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An Intimate Knowledge

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A week after the arrival of the couple’s newly found freedom, Hermione rushed through the streets of Diagon. The autumn had turned quite rainy, and with the biting chill of a late October surrounding her, she wanted to get indoors again, even though she was quite nervous about the lunch meeting that awaited her alongside the welcoming warmth.

Hermione had been avoiding her friends ever since the breakup with Ron. Weeks had passed without seeing either Harry or Ginny. Even now, she had only agreed to this meeting because Ginny was very skilled with a guilt-trip. Although admittedly, guilt was easy to come by given that Hermione already felt quite bad about her series of dodged invitations and shoddy excuses.

It wasn’t that she held anything against them, but she hadn’t been able to face them either. Every time they had invited her anywhere, she had been so sure that they’d have some scheme cooked up to get her back together with Ron. She had always imagined herself walking into Grimmauld Place, or The Leaky Cauldron, or wherever they thought she’d find enticing, only to find Ron as a surprise third, waiting to make his case.

Hermione didn’t trust her reaction if such a scheme was truly put into place, and the last thing she wanted was to end up shouting unbecomingly at her old friends and ruining these relationships as well.

“Hermione!” They both exclaimed a tad too cheerily the moment she walked in the door.

“Hey, it’s been too long,” Harry said, pulling her into a quick hug before sitting back down and handing her a drink menu.

“Sorry, yeah, I’ve been really swamped with work and everything you know,” Hermione excused, knowing full well that she was fooling no one. “But you guys were so insistent this time — er — what did you want to talk about so badly?”

“Well,” Ginny began, eyes glancing briefly in Harry’s direction, no doubt judging Hermione for her brusqueness. “We were hoping you might come to dinner for Mum’s birthday. She misses seeing you, you know. Everyone’s going to be there.”

Hermione gaped for a moment in their direction, unsure what to say. She had planned on begging off whatever plan they might try to make, but to bring Molly’s birthday into it was tricky indeed.

“Ron’s going to be there as well, obviously,” Harry added, suddenly making it all much easier.

Hermione sighed. “Listen, guys. I know what you’re doing. I know that you really wanted to get us back together when we ended things, and I get that. But a lot has changed and there’s no chance that the two of us are going to patch things up. I don’t want to, for one. I’ve moved on, so if you’re planning something —“

“You have?” Ginny interrupted.

“Yes, I have,” Hermione said firmly.

Harry and Ginny each took a breath and settled further back into their chairs.

“Well, actually, that’s a relief,” Harry said. “Because Ron is seeing someone.”

“And we thought it might be awkward depending on how you were feeling,” Ginny continued.

“I’m not upset at all. It’s good that he’s seeing someone,” Hermione said emphatically. She was admittedly a bit surprised, but nonetheless, utterly relieved. “Wait, who is it?”

Ginny made a bit of a face, brief but unmistakable. “Pansy Parkinson,” she said and waited for a reaction.

Hermione couldn’t help but laugh in surprise. “What, really?”

“Mhm,” Harry confirmed. “It’s weird, we know. But we’ve all just decided to go with it.”

Hermione chuckled, and the three of them settled into a more comfortable silence.

Hermione cleared her throat and felt a bit ashamed at her apprehension coming here. “I’m really sorry, you two,” she began. “I haven’t actually been so busy; I was just worried that you might be trying to convince me to go after Ron again, and I avoided you, it was childish.”

“Well…” Ginny said, shifting awkwardly. “To be fair, that was our intent originally, but you were really good at dodging us. And then yeah, that ship sailed… right into Pansy’s harbor, that is.”

Hermione laughed along with them and felt a moment of swelling warmth towards her friends. She hadn’t realized just how much she had missed them all these weeks apart.

“Anyway, with that settled,” she began with new assurance. “I suppose I do have quite a lot of news. You know how I said a long time ago that I was trying to write that book? Well, it’s really coming along. I found a collaborator and it made all the difference.”

“That’s wonderful, Hermione,” Harry said with genuine enthusiasm. “Who did you find to work with? I can’t imagine that there’s many people who would live up to your standards.”

“It’s Narcissa Black actually,” Hermione said, nearly laughing at the shocked looks on both of their faces. “It turns out she lives next door to me, and we’ve gotten close.”

Harry merely nodded, taking it all at face value, but Ginny smirked across the table with that characteristic mischief in her eyes.

“How close exactly?” she asked.

Hermione blushed and looked down at the table for a moment. “Very close.”

“Oh,” Harry said, the realization dawning slowly. “Oh. Well, that’s… great, isn’t it?” Ginny echoed a similar sentiment from beside him, albeit with a bit more of a twinkle in her eye that promised follow-up questions the next time Harry wasn’t around.

They both sounded like they meant it. Still, Hermione couldn’t miss the look that passed between them, surprised and smirking. That was the terrible thing about hanging out with couples, you could always tell when they were going to talk about you on the way home.

“You could bring her, if you like, to Mum’s party,” Ginny offered. “There’s plenty of room for one more. Andromeda will be there with Teddy, so that’ll give her someone else to talk to — not that we won’t talk to her, of course,” she amended hastily. “But just in case she feels uncomfortable.”

Hermione could have hugged them, the moment felt so sweet. With an emotional smile on her lips, she agreed to ask Narcissa that evening, feeling fairly certain she’d accept the invitation just as gratefully as Hermione herself.

Narcissa had encouraged her to come to this lunch, but Hermione had had her doubts. She had been so worried about fresh angst growing in her finally settled life that she might have let this loose end dangle for far too long to be mended. Now however, she felt the threads of her life joining together so suddenly, growing whole with the support that she had never really thought to receive.

She smiled at the sensation as she searched the menu, looking for a drink that was properly celebratory for this unexpectedly pleasant afternoon.

 


 

Two Seasons Later…

It had been a drizzling and damp April, and so far, May appeared unwilling to break the pattern. Even on this day when the sun was shining, the air felt heavy with the newly fallen rain that had drenched the soil and prepared the earth for easier times ahead.

Narcissa and Hermione dodged the puddles littering the streets of Diagon as they made their way over the familiar path back to their building. Familiar though it was, Narcissa’s step slowed as they passed the windows of Flourish and Blotts, for there in the window sat their book. That sight alone was not new — it had come out just over two weeks ago — but one small piece of the display was very new indeed; now, there was a “#1 Bestseller” plaque that sat just in front of the poster. It was a number that had been getting smaller and smaller ever since the release and every time it changed, it caught the women by surprise.

Narcissa clasped Hermione’s hand in excitement and pulled her to the window, staring at the thing in silent, disbelieving awe.

“Number one best seller,” Hermione mused in satisfaction. “The Department of Mysteries: An Intimate Knowledge by Hermione Granger and Narcissa Black.” With a sigh, she leaned her head against Narcissa’s shoulder.

They stood like that for a moment, probably looking foolish to any passers-by who saw two women staring at a book that they must have known by heart. Yet they continued to stare into its cover nonetheless.

Naturally, it had been designed by Narcissa, containing a single door — the dark and ominous passage that led to the department itself. It was almost glowing, begging you to reach for it. Knowing full well what would happen when she did, Hermione reached out her finger and touched the doorknob, watching Narcissa’s charm come to life as the painted door slid open to reveal glimpses of the experiments and discoveries inside, peeping out from just beyond her view.

"Every time I see it, I can't get over just how beautiful that cover is, Cissa," Hermione said. “It’s genius.”

Narcissa smiled proudly at the praise, feeling that it still meant more coming from Hermione than from any reviewer that had said as much or more. “Thank you, darling. I do think it all turned out rather well.”

It brought Narcissa so much joy to see the project become a success, to see her art and Hermione’s words appreciated by so many. Yet, it felt so strange to think it was out in the world for everyone to see. Her art had always been such a private part of her life, intimate and secret. Somehow, it still felt that way, even though it had made its way into countless homes and minds over these past weeks alone.

But really, it didn’t matter who else saw it now. It may not be secret any longer, but it would always remain personal and close to her heart. In so many ways, the version of her that had helped to create this book was hers and Hermione’s alone, in the same way that there was some version of Hermione that only belonged in Narcissa’s own eyes.

She supposed that was the way in all relationships, the intimate and the not. We all have our own versions of each other; that, in and of itself, was not unique. What made it unique was the pieces that made up the whole of it. The bits of themselves that they had shared with only each other, even if some were unwilling or unknowing to begin with, were the pieces that Narcissa had always most wanted hidden, the parts of her that made her feel exposed and vulnerable. What made it unique was just how safe those pieces felt in Hermione’s hands, and how gently she had cradled the young woman’s own mirrored shards in turn.

It was all so hard to describe, so hard to capture, this perspective — limited and yet limitless. Still, she felt she was determined to try.

“I’ve just had the most wonderful idea,” Narcissa said, noticing how Hermione’s eyes snapped out of her own musing revelry and into the present.

“And what’s that?”

“What if I painted a portrait of you?” she asked, feeling almost nervous at an offer she had never made anyone else before.

“I would love that,” Hermione answered without hesitation. She bit her lip in consideration. “I’m imagining it would be in the nude?” She asked with a single eyebrow quirked up teasingly at the idea.

Narcissa tilted her head and leaned in close enough that she knew her breath would just tickle Hermione’s earlobe.

“You or me?” she whispered with a devilish twist of her lips.

They were beyond a time where she could make Hermione blush with her flirting, but she could always count on that sparkling glimmer rising to the woman’s eyes at any worthy tease.

“Why not both?” Hermione replied with an equally cheeky smirk and the two women began to laugh.

Narcissa pulled her into a hasty kiss just as they felt the first drops of yet another spring shower coming to wash the alley clean. With a hurried step, they dashed off down the street to their flats, to the warm fires growing less necessary with every passing week, to the orange cat who was awaiting his dinner, to the walls so useless they might as well be knocked down.

Once in the elevator, in the very same one where they had first laid eyes upon the other, Narcissa twined their fingers together and pressed the button for the fifth floor.