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My Brightest Star

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Hermione scratched Crookshank behind the ears before the Kneazle cat disappeared behind a row of bookcases. The animal had been much happier now that he had an enormous territory to prance around in with his owner present at all times. Hermione shook her head in fond exasperation as she saw the red, fluffy tail disappear and focused on her work again. She had just finished her tasks for St. Mungo’s and was about to continue with her own research when the door of the library opened.

‘I figured I’d find you here.’

‘Good afternoon, Narcissa. Can I do anything for you?’

‘Not this time. The Manor has been kept immaculately since you came to work for me, the gardens are in excellent shape and I’m feeling well nourished and healthy.’

Hermione laughed, ‘I should be asking for a raise.’

Narcissa ignored the joke and sat herself down on the opposite side of the desk Hermione was working at.

‘I came to inquire whether I could be of assistance to you?’

‘Oh,’ the brunette said surprised, ‘well actually, you could. Would it be possible to grant me access to the Black library as well?’

The blonde eyes widened, ‘are the books in here not to your liking?’

‘They are! But I read most of them and I didn’t find what I was looking for.’

Narcissa frowned, ‘what are you looking for exactly?’

‘I’ll tell you when I’m convinced of my theory, but for now, that’s all it is, a theory. I need more information and a lot more research first.’

‘Very well then,’ the former Malfoy Matriarch sighed, ‘but I’ll need to accompany you each time you visit the Black library.’

Hermione was insulted, ‘I won’t defile the books with my impure blood, if that’s what you’re afraid of.’

A perfectly shaped eyebrow was raised and when Narcissa spoke, her voice felt several degrees colder.

‘That’s exactly what my Black ancestors feared when they built the family home. It is warded to kill intruders on the spot. Anyone who doesn’t have Black blood isn’t allowed to enter.’

‘That’s barbaric.’

‘We call it tradition,’ the blonde drawled, ‘you’re safe as long as I accompany you. Shall we go?’

‘What? Now?’ Hermione stammered.

‘Unless you’d rather spend more time in this disappointingly inadequate library?’

While Hermione grumbled about how she hadn’t meant to insult the Malfoy book collection, Narcissa gave her some Floo powder and strict instructions on how to pronounce the name of the destination. The blonde disappeared in a gush of green flames and Hermione quickly followed suit. She barely managed to stop twirling around in the hearth, when Narcissa’s cold, long fingers wrapped themselves around her wrist.

‘Normally the presence of a Black is enough of an invitation for someone to visit the manor, but seeing as you are muggleborn and this house hasn’t been used in years, I suggest you stay very close to me.’

Hermione gulped, ‘I’ll hold your hand.’

‘That’s not necess -‘

‘I don’t want to take any risks,’ the younger witch practically shrieked, ‘I’m holding your hand.’

Narcissa barely managed to hide her amusement when Hermione took her hand and finally looked around the library. Her jaw dropped to the floor and the older woman couldn’t help but find Hermione terribly adorable at that moment. Where the Malfoy library was grand, the Black library was magnificent. It was nearly entirely carved out of dark marble and glass, adorned with so much gold, the vaults at Gringotts almost paled in comparison. Enormous chandeliers sprang to life at the snap of Narcissa’s fingers and the heavy curtains moved away from the windows, making the entire library bask in the sunlight.

Narcissa felt Hermione’s grip loosen and for some strange inexplicable reason, she tightened it herself by guiding the brunette towards the first row of books. Hermione was too busy taking in her surroundings to notice, but the blonde frowned at her own actions. What in Salazar’s name was she trying to prove here? It was only when Hermione spoke, that Narcissa stopped frowning. The blonde shook her head as she came back to reality.

‘I beg your pardon?’

‘I wondered where the books about the history of the Black family are. Perhaps even books about their magic?’

‘Mmm, I think you’ll find those all the way in the back.’

Hermione immediately started moving, pulling the older woman with her before remembering that it was not very gallant of her to drag a pregnant woman across the floor. She quickly slowed her pace; smiling nervously at the blonde who couldn’t prevent her blue eyes from twinkling with amusement, and never letting go of the slender fingers in her hand. When she saw Hermione reach for a few books, she stopped her.

‘I think you’d better tell me which books you want to read, and I’ll float them towards the fireplace. There will be books you can’t move, but we’ll visit here frequently so you can read them all. I never mind a quiet hour of reading myself.’

Hermione beamed.

***

‘Remember. If your magic lashes out, just tell Draco I’m somewhere in the manor practising my wandless magic.’

Narcissa nodded, ‘thank you.’

‘I’ll be in the library, as usual.’

Hermione disappeared through a door the moment the familiar sound of apparition announced Draco’s arrival. Narcissa smoothed some non-existing creases from her dress and made her way to the hall. A big smile appeared on her face at the sight of her son. He’d grown so much, he was several inches taller than his mother and he’d been growing a beard for the past months. Narcissa thought he looked dashing.

‘Hello, my darling boy.’

‘Mother,’ Draco said stiffly as he pecked Narcissa on both cheeks, ‘still not leaving the house, I see.’

‘Actually I have been going outside a bit more.’

Draco looked pleased, ‘that’s good to hear. Shall we sit in the gardens today? The weather is very nice and Astoria always tells me I’m far too pale.’

‘You’re a Malfoy. You can sit in the sun all you like, you’ll always be pale, I’m afraid.’

‘Another thing from father that I’m not grateful for,’ Draco muttered and Narcissa cringed.

And despite her best efforts to keep her emotions in check, regret washed over her and her magic lashed out causing a tremor to ripple through the air. The blonde wizard immediately drew his wand and took a defensive pose, but his mother waved him away.

‘Don’t be silly, darling. It’s just miss Granger practising her wandless magic.’

‘And that’s supposed to comfort me… how exactly? What is she even doing here?’

Narcissa hooked her arm through her son’s and walked him to the gardens. A flick of her wrist summoned a glass of water for herself and a butterbeer for Draco. She felt relieved to see them arrive without any accidents. They sat down on one of the benches that looked out over the pond and Narcissa leaned closer to her son, happy to see him again.

‘I told you in my letters that Beril had died and I didn’t care for all the fuss of hiring a new house-elf. So I put out an advert, because this house is really too big and I’m not going to clean it myself.’

Draco looked sceptical, ‘so Granger does it? I thought she had a very prestigious job at St. Mungo’s?’

‘A job that requires her to do a lot of research. And she needs books for that, darling. And not the kind of books you can buy at Flourish and Blotts. So we made a deal. She helps me and I allow her access to the libraries.’

The wizard looked everything but convinced and Narcissa’s magic responded to her nerves setting fire to a nearby shrubbery. Luckily the woman’s reflexes were quick and she managed to extinguish it without her son noticing. He was still very busy staring at some point in the distance while frowning.

‘I still don’t get why you need help, mother. You never leave the house. Surely you can manage to keep track of the household yourself? Even I wash my own socks these days.’

‘Perhaps I just like the company?’ Narcissa blurted in a final attempt to convince her son that there was nothing suspicious going on.

‘And you choose Granger for the job? Honestly mother, I think this solitude is starting to mess with your head.’

‘Your mother is helping me with my research, Draco,’ Hermione’s voice suddenly sounded, ‘it’s proving to be quite challenging and I needed an extra pair of brains on the case.’

Narcissa nodded gratefully as the brunette extended her hand at Draco who shook it after only a moment’s hesitation.

‘My mother is a very smart witch, so that makes sense. But why not tell me?’

Hermione shrugged, ‘the research itself is controversial and we’re not yet at a stage where we can prove anything. We’d like to stay under the radar until we have something to show for.’

Draco suddenly smiled, ‘I’m glad you found something to occupy yourself with, mother. You did always like a challenge.’

Narcissa ruffled her son’s hair and Hermione took that cue to leave them in peace again. She’d only popped by to check whether he was buying their story. She was still within hearing distance when Narcissa’s haphazard magic turned some nearby sculpted hedge into a heart shape. Draco snorted.

‘You do know that wandless magic is supposed to be subtle, Granger?’

‘Good advice! I’ll keep that in mind,’ Hermione shouted over her shoulder.

She shook her head. For a Slytherin and Heir of the Ancient and Noble House of Black, Narcissa sure had a difficult time keeping her emotions in check. And Hermione suspected that the hormones were only partially to blame for that. The woman was clearly changing for the better, and Hermione couldn’t help but smile at that.

***

Draco left an hour later, convinced that his mother was doing well and probably also convinced that Hermione wasn’t worthy of the title Brightest-Witch-of-her-Age anymore as there had been several more outbursts of Narcissa’s magic being blamed on her practising her wandless skills. Hermione didn’t care, she was consumed in one of the books they brought from Black manor and was currently near the end of her second notebook. Her alarm rang and the brunette reluctantly tore her gaze away from the pages, scribbled down a few final notes, before heading to the kitchen.

She’d tried to convince Narcissa into trying pizza, but the blonde had flat-out refused to eat junkfood. They’d bickered about it until Narcissa had agreed to try a homemade one. And that’s how Hermione ended up kneading dough and cursing herself for not just agreeing to eat a salad. Her brow was glistening with sweat by the time she shoved two pizzas into the oven and the witch longed for a bath. She set a timer on her watch and quickly apparated to the West wing of Malfoy Manor, determined to not waste time by walking the ridiculous length while she could be soaking in hot water.

Hermione had been a bit nervous for her first night at the Manor, but her quarters were more than amenable enough. She had an enormous bedroom with a walk-in wardrobe and a luxurious bathroom that housed a shower and a bath. Next to her room was a sitting area with a fireplace and a round table in case she wanted to eat her dinner in private. There was also a home office that was partially equipped to be a potions lab as well. And that was only the rooms Hermione was using. She’d glanced behind a few other doors and had encountered similar riches.

Much to her surprise she had slept like a rose with Crookshanks at her feet. The only room in the house she tried to avoid was the parlour where Bellatrix had tortured her. It’s not because she finally processed what had happened to her, that she was going to test her own limits by visiting that dreadful place.

With a sigh she rose from the tub, with fifteen minutes to spare on her timer and wrapped a towel around herself. Her hair had decided to resemble a shrubbery today, so Hermione just twisted it in a chignon braid at the nape of her neck. Feeling a bit tired she opted for grey sweatpants and an oversized white T-shirt. Tonight she just wanted to feel comfortable. By the time she emerged from the bathroom, Crookshanks was clawing at the door, desperate to get out. Hermione watched him disappear around a corner the moment she let him through the door and silently reminded herself to inform Narcissa about her feline guest.

‘What in Salazar’s name is that?’ Narcissa asked the moment she entered the kitchen.

Hermione who was busy pulling the last pizza out of the oven frowned, ‘homemade pizza? Like we discussed?’

‘No, I meant the abomination you are wearing!’

‘What? These are sweatpants. Have you never heard about sweatpants before?’

The blonde scrunched up her nose, but refused to dignify the question with an answer. Hermione rolled her eyes and started cutting Narcissa’s pizza before shoving the plate her way. They usually just ate at the kitchen island seeing as the dining room was so enormous, their voices echoed when they talked. The blonde didn’t comment when she sunk her teeth in a slice of pizza, and Hermione felt slightly disappointed. She had been slaving away in the kitchen for more than an hour!

She was just going to tease Narcissa that she’d be begging for sweatpants once her belly started showing more when suddenly Hermione spotted her cat, sneaking up to Narcissa’s light blue gown that was dangling from the bar stool she was sitting on. The younger witch glared at Crookshanks, silently warning him not to misbehave but the creature just gave her a haughty look and proceeded to crawl his way up to the older woman. When he began batting his paw at the expensive fabric of her dress, Hermione decided that now was the moment to inform Narcissa about the fact that she’d brought her cat. She was convinced the witch would still be annoyed if Crookshanks tore her dress with his claws, but the Kneazle cat seemed intend on embarrassing Hermione so this way she could do some damage control.

‘Narcissa, I’ve been wanting to tell you the moment I moved my stuff here, but you’ve been distracted with Andromeda’s and Draco’s visit and well… you seemed rather angry, so I didn’t want to risk annoying you further. Not that you’d harm me! That’s not what I’m saying, but you know, with your magic lashing out. Anyway, I hope you don’t mind. I really should have asked your permission first but –‘

‘In Salazar’s name, woman, stop blabbing! You’re giving me a headache,’ Narcissa scolded, but there was no real bite in her words, ‘just spit it out.’

‘Right,’ Hermione said just when Crookshanks shook his fur and she saw a cloud of orange hairs floating through the air. He really needed a good grooming, ‘I brought my –‘

Suddenly Narcissa sneezed and disapparated on the spot, taking the slice of pizza she was holding with her. Crookshanks let out an insulted meow and Hermione looked around the kitchen in confusion. Where the hell did she go?