Chapter 1: Preface
“David, get me Narcissa Black. Barring that, Bellatrix Black will do,” Hermione Granger snapped with irritation. She hadn’t wanted to resort to calling the Black sisters. It felt unseemly for the head of the Department of International Magical Cooperation to need the kind of fixing and public relations help that only Narcissa and/or Bellatrix Black could provide.
The world had changed so much in the last decade. On the day the war ended that cloudy day in May, there was more that they didn’t yet know, than what they did know. When spells stopped being cast, they had finally begun the work of sorting out who were the good guys and who were the bad guys. Naturally, there were quite a few surprises. Dumbledore was never straight forward, Hermione was utterly unsurprised that they had not unraveled all his secrets while on the run. Narcissa’s involvement as a spy wasn’t that much of a shock when Hermione really considered it. She had always known that the blonde loved her son above all else. And she never had any doubt that the woman was brilliant. There was something about her eyes that screamed she read everything in the room, knew more than everyone else, and was just waiting to take someone down.
But when it came out that Bellatrix Fucking Black was an Unspeakable and serving as a mole, Hermione had dropped out of the sight of the public for 6 months. The woman who pinned her to the floor, tortured her and literally sliced shame into her skin was not the enemy. She had a hard time wrapping her mind around the story and identity she had built up in her mind of who Bellatrix was... couldn’t possibly be the truth. And then there was the sheer trauma of having been at war since she was 11. Hermione was sorry (even at the time) for leaving Harry and Ron to their own devices in those few months. By the time she was withdrawing from the wizarding world, the boys were already actively working as aurors. She trusted they would be well cared for by the new ministry and she could take the time she needed.
For 6 months, Hermione lived in a small apartment near Hyde Park in muggle London. She locked her wand in a drawer and didn’t keep an owl. She had told only Minerva the details of where she was. She hadn’t set a time limit for how long she would be gone, but she wanted her mentor to know she was safe. She filled her days with books, coffee and frequent trips to a muggle psychologist. She lived through the worst of those days on her own sorting through the damage the war did to her. She knew in her gut that she could not hold the war against those that helped end it. She came to peace, a healthy peace over what happened in the war. She came to accept her scars, physical and mental. Her doctor helped her sort through the ideas that the people who hurt her could not be entirely evil if they helped bring down Voldemort. She learned meditation and self care.
But most of all, Hermione let go of the girl that she once was. The girl that was awed at The History of Hogwarts was fundamentally changed the moment she took her parent’s memories and went on the hunt for horcruxes. She had surrendered her innocence, as she had to assume others had as well. Her hard fought peace did not mean that everything was sunshine and roses. She had painfully hard days, but with her work they were more spaced out and less frequent.
She more whole she felt, the more she remembered the ambitions that drove her before the war had. She was talented in charms, transfiguration, and anything else she turned her mind and wand to. She was plotting her return to the magical world, when a familiar tabby showed up on her doorstep. She opened the door with a smile and let the wizarding world back into her life. Minerva guided her through her education and helped her get her first job at the ministry.
Hermione climbed the ranks within the ministry exactly the way the media expected the “brightest witch of her age” to proceed. She traded on her intelligence, skill and reputation in equal measure. She won her position as head of the Department of International Magical Cooperation 5 years ago. She was an unprecedented success and yet she still wanted more. She wanted the Minister’s chair before her 30th birthday, but she was smart enough to know when she needed help.
In spite of her enlightenment, peace, and whatever else her doctor might call it, she really bloody hated that she needed the help of the Black Sisters.
Chapter 2: Not Made for Standing Still
Hermione was packing up for the day and desperately trying not to make eye contact with her assistant. David knew her too well for the two years they had been working together. All afternoon he had been looking at her as though she was having some sort of fit. She was too self aware to not realize it was because he had in fact owled the Black Consultancy Firm on her behalf. And there was no way he was as good at his job as Hermione knew him to be, without knowing why someone would call the Black sisters.
In the decade since the war, Narcissa was quickly cleared of any wrongdoing. Which was frankly a little too clean for the educated to really believe. And then there was Bellatrix. In an unprecedented move, she was publicly identified as an Unspeakable. She was recognized for her efforts and even awarded the Order of Merlin First Class for her role in the war and ending Voldemort’s reign of terror. Their respective husbands were less fortunate. Both were captured and sent to Azkaban. From inside those grey walls, they graciously (according to the Daily Prophet) granted the Black sisters divorces. And seemingly surrendered the majority of their wealth to the beautiful witches as well. After the dust settled, but before they could be forgotten, Narcissa and Bellatrix established the most sought after consultant firm. They solved problems and provided public relation assistance for the who’s who of the European magical world. From the outside, it appeared as though there was nothing that the sisters were incapable of fixing.
And that was exactly the type of help that Hermione Granger needed if she was going to win the election for Minister of Magic.
“Hermione,” David said from the threshold of her office. “There is an… owl here for you. Well I am actually not sure that it is an owl. But its black and mean, so I suspect its from the Blacks. It won’t give me the letter. Could you spare a moment?”
Hermione took a deep breath before looking up, hoping to hide any emotions that might be lingering in her eyes.
“Yes, of course. Just a moment,” she said rounding her desk.
Just as he said, a large rather intimidating bird was sitting on the window sill. David was safely on the other side of the room cradling his hand.
“Do you need to find the mediwitch,” Hermione asked gently. Truly it would be the last thing she needed if her assistant was injured by the bird of either of the Black sisters. She did not need the entire ministry knowing that she was seeking their services. At least not yet.
“No. No, I’m fine. I just wasn’t expecting it to be so vicious,” David answered shaking out his hand and looking at it. “Nothing a simple spell can’t fix.”
Hermione nodded and crossed the room to the window. She looked steadily at the bird working out to to keep from getting bitten herself. To her relief the bird offered his leg and turned his head away. She delicately removed the letter and breathed a sigh of relief that the bird didn’t lunge for her. She looked down at the expensive stationary in her hands. Aside from the rather mean bird, there was no doubt who had sent this letter. Her hands shook slightly as she slid her finger under the wax seal undoing it. She opened it slowly, nearly as though she were afraid that the parchment itself might do her harm. At the lack of charm or curse, she curiously opened it fully. A glossy black business card slipped into her waiting hand. The parchment itself held a disappointingly small number of words. It said only,
Portkey will activate at 7 pm.
Hermione looked up for the bird wondering what exactly she should send as a reply to such a cryptic message, but he was gone. David, however, caught her eye.
“Did they already get back to you, then,” he asked presumably already knowing the answer.
“Yes. They have been kind enough to set a meeting,” she said hoping to end the conversation. Personally, she felt the summons was a bit over the top. Having been the center of several press firestorms, Hermione did understand the need for privacy. But it was clear that the Black sisters already held all of the power. Everything about it made her want to rebel and push back.
But Hermione Granger was no longer a wayward teenager. She had survived war and its aftermath. And in her own opinion was not a half bad politician. She would meet the Black sisters on their terms.
David cleared his throat. When Hermione looked up, it was clear than he had been speaking for some time and she had obviously been lost in her thoughts.
“Well, I suppose I will be going. Unless you need something,” he trailed off.
“No, I don’t need anything else. Have a good evening,” Hermione replied attempting to find the warmth she usually spoke with.
He watched her for a beat before gathering his things and leaving. He was good enough not to look over his shoulder. She really ought to give him a raise for his discretion, particularly if she was serious about being the Minister of Magic. She would need someone like David in her corner. And he was reliable and a vault, really everything one could want in an assistant.
Hermione looked back at the invitation of sorts in her hand. It was only 5 pm and she didn’t live far. She knew herself well enough to admit that there was no way that she would be able to focus with this particular meeting hanging over her head. If she wasn’t going to work, there was no reason to stay inside the Ministry walls. Doing so only risked that someone would come to talk to her and would subsequently notice how out of sorts she was.
She quickly packed her bag, cursing her own ambition and the Black sisters for being the best… and who they were. She paused at the door to her office, snatching her coat and umbrella off the coat stand. She could floo home, but the walk would be good for her. She was banking on it clearing her mind and allowing her to move past the knots forming in her stomach.
The wet streets of London were some comfort. She had elected to continue to live in central London, though technically she lived in wizarding London it was extremely close to a lovely muggle bookstore and cafe. The walk was just long enough that her cheeks were cool and the hem of her pants were wet from the rain when she arrived at her apartment.
Hermione let herself into the space that was her sanctuary and put down her things from the day. Out of habit, she went to the bedroom and began to undress. She paused half way through unbuttoning her shirt, before remembering why she was out of sorts. She looked down at what she was wearing suddenly worried if it was appropriate. What did one wear to a first meeting (summoning) with two of the most impressive witches in magical Britain? What kind of outfit would communicate “I know one of your tortured me and the other one watched on, but I am not afraid of either of you.”
She wandered over to her mirror to stare at her reflection. She had grown into her looks and herself in the last few years, but even now her eyes couldn’t help but trace over the scar on her forearm. She shook her head, unwilling to dwell on that in the hours before she would be physically in the presence of at least one of the Black sisters. She knew she was capable of facing them, even if it wasn’t easy.
Looking at her reflection in the eyes, she saw the strength she had earned every day in the last 10 years. She owed it to herself to present herself in the image she had created. She finished shucking out of her clothes and stepped into the shower. The hot water calmed her nerves and gave her something tangible to focus on. And once clean, she stepped out feeling much better than she had. Towel still wrapped around her, Hermione walked to her closet already mentally sorting through her clothing.
After looking at her considerable options, she settled on a newly purchased well tailored black suit. When she purchased it, she had been thinking about how it would feel to wear it as the newly elected Minister of Magic. As she was taking the first steps of that journey tonight, it seemed appropriate to dress for the occasion. She carefully removed the wrapping to touch the fabric. It was the nicest suite she had ever purchased. The classic male style was perfectly tailored to fit her. She slipped on her lingerie and the crisp white shirt. She looked once more at the suit on the hanger hoping that it would make her look as intimidating as she feared the Black sisters might be.
She took the plunge, pulling the fabric on. She stepped back to look at her reflection, even without shoes, hair and makeup, she looked rather… ministerial. She picked up her wand and swept her hair up into an elegant bun. She wanted it out of her face so that she would not be tempted to muss it when she got nervous. She elected to apply her makeup the muggle way. She had the time to spare and she always seemed to like the results better. Once she added a pair of precariously high heels, she was satisfied with her reflection.
Hermione walked into her kitchen with the intention of making something to eat, but food on top of her nerves seemed like a poor plan. So instead she pulled out her favorite notebook and looked over the list of reasons why she wanted to be the Minister of Magic. She didn’t want to be unprepared for anything that Narcissa might ask her. She slowly watched the minutes on her watch tick down until it was nearly 7 pm.
Slowly, she stood and pulled on her outer robes. She tucked away anything she might need in the pockets, aside from her wand which she kept securely in her hand. She took out the impressive looking business card turning it over slowly. With a deep breath she tried to relax and wait for the pull of the portkey. Without conscious thought, she began reciting defensive spells in her head like she had during the war to prepare herself for whatever unknown she was about to face.
At 7 pm sharp, Hermione felt the magic of the portkey activate and she disappeared from her apartment.
Hermione, of course, had considerable experience exiting from portkey travel. It however did not mean that she found it pleasant. She landed solidly enough not to embarrass herself or soil her clothing, but not so solidly that she didn’t hope that she would be able to apparate or floo home. She opened her eyes half expecting to find some sort of danger. She knew such suspicion was not particularly generous (and certainly not what her therapist would approve of), but some habits were hard to break. The English country house was not exactly where she expected to meet the Black sisters. She had anticipated that any location Narcissa Black chose would be rather posh, but Hatfield House was beyond anything she had dreamt up.
Though not technically a castle by muggle royal standards, it lacked nothing size nor history. Hermione hoped she would have the opportunity to ask the Black sisters how they had come to possess such an important medieval muggle building. During her six month hiatus from the wizarding world, Hermione had read extensively about the Tudor age and could hardly believe she was going into the house where Queen Elizabeth I learned of her ascension to the throne. It made her almost excited, in spite of her earlier misgivings about the meeting itself.
She walked confidently up the clearly defined path to the main entrance. Her way was lit by floating lanterns, which made the red and white stone of the building glow and look magical. As she reached the tremendous double doors, they swung open dramatically. Unconsciously, Hermione grasped her wand more tightly as a back lit figure came into view. Her instincts told her to raise her wand, but Hermione held firm. The clearly feminine form wasn’t moving and seemed to not be threatening.
“Miss Granger,” a husky but sweet voice broke the tense silence.
“Madame Black,” Hermione answered hesitantly.
“Please don’t be nervous,” Narcissa said stepping into the light. “I assure you we don’t bite... “
Though the witch let the end of the sentence die, Hermione could have sworn the witch meant to finish with ‘unless you ask us to.’ Instead of letting it go, Hermione bristled and said,
“I can’t imagine why I would be nervous, Madame Black. After all I owled you for assistance.” Hermione was proud that she managed to keep her voice steady, because she was after all considerably nervous.
“Of course,” Narcissa said with a smirk that suggested she was not particularly fooled by the gryffindor’s front.
Hermione looked at her then, really looked, and was shocked to notice how painfully attractive Narcissa Black was. Hermione had no illusions about her sexuality nor her preference for those older than herself, but she was shocked at her visceral reaction to the witch in front of her. The cloth that artfully accented the blonde’s form was sumptuous and the way the blue eyes sparkled at Hermione’s little white lie were one of the most tempting things she had ever seen.
“Please, do come in,” the blonde said after a long pause. “And there is no need for your wand. No one in these walls will harm you.” She looked as though she wanted to say more, but stopped short of doing so.
Hermione looked carefully ascertaining the truthfulness of the woman before her. She wanted to leave the past where it belonged, but she was struggling to entirely tamp down her fight or flight response. She slowly tucked the wand up her sleeve, where it would release into her hand at a moment’s notice if she needed it. She stepped towards the doors and just as she crossed the threshold, she felt a number of wards wash over her. She tensed, but then immediately relaxed at the sensation. The magic in the wards felt like a warm embrace as it danced over her skin and touched her magical core. It smelled of fresh sea air mixed with the dense forest.
“Ah, you are quite sensitive,” Narcissa chuckled. “As I am sure you know, there are few that can physically feel that sort of ward.”
“I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced a ward like that,” Hermione said carefully choosing her words. She was a little worried that if she kept speaking that she might reveal exactly how much she had enjoyed the sensation.
“Of course not. We are after all the best.”
Narcissa’s voice had dropped lower and hit Hermione solidly in the gut. Her new found infatuation was quickly spinning out of control and she frankly had to get a grip on herself.
“What were those wards,” Hermione said redirecting (and out of curiosity).
“Already trying to get our secrets,” a dark yet sing-song voice said from the darkness. “I think it's rather that we are supposed to get your’s.”
Hermione knew that voice on a fundamental level. It was sweeter and calmer than the version she had previously heard, but it still made her blood run cold. Without conscious thought, her wand was back in her hand. She hadn’t yet lifted it, because she was a better dueler than she was at 17. She was confident that she could contend with a master like Bellatrix Black even at short range.
“Without telling you too much, the wards are similar to those at Gringotts. They strip away glamours and help us tell those who wish to mislead us. While it was not our intent, apparently there are some side effects for those who have nothing to hide,” Narcissa said trying to steer the conversation.
“They are quite helpful in vetting clients,” Bellatrix said stepping into the light fully.
Hermione swallowed a gasp as seeing her up close. The witch before her looked so much like her greatest nightmare from the war, and yet nothing like it. Her hair was bouncy as though it had a lift of its own, her skin was vibrant, and her eyes sparkled. Her style, however, was fairly unchanged though less ragged.
“Bellatrix, instead of accosting our guest in the entry, could you please show our guest into the dining room,” Narcissa said her annoyance at her sister bleeding through her facade.
“Of course, sister,” Bellatrix said with an overly dramatic bow. “Right this way, Miss Granger. And the wand won’t be necessary.”
“Forgive me,” Hermione said quietly following. “Some instincts still linger after all this time.” Hermione watched the dark figure pause and turn slowly to look at her.
“You are hardly the one who should be repentant,” Bellatrix said before quickly turning back around and picking up the pace.
Hermione put her wand back. She wanted so badly to work towards her future, not rehash her past. She stopped in her tracks when they entered the dining room. It was so grand that it was she spun in place to take it all in.
“This country house is amazing,” Hermione said reverently.
“Isn’t it, though,” Narcissa said approaching her from behind. “Our ancestors won it in the Goblin Rebellion. It was always my favorite of our properties, which is why we kept it even when we divested others. Please, Miss Granger. Come sit. I thought we might have dinner as I imagine you haven’t eaten.”
“No, I haven’t. Thank you,” Hermione said without thinking about the implications. She was impressed at the efforts to make her comfortable and disarm her. She imagined they were hoping to make her reveal things she might not in normal circumstances. It was a brilliant tactic without the use of drugs or coercion.
“Very good,” Narcissa said looking pleased.
Hermione thought that Narcissa looked only more radiant when she was pleased, which was frustratingly distracting. As she glanced across the table, Bellatrix looked far too happy. Hermione pulled her occlumency walls tighter in response as Narcissa gallantly ushered her into a chair.
“Well, isn’t this lovely,” Bellatrix said settling in across from the young witch. “I had hoped that you might call upon us at some point. I’ve watched your career.”
While the dark witch’s tone was appreciative, there was a dark edge to it. The weight of the comment skittered down Hermione’s spine and she suppressed a shudder. There was something about about a vaguely civil Bellatrix Black that set her teeth on edge, and she wasn’t entirely sure it was in a bad way.
Much like at Hogwarts, food appeared in front of them seemingly out of no where. Unlike Hogwarts, it was not shared servings. Instead each plate as obviously carefully crafted. Hermione gently turned her plate so that she could take it in fully. It was possibly the most gorgeous first course she had ever seen, even in comparison to the fancy muggle restaurants she had enjoyed in London.
“I hope its to your liking,” Narcissa said watching her closely.
Hermione wasn’t sure if she imagined the anxiety she heard in the other witch’s tone.
“Its beautiful,” she breathed out. “Forgive my lack of manners. It was just so stunning that I wanted to look at it closely.”
Narcissa glowed at the comment at which Bellatrix huffed impatiently.
“I won’t take it as an offense,” the blonde answer smoothly. “As my sister was saying, we have followed your career and had hoped that you might one day darken our door. But we would be remiss to not recognize the courage that must have taken.”
Hermione’s fork was halfway to her mouth when she froze at the comment. It wasn’t that she thought they could just start a business relationship without clearing the air, but she had hoped it might not be the first thing that they did. Or perhaps that she would have had the advantage of being at least one glass of wine into the evening.
“I am a gryffindor, after all,” she said buying herself time and trying to smirk convincingly.
“So you are,” Narcissa conceded gently.
Hermione drew in a deep breath tried to remember the hours and hours of therapy she waded through. She was prepared for this conversation. She knew there would come a time when facing the Black sisters would be a necessity.
“Forgive me for being glib,” she said slowly tasting each word. Hermione looked up to find blue eyes trained on her face. “I know we need to have this conversation. I have let go of so much of the war. I know the roles you both ultimately played and I am grateful that you helped bring it to an end.” Hermione’s eyes filled with tears that she couldn’t quite identify the source of. Stress, nerves, grief and pain were woven together.
“We both know its not that simple, love,” Bellatrix said in a tone so kind and so disarming that Hermione’s focus snapped to her.
“No. No, of course not. Nothing about it is simple. I’ve worked for years to be whole again. I have accepted my scars, they are a part of who I am now. Who I have grown to be. What is it that you need me to hear?” Hermione knew that she had shifted into work mode, but she needed the emotional space.
“We were deeply undercover when you came into our possession in the war,” Narcissa said flatly. “It does not excuse our behavior, but I do not wish for you to think that we do not consider the things we did in the war.”
Hermione wasn’t sure what to say to that, but luckily for her Bellatrix left no space for her to say a word.
“What I can’t tell you,” Bellatrix nearly growled, “is that I was innocent of being the demon who you met that day. During the war, both of them, I was ruthless. The list of those I killed or seriously damaged is very long. Those faces keep me up night far more than the nightmares of dementors. I followed my orders. I did what had to be done, but that is not to say that I don’t have regrets. I frankly have many. And you are quite high on the list.” The witch was nearly yelling by the end of her soliloquy.
Hermione did not visibly react, but instead said quietly, “I believe you.”
“And I stood by.” The blonde spoke slowly. Hermione could hear the tears in her eyes, but could not bear to look at her.
“I respect what you both did to save Harry and the entire wizarding world.” Hermione took a deep breath that sent tears down her cheek. “We all made sacrifices.”
Narcissa looked for all the world like she was going to rise and walk over to Hermione, but seemed to restrain herself at the last moment. Instead she pulled an old fashion handkerchief from her sleeve and held it out. Hermione took it hesitantly, but not wanting to offend her host (and for more practical reasons). It was smooth under her touch and delicately embroidered with NB.
“Are you sure you want to work with us,” Bellatrix continued voice hard. “You will have to be honest. Entirely honest with us. And... you will have to spend considerable time in my presence. I can face down that I am a monster, but that doesn’t mean you have to. We can recommend others in our field.”
Hermione stiffened at the suggestion. “No. I didn’t come here for an apology or an understanding. Whatever this is. I owled because I want to be Minister of Magic. The Black sisters are the best. And I need your help.”
Bellatrix stood abruptly and stalked from the room.
“Give her a moment, Miss Granger,” Narcissa said voice calm again.
“Please,” the younger witch said, “call me Hermione. There is no need for us to be so formal. We have too much history.”
Narcissa tilted her head in consideration and smiled slightly. “Very well, Hermione.”
“Thank you. I don’t mean to be flippant, but I’m afraid we’ve nearly ruined the most amazing meal I’ve ever had. I can work with you both. It will take an adjustment on all our parts, but if I can work with the people the entire wizarding world knows tortured me then maybe I can be the Minister we need now.”
“Well, if she can sell that line, we just might have a chance,” a much calmer Bellatrix Black said leaning the door frame before sauntering back in.
“So we can put the past to bed then,” Hermione said hopefully looking between the two sisters.
Bellatrix smiled almost cruelly, but it was Narcissa who responded.
Hermione was relieved to make it through the rest of the beautiful meal without particularly deep conversation. They talked largely about current events, but it never got overly personal. She had to admit that their conversational skills were beyond flawless. They were perfectly fascinating and engaging. She very nearly forgot who exactly they were. The warmth of Narcissa’s smile filled her consciousness, while Bellatrix’s sharp wit had her chuckling. She was coming to understand why they worked together and why they were beloved in the right circles.
“Shall we retire to the sitting room for a drink and to discuss details about what you are looking for,“ Narcissa asked.
Hermione nodded. While she was ready for the next step in the evening, it did mean moving back into uncharted waters. She perhaps had not entirely considered what it would mean to spill all of her deepest secrets to the Black sisters, particularly to the Black sisters. And now, when she could barely think beyond Narcissa’s heated stare, she was not particularly looking forward to sharing secrets. Yet she stood and followed the blonde from the room. Bellatrix was still behind her, so Hermione attempted not to obviously stare at Narcissa’s arse. If she was completely honest, it was far harder than it should have been. She idly hoped that the sisters had not slipped anything in her wine to make her more forthcoming.
As Hermione crossed the threshold she froze in place, which caused Bellatrix to collide with her. The firm grip of the hands on her hips was not unpleasant. She might have even leaned back into the solid form if she wasn’t so distracted by the beauty of the sitting room. Apparently not only had the Black family won the house, but they had also kept it in tact. The art on the walls was no doubt original. Once she shook herself from her stupor, she crossed the room to view the prominent painting of the country house’s most famous muggle resident. Hermione stared up into the dark eyes of Queen Elizabeth I in one of the many Armada portraits from the second half of her reign. It was a familiar composition, but the painting itself Hermione had never seen before.
“She is a lovely witch, is she not,” Narcissa said from behind her.
Hermione turned to look at her confused by the statement.
“Surely you had gathered that her mother Anne Boleyn was truly a witch, and that Elizabeth inherited the gift? How else could she have lived so long and escaped death so frequently.”
Narcissa looked so certain that Hermione didn’t want to debate her, but was mentally preparing a list of questions to research as soon as she had free time.
“Its an amazing portrait,” she said instead of answering the question.
“I am so pleased that you like it,” Narcissa said stepping closer.
“As amusing as this is,” Bellatrix said testily, “are we going to continue the art lecture or could we move on to more interesting things.”
“Don’t be rude, Bella,” Narcissa scolded. “Could you please have the fire lit and get the elves to bring coffee?”
The dark witch huffed under her breath, but did as her sister bade her giving Narcissa and Hermione a moment alone.
“She is as nervous as you are tonight,” Narcissa said quietly.
“I feel sorry for her then,” Hermione smiled sadly.
“Don’t imagine that there is anything that you could share with us that would shock us. The things we have seen, the things we have done. We will handle anything you have.”
The young witch sighed. She knew they were the best, otherwise there was no reason she would have ever darkened their door.
“We will take care of you,” Narcissa said quietly. She looked as though she wanted to say more, but Bellatrix had loudly re-entered carrying wood.
“I didn’t anticipate you would light the fire by hand,” Narcissa said breaking the intimacy of the previous moment.
Bellatrix set the wood down and drew her wand. Hermione swallowed a gasp and forced her body still in spite of the urge to panic. She watched the skilled movements of the dark witch as she levitated the logs into the fireplace and rearranged them. With a muttered spell a glowing fire shot from the end of Bellatrix’s wand and caught the logs ablaze. She glanced over her shoulder apparently aware of the appreciative gaze. Hermione was drawn in by the dark eyes before she forced herself to look away.
“Please, come sit, Miss Granger,” Narcissa beckoned, guiding her to a wing backed chair near the fire.
Hermione did so, accepting a cup of coffee before she sat down. She took a long soothing sip before looking back at her hosts.
“So you want to be the Minister of Magic,” Bellatrix broke the silence.
“I do,” Hermione said feeling as though she had finally found her footing. “I have seen the worst and the best of our society. I think I could be the witch to move us all forward.”
“And why should we think you capable,” the dark witch continued. Her voice was devoid of emotion.
“I admit that I am young.” Hermione smiled charmingly at the witch. “But at age 11, I entered the wizarding world without any prior knowledge. Each year of my education, I stood shoulder to shoulder with Harry Potter. We defeated Voldemort and his supporters every year, until my 6th year. Harry and I hunted down and faced each horcrux. With very limited defense against the dark arts, we survived and won multiple battles. After the war ended, I returned to my education and within a year completed a double mastery of charms and transfiguration. Though I had many options, I chose to serve in the ministry. I have always believed in the international magic community and it has been an honor to work with them on behalf of wizarding Britain. I am ready now to dedicate myself to the issues at home.”
Bellatrix clapped slowly. “That wasn’t half bad, pet.”
Hermione started to defend herself, but paused when Narcissa raised a hand.
“We will work on that later, but its a good start. You are a natural. I do think people will want to elect you. You are the first of the golden trio to run for any sort of office. They ought to be chomping at the bit, so to speak.”
“But you’ve come to us before you have even announced your intentions to run. So what is it that you are hiding?” Bellatrix’s question was probing, but not entirely unkind.
Hermione blanched and took a deep breath. “I will tell you both everything, but would you think me unkind if I asked for the use of a Fidelius charm?”
“I would think you naive if you avoided it,” Bellatrix said seemingly pleased with the response.
“Would you like to cast it yourself,” Narcissa asked quietly.
“If you don’t mind, I assure you I am gifted at charms.”
“Oh, I am quite certain you are,” Bellatrix purred.
Hermione blushed and drew her wand. She closed her eyes and pulled her magic to the surface. She cast wordlessly, but felt the magic surround them and connect them. When she opened her eyes again, Narcissa looked a bit breathless. She wanted to ask, but didn’t want to press the witch in front of her sister.
“Out with it then,” Bellatrix prodded. “What is the Golden Girl hiding that she needs us to keep secret.”
Hermione stiffened. She was willing to tell them everything within the confines of a professional relationship, but she was not prepared to be mocked.
“Bella. I know you are curious, but please,” Narcissa huffed.
“Just a little natural curiosity, Cissy. Don’t get your knickers in a twist.”
“There are a few things that are probably obvious,” Hermione began slowly. “I was central to the war. As such, there was a time that I broke a number of laws.”
“And into my vault,” Bellatrix groused.
“Yes. Into your vault. That was one of the many crimes that I was not charged with ultimately. I was no saint in those days and I am certain that the Undesirable posters will be brought back out,” Hermione said trailing off.
“We do not need to go over it in detail tonight, but I will need you to write out each of charges you know were raised against you. I will do my own research so that we can have a comprehensive list,” Narcissa declared.
“What else from the war are you concerned about,” Bellatrix asked more gently than was her manner.
“The body count from the final day,” Hermione answered eyes down cast. “In fact, any of the spells I threw that day. And the 6 months I spent away from the wizarding world.”
“Where did you go,” Narcissa asked without judgement.
“Only to muggle London, ironically. I might as well have been a million kilometers away. I was seeking help. I had terrible nightmares and I was unraveling,” she said honestly. “But I sought help and have recovered well.”
“Do we need to be concerned with who treated you?” Narcissa continued cautiously still seeking the downcast eyes.
“I can give you the name, though I assure you I cast you sufficient charms,” Hermione said finally raising her gaze.
“Did you see anyone in the magical world,” Bellatrix interjected.
“I was assigned a healer at St. Mungo’s. I completed their course as well.”
Bellatrix nodded seemingly pleased.
“Do you still have occurrences?” The blonde wanted to reach out to the witch, hearing the destruction that had been wrought was more painful than she had anticipated.
“I do occasionally. They are not public knowledge and they have not impacted my job,” Hermione answered hotly.
Bellatrix stared for a long moment. “Don’t give them the satisfaction of getting a reaction, love. They don’t deserve one.”
“Yes. Yes, of course. I know. I apologize, Madame Black.” Hermione looked up into the blue eyes that shone with unguarded affection. “I will do my best to refrain from snapping. I do know better. I promise.”
“I never had any doubt,” Narcissa replied.
“What of your private life,” Bellatrix ventured.
“Oh, that,” Hermione looked at her hands for a moment. “Well, the early history was well documented in the Daily Prophet. At least part of it was. I did date Victor for a time. I did not date Harry... ever. I dated Ronald briefly. It was a disaster. He was possessive and cruel. And he turned out to be rather vindictive. I anticipate that he will do something to publicly embarrass me.”
“What does he have?” Bellatrix knew whatever the boy might do would make her irrationally angry. Narcissa would end up having to handle it in the end.
“He will out me,” Hermione said with a sigh refusing to make eye contact.
“He will what,” Narcissa asked unsure about what that meant.
“Apologies,” Hermione began again. “He will make it public knowledge that I prefer witches. I am not ashamed, but he has made it quite clear how the wizarding world will react.”
“I see,” the blonde said quietly.
“Have you ever spoken to anyone else about it,” Bellatrix followed up.
“Harry knows, I presume. But no. Ronald told me the commonly held view and so I have kept my mouth shut and have not dated anyone,” Hermione answered face on fire with shame for having to admit it.
Bellatrix stood suddenly and strode across the room. Hermione palmed her wand not knowing if the impending explosion would be at her. She watched with curiosity as the dark witch hunched over a serving table before pouring fire whiskey into a a glass and downing it in a single swallow.
“That little chit,” she growled. “He lied to you. He isn’t worthy of the magical blood that runs through his veins.”
Hermione looked confused and more than a little taken back. She wasn’t really sure what Bellatrix meant or if they were about to embark on a discussion of blood purity.
“The ancient families are unconcerned with such things,” Narcissa stepped in. “No such stigma exists. No child of pureblood, no matter how poor would ever think otherwise. He lied to you for his own purposes.”
Hermione attempted to digest that information. It seemed impossible that he had been so callous. Not wanting to linger on it, she blurted out,
“And while we are at it, you might as well know I am muggle born.”
The tension thick in the room dissolved and both of the Black sisters laughed. Their voices intertwined was a beautiful sound.
“You don’t say,” a smirking Bellatrix Black said rejoining them with another glass of liquor in her hand.
“Well, I didn’t want to leave it out,” Hermione said sheepishly.
“The wizarding world is going to fall at your feet,” Narcissa said with a note of reverence in her voice. “I doubt the masses will be concerned with your blood. The world is changing.”
“But I imagine that the red headed brat will show his true colors,” Bellatrix said sharply. “Are you prepared to allow him to make your private life public?”
Hermione took a deep breath. She knew this was the true test of if she was capable of running. “Can we not stop him?”
“We could try,” the dark witch conceded. “But doing so could make it appear as though there is something to be ashamed of. If anything it makes you more modern and more intriguing.”
“Not to mention that if he shows himself to be so out of touch that we neutralize one of your most public detractors quickly,” Narcissa added.
“I don’t want to discuss it publicly, but I will follow your guidance. Won’t the public wonder why I am not in a relationship if I am so modern?”
“That is a good point,” Bellatrix agreed. “We can certainly explain the years immediately after the war, you were rather busy. But more recently is more delicate.”
“Why haven’t you dated,” Narcissa interjected. Her tone was cool, but her gaze was anything but.
“I was occupied with my job,” Hermione said defensively.
“Too busy to have a personal life? How can we expect you to keep up with the minster of magic job if you can’t manage a personal life,” Bellatrix continued prodding.
“Balance is very important, or at least the appearance is,” Narcissa agreed.
“I was afraid and I never met anyone worth the risks,” Hermione spat angrily. “I know what I want, but it simply never presented itself.”
“And you never went looking? Not even for a single night,” the dark witch cocked her hear in interest as she asked.
Hermione looked torn between screaming and storming out. She counted to 10 in her head before answering. “No. I have never been with anyone in that way. There really are no skeletons to find.”
Bellatrix flopped back in her chair looking perplexed. “The public is never going to believe that. Even if I know you are telling the truth.” She looked down at her glass for a long moment before looking back up. “Perhaps you need to begin a relationship that we can announce at the right moment.”
“Let me make sure I understand correctly. In order to run for Minister of Magic, you want me to start a fake relationship. So I can try to both win the top seat in government and try to keep my lies straight,” Hermione bit back.
“Don’t be daft, I didn’t suggest you should start a fake relationship. If you want a public office like this you need a steady relationship, someone you can rely upon. Why not consider a well made match that would further your career,” Bellatrix pitched sensibly.
Hermione looked at the dark witch as though she had grown a second head. “That is such a double standard that I need a partner...”
“I would suggest the same if you were male,” Bellatrix interrupted. “Society prefers a leader who is settled and part of a pair.”
“And what do you think,” Hermione said sharply turning to Narcissa.
The blonde’s features were pinched and she looked furious. “Strictly speaking, I don’t disagree with the logic. The logistics are quite concerning. I am not sure how we could even secure someone’s loyalty. Not to mention needing to make it look like you didn’t begin a relationship just to become Minister of magic.”
“We know the right kind of people,” Bellatrix answered dismissively. “It rather more of a question of what her type is. Its a shame you didn’t have a daughter.”
Hermione coughed violently attempting to not choke on her coffee.
“I assure you, you could do worse,” Narcissa said sharply.
“No,” Hermione said quickly, trying to decide how she would get out of the awkward situation without telling the sisters what she had been thinking.
“No, what,” the dark witch said seeming far too amused with her self for Hermione’s comfort.
“I didn’t mean any offence,” Hermione said lamely.
“It certainly sounded offensive,” Bellatrix continued to prod.
Hermione took a deep breath to clear her mind and keep herself from just reacting, as it clearly wasn’t working particularly well.
“Maybe she just doesn’t prefer blondes,” the dark witch turned the goading towards her sister.
“Madame Black,” Hermione said having finally located her backbone again. “Hair color had absolutely nothing to do with it. Like all adults, I have preferences about the sort of witch I would even consider being with.” She turned her attention to Narcissa. “And I assure you, Madame Black, that I would truly be honored to be associated with your family. Its simply that...” Hermione paused again. She looked between then attempting to gauge if there was any chance she was going to be able to get away with not finishing the sentence.
“Its simply that... what, Miss Granger,” Narcissa said stiff backed and stern.
“I have no interest in dating those my own age,” Hermione said attempting to keep her voice level and tone neutral.
“Oh my, Miss Granger,” Bellatrix said leaning forward. “I had not pegged you for a cradle robber.” Though her words were harsh, the dark witch looked beyond enthusiastic at the development.
Hermione smiled at the witch’s amusement. “Oh no, Madame Black. That is not what I meant. I have no interest in dating someone my age OR younger.”
Bellatrix’s smile turned positively feral. “Oh, I see. You fancy older witches. Well, why didn’t you say so?”
Hermione held her coffee cup in front of her face, but did not drink for fear of coughing again.
“It is,” Narcissa spoke lowly, “interesting that you were so hesitant to tell us.”
The blue eyes turned from her to her sister’s. Hermione watched as they had some sort of silent conversations.
“Its settled then,” Bellatrix said standing and heading back to her stash of fire whiskey.
“I’m sorry, but what is settled,” Hermione said somewhat fearful of what the answer might be.
Bellatrix grinned that smile that that made Hermione’s stomach turn in the way that she couldn’t quite decide if it was positive or not.
The dark witch hovered close to her, while speaking as though Hermione were a small child. “My Cissy is correct about the complications of setting you up even with our closest circle. Our goal is to emasculate and end any advantage the information from the Weasel might have. To seem anything less than entirely honest would not be ideal. I rather like the overly idealistic image you have crafted.”
“I agree,” Hermione said seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. “Then we are of one mind that there is not a good reason to even consider my private life.”
“That is not what I said, love,” Bellatrix said clearly enjoying herself. “I had planned on being rather chivalrous and not mention the intensity with which you were staring at my sister’s arse, however if you are going to play dumb...”
Hermione flushed bright red and looked resolutely at the fire. After a moment, she looked up at Narcissa. “I would never deny appreciating beauty, but I apologize if it was objectifying. It was not my intent.”
Narcissa hadn’t moved, but there was something different in her expression. Bellatrix cackled, which caused Narcissa to shoot a sharp glare at her.
“Oh Hermione, you truly are an innocent,” the dark witch continued. “You need a partner. Someone who knows what she is doing. Someone who is no stranger to the halls of power. Someone who will keep your secrets.”
The pieces started falling together for Hermione. “And Narcissa is the perfect candidate.” She looked at the blonde longingly. “You are stunning. You lack nothing in poise nor intelligence. You know this game better than I do. You would keep my secrets. But why would you want to?”
Narcissa’s blue eyes sparkled with mischief and perhaps a touch of something else. “Miss Granger, why wouldn’t I? I could easily make the same list about you, couldn’t I?”
“I can think of a long list of reasons,” Hermione said quietly.
“One date, Miss Granger,” Narcissa said smoothly. “Give me one date.”
Hermione’s heart rate picked up at the question and the confidence with which it was delivered. “One date,” she confirmed too intrigued to even consider saying no. The sly smile she got in response made a shiver rush through her body.
“Well, this has been a very productive meeting,” Bellatrix said. “We will take you as a client. Well, to be precise, I will take you as a client. Which I must say will not hurt your reputation. After all, if you can work with me then you can work with anyone.”
Hermione wasn’t exactly sure how to react or when she had agreed.
“And tomorrow evening, clear your schedule.” Narcissa commanded, but her face was so gentle that Hermione found herself breathless.
Hermione stepped out of her fireplace wondering what exactly had just happened and what in the world she had just agreed to. If hiring the Black sisters was a whim, she wasn’t sure what agreeing to go on a date with Narcissa Black would be considered.It was either the most brilliant political plan she had ever been a part of or it was political suicide. What she was absolutely certain of was that the Black sisters were the most seductive witches she had ever met. If they could work that kind of magic on others, then maybe they could carve her path to be the youngest Minister of Magic.
She might have been emotionally prepared to face the masses, but she was not prepared in any way for a date. And to compound that with an older sinfully attractive witch, well... she was intimidated. There were few things she hated more than feeling unprepared. She might not have enjoyed shopping, but there was no way that she would be showing up to what she knew would be a beautiful date looking anything less than perfect.
Taking a deep breath, she snatched a piece of parchment and scribbled out a note that was just this side of begging. She needed the opinion of someone she had come to trust in spite of their history. Pansy, for all of her bullying at Hogwarts, had developed into a fierce and trustworthy friend. They had started at the Ministry at the same time. During their first day of orientation they had bonded over wanting to be known for more than their past and first day jitters. Pansy was the person she could always trust to give it to her straight, even when it was not delivered with the greatest sensitivity. She was utterly disinterested in Hermione’s fame or her strained relationships with Harry and Ron.
Before she could second guess herself, she attached the note to the foot of her owl and sent her off. If she was lucky, Pansy would agree to the shopping trip tomorrow. Constructing a plan in her head for the following day, Hermione did her best to calm down the buzzing in her head before bed. She felt as though she was standing on the edge of a very tall cliff poised to jump or fall off. She could only hope she knew how to land.
The next morning found Hermione sleepily staring in a hot cup of tea at dawn. She was a morning person, but even this was a bit severe. She had fallen asleep easily enough, but had woken early. She wasn’t exactly anxious, but she was plenty nervous. This was the kind of day that didn’t happen many times in one’s life. She was going to do things that she had never imagined that she would be able to do. She was going to tell one of her closest friends that she wasn’t disinterested in dating, but rather that she was only attracted to witches. And then she was going on a date with one of the most attractive women she had ever seen in public.
Oddly, it wasn’t so much that she was dating a woman that made her nervous. It was that she had no experience dating as an adult. She wasn’t sure she had any idea how to act and desperately did not want to fail. She didn’t want to embarrass herself. And she didn’t want to lose the help of the Black Sisters. All the privacy spells in the world couldn’t stop someone as talented as Bellatrix Black if she wanted to share information. Hermione was all in with the Black sisters, so failure simply was not an option.
She downed the hot liquid. With the sun above the horizon, she would have just enough time to get ready before her 7 am breakfast with Pansy. The witch had responded immediately, which made Hermione suspect that she was significantly excited about the prospect of a high end shopping day. She picked out a respectable outfit. She knew Pansy would be fashionable. She always was. And Hermione suspected that they would be going to the kind of stores that wouldn’t appreciate jeans and a jumper.
The small cafe that Pansy chose was beyond cute. The warm and soft decor of Rosa Lee Teabag was charming. Hermione couldn’t help smiling as her friend walked in the door with her customary smirk on her face.
“Well, Hello Hermione,” Pansy said sitting across from her already sounding smug.
“Pansy. Its good to see you. How is Blaise?”
“As attractive as ever, not to mention grateful that you rescued him from a day of shopping,” the brunette said settling in. “He will no doubt go out with the lads for a few pints. He didn’t even try to limit what I might buy. So I think we will all have a nice day.”
Hermione laughed. She knew money really wasn’t an object to the couple, but their bickering never ceased to amuse her.
“It really is good to see you. I’m sorry I’ve been so busy,” Hermione said. While it wasn’t the first time she had said it, she meant it more than she usually did.
“Its good to see you too, but I won’t pretend like this isn’t highly unusual. I am almost always the one to invite. And I’ve never seen you so desperate even by owl. So spill, Granger.”
Hermione smiled at Pansy. She had expected the bluntness. If Bellatrix and Narcissa were telling the truth, then Pansy wouldn’t react negatively. And then Hermione would very much need to get ready for a date. Part of her was hoping that she would be able to call the whole thing off as it was so much pressure, but realistically she knew she would go through with it.
“I have a date,” Hermione practically whispered.
Pansy’s jaw dropped. She opened her mouth to speak a couple of times before she managed to make sound come out. “I’m sorry. What did you just say?”
“I have a date. Tonight. With someone who is entirely out of my league. And I need your help,” Hermione said quickly.
“Alright. That is a lot to take in. I will obviously help you. But before I can, I must know who has you so out of sorts.”
Hermione flushed bright red and looked down at her hands.
“Come now, Hermione,” Pansy said reaching across the table and taking her hands. “He couldn’t possibly be that bad.”
“Quite the opposite, I am afraid,” Hermione said gathering her courage. “Narcissa Black asked me out on a date and I accepted.”
The witch across from her whistled low and leaned back.
“Well I can’t say that I am surprised that when you finally decide to leave your nunnery that it is for someone who is a 15 on a 10 scale,” Pansy said smugly.
“You don’t care that she is a witch?”
The slytherin scoffed audibly. “I’m not some muggle, Hermione. The best families have always had same gendered love. I am guessing that you need a dress.”
“I need a dress, shoes. Everything.” Hermione was glad to have Pansy’s acceptance as much as her help.
“Hair and make up too,” Pansy said titling her head. “If you are going to go on a date with a class act like Narcissa, you need to look and feel your absolute best. The good news for you is that I am your best friend. I know just what you need and where to find it.Now eat your breakfast. We are going to have a busy day. When is she picking you up?”
“7 pm,” Hermione answered wondering why it mattered.
“Nearly 12 hours. It will be tight, but we should be able to get it all done.”
Hermione ate her toast and watched curiously as Pansy pulled small parchments and a quill out of her bag. After quickly scribbling two notes, she beckoned the waiter over and whispered instructions.
“I was just sending word so that we will have the appointments we need,” Pansy shrugged.
“I think I really might be lost without you.”
“You certainly would be, Granger. And don’t you forget it.”
Hermione smiled fondly and shook her head. Never in a million years would her 11 year old self believe the week she was having.Before she could say anything, the waiter was back with a slip of paper for her companion. It was read quickly before being slipped away.
“Are you finished,” Pansy asked already digging money out of her purse. “If we go quickly, we can have a private fitting at Twilfitt and Tatting’s.”
“We what?” Hermione panicked slightly. She had never shopped in such an upscale venue.
“Trust me, Hermione. They will have what we need. It is Narcissa’s favorite store. We will have her drooling over you.”
The thought of Narcissa drooling over her made goose bumps erupt over Hermione’s arms.
“Just as I suspected. Come along, Hermione.”
Pansy looked far too pleased, but Hermione could hardly disagree with the evidence. So she did as she was told and followed her friend out of the restaurant and into the quiet streets.
“I am glad we met so early for breakfast. A few more hours and this would not have been possible. We will have you looking perfect and entirely ready for this date.”
Pansy stopped short and Hermione nearly ran into her.
“I am not wrong in thinking that this is very important to you, am I? Its just that you have never mentioned anyone else and you have this... smitten look about you,” she asked gently.
“It is very important to me,” Hermione choked out. “I have never been so drawn to another person.”
“Good,” the witch said again picking up the pace as though they had never stopped. She didn’t speak again until they were at the door of the prestigious store. “Chin up now, Hermione. It is about bloody time you got some decent clothing.”
Hermione nodded but didn’t say anything. Aside from her work clothing, she hadn’t really been concerned with how she looked. But Pansy was right, if she was going to hold a major political office she would need to look the part.
As soon as they crossed the threshold, Pansy was warmly greeted by those inside to the point of fawning.
“Hermione, this is...”
“Hello, Ernie,” Hermione said offering her hand.
He shook it beaming. “Its been years, Hermione. How are you?
“I am very well. You look amazing.” She couldn’t help her awe at the cut and color of his suit. It was daring, but so well made.
“Its about time that you came to see me. You deserve so much better than what those clothes are doing to you.”
Pansy snickered, which made Hermione glare.
“She needs your help. I think we should get a number of work appropriate pieces. And something magnificent for tonight. Oh, and keep her measurements so that we can order more without visiting every time,” Pansy said looking Hermione over thoughtfully.
“Right this way, Hermione,” Ernie said ushering her towards the back of the shop.
Two hours later and many galleons later, Hermione and Pansy emerged from Twilfitt and Tatting’s.
“You are going to look so good tonight,” Pansy said for the 5th or 6th time.
“That was quite the experience. I can see how it would be easy to get used to that kind of service. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt more like a princess.”
“Well they are the best, Hermione,” Pansy said as though she was talking to an idiot. “I’m glad that you enjoyed yourself. A good set of dress robes perhaps cannot change your life, but they can brighten you outlook and how you feel about yourself.”
Hermione could help but agree. It was how she felt about her “Minister of Magic”suit. It was a little mind bending to think that she was deserving of feeling that way for more than just work.
“Where are we going next,” she asked feeling good about how the day was going and oddly looking forward to the rest of it.
“Oh Hermione, I would have told Narcissa to ask you out ages ago if I had known it would make you open to a makeover,” Pansy teased quietly. “I’m glad you are having fun.”
“Thank you for today, Pansy,” Hermione said feeling sentimental.
“Don’t go soft on me, Granger. Shoes and accessories next, then lunch and an afternoon of hair, nails and make-up. We are too busy for silly emotions today. We can have tea tomorrow and you can tell me all about your feelings.”
Hermione snorted. “You just want to hear about my date.”
“Damn right, I do. And you owe me,” Pansy said triumphantly.
“Oh, I suppose,” Hermione did her best to sound put upon. But she didn’t really mind the camaraderie.
“Good. Come on, Hermione. We still have so much to do.”
As the drying spell was finally applied to her hair, Hermione was ready to be done with preparation and feeling less than ready for the evening that stretched in front of her.
“Turn her,” Pansy said smiling at Hermione. “You look amazing.”
As the chair spun, Hermione closed her eyes. She knew that when she opened her eyes that a new chapter of her life was starting. It was beyond time, but that didn’t mean that she wasn’t appropriately nervous. When the chair stopped, she slowly opened her eyes.She didn’t mean to gasp, but the change was astounding. She had never found a stylist that knew what to do with the sheer volume of her hair. But the soft curls that just barely brushed her collar bones was what she had dreamed up since she was a teenager.
“Thank you,” she whispered. She didn’t really have words to fully express how she was feeling.
“It was my pleasure,” Alicia answered. “You have no idea how long I have wanted to get my hands on your hair. No one else has known how to treat it. You have to promise me that you won’t allow anyone else to cut it.”
Hermione laughed. “I promise. I will be entirely faithful.”
“I will hold you to that. And Pansy will certainly rat you out.”
“Yes, I will,” Pansy said gathering their things. “We have just enough time to go back to your place and have a drink before you get ready.”
Hermione thought about trying to find a way out of it, but she was going to run the risk of overthinking everything. And Pansy had been the perfect companion and would no doubt continue to be.
“That sounds like a good idea. I could use a drink,” she admitted.
“I bet you could,” Pansy said linking their arms. “Its going to be just fine. You are charming and lovely.”
Hermione nodded and stepped into the green flames. She was dusting herself off as Pansy stepped through.
“I’ve never understood how you could have such a beautiful home and such mediocre clothing,” Pansy spoke looking around. “There is something about this flat that is just so warm and inviting.”
Hermione chuckled. “I imagine its because I spend a good amount of time looking at my flat, and considerably less looking at my clothes.”
“While I understand your line of thought, I must say I am happy you are taking an interest in yourself.”
Hermione cocked her head and sighed. “It was a long time coming, I suppose. But there are things I want. And to get them, its time I finished growing up.”
Pansy threw her arms around Hermione’s neck and held her close.
“I am proud of you, Hermione Granger. You are going to be an amazing Minister of Magic.”
“What? How did you....”
“Everyone knows you are meant for great things. The moment you separated from your former dunderhead friends, we all knew there would be no stopping you.” Pansy looked at her for a long time. “Sooo... Narcissa Black. Business or pleasure?”
Hermione blanched. “I am going for pleasure, but I am very nervous.”
“Have you ever been on a date?
“Not as an adult. And never with a witch,” Hermione admitted pouring them each a glass of fire whiskey.
“But you are interested in her?”
Hermione breathed deeply and thought about what it had been like to be in Narcissa’s presence. She had never been so aware of another human. She wanted to talk to her endlessly. Oh and the attraction.
“I see,” Pansy cackled. “You should see the look on your face. You are already wrapped around her little finger. I am not particularly close with her, but I know well enough that she must be very interested to have taken such a step. Even in the most discrete locations, it will be noticed. She must think very highly of you.”
Hermione smiled at the thought.
“But I will still be calling on the Black sisters. You are like a sister to me, and someone needs to make sure they appreciate how special you are.”
“Oh... you don’t really need to do that.” Hermione stumbled over the words
“I do. It is our custom and I will happily stand in for your family that cannot do so.”
Hermione eyes filled with tears. “I can’t tell you how much that means to me. You mean a lot to me.”
“Hermione Granger. Do NOT mess up your eye make up. You will drink that whiskey and take a deep breath. And then we are getting you into that dress. You will be charming and yourself. You will have Narcissa Black or whomever you want eating out of your hand. Because you are Hermione Fucking Granger future Minister of Magic.”
Pansy raised her glass and together they downed the liquid in one go.
Many thanks to Lyss for getting me moving on this fic again. I'm glad to have you in my corner.
The pep talk from Pansy and the whiskey steeled her nerves, though not enough to keep her fingers from trembling as she turned the doorknob at Narcissa’s prompt knock. She knew and yet had no idea what would be on the other side of her door.
Fundamental change. It was a step on the path towards her most dearly held dreams.
Hermione couldn’t help wishing that she could see this date with Narcissa as a simple business transaction. If it had been an unemotional part of the PR plan to make her the Minister of Magic, it would somehow seem less important. But on the other side of her door was a witch whose magic she could feel echoing through her own. Hermione knew there would be no just dating Narcissa Black for show. She would be all in.
She shook off her thoughts and opened the door. She took in a sharp breath at the witch in front of her. While she had expected the youngest Black sister to be quite fashionable, she had not expected Narcissa fucking Black to bust out a slim-cut white suit with a lacy floral shirt beneath it that revealed more than it concealed.
“Well, hello to you too, Hermione,” Narcissa purred, obviously aware of the perusal.
“Narcissa,” she breathed out. “You look beautiful.”
Hermione hadn’t really meant to say that aloud, but the witch was so radiant that she couldn’t hold in her reaction.
“As do you.” Narcissa cocked her head as she looked over her carefully. “I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen you in a dress. While I enjoy your usual fare, I must say that I am quite overcome.”
Hermione felt her cheeks flush bright red even as she smiled.
“I am glad to have lived up to your expectations. All of this is a little new to me.”
“That is perfectly expected under the current circumstances, Miss Granger. But I assure you that if you focus on me, we will have a lovely evening. We are, after all, two well-read witches going to a beautiful restaurant.”
Hermione smiled shyly.
“And you happen to have the library of my dreams.”
Narcissa chuckled beautifully.
“And so I do,” she confirmed. “We have reservations. Would you be comfortable with side-along? I assure you that you will be in the very best hands.”
Hermione nodded mutely. She wanted to agree verbally, but she couldn’t make her mouth form words while thinking about the blonde witch’s hands . She looked up at the beautiful face and found an all-knowing smirk.
“Very good,” Narcissa all but purred. She stepped back enough to allow Hermione to lock her flat and elegantly offered her arm.
Hermione looked at the white arm of the well-made suit jacket and took a deep breath. As she stepped to the side, she realized that she could see inside the fabric of the witch’s shirt. And Merlin, she was almost certain that Narcissa wasn’t wearing a bra. She sucked in a sharp breath at the knot that formed in her stomach. Narcissa gently laid her hand over Hermione’s.
“I assure you I am quite proficient. You needn’t worry.”
Hermione nodded, still not trusting her voice. She was grateful for the gentle redirect.
“Eyes closed now, Hermione,” Narcissa whispered.
The feeling of the cool voice skittered down her spine, and she did as she was told. It was so pleasant a feeling that Hermione nearly missed the wave of nausea she always associated with apparition.
Narcissa squeezed her hand again when they were back on solid ground. Hermione slowly opened her eyes. The charming cobblestoned streets and floating lanterns of Diagon Alley.
“It isn’t far,” the blonde assured her, keeping their arms intertwined.
Hermione breathed in the scent of Narcissa’s perfume as they walked. It was so dizzying she had a passing thought that perhaps there was a spell involved. It did feel vaguely like the magic of the wards, licking just at the edge of her magic. But that was silliness. Narcissa was not the type of witch that needed such theatrics.
No. It was far more likely that Hermione wanted this date and this woman more than she had even admitted to herself in the chaos of the day.
Hermione could feel the glamour covering the restaurant rolling off it in waves. The outside looked like an abandoned storefront, as so many had been in the years after the war. Narcissa whispered something fleeting and decidedly not in English. The magic in front of the building melted away. Hermione sucked in a stuttering breath. The warm glow of the lights spilling through the curtains. It had a rustic charm that would have looked less out of place in the Italian countryside.
“Shall we go in, Miss Granger? The food is far better than the decor would lead you to believe. It is a lovely gem, known only by those with the best taste.”
Hermione wanted to parse out precisely what that meant, but Narcissa was already moving them towards the door. And by Morgana, it was captivating inside.
“Narcissa Black, as I live and breathe. It is high time you returned to my humble establishment. I was beginning to think you’d found another favorite restaurant.”
“And risk alienating my closest friend, certainly not. It has barely been a week. You are being rather dramatic, Anathema, dear,” Narcissa said airily.
Hermione watched Narcissa interact with the breathtaking witch in front of them. Part of her wondered why the two of them were not a couple. They would make a stunning one.
“It is good to see you and with one of the most beautiful witches in the UK and perhaps all of Europe.”
The entire focus of the curvy, wondrous witch was turned on Hermione.
“Anathema Zabini. It is a pleasure to meet you, Miss Granger.”
Hermione took the outreached hand. It was warm and smooth against hers. Anathema dramatically brought it to her lips and pressed a chase kiss to it. It made her aware of exactly how low on her back Narcissa’s hand rested and how it tensed slightly.
“The honor is mine to meet such a close friend of Narcissa’s.”
Anathema’s attention turned once again to Narcissa, and Hermione felt as though she had passed some test.
“The honor is mine that she would bring her lover to my humble ristorante.”
Anathema smirked at Narcissa, obviously pleased to have judged the situation correctly.
Hermione didn’t know Narcissa well, but she sounded uncharacteristically caught off guard.
“Right this way,” Anathema said, sweeping the moment away.
For reasons beyond what Hermione could put words to, she reached a hand back to grasp Narcissa’s. Their fingers intertwined comfortably, and Hermione squeezed lightly in comfort. She smiled when Narcissa returned the gesture in kind.
Hermione couldn’t appreciate the restaurant's decor when every synapse firing in her brain was focused on the cool hand in her own and the feeling of their skin rubbing lightly together.
“Enjoy your evening,” the breathtaking witch said with a sly smile on her face before disappearing back into the restaurant.
Hermione took a deep breath, realizing that she was officially on her first adult date with a woman she found excessively attractive. And it was little better than a blind date, really. In fact, it was decidedly more pressure than a blind date, because it was a politically driven arranged marriage. And Hermione didn’t have any idea what one did on a first date.
A gentle touch to her face broke her from her thoughts. Hermione looked up into clear blue eyes full of understanding a just a hint of amusement.
“Ah, there you are. I am ever so sorry if Anathema sidetracked us.”
Narcissa’s voice was gentle, and Hermione wanted to lean into the hand before it was removed.
“It is perfectly alright.” Hermione weighed her options with Narcissa. There were very few that she would be transparent with, but she had promised the Black sisters honesty above all else. “She seems very nice. But, I confess I am quite nervous.”
The easy genuine smile stretched across Narcissa’s face filled Hermione with more confidence than she had felt since she left Pansy’s flat.
“I am not sure that I would have even believed that you were anything but brave. But there is nothing to fear. I already am enjoying your company.”
“I am enjoying your company too. And for your information, Gryffindors are not endlessly brave. Just generally stupidly.”
“On that, we can agree. I’m quite glad you are at least self-aware. Now I had thought that we would have the tasting menu. And the wine pairings are generally divine.”
Hermione squirmed lightly, delighted at the idea.
“I’ve never had a tasting menu before. I would love to try it.”
Narcissa smiled again.
“Any allergies or strong preferences?”
Hermione shook her head.
“Very good,” Narcissa said.
She lifted her wand and tapped the table. A sliver of magic lit the table and floated towards the kitchen. Hermione watched, entirely mesmerized.
“One of my favorite things,” Narcissa said, “about this restaurant is that there is magnificent food and minimal interruption.”
Hermione looked around the room at the other tables. She had felt their eyes on her as they entered, but now they were all engrossed in one another again. She smiled at the brilliance of it. They had been seen by some of the best of society but without any fuss. It was in every way a normal date. Well, as normal as a date could be with your dream witch.
“Have you read any good books lately,” Hermione said, leaning forward and finally engaging fully.
“As a matter of fact, I have. I just finished a book on the newest theoretical extensions of arithmancy,” Narcissa said, leaning forward.
“Oh! Do you mean the newest from Ariana Johnson?”
“Have you read it?”
Narcissa sounded more excited than Hermione had yet heard her.
“I have. What did you think of the concept of advanced logarithmic numerology in her view?”
The blue eyes narrowed. It was clear that Narcissa knew she was being drawn in, but she didn’t stop.
“I thought it intriguing, though I doubt very much that it can ever be proven.”
Hermione picked up her wine and took a sip.
“This is so very good,” she said in wonder. “I’ve never really liked red wine before. I’ve always preferred rosé.”
Narcissa leaned forward, placing a hand over Hermione’s.
“Oh, Hermione. I see that there are a great many things that you can learn from me yet.”
Hermione felt the warmth of the comment settle in the pit of her stomach. She realized that she was being flirted with.
“Are there? Well, in that case, here is to learning the many secrets you have yet to show me.”
Hermione raised her glass and her eyebrow in challenge. The smirk she got in return hit her in the gut—the sound of the glasses touching reverberated in her ears.
“To uncovering secrets together,” Narcissa said and winked while drinking.
Hermione managed to swallow the sip of wine, but just barely. Her thoughts were drawn by a pair of small plates appearing in front of them. The small bites were plated beautifully.
“Now, what Anathema would tell you is that this menu is meant to be the most romantic in the world. And it should be shared between two people as love is between lovers.”
Hermione’s jaw dropped, and Narcissa took advantage of the open mouth. She set the small bite on Hermione’s tongue. She closed her mouth around it and sighed at the flavor. It was everything that bruschetta should be and yet nothing like any she had consumed before. She looked to Narcissa in wonder. The very smug look on her face was challenge enough for Hermione to lift the bite toward’s the blonde witch. Her fingers trembled slightly, but she managed to get it into her mouth without making a mess. When Narcissa moaned, Hermione wondered where all of the oxygen had gone.
“I do so love this restaurant. Each of these seven courses is as exquisite as this one.”
Hermione squeezed her legs together and wondered how she would get through the meal without losing her mind.
The simple answer, of course, was that it was not possible to share a beautiful meal with Narcissa Black in a romantic setting without losing her mind, at least a little. Narcissa was perfectly engaging and flirtatious in ways that kept the blush spreading down her neck. It wasn’t until the blonde witch placed the last perfect bite of chocolate cake on her tongue that she remembered others in the restaurant. Narcissa was still holding the fork to her lips when Hermione opened her eyes. Hermione struggled to swallow at the look of desire in the blue eyes.
“Narcissa,” she whispered once she finally managed to eat the cake without choking.
Narcissa sat back in her chair, looking rather pleased with herself.
“This has been the best evening I have had in… I don’t know how long.”
“Nor have I. This has been easily the best meal I have ever shared with another.”
Narcissa laced their fingers together, and Hermione’s stomach clenched with warmth. There was so much more that she wanted to say and do with the witch in front of her. She knew that it would be prudent to at least give it some time, but it was so very hard not to rush in with the Gryffindor sensibilities.
“Will you let me walk you home? It will likely take us 30 minutes, but I would enjoy the time to talk and to stretch my legs.”
Hermione mulled over Narcissa’s question, not because she didn’t want to walk home with her. She couldn’t help wanting to know precisely what it meant and what it would mean about the pace they would be moving at. While these moments were sweet, Hermione couldn’t help thinking she was ready to get to the good part. She had watched from the sidelines while her friends fell in love and got married. She had restrained herself from wanting , but she never quite managed to erase it from her subconscious fully. Cool fingers grazing her cheek broke her out of her thoughts.
“That would be lovely,” she agreed.
“Good,” Narcissa breathed, seeming relieved. “Come. Let’s go before it gets any later. I would hate for anyone to accuse me of keeping you out past a decent hour.”
The blonde softened the words with a wink that hit Hermione directly in the gut.
“Yes, that would be disastrous,” Hermione said dramatically. She hoped that Narcissa somehow knew that she would instead like to be kept out indecently late.
Hermione took the open palm offered to her and rose from her seat. She once again followed the blonde back through the tables and out onto the street. The night was cool and crisp. They were not the only ones walking the streets, but there were no great crowds. Walking in step with Narcissa was as easy as breathing; as was leaning into the blonde’s warmth. They walked silently though not awkwardly. Hermione had never felt so connected to a person without a single word. They arrived at the stairs that led up to her flat far too soon. Before Hermione could think of saying anything, Narcissa turned her gently to face her.
“Thank you for coming to dinner with me, Hermione. I cannot remember ever enjoying a meal more.”
“I hope you have a good evening.” Narcissa kissed both her cheeks. She whispered much more quietly. “I believe we have been followed. There is so much more for us to discuss. Tomorrow morning at nine. Floo through to the manor house. It's not the way I would like to make you breakfast, but it's a start.”
Hermione returned the kisses. She was disappointed but knew that the entire point was to follow Narcissa’s lead. She nodded slightly.
“Thank you again for an amazing evening. I hope to see you soon,” Hermione said as they backed up.
“Goodnight,” Narcissa said with a wink.
Hermione watched her turn on the spot and vanished from sight. She smiled at the place the beautiful witch had been. She turned and walked up her stairs. Now that she wasn't so focused on Narcissa, she could feel the eyes on her. It was no surprise that the woman had been right, but it was a perfect reminder that all eyes would be on her going forward.
She unlocked the door to her flat. She was floating on air. It was almost painful to take herself through her security protocols. But after the feeling of eyes on her, she did draw her wand and scanned her home for anything out of place. Satisfied that nothing was amiss, she cast her wards. Two letters were waiting for her.
She recognized Pansy’s handwriting right away. She suspected it would be the more entertaining of the two. She broke the seal.
Congratulations on your sapphic debut. I do not doubt that you were perfectly charming. I have contacted Bellatrix. She and I agreed that we would have a family meeting tomorrow morning. I will come by at 8 am and accompany you to Hatfield. So if you have a nighttime visitor, please ensure I am not scarred by what I find.
Hermione rolled her eyes. She had expected some amount of pure-blooded intervention. She knew it came from the most loving place. Pansy loved her more than either of them put words to. They both needed friendship and connection in the years after the war. Hermione felt like she had gotten a sister and best friend in one. She would have needed to bring Pansy into her campaign sooner rather than later. And this had the advantage of being the Slytherin's idea. In her experience, it would be a much smoother ride if all the snakes in her life thought they were in charge.
She gingerly opened the other letter.
I had the delight of being called upon by Pansy Parkinson this evening. I only wish you had told me in advance so we could have been more observant of tradition. We will meet first thing in the morning.
I am very sorry if you were disappointed by the end of the date. I'm afraid that some elements of romance must fall to the greater political need. I have no doubt my baby sister will make it up to you in time. See you in the morning.
Despite the business that would need to be attended to, Hermione looked forward to seeing Narcissa. Now that her desire for the blonde had been unlocked, she couldn't imagine it just dissipating like smoke. She still had so many things she wanted to learn about the witch, so many new things to explore with her. Knowing sleep would be slow coming, Hermione put the kettle on to make her favorite tea. As the kettle whistled, she realized that she must have been daydreaming. It was hard to wrap her head around the fact that she had just been on a beautifully arranged date with Draco’s mum.
Being interested in an older witch was no surprise. Hermione’s fantasies had always bent that way. For the reality to be so bloody fabulous almost felt too good to be true. She knew she could make herself crazy with overthinking if she weren't careful. So she made her tea and picked up a book. She had been looking forward to this particularly rare arithmancy book for weeks. It hadn't been easy to procure. Snuggled into her favorite spot on the couch, she recently opened the book and began reading.
Hermione was startled by the sound of her floo. There were few authorized to use it, so she wasn't really afraid. But it had jolted her from sleep, and she was somewhat disoriented. She fumbled for her wand and attempted to clear the rest from her eyes.
“Well, this is less scandalous than I had hoped.”
Pansy’s teasing tone was a balm on Hermione’s frayed nerves.
“And I was right to come over early. You are still in your clothes from last night, and we only have an hour.”
Hermione looked to the window, and indeed the sun was well above the horizon.
“Shit. I must have fallen asleep reading. That hasn't happened in a very long time.”
She stood and stretched her sore muscles.
“What were you reading that had you so preoccupied? Witches Magical Lovemaking? ”
“Is that even a real book?”
“Of course it is, Hermione. Do try to keep up. So what were you reading if you were skipping the interesting and pertinent titles?”
Hermione mumbled and started moving towards her bedroom. She needed a shower even if they were pressed for time.
“Running away won't save you, Granger.”
The pause in teasing was no doubt caused by Pansy picking the book up herself, as it was followed by a laugh.
“Shower quickly, won't you? I will pick out something for you to wear. Thank Merlin, we went shopping.”
Hermione shook her head at her friend as she stepped into the shower. She was grateful for being kept from embarrassing herself by being late. Pansy choosing her outfit took the anxiety out of dressing. She knew she would look spectacular.
As divine as the warm water was, she cleaned herself quickly. While Bellatrix had turned a new leaf, Hermione didn't think it wise to test her quite so soon.
She dried herself magically and applied the serums and spells that made her hair more manageable these days. She stepped from her bathroom in just her underwear and bra.
Pansy paused what she was doing to whistle at her.
“Fucking hell, Granger. You are even fitter than I had imagined. It's a shame you aren't my type, or I could be the minister’s wife. How in the world did Narcissa resist you last night?”
“With some difficulty, I believe. But also, she believed we were being followed. And you can imagine how the Black Sisters are. They want to control the news as much as possible.”
Pansy smiled slyly.
“That does explain the picture in The Prophet . Before you lose your mind, it was highly flattering and complimentary.”
Hermione nodded and pulled on the clothes that Pansy handed her. She really should have expected that there would be press. The question in her mind was if the sisters were involved. It wasn't unthinkable that it had been arranged. But she found herself desperately hoping that Narcissa had not been a part of it. Their beautiful date had been so authentic and endearing that she didn't want the spell to be broken so soon. She was aware that it was a modern sort of arranged marriage, but it didn't stop her from wanting romance along the way.
“Oh, Hermione,” Pansy said soothingly. “I know why you are upset. Slytherins are complicated. And you are besotted with one of the most complex of our kind. Narcissa Black once changed the course of the war by lying to his face. Please don't makeup anything until you speak with her. I would not be coming to consent to the match at your family if I did not believe that at the core of it, she wanted a life with you because she thinks you are magnificent. If the photos are anything to go by, she likely thinks that and then some.”
Hermione nodded in an attempt to take it all in. She knew her friend was right about how complex the blonde had to be to have survived. She took a deep breath to control the panic. She would hear Narcissa out. She had faith that the witch was on her side, even if she had misgivings about the methods. Emotionally, she took herself back to the feeling of Narcissa’s hand in her’s on their stroll back to her home. When she opened her eyes, Pansy had a smug look on her face.
“You might be capable of being Minister after all,” she said with a wink. “Now, close those eyes so I can do your makeup quickly. Don't worry. I'll go for natural and well-rested.”
Hermione laughed at her friends antics. She knee by the time they stepped through the floo that she would be ready to face whatever the Black Sisters had in store.