“Okay, I think we’re done.”
Narcissa stepped back from the final dress on the final model, and nodded in satisfaction. She was surrounded by carefully controlled chaos: twenty haute couture dresses hanging on rails, all in black; all the paraphernalia of the hair and makeup team; camera equipment, dressing tables with brightly lit mirrors, bottles of water, and Luna, who was watching proceedings with a keen eye. Hermione had quickly decided that she liked the ethereal blonde, with her soft Irish accent and pale blue eyes. She could come across as slightly vague, a bit fairytale-like, but she was very good at what she did. And she worked well with Narcissa, so well that Hermione was almost jealous.
She also liked Sev. He was in the background, barely saying a word unless it was absolutely necessary, but when Narcissa had introduced them he had given Hermione a brief smile that transformed his face. He seemed to know Narcissa well enough to understand immediately what their relationship was. His camera was always with him, and at first Hermione had been very conscious of him taking photos as they worked, testing out what angle would work best with the dresses and the models once they were on the catwalk. Soon, though, she almost forgot he was there. She had no idea whether he’d caught any photos of her or not as she helped the models, made sure the dresses were in the right order on the rails, prepped them as much as she could so that, when the models had to make a change in less than two minutes during the actual show, there wouldn’t be any fiddling with zips or clasps. She had the timings now etched in her mind. They had four minutes of audio-visual. Then twenty dresses in ten minutes, thirty seconds each, four models who would each have five dresses and four changes. Then two more minutes of audio-visual, and three months of intense planning and preparation and effort would be over.
She had said to Narcissa again that she would be happy to be backstage helping with the changes; she knew she would still be able to see some of it, and it was being recorded anyway. But Narcissa still insisted that she stay out front and watch, saying that, as shows went, the timings weren’t that tight and that she and Luna would be fine. And as much as she wanted to be with Narcissa watching it, Hermione still felt excited. She already knew what Narcissa could create, but she had a feeling that when Narcissa and Bella worked together the results would be spectacular.
“Sure you’re happy?” Luna asked, and Narcissa nodded.
“Yes, let’s take a break. Harry will be arriving soon. Make sure the models eat something, I don’t want any fainting fits on the runway, and feel free to use the courtyard if anyone wants fresh air, a cigarette, whatever.”
“Call me if you need anything, otherwise I’ll be back at five thirty.”
Hermione checked her watch. Narcissa had been almost spot on in her prediction: it was now ten past four. She was glad they hadn’t run on until five. The shop had been quiet, but she and Draco had unpacked the perfume delivery that had arrived, sorting out the samples for that evening from the bottles and creating a huge display in the window. Hermione had felt a thrill when she saw so many bottles of Black Moon all in one place, with the distinctive black glass and cream etching, and the name - her name, she reminded herself - that was so perfect for the scent.
“You go up to the flat.” Narcissa dug into her slacks pocket and handed Hermione the key. “I’ll just see if Bella and Draco need a hand with anything.”
“Am I allowed to do that for you, or will I see something I’m not supposed to?” Hermione raised her eyebrow, and Narcissa chuckled.
“The run-through’s well over, darling, you won’t see anything except the setup.”
“Then I’ll do that. You go up, you’ve barely even had a drink all day.” She handed the key back to Narcissa, and smiled. “You can get my outfit ready.”
She headed through to the front of the building, while Narcissa went out into the courtyard for some fresh air before going up the back stairs to the flat. In the main space, Hermione was confronted with the same kind of controlled chaos as in the changing area, only this time it was Bella in charge of it. Seating had been already been laid out on either side. A black runner carpet had been laid down the middle as a catwalk, stretching all the way to the door that led to the back room. Draco was in the middle of erecting a kind of black tent, which Hermione guessed would hide the door itself and from which the models would emerge onto the runway. Bella, meanwhile, was directing the florist, who had just arrived with a van full of what looked like black orchids, each one in a black pot, leaves spritzed and flowers perfect. A couple of men in jeans and sweatshirts were huddled around a complicated-looking set-up of computers and a projector in one corner, and Hermione could see a black-clothed security man already outside the front door. The buzz was tangible, and she felt a shiver of excitement run over her skin.
“Want some help?” She stepped over to where Draco was manhandling the tent, but he shook his head.
“No, I’m good.” He snapped something into place, and flipped a length of black material down over the frame. “Thanks anyway. I wouldn’t even bother checking on Bella, she’s in full flow.”
Hermione looked to where Bella was overseeing the placement of every single flower pot, while also talking to one of the computer men. There was a ferocious energy about her, with no trace of the teasing or laughter in her eyes that Hermione was used to. She was totally focused, and Hermione shook her head.
“No, I won’t risk it. I’ll just be upstairs, though, so send a text if you need anything.”
“I’ll be up soon myself, I need to get changed.” Draco ran a hand through his hair, and smirked. “Tell Mother to check the spare room for any bathrobes lying about.”
“Don’t want to know.”
Laughing, she left them to it and headed upstairs. She checked her phone on the way and found a cheerful text from Ginny, wishing them all luck for tonight and saying that she probably wouldn’t be home until the weekend. Hermione smiled. Clearly the making up with Dean was going well, and she was happy for Ginny. Her friend deserved it.
The flat was quiet when she went in, and she found Narcissa stretched out on one of the sofas, eyes shut, the sweet smell of a herbal tea drifting from a mug on the coffee table. Crouching down, she gently pressed her lips to Narcissa’s cheek.
“I take it Bella had everything under control,” Narcissa smiled without opening her eyes, and Hermione chuckled.
“More than. I’ve never seen her like that. It was impressive.”
“She loves it, no matter how much she moans about it.”
“Doesn’t she ever do any of the press stuff with you?” Hermione asked, curious, and Narcissa shook her head as she opened her eyes, stretched a little, and swung her feet over onto the floor.
“Never. She’s always been adamant that I’m the designer, I’m the one they want to see. I used to try and persuade her - because honestly, she deserves just as much credit as I do - but she always refused. And she would hate it. I’m not keen, but she really would be uncomfortable.” She took Hermione’s hand. “Come on. Let me splash my face, and then we need to get changed.”
“Draco’s coming up shortly,” Hermione said, a note of warning in her voice, and Narcissa laughed.
“So no repeat of this morning, then.”
In the bedroom, Hermione stripped off her dress and slipped the robe back on, thinking that she would do makeup first. She sat down at Narcissa’s dressing table, noting with a wry smile how her lipstick was already lying carelessly on the top, how her makeup bag nestled next to Narcissa’s, how her bottle of Black Moon sat effortlessly next to the blonde’s Toujours Pur. She squeezed some foundation onto her hand and started to dab it on with the brush, but paused when Narcissa came in and picked up her own makeup bag.
“I can use the bathroom,” Hermione offered, but Narcissa shook her head and dropped a kiss on her head.
“No, you stay there.”
“What’s going to go best with my dress?”
Narcissa considered for a moment, and then smiled. “Minimal,” she said, before disappearing back into the bathroom.”Go for lips rather than eyes.”
Hermione quickly applied some eyeliner and mascara, foregoing the shadow altogether; she always felt like a clown in it anyway. She swept some of Narcissa’s eye brightener over her cheekbones, and made do with a touch of gloss on her lips for now because there was no point in putting the deep pink lipstick on yet. It would only smudge when she kissed Narcissa. She heard Draco come in, shouting a warning down the hallway and leaving it a good couple of minutes before heading to the spare bedroom, even though Narcissa laughed from the bathroom and assured him that they were both decent. By the time the blonde returned to the bedroom, Hermione had finished her makeup and was debating what to do with her hair. She only stopped fiddling with it when Narcissa beckoned her over to the walk-in wardrobe.
“Cissy, if this doesn’t fit, I’m going to be…” Hermione broke off as Narcissa handed her a hanger, and her eyes widened. On it hung an almost perfect replica of the Medea jumpsuit. It was black rather than white, and Narcissa had adjusted the plunging neckline so that it wasn’t as deep and covered more, but apart from that it was exactly the same. She covered her gaping mouth with her hand, and looked at Narcissa.
“You made this for me?”
Narcissa nodded. “I saw how good you felt in the original,” she said softly. “I wanted you to feel that good tonight.”
Hermione carefully placed the hanger back on the rail, before reaching for Narcissa and kissing her, hard. Tears unexpectedly pricked her eyes as she wrapped the blonde in a tight hug, and she blinked them back. She couldn’t believe Narcissa had done that, especially not with so much else to think about, and the thought and care and love behind it felt even more precious than the jumpsuit itself.
“Thank you,” she whispered, and Narcissa held her close.
“You’re welcome, darling.” She pulled back and kissed Hermione once more. “Get into it, just in case I need to pin. I don’t think I will but you never know.”
She helped Hermione into it, adjusting the lace insert at the back and fiddling a little with the cinched waistline, but really, it was perfect. Hermione felt like she was floating. She’d forgotten how wide the legs were, flowing around her like a skirt, and the top was just right.
“When did you even have time?”
Narcissa shrugged. “Here and there. It didn’t take very long, I’d already done four others. I copied the pattern before I took the original to Flora at the theatre.” She walked over to the shoe rack, and picked off the Jimmy Choos that Hermione had tried the original on with all those weeks ago. “Did these fit you okay?”
“Wear them, then. I adjusted the legs but your heels still might not be high enough.” She paused, and smiled. “Give me a minute to get changed myself? I’m not sure I trust us with you in that and me half naked.”
Hermione laughed, and pressed another kiss to Narcissa’s lips before stepping back into the bedroom. Sitting down at the dressing table again, she slowly began to pin her hair up, knowing that she wanted the lace back to be seen and the front v shown off. She still felt a bit dazed, not quite able to believe it, but Narcissa was right. There was something about the jumpsuit that made her feel amazing in a way that no other clothes came close to, and if she was going to face the cameras tonight then she would at least look and feel good doing it.
Just as she had finished her hair, leaving a few curls around her face, she heard Narcissa’s voice from the wardrobe.
“Can you do the last bit of the zip for me, darling?”
Hermione turned, and for a moment she forgot to breathe. The dress was a shimmering nude, overlaid with elaborate lace embroidery in a floral pattern that swirled over Narcissa’s curves, clinging all the way down to her hips before dropping to the floor. A deep v neckline almost matched Hermione’s, trimmed in twists of black lace that highlighted Narcissa’ pale skin. It was sleeveless, leaving Narcissa’s toned arms on display, and when she moved the fabric of the skirt was almost see-through.
“Wow,” Hermione murmured, finally standing up to help Narcissa as the blonde smirked. Carefully, brushing blonde and black hair out of the way, Hermione pulled up the back zip. “That is stunning on you.”
She ran her hands over the material, over Narcissa’s breasts and down her waist to her hips, and the blonde shivered under her touch.
“Are you going to be able to work in it?”
Narcissa chuckled. “We’ll see.” She turned to add a pair of pearl drop earrings, and deftly twisted some of her hair up, spiralling black strands with blonde in a half ponytail, while leaving the rest down. “The rest of you are in black, but Bella wanted the contrast.”
She slipped on a pair of black heels, and kissed Hermione slowly. “One more thing.”
She ignored Hermione’s protest and went to her bedside table, lifting a small box out of the drawer. “You didn’t think I’d take charge of your outfit and forget the jewellery, did you?” She handed it to Hermione with a small smile. “They’re mine, I’m afraid, but I hardly ever wear them and I couldn’t find anything else that I thought would suit you for tonight.”
Hermione was about to argue, but stopped at Narcissa’s look and instead opened the box. Inside, nestled on black velvet, was a pair of earrings: two delicate rose gold chains, each one with a tiny black pearl on the end. Hermione gasped. She could tell they were real black pearls by the colour; not the pure black of the cheaper dyed versions but a deep, shimmering charcoal grey, like smoke. She didn’t think she had ever seen jewellery so beautiful.
“Cissy, these are….”
“Shh.” Narcissa rested a finger gently over her lips, before lifting first one, and then the other earring out of the box and handing them to Hermione to put on. She did, with slightly trembling fingers, and Narcissa brushed a curl back behind her ear.
“Thank you.” Hermione kissed her one more time, long and lingering, as she heard Draco walking back to the kitchen and the front door opening.
“Is everyone nearly ready?”
It was Bella’s voice, coming from the hallway. Hermione quickly applied her lipstick, deepening the colour even more with a couple of careful dabs of lipgloss on top, and took a deep breath before reaching for Narcissa’s hand.
Half an hour later, Hermione stood at the end of the main space, near the staircase and the front door, jittery with anticipation. Every single seat was filled. Photographers clustered around the end of the black carpet runway where the models would pivot and where they would get the longest look, and Bella had taken care to dot the fashion editors along the two front rows. Orchids lined the runway on both sides, and had also been placed up the curving staircase. Hermione suspected that at least one of the models would come down there instead of out through the black tent, which was where the black orchids turned to scentless cream roses. The lights were low, pearly, casting shadows that reminded Hermione of moonbeams, and the low hum of chatter among the press and the guests indicated that everyone else was just as excited.
Draco stood on one side of her and Bella on the other, Harry next to Draco and Andy next to Bella. They were all dressed all in black; even Bella had somehow found the time to get changed, and now wore a long sleeved velvet dress, asymmetrical and cut off one shoulder, clinging and calf-length and with a slit up to the top of her thigh. Andy was in the same flowing trousers she had worn to the opening night, paired this time with a low-cut black silk top, while Draco and Harry both wore suits and black shirts. Hermione knew they made an impression, all together, so clearly The House of Black, and several glances and whispers and more than a few cameras came their way even as people were still settling down.
Finally, when she thought she could take no more, Bella surreptitiously checked her watch and nodded.
Hermione felt a shiver run down her spine as the lights dimmed to blackness. In the hush that settled over the room, she felt Bella take her hand along with Andy’s, and Draco take her other hand along with Harry’s. She sensed, without knowing, that this was something they did every show; standing together, holding hands, holding Narcissa too even though she wasn’t there, and Hermione felt a sudden sharp pang of emotion. She knew there would always be things that surprised her, and that she would never understand about the fashion world, but in that moment she felt like she completely belonged.
Then the show started. Hermione watched, entranced along with everyone else, as a shimmering pearlescent hologram began to appear about halfway down the black carpet. It was little more than a smudge at first, swirling like smoke as the first light, haunting notes of Nina Simone’s Wild Is The Wind echoed through the room, and only began to grow and take shape as the distinctive voice began to sing. She felt goosebumps erupt over her skin as first the B, then the M appeared. The soft, blurred outline of a perfume bottle became sharper as the rest of the letters formed. A murmured buzz rippled through the audience. She felt Bella squeeze her hand, and then she caught the distinctive scent of the perfume drifting over the room as the hologram settled, glowing with a soft light that echoed the moon.
A spontaneous burst of applause broke out, and Hermione felt Bella nudge her. The first model was appearing at the top of the curving staircase, each stair now illuminated with an LED candle that made the orchids jump and flicker in their own shadows. The dress was pure black, embroidered with tiny pearls like stars. Gradually, every eye in the room was drawn upwards as the model made a slow descent. Her makeup was pale, her hair drawn sharply back. She reached the black carpet just as the song was drawing to a close, and as the last dramatic chords died away, she walked straight through the hologram and shattered it. Light seemed to explode around her, and even though Hermione knew it was all computer-generated, she still gasped along with everyone else.
The music changed; it had a beat now, slightly faster and darker. Lights came back up over the runway. One stunning dress after another came down the black carpet from the back room; Narcissa was sending the models out one at a time, with no overlap until they were almost back. Ten seconds down, five second pivot, ten seconds back. It was all done so naturally that if Hermione hadn’t been so hyper-aware of the timings, if a part of her hadn’t been watching so closely for any slight slip that might mean one of them was needed backstage, she would never have noticed how precise it all was.
When Hermione knew the last model was making her way back up the carpet - because she knew it was the last dress she’d hung on the rail - she felt the atmosphere shift again. The music slowed, became quieter. The lights dimmed back down. The first model in the first dress reappeared from the back room, and walked slowly down the runway. As she passed the point where the hologram had first appeared, it started to shimmer again in her wake, reforming fully as she disappeared back up the stairs. It hung for a moment, suspended, the scent once again drifting through the room, before vanishing into nothing and leaving the room in blackness.
Hermione was stunned. So was the rest of the audience; it was a few seconds before anyone started clapping, but when they did it was tumultuous. She felt Draco hugging both her and Harry, and she hugged them back, the noise around them snapping her out of her daze. Then she turned to Bella, who had just been released by Andy, and pulled her into a hug as well.
“That was incredible!”
Bella chuckled in her ear, and held her tightly. “All Cissy’s ideas.”
“She said it was mostly you.”
“Then she lied, pet.” Bella pulled back, her eyes sparkling, the relief and happiness on her face evident as the applause continued and the lights came up. “It’s always her ideas, I just sort the logistics of what she wants.”
“How on earth did you do the scent?”
Bella winked. “Timed atomisers in each flowerpot. Basically like an air freshener except with perfume in. Very unsexy, but it worked.”
Hermione laughed. She couldn’t help it. It was a joyful, emotional, slightly hysterical laugh, filled with all the happiness and pride and disbelief she felt at being part of this, at being there at all. She hugged Bella again and then Andy. And then all she really wanted, the only thing left on her mind, was to see Narcissa.
Bella nodded towards the catwalk, where the blonde had just appeared. She was flanked by three models on one side, and Luna along with the other two models on the other, and Hermione didn’t think she had ever seen the woman look so beautiful. She was smiling; triumphant and happy and clearly relieved. Flashbulbs created a kaleidoscope effect as she walked down the runway, but she didn’t even blink. She turned to the cameras, laughing at something Luna said, and posed much as she had on the opening night, only this time Hermione could see something different in her eyes. She was searching, looking past the flashing lights for something. When her gaze caught Hermione’s, she held onto it and didn’t let go.
The models and Luna walked back up the black carpet, disappearing into the back room. It signified the end of the show, and people started to shift from their seats, the clapping dying away only to be replaced by excited murmuring. But Narcissa stayed at the end of the runway, and a question formed in the blonde’s eyes as her hand moved, ever so slightly reaching towards Hermione.
“Go on, pet.” She felt Bella’s lips close to her ear. “If you’re gonna make a splash, might as well make it a big one.”
Without hesitation, Hermione stepped towards the black carpet. She didn’t care about the cameras, about the eyes that were watching or the chattering that was surrounding her. She just wanted Narcissa in her arms. She wanted to tell her how proud she was. She wanted to kiss her, and taste some of the vivacious energy that seemed to be radiating off the blonde in waves. When she reached Narcissa’s outstretched hand, she ignored it in favour of throwing her arms around the blonde, laughing as she did so, holding her close, as cameras flickered at the corner of her vision.
“That was fucking incredible, Cissy.” She pulled back a little to look into blue eyes. “You are incredible.”
“You inspired me with the name.” Narcissa gave a little shrug, her smile now soft, meant only for Hermione. “It’ll always be your perfume as far as I’m concerned. I don’t think I’ll ever smell it now without thinking of you.”
“You do know I want to kiss you.”
Narcissa laughed, and brought one hand up to cup Hermione’s cheek. “Then do it, darling, before the photographers have a fit.”
Hermione did. It wasn’t a deep kiss but it still said that Narcissa was the love of her life that she never thought she’d find. It said she would be there at every show, waiting for Narcissa at the end of every runway. It said her dresses would be in the wardrobe and her makeup on the dressing table, and that Narcissa would still be massaging her shoulders and helping her talk through her research for years to come. It said weekends in Wiltshire, just the two of them. It said she didn’t care about the cameras, now flashing wildly. When she finally pulled back, needing to breathe, she caught the look of love in Narcissa’s eyes, and it made her want to do it all over again.
“I love you, Hermione.”
She reached up to stroke Narcissa’s face.
“I know. I love you too.”