.”

Narcissa nodded. She didn’t think Hermione expected her to reply to that, so she continued instead. “When Greyback and the snatchers had captured…the three of you, all hell broke loose. Bella had seemed scared, at least until she decided to…” Narcissa grimaced and covered her face with her hand. Dobby. The chandelier, glass everywhere, Draco bleeding and Lucius cowering while Bella screeched. Her beloved sister’s descent into madness left Narcissa breathless. She’d never thought there’d be a day she’d be arrested in fear of her own sister. She shook her head, as if that would clear her of the helpless despair these memories still invoked in her.

“Lucius loves his family, but he loves power more, and he fell for the delusions of the Dark Lord. Twice.” She clenched and unclenched her hand. “I’d told you before that I’d believed all this pureblood nonsense growing up and during the first war. But once the Dark Lord had fallen and I’d gotten a glimpse of the life possible without him, without his zealous ideas and rants… Life was worth living again.”

“You stopped believing in pureblood supremacy because life was better without Tom?”

“It’s more complicated than that. Like I told you in Germany, it was a process. Slowly, his ideas drifted into the background, especially compounded with the loss of Bella. I’d lost both my sisters, and all bridges to Andy appeared scorched. All I had was Lucius and Draco.”

“That didn’t stop you from staying. From joining Tom in the second war again.”

“I never joined him, but I also never renounced him. You should remember well I am selfish, and that I will protect what is mine.” Narcissa lifted her chin. “Lucius and I may have drifted more and more apart over the years, but he is Draco’s father. I’d still clung to that, and I hoped that he’d finally do right by him.”

“Draco was a bully in school. He was often cruel and…” Hermione rubbed her arm.

“And I resented you, and your friends for the trouble you caused Draco—”

Hermione scoffed. “We caused trouble for him?”

“Not at school,” Narcissa said and waved her off. “Here at home. Lucius demanded the best, arguing that since he had offered Draco a superior upbringing, he needed to repay this with excellent grades and reports. Not to mention, mingling with the right people, our kind, was not only expected, but also the only contact allowed. There were…punishments for failing to meet Lucius expectations.”

Narcissa pulled at her fingers. “And what did I do? I didn’t protect Draco enough. Instead, I’d spent countless hours in our library or in my potions lab, resenting Lucius for costing me the career I’d always desired, but even more so for the darkness he continued to inflict on Draco. Nothing of that did my son any good. It didn’t ease his pain and so he—”

“Inflicted it on others,” Hermione said and sighed.

“I could forgive my ex-husband a lot, but pushing Draco to take the dark mark, condemning him with the impossible task to kill Dumbledore? No. There were limits, and I’d reached mine by the time Draco’s fifth year at Hogwarts ended. Still, my broken relationship with Lucius was all I had to show for because as the father and the head of the house, he was in charge of all aspects of Draco’s life.”

“What? That’s horrible. That means if you’d divorced him then—”

“I’d have lost Draco, yes. He’d have been forced to stay with his father. So instead, I shut up and continued to play the role of dutiful mother and wife, though everything had already lain in ruins by the time Tom joined us. In short, living with Tom and Bella was hell. It was agony, I deserved it because of my failure to protect my son.”

“You did all you—”

“Logic doesn’t help. It doesn’t touch how I feel here,” she touched her chest, “it still aches.” She blinked away tears. “But no, Hermione. I don’t care about any scars on your body. They do not distract from your beauty, and they say nothing about who you are, aside from being a testament to your strength and tenacity. I wish to help you for the same reasons you wanted to help me with my scar. Like you did help me. There’s no ulterior motive.” Narcissa held Hermione’s gaze, hoping the younger witch believed her and that they could work through the demons her sister had called forth with her knife in Narcissa’s drawing room. 

A popping sound interrupted their silence.

“Excuse me, Mistress, but this was just delivered for you,” Dolly said and handed Narcissa a scroll.

She furrowed her brows but unfolded the parchment and read the missive.

“Do you know anything about having dinner with Andy and Dora tomorrow?” Narcissa asked, raising her head and catching Hermione’s gaze.

“They mentioned nothing to me. I just saw Tonks the other day.”

“Tonks? You mean Dora?”

“She prefers that over her given name.”

“Hmpf,” Narcissa said.

“This invitation is for the both of us?” Hermione asked.

“Yes. We are supposed to be at Andromeda’s place by six pm sharp.”

“Do you want to cancel?”

“How can I cancel an engagement I’ve never agreed to in the first place?”

“So you don’t want to go,” Hermione said, fidgeting with the tablecloth.

Narcissa tilted her head. “You do?”

“I wouldn’t mind. I like them. It might be nice.”

Narcissa narrowed her eyes, feeling she was missing something. “I have no other plans for tomorrow evening, so I might as well join them.”

“Great,” Hermione said with a small smile.

“A movie night,” Narcissa said, glancing back at the scroll.

“What?”

“Andy writes to prepare for a movie night. Isn’t that what you used to share with your parents? Pictures on the screen that move?”

“Yes. I’m surprised Andromeda has a TV.”

Narcissa shrugged. “Her husband was practically a Muggle.”

“I don’t have one.”

“And what do you think that says, dear?” Narcissa said and rolled her eyes.

***

Dinner had been a stiff affair so far, and Narcissa shifted in her seat, uncomfortable by the odd looks exchanged between Hermione, Luna, and Dora. They were up to something and not knowing what it was or how it affected her, drove her to distraction.

“Excuse me. I’ll be right back,” she said and headed for the kitchen. “Why are you hiding in here,” she hissed.

“I’m not hiding,” Andromeda replied.

“You’re standing in a dark kitchen corner, clutching a glass of wine for fun?”

“Exactly,” Andromeda said.

Narcissa huffed. “Where is it?”

“Where’s what?”

“The good wine. You’re not drinking the sweet, weak disaster your daughter has put in front of us out there.”

Andromeda groaned. “It’s right there, behind that counter.”

Narcissa picked up the bottle and grabbed a glass out of the armoire. “So much better,” she sighed after taking a sip. “What’s your daughter up to? Why did you invite Luna here? I thought you needed distance.”

“I do need distance! It’s very difficult to stay firm in my resolve when she’s right here, looking at me like…” Andromeda shuddered and drank a gulp of wine.

“Tell me about it,” Narcissa muttered.

“Unlike you, I know exactly what I’m missing out on.”

“I wouldn’t be so sure,” Narcissa said with a sigh before busying herself with drinking another sip.

Andromeda stepped closer to Narcissa. “You slept with Hermione? And you didn’t tell me?”

Narcissa sputtered and wiped her mouth. “What? No. We…there were kisses and…hands, but we didn’t…”

“Ah, OK.” Andromeda nodded, seemingly mollified. “I have no idea what Dora is up to. She surprised me by bringing Luna along for the evening, and it’s not like I could have said no. She doesn’t know what happened.”

“I wouldn’t be so sure about that,” Narcissa said and inspected her fingernails.

Andromeda coughed and put her glass on the island. “What? You’re joking,” she hissed. “Dora knows nothing of…that.”

Narcissa raised her head. “Sure. Whatever you say.”

“She’s the one who set this entire evening up. She insisted on it. Talking about wanting to spend more time with you and that it would be nice to have a dinner together, watch a movie, and that Hermione should join us too because she’s been working too much.”

“Now that part about Hermione working too much is true, and it’s sweet that Dora wants to spend more time with me,” Narcissa said, a smile spreading over her features.

“Yes, yes. We better head back out there. Merlin knows what they’re up to now.”

“Hmm,” Narcissa hummed and followed her sister back into the dining room.

“Who’s ready for the movie?” Dora asked the moment they returned.

“I’ve never watched a movie,” Narcissa said.

“What’s wrong with you? I thought you guys are friends. Why haven’t you shown her a movie yet?” Dora turned to Hermione and Narcissa had to hold back a laugh at Hermione’s lost expression.

“I…I don’t... We were busy with…other stuff,” she said and blushed. Narcissa smiled fondly at her while Dora snorted.

Narcissa narrowed her eyes. There was no doubt. Her niece was up to something.

“Follow me, ladies,” Dora said and rose from her chair. “I’ve turned our living room into a home theater. Anyone want popcorn?”

“Popcorn?” Narcissa followed and her eyes widened at the transformation of the living room. There was a row of red, plush seats in the back of the room. Two of them seemed to be bigger than the one at the end. The sides of the seats had round cut-outs next to them, like deep candle holders, but what was their purpose?

The rest of the room’s furniture had vanished, and, in its stead, a soft carpet covered the hardwood floor, while large, unmoving pictured adorned the walls, depicting explosions and couples reunited. Why were some of them wearing such strange costumes? Narcissa stepped closer to an image of a woman in a skintight purple outfit. No. that wasn’t an outfit. Her face was purple too and her hair back slicked with reddish tones.

“Oh, X-Men,” Dora said, as if that would explain anything to Narcissa. “It’s one of my favorite movies.”

“All right,” Narcissa said before turning to Hermione with a stern expression once the younger witch’s giggle reached her ears.

“About the popcorn?” Hermione said. “I wouldn’t say no, and I think the rest of you should have some. It is a quintessential Muggle movie tradition.”

“I’ll get it,” Dora said and left the room.

Narcissa shifted her attention to the big white screen that covered the entire wall across from their seats. “Is this where the movie will take place?”

“Yes,” said Andromeda and sighed. “Dora enchanted a projector earlier today, though she refused to tell me what we’re watching.”

“I like surprises,” Luna said and smiled dreamily at Andromeda who cleared her throat.

“I’ve heard you are exceptional at surprises of your own,” Narcissa said and held back a laugh at her sister’s outraged expression.

“Oh, thank you. I try, but all the credit for that goes to the Wrackspurts, I’m afraid.”

Narcissa frowned. “The what?”

Hermione tugged on her arm. “Come on, let’s sit down.”

“All right,” Narcissa said, her gaze still on the strange, pale young woman while allowing Hermione to pull her towards the seats. “Why is this just one big seat? Are we supposed to share it?”

“Another common thing in movie theaters. They have double seating, mostly for couples,” she said and grinned at Narcissa who felt heat crawl up her neck. Hermione was in on this.

The dark-haired witch patted the space next to her. “Come on. It’s not just for couples. Friends can share these seats, too.”

Narcissa chose to remain silent and sat down instead.

“Relax. This isn’t a stiff pureblood dinner.”

Narcissa turned toward Hermione and leaned closer. “Tell me, dear, how many stiff pureblood dinners have you attended so far?”

Hermione’s eyes darkened at their proximity and Narcissa worried her lower lip at the younger witch’s intense stare, and she suppressed a whimper when Hermione’s gaze dipped to her lips.

“Oy, let’s keep things PG in here, will ya?” Dora called when she returned.

Narcissa blanched and rushed to accept her niece’s offered bowl of popcorn which turned out to be a type of dried corn, only air cooked.

“I love popcorn, but it always gets stuck in my teeth,” Hermione said and grabbed a handful, her cheeky smile making warmth blossom in Narcissa’s chest.

“All right, let’s all sit down. Mum, sit over there with Luna. I’ll sit over here.” She pointed at the only one-person seat in the room.

Andromeda narrowed her eyes at Dora but sat down, followed by Luna, who sat cross-legged on the chair.

“Ready?” Dora asked and after affirming nods, she pointed her wand at the projector and mumbled a spell that resulted in the device to rumble and then spin. The room darkened and light shone from the projector onto the screen that turned black before music played and words appeared on it.

“I will kill you, Tonks,” Hermione grumbled.

“What is Aimee and Jaguar?”

“A death sentence for your niece. I’m so sorry you won’t get to know her better,” Hermione grumbled and Narcissa frowned before turning her focus to the pictures that had now started to move.

“Oh, it’s in German,” she said, delighted by this development. She decided to ask Hermione later for the explanation behind her death threat and instead, Narcissa relaxed in her seat.

 

 

Chapter Text

The work week had been another busy one and Hermione was supposed to meet Narcissa for a follow-up meeting with the Richards. They had contacted her department and requested this appointment.

Kate Richards had greeted them warmly and led them into their living room.

“Is everything all right with the twins?” Narcissa asked.

“Yes, yes. They’ve gotten closer and it’s been… peaceful around here,” Kate said.

“Did you have any more questions about Hogwarts or the magical community?” Hermione asked.

“No. I…we wanted to thank you in person.”

“Thank us?” Hermione said. “We’re just doing our job.”

“Sebastian, our nephew, he’s back to normal. No signs of addiction, nothing. He went back to college and my sister,” Kate said. “You’ve saved their family, and so many other lives in Germany. Your minister sent us a letter, telling us about your involvement.”

“He did?” Narcissa asked.

“Do you want to see it?” Kate made to rise but Narcissa held up her hand.

“No, no. It’s fine. And you’re very welcome. What happened in Germany was a…shame, and we’re glad we could help. It’s great to hear that Sebastian is doing better.”

“Actually, I do have one concern,” John said. “I’ve read about Quidditch, and…I’m worried. It seems to be a rather brutal sport. I’m not sure it’s safe for children to play.”

“Oh, yes, Quidditch is a very popular sport in the wizarding world. Much like football in your community,” Hermione said.

“Yes, but you cannot fall of…of a broomstick and die in football.”

“People have died playing football, too,” Hermione said.

John frowned.

“What my colleague is trying to say here, John,” Narcissa said and bumped into Hermione, “The safety of students is one of the highest priorities at Hogwarts. First years rarely make the teams, and there will be safety measures in place to prevent or lessen the impact of accidents. You can also always refuse to allow your daughter to play Quidditch if you’re not comfortable.”

“We can do that?”

“You are still her parents,” Narcissa said.

“But—” Before John could complete his sentence, a shout, followed by a loud bang from upstairs interrupted them.

Footsteps raced down the stairways. “Mom, Dad!” Tara raced into the living room.

All adults had risen to their feet and were staring at Tara.

“Oh, perfect. You’re here. Come with me, upstairs.” She grabbed Narcissa’s hand and pulled her towards the stairs.

“Did someone get hurt?” Narcissa asked, following Tara, with Hermione, Kate, and John right behind them.

“No, no. It’s fantastic! I just…wait until you see it.”

They entered Tara’s room and in the middle of it sat a wide-eyed Anya, still in a state of shock.

“I…we were just talking, and Tara started tickling me because I was pouting about something she said, and I told her to stop but she wouldn’t and then…this happened.” She slumped her shoulders.

Hermione inspected the room. All the drawers of every furniture piece were hanging halfway out while clothes, toys, books, and notebooks littered the floor. The lamps in the ceiling had shattered, along with the bulbs in their nightstand lamps. “Spontaneous magic,” Hermione said.

“That means she can go, too? Right? Anya can come to Hogwarts, too?” Tara said, jumping up and down.

Before Hermione could answer, an owl rapped on the window, carrying a letter on her leg that looked suspiciously like the first Hogwarts letter Hermione had ever received.

When they left the townhouse, Hermione struggled to contain her excitement. “This is amazing. I’m so happy for them.”

“They get to stay together,” Narcissa said and smiled.

“Why do you think Anya just now showed signs of magic?”

“She could just be a late bloomer, or she’d suppressed it before because of their strained relationship, and once that improved, her magic was freed, too.”

“That’s interesting. I wonder if anyone has ever researched this, magic in Muggle-born siblings or twins.”

“I doubt it,” Narcissa said.

“Well, someone should!”

“I’m not against it,” Narcissa said and slanted her head. “Are you OK? I haven’t seen or heard from you since the dinner.”

“I’m fine,” Hermione said. “Just busy with work and all.”

“You never told me why you wanted to murder my niece.”

“Can we... I…I need to go. I’m meeting Harry and Ron in a little bit. See you later?” She said and offered a small wave, leaving a wide-eyed Narcissa at the doorsteps of the Richards’s residence when she apparated back to her flat.

Hermione still felt like murdering Tonks. Yes, they’d talked beforehand, and Tonks’s had said she’d come up with something that would help in…in what? Showing Narcissa and Andromeda how doomed any prospective relationship with her and Luna were? “Thanks so much for that,” she groused, scaring Crookshanks when she appeared right next to him. “Sorry boy,” she said and petted his head. He rubbed his body against her leg before stalking away to plop down in the last rays of sun pouring into her window.

Hermione sighed and filled her kettle with water. Tea was the solution for a lot of problems. She rubbed at her aching shoulders and headed for the shower. She needed to get a grip. Hermione didn’t want to hurt Narcissa’s feelings, and she was afraid that avoiding her all week and now running away like a coward did just that.

The only problem was, being around Narcissa hurt. A lot. She would see and feel all the potential between them, and her heart would soar, only to crash-land and splinter the moment she realized that Narcissa would never go there.

She’d never allow the seed between them to grow into something more. It wasn’t fair, but neither would it be fair for Hermione to push the other woman to something she said she didn’t want, even if her reasons for rejecting what was between them were stupid. People were entitled to their idiocy. If only it didn’t hurt so much because she missed Narcissa terribly. 

***

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Andromeda growled.

“Really? It’s been a week since the dinner and you’ve been ignoring all of Luna’s owls,” Dora said, frowning.

Andromeda opened her mouth but seemingly changed her mind and snapped it closed. She picked up a book from the coffee table and opened it to her last read page.

“You’re just going to ignore me?”

“There’s nothing to say, Dora. Drop it.”

She scoffed and plopped down on the couch across from her mother. “When Remus died…” she took a deep breath and tears shot into her eyes.

Andromeda closed her book, rose from her seat, and sat down beside her daughter. She placed an arm around her shoulders and pulled her close before kissing the top of her head.

“It wasn’t fair,” Dora cried.

“I know, baby,” Andromeda murmured, placing kisses on Dora’s temple.

“I miss Dad, too.”

Andromeda’s grip on her daughter tightened.

“But he cared about your happiness. He’d never want you to be alone for the rest of your life.”

“Dora—”

“No! Remus and I…we didn’t get to spend a lot of time together, and if…if he hadn’t been so stubborn about protecting me from him…,” she stammered. “We could have been together longer, and there would’ve been more memories now,” she hiccupped.

“Shhh,” Andromeda soothed.

“I showed you all that movie for a reason! Love isn’t logical, and it’s hard, and fragile and you never know how long it’ll last,” Tonks said and sighed. “I wish I’d held him more, talked to him longer, just..., been in his presence. And I won’t get to do that anymore and I didn’t know! I thought…even though there was a war, I still had that mind-set that we have all the time in the world.” She wiped her eyes.

“I’m so sorry, sweetie,” Andromeda said and stroked Dora’s hair.

“Don’t make the same mistake.”

“Luna is so young,” Andromeda muttered into her daughter’s hair. “She deserves more than me.”

“Why do you get to decide that? You don’t know what’s best for her! Age isn’t everything. Luna is very mature and she…she sees and knows things others don’t. She’s already been through a lot.”

“Exactly. Why burden her with my baggage?”

“It’s not a burden if someone wants to help you carry it, Mum.”

***

Hermione had apologized for rushing off the last time they’d met, and for being absent all week. She’d blamed it on work, and while that wasn’t a complete lie, she’d also avoided the other witch. She couldn’t handle being around her, and she didn’t want to answer questions about what was bothering her. Narcissa had owled her and asked if they could meet this Sunday for another attempt at casting the patronus charm and Hermione had agreed. Yes, being close to Narcissa was painful, but so was missing her.

“Are you ready for our next patronus session?” Hermione said while ambling toward the den.

“As ready as I’ll ever be,” Narcissa muttered.

“Come on. You’re the one who wanted to try this again.”

“Please. I just beat you to it. I’m sure if I didn’t bring it up, it would have been in your next letter,” Narcissa said.

“Probably.”

“I’ve received an invitation to meet with Shacklebolt next Wednesday. He wants to discuss a job opportunity,” Narcissa said and sat down.

“I received one, too! Merlin, what’s he up to now?”

Narcissa chuckled. “Well, his last plan worked out splendidly, wouldn’t you say?” Her eyes glowed and Hermione had to avert her gaze because that expression on Narcissa’s face did terrible things to her heart.

“Right.”

“Are you ready?” Narcissa asked.

“You go first,” Hermione said, still unsure about what memory to use. She had an idea, and while it was a memory she treasured, she also worried that current circumstances might color it too dark and prevent her from casting a corporeal patronus.

“All right,” Narcissa said and rose. She stretched out her arm and called “expecto patronum!” The silver mist that shot from her wand seemed stronger and sturdier than ever before and it slithered on the ground before rising and taking shape.

Hermione stepped closer to the patronus that formed in front of them and she tilted her head. What rose from the mist was no falcon. Hermione’s eyes widened and her mouth opened. She’d been right. There were paws, and a gorgeous, graceful lioness stalked at their feet before plopping down on the ground and cleaning her paws. 

Narcissa lowered her arm and stared unblinkingly at the feline. “Don’t say a word,” she said and raised her other hand. “I don’t wish to hear it.”

“Your patronus is a lion. I think that makes you at least an honorary Gryffindor.” Hermione laughed.

“Lioness. And I said I don’t want to talk about it.”

A shadow crossed Hermione’s face. “This is…wow. Your patronus changed. That’s…”

“Can we not talk about this?” Narcissa pled and she looked so forlorn that Hermione relented.

“As you wish.”

“Thank you,” Narcissa said. “Follow me. I wish to get more comfortable,” she said and led Hermione back into the living room. “Can I offer you anything? Because I need a glass of wine after that shock,” Narcissa said and opened a bottle of red wine before bringing that, along with two glasses to the coffee table.

“I’ll join you. Just for the record, though, you cannot ask me to drop something and then bring it up yourself. That violates…all kinds of rules.”

“It does?” Narcissa poured the wine and sat down across from Hermione.

“Of course.”

“We’re still not talking about that. I’d rather ask you why you haven’t introduced me to movies earlier.”

Hermione coughed and placed her glass back on the coffee table. “What?”

“You’ve heard me. I never knew that movies could be this…engaging. You should have known.”

“I have always been more into books than movies,” Hermione said. “And televisions aren’t a big thing in the wizarding community.”

“No, they aren’t.” Narcissa sipped her wine. “Do you think I could get one, for here. Would that work?”

Hermione laughed. “I don’t see why not.”

***

“Mother, are you home?” Draco called after apparating into Narcissa’s townhouse.

“I’m right here,” she called from her potions lab.

“What a surprise,” he said with a low chuckle and entered the lab. “Are you sure you’re not working too much? You have your day-job at the ministry and then all these hours you spent in here.”

“It’s fine,” Narcissa said and wiped her hands. “Come one. Let’s go to the kitchen. I was about to eat something. Care to join me?”

“Sure,” Draco said and followed her into the kitchen. “Oh, you made Shepard’s Pie,” he said and dug into the plate Narcissa placed in front of him. “Thank you,” he said after swallowing his first hasty bite.

Narcissa laughed and ruffled his hair before taking a serving for herself. “You’re welcome.”

They ate in silence. When Draco finished, he wiped his mouth with a napkin and charmed the dishes to clean in the sink. His gaze lingered on his mother. “Are you happy?” He asked while she was chewing her last bite.

Narcissa placed her fork on the table and looked at her son’s earnest face. “I’m not unhappy,” she said after a moment.

“That’s not the same as happy.”

“No, it’s not.”

“I thought you liked your work, and you even made friends. You’re sure spending a lot of time with Granger.”

Narcissa ducked her head. “That’s not all there is to life, but yes, much of my circumstances have improved dramatically since the war ended, but some likely shall remain as they were, no matter what.”

“And that makes you sad. What remains the same?”

Narcissa sighed. “You’re young, and you’ve only been on the wrong side of the war once. You’ve also repented and—”

“So have you! And you’ve never taken his mark. Who’s giving you trouble, mother?”

Narcissa smiled sadly at her son. “You are the sweetest son in the world,” she said.

He blushed. “I think more people are ready to welcome you back than you think. You’ve made peace with Andromeda.”

“Yes,” Narcissa said. “Thanks to Hermione.”

Draco rolled his eyes.

“We used to be afraid you had a crush on her, given how often you’d write and complain about her during school.”

“Granger?” Draco snorted. “I’m not into bushy-haired, long-toothed know-it-alls,” he said.

Narcissa slammed her mug down. “Don’t insult her!”

Draco started. “Right. You’re friends. Sorry.”

“Anyway, how are things going with you and Astoria? Any more bowling adventures with Mr. Potter?”

“Stop changing the topic. We’re fine and I beat Potter last time we bowled.” He preened.

“I’m glad,” Narcissa said.

“Why are you not happy?”

“Dragon, it’s fine. It doesn’t matter and—”

“I wouldn’t mind it if you…dated again.” He grimaced.

Narcissa splashed some of her drink onto the island and wiped it with her napkin. “What?”

“Don’t get me wrong. I try to avoid such a topic because,” he said, tapping with his fingers on the counter. “Merlin, you’re my mother, but you’re also not that old that you couldn’t find someone to be with anymore.”

“Charming, dragon,” she drawled.

“Come on! I’m trying, mother.”

“Yes, sweetheart, and I appreciate that, but there’s…no future in such thoughts. At least not a happy one.”

“What are you talking about?”

“I’d tarnish the reputation of everyone I’d be associated with in such a manner. Why would I want to do something like this to someone I lo…care about?”

Draco opened his mouth, then closed it. “Wait a second.”

“Draco, please—”

“There is someone! Don’t deny it. You’re interested in someone.”

“It doesn’t matter.”

“Why? If it would make you happy? Unless it’s one-sided. Is it?”

“No, but that’s not the issue either.”

“I don’t understand.”

“I…I tend to ruin things, Dragon, and I couldn’t bear to spoil…,” she said and dropped her head.

Draco reached out and touched Narcissa’s hand. “Mother, look at me.”

Narcissa raised her head, allowing the tears that had welled in her eyes.

“You don’t ruin things. Your love and support were all I had, all that kept me sane during all these years. I…I knew you couldn’t speak up more, and that there were limits with father. I also knew you were never fully happy and if this…this new prospect makes you happy, then I’m all for it. You deserve to be happy.”

“Draco, you don’t understand. It’s just…. preposterous, and you cannot guarantee that you’d be all right with this and—”

“I don’t need to be in a relationship with whomever it is,” he said and laughed. “I only want you to be happy, and if…this person makes you happy, I’d be grateful. You shouldn’t let the past destroy your future. Things might be different this time around. Besides, regrets are awful,” he said and squeezed her hand.

“Oh, Dragon. I love you,” Narcissa said and pulled Draco in a hug.

“I love you, too,” he said, returning the hug.

***

She’d tried to be good and respect Narcissa’s decision to remain friends, but there was only so much she could take. She’d endured Narcissa dressed up for a high-class pureblood party, she’d dealt with Narcissa in skin-tight jeans – for that alone she should have received an award – and then there’d been Narcissa in dress robes and Muggle business suits. She’d restrained herself each time, minimal staring because she was only human, but this?

Narcissa had opened the door in loose black slacks and a dark green shirt that kept sliding off one of her shoulders. She was barefooted and wore glasses, her hair was tied up in a messy bun with blonde tendrils falling into her face.

Hermione had been unable to form a simple greeting and instead she had stuttered out a blushing hello, which had led to Narcissa offering Hermione her favorite smile, the open one that reached her eyes and was so full of affection that her heart stuttered each time the older witch directed it at her.

Narcissa had apologized for having lost track of time. She’d gotten lost in a book. Then she’d invited her inside only to curl up beside her on the couch and to say she’d missed her. That was the moment Hermione knew she was doomed, though she’d still tried, hard.

She’d forgotten how they’d even ended up in this position. Oh, right. They’d discussed potions and Narcissa had wanted to share something she’d found in an old text and had led Hermione to her bedroom. She’d gushed about the book and the potion and how it could be applied as a broad healing elixir. Narcissa’s eyes had glowed and her animated and passionate speech had struck Hermione with clarity and the knowledge that she couldn’t just be Narcissa’s friend, that she loved her and that she’d die if she didn’t kiss her. So she did.

Narcissa had released a little squeak of surprise and abandoned the book to clutch Hermione closer before she’d navigated them to the bed.

Narcissa took off her glasses, placing them on the nightstand and sat down, pulling Hermione close.

“Please don’t stop us again. We’ll figure out a way,” Hermione pled, and after holding her gaze, Narcissa nodded and kissed Hermione, who still stood next to the bed after guiding the blonde witch to lie down.

Narcissa undid her hair and scooted further back to correct her position so her head hit the pillow.

Hermione was no blushing virgin but at the sight of Narcissa laying stretched out on the bed with her blonde hair spread out, her breathing shallow and her legs slowly spreading, she had to close her eyes. She was in way over her head.

Narcissa held her gaze and stayed still, seemingly waiting for Hermione’s next move.

Her heart crashed so hard against her chest, Hermione worried for a second about experiencing the most inconvenient heart attack ever before she told her head to shut up and crawled on the bed. She lingered over Narcissa, whose chest heaved and whose eyes flickered from Hermione’s face to the door.

“Hey,” Hermione whispered and cupped Narcissa’s cheek. “We don’t have to do this. I want you, more than I could express, but that won’t change.”

Narcissa placed her hand on top of Hermione’s cradling her face. “Promise?”

“I promise,” Hermione said.

Narcissa lifted her head and caught Hermione’s lips in an achingly soft kiss.

Hermione’s eyes fell shut and she lowered herself onto Narcissa who opened her mouth wider, granting Hermione access and licking into her mouth.

Hermione groaned at the touch of Narcissa’s scorching tongue. She sucked on her tongue and trembled when Narcissa’s grip on her back hardened. They kissed for a long time while their bodies rocked together like waves crashing against the shore.

Hermione broke the kiss to lick and kiss down Narcissa’s neck, who threw her head back and released a throaty moan.

“You’re wearing too many clothes,” Hermione said between kisses and nibbles across Narcissa’s chest.

“Then do something...” Narcissa trailed off and groaned when Hermione sucked on her nipple through her shirt.

Hermione chuckled and sat up, pulling her shirt off before returning her gaze to Narcissa. “There’s an easier way. Do you mind?”

“Go ahead,” Narcissa breathed, her hands rubbing up and down Hermione’s thighs.

With a smile on her face, Hermione vanished their clothes and groaned at the sensation of Narcissa’s nude form beneath her.

“Come back,” Narcissa said, pulling at her arms and she shuddered when Hermione complied and stretched out her naked body on top of her, her legs falling between Narcissa’s.

Their kissing resumed but changed in intensity. Their undulating bodies picked up speed with the need and urgency that now fueled their kisses.

Then Narcissa shifted and flipped them over, chuckling at Hermione’s surprised grunt. She left Hermione’s mouth and with a wicked grin on her lips, wandered south, licking and sucking on her breasts until Hermione had to press her legs together, worried this moment she’d fantasized about might find an embarrassingly fast ending. Then Narcissa trailed further down, her by now open-mouthed kisses covering Hermione’s quivering stomach.

Hermione’s hands reached for the other witch’s head and she stroked through blonde curls, struggling not to hyperventilate at the sight of Narcissa making her way to lie between her legs, and then scooting down even further.

Hermione trembled when Narcissa spread her legs wider to find a more comfortable position. She squeezed her eyes shut when the blonde’s hot breath hit her heat. Her hands gripped the sheets and her body grew taut in anticipation but instead of lowering her mouth to where Hermione needed her the most, Narcissa kissed and sucked at the flesh of her upper inner thighs, moving from one to the other in a maddeningly slow pace.

“Narcissa, please,” Hermione whimpered, lifting her hips for more contact.

“Patience is a virtue, dear,” Narcissa said before returning to her apparent quest to leave Hermione’s thighs littered in little bite marks and bruises.

After what seemed like one stretched out eternity, after all words had fled Hermione, and when instead she only managed incoherent pants, Narcissa shifted her focus and her tongue, at last, stroked through Hermione’s wetness. She concentrated on her folds, staying away from the aching bundle of nerves that screamed for attention.

Hermione groaned and her grip on the sheets tightened while her legs squeezed and pushed against Narcissa, trapping her between her legs. Sweat accumulated on Hermione’s body and the strained tension Narcissa’s tongue created left her breathless and aching.

Arousal coiled low in her stomach and she struggled to prevent herself from grabbing Narcissa’s head and shoving her to where she needed her. Only the fear of the blonde witch’s reaction to that made Hermione plead instead. “Please. I need you,” she pushed out and gritted her teeth before moaning when Narcissa’s tongue pushed inside her.

Hermione’s breathing sped up and her senses flooded with the feel, taste, and smell of their lovemaking. “W...what are...you doing,” she panted.

“A little sensation enhancer. It’s a spell that heightens your senses,” Narcissa said before returning to stroke through Hermione’s wetness, still not going where the dark-haired witch wanted her the most.

“Want me to stop the spell?”

“No,” Hermione whimpered. “I...want...”

“Yes?” Narcissa said, resting between her legs, she placed her chin on her hand on top of Hermione’s mound. Only her glistening lips gave away that they weren’t having a polite or innocent conversation.

“What do you want, dear?”

Hermione almost cried in frustration. She knew what Narcissa wanted, and she swore she’d return the favor. Now though, heat drummed through her veins and the spell Narcissa had cast intensified her every emotion and left her breathless, dry-mouthed, and with tears welling in her eyes. It left her wanting. Desperately. Painfully.

“Fuck me,” she moaned. “I need you to...”

Narcissa groaned and lowered her head, aiming for the bundle of nerves she’d been neglecting before. Hermione screamed at the contact, at the heat and pleasure that shot through her every nerve when Narcissa’s sultry mouth engulfed her fully and sucked her into her mouth.

Her tongue swirled in a tight pattern over her and added the perfect amount of pressure. Hermione’s entire body tensed like a rigidly strung bow before trembling, she panted Narcissa’s name and shattered in a mind-numbing release that shook her frame before leaving her a sweating, boneless mess on Narcissa’s bed. The blonde witch kept lapping and kissing her as Hermione twitched and trembled in aftershocks.

***

Narcissa’s heart raced, reminding her of the flapping wings of a hummingbird she’d once seen while vacationing in the United States. It proved difficult to remove herself from between Hermione’s legs and she only stopped her ministrations when Hermione released a breathy “no more” and tugged at Narcissa’s shoulders.

She crawled back up Hermione’s body, enjoying the sensation of the dark-haired witch’s sweat-slicked skin against her own.

Hermione kissed the smirk off her face and Narcissa groaned, sinking into the kiss. She could kiss Hermione forever, and that was part of the problem. Before her mind could dash along the path of fears and regrets, Hermione broke the kiss and lifted one of her legs to press against her wet heat. Narcissa trembled and bit her lower lip.

Her gaze caught Hermione’s eyes, the dark brown almost swallowed by black, blown pupils, yet her gaze shone so full of tenderness and affection that Narcissa’s heart halted before resuming its beat at a rapid pace.

Hermione raised her hand and cupped Narcissa’s cheek, trailing a finger down to her lips and smiled when Narcissa kissed her fingertip.

Narcissa’s eyes tumbled shut when Hermione increased the pressure between her legs and rocked her thigh against her.

Hermione pulled her closer and once more Narcissa got lost in the younger witch’s kiss. Their bodies rocked together until one of Hermione’s hands snaked down her body and found its way to the liquid heat between Narcissa’s legs.

Narcissa broke their kiss, panting and groaning when Hermione’s gentle fingers explored her folds.

Narcissa wasn’t used to such tenderness and care and her eyes welled with tears so she hid her face in Hermione’s neck, moaning when her lover’s fingers became more daring.

She sucked on Hermione’s neck, enjoying the little shudder that went through her frame. She loved how responsive Hermione had been to her touch, and the mere memory of her release added fuel to Narcissa’s arousal.

“Finish the spell,” Hermione said.

Narcissa lifted her head. “What?”

“End the sensation spell. I want you to come just from what I’m doing to you, no magic.”

Narcissa gritted her teeth at the blinding strike of arousal that shot through her at Hermione’s words. She couldn’t reply, only nodded before wordlessly ending the spell.

There was no difference. She still burned and ached. Sweat pooled at her lower back and her face once more sought Hermione’s neck while a shudder ran through her body when Hermione sped up her fingers.

“Inside,” Narcissa muttered after a while and Hermione’s body stiffened below her. Both women moaned when two of Hermione’s fingers slid inside. She pushed against Narcissa, picking up speed and Narcissa held onto Hermione, moving in sync with her thrusts.

Hermione shifted her hand to allow her thumb to rub her, and Narcissa’s hands fell next to Hermione’s head, clutching the sheets. She lifted her upper body, raised her head and shuddered helplessly at the heat and pressure building in her lower stomach. “Hermione,” she moaned.

The dark-haired witch picked up speed and she raised her head to kiss Narcissa’s exposed throat. Hermione’s hand not wreaking havoc between Narcissa’s legs found its way to her breasts and she rubbed and then pinched one of her nipples.

“Come for me,” Hermione demanded and her nimble fingers pushed Narcissa higher; heat and pressure building until Narcissa’s body froze, fearing for a moment the pleasure coursing through her body would shatter her until ecstasy bursts through her nerves like fireworks, pushing her over the edge with Hermione’s name on her lips.

Chapter Text

Hermione had left Narcissa’s townhouse on a high the next late morning, apparated back home to deal with a cranky Crookshanks before getting ready to meet Harry for lunch. Ron had canceled since his girlfriend had gotten tickets to a Chudley Cannon game as a surprise.

“Hermione, hey,” Harry rose from his seat in the café and hugged her.

“Hi,” Hermione said and sat down across form her friend. “Sorry, I’m late.”

“No worries,” he said and pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose. “What’ve you been up to? I haven’t seen you in ages.”

“Not much,” she said, busying herself with the menu.

“That hickey on your neck says otherwise,” Harry said, chuckling.

Hermione’s hand snapped to her collar. “What?”

The waiter chose that moment to arrive. After they’ve placed their orders, Hermione remained silent but shifted in her seat.

“You’re lucky Ron’s not here or you’d never hear the end.”

Hermione glanced at Harry before deciding. “You can’t tell him.”

“Tell him what? That you have an enthusiastic lover we haven’t met yet?”

“Harry! I’m serious.”

“All right. I’ll keep your secrets,” he said and smiled. “Is it a secret?”

“Yes. No. I’m not sure.”

He leaned back. “You’re usually more decisive than that.”

“It’s…complicated.”

“Why?”

“We haven’t talked about it yet and—”

“I’d say,” he said and laughed.

“Harry James Potter! Get your mind out of the gutter!” She hissed.

“All right, all right.”

The waiter brought out their drinks.

“I don’t know what it means. We have…a different take on things. I want more but…they aren’t sure.”

“What changed?

“I did,” Hermione said, and her gaze shifted to her teacup while she stirred the steaming liquid.

“I don’t understand.”

“I suppose I made a convincing argument?”

“And now you’re together?”

“No. Maybe?”

“So you had sex with…this person and you’re not sure if they want a relationship with you, but you want to be in one with them?”

“That’s it.”

Their food arrived and both started eating in silence. After a few bites, Harry shook his head. “I still don’t get it. Why wouldn’t they want you?”

“That’s…sweet, Harry. Thank you.” Hermione said after swallowing her food. “If you knew who it was…,” she said.

“You could tell me.”

Hermione bit her lower lip and contemplated her friend. She’d never have said anything with Ron there, but just Harry? “Promise you won’t tell anyone. Not Ron, not Ginny. No one!”

“Woah, Hermione! I already said I’ll keep your secrets.”

“Narcissa,” she muttered and picked up her drink.

“What?”

“Narcissa,” she said in a whispered shout.

Harry’s eyes widened. “Draco’s mum?” He leaned forward and lowered his voice. “Are you serious?”

Hermione only stared at him.

“You’ve slept with Draco’s mother,” he said, his food all but forgotten.

“Could you get past that, please?”

He rubbed his neck. “I’m not sure. You’re so lucky Ron isn’t here. He’d have had a heart attack.”

Hermione scoffed. “As if I’d have said anything with him here.”

“Yeah, that would have been bad.”

“Do you see now why this is complicated?”

“You could say that. Why doesn’t she want to be with you? Is it the...age difference? Or because you’re a woman?”

“No, well, that’s not helping but it’s not the main issue. She believes being with her will ruin me.”

“How so?”

“See? You don’t get it either. She has it in her head that her past and reputation would make people shun me and I’d lose career opportunities, and friends.”

“Oh. She has a point.”

Hermione narrowed her eyes. “Not you, too!”

“I’m not saying that risk is reason enough to refuse to be with someone if…if you otherwise would want to, but she isn’t wrong. Her family, both actually, they weren’t just sympathizers who stood in the back and secretly agreed with Voldemort. They actively helped and fought for him.”

“She didn’t! She never took his mark, and what else could she have done? They’d have killed her. She was raised by…these horrible people and she never had a choice and—”

“You don’t need to convince me. I like her, and I’ve spoken in her defense before you joined in.” He blanched. “Not like that. Not that I ever…”

Hermione waved him off. “Please.”

“The point is, a lot of other people in our world will not consider any of that, if they even know. It’s not as if Narcissa will spill her life stories to the Daily Prophet.”

Hermione snorted.

“There’d be a backlash against the two of you. They’ll notice the age difference and they’d assume she somehow forced you or is taking advantage of you and—”

“That’s complete nonsense!”

“I’m aware of that, and so are you, but people prefer the most scandalous explanation for things. Remember when I was the heir of Slytherin or when Ron refused to believe that I didn’t add my name to the Goblet of Fire?”

“Ron’s an idiot at times, and so were our classmates back then.”

“Well, these idiots are still around, and I’m sure they’ll jump to the most outrageous conclusion when they learn of your…association.”

Hermione crossed her arms. “It’s no one’s business whom I date.”

“Agreed, but the war and, our friendship, they pushed you into the public eye and even if stuff isn’t people’s business, they’ll make it theirs and stick their noses in everything. I’m sorry.”

“This is not your fault! Don’t apologize for it. I’d never trade your friendship for anything.”

Harry smiled. “Thank you. I feel the same way.”

“Her patronus is a lioness, and it changed. It used to be a falcon when she was at school,” Hermione burst out. She’d been dying to talk to someone about it.

“Seriously? You realize what that means?”

“A Slytherin with a lion patronus? It’s quite amusing, yes.”

“No, that’s not what I’m talking about. Remember Snape’s patronus, and there’s Tonk’s. Hers changed into a wolf when she fell for Remus.”

“My patronus is an otter. How does that relate to a lion?”

“True,” he said and leaned back in his chair. “When was the last time you’ve cast a patronus?”

“Oh,” Hermione said and cleared her throat. “It’s been a while.”

“When?”

“During the war.”

“Cast one now and see if it’s still an otter.”

“People’s patronus’ rarely change, besides, last time I tried…” She clenched her jaw. “It didn’t work, OK?”

“You couldn’t cast a patronus?”

“No,” she said and tapped her fingers on the table. “The memories I used…they didn’t work, and it never fully formed.”

“Huh. Have you tried another memory?”

“Let’s drop it.”

“All right. But you realize this means you don’t even know if your patronus is still the same. Maybe it’s a snake now,” he said and laughed.

“Oh hush,” Hermione said laughing and threw her napkin at him.

***

“Who is it?” Andromeda rubbed her eyes and opened the door. “Cissa, are you OK?” She asked and ushered a frazzled looking Narcissa into her house.

“I need to talk to you.”

“I gathered that much, given it’s past midnight and you banged on my door like a maniac. Is Draco OK?”

“What? Yes. He’s fine. It’s not about him,” Narcissa said.

They settled in Andromeda’s living room.

“What is it then?”

Narcissa closed her eyes, unable to hold back the tears and covered her face.

“Hey,” Andromeda said and rose to sit next to her sister. “What is it? Did you have a fight with Hermione?”

Narcissa cried harder at the mention of the dark-haired witch. “I’ve…I’ve ruined…everything!” She balled her hands into fists and weakly punched Andromeda’s shoulder while the other woman held her.

“I’m sure that’s not true,” Andromeda muttered, stroking her sister’s back.

“I…I slept with her, and now…now…”

“Now what?”

Narcissa pulled back and stared at her sister with wide eyes. “That is your focus? I said I’ve slept with Hermione!”

“I heard you the first time.”

“Why are you so calm about it?”

“I’d be hypocritical given…Luna.”

“But you didn’t have a friendship with her that you’ve destroyed by falling into bed together. You ended it right after and—”

“About that,” Andromeda said and cleared her throat.

“Andy, the moon frogs woke me up and you were gone,” Luna said after entering the living room in a pale blue nightdress with red polka dots. “Oh, hello Narcissa.”

Narcissa’s gaze shifted from Luna back to her sister, but she couldn’t say a word. Had her sister lost her mind as well? Was there some curse on the current Black line?

“Luna, dear, why don’t you go back to bed? I’ll join you soon.”

“All right,” Luna said and bent down to kiss Andromeda’s cheek. She waved at Narcissa and turned to walk away but stopped after a few steps and faced the blonde witch once more. “I wouldn’t be so hard on yourself. You can’t help love. It’ll find its way.” She shrugged her shoulders and wandered away.

“What happened? I thought you weren’t going to…you were ignoring her letters last time we spoke?”

Andromeda sighed and pulled her robe closer. “Dora happened.”

Narcissa fell back against the couch. “What? I don’t…”

“Dora chided me for being so stubborn, for…for running away from a chance at happiness because it scared me. After Ted…I didn’t expect there’d be anyone else. I wasn’t sure if it would be worth the pain of the loss that would surely follow, and…Luna is so young,” Andromeda said and released a rueful chuckle.

“What changed?”

“Dora told me how she wished she and Remus had had more time together, and how he’d wasted so much time pushing her away because he wanted to protect her.”

“Hmm,” Narcissa hummed.

“I love spending time with Luna. She’s…” Andromeda smiled. “She is so full of wonder and life. It’s infectious. I feel lighter around her.”

“I understand.”

“I’m sure you do. Forgive this indelicate question, but was it…did you not enjoy sleeping with Hermione?”

Narcissa groaned and covered her face with her hands again. “That isn’t the problem.”

“So you enjoyed it?” Andromeda said and laughed when Narcissa blushed and threw a pillow at her.

“Yes. All right? It was…wonderful. The physical aspect was…mind-blowing. I’ve never experienced…,” she said and sighed. “It was the care, the affection, and the sheer emotions that ran between us. I…I had cast the sensation spell and—”

Andromeda laughed.

Narcissa grumbled.

“You did that to later convince yourself that that’s why you’ve enjoyed it so much,” Andromeda said.

“In part, but that was more an afterthought. But that wouldn’t have worked since Hermione asked me to end the spell before…”

“I see. I still don’t understand why all this means you’ve ruined your relationship with Hermione. Did she end things after sleeping with you because that’d be a shock. She doesn’t seem like that and—”

“No, of course not. We spent the night together and she left this morning, but nothing has changed for me. I’m not willing to risk Hermione’s future like this. And she’ll hate me now.”

“Hermione doesn’t hate easily,” Andromeda said.

“Even if she doesn’t hate me, our friendship is over. She will think I’ve used her, taken advantage of her and—”

“Did you start it?”

“Did I start what?”

“Who initiated your encounter?”

“She did, but that hardly matters as I was a more than willing participant. Not to mention, she gave me a way out, saying she’d still want me if we’d stop.”

“It’s difficult to halt in such moments. Rational thought isn’t working all that well,” Andromeda said.

“Tell me about it.”

“What are you going to do?”

“I’ll busy myself with work. Try to avoid her, though apparently, we both will meet Shacklebot the middle of next week.”

“What’s that about? Any trouble with your community service?”

Narcissa frowned. “The letter he sent didn’t say what it’s about, but it also didn’t make it sound like there’s an issue. To be honest, that’s the least of my worries right now.”

“True. You’ll have a furious Gryffindor on your hands if you do ignore her.”

Narcissa groaned.

“Though maybe that’s exactly where you want her? And all that righteous anger…”

“I don’t know why I came here. You’re impossible,” Narcissa sniffed.

“You have to decide what you want and—”

“It’s not that easy! I do want Hermione. A future with her by my side,” she glanced at her folded hands. “I can’t imagine a more desirable vision.”

“Are you sure the fallout of a relationship with you will be so terrible for her?”

“Are you kidding me? We were on opposite sides of the war, both in prominent positions. The Daily Prophet will have a field day with it.”

“Who cares what that rag has to say? They lied to everyone about Voldemort’s return and tried to frame Harry and Dumbledore as lying lunatics. I’m not sure they have that much credibility left.”

“It doesn’t matter. This news wouldn’t be politics. It’s gossip, and people will hear about it, and they’ll believe it and form opinions and—”

“Since when do you care about the opinions of others?” Andromeda asked.

“I don’t. They can say what they want about me. But for Hermione to…to take up the discarded wife of an ex-Death Eater who sits in Azkaban for his crimes, a family who housed Voldemort and… It shows poor judgment. People will lose trust in her and that will cost her. She might not see it right away, but down the line, she’ll lose out on so many opportunities.”

“You’re not a discarded wife. You’re the one who filed for divorce.”

“That’s not how people will see it.”

“Be that as it may, I’m not sure all of this is solely your decision to make.”

“I have more experience, though. I know these people and their prejudices, and how they operate. How could I expose Hermione to that? I lo…” She gritted her teeth. “I care too much about her for that.”

“Are you sure you’re only focused on protecting her?”

“Of course! What else is there?”

“Being with Hermione is risky for you, too.”

“I don’t care if my former friends turn their backs on me.”

“I wasn’t talking about them.”

“Then what do you mean?”

“You have never allowed yourself to go after something you truly wanted. Not once. If your life is full of gray, any loss doesn’t change your surroundings. It’s just another day.”

“Draco—”

“He doesn’t count. You had to have children, and of course you’d love your child. There’s been nothing else in your life for decades, nothing you chose and wanted.”

“I completed my potions master.”

“Yes,” Andromeda said and smiled. “I’m happy you did that. But it’s a different risk to do something for your professional life compared to your personal life. Don’t get me wrong,” she hurried to add when Narcissa narrowed her eyes and glared at her. “This is quite an accomplishment, and I’m proud at you for completing your mastery of potions.”

“Thank you,” Narcissa said.

“I want you to be sure that you won’t regret your decision. Hermione won’t wait forever. It would be terrible if you were to regret your choice and end up alone and crying in your townhouse while Hermione has moved on and found someone else.”

Narcissa gritted her teeth. “That’s the point. She will find someone, a better fit than me. She’ll be happy.”

“And you?”

“I won’t be around for it.”

Andromeda jerked forward. “What?”

“No, no! I’m not sick nor do I intend to take my own life.”

Andromeda relaxed but still frowned at her sister. “Then what did you mean?”

“I’m not sure yet. I might travel a lot or move away. I’ve always enjoyed the mainland of Europe. There’s France and Italy. I could go to the United States or Canada.”

“You’ll leave us all behind?”

“I can’t watch that. It would be…” She shook her head.

“Then why are you upset now?”

“What do you mean?”

“You have decided against a future with Hermione, and you don’t wish to be around when she finds someone else. I understand that, but why are you on my couch crying when you’ve completely given up? You’ve ended this friendship long before Hermione will have ever thought of leaving.”

Narcissa opened her mouth but words failed her. There was no possible reply because her sister was right. Their friendship had been doomed the moment she’d fallen for the dark-haired witch. The desire between them would always push them to where they were now, and if Narcissa remained resolute, then their friendship had no future. But that didn’t mean she had to give it up right away. Why couldn’t they remain friends until Hermione fell for someone else?

She’d always enjoyed pleasant times knowing that they’d end. They always did, but this time, having Hermione, being with her and watching her leave once she realized what the relationship with Narcissa had cost her? How could she risk putting herself in a position to have had a taste of a life with the younger witch only to have it ripped away, because that’s what would happen down the road, and the image of that loss, that surefire reality, it was an abyss of despair Narcissa shuddered to contemplate. She couldn’t go there. But why did it all have to end now? There was time, wasn’t there?

***

Narcissa had ignored her owl asking her how she was doing and if they could talk. Hermione wasn’t surprised but disappointment still hung over her head, making her testy and frustrated at work, and short with her friends. Harry had given her a knowing glance but didn’t push any further. Now she was running late for her meeting with Kingsley and her heart was clawing up her throat as nervous energy darted through her. She’d see Narcissa and she hoped she could get the older witch to talk.

She knocked on Kingsley’s office door and entered when he asked her to come in.

“Hermione! It’s good to see you. Right on time,” he said, rising and waving Hermione to a seat in front of his desk, right next to Narcissa who’d wordlessly nodded at her in greeting.

“Hello, minister. Narcissa,” she said, proud her voice didn’t waver. She sat down.

“Now that you’re both here, let’s get to it. I’ve asked you here today because I have a…it’s a suggestion mixed with a request, I suppose.”

Both witches remained silent.

He cleared his throat. “Right. Straight to it then. The ministry has been very impressed with your work in Germany, and especially with your work in creating a cure for these vile potions, Narcissa. And Hermione, your research has been invaluable.” He shuffled several scrolls on his desk. “There are two job openings in the Department of Mysteries that would be prefect for you.”

Narcissa crossed her legs and sat up straighter while Hermione’s gaze was drawn to the woman’s long legs and memories of their night together raced to the forefront of her mind before she shook herself out of it and focused back on Kingsley.

“One position requires you to be a potions master, and the other one is more of a research position. You seemed like such an impressive team that I right away thought of you for the jobs.”

“What about my community service? We are only three months into it.” Narcissa asked.

“The new position would absorb the rest of it, so that won’t be a problem.”

“What exactly is your request in all of this?” Hermione said.

Kingsley’s gaze flickered between the two women, seemingly picking up on the tension in the room. He shifted his shoulders. “Nils Richter is in Azkaban, but we’ve received some disturbing intelligence about a potions cell that operates in and out of Europe. I cannot tell you more, but you’d learn the details once you accept these positions.”

“Don’t we have to first apply for them?” Hermione asked.

Kingsley waved her off. “That’s just paperwork. If you want those jobs, they are yours. We need your expertise, and your experience in dealing with Richter will come in handy.”

“What are you not telling us?” Narcissa asked.

“Oh, well,” Kingsley said and stroked his hands over his desk. “You might be a target of the potions group I’ve mentioned,” he rushed out, “but not to worry. We’ve got it under control, though we agreed that you should be a part of this, and, again, your talents are needed.”

Narcissa leaned forward in her chair. “A target? How? By whom exactly?”

“Again, I cannot tell you more at this point.”

“Someone is threatening us and you’re saying we only get to learn more about it if we sign up for a job where we won’t know what it entails until we apply?” Narcissa scoffed.

“That’s a somewhat radical interpretation of what I said.”

“It’s an accurate one,” Hermione said, not liking this at all.

“The ministry wants to protect you, and yes, we also need your help. There’s nothing insidious about this offer or the entire situation. You are both familiar with the restrictions when it comes to the Department of Mysteries. It’s not personal.”

“You are sticking out a carrot and hoping we’ll bite and then what?”

“What?” Narcissa turned to look at Hermione for the first time since her curt greeting.

“To trap a rabbit? You entice them with a treat and snap them up when they go for it?”

“I suppose that’s an apt description, though I am not fond of a comparison to hares.” Narcissa said and turned back to Kingsley. “I’ll need some time to contemplate this.”

“Of course,” Kingsley said. “This is all very preliminary. You should both take your time, and discuss it. You’d be working together again, and it would be…beneficial if you could get along?”

“Who says we aren’t?” Hermione asked and held Kingsley’s gaze until he cleared his throat and rose from his seat.

“Ladies, please owl me your decision. It was good seeing you again,” he said, dismissing them.

They left Kingsley’s office and Hermione had to hurry to catch up with Narcissa.

“Hey. Wait,” she called.

Narcissa halted but didn’t turn.

Hermione watched her posture stiffen, as if bracing for an impact. “Hey,” she said again, stepping up to Narcissa.

“Hello,” she said.

Hermione pushed her hands into her pockets. “Do you…can we talk?”

“I’d love to but I’m late for a meeting. With Draco. Catch you later?”

“I know what you’re doing,” Hermione said. She wanted to add more, but the pain reflected in Narcissa’s pleading eyes lodged all words in her throat.

“I’m sorry, Hermione. I have to go,” she said and darted away.

Hermione watched her leave and then floo out of the ministry without a backward glance.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

A week had passed without a word from Narcissa. Hermione had given up trying to contact the other witch after three more attempts had resulted in silence. Instead, she’d spent all her time working or researching for a way to help her parents. She talked for hours to Muggle-born parents, reassuring them that their children would be fine.

She wondered whatever happened to her role as a mentor, but after several months, the Department seemed to believe Narcissa could very well work on her own. Hermione hadn’t replied to Kingsley yet. There was no timeframe, at least he’d given none on when they had to decide, however, given the situation he’d described, he would swoop in soon, demanding an answer. The problem was, she wasn’t sure. Oh, she wanted to work for the Department of Mystery, and research was in her blood. But he’d also said that she’d be working closely with Narcissa, and that didn’t seem like the best idea right now.

Harry had come by, asking how she was and how things were with Narcissa. Her glare made him fall silent first, and then he stuttered and changed the topic to Ginny and the pregnancy. He’d shown her a few ultrasound pictures and told the story of how George had tried to spell the picture to move and Ginny had hexed her brother for it. Hermione had laughed at Harry’s animated storytelling, and she was grateful her best friend had paid her a visit and wasn’t pushing for an answer. He only wanted to cheer her up. She sometimes marveled at how Voldemort had managed to single out the wizard who was the exact polar opposite of him as his target.

At the end of the week, and after pacing her flat and stepping on a shrieking and snarling Crookshank’s tail, she’d had enough and apparated to Andromeda. She had questions, and a proposal, but for that, she needed answers from the person who knew Narcissa best. A person who wasn’t Draco because there was no way Hermione would have that conversation with Narcissa’s son. She shuddered at the thought.

“I was wondering when you’d show up here,” Andromeda offered instead of a greeting and walked back inside.

Hermione shifted her gaze from left to right and hesitated, but then decided that this surely counted as an invitation and followed Andromeda into the kitchen.

“Wine? Tea? Something stronger?” Andromeda asked, pouring herself a cup of tea.

“I’ll join you for tea, thank you,” Hermione said and sat at the kitchen table.

“I’m assuming this visit is about my baby sister?”

“Uh, she talked to you about…me?”

Andromeda handed Hermione a cup of tea and sat down. “Yes.”

“Oh. This isn’t a good idea,” Hermione said and motioned to rise out of her seat.

“Sit down. Narcissa may be my sister, but that doesn’t mean that we’re not friends. I can be there for both of you.”

Hermione settled back in her chair. “OK.”

“So,” Andromeda said and blew at her tea. “Talk to me.”

Hermione ran her hand through her hair. “I’m afraid I am at a loss in how to deal with a Slytherin who refuses to talk to me.”

“How would you handle a Gryffindor?”

“I’d confront them. Show up at their place if they ignored my letters.”

“And you can’t do that with Narcissa?”

“She already told me I’m not subtle enough or that I ignore her sly signs to drop something or change the topic.”

Andromeda laughed. “That doesn’t mean you can’t be who you are. My sister will have to adjust. I don’t think it’s the best idea to change who you are to please another person. That backfires down the line.”

“It’s not that. I’m not changing who I am. I…I’m more myself around Narcissa than I ever was around anyone else. I’m …I’m trying to respect her wishes but…”

“She messed up and hurt your feelings?”

Hermione sighed. “In a manner of speaking.”

“Look, Narcissa is difficult, especially when we’re talking about emotions. We all are, or were, in Bella’s case. It’s hard to express emotions you were taught to suppress, and it’s even harder to allow others to see you vulnerable.”

“But I’m not trying to hurt her!”

“That doesn’t mean that you don’t have the power to do so.”

“Then what? She only surrounds herself with people who don’t mean a lot to her, so she avoids getting hurt?”

“That’s what she’s been doing all her life.”

Hermione clenched her jaw. “That sounds lonely. And miserable.”

“I agree.”

“What am I supposed to do?”

“What do you want to do?”

Hermione’s knuckles paled when she tightened her hands. “I want to talk to her! I have no idea where we stand and if…she doesn’t seem to even want to be my friend anymore.”

“Are you sad or angry? I can’t quite tell.”

“Both?” Hermione pinched the bridge of her nose. “I’m sad because I…I care about her, and I don’t want to lose her, but I’m also furious with her because of how she’s been treating me. I thought better of her.”

“We all make mistakes when we are overwhelmed. This is a conversation you need to have with her, and you likely will have to push to make her open up and tell you why she’s been acting like this.”

“But I don’t want to force her to do anything! I don’t want her to feel obligated or to be my friend because she takes pity on me.”

“I doubt that’s why she’d choose you.”

“But she doesn’t. She won’t choose me, at least not how I want her to.”

“You never know. The question you must answer for yourself is what do you prefer? Is the current state of uncertainty preferable to knowing an answer, even if the answer isn’t what you want to hear?”

“I want an answer. I can’t deal with this…ambiguity. It’s not fair.”

“Then go get your answer. You have a right to ask for one, and Narcissa needs to grow up.”

Hermione took a sip of her tea and held Andromeda’s gaze. The other witch was right. This had gone on for long enough, and even if her next step would end everything between them, at least it was on her own terms. At least it happened because she went for what she wanted and got rejected instead of never trying and slinking away into the shadows, being forgotten.

***

Hermione apparated into Narcissa’s townhouse after leaving Andromeda’s place. She might as well get it over with. She appeared in the blonde witch’s living room and closed her eyes when the scent of the other woman swamped her senses.

“I didn’t think you’d ever just pop up in here,” Narcissa’s soft voice said, startling Hermione who hadn’t noticed her sitting curled up in her armchair.

“You said I could.”

“I did.”

“You could have changed your wards if you no longer wanted me here,” Hermione said.

“That’s true.”

“Is that all you’re going to say?”

Narcissa sat up straighter and placed her book on the side table. “I’m sorry… for being such a coward.”

Hermione said nothing in reply but she held Narcissa’s gaze.

“At first, I wanted a moment to think but seeing you at the ministry,” Narcissa said and caught Hermione’s gaze. “I’d missed you, and you were right there, and I…I still couldn’t form words so I—”

“Ran away.”

Narcissa nodded.

“Do you have words now? Why did you ignore all my owls?”

“After a while, I felt ashamed…and so… I don’t... It seemed easier to remain quiet because I was afraid that every word I’d say would only make things worse.”

“But ignoring me is the better option?”

“I didn’t know what to do!”

“You could have talked to me! How do you think I felt? We’ve shared this…amazing, wonderful night and then you disappear. You cast me away like something you’ve had your fill of and no longer need. Or want,” Hermione’s voice fell at the end.

“I’m sorry. I…this isn’t it.”

“What is it? Why did you sleep with me?”

“You started it!”

“You didn’t complain! Or…did I…did you feel forced?” Hermione pressed out, trying to quell the nausea in her stomach.

Narcissa dashed out of her seat and rushed to Hermione’s side. She grasped her hands. “No! Never. You…I wanted you so much. Please don’t ever believe that. You’d never do something like that.”

Hermione suppressed the tears that had sprung up in her eyes. She needed distance. She released Narcissa’s hands and stepped back.

“I’m sorry.”

“You keep saying that, but I’m not sure what you’re sorry for or what that is supposed to fix?” Hermione said, raising her arms before dropping them.

“Could we…can we sit down and…can we take the long route there? There’s so much I wanted to ask you and never got the chance and…I promise we’ll talk about us but… I need to understand a few things first.”

Hermione huffed but sat down. “What questions do you have? And don’t forget, I have some of my own.”

“Of course, dear,” Narcissa said and took a seat across from Hermione. “Do you recall the movie night at Andy’s place?”

Hermione’s brows furrowed but she nodded.

“Why did that movie make you so upset?”

Narcissa’s voice was so soft and her facial expression so earnest, Hermione couldn’t bear dismissing that discussion. She sighed. “I’d seen that movie before, so I knew what it would be about.”

“It’s a sad movie. Is that what upset you? Or that it dealt with a war?”

“Not just any war. That was the Second World War.”

“I want to learn more about Muggle history,” Narcissa said, and Hermione offered her a small smile.

“That’s not it, though. I…Tonks knows about, well Luna and Andromeda, as well as…”

“Us?” Narcissa said.

“Yes. Or at least, that I wish there were an us, and that you don’t feel that way.”

“Hermione—”

“No, no. Please, don’t. Anyway. She’d gotten it into her head to help us. Play matchmaker, if you will.”

“I’m surprised she’d have no issues with Andromeda dating someone so young and…” Narcissa trailed off.

“Tonks is open-minded, though Luna threw her for a loop by announcing that she slept with her mother.”

Narcissa laughed. “I can imagine.”

“She wants Andy to be happy.”

“And Luna will make her happy?”

“That’s for them to figure out, but there’s obviously something between them and if they don’t try, they’ll never know.”

“Sometimes the risk is too high,” Narcissa said.

“Who gets to decide that? Why does Andy get to call all the shots?”

“Because she’s older. She’s seen more and she knows how people are. She’s not blinded by youthful optimism. Or at least she wasn’t.”

“What changed?”

“Apparently, they are…or they seem to be in a relationship now.”

“Good for them. And for the record, being older doesn’t make you wiser or results in you making better choices.”

Narcissa shook her head. “Why did that movie upset you in this context?”

“You shift the topic whenever we get too close to something you don’t want to discuss.”

“Yes, and as I’ve mentioned before, it would be polite to respect such a subtle hint of a friend.”

“Right,” Hermione said, and a dry chuckle left her mouth. “It is a sad movie, but it’s more than that. I…I thought this movie would only solidify your stance.”

“My stance?”

“Your dismissal of what’s between us.”

“I see. Because there was no happy ending?”

“They risked it all and still lost. It’s like a blueprint for your argument.”

“They also overcame everything that stood in their way and found each other, despite being on opposite sides. Despite the hatred they should have felt for each other, given their social standings.”

“But they lost! And then…Lily was all alone.”

“That was her choice.”

“She didn’t choose to lose Felice!”

“That’s not what I meant. She didn’t have to spend the rest of her life without another companion. That was her choice.”

Hermione ducked her head. “They lost, even before…they never got to be together, have a life together.”

“That’s what happens sometimes. Look at Harry’s parents, or Dora and Remus. That’s life. There are no guarantees.”

“I’m aware of that,” Hermione spat and wiped at her eyes.

“I’m sorry the movie upset you. I found it beautiful. Heartbreaking, but beautiful.”

Hermione released a bitter laugh. “I wasn’t upset by the movie. I’m upset because…you feel it, too. All that is between us, all the time. It’s there, and I feel it here,” she clutched her chest. “I’ve felt it when we made love. I’ve never experienced anything like it and this feeling…what I felt during and after the movie, that was miserable enough. I didn’t know we… what it would be like. What it could be like between us. Now though?”

“Could we… we can look at it as a beautiful mistake?”

Hermione scoffed. “It wasn’t a mistake! It was what we both wanted, and it’s what I still want. It’s not going away by ignoring it, and being in your presence it’s…it hurts.”

Narcissa’s face fell. “I do not wish to hurt you, but I…I can’t.”

“Because you’re scared.”

“I’m not scared, not for me. I don’t want this life for you. You cannot imagine what people will say, what they’ll do…”

“I don’t care!”

“You say that now. What about down the road when you get older and realize all the opportunities you’ve missed because you’ve settled with me and—”

“Settled?” Hermione vaulted out of her seat. “I wouldn’t be settling! I never struggled with finding a partner.”

“Exactly! Why would you choose me? Everything that happened in the past, all the baggage… I couldn’t bear to…”

“To what?”

“To see you walk away. I cannot do this. I cannot let you in and then…we fail. And that night…it meant everything to me, and I’ll treasure the memory forever, but I—”

“So you admit defeat before there’s even a battle?”

“Yes. Because I’ll lose the war,” Narcissa whispered.

“Then we need to stop this.”

“That’s what I keep trying to tell you and—"

“No. I’m not talking about that. I’m…I’m not sure I can keep spending this much time with you when…when you’ll never want to give us a chance. This isn’t an ultimatum or anything, but I’ve been hurting, for a while now. I thought…I thought I could be just your friend, and then…that night happened. I realized I cannot be your friend, not while I feel like this and—”

“What? No. You don’t mean that.”

“There’s no other way. I need to get over you. We cannot be friends, not when I want you like this, not when I know how you feel, how you taste, your smell.”

Narcissa trembled.

“You feel it, too.” She stepped closer and invaded Narcissa’s personal space. “Your pupils are blown, and you want to kiss me as badly as I want to kiss you right now.”

“Hermione, please,” Narcissa whispered.

“If I stay and we act like we are only friends, I’d still hope you’ll change your mind. That you are willing to move forward, and there will be moments like this,” Hermione said and waved her hands between them. “All this tension. And after a while, you’ll start flirting with me again and it’s almost like you’re taunting me.”

“Taunting you?”

“Yes! You’ve done this before. It’s like you were showing me what I can never have. Even now, even after we had sex, you still don’t want me, and I need to get over that. I was trying to focus on being your friend, but it’s too hard! It’s not fair, and I can’t do this anymore. It doesn’t have to be forever, but I need some time…some space to—”

“Wait…you think I don’t want you?”

“At least not enough to do something about it.”

“I want you more than I ever wanted anyone in my entire life!”

“Then be with me! We can figure it out along the way.”

Narcissa’s eyes brimmed with tears. “You’ll leave. You’ll realize it, and you’ll leave me and I can’t…”

Silence.

Hermione raised her jaw. “I never thought you could be such a coward. I love you, and I want to be your friend, and I’m not making you choose. This isn’t an ultimatum. I accept your decision that you’d rather run away from what we have than take a risk for what could be so breathtakingly beautiful.”

“Hermione, please—”  

She stroked Narcissa’s cheek, wiping away a stray tear. “You won’t lose me forever, but if you…if you cannot be with me like that, then you need to give me time to get over you,” she said and softly kissed the woman’s cheek before apparating from the townhouse and leaving behind a stunned and unmoving Narcissa.

***

“Mother? Where are you? I got an owl from the minister of magic asking me to reach out to you about a job offer? What’s going on?” Draco had apparated in his mother’s townhouse. “Wait, did you just cast a patronus?”

“Draco, darling. Hello,” Narcissa said, pushing her wand into the sleeve of her shirt.

“Giving your relaxed posture, I’m assuming there are no dementors nearby.”

“No, no dementors.”

“Mother, what is going on? You haven’t been yourself in weeks. You rarely go out anymore. You have accepted none of my invitations to join Astoria and I, and I heard you’re no longer spending time with Granger. Potter couldn’t keep a secret to save his life,” he scoffed.

“How is she?”

“Granger? I don’t know. According to Potter, she’s working a lot. Did you two have a fight?”

“It doesn’t matter,” Narcissa said and smoothed her dress.

“I’m worried about you. It’s not healthy to be cooped in like this.”

“I’m not. I go to work.”

“Yes, and apparently, you’re avoiding the minister of magic. What job offer is he talking about?”

“It’s a job at the Department of Mysteries, but I haven’t decided if I want it or not.”

“Well, he seems to be eager for you to take it. Wouldn’t that be great? You were so worried you’d never find a footing back in the wizarding community, and now they are running after you with a job offer. We should celebrate!”

“No, Dragon, no.” She grabbed his arm. “I don’t want a celebration. I’m not sure I’ll take that job. There are…complications. But don’t worry about it,” she said, stroking his cheek. “I’ll be fine.”

“I know you can’t talk to me about everything because I’m your son and all, and while I’m not keen on discussing, uh, potential romantic entanglements, should that cause your distress, I’m still here. I’ll listen. And if not me, talk to Aunt Andromeda?”

“There’s no romantic predicament, and there’s nothing to talk about. I’m fine.”

“You always get that pinched look when you’re lying. I doubt anyone else can tell, but it’s there. Right in your face.”

Narcissa sighed. “Some things are better left unsaid.”

“True, and again, spare me all details. But something is weighing on you and there’s someone. Don’t worry. You don’t have to tell me. I don’t care who it is as long as you are happy.”

“You can’t promise that,” Narcissa said and averted her gaze.

“I can promise you that my love for you is stronger than whatever problem or chaos this…person, this relationship could cause. You will not lose me, mother,” he said and reached out for Narcissa’s hands.

“You’re the only thing I’ve ever gotten right, Dragon,” she said, squeezing his hands before wiping her eyes and rising. “Go be with Astoria. I’m fine.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, Draco.”

“Please talk to Aunt Andromeda, and maybe also take care of that job offer?”

“Out,” Narcissa said and shut her eyes when Draco leaned in to hug her before he apparated out of the townhouse.

She wondered what her sweet child would say if he knew who his mother was pining for. Would what he said hold? What would she do if she moved forward with Hermione, assuming the younger woman still had any such interest in her, and her son asked her to choose? She’d never contemplated this scenario because she was determined to only remain Hermione’s friend.

After a month apart, Narcissa wondered if life without Hermione would remain this soulless, jarring pit that swallowed all her energy and zest for life. The dark-haired witch had said she loved her and then disappeared, and that sentence had haunted her every waking hour since, and with time it became more akin to a stab in her heart instead of filling her with delight. However, her utter disbelief about the words remained a constant companion.

How would she cope when Hermione found someone else? Moving to another country wouldn’t take Narcissa away from her heart, from her thoughts, and it also wouldn’t end her recurring dreams of the dark-haired witch. She still woke up sweaty and out of breath, much like she did when nightmares of the drawing room plagued her. Now, her dreams tortured her with the one night she’d got to spent with Hermione, only to find herself waking up alone, again and again, bitter disappointment on her tongue where before she’d sampled Hermione’s sweet taste.

***

A month after last seeing Narcissa when she’d apparated out of the blonde witch’s townhouse, Hermione sat on her floor, bouncing a ball against the wall. Crookshanks sat next to her, his head twitching from side to side as if he were watching an intense tennis match.

She still hadn’t given Kingsley a reply to the job offer. How could she? Was this her life now? She’d imagined she’d feel better by now, though if she were honest with herself, she knew this was wishful thinking. Hermione expected to miss Narcissa, but she didn’t anticipate feeling this empty, this desolate.

Harry and Ron kept inviting her to hang out, but she wasn’t in the mood. She went to work, stayed longer than she needed to, then went back home. She worried even Crookshanks was getting sick of her moping around the house, especially when…Hermione smiled. There she was again.

The misty, light blue lioness who had kept her silent company most nights. She’d curl up next to Hermione while ignoring a hissing and spitting Crookshanks. Hermione wished she could touch her, but her presence alone filled her with hope. She didn’t know if that was a good thing, hoping for something that would never come to pass, but hope made her misery so much more bearable.

Tonight, though, something changed. The lioness raised her head and stared at Hermione who held her gaze. After a moment, she said, “I miss you terribly,” in Narcissa’s voice and Hermione froze, sitting on her floor in the stillness of her flat with the bouncing ball rolling under her sofa chair, all the while tears streamed down her cheeks.

Chapter Text

Narcissa had felt guilty at first, sending her patronus to Hermione during a time when the younger witch had asked for distance, but then it became a habit. At least some aspect of her could be around Hermione. She’d also assumed that the dark-haired witch would have told her to stop if it had been an issue.

For the first time, though, she’d sent a message along with her patronus. She hadn’t expected a reply and so when she registered a blue and red shape in her peripheral vision, she lurched back, dropping her wine glass to the floor. Her eyes widened and she stared unmoving at the silver phoenix patronus, flapping its wings while holding her gaze.

“My wards are still open to you,” the patronus said with Hermione’s voice and Narcissa trembled. Didn’t Hermione say her patronus took the shape of otters? Her patronus had changed as well? That was… The patronus shrieked, tearing her out of her thoughts and with one final flap, the creature flew off.

The wards were still open. Narcissa worried her lower lip. Was that a statement of fact or an invitation? And if it was an invitation, was she ready? Narcissa knew that if she went to Hermione, she needed to be sure because once she stepped foot into her flat, everything would change. Hermione made it clear, they couldn’t be just friends, not until she was over Narcissa. And Narcissa was no longer certain that she wanted Hermione to ever get over her.

After experiencing a month of life without Hermione, she questioned if her fear of harming Hermione through their association, and then losing the younger witch as a result, was enough to justify her decision, especially when everything within her longed to be with the other witch. She also had wondered if a large part of her reluctance was more self-sabotage, and while that didn’t mean she wasn’t genuinely worried for Hermione and any potential negative consequences she’d have to suffer because of her, she also feared that she was selling Hermione short.

Narcissa had argued that life offered no guarantees and that you’d lose sometimes, no matter what, that it wasn’t fair, and yet she’d denied Hermione the opportunity to make this decision on her own. She was no child, and for whatever reason, she wanted to be with Narcissa. She loved her. Was Narcissa willing to shatter her own heart to avoid the possibility of Hermione breaking it down the road?

When Draco was eight, he’d wanted a cat. Lucius was dead-set against it, but Narcissa had ignored him and gifted her little boy with a caramel-colored kitten he’d named Merlin. He’d loved that cat and was devastated when Merlin died during his fifth year at Hogwarts. She’d apologized to him, saying that if she’d known this would end up breaking his heart, she’d never gotten Merlin.

Draco had stopped crying and stared at her for a second, then his eyes had narrowed, and he’d sat up. He’d looked straight into her eyes and said that he’d never regret loving Merlin. That yes, he was hurting now, and he wished he didn’t have to die. He’d always miss him, but while this moment was bleak and dark, it didn’t take away the joy and happiness Merlin had brought to his life. Without Merlin, he wouldn’t have had that either.

There was no guarantee that any relationship she’d start with Hermione would last. She still believed that the odds were against them, but there was also no guarantee that they wouldn’t last, and if both wanted to try, who could deny them? If all she’d get were several blissful months or years with Hermione by her side, she’d be insane to walk away from that. It would be her greatest mistake, and she so hated making mistakes. If this had to shatter her, she should at least get the joyful moments in between. She needed to depart from her current path that only offered darkness. 

Narcissa took a deep breath, cast a spell to clean up the mess she made thanks to Hermione’s patronus and headed for the bathroom. She had places to be and a dark-haired witch to convince to give them another chance.

***

Hermione sat on her couch trying to concentrate on the book in her hand and failing. She wished she could doze like Crookshanks who laid beside her, snoring. She regretted sending her patronus the moment it shot out of her flat. She’d had to cast it a second time because she’d been too stunned to see a phoenix spill out of her wand to give it directions at first.

Hermione had no hope that her message would change Narcissa’s mind, but she also didn’t want the other witch to believe that Hermione was done and wouldn’t welcome a change of heart. She’d dreamed about that so many times that she no longer woke up and cried upon realizing that her reunion with Narcissa once more had only occurred in her subconscious. Instead, she’d shuffle to the bathroom and try to wash away the dream, sent it down the drain along with her hopes.

An apparation crack filled the room, chasing her cat off the couch, while Hermione’s heart rate spiked when she lifted her head and Narcissa stood there, once again wearing comfortable Muggle clothing, though her glasses were absent.

“Hello,” Narcissa said, not moving.

“Hey,” Hermione replied, closing her book and placing it on the coffee table. “I didn’t expect to see you.”

“I didn’t expect your patronus either. A phoenix.”

“Hmm, I was as stunned as you were, I imagine. About the phoenix,” Hermione hurried to add, and she felt lighter than she had in a long time when Narcissa smiled at her.

“May I sit down?”

“Of course. Forgive me. I usually have better manners than this,” Hermione said, unsure which seat to offer to the blonde witch, but then Narcissa strode closer and gingerly sat down next to her.

They sat in silence for a moment, regarding each other with friendly, almost shy expressions.

“So you’re here.”

“I am here,” Narcissa said.

Hermione chuckled. “This is awkward.”

“Yes, though people rarely voice such thoughts.”

“Maybe they should. Things would be easier for everyone if…if people acknowledged more of what is going on.”

“Perhaps, but a lot of people don’t want to offend anyone, and they worry they might be alone in what they are feeling or that others won’t appreciate their take and—”

Hermione reached out and took hold of Narcissa’s hand. “You are not alone.”

Narcissa stared at their interlocked fingers before raising her head.

Hermione shuffled closer upon the blonde witch’s eyes shining with unshed tears. “Hey. What is it?”

“I…I marvel at how welcoming and forgiving you are,” she said.

“Oh,” Hermione said, and heat rose to her cheeks.

“I’ve come to a conclusion that…I want to share with you, and then you…may decide what it means.”

“All right,” Hermione said and held Narcissa’s gaze. Her heart thrashed in her chest and she tried to smash her hopes, slap them down and tie them up so they wouldn’t break her if this didn’t go the way she wished.

“You were right. I’ve been a coward. My entire life…there were no risks. Aside from lying to Tom, I’ve never stood up to anyone, not for myself anyway. My own wishes and desires never mattered because they’d only lead to trouble and it was easy to suppress them, before meeting you at least.” A rueful chuckle left Narcissa. “The scar…it also helped in keeping me in line. I grew used to bringing darkness and ruin to what I touch.”

Hermione squeezed Narcissa’s hand.

“I still…worry about you, and I don’t necessarily understand why you’d want to be with me, but…these last weeks were miserable.”

“They were,” Hermione whispered.

“I’ve realized that denying what’s between us and losing you…I don’t think I can handle it. I love you, too, and if…if you’ll still have me then—”

Hermione silenced her with a soft kiss before a joyful laugh bubbled from her lips and she hugged Narcissa close, who wrapped her arms around Hermione’s back, holding her tight. “Of course I’ll still have you! I can’t tell you how often I’ve dreamed about this,” Hermione said and pulled back, holding on to Narcissa’s shoulders. “This isn’t a dream, right?”

“No, dear. It’s not,” Narcissa said and smiled, stroking her fingers over Hermione’s cheek.

***

They’d applied to the Department of Mystery jobs, much to Kingsley’s relief, and after a week, they received their acceptance letters and were invited for an orientation at the start of the next month. Narcissa had told Hermione that she’d planned to suggest that she should apply for the job while Narcissa wouldn’t, had Hermione no longer held any desire for her. Hermione had called her mental. Narcissa wasn’t sure if that referred to the job or the idea that Hermione could have lost interest in her.

She’d spoken to Andromeda about their decision to try a romantic relationship and her sister had squealed and hugged her. She herself was disgustingly happy with Luna. Dora had first congratulated her and then contemplated if there could be a generational shift, that their generation of Black women fell for younger people, while her own went after older witches and wizards. Andy had smacked her daughter with the Daily Prophet, and they all had laughed. Narcissa couldn’t fathom the amount of joy and life that surrounded her.

Two weeks in, no one besides her sister, her niece, and Harry knew about their relationship, and Narcissa remained antsy about the prospect of this news spreading in broader circles. She knew she had to tell Draco, but so far, she’d been reluctant to break from the cozy, delightful, and exciting sanctuary they’d created at their homes. They’d spent most nights together and even Hermione’s cranky ginger cat had taken to accept Narcissa’s invasion of his territory.

She’d finally found the volume on memory spells and potions in the Black library, but she’d first studied it alone. She’d wanted to make sure it would be helpful before sharing it with Hermione. Last night, she’d made a break-through during one of the few nights they’d spent apart because Narcissa needed to run a test in her potions lab.

“Remember the test I needed to attend to at my lab yesterday?”

“You mean the reason I had to sleep without you,” Hermione grumbled.

“There’s a way to help your parents.”

Hermione sat up straighter, pulling away from Narcissa. “You what?”

“I found the book, the one we were searching for at my family’s library. I didn’t want to tell you before I knew it would be of use and—”

“And?”

Narcissa smiled at Hermione’s excited bouncing on the couch and the way her eyes lit up. She’d never tire of this. “There’s a potion. It’s an old and complicated recipe and some of the ingredients are difficult to find, but…it should work.”

Hermione burst into tears and covered her face with her hands.

“Are you OK, dear? I didn’t mean to worry you. While it will take a couple of weeks to obtain all ingredients, I’ve already sent out a few owls to people who might help us attain them, so it should be fine and—”

Hermione jerked forward, pulling Narcissa into a tight embrace. “Thank you. Thank you so much,” she muttered into her neck.

“Of course,” Narcissa said and kissed her temple. “I won’t give up on healing them.”

***

They had managed to install a TV in Narcissa’s living room, along with a DVD player. Narcissa was fascinated that she could rent movies in Muggle stores or buy them. She’d exchanged more money at Gringotts to also pay for her growing movie collection now. She’d also discovered TV series and was enthralled by Muggle crime investigations. What was even worse, she’d uncovered documentaries and decided that this would be the most efficient way to learn about Muggle history.

Hermione had asked her once where this sudden fascination with Muggle art and history was coming from, given she’d already had to accompany Narcissa to the natural history museum, or better, the blonde witch had demanded that they’d see a new exhibit about ancient Egypt. Hermione had teared up before hugging and kissing Narcissa when the older woman had first blushed and then admitted that this was part of Hermione’s world, of how she grew up, and that she wanted to share that with her.

As a result, many nights saw them curled up together on the couch, watching whatever fresh interest or affinity Narcissa had developed. Tonight, she’d wanted to watch a romance. A lesbian romance. She’d done some research and had settled on When Night Is Falling. Hermione hadn’t seen the movie yet, having been truthful when she’d told Narcissa that she’d always been much more of a reader than an avid movie fan. This meant that some of the movies Narcissa had chosen were novel experiences for Hermione as well.

“Muggle religion is strange, but the restrictions and the pressure they put on people to adhere to their ideas and standards is eerily familiar,” Narcissa voiced a third into the movie.

“Similar to old pureblood expectations and rules?” Hermione asked and snuggled closer to Narcissa who only nodded, her eyes glued to the screen.

The room was dark, aside from the flickering of the TV and the candles they’d lit on the side tables. Shadows danced across Narcissa’s profile and Hermione struggled to concentrate on the movie while her gaze lingered on the blonde witch. They’d been busy these last few days and hadn’t been able to spend as much time together as Hermione would have liked.

“Why are you staring at me?” Narcissa said, still not averting her gaze from the screen and of the dancing lights performance by Petra.

“I like your face,” Hermione said.

Narcissa chortled.

“And I’ve missed you,” she whispered.

Narcissa turned her head and caught her gaze with a slight smile tugging at the corner of her lips. Her blue eyes appeared dark in the room's dimness, but they shone with affection. “I’ve missed you, too.”

Hermione’s gaze sank to Narcissa’s lips who appeared to realize in that moment how close their faces were, so near their breaths mingled.

Narcissa shifted and caught Hermione’s lips in a soft kiss that escalated when Hermione sucked on her tongue, scraping her teeth lightly against the hot, velvety muscle, which caused Narcissa to groan and pull Hermione on top of her. After several long minutes of making out that left them both shaky and breathless, and with the movie long forgotten, Hermione drew back and held Narcissa’s intense gaze.

“Shall we take this to the bedroom?”

“Yes,” Narcissa mouthed before biting Hermione’s lower lip.

Hermione groaned and returned the kiss before once more pulling back. She clambered off the couch, holding onto Narcissa’s hand. “Come on,” she hurried out, pulling at the blonde witch’s hand who rose and laughed.

“Someone’s impatient.”

“Are you going to do something about that, or do you plan to just stand here and chat?” Hermione asked with a cheeky grin, but a shudder ran down her frame at the narrowed eyes Narcissa offered in reply before stalking to the bedroom. She glanced over her shoulders, “you better hurry or I’ll continue without you.”

Hermione froze before shaking her head and hurrying after Narcissa. “That’s not the threat you think it is,” she said before closing the bedroom door behind them.

***

“Do you remember what you said several days ago? When your friends almost walked in on us?” Narcissa murmured in Hermione’s ear.

“What do you mean?” Hermione panted while rocking her hips against Narcissa’s body.

“Do you trust me?” Narcissa breathed and Hermione groaned.

“Yes,” she pressed out. A moment later she felt a tingling sensation in her groin followed by an unfamiliar weight. “Whaa... what... did you just do what... Shit.” Her eyes slammed shut and she stopped all movements when Narcissa touched her.

“You said you wished you could be inside me.”

“So you gave me a penis?”

“I didn’t give you one,” Narcissa chuckled.

“Uh, the appendage attached to me begs to differ, loudly. Stop touching it! I can’t think like that.”

“Isn’t that the point?”

“What did you do?”

“I’ve sort of...extended what nature has already given you.”

“Oh Merlin. So this is still me?”

“Of course.”

“I’ve never heard of such a spell.”

“You wouldn’t. I’ve invented it. Though I’d be surprised if this was the first spell of its kind.”

“So you’ve invented a spell to transform my... well, into a penis because I’ve said... what I said?”

“Your shyness in bed is adorable. And yes. That’s what I did.”

“How did you know it would work and not...tear my bits off?”

“I’ve tested it on myself.”

Hermione opened her mouth and then closed it again.

“This image appeals to you,” Narcissa said, once more touching Hermione.

“Stop,” she moaned. “I...I have one more question.”

Narcissa stopped but didn’t remove her hand.

“Since this is all still me, there’s no chance I... that you get pregnant?”

“No, dear. We’d need potions and more magic for that. Maybe that’s a discussion for another time?”

“All right. Yes. That makes sense.”

“Hermione?”

“Yes?”

“Fuck me.”

Hermione groaned but eagerly bowed down and captured Narcissa’s lips in a tumultuous kiss, her hands gripping the sheets next to the blonde witch’s head.

She broke the kiss and nuzzled Narcissa’s cheek. “Are you sure? I don’t want to hurt you,” she pressed out while straining to comply with Narcissa’s demand.

“I wouldn’t have given you more than I can handle,” Narcissa said, spreading her legs further and guiding Hermione toward her entrance.

Hermione’s knuckles tightened on the bedsheets and sweat glistened all over her body. She panted and her eyes fell shut as Narcissa guided her inside. She groaned but held still, not moving and instead she tried to adjust to the liquid heat that engulfed her. Dizziness swept over her while her heart hammered in her chest.

“You can move,” Narcissa said, trailing her hands down Hermione’s back to her rear. “You won’t break me.”

“I won’t last,” Hermione gasped, her eyes still squeezed shut and her body strung taut like a piano string right before a hammer strike.

“Again, this is a part of you. We can do this all right if you like, though at some point, I might be too sore if you do it right. We could switch then, I suppose,” Narcissa said and nibbled at Hermione’s throat.

Hermione shuddered. “Merlin, stop talking,” she grunted.

“Make me,” Narcissa breathed and sucked Hermione’s lower lip into her mouth, biting on it.

A drawn-out moan fell from Hermione’s lips and her hips started undulating.

“Yes!” Narcissa hissed and pulled Hermione even closer before scratching down her back. “Faster,” she moaned, and her hands slid over Hermione’s trembling back when the dark-haired witch picked up speed.

Hermione sought Narcissa’s mouth and they kissed again. The scent of their mingled sweat and arousal, combined with the heat from Narcissa’s tongue sliding against hers and the pure, heady, delicious pressure of her lover’s inner walls squeezing her, hurtled Hermione toward a thunderous peak. Her body grew rigid before she spasmed, shuddering in a wave of pleasure that almost bordered on agony until she shattered and cried her release in Narcissa’s neck.

They stilled, both catching their breath. Narcissa stroked down Hermione’s back, tracing idle patterns on hot, sweat-slicked skin.

After a moment in which Hermione swore she felt their hearts beat in sync, Narcissa shifted and flipped them around. Hermione groaned and shuddered once more when she slid out of Narcissa. The blonde witch straddled her and with a smirk on her lips, her hand once more found Hermione who whimpered when Narcissa guiding her inside.

“Let’s do this again,” Narcissa said, bending down to kiss Hermione who could only groan in response, her hips quickening. This was going to be a long but delicious night.

***

They were sitting down for breakfast. Who’d have thought Narcissa was a pancake fiend, and that Hermione loved making them.

“If you keep feeding me like this, I might have to pick up Quidditch again to keep in shape,” Narcissa said, finishing the last piece of pancake and picking up her cup.

“You played Quidditch?”

“Hmm,” Narcissa hummed, taking a sip of her tea.

Hermione scrunched up her nose. “I’m not too fond of flying.”

“I’d have thought you’d love the freedom it offers.”

“It makes me a bit dizzy, and it never came naturally to me. Ron used to tease me and say that I only hate it because I can’t learn it from a book,” Hermione said with a smile. “He wasn’t wrong. That was an aspect that aggravated me.”

“I can see that,” Narcissa said.

“There’s another way to stay active, though, aside from riding on a broomstick where you risk breaking all your bones. Did I ever tell you about that time in second year when Harry broke his arm and Lockhart attempted to heal it and instead vanished his bone? Ugh. I can’t believe I fancied him back then.”

“No, you haven’t told me about that. Growing bones is quite a painful adventure,” Narcissa said.

“Harry would agree with you. He said it was sheer agony. Not in those words,” Hermione said and smiled.

“Who did you fancy then? Harry?”

Hermione coughed and placed her cup on the table. “Merlin, no. Though admitting to fancying Lockhart might be worse,” she said.

“We all have our moments where we’d retrospectively like to slap ourselves.”

“Very true,” Hermione said, sighing.

“We got off topic, though. What other activity did you have in mind? One that doesn’t threaten my bones?”

“Oh,” Hermione said and cleared her throat. “Well, we can always…last night could count as a rigorous activity that has the potential to…keep you in shape so you won’t have to deny yourself your favorite breakfast.

Narcissa chuckled. “Your solution to more pancakes is more sex?”

“Yes?”

“I like the way you think, dear.”

***

Hermione couldn’t believe it. They would try to fix her parents’ memories. She might get them back for real. She had never dared to dream about this and after finding no useful hint during her research and after the bust at the Black library months ago, she had been close to resigning herself to the current situation, how her parents would forget her or grow angry at her and shout, like last time, right after they’d made a batch of cookies.

Narcissa had ended up paying a lot of money to acquire the more rare ingredients for the potion, but she’d gotten the remaining ones earlier in the week, and since then, she’d been holed up in her lab brewing the healing potion. Tonight, they would bring it to her parents, and hopefully with that, this nightmare would end. There was an incantation Hermione would have to say right before her parents drank the potions and she had been memorizing it and practicing the correct wand movements all week.

“There you are,” Narcissa said and closed the door of her potions lab behind her, two vials with dark purple liquid in her hands. “Are you ready?”

“As I’ll ever be. There’s something I need to do first, though,” she said.

“What’s that?” Narcissa asked, placing the vials on the counter.

“I need to thank you properly,” Hermione said and stepped closer to Narcissa.

The blonde witch laughed. “You’ve been thanking me plenty.”

Hermione blushed and cleared her throat. “Still. Thank you. This means the world to me.”

“It is possible that it won’t work and—”

Hermione pressed her fingers against Narcissa’s lips. “Hush. It’ll work. And if it doesn’t, we will figure out something else. Together.”

Narcissa kissed Hermione’s fingers before taking her hand and leaning in closer to kiss her. Hermione sighed and closed her eyes. She opened her mouth and pulled Narcissa nearer when their tongues touched.

Both missed the apparation crack that rang through the door.

“Mother, I was going to ask…woah, Granger! Why are you kissing my mother?” Draco’s voice rose.

Hermione and Narcissa jumped apart and both stared at a wide-eyed Draco.

“Draco, I can—”

That’s who it is? That’s who made you so miserable and then…” He shook his head. “I don’t believe this.”

“Draco, listen to me,” Narcissa started but she couldn’t finish. Draco had apparated out of the townhouse without another word.

“You should go after him,” Hermione said, suppressing the desire to reach out and comfort the trembling woman.

“No. I wouldn’t know where he went, and…Merlin, I should’ve told him. He was so happy to see me in better spirits and now…”

“I’m sorry. I don’t want to cause problems for your relationship with Draco. If…if it’s easier—”

“Don’t you dare finish that sentence!” Narcissa hissed, her eyes flashing. “He will come around. It might not be a peaceful journey and I’m not saying this isn’t…agony, but I trust my dragon. I must. The alternative…” She wiped her eyes and picked up the two vials. “We must get these potions to your parents. They need to drink them as soon as possible.”

“Are you sure you’re up for this now?”

“Yes, Hermione. I’m not a fragile flower.”

Hermione chuckled. “I’m quite aware of that.” She grabbed Narcissa’s hand and apparated them to her parents’ front-door.

***

“Potter! I know you’re home. Open the door!” Draco called and banged at Harry and Ginny’s front door.

A very pregnant Ginny opened the door. “Why are you knocking down our door? What happened?”

“Where’s your husband?” Draco stormed into the house. “Potter!”

“Come on in,” Ginny said and closed the door, stalking after Draco the moment Harry hurried down the stairs.

“What’s going on?”

“Did you know your best friend is shagging my mother?”

“Ron is sleeping with your mother?” Ginny called with wide eyes.

Draco grimaced. “What? Don’t be gross.”

Harry shuffled from one foot to the other.

“You knew! You knew it was Granger all along! Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Wait, Hermione’s secret lover is Narcissa Malfoy?” Ginny asked and laughed.

“Black,” both Harry and Draco said at the same time. Draco ran his hand over his face and flopped down on the couch.

“It wasn’t my place. How did…did Narcissa tell you?” Harry asked.

He scowled. “No. I walked in on them.”

Harry blanched while Ginny laughed harder.

“No! No! Not like that! I…they were kissing when I apparated to my mother’s townhouse.”

“And then what?”

“She wanted to explain but…I left. I just…I don’t understand why she didn’t tell me!”

“It’s no surprise, given how you reacted and didn’t even let her explain. You ran away like a prat,” Ginny drawled and frowned.

“How would you react if you saw your mum snogging Luna Lovegood?”

“I think you’ll find she’s too busy snogging your aunt,” Ginny said.

“What?” Draco fell back against the couch. “What’s next? You’re going to tell me my father is shagging Neville Longbottom?” He laughed hysterically.

“Draco, calm down,” Harry said. “If they’re happy? What does it matter?”

“They are old enough to be their mothers!”

“Age is overrated. Sure, most people date closer to their own age, but that’s only because of circumstance,” Harry said.

“What are you babbling about?” Draco asked.

He shrugged his shoulders. “You mostly meet your partner at school or work, or through friends. Most of the time, we hang around people of similar age. So we date people our own age.”

“When did you become thoughtful?” Draco asked.

“Didn’t you say that she’s been really happy over the last couple of months?”

“Yes. Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad she’s stopped moping around and being all sad and holed up in the townhouse. Mind you, that was likely Granger’s fault, too, but…ugh. How did this even happen?”

“I don’t know all the details, but I suppose it was the usual way. You could ask your mum,” Harry said.

“I’m not sure I’m up for that conversation,” Draco groaned.

“You better do something. You storming off like that probably gave your mother the impression you’ll make her choose. And you better not!” Ginny said and glared at Draco.

“What? Choose between what?”

“Between you and Hermione!”

Draco frowned. “I’d never do that! I will not abandon my mother!”

“Then you should tell her that. They’ve been through a lot to get to where they are now. You should talk to her soon,” Harry said.

“You’re right,” Draco said and rose. “I’ll head back and see. Merlin, they better not be snogging again,” he grumbled before turning to Harry. “Listen scar-head, next time you know something that big that concerns my mother, warn me at least?”

“Yes, ferret,” Harry said and grinned.

“Don’t worry. He’ll suffer for keeping that secret from me,” Ginny said.

Harry leaped out of his chair. “Do you have to leave already?”

Draco chuckled. “You’re on your own, Potter.”

“Thanks,” Harry said and swallowed hard.

Draco left their house and apparated back to his mother’s townhouse, keeping his eyes closed. Total stillness greeted him at his destination. “Mother, where are you?” He called out, still refusing to open his eyes.

No answer. He blinked, but there was no one there. He cast a quick spell to check for the presence of others, but he was alone in the entire townhouse. “Where did you go?” He muttered and sat down. He might as well wait for her.

***

“Draco, darling. Wake up,” Narcissa said, rousing her son who was sleeping on her couch in the living room.

“Huh?” Draco rubbed his eyes and sat up. “Mother. I’m sorry. I was waiting for you and must have fallen asleep. What time is it?”

“That’s not a problem. It’s past nine in the evening,” she said.

He scanned the room. “Is Granger still here?”

“She’s staying at her parents place for the night.”

“What? Why? What happened?”

Narcissa sighed. “I won’t share any details because I’m not sure how Hermione would feel about that, but we were helping her parents with an issue, and thankfully, it seems to have worked. They haven’t had a chance to truly be together in a while. Tonight was…quite emotional, and they’d ask her to stay.”

“Do they know about you?”

“They know we are friends. Adding more to tonight’s events might have been overkill. Not to mention, it wasn’t about me, or my relationship with Hermione.”

“So you guys are in a relationship? It’s not just,” he grimaced, “physical?”

“Yes, we are, and no, I’m not just using your former classmate as physical relief to see me through my midlife crisis,” Narcissa said, rolling her eyes.

“Mother!” He called before covering his face. “Don’t say stuff like that,” he groaned.

“Oh, Dragon. I’m sorry. Today’s been stressful and I’ve…I’ve been worried about your reaction and—”

“Why didn’t you say something before?”

Narcissa sighed. “I wanted to, but everything was so new. For the longest time, I was dead set against a relationship with Hermione.”

“It’s been her all along, then?”

“Yes,” Narcissa said. “I was afraid that a relationship with me would hurt her, but I was even more scared that…she’ll leave me once she realizes I’m not what she wants.” She lowered her head. This was still a fear that gnawed at her, but she was getting better.

“You wanted to end it before she could,” he said and nodded.

“Yes, but she was persistent and…after a while, I realized that I was being foolish. I had to think back on what you said to me when Merlin died.” She stroked his hair.

“What did I say?”

“That experiencing happiness through loving someone is worth the pain of losing them.”

“Wow. I was wise beyond my years,” he said and laughed. “I’m glad I could help you, even if it means…let’s just not talk about it.”

“Hermione is a big part of my life, darling. She will be around, as I hope you will be. You guys didn’t get along at Hogwarts, but—”

He snorted. “That’s an understatement.”

“You’ve managed to set aside your differences with Harry. Don’t you think you can do the same with Hermione?”

“I’ll try. For you.”

“I appreciate it. More than I can express. I…the thought of having to choose between—”

“Stop! I would never do that to you! Grang…Hermione and I will likely never be friends, but if she makes you happy, I’m grateful. I’ll never call her mum, though.”

Narcissa laughed, relieved her son wouldn’t make her choose and that he defaulted on humor, always a good sign with him. “I’m sure she’d hex you if you did.”

“Good, good. Now that that’s settled, I’ll head back to Astoria. She must wonder where I am,” he said and leaned forward, kissing his mother’s cheek. “Have a good night.”

“You, too,” Narcissa said and hugged him.

 

Chapter Text

“Oy, Hermione, are you here? Wake up! Get to St. Mungo’s. Ginny’s about to give birth! Hello? ‘Mione?”

Hermione rushed to the fireplace and kneeled next to Ron’s face. “Did you say Ginny’s in labor?”

“Yeah. Come on. Get dressed and get over here. Bring her, too,” he said and laughed while his face crumbled to ashes in her fire-pit.

“Is everything all right, dear?” Narcissa asked, standing in the doorway, dressed in one of Hermione’s overlarge t-shirts.

“Ginny is at St. Mungo’s. They’re having the baby! We need to go there. Come on, we gotta get dressed,” she said, dashing toward Narcissa and grabbing her hand, she pulled her back to her bedroom.

“Are you sure I should accompany you?”

Hermione rolled her eyes. “I’m sure. I want you there.”

“What about…” Narcissa clenched her jaw.

“The Weasley’s will be fine. Don’t worry. They’ll be too focused on the birth of their grandchild to revel in their hatred for the Malfoys.”

“That isn’t all that comforting,” Narcissa said, crossing her arms in front of her chest which made her shirt ride up her legs. Hermione’s gaze traveled down Narcissa’s form.

“You really need to get dressed.”

Narcissa smirked and disappeared into the bathroom.

***

Fifteen minutes later, they apparated outside of St. Mungo’s, and since the end of the war, Narcissa had rarely felt such dread as when she entered to hospital on their way to the birth of Harry and Ginny’s child. She loved children, and the hospital itself had been a place of solace for her during her first year of community service. Now, it resembled a looming trap that would swallow her whole.

Narcissa realized she was overreacting but the Weasleys meant so much to Hermione and she couldn’t bear the thought of being the reason discontent would spread between them. There had been a long history of disdain and hatred between the Malfoys and the Weasleys. Yes, she was a born Black and her family had avoided all interactions with the red-haired clan, but she’d been a Malfoy for over twenty years and some habits were particularly hard to break.

By the time they reached the right room, the cries of a baby and the joyful chatter of the family rang in the air.

“Hermione, you made it!” Ron called. “Harry! Hermione is here!”

“I think the entire floor heard, you, Ronald,” Hermione said and embraced her friend.

“I’m an uncle!” He said with a broad grin stretching across his face.

“Hey Hermione,” Harry said, radiating a mixture of pure joy and total exhaustion. “Narcissa,” he said and nodded at her while rocking the still crying baby.

“Harry,” Narcissa said and smiled down at the swaddled bundle. “What’s his name?”

“James Sirius,” Harry said and beamed.

“That is very sweet of you,” Narcissa said, touched by Harry honoring his late father and her cousin.

“Thank you,” he said. “Now that you’re both here, I have a question. Ginny and I were wondering if you’d be James’s godparents?” He asked Ron and Hermione who said “Yes!” at the same time before the three of them burst into elated laughter.

Narcissa’s blinked at the image. She loved seeing Hermione joyful and carefree, and the bond between the Golden Trio was a sight to behold. Voldemort had never stood a chance against the love and kinship that flooded the room.

Hermione had been right, the Weasleys had been too preoccupied by little James and fussing over Ginny and Harry that they didn’t pay her any mind, aside from the lone twin, George, who threw a knowing smirk her way before slapping Hermione on the back, muttering something in her ear that made her blush hard before she hit his arm. Narcissa could imagine what he’d said and suppressed a chuckle at Hermione’s glare in her direction.

After saying their goodbyes to the new parents, Hermione linked their arms and leaned against Narcissa while they left the hospital. “See, it wasn’t so bad. Thank you for being here with me,” she said.

Narcissa squeezed her hand. “It was…acceptable,” she said. “I’ll always be there for you, for as long as you want me,” she said and froze for a second upon realizing how her statement could be interpreted.

“I’ll hold you to that,” Hermione said, lifting Narcissa’s hand to kiss the back of it. 

***

Narcissa had continued her research into Bella’s spell book and she finally solved the puzzle. Her sister’s design was as brilliant as it was gruesome. She’d known the light side of the war possessed greater healing powers, so she’d created an incantation that would imbue an object, her favorite knife, not only with the ability to create cursed scars, but it also made any wound caused by it resistant to traditional healing spells and potions. Not only that, but such a scar would feed on any darkness around and escalate.

Still, Bella had allowed a fail-safe in case such an item would fall into the wrong hands and injure her instead. She’d figured that none of her victims would ever have access to the cure, for who would have thought her sister would fall for one of them? Bella surely was rotating in her grave, and for a second, Narcissa worried that her late sister’s ghost would come back and haunt her if she tried to do this. She shrugged off old superstitions and jotted down her final notes. Now, all she had to do was convince Hermione to allow her to try this.

“Good luck with that,” Narcissa uttered and opened the drawer of her desk to drop her notes in.

“Good luck with what?” Hermione asked, entering her office.

“Nothing. I was just thinking out loud.”

“And here I was thinking you were worried about our date tonight,” Hermione said.

“I’m not worried,” Narcissa said.

“But?” Hermione sat down on the arm of Narcissa’s chair.

“So far, all our dates have been to Muggle establishments and…I’m happy that the Weasleys have accepted our relationship,” she said. She didn’t know what she’d have done if they’d broken with Hermione because of their involvement. “I’m just afraid others won’t be as charitable and…”

“Go on,” Hermione said, stroking Narcissa’s upper arm.

“You have to understand, even though it has been over two and a half years since the war ended, I am still a pariah in the wizarding community and—”

“That’s not true!”

Narcissa smiled at Hermione’s outraged expression. How she wished she could spare her this awakening. “You’re not objective when it comes to assessing me, dear, although I do appreciate the sentiment,” she said and rose to peck Hermione’s lips.

“I don’t care either way. It’s their problem that their stubborn and ignorant ways leave them clinging to old prejudices.”

“You weren’t a big fan of me when Shacklebolt first suggested for you to be my mentor,” Narcissa reminded her.

“That’s different. I had a reason to dislike you. What’s their problem?”

“Your cause might have been more personal and direct, but others in the community have plenty of justification to disdain both the Black and the Malfoy families.”

“Whatever,” Hermione scoffed and rose from her seat. “They won’t ruin our date. I plan to enjoy myself, and if they can’t see how amazing you are, well, that is their loss.”

“Biased. You are biased, but I’m not complaining,” Narcissa said and pulled Hermione close. “I need to get ready now. Any particular requests?” She whispered into the dark-haired witch’s ear.

“Uh, maybe choose something that doesn’t fry my brain every time I look at you? Otherwise, it’ll be quite a one-sided conversation during dinner,” Hermione said and Narcissa laughed and untangled herself from the younger witch.

Anxiety still flittered through her at the prospect of the night ahead, but Hermione had been so excited when she suggested they have dinner at a new wizarding restaurant that had opened on Diagon Alley that she didn’t have the heart to say no. She could only hope that the most vicious vipers stayed home tonight.

***

Their evening had gone perfectly well, the food had been delicious, the waitstaff polite or at least not full of loathing toward Narcissa, and the other guests had mostly ignored them. Narcissa should have known better than to praise a potion before she’d decanted it. The waiter had just presented them with their desserts of chocolate mousse with ripe mangos, when none other than Rita Skeeter pulled up a chair and sat down at their table, quick quotes quill in hand.

“Oh my, this is so exciting, much more than I could have hoped for when I felt the urge to take a stroll down Diagon Alley tonight,” she said, a thrilled grin spreading over her face. “Let’s see, ‘celebrated war-hero and the brain of the Golden Trio out on a date with the disgraced ex-wife of former Death Eater Lucius Malfoy, currently, rotting in Azkaban.’”

Narcissa rolled her eyes. She had to tell Andromeda how spot-on her predication had been.

“Do you think our readers will want to learn more about dear old Lucius in all of this? I mean, what must he be thinking? Not only did his wife divorce him, she’s now also sleeping with the enemy?” She pressed the quill against her lips.

“I don’t recall anyone inviting you to this table,” Narcissa said and the temperature in the room dropped by several degrees.

“That’s the beauty about me. I don’t need an invitation. So, who started this? Ms. Black, did you seduce innocent, young Ms. Granger here? What’s the age difference between you anyway? Thirty years? Sounds about right.” She added more notes.

“I believe you must have forgotten our little arrangement,” Hermione growled.

Narcissa frowned. Arrangement? What arrangement could Hermione have with that vile woman?

“Well, well, Ms. Granger. My expose will focus on Ms. Black. Don’t worry.”

“That will be difficult if you plan to write about our relationship,” Hermione said and Narcissa closed her eyes. Gryffindors would be the end of her.

“You are admitting there is a relationship. Since when have you two been intimate? Before or after the divorce of Ms. Black? Oh, I’ve heard about you being assigned her mentor for community service. Did Ms. Granger here offer a reduced sentence in exchange for sexual favors?”

Hermione’s face heated up. Narcissa needed to get them out of there before her Gryffindor escalated this situation even further. “Excuse us, but we have to leave.” Narcissa said, waving at a waiter to settle their bill.

“I’ve got what I wanted. You two lovebirds enjoy the rest of your evening. Though, Ms. Granger, I’d advise toning down some of your…youthful zest. The older generations are so much more fragile. Ta!” Rita said and waved at them before sauntering out of the restaurant.

“I’m going to kill her!” Hermione ground out.

“You will do no such thing. I have no interest in the story of how all my significant others end up in Azkaban,” Narcissa said, taking a spoonful of her dessert.

Hermione laughed and Narcissa smiled at the tension that seemed to leave Hermione’s frame.

“That would be quite the story,” Hermione said.

“Hmmm,” Narcissa hummed. “Eat your dessert. It’s delicious, almost as delectable as you,” she said and her eyes flashed at Hermione’s blush.

“I’m still going to squash that bug,” Hermione said and groaned after her first taste of the chocolate mousse. “You’re right. I’m glad we didn’t skip this.”

“What agreement did you have with her anyway? How did that come about?”

Hermione offered her a wicked grin that made Narcissa’s stomach drop in equal manner anticipation and trepidation. “Let’s just say that bug comment earlier wasn’t a figure of speech.”

“I don’t follow,” Narcissa said.

“Rita Skeeter is an unregistered animagus. She transforms into a beetle and that’s how she gets all her inside scoops. I’d caught her and held her captive in a jar during the second half of my fourth year at Hogwarts and—”

Narcissa’s eyes widened. “You did what?”

“She was trashing Harry in the Daily Prophet!” There was fire in Hermione’s eyes that made Narcissa shift in her seat.

“We should head home. This discussion should be finished in another setting,” Narcissa said, holding Hermione’s gaze.

Hermione’s mouth opened but she said nothing, instead, she appeared to catch on and swallowed hard before rising. “Right. Yes. Of course.”

***

“Harry is knocking,” Hermione said.

“I remember his hissing apparation request,” Narcissa said.

“Do you mind if he comes here? I’m assuming this is about our encounter with Rita yesterday?”

“It’s your flat,” Narcissa said before flipping a page in her book.

“That’s not…ugh, never mind,” Hermione said and lowered the wards.

Harry popped in right after.

“You could’ve given us a warning,” he huffed before settling on Hermione’s couch.

“Hermione was busy drawing up a battle plan to eliminate a certain insect,” Narcissa drawled, never looking up from her book.

“Oh, you wear glasses, too,” Harry said. “It’s good to see you again.”

Narcissa glanced at Harry and smiled. “Likewise, Mr. Potter.”

Harry laughed.

“What happened? What did she do?”

“She’s asked us all for comments on your ‘fall from grace.’ I had no idea what she was talking about first, but it’s Rita, so I always go with no comment,” he said and hesitated. “She was mean. Worse than usual. Didn’t you say you had an agreement?”

“We did, which is why I’m hoping she’s only doing this to aggravate me, but she won’t post anything in the prophet.”

Narcissa snorted.

“I’m with her,” Harry said. “Rita also went after Ron and even spoke to Molly. Ginny send a stinging hex at her because she woke James.”

“Is he still crying all night?” Hermione asked.

“Every night,” Harry moaned. “I never knew having children would be so exhausting.”

“Welcome to the club. They’re easy when they’re young. Wait until they have opinions and they can act on them,” Narcissa said.

Harry groaned.

“What did Ron and Molly say? Hermione asked.

“Nothing. None of us will give that gnat anything.”

Hermione paced. “Oh, I never should have let her out of that jar!”

“You don’t mean that,” Harry said. “Did she contact Draco? I haven’t heard from him in a while.”

Narcissa paled. “Merlin, I hope not. He’s busy studying for his upcoming law exams. I doubt he’ll give a statement.”

“Maybe she won’t write anything if she gets no comments from people,” Harry said and ducked his head when both women glared at him. “Right. We’re talking about Rita Skeeter here,” he sighed. “I’m sorry, but remember, we’re all here for you and we support you. Both of you,” Harry said.

“We appreciate it,” Hermione said, halting her pacing and sitting down next to Narcissa.

***

Andromeda wiped tears of laughter off her face.

“I’m glad this amuses you so much,” Narcissa grumbled. “Hermione is on a war path.”

Andromeda sobered. “Now that’s scary.”

Narcissa sighed. “I don’t want her to get into trouble, but there’s no reasoning with her. Not after the delivery owl brought this…dirt to us this morning.” She eyed the Daily Prophet in her sister’s hands with a look of utter disdain.

“I understand that this isn’t ideal,” Andromeda said. “Stop scowling. Your death glares have never worked on me. Like I said, the situation isn’t ideal, but at least now it’s all out in the open.”

Narcissa pouted. “And what good does this do?”

“It means that it’ll be over faster since everyone will learn about this at once instead of the news of you robbing the cradle spreading bit by bit.”

“You’re one to talk! You’re two years older than me, so there’s an even bigger age difference between you and Luna. In fact, isn’t Luna younger than Hermione?”

“I doubt there’s much to squabble about a twenty-four versus a twenty-eight-year age difference, dear sister. You have a son who is younger than Hermione.”

“He’s not even a year younger.”

“Are we sitting here arguing about the ages of our lovers?”

“Hermione is more than just my lover and—”

“Figure of speech, Cissa. Calm down. Back to this article, you must agree, she’s delightfully vicious. Did you do anything to upset her? Listen to this ‘Narcissa Black, 50, former Malfoy matriarch and ex-wife of imprisoned Death Eater Lucius Malfoy, has seduced Hermione Granger, 18, war-hero and the brain of the beloved Golden Trio. Dark magic at play? Blackmail? What does the aging sister of the deranged late murderer Bellatrix Lestrange have on poor, young, and innocent Hermione Granger? Is there a way to save our beloved heroine? Even young Harry Potter, and Ronald Weasley, the latter utterly distraught and with a crushed heart after learning that the love of his life has fallen into the clutches of the Dark Witch, are devastated by this news.’”

Narcissa pinched the bridge of her nose.

“She must have mixed up your age with Bella’s but no one with half a brain will believe that Hermione is eighteen.”

“No one will bother researching anything about this. To them, I’m evil and I’m ruining Hermione.”

Andromeda closed the paper and slammed it on the table. “No, no. Don’t even think about ending your relationship over this!”

“I’m not. Once I committed to this, that’s it. You know me. I’m not running away, not like Hermione would let me. She already lectured me about this all morning.”

“Is that why you escaped and rushed over here?”

“No. She was adorable, actually. There’s not much I can do either way. People will run with it and I can only hope the fallout won’t be too bad for Hermione. I’m here because I wanted to ask you about the tenetur a sanguine ritual.”

Andromeda’s eyes widened. “What? For…between you and Hermione? Why on earth would you do that? You have just started dating and isn’t that extreme? I don’t—”

“You misunderstood me. I don’t…it’s not for the traditional reasons. I…I found Bella’s old spell book and I’ve figured out a way to heal Hermione’s scar, the one on her arm.”

“Oh,” Andromeda said and leaned back in her seat. “That changes things.”

“The ritual is part of what we’d need to do to heal her wound.”

“And you think Hermione won’t agree to do this?”

“I’m not sure. I doubt she’d mind the bonding aspect, but the…there’s another part to it. It’ll involve the echo, and I—”

“Hermione will never let you go through that!”

“It wouldn’t be her choice! I’m the one who would experience it. She wouldn’t be harmed at all and—”

“You have met her, right? You also know that she loves you. She’d never allow you to be hurt to heal her scar.”

“It’s no ordinary scar, Andy, and over time…” She clenched her jaw. “It needs to go.”

“What happens if you don’t heal it?”

Narcissa held her sister’s gaze until tears filled her eyes and she tried and failed to blink them away.

“You do nothing the easy way, do you?” Andromeda asked, the Daily Prophet laying all but forgotten between them on the table.

Before Narcissa could reply, several owls rapped on the window.

Andromeda rose and sighed. “Those are all red envelopes. I’m assuming they are for you. Do you want me to ignore them?”

“Let them in. I might as well get this over with. It’s not the fault of the birds, no need to make them fly to my townhouse.”

Andromeda snorted and opened the window, allowing five owls to fly inside.

They charged at Narcissa who carefully untied the letters. “Do you have any treats for them?”

“These are howlers!”

“I’m not in the habit of shooting the messenger.”

Andromeda grumbled before summoning the owl treats and handing them to her sister who fed the preening birds.

“Off you go,” Narcissa said and watched the owls take off. She eyed the red envelopes and suppressed a sigh. Better here than with Hermione around, she thought and opened the first letter.

A shrill female voice shouted, “how dare you filthy swine sully poor Hermione!” Then it exploded.

“Charming,” Narcissa muttered before opening the next one, this time, a male voice hollered; “you should rot in Azkaban with your husband! Traitor! Get your wrinkly paws off that young girl!” And with that, it went up in smoke.

“Do you think they’ll get more creative than that?” Narcissa asked a scowling Andromeda who remained silent. “I doubt it, too,” Narcissa said and opened the third howler.

A hissing sound rang through the room followed by a call of “you better pray to Merlin you won’t run into me! I’ll finish what the Order of the Phoenix was too cowardly to do!”

“Death threats. Because that’s never happened before,” Narcissa drawled when the latest letter burst.

“You are taking this too lightly,” Andromeda said.

“I doubt any of them are serious threats, and after having Voldemort live at my house,” Narcissa said and shrugged. “They don’t scare me.”

“I worry about you,” Andromeda said and sat next to Narcissa. “Not just about these people,” she nodded toward the still unopened red envelopes. “But there are still Death Eaters at large, and enough others have sympathized with Voldemort’s cause and yet remained out of trouble. Any one of them could be after you for revenge.”

“I’m capable of defending myself.”

“Yes, but I still worry. You should talk to Hermione about it. And Harry. He’s an Auror, so I’m sure he could help.”

“I don’t need Hermione more upset than she already is, and there have been no threats to my life so far,” Narcissa said, and at her sister’s raised eyebrows, added “before this. But these hardly count. And I refuse to live my life in constant fear.”

“If you say so,” Andromeda said.

“Let’s finish this,” Narcissa said and picked up the fourth red envelope. Another shout of abuse rained over her before it incinerated itself. “And the last one.”

“For now,” Andromeda mumbled.

“Who’s the pessimist now?” Narcissa said and opened the remaining howler. Silence. She tilted her head and froze, an exclamation of shock and pain spilled from her lips.

“Cissa! What is it? Are you all right?” Andromeda grasped her shaking form.

“Salazar’s snakes,” she hissed, clutching her left hand. “A stinging hex.” She shook her hand. “It’s fine.”

“I will call Harry,” Andromeda said and jumped off her seat.

“Wait!”

“No. I will allow no one to intimidate or hurt my sister!”

Tears filled Narcissa’s eyes.

Andromeda rushed to her side. “Is it that bad? Let me see.”

“No,” Narcissa murmured. “It’s not…what you just said…”

“Oh, you silly girl,” Andromeda said and pulled Narcissa into a hug.

***

“You need to calm down. Nothing happened!” Narcissa rubbed her forehead. There were other reasons than Tom’s megalomania and her family’s pureblood obsession that explained why she’d spent her life avoiding Gryffindors, yet, she found herself surrounded by them. The Golden Trio had hunkered down at her dining room table, coordinating an attack on Rita Skeeter while also figuring out who had sent her the jinxed howler.

“They cursed you! And Skeeter needs to be stopped. She makes a profit ruining people’s lives!” Hermione said.

“It wasn’t a curse. It was a mere stinging hex. You are overreacting. All of you,” Narcissa said.

“Things may start little but soon they blow up. If you catch them early and nip them in the bud while they are still small, they won’t make you suffer so much later,” Hermione said.

“Dear, may I talk to you? In private.”

“Yes,” Hermione said before telling Harry and Ron she’d be right back and following Narcissa into her bedroom. “What is it?”

Narcissa leaned closer and pressed a soft kiss on Hermione’s lips. “I appreciate all you do, and the worry and care that you are showing, but you are blowing this out of proportion. People will forget about this as soon as the next scandal comes around.”

“But you were so worried about this! You refused to be with me because of how people would react and now—”

“Are you concerned this will make me leave you?”

Hermione slumped on the bed and dropped her head.

Narcissa sat down and linked their hands. “Look at me.”

Hermione raised her head.

“Oh, darling,” Narcissa said and wiped away the tears meandering down the dark-haired witch’s cheeks. “I won’t leave. I don’t care what they say.”

“But then why—”

Narcissa placed a finger across Hermione’s lips. “I wasn’t apprehensive about how others would respond because of me. I was worried what people’s reactions would do to you, what they’d believe about you because you’ve decided to be with me, and what…opportunities you might lose because of that. I still am concerned about that, but…it’s your life, and you’ve chosen me. I’m neither selfless nor strong enough to resist you forever,” she said and smiled when her attempt at humor seemed to have lifted the younger witch’s spirits somewhat.

“I still hate all the disgusting garbage Skeeter is spewing and that people believe it!”

“People like to hear lurid gossip, and what’s more salacious than a tarnished pureblood witch from an old, powerful, Muggle-born hating family deflowering their Golden Girl war hero?”

“You are neither old nor disgraced, and you…you didn’t, you know…”

Narcissa laughed. “Yes, but if there’s one thing that’s better than an exciting scandal to people, it’s making it even more titillating. At some point, no one really knows what’s true and what’s a lie and then people stop caring. They just go with that they want to believe,” she said and pushed a strand of Hermione’s brunette hair behind her ear.

“Can we at least out her as an unregistered animagus? She broke our agreement, and there should be consequences. Besides, it might save other people a few headaches once they become her target.”

“That’s up to you, dear. Just be sure you do it for the right reasons, and that…how shall I put this, don’t give up on an advantage out of anger.”

“Like when Harry let Pettigrew live during our third year and that ended up saving him at…Malfoy manor,” Hermione said, seemingly contemplating Narcissa’s words.

“Wait, what? One of these days you need to tell me all the little details about your adventures.”

“You mean the time I used polyjuice to turn into your sister and we raided her vault at Gringotts?” Hermione said with a grin.

Narcissa shook her head. “Yes, much like that one. Bella was…less than pleased. I’d love to hear everything that you want to share, from that time, and any other.”

“The same goes for me,” Hermione said and tugged Narcissa into a kiss.

Narcissa’s eyes tumbled closed and she groaned when Hermione’s hands wrapped around the nape of her neck and her skillful tongue slipped into her mouth. After a moment, she reluctantly ended the kiss and connected their foreheads. “Maybe we can continue this after your boys have left?”

Chapter Text

Hermione ended up admitting that Narcissa had a point, and blindly outing Rita Skeeter as an unregistered animagus, while gratifying in theory, wasn’t the smartest strategy. Instead, she’d enlisted Luna, Andromeda, and Tonks in her alternative plan while Harry and Ron investigated the origin of the illegal hex howler.

Tonks’s friend and former Hufflepuff classmate, Roland Meyer, had worked as an assistant for Rita Skeeter for several years until they had a very public falling out and went their separate ways. What no one knew, and what Roland had confessed to Tonks, drunkenly during a night out at the Leaky Cauldron, was that theirs wasn’t just a professional relationship that had shattered. Rita and Roland had been in a romantic relationship for three years, and that finally, he couldn’t deal with her insecurities about their age difference anymore.

“That puts a different spin on things,” Hermione said, blowing at the hot liquid in her teacup.

“I’d say. So, what’cha gonna do about it?” Tonks asked before grabbing another pastry.

“We’ll run our own little exposé, in the Quibbler. Do you think your dad would go for that? I know how he feels about the Malfoys and everything they’ve done, but Narcissa—”

“He knows that Narcissa’s heart is in the right place,” Luna said before taking Andromeda’s hand.

“You all realize that Narcissa is a very private person and will not appreciate having her business spread out in an exposé for everyone to read?” Andromeda asked.

“We aren’t doing this to out any of her secrets. I’d never do that. This will be a written defense, to clarify that Skeeter is spreading vicious lies. Her reputation—”

“Narcissa doesn’t care about her reputation. She cares about yours, Hermione, and what you’re planning could backfire spectacularly. If there’s one thing my sister values more than her privacy, it’s trust. Be sure you’re not jeopardizing that in your quest to play the righteous Gryffindor out to right all wrongs,” Andromeda said.

Hermione’s eyebrows drew together. “I thought you were on our side?”

“I am on no one’s side. I’m just a voice of reason. I don’t like Rita Skeeter any more than you do, but you’re playing with fire here. She’s vengeful and holds on to grudges tighter than a Hungarian Horntail clutches their eggs. She nurses her grudges and pets them. Then, when you think it is all over, she’ll strike and—”

“We’ve dealt with her before! We can handle this!” Hermione said, still frowning at Andromeda. “I don’t want to hurt Narcissa.”

Andromeda’s posture relaxed. “Yes, but sometimes we have no intention to hurt someone and still end up doing exactly that.”

“I won’t violate her trust,” Hermione said and fought against her vision turning blurry. “I just hate that people see her like this, that they assume the worst of her and don’t…” she balled her hands into fists.

“I understand that, and I’m not saying this is fair or even that it’ll always be that way, but you can’t force people to change their minds. The Blacks and the Malfoys have reputations that go back centuries, and the two wizarding wars didn’t endear these families to the public. They won’t agree with you because you’ve fallen in love with a Black. Give people time.”

“You’re right, but I still want to set the record straight. This is too important, and sometimes, if everyone is silent when an accusation is flung about, the rest will assume it must be true since no one spoke up against it.”

“Just be careful,” Andromeda said.

***

Narcissa had prepared everything. Aside from talking to Hermione, which could lead to more trouble. She closed her notebook and leaned back in her chair. The potions were brewed and ready, she’d translated the old incantation for the tenetur a sanguine ritual and the echo. They were ready, and while the potions had a longer shelf-life than the ones she’d brewed to fix Hermione’s parents’ memory issues, they wouldn’t last beyond a month. Then she’d have to brew them again.

She didn’t fully understand her reluctance to tell Hermione about this. Her scar was a ticking time-bomb and there was no telling what would set it off, or when that would happen. When it did, the darkness from the wound would leak into Hermione and distort her every thought and emotion, taking over her whole being. Narcissa rubbed her temples before rising and moving to the couch. She couldn’t let that happen. But it wasn’t just up to her. She needed more than Hermione’s consent for without the active participation of the younger witch, her efforts were doomed.

“Hey,” Hermione said after closing the front door and hanging up her keys.

“Everything all right?” Narcissa asked.

“Yeah. Just felt like taking a walk to clear my head instead of apparating.”

“Something on your mind?”

“Yes. No, well, I want to show you something, but you have to promise not to freak out.”

“I doubt such a request has ever led to a happy ending,” Narcissa said. “Come on, sit with me,” Narcissa said and patted the space next to her.

Hermione sat down.

“What is it?”

“I... we’ve been working on how to handle the Skeeter situation and well, oh, just look for yourself.” Hermione grabbed her bag, opened it, and pulled out a newspaper before handing it to Narcissa.

“What is this?” She unfolded the paper. “The Quibbler? I didn’t know you read this...adventurous magazine?”

“You’re being kind because your sister is sleeping with Luna,” Hermione said.

Narcissa grunted. “Can we please not talk about my sister’s love life in that manner?”

“Open the paper to page two, at the top.”      

She did and opened her mouth at the headline, ‘Setting the Record Straight – Golden Girl Hermione Granger Chats About Life with Narcissa Black.’ Placing the newspaper down, she glowered at the younger witch. “What did you do?”

“Just read it, please,” Hermione said, and so Narcissa read the interview.

 

LL: We’ve all read the Prophet’s article that accuses Narcissa Black of taking advantage of you. What is really going on?

HG: Rita likes to pick up something true and twist it into a sinister tale of her own making. Yes, Narcissa Black and I are in a relationship. We are both consenting adults, and no one was forced or seduced into anything. In fact, I pursued her, not the other way.

LL: I’m sure she was easy to persuade. You’re quite the catch.

HG: She wasn’t. It took some convincing and time, but we finally gave it a try.

LL: Are you happy?

HG: Very much so.

LL: What about the age difference?

HG: It doesn’t matter. Sometimes you meet someone, and they are just right for you. Their age is irrelevant. Also, the war...it ages people. I’m not some naïve schoolgirl who doesn’t know what she’s doing. We complement each other.

LL: What about your friends and family?

HG: My parents were surprised, and while our relationship isn’t what they’d pictured for me, they saw that Narcissa makes me happy, and that’s all that matters to them.

LL: Dear readers, let us talk to some more familiar faces. It’s always better to go to the original source, otherwise Crumple-Horned Snorkacks will mess with your head. I cannot recommend the headache they can cause you. Ron Weasley. You once had hopes and designs to marry Hermione, didn’t you?

RW: Uh, Blimey, Luna. I...well, I fancied her for a while, but we...when the war ended, we figured out that we don’t fit. Not like that. She’s still one of my best friends but there’s nothing romantic between us.

LL: Your red hair seems even redder when you blush like that. Did you know that?

HG: Luna!

LL: Right. So you don’t resent Narcissa Black for dating Hermione? There’s no broken heart?

RW: No, not at all. Mind you, I wouldn’t date her myself, but if she makes Hermione happy. I don’t care. And I’m in a relationship, too, so there’s no broken heart.

LL: Now to the Boy Who Lives.

HP: Luna. Come on.

LL: Are you filled with hatred for Narcissa? Did a stab of betrayal injure your big heart because one of your best friends is sleeping with the enemy?

HP: Uh, see, I don’t care who Hermione is dating as long as they treat her right and make her happy. So far, that seems to be the case. As for Narcissa herself, she’s not the enemy. I’m not sure she ever was. People forget that without her lying to Voldemort at the end of the battle, we’d never have made it. He’d be in charge today.

LL: So she’s a hero?

HP: She’d likely hex you for saying that. Things aren’t as black and white as we want them to be. I used to think Severus Snape was evil incarnate, and that he betrayed us all, but he didn’t. He was braver and more dedicated to our cause than anyone knew, aside from Dumbledore. I don’t know what’s in Narcissa’s heart, or how she feels or what she thinks of the war or anything really. She saved my life, helped us defeat Voldemort, and she makes Hermione happy.

LL: You’ve had your own run-in with Rita Skeeter.

HP: Yeah. She likes scandals, and if she can’t find one, she’ll make one up. Ask yourself, though, is her perspective on this influenced because she lost her own love when Roland Meyer broke up with her not too long ago? There’s a significant age difference between them, over twenty years as well. Maybe her article was more projection than anything else.

 

Narcissa folded the newspaper and stared at Hermione who was fiddling with the strings on one of her pillows. “When did this go in print?”

“It hasn’t yet. This is the only copy. I...I wanted to show you first, and to see...I want you to be OK with this, and if you’re not then—”

Hermione squeaked when Narcissa jerked forward and kissed her. Hard.

“Uh, that’s...not the reaction I expected,” she said after untangling herself.

“You all are insane Gryffindors, but Merlin, no one has ever stood up for me like this, and...it wasn’t necessary. I really don’t care what that old crone is saying about me, but...thank you.”

“Does that mean you’re OK with printing it?”

“If you want to, yes. I don’t mind. How on earth did you get Luna to stay on topic?”

“Ugh, don’t remind me. It was more than a challenge. I eventually threatened to tell Andy that she’s trying to sabotage you and that she’ll likely end up on Andy’s couch instead and that seemed to do the trick.”

Narcissa laughed.

“Are you ready to share with me what you’ve been working on?”

Narcissa’s face sobered.

“You can trust me. I hope you know that.”

“Of course. It’s not a matter of trust,” Narcissa said, and her gaze drifted across the room. “I love you, Hermione, and—”

Hermione raised her hands. “Wait, wait.”

“For what?”

Hermione folded her legs and settled deeper into the couch. “OK. I just needed a moment to settle myself because starting a conversation like that isn’t much better than my, ‘promise you won’t freak out’ introduction from earlier.”

Narcissa offered a rueful chuckle and ducked her head. “You’ve got a point. All right.” She sat up straighter and faced Hermione. “Remember Bella’s old spell book? The one I found in the library at Black manor?”

“Yes.”

“I figured out why your scar cannot be healed in any traditional manner, and I’ve also found a way to heal it.”

“That sounds great, but what’s the catch?”

“Bella has always been more obsessed with blood purity than Andy and I, and—”

Hermione snorted. “That’s one way of putting it.”

“She was smart, so incredibly smart,” Narcissa said. “And what did she use it for?” Narcissa pinched the bridge of her nose. “She invented a technique to instill an object the ability to harm without a cure.”

“Wow.”

“It’s worse than that. The wound will scar and remain in a constant state of inflammation, making it sensitive or painful to the touch.”

“You’re not telling me anything new here,” Hermione said, holding her gaze.

“There’s a trigger. I’m not sure what it is, or how it’s activated, but once it is, a wound created with such an object—”

“With Bellatrix’s knife,” Hermione corrected stiffly.

“Yes. Once the trigger is active, the scar will fester and spill darkness into its...into you and it’ll overpower you. It’ll overwhelm your thoughts and emotions. Everything will turn dark and your despair...it’s designed to drive you mad until...” Narcissa clenched her jaw.

Hermione shifted her position and pulled her legs closer to her chest. “Until I kill myself.”

“Yes.”

“But you figured out how to heal the wound?”

“Yes.”

“Then I’m not sure I understand the problem.”

“It involves, or better requires, an old Black ritual. It’s a...they traditionally used it after a marriage took place. It’s a blood bond and—”

“Woah. Marriage? We have to get married?”

“No. That’s just how this ritual has been used in my family. Bella designed all this in a way where only a Black can help you. This rite won’t work without a Black as a party to it.”

“Any Black?”

“What? Yes. Andy could do it, or...Draco, but—”

“No, no. I was just curious.”

Narcissa released a shuddering breath. She didn’t know what she’d have done if Hermione had preferred to perform this ritual with Andy or her son.

“What does this blood bond entail, and what do we have to do for the ritual?”

“I’ve already brewed all necessary potions. They must be mixed during the ritual and we must add our blood from a fresh wound to the cauldron. The concoction will need to boil for an hour while I stir it continuously. During that process, I invoke an incantation. Then we drink it.”

“All right. A bit gross but doable. I still don’t see the problem. Or is it because this bond is too close to a marriage for you? I understand that we’ve only been together for a few months, but I’m serious about this. About us.”

“That’s not it. The blood bond cannot be broken. Even if we were to split, we’d remain bound.”

“What does that mean exactly?”

“It ties you to the Black family. You’d be able to pass through the wards, and the manor and library would recognize you as one of their own. You’d feel it, if something were to happen to me, and I’d be aware of your distress. It would make it easier to locate each other. It also heightens our combined power. We’d be stronger together.”

“That all sounds good to me. What would happen if one of us got hurt?”

“Like I said, you’d feel it.”

“No. Hurt as in incapacitated.”

“Oh. Well, the bond draws you to each other, so you’d feel compelled to help.”

Hermione frowned. “I’d feel that way anyway. What if one of us forgets?”

“Forgets the blood bond? How?”

“Remember that we had Lockhart during our second year at Hogwarts? He was an expert at memory charms, and in the end, he’d tried to obliviate Harry and Ron while they’d gotten down to the Chamber of Secrets. Ron’s wand had been broken, though, early in the term, and he’d taped it together with spell-o-tape. The spell backfired and it...it kind of friend Lockhart’s brain.”

“That’s what happened to him!” Narcissa exclaimed. “I’d seen him at St. Mungo’s but no one seemed to know how he’d lost all his memories to the point where he’d forgotten who he is. This is rare, and I cannot think of another similar case.”

“OK.”

“Even if you forgot the bond, you’d still feel it. You’d still be aware of strong emotions and be drawn to each other. The bond might be confused at first and it could go haywire, but there’s no way to completely forget a blood bond, or at least, you’ll feel it.”

“That would be confusing, though. To have all these emotions swirling through you but you don’t know why or where they come from.”

“Yes. So please no obliviate spells and perhaps it would be wise to replace broken wands,” Narcissa said and Hermione laughed.

“Agreed.”

Narcissa’s face turned serious. “There’s one last step. It’s an addition, and it requires a blood bond to be present to work.”

“What’s that?”

“It’s called an echo. It’s what will heal your scar. I... I don’t think the scar will completely disappear, but it’ll heal and fade. Most importantly, it will drain the darkness out of it.”

Hermione scooted closer to Narcissa and grasped her hand. “Why are you trembling? What is it?”

“The echo transfers your experience to me. I’ll...I’ll live through what happened to you when...when Bella hurt you and—”

“No,” Hermione said and withdrew. “Absolutely not.”

“But—”

“You’re shaking just from telling me about this. You expect me to let you do that? To live through that! For what? It’s barbaric.”

“I’m not shaking because I’m scared of experiencing the echo! I’m scared that you won’t let me do this!”

“What?”

Narcissa took a deep breath. “I know you love me and that you don’t wish to hurt me.”

“That’s right.”

“I love you, too, and this places us in a dilemma. If we don’t do this, you’ll get hurt down the road, and... I’ll lose you,” she whispered the last part.

“We don’t know that! We can do more research. Find another way!”

“There is no other way. I’ve been researching this since I’ve figured out what Bella has done.”

“We shouldn’t just give up. We can—”

Narcissa jumped up. “This scar can be triggered at any moment. Do you understand that? If it does, it’s too late! We need to do this ritual, and then the echo!”

Hermione rose, too. “There’s always another way. I refuse for you to be tortured so I can avoid something that might not even happen.”

“You don’t trust my research? You think I’m doing this for what? Because I’m some kind of masochist?”

“No! Of course not! But I don’t want you to suffer!”

“And I don’t want you to die!”

“I’m not going to die!”

“It’s not a risk I’m willing to take!”

“Well, torturing you is something I’m not willing to allow!”

“It’s not your decision to make!”

“Oh really?” Hermione crept closer to Narcissa. “Tell me, can you do any of this without my consent?”

Narcissa’s nostrils flared and she gritted her teeth.

“I thought so.”

Narcissa didn’t know if she’d preferred to stomp her foot and apparate to her townhouse or kiss that smug smirk off the dark-haired witch’s face. She’d never met someone as infuriating, and that this confrontation drummed arousal through her veins didn’t improve the situation.

“We’ll find an alternative.”

 “No. All we’ll do is waste time while dancing closer to the trigger.”

“I love you, Narcissa. I don’t want to lose you either, but—”

“Then agree to do this!” Narcissa plead.

“There has to be another way.”

“There isn’t, and I can’t have this conversation right now. Not while...I have to go. My notes are on the table and in the drawer in your office. Read them. Perhaps that’ll convince you.”

Hermione reached for the blonde witch. “Narcissa—”

“No.” She stepped back. “I can’t right now,” she said and apparated back to her townhouse. This had gone about as well as she’d feared. Stubborn Gryffindors would be the death of her.  

She was torn. A part of her was relieved that Hermione wasn’t averse to the blood bond. Not that she doubted the younger witch’s feelings, but moments of insecurity still struck her at times, for many reasons.

The interview Hermione had organized had been touching, more so than Narcissa could express. It wasn’t just that Hermione had spoken up for her, but so did her best friends, and she had sought Narcissa’s acceptance before making the article public. No one had ever cared more about how something might affect her. All of this made it difficult to be angry at Hermione, though ire didn’t accurately express her feelings anyway.

She’d left Hermione’s flat because she struggled to contain the contradicting emotions bouncing through her. Unsure what to say or do in that moment, Narcissa feared that any escalation, both in the form of an argument or a heated encounter in the bedroom, would prove counterproductive at this point. She needed to convince the dark-haired witch that the ritual wasn’t just necessary, but urgent. Hopefully, reviewing Narcissa’s painstaking research would change her mind.

***

Hermione had spent the next two days going through Narcissa’s notes. At times, the beautiful penmanship of the blonde witch distracted her, and she sulked for a moment, missing Narcissa before suppressing the urge to reach out to her. She wasn’t upset with the other witch; they shouldn’t continue this discussion until Hermione had a better grasp on the content and knew where she stood.

Some of Narcissa’s notes left her with questions, and she assumed these points were clear to her lover because of all the background knowledge she possessed on everything Black. However, she wasn’t the only Black left to talk to. This was how Hermione found herself once more at Andromeda’s place.

“I’m assuming Narcissa told you about the tenetur a sanguine ritual?”

“Yes,” Andromeda said. “She also informed me of your reluctance to take part in it.”

“I don’t mind the blood bond. I actually kinda like it,” Hermione said, and heat rose to her cheeks at Andromeda’s knowing smile. “It’s the echo I have issues with. How...Narcissa shouldn’t have endure this.”

“I agree,” Andromeda said.

“You do?”

“No one should have to, but that doesn’t change the danger of this scar. It doesn’t change the fact that you’ll die once it’s triggered. That is a much higher price to pay than Narcissa experiencing your torture.”

“I’ve read up on the spell and the incantations. Many of the side effects that Bellatrix expected or intended, they are not present for me. Doesn’t that mean I’m not in danger of this trigger?”

“There’s no way of knowing that for sure. Also, Bella couldn’t have envisioned a mind such as yours, a person with zero affinity for darkness. You are so rooted in light,” Andromeda said and shook her head. “Darkness doesn’t tempt you, and while you’ve experienced plenty of hardship and strive, it didn’t create a compulsion in you, an impulse to lash out or seek pain. The magic around Bella’s spell relies on that. It draws from it.”

“That seems to indicate that it won’t work on me, so there’s no reason for Narcissa to go through with it all.”

“Do you want to bet your life on that? Perhaps all that the difference in you leads to is that it takes longer. Darkness has a way of slithering through cracks and fissures. You don’t know what else will happen in your life.”

“You’re saying I should do this because down the road my life might turn to rubbish?”

“You should do this because you don’t want to die, and because you love my sister and don’t want to see her harmed.”

“But the ritual will hurt her!”

“You are being dense for the so-called brightest witch of her age,” Andromeda groused. “Yes, the ritual will hurt Narcissa, but it’s temporary. How do you think she’d feel if you die because of this? Because of a wound that our sister placed on your skin? Because of a curse Narcissa knew how to circumvent but couldn’t because you refused? What do you think will cause more harm to her? Experiencing your pain at Bella’s hand or losing you? Why would you rather risk dying than allowing Narcissa to do this for you? It is her choice to endure this pain.”

Hermione tightened her jaw. “What if there’s something else?”

“You reviewed Narcissa’s research?”

“Of course.”

“And? Is there another way?”

Hermione deflated. “No. But if we combine our resources and change the parameters—”

“This would be acceptable if she could still save you once the scar is triggered. But that’s not the case, so all you’re doing by continuing this path is increasing the chance that you’ll lose it all. That she’ll lose it all.”

“But—”

“No, Hermione. There’s no but. There’s no counterargument that can turn your turd of a proposal into sweet smelling roses. You are risking your life, and my sister’s heart, with every moment you hesitate. Allow her to save your life so you may continue to enjoy it together. Accept her sacrifice. You were the one who insisted on the interview, on saving Narcissa’s reputation, even though she didn’t need it. You charged right ahead, and in that case, no one’s life was in danger. Now you’re denying Narcissa to help you, to keep you alive.”

Hermione worried her lower lip. “You’re right. I’m not being fair.”

“No, you’re not. I understand wanting to spare Narcissa pain, especially that moment, but you need to sort out your priorities.”

 

 

Chapter Text

Narcissa lay curled up on her couch reading Momo, a novel by a famous Muggle author, and a favorite of Hermione’s childhood. She’d talked to Andy about the situation and Hermione’s refusal to perform the echo. Her sister had told her to give her time, but time was what worried Narcissa. She didn’t know how long Hermione would need to decide, and even worse, what would she’d do if she refused to see reason, if there was nothing Narcissa could do to change her mind?

She’d had dinner with Draco and Astoria the night before, where Harry had shown up right before they’d settled down to eat to inform her that the cursed howler had been sent by an old man who’d lost two grandchildren during the war, killed by Death Eaters. Narcissa refused to press any charges, and Harry had accepted her decision right away.

Draco had invited Harry to stay and join them for dinner, but he’d declined, saying Ginny was expecting him at home and that it was his turn to entertain James for the night so Ginny could go out for dinner with her girlfriends. Narcissa had grown rigid for a second, and apparently, Harry had made the correct assumption and assured her that Hermione would not be among them. She’d dismissed his statement, but he’d only grinned at her and wished them farewell.

Draco had asked if there was trouble in paradise, for which Astoria had slapped his shoulder. He’d apologized, especially once he’d recognized that Narcissa’s mood had grown somber, and then spent the rest of the evening trying to make her laugh.

An apparition pop rang out and in the next second.

“Hey,” Hermione said and stuffed her hands into her pants pockets.

“Hello,” Narcissa said, taking off her glasses and placing them with the book onto the coffee table.

“You’re reading Momo,” Hermione said, her eyes shining with delight. “Do you like it?”

“So far, yes. It’s intriguing and imaginative. It’s also a part of you. Have you decided?”

“Straight to the point,” Hermione said. “I saw Andy, and she talked some sense into me, or so she’ll claim.”

“Come sit. You standing there makes me anxious you’ll run away any second.”

Hermione laughed and sat down next to Narcissa. “You ran away last time.”

“Yes, well. I was overwhelmed and I didn’t want to escalate things and—”

“Don’t worry about it. I understand,” Hermione said. “I’m sorry. I still...I don’t want this for you, this agony and it’s...it’s your sister who’s done that.”

“I was there,” Narcissa said.

“But I’ll do it. I... we can do the bond and then the echo but... we need to prepare it right. I want to make sure we have the potions ready, and Andy should be there, too, in case anything goes wrong and—”

“She could be on stand-by instead.”

“Why? Wouldn’t it be better for her to be right here?”

“Do you recall that I mentioned that the ritual was usually preformed after two people got married?”

“Yes, but you said you don’t have to be married for the ritual to work.”

“That is correct, but the blood bond will...let’s say that it will entice us to be intimate, and I’d rather not have my sister around.”

“Oh, yes, I...in that case, stand-by only is better,” Hermione said. “But what about...what would have happened if we’d done this without being involved? And what about the echo?”

“We will perform the echo afterward as they are separate rituals. The echo only requires that a blood bond exists. For your other question, I’m not sure. I’ve never heard of the bond performed between people who weren’t married. It was always designed as a magical consummation of the bonds of marriage.”

“Performing the blood bond with any other Black would have been super awkward then,” Hermione said and laughed when Narcissa’s face contorted in horror.

“Let’s not even go there.”

“Agreed.” Hermione shifted to sit closer to Narcissa. “When do you want to start?”

“The potions are good for about three more weeks, but I’d rather start as soon as possible. This weekend? That’ll give us two days to prepare everything. Andy would also be available then.”

“Sounds good.”

***

Andromeda had argued that she should be on standby for the bonding, but then in Narcissa’s townhouse for the echo, or better, once they were completely done with the bond. She had grinned at her younger sister and wiggled her eyebrows which had made Hermione laugh, but the sight of Narcissa blushing and averting her gaze had resulted in tears of laughter streaming down Hermione’s face. Narcissa had glared at her but then grudgingly agreed to send a patronus to her sister before the echo, so Andromeda could floo to the townhouse.

Now Hermione and Narcissa had finished all preparations and had set up the den at Narcissa’s townhouse. The blonde witch had created a fire-pit for the cauldron, and they’d added all the potions Narcissa had brewed beforehand.

Hermione flinched when Narcissa pulled out an ornate, silver knife. “Is this...this is not...”

“Oh no,” Narcissa said. “This has been in my family for generations. It is only used for rituals and it’s not...” She pursed her lips. “I don’t know where Bella’s knife is.”

“I’m sorry. That didn’t even make sense. Of course we wouldn’t be using the same knife that she’d used...back then.”

Narcissa reached out and squeezed Hermione’s arm. “Your reaction is understandable. Logic isn’t always available to us when we’re dealing with something emotionally traumatizing.”

“Thank you,” Hermione said before standing straighter. “Let’s do this.”

“To show that this is voluntary, we each need to cause our own wounds,” Narcissa said and cut her hand, squeezing blood into the cauldron. She healed her wound, cleaned the knife, and handed it to Hermione. The liquid in the pot bubbled and a layer of foam frothed at the top after Hermione added her blood.

“Now what?” She asked.

“Now you sit down while I stir the cauldron and say the incantation. It’ll take an hour before we’re ready to drink it,” Narcissa said and closed her eyes. A mixture of Latin and English spilled from her lips in an almost inaudible whisper while she blended the liquid.

Hermione sat down and steadied herself. She’d tried and failed to calm her nerves all morning. In fact, she’d been a wreck since the night before. She’d hardly slept, instead tossing and turning, envying Narcissa’s seemingly easy slumber. Hermione loathed the inability to analyze something, and this ritual, the echo...yes, she’d read everything she could find on it and even branched outside of the information Narcissa and Andromeda had provided, but still. There was something that slipped out of her grasp, and it was maddening.

Maybe it all boiled down to her anxiety about the echo. She’d been in denial about what would happen to her if her scar got triggered, but last night, in the half hour of sleep she’d gotten, she’d dreamed of it, and the memory of that nightmare still clung to her. How the color had been drained out of her life, and the only emotions left were grief and despair. She’d stood in front of her mirror with a knife in her hand, her eyes hollow and dull reflecting back at her when she’d plunged the blade into her stomach.

Her gaze had been stuck on the crimson spreading and soaking her shirt. She’d woken up in a cold sweat, muttering something about inefficient suicide and that she’d never be so daft before she’d gathered her bearings and rushed to the bathroom. Thankfully, Narcissa had slept through all that.

She hadn’t told Harry or Ron about this. Their unease and worry would have bled into her and worsened her already pernicious state of mind. No, she’d tell them when it was all done. Well, she’d tell Harry for sure. After she could reassure him she wasn’t, in fact, hurtling down a path toward apathetic suicide.

 She watched Narcissa work, and the whispered chants of the blonde witch’s smooth voice lulled her into the state between wakefulness and sleep until Narcissa’s hand on her shoulder startled her.

“Hey sleepy-head,” Narcissa muttered and stroked Hermione’s back.

“You’re done already?”

Narcissa chuckled. “Already is a matter of perspective. Your nap surely helped make this seem expedient.”

“Sorry,” Hermione said and rubbed her eyes. “All we have to do is drink it now?”

“Yes, though you have to get it yourself.”

“I’m surprised such a traditional family as the Blacks would put so much effort into consent.” Hermione allowed Narcissa to pull her up to her feet.

“It’s mostly for show. There are ways to make someone ‘choose’ to do this.”

Hermione shuttered. “I’m going to pass on those tales.”

“As you should.” Narcissa poured the potion into one glass for herself before handing the ladle to Hermione who filled up her cup.

“Do we need to say something beforehand?”

“No. You should recognize its effects right away. It’s a fast-acting potion and bond. I’m not sure what you’ll feel because it depends on our bond, and people appear to have reported different...outcomes.”

“Outcomes that will all lead to your bedroom,” Hermione said.

“Here’s to that,” Narcissa said with a sly grin before raising her glass.

Both drank the potion.

Color exploded in Hermione’s vision and she stumbled backwards, dimly aware of Narcissa calling her name. Her senses where muffled and her vocal cords appeared to be locked in tar since she could only press out a slight whimper. There was no pain, just complete disorientation, much like when she’d been to a carnival with her parents as a child and talked them into letting her ride a rollercoaster for the first time. Hermione didn’t deal well with sensory overload, and back then, she’d almost fainted, and she felt the same buzz drumming through her body from the potion, or the bond. She wasn’t sure what exactly was causing it.

By now, she’d doubled over and was kneeling on the floor. The plush carpet underneath her fingers acting like an anchor, a familiar and binding sensation that allowed her to catch her breath. Eventually, she became aware of Narcissa holding on to her. She flung herself in the other woman’s embrace and breathed in her earthy scent, allowing it to smooth the tension still running rampant in her body.

“Shhhh, you’re OK,” Narcissa murmured, her face pressed in Hermione’s hair.

When the overload receded, Hermione noticed a tether that stretched out between them. A stream of concern and worry flooded her, along with a deep well of love and affection poured out of Narcissa and swept over her. She breathed it all in and after a brief moment, a joyful laugh sprang from her lips and she tightened her hold of the older witch before raising her head and crushing their lips together.

Narcissa released a squeak that turned into a groan and she drew back, pulling Hermione down with her.

***

Hermione shut her eyes and let the water raining down on her soothe her sore muscles. She startled when the shower door opened but smiled at the sight of a nude Narcissa before a frown marred her features. “This is a terrible idea. Your sister is expecting us to do the echo this morning. Remember, that’s what you told her last night.”

“She’ll survive waiting longer,” Narcissa said with a smirk while her pupils dilated as her gaze roamed over Hermione’s body.

“Stop looking at me like this,” Hermione groaned, resisting the urge to press her legs together.

“How am I looking at you, dear?” Narcissa asked, and Hermione’s eyes narrowed. Playing innocent? After the previous night?

“You know what I mean,” Hermione said with a sigh when the stream of hot water hit a particularly tense muscle in her shoulder.

“I have a problem and it’s your fault, so I feel it’s only fair that you fix it.”

“What problem? How is it my fault?”

Narcissa stepped closer to Hermione, halting right before their bodies touched but close enough to get doused by the water.

The droplets of water cascading down Narcissa’s skin distracted Hermione to where she almost missed her lover’s next words.

“I had a very interesting dream and you played an enthusiastic and important role in it.”

Hermione laughed. “I don’t see how that’s a problem.”

“The dream was a delight, at least until you’ve left me in the waking world to take a shower. It roused me, in a moment where I’d have preferred to keep sleeping. And dreaming.”

“I see. What was I doing in that dream? Was I reading a potion textbook to you?”

Narcissa leaned close to Hermione and whispered in her ear. “You didn’t read, or talk, though your mouth was quite busy.”

Hermione swallowed hard and couldn’t prevent the whimper that fell from her lips.

“Would you like to continue what you’ve started?”

“Technically, I didn’t...” Her answer morphed into a low moan when Narcissa clasped her hand and directed it between her legs. Hermione’s stomach clenched at the wetness she encountered, not caused by water, and the brief hiss that left Narcissa at her touch, apparently still tender from the night before.

“Yes, I do believe that I should help you with your problem,” Hermione said, and a surprised yelp left Narcissa when she pushed her against the shower wall to claim her lips in an eager kiss.

Narcissa adjusted to her new position and pulled Hermione closer, her hands stroking over Hermione’s back.

Hermione’s hands trailed down to Narcissa’s full breasts and she first played with stiff peaks before breaking the kiss to suck and lick down a path from Narcissa’s neck to her breasts. Greedily, she sucked, then bit the blonde witch’s nipples.

Narcissa groaned and her hips rocked forward, pushing into Hermione.

After switching breasts, Hermione’s quest for equality never ending, she sunk lower, whispering a cushioning charm toward the floor before her knees made contact with the tiles.

Narcissa groaned in seeming anticipation and her stomach trembled when Hermione trailed her nails along the path from her breasts to her mound, leaving red lines on pale skin. She nuzzled her face against Narcissa’s curls and bestowed kisses and licks at her groin.

Narcissa’s head fell back against the shower wall and she pushed her hips closer to Hermione. “It’s not nice to tease me,” she moaned.

Hermione chuckled. “Look who’s talking,” she said before parting Narcissa’s folds and swiping her tongue from Narcissa’s entrance up, all the while avoiding the pulsing nub and instead, she sucked her lover’s folds into her mouth, moaning at the taste.

Narcissa groaned and her hands found their way to Hermione’s head, urging her on.

***

Narcissa always thought she had a low sex drive only to discover that the problem rested with her choice of partners. Not that it had been her choice to begin with, at least not since Hogwarts’s little dalliances, not since Hermione.

Now, since agreeing to this madness, since her inability to shed her selfish desires, she’d been dizzy with want for her dark-haired witch. Even after a night spent making love, she’d dreamed of Hermione and her mouth, her lips and her hot tongue dancing between her legs.

She’d woken groaning but unfulfilled, and then she’d heard the shower run. Temptation had led her to join Hermione and so far, this could be the best decision she’d make all day, especially considering what else was on today’s agenda.

She was still tender from their activities the night before, so Hermione’s first touch shot a mixture of pleasure and pain along her nerves, but once her tongue came into play, the pain vanished and was once more replaced with exquisite, almost decadent delight.

Narcissa trembled and her body shuddered while Hermione’s tongue mapped out every spot she’d discovered as the sure-fire way to drive her insane.

A long moan fell from her lips when Hermione’s focus shifted to where Narcissa needed her the most. She licked first, slow, languid strokes that turned into nibbles and bites that led to Narcissa banging her head against the wall. Her eyes screwed shut, she panted while the shower still poured water over their bodies.

Her moans grew louder when Hermione sucked her into her mouth and applied the right pressure that sent shockwaves of pleasure through Narcissa’s body.

“Yes,” she moaned. A weak “don’t stop,” followed by nonsensical words and sounds dripped from her lips as pure pleasure and heat raced through her body, catapulting her higher and pushing her to an explosive release. She shuddered then froze before pulse after pulse of bliss shook her body and Hermione’s name left her mouth in a hoarse shout. Her lover held onto her while aftershocks ravaged her frame before sliding up her body and seeking her lips in a searing kiss.

***

“That took longer than I expected,” Andromeda drawled the moment she stepped out of the fireplace.

“You can wait for us here. We’ll perform the echo in the den. I’ve cleaned it from the ritual yesterday and it’s the best place for today’s events.”

“I’m sure the clean-up is what kept you busy yesterday,” Andromeda said and chortled.

“Are you done?” Narcissa asked.

“For now, sure, baby sister.”

Narcissa huffed and left her sister sitting in the living room. Hermione was already waiting for her in the den.

“Is this necessary?”

Narcissa halted. “We’ve been over this. Don’t tell me you’ve changed your mind now?”

Hermione’s brows crinkled. “No. I just wish we didn’t have to do this.”

“It is necessary, and while it’ll be hard, it’s worth it. I can’t even contemplate what would happen...” Narcissa gritted her teeth. She’d had untold nightmares since learning about the trigger, of Hermione’s downward spiral in excruciating detail, and of losing her. She had thought before that being with Hermione and then losing her once the dark-haired witch figured out that their relationship was a mistake would be painful, but that was nothing compared to losing Hermione like this, completely and forever, her beautiful light snuffed out. By her own sister. Narcissa didn’t care how much the echo would hurt her because the alternative was beyond anything she could imagine.

“Hey,” Hermione said and linked their hands. She drew Narcissa to sit on the ground next to her. “I’m right here, and that’s where I’ll stay. You’re not getting rid of me, not after I had to work so hard to convince you to give us a chance.”

Narcissa offered a teary chuckle

“I’ve had a crazy idea, for after...after the echo. If you’re up to it. I mean, the idea sounded better at three in the morning, but it still might have merit now and—”

“Stop babbling and tell me your idea,” Narcissa said.

“I keep thinking of Black Manor, and... I was wondering, have you thought some more about renovating it? I know I’ve mentioned that before, but it got drowned out by everything that happened. It might be a great idea. You could get rid of the memories that bother you. Cast them out, so to speak.”

“Are you sure this isn’t due to your infatuation with the library there?”

“What? No? I’d never. As if I cared that much about books,” Hermione said and peeked at Narcissa who smiled fondly at her.

“It’s not a terrible idea.”

“I’d help you. We could get Harry and Ron to help as well.”

“And Draco. He always disliked the manor. I’m sure he’d be delighted to tear it down.”

“Well, not destroying it. That might be extreme,” Hermione said.

“I’m exaggerating, dear. But dismantling all the old wards and making the rest my own...it’s appealing.”

“There you go. We have our next project set-up.”

“Given how busy work is, this will be a slow project,” Narcissa said.

“Right. That’s true, too. Did your analysis of the potions get us any closer to who’s behind those crime sprees?”

“Not yet, but one of my colleagues mentioned we’re supposed to receive a fresh batch of potions next week. Perhaps something will pan out then.”

“That’s good.”

“Now, let’s quit stalling and start the echo,” Narcissa said and leaned forward to give Hermione a quick kiss.

“All right.”

They sat on the floor, facing each other with crossed legs and closed eyes.

Narcissa started the incantation, then reached out her hands and grasped Hermione’s. “Lower your shields,” she said and once the younger witch did, Narcissa slipped into Hermione’s mind. Her senses were swamped with vivid images and sound that swelled into shouts. Heat suffused her body while her skin grew taut.

Little pinpricks crawled from her hands up, settled in her neck before traveling down her torso. The torrent of images shifted into clearer shaped outlines until she dropped into the drawing room at Malfoy manor. She was right there, on the floor with her sister on top of her. Crucio singed through her body and nausea bloomed, rising along her esophagus. She gagged.

In her den, she’d collapsed backward and from a distance she heard Hermione shout her name, but the present was drowned out once Bella’s knife sunk into her skin. Narcissa screamed. Her consciousness snapped back to the drawing room and the searing heat of the meticulous and slow cuts along her arm. Her surroundings in the drawing room blurred. She registered nothing but Bella’s weight and the knife burning her.

Narcissa lost track of time and didn’t register that the echo had finished until Hermione’s cries drew her back into the den. Next, she heard her sister’s hushed voice, trying to calm the younger witch. Narcissa’s eyelids refused to budge and instead lay heavy against her skin while tears tracked down her face. She grunted.

“Why won’t she open her eyes? Narcissa? Please come back,” Hermione cried.

Narcissa focused on Hermione’s vise-grip on her arm, allowing the sensation to soothe her still stinging and shouting nerves.

“’s fine,” she mumbled, finally able to blink a few times though the light blinded her, and she groaned. “Close the...curtains,” she ground out.

Then the room went dark and she opened her eyes. “Better,” she breathed.

“Are you all right? You were out for almost an hour!”

“Don’t shout, dear. My head.”

“Oh, sorry,” Hermione said in a whisper and shuffled closer.

Narcissa couldn’t believe she’d spent an entire hour in the echo, but given how disorienting the experience was, it was no surprise that she had had no feeling for the passing of time.

“How’s you...your arm?” Narcissa said and reached for Hermione’s limb. “Did it work?”

“Yes,” Hermione said and pushed her sleeve up to show her scar to Narcissa.

Narcissa cried. Hermione’s scar had lost all redness and was no longer puffy. Instead, there were flat, drawn in letters that still made out that vile word, but it blended in with the surrounding skin and she had to look closely to decipher it. She’d done it. She’d removed the trigger and Hermione would live. “Thank Merlin,” she said and passed out.

***

Two weeks later, they had arranged to meet at Black manor to start the renovations. Narcissa wanted to celebrate Hermione’s twenty-first birthday at the manor, and that only left them around three weeks to finish the restorations. Harry had been excited to participate, though Hermione suspected he was keen on escaping the house with a teething baby. Ron hadn’t seemed eager at first, but when Hermione said he’d be great at coming up with the best strategy to tackle the renovation in a way that wouldn’t lead to the Black wards killing them all, he’s preened and agreed to join and help.

They’d meet them there later today. Narcissa wanted to make sure she’d taken down the more vicious wards before allowing a Potter and a Weasley on the property. Draco had suggested they should wait and see what would happen, just for research purposes. Hermione had glared at him while Narcissa had only rolled her eyes. She was strolling ahead while Draco and Hermione trailed behind.

“I’ll never call you mother,” Draco hissed while they walked up the winding path to the Black estate.

“I’ll hex you if you ever do,” Hermione retorted.

“I was under the impression that my one child was a grown-up. I refuse to be surrounded by two children,” Narcissa chided.

Draco smirked at Hermione.

“You started it!” Hermione protested.

“I think you’ll find you did, by dating my mother!”

“I didn’t plan that!”

“You better be serious about her! There better be no young witch or wizard for you because you get bored in a year or two.”

“I’d never! How can you even…”

“Good. I’ll work on…living with this then. For mother,” he said and straightened up.

“Thank you. I’d like to get to know you better. The Draco who loves his family because that’s what we’ll be.”

“Oh, bite me, Granger,” he said and rolled his eyes.

“I rather bite your mother. She seems to enjoy that quite a bit,” Hermione said and grinned at Draco before darting away to catch up with Narcissa who entwined their hands, leaning closer to her.

“Was it really necessary to tease my poor dragon like that?”

“He started—”

“Don’t finish that sentence unless you want to sleep on the couch tonight,” Narcissa deadpanned.

“Strike me dead, Merlin. Or at least deaf and blind,” Draco muttered and kicked a pebble up the road.

The End