Hermione groaned when she opened her eyes. The daylight felt like knives slicing through her brain. Luckily, she wasn’t alone in the room and the curtains were quickly closed to relieve her of her discomfort. Her mouth was parched and when she ran her tongue across her lips, she felt how chapped they were. The brunette frowned, confusion holding her firmly in its grip.
‘Mione? Can you hear us?’
‘Where am I?’ Hermione croaked and she could hear several people sigh in relief.
‘You’re at St. Mungo’s. You’ve been in a coma for two days, Hermione. We were so worried.’
Hermione vaguely recognized Ginny’s voice and tried to open her eyes a bit further. Slowly the blurry imagine became clear and she saw her redhaired friend standing in front of her, completely enveloped by what looked like an enlarged bubblehead charm. Harry was standing next to her looking exactly the same.
‘What’s going on?’
‘The Healer said your memory might be a bit muddled, but it should all come back soon. Do you remember the pandemic that struck us at the start of the year?’
Vague memories flashed behind Hermione’s eyes as she recalled how the entire world magical and non-magical, had been struck by a terrible virus. Covid-19 the muggles called it, but among the Wizarding Community it was known as the Invisible Curse. You couldn’t see it as it travelled through the air, sometimes symptoms didn’t break through causing people to unknowingly contaminate each other and it made people so sick they felt like they were hit with several hexes at the same time.
‘I remember… I think.’
‘Well, you got the injection but the magic in your blood tampered with its effectiveness because you got sick really bad.’
Harry had spoken this time, his face contorted with worry. They had discovered that pureblood witches and wizards could be cured with a complex and extremely dangerous magical treatment while muggles got vaccinated to prevent getting sick in the first place. But for halfbloods or muggleborns such as Hermione, there had been no treatment available.
‘They discovered that while your magic doesn’t respond to the treatments we have, it does react with the vaccine, but not in a good way. You’re not the only one who ended up in here, but you’re definitely one of the worst patients.’
‘So how are halfbloods and muggleborns supposed to fight this virus?’ Hermione questioned, her mind already regaining some of its sharpness again.
‘The Healers at St. Mungo’s have collaborated with the biggest vaccine laboratory in the country. They have received special permission from the Ministry to break the Statue Of Secrecy. They’re doing the best they can to come up with a cure. The best of both worlds, so to speak.’
Hermione nodded and pushed herself upwards a little bit, but she was extremely weak still. Ginny made a movement to help her, but reconsidered.
‘I’m sorry ‘Mione. We had to promise to keep our distance otherwise we weren’t allowed to see you. Harry’s a halfblood so he might end up like you if he gets infected,’ Ginny explained.
‘It’s not like the magical treatment is any better. We rather both stay healthy.’
The brunette smiled at the exchange between her friends, ‘I understand. Has anyone else gotten sick?’
‘A few, but no one as gravely as you. But there have been lots of deaths already. Not even the magical treatment is bulletproof,’ Harry sighed.
‘They’re keeping you in quarantine,’ Ginny added, ‘and no more visitors after us. In fact Harry had to pull some strings to get this done.’
Precisely at that point the door opened and a tired looking Mediwitch entered the room, ‘right, that’s enough! Golden Boy or not. Out!’
Harry and Ginny quickly obeyed and were intercepted by a team of Healers that immediately started disinfecting them the moment they undid their altered bubble head charms. It was all Hermione could see before the door closed and her world consisted of the four walls of her room once more. The Mediwitch pointed her wand at Hermione and muttered a few diagnostic spells.
‘You’re out of the danger zone for now. Unless you develop a fever again, I’m expecting you to be able to leave the hospital within a month.’
‘The charm you use for protection,’ Hermione inquired not letting her illness deter her endless curiosity, ‘is it an alteration of the bubble head charm?’
The Mediwitch nodded, ‘especially invented to tackle this pandemic. We ran out of protective gear during the first month already. This is a lot more effective although it’s exhausting to keep the charm active and there’s a large risk of infection in case the spell fails. We call it the body bubble charm.’
Hermione wanted to nod but her entire body felt heavy and sore. Apparently something simple as talking was enough to drain all her energy. The Mediwitch noticed and tapped on Hermione’s clipboard to add notes to her case.
‘Take it easy, Ms Granger. We’ve only stopped the charms that helped you breathe minutes before you woke up from your coma. Literally everything is hard for your body now. Rest. There will be a Mediwitch popping by later to help you eat.’
The brunette wanted to protest, but the witch snorted, ‘trust me! You’ll need help.’
And with that she left the room and charmed the door shut, leaving Hermione to drift off once more.
Hermione startled awake for the second time in what she thought was the same day. A glance outside however showed her that the sun had just risen. She’d slept through the night and her stomach growled hungrily. She quickly discovered the cause of her rude awakening as two Healers were currently pushing a second bed inside her room, slamming the door open in the process. One of them drew his wand and summoned a divider to separate the two beds and hide them from each other’s view. He smiled apologetically at Hermione.
‘Our apologies. St. Mungo’s is overrun and we’ve exceeded our maximum capacity.’
‘No matter. Do what you must. Could I bother you for some food though?’ Hermione sighed.
‘I’ll send a Mediwitch right away,’ the Healer promised, ‘oh and you might experience the room to be a tad chilly. We’ve applied ventilation charms in all the rooms that house more than one patient now. It helps reduce the risk of cross-contamination.’
Hermione nodded her understanding and used all her strength to grab her wand on the nightstand next to her. She normally was rather skilled at wandless magic, but the Invisible Curse had weakened her significantly. She pointed at one of the books on the other nightstand and muttered proiectura liber. The first page of the book immediately got projected on the ceiling, making it possible for Hermione to read it whilst lying down and without having to hold it. A little bit of cleverness she had invented herself.
She was only ten pages deep in her book when she could hear some shuffling coming from the other bed. Hermione ignored it and kept reading but soon the shuffling turned into someone moaning and groaning and the brunette realized the other patient had to experience some discomfort. She looked around but saw no way to summon a Healer or a Mediwitch. Hermione glanced at her wand but decided against firing red sparks into the hallway. There surely had to be some charm in place to warn a member of staff when a patient was in need?
Hermione once more tried to focus on her reading, but the distressed noises coming from the other bed only grew in intensity. After a while, Gryffindor’s Golden Girl had had enough. With great effort she flung back the sheets of her bed and let her legs dangle from the edge. There was a zimmer frame nearby and Hermione was grateful for the additional support. She wasn’t sure she could walk without assistance just yet. Hermione carefully shuffled towards the divider and moved it aside only to gasp in shock.
There on the bed, looking pale and miserable was Narcissa Malfoy. It wasn’t the first time Hermione had seen the woman after their unfortunate encounter at Malfoy Manor during the war, but it definitely was the first time she was standing in such close proximity to the youngest Black sister.
Hermione didn’t have long to ponder on it, because Narcissa started squirming again, sweat forming on her brow. The young witch felt a panic rise in her chest. Why was nobody coming to help her? She eventually took matters into her own hands and conjured a cold compress she placed on the blonde’s forehead.
It did seem to have some effect for the woman calmed down a little bit. Her breathing however was labored and the clipboard on her bed that had been charmed to update her diagnostics every minute was off the charts. She decided to just call for help and shuffled towards to door only to find it locked. Right, she’d forgotten about that… Hermione tried alohomora but instead of opening the door, an alarm blared through the hallway. Despite it not being what she had intended, Hermione did manage to draw the attention as a Healer walked towards her.
‘You’re in quarantine Ms Granger,’ he said through the window in the door, ‘you’re forbidden to open the door or we’ll have to confiscate your wand.’
‘I apologize! But I didn’t know how I could ask for assistance. Is there a button I have to press?’
The Healer shook his head, ‘we’re too overwhelmed with patients and understaffed to handle personal requests, so we removed all the bells. There are wards in place that warn us when your basic needs are threatened. A full bladder, an empty stomach or a scheduled time for medication. That sort of stuff.’
‘But why has madame Malfoy been suffering for the past half hour?’
‘All the patients are suffering, Ms Granger. If madame Malfoy requires medical attention, the wards will tell us so,’ the wizard replied, ‘honestly I’m surprised you care about her at all. Seeing the things she’s done.’
Hermione opened her mouth in outrage but her own body betrayed her and she practically slumped against the door. The Healer sighed and entered the room to guide her back to her bed. His patient tried several times to scold him for his lack of empathy for Narcissa, but didn’t manage to gather enough air in her lungs to do so. The door behind the Healer closed with a thud and Hermione once more heard the lock being turned around, sealing the only entrance in the room.
‘Thank you Ms Granger, but I’m afraid the man is right. I understand that they’d rather care for their own.’
The brunette’s head snapped sideways upon hearing the other woman’s voice. She hadn’t realized Narcissa was conscious because the blonde’s eyes had been firmly shut earlier. Taking a raspy breath, Hermione retorted.
‘Are you not a member of the Wizarding Community of Great-Britain?’
‘I was merely speaking about the fact that I’m not on the so-called good side.’
‘Ms Malfoy,’ Hermione said with great effort, ‘the day you betrayed Voldemort to offer Harry a fair fighting chance was the day the boundaries between good and bad ceased to exist. Good or bad is relative. Look at me, Gryffindor’s Golden Girl they call me, but not many people know that I’ve killed people too. Just like almost nobody knows that you protected me from your sister at Malfoy Manor.’
There was a long pause and for a moment, Hermione thought the woman had dosed off when her voice suddenly sounded through the room, ‘Black.’
‘It’s Black now. Lucius and I are divorced.’
‘I’m not sure whether congratulations or condolences are in order,’ Hermione joked and she heard a faint chuckle coming from the other bed.
‘You killed people you say? Did you cast an Unforgivable curse?’
Hermione shook her head, ‘there’s lots of other ways to kill a person. I’ve obliviated a snatcher’s memories and left him to wander somewhere in the Scottish Highlands miles away from civilization. I think he starved if the wild animals didn’t get to him first.’
‘He may still be alive. Someone could have found him,’ Narcissa offered to comfort her roommate.
‘I stunned a Death Eater during the Battle of Hogwarts and he fell from the highest turret, much like Dumbledore. He didn’t make it… trust me.’
‘I still don’t think that makes you evil, but I get the point you’re trying to make and it’s appreciated Ms Granger.’
‘Hermione. If we’re to be in quarantine together, you must call me Hermione.’
The blonde tried to laugh, but the effort was too much for her weakened body. The sweat that had previously gathered on her brow had now spread across her entire body, making her shiver from the cold while her hair clung in sticky tresses to her face.
‘Narcissa for you then.’
Hermione smiled a sad smile, ‘I just woke up from a coma. It’s a terrible thing this pandemic, isn’t it?’
‘Oh definitely. I find it ludicrous that I survived my childhood, my years as a trophy-wife and the times I was a prisoner in my own house obliged to obey the Dark Lord at all costs, only to succumb to a virus the moment I finally regain my freedom.’
‘Hey,’ Hermione countered, ‘who says you’ll die?’
Narcissa closed her eyes again, exhaustion slowly claiming her, ‘the survival rate of a pureblood witch or wizard having to undergo the magical treatment is lower than forty percent.’
‘I did it for Draco.’
Hermione startled at the sudden break of silence. After their first conversation, Narcissa had drifted off to an extremely restless sleep and when she awoke, Hermione had been taken away for testing completely engulfed by this body bubble charm. By the time she got back, Narcissa had been rather apathetic and she gave up on trying to make polite conversation after a few attempts. And now that she spoke, her voice sounded fragile and insecure and Hermione found herself pitying the woman.
‘What do you mean?’
‘Everybody thinks I helped Potter that day, but I only tried to save Draco.’
The brunette smiled, ‘whatever reason you did it for, by deciding you wanted Draco to live in a better world, you gave so many other children a better future as well.’
‘Do you know what my tipping point was?’
Hermione shook her head and gestured at the blonde to keep talking.
‘I’ve never been fully convinced of this whole pureblood-supremacy story,’ Narcissa said with a faint blush, ‘but I’ll admit that I was scared of the consequences if I didn’t pretend I was. Seeing a teenager, a child really, stand up to my deranged sister, it opened my eyes. I realized that it should be me standing up against people like Bella because I knew they were wrong. I realized that it should be me fighting for a better future for Draco instead of ruining it. And I realized what a coward I had been, just because an eighteen year old Hermione Granger refused to break.’
There was a long silence where Hermione pondered on Narcissa’s confession. It made sense because she never truly understood why the blonde had helped her at the Manor. While Hermione had braced herself for horrible pains when Bellatrix cast the cruciatus curse at her, there had been nothing but a soothing voice in her head instructing her to scream like her life depended on it.
‘So that’s why you protected me?’
The blonde nodded, ‘it was the first time I stood up against Bella, even if she didn’t know I was doing it. I couldn’t let you go insane because something told me the war would be lost together with you.’
‘I never really thanked you for that,’ Hermione began but Narcissa waved dismissively.
‘Please, don’t thank me. I’m sick of people thanking me for things I did for selfish reasons. Mister Potter still feels the needs to proclaim my heroic actions each time he encounters me at the Ministry.’
‘Ah yes, I saw you there a few times when I still worked for the Ministry myself.’
Narcissa tilted her head a little, ‘I always wondered why you left.’
‘I could no longer bear the political games, the bureaucracy and the endless amount of dated rules that thwarted my desire for progress in every way. I spent years trying to reform the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures. To no avail.’
‘I can see why that would frustrate someone who desperately wants to improve the world,’ Narcissa said and she raised her hand when she saw Hermione open her mouth to protest, ‘I meant it as a compliment Hermione. What did you end up doing instead?’
‘Research mostly. I publish my papers, occasionally write for the Daily Prophet or the Quibbler and travel a lot to give lectures with Hogwarts being one of my most frequented locations of course.’
‘Ever the academic.’
‘And you? What is it you do at the Ministry? Like I said, I saw you a few times from afar but never really got the chance to talk to you.’
‘I’m a political advisor for practically anything they could require assistance for. International relations, new legislations and so on.’
This time, Hermione chuckled, ‘ever the Slytherin.’
The next morning the Healers came for Narcissa. Hermione looked at them through heavy lidded eyes. The blonde had kept her up all night, tossing and turning in her bed completely drenched in sweat. At one point a Mediwitch had entered their room to give both women a glass of water, check their temperatures and glance at their clipboards. But she had claimed to be too busy to actually help Narcissa. So Hermione had shuffled from her bed a second time to hold the glass of water against the blonde’s mouth, allowing her to take a few sips to soothe her chapped lips.
‘Where are you taking her?’ she whispered tiredly.
‘She’s next on the list for the magical treatment,’ one of the Healers explained, ‘we’ll bring her back by the end of the day.’
Hermione nodded and watched as they enveloped Narcissa in a body bubble charm and levitated her out of the room. A feeling of dread weighed down upon the brunette who could do nothing but stare at the ceiling until she finally drifted off to sleep again.
It was dark in the room when the creaking of the lock woke Hermione up. The same Healers that had collected Narcissa earlier that day were busy levitating the unconscious woman back onto her bed. Hermione’s heart fell when she saw the lifeless body almost shrinking into the mattress. Her black and blonde hair was tangled and greasy and a limp hand fell from the edge of the bed. The former Malfoy matriarch looked more dead than alive.
‘Did the treatment work?’
One of the Healers shrugged, ‘do you care?’
‘As a matter of fact, I do.’
‘But she’s a pureblood supr-‘
Hermione cut him off, ‘she’s a mother, a daughter, a sister, an ex-wife and perhaps a future wife. Who knows? She’s intelligent and talented and remorseful about her past. She deserves a second chance, doctor and I’m appalled by your lack of integrity.’
The Healer had the decency to look ashamed as his colleague apologized for the both of them, ‘it all depends on whether she’ll make it through this night. We’ve managed to extract the virus from her body but we have to damage the magical structures of the body in the process. If they don’t knit themselves together during the next twenty-four hours, the chances that she’ll live are slim.’
‘Is there anything I can do?’
‘I suggest you pray.’
The frantic whisper startled Hermione who’d been on the verge of sleep. She’d spent the first few hours since Narcissa’s return staring at the blonde, trying to catch the slightest hitch in her breathing. But after a while, her own tired body demanded attention and she had retreated back to her own bed.
Hermione nodded, ‘that’s okay, there’s no shame in that. Shall I ask someone to call Draco?’
Narcissa shook her head, ‘he fled the country and is currently residing in Black Cottage somewhere in the French Alps. His wife Astoria has a horrible sickness of the blood and she wouldn’t stand a chance against this virus. They self-quarantined as a precaution.’
‘Your sister, perhaps?’
‘I haven’t rekindled my relationship with Andromeda just yet. Another example of me being nothing more than a coward.’
‘Hey,’ Hermione chided, ‘you shouldn’t talk about yourself like that! I understand your fear of rejection, but trust me when I say that Andy would be delighted to have you back in her life.’
‘You know her?’
‘We’re actually very close. I often babysit little Teddy when Andy has to work late since I always work from home.’
‘You’re a remarkable person, Hermione. You’re surrounded by so many people who love you. Friends. Family. I feel so alone compared to you.’
Hermione saw the tears that had gathered in Narcissa’s eyes but the blonde was too tired to wipe them away. Her entire body felt heavy and broken and her breathing was so shallow she felt like she was suffocating. Suddenly the reality of her situation dawned upon the older witch. She had just undergone the most dangerous magical therapy St. Mungo’s had ever performed. A treatment with a survival rate of less than 40% and the only two people in the world she cared about didn’t even know it.
‘Narcissa, what’s truly going on? Tell me,’ Hermione said kindly after the blonde had really started crying.
‘I don’t want to die alone.’
Hermione grabbed her wand and muttered a few spells causing her bed to slowly slide towards the other side of the room. She vanished the divider and with a soft thud both beds collided while Hermione summoned the little table that had been next to her bed so she could reach her water. Narcissa looked at her with a frown.
‘What are you doing?’
‘Making sure you are not alone,’ Hermione said matter-of-factly and opened her arms to indicate to Narcissa that she should come closer, but the blonde seemed unconvinced.
‘You’re going to let me die in your arms?’
The brunette scoffed, ‘nobody said anything about dying. I’m going to help you get through this night.’
Hesitantly Narcissa allowed Hermione to pull her a little bit closer before they both lay panting in the bed. Physical exercise seemed nearly impossible for the both of them. The blonde felt stiff and nervous, but Hermione didn’t let that deter her.
‘Lie on your side, Narcissa, it’ll make breathing easier.’
The older witch obliged trying to ignore how closer her face was to Hermione’s. She felt the brunette’s soft breathing and couldn’t help but notice the faint whiff of parchment that came with Hermione.
‘What do we do now?’ Narcissa whispered while Hermione rubbed soothing circles on her shoulder.
‘Now you tell me about yourself and you don’t stop talking until the sun rises.’
The first rays of sunshine slithered through the blinds and woke Hermione up who’d fallen asleep despite her attempts to stay awake all night. She yawned and stretched before realizing that her arms were empty and so was the bed next to hers. Panic immediately consumed her and she wanted to bolt from her bed only to rediscover how much the Invisible Curse had affected her body. Suddenly a faint chuckle reached her ears.
‘Relax Hermione, I’m right here.’
Narcissa sauntered towards her, all traces of exhaustion vanished from her face and clad in fresh pajamas. Her hair was still damp from the shower she’d apparently just taken. The blonde smiled at Hermione who felt her own lips curl in response without a moment’s hesitation.
‘You made it!’
‘You fell asleep around 5am, but by that time I already felt so much stronger. Thank you Hermione, for what you did for me.’
Hermione had been true to her word and had listened all night to Narcissa talking about her childhood and how she’d been so close to her sisters before life drove them apart. The blonde had talked about how she excelled at everything at Hogwarts and was planning on a career in Potions when she had to get married much sooner than expected seeing as Bella had devoted her life to Tom Riddle and Andy had eloped with Edward.
She had told Hermione how she had learned to love Lucius and how they both did their very best to make the marriage work just to meet their family’s extremely demanding expectations. Hermione had been surprised to hear how Lucius had been nothing but a devoted husband who simply failed to reach the impossibly high standards he’d set for himself. And when he failed to fulfill Narcissa’s greatest wish to have more children, he lost himself in self-hatred.
Narcissa had cried when she told Hermione how she lost members of her family one by one. But there had also been laughter and fond memories and the brunette had listened to it all. When Narcissa had become too tired to talk, Hermione had taken over telling the blonde about her muggle childhood. They had been surprised to discover how similar they had been during their times at Hogwarts. How they both loved knowledge and books and preferred a quiet evening in front of a crackling fire to a grand party.
Hermione had told Narcissa how she’d gotten rid of her scar and how she’d sought psychological help to deal with her trauma from the war. And while Narcissa had felt sorry for Hermione, the latter had been outraged when she heard how the blonde had retreated from living a public life and had lived as a recluse in one of the many Black properties spread across the country. But slowly but surely, Hermione lost her fight against the exhaustion and fell asleep with Narcissa in her arms.
‘How are you feeling?’
‘Honestly? Like I’ve never been sick in the first place. The treatment was painful and terrifying but I’m glad I decided to come here instead of suffering in silence at Black Castle by the shore.’
‘You look like new,’ Hermione said with a soft smile and Narcissa chuckled.
‘I had to take a shower. I was starting to be able to smell myself after all that sweating. I’ve brought a bowl with water and a cloth in case you want to refresh yourself as well?’
‘I couldn’t lift my arm if I wanted to.’
The blonde who was currently dabbing her hair with a towel stopped in her movements, ‘well I could help you, if you want. I know how awful it is to feel unclean.’
Tears filled Hermione’s eyes as she nodded, ‘yes, please.’
Narcissa walked towards the bed and lifted Hermione off it to place her in the chair by the corner. She first stripped the bed so she could put some fresh sheets on it and then closed the blinds in front of the window in the door to give them some privacy. With surprisingly tender hands she pulled Hermione’s hospital gown over her head and wetted the cloth in the basin. Narcissa started with Hermione’s face and made sure to rinse the cloth regularly.
‘Don’t forget to wash behind the ears,’ the blonde joked when she lifted Hermione’s hair to reach that particular spot. She then glanced at the tanktop and knickers the younger woman was still wearing.
‘What do you want me to do? I don’t want to make you uncomfortable.’
‘You can lift my top real quick but no peeking,’ Hermione joked, ‘I’ll try to wash everything covered by my panties.’
Narcissa chuckled and closed her eyes while she washed Hermione’s upperbody as fast as she could. She wrapped the witch in a towel and discarded the dirty tanktop completely before washing the brunette’s arms, legs and feet. She then rinsed the cloth one final time and gave it to Hermione.
‘I’ll put clean sheets on your bed and find you some clean clothes to wear. Just put the cloth back in the basin once you’re done.’
She respectfully turned her back to the Gryffindor and changed the sheets of both their beds. By the time she’d found a fresh pair of knickers and a spare set of pajamas Hermione must have brought with her, the latter had finished but looked pale from trying to sit upright in the chair. Narcissa quickly supported her.
‘Alright Hermione, I’m going to change your underpants really quickly with my eyes closed. Just lean on me.’
Narcissa hooked her fingers underneath the waistband of the knickers and pulled them down in one smooth motion, the towel covering the bits she wasn’t supposed to see. The moment she’d lifted the fresh pair up to Hermione’s knees, she asked the brunette to stand up. Hermione firmly held on to Narcissa’s shoulders while the woman quickly pulled the piece of fabric upwards. She pulled the nightrobe over Hermione’s head before removing the towel from underneath.
‘There, all set. I’d wash your hair, but the basin is rather small and I don’t think you’d be able to make it to the shower.’
Hermione grabbed her wand and pointed it towards her hair before muttering scourgify. She smiled at Narcissa.
‘It doesn’t beat an actual shower, but it’ll have to do. Thank you, I feel better already.’
The blonde frowned, ‘you’re sweating again though.’
Narcissa hadn’t finished her sentence yet or Hermione fainted.
‘Ms Malfoy, we must ask you to leave this room before the risk of recontamination becomes too great.’
Narcissa stubbornly shook her head at the Healer, ‘no! Hermione stood by my side when I was sick and now I will do the same for her.’
‘Then we will be forced to keep you two quarantined and you run the risk of getting sick again. You survived the treatment which was a miracle on its own,’ the Healer pleaded, ‘but you might not survive a second time.’
‘I’m making the right decision for the first time in my life. I shan’t be deterred.’
The Healer sighed, ‘as you wish. We will notify your son of your decision.’
‘Please do and notify my sister as well. Her name’s Andromeda Tonks.’
‘Yes, in the future do make sure to address me as Ms Black.’
Narcissa walked away from the window and placed herself into the chair she’d dragged next to Hermione’s bed. The brunette had relapsed severely and was currently fighting a nasty fever. There wasn’t much Narcissa could do for the younger witch, but she just didn’t want her to be alone and she’d noticed that Hermione calmed down significantly if Narcissa softly sang for her. And so she did.
Narcissa startled and looked up. She’d recognize that voice anywhere!
‘I came as soon as I heard,’ her elder sister explained looking rather frazzled.
‘What do you mean? I asked the Healers to inform you three days ago.’
The former Malfoy matriarch had indeed spent three days by Hermione’s bedside already. Reading to her, singing for her or merely holding her hand while she fought the Invisible Curse. At first she’d expected her sister to arrive the very same day but after the second day Narcissa had convinced herself that Andy still wanted nothing to do with her. Seeing her sister pressing her face against the window in the door amazed her beyond belief.
‘I know! But apparently administration is super behind on their work. They only reached out to me an hour ago. I asked my mother-in-law to take care of Teddy for a bit.’
Narcissa smiled at her sister who was grinning at her like they’d never drifted apart, ‘Hermione told me he can be quite the handful.’
‘He sure can, but we’ll have lots of time to catch up later. Tell me how she is, Cissy,’ Andy asked her expression once more serious.
‘Not good. Perhaps we should notify her parents? Just in case?’
Andy’s face fell, ‘oh Cissy, Hermione’s parents don’t remember she exists anymore. I’m her emergency contact now.’
Narcissa listened to Andromeda explaining what had happened and shook her head. She walked towards a sleeping Hermione and gently caressed the younger woman’s cheek with the knuckles of her hand. For some strange inexplicable reason the thought of this young witch dying made her angrier than she’d ever deemed possible. Andy seemed to notice her inner turmoil because she knocked on the window to draw her sister’s attention again.
‘The Healers told me you’ve refused to leave her after you survived your treatment.’
‘Don’t tell me I have to defend my decision aga-‘
Andromeda interrupted the blonde with a raised hand, ‘of course not. I wanted to say that I’m proud of you, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want you to come out of this room alive. Teddy would love to meet his auntie.’
Narcissa swallowed, ‘he knows about me?’
‘Of course he does. He’s too little to understand what happened, but he knows he has an auntie somewhere and has asked me several times already if he can meet you. I told him after this pandemic. Teddy has asthma so he really can’t get sick for his chances of survival are nearly zero.’
‘I’d love to meet him, but right now I want Hermione to get better. Do you have a status-update on the cure they’re trying to make for muggleborns and halfbloods? It’s nearly impossible to get some information around here.’
‘I just saw a few Mediwitches sleeping on the floor, Cissy. The entire hospital is overrun so don’t take it personal that they’re not answering your questions,’ Andy soothed her sister, ‘but from what I’ve heard they’re struggling to find the funding for the research. The entire economic system has suffered a blow and is on the brink of collapse.’
‘That’s preposterous! Take money from my vault then! I want them working non-stop to find a cure.’
Andy cocked her head to one side, ‘you sure about that? They need millions.’
‘Then give them millions,’ Narcissa shrieked, ‘I don’t care! Just get it done.’
‘All right, Cissy. I’ll get right to it but I won’t be coming here again. I don’t want to risk infecting Teddy, but perhaps we can communicate via this?’
Andy waved her wand and a little pocket mirror appeared on the table next to Narcissa’s chair. The blonde took it and looked at it with a curious expression.
‘What is it?’
‘We can see each other and talk to each other through the mirror. That way we can keep each other updated. It’s a bit similar to FaceTime.’
Narcissa rolled her eyes at the unfamiliar muggle term, ‘Andy you must apparate to Black Castle as well. The wards will still recognize you. There’s lots of research around blood magic and the healing of all kinds of ailments. I want you to deliver it to the people working on a cure. It might help them.’
‘You always were a brilliant witch, Cissy.’
The mirror buzzed and Narcissa scrambled to answer it. She’d been spending another four days with Hermione in the hospital room. The brunette had been on the brink of death a few times but somehow always managed to push through. And Narcissa? She had stayed by her side non-stop, spending her days talking to the Gryffindor girl even though she never received a reply.
‘Are you okay?’ Andy asked when the bloodshot eyes of her sister appeared in the mirror.
‘I’m just tired. I’ve been talking to Hermione without hearing a reply for so long, I’ve forgotten what her voice sounded like. And I just really want her to get better.’
Andy smiled, ‘you like her.’
‘I don’t think it’s possible not to. She’s a very remarkable witch.’
The middle Black sister hummed, ‘well I have good news! They think they found a cure!’
‘Are you serious?’ Narcissa asked jumping from her seat. A few days ago she’d received a letter from Draco wishing her well and informing her that no treatment had been found yet. It had frustrated her to no ends.
‘Yes, it’s still unconfirmed but I have my resources.’
‘That’s wonderful news.’
‘They want to test it on Hermione.’
Andy groaned, ‘I knew you’d say that, but you can’t decide for Hermione! At this rate she’s going to die anyway so why not give her one last fighting chance?’
Andromeda was crying now and banged her fist against the mirror to alleviate some of her frustrations. Narcissa had turned her back towards her and was looking at Hermione. Gorgeous Hermione who now resembled an Inferi more than the brave witch Narcissa had come to know her as. She knew Andy was right and she couldn’t make this decision, but why did it feel like she had the right to be involved as well?
‘She will die anyway you said?’
‘The Healers told me an hour ago…’
Narcissa swallowed and nodded, ‘very well then. But I ask for thirty minutes with her to say goodbye. Just in case.’
‘I’ll tell them and make the necessary arrangements with St. Mungo’s to start the procedure,’ Andy replied before her image disappeared from the mirror.
With a strangled sob, Narcissa sunk down in the chair next to Hermione’s bed. She took the brunette’s hand in her own and kissed it.
‘You must think me terribly foolish. Crying over someone I’ve know for only a few days. But somehow it feels like I’ve known you for years? Like there’s some sort of connection between us. I know, it’s stupid. Probably the delirium that comes with being infected by the Invisible Curse,’ Narcissa laughed before continuing her little speech, ‘I just really don’t want you to die Hermione. Somehow the thought of losing you makes me want to cry. So fight for me okay? Fight this virus so we can continue our conversation where we left it. Please.’
Narcissa lowered her head onto Hermione’s stomach and let het tears fall freely.
‘It would seem like faith has been kind to you, Ms Black,’ the Healer said after doing his final checks, ‘you haven’t been infected a second time despite spending so much time with Ms Granger.’
‘How is she?’
‘Still in treatment, I’m afraid.’
Narcissa didn’t reply and went back to the state of apathy she’d fallen into the moment they had come to take Hermione away. The second letter Draco had send her to inform her that his family was still in good health and that he wished her and Hermione a speedy recovery, hung loosely between her fingers. Suddenly the Healer spoke again.
‘You are officially discharged from hospital. Please make sure to wear a bubble-head charm at least but preferably a body bubble charm at all times when in close proximity to other people. You might experience some haphazard magic for a few weeks. While the magical treatment for purebloods is short, your magic will need lots of time to recover. I’ve heard it’s similar for muggles but for them it’s their lungs that need to heal.’
‘Fascinating,’ Narcissa drawled.
The Healer sighed, ‘anything else I can assist you with?’
‘No, but do tell me. How will this new treatment affect Hermione?’
‘It’ll be a mixture of both. She’ll experience fatigue and limited lung capacity like the muggles, but also depleted magical resources like you.’
Narcissa nodded. There was nothing she could do now but wait. Suddenly her mirror buzzed again and her sister appeared on the screen.
‘Bullocks, do keep me informed ey? I’ve got the entire Weasley family, Harry, Luna, Neville, Minerva McGonagall and some Ministry folk waiting for an update. I think there’s even a journalist from the Daily Prophet involved.’
‘Probably waiting to hear what the title of the next rag will be. Gryffindor’s Golden Girl survived or deceased.’
‘Don’t be bitter, it doesn’t suit you Cissy. They told me Hermione’s chances of surviving the treatment were considerably greater than her surviving the Invisible Curse without any help. And the journalist wants to interview you by the way, not Hermione.’
‘Why in Salazar’s name would they want to interview me?’
‘It was your money and your years of research that allowed them to find a cure, Cissy. The entire Wizarding Community is very grateful.’
Narcissa sighed, ‘are there any other halfbloods or muggleborns being treated?’
‘They’re going to wait for Hermione’s response first, but there’s already a list of who will be next.’
‘Excellent. Did we lose anyone close to us?’
‘Percy Weasley lost his wife to the Invisible Curse, but apart from that poor witch we didn’t lose anyone we know. Lots of pureblood witches and wizards who didn’t survive the treatment though, so you might recognize some names. The Daily Prophet publishes a list every day. It’s quite sad, but it would seem like the muggles have suffered the greatest casualties.’
Narcissa wanted to reply but suddenly the door to her room opened and a Mediwitch bolted through, ‘she made it!’
The blonde blinked, ‘what?’
‘Ms Granger… she made it and she’s asking for you.’
‘I prescribe you lots and lots of rest, Ms Granger,’ the Healer said with a stern voice, ‘and absolutely no performing magic until someone with a medical background clears you.’
Hermione nodded when the door opened and Narcissa peeked around the corner. The brunette’s face broke into a wide smile making the Healer turn around to see who caused such a reaction.
‘Ah, madame Black. You’ve been discharged from hospital I’ve heard?’
‘Yes, but I wanted to see whether Ms Granger required my assistance.’
‘She’ll need to stay in St. Mungo’s for a little while longer, I’m afraid. She needs constant supervision.’
The blonde snorted, ‘and you can give her that? We’ve been taking care of each other for nearly two weeks seeing as you’re too understaffed to provide your patients with basic needs. It’s not critique,’ Narcissa said when the Healer opened his mouth, ‘just stating facts. You’re all tired from carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders and I admire you for it. But I think Ms Granger will recover much faster if she stays with someone who can look out for her 24/7.’
Hermione frowned, ‘don’t you rather stay with Draco or Andy?’
‘Draco’s wife has a blood curse and Teddy has asthma. I wouldn’t want to risk infecting them seeing as they both have nearly zero chances of survival should they catch it. I thought you could stay with me instead because if my information is correct, you live alone as well.’
‘Live with you?’ Hermione squeaked, ‘at Malfoy Manor? I don’t really have fond memories of that place.’
‘No darling, Malfoy Manor kicked me out the second I divorced Lucius and Black Manor got burned down by a crowd of angry witches and wizards right after the war. I live at Black Castle by the shore now. There’s lots of fresh air for you there to help your lungs recover.’
‘If you’re sure,’ Hermione nodded, ‘it does sound like exactly the thing I need. But only if Crookshanks can come with us. He’s my cat,’ she explained upon seeing Narcissa’s confused expression.’
‘It’s settled then. I’ll make the necessary arrangements.’
Hermione smiled even wider and melted into the touch when Narcissa placed her hand on the brunette’s cheek.
Narcissa had left Hermione to her final medical procedures and checks and decided to head out to breathe in some fresh air. She’d been indoors for weeks. When she approached the exit the witch at the reception called her.
‘Madame Black! Please allow me to explain the procedures for entering and leaving the hospital,’ she said while walking towards Narcissa and pointing at the first set of doors, ‘you enter those first and make sure to close them behind you. Only then are you allowed to end the body bubble charm. There are wards in place that get triggered when someone is standing in the airlock and they will disinfect you. Then you must wear this mask before going outside through the second set of doors.’
The witch handed Narcissa a blue piece of cloth and explained to her how she had to wear it making sure it covered both her nose and mouth. The blonde sighed, she had hoped to breathe in some fresh air after all and the witch patted her on the shoulder.
‘I know, I know, but the muggle government has made it obligatory to wear these masks in public places so you better abide by the rules.’
Narcissa nodded and did as instructed. The moment she stepped out of the hospital a journalist from the Daily Prophet pounced on her.
‘Madame Malfoy, a word if you please?’
‘It’s Black now,’ Narcissa said slightly exasperated.
‘My apologies. Would you care to explain your recent actions? Why did you donate millions to the research center together with years worth of potions work when you yourself had already been cured from the virus?’
‘Because my days of being selfish are over and because I refuse to stand by idly and watch how hundreds of muggleborns and halfbloods die when I have the power to do something about it.’
‘They say you’ve developed a soft spot for Ms Granger.’
Narcissa’s expression faltered slightly before she recovered from her surprise, ‘I think it’s safe to say I’ve always had a soft spot for her,’ the blonde muttered while remembering how she’d protected the girl from her sister.
‘What? I didn’t quite catch that?’
Narcissa shook herself from her reverie and smiled at the journalist though the effect was ruined by her mask, ‘no comment. If that’s all?’
‘Don’t you understand what you did Madame Black? You saved thousands! You’re a hero!’
‘I merely made up for years of arrogance, indifference and wrong choices. I can only hope the Wizarding Community is prepared to give me a second chance.’
‘Rumor has it your research had been groundbreaking. Will you ever publish your work?’
‘You know,’ Narcissa said while already turning around towards the entrance of the hospital again, ‘I think I might.’
‘Ready to go?’ Narcissa asked Hermione who was currently sitting in a wheelchair to avoid tiring herself too quickly.
‘Yes, do you know where I live?’
‘Oh darling,’ Narcissa’s face fell, ‘I forgot to tell you with that pesky journalist harassing me…’
‘Andy had to sell your apartment to pay for all the medical costs. She told me you had spent every Galleon you received after the war in trying to save your parents and your current employment doesn’t really pay much.’
Hermione suddenly lowered her head in embarrassment and Narcissa quickly sunk to her knees to lift her chin with her finger, ‘please don’t be ashamed. I know what happened to your parents and I think it’s awful that despite all your efforts to save them, you lost them anyway.’
The brunette shrugged, ‘they’re extremely happy. I guess I can’t wish for anything more.’
‘I guess it proves once more how vulnerable muggles are when it comes to magic being used against them. I now realize that they’re not the culprits such as Tom Riddle often claimed, but the victims and I’m sorry darling.’
Narcissa gave Hermione a hug for as well as she could managed with both of them enveloped by the body bubble charm before releasing her and wiping Hermione’s tears from her cheeks with the pads of her thumbs.
‘Your friends offered to pay your bills, but Andy told them you hate being independent of other people. That’s why she decided to sell, claiming you didn’t like the place anyway.’
Hermione laughed thinking about her dreadfully tiny apartment that she had to buy after selling her London house to pay for her parent’s treatment. When it became clear that their memories of Hermione had been lost forever, the Ministry had obliviated once more them and returned them to Australia where they still lived very happily.
‘Andy knows me too well. She often suggested I’d come live with her to help with Teddy and the household in exchange for a roof over my head.’
‘Well until we figure your new living arrangements out, you’re staying at Black Castle. You’d have an entire floor to yourself there,’ Narcissa said with a wink.
‘What happened to all my belongings?’
‘The Weasleys offered to store it at their garage. We’re going there first to pick it up.’
Narcissa placed her hand on Hermione and they disapparated with a faint pop only to land seconds later in front of the Burrow. There all her friends were waiting for her, all enveloped in the body bubble charm, but with big smiles on their faces. Hermione felt herself become emotional but the comforting squeeze Narcissa gave her shoulder helped to keep her grounded.
‘We’re so happy to have you back dear,’ Molly Weasley said clearly struggling not to come too close to the brunette.
‘Don’t scare us like that ever again okay,’ Harry smiled.
Suddenly a voice Hermione hadn’t heard in a long time sounded above the others, ‘and behave whilst you stay with my mother.’
Narcissa and Hermione turned their heads simultaneously to see Draco casually walking towards them, his eyes shimmering with mirth and his hands shoved in his pockets. Narcissa wanted to run towards him, but stopped herself just in time remembering that Astoria had to be protected at all costs.
‘My sweet boy! What are you doing here?’
‘Astoria got sick of me pacing around the house like one of father’s peacocks,’ the blonde wizard joked, ‘and aunt Andy warned me you’d come here in the open air so I took the opportunity to see my mother being healthy again with my own eyes.’
Narcissa looked perplexed, ‘aunt Andy?’
Andromeda cackled, ‘oh yes, the family has reunited while you were scaring the shit out of us by almost dying. Welcome back, Cissy.’
This time it was Hermione who reached for Narcissa’s hand to comfort the woman who was obviously overcome with emotion. While she talked a bit with Draco and Andy, Hermione turned her attention towards Luna, Neville, Ron, Ginny, Harry and George who were all beaming at their friend. Arthur arrived with two big suitcases and a cat basket and grinned.
‘You should see the scars George has from trying to put Crookshanks in his basket.’
‘Oh he really hates it,’ Hermione laughed, ‘I’m sorry George. Is that all my things?’ she asked surprised.
‘There’s an enlargement spell on the inside and a featherlight charm on the outside. You better be careful when you open the suitcases,’ Arthur warned her.
Suddenly a hand landed on Hermione’s shoulder and she couldn’t help but notice the soft scent of vanilla that came with it, ‘time to go, Hermione. We’ll invite your friends over once you’re settled and less easily tired.’
Hermione marveled how Narcissa had noticed her fatigue while she had tried so hard to hide it from her friends. She smiled gratefully at the blonde and waved her friends goodbye before they disapparated a second time and landed on the beach. In front of them was a small castle built on the dunes and so close to the sea that the highest waves could just touch the first layer of stones. It looked like it came straight from a fairytale.
‘Yes darling?’ Narcissa replied, not even noticing how easily the term of endearment slipped from her lips.
‘Now that we’re alone I need to tell you something.’
‘When I was unconscious I could not only still feel it when you wiped my brow or changed my position so I’d be more comfortable, I could also still hear everything that happened around me. I heard everything you said to me.’
Narcissa flushed and her mouth formed a surprised oh but Hermione didn’t allow the blonde to overthink it too much as she continued.
‘And I just wanted to say that I feel that same connection you talked about. When you lay in my arms struggling to make it through the night, I was desperate and angry and scared. And I didn’t understand why.’
Hermione looked up at Narcissa and tugged at her sleeve so the blonde would look at her as well. The wind played with Hermione’s bushy locks and Narcissa felt herself reach out to tuck an escaped strand behind her ear. They smiled at each other knowing they both felt confused about what was happening. Confused why their bodies responded so much to each other until suddenly Hermione, ever the brave Gryffindor, broke the silence.
‘I think I’m falling in love with you.’