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A Better Life

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Hermione’s first morning of freedom from Hogwarts found her hurriedly rushing back and forth across Diagon and Knockturn Alley like a woman possessed. Her one day shopping trip with Minerva before the start of term had been quick and to the point, shopping for the minimum amount of clothing necessary and required class items had left her little time for personal shopping. That wasn’t to say that that day hadn’t been an adventure in and of itself. Between almost being floored at finding the duplicate to the wand in her holster and being literally floored by the frightening appearance of her now girlfriend, she’d had quite the experience.

Today was supposed to be not much different. Between shopping for presents for the Black trio and her meager friends and associates back at the castle, her only hope was to procure the documents necessary for Cygnus and get an appropriate accounting of the Grenier estate. Instead, she was now nursing a headache and foot ache at the pace with which Bella dragged her from shop to shop. The witch was a pro at absorbing all the information on pricing and quality that she could before darting out to another store to find a better version of whatever they had been searching for. Frugality seemed to be a foreign concept to the dark haired witch.

Bella also seemed to have a rather discerning eye turned towards fashion regardless of how much she pretended to be disinterested. Bella had made it her personal mission to throw Hermione into as many changing booths and hidden corner shops as she could before night fell over the shopping district. Hermione’s arms and several levitating bags were filled to the brim before the first hour of their shopping had even come to an end. The constant zipping sound of tape measures unrolling in the hands of old women seeking to squeeze her for every sickle left to her name was quickly becoming Hermione’s least favorite sound. Bella, for her part, continued to simply laugh and act bemused at Hermione’s constant lack of patience for period appropriate dress wear.

When the last in a long string of matronly old witch had set themselves upon her bust with cinching tapes and pointed glances at the closeness shared between Hermione and Bella, she’d simply lost it. Terse words and pointedly angry glares in Bella’s direction had ended up resulting in a murderous glint occupying the dark eyes peering back at her. Hermione had shrunk back at the sheer emotion bottled up in the glass of Bella’s eyes before the witch launched into a heavy and hushed discussion about pureblood etiquette and the formal wear necessary to portray someone as a productive member of the aristocracy. By the end of her tirade any of Hermione’s complaints had been addressed and a rather flush appearance had run into her cheeks and neck at the intensity that Bella had spoken. Bella was a dark witch after all, and even a simple but terrifying conversation was enough to warn Hermione into accepting her current predicament and acquiesce to Bella’s demands.

The only condition that Hermione had been able to bring up was a request to also find a good few pairs of muggle clothing. Her statement had caused Bella to roll her eyes but in the end she’d agreed, on the acceptance that she would be the one to decide colors and styles.

A few minutes spent in Madam Malkin’s and Twilfitts had resulted in a rather odd assortment of out of date muggle clothing that took Hermione only a few minutes of permanent transfiguration later to update into a presentable, but comfortable, wardrobe. Bella’s main contribution to that particular shopping spree had been the colors; black, black, and yet more black. It had only taken a pouty expression that would put puppies to shame before Hermione agreed and accepted the rather gothic tint to her wardrobe.

She was nothing if not true to her name.

---oo---

The last stop for the afternoon was the one she was both dreading the most and anticipating in equal measure.

The central London location was an institution.

If not for the massive banking installation and vault system that it housed it would be known as a silver and gold mine of massive proportions, well beyond any such location in the Muggle world. Its location at Diagon Alley was only the first of many as over the centuries the bank had branched out, literally. Locations had opened on mainland Europe in France and Sweden, Russia had an ancient branch as well as China and Japan. The newest addition had been in North and South America, split in New York as well as Rio de Janeiro. A tentative opening for Australia was projected to be complete within the next decade, but only time would tell how long it would take to be operational.

The branches were steeped in Goblin magic, and it was for this reason that Hermione found herself entering the pristine building with Bella in tow. A rather complicated series of portals had been produced by Goblin magic-smiths that allowed instantaneous admission into one's vaults, no matter their originating location. Without this feature Hermione would have had to travel by international portkey and wander into New York for a proper accounting, a fate she had desperately wanted to avoid.

The mass of wizards and witches that herded themselves through the massive doors to Gringotts was a near crush that captured and dragged Hermione and Bella along with it as one organism. Groups and throngs split off at irregular intervals and headed towards different levels and wings of the massive bank, some shearing off to the Investment Center while others headed towards tellers for requests and back rooms for more specific help. Hermione and Bella both forced themselves through the crowds and into the massive middle chamber that held access to vaults and House related requests. High walls that disappeared into a ceiling far above their heads capped off the room while witches and wizards lined up at the massive desks that Goblin tellers worked behind.

Luck managed to place them both behind an old man that was only just finishing his business as the Goblin high above them called out a gruff “Next!” while peering down into the throngs below him with an obvious distaste.

The teller looking down at them was a ruddy fellow, his complexion mixed between extravagant red clay and deep earthy green. His cheeks and nose were tinged with the telltale sign of alcoholism, burst and burst blood vessels spider webbing across his rather sharp nose. Two large and bushy eyebrows topped his rather expressive blue eyes, each with a pupil that tilted and sharpened to the shape of a cats eye. He wore a rather plain business suit, pinstriped in gray and black with the Gringotts logo embossed onto his breast pocket.

His visage was altogether both grandfatherly as well as incredibly intimidating in a blend that left Hermione unsure of how to act. Her prior interactions with Goblins had been during her school years had been simple visits that were completed in less than five minutes. She wasn’t counting the final explosive visit to Gringotts as the war had thrown off all sense of standard protocol during that visit anyways.

“Master Grindhelm, at your service. How can I…,” he looked down at her, squinting his eyes, “Help you today?”

“Hello, I’d like to get some forms signed out, specifically an accounting report.” Hermione’s voice was loud to carry over the hustle and bustle of the throngs at her back.

“Well give it here girl,” Grindhelm spoke up with an aggravated gravel, one hand reaching over the lip of his desk with his fingers outstretched. Hermione extended herself as much as she could, standing on tiptoes to deliver a sheaf of papers to his waiting hand.

The sheaf of papers was appropriately thin for ease of transport but was only held into that shape by a strong compression charm that held all of intricate paperwork together while a charmed piece of twine was wrapped around it. When Grindhelm undid the loop with rather shaky fingers it exploded into full existence, decompressing and expanding outwards into a multilayered packet nearly the size of a small tome.

“Anything else?” Grindhelm’s voice dropped a few octaves lower into a valley even more gravely than before.

“Inheritance test for any other relations, and I’d like to visit my vault.”

Hermione had only undergone an inheritance test once before at the specific behest of the Canadian Ministry to confirm her relation and blood status as a Grenier. That test had been a simple, single, drop of blood. Easy, quick, and over far faster than she’d wished to observe. The blood magic that Dumbledore and Minerva had performed was proved out at that test but the testing was too simple to determine her new lineage or reveal exactly who she’d become magically related to. Her request to Gringotts was mainly to determine if she held any other relations to Houses through squib ancestors. She personally wasn’t expecting anything to come of the request but was interested nonetheless. Any relation, however distant, could potentially be advantageous in the future she was now working towards.

Grindhelm peered down to give both witches a clear look of disdain that spoke volumes for his attitude against the Wizarding community. Whatever the reason, inscrutable as it was, Hermione was determined to not back down. The Goblin race was a warrior race that she refused to appear meek or weak to them. Her own glare back up at Grindhelm seemed to trigger something in his demeanor as he nodded once before tapping his finger against the pile of documents and shrinking them back down into their compressed state.

Leaning backwards from the lip of the desk he disappeared from sight while the sound of a ladder and quick steps passed over and around the desk while he made his way down. A small half door opened to the right of the podium as Grindhelm stepped halfway out before motioning for Hermione and Bella to follow him. Their steps behind the podium led them away from the throngs behind them, steps beginning to echo in the enchanted quietude of the staff area.

Even in Hermione’s last disastrous trip to Gringotts she hadn’t seen this area. Grindhelm led them between the marble wall and the tall desks of Goblin tellers and off through a hidden door. They opened into a long hallway with row upon row of gleaming white doors on either side, each inscribed with a beautiful golden scrawl that listed the name of the Goblin who held the office.

They passed multiple sets of doors before Grindhelm turned a door on his right with a name inscribed in Gobbledegook before placing his palm flat against the space where a door handle would usually be placed. After a second of this the door opened inwards with a sharp click as Grindhelm entered and motioned impatiently for Hermione and Bella to follow him in.

The room was at once ostentatious yet unremarkable. A single large desk took up the majority of the space, built with dark mahogany wood and simple in sweeping lines and curves. Behind the desk sat a plush leather chair that Grindhelm climbed into. Behind him was a line of filing cabinets built from some soft colored wood that Hermione couldn’t place and festooned with golden identifying tags in Gobbledegook. A single enchanted window looked out from the right side of the office and onto the sprawl of Diagon Alley in front of Gringotts where witches and wizards milled about their business without any knowledge that they within line of sight to the suspicious eyes of the Goblins within the bank. Two soft leather chairs sat together in front of Grindhelms desk that he invited them to settle into with a wave of his hand.

As the witches settled into the chairs Grindhelm opened back up the enchanted packet before shuffling through documents and arriving at a piece of parchment that Hermione couldn’t immediately recall.

“First to start will be the Inheritance test. Please lay your hand palm up on the desk,” Hermione moved to obey his request, “ Right hand, please.”

Hermione quickly pulled her left hand back and off the table at his brusque tone as she shot our her right hand and laid it down on the desk. Grindhelm seemed satisfied at her quick movements and began to search and shuffle through the drawers on his side of the desk before pulling out a rather large and ornate dagger and accompanying golden dish. The dagger was clearly expensive and one of a kind with the handle made from gold and the spine of the blade gold as well. The pommel was inlaid with multiple rubies and diamonds in a way that reminded Hermione all too much of the Sword of Gryffindor.

Grindhelm placed the plate onto the desk and moved Hermione’s hand above it with her palm still facing upwards. Laying the sharp blade against her palm he drew it back quickly in one swift motion. Blood welled up before Hermione even felt the sting of the blade, sharp as it was, whereupon Grindhelm turned her hand perpendicular to the desk and allowed blood to run off her hand and collect into the shallow dish beneath it. Rivulets continued to softly drip onto the plate until Grindhelm was satisfied and turned her hand back to parallel with the desk. Tapping his finger softly against the flesh of her palm the blood staining her hand withdrew into the cut before zipping shut with a cold feeling as if she’d dipped her hand into ice. Only a silvery white scar remained from where the blade had touched her skin as the minute pain that had accompanied the cut evaporated into nothing but a lingering sensation of cold.

The shallow pool of blood that had collected into the dish beneath Hermione’s hand was shuddering wildly as some form of Goblin magic took hold. Ripples began to spread out at evenly spaced intervals from the center of the dish, rising and lapping up against the edge of the dish before withdrawing and settling back down.

Grindhelm grabbed up a blank piece of parchment and a golden quill before looking at the dish with a fiercely concentrated expression and began to write. The blood within the dish slowly began to dissipate as Grindhelm wrote in large and whirling loops upon the parchment while he never once took his eyes from the blood in the dish. When the last of the blood in the dish had disappeared Grindhelm shoved himself away from the desk and left his chair, stepping around the desk to move to Hermione’s side. Holding out the parchment he stared into her eyes expectantly. When Hermione only continued to stare he rolled his eyes and placed the parchment and quill down upon the desk in front of her.

SIGN this please, some of us have far more important matters to attend to.”

Hermione hastily grabbed up the quill and signed her name at the bottom of the parchment as her eyes roved over the looping cursive paragraph that Grindhelm had written. Unfortunately it was all in Gobbledegook and Hermione simply had to content herself with finishing her signature and passing the parchment back to Grindhelm’s awaiting hands.

As the goblin all but tore the paperwork from her hands he belted out a low and dangerously brusque “Please remain here, I’ll return shortly,” and heading out into the hallway behind them.

Bella leaned over into Hermione as the door behind them closed shut with a sharp snap and pressed a surprisingly chaste kiss to Hermione’s cheek.

“Don’t worry about the rest, it’s all just to check, right?”

Hermione turned her head to capture Bella’s bottom lip in her teeth before releasing and leaning back heavily into her chair.

“Yes, I just want to have everything covered and accounted for.”

“It’ll be interesting to find out what other houses that ritual attached you to. Did Dumble ever tell you specifically whose blood he used?”

Now that Hermione thought back on it, no, he hadn’t. She’d just assumed he’d found a recent corpse and duplicated some cells before transfiguring them into blood.

“No, with a cover of being orphaned he just left it at that, and the test for the Canadian Ministry only tested to see if I was the heir.”

“Well, you’ll know soon enough then. Wonder if you’ll have any cousins running about.” Bella turned to look out the enchanted window while propping up her chin on a raised fist.

Bella’s comment about cousins brought Hermione’s mind back to the massive family tapestry that hung in Grimmauld place while a specific name she’d seen rang bells in the back of her mind.

“Hey, aren’t Molly and the Twins your cousins?” Hermione’s unprompted question caught Bella by surprise.

“Um, I think? Third or fourth removed or something to that degree. I tend to get a little bit fuzzy whenever it’s anything other than immediate sibling and cousin.”

Hermione’s expression hardened into a sharp gaze as she stared at Bella.

“And why, pray tell, do they hate you? And by extension, me?”

“Well,” Bella shuffled in her seat, “Their mother is the sister of Ignatius Prewett, who married my distantly related grand aunt? I think that’s the term, she’s from the other branch of the Black family anyways, and she hates us. Something must have happened when she was younger but regardless as soon as she married Ignatius she closed herself off from us completely and seems to have drip fed her hate for the family to her niece and nephews. And now that ire is directed back towards me and my sisters. I mean, I may have terrorized them when we first all arrived to Hogwarts but some silly pranks aren’t enough to-”

Hermione held up a hand to still Bella’s musings in their track.

“Okay, well. That answers that I suppose.”

Before they could continue talking about Bella’s rather tense relationship with anyone not of her own blood, Grindhelm returned to the room in a rather uplifted mood.

“Madam Grenier, here is your paperwork. Please take a moment to review.

“Thank you,” Hermione replied as she began digging into the sheaf of parchments that he handed her with gusto.

The first sheet held the results of her test, written out in barely legible calligraphy.

Emelia Grenier, Born February 19, 1951

Father: Antoine Grenier

Mother: Rosalie Grenier née Gaudreau

Paternal Grandfather: Dimitri Grenier

Paternal Grandmother: Fleur Grenier née Hamel

Maternal Grandfather: Atticus Gaudreau

Maternal Grandmother: Unknown

Living Relatives through Paternal and Maternal Lines: None

House Status: Head of House Grenier, Lady Grenier

House Title: Madame la Vicomtesse de Grenier

Distant House Relations: Gaudreau, Hamel, Nadeau

Bella snorted as she read over Hermione’s shoulder before piping up, “I should have known you were nobility, too snooty and well-read to be one of the common folk.”

She threw Hermione a grin while the witch beside her landed a lazy punch on her shoulder.

“Sod off, brat.” Despite her words Hermione’s tone was jovial. “No further information could be gathered?” She directed her question to Grindhelm, eyes leaving the parchment in her hand.

“None. You have distant blood through House Nadeau, but we’re uncertain from who or when it was introduced. Through your Maternal Line you’re the last surviving member of House Gaudreau, though honestly that doesn’t amount to much beyond a quaint bit of trivia. The Maternal Line of that House was left out of any and all wills, statements, and titles. Anything left by the House has already been absorbed or passed onto other Houses or entities. The same is applied by House Hamel, though you aren’t the last of that line specifically.

“You, as Head of House Grenier, have unfettered access to the lands, houses, and vaults left in Grenier control. Further in that packet you will find a list of such items. The vast estate was left in Gringotts control throughout the past years and has been accruing interest at a steady rate. It will be up to you whether you allow Gringotts to continue managing your accounts, but we can discuss that at a later date. I’ve had your other paperwork prepared, you can collect it before leaving.”

Hermione nodded her approval at his words before shuffling through the packet to another page. The parchment contained a list of the properties currently in her control, the sight of which widened her eyes considerably.

Three chateau’s amounting to over one hundred and twenty hectares were free for her to do with as she pleased. The homes had been placed into stasis when the last legitimate Grenier that Gringotts had contact with died, and would be awaiting her eventual use or sale. Taxes against the land had been taken from the vast interest that the coffers had accrued over the years and left her confident that leaving the Grenier finances to Gringotts would be the best course of action. They could always be trusted to act and invest in such a manner as to accrue as much wealth as possible, leaving Hermione mainly free to divorce herself from the financial duties of being a Head of House.

The nagging feeling in the back of her mind that reminded her that this was all ill-gotten gains was being quashed at her elation of finally having something to her name.

Her family had never been poor by any means but true wealth and privilege had eluded the Granger family even after her parent’s practice had become well-established. The last two years of her life spent sliced between preparing and living through and after a war had shattered her preconceived notions of security, both of the financial and familial variety. When she’d removed her parent’s memories and sent them off to another land she’d effectively cut herself off completely from any sense of stability.

Memories were one thing, but her spell and subsequent clean up efforts had removed any trace of her existence that could link her back to her parents. Physical documents that would have been necessary to prove she was alive were effectively lost forever and left her vulnerable in a way that she hadn’t immediately been able to deal with until after the war had been won. There were reasons she’d taken to residing in a half demolished school, and the comfort of warm memories were only one of them.

Seeing the sudden wealth and financial stability at her fingertips was a miracle she’d never anticipated, let alone planned for.

She felt very little against being selfish. Just this once.

The list of accumulated assets, beyond property, was enormous. Between physical goods worth their weight in galleons and currency placed into the care of Gringotts, she was able to get the view that the Grenier family had been shrewd in their efforts to carve out a fortune. The oldest parts of the family had thrown themselves into building and maintaining a shipping empire in Canada during the early twentieth century. Over a relatively short period of time they had quickly and efficiently established themselves as the premier company one should turn to when needing to ship or receive goods throughout the sparsely populated land.

The company itself had long been dissolved at the death of Raphael Grenier, last living son of Dimitri Grenier. The offshoot of the family that she’d been spliced into had consisted of a devoted husband and wife that had left Canada for greener pastures in pre-war America before disappearing into obscurity somewhere along the west coast. That they had regularly eschewed the company of both Muggles and Wizardkind alike had left enough openings and holes in their history for Dumbledore to slot her into without too much trouble.

No one would be able to check up on records that didn’t exist and would have in all likelihood been lost in the past forty years. The blood ritual that she had been a part of was her ticket to this estate, as the dark magic contained within had truly altered her genetics to relate back to Antoine and Rosalie. No one could question the inheritance tests as there was effectively nothing that could be discussed or questioned. Down to her base genetics she was their daughter.

“Here is your signet, a rather odd design but I assure you it’s the correct ring,” Grindhelm leaned over his desk to pass a rather plain wooden box to Hermione’s waiting hands. It was about the size of two decks of cards stacked on top of one another, minimalist in a way that understated the important item contained within. Rounded corners, barely any discernible wood grain, and polished silver hinges inset to not protrude above the level of the wood were the only distinguishing features of the box. With slightly trembling fingers Hermione opened the box by its middle and it snapped open to completion at the slightest touch of her fingertips. The ring sitting securely within a soft velvet cushion was magnificent to look at, regardless of how different it looked to other signets she’d seen before.

The ring was made of silver, with a band nearly two centimeters wide that curved up gently to house a simple green gem that Hermione could see cleanly through. The top of the gem had been faceted to project as much of a flat plane as possible with a single stylized G inlaid and protruding slightly from the stone. The remainder of the ring was blank and without adornment. Simple, elegant, and understated in its beauty. Just the kind of ring that Hermione would feel alright with wearing, not too flashy but strong enough to stand out on its own.

Bella was leaned up fully against Hermione as she inspected the ring in a quiet mood that reflected her own. Hermione plucked the ring from its cushion and holding it up to the light beaming in from the enchanted window to her right. The silver sparkled and presented a funhouse mirror style reflection of the world as she turned it back and forth to view it at all angles.

As she gently set the box down on Grindhelms desk she turned the ring so the G was facing inwards and slid it onto the pinky finger of her left hand. The band flashed from cold metal to soothing warmth as it settled about her skin and resized itself to fit securely.

“The House Ring is traditionally passed down through the patrilineal line in Grenier history, though there are allowances in the family charter to pass matrilineally in the event that no male descendants are alive to claim it. In the event of marriage you will still remain the Head of House Grenier until such a time as you have children. You will revert to Lady Grenier, and once the child comes of age the ring and title of Head of House will pass to them.”

Grindhelm’s eyes shifted expectantly between Hermione and Bella as he revealed that last lesson and internally all she could do was laugh. Here she was, muggleborn daughter to a pair of dentists , suddenly the Head of House to a Noble and Ancient lineage of purebloods. It was all just a little bit mad and Hermione felt that she couldn’t and shouldn’t need to be bothered by the worrying scowl that Grindhelm shot her as she shifted back and forth with laughter bubbling up her throat. Bella seemed to be enjoying the moment, in on the joke as she was, revealing her sharp smile and equally sharp teeth as she appreciated the irony of Hermione’s situation.

That Grindhelm had hinted that she of all people would have children one day was just the icing on her rather precariously placed cake.

When her outpouring of random mirth was back down to a manageable level she requested to view the main Grenier vault as soon as possible and have any paperwork written up today made into copies for future use. Grindhelm had acquiesced immediately, his fee already having been set to be taken from her vaults as soon as their business for the day was concluded. His congeniality, or rather punctuality, would only impact his personal commission through helping her.

---oo---

Only minutes had passed before Hermione and Bella found themselves being ferried off along the demented mine carts of Gringotts. Hermione’s only consolation on the wild and turbulent ride was that instead of being Bella, as was her last trip, she instead now had Bella securely pressed against her side. The odd synchronicity of the situation brought more laughter to escape her throat as the witch beside her wrapped an arm around her to stabilize against the twists and sharp turns that the cart took.

“Better than your last trip?” Bella asked with an amused smile turning up the corners of her lips.

“Oh for sure. At least this time there won’t be any dragons awaiting me at the end of this ride. And I’m not stuck in that gods awful corset.

Bella’s eyes turned on her with a feigned crossness as a pout took over her features.

“Nothing wrong with corsets, they’re highly fashionable in any time period.”

“No, there’s everything wrong with corsets. I about died, my breathing was so constricted!”

“Never said they were comfortable, beauty is pain and all that.” Bella once again adopted a smirk, clearly enjoying needling Hermione.

Within a few more minutes they arrived at their destination, a large and open platform that was deep within the bowels of Gringotts, as far into the earth as Hermione had ever been.

Her consolation at the crushing realization that there was so much earth above her was that there wasn’t a single dragon within sight.

Grindhelm left the cart with Hermione and Bella obediently following along behind him as neither witch was keen on getting separated from their guide and only hope of escape. The ground beneath their feet was stone with a light dusting of sand and broken gravel that spread out to form a large enough space to house a two story abode, or another such structure. The ceiling was dotted with stalactites that looked loose and close enough to falling that she visibly shuddered as her eyes roamed above her. She knew that Gringotts would never allow their customers to come to harm unless they searched it out themselves, unwarranted deaths being bad for business and all that, but still she found herself wary.

In the middle of the open room was a single large archway made from stone blocks and nearly as tall as Hermione and Bella standing on one another's shoulders. The individual stone pieces appeared to be granite but with a strange iridescent green vein that sparkled in the irregular light coming off Grindhelms torch.

Grindhelm walked to the left side of the archway before pressing his open palm flat against the stone and wiping his hand upwards in a short jerking motion. With that complete he removed his palm and began tracing delicate and intricate patterns against the stone that were soon lost to Hermione as she attempted to follow his fingers movements. Grabbing onto Bella’s arm she leaned into the witch and steadied her weight. She could admit that today had been tiring, between the shopping spree and realization that she was essentially set up for the remainder of her life even if she never found a way to return to her own time.

‘Do I even want to-’

Her musing was cut off as a low grinding sound caught her attention and seemed to be emanating from the archway before her. Grindhelm was backing away from the arch and pushing both Hermione and Bella backwards with his outstretched palm and seemed only content that they were safe after she’d moved back several paces. The iridescent green pattern veined up through the stone began to emit a strong light that pulsed in regular intervals. The archway itself seemed to be filling up with a mist that materialized out of nowhere. The light began pulsing stronger and faster as the seconds ticked onward until the entire inside of the arch was completely obscured from view.

After a few more seconds of the strobing effect the mist and light disappeared in a blinding flash before Hermione’s eyes were able to readjust to the sudden limited light of Grindhelm’s torch. The mist was gone completely and in its stead was a large metal wall that connected at all sides to the floor and the archway surrounding it. A single oval door was slotted into the center of the metal wall, unadorned and with only a single small keyhole in the center of it.

Hermione’s curious mind was pushing her to walk around the arch to find out whether or not the door would appear from the other direction but the knowing look that Grindhelm shot her as her feet moved forward was enough to still her inquisitive mind. She instead patiently waited as the goblin waddled forward and placed his torch onto the ground before placing his now empty palm against the metal. The spot he touched appeared to glow as he fished with his free hand in his pocket to retrieve a relatively plain looking key and slotted it into the hole in the center of the door.

A wild popping and clicking sound kicked up from behind the door as tumblers and unknown devices began to unlock the door for passage. In only a few seconds the door was quiet again and Grindhelm stepped backwards to pick his torch up off of the ground. The door before him swung inwards on silent hinges as a look of wonder and dread painted Hermione’s face.

‘This… This is-’

“Merlin’s bloody fucking balls!” Bella exclaimed as she caught sight of the interior of the vault. Hermione couldn’t help but agree with Bella as the sentiment behind her words was true enough.

“Well said,” Grindhelm piped up from beside them.

If the Lestrange vault had been a cavern filled with treasures, the Grenier vault made it appear closer to a broom closet stuffed with old trinkets.

Piles of galleons and sickles, both old and newer designs, flowed around the room as rivers and oceans. Interspersed as islands were mounds of priceless treasures and artifacts. She’d researched the Grenier family and even knowing that the lineage was old still hadn’t been enough to prepare her. Sixteen centuries worth of heirlooms and wealth had been accumulated into a treasure that surpassed the wealth of several small countries. Land holdings and physical objects of worth might have made up the bulk of Grenier wealth but the sheer amount of glittering gold and silver in the form of currency was eye-popping.

Bella placed her hand onto Hermione’s back and slowly pushed her further into the vault before leaning in and placing her lips against Hermione’s ear.

“I was right. You’re rich .”

---oo---

It took nearly two hours before Hermione and Bella finally left Gringotts behind and stood once again among the crowds of Diagon Alley. Daylight would be on its way out soon but it seemed that nothing would be stopping the massive throngs of shoppers. Though both witches were of age and perfectly fine with taking care of themselves while on Yule vacation, neither wished to remain outside any longer. The rather unobtrusive Pop! of apparition was lost amidst the hustle and bustle of evening shoppers as Bella brought them both to the front gates of Black Manor. The sheaf of paperwork tucked securely against Hermione’s side was ruffled slightly at the speed with which they rematerialized and the satchel hooked over her shoulder swung painfully into her side while she fought to control her footing.

The ring on Hermione’s finger was slowly releasing a pleasing hum and warmth into the digit it sat on that traveled up to mingle in with the warmth emanating from the scar on her arm. The twisted warmth that flowed across her body brought a measure of peace and comfort to her as she strode arm in arm with Bella towards the front door.

She’d only been inside the actual Manor a handful of times and each had been only to travel through the front and out to the back. She’d never once gone past the main sitting room or to any of the other levels of the house, leaving Hermione to stare in wonder at the opulence on display.

Her host, Cygnus, was currently occupied elsewhere for the night and had left Bella a terse note stating that he’d return at some point the next afternoon. As it was the building only held Hermione and the Black trio, along with a few odd elves that seemed fit to burst with joy at having the sisters all under one roof again. When the front door swung inwards to allow entry the documents under her arm and the satchel on her shoulder popped out of existence as an elf sent them off to her waiting guest room.

“Belle?” A voice hesitantly called out from beyond the foyer.

Bella strode off without answering to the unseen voice and Hermione dutifully followed behind as she let her eyes rove over each room as it opened up.

The interior was highly reminiscent of Malfoy Manor but far more personable than the stark designs that Hermione had witnessed during the war. No matter the horror stories that she’d been told about Cygnus and Druella, she had to admit that they kept a spotless and presentable home.

‘Likely all through the work of the elves though…’

Following Bella eventually led her to a long hallway that seemed to run the length of the home and stretched out far further than it would appear to do so from the outside. Decorations adorned the hall on all sides from large and ornate portraits of Black family members to paintings of still life and landscapes that reminded her of artwork in the Louvre. As they walked it became easier for Hermione to see where Narcissa had inherited her decorative senses.

Gentle talks with Draco as he pitched in to help the restoration of Hogwarts had revealed that Narcissa had taken to immediately making Malfoy Manor her own when she married Lucius. Apparently the man didn’t give a single thought towards presentation and his attitude towards the look of the manor had been so lackadaisical that his wife and son had come to think that the task was left to them either from some form of antagonism or some deep-seated spite against his own family name. Hermione had never been able to delve further into the subject with Draco as she’d disappeared before he returned from the trial of his family at the Ministry.

Several small tables holding candles and antique vases were interspersed at regular intervals between the tall doorways that lined the hallway. Each spot had an air of history and authenticity that had Hermione questioning whether she even deserved to be near such obviously priceless artifacts.

She mentally kicked herself once she realized that she had far more access to a larger degree of wealth and heirlooms than Black Manor had ever, or would ever, see. It was both a comforting and disturbing thought all in one breath.

Their long walk was brought to an end as they reached the end of the hallway, with Bella turning to the right and immediately being confronted with a sprinting Narcissa. The young witch launched herself up and at Bella in a running jump, grabbing onto her sister’s shoulders while Bella swung her around. Hermione stepped backwards from the two as Narcissa’s feet threatened to swipe her body as she twirled around in Bella’s arms.

“I was only out for a few hours Cissa,” Bella laughed out as she continued hugging the young witch in her arms.

“Yeah,” Cissa released her hold and landed gracefully on her feet, “But still, I missed you. Andy’s got the elves making dinner, it’ll be ready soon.”

With the last word spoken Cissa was off once again at a breakneck speed, sprinting down the hallway and off to an adjoining room near the end. Bella stared off after her sister before turning towards Hermione and offering up her arm.

“Shall we?”

Nodding and taking the proffered arm, Hermione allowed Bella to lead her to a stairway located further down the hall.

The next floor was much the same as the ground floor. A long hallway split into three directions and centered in on the stairs they had just climbed up. One portion branched off the middle of the manor while the others ran perpendicular to the front and back of the home. Bella brought her down the middle hall and stopped before each doorway to show her the contents within and provide a reason for its use. Among the doors they passed was the entrance to a study that the Black trio had claimed for themselves as well as their individual bedrooms.

Bella remained quiet as she swung the door open to her own room and let Hermione walk past her into the dark space.

Deep black curtains kept all light from being able to penetrate through the wide bay windows on the wall while the floor was hardwood, ebony if she was right. A large four-poster bed took up an enormous portion of her floor-space and was decked in black and green, Slytherin all the way. A fireplace roared forth from a free wall and was nearly as large as Hermione was tall. The remaining portion of the room was devoted to a large table and accompanying vanity mirror that wouldn’t have looked out of place but for the mass of pictures securely spellotaped onto it.

Each picture involved at least two of the Black trio, most commonly Bella and Andy, while Cissa seemed to content enough to be pictured by herself in the several that were pasted to the mirror. Hermione hummed slightly to herself as she took in the happy smiles and sisterly affection clearly on display in each and every one, while the thoughts in the back of her mind focused on wondering how such a tightly-knit group of sisters could fracture so badly. She swore to herself that no matter how the timeline progressed from here she would do as much as was within her power to help Bella keep those bonds alive.

The last bit of Bella’s room for her to explore was the ensuite bathroom and an accompanying walk in closet that Hermione was instantaneously jealous of. The whole ensemble reminded her of a four star hotel that she’d stayed with her parents in once when she was little, but still managed to outdo even that memory.

Even Grimmauld place, expansive as it was, had little in the way of similarities as the lap of luxury she now found herself in.

“There’s a passageway through the back of the closet that connects to the same spot in the room next door. It’s just a guest room, empty most of the time, so I never really use it. Just leave it locked instead. But, since you can’t officially stay in mine, I figure we’ll drop your things off there and just share this one.”

Hermione perked at Bella’s words and stepped closer to the dark haired witch before peppering her face and neck with soft kisses, her lips tasting the warmth of Bella’s skin.

“Thank you, Bella”

“Hmm,” the witch hummed as she leaned into Hermione’s affections, “I should be the one giving thanks here. Without you breaking me out of this arranged marriage I don’t know what I would have done. It’s a debt I don’t know how to repay.

“We can worry about that once it’s all said and done, okay?”

After nodding her assent Bella pulled her towards the closet and snapped her fingers to bring a soft light to life. The inside fit about what Hermione had been expecting. Black, black, and yet more black. The only thing out of place was an odd assortment of colored items that Hermione was sure only had a place in the closet due to familial obligations and threats from her parents. In the far back of the closet was a wall that had been embossed with intricate designs and patterns, vines crawling over a tableau of bones and skulls in a distressingly real to life depiction.

Bella tapped against the center of the wall with her wand in three successive movements before the wood audibly clicked and settled backwards into the space of the wall. Within a second the panel had slid further away until it revealed a low passage into an empty closet on the other side. Bella grabbed Hermione’s hand firmly before tugging her along after herself as she entered the closet. As they reached the door her hand paused upon the knob before she turned to Hermione with a grin on her face.

“Madame La Vicomtesse de Grenier, allow me to show you your room.”