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The House of Black

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Early in the morning on Wednesday, Hermione slipped on the robe  - the floral patterned one that she was already starting to think of as hers - and walked quietly through to the kitchen. It was still dark. She could hear Narcissa in the shower; the blonde’s alarm had gone off at six, and she had slammed it off with a sleepy curse before crawling out of bed, kissing Hermione on the way and telling her to have another half hour. Hermione smiled as she flicked on the kettle. She’d limited herself to an extra ten minutes. Bella and Draco would be arriving at seven to go through the plans for the day and the perfume launch in the evening, and she had no intention of being caught still in bed. 

Humming softly to herself, she scooped some of Narcissa’s favourite morning tea into a strainer, and some ground coffee into the pot for herself. She hadn’t spent a night back at her own flat since the opening night of the play. She’d been back once to collect some clothes, but it had been very easy - almost too easy - to adjust the rhythm of her days so that it revolved around Emery Row. After the slight reprieve on Friday, when Narcissa had kept to her word about not letting Hermione out of bed more than she had to, the rest of the time had been hectic, and Hermione had been helping Draco with long hours in the shop while Narcissa and Bella finalised preparations. Trekking backwards and forwards to Bloomsbury would have just been an extra - and now unnecessary - pressure. At least, that had been Narcissa’s argument, and it hadn’t taken much for Hermione to agree with her. Besides, she knew that Ginny had barely been home either. Her friend had made up with Dean the previous week, and it seemed the pair of them were making up for lost time. 

“I told you to stay in bed for a bit.” Narcissa’s arms slipped around her from behind, and Hermione smiled as she inhaled fresh skin and damp hair, and the faint smell of lavender that always clung to Narcissa’s robe. “You didn’t need to get up this early.”

“If I’d stayed in bed, you’d have come straight back there after your shower,” Hermione chuckled. “And Bella would never have let either of us forget it.”

“Darling, I thought we’d established that it doesn’t really matter whether we’re in bed or not.”

Hermione smirked softly. It was true enough. In the few spare hours that they’d had between work and then collapsing into sleep, they hadn’t really been able to keep their hands off each other no matter which room of the flat they were in.

“My turn for the shower.”

“Not particularly helpful.”

Hermione felt Narcissa’s fingers untying the robe, and she kept herself steady long enough to pour hot water over the tea and the coffee. The hands that slipped inside the silk, palming her breasts and stroking down her stomach, were making it difficult. 

“Cissy…”

“Do you want me to stop?”

“No.”

Ten minutes later she was slumped, breathing hard and still shaking, against the kitchen counter as Narcissa rose to her feet. 

“Fuck,” she muttered, ignoring the blonde’s self-satisfied smile. “No one makes me come that quickly.”

“Except me.” Narcissa kissed her, and Hermione groaned as she tasted herself. “Which is lucky for you, because Bella will be here in fifteen minutes.”

Hermione glanced at the clock and saw that Narcissa was right. With another curse under her breath, she pushed herself off the counter and hurried Narcissa along the hallway with her, not bothering to stop for the robe that had somehow fallen to the floor. She pushed the blonde gently into the bedroom to get dressed, while she headed for the bathroom. 

She dived into the shower, soaping herself quickly under the powerful spray, still a little shaky and dazed and happily dewy-eyed. Drying herself off with one of the thick cream towels that always reminded her of luxury hotels, she went back to the bedroom to find it empty; she could hear Narcissa back in the kitchen making more tea. She smiled again to herself as she stepped into the blonde’s huge walk-in wardrobe. She’d been perfectly prepared to just leave her few clothes in the bag she’d brought them in, but Narcissa had looked horrified and had swiftly cleared her a space on one of the rails, along with two drawers. Hermione’s black dresses looked as if they’d been there forever, next to Narcissa’s own black work slacks and shirts and the cardigan that now belonged to both of them, and she wondered whether, yet again, it was too easy. Too easy, too simple, too comfortable, way too soon to imagine herself living here, and yet so natural at the same time.

She chose her favourite dress, the one with the v-neck and flared skirt, and tied her curls back before applying a quick smear of lip gloss and some mascara. She knew she would be getting changed later. When she’d asked Narcissa over the weekend what she should wear for the launch, thinking that she would need to go shopping again and aware that she didn’t have much time left, Narcissa had replied cryptically that she had something that would fit and not to worry about it. Hermione still had no idea what it was. Every time she went into the wardrobe she took a quick glance around, seeing if she could see anything that might have been put to one side, or might conceivably be what Narcissa had in mind, but there were so many formal dresses, so many options there that she really had no clue. 

She made her way out to the kitchen just as Bella and Draco arrived. Bella waved, unwilling to talk much before she’d had a coffee, but Draco blanched as he saw Hermione’s robe, draped over a stool after Narcissa had picked it up off the floor. 

“That is coming dangerously close to giving me too many details.”

“So sensitive, blondie.” Bella smirked. “Could have been worse, at least it’s not…”

“Stop!” Draco stuck his fingers in his ears, and Narcissa laughed as she patted his pink cheek and gave him a good morning kiss. She’d dressed in her usual slacks and camisole and shirt, but her hair still hung, slightly damp, around her shoulders. 

“Sorry, Draco.”

Draco looked mollified as he accepted the cup of coffee she handed him, and Hermione tried not to flush as he gave her a smirk. “I guess it’s only fair payback for that time I forgot to tell you Harry was coming over too.”

This time it was Narcissa’s turn to blush. “I tiptoed into my own hallway for weeks after that, just in case.”

“I’ve never seen Cissy so traumatised.” Bella snorted, and Hermione laughed. “But we have work to do. If you three can keep your minds out of the gutters and the bedrooms long enough to concentrate?”

“Hey, nothing to do with me,” Draco protested, and settled himself on a stool well away from the robe. Bella moved the coffee pot onto the table, along with the fruit bowl and the paper bag full of croissants that she’d brought, and gestured for Hermione and Narcissa to sit. 

Hermione obeyed, sipping her coffee, but Narcissa went to the cupboard first and fetched a bar of Galaxy. 

Bella raised an eyebrow. “Chocolate for breakfast?”

“Every day for the past ten days,” Hermione confirmed with a soft smile at Narcissa that made Draco roll his eyes. “Becoming a habit.”

Narcissa shrugged, broke off a couple of squares, and handed them to Hermione before passing the same to her son and sister. None of them refused it, and Hermione watched, amused, as Bella tore open a still-warm croissant, broke the chocolate up, and pushed it inside.

“So. Business.”

Hermione felt a tingle of excitement in her stomach.

“Cissy already knows all of this, but just in case she’s forgotten…” Bella smirked at the robe and then her sister, “I’ll go through everything everyone needs to know before tonight.”

Bella had no notes, Hermione noticed. No file or schedule or diary telling her the timings, the order, who needed to be where and when they needed to be there. She had it all from memory, and Hermione knew there would be far more behind the scenes than what she would tell them now. She felt a wave of renewed admiration and respect for the dark haired woman. She already knew Bella was sharp, incredibly clever, and superb at her job, but Hermione had never really seen her in full work mode. The professionalism had always been tempered with teasing, irreverence, banter, because Hermione had only ever seen her in the office among family. Today, she already sensed she was going to see something completely different. 

“First, Cissy and I are going to be downstairs and in the studio for the rest of the day.” Bella took a bite of her croissant, the chocolate now sticky and melting a little. “You two will be on your own in the shop until three, when we’re closing early.”

Draco and Hermione nodded. 

“We’re combining the perfume with a few of the new haute couture designs,” Bella continued. “Cissy will be making any last minute adjustments to those in the studio this morning, while I deal with the audio visual people downstairs. Cissy, we’ll have a run through of that at lunchtime.”

Draco raised his eyebrow at the mention of audio visuals, but Bella chuckled. “Still not giving the show details away, blondie.” She sipped her coffee and carried on. “Luna and Sev and the models are arriving mid-afternoon. They’ll set up in the back room downstairs, and as far as I know they’ve got the usual hair and makeup team. Once Cissy’s finished in the studio, she’ll then be with them. Sev will be doing all the backstage photography as well as some front of house later in the evening.”

Hermione smiled as she remembered the photographer and stylist from the shoot she had seen when she first started.

“Hermione, come three o’clock you’ll be helping Cissy with the models, and Draco, you’ll be with me. Five o’clock, everyone needs to go and tart up, because everything will start to get going at six. Okay so far?”

Hermione and Draco nodded again. Narcissa simply refilled her tea and took some more chocolate. 

“So. This evening.” Bella looked at Hermione. “All of our shows run to much the same timetable, but it’s your first one with us so I’ll go through it in a bit more detail.”

“Okay.”

“It’s going to be small. We’ve got invited press only - Vogue, Vanity Fair, Harper’s Bazaar, Tatler, Business of Fashion, Scented Letter, the Perfume Society. Plus a hundred guests, mostly clients since they’re the ones who’ll actually be buying the stuff, but also some department store buyers, bloggers and vloggers and the like, so expect it all over social media within the hour. We’ve got the usual security company, so gatecrashers and paparazzi shouldn’t be a problem. You’ve seen some of the smaller catwalk shows?” She didn’t wait for Hermione to answer. “It’s the same. Only with it being the perfume as well, we’ve got something a little more creative than a straightforward runway.”

Hermione raised an eyebrow at Narcissa, who smirked and shook her head. The blonde looked excited, her blue eyes beginning to sparkle, and Hermione reluctantly turned her attention back to Bella. 

“That’s the big bit, but it only lasts about fifteen minutes. During that time, us three are out at the front, and Cissy is back with the models sorting out their dress changes. Unless you think you’ll need help, Cissy, in which case Hermione can go with you.” 

“No, it’ll be fine.” Narcissa smiled at Hermione. “You should watch. And Luna knows what she’s doing, she can help if need be.”

“Okay.” Bella paused to finish her croissant, but started talking again as she licked the flaky crumbs from her fingers. “Show ends, Cissy comes out with the models, and the cameras get more formal photos on the catwalk. That’s usually about another five or ten minutes, might be less tonight because we’ve been so selective. We then have about half an hour of milling around with the press there too. Sometimes we book one or two of them a longer interview with Cissy during that time, but not tonight. Just informal photos, a few short questions, that’s it. ”

“Thank goodness,” Narcissa muttered. 

“After that, the press usually drift off, they know not to outstay their welcome. Clients usually hang around a little longer, and they often order while they’re there. There’ll be champagne and canapés; Harry and his team will be up on the second floor. Then all the clients go home, we get to go out to a bar, we celebrate properly, and we clear up tomorrow.”

Hermione was grateful she’d managed to swap her morning teaching the following day as well. 

“Any questions?”

“One thing.” Narcissa glanced at Hermione, and then back at Bella. “I’ll be doing the first round of press photos by myself and with the models as usual.” She paused. “After that, though, Hermione will be with me.”

Draco raised his eyebrows, and Bella paused with her coffee halfway to her mouth. She gave her sister a long look before setting it back down on the table, and folding her hands. 

“Okay,” she said slowly. “You know what that means.” Narcissa nodded, and Bella turned to Hermione. “Do you, pet?” She looked at Hermione with an unreadable expression in her dark eyes. “Because you’re effectively going to be telling the entire fashion world that you’ve just spent the last week in Narcissa Black’s bed and have no intention of leaving it anytime soon.”

Draco choked on his coffee, but this time Bella didn’t tease him and he quickly composed himself, his eyes resting on his mother as if he couldn’t quite believe it. He didn’t look angry or upset, just slightly shocked. Hermione couldn’t really blame him. Still, she nodded. She and Narcissa hadn’t talked about it since they had agreed on it the night of the play, but she was glad Narcissa had confirmed it. She still wanted to. And somehow, she didn’t feel nearly as nervous about the prospect as she thought she would have done. 

“I know.”

Bella continued to look at her, eyes slightly narrowed, and Hermione held her gaze until Bella’s face broke into a small smile. It softened even more as she glanced at Narcissa, and Hermione saw, for an instant, the younger Bella who had watched over and cared for her little sister when they were young. 

“Okay.”

They talked a little more, and finished off the croissants before breaking up. Draco went down to the shop early, leaving with another slightly amazed look at Hermione, but this time accompanied by the same small shrug and smile that he’d always given her before. Hermione went into the living room to check her university email quickly. Bella and Narcissa stayed in the kitchen, finishing off their drinks, and Hermione heard Bella’s lowered voice. 

“Are you absolutely sure about this?”

There was a pause, and Hermione - not looking up from her laptop, trying not to listen but unable to help it - wondered if Narcissa had nodded, or not. 

“You haven’t been seen with anyone since Lucius. You know they’ll have a field day.”

“I know.”

“And you’re prepared for that? Is she prepared for that?”

“Bella…”

“Can’t help it, Cissy, it comes with being the big sister.”

Their voices lowered so that Hermione could no longer hear them properly, and she tried to focus her attention on her emails. She flicked through, automatically deleting several without reading them and quickly opening up the rest one by one. The date of the next departmental meeting. An invitation to Neville’s book launch - she smiled and starred it, making a mental note to check her diary tomorrow. A couple of students with essay excuses. And Andy, confirming that she’d entered Hermione into the viva examination for her thesis in four months’ time. Hermione sighed and closed it. She didn’t want to think about that today. 

“Later, pet.” Bella waved at her from the hallway, and Hermione waved back. When Bella had gone she stood up, her heart thudding a little, and went back to the kitchen where Narcissa was still sitting on a stool, picking at the last remaining bits of an orange. Hermione stood quietly behind her, and rested her hands on Narcissa’s shoulders.

“We don’t have to do this later,” she said quietly. “You know I want to, and I’m happy with the consequences. But if you’re not, then we can wait.” She rested her chin on the top of Narcissa’s head, breathing in freshly washed hair and light perfume. “I will still be around for the next show, Cissy. And the one after that. And the one after that, if you still want me to be. There’s no rush.”

Narcissa reached up for one of Hermione’s hands, bringing it round to her lips and kissing it softly. 

“I know, darling. Sometimes I have a little trouble believing it, but I do know.”

Hermione closed her eyes. “And you know I love you?” she whispered. 

“Yes,” Narcissa whispered against her palm. “I love you too.”

“Is it too much?”

“No.” Narcissa turned on the stool to face her, shifting her knees apart so that Hermione could stand in between them. Her blue eyes had that open, slightly vulnerable look that Hermione already knew very few people ever saw. “You heard what Bella said?”

Hermione nodded. “I already knew that,” she admitted softly. “That all of this is a first for you since Lucius.”

Narcissa raised an eyebrow. “Which of my sisters do I have to thank for that?”

“Andy.”

Narcissa snorted. “Of course.” She sighed as Hermione ran fingers through her hair, and leaned into the touch. “I want to, darling. I just don’t want you to regret it afterwards. I don’t want you to feel under pressure - because despite what Bella was making out, it’s not the equivalent of a binding marriage contract - but neither do I want you to end up feeling uncomfortable with pictures of the two of us splashed all over the internet.”

“Cissy, hush.” Hermione soothed her, wrapping her arms around the blonde’s shoulders and pulling her close. “I know. I’m not blind, and I’m not daft. I do read the fashion magazines occasionally, believe it or not, and I saw the paparazzi last week. I still want to be with you.” She paused in stroking Narcissa’s hair as she realised. “That’s what this is about, isn’t it? Not just tonight, but in general.”

It was a moment before Narcissa replied, her face pressed against Hermione’s stomach. 

“I’m not the easiest person to be with anyway, Hermione. And all this just makes it worse.”

Hermione shook her head. 

“Sweetheart, I’ve already survived Wiltshire, Bella’s accident, opening night, and several weeks of being attached at the hip to my phone because we couldn’t find the time to be together.” She felt Narcissa smile. “And you don’t exactly get off lightly. You’ve already dealt with my research and crazy study patterns, and my viva is coming up which I can assure you won’t be pretty.” She cradled Narcissa closer, and felt the blonde’s arms come around her hips. “I still love you.”

After a moment, Narcissa nodded against her. “And you’re sure about tonight?”

“Positive.” She dropped a kiss onto the top of Narcissa’s head. “Are you?”

“Yes.”

“Okay.” Hermione smiled, relieved, not realising how tense she had suddenly become until it all melted out of her body, leaving her feeling a little light-headed. “Are you going to show me what I’m wearing?”

“Later,” Narcissa pulled back, a small smile on her face and her eyes slightly damp. Hermione gently stroked the wetness away. “We’ll have time. Bella always plans for things to go wrong, but with Luna there too we’ll probably be finished prepping by four, not five.”

Hermione raised one eyebrow. “What if it doesn’t fit?”

“It will fit, darling.” Narcissa chuckled. “Don’t worry about that.” She sighed, and pressed her lips to Hermione’s stomach. “I have to go.”

“So do I, I’ll give Draco a hand downstairs.” She tilted Narcissa’s chin up and kissed her gently. “I’ll come and find you later when the shop shuts.”