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An Intimate Knowledge

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Days passed, a visit to the Ministry ensued, and before they knew it, a week lay crumpled at their feet like the fallen leaves. It had been a week since Rita, and Lucius, and Anathema, of course, had tried to tear them apart, but only ended up bringing them closer together.

Hermione could hardly believe that only seven days had passed; it seemed like so much of her life had changed since that afternoon. After that day of chaos, after those weeks of almost and never, it seemed ridiculous to think that it could all fall so easily into place. And yet, it had managed to feel so simple to mold their lives into a new pattern — that of a couple.

Such a shift could often be so complicated, leaving so many blushing lovers weighted down by all the unseen complexities of intertwining one’s life with another’s. But in many ways, Hermione and Narcissa had done that already with paintings, and prose, and the inescapable honesty of every breath overheard.

In place of the nervous tension so characteristic of budding relationships, both women felt a deeper sense of calm. Hermione certainly felt it and she thought Narcissa did as well. Gone were the warnings of impending doom and the unforeseen consequences of her proximity. After all, what more could be warned of than what had already happened — a catastrophe from which they had come out hand in hand?

Now, their evenings were so much like the ones before, only they were more likely to contain dinner out somewhere for romance’s sake, and at the end of the night, instead of retreating to their respective corners to ache in their own longing, they could choose to ache together.

It was on an evening such as this that they were coming back from dinner. Night had fallen irritatingly early, and in the dimness of the city street, they were both eager to get back indoors and out of the hazy autumn chill.

Just as they were nearly to the door of their building, Hermione heard the call of a male voice, one that she hadn’t heard in quite some time coming from behind them.

“Narcissa,” he called again, and both women turned to see a tall, handsome young man approaching from the other side of the street.

Narcissa looked just as shocked as Hermione felt when she recognized the approaching figure.

“Blaise?” she breathed in surprise.

“Good evening,” he said to Narcissa the moment he was close enough to be heard in a normal tone of voice. “Granger.” He nodded curtly to Hermione in turn. If he was surprised to see them together, he didn’t show it.

They both greeted him, but Narcissa looked wary. Hermione assumed that they knew each other well enough; she could even assume that they got along quite well — Blaise always being sharp-minded, witty, and unreasonably worldly for his age. Still, Narcissa had never so much as mentioned the young man, certainly she had never mentioned a personal connection that would make an impromptu visit seem anything less than alarming.

“Is your mother alright?” Narcissa asked. There was a begrudging tone to her voice as if she wished she didn’t care about the answer. Hermione smiled sadly for the hurt she was undoubtedly still suffering with in silence. It was both a blessing and curse that Narcissa could never bring herself to be quite as cold as the world insisted on believing her.

“Oh yes, for the most part,” Blaise said with a nonchalant wave of his hand as if the idea of his mother being any other way was a preposterous one. “Although she’s completely beside herself about you. She says you won’t see her, won’t answer her letters.”

Narcissa scoffed. “And has she told you what she’s done to warrant that?”

“No,” Blaise said brusquely. “And honestly, I’d rather you didn’t either. I really don’t want to get involved. I didn’t even want to do this, but you know what she’s like.”

Hermione stood awkwardly, feeling like an uninvited guest as Blaise reached into the breast pocket of his robes and produced a letter. “Here,” he said as he held it out to Narcissa. “She says that it contains something very important — an explanation of some kind.”

Narcissa was still staring at the proffered parchment with hesitation. At the lack of action, Blaise sighed impatiently. “Please just read it. I don’t care if you send her a reply telling her off afterwards, but I’m absolutely sick of hearing about how you’re ignoring her.”

Hermione furrowed her brows, wondering at his attitude. She could hardly believe that Blaise wasn’t more curious about the fight in which he was currently playing mediator. Although, if all the rumors about his mother’s life were true, she supposed a certain amount of practiced disinterest could only have served him well over the years.

With a sigh of resignation, Narcissa took the envelope and looked it over as if the paper itself could tell her the intentions of its sender. “Fine, Blaise,” she said at last. “I promise that I’ll at least read it.”

“That’s all I ask,” he said with a nod. “At least I can tell her you received it, so she hopefully won’t send me out after you again. It wasn’t exactly the welcome home I was expecting after being away for so long.”

Narcissa smiled and a certain softness grew in her eyes. She leaned in and kissed him briefly on the cheek in farewell.

“Take care of yourself,” Narcissa said. “And do call on Draco while you’re in town. He misses you terribly when you’re away, even if he won’t say it.”

Stepping back, Narcissa twined her arm with Hermione’s, and once more, if Blaise found this at all odd, he didn’t so much as twitch an eyebrow in response.

“I will,” Blaise said. With a final nod to both of them, he disappeared into the darkness and the lingering crowd of the street.

“Well, I suppose I really have no choice now, do I?” Narcissa said.

Hermione shrugged. “You knew she’d catch up with you eventually.”

“Yes,” Narcissa said quietly. “I suppose that I did.”

 

While Narcissa read the letter, Hermione was fighting the urge to be on her tiptoes behind her, reading every word over her shoulder. She was incredibly grateful for her immense personal restraint, for surely such a display would have been unbecoming, unwarranted, an invasion of privacy even. She kept her expression as calm as she could manage, but all the while her heart — protective, and wild, and tingling with the faintest notes of jealousy — was pushing her forward as Narcissa’s eyes skated over the page.

After a minute or two of concentration, Narcissa lifted her eyes and shook her head. The softest chuckle escaped her lips when she glanced at Hermione, whose eager gaze was not as well hidden as she might have hoped it to be. Before she could ask what Anathema had to say, Narcissa handed her the letter, nodding in confirmation that she ought to read its contents.

With her intense curiosity finally about to be sated, Hermione lowered her eyes to the parchment. It was dated days ago, the day Narcissa had originally turned that intimidating owl away from her window ledge.

Narcissa,

As you well know, I’m no friend of confessions. Therefore, you’ll know how difficult this letter will have been for me to write. Unfortunately for us both, I do have something important to tell you.

You were right two evenings ago to accuse me of being upset about that girl. I hate that admission almost as much as the confession itself, but there you are. I was terribly upset. I’d like to explain that to you, but now is not the time.

The only thing that matters now is what I did afterwards. After I left your flat, I ended up at some pub or another, some overpriced place not too far from your building. It was there that I happened to run into your odious snake of a husband. I had already been drinking for quite some time, and by the looks of him, so had he. He tried to jibe me about you in that sneering, mocking way of his. In hindsight, it was nothing really; it’s not as if we’ve ever been kind with each other. However, in the moment, I couldn’t take the mention of your name, much less anything else. In anger, I said quite a few terrible things about you, and he was more than willing to commiserate.

He offered to buy me a drink — certainly my millionth by then — and for a reason I can hardly fathom with a sober mind, I accepted. We talked for a long while. If that seems strange to you, you’re not alone. You know that Lucius and I have never exactly seen eye to eye, but suddenly, we had at least one thing in common, an enemy in you.

He was on about how you’d wiped some memory of his, one that he’d been trying and failing all night to access. He was furious. And while in general, I do find these little tricks of yours quite funny, I couldn’t see the humor that night. Instead I told him it only seemed typical. I went on and on about how you’d turned me away, all about that girl, and that little thank you note she’d written you. He ate it up. Even then I was surprised that it seemed to strike such a chord with him, one that I couldn’t quite understand.

I wish I could say that I never thought he might be able to use the information against you, but it’s more accurate to say that I didn’t think, I didn’t care. I was too angry to see past my own small moment of venting and the vengeance that had fallen so effortlessly into my lap. At least that’s how I felt until some time had passed and I’d come back to some semblance of my senses.

I don’t know what, if anything, he intends to do with the information, or what he’s already done, but I thought you ought to know so you can be prepared. I am terribly sorry that I betrayed your confidences, Cissa. I do hope you’ll believe me when I say so, knowing as you do how apologies stick in my throat and even in my pen. Please contact me when you read this.

Anathema

The final paragraph of the letter was scrawled in a slightly different ink and with a hastier slant as if it had been added on a different day.

P.S. You’ve sent back my owl and now your wards push so hard against me that I can’t even approach your building. I assume this means you already know the contents of this letter and hate me for it, or you simply found my behavior during our last conversation unbecoming enough to keep me at arm’s length.

Regardless, I have found out what Lucius did with his bit of ill-gotten news, and I marvel that you managed to find your way out of it. I’m glad to see that no lasting damage has been done to you by my actions — except perhaps between us, and I regret that more than I can say. I vow to make it right in whatever way I must.

Anyway, I do hope that Blaise has more luck than I have with getting this to you, and that one day, you will be willing to see me again.

 

Hermione read the letter at least three times before she looked back at Narcissa, who had watched her carefully the entire time.

“Well,” Hermione finally said. “At least she apologized. And I suppose it’s better that it wasn’t planned.”

Narcissa tilted her head in consideration. “I suppose a crime of opportunity, or of passion is always more forgivable than something premeditated. And anything is better than thinking she sought out Lucius just to wrong me. Although I still don’t understand why she was in such a state to begin with.”

Hermione had her suspicions, those of feelings running deeper than imagined, but she tried to keep them to herself as she cleared her throat. “Are you going to see her to let her explain that part?”

“Probably,” Narcissa said with a small nod. The woman tilted her head once more, this time looking at Hermione and the set line of her lips, at the look in her eye which had become too purposefully without emotion. “Are you jealous?” she finally asked.

Hermione opened her mouth to deny it; she wasn’t really the jealous type. But it was so much easier not to be jealous of Anathema when the woman was essentially in exile, more a memory than a reality. She sighed, annoyed at herself. “Probably,” she admitted quietly.

Narcissa slid closer and wrapped her arms around Hermione. “You don’t have to be, darling. I promise you that. As she herself pointed out that night, I turned her down for the mere chance at you; I'm not about to give up on the real thing, now am I?”

Hermione smiled and let Narcissa pull her into a soft kiss, as much a promise as her words. She felt warm and assured, and glad that she had expressed her feelings, silly as she felt they were, and had let them find safety between Narcissa’s palms.

 


 

It was two days later that Narcissa accepted Anathema’s request to discuss the matter at length, including all the particulars left out of the letter. There was still a part of her that didn’t want to see her former lover, but as her own emotions around the matter had begun to cool, such a stance seemed childish. If nothing else she was curious to hear the rest of the story, which Anathema had refused to elaborate upon in print.

Her lingering hesitation wasn’t from anger; that she had gotten over. It wasn’t even that she hadn’t accepted Anathema’s apology; she at least appreciated that the woman was uniquely contrite. But Narcissa couldn’t help but bemoan the idea that nothing ever seemed capable of simplicity. There was always someone chasing her down to her door, confessing to their sins, spreading the blame around. In their wake, she was always left recalibrating, reevaluating, separating the truths from the falsehoods anew. She found the process exhausting.

She supposed, however, that in its way, that was life. At the very least, such duplicitous drama did generally characterize her own. That is, outside of one notable exception. She knew that one relationship without pretense was more than most people can hope to receive, and with the steadiness of that blessing holding her fast, Narcissa opened the door with a tense welcome.

Narcissa had never seen Anathema enter a room with so much hesitation. It was almost strange to see her walk without her usual slink, acting like she owned everyone and everything within her line of vision.

“Good evening, Narcissa,” Anathema said with a formality of tone that felt incredibly unnatural for two women who had been friends for two decades and on-and-off lovers for nearly as long.

“Good evening,” she replied as she led them into the sitting room. She had expected some performative, effusive display, but received none. Anathema seemed unwilling or unable to start the conversation. Rather, she sat down silently in the familiar space, and looked to Narcissa as if for direction.

“I suppose we’ve never been very good at small talk, so I’ll get right to it. Why, Thema? Why did you do it? I know you were angry, angry enough to be tempted into revenge, but for the life of me, I cannot understand why suddenly a single rejection cut you as deep as all that,” Narcissa said.

Anathema laced her fingers together in her lap and shrugged, wearing her vulnerability like an ill-fitting cloak. “I’d like to give you some complex, intriguing answer, but I’m afraid that it’s embarrassingly simple, Cissa. I was terribly jealous,” she said.

Narcissa laughed softly in surprise. “Jealous? Anathema, you’re not telling me that after all these years, you’ve actually fallen for me?”

Something sparked in Anathema’s eye, a flicker of familiar mischief. “Oh would you get over yourself, Cissa? I’m not trying to tell you I'm in love with you. For Merlin’s sake,” she said with a mock-exasperated sigh. The moment was brief, and soon she looked serious yet again. “It’s nothing like that. It’s just that when I came to see you that day, I was in a very insecure state. In all honesty, I was starting to feel rather badly about myself… terrible in fact.”

Narcissa furrowed her brow, feeling that this was even more surprising than a sudden declaration of love — and that alone would have knocked her cold. “I don’t think that I’ve ever seen you feel badly about yourself in all the years that I’ve known you.”

“It’s a rare occurrence, I’ll grant you,” Anathema said with a laugh and a smile that was disconcertingly soft. “It’s just that… well, I’ve lost men before; it would be unrealistic to expect every tryst to be a success. But never before have I been tossed aside the way Elias jilted me. It had been going so well, perfectly in fact. Then one day, he had no use for me. It was like I had no sway over him whatsoever. He dumped me and had the gall to say the most terrible things.” She paused and took a breath, shaking away the embers of anger that had started to form in her eyes at the memory.

“I felt like a fool, and I’ll admit that the failure rattled me. I had started to worry that perhaps middle-age was finally catching up with me — my judgement finally cracking, my charm fading beyond my grasp.” Anathema sat a bit straighter as if proving that it wasn’t the case. “I couldn’t bear that to be true, Cissa; I don’t know what I am without it. I was in desperate need of reassurance and perhaps unfairly, I looked to you as a sure-thing, someone who I knew would still find me irresistible and tell me I was glorious. When you too said that you could in fact resist me, that you had found someone else, someone younger and more satisfying… it was the last crack that my self-esteem could take. It might not have been your fault, but you were there, in front of me, turning me away, and I directed every shard of rage in your direction.”

“Oh, Thema,” Narcissa said. “It had nothing to do with that. You haven’t lost an ounce of your charm; you must know that.”

“You don’t need to console me, Cissa. My ego has rallied,” Anathema said, regaining a bit of her usual shell in the face of Narcissa’s sympathy. “And what matters now is why.”

Narcissa furrowed her brows as Anathema reached into her bag and pulled out a bundle of parchment. “What is all that?” she asked.

“My atonement,” Anathema said, pulling the top page free. “Once I found out what Lucius had done with the information I gave him, I was furious. So I decided to do some digging, and I was glad that I did. I got my hands on your husband’s financial records.”

At the sight of Narcissa’s raised eyebrow, Anathema smirked proudly. “It’s always good to have a few connections at Gringott’s. Anyway, it all would have looked to be in order, except there was one familiar name on the transaction list, an account I recognized from combing over the Gideon family bank records during the failed courtship with Elias.”

“What? What do you mean?”

“Well, you see, Elias has a rather lucrative business in setting up tax-shelters out of the country. Especially with all the new wealth taxes this Ministry is on about, business is booming. Which, handily enough for my state of mind, did explain how Elias may have come to have a rather negative opinion of me all of a sudden. Lucius never was a particular fan of mine. I imagine for the latest transfer, Lucius paid the fee along with a warning about me.”

Narcissa stared back, astounded. “You’re saying that Lucius is funneling his money out of the country? That can’t be legal,” she said.

“Oh, not in the slightest, and I imagine that, pesky little financial crime that it is, it would still be a probation violation large enough to send him back to Azkaban,” Anathema said. “Which is precisely why I sent a copy of all of this to Lucius an hour ago, informing him that I would only keep this information from the authorities in the event that he gave you your divorce. I could have gotten rid of him far more permanently, but I assumed that would cause you more problems than it would solve. Although it would have been more satisfying."

Narcissa’s mouth fell open slightly, unable to disguise the shock coursing through her at the thought. “Do you think it will work?”

“Well, I certainly hope so; something has to,” Anathema said, tossing the papers aside with a determined huff. She leaned back on the sofa and stared, searching Narcissa’s shocked face for a reaction as she combed through the papers for herself.

“Narcissa, I hope you can agree that I’m not normally like this. If anything, I look down upon it — all those emotions bubbling to the surface, the messiness of hot-headed revenge and misdirected anger. It always ends up like this,” she said with a sigh. “It was not the best side of me. And under normal circumstances, I would never consider doing something like that to you. You are my friend; I hope that you can still bring yourself to be mine, and forgive me.”

Narcissa raised her eyes to the woman who was looking at her so plaintively, wanting a forgiveness and acceptance that was almost out of character for her to seek. With a final glance at the papers in her hands, hopefully ones that spelled her salvation, Narcissa let a smile drift to her lips. Words, no matter how contrite, meant very little to her; actions, however, she could accept. “I can forgive you,” she said.

Anathema looked immensely relieved and she too smiled, beginning to look a bit more like her old assured self.

“If this goes through, after all, you’ve done more than make up for the damage.” Narcissa continued. “Besides, that horrible little article was oddly enough the exact push Hermione and I needed to get together in the end.”

Anathema smiled a small version of that wicked grin. “So I’m the hero in this story after all?”

“I wouldn’t go quite that far,” Narcissa said with a laugh, rolling her eyes.

“Well good,” Anathema said. “Now you and your little girlfriend can have your happily ever after, assuming that you want something as dreadfully common as all that.”

Narcissa laughed softly, feeling a girlish smile blooming on her cheeks. She was unwilling to embrace this sense of hope quite yet; she didn’t want to be disappointed if Lucius managed to slip out of trouble once more, but she couldn’t help herself. It had begun to feel a bit too real for such restraint. “I do, Anathema. I want it terribly,” she finally said.

Anathema looked a bit uncomfortable with the amount of sentiment in Narcissa’s voice, and her eyes raked over her friend as if recalibrating everything she thought she understood about her. She cleared her throat. Unwilling or unable to respond with equal schmaltz. “Well, I hope that whatever noises she makes with you are more to your liking. I know her previous performances weren’t up to your standards.”

“Honestly, Thema! I’m not going to tell you that,” Narcissa said, chuckling in a comfortable, familiar way. “But it’s good. It’s all very good.”

“Oh, Merlin, that love-drunk little expression on your face! You disgust me,” Anathema said, but this time she too was smiling, laughing, joking — at least in part, at least enough.

Narcissa felt like she could breathe easier at long last. It felt good to have her friend back, complicated as she undoubtedly was. It always felt better to have an ally than an enemy. “Thank you for this,” she said. “Whether it works or not, I really do appreciate the effort.” She moved closer on the cushion and squeezed Anathema’s hand in her own.

“Alright, get off me,” Anathema said after a moment of sentiment had passed. “With your luck, Hermione will walk in and get the wrong idea.”

“Oh, well, I assume she’s listening to us right now actually,” Narcissa said.

Anathema looked shocked, stiffening even further against any amount of vulnerability she may have let slip in the past ten minutes. “Are you serious?”

“Of course I am. The walls are just as thin out here as they are in the bedroom,” Narcissa said. At that, she raised her hand to knock on the wall. “Hermione? Are you over there?”

A moment of silence passed, followed by a small, slightly embarrassed “Yes.”

“Would you come over here, please, darling?” Narcissa entreated and turned to Anathema as she waited for Hermione to walk from one door to the other.

“You have to be nice to her,” she said firmly. “But not too nice,” she amended after a moment’s thought of what Anathema’s nice side could often do to people.

She accepted Anathema’s begrudging eye-roll as the most acquiescence she was likely to receive and rose to answer the door.

 


 

Hermione felt her heart pounding as she walked those few precious feet to Narcissa’s flat. She had felt nervous enough even listening to that conversation play out; she felt incredibly strange being asked to be a part of it.

When Narcissa answered the door however, the woman kissed her, brief and habitual, but comforting all the same. She twined their fingers together and pulled Hermione into the sitting room where Anathema was waiting.

Once more, she felt the discomfort that was being on the other side of Anathema’s piercing gaze. She could almost hear the thoughts running through the woman’s mind as she skated over her in critique. This, of all possible women, is the woman that she chose? Hermione stood up straighter and steeled her eyes, trying to feel confident in her own worth. It was a shade easier with Narcissa at her side, rubbing comforting circles with her thumb in their clasped hands.

“I wanted you both to meet the other, properly this time,” Narcissa said, taking her seat. “I don’t want there to be any unnecessary tension in our lives, and that includes between you two.”

Hermione was the first to speak, urging her brash Gryffindor confidence to the surface, if only for this moment. “Anathema,” she said with a nod of her head. “I appreciate what you did for Narcissa with those financial records.” Anathema opened her mouth, probably about to say “you’re welcome” in that haughty self-satisfied way of hers, but Hermione wasn’t done. “But nonetheless, I’m not sure I forgive you.”

“For what I did to you?” Anathema asked. Her eyes were raking over Hermione with mild interest, clearly gauging whether she was about to be made to apologize yet again.

“For what you did to Narcissa!” Hermione corrected. “You were supposed to be her friend; she trusted you. I’m not sure that you having a dark moment excuses betraying her like you did.”

Anathema had raised her eyebrows at this unexpected rebuke and she tilted her head in careful consideration. To Hermione’s surprise, she smiled, completely unbothered by the anger directed at her. “I see you found yourself a little lion protectress, Cissa,” she said calmly, her eyes never leaving Hermione’s. “Good. I’m glad you’ll take care of her, Hermione.”

Hermione was surprised to see that Anathema made no further attempts to win her forgiveness, but this expression of care, belated though it seemed to Hermione, was probably worth a bit more anyway in her mind.

It would be a stretch to say their ensuing conversations was easy, it wasn’t even particularly enjoyable, but Hermione did find a moment or two to laugh at Anathema’s barbed sense of humor. Anathema even took a bit of interest in some of Hermione’s stories about their work and the Ministry. Still, the only part that Hermione truly cared about was that Narcissa never let go of her hand, never stopped looking at her with just as much care and interest as when they were alone, making sure she knew that she had nothing to prove and nothing to compete with.

 


 

As the hours of the evening passed into the following day and into yet another evening, both women sat as if on a knife’s edge.

Hermione had never cared before about the fact that Narcissa was technically someone else’s wife. Her marital status had always seemed to be an annoying detail at most and nothing to give too much thought to.

However, now that the divorce seemed to be so close within their grasp, it was impossible not to feel its gravity. Without a marriage hanging over them — however doomed and shattered as this one was — it would feel as if the next chapter of their lives could begin in earnest, rather than being another element of the waiting game Narcissa had been forced to play for so long.

It was a sharp and slicing realization when Hermione saw just how badly she wanted it and just how devastating it would be if the divorce still didn’t manage to come off. Hermione felt as if even voicing such a wish might manage to jinx it. So instead, it passed unspoken between them that they were both eagerly awaiting the conclusion, that they were hoping so foolishly for the best to happen if only just this once.

Perhaps that tension, nervous and hopeful and clawing in their chests, was the reason both women startled so unbecomingly at the sight of a dark-feathered owl on Narcissa’s ledge. It arrived just late enough in the evening that both women undoubtedly had given up hope, at least for the day, of any resolution.

Yet in the thickening twilight, it sat, awaiting entry as Narcissa glided across the room so quickly it was as if some force other than her own was dragging her towards it.

She ripped open the envelope and her hand flew to her lips, the slightest glisten of tears welling in her eyes. Hermione couldn’t read the emotion, couldn’t judge it as happy or sad, and she rose from her seat in near delirium.

“He did it; he’s signed it,” Narcissa said in a quivering voice. “It’s over. It’s all finally over.”

Hermione surged forward and wrapped her arms around Narcissa, her heart beating so hard, so fast that Narcissa must have felt its rhythm in her own chest. Together, they laughed as if drunk as they smothered each other in the embrace.

“You know what this means, don’t you?” Hermione asked, her face pressed close to Narcissa’s ear.

“What?” Narcissa replied, pulling back just enough to look into Hermione’s eyes.

“That you’re all mine.”

A wide smile broke onto Narcissa’s lips and she laughed. “Oh darling, I think I’ve been all yours for quite some time now.”

And with that they fell together into a kiss that was heated and ironically hasty, given that they had now been given all the time in the world.

Before they could even break for air, however, there was a knock at the door, impatient and hurried. They each looked at the other in confusion, their joy hanging on a thread between them.

The knock echoed once more, and with one worried glance in Hermione’s direction, Narcissa moved to the door, unlocking it, only to find the face of her son in the hall, looking somehow even paler than usual.

“Draco,” Narcissa exclaimed in surprise.

“Mother, I have to speak with you,” he said, pushing through the doorway. His gaze was so fervent and focused that for a moment, he didn’t seem to notice Hermione standing only a foot or so away. His eyes suddenly shifted to her. “Oh hello, Granger — Hermione, I mean.”

“Hello, Draco,” Hermione said tensely.

“What’s the matter, darling? What’s happened?” Narcissa said, her voice taut with worry over her son’s apparent state.

Hermione almost expected Draco to halt whatever urgent statement he had come here to make in light of her own unexpected presence, but he did not.

“I think Father stole your amulet. I think he made a copy of it,” Draco said with guilt and worry dripping from his voice. “I don’t know what he plans to do with it, but —“

Hermione couldn’t help but laugh. Her laughter was hard and wild. The emotions of the previous moments — the joy, the worry, the relief — all combined and burst into madness at the irony.

Narcissa joined in the fit of hysterics, probably feeling the same, along with a good deal of relief that Draco wasn’t actually reporting any fresh danger that hadn’t already been discovered, anguished over, and solved.

Draco, on the other hand, was looking at them as if they had each lost their mind. To say that this wasn’t the reaction he was expecting was likely the understatement of the year.

Predictably, Narcissa recovered first, walking to her son to clasp his arm in apology. “I’m sorry, Draco, we shouldn’t laugh, it’s just that… well, you’re rather behind the times. We know what Lucius did. I should have told you when we found out, but I didn’t want you to feel guilty about it.”

“I’m so sorry, Mother. I don’t know what I was thinking bringing it there and —“

“It’s alright,” Narcissa interrupted in a gentle, consoling tone. “It’s all handled and done with now. Perhaps, it was even for the best. I’ve just received these, after all.” At that, she handed him the signed divorce papers and they both watched his eyes grow wide with shock.

“He’s finally signed them?” Draco asked in disbelief. “Oh, Mum, that’s wonderful!” He rushed forward, pulling Narcissa into an enthusiastic hug.

When she was released, Hermione stepped towards her and grabbed her hand, pulling it to her lips to kiss it in what had rapidly become a habit. Draco stared openly at the intimate gesture, and it was only then that Hermione realized her lapse, gasping quietly in shock and dropping Narcissa’s hand with a hasty step away.

“I was, I mean I was just —“ Hermione stumbled over her words trying to explain what she was doing there, not sure where to begin or where she wanted to end up.

Narcissa walked over to her and put an arm around her waist. “Relax, Hermione, it’s alright. I’ve already told him about us.”

“Oh, thank god,” Hermione said, stress melting off of her as quickly as it had risen. “I had no idea how I was going to explain why I had just started kissing your fingers.”

Draco scrunched his nose slightly, looking as if he might still want a more satisfactory explanation than the truth, but he said nothing. Honestly, he looked less distressed than Hermione had expected when faced with the two of them so decidedly intertwined. Nonetheless, his gaze did seem to flicker an inordinate amount of times to his mother’s fingers resting on Hermione’s hip.

“Wait, Draco, how did you figure out that your father took the amulet after all this time?” Hermione couldn’t help but ask.

“Oh, I was practicing some diagnostic spells to show enchantments that have been cast upon an object. I got a rather strong reading coming off of my bag and I looked into it. It wasn’t hard to piece together after that,” Draco admitted.

“That’s very clever, Draco. Diagnostic spells like that are notoriously difficult,” Hermione said, quite seriously impressed by it.

“Why Granger, did you just give me a complement?” Draco said with a cocky tilt of his eyebrow.

“I suppose there has to be a first time for everything,” she replied. After a moment, Hermione cleared her throat and looked once more at the divorce papers signed and dated in front of her. The same joy bubbled within her at every fresh glance.

“We should celebrate,” she said enthusiastically, turning to Narcissa with a wide smile.

Narcissa chuckled and tucked a curl fondly behind her ear. “Alright, how?

“Well, now that that’s cleared up, I’m sure you two will want to be alone,” Draco said, shifting uncomfortably towards the door.

“No, Draco, wait. I was just going to say that we should go out somewhere, and I think you should come with us,” Hermione insisted. “After all, we should probably get to know each other better now, shouldn’t we?” She bit at her lip, awaiting a response. And while Draco pondered the thought, Narcissa leaned in and kissed her gently on the cheek in appreciation, looking pleased and touched.

She actually thought that Draco looked a bit touched by the gesture as well, although he was far less willing to show it.

“Er — alright then, I suppose,” Draco agreed. “But I’d appreciate as little of that as possible.” He gestured towards his mother’s still close embrace with disapprovingly raised eyebrows.

“Oh, Draco, it was only a kiss on the cheek. I didn’t raise you to be such a prude,” Narcissa said in mock-reprove. “But, nonetheless, I think we can promise to behave ourselves.”

Narcissa’s eyes slid momentarily over to Hermione’s as if to say “for now”. Certainly, she had other plans of how she wanted to celebrate this good news, but they were plans that would have to wait for later in the evening.

Hermione was fairly certain that Draco hadn’t missed the look, subtle though it was, although he was hardly about to acknowledge it. Instead he made a hasty suggestion of an Italian restaurant nearby, and they began to settle their plans.

As the two women got dressed for a dinner out, Hermione thought Narcissa had never looked quite as happy as she did now, and it warmed her like a wildfire. She assumed it would never cease to amaze her that this icy blonde with the soul of a painter could be so easily melted by her words. And moreover, Hermione assumed that she would never stop trying to do it for as long as those blue eyes would continue to look back at her like that.