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Embers Rising

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Hermione groaned and her hands clutched her head when even that small noise reverberated in her skull like a gong. “What...” she stammered and stumbled to her feet. A wave of dizziness swept through her and she blinked, trying to clear her vision. Where was she? Some kind of den? She lumbered toward the vast bay window but the outside with its parade of oak and chestnut trees was as alien to her as the room.

“What happened?”                                         

Hermione spun around at the sound of an unfamiliar voice whose lilt struck a chord with her.

“Who...wait,” Hermione ambled to the blonde woman sitting up on a black leather couch. “Narcissa Malfoy! What have you done? Where are we?”

The other woman sat up straighter and raised her chin. Hermione doubted she’d ever seen the blonde witch this causal. Dressed in informal robes, her long hair fell loosely over her shoulders, her face make-up free, and a pair of glasses lay on the coffee table in front of them.

“Hermione Granger. What in Merlin’s name are you doing in...” Her gaze flitted across the room. “The den at Black manor? What have you done to this room?” She rushed up and swept through the room before halting in front of the window. “At least the outside is the same. More up-kept than I recall,” she muttered before turning and eyeing Hermione again.

“I have no idea how I got here, and I most certainly did nothing to your...manor. Let’s be honest here, you’ve probably kidnapped me. What are you playing at? I’d told Harry testifying on your behalf is—”

“Mr. Potter said he’d testify on my behalf?”

“That was the plan,” Hermione said and rolled back on her heels. “Doesn’t mean anything given that you’ve abducted me.”

“Why would I kidnap you?”

There it was. The haughty expression of Narcissa Malfoy she recalled from the few times she’d had the misfortune of running into the other witch. “Right. Why’d you bother with the mudblood your sister tortured in your drawing room,” Hermione snapped, her hand reaching for her arm.

Narcissa flinched.

Hermione frowned and pulled up the sleeve of her jumper. There was an odd black ink stain on her lower wrist, but her scar...not only was there no sting when she touched it, but...“What? I don’t...” she stuttered. What had happened to her scar? While still there, visible upon close inspection, it no longer resembled the angry, festering wound she remembered. It didn’t merely appear older than it should be, but also...healed.

Narcissa stepped closer. “Are you all right?”

Hermione stretched out her arm and she started when Narcissa’s fingers trailed over her skin and warmth spread through her. She couldn’t comprehend why she’d held out her arm in the first place, but it seemed like reflex.

“Fascinating,” Narcissa said. “This wound is healed and... I’m happy for you.”

“But?”

“I...I don’t understand how this is possible.”

“Because it shouldn’t look like this given it’s only been several weeks old?”

“That, but also...knowing my sister, I didn’t expect this to be an ordinary scar, and with Dumbledore gone...I cannot picture anyone on your side with the power to heal it.”

“My side,” Hermione said and rubbed her eyes. “I’m so sick of it.”

“Of what?”

“All of it. The war, the different sides, the animosity, the anger. I’m so exhausted.”

Narcissa scoffed. “You’re hardly one to talk. Your future is bright and open. Not only do you have your entire life ahead of you, but you’re a war hero, and I’m sure the wizarding world is more than ready to shower you with accolades.”

“I don’t want any of that! I...I need a break, away from it all. I want to decide for myself what to do with my life, and I want to earn what I get, not have people open doors for me because of the war. And what are you talking about? You act like you’re ancient and your life is over.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Narcissa said. “You’re free to leave. I prefer to be alone.”

“You don’t want to figure out how we got here or why this room doesn’t look like you expected?”

“I’m exhausted, Ms. Granger. And unlike you, my future is dismal and...far less promising than yours and I...” She pressed her lips together and held Hermione’s gaze.

“Right,” Hermione said. “I suppose...uh, can I apparate from here or are there any wards that will prevent that?”

“Wards rarely try to keep you inside,” Narcissa said. “Unless you’re underage,” she mumbled.

“What?”

“Be well, Ms. Granger. I hope you can reach your goals on your own merits.”

“Thank you,” Hermione said with a small frown. Why was the other witch being friendly? Why did she feel reluctant to leave, and instead, everything within her called to comfort the blonde woman? Her solemn mood almost seemed to bleed into Hermione. “Goodbye, then. I hope your life will be less gloomy than you fear,” she said and Narcissa’s eyes widened before she offered a slight nod.

“Goodbye,” she said, sitting back down.

Hermione pictured her flat and apparated, or at least she thought she did, but she remained right where she was, standing in the den at Black manor across from Narcissa Malfoy who gazed expectantly at her.

Hermione concentrated and once more tried to apparate, but nothing. Maybe the destination was the problem? But why shouldn’t she be able to return to her own flat? She concentrated on Diagon Alley instead only to encounter the same issue.

“Did you forget how to apparate?” Narcissa drawled.

Hermione narrowed her eyes. “I did not. Something’s wrong, obviously. I tried my flat and Diagon Alley, and neither worked.”

Narcissa sighed and rose, strolling toward Hermione who worried about getting whiplash from the simultaneous impulses to draw closer and retreat from the blonde witch.

“May I?” Narcissa said.

“What?”

“Side-along apparation?”

“My magic is fine, here,” Hermione pulled out her wand and floated the cushions off the couch.

Narcissa scoffed. “Any first-year at Hogwarts can cast that spell. Did you believe this will impress or reassure me, given that you clearly struggle to apparate?”

“Hey! Stop insulting me. Go ahead then, try it,” Hermione huffed.

Narcissa linked their arms and once more warmth flooded Hermione. Someone must have hexed her. That would explain a lot.

“What if someone jinxed me?”

“To take away your ability to apparate?”

“Not just that, but...remember, we woke up here and neither of us recalled how we even got here.”

“Ms. Granger, I’ve already stated—”

“Yes, yes. You have no interest in solving this mystery. Fine. Apparate away.”

“I hope you don’t get nauseous from apparating with others. If so, please don’t vomit on me,” she said and patted Hermione’s hand who glared at her but remained silent.

Nothing. They just stood there and after a minute of silence, a grin spread across Hermione’s face.

“I seem to not be the only one who lost her touch, huh,” she said.

Narcissa cleared her throat and unlinked their arms. She stepped back to the couch before changing her mind and pacing. “This makes no sense. We should be able to apparate.” She halted putting her arms on her hips, and called, “Dolly!”

Nothing.

“Dolly!” She tried again.

Silence.

“Who’s Dolly?”

“The house elf overseeing Black manor,” Narcissa said. “She’d never ignore my call. Something is wrong.”

Hermione sighed. “You don’t say.”

***

Narcissa’s head pounded and nausea drummed in her stomach. She wanted to lie down and sleep this off. She had been holed up at Malfoy Manor since the war ended, waiting for a gaggle of Aurors to storm the mansion and drag her to Azkaban. That didn’t happen. Instead, they’d set a date for the hearing, which was supposed to start in two weeks.

Lucius had been placed under house arrest pending trial. They’d hardly been speaking. She’d spent most of her days brewing potions or reading, at least when she wasn’t attempting to coax Draco out of his maudlin mood. How did she end up at Black manor? She hadn’t visited the estate in years.

Now she seemed stuck here, with Hermione Granger of all people. Naturally, the dark-haired witch would assume that Narcissa had abducted her. Please. As if she had the energy for that. It also made no sense. She didn’t want to go to Azkaban, and she already considered her chances of avoiding such a sentence abysmal. Kidnapping a member of the Golden Trio? That wouldn’t endear the Wizengamot to her. Narcissa sneered. She could imagine the headline.

“What was that for?” Hermione interrupted her thoughts.

“Nothing,” she said. “Let’s leave the manor. There should still be a few broomsticks in the shed outside.”

“Lead the way,” Hermione said and followed Narcissa outside.

The hallways of the manor were much brighter, and the oppressive veil that usually draped itself over her, weighing her down, whenever she set foot in this place, remained absent. What happened to Black manor?

They marched across the courtyard and after a few minutes arrived at a shed the size of a small house.

“That’s a shed?”

“What else would it be?” Narcissa asked and opened the door. Of all the people to be stuck with, it had to be her. She grabbed two broomsticks and handed one to Hermione who hesitated before accepting the item. “They’re not hexed,” Narcissa snapped.

“Uh, I’m not worried about that,” Hermione said, still frowning at the broom in her hands.

“Then what’s the problem?” Narcissa refrained from tapping her foot on the floor.

“I just...I don’t enjoy flying.”

“Do you prefer to stay here?”

“Right,” Hermione said and straightened. “Let’s do this.”

They mounted their brooms but much like when they tried to apparate at the manor, nothing happened.

“It’s not working either,” Hermione said.

“I can see that,” Narcissa grumbled.

“Look, it’s not like I enjoy this anymore than you do. And we’re on your hometurf!”

“Black manor is no home to me,” Narcissa said, avoiding Hermione’s gaze.

“All right then, if magic won’t work, let’s try it the Muggle way.”

Narcissa raised her eyebrows. “And what would that be, Ms. Granger?”

“We walk.”

Narcissa balked. “That’s not the Muggle way. Wizards walk, too.”

“Let’s go then,” Hermione said and charged ahead, striding down the winding pathway to the black iron gates.

Against her will, Narcissa released a deep chuckle and followed the other witch.

“Is this locked?” Hermione asked and pulled at the gate.

“You are a witch, aren’t you?”

“Because magic has been so successful for us so far,” Hermione snarked.

Narcissa aimed her wand at the gate and said, “alohomora,” but much like she feared, nothing happened.

“This is ridiculous,” Hermione said and stepped closer to the masonry wall connected to the gate. “I can climb this. Then I can get help and get you.”

“Why would you?”

“It’s not that high and—”

“No, why would you send help for me?”

“Why wouldn’t I? You’re stuck here, too.”

Narcissa remained silent but her gaze followed Hermione as she attempted to climb the wall. When she’d reached the top, she swung a leg over it, or tried to? She was flung back down and landed with an “ompf,” on the floor, dust scattering in the air all around her.

“Are you all right?” Narcissa rushed to kneel next to Hermione, unable to understand why her heart was racing or why fear had gripped her at the sight of the dark-haired witch tumbling down. What was happening to her?

“I’m fine,” Hermione said and brushed herself off.

Both witches rose to their feet.

“We can’t leave, either by magic or physically get off the property.”

“So it seems,” Narcissa said and her gaze tracked the setting sun. “We should get inside. There are no owls here, and mine is still at Malfoy Manor, but there’s a fireplace that’s connected to the floo network. We might as well try and fail at using that.”

“Well, even if we cannot leave with it, we might be able to send a message or notify someone about this situation.”

“True,” Narcissa said, and this time, she led them back inside the mansion and into the library.

“Wow, this is amazing!” Hermione said upon entering the enormous library.

Narcissa chuckled. “You might get to spend more time here than you wish, if the floo doesn’t work either.”

“There are worse places,” Hermione said, her gaze still trailing from shelf to shelf. “Ohh, that seat over there is perfect. It looks super comfortable,” she said and pointed at a large, maroon sofa in the corner by the window.

“That is new, too.”

“Huh. So not only are we trapped at a place neither one of us lives in, but someone’s also redecorated. Not a bad look, and definitely better than Goldilock.”

Narcissa cocked her head. “Excuse me?”

“Never mind,” Hermione said and waved her off. “Let’s try the floo.”

Both women stepped up to the fireplace. Narcissa lit the fire before adding green floo powder. She heaved a heavy sigh when once more nothing happened. “I don’t know why I’m even disappointed,” Narcissa said.

“It was our last hope to leave or at least communicate with someone else,” Hermione said.

“I suppose you shall have a shot at solving this riddle after all, Ms. Granger.”

“This will get old quickly,” Hermione said. “We are not the best of friends,” she said and glared at Narcissa who hadn’t been able to suppress a soft scoff at that statement. “However, since we are stuck here for the foreseeable future, we should...I don’t know...”

“Try not to kill each other?”

Hermione’s eyes widened. “That’s not...that wasn’t on my mind. We could try to be nice to each other and maybe call each other by our first names? It’s like I’m back at Hogwarts with you constantly calling me by my last name.”

“I thought you liked it there.”

“Sure, aside from a madman trying to murder my best friend every year, and the castle being the place of the final battle.”

“True,” Narcissa said, her gaze finding her feet. Those were indeed unpleasant memories. “Well, then, Hermione, let’s try to be...nice to each other.”

“Thank you, Narcissa,” she said and grinned.

Heat bloomed in Narcissa’s stomach at Hermione’s expression, and she contemplated brewing a diagnostic potion because the way her body reacted to Hermione’s grin could only mean she’d been poisoned.

“Wait! We could send out a patronus for help! You can send yours to Draco and...your husband. I’m sure they will worry soon, if they aren’t already worried. Harry goes crazy when I don’t show up for our lunches, so I should try to send him one.”

“I thought Mr. Potter was dating Ms. Weasley and that your interest runs toward Mr. Weasley.”

“Huh? What? No! We’re all just friends. Harry and Ginny are dating, but there’s nothing between Ron and I, nothing romantic,” Hermione said and frowned. “How do you know all this? I’m sure we’re not Draco’s favorite topic.”

Narcissa laughed. “No, not particularly. Though we worried he was in love with you, given how often he wrote about you in his letters.”

“We can’t have that, right? A Malfoy falling for a Muggle-born.”

Narcissa sighed. “Thank you for not using that other...term,” she sniffed. “And for your information, I have no preference for whom my son dates. His father might have divergent aspirations, though any parental influence will be moot once we’re in Azkaban.”

“They won’t throw you in prison. Your husband? Sure. But not you.”

“I wish I had your confidence,” she said. Her worries were mostly centered on Draco, both for now and the future. She hoped that whatever was going on here, her son was all right.

“Wait until Harry has his say.”

“Yet, you were not keen on him speaking in my favor,” Narcissa said, unsure why this hurt her feelings. What did she care what the other witch thought of her?

“What?”

“You said so, earlier. That you told Mr. Potter that testifying on my behalf is what? You never finished the thought, but your attitude was clear.”

“Oh, well,” Hermione said, and her cheeks turned crimson which both amused and thrilled Narcissa. This only confirmed her suspicions that something was seriously wrong with her.

“It’s all right, dear. You don’t owe me an explanation.”

“I don’t know you, OK? I...I may have let my animosity for your son and husband bleed into you, and that’s not fair. You’ve been kind so far, and you didn’t hex me or anything.”

“Why would I do that?”

“Be kind?” Hermione asked, but her eyes danced with mirth.

“You’re impossible,” Narcissa huffed.

“Anyway, let’s get back to the patronus charm.”

“I cannot cast it,” Narcissa said and braced herself, but what came next was disbelief, not ridicule.

Hermione’s eyes widened. “What? Why not?”

“Happy memories, Ms. Gran...Hermione. They are harder to come by for some than others. But by all means, cast a patronus and send it to Mr. Potter.”

“Right,” Hermione said, still holding Narcissa’s gaze.

“Go on,” she said.

Hermione pulled out her wand and called “Expecto Patronum!” Silver vapor shot out of her wand but before it could take shape, it disintegrated and slunk into the ground. “Damn.”

“Perhaps whatever binds us here, restricts our use of magic that could help us leave,” Narcissa said, unable to bear the downcast expression on Hermione’s face.

“Or my memories don’t work. I should have known,” she murmured.

“What’s wrong with them?”

Hermione sighed. “It’s...complicated, but in short, the memories I’ve been using in the past to conjure my patronus seem to be tainted.”

“I’m sorry,” Narcissa said.

“Not your fault.”

Narcissa tilted her head. “I have an idea, but I’m not sure it’ll work,” she said. “Let’s go back to the brooms. We can float them and then climb on and see if we can fly like that.”

“Like a jump-start! Great idea. Come on,” Hermione said and dashed ahead.

Narcissa followed along.

Back at the shed, they once more pulled out the broomsticks, and Narcissa cast wingardium leviosa on them.

Hermione cheered when the brooms rose into the air.

“Are you ready?” Narcissa asked and Hermione nodded. Both women clambered on their broomsticks that hovered but shot up with them once they grabbed the handle.

“It’s working!” Hermione shouted but right after, they both crashed into an invisible barrier in the air that bounced them back down onto the grass.

“Are you hurt?” Narcissa asked.

“No, though it cemented my dislike of flying. Are you OK?” Hermione said, rising and slapping grass off her pants.

“I’m fine, but I’m out of ideas, and this graceless landing didn’t improve my headache. May I suggest we retire for the evening? I’ll show you to the kitchen in case you’re getting hungry and then lead you to a guest room. Hopefully, the house-elves have kept the pantry stocked.”

Hermione frowned. “Why didn’t you say you had a headache? You could have laid down earlier.”

A small smile tugged at Narcissa’s lips. “Don’t look so affronted. It’s fine. Are you agreeable to my earlier suggestion?”

“Yes, of course. Thank you,” Hermione said and followed Narcissa back inside.

When they walked up the stairs, a ginger cat sauntered down the steps before rubbing against Narcissa’s legs. Before she could say anything, Hermione shrieked.

“Crookshanks, my boy! What are you doing here?” She bent down and snatched up the protesting cat. “You catnapp...” Her brows furrowed. “You kidnapped my cat, too? Why? What on earth is he doing here?” She held him closer, as if shielding him from Narcissa.

So much for a change in atmosphere. Narcissa frowned. “Why would I kidnap a cat?”

“I don’t know!” Hermione held him up and inspected him. “Are you OK, boy? Are you hurt?”

Narcissa placed her hands on her hips. “Do you honestly believe I’m in the habit of harming animals?”

“I don’t know you at all! I’ve spent six years harassed and bullied by members of your family which found its highlight in your sister torturing me, carving a vile slur into my arm while you stood there and watched!”

Crookshanks hissed and struggled in Hermione’s grasp until she set him back on the floor.

Narcissa grew rigid. “I see.”

“You see nothing! You expect me to what? To be OK with being trapped here with you, without knowing what you’ve done to—”

“I’ve done nothing! I haven’t set foot into this place in decades! This is as disorienting for me as it is for you. I cannot change what my family has done to you, what Bella...” She clenched her jaw. “You understand nothing. You have no idea what my life has been like, and what I had to do just to survive.”

“You weren’t the only one who had to make sacrifices! My parents...” Hermione’s hands balled into fists.

“Tell me, Miss Granger,” Narcissa said and her voice dropped a register while she stalked closer to Hermione. “Did you fear one misstep would get you tortured and killed in your own house, by your own sister or her deranged Lord? Did you fear what they’d do to your son? That they’d brutalize him for your transgression? Were you told by your sister she’d gut your son like a fish if you dared to step one toe out of line? Did you share your living quarters with an unhinged psychopath who could read your mind? Did you live like this for months, not knowing when it would end? With a husband too cowardly and traumatized to be of any use to help protect your child?” Her voice broke, and rage still crashed through her, but now it merged with frustration about having shared this much with a witch who hated her, who could see to it that she landed in Azkaban. Narcissa trembled and stumbled back, her breathing shallow.

Hermione stared at her with wide eyes, but she remained silent.

“Your room is the second one to the right,” Narcissa said before spinning around and marching away.  

***

Hermione couldn’t tell how long she’d sat immobile on her bed, but by the time a semblance of movement seemed doable, night had fallen long ago, and inky darkness drenched her room. What was happening to her?

Her emotions had never been that volatile, not even right after Malfoy manor. Now, she went from being OK to losing her mind in a second, and without warning. She had no idea why seeing Crookshanks at Black manor made her lose her composure. Hermione didn’t want to bring up that night at Malfoy manor, and she most definitely didn’t wish to revisit Narcissa’s role.

She still remembered the blonde witch’s eyes on her when she’d lain on the floor. Those eyes hadn’t been cold and unmoving. They’d seemed full of sorrow and pain, though Hermione wasn’t sure if she’d seen what she’d wanted to see back then, some human connection that saw her as more than an unavoidable casualty of the war.

She regretted her outburst, and the grief she’d seen in Narcissa’s eyes haunted her. She didn’t dare to sleep for fear of nightmares. There was too much fuel for horrible dreams, and she felt drained just contemplating it. She wondered what Narcissa was doing. Was she asleep? What did she dream about? Would she leave without telling Hermione? She rolled her eyes. As if that were possible, the leaving part, at least. Should she apologize to the blonde witch? But no. They weren’t friends, and they were at Black manor, Narcissa’s childhood home.

She was involved somehow, and she could be acting and all that self-righteous anger... Hermione closed her eyes and shuddered. She canted and laid on her side on the bed. The plush sheets smelled of lavender. The scent triggered a memory, but it was too fast and dissipated as soon as it rose. What was wrong with her? Why was everything so heavy?

***

Narcissa paced in her room. Even that guest room didn’t look right. Who had decorated Black manor? Why wasn’t she informed of it? Bella hadn’t been back, and neither had Andromeda. The wards would have alerted her to anyone, even a person belonging to the Black line, who had entered the property. She owned Black manor since her parents’ passing. Her father had left it to her. Why? She never found an answer, for rightfully, it should have been Bella’s. Even Andromeda would have inherited it before Narcissa, had she not been disinherited for marrying that Muggle-born wizard.

Perhaps her father had hoped to sow more strife and contention between the siblings if he went against Wizarding traditions and bequeathed the manor to his youngest child. None of this explained the current state of the manor. Some of what she’d seen felt familiar, it resonated with her and fit her tastes utterly. Other aspects seemed odd and out of place, yet charming.

Hermione Granger. Narcissa halted her pacing, and stood there, for a moment, with her hands on her hips and her head bowed down low. What had happened? How did they get here, and why did neither remember anything that could explain this scenario? Could this be a test? To see how she acted and treated an enemy to determine if she was worth saving or if it would be better to lock her up and throw away the key? Did they drug her and trap her here, and Hermione played the role of the victim but in reality, she was in on the entire con?

But the dark-haired witch wasn’t her enemy. She never considered any of them her enemies. Sure, she judged many of them to be beneath her for various reasons, though even that perspective had shifted slowly. It also seemed too sinister a move for the other side, and trickery had never been their forte. So if all of this was as it seemed, what did that imply?

What did the emotions that coursed through her like tidal waves mean, drowning her one moment, then soothing her, before once more dragging her under water? Where did they come from? Some were familiar, though they resembled ideas and longings she’d buried and suppressed decades ago. Dreams that would never come to pass and hope for them only bloomed misery, adding to the vast supply that already surrounded her. Others were foreign and of a nature Narcissa had never experienced. She had felt no presence in her mind, and she doubted the young Gryffindor had much experience with mind-magic.

Why did she have to be trapped at Black manor with the witch who reminded her of one of her greatest failures? Oh, how she’d wanted to stop Bella, how everything within her had screamed at her to intervene, to stop the torture and to heal the sobbing dark-haired witch. She remembered soulful dark eyes begging with her, but she couldn’t. She didn’t dare. Instead, she’d stood frozen, despairing her inactivity while knowing any move would get her son killed. Was this penance?

***

Hermione hadn’t slept all night. She’d drifted somewhere between sleep and wakefulness before she’d risen and grabbed something to eat from the kitchen. On her way back, she’d snatched Crookshanks and withdrew into her room. First, he was stalking through the room and sniffing every nook and cranny with great displeasure before jumping on her bed and curling up on her pillow.

She sighed and petted his orange fur. “Oh, Crookshanks. What are we going to do?”

He purred.

“At least I’m not without friends here,” she whispered before rising and gazing out of the window. In the yard, she could see Narcissa bending over a flower bed. Her blonde hair coiled in a neat bun and dressed in casual robes; the blonde witch was... Hermione tilted her head. She was pulling weeds. By hand. Huh. She observed Narcissa for a while longer until the woman rose, and her gaze shot up, straight to Hermione’s window which made her recoil and stumble before she landed on her butt on soft carpet. “That seems to be a theme,” she grumbled before jumping back to her feet.

Hermione searched the room and eventually came across several sheets of empty parchment and a set of quills and ink in a box at the bottom of the closet. She couldn’t write any letters, well, she could, but what use would that be without the means to send them? However, she could write down everything she’d remembered before waking up at Black manor, and she could note her experiences since then, along with her impressions and feelings. Maybe seeing it on paper and reading through it would trigger some memories or it might allow her to see the bigger picture. Everything was better than another run-in with the blonde witch.

***

Narcissa had exhausted herself with yard work, hoping it would tire her out enough so she’d be able to sleep. She hadn’t seen Hermione all day and while that filled her with relief, there was also something else, an emotion she couldn’t fully grasp that burned dimly in the periphery of her awareness. It tasted almost...chalky.

She’d contemplated baking, but didn’t want to waste any supplies, given that they might be stuck here for a while, with no means of communication. Narcissa also tried to prevent herself from going insane with worry about her son. He was fine. He had to be. Lucius wasn’t the best of fathers when the Dark Lord was around, but with him vanquished, and now Narcissa unavailable, she was confident he’d step up and take care of their son. If he didn’t, he wouldn’t need to worry about Azkaban because Narcissa would murder him.

She’d taken a long bath and was surprised by the pleasant and relaxing scents of lavender and vanilla. Strangely enough, those two scents had been the only ones available in the bathroom. She couldn’t remember these aromas from her childhood growing up in the manor. Her parents have been big fans of sandalwood and moss. She wrinkled her nose. Maybe that’s why she hated those two scents.

Narcissa settled in her room after a quick run into the kitchen for a bite to eat and pulled out parchments and quill. She might as well write down everything she remembered. Should she suggest that to Hermione? That way, they could compare notes. Dread flooded Narcissa at the notion of approaching the dark-haired witch. She remembered the disdain that had shone in her dark eyes all too well and wasn’t keen on revisiting it. She couldn’t understand the ache that spread through her at the thought of the other witch hating her. She must be losing her mind.

***

Draco hammered on Harry and Ginny’s front door. “Open up! I know you’re home! This is all your fault!”

The door flung open. “What is it with you and knocking down our door?” Ginny hissed. “You’ve woken James!”

“Sorry,” Draco grumbled. “My mother is missing.”

“What?” Harry stepped to the door with a bawling James in his arms. “Come inside.”

They settled on the couch.

“What do you mean, Narcissa’s missing?”

“We had a lunch date and she never showed. She didn’t message me, and when I sent an owl, it came back with the message still attached to its legs.”

“Did you go to Black Manor?” Ginny asked.

“The floo didn’t work. Then I’ve tried to apparate there but that was a bust, too. Hermione had cast the same spell she had on her flat apparently, so it announces who is trying to join them and they can let you in. So you won’t get traumatized,” he added and shuddered. “But there was nothing when I tried to knock. I even flew there but the Manor is gone.”

“That can’t be. How can the entire property disappear?” Harry asked, finally having soothed James. “What’s there instead?”

“What do you think? It’s in the middle of nowhere. There’s just grass and trees.”

“Are you sure you were in the right place?” Harry asked.

Draco scoffed. “Of course. This is your fault!”

Harry’s eyebrows rose. “How?”

“Last time I checked, wherever any of you go, trouble follows.”

“That’s unfair. Harry didn’t choose to be hunted down by Voldemort, and you can’t fault Hermione and Ron for standing by their best friend,” Ginny said.

“Oh yeah? You do recall our school time. You missed the first year, Harry Potter and the troll in the dungeon followed by an impostor professor who could have killed us all. Then second year, Harry Potter and the big giant snake, and oh yes, the written threats in chicken blood, but you remember that, Ginny, since you’re the one who wrote them.”

“Come on, Draco, that’s not—”

“Oh, and what about third year, huh? Harry Potter saves the beast that delighted in mauling students and almost destroys the Womping Willow.”

“That was your own fault, Malfoy, and you know it,” Harry spat.

“Fourth year, Harry Potter and the infinite ways to get us all killed actually kills a student and frees the bloody Dark Lord all in one night!”

“Draco, that’s enough!” Ginny snapped.

He deflated. “I’m sorry. I just…I can’t lose mother,” he said and dropped his head.

“Let’s bring James to Molly and then we’ll all head over to Black manor. We’ll figure it out,” Harry said.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Hermione had woken up with a splitting headache. She blamed her nightmares. While she’d avoided sleeping for one day, exhaustion had finally gotten the better of her the next evening. Her dreams were full of birds and toxic wells. Not what she’d expected, but the dread that overpowered her in the dreams still clung to her when she woke up.

Hermione sighed. All the writing she’d done wouldn’t do her any good on her own. It had offered no further insights and she needed something to compare it to. She needed to talk to Narcissa, but the other witch likely wouldn’t want anything to do with her after Hermione’s little outburst on the first night.

Since then, Hermione’s emotions had continued to be all over the place, and she sometimes wondered if that was an aftereffect of whatever cost them their memories. There was a tug and pull she felt at times, and with it, grief flooded her before it swung to rage which was followed by despair. Yet, she couldn’t think of anything within her that was causing these emotional surges.  

Giving up on brooding, Hermione left her room and headed for the kitchen. She was starving, and she was surprised to find a Muggle fridge in one corner of the large room. How had she not seen that the day before? She was even more astonished when she’d opened it and found her favorite snack in there.

“Yes!” She grabbed a cup of yogurt and after rifling through the pantry and discovering all other ingredients present, added everything to a bowl before mixing them. She’d just popped the first spoonful into her mouth when the door swung open and Narcissa entered, in a dark purple nightgown.

Hermione coughed, covering her mouth with her arm.

“Oh. I wasn’t expecting you. I can leave and—”

“No, no,” Hermione stuttered. “Please join me,” Hermione said, dropping her gaze back to her bowl. “I wanted to apologize.”

“For what?” Narcissa asked, still standing in the doorway.

“Really?” Hermione cleared her throat. “I didn’t mean to attack you like that. It’s been...difficult, as I’m sure it has been for you, too,” she hurried to add. “There’s no reason for you to be here, if you had a choice, I mean. Why would you lock yourself into your childhood home with me?” She laughed but it didn’t convey any mirth.

“Thank you,” Narcissa said as she stepped next to her. “What are you eating?”

“Huh?” Hermione stared at the blonde witch. That was all she was going to say? And what? They just moved on and pretended it never happened? Who does that? She thought and shook her head.

“Your breakfast?”

“Greek yoghurt with oats, granola, and bananas?”

“Is that a question?”

“No. It’s...what I’m eating.”

“Huh. I’ve never had that.”

“I’m surprised you’d have all of that here then. There’s even a Muggle fridge over there. You’d forgotten to point that out during your brief tour. Embarrassed to be using Muggle technology? I’m shocked you are hooked up with electricity here.”

“What? A Muggle fridge? Technology?”

“I take it that’s new here, too?”

“Yes,” Narcissa said and fell onto the stool next to Hermione’s. “Everything is different.”

“Even your room?”

“I haven’t yet ventured to the third floor to check on my childhood bedroom,” Narcissa said and grabbed a banana off the island. “Too many memories I’m not keen to revisit. The guest bedroom I’m staying in is also not how I remember it. The manor used to be glum and full of shadows everywhere. The rooms and hallways were painted in dark colors and there were untold numbers of heavy curtains and tapestries. They are all gone now and it’s...light,” she said and ate some of her banana.

“Your parents are dead, I’m assuming?”

“Yes. They’d never have done this to the house,” she scoffed. “In fact, they’d hate all the changes, especially all the Muggle...stuff.”

“I wonder how all this got in here,” Hermione said. “Have you checked out the main bedroom?”

“No. I saved that for later. I thought...I hoped maybe we could do that together? Not right now, though. To be honest, I’m not sure if I can handle that today. I tried to write everything I’ve remembered from before and if anything here stirred memories, I’d added that, too but—”

“I did the same!” Hermione said. “Writing what I remembered and all. I’ll join you for the main bedroom. Whenever you’re ready.”

“I appreciate it,” Narcissa said.

“Wanna try my yoghurt? It’s delicious.” Hermione asked, blaming her emotional overload and headache for her offer, and her eyes widened when Narcissa leaned forward and accepted the spoonful. Heat crept up Hermione’s neck and her gaze was glued to Narcissa’s lips.

The blonde witch leaned back and chewed, holding Hermione’s gaze. “Acceptable,” she said and laughed when Hermione slammed the spoon onto the surface of the island instead of returning it to her bowl.

***

After breakfast, Narcissa had invited Hermione to join her for a stroll through the gardens. Hermione had agreed, and while the air between them was still cautious and fragile, it was no longer inundated and loaded with suspicion and distrust. The fresh air and this welcome lessening of the tension between them had also eased Hermione’s headache.

“This is a beautiful property,” Hermione said and gazed across the land, this time registering the fruit trees and flowers, along with the pond that rounded up the scene.

“It looks well-taken care of,” Narcissa said.

“Didn’t you say you usually have a house-elf here?”

“Two. It’s a couple. They take care of the manor, but it’s more than that. There are flowers and shrubs I don’t recall ever being there.”

“They must have been added by whoever lives here now,” Hermione said.

“And where are they? If someone lived here...shouldn’t they be here?”

“Maybe there was an exchange. They went where we were, while we somehow ended up here.” Hermione suggested.

Narcissa chuckled with little humor. “They’ll have fun at Malfoy manor then.”

“What was your favorite subject at Hogwarts?” Hermione asked.

Narcissa tilted her head. “It would be easier to ask me what subject I didn’t like.”

Hermione laughed. “You’re like me, then. I hated Divination, utter bollocks.”

“I agree. I’ve never fully gotten into Astronomy either, though I didn’t hate it. And Binns,” Narcissa said and sighed.

“Right? How can they leave such an important subject as History of Magic to a ghost who puts everyone to sleep in seconds?” Hermione huffed. “And none of my classmates ever wanted to even look at Hogwarts: A History, though it is a fascinating read, and we never would have found the Philosopher’s Stone without me having read it.”

Narcissa laughed.

“What?”

“Aside from being from rival houses, I suppose we’d have made good friends at Hogwarts.”

Hermione smiled.

“Now tell me about that Philosopher’s Stone adventure.”

“Oh, OK. It all began with Nicolas Flamel...” Hermione started and launched into a retelling of their first year, and the first glimpse they’d had of Voldemort.

***

After lunch, they ventured to Narcissa’s old bedroom on the third floor.

“This is untouched,” Narcissa said upon entering the room. A single bed stood in the corner under a window. Heavy, dark curtains draped the room and the dark-brown hardwood floor creaked under their steps. The walls were light blue, which stood in stark contrast with the overall dark furniture. There were several large bookshelves along the walls that spilled over with books and scrolls, though the desk pressed against the wall on the other side of the room was neat and organized.

“You surely did like your books,” Hermione said and stepped closer to the shelves.

“Books were always so much easier to handle than reality,” Narcissa said and her gaze flickered wistfully across the room.

“Your family seemed...difficult. I’m sorry.”

Narcissa shrugged her shoulders. “All families are difficult one way or another, though some issues are more...challenging or do more damage than others.”

“That is true.”

“Do you get along with your parents?” Narcissa asked and regretted her question when Hermione’s face fell and an odd sense of melancholy spread through the room, at least that’s the only way Narcissa could explain the wave of sorrow that hit her. “We don’t have to talk about them.”

“We were close, but...things got more complicated with the war and all,” Hermione said, her gaze dropping to her shoes. “I’m not sure how they are or what...what happened to them.”

“I’m sorry.”

“I was about to check on them when...when we woke up here,” Hermione said and cleared her throat.

“Tell me your favorite childhood memory,” Narcissa asked, intent on lifting the dark-haired witch’s spirits.

“Let’s see...” Hermione said. “We had regular pizza and movie nights. Those were great. We’d make pizza together and snuggle up on the couch to watch movies.”

“I don’t believe I’ve ever had pizza. A movie is some type of Muggle entertainment?”

“We need to change that! We could make pizza tonight. I’m sure we have all the ingredients here,” Hermione said. “And yes. Movies are pictures with sound that move. They tell stories, like theater.”

“Interesting. Perhaps one day you can show me one of those movies.”

“Sure. As soon as we have access to a television and a DVD player.”

Narcissa sighed. “Your words are meaningless.”

Hermione laughed. “You’ll see. Either way, we have a pizza to make and eat later. Let’s check out the kitchen and see what toppings we could add.”

“Toppings?” Narcissa asked.

“Stuff to put on the pizza, besides cheese. Like tomatoes and pepperoni, bell peppers, olives, anything you want really. Some people even like pineapple pieces on their pizzas.”

“Pineapple?”

“Right?” Hermione said and scrunched up her nose. “I’m not a fan personally, but Harry won’t touch a pizza unless it has pineapples on it. Come on, let’s go.”

Narcissa followed Hermione. She supposed making and eating pizza was a small price to pay to distract Hermione from her sorrows.

***

“Do you want a glass of wine with the pizza?” Hermione asked.

“Why not? Let me see if there is any,” Narcissa said and disappeared in the pantry, only to reappear a moment later with a bottle of wine in her hand. “Red all right?”

“Sure,” Hermione said and placed their plates on the table while Narcissa opened the bottle and poured each of them a glass.

“Don’t you think you overdid it a bit with the toppings on your pizza?” Narcissa settled in her seat and placed a napkin on her lap.

“Not you, too,” Hermione scoffed, making sure to smile while she did. They’d surely reached the point where light teasing was permissible.

Narcissa raised one eyebrow. “I’m assuming I’m not the first one who has made such an observation.”

“You’re not, but both you and Harry are wrong.”

Narcissa chuckled.

Hermione couldn’t stop the smile that formed at the sound and sight of the blonde woman across from her enjoying herself in her presence. “Your pizza is practically barren.”

“You were the one who pointed out that mozzarella and basil are the original toppings for this dish, and why not start from there?”

“That’s one way to look at it,” Hermione said and picked up a slice of her pizza. After swallowing a bite, she drank a sip of her drink. “You picked the perfect wine for this,” Hermione said.

“Thank you,” Narcissa said. “The pizza is better than I expected.”

“I’ll take it as a compliment,” Hermione said and raised her glass. “To more friendly pizza nights.”

Narcissa dabbed her mouth with a napkin before raising her glass and clinking it against Hermione’s. “Indeed. And to movie nights that shall commence once we get out of here.”

Hermione laughed. “I like the way you think.”

***

The next morning, they had a relaxed breakfast, and Narcissa had been surprised by how well she’d slept the previous night, and that she had been looking forward to spending more time with the dark-haired witch.

Since they’d established a more comfortable atmosphere between them, Narcissa felt prepared to visit the main bedroom. She wanted to enter it first, not trusting the wards of the manor. They felt different, and while they appeared to be benevolent, she didn’t want to risk it and end up being responsible for the death of Hermione. Because it wouldn’t help her case, not that she was invested in the younger witch. Narcissa had to suppress a sigh and halted in front of the massive Mahogany French doors.

“Is something wrong?” Hermione asked.

“These doors are new, too. Not the shape or size, but they used to be walnut when I was growing up.”

“The redecorating trend continues. Were those your parents’ rooms?”

“Yes and no. This was their bedroom, but I cannot recall a time they shared a room,” Narcissa said and frowned. Why was she sharing personal information instead of guarding it and keeping it locked down? Why was this so effortless with Hermione? She braced herself and opened the doors.

Both witches froze at the sight before them. The enormous bedroom looked lived in. Light beige walls and a bright, thick, soft carpet made up the room. In the middle stood an enormous, massive canopy bed with white decorative fabric spun on top. The sheets were unmade, halfway hanging off the bed. It appeared as if someone had been in a hurry to leave or was too lazy to make the bed in the morning. One pillow lay on the floor and the doors to the walk-in closet were open. Both nightstands stood littered with books and picture frames.

“Who lives here?” Narcissa said and stepped inside. She picked up the first picture frame and opened her mouth, but her brain failed to process or make sense of how a picture of Harry Potter, smiling and then kissing the cheeks of a chubby little boy who grinned, and who shared the man’s startling green eyes would ever make it to a nightstand in a bedroom at Black manor. And he didn’t look like the scrawny seventeen-year-old boy she’d seen several weeks ago in the forest surrounding Hogwarts. Come to think of it, Narcissa spun around and narrowed her eyes at Hermione. “You don’t look like the maudlin seventeen-year-old girl from a few weeks ago!”

“What? I don’t...I’m almost nineteen years old!”

Narcissa tilted her head.

“Who is in the picture?” She marched up and stopped next to Narcissa. “Harry? Why do you have a picture of Harry and...who’s that baby?” She grabbed the frame and inspected it. “That child looks just like him! How is that possible?”

“I do not know. I also cannot comprehend why such a picture would be on a nightstand, here, in this house.”

“You don’t...you didn’t...” Hermione tread back and her hand holding the picture frame fell to her side.

“What are you talking about?”

Hermione’s eyes trailed down Narcissa’s body and then she once more gazed at the picture. “You haven’t recently given birth, have you?”

“What in Merlin’s name...have you lost your mind? You’re insinuating that I...Harry Potter?”

Hermione sputtered. “Why would you have a picture of Harry and a baby that is clearly his in your bedroom?”

“As far as I can recall, this is not my bedroom! I’d assume I’d know if I’d recently given birth! Not to mention, this child,” she pointed at the picture in Hermione’s hands, “looks nothing like me.”

“Right, right,” Hermione said and heaved a sigh. “Let’s see what else is there.” She stepped around Narcissa and picked up another picture. “This makes no sense,” she said and handed it to Narcissa who now held a frame with a candid image of the Golden Trio, all of them laughing, in her hands.

“I can’t...” she said and sagged on the bed.

“Wait, there are more pictures over there,” Hermione said and rushed to the other side of the bed. She grabbed another frame and her eyes widened comically while her mouth resembled a fish out of water.

“What is it?”

Hermione said nothing, just stared at the picture.

“It can’t be worse than you suggesting I’ve procreated with Mr. Potter,” Narcissa said and pursed her lips.

“It depends. Did you procreate with me? I suppose that would explain the fridge and all my favorite snacks here. Not to mention Crookshanks. I doubt you’d treat your kidnapping victims that well,” Hermione said and trailed a finger over one book on the nightstand, “Momo,” she said. “Huh.”

“That’s not funny!” Narcissa hissed and Hermione startled, apparently having missed the blonde witch stalking next to her. She snatched the picture from Hermione’s hands and when she saw the image, she once more slumped on the bed. “Is this a dream?”

“Do you habitually dream of being stuck with me at Black manor, or did you mean the part about us being in a relationship?”

Narcissa glared at Hermione. The nerve of that women! “This is preposterous!” She snapped. Her gaze returned to the image that showed them hugging, and laughing, and ended with Hermione pressing a kiss on Narcissa’s cheeks. They looked so happy. They were glowing. When was the last time she’d laughed that freely? How could this be, though?

“We’re missing time,” Hermione said.

“What?” Narcissa struggled to tear her gaze away from the image.

“We assumed we only didn’t remember how we got here, but it seems like we lost more time than a moment or a day or two. If Harry has a child and if we’re...together, then...”

“What if this is a trick?”

“To what end?”

“I don’t know! But this just can’t be....it can’t be real!”

“This would be quite an elaborate trick.”

“It’s an illusion. I’m....I’m married and you’re Draco’s age! What would you even want...” She clenched her jaw and avoided Hermione’s gaze. Her heart hammered in her chest. How could she express, how could she make the dark-haired witch understand how unhappy she’d been with Lucius for years, how happiness had rarely ever played a part in her life? Aside from Draco, her life had been devoid of genuine connections, of genuine friendships.

This room, these images, they told the tale of a life she’d yearned for and that had been beyond her reach to where she hadn’t even dared to hope, to dream. This picture. She stared at the image in her hands and her eyes flooded. She closed them. This wasn’t real. It couldn’t be.

The bed next to her shifted when Hermione sat down.

“Hey,” she said.

Narcissa shook her head.

“This is a lot, and I’m not saying I understand everything, but this...this could explain some of these strange feelings.”

Narcissa’s head snapped up and her eyes widened. “What strange feelings?”

Hermione fidgeted with her fingers. “I was angry at first, when I woke up and didn’t recognize where I was and then you were there, and then my outburst after finding Crookshanks, but through it all there was this draw, this pull to be near you. I was scared though, that you’d be upset because of all the things I’d said. But yesterday? I’ve enjoyed our time together. We fit. And early on, when I showed you my scar? I didn’t decide to do that, but it seemed right. I...I don’t know how to describe it.”

“I am also drawn to you,” Narcissa whispered. “But this can’t be...”

“Look around you!” Hermione jumped off the bed and dashed to the closet. “Come here, look at this!”

Narcissa sighed but rose and joined Hermione.

“These are my clothes here. I don’t recognize all of them, and I’m sure all those elegant dresses over there are yours. But this here,” she pulled out a red t-shirt with a lion stitched onto the chest. “That’s my shirt. Or do you own a lot of Gryffindor attire?”

Narcissa stayed silent.

“We need to figure out how much time has passed. We can assume it’s been at least two years since the war. I doubt Harry got Ginny pregnant right away, and the child in the image looks to be almost a year old.”

“More like nine months,” Narcissa said. “But that doesn’t tell us anything. He could be five years by now!”

“Do I look like I am in my mid-twenties?”

Narcissa took in Hermione. She shrugged her shoulders. “When you’re that young...”

“Yes, the baby face disappears first, and there likely isn’t much of a difference between twenty-two and twenty-five or six, but I don’t look like I’m eighteen! I can’t believe I didn’t notice that before.”

“You had no reason to question it. We don’t search for proof of issues we don’t realize exist,” Narcissa said. “There’s something else that seems to indicate that you’re right about a loss of time. Your scar looks a lot older than it should be, and...I have a scar on my leg. When I showered the first night, let’s just say the scar is dormant.”

“Dormant? You mean you also had a...”

“Cursed scar. Yes.”

“Oh, wow. I’m sorry. Though I’m glad it’s better,” Hermione said. “How do we find out how much time has passed without being able to contact people?”

“I usually keep a journal, and maybe there are some clues there. If I live here, the journal should be around somewhere. You should also...search through your belongings for clues. Perhaps that will tell us more.”

“Good idea. Let’s do that. There’s one last thing,” Hermione said and caught Narcissa’s gaze.

“What’s that?”

“You’re no longer married to Lucius.”

“Oh?”

“You wouldn’t have me in your bed if you still were,” she said and Narcissa had to restrain herself from shuddering, though her stomach clenched at Hermione’s words.

***

Narcissa had excused herself and left the bedroom in search of an office, arguing that she’d likely find what she was looking for there.  Hermione remained in the bedroom, still thrown for a loop by their recent discovery. She couldn’t decide what shocked her more, that she lost all memories of several years of her life, or that she was in a relationship with Narcissa. She’d been aware of fancying both witches and wizards, though she’d always been more into witches, but given their history, Narcissa still seemed to come out of nowhere. How did that happen?

Hermione rubbed the back of her neck and placed the picture back on the nightstand. She went back to the other side of the bed, assuming that the nightstand with pictures of Harry, Harry’s baby, and Ron was hers. She pulled open a drawer and rummaged through it. There were notebooks and a few scrolls, a couple of Muggle pens and dried up quills. She unfolded the parchments first, but instead of personal notes, the scrolls talked about memory potions. She wondered if that related to her parents. Whatever happened to them? Where they back? She had been about to travel to Australia, at least, that’s where her memories stopped.

The notepads weren’t useful either. She’d been tinkering with inventing spells. Hermione grabbed the book on top of the stack and opened it, halfway through, a bookmark divided the pages. She flipped to that page and a strip of four pictures fell into her hands, all attached to each other. They seemed to be taken in a photo-booth she remembered seeing at train stations and at carnivals. The images themselves were of her and Narcissa in various poses.

In the first one, both were somber and staring at the camera. It reminded her of mugshots she’d seen on television. They were laughing in the second shot and sticking out their tongues in the third. The fourth image. Hermione tightened her hand not holding the picture and tried to even out her breathing. There was no doubt. They were a couple. Should she show these images to Narcissa? Later. First she wanted to explore the room further.

After spending thirty more minutes digging through the bedroom, she had discovered nothing to narrow down a time frame or tell her more about their relationship. She exited the room in search for the blonde witch and without thought, meandered the hallways until she came to a halt in front of a door that meant nothing to her, according to her memory, but still, it called to her somehow. Hermione nudged open the door and stuck her head in. “Hello?” She said before entering fully.

“Hermione, do you need help?” Narcissa said and rose from the chair she’d been sitting in.

“What happened? Why are you crying?”

“I’m not,” Narcissa said and wiped her eyes.

Hermione’s eyebrows rose.

“Here,” Narcissa sighed and held another picture frame in her direction.

“That’s Andromeda and...is that Teddy? He’s older there. And that’s Tonks and...you.”

Narcissa nodded.

“Are these happy tears then?”

Narcissa pressed her lips together.

“OK, you’re not crying, but are you happy?”

“Of course I’m happy!” She snapped and snatched the frame out of Hermione’s hand. She gazed at the image and her soft smile tugged at Hermione’s heart. “I’ve reconnected with my sister. I’d never hoped, or even dared to hope for this.” She shook her head before returning her attention to Hermione. “Did you find anything useful?”

“Define useful,” Hermione said, shuffling her feet.

Narcissa glared at her. “What’s that book in your hands?”

“Oh, it’s not the book, it’s the bookmark I’ve been using,” Hermione said and opened the book before handing Narcissa the picture strip.

“What are those?” Narcissa said.

“Muggle pictures. There are booths out where you can sit in and take pictures.”

“That’s...oh,” Narcissa said and flushed once her gaze fell on the last image. She cleared her throat. “You’ve been using that as your bookmark?”

“Apparently. Those are cute pictures.”

“Hmm,” Narcissa said, her gaze still on the images in her hands. “I suppose there’s no doubt that we’re in a romantic relationship. Unless you make a habit of taking picture of yourself snogging witches in Muggle booths.”

“Not that I can recall.”

Narcissa chuckled before her head snapped up.

“What?”

“Did...when these pictures were taken, was that out in public?”

“What? Afraid to be seen kissing me?”

“No. I’m a private person, or I used to be,” she said.

“Don’t worry. No one would have seen us. You sit in them and close a curtain.”

“Ah, good.”

“Did you find anything besides the family picture?”

“I found a few letters from Draco. He’s fine, at least he was on,” her gaze scanned the room before she reached behind her and grabbed several scrolls off a shelf, “January 11, 2001. That’s the most recent letter I’ve found. He’s studying law, apparently, and dating a woman named Astoria.”

“That’s awesome. So we...OK, wait. What date is it for you? Like what do you recall?”

“From before?”

“Yes.”

“I was at Malfoy manor, not talking to Lucius. Draco was upset about...everything, to be honest. We’d just received a letter from the ministry to set the date for our trial. I believe it was about two weeks away, set for...” She closed her eyes. “The end of June? I’m not sure. It’s all hazy.”

“Same for me. I also believe we were in June, but I don’t recall the exact day. But definitely the year of the Battle at Hogwarts. Now, you have a letter from Draco from early 2001, so we are missing at least two-and-a-half years, if not more.”

“Correct.”

“How do you think we got together?”

Narcissa eyelids fluttered, seemingly taken aback by her rapid shift in topic. “I am not sure. I don’t see how our circles interacted to have allowed for...for this,” she said and waved between them.

“Do you...will we get it back?” Hermione said and suppressed the urge to fidget.

“Is that something you’d want?”

Hermione chuckled. “That’s you being a Slytherin, right? You want to see what I wish before exposing yourself. Well, they...we seem happy.” She shrugged her shoulders. “What more could you wish for in life?”

“Indeed,” Narcissa said. “I...I don’t... This...we don’t know each other, at least not that we remember.”

“We are stuck here, so I’m sure we have plenty of time to get to know one another. We already have a head start from yesterday.”

“And I’m assuming that’s you being a Gryffindor. Are you always so open and optimistic?”

“I feel better. It’s odd, like rationally, the war has just ended, and I remember...I remember nightmares and generally, I wasn’t in a good place,” she said and sighed. “I slept great last night. No nightmares. Being here, with you, it feels easy and right, and I don’t understand it. It makes no sense. It’s almost like we are bound somehow and—”

“Oh Merlin, no,” Narcissa said and blanched.

“What is it?”

Narcissa didn’t answer and instead dashed out of the room, with Hermione on her heels.

“Narcissa! What’s...” She trailed off when she almost bumped into the blonde witch who had careened to an abrupt halt in a room across from the office. “What is this place?”

“It’s the Black family tree,” Narcissa whispered while she scanned the wall that reminded Hermione of the tapestry at 12 Grimmauld Place.

“Is that similar to the one at Grimmauld Place?”

“I...yes. They are connected.”

Hermione followed Narcissa’s gaze and at first didn’t understand why the blonde witch grew rigid until her eyes widened. She was up on there. Next to Narcissa.

“Please, no,” Narcissa muttered and covered her mouth with her hand.

“What...why are you so upset?” Hermione asked, trying to calm her breathing since her heart seemed intent on sprinting out of her chest.

“Don’t you see!” Narcissa shouted, pointing at the wall.

“We’re up there. Yes. Why... I mean, being married is a surprise. I thought we were just dating but I know myself, and if I’m serious about someone then—”

“You can’t honestly believe that you went into this willingly?”

Hermione laughed but grew somber when she noticed Narcissa was far from joking.

“This isn’t a marriage line, either. It’s a blood bond. We share a blood bond!”

“OK,” Hermione said.

“That’s all you have to say?”

“What do you want me to say?”

“You are bound by blood to me!”

“I gathered that. Why does this upset you?” Hermione steadied her voice, refusing to show Narcissa how painful her reaction was.

“You’re hurt,” Narcissa said. Reaching out, she cupped Hermione’s cheek who leaned into the gesture.

She licked her lips. “How... how do you know?”

“The bond. I didn’t...before, like I said, we don’t search for an explanation to a problem we don’t know exist. I’ve noticed odd emotions flickering through me, but I’d dismissed them as part of what’s going on. But it’s you.”

“Wow,” Hermione said and her eyes fluttered closed. “That makes sense and explains why my emotions were all over the place. I think I feel you, too. It horrifies you that... you’ll ruin my life? There’s self-recrimination and...you’re mortified, but it’s not because of me. It’s for me.”

“What?” Narcissa dropped her hand and withdrew. “You thought it upset me that I am bound to you?”

Hermione shoved her hands into her pants pockets. “Can you blame me?”

Narcissa sighed. “Come on, dear. Let’s go to the living room and sit down. This will be a lengthy discussion.”

***

Narcissa didn’t relish having this conversation, but it needed to happen, and she knew herself. Once she had gotten distance from events that caused her distress, she’d shove them down, bury them, and she’d be reluctant to allow them free reign again. If they were in a romantic relationship together, given their history, she doubted they had discussed this.

If she’d fallen for the younger woman, and if she were honest, she could see that happening, then it happened gradually, and by the time they became involved, Narcissa must have been averse to having such a discussion, fearing the other woman’s reaction. Above all, Narcissa knew she was selfish when she desired something. While she had the ability to talk herself out of a lot, once she committed, she’d be determined to keep what she needed.

“The blood bond that appears to exist between us was traditionally enacted after someone married into the Black family. Officially, it’s a magical consummation of a marriage bond, however, it’s also a way to tie a person to the Black family, to ensure their loyalty.”

“You make it sound sinister. I doubt I’d have agreed to this if it wasn’t something I wanted,” Hermione said.

“It doesn’t have to be menacing, but in my family history, it more often than not was used in a way to manipulate and bind someone who wouldn’t have chosen this.”

“I’m not naïve. I’m aware of your family history and reputation. Sirius wasn’t particularly quiet about the Most Noble and Ancient House of Black.”

Narcissa released a humorless chuckle. “I don’t doubt it.”

“I’m assuming this blood bond cannot be broken?”

Narcissa flinched. “I’m afraid not. One of us dying would break it.”

Hermione leaned forward. “That’s not an option.”

“It wasn’t a suggestion,” Narcissa said. “I’m not sure if we ever discussed this or not, and we cannot assume that our memories will return, but since you’ve expressed an...interest in seeing what could be between us, I need to say this. I’m sorry for not helping you when...when my sister tortured you.”

“I cannot imagine we would have left this topic unresolved,” Hermione said.

“Be that as it may, I do not wish to rely on something in a past I cannot recall,” Narcissa said. “I loved Bella,” she said and since she had held Hermione’s gaze the entire time, she noticed the slight shudder that ran through the dark-haired witch’s frame at the mention of her sister. “She was different with Andy and I than with anyone else. It sometimes seemed like a mask fell off when she interacted with us, just us. I...It was hard to tell which was the real Bella,” Narcissa said. “She also got along surprisingly well with Professor McGonagall while we were at Hogwarts. She was the only other person who got to see snippets of the Bella that Andy and I experienced.”

“Why are you telling me this?”

“Bella may be dead, but she still stands between us.”

“You’re assuming we haven’t fixed this issue.”

“I know myself, and if...if I’ve fallen for you, I didn’t see it coming. By the time it happened, or when I noticed, I’d have been too invested in it to speak openly about this.”

“And now you’re not invested so it’s OK to talk about it?” Hermione said and leaned back.

“Now I have more distance,” she said and closed her eyes to block out the forlorn expression that crossed Hermione’s face. “We need to be reasonable about this. Just because we’ve seen a few pictures and....the blood bond, it doesn’t—”

Hermione scoffed. “It’s fine. You don’t need to come up with excuses to—”

“What? What excuses?”

“There’s no need to fabricate reasons why this would never work. Us. I’d never force you into a relationship. It’s not like I’m in love with you or anything,” Hermione said and Narcissa clenched her jaw, surprised and overwhelmed by the sting Hermione’s words carried.

“We apparently worked, all evidence considering. My caution is not a reflection of a desire to end whatever we had between us. I...” she sighed. “I’m afraid that I’d left information out, back then, because I was so worried to lose you, and now, it seems like an opportunity to clear the air, and then you can decide if you’d even still be interested in seeing if there is anything between us you’d wish to pursue.”

“You’re basically accusing yourself of having tricked me into this relationship or that you’ve allowed me to enter into it without knowing your background. We’re all entitled to our secrets. Why should the fact that you loved your sister change who you are, or who you were to me?”

“Bella’s descent into madness is tormenting me, still, to this day. I doubt I shared all this with you because of your history with her, and to be honest, it is hard for me to have this conversation now because I am aware that I’m potentially ruining whatever we had, or better, what we could become.”

“This changes nothing for me. After seeing all this, after understanding why I’m drawn to you, and after yesterday, I want to see where this goes. We shared our lives, and it seems to be a happy one. We’d established a connection even knowing nothing about this blood bond. Doesn’t that count for something?”

“I’m curious, too, but we shouldn’t just foolhardy run into this without knowing more. Without being completely sure that this was done out of free will. For both of us.”

Hermione nodded. “Why are you so convinced we won’t get our memories back?” Hermione asked.

“It would be prudent to be cautious and not assume anything. We don’t know what has caused our memory loss, or if it’s reversible. Most memory losses are temporary, but not all of them are. Some are quite permanent. I was contemplating brewing a selection of potions that work to restore memories, but it’s tricky without knowing what has caused this.”

“Where would you brew potions? We can’t leave the manor.”

“There used to be a potions lab in the basement. I cannot imagine my...affinities have changed so much that I’d have gotten rid of it. I was contemplating applying to study for my master in potions, but that depends on the trial. Why bother if I end up in Azkaban.”

“You realize that did not happen?”

“It is unlikely, unless our relationship is new. They still might have sent me there. Maybe that’s how we met. It wouldn’t shock me if you had worked with some kind of rehabilitation program for disgraced former Death Eaters,” Narcissa said and chuckled.

“You were never a Death Eater,” Hermione said.

“True. Still. We can’t tell for sure, and we won’t know until I am able to locate my journal.”

Hermione sighed. “You’re great at derailing a conversation about a topic you want to avoid,” she groused.

“And it would be common courtesy to allow that.”

“If it were just something about you, no problem. However, this concerns me as well. We’re not merely in a relationship. We live together and share a blood bond. That didn’t happen overnight.”

“No, it probably didn’t.”

“Don’t you feel this? Now even more so, or perhaps that’s because we know that it’s there now. But there’s this...drumming between us? Do you feel that, too?”

“I do,” Narcissa said, dropping her gaze.

“But you don’t want it.”

“I didn’t say that.”

“You didn’t have to. It’s written all over your face,” Hermione muttered. “Excuse me. I just remembered something I wanted to check out.” She rose and rushed out of the room.

“Great job,” Narcissa mumbled and leaned back. Back on track, even with memory loss and all, you could always count on Narcissa to ruin a good thing. If there were awards for self-sabotage, she’d have a cabinet full of them.

How could she explain to Hermione how their connection frightened her? Narcissa had sworn she’d never establish a blood bond. When her parents had informed her she’d marry Lucius, she’d been terrified that they’d insist on the blood bond, but since she’d carry the Malfoy name after their wedding, it wasn’t up to her parents to make such a decision, and thankfully, blood bonds were far less common among the Malfoy line.

Still, the permanence of such unions unnerved her. Not that she doubted her ability to commit to another person in that way, but in her experience so far, aside from her son, and to her, that didn’t count for this, no one else had ever stood by her side. Her sisters. That was a different story, and even there, both bonds had shattered. At least she appeared to have repaired her relationship with Andromeda.

Narcissa was convinced that she hadn’t seen this coming, falling for Hermione, and she wasn’t sure what to hope for at this point. What if the blood bond had been a punishment? But why would Hermione have allowed that? Why would she tie herself to Narcissa if it wasn’t what she’d wanted? And then there were the pictures. How could all this be forced? But what else was this compulsion then? This draw to be near Hermione.

Then there were the younger witch’s emotions. Narcissa closed her eyes. How was she supposed to get anything done with this avalanche of sensations that rushed over her whenever they were in close vicinity? Was it always like that? She needed to read up on blood bonds. Perhaps also check if there truly was no way to reverse them. Hermione would be better off for sure. What was she thinking, tying herself to Narcissa?

***

“Dolly and Eddie don’t know anything either,” Draco said as soon as Harry stepped into his flat.

“Wait, aren’t those the house-elves at Black manor? How did they get out? Did they just show up at your doorstep?”

“That’s them. And no. They were at Malfoy manor, distraught and crying. I don’t know why they didn’t right away come to me, but I’d gone back over there, and Dolly and Eddie were there. They’d been out for errands and couldn’t get back in.”

“Wow. A spell that keeps out house-elves. That’s impressive.”

“I’d say. Did you talk to Kingsley? What are they going to do?” Draco asked.

“They have no idea either. They have their experts working on it, but the property isn’t there, or it’s unplottable.”

“That’s what happens with the fidelius charm. Why would mother place the house under that charm without telling me?”

“It makes no sense. They were working on something. Kingsley wasn’t able to tell me more—”

“More like he didn’t want to. Mother works for the Department of Mysteries. Not like they are big on sharing.”

“True. So does Hermione.”

“You haven’t been able to reach her either?”

“No. I even spoke to her parents, but they haven’t heard from them either.”

“And the little know-it-all didn’t tell you what she was working on? I thought you guys shared everything,” Draco asked.

“I hope you’re nicer to Hermione when you’re around her,” Harry grumbled.

“Yes, yes. Of course. Old habits when I am stressed and all,” he said.

“She didn’t share. We’re not at Hogwarts anymore. She spends more time with your mother than anyone else.”

Draco grunted. “What are we going to do?”

“Well, your mother is an expert at potions, and Hermione is the master of research. I’d say we raid your mum’s townhouse for clues.”

“All right. When?”

“Now?”

“Oh,” Draco said and rose. “Let’s do this.

Chapter Text

Of Games and Dreams

Hermione had avoided Narcissa for the rest of the previous day. Instead, she’d spent her time investigating the main bedroom further, their bedroom, and when that had become too much, she’d strolled around the manor, searching for more clues about their lives, and on the current date. She’d eventually come across a copy of the Daily Prophet that was also from January 2001, but the content told them no more than they already knew.

Eventually, she’d gone to sleep, which had turned out more difficult than expected. Since learning of the origin of the squall of emotions and how it tied her to Narcissa, Hermione struggled to tune it out. At some point, she’d lain there with a pillowcase covering her face before she’d laughed at herself. As if that could drown out the agitation and restlessness that bled into her from Narcissa.

She sat in the kitchen eating breakfast and contemplating her next steps, when the door swung open and Narcissa entered.

“Good morning,” she said, donned up perfectly, no hair out of place and her face a mask of neutrality. Still, her anxiety slithered over Hermione via their bond.

“Good morning,” Hermione said.

“May I join you?”

“It’s your home.”

Narcissa dropped her head. “It’s yours, too,” she muttered and sat down next to Hermione.

Hermione didn’t reply but continued to eat her breakfast.

Narcissa picked up crumbs with her fingers tips. “I wish to apologize. This isn’t easy for me,” she said and held up her hand when Hermione opened her mouth. “I’m not saying it’s easy for you. But you are much braver than I am, and I’m...trapped in memories of old. Blood bonds have always been an anathema for me. I’d sworn to never enter into one.”

“Oh,” Hermione said, her spoon sliding out of her fingers.

“I don’t believe you’ve forced this.”

 “OK,” Hermione said, not sure what else to add. What did the blonde witch mean then?

“When I was a teenager, I was close to my cousin, Calliope. She was a couple years older than me, and for some strange reason, she was always with me, instead of hanging out with Bellatrix or even Andromeda. Before she left, that is.”

Hermione held Narcissa’s faraway gaze.

“Her parents had arranged a marriage to a second cousin, which meant that she stayed within the Black family. Blood bonds were common, and... both her parents and her husband’s parents insisted on one. I remember being confused about this because the obvious goal was to tie someone from a different house to the Black family, to ensure their loyalty, yet both of them were already from the house of Black.”

“Did you ever find out why they did that?”

Narcissa pressed her lips together and nodded. “Calliope didn’t want to marry Icarus. She hated him, but there was no way out. They...the blood bond they used made her docile and it...it changed who she was. She became a specter of her former self. She stopped reading and studying. All she suddenly cared about was tending to her husband, a man she professed to loathe and didn’t want to marry weeks before.”

“That’s awful.”

“She got pregnant with twins and died during childbirth, two years after her marriage. No one mourned her, aside from me. That could have been merely my impression then, but everyone was just talking about the twins, and how blessed they were to have them. It was like Calliope never existed, or if she did, her only purpose was to deliver heirs. She didn’t matter.”

“Is that why you never wanted to form a blood bond?”

“I was terrified of losing myself like she did.”

“Do you...do you feel lost?”

“A little, but that’s the memories, not the bond or you. Our connection, it’s...warm. Heady.”

Heat crept up Hermione’s neck.

“I didn’t mean to give you the impression that I reject what we had, or could have, but I’m scared, and I... I want to take things slow. Get to know each other more? If that is acceptable to you.”

“Of course! I’d like to get to know you, too. I wasn’t suggesting we jump into bed or anything,” she said and closed her eyes. Why did she say that?

Narcissa chuckled.

“Anyway. Did you find anything else?”

“I was mostly in the yard again yesterday, tending to the plants. I wasn’t ready to venture to the potions lab yet, and gardening helps in keeping me calm.”

“I didn’t mean to upset you yesterday either. It just...you seemed to reject me and that,” Hermione said and scrunched up her brows. “It hurt more than I’d expected.”

“I will admit I contemplated searching for a way to undo the bond, but—”

“You what?”

“I panicked. I still don’t understand why you’d want to tie yourself to me! Your life would be much easier without me, but—”

“The headache that is forming tells me that this might have been a common argument between us,” Hermione said and pinched the bridge of her nose. “But since we live together and after learning of our relationship, I’ve also reevaluated the meaning of the state of the main bedroom. I’d say we’ve gotten over this? Merlin, I hope we did.”

Narcissa narrowed her eyes. “I wonder if you’re always this insufferable,” she said but there was mirth dancing in her eyes.

“I’m sure you’re the one who has that covered,” Hermione said with a smirk.

Narcissa laughed.

“I discovered something that surprised me,” Hermione said. “There’s a TV and a DVD player in one of the living rooms. Along with a huge DVD collection, and since I was never that into movies, I’m assuming they are yours. The house overall seems to have access to electricity, not just the kitchen like I assumed at first.”

“That means we can have a movie night sooner than expected.”

“Yes, thanks to you branching out into the Muggle world. I found some jeans in the closet that most definitely don’t belong to me,” Hermione said. She wouldn’t mind seeing Narcissa in them, though she didn’t want to spook the other woman with such a comment.

“If that happened, you’re to blame.” Narcissa rose and poured herself a cup of tea. “So TV stands for television, but what exactly does a DVD player do?”

“Yes. The TV is the screen where the movies or shows play on. DVDs are storage devices, disks, and what you want to watch is stored on them. You have a lot of them. Many are documentaries, which, to be honest, isn’t a surprise,” Hermione said.

“I’m not sure if I should be offended by that.”

“Nah. It just means you like to learn.”

“And that’s different from you how?”

“Touché,” Hermione said and laughed.

***

Two movies and half a documentary about ancient Egypt later, Hermione was regretting her decision. Narcissa had been glued to the TV and had just proclaimed that television might be the most ingenious Muggle invention. Hermione personally was partial to electricity and computers, not to mention, indoor plumbing, but seeing Narcissa this enthralled by something still filled her with joy.

“People usually take breaks between watching TV,” Hermione said and yawned.

“Are you bored? How can you be bored? These museums, they have them in London, too, right?”

Hermione laughed. “Yes.”

“We’ve got to go there, once we get out of here.”

“Sure.”

“If you weren’t much into movies, what did you do when you were a child?”

“I read a lot. My...my parents took me to museums and amusement parks. We rode our bikes on weekends or went hiking. They didn’t believe in watching too much TV. My mom used to scare me and say it rots your brain.”

Narcissa’s head snapped up. “It does what?”

“It doesn’t, though it’s a bit of a... numbing activity, or it can be. You just sit there and stare at the screen. It’s passive.”

“So is watching theater or even concerts,” Narcissa said. “Besides, these documentaries are educational.”

“True, but that’s still different. Some people use TV as an escape from their actual lives, and a lot of TV isn’t educational.”

“Hmm. I can imagine. But we also have potions that can do that. There are plenty of ways to try to escape your reality.”

“Are you speaking from experience?”

“Perhaps, though that was more Bella’s approach to life growing up in the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black.”

“Your family really seems delightful,” Hermione said.

Narcissa snorted. “Utterly. Your parents sound lovely, though.”

“Yes,” Hermione muttered.

Narcissa held her gaze before sitting up straight and turning off the TV.

“What are you doing? I thought you were enjoying that?”

“These discs, they keep what’s on them so we can watch it again?”

“Yes, but—”

“Even if they didn’t, you’re upset. Isn’t that more important than what’s on the television?”

Hermione smiled and blinked rapidly, trying to dispel the moisture that had shot into her eyes. “It’s complicated, or not. The short version, I knew Voldemort would come after my parents because of my friendship with Harry, so I erased their memories and send them on an adventure to Australia. I have no idea what happened to them or where they are now. I’d wanted to go get them, but then... That’s where my memories stop.”

“You...you did what to your parents?” Narcissa said and her eyes flashed.

Hermione sighed. She was sure this couldn’t be the first time they had that discussion either.

***

Spending time with Hermione was effortless, and even though they argued at times, like when Hermione told her about how she’d stolen her parents’ memories, they still somehow moved forward. She enjoyed the dark-haired witch’s calm presence, and her light and quick humor.

Narcissa didn’t have a lot of experience with people who wanted nothing from her, who had no ulterior motive when befriending her or spending time with her. Well, there was something Hermione wanted from her, going by the sparks of emotions that sometimes skittered across Narcissa’s senses through their bond, but she experienced the same draw, and she was happy that the younger witch didn’t push and instead agreed on getting to know each other.

It would be all too easy to tumble into bed. Their attraction was always present and resonated through most of their interactions. It was like a humming sound in the background that sometimes grew in intensity, or dimmed, depending on the key their interactions played in. While her body sought such an escalation, they needed to take things slowly, if there was a chance of rebuilding or recreating what they had, so it would last. This would be much easier without the bond, though, without being aware of the storm of emotions that rattled through Hermione.

After enjoying a late dinner together, both women had withdrawn into their respective guest rooms, no one claiming the main bedroom. They hadn’t even approached that topic. Tomorrow, Narcissa would resume her hunt for her journal. Today, they hadn’t worked on solving their mystery, and after clearing the air, she hoped the next day would be distraction free.

They needed to figure out a way to leave the manor, or at least contact someone. Hermione said she had a few ideas for a spell that might help establish their boundaries. She’d explained it in more detail, and while Narcissa had been good at both Arithmancy and Ancient Runes, she’d been too distracted by Hermione’s animated features and the excitement that seeped into her while the dark-haired witch expanded upon her idea to follow along.

She’d fallen asleep quickly, but then jerked awake. Disorientation washed over her for the first few seconds, and her panting echoed loudly in the otherwise stillness of the room. For a second, she thought she’d fallen ill. Her nightgown clung to her body and her heart drummed in her chest.

She sat up, her hand reaching for her wand on the nightstand when she groaned and fell back against her pillow. Her back arched and she worried her lower lip as tendrils of arousal shot through her body. It had been a while, at least as far as she could remember, since she’d been intimate with anyone, and the pleasure singeing her nerves left her breathless.

She knew what had woken her, and what Hermione was doing at this very moment and her mind conjured up images that made her hips cant up, seeking friction from an invisible lover.  Her hands grasped the bed sheets and a moan spilled from her lips while her stomach contracted.

“Merlin,” she gasped, unable to stop the motion of her hips. She’d pictured Hermione on top of her and she could almost sense the weight of her body pressing her down, molding her deeper into the mattress. When Hermione’s arousal crashed over her in waves, her eyes fell shut, and Narcissa’s knuckles paled from her vise grip on the sheets as she desperately tried to anchor herself. Sweat pooled at the nape of her neck and strands of hair clung to her face.

She imagined Hermione kissing her and biting her lip before she trailed kisses down her neck, meandering south until a hot mouth engulfed her breasts and sucked on them, hard. Narcissa throbbed and the moment she’d decided to let go and touch herself, the dark-haired witch reached her peak and like lava, Hermione’s pleasure overwhelmed her and she shuddered in her own release.

“Salazar’s snakes,” she croaked before throwing her arm over her eyes. Did Hermione feel her as well? That thought alone sent new currents of arousal through her and she groaned and tucked a pillow close and hugged it before burying her face in it. She was doomed.

***

Breakfast turned out to be the most awkward moment of Hermione’s life. A dream had roused her the night before and she’d been so keyed up that she took the matter into her own hands, so to speak, figuring that Narcissa would never know since the blonde witch would surely be asleep. Their bond had been dormant, at least until halfway through when it sparked to life and heightened her every emotion. She’d been too far gone to care at that point, though that didn’t make breakfast any easier. Hermione knew Narcissa knew, and the blonde witch knew she knew and for Merlin’s sake, could the ground open and swallow her already?

“Do you want another cup of tea?” Narcissa asked.

“Huh?” Hermione caught her gaze fully for the first time this morning and then dropped her head at the blush she felt growing. “I’m good, thanks.”

“All right,” Narcissa said and poured the remaining liquid into her cup. “What’s your plan for today?”

“I should finish the spell and we can try it later and hopefully that’ll show us how much wiggle room we have with the boundary around the manor. What about you?”

“I have a few more places left to check for my journal.”

“Right.”

“About last night...”

Hermione’s tea sloshed over the rim of the cup when she set it back down. “Let’s not talk about that. Please.”

“I just think that we should hold off on such...activities.”

“Why? Is there some pureblood taboo that prohibits masturbation?” Hermione asked, trying hard not to cringe.

“No,” Narcissa said and narrowed her eyes. “At one point we should discuss your disdain for anything pureblood. No,” she raised her hand and Hermione closed her mouth in a slight pout. “I have no such issues, and I promise you I’m not a sexually repressed pureblood wife in need of liberation.”

Hermione flushed.

“I asked to slow things down and last night,” she said and pressed her lips together. “It took all my restraint, and I assure you, I am capable of tremendous self-control, not to visit your bedroom.”

“Oh,” Hermione said. “I understand. It..it wasn’t planned, and I thought you were asleep and wouldn’t notice.”

“I was asleep, but it seems our connection can wake us in cases of...extreme emotions.”

“Good to know,” Hermione mumbled.

***

“Are you ready?” Hermione asked, standing next to Narcissa in the front courtyard of the property.

“Go ahead,” Narcissa said.

Hermione stepped back and raised her hands. She closed her eyes and rattled off the incantation that should light up any nearby magical barrier. As soon the last syllables left her mouth, heavy magic filled the air, accelerating both witches’ breathing.

They raised their heads at the same moment when an explosion of gold and silver lit up a dome shaped barricade that surrounded the entire property and rose up to a height of over thirty meters, judging by it extending above the old, tall oak trees.

“Wow,” Hermione said.

“That’s an impressive spell,” Narcissa said, now watching Hermione instead of the magical light show above them.

“What could have caused this?”

“What or who,” Narcissa said.

Hermione found the blonde witch’s gaze. “Who? You think someone hexed us?”

“Cursed us, poisoned us. I’m not sure, but this doesn’t appear natural or even an accident.” She raised her wand and shouted “reducto!” at the closest barrier. It rebounded and crashed into a nearby boulder, reducing it to dust.

Hermione jumped. “That was...very Gryffindor of you.”

“Yes. I’m afraid so,” Narcissa said and rubbed the back of her neck. “I shall blame your influence on this brash behavior.”

“My influence?” Hermione laughed. “We’ve been around each other for five days.”

Narcissa raised a sculptured eyebrow.

Hermione dragged her foot along the ground. “Right. From before.”

“Yes, and on that note, I’ll leave you to play around some more with this barrier. I must conclude my search,” Narcissa said and strolled back inside.

Hermione’s gaze lingered on Narcissa’s retreating from. She sighed. She really wished the blonde witch wouldn’t be so attractive. She’d always assumed or remembered, really, Narcissa dressed in a proper conservative way with an almost severe air about her. But from the moment they woke up in the den to now, the blonde witch had worn comfortable, though still stylish, clothing, and her hair.

Hermione couldn’t decide if she preferred it up or down, plait, or in a braid, but the current, more severe bun that still had a few tendrils of hair escaping along with loose black slacks and that green shirt that kept sliding off one of her shoulders? It did something to Hermione she didn’t wish to contemplate further, given that she’d promised Narcissa they’d take it slow and would get to know each other. Patience. How she hated it.

***

She doubted Hermione was aware of what she was doing and the combination of the dark-haired witch’s longing gazes and the vibrant magic that was still drumming through Narcissa’s veins, necessitated a hasty exist. There was only so much she could take, and she hadn’t lied. She wanted to find that infernal journal. Next stop, her potions lab.

Assuming that her love for potions hadn’t abided, the journal might be hiding there. The potions lab had been augmented and updated. She expected nothing less, if she truly was living here. She wandered around the room and inspected her ingredients and stacked potions.

She must have been busy. Several sheets of parchments littered her desk, and an ink pot lay shattered on the ground with the ink splash still visible on the stone floor. Why hadn’t she cleaned that? At least that explained the ink stain on her hands when she’d woken up in the den with no memories. Overall, the lab was in greater disarray than she’d expected.

Narcissa picked up a parchment from the desk. This was a letter from the Department of Mysteries. Why would she receive a letter from...wait...this was a work order. Was she employed there? How did that happen? The letter talked about a coactus venenum potion. Narcissa had never heard of such a potion, but this seemed urgent.

She tried to open the desk drawer, but it was locked. There was no keyhole. Narcissa chuckled and placed her hand against the drawer, allowing her magic to spill into her fingertips and then bleed into the wood. With a low click, it sprang open, and in it, finally, lay her journal.

Narcissa grabbed the book and settled in the chair before opening it. She huffed when she realized that this was a new journal and only contained three entries. Still, better than nothing. The most recent entry was dated February third, 2001. So it seemed fair to say they were close to this date, and that meant they lost memories of over two-and-a-half years.

She read the journal from the start and frowned halfway through the second entry. She needed to talk to Hermione.

***

“Hermione!” Narcissa rushed back upstairs. “Where are you?” She dashed through several rooms, but the dark-haired witch was nowhere to be found. What if she had been hurt outside? Narcissa had left her alone and what if that barrier somehow injured her or if that foolish Gryffindor tried something reckless and...

She halted the moment she entered the courtyard. Hermione sat in the middle of the grounds, seemingly engrossed in thought while tearing out blades of grass. She edged closer. “Are you all right?” she asked when she was within a few steps of the other witch.

Hermione’s head snapped up. “Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t hear you come.”

“Did something happen?”

“I touched the border and got zapped, but it didn’t hurt much,” she hurried to add at Narcissa’s paling features. “I tried so many different spells, but nothing seems to affect the dome. It’s impenetrable.”

“Nothing stays like that forever,” Narcissa said and sat down next to Hermione in the grass.

“Say that again when we’re running out of food,” Hermione grumbled, and another grass blade lost its roots to the younger witch’s frustration.

Narcissa grasped Hermione’s hand. “We’ll find a way. The pantry is stocked, so we have at least three to four more weeks before that will become an issue. We are too smart to not come up with something in the meantime. Aren’t you supposed to be the brightest witch of her age?” Warmth spread through Narcissa at the half-grin that Hermione offered before she squeezed her hand.

“It’s just so frustrating! What caused all of this? We have no answer and—”

“I have one answer. One important piece of information.”

“What is it? Did you find the journal?”

“It was in the desk drawer in the potions lab, but it’s a new one, so there are only three entries. We are missing...our story, how we came to be, but what’s in there is even better.”

“Tell me!”

“Your parents are fine. You apparently found them in Australia and brought them home. You restored their memories, and while there were some issues, they are fine now. We created a potion that fully healed them.”

Hermione stared at Narcissa, motionless, but before she could worry, the dark-haired witch tore off and embraced her, toppling her on the ground, mumbling “thank you, thank you so much,” into the blonde witch’s neck and after a moment, hot tears trailed down Narcissa’s neck. She pulled Hermione closer and gazed at the darkening sky.

***

Hermione felt lighter after the news of her parents, though there was some embarrassment over breaking down in front of Narcissa. Then again, it led to them embracing, which was a definite plus in Hermione’s book.

They had dinner and then settled on the couch in the living room.

“I’d like to play a game,” Hermione said.

“All right. We should have wizarding chess here somewhere if you—”

“Not that type of game.”

“I’m not familiar with Muggle games, and we can’t get any of them. Though with you living here, you might have stashed a few somewhere,” Narcissa said with a soft smile that made Hermione’s heart swell.

“We need nothing for that game. Just you and me.”

“All right.”

“You said you wanted to get to know each other better, so we’ll each ask questions, and the other will answer them. We can either play it that everyone has to answer any question that is asked, or that you only have to answer the question the other person asks you.”

“Hmm,” Narcissa said, leaning back against the couch. “It seems fair that you’d have to answer your own question, too. That way, none of us will ask anything too outrageous.”

Hermione chuckled. “Always the Slytherin.”

Narcissa preened. “What’s the incentive, though? Or better, how is this a game?”

“Well, if you refuse to answer a question—”

“You can do that?”

“Of course. I’d never try to force you to tell me something you’re not comfortable with sharing.”

“Oh,” Narcissa said.

“All right, if you refuse to answer a question, you need to drink a shot of alcohol.”

Narcissa frowned. “That game might be over quickly.”

Hermione laughed. “Let’s hope not.”

“This wasn’t a popular game at Hogwarts, was it?”

“No. Besides, I wasn’t much into breaking rules. Harry and Ron, on the other hand...”

“No surprise there. I only tend to break rules when I am sure I’ll get away with it,” Narcissa said.

Hermione snorted. “What a shocker.”

“What alcohol?”

“Uh, usually people drink shots with it, but fire whiskey will end this game too soon, so how about we say that whenever we don’t answer, we have to drink a sip of wine?”

“That way it’ll last forever.”

“That’s a good thing. It’ll help us get to know each other,” Hermione said and summoned a bottle of wine and two glasses. “Here we go,” she said an filled up both glasses half-way.

“I wonder why you’re so keen on getting on that, or better, on speeding up the process,” Narcissa drawled before accepting the glass.

“What?” Hermione’s eyes widened. “I don’t...I mean...Merlin,” she said, blushing and ducking her head.

Narcissa laughed. “You’re delightful to rile up.”

Hermione cleared her throat. “All right. Let’s get started. Since it was my idea, I should get to ask the first question.”

Narcissa held her gaze but remained silent.

“What’s your favorite color?”

Narcissa blinked before chortling. “An easy one, huh?”

“We should be thorough.”

“Green.”

“Really?”

“It has always been green, and it has nothing to do with Slytherin. I love nature, and well, green,” she said and shrugged her shoulders. “Though recently I’ve become quite partial of brown.”

“Good to know,” Hermione said and successfully fought off a blush. This game might have been a terrible idea if this already made her almost take on the shade of an overripe tomato.

“What about you?”

“What?”

“Your favorite color?”

“Oh, right. Blue.”

Narcissa smiled.

“I love the ocean.” And your eyes, she thought, but thankfully, she refrained from uttering that out loud.

“What is your favorite season?” Narcissa asked.

“Huh, that’s a tough one. I love both spring and autumn. Spring is such a relief after the cold of the winter, and autumn... I don’t know. I like that it cools down again, and the leaves falling off the trees, their coloring. Then there’s Halloween, though I shouldn’t really like that given my encounter with a troll,” Hermione said and shuddered. “Then again, that also led to my friendship with Harry and Ron, so...” She raised her head and caught Narcissa’s wide eyes. “Too much? Should we just give answers and not explain?”

“No, no. I love to hear your explanations. I... an encounter with a troll?”

“Yeah,” Hermione said with a sigh and leaned back. “First year at Hogwarts.”

“You never mentioned that when you told me about your first year the other day!”

“Well, I’d been more focused on the Philosopher’s Stone,” Hermione said.

“True. Go ahead. Tell me about your troll.”

Hermione rolled her eyes. “It obviously wasn’t my troll. Ron said something awful about me and I...I cried and hid in the bathroom, to calm down. But a troll got loose in the dungeons. Thanks to Quirrell who, as I’ve mentioned, turned out to be possessed by Voldemort.”

“Right. Draco wrote about some upheaval, though he failed to mention that a troll almost killed some of his fellow students.”

“He’d likely been delighted by it.”

Narcissa flinched.

“I’m sorry. Ugh, I’m sure that I’ve made peace with Draco at this point, but we weren’t friends at Hogwarts.”

“I am aware. I’ve heard enough complaints about you over the years. My son isn’t cruel, though he played the tough strong-man for a while, expecting it to please his father,” Narcissa said and picked up her glass.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to ruin your mood.”

Narcissa drank a sip. “You didn’t. I understand that your perception of my son is colored by your experiences with each other, and I’m not trying to dismiss it, but Draco is...He’s my son,” she said, and her gaze held Hermione’s, it was fierce, and determined, but also pleading with her to understand.

“I’d never stand in your way, and I’d never...this wouldn’t come between us,” Hermione whispered.

“I know.”

“You do?”

“I’d never be with you otherwise.”

“Oh,” Hermione said.

Stillness fell over the room.

“Do you want to continue or...”

“Yes, of course. This is bound to bring up difficult topics,” Narcissa said. “And we need to learn to navigate them.”

“Good,” Hermione said. “What’s your favorite season then?”

“I believe you never answered my question.”

“It’s hard. I can’t decide, so I choose both,” Hermione said and grinned at Narcissa’s fake outrage.

“I’m not sure that qualifies.”

“Since I make the rules...”

“You do?”

“Yes,” Hermione said, holding the blonde witch’s gaze, trying not to twitch under her scrutiny while also wondering why it had suddenly gotten so hot in the room.

“I love winter.”

Hermione laughed. “Of course you do.”

Narcissa narrowed her eyes. “This better not be a reference to the most unfortunate nickname some people have bestowed upon me.”

“You mean Ice Queen?” Hermione asked and laughed when Narcissa threw a pillow at her. “I’m pretty sure there’s quite a bit of fire in you,” she added and was pleased when Narcissa ducked her head, blonde strands falling into her face, but Hermione had noticed the beginning of a blush.

“I love winter because of Christmas, and...it was my favorite season when Draco was little.”

“I can imagine.”

“Your turn.”

“How old were you when you lost your virginity?” Hermione asked, and Narcissa spluttered. She coughed and placed her wine glass back on the coffee table.

“You’re going from my favorite color to that?”

Hermione shrugged her shoulders. “I’ve never been accused of being patient.”

Narcissa snorted. “Please wait with such questions until I’m not drinking.”

“Will do,” Hermione said. “Wouldn’t want you to choke.”

“You’re too kind.”

“You’re stalling. Or do you prefer not to answer?”

Narcissa held her gaze. “I was seventeen.”

Silence.

“That’s all you’re gonna give me?”

“You only asked for my age.”

“Come on!”

“I...I wanted to experience this out of my own free will, and my seventh year at Hogwarts seemed like my last opportunity to do that.”

“I’m sorry,” Hermione said.

“It’s fine. It meant nothing. I chose someone who was otherwise engaged.”

“You had an affair?”

Narcissa’s brows scrunched up. “Nothing like that. They were on the outs, but I knew they’d get back together, and so there wouldn’t be an emotional entanglement.”

“And did...they get back together?”

“They did. A few weeks later.”

“Who was it? Do I know...them?”

“Aren’t you supposed to answer that question first, and then it’s my turn again?”

“We’re just having a conversation here,” Hermione said.

“Lily Evans,” Narcissa said.

This time it was Hermione’s turn to do a double take. “Harry’s mum? You slept with Harry’s mum?”

“Don’t sound so scandalized. I’m sure our relationship was quite the adjustment for my poor dragon,” Narcissa sniffed.

“I...sorry, it’s just...the way everyone is always talking about Lily and James...they seemed like the perfect couple.”

“They were a tumultuous couple, at least at Hogwarts, but everyone knew they’d get married.”

“Wow.”

“What about you? I heard about your dalliance with Victor Krum.”

“Not him. We kissed, but I...I didn’t feel ready then. I was also seventeen. It wasn’t planned and just, it just happened.”

“And?”

“Ginny,” Hermione mumbled.

“Ginevra Weasley? The one you’re assuming is the mother of your best friend’s child?”

“Yes.”

“Perhaps we shouldn’t share any of this with Mr. Potter?”

“That might be wise,” Hermione said, drinking a sip of wine.

Chapter Text

They’d finished the bottle of wine before retiring for the evening. Narcissa hadn’t been able to tell if the warmth in her chest stemmed from the alcohol she’d consumed or the time she spent with Hermione, and the closeness that grew between them. She adored Hermione, and the more time she spent with her, the more her fears eased that this bond had been forced.

Narcissa had stopped her research into ways of breaking blood bonds. She knew it would upset and hurt Hermione, but even more so, Narcissa admitted she didn’t want the bond to vanish. She must have lost her mind, at least that’s what her more rational side insisted in such moments of weakness.

Her last journal entry contained a spell with a cryptic notation, and she brought that up with Hermione after breakfast.

“There’s something else in the journal I’d like to discuss,” Narcissa said.

“Go ahead.”

“I seem to have invented a spell.”

“That’s awesome. What does it do?”

“That’s the thing. I’m not sure.” Narcissa opened her journal and held it out, but Hermione didn’t reach for it.

“You want me to read your journal?”

“There’s nothing in there that would make me uncomfortable if you were to read it, though I want you to focus on the spell.”

“OK,” Hermione said, still appearing somewhat dazed. “I’m not familiar with that spell,” she said and started to sound it out.

“Stop!”

Hermione’s head snapped up. “What?”

“Don’t read spells out loud if you don’t know what they do! Don’t they teach you that at Hogwarts?”

“Uh, sorry.”

“Just don’t do it again.”

“I doubt you’d created a spell that would cause harm. And look at your inscription next to it, ‘one of my better inventions, giving back more than I thought possible.’ That doesn’t sound like it will obliterate someone.”

“True, but you never know. We seem to have been in some sort of conflict, and given the letter from the Department of Mysteries, maybe this is a spell I created to fight back against whoever was or is after us.”

“You have a point,” Hermione said. “No more reading unknown spells out loud. Scouts honor!”

Narcissa frowned. “I don’t understand.”

“Oh, uh, a Muggle organization for kids where they value honesty and promises?”

“All right, then.”

“So we won’t test the spell at all?”

“You’re impossible,” Narcissa said but smiled at Hermione. “No, we won’t test that spell until our memories have returned.”

“Then we’ll never test it because by the time our memories return, you’ll know what it does.”

“Good.”

“Do Slytherins always tread that carefully?”

“If there’s a danger of dying, any reasonable person would tread lightly, though I suppose that’s too much to ask, a Gryffindor being reasonable!”

“Hey! Besides, you seem to have a weakness for Gryffindors.”

“I do not!”

“Well, Harry’s mum and I beg to differ.”

Narcissa closed her eyes. “Merlin, I never should have answered that question.”

Hermione laughed, and the sound of it along with the elated emotion that skittered across their bond blanketed Narcissa in warmth and contentment.

“Nevertheless, I’d not be averse to some more of your strange Muggle games. Not right now, but in general.”

“All right. I’ll see what I can do.”

“Let’s visit the library. I wish to do more research on our memory mystery. Have you ever heard of a coactus venenum potion?

“No. That name tells me nothing, except, doesn’t the last part mean poison?”

“Yes.” Narcissa sighed. She had had no hopes Hermione would be more familiar with a potion that meant nothing to her, but it never hurt to ask.

***

“Based on my notes on the coactus venenum potion, it appears to have a similar effect on people as the imperius curse, only it lasts longer.”

“I didn’t know there were potion versions of the unforgivable curses,” Hermione said. They’d been researching at the Black library for hours. She’d earlier made a joke that she might have started dating Narcissa to gain access to her library, which had made Narcissa laugh out loud and her azure eyes had sparkled with mirth. Hermione had had to hold back kissing her then. Now, after having witnessed Narcissa’s brilliant mind at work for hours, she felt even more enamored with the blonde witch.

“There are obviously many potions that can kill you, and there are some that cause pain, though no true crucio potion. I’ve never heard of an imperius potion before, and I’d assume any potion that had such an impact would be banned.”

“Doesn’t mean no one would brew it illegally,” Hermione said.

“I recall Voldemort being after a talented potions master from Germany because he wanted him to brew potions that would torture people.”

“Ugh, I am so glad he’s dead,” Hermione groused.

“Agreed,” Narcissa said and pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose.

“While we don’t know what exactly happened after the war, it is safe to assume that some Death Eaters escaped capture. Maybe one of them is behind this,” Hermione suggested.

“They wouldn’t be capable of inventing and brewing such a potion. Severus could have, but he...he’s dead. I might be able to do so, if I had any inclination to produce something so vile, but the rest? None were potions masters or showed any interest in the skill.”

“So the guy from Germany?”

“Perhaps. Why he’d be active here, though? By the time Voldemort was interested in him, we were close to the Battle at Hogwarts. There was no time.”

“Still, that potions master doesn’t have to be a good guy, so he could be out to wreak havoc on his own.”

“But why target us?” Narcissa asked.

“If you’re working with the Department of Mysteries, you might have gone after him. Didn’t you say you found your potions master certificate in your lab?”

“Yes, but—”

“So you’re likely a potions master at the Department of Mysteries. It makes sense.”

“There are two things you’re missing. First, how are you involved? Second, how would he have poisoned us? I doubt we’re in the habit of accepting gifts or edibles from people we don’t know.”

“Well, I live with you, so I might have been affected by being near you and—”

“That’s a cheerful thought,” Narcissa muttered.

“It doesn’t mean that you’re responsible or anything. Don’t do this.”

“Do what?”

“Withdraw within yourself because you fear you’ve caused me harm, or that being with me is a mistake because you think you’ll ruin me,” Hermione said and grabbed Narcissa’s hand. “Whatever happened, it isn’t on you.”

“You cannot be sure of that.”

“Fine, even if it’s on you, you’d never intentionally hurt me. No,” she said when Narcissa readied herself to add something else. “We are done with that. For your second point, that is true. We wouldn’t do that, but we still could have been fooled somehow. They could have sent it to us as a gift from someone we know and trust. There must be other ways, too.”

“Perhaps. We should check and see if we can find any record of that.”

“How? The trash is long gone. We didn’t find open bottles of wine or anything—”

“Ink!”

“What?”

“I had ink stains on my hands when we woke up that day. I thought nothing of it at first because I assumed I’d been writing letters and had a mishap, but there was a broken ink bottle on the floor in my lab and it surprised me I hadn’t cleaned it.”

“Wait, I had an ink stain on my wrist then as well! I was too distracted by the state of my scar to contemplate it further, and it’s also not that unusual for me to have ink spatters over my hands.” Hermione paced. “That must have been a highly concentrated potion if it affected us through the skin.”

“He could have brewed it like that. You don’t have to ingest all potions.”

Hermione halted. “Isn’t it then more a salve than a potion?”

“Intellectual curiosity aside, it is possible to brew a tincture that seeps into skin, especially if the contents are too corrosive for the stomach.”

“Did you clean up the stain in the lab yesterday?”

“I didn’t because then I found the journal.”

“Maybe we can scrape up some of the ink or analyze what’s left in the bottle to see what was in there?”

“Yes, and once we have the ingredients, we might counteract it and get our memories back!”

“Let’s go!” Hermione said, grabbing Narcissa’s hand to pull her out of the library.

“Wait,” Narcissa said.

Hermione turned to her and both witches said “dragonhide gloves,” at the same time.

***

They’d scraped off the ink from the floor and also got some of the remnants out of the broken ink bottle pieces. Narcissa had insisted on wearing protective gear, aside from the gloves. She’d thrown the pieces into a vial and added a strengthening solution that would aid in highlighting even minute ingredients.

“What’s next?” Hermione asked.

“We need to separate the ink from whatever else is in there, and then split each additional ingredient. Light the fire under the small cauldron over there,” she pointed at a set of different sized pots at the side of the room.

“The smallest?”

“No, the one right next to it.”

Hermione lit the fire.

Narcissa shook the vial while stepping toward the cauldron. She uncorked it and poured the liquid into the pot before pulling out her wand. She muttered an incantation and then added a lid on top of the cauldron.

“That’s it?”

Narcissa laughed. “No, dear. It needs to reach a specific temperature. When it does,” she said and marched to a shelf and plucked several vials and containers from it before returning to Hermione’s side, “it needs to be poured onto these.” She added spongy looking stones to the empty cauldron, followed by the contents of two more vials.

“What does this do?”

“It’ll separate the ingredients. Then the stones will suck up each component and we can analyze that later.”

“OK,” Hermione said.

Narcissa could tell that Hermione had many more questions, but was grateful she waited since the first pot screeched, a sign that it was hot enough for her to add the liquid to the cauldron she’d just prepared. She removed the lid before pouring the fluid evenly over the stones in the second pot. Narcissa said the final charm, added another lid and after casting a monitoring spell, she sheathed her wand.   

“And now?”

“Thank you for showing so much restraint. You must have a lot of questions. The charm will add pressure to the cauldron, which is needed to allow the velocity spell to work. That’s how we’ll get the ingredients separated.”

“How long will that take?”’

“Several hours. I placed an alarm on it, so it’ll ring when it’s ready.”

“We won’t have to stay down here for that, right?”

“What? You dislike my potions lab?”

“No, no. It’s...a nice lab. I just...I’m hungry and I thought of another game we could play.”

“I see. Then let’s get you fed and play another Muggle game. No alcohol, though. I need to be sober to analyze the results,” Narcissa said and they left the lab together and headed for the kitchen.

***

“So how will this game work?” Narcissa asked after they’d settled in the living room.

“It’s a similar game to the one we played last night. This time, though, you will only answer my questions without me having to do the same, but you can ask the same question when it’s your turn.”

“That doesn’t seem like much of a change.”

“There’s one big change. You get to choose if you want to answer a question truthfully or instead complete a task.”

“What type of task?”

“That’s up to me. You won’t know beforehand, neither the question nor the task.”

“Interesting,” Narcissa said. “Go ahead.”

“What do you choose? The truth or a task?”

“Let’s go with the task,” she said.

“Let’s see...” Hermione said. “Oh, yes. Wear my Gryffindor shirt. With your hair down.”

Narcissa’s eyebrows raised. “Maroon clashes with my complexion.”

Hermione laughed. “No excuses. Go into the main bedroom closet and get changed.”

Narcissa huffed but rose and strode to the main bedroom. The nerve of that woman. At least there’d be no evidence of such a travesty. She entered the bedroom and halted. They had changed nothing in here since they’d been there last time. Even the pillow still lay on the floor. Her heart shuddered in her chest. A mixture of longing and anxiety spread through her and she shook it off and headed for the closet.

There it was, the infernal Gryffindor shirt. She sighed and plucked if off the hanger before shrugging out of her blouse and putting on Hermione’s shirt. She closed her eyes at the scent that flooded her system the moment she pulled the shirt over her face. Images flashed before her eyes; Hermione muttering an incantation while kneeling next to her in front of a couch. Her wand held close to Narcissa’s inner thigh. She started. Where those memories?

Did Hermione have anything to do with the dormant scar on her leg? Too bad she never found her old journal. She released her bun and combed her hands through her hair before heading back to the living room.

“Now that’s a sight I never thought I’d get to see.”

“Enjoy it while it lasts,” Narcissa grumbled. “I believe it’s my turn now. Pick your poison, Ms. Granger,” she said and sat back down next to Hermione.

“I’ll offer a truth.”

“Scared of what I’ll ask you to do, huh?”

“No, just comfy.”

“All right. Why Ginny Weasley?”

Hermione shrugged her shoulders. “Would it be terrible to say she was there?”

“Yes, Hermione. That would be quite awful.”

“I knew what would happen, how... Dumbledore had just died and Harry had told us about his task. He wanted to do it alone,” Hermione scoffed. “As if we’d ever let him do that. He also told me he’d broken up with Ginny. He wasn’t sure he’d survive, and that we had to do this and be away. He didn’t think it was fair to bind her to him.”

“A surprisingly mature decision.”

“Yeah. Ginny hated it. I’d gone to her room to talk and...I honestly don’t recall how it happened. It...we were talking and while Ginny was upset and didn’t agree with Harry, she wasn’t crying or anything. I don’t think I could have...if she’d been a devastated, sobbing mess. She suddenly kissed me and well, it just happened.”

“Did you ever talk about it again?”

“No. We both understood that it was a onetime event. No one wanted more.”

“Did you realize beforehand that you...your preference. Are you attracted to witches or was that a recent discovery at the time?”

“That’s a second question, a third, really,” Hermione said with a smile. “But since you look so adorable in that shirt, I’ll answer it.”

Narcissa huffed.

“I was aware that I fancied both witches and wizards. Victor wasn’t an experiment. I liked him. Though I...I’d say while I like both witches and wizard, I prefer witches. Truth or—”

“Truth.”

“OK. How about you? Do you have a preference?”

“Similar to yourself, though my preference for witches is quite a bit stronger. I’ve rarely been attracted to men.”

“What about Lucius?”

“That didn’t matter. My parents arranged the marriage, and that was that.”

“I’m sorry,” Hermione said, and Narcissa felt touched by the earnest expression on the dark-haired witch’s face, and the warm sincerity that flowed into her from their bond.

“Thank you. It wasn’t as terrible as it sounds. I arranged myself with my life, and it gave me Draco, who I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world. Lucius had his moments, especially when Draco was little.”

“I’m glad.”

“Your turn.”

“I’ll stick with truth,” Hermione said.

Narcissa tilted her head. “Tell me the most embarrassing story from your time at Hogwarts.”

Hermione stared blankly at her for a moment.

“Too many to choose from?” Narcissa teased.

“Ha ha,” Hermione said and sighed. “Let’s see. Oh, OK. Polyjuice potion.”

“What is it with you and that potion?”

“I didn’t do it for fun! In second year, we—”

Narcissa’s eyes widened. “You brewed Polyjuice in your second year?”

“People were accusing Harry of being the heir of Slytherin all because he speaks parseltongue,” Hermione groused.

“Well, it is an uncommon skill,” Narcissa said and fell quiet at Hermione’s glare.

“Draco was acting like he knew something or was up to something, so, we...we wanted to interrogate him. We thought he’d either know who the real heir was, or he was it himself.”

Narcissa threw her head back and laughed. “You thought my son was the heir of Slytherin?”

“You don’t understand what a prat he was,” Hermione muttered.

“My son’s an angel,” Narcissa said with a smile.

“Right,” Hermione said. “We all need illusions to keep us alive.”

Narcissa threw a pillow at her.

“So violent,” Hermione said. “And it’s not as if your family had nothing to do with this.”

“That was all Lucius! I had no idea, and let me tell you, if I did, this wouldn’t have happened,” Narcissa grumbled. “Continue with your embarrassing story.”

“We brewed it in the old girl’s bathroom that is still haunted by Moaning Myrtle.”

“I remember that one. We all avoided it.”

“Which is why it was the perfect brewing place,” Hermione said. “Harry and Ron got a hair each from Crabbe and Goyle. I’d acquired a hair from Millicent Bulstrode, picked it off her robes. Or I thought it was hers, but it turned out, it was a hair from her cat.”

“Oh, no,” Narcissa commiserated. She couldn’t even imagine. “I’m so sorry.”

“It was awful, and it took Madam Pomfrey weeks to fix me. I was throwing up hairballs,” Hermione said and shuddered. “Let’s move on.”

“I’m sure you were a cute cat, though.”

“And you’re accusing me of not dropping a topic?”

“That’s different,” Narcissa sniffed.

“Of course,” Hermione said and laughed. “What do you want?”

“I’ll chance another task.”

Hermione held her gaze to where Narcissa wondered if her hair stood askew, but then her eyelashes fluttered, and she glanced at the blonde witch’s lips.

“Kiss me,” Hermione said, returning her gaze to Narcissa’s eyes.  

All air fled Narcissa’s body and her heart drubbed her rip cage. Leave it to the Gryffindor, she thought while deciding to offer a Slytherin response. She didn’t drop her gaze and edged closer, and while she did, Hermione’s grip on the couch cushion in her lap tightened.

Narcissa suppressed the smirk that wanted to crawl over her face. She slowed her forward movement and enjoyed the way Hermione’s breathing accelerated and her pupils dilated. Narcissa’s hand tightened into fists when Hermione licked her lips, her gaze dripping lower. Finally, she leaned in close enough so their breathing mingled, but instead of capturing Hermione’s lips, which she wanted to do, in fact, her body screamed at her to do so, she placed a lingering kiss on the dark-haired witch’s cheek before withdrawing and sitting back down.

Hermione blinked rapidly and opened her mouth before closing it again.

Narcissa smiled.

“That....was evil, and not what I meant.”

“You should have been more specific then,” Narcissa said, picking up her tea.

Hermione laughed. “Your turn to ask me.”

“And?”

“Oh. I’ll take a task, too.”

“Kiss me,” Narcissa said before her rational side could squash the request.

Hermione stared at her for a brief moment before flinging herself at Narcissa and claiming her lips.

Narcissa groaned and pulled Hermione closer who shifted to straddle her lap and deepened their kiss. She ran her hands down Hermione’s back, sneaking up under her shirt before scratching all the way back down.

Hermione moaned and rocked against Narcissa.

The taste and feel of Hermione along with the thrumming vibration tittering across their bond pooled arousal between Narcissa’s legs and her stomach clenched.

Hermione grazed her teeth against Narcissa’s lower lip, eliciting a low groan from the blonde witch.

Narcissa’s hands left Hermione’s back and trailed across her trembling stomach, stealing upwards and scratching at the elastic band of her sports bra when Hermione’s lips left her mouth and she kissed and licked her way down Narcissa’s throat.

A screeching sound startled them, and Hermione groaned before dropping her head against Narcissa’s neck. “Your potion has terrible timing,” she pouted and Narcissa chuckled, squeezing Hermione before kissing her temple and shifting her off her.

“Let’s get back to work, dear,” she said and rose off the couch. She couldn’t decide if she should be grateful for the interruption or resent it. Her body, still humming with arousal, definitely chose the latter option.

***

“This makes no sense,” Narcissa said, staring at her notes.

“You’ve finished the ingredient list?” Hermione asked, gazing at the spread-out colorful stones on the desk in front of Narcissa.

“Yes. The ink contains traces of mandrake root, bloodroot, belladonna, and Galanthus Nivalis.”

“Belladonna is a poison.”

“So is bloodroot.”

“We were poisoned, but why didn’t it kill us?”

“Because an incompetent idiot made this draught,” Narcissa scoffed and penciled a few more notes on the parchment.

“I’m more leaning toward, thank you? Are you disappointed whoever brewed this potion didn’t do a better job?”

Narcissa raised her head. “What?” She took off her glasses and rubbed her eyes. “No. It’s merely beyond me how someone could brew a potion like this. Belladonna and bloodroot are poisonous, but when added with mandrake and Galanthus Nivalis,” she laughed. “It turns into this conglomerate that tries to kill you while healing and enhancing your memories.” She closed her eyes. “What an imbecile.”

“Wait, so instead of killing us, this combination killed some of our memories?”

“In a manner of speaking. Our bond also helped in easing its effects but it’s mainly the reason we lost the same amount of memories. It’s the only explanation why we are both stuck in June of 1998.”

“Does this mean our memories are gone for good?” Hermione asked.

“No. I will brew a memory potion that we can drink tonight before going to sleep. Hopefully, it’ll help in recovering some of our memories,” Narcissa said and stalked to her ingredient shelves. “It should be ready in about two-and-a-half hours. You don’t have to stay.”

“I want to help,” Hermione said.

Narcissa smiled and threw a package at Hermione. “I need twenty grams of powdered sage.”

Hermione caught it and chuckled. “No problem, ma’am.”

Narcissa narrowed her eyes. “You’re in a pleasant mood for someone who was poisoned.” She grabbed a glass of stewed mandrake off her shelf.

“We knew something had happened to us, and now we know more and found a way to rouse our memories. Why wouldn’t I be in a good mood?”

“Indeed,” Narcissa said and poured half the glass of the mandrake into the cauldron.

***

Hermione had been disappointed that the memory potion didn’t have an immediate effect when they drank it. Narcissa had snarked about impatient Gryffindors at which point Hermione had bumped into her and laughed. Her eyes had shone and Narcissa had to hold onto her desk to avoid leaning forward to kiss Hermione.

She shouldn’t have escalated things between them earlier in the evening. Now she was tossing and turning in her bed, unable to fall asleep, torn between anxiety about their memories and her yearning to be closer to Hermione. But she wouldn’t. She’d stay right here in her own guest room, and hopefully, by tomorrow, the potion would have activated some of the memories they’d lost.

Satisfied with her decision, she closed her eyes and shifted, trying to get comfortable when a shout jerked her up and she tangled in the bed sheets while trying to rush out of the bed. Narcissa stumbled but steadied herself and raced to Hermione’s bedroom. She flung open the door and when she realized Hermione was gripped in a nightmare, she dashed to her side, hesitating for a second before climbing into bed next to the thrashing woman.

“Hermione, dear. Wake up. You’re all right,” she muttered and stroked Hermione’s shoulder. The younger witch had almost soaked through her shirt and showed no sign of waking.

“No, no, please don’t,” she mumbled, and her head nodded from side to side.

“Shhh,” Narcissa cooed and rubbed Hermione’s arm. “You’re all right.”

A shudder rang through Hermione before she grew rigid and another shout spilled from her lips.

Narcissa shifted forward and pulled Hermione’s trembling body into her arms. “Please wake up,” she begged, stroking up and down the dark-haired witch’s clammy back.

After couple of minutes, Hermione stiffened, then groaned. “What happened?” She croaked, holding on to the blonde witch.

“You had a nightmare.”

“I’m not sure that was a nightmare,” Hermione said and flipped around, shifting away from Narcissa but tangling their hands together.

“You...those were memories?”

Hermione covered her eyes with her free hand. “I’m not sure, but I’ve never had such vivid dreams, and the ones with...where...your sister...”

“I understand,” Narcissa said, wishing once more she could strangle Bella for what she’d done to Hermione.

“The images flashed, like I was in each place only for a short amount of time before I was dragged somewhere else. First, I was in a townhouse, I suppose. There were lions and phoenixes, and they were fighting. Or playing? I wasn’t sure. Then I was in a meadow and there were birds, but then they died. They were decaying right in front of me before it shifted again and then I was in an enormous library and I saw...these were images, like I was watching a movie?”

“In the library? That’s where you saw those visions?” Narcissa asked, dread pooling low in her stomach.

“Yes. Girls playing, having fun until one of them fell off her broom and their parents, or I’m assuming they were their parents, they came out and punished them. With magic,” Hermione whispered.

Narcissa stiffened.

“What is it? Does anything sound familiar to you?”

“Yes but continue first.”

“There was one more switch. This time you were there, too. We were on this barren field, and there was a well. I’d dreamed about the well before, but I didn’t make that connection during the dream. I wanted to check it out, and you shouted that I shouldn’t, but I didn’t listen. When I...when I leaned over the well, a horde of dementors floated up and cornered us. I...I tried to cast a patronus, but I couldn’t. It wouldn’t take shape. That’s when you woke me,” she said and squeezed Narcissa’s hand.

“Some of what you’re describing, it sounds like you were in my mind. In my vault, actually.”

“What? I...I’ve never been trained in mind magic.”

“That you know of,” Narcissa said. She caught Hermione’s gaze and tried to enter her mind, just to see if she could.

“Hey!”

“You’ve been trained, even if you don’t remember,” Narcissa said.

Hermione huffed. “A little warning next time.”

“That would defeat the purpose,” Narcissa said and Hermione grumbled.

“What do you mean by vault?”

“It’s what I call my inner sanctum. It’s where I store memories that I either treasure and don’t wish to see tainted, or...the opposite. Memories I’d rather forget, and if they are in my vault, they won’t intrude on me.”

“You were one of the girls,” Hermione whispered and turned to face Narcissa.

“Yes.”

“I’m sorry,” Hermione said and reached out her hand to put a lock of Narcissa’s hair behind her ear.

“It was a long time ago.”

“Still. Why would I...how did I get into your vault?”

“I’m not sure. It’s not a place I’ve ever granted access to anyone.”

“You don’t...I didn’t force that, right?”

Narcissa scoffed. “No. I cannot imagine you’d do that. Merlin knows what we’ve been up to during these last two-and-a-half years. We have a mad potions brewer after us who tried to kill us, but thanks to their inferior potions making skills only robbed us of our memories. I’m sure there’s a reasonable explanation for why you were in my vault.”

“That’s not the only thing they cost us,” Hermione said.

Narcissa held Hermione’s gaze and shivered at the intense swill of emotions that crashed into her from their bond. “We’re working on that, though,” she said and smiled.

“We could continue our work, the one that your potion interrupted earlier?”

Narcissa laughed. “My impatient little lioness,” she said and cupped Hermione’s cheek.

“You felt it, too. Didn’t you?” Hermione asked, leaning into Narcissa’s touch.

Narcissa licked her lips. “Yes.”

“What’s holding you back?”

“What if you regret it? We could have been on the outs and—”

“Now you’re fishing for excuses. First you said we need to get to know each other better and take things slow and now—”

Narcissa dropped her hand. “It has only been seven days. That’s hardly a long time.”

“That’s a week that we spent together, all day, every day. Not to mention, seven days of a blood bond that is pulsating and...” Hermione clenched her jaw.

“That’s another concern. What if this...draw, what if it’s because of the bond?” Narcissa asked and worried her lip. “The bond went haywire early on and calmed down once we got closer. It might just be that connection that is making this so hard.”

“Are blood bonds without an existing or future romantic relationship common?”

“No, but what if we did this because of a threat? It heightens our abilities and we are stronger together.”

“Is that why you came right after me that night? I felt your release thrumming through me, like aftershocks, only stronger.”

Narcissa gritted her teeth, trying and failing to keep her breathing even.

“We did the bonding because we’re colleagues who agreed that we need a blood bond to fight a threat. A blood bond that has clear sexual connotations.”

“What are you doing to me?” Narcissa whimpered.

“I’m pointing out that your arguments are flawed. I don’t want to push you and if you’re not ready to be with me that’s fine. This isn’t just the bond between us. I’ve recognized my attraction to you before I knew of the bond. I’m not some hormonal teenager who can’t—”

Narcissa silenced her with a kiss and used Hermione’s gasp to lick into her mouth before pushing close. She climbed on top of Hermione whose hands found purchase in her hair and pulled her closer.

Their kiss grew heated and Hermione spread her legs, causing Narcissa to fall in between, their mounds pressing together.

Narcissa reveled in the heat of Hermione’s mouth, the warmth of their bodies coming together and the current of desire that pulsed between them. She broke the kiss and littered Hermione’s face with kisses before shifting lower. She sucked on the sensitive skin of Hermione’s throat which earned her a low moan followed by Hermione’s hips rocking into Narcissa’s.

Hermione’s hands clasped the blonde witch’s nightgown, bunching it up in her hands.

Narcissa rose to allow Hermione to pull it off.

“Merlin,” Hermione panted when her hands landed on Narcissa’s bare rear. “You’re not wearing any panties.”

Narcissa chuckled. “I get too hot at night. I often sleep in the nude,” she said and leaned down to capture Hermione’s lips in a bruising kiss.

“I didn’t need to know that,” Hermione muttered.

“I’m sure you’ve merely forgotten that information,” she chuckled.

Hermione groaned.

“You’re wearing too many clothes,” Narcissa said and sat up, straddling Hermione who lifted her torso and allowed Narcissa to take off her shirt. She tossed it to the side before running her hands down Hermione’s belly and pulling down her shorts.

“May I?” Narcissa asked and scratched along the fabric of Hermione’s panties. She lifted her hips to let Narcissa pull them down her legs.

Both groaned when Narcissa stretched out on top of Hermione. They resumed their kisses while their bodies rocked and Narcissa clasped Hermione hands to move them above the dark-haired witch’s head. “Keep them there,” she said before kissing a scorching path down Hermione’s body. She sucked and nibbled at her breasts, avoiding strained peaks begging for her attention.

Hermione’s stomach jumped and she dropped her head back. Her eyes fell shut and she released a breathless moan.

“Remember to keep your hands where they are,” Narcissa mumbled.

“Merlin,” Hermione hissed when Narcissa finally sucked one nipple into her hot mouth and scarped it with her teeth.

Hermione’s hips undulated against hers and Narcissa slid one leg between Hermione’s, groaning when wetness coated her thigh.

“Please,” Hermione begged.

Narcissa kissed her way to Hermione’s other breast and right away pulled it into her mouth.

Hermione’s hands shot to Narcissa’s head.

“No. Move them up or I’ll stop,” Narcissa said, holding Hermione’s feverish gaze. Her eyes were dilated and her breathing harsh and ragged. A red flush spread from her cheeks down her throat across her chest.

Narcissa licked her lips. The tension between them built and their bond shouted at her to continue, urged her to lose herself in Hermione.

Hermione relented and lifted her hands, placing them back up above her head.

Narcissa grinned and ducked her head, she nibbled and sucked at Hermione’s stomach while scratching her nails along Hermione’s thighs, leaving red marks behind.

Hermione spread her legs further and moaned when Narcissa sucked at the skin of her groin.

Narcissa’s tongue descended and licked along Hermione’s inner thigh, drawing the skin into her mouth before nibbling at the trembling flesh.

Hermione body grew taut and Narcissa felt her strain and arousal bleed into her through their bond. Relenting with a groan, she sunk into Hermione’s heat.

The dark-haired witch shouted at the initial touch of Narcissa’s tongue, even though she first merely explored her folds before pushing her tongue inside.

“Oh God,” Hermione groaned and Narcissa chuckled and noted how the other witch shook at the vibration that seeped into her.

Hermione’s heady scent and taste overwhelmed Narcissa, as did Hermione’s low, rough voice, urging her on.

Narcissa shifted her attention and focused on the rigid little nub, sucking it into her mouth, twirling her tongue around it and pressing down. She sucked harder, applying more pressure and Hermione’s moans and shouts became unintelligible while her body trembled and shuddered. Sweat coated her body and when Narcissa’s gaze shot up Hermione’s body, she caught the other witch’s burning eyes and a throb of pure pleasure raced down between her legs. She held Hermione’s gaze and sped up the movements of her tongue until she felt Hermione convulse and quake before shattering in an explosive peak.

Narcissa lapped at Hermione until the younger witch grabbed her arms and pulled her up to kiss her, hard.

***

Narcissa groaned and her eyelids fluttered open. 

Hermione had fallen asleep the previous night before having had the chance to have her way with the blonde witch, and so now she took advantage of Narcissa’s habit of sleeping in the nude. 

She kissed her way down Narcissa’s body and alternated between kissing and sucking the soft skin of Narcissa’s upper thighs into her mouth. 

“Hermione,” Narcissa gasped and spread her legs wider. 

Her hands traveled up Narcissa’s stomach and she rubbed her nipples, causing the blonde witch to groan. 

Hermione licked along the grove next to Narcissa’s heat but steadily avoided paying the attention Narcissa desired. 

The blonde witch’s hips rocked and sweat glistened on her body while she shifted her legs, closing them a bit, trying to urge Hermione closer. 

Hermione chuckled and continued her slow and delicious teasing. She watched Narcissa’s body strain and tremble, but the blonde witch said nothing while her knuckles paled as she gripped the sheet. 

Hermione throbbed when Narcissa’s stomach quaked, her breathing shallow and little whimpers fell from her lips. 

Too inpatient to wait for Narcissa to beg, she ducked her head and stroked her tongue along Narcissa’s length. 

A husky moan fell from Narcissa’s lips and Hermione dug her hips deeper into the bed while speeding up her tongue. She groaned at the taste of the other woman but kept from exploring beyond the blonde witch’s folds and entrance. She sucked Narcissa’s lips into her mouth and the blonde witch shook, Hermione’s name dropping from her lips while her hips canted upward, seemingly seeking more friction. 

Aside from repeating Hermione’s name, no other words left Narcissa, and her hips rocked in rhythm with Hermione’s explorations.

Once more, her impatience won and Hermione shifted her attention upward and sucked Narcissa into her mouth, running her tongue in fast, tight circles and pressing down.

Narcissa groaned and her hips surged upward, pushing harder into Hermione before she stilled and hovered in suspension before quivering and shuddering in her release.  

Hermione drank in Narcissa’s bliss until the blonde witch muttered her name and pulled her back up. She offered a languid kiss before nuzzling into Hermione’s neck.

“Can’t say I’ve ever been woken up like this.”

“As far as you remember,” Hermione replied and Narcissa chuckled.

Chapter Text

The next day, they searched the potions lab and the library for notes or any other hints as to their jobs, and how any of that could be related to the poisoning, and the mystery that kept them trapped at the manor.

“I wonder how Draco is doing,” Narcissa said and sighed, returning another useless scroll to the box they’d labeled unimportant.

“Hopefully he reached out to someone and isn’t alone with all of this.”

“I wish I knew more about his life. How he’s adjusted and if...if he has friends that he can turn to in a situation like this. At least he seems to have found love.”

“I’m sure he’s fine. Draco always seemed the type to adjust to circumstances.”

“True,” Narcissa said. “I hate this. Not knowing who has done this and why.”

“It is aggravating, but we can’t despair. That makes people hopeless and once you’re hopeless, you stop fighting and then you lose. It’s like a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

“That’s an interesting perspective.”

“Well, I’m sure you didn’t choose me just for my good looks,” Hermione said with a smile.

“Much like you didn’t just choose me for the Black library?”

“The verdict is still out on that.”

Narcissa laughed.

“You want to try that spell now?”

“What spell?”

“The one in your journal.”

“No! I told you. What if it’s a defensive or even worse, an offensive spell? We can’t seek out help. What if one of us gets injured and then what? It’s too risky.”

“Slytherins are boring.”

“I doubt we’ve ever been accused of that. Either way, we might also live longer, with all our limbs attached,” Narcissa drawled. “And I’m partial to you retaining all your limbs.”

“That’s reassuring.” Hermione laughed.

***

Narcissa had taken stock of her potions lab to take note of available ingredients in case she needed to brew any potions. Unsurprisingly, the lab was well stocked. She wrote down the inventory, and when she ran out of parchment, she went searching for some more. One of the drawers contained parchment, but it had already been used. She unfolded it and fell back down on her desk chair. In her hands, she held a letter from Lucius.

She hadn’t doubted Hermione, and she knew herself, she’d not live here with the dark-haired witch if she was still married. Yet, reading about their divorce on paper was different.

Lucius commented on Hermione as well, though not by name. The letter was tense, and some lines seemed a tad petulant, but she understood his grief. She figured he’d been sent to Azkaban, but it pleased her to learn he was due for release in the near future. At least she assumed it would be the near future, the end of 2001. It must have been hard, being divorced, sent to Azkaban, and then learning of Narcissa’s new relationship. She might have sounded petulant, too, if their positions had been reversed.

“Hey. How’s it going? Need any help?” Hermione asked and Narcissa started. She hadn’t heard her enter.

“Oh, no. I, uh, I ran out of parchment for the inventory, and I...I came across a letter from Lucius.”

“OK,” Hermione said and scuffed her feet along the floor.

“He seems to be in Azkaban, though it sounds like he’ll be out by the end of 2001. At least I’m assuming that’s still the future and we haven’t already moved beyond that.”

“That’s nice,” Hermione grumbled.

“Did you want him to receive a life sentence?”

Hermione’s head snapped up. “What?”

“You heard me.”

“I don’t like him. I never have. He...he’d been awful to all of us. And Dobby,” Hermione said and gritted her teeth. “He was a Death Eater and he did horrible things. On the night when we rushed to the ministry to save Sirius and...we ended up causing his death, he was there. He was vile and... He was your husband. He’s the father of your son.”

“You’re not telling me anything I don’t know,” Narcissa said and raised her chin.

“I have no idea what relationship I currently have with him, or better, how I view him now, but I’d be lying if I said I don’t feel any resentment or anger toward him. The fact that he was your husband and shared your life for decades doesn’t make this any easier,” Hermione huffed and stuffed her hands into her pants pockets.

Narcissa did a double take. “Are you... you are jealous. Why in Merlin’s name would you be jealous of Lucius?”

“I’m not jealous,” Hermione said and rocked back on her heels. “I just don’t like him.”

“You’re the one placing emphasis on the fact that he was my husband.”

“Was he?”

“What?”

Hermione shifted her weight. “Are you divorced?”

“I recall someone being quite convinced of that,” Narcissa said, and Hermione glared at her, but remained silent. “Yes, dear. We are divorced. Your disdain for each other appears to be mutual.”

Hermione grinned. “Good. I’m glad.”

Narcissa rose from her seat and strode towards Hermione. She leaned closer. “While I cannot speak for the past, at least not until we’ve regained our memories, I’d like to point out that I live here, with you, and that I’ve divorced my husband.”

Hermione sighed. “I still don’t like him,” she muttered.

Narcissa laughed and pulled Hermione into an embrace. “Duly noted, dear. I doubt you liking Lucius is a requirement for the continued success of our relationship.”

“Probably not,” Hermione said and returned the hug.

***

They had ended the previous day with dinner and another movie. This time, Hermione had picked the movie, though Narcissa had chosen the food, grilled chicken breast, rice, and salad. She’d been pleased the movie Hermione had selected wasn’t as insufferable as she’d feared. They’d slept in Narcissa’s guest room, still shy about returning to the main bedroom. Without discussing it, they both had drifted to the guest bedroom when it was time to retire for the night instead.

After breakfast, Hermione insisted they’d return to the library.

“Why patronus’?” Narcissa said and groaned. She didn’t want to cast that spell. It hadn’t worked since Hogwarts and there was no reason to cast them now. If one ignored their use as potential messengers to inform others of their quandary. She closed her eyes. She hated being wrong.

“I don’t know, aside from sending messages, I just...that dream...the other night. Why would I dream about dementors? I’m assuming there are no dementors in your mind.”

“How kind,” Narcissa retorted.

“That wasn’t an insult,” Hermione said and frowned.

“I’m sorry, dear. I...I’ve struggled with that spell, and it makes me...testy when...”

“There’s something you can’t do but believe you should be able to do so?”

“Yes,” Narcissa grumbled.

Hermione smiled and reached out to clasp Narcissa’s hand. “I’m the same. Don’t worry about it. We will figure this out somehow.”

“I still doubt you’ll find much in this library about the patronus charm. It’s too light and benevolent to have made it into most books that are housed here.”

“Still. Let’s continue our search. It’s only been two hours,” Hermione said and batted her eyelashes at Narcissa who snorted.

“Has that ever worked on anyone?”

Hermione scrunched up her brows. “I’m not sure.”

Narcissa rose and ambled to a shelf next to the cage filled with the darkest tomes. She could feel their eyes on her. She generally preferred to keep her distance from the cage, but something called her in that direction.

Narcissa didn’t get to be where she was now, still alive, and apparently employed by the Department of Mysteries, without following her instincts and impulses. Though some of her impulse led to much more pleasurable end results, like last night with the dark-haired witch, compared to standing next to the growling cage. She sighed.

Narcissa ran her fingertips along the ornate scrawls and pompous titles of book after book until she stopped at one that seemed completely unfamiliar. “Black Holdings,” she muttered and pulled it out.

“Found something?” Hermione asked.

“I’m not sure,” she said and strode back to the desk before sitting down beside Hermione.

Black Holdings? How many properties do you have?”

“It depends. Each Black line has their own properties. We’re in my parents’ estate, and Sirius’s family lived at Grimmauld Place. My cousins have their own manors across Britain, so maybe this lists them all.” Narcissa opened the book and scanned the first few pages. “Yes. It lists all Black properties across the entire line,” she said and leafed through several pages before she stopped and gasped.

“What is it?”

“This here...it lists a house by a lake Windmere. That’s not too far from here but...I’ve never heard of it.”

“Some relation you don’t know?”

“No, it’s listed as our property, belonging to Druella and Cygnus Black.”

“And you don’t recall this?”

Narcissa shook her head. “We’ve never been there. At least not as far as I can remember. Perhaps Andromeda, but...”

“Huh. What information is there on it?”

“It’s a lake house. Doesn’t give much more, though it calls it a summer listing.”

“It could be a vacation home? If it’s by a lake.”

“Yes, but then why did we never go there?”

Hermione shrugged her shoulders. “We could check it out whenever we get out of here.”

“We shall see,” Narcissa said and closed the book. “Did you find anything?”

“No. But I’ve decided I’ll just cast a patronus and we will see.”

“Last time it didn’t work. What makes you think that has changed?”

“Wow. You’re so optimistic,” Hermione said. “Not to mention full of confidence in me.”

“I am not doubting your skills.”

“But?”

“Nothing. I may be projecting my own issues.”

“You should try casting one, too.”

“Hermione—”

“No. Let me go first.” She rose from her seat and raised her wand. “Expecto patronum!” Silver mist shot from her wand and pooled in a mass of light at the floor. It bubbled and shifted before changing color, mixing blueish and reddish hues only to give rise to an enormous phoenix, spreading its wings.

“You did it!” Narcissa said, marveling at the beautiful bird.

“But...but...”

“What is it? Are you all right?”

“It’s a phoenix!”

“Is it not supposed to be one?”

“It has always been an otter,” Hermione said, her gaze locked on the phoenix who shuffled closer to Narcissa. “My patronus knows you,” she said. “Go ahead. Cast one.”

“I told you, I cannot—”

“Nonsense. Just try it.”

“Fine,” Narcissa muttered. She pulled out her wand and contemplated the happiest memory she could think of and with a smile she called “expecto patronum!” Against her expectations, blue mist rained from her wand and coalesced into, no, that wasn’t her falcon. Narcissa canted her head. No, this couldn’t be. Hermione’s joyous laughter pealed in her ears as she stared unblinkingly at the gorgeous lioness that formed from the blue mist.

“Has your patronus always been a lioness?”

“It used to be a falcon, back at Hogwarts when I was last able to cast the spell.”

“Well, it’s one now. Do you think that makes you an honorary Gryffindor?”

“Oh, hush!”

The two patronus greeted each other, the lioness rubbing her head against the wing of the phoenix who bowed its head and nudged it against the side of the lioness. Then the lioness stalked to Hermione and fell on the floor at her feet while the phoenix settled next to Narcissa. Both women, enthralled by their companions, sat down beside them. The lioness headbutted Hermione while the phoenix rubbed its head against Narcissa’s arm.

The moment the patronus’ touched both women a current of electricity spread and Narcissa’s skin tickled, she grew dizzy and heat traveled across her skin. Her stomach dropped and she gasped when blinding pain exploded in her skull.

Narcissa’s hands shot up and she cradled her head, noticing Hermione in a similar predicament in her periphery. “Hermione,” she croaked and fell to her knees. Her breathing pressing out in ragged puffs and she lowered herself to the ground, dimly hearing Hermione calling her name.

***

Hermione groaned and sat back up. She rubbed her head. “What in Merlin’s name...” she blinked, and her gaze flitted across the room before it settled on Narcissa’s still form on the floor. “Narcissa!” She cried and crawled to the blonde witch’s side. “Wake up! Are you OK?” She squeezed the woman’s arm before jolting her.

Narcissa’s eyes opened and she gazed at Hermione before shutting her eyes. Her hand lifted to her chest. “I’m fine,” she mumbled.

“Why are you touching your chest? Does it hurt?”

“What? No,” Narcissa said and sighed. She sat up. “I was trying to catch my bearings.”

Hermione worried her lower lip. “Do you...what’s the last thing you remember?”

A small smirk spread across the blonde witch’s face. “I believe I remember everything,” she said and reached out, her hand trailing through Hermione’s curls who leaned into Narcissa’s caress, sagging a little before snapping her head up. “Wait. Everything as in...from before our patronus’ caused us to pass out, since, you, know, we’d woken up in the den or...everything from before then, I mean—”

“You’re babbling, dear. While I generally find that quite adorable, you appear to be a second away from having a stroke. I remember everything. No more memory loss.”

“Thank you, Merlin,” Hermione breathed before squealing and tackling Narcissa in a crushing hug. “I’ve missed you so much,” she muttered in her neck.

Narcissa squeezed her tight. “I missed you, too.”

Hermione released her and drew back. “We still found a way to be together, even when we lost it all.”

Narcissa snorted. “As if you’d have allowed anything else.”

Hermione cocked her head. “Why wouldn’t I go for what I want?”

“That should be the motto of your house,” Narcissa said and chuckled before sobering. “I’m grateful, though. That you never gave up and didn’t let me sabotage what we have.”

“I might be too stubborn for that,” Hermione said with a small smile.

“Here’s to that,” Narcissa said. “And to stopping Christina.”

“I can’t believe she did that,” Hermione said.

“Well, her brother tortured me and wanted me dead, so this is a marked improvement,” Narcissa said.

“Only you’d say that,” Hermione grumbled. “Where are your notes on her?”

“I’d hidden them in the Muggle safe you insisted we install.”

“To be fair, no self-respecting wizard would ever look for one.”

“Indeed, but it also prevented us from knowing what had happened,” Narcissa said.

“Details,” Hermione said and Narcissa laughed.

***

Four Months Ago

“Hey. You got time for lunch?” Hermione asked after entering Narcissa’s office.

“Yes, give me one second,” Narcissa said, without glancing up from the notes she was scribbling down on her parchment. Scratching filled the room for another minute before she stopped, placed the quill to the side and rose. Narcissa took off her glasses and rubbed her eyes.

“You’re working too hard,” Hermione said. She stepped closer and leaned in, pecking Narcissa’s lips.

The blonde witch smiled and raised her hand to cup Hermione’s cheek. “Yes, dear.”

“Have you noticed people tend to say that whenever they want to shut down an argument?”

“I wasn’t aware we were having an argument. I thought you came by to have lunch.”

“You’re a master at avoiding conversations.”

Narcissa’s face fell.

“No, no. I didn’t mean that as a criticism,” Hermione hurried to add.

Narcissa raised one eyebrow but remained silent.

“It’s a skill, and yes, it can undoubtedly be used for...badness, let’s say, but that’s not what you do. I understand it, and I usually respect your wishes to drop a topic.”

Narcissa tilted her head. “True.”

“But I am worried about you. You’ve been slaving over these potions for weeks, months, really,” Hermione said and frowned.

“It’s a mystery, and it’s dangerous. I’m worried because so many of these potions...we don’t fully grasp their application. It’s like Nils and Germany all over again.”

“My research has also been less than successful,” Hermione said with a little sigh. “So I get your frustration, and I share your concerns, but working yourself into the ground isn’t going to help anyone. You’re also more likely to overlook things when you’re exhausted.”

“You’re right. I don’t like it, but you’re right.”

Hermione laughed. “Naturally.” She unpacked her satchel and handed Narcissa a brown paper bag. “Let’s eat. And tonight, I have plans for you,” she said and grinned.

“Oh?” Narcissa said, halting her movement to open the bag.

“Yes. And they require you to be...alert, shall we say? Save some of your stamina.”

Narcissa chuckled. “Yes, dear,” before laughing when Hermione grimaced playfully.   

***

Three Months Ago

“Look at this!” Hermione stormed into the living room with a printout of a map. She placed it on the coffee table and smoothed it out before stepping back.

Narcissa placed her book to the side and rose to inspect the map. “What am I supposed to see here?”

“These marks,” Hermione pointed at several black dots.

“They are all in Muggle towns and villages.”

“Yes, and they are all concentrated around public services, like electric and water companies.”

Narcissa frowned.

“They provide Muggles with water and electricity.”

“Oh, all right. What do these dots stand for?”

“Those are reports of increased activities of the potions groups we’re following. Or the MLE is following them. Harry told me they came across this flyer, which is odd. It’s a Muggle flyer and addressed to Muggles, but they got it off one of their suspects, and he’s a wizard.”

“That doesn’t mean that he cannot partake in Muggle organizations,” Narcissa said and grasped the flyer.

“True,” Hermione said before sitting down on the couch.

“The Earth Protection Society,” Narcissa read off the flyer. “That doesn’t seem nefarious. Quite the opposite.”

“They have a meeting. Tonight. I want to go,” Hermione said.

“What? Why? Isn’t that something that falls in the job description of the MLE?”

“Yes, but they’ve dismissed this group. Harry doubts their involvement, even though he indulged me and gave me all their information on them.”

“Of course he did,” Narcissa said with a small smile. “What do you hope to accomplish by attending this meeting?

“I don’t know. I want to check them out. See if they’re really just a bunch of Muggles concerned with the Earth or if this is a front.”

“They have every right to be worried about the Earth, and I’m sure the MLE would have noticed it if there was something off.”

Hermione frowned. “Since when are you so trusting in the Ministry and its agencies?”

Narcissa sighed. “I’m not. I...I may be more motivated by concern for your well-being. If they are involved in this...their potions are powerful and some of them are deadly.”

“Which is why we need to figure out who exactly is behind this and what they want.”

Narcissa groaned. “Again, this is outside the purview of the job we were hired to do.”

“That’s irrelevant.”

“I was afraid you’d say that,” she said and rubbed her eyes. “When does this start?”

“In an hour? In Brighton.”

Narcissa snorted and rose. “I’ll get ready then. We can apparate nearby. I know just the spot.”

Hermione’s eyes widened. “You’re coming along?”

“Oh, Hermione,” Narcissa said with a little sigh. She kissed Hermione’s forehead and disappeared into the bedroom.   

***

An hour later, they arrived with a crack in a back alley in Brighton near the West Pier.

“I’m not going to ask how you know this area,” Hermione said before grasping Narcissa’s hand.

“My life hasn’t been as scandalous as your imagination paints it, dear,” Narcissa said and squeezed Hermione’s hand.

“Hmm,” Hermione said before they ambled silently toward their destination.

“An abandoned warehouse is an interesting choice for such a meeting,” Narcissa muttered when they arrived.

“It’s fitting for a group who sees the Earth on the brink of collapse,” Hermione said.

“I take it you disagree with their fears?” Narcissa asked.

At the tone of Narcissa’s voice, Hermione turned to face the blonde witch. “What? No, not necessarily. I just don’t think gloom and doom will accomplish anything. Many of these groups seem to play on people’s fears and whenever you do that... History isn’t full of happy endings whenever people followed their fears.”

“That’s a valid argument, however, acting as if nothing is wrong also accomplishes nothing.”

 “I’m not acting like nothing is wrong. I just don’t trust people who play on the fear of others.”

“Then let’s see if they do that before we judge them for it,” Narcissa said pointedly and stepped forward, entering through a halfway torn off door into the warehouse. “Glad I didn’t dress up,” she grumbled, and Hermione released a soft laugh.

“Walking in heels through this...debris might have been a challenge even for you.”

“Mmhmm,” Narcissa said and marched ahead.

They reached the main hall where the meeting was already in place. There were close to one hundred people packed in the room, all standing together in silence, listening to a tall, blonde woman speak at the podium on the other end of the room.

“People believe we’re crazy, doomsayers, and fearmongers,” she called into the crowd. “But those are lies! They are blind! Willfully ignorant to the very dangers this planet faces. Like ostriches they bury their heads in the sand, ignoring the threats and allowing the ravaging of this planet to continue. They allow the destruction and with that, they shatter any hope of a future for their grandchildren.”

The crowd murmured in agreement.

“Ostriches don’t deserve that reputation,” Hermione whispered, leaning toward Narcissa. “They are fierce and stand up to predators.”

Narcissa chuckled. “That’s hardly the point, dear. For images to work it matters what people, what the masses, believe to be true. Sticking your head in the sand is considered a sign of cowardice. Blue used to be the color for girls, and pink for boys. High heels were invented for men. That’s not how people view it today, though, so the historical background or the true nature of an animal are irrelevant.”

Hermione grumbled. “Have I mentioned that I’m attracted to smart people?” Hermione asked and cleared her throat.

Narcissa grinned and bumped into Hermione. “Once or twice,” she mouthed and released a low laugh when Hermione blushed.

“We’d love for all of you to sign up to take action! We need more volunteers to help write and publish our newsletters, and we’re also planning a demonstration through London that is scheduled for the second Saturday in December. That’s three weeks out, and so we still have plenty of time to design and paint signs. Loads of people will be out doing their holiday shopping on that day, which means we will have a big audience.”

Many people among the crowd started talking among themselves, but there was a steady line toward the volunteer sign-up at the right side of the room.

“Harry was right. They seem harmless,” Hermione said. “Another dead-end.”

“Perhaps,” Narcissa said and canted her head. “We should sign up as volunteers.”

“Why? What are you thinking?”

“I’m not sure, but there’s something off about this woman. Or perhaps I’m imagining things, but she seems familiar.”

“You think she’s a witch?”

“That’s a possibility.”

“There are no laws against what she’s doing here, though.”

“I’m not saying she’s breaking any laws, but we shouldn’t drop this yet.”

“All right. I’ll go sign us up. What names shall I use? Not our real ones.”

“I leave that up to your imagination,” Narcissa said and chuckled when Hermione groused and marched away.

***

A week later, they returned to the warehouse, this time, to paint protest signs.

“You realize I have no artistic bone in my body,” Hermione grumbled.

“No, I wasn’t aware of that. I’m sure you’ll manage to write a few slogans on cardboard signs.”

Hermione narrowed her eyes. “I suppose. This truly isn’t my idea of a relaxing Saturday away from work.”

“You’re the one who got us here in the first place,” Narcissa said and entered the warehouse.

“But then you became suspicious of the blonde woman. I was done with it all.”

“Hmm,” Narcissa said and fell silent when they reached the main room and said woman rushed toward them.

“Hello! Did you sign up to help us make signs for our protest in two weeks?”

“Yes,” Narcissa said and reached out her hand. “I’m Petra, and this is Camille,” she nodded at Hermione who waved at the woman.

“Nice to meet you. I’m Christina. I’ve founded this society along with a few of my friends. It’s great to meet new faces who believe in the cause. Come along. I’ll bring you to your stations.”

After an hour spent writing signs and painting images, in Narcissa’s case, given that Hermione knew her limits, she was ready to pack up and go home. There didn’t seem to be anything off here. They were Muggles bent on saving the planet. Hermione rose and stretched before stepping up to Narcissa.

“Let’s not do this again. There’s nothing wrong here, and your suspect is busy giving pep-talks and organizing this painting business.”

Narcissa didn’t look up from her intricate drawing of the Earth on fire. “She’s also busy skimming surface thoughts off people’s minds,” Narcissa muttered.

“What?”

“She’s a witch, all right. A very skilled one, at that. Tom is the only other person who employed legilimency with such precision. I suppose Dumbledore could have done it,” she said and finished her drawing, wiping away a smudge at one side.  

“I didn’t feel a thing!”

“She got to you, too. Your guard was down, all the way,” Narcissa said and raised her head. She frowned. “I reinforced your walls. She only saw what we wanted her to see.”

“What? I don’t even...”

“The bond, dear.”

“Right, right. I’m not worried about that, about you doing that. I’m just...that shouldn’t have happened. I’m sorry.”

“It’s all right. You’re not used to being constantly on guard.”

“You’d think so, given everything that has happened with Tom.”

“It’s been a couple of years since then, and you weren’t raised to be vigilant at all times. You assumed we live in peace times again, so you...relaxed.”

“Maybe, but I should have done better. We didn’t know for sure they’d be harmless.”

“Stop beating yourself up over this. Nothing happened.”

“How are we doing?” Christina asked, joining them.

“Fine. I’d forgotten how much I enjoy drawing,” Narcissa said.

“Oh, wow. Those images are amazing. We’re lucky to have you. We will go out for a drink after this, down at Ruby’s. Do you gals want to join us?”

“Thank you for the invitation,” Hermione said. “We might do that.” She smiled but panicked when she a foreign breeze flickered along her mind. Unsure of what Narcissa had shown Christina before, she drew a rather graphic memory of the previous night to the forefront of her mind and held back a triumphant grin when the motion disappeared and Christina blinked, heat rushing into her cheeks.

Christina cleared her throat. “I’ll leave you to it,” she said and hurried away.

“Was that necessary?”

“What? I had no idea what you’d set up before. What if I’d contradicted that somehow? This worked,” she said and shrugged her shoulder.

Narcissa shook her head. “We need to have a talk about our covers for next time.”

“Next time? You mean the actual protest or more volunteering?”

“For someone who tried to get people to sign up for S.P.E.W. and who was scandalized about the unwillingness of others to join and volunteer, your attitude toward saving the planet is...a surprise.”

Hermione sputtered. “I...this isn’t about that! I just...work has been insane, as you well know, and I was looking forward to spending all weekend relaxing, with you. I’m tired. And this here...it’s frustrating. Something’s up, but we still don’t know what.”

“We’ll get there, dear. I’m sorry. It’s been a hard few weeks for all of us. Let’s finish this up and see what we can salvage of the weekend.”

“After sending Kingsley an owl about this here,” Hermione said.

“I suppose that would be prudent.”

***

Nine Weeks Ago

Kingsley hadn’t been pleased about their report, though Narcissa thought this was more the case because they discovered something his MLE had overlooked than a true issue with rules and regulations. They’d been instructed to continue their work at the Department of Mystery, though Hermione was now also tasked with adding the movements and history of the Earth Protection Society to her research.

Narcissa had experienced a semi-break through in her analysis of the potions. One was something of a chameleon. It appeared to be a harmless calming draught, but upon closer inspection it had all the hallmarks of the imperio potion, similar to the one they’d encountered in Germany. However, Nils was in Azkaban, and this potion was slicker than his.

It was disguised better, and without a thorough analysis, she’d have considered it a mere calming potion. It was clever. And dangerous. The potion Nils had used on Hermione in Germany had a disintegration rate of a few days. She had the impression that this one would last longer. The ingredients and set-up appeared to act like a time-capsule that released bits of it at a time. Dosed right, one application might last several months, probably exceeding half a year.

The MLE had picked up that particular potion from a man still in interrogation. He refused to talk. Sometimes she bemoaned the unwillingness of the so-called good guys to employ more convincing methods to garner the truth. She hadn’t voiced that to Hermione, figuring she’d end up in an ethics debate if she did, and that was the last thing on her mind.

Aurors had been trailing Christina and other members of their group. They all appeared to be wizards and witches, at least the founding members of the group. So far, they had found nothing that connected them to the other splinter cells they’d encountered, and Narcissa had tried to figure out how they communicated, but to no avail. They hadn’t caught them in any wrongdoing so far, and since the ministry followed the rules, they hadn’t been able to stop or even interrogate them.

They were supposed to join them for their protest the next day, and Narcissa felt at a loss as to how the handle the anxiety that swept through her at the prospect. She couldn’t pin it down on anything concrete, just a general wave of doom that filled her being.

***

The morning of the protest began harmless, everything appeared to be like this was a regular Muggle group, or a benign bunch of Wizards. They were marching along the streets of London, heading toward the Kingston Christmas market where Christina and her friends had rented a stall to sell drinks and candy, advertising their cause and asking people to pitch in the fight to save the planet. With their money. Narcissa scoffed at seeing the display, upon which Hermione elbowed her side.

“Those look delicious,” Hermione said, pointing at bowls full of Christmas cookies. “Oh, is that hot chocolate?”

“Yes,” Christina said and laughed. “All of it is made from scratch by our members. Hopefully, we will sell quite a bit. It might even allow us to reach more people with our flyers.”

“That’s exciting!” Hermione said and fished out her wallet, ready to buy a bunch of cookies and a hot chocolate.

“No, dear. It’s free for you,” Christina said and smiled. Upon Narcissa’s frown, she added, “you’re both welcome to a cookie and a cup of hot chocolate.” She patted Narcissa’s arm and nodded at the woman manning the stand.

“Thank you,” Narcissa said.

“Yes. Thank you,” Hermione said and accepted both a cookie and a steaming cup. Narcissa followed suit.

‘Don’t drink this. Or eat that cookie,’ Narcissa sent to Hermione via their bond.

Hermione almost dropped her cookie and some hot chocolate sloshed over the rim of her cup. “Sorry. I’m a bit clumsy sometimes.”

“No worries,” Christina said and grabbed a wad of napkins and handed them to Hermione. “Here.”

“Thanks.”

“Excuse me, but Frank is waving at me. I’m afraid duty calls. Enjoy yourselves,” Christina said and sauntered off.

Hermione shuffled closer to Narcissa. “What is it?” She whispered.

“It smells off. And again, I don’t trust them.”

“You’re right. They’ve been so friendly and welcoming. You’d almost believe they are sincere.”

“Well, you catch more flies with honey, dear. Especially if it’s poisoned,” Narcissa said before placing a stasis spell on their drinks and cookies. “Let’s head home. I need to visit my lab.”

***

Present Day

“First it was poisoned cookies and hot chocolate, and now it’s ink. What will we do about Christina?”

“Ugh,” Narcissa groaned. “Let’s see if we’re still trapped and if not, we have to contact Kingsley, and we also need to owl Draco and Harry. Your parents! Oh, no. We were supposed to have dinner with them three days ago!”

“They’ll understand. Don’t worry,” Hermione said and rose, offering a hand to Narcissa, she pulled the blonde witch up. “Why do you think our patronus’ returned our memories?”

Narcissa shrugged. “They are connected to our souls. Perhaps once they found an expression, it healed whatever Christina’s potion had damaged? You could consider it a new research avenue.”

“Oh, I most definitely will. I wonder if our bond also played a role or even helped.”

“Possible. But let’s shelve your intellectual curiosity for a moment and see if we can get out of here?”

“Right. Priorities,” Hermione said and straightened.

“Adorable,” Narcissa muttered and leaned in to give Hermione a quick kiss on her lips.

“What was that for?”

“I wanted to,” Narcissa said. “Apparating?”

“Yes. Let’s go to Andy’s. You lead?”

Narcissa agreed and held out her arm for Hermione to link. “Ready?”

“Yes.”

Nothing happened. After a moment, Hermione sighed. “I’m assuming you tried, and it didn’t work. Again.”

“A safe assumption,” Narcissa grumbled.

“The patronus.” Hermione suggested, brandishing her wand and cast “expecto patronus.” Her phoenix shot into the room and she sent it to Harry with the information about their situation. The phoenix raised its wings and fluttered off.

“How do we know if it worked?” Narcissa asked.

“When Harry replies? Do you want to send one for Draco?”

“Yes,” Narcissa said before casting her lioness and sending it to her son, hoping he wouldn’t be too worried. “And now we wait.”

“No, now we have dinner and watch a movie, and then go to sleep in our bedroom.”

“Only sleep?” Narcissa asked with a raised eyebrow.

“Look who’s talking. Last time you were all worried you’d be taking advantage or ruining our chances for a future.”

“That surely didn’t stop you,” Narcissa said and grabbed Hermione’s hand.

“Can you blame me?” Hermione said and Narcissa laughed and bumped into the dark-haired witch, leading them out of the library. “We’re not watching a documentary, though.”

***

“No! Don’t!” Hermione shouted and jerked awake. She sat up, catching her breath and closed her eyes. She shuddered. A warm hand rubbing soothing circles on her lower back counteracted most of the chill that thumped through her.

“Are you all right, dear?” Narcissa’s sleep soaked voice asked.

Hermione usually loved the total darkness of their room, but now it resembled a suffocating pressure intent on snuffing out and drowning her senses. She cast a silent spell to turn on the light in the room.

Narcissa sat up and pulled her close. She kissed her temple.

“It’s odd.”

“What is?”

“During all those days without our recent memories, during all that time when that night at...Malfoy manor, when it was closer to me than it’s been in a long time, I never once dreamed of her.”

“But tonight you did?” Narcissa hugged her closer.

“Yes,” Hermione pressed out.

“Do you want to talk about it?”

“Yes. No.”

“It’s up to you.”

“Is it?”

“Of course.”

“She’s your sister.”

“That should never stop you from sharing what’s on your mind. Besides, Bella is dead.”

She withdrew from Narcissa. “And it would be different if she wasn’t?”

“What? Of course not. I’m not leaving your side.”

Hermione pulled up her knees and hugged them. “Because of the blood bond. You can’t.”  

“No. Because I love you.”

Hermione licked her lips. “I...I dreamed that she...she said you’d have to choose.”

“Bella asked me to choose what?”

“Between her and...me.”

“I see.”

“No, you don’t. Why...why would I even dream something like this? She’s dead. And even if she weren’t...I’d never make you choose, and if...if you wanted to have your sister at your side, even if she’d batshit crazy, then...”

“What? You’d walk away from me?”

“I’m not sure both Bella and I would fit into your life,” Hermione whispered, not meeting Narcissa’s gaze.

“This is a moot point, dear, but I’ve told you before. I’m in this. I’m not walking away, and I wouldn’t let you leave, not like that.”

“Like what?”

“A sacrifice. If you...if you’d truly wanted to leave me because...because I’m no longer what you want,” Narcissa said and sighed. “I’d let you go. I want you to be happy, and if I can no longer be a part of that happiness or better, if my presence in your life hinders your happiness, I’d leave. But not because you got it into your head that you should leave.”

“You mean like how you fought what’s between us because you thought you’re bad for me?”

Narcissa released a dark chuckle. “Yes. I saw reason. And you helped me get to that point, and I’d try to do the same.”

“I don’t want to leave you.”

“I’m glad,” Narcissa said and reached out for Hermione’s hand.

“It was so vivid. It...she was really there, and she...she was so mean.”

Narcissa squeezed Hermione’s hand. “Have you thought about seeing one of those mind doctor’s Harry is seeing?”

“I...I think I want to try on my own for a little longer.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes. I...I won’t let this come between us.”

“More than it already has?”

“That’s...that’s on me.”

“That’s not true,” Narcissa said.

“I...hold back because she’s your sister and I know you loved her. I feel awful to put you in this position, to...to have to listen to me talk about this, to see her like that.”

“Hermione, I’ve seen Bella’s descent into madness, her cruelty and vindictiveness for years. Decades, really. I was there when she tortured you.”

She closed her eyes and Narcissa raised her hand and pushed a strand of Hermione’s hair behind her ears. “You are so dear to me. I...you’ve made me so happy, and I feel free with you, free to be who I am. I don’t have to function with you. I get to be who I am, even more so, you want who I truly am,” she whispered. “That’s all I’ve ever sought, and I’d given up. There’s nothing you could say to me, about Bella, Andy, about anyone or anything, that would make me turn away. Merlin, you’ve made peace with my son because you knew how much this would mean to me.”

“He’s not so bad,” Hermione said and shrugged her shoulders.

Narcissa laughed and pulled Hermione close. “Come here. I want to hold you.”

Hermione allowed Narcissa to pull her back down and snuggled against her. “I feel the same way about you. I want us to stay together.”

“Then that’s what we’ll do,” Narcissa said and kissed the crown of Hermione’s head.

“I love you, too,” Hermione said and felt Narcissa’s mouth curl into a smile against her forehead.

***

They had just sat down for breakfast when two light blue patronus’ stormed into the kitchen. The stag hurried to Hermione’s side while the tortoiseshell cat jumped on the table in front of Narcissa.

“Hermione! You scared us. We’re so relieved to hear from you. Let us know what we can do to help. The ferret almost had a litter of kittens, and maybe now he can stop harassing me and Ginny,” Harry’s voice echoed through the room.

The cat patronus glared at the stag who lowered its head, pointing his antlers in the direction of the cat who wrapped its tail around its body and focused back on Narcissa.

“Ignore scar-head. I’m so happy you’re all right, mother. We were so worried. What can I do to help? Do you want me to contact Kingsley? They could send in Aurors to get you out. More competent ones than the boy who doesn’t die.”

The stag dragged one of its feet against the floor.

 Narcissa laughed and the cat butted her head against her arm before dashing off, followed closely by the stag.

“This is fantastic!” Hermione said. “We can inform Kingsley and get an update on the case. Maybe they’ve caught Christina and her band of dunderheads by now.”

“Dunderheads?” Narcissa said and laughed.

“I had to think of Snape. He’d called incompetent students that. Or students he didn’t like,” Hermione said and tilted her head. “It seemed to fit given what you’ve said about Christina’s attempt to poison us.”

“Indeed.”

“Maybe my barrier spell will show holes in the protective dome now. It should, because how else would the patronus’ have left and then reached us.”

“Let’s finish breakfast first. I’m starving,” Narcissa said and grabbed a pancake. “And then answer our patronus calls.”

“Yes. Wouldn’t want Draco to go through more labor.”

“You’re impossible,” Narcissa said and held back a laugh.

***

After sending their patronus’ and an additional one to Kingsley, they went to the courtyard to test Hermione’s theory.

“This time don’t throw bombarda at the barrier,” Hermione said, and Narcissa frowned.

“I recall we both did that at the same time,” she said.

“Yours was a tad faster,” Hermione said and Narcissa rolled her eyes.

Hermione closed her eyes and cast her spell, unaware of Narcissa’s gaze glued to her. The blonde witch still worried. She’d been having dreams about Bella, too, though they weren’t nightmares. Instead, she was a teenager again, hanging out with Bella and Andy. Their parents nowhere in sight, and left alone, the three sisters were talking and laughing and enjoying life. This wasn’t something she felt like sharing with Hermione whose dreams were the complete opposite, and who would only worry more if she learned of Narcissa’s dreams.

Perhaps staying at their old family home had unearthed these memories, good times, and a longing of having a future. She had a future now. One she desired more than anything. One she wouldn’t let slip away because fate had once painted them in different corners. They were together now. Still, she wished Hermione would see one of those head doctors. Even she could see the change in Harry, and she didn’t know him as well as Hermione did.

The light-show of Hermione’s spell drew Narcissa out of her contemplation. She raised her head and once more marveled at the intelligence and sheer power of Hermione. When she’d first seen her cast this spell, she’d been amazed, but without her memories, she hadn’t fully grasped how amazingly gifted the dark-haired witch was.

Purple light flashed across the barrier, like spiderwebs crawling along the dome and showing cracks and tears in several places.

“Can you augment those cracks?” Narcissa asked.

“You just want to blow it up,” Hermione said, eyes glowing and her face lit up with excitement.

Warmth spread through Narcissa at the sight of the younger witch. She sometimes couldn’t believe she was here, with her, and that they didn’t just find a way together once, but twice, even without memories. Though the blood bond surely did help.

“I resent that suggestion. You make me sound like a brash Gryffindor,” she said.

“If the shoe fits,” Hermione said and laughed. “I think this is an inverted fidelius charm.”

“What? How is that even possible?”

“Christina may be incompetent when it comes to potions, but this here,” Hermione stared at the dome. “It’s a complex web of immense power. Don’t you feel it?”

“I do, but I thought that was your work.”

“It bleeds together, but this is the fidelius charm. I’m sure of it. It would explain a lot.”

“How do we take it down?”

“I’m not sure yet. Our blood bond made it harder for this spell to function as designed. Getting our memories back damaged it, but how to completely crash it,” she said and sighed. “I have to mull this over.”

“We’ll find a way,” Narcissa said. “And now we also got outside help.”

“Yes, and Kingsley is going to get bombarded with patronus’ today,” Hermione said,

***

Kingsley had sent a patronus, agreeing with Hermione’s assessment that they were trapped in an inverted fidelius charm, and he promised that the Department of Mysteries was working on how to end the charm and free them. He also told them that their Aurors were closing in on Christina and her group, and that their information on her plan had been invaluable, though he feared that this was also likely what had caused Christina to focus her attention on them.

 Narcissa was less than impressed, arguing that the fidelius charm was one of the oldest magics, and that she doubted it could easily be broken.

“We need to go back to the library. I’m more confident that we’ll find something there than merely relying on the ministry alone,” Narcissa said.

“Didn’t you say the library is full of books that are more interested in the darker side of magic?”

“Yes, but the fidelius charm isn’t inherently light magic. It has a history of being used by all sides of any given conflict.”

“Intent and all,” Hermione said.

“Yes and no. The intent is still the same. You use the fidelius charm because you want to hide or protect something. Your intentions for such an act are irrelevant here, that is, they don’t impact the charm or the strength of it.”

“How did Christina change it around, though? How do you invert such a charm? Is there still a secret keeper, and do we need their help to break through the spell?”

“I doubt it. She might be the secret keeper, and likely could lift the spell, but she never would, so that’s a moot point. However, and I’ve been contemplating this, what she’d done, it’s not natural. The spell is designed to prevent the outside from coming in unless they know the location. Its original purpose is not to keep something trapped.”

“Yet, that’s what it does, quite efficiently,” Hermione said.

“Yes, but there are cracks now. I’m not sure what our patronus spells did or if all of this was connected or contingent on us not remembering the most recent past because—”

“The cracks appeared as soon as we remembered.”

“Exactly. This would suggest that we are tied to this charm, and if we are tied to it, then—”

“We’re part of the solution!”

“Yes. So, let’s head to the library and search for anything relating to the fidelius charm.

***

They found an ancient reference to the fidelius charm in one of the oldest tomes of the library. Hermione argued that they needed to reverse the spell, instead of placing the charm on the property, they’d cast a release spell.

“No such spell exists, but this potion reference here,” Narcissa pointed at a line in the text, “this could be helpful.”

“Let me see,” Hermione bent over Narcissa’s shoulders and read. “The fidelius charm tethers the secret to the soul of the secret keeper,” she muttered. “This potion contains calendula as its main ingredient.”

Aureum sanitatem. It’s a healing potion. It’s difficult to brew and I remember Severus keeping a stock at hand.”

“We could combine that potion with the spell I was suggesting,” Hermione said.

“Again, there’s no such spell, and—”

“I’ve invented spells before,” Hermione said and turned the page, reading further. “I already have an idea,” she mumbled.

“Let’s say you create such a spell, how would we administer it to whoever did this? We don’t know where they are.”

“That’s where you’ll come in handy,” Hermione said. “All right. I’ll create the spell while you brew the potion. We will imbue the potion with the spell and then I light up the barrier again and we pour the potion into the cracks.”

“The magical signature of the person who created this inverted fidelius charm is contained in there,” Narcissa said. “This might work.”

“The combination of the healing potion and the releasing spell might allow the barrier to fall, or at least, weaken it enough so we can crack it.”

 “It’s worth a try, I suppose. I don’t see any harm in either of these propositions.”

“You sure you’re up to brewing such a difficult potion?” Hermione asked, proud of herself for keeping a straight, serious face.

Narcissa shifted and caught Hermione’s gaze, her eyes narrowing. “You’re lucky I know you’re being facetious,” she sniffed, and Hermione laughed, pressing a quick kiss against Narcissa’s temple.

 

 

Chapter Text

Narcissa remained in her lab for the entire next day. The brewing of the Aureum sanitatem potion had required constant attention, and so she couldn’t leave the lab, not even to eat something, though Hermione had taken it upon herself to bring Narcissa snacks and eventually, had brought down lunch and dinner, and while Narcissa appreciated her thoughtfulness, it had remained difficult to even eat a few bites. She had understood why Severus hated brewing this potion.

It had to stew for twelve hours after stirring and mixing it for close to fifteen hours, but at least she had been able to get some sleep. They’d only had enough energy to talk for a few moments about Hermione’s progress on her spell, the dark-haired witch had apparently hit a snag but hoped a night of sleep would inspire a solution, before exhaustion lulled them to sleep.

The next morning, Draco’s patronus arrived.

“You’d think the side who bested the Dark Lord wouldn’t be that incompetent. How are you, mother? I’m trying to get Potter to use his celebrity status to speed things up but they seem to be helpless without Hermione,” the cat growled in her son’s voice.

Narcissa laughed. “His persistence has always been a trait I’ve admired most about my dragon.”

Hermione hid her smile behind her tea cup.

“I see your smile,” Narcissa said.

“Well, Draco’s love for you has always been his most redeeming quality. I can’t really argue with that.”

“Always?” Narcissa asked with a small smile.

“I never faulted him for his attachment or loyalty to his family. Quite the opposite, though that didn’t change the fact that he was an arrogant brat who I’d rather not interact with. You were his snooty mum who babied him too much, but I never doubted your love for him.”

“Snooty mum? I never babied my dragon and—”

Hermione coughed. “I love you, but let’s not lie to ourselves here.”

Narcissa grumbled. “How far along are you with your spell? Did sleep offer you an inspiration.”

Hermione’s face fell. “I dreamed about the echo last night.”

“Oh. I’m sorry.”

“You didn’t cause it. I...the spell...” she sighed.

“What is it?”

“I’m afraid it requires a sacrifice.”

Narcissa leaned back in her chair. “I don’t like the sound of that.”

“Me neither, but whenever I try to complete the spell, there’s this blockage. It’s hard to describe, but it’s almost as if the spell is underwhelmed by my efforts.”

Narcissa’s eyebrows raised. “You make it sound as if magic or a spell is alive.”

“Isn’t it? You were the one who taught me wandless magic, and kinda gave me an insight into how we used to channel magic. That fits. And if you consider that intent can change a spell or even a potion completely, and we’re not just talking about little, benign changes but complete opposite reactions. It makes sense that magic is alive in a way.”

“That is an interesting theory.”

“I’ve invented more than one spell, and I never fully realized it, but I always leaned into the spells. I followed my emotions to sort of satisfy the spell, if that makes any sense?”

“It does. That’s how I brew potions. I feel the magic and even the ingredients have a different weight to them.”

“Exactly. So depending on what I want a spell to accomplish, it draws me in divergent directions, and this time, there’s this resistance and it blocks me from finishing the spell. There’s something missing.”

“Why does it have to be a sacrifice, though? Usually dark magic makes such demands,” Narcissa said.

“I’m not sure. It’s what it feels like. This spell has teeth. It’s also going against the fidelius charm and it appears to hold a grudge?”

“Now I’m truly lost,” Narcissa said.

“I’ve played around with arithmancy and ancient runes and...this is the most complex spell I’ve ever done, more so than the one I used to heal your scar. Whenever I piece things together, there’s this pulsing energy that sucks me in. It’s like it views my attempts to undo the fidelius charm as offensive?” Hermione said. “I know, I know. This again sounds like magic is its own sentient being, and I’m not going that far, but this is what I’ve encountered so far.”

“Why did you focus the spell on being specifically used against the fidelius charm?”

“I didn’t at first, but then it felt like I was too general and that weakened the spell. I’m not sure a general version would be strong enough to undo what Christina did. Not to mention, the property is huge, so there’s a lot it needs to take a hold of.”

“True,” Narcissa said. “What sacrifice are we talking about?”

“It seems to bleed me dry.”

Narcissa frowned. “You are talking about magic, not your actual life force?”

“Yes. I’m not insane.”

“That is still up for debate,” Narcissa sniffed.

“Hey!”

“How long do you think these effects will last?”

“I’m not sure. It depends on how much energy it’ll need to dismantle the barrier. The thing, though, our blood bond makes this more difficult.”

“How so? I’d imagine it’s an advantage since you can draw from my strength as well.”

“Yes, but what if there’s a cascade that ends up knocking us both unconscious, then the barricade is down, and we’re exposed and helpless. What if Christina has her goons outside the property to take care of us should we escape?”

Narcissa blinked rapidly. “You did spend too much time being hunted down by a madman.”

“I’m not denying that.”

“There’s an easy solution. We ask Harry, Draco, and Andy to be there when we attempt the spell. That way, they are there to help if it drains us both.”

“Yeah. Knowing Harry, he’ll bring along several Aurors.”

“I’m sure if he doesn’t come up with that himself, Draco will harass him to bring along his colleagues.”

“No doubt,” Hermione said and chuckled.

“Go ahead and finish your spell work. My potion is calling me,” Narcissa said and rose.

Hermione stood and kissed Narcissa who pulled her close and nibbled at her lower lip.

“Don’t be too late,” Narcissa breathed. “I have plans for you tonight.” She smirked and sauntered out of the kitchen.

***

Both Harry and Draco had reservations about their plan. Draco, according to Hermione, was driving Harry up the wall, and Ron had threatened Draco with a bodybind curse if he didn’t calm down, which had affronted Narcissa.

Kingsley had approved a contingent of Aurors to guard the area around the manor. He couldn’t spare as many as Draco apparently had demanded because the rest of them were after Christina, and according to Kingsley, they were close to making an arrest.

Narcissa’s potion and Hermione’s spell were completed within a day of each other, and they were set for their first try to collapse the barrier in the morning, four days after starting to work on their respective tasks.

Hermione cast the spell to highlight the barrier, and right away, it lit up in a silver and gold glow with crawling purple fissures.

“The cracks are growing. Perhaps this will break down over time,” Narcissa said.

“That’s a possibility, but I rather not count on it. Not when we’re ready.”

“But the spell will drain you and—”

“Everyone is prepared and here. Nothing bad will happen to us. We have back-up.”

Narcissa sighed. “All right. But if this goes wrong—”

“You get to tell me I told you so,” Hermione said and strode to the biggest crack, Narcissa on her heels. “Are you ready?”

“As I’ll ever be,” Narcissa said and poured the thick yellow potion that Hermione had imbued with the spell over the crack. A misty shadow rose and circled around Narcissa before dissipating into the air.

 Hermione pulled out her wand and muttered the activating incantation.

Wild energy shot up her arm. It wasn’t visible, but Hermione felt it crawl over her skin and rush towards her chest, like tiny pinpricks that reminded her of the sensation when a limb had fallen asleep. Her heart galloped and sweat dripped down her neck.

“Hang in there, dear,” Narcissa said.

Hermione couldn’t reply, merely remaining standing took up all her efforts. Her energy bled into the spell, free flowing out of her and colliding with the barricade in an almost violent shudder.

The ground shook, and Narcissa edged closer, positioning herself in a way that Hermione could lean against her, which she did after another moment passed with the relentless drain of energy unabating.

The barrier flickered, the purple fractures shimmered and glowed before everything turned grey, eating up the rest of the barrier before disappearing with a loud bang. Hermione panted and collapsed against Narcissa who caught her.

“I got you,” she muttered, not registering the gaggle of people rushing their way until she heard her son’s voice calling for her. They were free.

***

By the time everyone had settled down, Harry and Draco were the only ones who remained at the Manor with them after the rest of the Aurors had left. Narcissa had promised Andromeda to stop by her house tomorrow when her sister told her she had to rush back home to babysit Teddy since Tonks had an important appointment she couldn’t postpone and Luna was sick with migraines that so far hadn’t reacted to any potion.

Harry nodded for Hermione to follow him to the kitchen while Narcissa and Draco chatted in the living room.

“What’s up?” Hermione asked.

“They got her. Christina. Last night, we got the drop on them. Took them by complete surprise. They are all in holding cells awaiting trial right now.”

“Wow. That explains why you and Ron looked so tired.”

Harry chuckled.

“Why did you want to tell me this away from Narcissa and Draco?”

“I’m officially not supposed to share that information, and I thought...well, if I just told you and you told Narcissa who then told Draco...” He shrugged his shoulders.

“Then you didn’t blabber to everyone?”

“Right,” Harry said and rubbed the back of his neck. “I’m sure Kingsley will tell you anyway. But I wanted you to know now, so you can sleep better tonight, knowing there’s no one after you. After both of you.”

“What were their plans? We never figured that out before we got trapped here.”

“No clue. Kingsley is really tightlipped about it.”

“I think I want to talk to her.”

Harry frowned. “Who? Not Christina?”

“Yes. I want to know why she did this and...it seems odd. Her attempt to poison us. It doesn’t mesh with the inverted fidelius charm.”

“What do you mean?”

“If she could do that, why would she have brewed such an inadequate poison?”

“Not everyone is brilliant at everything, ‘Mione,” Harry said and laughed. “I excelled at Defense Against the Dark Arts, but I was rubbish at Potions.”

“Snape—”

“I’d have been bad at it without Snape, too.”

“Still. I want to talk to her.”

“I doubt Kingsley will let that happen. Not to mention, Narcissa won’t like this idea either.”

“There’s no danger. She’ll be imprisoned.”

“Right. Go ahead. Ask your girlfriend what she thinks about your idea.” He grinned and Hermione shoved him.

***

As expected, Narcissa hadn’t been keen on Hermione meeting with Christina, but she’d backed down quickly, almost too soon, but she’d contemplate that later. First, she had to convince Kingsley who had been hesitant to grant Hermione the opportunity to talk to Christina before her trial at the Wizengamot, but for once she’d used her reputation to get what she wanted, and he’d allowed her access. So far, the conversation didn’t go as planned. At least Christina had admitted that she hadn’t wanted to kill Narcissa and her. The goal was to get them out of the way.

“You are insane,” Hermione said.

“Am I?” Christina asked. “Muggles would be better off with us in charge.”

“You have no right to subjugate people because you’re stronger than them.”

Christina laughed. “That’s pretty much the history of the world. Where do you think borders come from? It’s where two armies decided to settle for a truce after protracted fighting. Empires have conquered land and territories all throughout history.”

“Just because something has happened or even has a tradition of occurring, doesn’t make it right. If you are stronger, you have a responsibility not to hurt others,” Hermione said.

“Too bad no one is listening to you. Muggles still do this all the time. The stronger take what they want. They get the most and best resources, the most fertile lands, they get the best technology, and so on. They take it by force, if necessary. Then they dump their garbage on the lands of the poor masses.”

“There are laws—”

“Laws that they’ve influenced and corrupted!”

“You still don’t have the right to take them over by force!”

“Have you seen what they do to themselves, to each other? To this planet? If we don’t stop them, they will destroy this planet and then what?”

“So what’s your solution? You rule them all? How are you better than Voldemort?”

“I don’t want to harm them! I want to save them!”

“From themselves,” Hermione said.

“Exactly.”

“You’re still taking away their freedom. Besides, these ideas might start with good intentions, but over time, the power will go to your head and corrupt. Empires fall, kings and queens are toppled at some point. People don’t want to be ruled by all-powerful swayers. They want to make their own decisions.”

“They commit people who are suicidal. How is that different?”

“So you plan to commit the entire planet?”

“We’d start with Britain and see,” Christina said.

“You can’t force people to see reason. They need to want to change, to be better.”

“What if that doesn’t happen?”

“I don’t know. But force isn’t the answer,” Hermione said.

“Not even to save someone?”

“No. Though I understand the impulse.”

Chapter Text

Life had mostly returned to normal. They were awaiting the end of Christina’s trial, and Narcissa and Hermione had returned to work. Narcissa hadn’t been able to spend as much time with Andromeda as she had wanted to because work had picked up more than she’d expected, though she realized she had suffered from wishful thinking in that respect. At least Luna felt better, and she’d been able to ask her sister about the lake house property mystery. However, Andromeda also had no memory of it and hadn’t been able to place it.

It had been two odd weeks since breaking the barrier, and Narcissa was preparing dinner when Hermione had chosen that moment to confront her about a little side-trip Narcissa had undertaken earlier in the week. One she had hoped Hermione would greet with more understanding.

“I can’t believe you spoke out in Christina’s defense during her trial. Why didn’t you tell me?” Hermione asked, blotches of red spreading over her face and the pulse hammering in her neck clearly visible.

“Precisely because of how you’re reacting right now. You also couldn’t believe it when Harry spoke at my defense hearing.”

Hermione crossed her arms. “That’s not exactly how it happened, and besides, that’s different.”

Narcissa clenched her jaw “Why? Because you’ve realized you enjoy sleeping with me?”

Hermione’s arms fell to her side. What was going on? Why was Narcissa acting like this? “What on earth...as if there’s only that between us!”

“It doesn’t matter. I did what I felt was right. She doesn’t belong in Azkaban.”

“You’re serious?” Hermione asked.

“Christina might have gone about this the wrong way, but—”

“Might have? She poisoned us and imprisoned us here, not to mention, she planned to take away the free will of every Muggle in all of Britain, with the design to do so for the rest of the world!”

“I’m not saying what she did was right, but her motivation—”

“Is insane! You can’t do that!”

“You cannot deny that humans, Muggles, are destroying this planet.”

Hermione huffed. “No, but—”

“Then why are you so incensed about a plan to stop that?”

“I’m all for stopping the destruction of this planet, but not like that. Humans are more than puppets that you can control. You’d destroy everything that makes them human. Their creativity, their drives, their innate goodness—”

“I’m not seeing a lot of that,” Narcissa said and crossed her arms.

“There has to be another way, one that doesn’t depend on robbing people of their own choices.”

“Another way? Much like the one you found when you altered your parents’ memories and sent them to Australia?”

Hermione blanched and clenched her jaw. “I don’t believe you’d...how can you even...this is different!”

“Because it doesn’t affect you personally,” Narcissa said. “You’re good at seeing the big pictures when it doesn’t involve someone you love.”

“No one I love is involved when this planet is destroyed?” Hermione almost shrieked.

“The potential ruin of this planet is something we view in abstract terms because there are no real consequences for us to see, not yet. It’s a theory, so we can afford to be lofty in our ideas and push them to the future.”

Hermione frowned.

“Your parents faced a direct threat. You knew they would likely die without your interference and that was unacceptable to you.”

“And?”

“So you did something about it, even though it violated your parents’ free will, even though you knew they didn’t want to leave your side. You still did it.”

Hermione’s face fell.

“I’m not saying this to hurt you, dear. You were facing an impossible choice, but perhaps that is how Christina felt, an urgency to stop us from destroying ourselves. And the sacrifices were worth it in her eyes.”

“But who is she to decide that for everyone? There are so many parameters to consider and—”

“Again, I’m not saying what she did was right or that she should have done it. I’m definitely not pleased how it affected us, though thankfully, we’re fine.”

“Then what are you saying?”

“That she has a point, and that I don’t like your protracted opposition given your own history.”

“You’re calling me a hypocrite.”

Narcissa tilted her head. “Those are your words.”

“And your description. You basically say that because I had the audacity to save my parents from being murdered by your Dark Lord, I can never be opposed to the violation of the free will of others!”  

“My Dark Lord? Is that how you see me?”

“I’m just saying—”

“What are you just saying, Hermione?” Narcissa bit out, stalking to the dark-haired witch and halting in front of her, entranced against her will by Hermione’s fierce gaze and the rapid rise and fall of her chest.

Hermione raised her chin and held Narcissa’s gaze. “You’re being unfair. I know you treasure your own free will, and that you’d never want to relinquish it. I know you had no affinity for Tom, and you never belonged to him.”

“Then don’t say it. Words can damage, and—”

“I’m sorry. Let’s drop this.”

“Fine,” Narcissa said and turned to leave the kitchen, her appetite gone.

***

“What did you do?” Hermione asked the moment she’d entered Christina’s cell. She’d be released soon, to some rehabilitation program Hermione could still kick herself for championing. No. That wasn’t true. It was necessary, and it would help, but here, Hermione was convinced it benefited the wrong person.

Something was off with Narcissa, still, and that had been the case since they broke the barrier. She remembered a shadow engulfing Narcissa after she’d poured the potion on the barrier, but at the time, she’d been so concentrated and drained from the spell, she couldn’t react to it and then, after the relief of being free, she’d forgotten. At least until things changed and Narcissa became secretive and cold.

“Hello to you, too,” Christina drawled, her arms crossed in front of her chest as she leaned against the wall of her cell.

“What did you do to Narcissa?”

Christina chuckled. “You noticed? The images you showed me in London then weren’t just a distraction, huh? Isn’t she too old for you?”

Hermione just stared at her. If she was anything like her brother, she’d be unable to keep her deed a secret, and instead, she’d relish in gloating about how clever she was. The witch who thought she could poison Muggles by adding a potion to the water supply. Hermione had to refrain from rolling her eyes.

“It was one of my cleverer inventions, if I may say so,” Christina said.

“Naturally,” Hermione muttered, hoping Christina wouldn’t hear the traces of sarcasm saturating her voice.

“I allowed for the barrier to be broken, but it came with a price. Remember my brothers imperio potion? I refined it, and as soon as a potion was applied to destroy my barrier, the potion would rise and soak whoever stood the closest. That person would feel drawn to me. They would experience a compulsion to help me, and to withdraw from those who rejected me.”

Hermione’s jaw clenched. “What’s the antidote?”

“There’s none.”

Hermione stalked closer.

“Before you hex me, it’ll disappear. Much like the potion Nils gave you. With time, it’ll decay.”

Hermione held back a sigh of relief. “You are a horrible person, and if anyone of your family ever messes with my friends and family again,” she said and grabbed the bars of the cell. “I’ll end you,” she breathed before spinning around and marching out of the room.

***

Narcissa had been appalled upon learning of how Christina had poisoned her and used her as a pawn in getting an early release, though she said it made sense and would also explain her strange dreams and headaches. Thankfully, Christina hadn’t lied about the effects of the spell decaying with time, and now, after two more weeks, she seemed to be back to normal and suggested a celebratory dinner with their friends and family. The house-elves had the night off, so it was all up to Hermione and Narcissa to prepare the dinner.

“It’s so good to see you,” Harry said and hugged Hermione.

“You, too,” she said and returned his embrace. “Ginny,” she said and embraced her friend.

“Glad this insanity is behind us. Where’s Narcissa?”

“With Draco and Astoria in the kitchen. What did you do with the kids? Don’t tell me everyone loaded off their kids at Molly’s.”

“Oy! We’re not everyone. We’re family,” Tonks said and entered the house, followed by Andromeda and Luna who all embraced Hermione.

“Come on. Lord knows what these Slytherins come up with unsupervised,” Hermione said.

“Hey!” Andromeda said and they all laughed and followed Hermione into the kitchen.

“The rest of our guests have arrived,” Hermione said.

 “Finally. I thought you’d all bow out,” Narcissa said and greeted them.

“As if Potter would say no to a meal he doesn’t have to prepare,” Draco said.

“As long as you didn’t do the cooking,” Harry said and laughed after both men had glared at each other for a second.

Ginny shook her head. “They’re impossible.”

“I don’t know how you put up with it,” Hermione said.

“Me neither,” Ginny said.

“Hey!” Harry said and bumped into Ginny.

“All right. Let’s all head to the dining room. Everything is set up,” Narcissa said and ushered them out of the kitchen and into the dining room. She placed a hand on her sister’s arm before Andromeda could enter the dining room.

“Are you all right?” Andromeda asked.

“Yes, yes. I just wanted to make sure you and Luna are still planning to stay the night. We prepared the guest room for you.”

“Oh, yes. We are. It’s odd being back here, but the changes you’ve made make it better, and surreal. It hits me every time I’m here. I’m happy you’ve made this house a home.”

“Thank you. That was the idea,” Narcissa said and squeezed her sister’s arm.

Together, they entered the dining room and sat down.

The food appeared on their plates and they ate in silence at first before Tonks turned to Narcissa. “So, what exactly happened? No one wants to tell us anything and I’ve already cornered Harry and Draco here, and even they don’t know. Unless they were lying to me,” she said and glared at the two men.

“No, not lying,” Harry said.

“Would I lie to you, cousin?” Draco asked.

“Hmm,” Tonks hummed.

“They truly don’t know,” Narcissa said and lifted her cup.

“And?” Andromeda asked. “We’ve waited long enough.”

“Officially, nothing happened. An accidental spell caused the property to become unplottable,” Narcissa said.

“That’s nonsense,” Draco said. “What really happened?”

They all turned their gazes to Hermione.

“Why is everyone looking at me?” She asked.

Narcissa chuckled. “They are aware of your propensity to follow the rules, dear.”

“I don’t always follow rules,” she grumbled.

“We’re not talking about that, dear,” Narcissa said with a smirk.

Hermione flushed and Draco groaned.  She cleared her throat. “When we were in Germany, we had a run in with a wizard with a grudge against Narcissa. He also had designs to brew powerful potions to subdue people and governments. He has a sister, and...she was the actual potions genius and generally, a truly gifted witch.”

“So you were up against the two of them?” Draco asked.

“No. The brother is in Azkaban,” Narcissa said.

“The sister wanted revenge?” Andromeda said.

“That’s what we thought, too, given that was part of the brother’s motive. But no. She wanted to rule Muggles—”

“Again?” Harry said. “I’m so sick of wanna-be dictators.”

Ginny shared a smile with Hermione.

“As I was saying,” Hermione continued, “she wanted to rule Muggles to save them from themselves. That they are harming themselves and the planet, and if we don’t stop them, they will turn the Earth into an uninhabitable wasteland.”

Silence.

“She did have a point,” Narcissa murmured and Hermione glared at her.

“We’re not having that discussion again,” Hermione groused.

Narcissa sighed. “You’re right. She went about it the wrong way. She poisoned us. We assumed she’d tried to kill us and thought her incompetent, but in reality, it was all a set-up to both pause our research into her operation, and to distract the ministry and thus allow her to move her plan forward.”

“Smart,” Draco said.

“Yes,” Narcissa said. “She’d developed an imperio potion and planned on infiltrating the Muggle water place. What is that called again, dear?”

“The water companies.”

“Yes, right. She wanted to get her potions to people that way. Then it would travel through these metal straws and—”

“Pipes,” Hermione corrected.

“Right. Regardless, that’s how she wanted to influence all Muggles.”

Harry frowned. “That makes no sense. This plan would never have worked. What? People get imperioed by taking a shower with a completely diluted potion mixed in the water?”

Hermione snickered. “That’s the consequence of witches’ and wizards’ unfamiliarity with how anything Muggle works. You’re right. It never would have worked. Even if some people drink tap water, she wouldn’t have had the needed quantities of the potion to affect them.”

“So it was all for nothing? She almost killed you and made us all sick with worry for a plan that would never work?” Draco spat.

“Would you have preferred her plan to work, dragon?” Narcissa asked.

“What? No. Of course not.” He fell back in his chair. “The incompetence just...it irks me.”

“I’m sure your godfather would be pleased,” Narcissa said.

“To Snape, who would have delighted in eviscerating the stupidity of that plan,” Harry said and raised his glass.

Everyone followed, and “to Snape,” echoed around the room.

“Time for dessert,” Narcissa said and rose to head to the kitchen a moment later.

“I’ll help you,” Hermione said and followed.

She closed the door behind her and leaned against it, eyeing Narcissa’s concentrated expression while prepping the dessert.

“You are a witch,” Hermione said.

Narcissa laughed. “Is that new information to you?”

“I’m just wondering why you do all this by hand.”

“Because it tastes better that way.”

Hermione edged toward Narcissa when the blonde witch added the finishing touches to the trays. “Do you recall the spell you found in your journal and didn’t want to cast while we’d lost our memories?”

Narcissa froze before slowly rising and catching Hermione’s gaze. “Yes.”

“I think we should use it tonight. On you.”

Narcissa swallowed hard. “Andromeda and Luna will stay over.”

“We’re witches.”

“I fail to see how...oh. Right,” Narcissa said and stepped back, bumping against the cabinet behind her and with Hermione so close their breaths mingled. “Our guests are right through that door,” she whispered but licked her lips.

“They’re not here, though,” Hermione breathed and close the distance between them.

Narcissa groaned at the first touch of their tongues and Hermione’s hands shot up into Narcissa’s hair, pulling her closer.

The struggle over the past weeks, and the reveal of what Christina had done to Narcissa still haunted Hermione and had left her with a pent-up energy that had led to her following Narcissa into the kitchen. She’d remembered their arguments and it suddenly seemed as if it had just happened, riling her up. Hermione didn’t know why arguing with Narcissa put her in this state, but she couldn’t remember a time where Narcissa had complained about the outcome. Though usually they didn’t have a potential audience so close by.

The intensity of their kiss grew, and Hermione moaned and shuddered when Narcissa bit her lip while pushing a leg between Hermione’s. Narcissa flipped them around and pushed Hermione against the cupboard, her hands traveling down Hermione’s frame.

She hadn’t meant to escalate this, only desired to tease Narcissa and suggest the spell for tonight, but those thoughts fled the moment Narcissa’s deft fingers undid the button of her jeans.

“Cissa,” Hermione moaned and dropped her head back, not even registering the hard surface of the cabinet behind her. Narcissa’s cool hand stood in stark contrast with the heat she encountered when she pressed against Hermione’s panties.

“You’re so wet,” Narcissa muttered, claiming Hermione’s lips in another kiss.

Hermione gasped and rocked her hip against Narcissa’s fingers. She closed her eyes at the sensation of one of those fingers sneaking underneath her panties. Trailing along...

“What is taking...Oh Salazzars’ snakes. My eyes!” Andromeda called and stomped her foot while Hermione and Narcissa jumped apart, both flushed and with their gazes on the floor.

“Uh, we got distracted,” Hermione said, still avoiding Andromeda’s gaze. Her neck burned and she was sure she’d never been more embarrassed in her life.

“I can see that,” Andromeda said. “Wash your hands, Narcissa,” she huffed and grabbed the first tray of desserts. “Make yourselves presentable.” She dashed out of the kitchen.

Hermione groaned. “I’m sorry.”

Narcissa still stood frozen.

“Are you OK?”

The blonde witch nodded but remained silent.

“Come on. Let’s get going. I don’t want her to come back and...”

“Right,” Narcissa said before rushing to the sink and washing her hands.

***

After desserts, they’d settled in the living room and Narcissa had brought out two bottles of her best wine and added some snacks on the coffee table.

“I don’t know how you always end up in so much trouble,” Andromeda said.

Harry chuckled. “Trouble finds us, though it seems to have found its new home in Hermione.”

“So did my sister,” Andromeda muttered, and Ginny, who sat to her left snorted before coughing and placing her glass on the table.

“What did you say?” Harry asked.

“Nothing,” Andromeda said.

Ginny patted Harry’s leg.

“Let’s play a game,” Tonks said. “A Muggle game we played at Hogwarts, learned it from a few Muggle-born students. It’s loads of fun.”

“Hermione’s been teaching me a few of them. Does it involve tasks?” Narcissa asked.

“I bet she is,” Andromeda mumbled, and Ginny shook her head.

“What do you keep muttering, Andy?” Narcissa asked and frowned at her sister.

“All right. So this game, Tonks? How does it work?” Ginny asked.

“Is it like bowling? I don’t see how this could happen here. I suppose we can transfigure the den,” Draco said, tapping his index finger against his lips.

“You and bowling,” Harry said and rolled his eyes. “We never should have introduced you to it.”

“You’re just bitter because you keep losing,” Draco said with a smirk.

 “Dora, dear, go ahead,” Narcissa said.

“It’s called Never Have I Ever,” she said. “OK, so I start and say never have I ever cast a spell. Then everyone who has cast a spell must drink a sip of their wine. It’s better with shots, but this’ll work, too. Those who never cast a spell don’t have to drink.”

“But everyone here has cast spells,” Draco said.

“That’s an example, blondie,” Tonks said and bumped into her cousin. “You can say what you wish.”

“You played that game at Hogwarts? With alcohol?” Andromeda asked.

“Maybe?” Tonks said and grinned.

“As if you’re so innocent,” Narcissa scoffed. “Never have I ever drank alcohol while at Hogwarts,” she said and raised her glass to drink. So did everyone else in the room.

“Never have I ever seen Dabberblimps,” Luna said, and remained the only one who drank afterwards.

Andromeda chuckled and patted her hand.

“Never ever have I had sex with someone in this room,” Draco said and amidst a mixture of groans and snickers, everyone but Tonks drank.

Astoria rolled her eyes but smiled at Draco.

“That was a no-brainer, Ferret,” Harry said.

“Then let’s make it more interesting,” Tonks said. “Never ever have I had sex with two people in this room. Not at the same time. Though, if that’s what floats your boat...” Tonks said and shrugged her shoulders.

“Dora!” Andromeda hissed and right after, everyone fell silent when both Ginny and Hermione drank from their glasses.

“Wait,” Harry said, his gaze flickering between the two women. “But...that means that...”

“Your bestie had sex with your wife, scar-head!” Draco said and laughed. “This is fantastic.”

Harry took off his glasses and cleaned them with his shirt. “When did this happen?”

Ginny and Hermione exchanged a glance.

“Did you know about this?” Harry asked Narcissa.

“Yes,” Narcissa said and held Harry’s gaze.

“It was at Hogwarts, after...we’d broken up,” Ginny said.

“Oh,” Harry said and put his glasses back on. “All right, then. Still better than sleeping with my mum,” he said and glared at Draco who narrowed his eyes.

Hermione spluttered and coughed, which drew all eyes on her.

“What? But...that’s not possible!” Harry said.

“Not me!” Hermione said. “Merlin!” She said and eyed Narcissa who closed her eyes.

“Wait...mother? You...did I understand that correctly? You slept with Harry’s mother?”

Harry rubbed the back of his neck. “It doesn’t matter. I don’t need to know the answer.”

“But I do!” Draco said.

“It’s hardly any of your concern,” Narcissa said and felt color rise in her cheeks. Hermione would have been the worst Slytherin. Ever.

“You did! Oh, this is the best evening ever,” Draco said and shifted to slap Harry’s back. “We finally got something in common!”

“What? That your mother slept with my best friend and my mum? You notice the common denominator here?” Harry growled.

“Yes! And I’m in complete denial about that, but now I’m not the only one traumatized by this.” Draco laughed.

Harry sighed. “Great game, Tonks.”

“Hey! That’s not my fault. The Black ladies are always good for a surprise,” Tonks said.

“Very tue,” Andromeda said and drank a sip of wine.

“Is all of this about you walking in on Narcissa and Hermione having sex in the kitchen earlier?” Luna said.

Andromeda coughed before heaving, “it’s not safe to drink anything here.”

“You what?”

“Mother!”

“Are you serious?”

Ginny wiped her eyes.

“We were not having sex,” Narcissa said.

Hermione flushed crimson and her eyes found the bottom of her glass.

“You had your hands down Hermione’s pants!” Andromeda said.

“Too much information!” Draco muttered and dropped his face into his hands.

“Be careful what you wish for,” Harry snickered.

“Oh, shut it, Potter,” Draco groaned.

“Does this game always escalate like this?” Ginny asked.

“Not when we played it,” Tonks said.

“I’d sure hope not!” Andromeda growled.

***

The guests had left and Narcissa had excused herself to talk to Andromeda.

“Will you join us? We plan to check out the lake house tomorrow. It’s by Windmere lake. The one I mentioned the other day?”

“Sure. Luna and I will tag along. After breakfast. I’m assuming you’ve filled up the pantry after being trapped here?”

“You didn’t starve tonight,” Narcissa said.

“Indeed. Don’t be too loud in case you feel inspired to finish what you’d started in the kitchen earlier.”

“You’ll never let this go,” Narcissa grumbled.

“Of course not,” Andromeda said and smiled before wishing her sister goodnight.

Narcissa sighed and returned to the bedroom to find Hermione sitting on the bed, reading.

“Did she give you a hard time?” Hermione asked.

“This is all your fault,” Narcissa grumbled.

“If I remember correctly, you were the one with your hand down my pants. All I had planned was some necking and teasing.”

“I don’t recall you complaining,” Narcissa drawled.

“I wasn’t. In fact, I’d like to continue. I’ve already soundproofed the room. Go and hurry up with your shower,” Hermione said, her gaze shifting from Narcissa’s eyes down her body and back up again.

“You’re impossible,” Narcissa huffed and disappeared into the bathroom.

Narcissa had taken a quick shower, put on a night gown and braided her hair before exiting the bathroom.

Hermione sat cross-legged, clad only in red panties and a white t-shirt, in the recliner, reading again. She placed the book on the side table upon Narcissa returning.

“Come here,” Hermione said in a rough voice.

Narcissa sauntered over and halted in front of the dark-haired witch who rose and took off her shirt before stepping out her panties, dropping both items on the floor.

Narcissa swallowed hard.

Hermione edged closer and without saying a word, grasped the hem of Narcissa’s nightgown and pulled it over her head before it joined Hermione’s clothes on the carpet.

“Sit,” Hermione said and guided her to the recliner.

Narcissa sat, holding the younger witch’s gaze. She laid her hands on top of the arm rests and her fingers dug into the soft fabric when Hermione joined her and straddled her lap.

Narcissa’s heart pelted and she exerted an enormous effort to keep her breathing semi-regular.

A spell, her spell, fell from Hermione’s lips and the blonde witch groaned at the swelling between her legs.

“I’ve been thinking about this all day,” Hermione moaned.

“Even earlier when we had that little disagreement?” Narcissa mumbled, her eyes falling shut when Hermione stroked her, trying to keep from hyperventilating at her lover’s touch.

“Especially then,” Hermione whispered before leaning closer to lick into Narcissa’s mouth.

The blonde witch greedily sucked at the hot muscle pushing into her mouth. The kiss escalated quickly and Narcissa’s hands clasped Hermione’s back, pulling her closer. Her hips pushed up and Hermione broke the kiss.

She leaned in and breathed into Narcissa’s ear, “Don’t move. I want to ride you.”

Narcissa trembled and her fingers clawed at Hermione’s back, but she stopped all movements of her hips. She moaned when Hermione rose and guided her inside. There was no resistance and the dark-haired witch’s wetness along with being slowly engulfed in liquid heat ripped a long, guttural moan from Narcissa’s lips. She struggled to remain still while everything within her shouted to rise, to grasp Hermione’s hips and thrust. She quivered and sweat pooled on her body from the strain of keeping still.

Narcissa’s hands on Hermione’s back slipped lower, and she wasn’t sure if this was caused by her sweat or her desire to hold on to Hermione’s hips and grind.

Hermione still didn’t move, she sat still and nuzzled Narcissa’s neck. When she squeezed and released her inner muscles, Narcissa, close to fainting, dropped her head back and opened her mouth, but no sound escaped.

Heavy breathing remained the only noise filling the room along with the sound of their bodies clinging to each other.

Hermione shifted and her hips rocked forward, slowly, and far from the speed and urgency that Narcissa needed.

“Please,” Narcissa begged, never relinquishing her vise grip on Hermione’s hips.

“Please what?” Hermione asked while continuing her languid movements.

“Let me move,” Narcissa pressed out.

“Not yet,” Hermione said and kissed Narcissa, hard.

The blonde witch returned the fevered kiss and moaned into Hermione mouth while tears leaked down her cheeks when the dark-haired witch increased her speed.

“Don’t move,” Hermione panted.

Narcissa’s body locked and she feared her back might snap from the strain of holding still. She opened her eyes and even through her blurred vision she realized her mistake.

Hermione’s eyes were screwed shut and her lips barely apart with wisps of hot air morphing into small pants. Her cheeks were flushed, the redness traveling down her neck and spreading across her chest.

Her earthy scent filled Narcissa’s nostrils, mixing with the heady aroma of their combined arousal and making her dizzy. Hermione’s breasts rose and fell with the rhythm set by her rocking hips. There was a look of pure concentration etched on Hermione’s face; she was chasing her pleasure and Narcissa had to restrain herself from climaxing from the vision in front of her.

Narcissa’s hands released Hermione’s hips and instead stroked her breasts, she pinched and rubbed her nipples.

Hermione moaned and Narcissa’s stomach clenched.

The blonde witch lifted one of Hermione’s breasts and sucked her rigid nipple into her mouth, twirling her tongue before scratching her teeth along the skin.

“Merlin,” Hermione groaned and sped up her hips, but the pace still fell short.

Then Hermione once more squeezed her inner muscles and Narcissa released Hermione’s nipple with a pop, shouting in near agony.

“You’re...killing me,” she groaned and shut her eyes.

Hermione chuckled and pulled her closer. “That would ruin my plans for later,” she mouthed and kissed Narcissa’s damp temple, pressing their chests together.

“What plans?” Narcissa asked, regretting the question the moment it left her lips. She feared she might not survive the answer.

“I will have you on this bed, with your spell again, until you are too hoarse to shout and too weak to move,” she whispered while placing kisses all over Narcissa’s face who scratched her nails down Hermione’s back and shuddered.

“Most of all, though, you’ll be sore. As sore as I’ll be when you’re done,” she said, sounding almost dreamily.

Narcissa doubted she’d make it through the night. Hermione’s words rang in her ears, so she almost missed what the dark-haired witch uttered before lowering her head and biting Narcissa’s shoulder.

 “Move. Now,” she’d demanded.

Narcissa didn’t react at first, her body too far lost in the sensation of Hermione’s teeth sinking into her skin, the hot, pulsating throb between her legs, and the anticipation of the pictures Hermione had just painted. After a few seconds ticked by where her heart lurched to a stop, much like the stillness that had overtaken Hermione’s body and the room, it clambered to a battering pace when Hermione’s words finally penetrated the haze in her mind and Narcissa croaked, “yes,” before pumping her hips.

She gripped Hermione’s hips and worried for a second about bruising her lover’s skin but then Hermione groaned and called out her approval, causing Narcissa’s mind to go blank while her hips thrust upward, undulating in a punishing pace that had both witches shout out their release in quick successions.

***

They apparated near the lake house and from the outskirts, Narcissa felt the wards that protected the property.

“These wards are strong,” she said and raised her hands to touch them. “They’ll let us through, well aside from Luna.”

“I can wait here. I think I saw some Heliopaths over there,” she said and wandered to the side, near the lake.

“Please don’t drown,” Narcissa muttered.

“She’s fine,” Andromeda said. “It shouldn’t take long, dear.”

“It’s all good,” Luna said with a smile and waved at them.

“Here we go,” Narcissa said and the three of the stepped through the wards.

The house appeared to be in better shape than expected. The garden was overgrown with weeds and shrubs that hadn’t been cut in ages. Ivy grew on the outside walls of the building and the pier leading to the lake didn’t fill Narcissa with confidence that it would carry their weight.

“You could renovate it and it could be a lovely place for summer vacations,” Andromeda said.

“You’re the oldest of us. It should be yours,” Narcissa said.

“I’ve also been disowned.”

“The wards still recognized you.”

“They go by blood,” Andromeda said. “I appreciate the gesture, though,” she said and reached out to squeeze Narcissa’s hand.

“You could share it,” Hermione said. “If it’s a summer home, you likely wouldn’t need it at the same time.”

“True,” Narcissa said.

They strode up the pathway and halted at the front door.

“Are you ready?” Narcissa asked and both women nodded. She touched the front door with her hand, and after a moment of silence, it sprang open with an elongated scrape.

 The inside of the house was dark and damp. Hardly any light entered the building and any illumination stemmed from thin streaks hitting the ground amidst shadows.

“Let’s get some light in here,” Andromeda said and marched to the closest windows, opening the shutters.  

The entrance way led to a sitting room and wooden stairs rose from the hallway, leading to the second story that was also shrouded in darkness.

All three startled when a bang echoed down from upstairs.

“Someone’s here,” Hermione whispered.

“Rats?” Andromeda asked.

“Those are some big rats,” Narcissa said, stepping in front of Hermione and Andromeda at the bottom of the steps.

A creak followed a shuffling noise and a shadow appeared at the top of the stairs.

“Who’s there?” Narcissa asked, drawing her wand. The other two witches followed suit.

“Mistresses Black. How lovely seeing you finally. You were wee ones last time we saw you,” a high pitched voice rang out before a wizened house elf came into view and toddled on short, stubby legs down the stairs.

“Who are you?” Narcissa asked.

“My Dolly still serves at the Black Manor? We has been forbidden from seeing or talking with her.”

“She does. Wait, are you Dodie?”

The house else nodded and a smile spread over seemingly paper-thin skin.

“But…what are you doing here?”

“Me and my other daughter, Dee, are taking care of the wee one.” She snapped her fingers and another house elf appeared next to them. This one looked younger and she held a child in her arms who dwarfed her in size. The little girl looked to be about three or four years old. Black curls hung loosely down her shoulder and her wide, dark eyes stared down at the three speechless women.

“Merlin help me,” Andromeda muttered. “She looks just like Bella.”

“This is Delphini. Mistress Bellatrix’s wee one. She handed us the babe after it was born. We raised her ever since.”

***

Two Weeks Later

Bright, chiming laughter filled the room, followed by a crash, and the shriek of a scandalized cat who had just been rudely woken up.

“No, Delphini. We don’t scare Crookshanks,” Hermione said, hurrying after the little girl who had thrown down her books from the side table, right next to the arm rest of the couch where her cat had been resting.

“Crooky!!” Delphini called, clapping her chubby hands in delight.

“He’s too old for that,” Hermione muttered and picked up a squealing Delphini.

“Too old,” she repeated before snuggling against Hermione.

“Where’s your aunty, hmm?” She rocked the child against her before dropping on the couch.

“Aunty bubbles!” Delphini shouted and raised her hands, her fingers outstretched and a wide smile on her face.

“Why did I ever mention that?” Hermione said with a smile. She had told Narcissa about her love for soap bubbles as a kid, the kind you blew through a plastic ring. Naturally, Narcissa came up with a magical version of that and had been enchanting Delphini ever since.

It had been a challenging two weeks. After finding Delphini, they had decided to take her in, along with the two house-elves who had a tearful reunion with Dolly and Eddie at the manor. While they would rely on Dodie and Dee to help with Delphini, or better, to remain a presence in her life, given that the two house-elves had been her sole caregiver since she was born, Hermione had suggested a new arrangement.

From now on, the house-elves of Black manor would own the lake house, and they’d get a monthly stipend. For that, they’d still restock the family pantry and kitchen with supplies, and twice a month they’d clean the manor, while Narcissa and Hermione would take care of anything else. The house-elves would always be welcome and were free to visit any time.

As for Delphini, they wanted to share custody, so to speak, with Andromeda. Both Narcissa and Andy had been enthralled by the little girl and neither wanted the other to miss out on raising their niece.

Hermione had worried about the lack of stability that came with such constant change, but Andy had argued that as long as they’d establish a routine, she’d be fine.

They created two identical bedrooms for Delphini at both their places and each of them would have the girl for two weeks.

“Hey,” Narcissa said after entering the room. She hurried to the couch and sat next to Hermione.

“Aunty bubbles!” Delphini cried and flung herself at Narcissa who caught her with a laugh.

“Hello sweetie,” she said and kissed the crown of Delphini’s head. She reached out and grasped Hermione’s hand. “How are you? Has she been good?”

“I’m fine,” Hermione said and squeezed Narcissa’s hand. “Define good for a three-year-old,” Hermione said.

“So she’s been a perfect little angel, haven’t you?” Narcissa said and kissed Delphini who giggled.

Hermione snorted. She could vividly picture Draco’s upbringing and it explained so much. Everything, really. “Did you find out? About...you know,” she said and nodded at the little girl. “Her other...maker?”

“It seems Bella had kept her pregnancy a secret. Rodolphus is still in Azkaban, but as far as my sources could tell me, he is unaware of her existence.”

“That’s good, right?”

“Yes. We’re in the process of registering her as a Black, but...” Narcissa’s gaze drifted to Hermione before returning to the little demon in her arms who had the audacity to fall asleep in Narcissa’s arms, after having thrown a tantrum earlier, refusing to lie down for a nap.

“Traitor,” Hermione muttered.

Narcissa’s eyes widened and her head snapped back. “Excuse me?”

“Her, not you,” Hermione said and pointed at the slumbering child. “She absolutely didn’t want to sleep earlier, no matter what I tried. And now look at her,” she grumbled.

Narcissa chuckled.

“You were going to say something that you worried would upset me?” Hermione said.

“Yes, well,” Narcissa started before clearing her throat. “It’s not apparent when or if Rodolphus will be released, but...neither Andy nor I cherish the possibility of him claiming Delphini when that happens so...would you mind it terribly if we register her as our child?”

“Ours as in yours and mine?”

“Yes. Who else?”

“What about Andy?”

“I am quite aware what they say about pureblood families and some might not be that far off, but I’m not registering a child with my sister!” Narcissa said, clearly affronted.

Hermione laughed. “Right. OK. Could we still share custody?”

“Of course. We wouldn’t call it that officially, but since Andromeda is family, she’d have guardianship over Delphini regardless, should something happen to us, and what we do in the meantime, well, that is up to us.”

“All right. I don’t mind.”

“You know what that means, correct?”

“Uh, we take care of Delphini? How is that different from what we’ve been doing or discussed before?”

Narcissa sighed. “If I register Delphini as our child and heir to the Black family, it binds you to me.”

“As opposed to the blood bond we share?”

“This is a legal bond, and usually involves marriage, though it doesn’t have to. Just both parents have to acknowledge the bond to their child.”

“That’s the second bond between us that traditionally involves marriage,” Hermione said. “You’re sure you’re not asking me to marry you in a kind of round-about way?” Hermione continued, struggling to hold back the grin that threatened to spill over her features.

Narcissa sat up straighter, jostling the little girl who grumbled before burying deeper into her. “What?”

“It’s fine. I’m messing with you,” Hermione said and leaned closer, pressing a soft kiss against Narcissa’s lips. “I’d say yes, though, in case you wondered,” she whispered before withdrawing and enjoying the blush that spread over Narcissa’s cheeks.

“That’s...good to know,” she said.

“When’s Andy coming to pick up the spawn of the devil?”

“Hermione!”

“Just kidding. She’s a handful, but so adorable. I didn’t...I never thought much about having kids, to be honest. I also didn’t think you wanted any more children, though it wasn’t on my mind a lot. With everything that has been going on and...I don’t know. But I’m glad she’s here.”

“Me, too,” Narcissa said with a smile. “This is really OK with you? If not, we can look into—”

“No, it’s perfectly fine. I’d never ask you to abandon your niece.”

“Not abandon! I’d never do that. I meant we could make Andy the legal parent or have her take care of Delphini more. I don’t want to lose you.”

“You won’t lose me. Just because I never had an urgent desire to be a parent, that doesn’t mean I’m not up for it or that I don’t want to do this with you. It’ll be...I’m happy that at least one Black child will be raised with love and support,” she said and squeezed Narcissa’s hand.

“Me, too,” Narcissa said in a hushed voice before turning shinning eyes at Hermione. “I love you.”

“I love you, too,” Hermione said.

Life may have turned out differently than she expected, but if she were honest, she’d never been able to dream up the joy and happiness that filled her being while gazing in wonder at her family.

 

The End