Narcissa barely made it in time to the toilet before crashing down onto her knees and throwing up her stomach’s contents. She cursed herself again and again and again. She should have recognized the signs sooner! Salazar’s Snake, she had recognized them. But she was too stubborn to admit they were true and instead kept telling herself that her grief for Lucius was the cause. Damn Lucius! Hot tears streamed down her cheeks as she dragged herself to the sink to rinse her mouth.
Anger flared through her body when she remembered the Healer asking her if she hadn’t used protective spells or potions. How dare he! Of course he couldn’t have known that Narcissa had tried for many years after Draco to conceive again without success. Of course he couldn’t have known that she had craved for more children until it almost drove her insane. And of course he couldn’t have known that those were the reasons she and Lucius never used protections. Just in case. Just like as some sort of miracle, they would be blessed with another life.
Bile rose in Narcissa’s throat and before she knew it, she was once more clawing at the edge of the toilet, throwing up until it hurt. Stress always had a terrible effect on her body and, combined with hormones raging through her like a bonfire, she felt sicker than she ever had before. It would seem her wish for another life had finally been granted, but it had cost her Lucius’s life and the irony of that just made her want to do an impression of Bella’s insane cackle. When she finally managed to calm her stomach down a bit, Narcissa craved a bath.
Nothing happened much to Narcissa’s dismay who tried to summon the House-Elf again. Her voice echoed through the Manor but the familiar banging sound of Elf-apparition never came. Exasperated Cissy marched downstairs to demand an explanation for his tardiness when she almost tripped over a body. A pang of guilt shot through her heart when she recognized the ancient creature at her feet. Dropped dead from old age, just like she feared. Poor Beril.
The blonde rubbed her eyes. Her bath would have to wait. She marched to the fireplace and tossed a bit of Floo powder in it. If only her head travelled through the Floo, her stomach wouldn’t get sick, right? She squeezed her eyes shut before kneeling and putting her head in the flames, feeling relieved that her theory proved somewhat correct. She managed to arrive at her destination without feeling sick after all. The wizard whose office she had entered was already waiting for her.
‘Your arrival has been announced, Madame Black. How may the Department of Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures help you?’
‘My House-Elf died today.’
‘I see. Do you wish for us to collect the body?’
‘I do. See to it that it gets done as soon as possible.’
The wizard inclined his head while taking notes and tapping the paper in order for it to fold itself into a memo and fly off.
‘Do you require a new Elf?’
Narcissa raised an eyebrow, ‘I thought those practices were frowned upon these days?’
‘There’s a lot of new rules in place to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the Elves. You’ll need to fill in paperwork and there will be random check-ups to see if your House-Elf is being treated properly.’
‘Never mind,’ Narcissa answered, already feeling a headache unfold from thinking about all the new requirements she’d have to follow.
‘Very well. You can expect our team tomorrow first thing.’
‘Tomorrow?’ Narcissa almost shouted.
‘I’m sorry Madame Black. Your call was the last one we accepted for today. I’m afraid the office is closed now.’
And with a very polite smile, the wizard waved his hand at the fireplace before Narcissa could demand a special treatment and she was flung back to Malfoy Manor. The blonde scoffed the moment her head landed on her shoulders again. Customer service was not what it used to be, she thought. A quick glance at the silver watch tucked into her dress showed her that she still had time for her second call. Another flick of Floo powder activated the hearth again and off she was.
‘Madame Black! I didn’t expect to hear from you again so soon,’ the Healer she had seen earlier that day said with a surprised voice.
‘Trust me, I didn’t intend to call on you again,’ Narcissa said bitingly, ‘but it appears my House-Elf has passed.’
‘I’m sorry for your loss.’
Narcissa almost hissed at such a ridiculous answer but managed to compose herself, ‘That means I’m on my own and regarding my current… predicament, that doesn’t seem wise.’
‘I couldn’t agree more,’ the Healer answered ever so polite, ‘I already informed you that pregnancies at your age have far greater risks.’
‘Yes, thank you,’ Narcissa sighed not wanting to be reminded of her old age yet again, ‘so I want to hire a Mediwitch.’
The Healer’s expression fell, ‘I’m afraid that won’t be possible. We’re severely understaffed and there’s a waiting list as long as Merlin’s beard of people needing assistance at home.’
‘Must I remind you that my family owns half the hospital, sir?’
The Healer winced but, much to his credit, didn’t give in, ‘Even if your name could get you higher on the list, there are patients in much more dire situations who require help. Lots of victims from the war…’
Narcissa didn’t like his inclinations one bit, but was smart enough to realize that he had a point. It would not help her already seriously damaged popularity if she would use her power to acquire home-assistance from a Mediwitch. And while that wouldn’t have mattered to her before, now she had a child to think of. And she didn’t want him or her to suffer from her actions the way Draco had. So she swallowed her insults and forced a smile upon her face.
‘Very well then.’
‘I apologize again, Madame Black. But I do suggest you put out an advert? There’s lots of Mediwitches on the private market right now.’
‘I’ll take that into consideration. Good evening.’
Once back at Malfoy Manor, Narcissa started pacing. Putting out an advert would mean that everybody knew of her situation. And she hadn’t demanded full discretion of the Healer only to have the Daily Prophet write about her secret the very next day. She needed this to remain behind closed doors for as long as she was capable. Suddenly, an idea formed inside her head and the witch nodded. She didn’t need an actual Mediwitch. No, she just needed help in the house and that more than doubled her options.
Hermione yawned and decided that she would call it a day. She never minded working long hours as there was nobody waiting for her back at her apartment. Nobody except Crookshanks that is but he more than managed to keep himself occupied. The candle on her desk was almost completely burnt and started to sputter, but the witch didn’t pay it any attention. Hermione had been working as a Curse Breaker for St. Mungo’s for more than a year now after having spent a few years at the Ministry’s Department of Magical Law Enforcement.
But the bureaucracy and incompetence of her colleagues had made her choose a different career path. Here at St. Mungo’s she had been given her own office, a better wage, and more flexible hours. Of course she occasionally got called to work for an emergency, but she could still count those cases on one hand. Her work itself remained much the same though. Where she used to break curses such as biting doors, she now cured curses who had medical effects like memory loss or painful scars.
And the latter was the project she was currently working on when she didn’t have any Healers who required her assistance for a patient. They always allowed her to focus on a big project as long as it would benefit the hospital. Her first success was the painless and quick removal of all warts, cysts and lumps and it had earned St. Mungo’s international praise. But as she was still being plagued by nightmares from time to time and still suffered from the curse absorbed by her own skin, she had opted to look into that for her next project.
She had always been hesitant to do so as she feared what could happen if she started tampering with Bellatrix’s curse. Especially at the Ministry where they showed little sympathy for failure and magical projects. Everything had to be done by the book. But at St. Mungo’s, Hermione did have support. From no less than Andromeda Black, the President of the Board of Directors after having worked as a Mediwitch herself for many years. She and a few of Hermione’s colleagues understood what it meant for her to have that scar removed.
So with the promise of being treated if things went wrong, Hermione had settled on this very ambitious project. But it soon became clear that it might have been a tad too ambitious, as nothing she had tried so far seemed to work. She just didn’t have access to the right information! Even a trip to Hogwarts hadn’t delivered any results and Hermione knew St. Mungo’s was hoping for yet another breakthrough even if they didn’t say so in actual words.
Suddenly the flame died with a poof of smoke, shrouding Hermione in the growing darkness from outside. It really was late, she noticed. Luckily this time she didn’t have any forced blind dates set up by Ginny that she would be late for because she lost track of time. No, just a hot bath and a quick bite to eat before she would crawl between the sheets of her bed with a good book. Hermione smiled when she walked to her fireplace and activated the Floo so she could travel home.
Her apartment was rather spacious and very cosily decorated with lots of warm colours like hazel brown, deep red, and vintage pink. The entire sitting area was focused around her fireplace that was decorated with pictures all with different frames. There was a large couch for three and two luxury armchairs of which one was usually taken by Crookshanks. A variety of pillows that somehow all matched together was splayed on top of them.
The dining table could host eight people without problem but was rarely used as Hermione always ate at her kitchen aisle that had three barstools in front of it. Her kitchen itself was large enough for the amount of time she used it. Right behind it was a laundry room and storage closet for all her cleaning equipment. The apartment itself had two bedrooms. One master bedroom, which led to the bathroom that had a bath and shower combined, a toilet, and one large sink with an even larger mirror. The other room was currently being used as a home office and a library.
Hermione sighed contentedly the moment she stepped into her home and scratched the Kneazle cat that came running behind his ears. She took one of her five-minute meals and heated it in the microwave while going through her mail for that day. There was another invitation from Molly Weasley to attend Percy’s wedding later this year as she hadn’t answered the first one yet. She still felt a bit awkward after her rather messy break-up with Ron. And while they were on speaking terms again now, they hadn’t been when the first invitation arrived. Hence her lack of an answer.
With the tip of her tongue between her teeth, Hermione quickly scribbled down her acceptance and ticked the box that said she wouldn’t bring a plus one. No matter how hard Ginny pushed Hermione to let her fix a date for her, she was going alone. The moment she had emptied her plate with ravioli in tomato sauce, Hermione sauntered to the bathroom and filled her tub. It was still her best decision ever when the contractor who renovated this place asked her if she didn’t just want a big walk-in shower.
More than an hour later, the brunette nestled herself in her mountain of pillows and picked up the book she’d started reading yesterday. It was a novel called Gentleman Jack, and for some reason she hadn’t managed to put it down despite it being about two lesbians and her being straight. Yes. It didn’t take her long, however, to start yawning and with a pained expression on her face she closed the book and dimmed her lights. She obviously needed the rest.
A decision she was grateful for as Hermione rose well-rested the very next day. Crookshanks was already sitting next to his bowl, obviously displeased that it hadn’t been filled yet when Hermione entered the kitchen and put on some coffee. She was just about to sink her teeth in some toast when an owl tapped her window. A little snack was exchanged for the Daily Prophet and the Quibbler before Hermione could start her morning routine perusing the latest news. Suddenly an advert drew her attention.
Assistance in the household and with personal affairs. Discretion and common sense are required. In return you are paid well and are allowed to use all the facilities of Malfoy Manor as you see fit. The hours may vary depending on needs. Applications via Owl before this week’s end.
Hermione stared at the paper for so long her coffee had gone cold by the time she sipped it again. Something she quickly fixed with a simple gesture of her fingers. What in Merlin’s beard could have possessed Narcissa to be looking for help? Didn’t she have an army of House-Elves at her disposal? Hermione simply shook her head and started to prepare to travel to work. She had a meeting with Andromeda before her workday started and didn’t want to be late.
‘Ah, Hermione! Come in!’
‘Hello Andy,’ Hermione grinned at the woman who’d become one of her closest friends.
After exchanging a few pleasantries Andy came to business, seeing as they were both very busy women. Hermione could already tell by the sincerity of Andy’s expression that the Board of Directors had been bugging her about Hermione’s next project. She knew the dark-haired witch was on her side, but even Andy had to keep her investors happy.
‘I can give you a very extensive list of stuff that doesn’t work,’ Hermione sighed.
‘Well, if you can’t come up with anything else, I’ll try to work with that.’
‘Honestly Andy! What kind of magic did your sister use on me? It’s ancient, dark, and cruel and I can’t find any written information about this. And it’s not like we can ask her!’
Andy smiled a sad smile, ‘I know sweetheart. I’m afraid that type of magic was often used by the Sacred Twenty-Eight. And those families are very private about their heritage. It won’t be easy to find any books or scrolls about it.’
‘Unless,’ Hermione suddenly shrieked causing Andy to jump in her seat, ‘a member of not one but two families of the Sacred Twenty-Eight is currently looking for help and offering her library in return.’
‘What? They use books as payment?’
‘Your sister posted an advert in the Daily Prophet,’ the brunette said while flicking through the newspaper on Andy’s desk and showing her the page it was on, ‘and the person helping her is allowed to use any facilities Malfoy Manor has to offer.’ I might even persuade her to let me visit the library at Black Manor too. She’s the only one that can enter, right?’
Andy was silent for a few moments as she processed the information while frowning at the advert, ‘This is very unusual behaviour for Cissy. She must be quite desperate.’
‘This is exactly what we need! Imagine the information I could find in those libraries?’
‘Hang on,’ Andy interjected, finally picking up on what Hermione was implying, ‘you’re telling me you’d apply for that job? There’s no way Cissy will hire you! And even if she did, who’s to say she’ll take you to Black Manor? It’s been empty for years.’
Hermione waved dismissively with her hand, already lost in her own excitement, ‘It’s definitely worth a try!’
‘Andy, do you have a better idea? Are you really going to be able to please the Board of Directors with a list of stuff that doesn’t work on cursed scars?’
Andy bit her lip but relented eventually, ‘fine. I guess there really is no harm in trying. It’s not like I can ask her. We’re still not on speaking terms.’
With an enormous grin, Hermione took a piece of parchment and started writing her application letter.