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The House of Black

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With a sigh of relief that had been building for hours, Hermione pushed open the front door of her flat. She could already hear the sound of the television from the front room, and she smiled to herself as she threw her keys into the ceramic dish on the hall table and shrugged out of her jacket. The slow bus journey through rush-hour traffic had been a fitting end to a long day. A frustrating day. A frustrating week, in fact, and she still had half of it to go. She was exhausted, her feet hurt in her boots, and her stomach was grumbling from having been ignored since breakfast. She was more than ready to shut the world out, pour herself a glass of wine, and catch up with her flatmate.

“Ginny?” 

“In here.”

She stepped through, kicking off the offending boots and leaving her small backpack stuffed with notebooks in the hallway. Her friend was curled up on their worn sofa, already in her pyjamas and with a half-full glass in her hand, red hair mussed around her shoulders as she gaped, open-mouthed, at the television screen.

“You idiot!” 

“Why, what have I done now?” Hermione flopped down next to her, and Ginny shot her a bemused look. 

“Not you, him!” She gestured to the quiz show contestant who had just lost himself a thousand pounds. “What sport makes use of the technique known as the Fosbury Flop? And he didn’t get it. Who doesn’t know the Fosbury Flop is the high jump?”

“Uh…me, a sport-phobic, until I lived with you?” Hermione laughed at the look on Ginny’s face. “But now I’ll never forget it. I don’t want to run the risk of embarrassing myself on national TV.”

Ginny humphed, before flicking the screen off with a wave of the remote. “Useless,” she muttered. “Wine?” She pushed the open bottle towards Hermione and grinned. “Long time no see.”

“And whose fault is that?” Hermione grinned back, grabbing the bottle and walking through to the kitchen to get a glass. 

“I’ve been training!” 

“I know - but not all night.” 

Ginny was a dedicated athlete, getting up at 5am most mornings to travel to the West London athletics stadium where she trained. The following year, she would be trying out for the British Olympic teams in relay, 400 metres, and high jump, and already had several sponsorship offers. Hermione couldn’t have been more proud. She’d known Ginny in school; the redhead had always made the effort to include Hermione in social things when no one else bothered with her, and they’d recently reconnected when Ginny moved to the capital and needed a place to stay.

“You’ve barely been home for a week. He must be good to keep you interested that long.”

“Hey! You make me sound so sluttish.” Ginny pouted, but spoiled the effect by laughing. “But unfortunately I was with Ron, not holed up with Dean. You didn’t get my messages?”

Hermione started to shake her head, and then remembered. She had had a couple of texts from Ginny at the start of the week. But they’d arrived right before she was due to lead a seminar, and she’d never really looked at them properly. 

“Ah, damn. Sorry, Gin. Yes, I did get them.”

“But you didn’t read them,” Ginny smirked, and Hermione opened her mouth to apologise again. She felt terrible - start of term stress and busyness were no excuses - but Ginny shook her head. “It’s ok, Mione, I know you well enough by now. I just didn’t want you to worry.”

“Is Ron ok?” Hermione remembered, now, that Ginny’s older brother had been hit hard by a break-up, and that Ginny had been worried enough to consider staying with him for a bit just to keep an eye on him.

“Yeah, he’ll be fine.” Ginny rolled her eyes. “Especially now that he’s already back with Lavender. They’re worse than teenagers, honestly. Being in the same house while they made up was traumatic.” She side-eyed Hermione. “But tell me about your week - because you look like you haven’t slept much either.”

“Same old. Seminars, mentoring, trying and failing to get any of my own research done.”

Hermione took a gulp of her wine and sank back on the sofa, starting to relax now that she was home. She liked their little flat, tucked away down a side street at the north end of Bloomsbury. It had been a mess when they first moved in, hence them being able to just about afford the rent, but they had persuaded the landlord to let them knock through a wall, creating an open-plan living and kitchen space on one side of the hallway that they’d decorated with an eclectic mix of second-hand furniture, cushions and rugs and throws, and various items that they’d each picked up when travelling. There were the small oil paintings on canvas that she’d bought from street artists in Paris, and the coloured glass oil burner that had somehow come back from Spain intact. Ginny’s good luck teddy bear, that travelled with her to every competition and had most recently come back from Germany, sat at one end of the mantelpiece; the rest of it was taken up with photos of them and their friends and family.  A huge blanket, block-knitted in warm reds and yellows - a housewarming gift from Ginny’s parents - draped over the back of the sofa. The old fireplace held a huge arrangement of dried flowers twisted through with fairy lights, and Hermione’s books had spilled from her bedroom onto a hefty oak shelf behind the sofa. It was cosy and homely. Hermione had grown to love returning there at the end of a long university day. 

“Didn’t you have a supervision today?”

Hermione grimaced at the reminder of the monthly meeting with her PhD supervisor. She also felt a slight twinge of guilt that Ginny had remembered, while she hadn’t even bothered to find out exactly where her best friend had been for the past four nights. 

“I did.”

“And?”

“She’s making me redo the chapter on Lady Macbeth,” Hermione groaned, and lifted her feet onto the coffee table. “The entire fucking thing. I mean, I can kind of see her point, it’s the weakest one so far, but it’s going to take me ages to rewrite.” She wasn’t sure how she would be able to do it, now that term had started. Between teaching undergraduate students, trying to move forward with the rest of her research, and the part-time job that she desperately needed but hadn’t got yet, she genuinely didn’t know how she would fit in a rewrite. “I’ve already applied for all the jobs going at the university library, and if I get one I’ll have to take it. I don’t want Mum and Dad having to help me out with rent again, it’s embarrassing. But that means even less time.”

“And shit pay.”

“Better than nothing.” 

Hermione had spent most of the summer in the city, only going home for a couple of weeks, concentrating on her research and stretching out the last of that academic year’s research grant. She’d just received the new one through, but it wouldn’t keep her going for very long. She desperately needed something, and at least at the library she would be surrounded by all the research books she would ever need. 

“Remind me what your thesis is again?”

The Perversion of the Feminine: Anger, Grief and Madness in Female Characters from Greek Tragedy to Ibsen.” Hermione reeled it off as if she was reciting a shopping list. Which, for all the passion she now felt towards the topic, she might as well have been. “I’m looking at how male playwrights have treated women’s anger and grief over the centuries, and how those emotions are so often portrayed as madness in order to make them acceptable for a female character. The Lady Macbeth chapter is big, obviously, so I guess…” She sighed, letting her head flop against the sofa back, and closed her eyes. “Andromeda’s right. It needs to be better than passable, but I’m already losing interest without having to go over it all yet again.”

“Andromeda?” Hermione heard the smirk in Ginny’s voice, and did her best to ignore it. “I thought her name was Professor Tonks.”

“It is. Until you’re a doctoral student and she’s picking your thesis to bits. Maybe she thinks Andromeda softens the blow when she tells you it’s crap and you need to do it all again.”

“Right.” Ginny pushed the throw off her knees and stood up, draining the last of her wine glass. “Well, whatever. It sounds like you need pizza, and since it’s my day off training tomorrow I can go mad. Do you want Four Seasons or spinach ricotta?”

“Going fancy as well as mad, are we?” Hermione laughed, and reached down to peel off her socks. “Four Seasons, please. I’ll get them, though.”

“No, it’s my turn.” Ginny picked up her mobile to call for the takeaway. “You go get showered. If I’m in my pyjamas, you should be too. Then you’re finishing that wine, and we’ll find a film, and you can worry about Lady Macbeth in the morning. Sound good?”

“Sounds perfect,” Hermione sighed in contentment. “Thanks, Ginny.”

“Go,” Ginny smiled, and made shooing motions with her free hand towards the hallway. “Four Seasons waits for no one, and if you’re not done when they arrive I’m eating yours too.”

 

~

 

On Friday morning, Hermione found herself standing nervously outside her supervisor’s office for the second time that week. The email asking her to a further meeting had been short, giving nothing away, but since she doubted Andromeda had changed her mind about the rewrite, she had been left wondering what on earth her professor wanted to see her about. She couldn’t think of anything else to do with her thesis that they hadn’t already covered, and she sighed. Maybe Andromeda simply wanted to help her more with the offending chapter. Maybe she thought it was time Hermione quit completely. 

It was almost eleven, and she raised her hand to knock firmly. Andromeda hated it when her students were late. 

“Come in.”

The office was the same as ever. Books overflowed the cheap university-standard bookcases onto the floor, where they tottered in seemingly random piles, daring unwary visitors to kick them over. A huge yucca plant took over one corner. The window was open to the late September sun, and Hermione could smell the blend of herbal tea her professor always drank, something with lavender and lemon and a smoky hint of rooibos. The desk was covered in papers and files, with a computer screen balanced on an ancient, battered copy of Shakespeare’s Collected Works. And in the middle of it all, somehow holding the whole lot together with far more effortless grace and ease than should have been possible, was Andromeda Tonks. 

“Have a seat.” She smiled up at Hermione, reading glasses perched on her nose as she tapped on the keyboard. “Sorry, won’t be a minute.”

“Of course.” Hermione took the proffered chair, shifting a couple of play texts off it first and depositing them on the floor, surreptitiously watching Andromeda as she typed quickly. She’d grown professionally close to her professor over the three years she’d been under her supervision, and usually looked forward to their meetings. The older woman’s curly hair was wilder than her own, with hints of chestnut weaving through the dark. She always wore casual clothes, and today it was jeans and a green blazer, a simple cream camisole underneath. Her face was open and kind, green eyes often sparkling with laughter, but Hermione knew the friendly exterior hid a thread of steel. Andromeda could be harsh, especially when she knew students weren’t doing their best. She was the only person Hermione knew to have taken the Board of Governors to task over something and won. She was fiercely intelligent, and could delight in battering her students’ - and colleagues’ - arguments down until they conceded defeat and began again, always with something far better and more substantial than they had originally planned. Which was why Hermione was becoming more nervous by the minute. She wished she at least had some idea of what….

“Right, that’s done.” Andromeda swept off her glasses with a sigh, and turned to face Hermione. “Tea?”

“No, thank you.”

“Okay. Don’t look so worried.”

Hermione raised an eyebrow. “I am worried. Are you going to tell me to rewrite something else as well?”

“No,” Andromeda chuckled, a deep rasping sound that always took Hermione by surprise. “I want to talk to you about your time management skills.”

“Excuse me?”

“That’s the jargon, I believe.” The professor sipped her tea, wrinkling her nose when she realised it had gone cold. “The old fashioned way of putting it would be to say that you already have dark circles under your eyes, and term has barely started. I push my students hard, Hermione, but not to the point of burnout. And now I hear you’ve applied for four jobs at the library. Are you planning on taking them all?”

Hermione blinked. Whatever she had expected, it wasn’t this.

“I….no, of course not. Just one, if I even get one, and how did you know about that?”

“And you have time for all the extra work you would need to even pay one month’s rent, do you?” Andromeda tapped one finger on her desk to emphasise her words, ignoring Hermione’s question completely. “Alongside rewriting your chapter, working on the next one, researching at the theatre as well as in the library, teaching, eating occasionally, and sometimes sleeping?”

Hermione's eyes widened, and Andromeda nodded. 

“I’ll take that as a no.”

“I need the money.” Hermione somehow found her voice, and wished that she’d accepted tea after all. Her throat felt dry. She hated that her supervisor was absolutely right. There was no way she’d be able to fit in everything that she needed to fit in, but she was damn well going to try. “At least at the library I’ll have all the books I need right there. I can maybe do some research on quiet shifts.”

“You’ll be bored out of your mind, and the pay is crap.”

“The point is not to stretch my intellect.” She sighed. Andromeda was looking at her as if she was waiting for Hermione’s plan B, which didn’t actually exist. “Do you have an alternative suggestion?”

The smile on Andromeda’s face made Hermione instantly wary. “I do, actually. My sisters are looking for someone part-time.”

Hermione had had no idea her professor even had one sister, never mind two; Andromeda never talked about her personal life or family. Up until now, their relationship had been strictly that of supervisor and student, sometimes fellow researchers, and occasionally rivals when their intellectual debates got too heated. This meeting was becoming surreal. 

“What do your sisters do?”

“They…”  Andromeda paused, as if thinking of what to say. It didn’t help Hermione’s suspicion one bit. “Let’s just say they run a small clothes shop and fashion design business. Cissy does all the creative stuff, Bella is the business head. But Cissy has just taken on a contract to do the costumes for the new production of Medea at the National Theatre, on top of her new season collection. She’s stressing already. Wants someone to help her son out in the shop part-time, so that he can then help her with the design work until things calm down a bit. I thought of you, I know you have a bit of experience.”

“I….” Hermione wasn’t sure that three months working at a luxury perfume shop on her year abroad in France really counted as experience, but Andromeda moved on before she could object. 

Medea is one of your source texts, is it not?”

“Yes,” Hermione croaked. “But because the main character killed her own children, not because of the costumes!”

“Oh, I think you’ll find it fascinating anyway.” Andromeda was looking at her appraisingly, a slight smirk on her face as if she was about to pounce. “It’ll only be two days per week, and the pay for that is more than you’d get working full time at the library. You won’t need to do overtime unless you want to and have room in your schedule, and if it works out they’ll likely keep you on. If you’re interested, you have a meeting at 6pm today. If not, I’ll simply let them know they need to look elsewhere.”

Hermione gaped. Her brain was taking longer than usual to process everything, and eventually she stopped trying. All she could manage was, “Why are you doing this for me?”

For the first time, Andromeda hesitated slightly. Hermione could understand why. She suspected that most students would see the professor’s offer as interference, and way overstepping the mark. It was, after all, Hermione’s choice how to manage her time. She was her own woman. But she didn’t feel offended or embarrassed; just surprised, and intrigued as to why her professor was going to such lengths to help her. 

“Because you’re my best student, Hermione, and I have no intention of seeing you drop out.” Hermione opened her mouth to protest, and Andromeda held up a hand. “No, don’t try and deny it. Your passion for this topic has dwindled to nothing over the summer, and I’m guessing it’s because you’re tired, run-down, worried about money, and can’t see the point of it. The usual things. Correct me if I’m wrong.”

Hermione nodded mutely. 

“You have the potential to do wonderful research. Your work is already far beyond most of my colleagues, both here and abroad, and I enjoy working with you. It’s in my interests for you to get your spark back. If nothing else, the job would be something different for you. You spend far too much time in the library as it is, if you worked there as well you’d need a camp bed.”

“I….” 

“Feel free to be angry with me for overstepping, but I’m not going to apologise.”

“No, I didn’t expect you to,” Hermione murmured, and smiled weakly at her professor. “And you don’t need to. I’m just a little shocked, that’s all. I thought you were going to call me in and tell me to quit.”

“Quite the opposite.”

“So it seems.” Hermione shook her head. The praise Andromeda had just given her was only just sinking in, and she felt almost giddy with it. All through her school years, and through most of her undergraduate degree, she had chased the approval of her teachers and lecturers. It had spurred her on, made her feel worthwhile, and clearly she hadn’t grown out of needing it. It didn’t change the fact that she had to do a rewrite, but still….”Shouldn’t you be pushing me towards Macbeth, not Medea?”

Andromeda laughed. “Forget Lady Macbeth for the moment. Your Medea chapter isn’t written yet, correct?”

Hermione shook her head. Despite the timeline implied in the title of her thesis - From Greek Tragedy to Ibsen - she’d actually started with Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler and had been working her way backwards, mostly because the Ibsen was the play that had given her the idea for the thesis in the first place. 

“Then start it while you have the possibility of backstage access, as it were. I know…” She nodded, anticipating Hermione’s argument, “that you aren’t interested in the costumes per se. But costumes are an intrinsic part of how the character is interpreted on stage, and that is part of your focus. And if it gets you looking at things with fresh eyes, then…” She shrugged, and leaned back in her chair, gaze never leaving Hermione. “You would also be doing me a massive favour. Cissy is impossible when she’s overworking, but she’s too snobbish to advertise for help. If you don’t take it, I’ll probably end up doing it myself and I’m not sure the family bond would survive that.”

Hermione laughed, feeling the tension in her body starting to dissolve into small pieces. “Professor Tonks, I had no idea we were close enough friends for you to be asking me favours.”

Andromeda smirked, rising to the teasing. “We’re not. But if it greases the wheels a little - since I suspect you’re more of the altruistic type - then so be it.”

Hermione shook her head, still smiling, not even bothering to call her supervisor out on the backhanded compliment. Almost better than the academic praise, she realised, was the feeling that someone genuinely cared about her and her research. Of course it was Andromeda’s job to care, but realising how far her professor was prepared to go to encourage her to stick with it, above and beyond what the position required, gave Hermione a warm, satisfied, and motivated feeling that she hadn’t had all summer. 

“And your sisters are ok with this?”

“You have an interview. They won’t take you on if they don’t like you, but I can’t see it being a problem. If it is, then I guess you’d better move into the library and stock up on Red Bull.”

“Right,” Hermione chuckled. “Okay. 6pm, you said?”

Andromeda nodded, and pushed a piece of paper across the desk. “That’s the address.”

“Thank you, Andromeda,” Hermione said, pocketing the paper. “Really. You didn’t need to do all this for me…I appreciate it.”

“No worries,” Andromeda smiled up at her as she stood to leave. “Good luck. And Hermione?”

“Yes?”

“Wear something nice. Bella doesn’t care, but Cissy will.”

Hermione closed the door softly behind her and stepped into the corridor, her boots sounding loud on the old parquet floor. After a few steps, once she was round the corner and safely out of sight, she stopped and leaned her back against the wall. She felt a little stunned. 

Wear something nice. She didn’t even think she owned anything nice - she lived in jeans, shirts and jumpers -  and she groaned. 

She didn’t know what she’d just got herself into, but she had a feeling there was far more to it than her supervisor had said.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Hermione walked through the lingering warmth of the late afternoon, checking her watch one more time. It was only five-thirty. She had plenty of time, but it was rush hour and the pavements were swarming with people. Buses and cars jostled for position in the street. The September sunlight lent the usually grey buildings a golden glow, and as she walked she breathed deeply, picking apart the smells of tarmac and traffic fumes and food, rusting September leaves, the sweat and perfume of a million people. It soothed her somewhat, and she allowed her pace to slow. It reminded her of when she was a child; the sun always seemed to shine on those days when her parents had brought her in to a show or a gallery or to the British Library, encouraging her burgeoning passions for the theatre and for literature even though they had never really understood them. She saw all the city’s sides now that she lived here, some more attractive than others, but she had never lost her fierce love of London in autumn sunshine. Today, she was even more grateful for it than usual. Nerves were beginning to bubble in her stomach, and she felt like she needed all the positivity she could muster.

Pausing by a pedestrian crossing, she pulled the now-crumpled piece of paper from her bag, smoothing out the address that was written in Andromeda’s untidy hand. 4 Emery Row, W1. She had checked online and knew it was just off Bond Street, and the wariness she had felt at Andromeda’s description of it as a small clothes shop returned full force. There were no clothes shops on Bond Street. There were high-end, designer, boutique shops that she had never set foot in because she wouldn’t have been able to even afford a button. There were exclusive brands and luxury labels. There were jewellery shops where a single earring cost more than her monthly rent. But there were certainly not just clothes shops, and with her other hand she nervously smoothed out her dress as well. In the end she had chosen simple black, because it was the only decent thing she owned. The soft jersey fabric was comfortable, and the sharp v-neck and slightly flared skirt were flattering. With a pair of deep green heels, a light blue chiffon scarf and matching bag, and half a jar of curl cream run through her hair, she had felt almost presentable before she had left her flat. Now, she wasn’t so sure. She certainly didn’t feel up to Bond Street standards, but it was too late to cancel.

She arrived at the corner of Bond Street and Emery Row at ten to six. Right on time, by her schedule - better early than late, and she was assuming that Andromeda’s sisters shared the professor’s hatred of tardiness. She regretted, now, not pushing for more information. What were the sisters like? What kind of clothes did they design? Andromeda hadn’t even given her the name of the shop - although, granted, Emery Row looked quite small. She squinted up at the London street sign, white edged with red, to check that it was indeed Emery Row, and took a deep breath. Number 1 was on her left. Number 2 on her right. Number 3….

She stopped, feeling her heart thud in her chest as she gazed at the shop front. The glass windows were huge and immaculate and barely filled with anything: four mannequins, two on each side of the imposing doors, were draped in blacks and greens against a plain cream background. Hermione found herself thinking of Andromeda’s outfit earlier, and smirked despite herself. Clearly, her professor still carried some of the family taste in colours. But her amusement was quickly forgotten as she continued to stare. Each of the dresses looked classic, until closer inspection revealed their quirks. A light pattern on the fabric, not immediately obvious to the casual glance, that turned out to be orchids and vines would erotically together. An unexpected slash to a neckline; a twist in the cut that gave the effect of the material spiralling around the body. With trepidation, knowing that it must be close to six, Hermione looked up at the shop name, set in heavy dark letters above the door, and almost choked. The House of Black. 

A clothes shop?

Oh, she was going to kill Andromeda. 

 

~

 

“Miss Granger, I presume?”

Hermione had debated whether to make a run for it, but in the end had forced herself to push open one of the glass doors with its polished silver handle. If nothing else she would have a story to amuse Ginny with later, and then her friend could help her plot how to murder her professor and get away with it. The door slid smoothly shut behind her, but she barely had time to take in any of her surroundings - just a smooth dark wood floor and a minimalist feel that echoed the window displays - before a tall man emerged from the back of the room to greet her. 

“Uh…yes. Hermione Granger.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

She took the briefly proffered hand, finding herself looking into sharp blue eyes framed by a pale, regal face. Not unfriendly, but certainly imposing even though she thought he was probably a few years younger than her. Twenty five or so, maybe? Ice blond hair fell over his forehead. The black suit was perfectly tailored - of course it would be - with a black shirt that was casually open at the neck, as if he had recently pulled off a tie. It was the only imperfection, and Hermione clung to it. It was the only thing that made her feel slightly less out of place. 

“Thank you for seeing me,” she croaked, and immediately cursed her voice for giving her nerves away. But to her surprise the man smiled, and the transformation was immediate. 

“Not at all. You’re doing us a favour. I’m Draco, by the way, Draco Malfoy.”

“Nice to meet you, Mr Malfoy.”

“This way, please.”

Hermione obediently followed. She didn’t try and look around her; instead, she concentrated on putting one foot successfully in front of the other and not falling over on her heels, and breathed a sigh of relief when she finally reached the long, elegant counter at the back of the shop. He led her through an open door to an office, spacious and well-appointed and with floor-to-ceiling windows that looked out over a large courtyard. At one time, Hermione thought, this would have been a grand townhouse, complete with servants’ quarters, stables, and a ballroom, and she wondered if the shop had once seen Regency parties. Masked balls. Family dramas, weddings and funerals. 

“Can I get you something to drink? Tea, coffee, water?”

Hermione blinked, somewhat startled out of her reverie, and shook her head. “No, thank you.”

“Very well.” 

He sat down behind the shining wooden desk, and gestured for Hermione to take the chair on the other side. It was so tidy and uncluttered, the complete opposite of Andromeda’s office apart from the yucca plant that proudly filled one corner. The only things on the desk were a top-of-the-range laptop and a ceramic pen pot. There were no books, just filing cabinets that were as polished as everything else, and some black and white framed photographs on the walls. They were of fashion shows, Hermione realised, but not on a traditional catwalk. A magnificent, curving staircase featured in most of them, the kind found in stately homes, and she wondered where they’d been taken. 

“Apologies, it’s a bit formal. Mother and Bella are upstairs, so we’re stuck in here.”

Mother…so this was Andromeda’s nephew. 

“Aren’t they going to interview me?”

“No, they’ve delegated that to me.” Draco Malfoy leaned back in his chair, resting his ankle on the opposite knee and folding his hands together in a posture that screamed relaxed self-confidence. The kind of self-confidence, Hermione thought, that came from being around this kind of money all day. “You would be mostly working in the shop, which is my area. If I decide to offer you the job - and if you decide to take it - then of course you’ll meet them. But it seems they trust my judgement.”

He said the last with a wry trace of self-deprecation, and Hermione found it unexpectedly endearing. 

“So.” He looked at her shrewdly. “What did my dear aunt tell you about this?”

“Uh….” Hermione hesitated, but the way Draco was looking at her made her think that, however foolish it made her look and however much trouble it got Andromeda into, honesty was probably the best policy. Besides, she was still going to kill her professor, and there was no way that she was going to get this job anyway. “Not a lot, really.”

Draco raised an eyebrow, and Hermione relented. 

“Honestly? She said, and I more or less quote, my sisters run a small clothes shop. She certainly didn’t mention anything about The House of Black.”

For a long few seconds there was silence, and Hermione was just starting to wonder whether she’d gone too far when Draco started laughing. It was a rich sound that reminded her so forcefully of Andromeda’s chuckle that she couldn’t help smiling herself. 

“Of course she didn’t.” Draco collected himself, his eyes still alive with mirth. “A small clothes shop? Oh, that’s brilliant, even for her. Bella will love it.”

Hermione’s eyes grew wide at the thought of Andromeda’s description getting back to her sisters. She didn’t want to cause trouble, but Draco saw her discomfort and waved a hand. 

“Don’t worry, they’ll find it just as funny as I do. Well, then. Since she didn’t exactly give you the full details, I’ll start at the beginning. I presume you have heard of us?”

Hermione nodded. She wasn’t particularly interested in fashion, but even she had heard of The House of Black. “But I’ll be honest, I don’t know much. I’m studying for a PhD, which I suppose you already know since Andromeda - Professor Tonks - is my supervisor. English lit and drama is my field, not luxury fashion.”

“That’s okay, you’d learn quick enough.” Draco looked at her appraisingly. “But do you have any retail experience? Because - high end or not - that’s basically what this is.”

Hermione quickly outlined her months at the perfume shop in France, detailing what responsibilities they had given her and - out of pride more than anything - making sure to mention how rapidly she had picked everything up while working in a second language. She didn’t think it would make much difference, but she decided that if she was going to do this interview then she was going to do it properly. And, to her gratification, Draco actually looked impressed. 

“You worked for Rosier’s?” He tapped a finger on the desk, and shot her a smile. “So you do have experience in the luxury market.”

“Not clothes.”

“Makes no difference, the customers are the same. Don’t underestimate it, Miss Granger. And you obviously speak French. That will be advantageous.”

Hermione felt herself flush at the restrained praise. Draco’s eyes remained on her, and after a moment of consideration he seemed to make up his mind. 

“Okay. Let me give you a bit of background - since the magazines and newspapers invariably get it wrong. We’ll take a look around the shop side of things, and then consider.”

Hermione nodded, feeling some of the knot of tension in her stomach dissolve. She still didn’t think she would get the job, but there was a tiny part of her - a growing part - that was starting to want it, if only to prove that she could. She had never backed down from a challenge, and she wasn’t about to start now. Even if that challenge was The House of Black. 

“Follow me.”

Draco swung up from his chair, and Hermione followed him back out to the shop. Looking around her this time, she saw a smooth, marble effect counter with a till tucked on a shelf below, out of sight of whoever the customer was on the other side. Beyond, the space stretched towards the street, cream walls making the most of the light that came through the glass doors. The dark wooden floor added a hefty touch of sophistication. As if the place needed it, Hermione thought. The racks of clothes were sparse, and seemed to be arranged by colour. Black, obviously. Green. Silver. A light, foamy blue, and a burst of deep yellow that reminded Hermione of sunflowers in the South of France. Two glass tables, one on each side of the room, held small displays of perfume bottles. The same black and white photographs that were displayed in the office were also hung out here, and Hermione had to admire the subtle psychology. You, too, could look like a siren descending an aristocratic staircase. 

“My mother started this business from scratch.” Draco stood behind the counter, looking out towards the street. “When it began, it really was nothing more than a small clothes shop. Now…” He gestured vaguely around him. “It’s still small, really. The name has grown, of course, but we still do things the old-fashioned way.”

“Really?” Nothing Hermione had seen was old-fashioned, but Draco just nodded. 

“The House of Black was originally haute couture only. Original, exclusive designs. One-of-a-kind pieces for those that could afford to pay. It’s what my mother specialises in, and it’s still the bulk of the business - which is very unusual today. Most fashion houses concentrate on ready-to-wear collections and leave haute couture as a sideline.” He glanced at Hermione to make sure that she was following, and she nodded for him to continue. “What you see here is the ready-to-wear side of things. It’s still very small, still very exclusive, still horrendously expensive.”

Hermione couldn’t help the small giggle that escaped at the unexpected humour, and Draco smiled. 

“Some of the pieces in here are what we call classics, meaning we bring them out season after season. They’re popular, clients like them, there’s no need to change them. Basically, that’s everything in black and green. The blue and yellow are this autumn’s colours. We work six months ahead on collections, so Mother’s dealing with the spring collection now.”

“She designs everything?”

Draco nodded. “That’s why the collections are so small. She prefers to stay in control. We contract out the actual making of the ready-to-wear, and the perfume of course, but that’s all. Almost everything else is done in-house.” He said it fondly, with a soft smile, and Hermione smiled back. She was starting to hope that she got the chance to meet the elusive designer, terrifying though the idea was. “You won’t really need to have anything to do with the haute couture side of things, though. Mother deals with it all next door.”

“Next door?”

“Where all these were taken,” Draco gestured around to the photographs on the wall. “These were from previous seasonal shows. We don’t do the usual rounds of Paris, Milan, London. Instead, we do our own invitation-only events. It sets us apart from the rest, but also allows us to keep things small. The building next door is all set up for it. The ground floor is where the shows take place, and any magazine shoots too. The second floor is where the contract seamstresses work when they’re here - usually just for the couple of weeks before each show. You’ll see it all if you take the job. Mother lives on the top floor.”

Hermione’s head was starting to spin, but she allowed Draco to lead her out onto the shop floor. 

“You’d be working in here two days a week: Saturdays plus whichever day suits you, I’m not bothered. We open at 10 and close at 6, with some evening appointments for those who want to browse in private. Occasionally, you will get a haute couture client coming through to look at this stuff as well, but Mother usually comes with them, or she’ll come through herself and pick pieces out for them. She knows all the clients and what suits them. It’s why people come back year after year. You would mostly be on the shop floor while I either catch up with things in the office or help her upstairs. The contract is temporary to start with, until the new year, but with the option of making it more permanent if things work out for everyone.” 

He paused, and smiled. 

“It’s a lot to take in, I know.” He was watching her closely. “The good thing about it still being a tiny family business is that, believe it or not, things are more relaxed. There are none of the etiquette rules and traditions that a lot of the bigger houses have developed. If you’re unsure of anything you can always ask. None of us bite…” he smirked, “apart from Bella occasionally, and she’s not often around. My mother terrifies everyone when she’s in full creative mode, and Bella prefers to stay out of it.”

“You’re really selling it well.” The tease was out of Hermione’s mouth before she thought about it, but to her immense relief Draco chuckled. 

“You haven’t run screaming yet, that’s a good sign.” His blue eyes twinkled, and Hermione found herself wondering if he had inherited those from his mother. “Any questions?”

“Lots,” she said honestly, and he raised one eyebrow for her to go ahead. “What does your aunt Bella do here? Andromeda just said ‘business stuff’, which wasn’t particularly enlightening. I understand if it doesn’t concern me or the job, I’m just curious.”

“Curiosity’s a good thing.” He tilted his head on one side, but she didn’t feel unsettled by his gaze. “Bella essentially sorts out everything practical. She organises the logistics of the shows, deals with magazine editors and organises any shoots, liaises with the model agencies, keeps the accountant in line. I joke about her keeping out of Mother’s way, but you probably wouldn’t see her that much anyway, she mostly works from home.”

Hermione nodded. It made sense. “And what’s upstairs?”

“Design studio. I’ll take you up there once we’ve decided whether the job’s for you or not.”

“Okay.” 

Hermione slowly looked around her, taking in everything she could of the space. Everything seemed straightforward enough, and Draco seemed pleasant. She could work with him, and it was only for two days a week. Of course, she didn’t know if he was going to offer her the job yet, but…

“Ah, yes. The perfume.” She hadn’t realised that she had stepped closer to one of the tables, and she turned to see Draco nodding. “Sorry, I should have mentioned that before - especially since it’s your specialty.”

She opened her mouth to say that it was nothing of the sort, but caught his faint smirk and shut it again. 

“They’re actually one of our biggest sellers in here. Cheaper than most of the clothes, and people like treating themselves to what they think are little luxuries. Go ahead,” he gestured to the table. “Have a sniff.”

Cautiously, she approached the table and picked up one of the glass bottles. It was square, with an old-fashioned stopper in the top and no label, but her heart gave a quick extra beat as she recognised it. 

“Is this…” She raised an eyebrow at Draco, her fingers around the stopper, and he nodded. 

Toujours Pur. Signature scent. So signature that we don’t even bother with the label anymore.”

At his encouragement, she gently pulled out the stopper and inhaled deeply. Threads of bergamot, lemon, jasmine, and rose wove around her senses; underneath, she thought she detected vanilla, sandalwood, perhaps a hint of iris. It was heady, sensual, and incredibly classy, and she couldn’t imagine it belonging anywhere but The House of Black. 

She saw Draco looking at her questioningly and she smiled, quickly listing what she had detected in the perfume. He cocked one eyebrow when she had finished. 

“Impressive, Miss Granger. Perhaps you learnt more at Rosier’s than you thought you did.”

He moved to stand next to her, and picked up another bottle. 

Amortentia.” He unscrewed the top for her to smell. Her senses were still full of the first, but she could tell that this one was lighter, flirtier, like a summer meadow dancing in the breeze. “And Felix Felicis.” He didn’t bother giving her that one; he knew her nose would already be saturated. “There’s a new one coming too. We’re just trying to decide on a name.”

“Does your mother do all these as well?”

“She has a hand in them, but she’s partnered with someone in the South of France.”

Hermione nodded, carefully placing the bottle of Toujours Pur back down. There was one more thing she was curious about. 

“Can I ask something else?”

“Go ahead.”

“Why has your mother taken on a theatre contract? I would have thought she has enough to do with all this.”

“Oh, she does.” Draco stepped over to one of the racks. Black dresses hung, draped over the hangers; there were only seven or eight different designs. “But theatre is where she started, before all this, and she still loves it.” He didn’t elaborate further, and Hermione didn’t ask. Instead he lifted a dress from the rack, and Hermione saw that the black material was delicately studded up one side with a series of pearl buttons in the shape of snakes. Each one had tiny emerald green eyes, and when Draco twirled the dress they seemed to come alive, twisting and slithering their way around the fabric. The effect was stunning, and Hermione almost gasped.  “And as you can see, she can never quite temper her flair for the dramatic.”

She laughed and Draco smiled back, replacing the dress on the rack and leading her back to the office. 

“If you like, I’ll take you upstairs now.” He gestured to a door that Hermione hadn’t noticed before, and she blinked. 

“I thought you said you’d only introduce me if I got the job?”

He shrugged. “Welcome to the family, Miss Granger. That is, if you want it.”

Chapter Text

Hermione followed Draco up the wide staircase, her heart thumping in her chest and her nerves returning full force. Of course she’d said yes. He’d smiled and shaken her hand, said something about signing the contract later, and ushered her quickly through the door  as if he was worried she would change her mind. Somehow, she already understood that going upstairs constituted more of a binding contract than any paper version. Feeling her stomach shift into the region of her throat, she wondered whether changing her mind would still be an option. After all, they hadn’t yet reached the top of the stairs. 

“Uh, Mr Malfoy?”

“Draco, please.” He turned to look down at her, two steps ahead. “Don’t worry. I promise, you’ll be fine.”

She nodded, not really believing it but taking the hint to give herself a mental kick up the backside. She’d come this far. The job was hers. Draco believed she could do it. Andromeda had clearly believed she could do it - and that it would actually be good for her. The pay would clear her rent and even leave her some spare. She straightened her shoulders and adjusted her scarf, and determinedly followed her new boss up the last few steps and into the design studio. 

The first thing Hermione noticed - and which made her gasp quietly - were the floor-to-ceiling windows. Even draped in white gauze curtains, drawn against the bright evening sunshine, the light flowed through the glass and across the room like a river, turning the pinewood floor golden and catching the figures of two women in its current. Hermione’s eyes latched onto them, and she had to consciously keep her mouth from dropping open. 

For a moment, she thought it was some kind of elaborate joke. She could have sworn that it was her professor standing on a large stool facing her, draped in dark green silk and with her arms raised at right angles to her body. She saw dark curly hair, the same green eyes, the same curve to the mouth. But when she looked longer, she saw that the hair had none of Andromeda’s chestnut highlights. The eyes were harder. There was no hint of Andromeda’s openness or friendliness - at least it wasn’t apparent - and this woman was shorter and curvier. Bella. Somehow, Hermione instinctively knew without being told. 

The other woman had her back to her and Draco, bending down to adjust the hem of the green dress. All Hermione could see was ice blonde hair streaked through with a little black, pulled back into a messy bun at the nape of a pale neck, and a loose white shirt over black slacks. The blonde was the same shade as Draco’s. Narcissa Black….but she didn’t have time to conjecture any further before Draco cleared his throat. 

“Mother, Bella - this is Hermione Granger.”

“One moment, darling.”

The voice sounded muffled, and Hermione realised that the blonde woman had spoken through a handful of dressmaking pins held in the corner of her mouth. She barely turned around to look. But Bella did. Dark eyes immediately snapped up from the floor to Hermione, and Hermione felt herself quail under the gaze. She couldn’t help feeling like she was about to be devoured. 

“Hermione Granger.” The words rolled on Bella’s tongue like smoke and whisky, and Hermione swallowed. “So you’re Andy’s latest little project….ow!” Her gaze dropped to the blonde woman, and Hermione breathed a sigh of relief. “That was my leg, not the dress!”

“I know.” The blonde’s back straightened. A hand plucked the pins out of her mouth, and Hermione saw long, slender fingers begin to adjust the drape of the fabric around Bella’s hip. “Consider it your first warning to play nicely.”

Behind her she sensed Draco smirk, and she steeled herself as Bella’s stare returned to her. This time, though, the woman did at least make an effort to smile. 

“Pleasure to meet you, Hermione,” she drawled, and Hermione tried to smile back.

“Nice to meet you…” She hesitated, realising that she didn’t know for sure what Bella’s surname was, and not knowing if she should use the woman’s first name when she was being eyed up like a canary by a cat. 

Full ruby lips twisted into a smirk. “Bella will do nicely. Bellatrix is reserved for Cissy here when she’s grumpy with me. Mrs Lestrange on formal occasions, at least until I divorce the bastard…fuck, Cissy, watch what you’re doing!”

“Language, Bella.” The tone was mild, but Hermione sensed the same steel that she knew Andromeda possessed. “If Miss Granger is still here, then clearly she’s the right person for the job. I’d rather you didn’t scare her off completely.”

“Oh, I think it’d take more than me playing. Wouldn’t it, pet?”

Hermione didn’t know what else to do but nod, and Bella laughed. 

“See, Cissy? Our new little assistant has balls. Can I put my arms down now?”

“If you must.” The blonde woman stepped back as Bella lowered her arms with a sigh. The dress flowed over her like a second skin, highlighting her breasts and tightly nipping her waist before swirling to the floor in a looser cut, and for some reason Hermione was reminded forcibly of an old-fashioned corset and skirts. “Turn around for me.”

Bella rolled her eyes before turning around like a marionette. 

“Put some life into it, please,” snapped the blonde, and Bella smirked as she jumped down from the stool and twirled across the room in an exaggerated impression of a waltz. The dress flared out, surrounding her with what looked like dancing green flames, and Draco’s mother nodded in satisfaction. 

“Fine.” 

Bella immediately stopped twirling, and stalked towards a corner of the room that Hermione now saw had been partitioned off by an elaborately-patterned folding screen. As she disappeared behind it, the blonde woman finally turned around with a sigh. 

“I do apologise for my sister, Miss Granger…” She turned back towards the screen, hearing several thumps coming from behind it. “Bella, be careful! Just get it off in one piece and drape it over the chair.”

“You’ve pinned me in!” 

“Oh, for heaven's sake…don’t move, then.” The blonde spun on her heel and followed her sister behind the screen, and Hermione was left feeling as if she couldn’t breathe. 

She didn’t know what it was. Maybe the eyes, that were the exact same shade of blue as Draco’s but seemed to have so much more depth, hinting at oceans and skies and endless tides that she would never find her way to the end of no matter how long she looked. The woman was slender, her figure plainly on view with just a camisole underneath the open shirt; tall in heels that Hermione thought must be impossible to work in all day, and strikingly beautiful with two dark streaks of hair framing her pale face, contrasting with the blonde. Her presence filled the space even more than her sister’s did, and Hermione vaguely wondered how they could be so different. Already, she could sense the contrast in their personalities as well as their looks. Bella wore her passions on the outside, all dark fire and wildness and burning flame, while her sister’s, Hermione suspected, were kept in check, simmering, allowed to flow only through her fingertips and into the clothes she created. It was a fairly devastating combination, and Hermione inwardly groaned. A crush on her new boss was not the best way to start. 

“You did well.” 

She jumped as Draco spoke softly in her ear, and turned to face him. He did, indeed, look pleased. 

“I didn’t do anything.”

“You didn’t blush and you didn’t take the bait. That’s more than most people.”

“They do know that Andromeda is just my supervisor, right?” Something about the way Bella had labelled her as Andy’s latest little project made her wonder, but Draco just chuckled. 

“Of course. It’s just Bella teasing. She and Andy are always bickering, even through other people…” He broke off as both his mother and Bella emerged from behind the screen, the blonde carrying the dress carefully over one arm and Bella now dressed in skin-tight black jeans, a black t-shirt, and a burgundy leather jacket. Spiky heels clicked across the floor, and Hermione felt long dark hair brush her shoulder as Bella leaned in close. 

“Later, pet.”

And then she was gone, skipping down the stairs like a teenager, and Hermione let out a long breath that she hadn’t realised she’d been holding. The blonde woman’s heady presence felt like a balm in comparison. 

“Once again, Miss Granger….” She hung the dress over a rack and turned to face Hermione, holding out her hand. “My apologies. Narcissa Black.”

“Lovely to meet you, Miss Black.” Hermione took the proffered hand, cool against her palm. 

“Likewise.” Blue eyes appraised her, skating over her body, up and down her dress, and finally settling into something akin to approval. Hermione felt her stomach heat up. Suddenly she was absurdly grateful to Andromeda for telling her to wear something half-decent. “I assume since Draco brought you up here that you’ve decided to take the job?”

Hermione nodded, once again deciding that honesty was the way to go. “It seems perfect. I’m still a little worried about my lack of experience, but Draco didn’t seem to think it would be a problem.”

“It won’t,” Draco said firmly. She was thankful for the reassurance in his tone. It seemed to convince Narcissa as well, who looked a little dubious but nodded at her son’s confidence. 

“You’ll pick it up, I suppose. Which weekday do you want to work, by the way? Bella will need to know for the contract.”

“Of course.” Hermione hesitated. Draco had already made it clear the day was her choice. “Perhaps a Tuesday? I teach all day on a Thursday, so I usually take Wednesdays to prepare, and…”

“Fine.” Narcissa nodded briskly, and Hermione felt herself flush a little - something, apparently, that Narcissa was capable of where her sister had failed. “So you’ll be up here with me on a Tuesday, Draco, once Miss Granger has settled in.”

“Fine.” Draco nodded, and Hermione couldn’t help a curious glance, wondering what he did in terms of the design. Narcissa, sharp-eyed, caught her look. 

“I need Draco’s help on some of the theatre costumes.” Her demeanour softened slightly as she smiled fondly at her son. “He’s better at pattern cutting than I am. He wouldn’t have told you that, of course.”

Draco flushed all the way to the roots of his hair, and Hermione had to stifle a laugh. Embarrassment was endearing on him. 

“No, he neglected to mention it.”

“I just wield the scissors,” he mumbled, and Narcissa tutted. 

“Nonsense.”

“Anyway, we need to discuss a few practical things before Hermione leaves, so we’ll leave you in peace.” Draco brushed away his mother’s compliments, and flashed Hermione a sheepish grin. “I just wanted to introduce you.”

Hermione quickly glanced around to try to imprint everything on her mind; after all, she didn’t know when she would next be up here. Her eyes took in the mannequins of various sizes, scattered around in various states of undress. Racks of material, some shaped into recognisable clothing and some not, were draped over clothes’ rails. An industrial-type iron bookcase took up one entire wall, crammed with thick art books, fashion books, catalogues and magazines, and Hermione resisted the urge to step over and have a look. A large desk was covered in A2 paper, pencils, scissors, pins. The space held a soft buzz of creativity: it was messy compared to downstairs, but Hermione sensed Narcissa in every part of it, and it was intoxicating. 

“I look forward to you working here, Miss Granger.” Narcissa’s smile was polite but her eyes flickered warm. Hermione nodded, feeling her face heat up again under the woman’s gaze. 

“Thank you. I’m looking forward to it too.”

If eyes could smirk, Hermione was fairly sure Narcissa’s just had. She allowed Draco to lead her back downstairs, kicking herself inwardly all the while. This was going to be……

 

~

 

“…..a disaster, Ginny.” Hermione slammed her head back against the sofa and groaned. But Ginny was still staring at her, mouth open and mug clutched in her hand, and didn’t seem to have heard a word of anything Hermione had just said. 

“The House of Black?” she squeaked. “The House of fucking Black? Hermione, this is huge!” She waved her arm to demonstrate just how huge it was, and sent tea sloshing over the side of her mug onto the carpet. “I can’t believe she didn’t tell you!”

“Neither can I. I’m actually going to kill her.” Hermione squinted open one tired eye at her friend. “Can you kill your professor and get away with it? I have extenuating circumstances…”

“I’d kiss her, not kill her,” Ginny spluttered, and reached down to wipe up the spilled tea with the sleeve of her hoodie. Hermione frowned. 

“You know we do have cleaning cloths and kitchen roll and…”

“Oh, never mind that.” The redhead waved a dismissive arm, more carefully this time, and disappeared into the hallway. “I want to hear everything!” she called back over her shoulder, and a moment later Hermione could hear her rummaging loudly in her bedroom. 

“Gin, what are you doing?”

“Keep talking!” 

“I told you everything, there’s nothing else to say!” Hermione called back. “I start tomorrow. Draco seems nice enough, I can work with him. Bella is a terrifying whirlwind, Narcissa is almost unreadable, and….”

“And gorgeous,” Ginny re-entered the room with a smirk. A pile of glossy magazines rested on one arm, while her tea was still precariously balanced in the other hand. “Admit it.”

“I never said she wasn’t,” Hermione replied, a touch defensively, and blinked as Ginny dumped the magazines on the coffee table. “What are all these?”

“Research,” Ginny said gleefully, dropping to her knees on the floor and picking up the top one of the pile. “You don’t want to go in tomorrow as unprepared as you were today, do you?”

“Ginny, I don’t want to read tabloid gossip about my boss!”

“These are not the tabloids, these are respectable publications. Go on, help yourself. I dug out all the recent ones I think she’s in.”

“Ginny….”

“You’re not telling me you aren’t curious about her.”

“Of course I’m curious, I just don’t want to read it in a fashion magazine!”

“Well, I hate to be the one to break it to you, but I don’t think you’re going to hear it as pillow talk anytime soon. I mean, I would never say never, but….” She laughed, ducking the cushion that Hermione threw. “Don’t tell me you don’t want to, Hermione. I will seriously doubt your sexuality if you tell me you don’t want to.”

Hermione just shook her head. She did want to. The blond woman had got under her skin already, in a way that left her both aching for more and wanting to stay as far away as possible. It was true that Bella had fascinated her, kept her on her toes, and yanked her violently out of her comfort zone, all in the space of five minutes. But it was Narcissa who had quietly drawn her in, to the point where she had barely stopped thinking about the woman since she had left Emery Row. She’d told herself she would indulge for the bus ride home, and then get a grip. After all, not only was the woman was her employer, but it was also highly likely that they would hardly see each other. When she still hadn’t been able to stop thinking about blue eyes and blonde hair even after a shower and a microwave meal, she’d comforted herself with the fact that she was tired. She would be able to deal with it better in the morning. It was just a stupid, inconvenient crush. 

But she knew better than to argue with Ginny while her friend was in this mood. Warily, she picked up the next magazines on the pile and flicked through the covers. Vogue. Harper’s Bazaar. Vanity Fair. 

“Since when do you buy these?”

“Never mind that, get reading.”

Hermione sighed, and curled her legs under her. Her pyjamas were soft and faded, the check pattern picked out in shades of deep purple and lilac, and she clashed violently with the red-and-yellow blanket that was wrapped around her shoulders. She smirked as she opened the copy of Harper’s Bazaar. Narcissa certainly wouldn’t be approving of her dress sense now. 

She skim-read the articles in the first few magazines. They were all superficial, analysing various items of clothing from the collections in the kind of airy language that made Hermione roll her eyes. Several of the photoshoots featured the same curving staircase she had seen in the photographs at the shop, and she found herself gazing at it, her finger drawing along the sweep of the bannister and tracing the glittering crystal of the chandelier. Draco hadn’t shown her next door yet. He’d said there was a magazine shoot happening the following week and that she could see it then, so she knew how the space was actually used. She found herself wondering if Narcissa oversaw things like that, or whether it was Bella, or both of them. She suppressed a shiver. She wasn’t sure she would survive the two sisters together again.  

She flicked over another page, her eyes glancing over yet another photograph of yet another stunning model in yet another stunning dress. There were very few photographs of Narcissa herself, and Hermione felt oddly relieved. She’d had the sense that the woman was incredibly private. She was glad to see that she hadn’t been wrong. 

“What did you say her son’s name is?”

Ginny was poring over an article several pages long in Tatler, and Hermione looked up. 

“Draco.”

“No, his surname. I remembered Draco, that’s hard to forget. Does the whole family have a thing for weird names or something?”

Hermione ignored that. “Malfoy. Why? It’s not unusual for kids to have different names to their parents, she maybe just uses Black for work…”

“No, I knew I’d read it somewhere!” Ginny crowed, and tapped the page with a long fingernail. “She’s divorced. Here. Narcissa Black’s ex-husband, Lucius Malfoy, returned to France after their amicable separation, and currently runs Malfoy Enterprises from his home in the Loire Valley. Speculation was rife at the time of the divorce as to whether a third party was involved, but neither Lucius nor the elusive head of The House of Black made any comment.” She looked up at Hermione in triumph, and Hermione shrugged. 

“So she’s divorced. That’s hardly unusual, either.”

“And she’s elusive.”

“Your point?”

“Hermione Granger, your eyes just lit up.”

“They did not!” Hermione protested, and tossed down her magazine. “She’s my employer, Ginny. Her son is my immediate boss. I’m there for two days a week, that’s all. I’ll barely see her. And I should be reading Greek plays, not Vogue and Vanity Fair.”

“It’s Friday night, and you’ve just landed what would have been one of the most coveted part-time jobs on the planet had anyone else known about it. Give yourself a break, woman.” Ginny pulled Hermione’s abandoned magazine towards her, casting an eye over the full page photograph of a blue ballgown. “Oh, that’s nice. Do you get a staff discount?”

“Ginny!”

“OK,’ Ginny held her hands up in mock surrender. “Dull and boring wins the game. But seriously, do you have anything to wear tomorrow? What’s the dress code?”

“Anything as long as it’s smart and all black.”

“So that’s a no Ginny, I don’t have anything to wear.”

“I have the dress I wore today.” Hermione sighed. Her flatmate was right - she would need to go shopping. 

“You can’t wear that again. Borrow mine if you want, you know the one with the square neck and cap sleeves? It looks good on you. And we’ll go shopping on Sunday.”

“I have no money yet to go shopping.” Hermione yawned, and sank down in the sofa. She was suddenly exhausted. “If I can borrow yours, I’ll alternate it with mine until I get paid.”

Ginny nodded, looking slightly disappointed at the thought of missing a shopping trip. “Sure. I think I have another one somewhere too. I haven’t worn it for years, I might have got rid of it, but it’s yours if I haven’t.”

“Thanks, Gin.”

“Anytime. Get yourself to bed. You don’t want to be falling asleep in Miss Black’s lap tomorrow.”

Hermione chucked a magazine at her, but it was halfhearted. Ginny was right. She needed sleep. She quickly went through her night-time routine - splashing her face, rubbing on moisturiser, cleaning her teeth - and made sure to set an alarm. The last thing she saw before she drifted off to sleep was blonde hair and blue eyes, asking her through a mouthful of pins if she’d like to dance. 

Chapter Text

By the time she arrived at Emery Row the next morning, Hermione had given herself so many ferocious mental pep talks that Ginny’s athletics coach would have been proud. She’d used her favourite almond-scented shower oil - the obscenely expensive one that she still, very occasionally, ordered from France as a treat to herself on her birthday or Christmas - and had taken extra care with her makeup. The question of what jewellery to wear had almost induced a panic attack, until she remembered the amber tear-drop earrings her parents had bought her. She usually saved them for special occasions, and as a consequence had only worn them twice in two years. Now, along with the heels that she knew she would hate by the end of the day, and the dark pink lipstick and Ginny’s dress that fit better than she had hoped, they gave her a much-needed boost of confidence. She might not belong in this world, but she could do a damn good job of pretending. 

When she pushed open the door of the shop, all her carefully built-up poise crumbled around her as she saw long blonde hair, perfectly straight and with the dark streaks twisted back into pins. 

“Good morning, Miss Granger. Right on time, I see.”

She’d expected Draco. The shop was Draco’s area, wasn’t it? She’d arrived an hour early so that he could show her the opening procedures, practical things like how to operate the till, and go through the collections in more detail before the shop opened. So where was he? Her heart thudded once, painfully, in her chest, and her stomach exploded in a cloud of fluttering nerves. 

“Uh… good morning, Miss Black.”

Sharp heels clicked towards her, and Hermione felt a cool breeze of perfume envelop her as Narcissa walked past her to lock the door again.

“I’d rather not be interrupted by over-eager customers,” she muttered, keys jangling in her hand, and Hermione couldn’t help the heat that started to creep up her neck at the thought of being locked into the shop with Narcissa Black, especially with that scent lingering. The woman seemed like the type to wear her own perfume, but which one was it? Not heady enough for Toujours Pur, not light enough for Amortentia. Maybe it was Felix Felicis, but she didn’t think so. From what she had read, that one was darker, more musky. One of Ginny’s magazine’s had referred to it as your best one night stand in a bottle, and Hermione doubted Narcissa would be wearing that for work. But whatever this one was, she wanted some. It was sharp and exotic without being overpowering, and it suited the woman down to her fingertips. 

Narcissa wore the same style of shirt and slacks as the previous day, but this time Hermione was close enough to see the tiny silver stud earrings, the delicate silver chain with a raven charm that rested just in the dip between her collarbones… Stop it, she admonished herself. Get a grip. You are a grown woman. A PhD candidate. An expert on…what was she an expert on again? Greek tragedy, that would do. Or Ibsen. Definitely not Shakespeare, but… Whatever. She was not some hormonal teenager. And this was not only her ultimate boss, but her thesis supervisor’s sister. 

“Draco will be here shortly.” Hermione realised that the woman was studying her closely, and she forced herself to return the gaze. “There are a few things I wish to go through with you myself first.”

Oh.

“You must understand, Miss Granger, that this is only the second time we have ever employed anyone from outside of the family in this shop.”

Oh. 

Fingers fiddled with keys, deep red nail polish on short nails glinting in the light. If Hermione hadn’t known better, she would have said Narcissa was slightly nervous herself. 

“It’s not something I take lightly, even for two days a week. And if you hadn’t come recommended to the moon and back by my sister - who seems to think I would benefit from your expertise on Euripides and Medea - I doubt you would have even got through the door. But Draco was impressed with you too. I trust their judgment.”

It didn’t sound as if she did, but Hermione simply nodded. She wondered what on earth Andromeda had said. Narcissa certainly didn’t seem like she wanted any expertise, and Hermione was sure the woman didn’t need it. There was silence for a few seconds, and she wondered if Narcissa was waiting for her to speak. She wasn’t sure she could, but she cleared her throat. 

“I’m grateful for the opportunity, Miss Black. I won’t let you down.”

“No.” Narcissa Black’s voice was like the softest glass. “You won’t.”

After a few seconds - a few agonisingly drawn-out seconds - Narcissa spun on her heel and walked quickly towards the back of the shop, beckoning Hermione to follow her. Leading her into the office, the woman pointed to a large, cabinet-style safe. 

“Your personal belongings go in there. All of them, all the time. The code is one-seven-seven-nine-four. Remember it, don’t write it down.”

Hermione looked at her, and the woman inclined her head impatiently. “I won’t be here to do it for you any other morning, Miss Granger.”

She felt her face heat up, and quickly stepped away to the cabinet. It opened smoothly. Inside she found a small rail with hangers for coats, and cubby-hole shelves down one side. She quickly stowed her jacket and bag and closed the safe with a quiet click. When she turned, Narcissa was still watching her.

“We take security very seriously. There’s almost three million pounds’ worth of items in the shop alone, so I’m sure you understand why.” She ignored Hermione’s strangled little gasp, and opened the door that led upstairs, stepping back so that Hermione could see into the corridor. The staircase wound off to the right, but the corridor ended further down at another door. Even from here, Hermione could see it was bolted top and bottom, and probably locked as well. “That door leads into the courtyard, and if you ever use it it must be locked behind you. I know Bella uses it to sneak out and have a cigarette when she’s here, but I’d rather you didn’t follow her example.”

She gave Hermione a sharp, questioning look, and Hermione shook her head, trying to put the image of the dark-haired woman with a cigarette in the corner of her mouth out of her mind. 

“I don’t smoke.”

“Good. The outside gate is secure, but we once had an incident of paparazzi trying to climb over the wall. While it’s never been repeated, I certainly don’t want anyone to be able to get in here if they did manage it. Clear?”

Hermione nodded. The mention of paparazzi made her mouth feel dry. She hadn’t considered that, but of course events like the seasonal shows would attract attention, both invited and unwanted. 

Narcissa closed the door firmly, and led Hermione back through to the shop. 

“In here,” she pulled out a small drawer under the counter, “is an alarm.” She held up something that looked like a small door buzzer. “It’s kept there at all times. Do not move it under any circumstances. It’s linked to my personal mobile phone, Bella’s phone, and the local police station. If it’s pressed, all of us will get an alert and you’ll have sirens here within two minutes. So please - break-ins, robberies, and life-or-death situations only, unless you want Bella to deal with afterwards.”

Hermione gulped. She wondered if they’d ever had to use it, but Narcissa was already moving on. 

“This…” she pointed to an unobtrusive switch on the wall by the counter, “links to upstairs. If you’re here on your own and you need any help, press it. Do not leave the shop floor unattended to go and find someone. Is that clear?”

Hermione nodded. Part of her wanted to say that she wasn’t a child, that she understood the need for security, but she remembered what Narcissa had said at the start of their morning. Accepting someone who wasn’t family was clearly a huge deal, and so she kept quiet. 

“I’m almost always up there while the shop is open, unless I have a client appointment which will be clearly written in there.” Narcissa gestured to a thick black book lying open on the shelf next to the till. “And if Draco isn’t here or in the office, it’s likely he’ll be up there too. So don’t hesitate to use it, even if you just need cover to use the bathroom.”

“Okay.”

“Good.“ Narcissa paused. “That’s a nice dress.”

Hermione blinked at the whiplash change of subject, and had barely stammered a thank you when she felt Narcissa’s fingers trail down the square neck of the fabric. Damn. How had the woman got that close without her noticing?

“Is it yours?”

Her eyes widened, and she stuttered yet again. At this rate, Narcissa was going to think she was an imbecile who couldn’t string a sentence together, and it wasn’t even her fault. The flush crept up her neck and she willed it furiously away. But she remembered her gut instinct from the previous evening: that honesty, with the Black family, was always likely to be the best policy. 

“No. It’s my flatmate’s. I don’t have much in the way of decent black clothing….I’ll go shopping.” She would have to dip into her overdraft and drag Ginny out after all, and hope her first pay check was as substantial as she had worked out it would be. 

“Hmmm. I thought not.” Narcissa’s tone was almost distracted as she let her fingers drop, and Hermione slowly let out a breath. “A square neck doesn’t quite suit you. Go for v-neck, or a low round.”

“Oh.”

“I’ll get Bella to advance you part of your first pay. You’ll need more comfortable shoes as well.”

Hermione couldn’t help a glance down at Narcissa’s own three-inch heels. 

“That’s not necessary, really, I can…”

“It’s no trouble.” Narcissa’s look was faintly amused. “And I usually work barefoot upstairs, Miss Granger. I can assure you these are just for show. You’ll agree with me by the end of today.”

Hermione dared to look up, and then immediately wished she hadn’t. Narcissa smirking, she quickly decided, would be the death of her if it happened too often. 

“One more thing.”

“Yes?”

“This is somewhat personal, so forgive me…” Narcissa didn’t sound sorry in the slightest, and Hermione braced herself. “But no perfumes unless they’re ours. Ask Draco for some sample bottles to take home if you want, there are plenty around. I’d rather you didn’t have to send people elsewhere when they ask what you’re wearing.”

“Oh.” Hermione felt her flush deepen. She hadn’t thought about that, but of course she should have known; she’d been careful every day at Rosier’s not to use anything scented, even shower gel. “Of course, I understand.” 

She paused, and then decided to risk it. 

“Then what perfume are you wearing now? I don’t think it’s one of those. I mean, I don’t know them that well yet, obviously, but they’re fairly distinctive, and…” She waved her hand in the direction of the shop, indicating the small tables with their displays of glass bottles and, to her relief, Narcissa actually smiled instead of telling her to stop rambling and mind her own business. 

“Well done, Miss Granger. I see your time in France was well spent in that regard, at least. No, this is the new one. I haven’t quite decided on it yet.”

“I love it.” 

“Oh?” Narcissa gazed at her, something flickering in those blue eyes that Hermione couldn’t quite determine but that wasn’t doing the butterflies any good at all, and rolled up her shirt sleeve. From her slacks pocket she pulled a tiny rollerball vial, and rubbed it quickly over her wrist pulsepoint, letting it settle for a moment before extending her arm. “Then tell me what you smell.”

Shit. Perhaps honesty wasn’t always the best policy after all. Not if it led to this.

Hermione had no choice but to lean forward and inhale, deeply, forcing her mind away from Narcissa’s proximity and back to the countless times she had done this in the shop in France. The customers there had often asked for her opinion, and she had learned very quickly that a perfume could never be judged properly in the air or on tester sticks. It had to be judged on the skin. Only then would the full depth of the it become apparent; only then could a person really tell if a fragrance melded well with their own body scent and suited them or not. Perfume, she had learned, was like clothing. You had to try it on. Buying straight off the rack was usually a disaster. 

“Sandalwood,” she said immediately. “Pine….no, vetiver?” She lifted her head. There was a scent that she couldn’t place. “Something that reminds me of winter frost, but I’m not sure what it is. Lemongrass, just a hint. And black pepper.”

The look on Narcissa’s face was inscrutable as she slowly pocketed the vial, and Hermione looked at her nervously.

“Very good.”

Hermione felt herself relax a little at the stiff praise, just as she had done in Andromeda’s office - was it only yesterday? It felt like a lifetime ago. But just as she was about to ask what the mystery component was that she hadn’t been able to place, she heard footsteps coming through the office. 

“Good morning, Hermione, Mother,” Draco greeted them both with a cheery smile. He was swinging his suit jacket from one finger, and Hermione realised that he must have been upstairs. “Are you two done? I can give you more time if you need it.”

“No, darling, I think Miss Granger has had about all she can take of me today,” Narcissa stepped back and flashed her son a smile. “The only thing I didn’t get around to was the alarm codes, but I’ll leave that to you if you think it’ll be necessary.”

“Thank you, Miss Black.” Hermione finally found her voice. “For going over all of that with me.”

“Not a problem.” Narcissa’s expression was once again unreadable as she stepped towards the office. ‘Call me if you need me, either of you. Oh, and Miss Granger?”

“Yes?”

The smirk in the eyes was back. “If you can think of a decent name for that perfume, the first bottle of it’s yours.”

 

~

 

The rest of the morning passed quickly. Draco didn’t show her the opening procedures, nor the security alarm codes on the doors; it was quite clear that Hermione would not be opening up on her own anytime soon. That was fine by her. There were plenty of other things to concentrate on. Using the till and card machine was simple, although here too there were do’s and don’ts. If they don’t have a pin number and you have to swipe the card, always double-check the signature and take ID. We can’t take cash over two thousand, it’s a security risk. Her eyes almost watered at the idea of anyone carrying around that amount in cash, but she was fast coming to realise that no earrings or lipstick or heels, however smart, would ever lessen the periodic surprise and shock she felt at finding herself in such a completely different world to her own. 

But Draco, once he’d covered the essentials and moved on to telling her about the clothes, proved to be fun. Each piece seemed to have a story linked it and he delighted in telling all of them, making her roll with laughter as he tossed out anecdotes of photo shoots and fashion shows, design hiccups and unexpected successes. He held up the dress that had been inspired by one of Bella’s outrageous teenage fancy dress costumes; and the one that was originally intended to be a slinky skirt-and-top combination, until Narcissa had decided that less was more and slashed the material in half, holding what was left together with lace inserts and not a lot else. He told her about the time a model put a stiletto heel through the train of a dress on a fashion shoot and had almost gone tumbling head-first down the stairs; and the slouchy, three-piece suit that had originally had a see-through waistcoat. Hermione didn’t think she had ever been so entertained at a job before, and she also realised that she was starting to see the pieces not just as clothes, but as stories and works of art. Which, she supposed, was exactly what Draco intended. 

In between, there were people to serve. Draco took the lead, allowing her to watch until she was more confident. She learned his way of keeping a polite distance, greeting each customer and then allowing them to ask for help, either with their voice or with their body language (“because some people,” Draco said, “will never ask you even if they don’t know which end of the dress is which”). She learned how to discreetly give advice, never hinting that something would look terrible but instead offering something more suitable to try on in addition. She learned the difference between clients and customers: those that Draco knew by name and that knew him and that she was introduced to, as opposed to those who were popping in, browsing, or there for curiosity’s sake. The footfall wasn’t huge - she hadn’t expected it to be - but as the morning went on it got steadier and steadier. She sent her first client away with a new blue dress and a smile, and couldn’t help the warm bloom of pleasure and pride in her stomach at Draco’s nod and subtle thumbs-up. She was so caught up in it all that she forgot about almost everything else. The feeling of being stretched and challenged in a new way - even though she would never have chosen that way for herself - was refreshing. 

“Hermione?” Draco called from the office, and Hermione’s head snapped round. The shop was empty, and she had been lazily fingering a short, deep green dress that was studded with tiny iridescent shells and that reminded her of the sea, wondering what it would feel like to wear and how on earth it could be washed without damaging the shells. He was standing at the office door, covering the mouthpiece of his mobile with his hand. “Harry’s getting us lunch from the deli. What do you want?”

“Oh. Uh….” She thought quickly. She didn’t usually eat lunch, simply because she either forgot or was too busy or both, but now that it had been mentioned she could feel her stomach rumbling. 

“The turkey salad’s good. Or pasta.”

“Turkey salad sounds great, thanks.”

He nodded and ducked back into the office, emerging just a moment later with a happy smile on his face. Hermione wanted to ask him what had put that there and who Harry was, but before she could do so another customer walked in. By the time she had sold them a bottle of Amortentia and sent them away in a cloud of florals, lunch had arrived. The man gave her a wave as he passed quickly through the shop, large paper bag in hand, and ducked into the office. She peeked through the door just in time to see him give Draco a long, lingering kiss before depositing the bag on the desk. 

She smirked. So this must be Harry. 

She hovered around the counter, unwilling to break Narcissa’s rule about leaving the shop unattended by even one step into the office, but she could hear them unpacking the lunch bag and talking in quiet tones. After a moment, she heard Draco calling her name. 

“Hermione, meet Harry Potter, my partner.”

Hermione stepped back so that she could still see the shop floor, and took the outstretched hand. Harry had a shock of dark hair that fell over his forehead, round glasses, and the greenest eyes she thought she’d ever seen. His smile was friendly, and she instantly warmed to him as she took in his casual jeans and t-shirt. 

“Pleasure.” Harry grinned at her. “They haven’t scared you off yet, then?”

“Not yet,” Hermione smiled back. “But it’s only halfway through the day.”

Harry laughed. “They work quickly. If you’ve made it this far I’d say you’re safe.” He gestured towards the desk. “Turkey salad as requested.”

“Thank you. How much…?” 

But Harry waved the question away. “Nothing. They have a tab.” He turned back to Draco, and gestured towards the ceiling with his eyebrows raised. Draco nodded, and Harry smiled. Taking a third sandwich from the bag along with a small bottle of sparkling water, he headed for the door, and Hermione realised - with a small, irrational flash of jealousy at the obvious intimacy - that he had also got lunch for Narcissa. 

“He owns the deli,” Draco explained once Harry had disappeared. “Once Bella tasted the lasagne, she opened a company account there and that was it. Lunches, any working dinners, event catering…” His face softened. “I feel sorry for him really, he never asked for this crazy family.”

“But he clearly loves you,” Hermione teased, and chuckled as he flushed a little. ‘How long have you been together?”

“Six years.” Draco gestured to one of the sandwiches wrapped in greaseproof paper. “Sit down, have a break. We can keep an eye open from here, I’ll go if anyone comes in.”

Hermione obeyed, sitting down at the desk and unwrapping her sandwich just as Harry came back down the stairs. 

“Did she even acknowledge you?” Draco asked, and Harry shook his head, laughing. 

“Barely. I got a vague wave.” He turned to Hermione, seeing her puzzled look. “Narcissa gets so caught up in stuff that she often doesn’t notice someone go in, but I learned the hard way not to disturb her. Only Draco seems to be able to manage that and keep all four limbs intact.” He looked fondly at his partner, who was now chewing a huge mouthful of sandwich. “You might want to pop up in a bit, make sure she does actually eat it. It looked like she was in for a long session. She’ll forget later.”

Draco shook his head and swallowed. “I’ll make sure she does, don’t worry.” 

The flash of jealousy flared again. Harry was clearly part of the family, and Hermione mentally shook away her envy. Where on earth had that come from? She’d only been there a day.

The conversation moved on as they ate their sandwiches. Harry asked her about her PhD, and followed her answers with intelligent questions. In turn, she discovered that he had opened the deli after dropping out of a chef’s academy, taking out a loan to pay the initial year’s rent. After almost closing in its second year, the place was now bustling, employing six members of staff and an in-house cheesemonger. 

“Still does almost all the cooking himself, though,” Draco said proudly. “And brings the leftovers home.”

“I’m jealous,’ Hermione joked as she crumpled her sandwich wrapper. It really had been good. “My flatmate is a track athlete who mostly survives on wholemeal pasta and protein shakes. And I can just about manage to cook eggs.”

Harry laughed. “Well, anytime you want something other than scrambled on toast,” he winked down at her, “let me know.”

“He means it,” Draco said as he pushed back his chair and brushed off the crumbs. “He takes food seriously. Anything on toast or microwaved is a personal offence.”

“Remind me never to invite you two round for a meal, then.”

“Oh, I’d come,” Harry grinned. “I’d just bring the food.”

Hermione raised her eyebrows. “Then I take it back. Come anytime you want.”

They finished their lunch, laughing, and Harry left just as another customer entered. The afternoon passed in a similar blur to the morning. By the time 6pm came around, Hermione was exhausted. Her mind was saturated from the newness of it all. Her face actually hurt from smiling, both genuinely and not - not all of the customers were pleasant - and, while she hated to admit it, Narcissa had been right. Her feet were killing her, and she didn’t argue when Draco insisted she head home without staying to watch him cash up. 

“See you Tuesday?” he asked genuinely, and Hermione smiled back at him. She had actually enjoyed herself. She hadn’t expected to, but she had. Her only regret was that she hadn’t seen Narcissa again - but then she hadn’t expected that either, and it was probably just as well. 

“You haven’t scared me off that easily. I’ll see you on Tuesday.”

She found she was already looking forward to it. 

Chapter Text

Sunlight streamed through the huge, curved windows of the university library, and Hermione shifted her arm out of the burning warmth. She always took this table if it was free - fifth floor, next to the drama section, at the back where she was less likely to be disturbed - and, despite not much liking the mid-morning sun that flooded the space, she did love the view it afforded her. On a clear day, she could see all the way down to the river, to Waterloo station on the other side and the sprawl of city beyond, sometimes even to the cluster of green that was Crystal Palace five miles away. It was also one of the only things she liked about the design of the building. Built around an industrial-style spiral staircase and a set of eerily silent lifts, it was round, heavy on the glass, mostly open-plan, and far too modern for her tastes. She preferred her libraries dark, with plenty of nooks and crannies, but she was grateful that at least the literature and drama shelves were tucked away above everything else. With a surreptitious flask of coffee, she could spend hours there losing herself in reading and research, and more often than not watching the sun set over the city. 

With a quick glance around to check no one was watching, she took a quick gulp of coffee before sliding the flask down the side of her chair, and slipped her earphones in. She planned to take notes from a series of recorded interviews that she’d found on YouTube, in which actresses who’d played the part of Medea over the years talked about their experiences and their interpretation of the character. And she was excited. It was the first time in several months that she’d felt a thrill at sitting down with her research, and she wondered whether it was the shift in focus. She hadn’t looked at Medea yet in any great depth, beyond reading the original text of the play, and it intrigued her. 

She also - although she wasn’t quite ready to admit it out loud - thought that maybe Andromeda had been right. The change of scenery, and the experience of something new and challenging at Emery Row, had sparked something in her she thought had gone. Of course, she was also excited that she might get to see a bit of the play behind the scenes. Perhaps if she could overcome her nerves with Narcissa, and if the woman proved not to be entirely impenetrable, then maybe they could discuss the costume designs and how they reflected on the character…Hermione doubted it, but if the idea brought her research back to life then she wasn’t going to disillusion herself anytime soon. 

As her pen swiftly scribbled notes, Hermione soon lost herself in the play and the character. Insane or angry; deranged perpetrator or victim of her husband and circumstance? I know the full horror of what I am about to do, but anger, the spring of all life’s horrors, masters my resolve. Fascinated, she watched all the clips the interviews offered of the various productions. She saw Medeas that embodied madness, with wild hair and screaming features, and others that were all chilling, controlled fury. She saw a woman that came undone the closer she came to killing her sons, and a woman so determined to destroy her husband that she didn’t care about destroying herself at the same time. She saw a woman still violently in love with Jason and a woman who passionately hated him, but always she saw a woman drowning in grief and bitterness and anger. As she scrawled in her notebook, she found herself wondering what the new production would be like and how Narcissa would interpret the script. How closely would she work with the actors, what would her own take on the character be? Floating Greek-style dresses, men’s suits, elaborate gowns, woodland nymph costumes and even jeans - Medea had already worn them all. Not that it would have to be anything drastically new, of course, and she already sensed that anything Narcissa had a hand in would have a twist to it somewhere.

An ad popped up on screen, reminding her that she still hadn’t forked out for a subscription, and she sighed, pulling her headphones out in annoyance just as a shadow crossed her table. 

“Am I interrupting?”

Hermione looked up into the friendly face of her supervisor, who sat down opposite her without waiting for an answer. 

“No, the ads interrupted before you did.” She returned Andromeda’s smile, and shut her laptop. “I was just being lazy and looking at Medea on YouTube before I look at the books.”

“And?”

“Fascinating. Really fascinating.” Hermione’s eyes raked over her pages of notes. “She makes me think of a female Hamlet in terms of the hugeness of the role.”

“Except he stands and monologues for almost three hours. Medea take seventy five minutes to massacre the stage before sauntering off with the gods.”

“Women always were more efficient,” Hermione laughed. “So how would you play it if it were you?”

“I’m sure you can guess,” Andromeda smirked, and Hermione nodded. She could. Her supervisor’s Medea would be terrifying, she was sure of that. “More importantly, how would you play it?”

“The same.” Hermione paused. “I can’t wait to see what your sister does with it.”

“Ah, yes.” Andromeda’s eyes sparkled. “How was your first week?”

Hermione laughed. She couldn’t help it. She knew she’d sworn to be mad at her professor and she tried to arrange her face into some sort of scowl, but she couldn’t pull it off, not really. She couldn’t be angry when it had worked out far better than she had expected. 

“You could have warned me,” she said as accusingly as she could manage. “I felt like a right idiot, walking into The House of Black!”

“Sorry about that.” Her professor didn’t look sorry in the slightest. “But if you’d known, would you have gone?’

“Of course not.” Hermione gestured down to her jeans and green cotton shirt. “I’m not exactly the high fashion type.”

“Well, you must have done something right. Draco likes you, and Bella was impressed.”

Hermione noted that she said nothing about Narcissa, and felt a swooping sensation in her stomach. She hadn’t seen the designer again. Tuesday had been just her and Draco, and a very quiet day. And on Wednesday and Thursday her teaching had kept her too busy to think much about it. 

“Bella?” She tried not to sound disappointed. “I only met her for five minutes.”

“She said you have guts.”

“Oh.” Hermione blinked. “Well, apparently I didn’t blush when she looked at me like I was a slab of chocolate cake - according to Draco, anyway - and I didn’t take the bait when she implied you and I were together, so maybe that’s why?” She shrugged, wondering if her supervisor would be angry at Bella’s insinuation. But instead Andromeda let out a low chuckle, her eyes dancing with mirth. 

“She’s impossible. Just ignore her.”

“Easier said than done,” Hermione muttered. “She does know we aren’t….you know?” She knew Draco had reassured her, but for some reason she needed to hear it again. 

“Hermione, you’re cute,” Andromeda leaned forward, a smirk on her face, “but not cute enough to risk my job for. Besides, I have a kid at home, when do I have the time for an affair?” 

Hermione tried not to look too surprised, and ignored the backhanded compliment. She’d had no idea Andromeda had a child either.

“Bella knows that, she’s just winding you up. And me. Laugh at her, throw it back at her, and if it gets too much tell her to fuck off. Or ask Cissy to do it for you. She’s better at dealing with Bella than anyone.”

“I can’t tell my boss to fuck off!” Hermione knew she looked scandalised, and Andromeda laughed. 

“She’ll appreciate it more than if you try to be polite, trust me. Once you’ve heard her and Cissy in a slanging match you’ll see what I mean.”

Hermione’s eyes widened at the thought. She’d already seen enough of the two women to know that an argument between them would be terrifying. 

“Did, uh….” She paused, trying to sound casual, “Did Narcissa mention anything?”

“About you?” Andromeda raised an eyebrow, and Hermione felt as if she wanted to drop through the floor. All five floors, all the way to the bottom of the library, where hopefully she could escape the knowing smile that was settling over her supervisor’s face. “No. Which is a good thing. If she didn’t like you, you would never have made it through a full two days no matter how impressed Draco and Bella were, and she would have been straight on the phone to me asking why I was wasting her time and where I’d left my last shred of good sense.”

“You have one left?” Hermione risked a tease, and was rewarded with another laugh. 

“I have more left than you might think. Now, are you coming to this meeting?”

“What meet…oh, damn it.” Hermione had completely forgotten the monthly departmental meeting, in which PhD students and staff got together to discuss any issues, upcoming events and guest lectures, and their research progress. Sometimes she enjoyed socialising with her colleagues and chatting to other members of staff. Other times she was bored out of her mind. She suspected that today was going to be one of the latter. 

“I knew you’d forgotten.”

Hermione gathered her things quickly, piling them into her backpack, and standing up to follow Andromeda down to the lifts. As they waited - because neither of them fancied the stairs - Hermione felt her phone buzz in her pocket. 

Draco. 

Magazine shoot tomorrow pm. Happy to let you free for an hour to watch if you promise to come back & not make a run for it?  

She smiled, shaking her head. He still seemed so worried that she would decide it was all too much and walk out, even though she’d signed the temporary contract on Tuesday, and the advance from her pay that Narcissa had promised was already in her account. She had been planning on going shopping for work clothes with Ginny this afternoon. Before answering Draco she quickly tapped out a message letting her friend know she’d forgotten a meeting and asking if they could shop later instead. 

Then she replied to Draco. But she didn’t dare ask him who would be overseeing the shoot. Somewhat tentatively, she looked over at Andromeda as they stepped into a lift. 

“Andromeda?”

“Yes?” 

The lift door slid shut and Hermione felt the horribly familiar lurch of her stomach as, with a quiet whoosh of air, they barrelled towards the ground floor. She hated the fact that the lifts were made of glass too. She could see every floor as they passed, and it made her queasy every time. 

She sighed with relief as they were released in front of the information desk. “Which one of your sisters does the magazine shoots?”

“Always Cissy, sometimes Bella too.” Andromeda shot her a raised eyebrow as she walked over to one of the free self-service machines to check out the book she was holding. Aeschylus’s Agamemnon. “Why?”

“There’s one tomorrow, apparently. Draco said I could watch and see how they do it. I was just wondering whether I needed to psyche myself up for Bella or not.”

It was a lie, of course. Her stomach was already somersaulting at the knowledge that Narcissa would definitely be there, and her supervisor gave her another knowing smirk. Hermione was beginning to think it was a Black family trait. 

“Better had. Just to be on the safe side.”

“Thanks. Don’t you already have that book?” She thought it best to steer the conversation away. She wasn’t sure why she had thought it was a good idea to ask in the first place.

“Not this translation.” Andromeda tucked the small hardback into her bag, and gestured to the library entrance, but not before giving Hermione a look that said she hadn’t missed the change of subject. “Come on. We’re going to be late.”

 

~

 

All things considered, Hermione thought two hours later, the meeting hadn’t been that bad. There were no problems in the department to speak of - it was still early in the term, after all - and the only thing most of the staff were complaining about were undergraduates who needed their hands holding. It always annoyed Hermione. After all, they’d all been undergrads once, away from home for probably the first time and without a clue what they were doing. She knew, by Andromeda’s lack of participation in that particular discussion, that her supervisor felt the same. But there had been interesting snippets too: the possible acquisition of several rare texts from a private library, a new departmental grant that they hadn’t thought they were going to get, and three new journal publications by her colleagues that Hermione had somehow missed over the summer. One of them was by Neville Longbottom, a professor of eighteenth-century literature who had a shy smile and earnest manner, and whose passion for his subject was matched only by his passion for teaching it. Hermione made a mental note to check his article out first. She had a huge amount of respect and fondness for Neville, and despite having little to no interest in Voltaire - his latest obsession - she always found his work engaging. 

Gathering her things, she started making her way towards the door, exchanging a few words and pleasantries along the way, and waving at Andromeda to let her know she was leaving. She had ten minutes in which to run up Holborn to meet Ginny by the tube station, but just as she’d almost made it to the door her way was blocked by a checked blazer, an Oxford shirt, and a pungent aftershave that she always dreaded. 

“Lovely to see you again, Hermione,” Cormac McLaggen smiled, and Hermione wondered whether he thought it was charming. It reminded her of a vampire about to strike. “Not leaving just yet, are you?”

“I’m afraid so,” Hermione plastered on a fake smile of her own. “I have another appointment.”

“Shame. I was hoping to talk to you about your thesis. It’s Medea you’re working on, isn’t it?”

Hermione shifted on her feet. Why did all bloody roads have to lead back to Medea all of a sudden? 

“Yes, among others. Why?” 

She knew she sounded borderline-rude, but she also knew from experience that Cormac was immune. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Andromeda’s gaze on them. Her supervisor knew how much Hermione disliked the man. He had tried almost every way in the book to ask her out, and every time she said no it only seemed to encourage him more. Worse than that was the way he openly looked down on her professor. Andromeda knew, of course, and laughed it off. But it irritated Hermione. She didn’t know why Cormac thought it made him look attractive. 

“There’s a new production in rehearsals at the moment, at the National Theatre.” Cormac puffed himself out a little, and Hermione doubted that he even heard her muttered, “I know.” “I have contacts. I could get us a couple of tickets for opening night - which have already sold out, by the way, even though it’s still a good few weeks ahead - and in the meantime, I could give you some guidance on your chapter. I’m probably more of an expert in that area than Tonks. What do you say?”

Hermione took a deep breath. Calm. She saw Andromeda begin to weave her way over to them and, despite her anger, had to suppress a smile. She waited until her supervisor was in earshot before replying. A tiny part of her - a slightly vindictive part that only boorish idiots like McLaggen seemed to bring out - wanted Andromeda to know just how much of an ass her colleague was being. 

“Thanks, but I already have tickets for Medea’s opening night. I have a friend who works backstage, you see.” She smiled sweetly, lying through her teeth and hoping that Narcissa never, ever heard of this moment. But it was worth it for the look on Cormac’s face. “And the chapter is all under control. Going very well, in fact. Andromeda is a wonderful supervisor, even in the area of Greek tragedy - which, as you say, is technically more your field than hers.”

She almost felt Andromeda’s hiss of anger, and stepped back towards the door. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m running late. See you next week, Andromeda.”

She watched as Cormac turned red-faced to her supervisor, clearly not having realised that Andromeda was now beside them, before scooting out of the door and allowing the smirk to spread across her face. She knew Andromeda would have the man in pieces before they left that room, and he deserved everything he got. But she didn’t have too much time for gloating. She was now very late to meet Ginny, and she arrived at the tube station breathless and panting to find her friend on the verge of calling her. 

‘Where have you been?” Ginny pocketed her phone and gave Hermione a quick hug. “I thought you’d bailed on me.”

“McLaggen.” Hermione stood for a moment, hands on her hips, to catch her breath, ignoring the constant swirl of people around them heading into and out of the tube. “He cornered me on my way out of the meeting. Tried to get me to go to Medea’s opening night with him, even though it’s months away and I’m fairly sure he doesn’t have tickets. And he was also hinting - again - that I should change supervisor.” She snorted, the nerve of the man astonishing her all over again. “I mean, seriously. Why would I do that at this late stage? Why would I do that at all?”

“Jerk,” Ginny shook her head. “Did you leave him for someone else to deal with?”

Hermione nodded, and grinned. “Andromeda.”

Ginny burst out laughing. “He won’t be bothering you again, then. Come on. Are we hitting the shops with your ridiculously huge advance, or not?”

“We are.” Hermione linked her arm through her friend’s, and walked them towards the pedestrian crossing. “Covent Garden first. Oxford Street only if I get desperate.”

Three hours later Hermione staggered up the steps to the front door of their flat, just as the last of the evening sun was disappearing over the rooftops, groaning under her breath. She had so many bags she’d lost count. Three - or was it four? - new dresses, all of them either v-neck or low round because every time Ginny suggested a square neck she’d heard Narcissa’s voice and felt those fingers trailing over her collarbone all over again. A suit with a skirt, and a suit with trousers, and two black blouses to go with them, and a pair of smart shoes with a much lower heel that she was fairly sure she could survive standing in all day. They were all things that she would conceivably wear elsewhere, but she still felt slightly guilty. She didn’t think she’d ever bought so much in one go before, and certainly not with money that she technically hadn’t earned yet. 

She’d told Ginny to go straight to Dean’s and not to bother helping her home with the bags, but now, as she struggled to fit her key into the door, she regretted it. Her phone buzzed in her pocket, and she cursed under her breath. She was hot, tired, and wanted nothing more than a cooling shower and a cup of tea.

“Just wait, would you?” she hissed in the general direction of her jeans as it buzzed again. Finally, she got the door open and all the bags inside. Kicking off her boots, she left them all piled in the hallway, and walked straight through the kitchen to get the cup of tea. Her phone buzzed again, and she sighed. 

Andromeda. Hermione frowned. Her supervisor always emailed. She never, ever messaged unless it was to cancel a meeting at the last moment. She certainly didn’t message three times. 

McLaggen suitably chastised. Thank you for leaving me that particular pleasure.  

Hermione chuckled. She almost wished she’d stayed behind to watch.

A friend who works backstage?

And then, finally, With tickets?? 

Hermione groaned. She could almost see Andromeda’s smirk through the screen; it was definitely a family trait, and she should have known she wouldn’t get away with that one quite so easily. She slurped her tea, taking comfort in the steam and the sweet bitterness of the Earl Grey. Clearly, now that she was working for the woman’s sisters, Andromeda felt comfortable teasing her. Hermione reasoned that she could give as good as she got. 

It was Cormac. Desperate times, desperate measures. Your sister’s lucky I didn’t say she was my girlfriend. 

You’re welcome, by the way. 

A rush of doubt swamped her as soon as she hit send. She was already fairly sure that teasing, for the Black sisters, was a competition sport. She would never win, and so she sent a quick clarification before tossing her phone onto the sofa and switching on the tv to try and drown out her churning mind.

Don’t ever tell her I said that. If you do, I really will swap supervisors.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

The next day, Hermione felt as if she’d landed in some kind of dream. 

True to his word, Draco had shooed her away to the magazine shoot after lunch, telling her to go out into the courtyard and into the next door building through the back door. As instructed, she had gone in and up what she assumed had originally been the servants’ stairs to the first floor, where she now emerged onto an open landing. The stairs continued upwards, but Hermione’s gaze was drawn down. Spread out below her was what she could only describe as the most stylish, opulent interior she had ever seen. 

A staircase - the same staircase that was in all of those black and white photographs that she now knew so well - curved away from her, cream marble gleaming against the black wood of the banister that twisted and snaked its way alongside the steps. It seemed to splay out when it finally reached the ground, giving itself over to a black wood floor that stretched beyond Hermione’s line of vision. A glittering chandelier hung above, illuminating the whole staircase and the space below. But what really caught her breath were the mirrors. They covered the walls of the ground floor, dancing and glimmering in the light like water, and were draped around with so much greenery that Hermione could almost smell the fresh earth. She hadn’t seen them in the photographs, so clearly they weren’t a permanent feature. No wonder Draco had told her to go up to the first floor, and then walk down. If she’d walked straight in to the ground floor, every movement would have been reflected back at her four times over, and probably at the photographer as well. 

Her eyes caught a movement on the staircase. It was Narcissa, sitting on a step about halfway down, her legs curled under her and her back against the curve of the wall, beckoning for Hermione to join her. 

“Not too busy next door?” 

Hermione shook her head, settling down as quietly as she could on the next stair up. A sudden warm feeling swooped through her stomach. Narcissa was wearing her usual black slacks, but in place of the shirt she now wore a black jacket, slightly oversize but still tailored enough to accentuate her figure. Her hair was twisted back in a messy chignon, strands escaping and framing her face, and the dark red nail polish had been replaced with a light mossy green that seemed almost playful. And there was that scent again; the new perfume. It clung to her like silk, delicately settling on pale skin with an edgy undercurrent that Hermione still couldn’t quite place. 

Silently Narcissa offered her a packet of mint Polos, one already poking out of the top, and she took it with a murmured thanks. Popping it in her mouth, she gazed around her. It was entrancing, and she could see why Narcissa took this spot. She could see everything: the whole of the ground floor space, stretched out with mirrors and ivy and cream walls and dark floors; the spotlights that were carefully placed above the mirrors so as not to appear reflected in them; the two models, currently having their makeup redone; and the stylist, hovering together with the photographer, deep in conversation over the camera and a laptop. 

Next week, Hermione knew the place would all look completely different. But even stripped right back, with nothing more than the marble staircase and cream-and-black decor, she knew it would look stunning. 

“This is incredible.” She breathed it out without thinking, and Narcissa quirked her eyebrow before considering. Blue eyes swept over the shoot, the staircase, the mirrors, the chandelier, and then she nodded slowly. 

“Yes, I suppose it is.” She spoke quietly, even though they wouldn’t have disturbed the people below, and Hermione had to lean in a little to hear her properly. “It’s funny how you become immune to beauty when you’re surrounded by it all the time.”

Narcissa was watching the shoot as she spoke, and Hermione could tell that she was focused on the clothes, not the models. A deep green satin dress stood out even among the ivy, the material catching the light from the chandelier and the spotlights and the mirrors, shimmering each time the model moved. It was a fairly classic cut - apart from the lengthly slit up one side that ran to the top of the model’s hip and was inlaid with lace - and it clung to the red-haired woman like a second skin. The second model wore a slouchy black tuxedo, the jacket left open to reveal a see-through gossamer waistcoat and black lace bra. Hermione remembered something that Draco had said on her first day, that the suit they were currently selling had originally had a waistcoat just like that, but that Narcissa had altered it at the last moment. 

“You changed your mind again, then,” Hermione said quietly, forgetting her nerves for a moment. “About the waistcoat, I mean.”

Narcissa shot her a sharp glance, and then nodded. “What do you think?”

“What do I think?” 

For a few seconds, Hermione was completely stumped. Narcissa was asking her what she thought? 

She thought it was hot. She thought it was the sexiest thing she had seen a woman wear in a very long time, until she looked at the green dress next to it and had to reconsider. She thought it was stylish, full of flair, artistic in a way that she had never appreciated clothes could be before she had started working here. She thought it was graceful and elegant, daring and soft all at the same time. 

She wanted to see it on Narcissa, not on a nameless model that she would forget in a few hours’ time. 

“I think you’re definitely not immune to beauty, even though you’re surrounded with it all the time.”

She kept her eyes firmly on the floor below, watching the green dress as it flickered this way and that, but she sensed Narcissa’s eyes on her and she sensed the soft sparkle in the blue. They drew her in even though she wasn’t looking. For a moment, she felt as if she was swimming underwater, barely able to breathe and yet never wanting to surface. 

“Have I missed much?”

Hermione almost fell off her step as Bella sat down quietly on the next stair up, reaching across to take the packet of mints from Narcissa’s hand. She had been so engrossed, lost in the shoot and the woman next to her, that she hadn’t even heard Bella come down the staircase. 

“They’re just starting.” Narcissa reached across to snatch the mints back, and Hermione had to lean back, pressing herself into the wall so that neither woman touched her chest. “Are you happy with everything?”

Bella nodded, her curls brushing Hermione’s shoulder. “I am now Luna’s doing it. I don’t know who that idiot was last time. Never again.” She chuckled softly at Hermione’s puzzled look. “Luna’s the stylist, pet. I have my favourites. And so does Cissy, though she won’t admit it.”

“As long as they get the job done,” Narcissa murmured.

“Well, that one didn’t. Not how I wanted it, anyway.”

“Who’s the photographer?” Hermione asked. She was just as fascinated with the dour-looking man whose dark eyes came alive as he worked the camera, and whose long black hair was such a complete contrast to Luna’s ethereal blonde. 

“Sev? Friend of Cissy’s.” 

“We went to St Martin’s together. He did the photography for my graduation show.” Narcissa took another mint from the packet and passed it to Hermione, who was too surprised at the unexpected snippet of information to think about whether she wanted another one or not. She simply popped one in her mouth and passed the mints on to Bella, who snickered. 

“Should’ve brought popcorn.” She took three before handing the packet back. “Looks good down there, but the ivy could maybe do with some…”

“No.” Narcissa shot her sister a warning look. “No last minute confetti. Or glitter. Or fairy lights, or parakeets, or anything else. Not this time. My shoot, my ideas, no interference from you.”

“You spoil all my fun.” 

“It took weeks to clear up that glitter, it was worse than Christmas.” Narcissa glared, and Bella grinned. 

“That’s what we employ cleaners for, isn’t it? Besides the fact that neither of us knows one end of a hoover from another.”

Bella reached across Hermione again to poke Narcissa in the shoulder. This time her arm grazed across Hermione’s, her curls rippling against Hermione’s dress. Hermione couldn’t help a small squeak at the contact. Suddenly she felt as if she were completely surrounded by the two sisters; Narcissa’s magnetism and heady presence melding into Bella’s sheer force and vitality, a combination that was almost overwhelming. 

“Sorry, pet.” Bella didn’t sound sorry at all, and Hermione was reminded of Andromeda. She wondered whether fake apologies were yet another family trait. 

“Do you want to swap places?” she whispered, hardly daring to speak, and Bella chuckled. Hermione felt a warmth on her knee and looked down to see Bella’s hand patting it, once, twice, all pale skin and sharp purple fingernails. 

“No, you stay there. Best to have someone between us when Cissy’s in one of her moods.”

Narcissa hissed sharply. “I am not in a mood, Bella. I simply said…”

“Joke, little sister. Try lightening up a bit.”

Narcissa didn’t reply. Hermione watched as, instead, she popped another mint furiously from the packet and tossed it into her mouth. Looking as closely as she dared, Hermione could see the faint lines around the blonde’s eyes, the tension around her jaw. She knew Narcissa was busy. Too busy, by the look of it. 

“I should get back,” she murmured after a moment of silence, but she felt a hand on her other knee that wasn’t Bella’s. This one was lighter, an apology of sorts, a feather-touch of fingers that were asking her to stay, not preventing her from leaving. This one had green nail polish, not purple. 

“You should see them work,” Narcissa murmured, dropping her hand, never once looking at her. “Draco can manage. He’ll text me if he needs anything.” She patted her pocket to indicate her phone, but Hermione was barely listening. Her knee tingled where Narcissa had touched it, the echo of the woman’s fingers leaving a far hotter trail than Bella’s had done. Slowly, she leaned back against the wall. She was unable to argue even if she’d really wanted to, and instead she tried to focus on the shoot. 

It didn’t help her state of mind. What she saw below her was a kind of erotic ballet, a push-pull of bodies skirting sensually around each other under Luna’s expert, almost silent direction. Hermione could see why Bella and Narcissa were so attached to the woman as a stylist. She had control of everything. Hermione knew without being told that she and Narcissa had done the design of the shoot together, but even perched off to the side, on a folding stool well out of the way of Sev’s camera, it seemed as though Luna was pulling invisible strings, the models simply moving as her eyes directed. It was a pas-de-deux of sorts. Every move was reflected in the mirrors, thrown back at the camera in a kind of surround-sound of visuals, and the greenery draped everywhere just heightened the sensuality. The green dress flickered and teased. But it was the tuxedo Hermione couldn’t take her eyes from. The model wielded it almost like a weapon, and she suddenly longed to see it softened, to see it somehow filled with curves rather than angles, to see it become sensuous rather than sexy. 

It seemed as if Luna had the same idea, because she halted the shoot and stepped in. She spoke quickly and quietly, gesturing with her hands, her shoulders moving as she explained how she wanted it to go. Then she reached up and slipped the jacket from the model’s shoulders, leaving only the waistcoat and bra over slouchy trousers. She carefully unpinned the model’s hair, letting it tumble to her shoulders, but didn’t bother combing it out. Glancing up towards the staircase, she raised one eyebrow. Hermione saw Narcissa nod. 

Luna returned to her stool, fiddling with her phone to find the music that she wanted. Something that Hermione didn’t recognise filled the space; smoky and dark and with a slow beat that it was almost impossible not to sway to. The models started again, and this time Hermione could see they were both more relaxed. Luna had left the jacket artfully hung on one corner of a mirror, and as they two women spun slowly closer and closer together the blonde model snatched it up, holding it over her shoulder with one finger while her other hand rested on the other model’s waist. Hermione couldn’t hear the click of the camera over the music, but she could see how Sev was almost dancing, gracefully weaving in and out to capture every angle of the clothes while Luna sat back and watched, an almost dreamy smile on her face. It was almost inevitable when the blonde model captured the other’s lips in a kiss. Hermione couldn’t really have imagined it ending any other way. 

“Oh, nice.” 

She heard Bella’s whisper, but it was Narcissa she was attuned to. It was Narcissa’s face that she wanted to see. The woman’s blue eyes were fixed on the scene below, but Hermione didn’t think she was imagining the heat and the softness in them underneath the professional gaze. Only then did she realise how similar Narcissa’s suit was to the one the model wore. Without the waistcoat, of course, but still….

“Is this working ok for you?”

Luna called up the staircase, light Irish accent breaking across Hermione’s thoughts, and the thread of warmth she had felt between Narcissa’s body and hers was broken as the blonde nodded, standing up and stepping down towards the ground floor. Hermione let out a breath she hadn’t realised she’d been holding. 

“Let’s try it again with the jacket on…” And then the words were lost underneath the still-pulsing music. Narcissa commanded the space, even though she had so far taken such a back seat. Hermione watched as she ran through the stills with Sev, pointing and nodding and shrugging her shoulders as the models had their makeup retouched once more. She fussed a little over the dress, tweaking a shoulder strap to adjust an invisible flaw in the way it hung on the model’s thin frame. And then it all started again, except this time Narcissa stayed down there, crouching on the floor next to Luna’s stool, her eyes never leaving the models. 

“I should go,” she whispered again to no one in particular. She’d almost forgotten that Bell was there until the dark-haired woman patted her knee again and stood up herself, gesturing to the ground floor to say that she was also going down. Hermione nodded her understanding. Unfolding herself from the stair was an effort that she didn’t want to make, but she knew she’d already been far longer than she should have been. She made her way back up the stairs and out into the courtyard in a daze, and Draco gave a knowing smile when he asked her how it was and she couldn’t quite answer. 

“It’s like a fantasy world, isn’t it?”

She swallowed. “Something like that.”

That night her dreams echoed with with sultry music and ivy-clad models, and a woman in a tuxedo who she just knew was supposed to be Narcissa even though her dream-hair was all black.

Chapter Text

The next few weeks went by in a blur. Term was now fully underway, and Hermione found herself busier with her teaching than she’d ever been before. She’d only agreed to take the lead on one undergraduate class and to share the teaching on one more, but had also volunteered to be a student mentor. In between meetings with those students to make sure they were settling in, preparing her teaching, the classes themselves, her own research - which she was loving more and more by the day - and her two days a week at Emery Row, she found herself with very little free time at all. She barely saw Ginny, often arriving home from the library after her flatmate had gone to bed, while Ginny was up and out for training long before Hermione got up in the mornings. They communicated by text message and by post-it notes stuck to the fridge door, but Hermione hadn’t read the latest one that said they were out of milk and would she mind getting some from the corner shop. Bleary-eyed, struggling to wake herself up after a long evening of reading, she swore as she realised she didn’t have time before work and that she would have to have her tea black. 

The bitter taste still lingered on her tongue as she turned the final corner into Emery Row and waved at Draco to let her in. She wore a heavier jacket for the walk now. The days could still be mild, but October had pulled them firmly into autumn with crisper mornings and evenings, and swirling patterns of red and gold on the trees that glinted in the sunshine. Leaves had started to fall lazily, one by one. It was her favourite time time of year: she never saw it as an ending but as a beginning, full of anticipation and promise, the start of a new academic year with everything lying ahead.

“You look happy,” Draco commented as he opened the door, locking it again behind her. “It’s only Tuesday.”

“I’m happy because it’s finally autumn, my research is finally going well - actually, I’m happy my research is going at all - and I’m finally up to date on my class planning,” Hermione informed him as she shrugged out of her jacket and hung it up in the safe. “Not so happy because I haven’t had a decent cup of tea yet this morning.” 

Draco simply raised his eyebrows and pointed towards the kettle in the corner. “Help yourself. We’re out of milk, though.”

“You’re kidding,” Hermione groaned. “I ran out at home too. Want me to go and get some?”

“No, I’ll go. I need to pick up some paracetamol for Mother anyway. I’ll just open up and then pop out.”

Hermione looked up in concern. She had hardly seen either Narcissa or Bella since the day of the photoshoot. She hadn’t even had much time to think about it, which was probably just as well. She hadn’t forgotten the heady feeling of sitting so close, of watching the shoot unfold like a tableau below them, of having Narcissa’s eyes on her. She was almost grateful that she hadn’t seen that much of Ginny. Her friend would have wanted every single detail, and Hermione wasn’t sure she would be able to deflect that well. 

“Is she okay?”

“Just her usual,” Draco smiled, and Hermione was struck at how his eyes softened when he spoke about his mother. “Working too hard, not sleeping enough, stress headaches. If you’re all right on your own later I’ll go upstairs, give her a hand for a couple of hours.”

Hermione nodded. It would be the first time on her own, but Draco clearly thought she would be fine. She did too, if she was honest. She was feeling far more comfortable and confident, and they had always intended for her to work mostly alone on a Tuesday. It was generally a quiet day. Besides, he would just be upstairs. She could always call if she needed anything. 

The first customer came in not five minutes after Draco had left, promising that he wouldn’t be long, but it was a young woman Hermione recognised who had been into the shop the previous week - at least, Hermione thought it was the same woman. Hoping she was right, she greeted the impeccably-dressed brunette by name, and was rewarded with a genuine smile and a look of pleased surprise that she had remembered. It was easy, then. Hermione sold her a bottle of Felix Felicis while chatting about the weather and the latest season’s fashion colours, something she never would imagined herself capable of or even interested enough in to bother. But when the woman left, she found herself smiling. 

She was still smiling when the next person came in, but this time Hermione didn’t recognise her. She could tell, however, that this was a client and not a customer. The way she looked around the shop, the arrogance in her expression and the way she held herself…all of it screamed entitlement, and Hermione wiped the grin from her lips. This would not be so easy. 

“Where’s Draco?”

She blinked. No one, however rude they later turned out to be, had ever made it so blatantly clear they didn’t want her to serve them. 

“He just popped out.” She plastered on her best fake smile, and steeled herself. “He won’t be long. Can I help with anything in the meantime?”

The woman looked her up and down. Hermione gritted her teeth as eyes raked over her skirt, her blouse, her suit jacket, her hair that she had pinned up rather than trying to tame. It was obvious that she didn’t come up to scratch, but the woman sighed, taking off her hat to reveal silvery blonde hair tucked up in a neat bun. She was older than Hermione had first thought, perhaps early seventies, wrinkles carefully covered with a layer of makeup that simply made her look even more angular.  

“What’s new in the green? I’m shopping for my niece.”

Twenty minutes later, and Hermione was almost on her knees. She would have fallen to the ground and begged if it meant that either the woman would give up and leave or that Draco would return, but the minutes dragged on and neither seemed like a possibility. Her first impressions of the woman being both rude and arrogant were accurate. But there was something else too, something in the tone of her voice and the way she spoke without even bothering to look at Hermione. It gave Hermione a horrible feeling of being unwelcome at her own place of work; of being forcibly reminded that this was not her world, that she didn’t fit in, that she would never fit in and that she was impertinent for even trying. 

After the fifth veiled insult in as many minutes, Hermione had lost all patience and was on the verge of tears. She had sworn to herself never to do this. She didn’t want Narcissa to think she was incompetent, or needed nannying, or that she had to be rescued from customers who didn’t like her. But when the woman had pulled yet another dress off the rack, and demanded yet another opinion that Hermione knew would be ignored, she pretended to consider before stepping back behind the counter and pressing the buzzer that linked to upstairs. 

“I think Miss Black will be able to advise you on that particular dress better than I can. Let me see if she’s free.”

“Narcissa’s here?” The woman looked at her as if she was a complete idiot. “Then why didn’t you say so?” She turned away, muttering something about stupid girls dragged in off the street, and Hermione took a deep breath. She heard footsteps on the stairs. 

“Miss Granger, is everything…” But then Narcissa stopped behind her. “Oh,” she said softly. “I see.”

Hermione forced herself to look at Narcissa, an apology already forming on her lips, but the blonde stepped out from behind the counter and walked over to greet the elderly woman, kissing her on both cheeks as if they were old friends. Hermione’s stomach sank even further. She’d clearly managed to piss off a valued client, and she blinked back the sudden heat in her eyes. Really, she was lucky she had lasted this long. 

She stayed behind the counter, watching the two women. Everything that Hermione had picked out that the woman had rejected out of hand, she now accepted without question from Narcissa. It was infuriating. All the more so because Hermione was almost certain Narcissa would rebuke her for it later; there was a coolness in Narcissa’s voice that Hermione suspected was veiled annoyance at the way she had handled things. It was her first time alone in the shop and she had blown it. Frantically, she wondered if any of the library jobs were still free. She would just have to find the time. She could pay back the advance that they’d given her on her pay and apologise to Andromeda and…

“Miss Granger?” 

She blinked. Narcissa was next to her, about to ring the woman’s purchases through the till. But she didn’t look angry, and that coolness in her tone was no longer there.

“Emilia would like to take these now rather than have them delivered as usual. We have some more cream tissue paper in the office, I believe. Could you fetch some through and help me wrap?”

“Of course,” Hermione nodded quickly. She kept her eyes firmly away from Emilia’s as she folded and wrapped carefully, sealing each package with a House of Black label and placing them one by one into a large black paper bag. At least she could do that right. With some fuss about which card to use - because clearly choosing between American Express and the Coutts Silk Charge card was a difficult decision, Hermione thought slightly bitterly - the woman paid and gathered her things, and Hermione watched as Narcissa escorted her to the door. 

Was it her imagination, or did Narcissa breathe out a sigh of relief when she had finally gone?

Hermione had just opened her mouth, not really knowing what to say but feeling as if she ought to start apologising even if it wouldn’t do her any good, when Draco returned looking flustered. 

“I didn’t just see….?”

Narcissa nodded, and Draco’s eyes widened. 

“I thought she was booked in for a private session tomorrow evening! Shit, Hermione, I’m so sorry. I would never have gone out if I’d thought she would turn up.”

“Miss Granger did very well.”

Hermione found her voice again, turning to Narcissa with a barely disguised look of amazement. “But I had to call you down! I’m so sorry about that, I really am, but she was…”

“Oh, don’t apologise.” Draco fished the paracetamol out of the plastic bag he was carrying, and tossed them to Narcissa. “If you lasted even two minutes with her I’d be impressed.”

“Actually, it was more like twenty…” Hermione murmured, ignoring the incredulous look Draco gave her. “I don’t understand. Who is she?”

“That, Miss Granger,” Narcissa said, popping a tablet through the foil and swallowing it straight back without water, “was my ex mother-in-law.”

Hermione’s mouth dropped open. Oh, shit. “Your…”

“Cantankerous old cow at the best of times, and I fear you did not catch her on a good day.” Narcissa accepted the bottle of water Draco held out to her, before taking another tablet and offering the packet of painkillers to Hermione as if they were the Polo mints from the photoshoot. A brief smile curved the corners of her mouth as Hermione hesitated, and then took one. “Yes, she has that effect on people.”

“I wish she wouldn’t still come in here,” Draco muttered, moving past them to the office to put the milk in the mini-fridge and to hang up his jacket. “I know she spends a lot, but really? Who was she buying for this time?”

“Inés.” 

Draco rolled his eyes. “Like anything in here would…”

“Draco.” Narcissa’s voice held a tone of warning, but her eyes were laughing and Draco chuckled. 

“Don’t tell me you weren’t thinking the same.”

Narcissa shrugged innocently. “She took everything I offered readily enough. Although I suspect you suggested everything first, Miss Granger?”

Hermione nodded, wishing she’d taken two tablets instead of just one. 

“She’s impossible,” muttered Draco. 

“Scrub her out of the diary for tomorrow, I assume she won’t be coming back.” Hermione felt a soft hand rest on her shoulder and give a light squeeze. It was comforting and sensual all at once, and she wanted to lean into it but it was gone all too soon. “You did well, Miss Granger. Don’t let her upset you.” The blonde woman turned to Draco. “I’ll be upstairs. Get something from Harry for lunch, would you? I think we all deserve it.”

 

~

 

Later, when 6pm came around, Hermione still felt terrible. She knew that neither Draco nor Narcissa blamed her in the slightest, and Draco had spent most of the morning muttering darkly about his paternal grandmother; he was clearly not fond of the woman. He had still gone upstairs to help Narcissa during the afternoon, making it as clear as he possibly could that he trusted Hermione and believed she was doing fine. And of course she had been fine. She had managed perfectly well with the customers’ queries by herself. She had managed a small but steady stream of people for three hours alone. She had even managed to crack a smile. But she still couldn’t shake a feeling of inadequacy, nor the slight panic that such a feeling always induced in her. It reminded her, forcefully, of a recurring dream that she had had during the first year of her PhD. In the dream she was always at a university halls of residence, where she knew no one. She didn’t know where her room was, what her schedule was supposed to be, or even what she was there to study. She spent endless nights wandering linoleum-covered hallways, peering into student bedrooms where everyone seemed to know everyone else and know what they were doing, and becoming increasingly panic-stricken at the thought that she didn’t belong there after all, that she couldn’t find her room because she didn’t have one and that she didn’t know her schedule because she wasn’t smart enough to be a student. Always she woke up in a cold sweat, taking a few minutes to calm down before she realised that none of it was real. 

This, she thought, was similar. The sense of panic, the underlying fear that she was completely out of her depth and somewhere she didn’t belong. 

She gathered her things slowly, pulling on her jacket and making sure she had everything in her bag, tugging her hair out of the bun that was starting to hurt. She didn’t particularly want to leave feeling like this. Neither did she particularly want to talk to Ginny. She felt bad about it, but she knew her friend would be incensed on her behalf and she didn’t really have the energy for that. More than anything, she found herself wanting to see Narcissa again. She wanted another light touch on her shoulder; a reassurance, however tiny, that she had done alright. It was pathetic and needy and at least partly an excuse, but she still found herself contemplating it. 

“You can go home, you know,” Draco teased her as he pulled on his coat. He often stayed late to do paperwork, but tonight he too was gathering his things, preparing to go and meet Harry at the deli for an early dinner before a film. He had told her which one, and she’d forgotten already. 

Hermione bit her lip. “Do you think….” She paused, and Draco raised an eyebrow. “How mad would your mother be if I interrupted her? I just wanted to apologise again. For earlier.”

Draco’s teasing smirk softened. “There’s really no need, Hermione. Mother said it herself, my grandmother can be a real bitch. You managed brilliantly, and she still left with half the shop.”

“I know,” Hermione fiddled with the strap on her bag. “I just…”

“Is it going to bother you until Saturday if you don’t?”

She felt herself flush a little, and nodded. 

“Then go on up.” Draco considered her for a moment. “I don’t think she’ll be mad at all. She seems to have a soft spot for you.”

She does? Hermione’s surprise must have shown in her face, because Draco laughed and nodded. “She isn’t as forthright with people as Bella is,” he admitted, “but I can tell. Go on. I need to go, but she’ll let you out.” He saw her hesitate. “I’ll even make a bet. One of Harry’s melting chocolate muffins says she isn’t annoyed.”

Hermione laughed despite herself, and Draco looked pleased. “Fine,” she surrendered. “But no muffin. I don’t need Harry to know I’m terrified of your mother.”

She waved him out and slowly started to walk up the staircase, nerves mounting with each step, and by the time she reached the top she felt a little bit sick. But, while she objectively knew that Draco was right in telling her Narcissa didn’t expect or want or need an apology, she also knew he was right in that it would worry her until Saturday if she didn’t. She steeled herself with a deep breath. 

Peering into the studio, trying to be as quiet as possible, she saw Narcissa sitting at the large desk, a sheet of sketching paper laid out before her and a pencil between her teeth. She was absorbed in whatever it was she had been drawing, her shirt sleeves rolled up and gold-rimmed glasses on her nose, her hair tied up now in a simple ponytail. Music played softly in the background. The early evening light, dusky now that the days were getting shorter, drifted in through the white curtains that still covered the windows, and the overhead lights were on. They caught Narcissa’s hair, and for a moment Hermione the same sensation she’d had at the photoshoot, of swimming underwater, and not quite being able to breathe but not wanting to come up for air either. 

But now she had to say something, because Draco had already left and locked up behind him. If nothing else, she needed to ask Narcissa to let her out. 

Quietly, not wanting to startle the woman, she cleared her throat softly before speaking. “Miss Black?”

Narcissa lifted one hand, silently asking her to wait, before plucking the pencil from between her teeth and making a few quick lines on the paper. Her brow furrowed a little as she concentrated, and she caught her bottom lip between her teeth as she contemplated something, changed something, scrubbed something out. After what could only have been a couple of minutes, she finally looked up at Hermione, and took off her glasses with a tired sigh. 

“Everything all right, Miss Granger?”

“Yes…I mean, no. I mean, I’m fine, I just…”

Narcissa raised an eyebrow, and Hermione took another deep breath. “I just wanted to apologise again, for earlier. I had no idea she was your mother-in-law. Ex mother-in-law. And I’m really sorry…”

Narcissa held up a hand to stop her and stood up, walking over to a dress dummy that was draped in a deep burgundy jersey dress, still held together with pins. Lightly, she fingered the material. 

“Would knowing that she was my ex-husband’s mother have made any difference to the fact that she was most likely rude, arrogant, and impossible to please?”

Hermione’s eyes widened, but under Narcissa’s piercing gaze she shook her head mutely. 

“Well, then.” Narcissa’s face softened into a small smile. “As I said earlier, Miss Granger, she has me reaching for either the headache tablets or one of Bella’s cigarettes every time she comes in here. You did wonderfully, and I’m grateful to you for even attempting to deal with her. I wouldn’t wish her on anyone, so I can assure you no apology is necessary.”

Hermione opened her mouth to speak, and then shut it. Instead, she nodded again. She didn’t know what else to say. The whole family of Blacks - and Malfoys - surprised her at every turn. One day, maybe, she would learn to take it all in stride, but for now she simply allowed herself to be surprised.

She was so busy contemplating Narcissa’s attitude towards the ex mother-in-law that she almost missed the long, appraising look the blonde woman was giving her. For a moment, there was silence. Then Narcissa seemed to make up her mind about something. 

“Do you have plans for the next hour or so, Miss Granger?”

Hermione shook her head slowly. She still wasn’t particularly in the mood for going home and chatting to Ginny, but neither did she fancy the library. 

Narcissa lifted the hem of the burgundy dress and raised a questioning eyebrow. “Then would you be willing to help me with this? There’s only so much I can do on a dummy - I hate working on them at all - and this one needs a very different figure to Bella’s.”

“You want me to model for you?” Hermione wasn’t sure she’d understood properly, but Narcissa nodded. 

“If you’d be comfortable. It won’t take long, I promise. I just need to shape the dress a bit more, and it’s actually harder when the damn mannequin doesn’t move.”

“Wow.” Hermione let out a long breath. It was yet another surprise, and she felt her heart thud in her chest. An unnecessary apology was one thing. Standing up on that stool while Narcissa poked and prodded and shaped the dress on her was quite another. But she never backed down from a challenge, did she? “Sure, why not. But I’ve never done it before. I might not be very good.”

Narcissa smiled then, a real, warm, genuine smile that made Hermione’s stomach twirl. “You only need to stand there and move when I say. If Bella can manage it, you certainly can.”

"All right.” Hermione stepped into the room, and dropped her bag on the floor. “What do you want me to do?”

 

Chapter Text

Hermione stood on the large stool, arms out slightly from her sides as Narcissa had instructed, the smooth wood cool against her bare feet. She deliberately didn’t look down and had thought it might be more relaxing to close her eyes, but her sense of touch seemed to be heightened to make up for it. The material that she had originally taken to be jersey was actually a cotton silk blend, falling in folds across her chest from her right shoulder to her left hip, where it was gathered in a cinch before dropping into a slightly flared, knee-length skirt. Her left shoulder remained bare, without even a strap to hold the dress in place. It was smooth and soft against her skin, sensual and clinging, a sheet of warm caresses that flared into heat wherever Narcissa touched her. The blonde’s fingers were quick and professional. Hermione had expected nothing less, and she certainly never felt the sharp end of a pin like Bella had. But still, every brush left her craving more, her skin on high alert for wherever Narcissa would move to next. Naked under the dress except for her knickers, she almost dreaded the moment when Narcissa would move up from the hem and the cinch to adjust the top part of the dress. The thought alone made her shiver. 

“Are you cold?” Hermione felt Narcissa behind her, checking the back line of the dress. “I can turn the heating up.”

“No, I’m fine.”

“Move back a touch, that light’s right in your eyes.” 

Hands on her hips gently moved her backwards a step and she moved with them, trusting them implicitly, knowing that Narcissa would never let her fall - for the sake of the dress if nothing else. The light wasn’t really bothering her, but Narcissa’s hands left hot, deliberate imprints through the dress that made her stomach flip. She hoped it wasn’t obvious. 

“Better?”

“Thank you.”

Narcissa moved around to her waist, tucking in the material a little more, adjusting the angle of the final fold where it caught the cinch. For the moment, it was simply gathered together with a knot of material, but Hermione suspected there would be something a little more elaborate there when the dress was finally finished. 

“What’s this dress for?” She didn’t know if Narcissa would want to talk, but her curiosity was getting the better of both her and her nerves.

Medea.” Narcissa kept her eyes on the dress, but her fingers paused just for a second. “The scene after she decides to kill her sons.”

“Oh.” Hermione looked down at the dress, and shivered again at the thought of it being worn by a woman who was about to commit filicide. Narcissa’s fingers curving around her hip didn’t help. But it was her clearest indication yet of Narcissa’s interpretation of the character. This was a dress that would clearly tell an audience: this woman is strong, she knows what she’s doing, she’s not insane. “Shouldn’t you be doing this on the actress, then?”

“You have almost the same measurements. I’ll have fittings at the theatre in the final two weeks, and make any adjustments then.”

“Oh,” Hermione said again. She didn’t ask how Narcissa had known her sizing. Probably the woman could do it on sight. 

“You’re researching Medea at the moment.” It wasn’t a question, but Hermione nodded anyway. “Tell me.”

“About what?”

“Your research.” Narcissa’s voice was soft, her eyes still concentrating on a fold of material that refused to lie where she wanted it. “Your thoughts. What you think of Medea.”

So Hermione did. She didn’t need much encouragement now to talk about her research, although she very rarely did with anyone other than Andromeda or someone else from the department. She knew that she got carried away with the things she was passionate about, and Ginny had made it abundantly clear that the latest scholarship on Greek tragedy didn’t interest her in the slightest. Which was fair enough, Hermione supposed, since she wasn’t interested in the latest sports science advances either. They both supported each other when it mattered. But Narcissa had asked her, which clearly meant she was interested, and so Hermione talked without being prompted. She followed her own train of thought down tangents that she hadn’t had time to properly explore yet, and outlined the ideas that were already clear in her mind. All the while, Narcissa worked. Hermione barely even noticed that she had left the bottom half of the dress, and was now working on the shoulder. 

“…I understand why she’s been depicted as insane - to make her actions seem even vaguely understandable - but I don’t think Euripides intended to portray her as that at all. I think he was trying to show society what they could be creating by excluding and often actually brutalising half the population.” 

She finally stopped, taking a deep breath. Suddenly she was aware that the music had stopped, it was dark outside, and Narcissa was now hovering very close to her right breast, fingers delicate as she cajoled the draped material into the shape she wanted. Her blue eyes were concentrated, a pin clutched in the corner of her pursed mouth, but Hermione could tell that she had been listening to every word. How long had she been talking for?

“I’m sorry. I get a bit carried away when I….”

‘Don’t apologise, Miss Granger.”

“Hermione.”

“Hmmm?” Narcissa glanced up, questioning, her lips pressed against the pin. Hermione had to fight the urge to gently pluck it from her mouth before she accidentally stuck it through her tongue. She smiled at the thought. Narcissa was clearly practiced, but still. It was tempting. 

“Hermione,” she repeated. “Since we’re doing this…you should call me Hermione.”

She tried not to suck in an obvious breath as a dark streak of hair, escaped from its ponytail, brushed her arm. Narcissa didn’t answer, and she wondered if she’d gone too far or whether the older woman was just concentrating. Light fingers brushed the top of her chest. Hermione felt her heart beat hard once, twice, and thought Narcissa must have been able to feel it. The quiet was unnerving; even the street noises below didn’t penetrate. 

She wondered, not for the first time, how Narcissa managed everything. This dress hadn’t simply appeared overnight. 

“How do you do it?” 

“Do what?”

“This,” Hermione gestured to the dress. “How do you have time to fit everything in?”

Narcissa’s lips quirked. “I very rarely sleep.” Her hands moved Hermione’s hip forward, just slightly, so she was standing at an angle. “I’m working with the theatre’s own costume designers on this, fortunately. The only ones I have to worry about are Medea, Jason and Creon.”

“Oh,” Hermione said yet again, and for a few moments there was silence. 

“This dress is when Medea takes her power back.” 

Hermione blinked. Narcissa had taken the pins out of her mouth, and her murmured voice was close enough that Hermione could feel the warmth on her skin. 

“Medea is a risk society takes when it allows a woman to fester in grief and anger that were not of her making.” Narcissa’s brow wrinkled slightly as she began folding over the top line of the dress across Hermione’s chest, pinning as she went, making the sweep of it just a little bit lower. “Did you know there’s a theory that people can smell grief on another person?”

Hermione wasn’t sure whether she was meant to answer or not, and so simply shook her head. 

“It makes you an outcast. No one wants to be near a bad smell, however pitiable they find the source, and Medea is smouldering in her grief and anger over Jason.” She paused and pinned again, her voice still soft. “It makes her untouchable. A fugitive. Fugitives are desperate people.”

“And Medea accepts that.”

“Yes.” Narcissa stood back, critically eyeing the new neckline. “And we don’t understand that acceptance. We never understand it, and that’s why we need the play. I want her starting it in cast-offs. Perhaps a man’s trousers. So much an outcast that she doesn’t even have her own clothes anymore. This dress is the halfway point, it’s the decision, the acceptance that what she’s going to do makes her a monster but she’s going to do it anyway. By the end…” Narcissa caught Hermione’s raised eyebrow, and chuckled softly. “We haven’t quite decided yet.”

She gestured for Hermione to stand down from the stool and Hermione stepped off carefully, not wanting to dislodge any of the pins. She stood while Narcissa circled her, blue eyes raking up and down her body and the dress and leaving warm trails in their wake, appreciative and satisfied and so different to Emilia’s cold eyes earlier. It was only then that she noticed Narcissa was not wearing her usual heels. She was barefoot - Hermione remembered her saying that she usually worked barefoot - and, without the extra inches, was no taller than Hermione. 

Narcissa stopped behind her, reaching into her pocket for something, and Hermione almost squeaked as she felt fingers in her hair. Her curls were expertly gathered up and piled on her head in a messy bun, secured with a band and a couple of pins, a few left to escape around her face and neck. Even without a mirror and even with the quick carelessness of it, she could tell it was far more stylish than anything she ever managed. And now, with Narcissa so close behind her, she could smell the perfume again. The scent had faded a little over the day, but it was still there, still recognisable, still sharp and clean and tingling her senses with something that she still couldn’t quite place. 

Narcissa took her by the shoulders and spun her around so that she was facing the long mirror on the opposite wall. 

“Hermione,” she murmured, “meet Medea.”

Hermione’s breath caught in her throat. She barely recognised herself. The dress clung to her body. Her back was straight so that the folds over her chest fell properly, and the soft drapes accentuated her breasts, flowing like a waterfall down towards her hip. The style was undeniably Greek, but there was something else, an edge to it that was powerful and that was reflected in her eyes. Even at a distance from the mirror, she could see how dark they were. Her face was pale, framed by wild curls. She felt taller, stronger, as if she could call down the wrath of ancestral gods and they would listen.  

Narcissa’s hands still rested lightly on her shoulders, and the perfume was enveloping her senses. She closed her eyes against the image in the mirror and breathed it in. Images flooded her mind of cold winter nights, frost, pine forest, the echo of a wolf howling at the darkness and the black side of the moon just a shadow in the sky. It was so visceral that she shivered. 

Her eyes popped open. 

“Black Moon.”

“What?”

Narcissa looked confused, and Hermione caught her eyes in the mirror. 

“A name for the perfume.” She shifted on her feet as Narcissa’s grip tightened on her shoulders, and felt the thrill wane a little as she realised they’d probably already decided on something. But still, she’d said it now. “I mean, I know you’ve most likely already thought of something. It was just what came to mind, with your name as well, and it reminds me of…”

“What did you say?”

“Uh…Black Moon?”

For a moment there was nothing. She was about to apologise again, to say again that of course they would already have thought of something far more suitable, but then she saw the excitement and triumph in Narcissa’s eyes as they caught hers in the mirror. It was intoxicating, exhilarating, and she felt herself being drawn closer. Her back was now pressed against Narcissa’s front and she could feel the woman’s curves through their clothes, could feel the warmth that radiated and the soft hiss of Narcissa’s breath against her skin. She leaned back a little more. Their eyes held in the mirror. 

“That,” Narcissa murmured against her ear, “is perfect.”

She squeezed Hermione’s shoulders tightly. Hermione felt warm lips press to her cheek and she gasped, but then Narcissa was gone, one and then two steps away, still holding Hermione’s eyes in the mirror as she snatched her phone from the table. Hermione almost whimpered. 

“What are you doing?”

“Would you be happy for us to use that name? With due compensation, of course?” 

“Uh…of course, but I don’t need…”

“Then I’m telling Bella we can go ahead.” Narcissa’s fingers tapped out a quick message. “All I was waiting on was a name.”

Hermione felt slightly dazed. “You like it that much?”

“Black Moon.” Narcissa tossed the name around as she put her phone back down and returned to stand behind Hermione, one hand coming up to fiddle with the dress at the shoulder. “I do.”

“Oh,” Hermione whispered. “Then yes.” She cleared her throat. “Of course you can use it.”

“Thank you, Hermione.”

“You’re welcome.” Her voice didn’t sound quite like her own. Narcissa held her gaze in the mirror for another moment, and then blue eyes flicked to the small clock on the desk. 

“I’ve kept you long enough.”

“It’s fine, really. I didn’t have anything on.”

Narcissa smiled softly. “Can you get out of the dress by yourself?”

It sounded almost like an invitation, and Hermione swallowed. It was so tempting to say no. She wanted to see what Narcissa would do, to see whether the pull she felt towards the woman could be reciprocated, to see whether the warmth she felt was real. But instead she found herself nodding. 

“I think so.”

“Here.” Narcissa reached around and loosened the cinch at the waist, pulling out a couple of pins. Her fingers lingered. “It should just slip down.”

“Thank you,” Hermione whispered, and placed her hands where Narcissa’s were to hold the dress up. She stepped away a little shakily, towards the screen that was up in the corner of the room. As she got changed, carefully stepping out of the dress and back into her own clothes, she could sense Narcissa’s presence on the other side. 

“Okay?”

“Fine,” she nodded as she emerged, and handed Narcissa the dress. She’d left her hair up. “How did you do this?” She gestured to her curls, asking to cover her nerves as much as anything, and Narcissa chuckled. 

“Years of practice with both Bella and Andy.” She hung the dress up. “Your phone went, by the way.”

Hermione walked over to where her bag still lay on the floor. She expected it to be Ginny, asking if she was at the library and whether she’d be home anytime soon, but instead she saw two short messages from an unknown number. 

Pure fucking genius, pet. 

Thank you. 

She raised her eyebrows at Narcissa. “Bella has my phone number?”

“We all do, all your personal details were on your contract.”

Hermione nodded. It made sense. Quickly, she typed Bella’s name into her contacts - just in case - and saved the number before looking back at Narcissa. Did she dare? She decided she did. She’d just done the woman two big favours, after all. 

“So now the only number I don’t have is yours.”

“And why would you need it?” Narcissa’s voice was soft and almost sultry. 

“Oh, you know.” Hermione kept her tone deliberately light. “Work related stuff. If I’m sick and can’t come in. So that I know who’s messaging me to ask me to model again for them.” She held her breath, wondering if she’d gone too far, but Narcissa only smirked. “If I need you to come and rescue me again from your ex mother-in-law.”

“A persuasive argument - even though there are alternatives for all of those scenarios.”

Hermione shrugged, and pulled on her jacket before pausing. “I really enjoyed doing this,” she admitted quietly, almost to herself as much as Narcissa. She genuinely had. It had been exactly what she needed after an awful day, and she realised that Narcissa’s presence was not only sensual, it was also calming. She’d felt warm, and safe. Happy in a quiet kind of way that she wasn’t familiar with but decided she liked. “Thank you.”

“No.” Narcissa’s blue eyes were warm on her face. “It’s thanks to you we now have a perfume. I appreciate this more than you know.”

Hermione felt a rush of pleasure at the praise, although she still couldn’t quite believe it was real. She’d come up with a name, and they were going to use it. It would be on the bottles. If she stayed beyond Christmas, which she was starting to hope might be a possibility, she would be selling it. 

Narcissa let her out and hailed her a cab, refusing to allow Hermione to walk home in the dark despite Hermione’s protests that she did it all the time, and paid the driver upfront for her. When they were halfway to Bloomsbury, her phone buzzed again. This time, there was no message to speak of. Just two simple numbers, one with the word work and the other with the word private. 

Chapter Text

The pub was crowded even though it was mid-afternoon. People spilled out onto the cold pavement, wrapped in coats and scarves and clutching glasses as they mingled in groups, breath clouding in the air. Hermione knew the place well. It was where the English  and drama department staff always went for any kind of celebration, mostly because it was called The Three Witches and they took the reference to Macbeth as a personal calling card. It also served a good pint, decent wine, and the best fish and chips Hermione had ever tasted in London, but she knew she wouldn’t be getting that today. This was the departmental Christmas drinks party, three weeks early because so many of the staff had other commitments later on in the month. If Amelia, the department head, had done what she usually did and only let the pub know the day before that they were all coming, there would be a couple of plates of sandwiches to share if they were lucky. Hermione’s stomach grumbled as she wove her way across the road and in through the heavy wooden door, now decorated with a wreath and fairy lights. Maybe she could sneakily order herself some chips as well. 

Pausing just inside, she stood on tiptoes and looked around for Andromeda. The large room inside the pub was heaving with people, and it took her a moment to spot the two tables full of her colleagues, pressed knee-to-knee in a corner by a steamed-up window. Hermione hesitated. She could still turn around and leave. She could still message Narcissa back and say that she was free to help with another dress this afternoon after all. But then Neville spotted her and waved, and Andromeda turned and waved, and she had no choice but to wave back and begin to make her way through the crowd to the bar. 

She ended up squeezed on the end of a table, next to Andromeda and opposite a couple of her fellow PhD students who she didn’t really know that well. Susan and….Hannah, was it? Neville smiled at her from three places down and she tried to talk to him, but holding a conversation across other conversations was near impossible and they gave up. Instead she went through the usual rounds of small talk with the people she could more easily reach; she couldn’t believe how quickly the term had gone (she couldn’t), yes her research was going well (it was), she was on course to finish her thesis on time (she still wasn’t sure about that), yes she’d seen the article by Cormac in the latest issue of TLS (she hadn’t bothered reading it). The man in question, fortunately, was on the other table, holding court with three PhD students who looked to be hanging on his every word. 

Andromeda leaned in close, and Hermione caught the smell of lemons in her hair. “Want me to pass you a sandwich?”

Hermione looked down the table at the half-demolished plates, and shook her head. “No, thanks. I’ll get some crisps or something.”

“Wise decision.”

“How do you survive all these get-togethers?”

Andromeda gestured to her half-empty glass of red wine, and Hermione chuckled. She knew her supervisor hated all the departmental socialising she was expected to do, and only obligation prevented her from skipping them altogether. 

“I kept hoping for a better offer for this afternoon, but…” Andromeda gave Hermione an innocent-looking smile as she picked up her glass and swirled it around lightly. “What’s your excuse?”

Music started playing and another group in another corner cheered; someone had put some money in the old-fashioned jukebox that the pub always brought out at this time of year, and the beat of Last Christmas effectively drowned out all conversation that wasn’t mouth-to-ear. Hermione had to lean in close to reply.

“I don’t have one. I did have a better offer, and I was stupid enough to turn it down.”

“You don’t mean my sister begging you to do overtime?”

Hermione spluttered into her glass, and shook her head disbelievingly. “Do you three tell each other everything? Should I just set up a group chat or something so you don’t have to keep going backwards and forwards?”

“It might save time.” Andromeda’s laugh was warm on her ear and Hermione shook her head, feeling the heady buzz of another mouthful of wine. She’d never known her supervisor to be such a tease, and she knew she could never keep up. If she ever had all three of the Black sisters in the same room she would be done for. 

“She just asked me to help with modelling a dress, that’s all.” Hermione practically had to shout, even so close. “I’ve done that a couple of times now. I’ll stay after work tomorrow instead.”

Andromeda raised an eyebrow. Still, Hermione couldn’t help the small smile that she tried to cover with another mouthful of wine. The Medea night - as she had started to think of it - had been the first of three evenings now that she’d stayed behind to help Narcissa. The second one had been far less glamorous; the blonde had had her in the cast-off man’s trousers she had hinted at for the play’s first scenes, checking that they were slouchy and ill-fitting enough. The third had not been a play costume at all but a formal emerald green dress with a high neckline, plunging back, and a sweep of embroidered flowers down the skirt. Both times had been at short notice, with Narcissa popping down to the shop at lunchtime or even later to ask. Two days ago, though, a message had flashed up on Hermione’s phone from Narcissa - private, a number she had hoped to see but never believed she actually would, asking her if she was free on Friday afternoon to help with the final costume for the play. 

She had thought about ditching her plans and just saying yes, but a second message had quickly followed the first, apologising, saying that Narcissa had forgotten about the departmental party, Andromeda had mentioned it, and of course Hermione would be busy. Could she stay on Saturday evening instead? Hermione had sent a message back saying that was fine, all the while cursing the department and their drinks in such colourful language it had made Ginny howl with laughter. 

Last Christmas ended and Mariah Carey started, and both Hermione and Andromeda groaned in unison as some of the staff on the other table started singing along. 

“How long until we can reasonably leave?”

Andromeda checked her watch, and Hermione snorted at the not-so-subtle look of resignation on her face. “Another hour at least. I’ll be drunk by then.”

“Have a sandwich. Or I can get you some peanuts or something?”

Her supervisor screwed up her face. “No, thanks. I’ll share your crisps when you get them.”

Hermione raised her eyebrows. “I don’t remember that being an option.”

“Just don’t get cheese and onion. I hate cheese and onion.”

Hermione laughed, and got up to go to the bar. At least Andromeda had managed to get them on the end of a table where it was relatively easy to slip in and out. She didn’t have to climb over anyone’s knees. After checking with the others closest to them to see if anyone else wanted another drink, she made her way to the bar and ordered more wine for herself and Andromeda and a pint for Neville, adding two packets of salted crisps and a bag of roasted peanuts to the departmental tab. Not having to pay herself was the only perk to these things. When she got back to the table she felt her phone buzz in her pocket, and almost dropped the entire tray of drinks when she saw who it was.

Say hi to my sister & tell her she owes me £20. N.  

Hermione reached over to hand Neville his pint, feeling suddenly much more alive, and placed one of the glasses of wine and bags of crisps in front of Andromeda before leaning in close to her ear again.

“Your sister says hi and that you owe her twenty quid. I assume that means something to you?”

Andromeda looked completely confused for a moment, and then her face slowly cleared. “Damn!” She ripped open the bag of crisps and offered it to Hermione. “Cissy and I had a bet going on whether Draco would actually have the nerve to pop the question on his and Harry’s anniversary yesterday. I guess that means not…wait a second.” Her eyes narrowed. “Why is she messaging you with that?”

“Got no idea.” Hermione took a crisp. “You had a bet on your nephew and her son asking his boyfriend to marry him?”

“We’ve had the same bet going for the last three years and I’ve lost every fucking time. I’m going to have to have words with that boy, I was convinced he would do it this year. Let me see the message?”

“That’s all it said.” But Hermione handed over her phone, and Andromeda spluttered as she read the text. “What?” She thumped her supervisor on the back until Andromeda, still coughing, waved her away.

“She gave you her private number?”

Hermione shrugged in what she hoped was an offhand manner, but the way her heart thudded in her chest was anything but casual. “Yes, so?”

“She never gives this out. To anyone.” Andromeda poured the last of her wine into the new glass Hermione had just brought over, managing to do it without spilling a drop. “And even when she does she hardly ever uses it. Did you torture it out of her or something?”

“No, it was freely given.” Hermione took a large mouthful of her own wine. She hadn’t realised quite what a big deal it was, and the knowledge only made the warmth and butterflies in her stomach worse. “But as you say, it’s not like she uses it. She only messaged me for the first time on Wednesday to ask about helping out today.”

Andromeda looked disbelieving, and Hermione laughed giddily. “Honestly. Why, are you worried?”

“About my sister, yes. Maybe the stress is getting to her.” Andromeda looked at Hermione’s phone as if it might blow up in her hand, and put it down gingerly on the table. “Unless there’s something I should know?” She glanced at Hermione, and this close range her green eyes were piercing. Hermione was reminded forcefully of Bella. She wondered how Narcissa, who she had learned was the youngest of the three, had turned out to be so different in looks from her sisters. 

But Andromeda was waiting, eyebrow now raised, and Hermione shook her head. “No, of course not. Why?”

“She clearly likes you. This phone number is the equivalent of a gold-plated invitation to dinner and dessert.” Her supervisor leaned in closer. “And when my sister wants something, she can be very hard to resist.”

“Well, maybe she’s just been too busy to get to the dessert bit,” Hermione tried to joke. Her palms were starting to sweat, and she was regretting wearing a thin jumper instead of a blouse.

“So does that mean there’s been dinner?”

“No!” 

“But you’d have said yes if there had been?”

“I…” Hermione gaped at her supervisor, who was now trying not to smirk and failing. She could have kissed Neville, who chose that moment to swap seats with Susan, and she turned to him gratefully as he pulled the chair round to better talk to her over the music. She felt Andromeda nudge her in the ribs, a playful warning that this particular conversation was not over, but she purposefully ignored it. Her face felt hot and flushed, and her skin was clammy against her jumper. At least this time she could blame it on the wine and the warmth of the pub. 

 

~

 

It was a couple of hours later when she finally got up to go to the bathroom. She liked talking to Neville. He was quiet; earnest and serious when it came to his research, but with a gentle sense of humour that made conversation easy. Andromeda liked him too, and the three of them had chatted and laughed so much that Hermione found she had actually been enjoying herself. It had also prevented Andromeda from asking any more questions. She knew her supervisor wouldn’t forget - it was more like a stay of execution - but hopefully it was now a problem for another day. 

She splashed her still-warm face in the bathroom and decided to go to the bar for some water on her way back to the table. Another half hour or so - which hopefully Neville would keep her company for - and then she could try and leave. She might even stop and treat herself to some junk food on the way home. It was such an absorbing thought - burger, or pasta, or pizza? - that she started when she felt a hand on her shoulder. Turning, abruptly, she found herself face to face with Cormac McLaggen. 

“Not leaving already are you, Hermione?”

He was so close that she could smell the beer on his breath, and she surreptitiously moved backwards, feeling the hard wood of the bar against the middle of her back. 

“Not yet, no.” She forced a smile. “I just wanted some water, but they’re so busy. I’ll come back in a bit.”

He didn’t move. “Might as well wait now, it’s not going to get any quieter.”

Hermione nearly said, sarcastically, that perhaps he could be a gentleman for once and get it for her along with his own drink, but stopped herself just in time. She had no desire for Cormac McLaggen to get her any kind of drink, even just a glass of water. 

“Enjoying the party?”

She couldn’t help the grimace as he leaned down towards her, but turned her head away under the pretence of seeing where the barman now was. “Yes, great. You?’

“Not bad, as these things go. I wanted to catch you, actually.”

“Oh?” Her stomach sank, and the bar dug into her back. Pinned in by other drinkers on both sides and by Cormac in front of her, she couldn’t move anywhere. 

“I wondered if you’d given any more thought to my offer.”

“Your offer?” 

“First night tickets. We could go for dinner, see the play…”

Hermione squirmed. She couldn’t believe he was trying it again. She cut him off mid-sentence with a firm hand on his arm, trying to push him away from her, but he seemed to take it as an invitation to move even closer. 

“Cormac, I….”

“Come on, Hermione.” His breath was hot on her ear, and she felt a hand grip her waist. “You know I can help you. A bright researcher like yourself shouldn’t be stuck with the second-rate opportunities that Tonks’ contacts can provide.”

Hermione’s eyes widened in disgust, and she pushed his arm more firmly. “I am more than happy with my supervisor, McLaggen, as you well know, and I am certainly not reliant on her contacts for…”

“Now we both know that’s not really true. Didn’t you almost drop out at the beginning of this year?” Wet, beer-stained lips grazed her ear and his hand shifted around her hip, and she knew it wasn’t an accident from standing so close. Her heart was beginning to thud in her chest, and nausea rose in her throat. Where the fuck was Andromeda? Or Neville? Didn’t they realise she’d been away far too long to have just been to the bathroom? But when she glanced over, she saw that their table wasn’t in her line of sight. She shifted her knee, wondering if she could lift it hard enough between his legs. “I know what you need, Hermione. Someone to challenge you. I can do that. The pleasure of your company is a small favour to ask in return…”

“What can I get you?”

Hermione spun round forcefully to face the barman who had just reached them, treading hard on Cormac’s foot in the process. She heard him hiss behind her, and used the opportunity to push her way a couple of steps along the bar, leaving someone else to surge forward into the gap. Shaking her head at the barman, she stepped back and pushed her way out, not looking back. She had no doubt that Cormac was ordering drinks as if nothing had happened, but she had no desire to be there when he returned to the tables. She knew that he wouldn’t try anything so blatant then, surrounded by colleagues on all sides, but the thought of even having to look at him made her feel dizzy. 

“Hermione?”

She heard Andromeda’s concerned voice even over the music, but just shook her head and gripped the corner of the table. Anger swirled in her stomach, and for a moment she thought she would be sick. 

“Hermione, are you all right?”

Get a grip, Hermione. She took another deep breath. Focus. She felt Andromeda’s hand on her arm, gently pulling her down to a seat, rubbing gentle circles on her back, and she felt herself begin to breathe in rhythm. One circle, in. One circle, out. The nausea subsided. It was only a few minutes, but it felt like hours. 

“I need to go.”

“I’ll come with you.”

She could see the worry on Andromeda’s face clearly now, and she felt a twinge of guilt. She knew if she told her supervisor what had happened all hell would break loose. And while Cormac deserved it and she didn’t want to let him get away with it, she didn’t think she could face it all right now. 

“No, I’ll be fine.” She tried her best to smile. “Honestly. I think just the heat and the wine….I’ll walk for a bit and then get a cab home.”

Andromeda didn’t look at all convinced. “I’ll walk with you, then. I don’t want you passing out on the street, you look awful all of a sudden.”

“You really know how to make a girl feel better.” But Andromeda didn’t smile at the weak joke, and Hermione felt the tears suddenly sting her eyes. 

“Come on.” Her supervisor downed the last of her wine and shrugged into her coat. Her tone said that she wouldn’t take no for an answer. Grabbing Hermione’s phone from the table and handing it to her, along with her jacket and bag, Andromeda stood up and waved to Neville, indicating that they were leaving. He, too, looked concerned when he saw Hermione, but waved and nodded. And then Andromeda’s hand was firmly on her arm, steering her through the crowds towards the door, and when the cold, damp air outside engulfed her Hermione took so many deep breaths she thought she might faint. 

“Steady.” Andromeda slipped an arm around her back. The area outside the pub was still busy. Lights were everywhere, twinkling and flashing and glaring. Bicycles barrelled past on the pedestrianised street, and people rushed and strolled and walked arm in arm. Every shop window had Christmas decorations up. But it all seemed a little out of focus, too loud, too bright, too hazy, like a badly shot film. Somewhat unwillingly, Hermione leaned against Andromeda and closed her eyes. 

“Are you going to tell me what’s going on?” Andromeda shifted Hermione back, out of the way of a raucous group of office workers out on their Christmas party, and pulled her closer. “You haven’t drunk that much.”

“No, it’s not that.” Hermione could feel her body starting to relax, and with the relaxation came the shaking. Only Andromeda’s arms kept her upright, soothing and calming. No one paid them much notice, even though they were still standing outside the pub, and Hermione couldn’t help a slightly hysterical giggle as she realised they probably looked like lovers embracing. 

“Better?”

After a long moment, Hermione nodded. She did feel better. The shaking had stopped, and the feeling that she was about to faint had vanished. In their place had come more anger, disgust, and a strong desire to get as far away from the pub as she possibly could. 

“Thank you.” She gingerly stepped back, making sure her legs were back to normal like she thought they were, and felt Andromeda’s arms slowly slip from her body. The sudden coolness around her back made her shiver, but she felt steady enough. “I need to get out of here.”

“Do you want me to take you home?”

Hermione shook her head. She didn’t even know if she wanted to go home. Ginny would probably have gone to Dean’s by now, and while she didn’t really want to be alone, she didn’t feel as if she could ask Andromeda to stay with her either - at least not without telling her what had happened. She could go to the library, she supposed, but for once the quiet stacks of books held little appeal. What she really wanted was to walk. Aimlessly. Anywhere. She wanted to walk through busy streets until she no longer felt as if her insides were seething. But she knew Andromeda would never let her, not by herself.

“I’ll just get a cab.”

“Hermione…”

“Please, Andromeda.” Hermione looked up at her supervisor. “Cormac caught me at the bar. Please….leave it for now.”

She saw Andromeda’s expression darken and knew that she probably wouldn’t have to explain anything further. Her hand rested on Andromeda’s arm, trying to reassure her supervisor as much as herself. 

“Okay.” But Andromeda didn’t look happy about it. “You promise you’ll go home? Or somewhere else where you feel safe?”

“I promise.” 

She allowed Andromeda to put her in a cab, promising several times to message later to let her know she was okay, and to call her whenever she felt ready. Hermione felt another pang of guilt as they drove off, leaving her supervisor standing on the pavement, worry and a dark hint of anger etched clear on her face. 

As they turned onto Shaftesbury Avenue, she wondered about asking the cab to just drop her off there so that she could walk. She wondered about going to the library instead of home. She thought again about what she could have been doing all afternoon, and then she leaned forward, making a quick decision. The driver caught her eyes in the rearview mirror. 

“Can I change the address, please?”

“Sure.”

“Make it Emery Row. Number 4.”

 

Chapter Text

The shop was in darkness when she arrived. As she watched the tail-lights of the cab disappear round the corner, she realised that she had no idea what time it was. Clearly later than she’d thought, if Draco had already gone home, but looking up she could see the glow of the studio lights above the street, filtered and muted through the curtains. Hermione shivered and pulled her coat closer around her. She would have to message Narcissa, but what would she say? Perhaps this hadn’t been such a good idea.

Would you still like some help with that dress?

There was no reply. Disappointed, but not exactly surprised - Narcissa hadn’t been expecting her, and was probably so caught up in work that she hadn’t heard the phone - Hermione turned to head back towards Bond Street. She could walk home after all, clear her head, get some air. 

“Hermione. Wait.”

She hadn’t heard the shop door open, but Narcissa was standing there barefoot, her usual open shirt replaced with a long cream cardigan, hair pulled back and glasses clutched in her hand. 

“I’m sorry.” Hermione shrugged, suddenly feeling awkward. “I should have messaged first. I just wondered…”

“Come up.”

She waited for Narcissa to lock the door again, and then followed her through the dark shop, into the office, up the stairs that were soft with the light from the studio. The same music was playing, a gentle murmur in the background. Hermione took a couple of deep breaths and felt her clenched neck muscles start to relax. It was warm. Narcissa was there. She wasn’t alone. She was safe. 

“I had a message from Andy.” Narcissa leaned against the desk where she had been working, watching Hermione as she took off her jacket and dumped her bag. “She wondered if you might turn up. Said you’d had to leave the party because something happened.”

Hermione paused in slipping out of her boots. “She did?” Damn. She had not wanted that. Pinching the bridge of her nose, feeling the tension in her neck swirl around to her eyes, she wondered if Andromeda was angry with her. Why did the damn sisters have to tell each other everything? And how did her damn supervisor seem to know everything even before she did?

Narcissa nodded, her eyes never leaving Hermione. 

“She’s worried about you. I’ll have to let her know you’re here.” There was a pause. “Do you want to talk about it?” Her voice was soft, but Hermione shook her head. 

“No, not particularly.”

Narcissa nodded, slowly. “Then we won’t.” She pushed herself off the desk and walked over to the clothes rail. “This is the one. Be careful getting into it, one of the legs is still pinned.”

Hermione gaped. Narcissa was holding out what was possibly the sexiest jumpsuit she’d ever seen. Cream, sleeveless, with a deep v-neck that curved inwards all the way down to the navel, it had wide legs and clean lines, not a drop of embroidery anywhere. It screamed power, sensuality, complete control. 

“This is for the play?”

Narcissa nodded. “Final scenes.”

Slowly, Hermione took the jumpsuit behind the screen to get changed. She took her time in shedding her jeans, jumper, vest top, bra. Each item of clothing she took off felt like a bit of the afternoon left behind; slipping into the jumpsuit was almost as good as having a shower. It was silky on her skin, tight across the top and sides and flowing round her legs. It was far too long. She had to lift the trousers in order to walk, but she could still feel the effect of it seeping through her body. Not for the first time, she felt jealous of the actress who would be playing Medea.

“How does it feel?”

“Incredible,” she answered honestly, walking towards the stool. She wondered if Narcissa had messaged Andromeda while she had been changing, but decided not to ask, and she didn’t even want to think about how Andromeda had guessed she would end up here. She focused instead on the music. It had changed, she noticed. It now pulsed softly through the room, and the beat made her want to sway. “Is it silk?”

“No. It’s going to get covered in red food colouring every night after she stabs her children. There’ll be three copies, but it still needs to be able to go through the wash.” Narcissa smiled softly at her. “What size shoe are you?”

“Uh…5, usually.” 

Narcissa leaned down under the desk and pulled out a pair of black heels, which she had clearly slipped off while working. “Try these.”

Hermione took them, and almost laughed at the name imprinted inside. She slipped them on and took a moment to adjust. They were tall stilettos, muted black leather with a pointed toe, lifting her enough that the trouser legs just skimmed the ground and giving her a rush of power that matched the jumpsuit perfectly. She did laugh then, with the sheer giddiness of it.

“What?”

Narcissa was eyeing her, eyebrows raised and lips quirked, and Hermione shook her head. 

“This is the first and probably the last time in my life that Jimmy Choos are on my feet. I’m just enjoying it, that’s all.”

“Try not to topple over in them.” Narcissa sounded amused, but gestured to the stool and offered Hermione a hand as she stepped up. She took it. Narcissa’s skin was warm, the cuff of her cashmere cardigan falling halfway down her hand and brushing Hermione’s fingers with feathery softness, and they both held on even when Hermione was up safely and balanced in the heels. 

“Okay?” Narcissa murmured, and Hermione nodded. 

Narcissa began work, adjusting the hem of the legs slightly before moving up to the waist and the back, and Hermione simply relaxed into it. The music helped. At one point she caught her body shifting slightly to the beat and started to apologise, but Narcissa shushed her with a smile. That’s what I put it on for. You needed to relax. Fingers skated lightly over her body, sometimes moving her, sometimes holding her still. She didn’t know what Narcissa was adjusting. It wasn’t always obvious, only to Narcissa’s keen eyes, but she didn’t ask. She was caught up in the warmth, the sensation of skin ghosting across fabric ghosting across skin, the tingle in the air that she always felt in the studio and that she associated now with Narcissa herself. She only realised that Narcissa had reached the v-neck when the blonde’s hands stopped. 

“I can do this bit on the mannequin if you’d prefer?”

Hermione looked down. The deep V exposed almost all of the inner sides of her breasts, plunging all the way to her navel. It was a lot of bare skin. 

“No, it’s fine.” Heat flooded to her stomach at her own words. She had no idea where her sudden confidence had come from - where had it been in the pub when she really needed it? - but she genuinely didn’t feel uncomfortable. Besides, she didn’t want Narcissa’s hands to leave her body. Not yet. The touch was chaste and sensual and calming and arousing all at the same time, and she felt as if it was bringing her back to life. 

“Sure?”

Hermione nodded. 

Narcissa’s fingers were careful and light, and Hermione felt her body react almost immediately. She knew Narcissa had to be able to feel her heartbeat, the slight trembling of her skin as painted nails - a deep blue grey, the same colour as Narcissa’s camisole under her cardigan - brushed down the length of the V, assessing before carefully tucking a millimetre of material under. She knew the slight hardening of her nipples had to be obvious underneath the fabric, but she couldn’t bring herself to care. She closed her eyes, allowing every sensation to blossom until it was almost overwhelming. Warm breath and hair grazed her skin as Narcissa leaned close to pinch the bottom of the V, and then left her cool and shivering as she leaned back again. The blonde didn’t seem to be working particularly quickly. Maybe it was too fiddly. Or maybe…

“You can get down now.”

Hermione’s eyes fluttered open. Narcissa had stepped back, blue eyes raking hot over every part of her in the jumpsuit, and a pair of scissors in hand.

“You can’t make this v neck much deeper.” She stepped carefully down from the stool.

“I’m not thinking of the neck, I’m thinking of the back.” Narcissa walked around to stand behind her, one finger tracing a pattern on Hermione’s back. She suppressed a shiver. “No, maybe not that.” The blonde was talking softly, almost to herself. “A smaller mirror of the front, maybe, with a clasp across the top. What do you think?”

It took Hermione a few seconds to realise that Narcissa was asking her. 

“I have no idea, I can’t see the back.”

Narcissa took her by the shoulders and turned her towards the mirror, before walking swiftly over to the wall and fetching another freestanding one to place at an angle. From there, lifting her hair up and out of the way, Hermione could see both the back and the front of the jumpsuit. She could see the way it clung to her body and how her breasts swelled in the material’s embrace, how her legs seemed twice as long in the trousers and the heels. She tried to concentrate on the back. It was plain, high, scooping just below her neck. What had Narcissa said? A smaller version of the front V shape?

“How low would it go?”

Narcissa rested a finger mid-way down Hermione’s back. “There,” she murmured. “That vertebra just there.”

Hermione swallowed. Her mouth suddenly felt dry. “Try it,” she forced out. “Can you mock it up somehow first?”

Narcissa chuckled, a warm, low sound next to Hermione’s ear. “I could, but I won’t. Draco’s the pattern cutter between us. I often go straight for the material freehand.”

Hermione turned, her eyes wide. “You’re just going to cut it?”

“I promise I’ll be careful. You won’t get nicked.”

“I’m not worried about me, I’m worried about the jumpsuit!” Hermione plucked at the trousers to emphasise her point. “It’s perfect now. If you cut out the back and then decide you don’t like it…”

“I’ll start again, and I’ll have something new and slightly odd to wear over Christmas.” Narcissa smirked at Hermione’s expression. “Again, I can use the mannequin if you’d rather.”

“No.” Hermione shook her head, and lifted her eyes to Narcissa’s. “I don’t think the mannequin has that vertebra you were aiming for.” She turned around, and slipped the shoes off so that she was back down to Narcissa’s height. “You’ll have to put my hair up again, though. I don’t want that cut too.”

Narcissa hummed, fingers threading once more through Hermione’s curls and piling them high on her head. Hermione felt gentle but firm hands pulling her shoulders back, making sure she was standing straight and square. 

“Don’t move until I say.”

She hardly dared breathe. She couldn’t quite believe Narcissa was doing this. 

The point of the scissors grazed lightly along her skin, cold and almost ticklish. She could feel Narcissa tracing out the line she wanted with a finger first, taking it a couple of millimetres to the side so that she had room to adjust and hem, and leaving a strap across the top that would be turned into a clasp. She moved slowly, carefully, each movement of the scissors a deliberately small slice through the material. Hermione heard each one loudly, all of her senses on overload. The cool metal against her hot skin. The fabric. Narcissa’s perfume. Blonde and black hair brushing her back…

“Done. Breathe, Hermione.” Narcissa tossed a triangle of material down onto the floor, and Hermione sucked in a deep breath. She wondered what it looked like, but Narcissa was already pinning where she wanted the hem to go before the material frayed too badly, so she stayed still. Hands ran over her back now, smoothing down the silk and tracing the outline where it followed her shoulder blades. 

“Do you like it?”

Narcissa didn’t answer, and Hermione waited until she had finished. For some reason she felt nervous herself. She knew Narcissa did this all the time - tried things out, kept some, lost some - but she couldn’t conceive of having put so much work and material into something, only for it then to be ruined on a whim. 

“Take a look.” Narcissa finally stood up straight, and turned Hermione back towards the mirrors. 

“Wow.” Hermione twisted herself this way and that, trying to get as good a look at the back of the jumpsuit as she could. Narcissa had cut it perfectly, mirroring the front but on a smaller scale. But she saw the other woman’s narrowed eyes. 

“You don’t like it?”

“I like it.” Narcissa tilted her head. “But something….wait there.” She strode over to the clothes rail, and rifled through the racks of material until she found what she was looking for. It was a piece of black lace, perhaps an off-cut from something else. “Can you arch your back a little?”

Hermione did so, allowing Narcissa to slip the lace down what remained of the back of the jumpsuit and fill in the V cut that she had just made. This time, she looked satisfied. 

“Better.”

Hermione had to agree. The effect was stunning. “Perfect.”

“Then I think we’re done. Can you get it off yourself? Don’t worry about the lace.”

Hermione felt a little sinking feeling at the thought of leaving, but nodded. “I think so…” She broke off as her stomach grumbled, loudly, and Narcissa raised an amused eyebrow. 

“Don’t they feed you at these university things?”

Hermione grimaced a little at the reminder of the party. “Well, they do, it’s just never up to much. The pub is good for food, but by the time the plates of sandwiches have been mauled by everyone on the table…”

“Disgusting.”

Hermione nodded. “I just had a few crisps. I’ll get something when I get home.”

Narcissa looked at her for a long moment, before seeming to make up her mind about something. “I never got lunch either, it’s still downstairs in the fridge. There’s plenty if you’d like to stay.”

Hermione hesitated. She wanted nothing more than to stay. She just didn’t want to put Narcissa out any more. 

“But I understand if you’d rather get home after today.”

“No,” Hermione shook her head. “Not particularly. I just don’t want to intrude on your evening, that’s all. Well, no more than I already have done.”

“If you were intruding, I wouldn’t have asked.” Narcissa stepped into her shoes, and Hermione couldn’t help thinking how much they suited her. She felt as if she’d been playing dressing-up in the adult wardrobe. “You get changed, I’ll get the food. Do you mind if we eat in here? I’ve still got work to do later, and if I go home I probably won’t get it done.”

Hermione looked blank for a couple of seconds, not understanding, and then she remembered. Narcissa lived on the top floor next door. 

“Of course not.”

She managed to get the jumpsuit off without dislodging any of the pins, and reluctantly pulled her jeans and jumper back on. They felt dirty, somehow. A visceral reminder of the afternoon, and what she still had to deal with in telling Andromeda, and that was before she even thought about the department head, and the dean, and…

“Are you all right?”

Narcissa must have come back with the food, and Hermione was still hesitating behind the screen. 

“Fine,” she called back. She looked down at her top. She could hardly eat in the jumpsuit, and yet…” Actually,” she poked her head out from behind the screen. “I’m so sorry to ask, but you don’t have a jumper or something I could borrow, do you?” She already knew that Narcissa often left things like that in the studio, jumpers and cardigans and oversized shirts that she took off while she was working and didn’t bother to put back on. She hadn’t seen anything obvious tonight, but that didn’t mean there wasn’t something lying around. 

Narcissa gave her a strange look, but walked over to the hooks at the doorway, where Hermione’s coat was hanging along with some others. She lifted off a scarf and a leather jacket - Bella’s, Hermione thought - and then a long knitted cardigan in a deep plum colour. 

“Will this do?”

Hermione pulled off her own jumper with a sigh of relief, leaving only her black vest top and her jeans, and emerged from behind the screen. She took the cardigan gratefully. 

“Thank you.”

Narcissa looked as if she was going to ask, especially when she saw Hermione’s own jumper balled up in her hand, but then thought better of it and shrugged. “You’re welcome.”

They sat on the floor by one of the windows, one of Harry’s huge salads in a container between them. Narcissa opened the curtains a little so that they could look down on the street. It was quiet on Emery Row, but Hermione could see the corner with Bond Street with its constant stream of lights and traffic and people. It was so nice, she thought, to be sitting up here away from it all. The cardigan was warm and cosy and smelled of Narcissa. And Harry’s tabbouleh was just as good as his turkey sandwiches. They ate ravenously, mostly in comfortable silence. When the last bit of tomato and the last olive had been cleared from the container, Narcissa leaned back against the wall with a satisfied sigh, and twisted the top from a bottle of sparkling water before offering it to Hermione. 

“Better?”

“Much,” Hermione nodded, taking a mouthful of water and handing the bottle back. “Thank you.”

“He always makes far too much.” But Narcissa’s smile was fond, and Hermione remembered what Andromeda had said about Harry and Draco. 

“Andromeda said it was their anniversary yesterday.”

Narcissa nodded, and chuckled. “She told you about the bet? That’s the third lot she owes me. Slightly unfair really, I know my son too well. He’ll never ask.” She sipped some water from the bottle. “Even after six years, he’s still scared Harry would turn him down.”

“He wouldn’t, would he?” Hermione didn’t know Harry all that well, but she’d seen enough of him and Draco together, even on the short visits Harry made to the shop, to know how much they adored each other. Narcissa shook her head. 

“Of course not. At least, I don’t think so. But someone would actually have to buy the ring for Draco, push him down on one knee, and recite the question for him to repeat.”

Hermione laughed at the visual. “I think your sister is close to doing it.”

“It wouldn’t surprise me.” Narcissa handed her back the bottle of water. “Andy can be quite forceful when she really wants something - or wants something for someone else.”

“Funny, she said almost exactly the same thing about you.” Hermione smirked a little. “She said when you want something, you’re very hard to resist.”

“Did she, now?” Narcissa raised an eyebrow. “Clearly it’s a family trait.”

“I think I’m beginning to realise that.”

“Oh?”

Hermione felt her cheeks flush a little as she realised what she’d said, but before she could cover it with another mouthful of water Narcissa had leaned over, fingers brushing hers as she took the bottle back again. 

“And did my dear sister say what it is that she thinks I want?”

Hermione swallowed. She couldn’t quite believe she was doing this; sitting on a floor with Narcissa, sharing a bottle of water and flirting. Only a few weeks ago the blonde had been Miss Black, unreadable and almost unapproachable, and Hermione still wasn’t sure how it had changed. 

“She…uh…”

At that moment, Narcissa phone rang loudly in her pocket, and Hermione sighed with relief. Her reprieve didn’t last for very long. 

“Speak of the devil,” Narcissa murmured, holding up the display that clearly read Andy: calling. Her eyes rested on Hermione. “She’ll be calling about you.”

Hermione bit her lip. She didn’t really want to face all that right now, but she knew her supervisor would be worried. She didn’t blame her. She felt suddenly guilty that she hadn’t called herself.

“Want me to leave it?”

Hermione shook her head, and Narcissa swiped a finger up the screen. 

“Hi, Andy.”

Hermione could hear Andromeda’s worried voice even from where she sat. 

“Is Hermione still with you? I tried her phone and there was no answer.”

Narcissa raised an eyebrow, silently asking if Hermione wanted her to tell the truth, and Hermione nodded. She hadn’t deliberately ignored her phone, she just hadn’t heard it. 

“Yes. Do you want to speak to her?”

“Did she tell you what happened?”

Hermione grimaced.

“No,” Narcissa replied carefully, watching Hermione. “What’s going on, Andy?”

“You know I can hear you, Andromeda,” Hermione interrupted. “Might as well put it on speaker and save the three-way conversation.”

“Sitting that close, are we?”

Narcissa rolled her eyes but handed Hermione the phone, allowing her to put it on speaker herself. Hermione laid it in between them, on the floor next to the empty pasta box, nodding as Narcissa asked silently if she was sure. She wasn’t, but she realised that neither did she want to keep it as some kind of dirty secret. She hadn’t done anything wrong. 

“Sorry, Andromeda. I should have called.”

“It’s okay, I knew you were safe.” Her supervisor’s voice filled their little space by the window, and Hermione leaned back against the wall. Closing her eyes, she pulled the cardigan tighter around her, and remembered the safety of Andromeda’s arms outside the pub. “But things kicked off a bit after you left.”

“Oh?”

“Neville called me. Cormac apparently drank quite a bit, and started mouthing off to one of the other PhD students about you. You don’t need to know what he said…”

“Spit it out, Andromeda.” Hermione opened her eyes. “I can guess anyway.”

There was a pause. “A frigid whore who wouldn’t even kiss him. Or words to that effect.”

Hermione actually almost laughed, but she didn’t miss Narcissa’s sharp inhale. 

“Well, that wasn’t as bad as I was expecting. Go on.”

“Neville overheard. He asked what the hell Cormac thought he was saying, and what he was doing trying to kiss you in the first place. Amelia overheard that question, and then you can imagine.”

Hermione let out a long breath. She could imagine. As department head, Amelia was well known for being protective of her students, and the slightest hint of any indecent behaviour like McLaggen’s would have made her furious. 

“So what did happen, Hermione?” Andromeda’s voice was soft, and this time Hermione answered without hesitation. Maybe it was Narcissa’s presence that gave her more confidence, or maybe it was just time and distance, some food, warmth, company. She didn’t even feel particularly angry anymore. She was simply determined that he wouldn’t get away with it again. 

When she’d finished - and it didn’t take her very long, even though she quoted McLaggen word for word - Narcissa’s eyes were dark with anger and Andromeda, on the other end of the phone, sounded like she was seething. 

“The little shit,” she hissed, and then guilt crept into her voice. “Hermione, I’m so sorry. I should have…”

“No, Andromeda,” Hermione cut her off. “It certainly wasn’t your fault.”

“Yeah, well. I should have kept a better eye.”

“No,” Hermione said firmly. She didn’t want her supervisor blaming herself either. “No, you shouldn’t. It shouldn’t have even been an issue.”

“You realise Amelia wants to see you on Monday.”

“Yes,” Hermione sighed. She had realised that, and she knew it had to be done even though she also knew she would dread it all weekend. 

“She said she’d ask for a suspension effective immediately. The jerk wants castrating if you ask me, never mind suspending. But she also wanted me to ask you whether you’d consider going to the police and filing a report.”

Hermione paused, and then shrugged. “I don’t know,” she said honestly. “Is it worth it? I mean, it’s my word against his. Nothing actually happened, in the sense that I wasn’t hurt.” She felt Narcissa’s hand slip over hers, and she curled her fingers around it gratefully. It felt so natural. She didn’t even question it. 

“I know it won’t be easy, love.” Andromeda sounded concerned again. “I’ll come with you. But I think Amelia wants to try and use this to get him out altogether. She’s tired of his attitude - as we all are - and I don’t think this is the first time this kind of thing has happened. No one’s ever made it official, but if there’s a complaint and a police report on file then the dean won’t have a choice.”

Hermione ran her free hand over her eyes and pinched the bridge of her nose. “Okay. I’ll go Monday. But you don’t have to come, honestly, you’ve done enough already.”

“I can go with you tomorrow.” Narcissa’s voice was quiet, but authoritative. “It’s better done within twenty four hours. Otherwise he could question why you waited.”

“But it’s Saturday. The shop’s busy, and so are you,” Hermione objected. “I’ll be fine on my own, really.”

Narcissa shook her head. “Draco can manage, and Bella can help out for a couple of hours.” Her tone didn’t leave much room for argument, and Hermione reluctantly acquiesced. 

“Fine.” Andromeda sounded torn between relief it was arranged and amusement at her sister taking over. “But I’m coming with you to Amelia on Monday. I want to make sure that cockroach gets what he deserves.”

“Oh, he will.” Narcissa sounded very sure, and Hermione felt a little shiver of arousal run through her. It startled her, and she resisted it, but she had to admit there was a part of her that found the unexpected protectiveness incredibly attractive. 

“Alright.” But Andromeda wasn’t finished. “Let me have a quick word with Cissy please, Hermione? I’ll see you on Monday, but call me tomorrow.”

Hermione unlinked her hand reluctantly from Narcissa’s. Scrambling to her feet, she made the excuse of going to the bathroom, but not before she heard her supervisor’s smirking voice fading as Narcissa switched the phone off speaker. 

“Feeling protective, little sister?”

“Piss off, Andy.”

‘Have you asked her about Wiltshire yet?”

But Hermione didn’t hear Narcissa’s reply, even though she desperately wanted to stay and listen. Giving the sisters some privacy, she went to the bathroom and took her time, splashing her face and applying some of the soothing hand cream that Narcissa always kept in. Talking about McLaggen had left her a bit shaky again, and she didn’t know whether Andromeda’s teasing of Narcissa made her feel worse or better. One the one hand it meant the flirting wasn’t all in her mind, and the thought made her feel flushed all over. On the other, she wasn’t sure if that was a good thing. What if it made things awkward? She didn’t want to lose any of this. Not her job, not Draco, not Bella’s teasing, not the rapport that seemed to be forming with Narcissa nor the new kind of friendship she was enjoying with Andromeda. Would it be worth that kind of risk?

Her skin seemed to tingle in response, echoing with the feeling of silky fabric and Narcissa’s fingers, and she groaned. She should go home. Have a long, cool shower. Get a grip. Suddenly, she was exhausted. 

Narcissa saw her tiredness immediately and insisted on calling her a cab. Hermione waited for her to ask about Wiltshire, but the blonde didn’t mention anything and Hermione decided to leave it. Maybe whatever it was had just been more of Andromeda’s teasing. She allowed Narcissa to take her downstairs, still wrapped in the cardigan underneath her coat, and when she was gently pulled into a hug she didn’t resist. She slipped her arms around the blonde’s waist and let herself be held, breathing in deeply, letting the sensations of soft hair and skin and cashmere and Narcissa run over her body. It was too much and not enough.

Narcissa’s eyes were dark under the streetlights as she pulled back, and Hermione wondered if she felt the same. 

“See you tomorrow.”

When she arrived home, she was too tired to have a shower or make herself a cup of tea or do any of the other soothing things she had promised herself on the short journey. She simply stripped down to her underwear, wrapped Narcissa’s cardigan around her again, and climbed into bed. Surrounded by the blonde’s scent, she fell asleep in moments. 

Chapter Text

Cold air washed over Hermione as she stepped into the street, and she took several deep breaths of the stinging December breeze. Even laced with traffic fumes and noise and people and the faint tang of stale alcohol, it was still better than the stuffiness of the police station. Two hours had left her with a thumping headache. The officer who took her statement couldn’t have been nicer, and Narcissa had stayed by her side the whole time, helping to guide her through it so carefully and gently that Hermione had briefly wondered whether the blonde had done it before. But she still felt a bit drained. She had gone over everything, including the encounter with McLaggen at the staff meeting several weeks ago, and had felt herself blushing at having to recount how she had ‘invented’ a friend who already had tickets to the play. Narcissa, to her credit, hadn’t even blinked. 

“Well done.” Narcissa stood close beside her, elegant in a black wool coat and her usual black slacks, a deep green pashmina scarf snug around her neck. Hermione felt a hand rest briefly on her shoulder and squeeze. She leaned into it, soaking in the imagined warmth before it was gone. 

“At least that bit’s over with.”

“How are you feeling? Do you want the rest of the day off?”

“No, I’m fine.” Hermione shook her head, and pulled her gloves out of her bag. The wind really was cold, but it was blowing away the lingering headache behind her eyes and the slightly sour taste that talking about McLaggen had left in her throat. “Thank you, but I’d rather get back to normal.”

“Good.”

They walked back towards Bond Street through crowds of Christmas shoppers, weaving their way past glass-fronted shops that all twinkled and flashed and gleamed with lights and decorations. Open doors poured music and chatter and laughter onto the streets. The sharp blue sky and icy sunshine made everything glitter, even the pavements, and Hermione felt herself slowly starting to relax. It also made her think about her own Christmas shopping. She hadn’t started it yet, and she glanced surreptitiously at some of the windows as they walked past. 

“We’ll call in at the deli and get lunch before we go back, if you don’t mind the extra walk?”

Hermione looked at Narcissa. The question surprised her, especially having helped the blonde eat half of what was supposed to be her lunch the evening before. But then she realised that it was probably more for her sake. Narcissa was giving her a bit more time to put the morning behind her, and she felt a little rush of gratitude. And now she thought about it, she was hungry. She hadn’t managed breakfast. 

“Are you sure we have time?”

“Do you want to face a hungry Bella?”

Hermione laughed. “No, not particularly.”

“You learn fast,” Narcissa smiled. “Neither do I.”

They changed direction slightly, and Hermione let Narcissa lead. She had never been to Harry’s deli before and realised that she had no idea where it was. Instead of carrying along Oxford Street to the top of Bond Street, Narcissa turned them in the opposite direction, heading north towards Portman Square and into an area that Hermione didn’t really know at all. Fortunately Narcissa was walking slowly, and the crowds had thinned out away from the main shops. 

“It’s not far.”

Narcissa took her arm as they neared the traffic lights, indicating that they should cross, and Hermione stepped a little closer. She’d woken up that morning still cocooned in Narcissa’s cardigan, surrounded by the blonde’s scent and softness, and she’d never wanted to leave it. It worried her. It excited her. Clearly Narcissa felt something too; the air between them had felt different all morning. Looks had lingered longer even in the confines of the police station. Small touches had grown more frequent, perhaps under the disguise of comfort and reassurance. Now Narcissa’s hand slipped away from her arm, but neither of them moved apart, and they continued to walk slowly, so close their coats were brushing. 

They entered a maze of side streets. Hermione knew it was probably a shortcut, but if she’d been on her own she would have got hopelessly lost. A mix of boutique shops and small offices lined the roads, and Hermione saw shiny brass plaques announcing lawyers, doctors, architects, graphic designers. Harry had chosen a good spot. She remembered him saying how he had set the place up on a loan, and she marvelled at how much courage it must have taken to just go for it, especially in this kind of area. The ground rent alone was probably more than she’d ever earned in a year. 

She smelled the deli before she saw it; a delicious savoury scent that drifted towards her on the breeze. And then she saw the queue. It stretched halfway down the little mews street already, and she smiled. 

“The line usually moves fast.”

Hermione looked at Narcissa, only just containing her surprise.

“Did you expect me to queue-jump?” Narcissa raised one eyebrow, and Hermione felt herself flush. 

“No, just…yes, okay, I did.” She grimaced. “Sorry.”

But Narcissa laughed. The sound was low and throaty, and Hermione felt a familiar warmth spread to her stomach. 

“Other places, yes,” the blonde admitted, rubbing her gloved hands together against the cold. Suede, Hermione noticed. Of course. “But not at Harry’s. He tells me off for not doing it, but sometimes it’s nice not to have the special treatment.”

They were silent for a few moments as the line moved slowly forward, and then Narcissa spoke again. 

“I’ve been meaning to speak to you about Christmas and new year.”

“Oh?” Hermione looked at her. Was it her imagination, or did Narcissa suddenly sound a little nervous?

“Your temporary contract runs out at the end of the year.”

“It does.” Hermione felt her heart speed up a little. She had been waiting for this discussion, hoping that she might be offered something permanent, planning to ask for some casual work at events and shows if not, wondering if…

“Would you like to stay on part time?”

“Yes.”

Narcissa looked at her, her surprise evident. “You can think about it, you know. I understand you’ll be busier with your PhD in the new year, so…”

“The answer is still yes.” Hermione didn’t even need to consider it. “I was really hoping that staying on would be a possibility, but I didn’t want to ask before you or Bella brought it up.” 

“Okay, good.” Narcissa still looked a bit unsure at Hermione’s sudden decisiveness. “That’s one thing sorted. I’ll ask Bella to do a new contract, so make sure you see her later before you leave.”

“Okay,” she nodded, and the queue moved forward. They were now standing by the window to the deli and Narcissa peered in, craning her neck to see what the specials were. Hermione smiled. Narcissa trying to be patient was quite endearing. “What was the other thing?”

“What? Oh, yes.” The blonde turned back to her. Her face was impassive, but she was fiddling with the strap on her bag. “I don’t know if Draco has already mentioned this, but we don’t do Christmas presents between us at the shop.”

“He hadn’t yet, no.” Hermione felt an odd sort of relief. She had been wondering what on earth she could get them all, and had found herself worrying over a gift for Narcissa in particular.

“Nor do we do end-of-year bonuses, except for the seamstresses. Given that everyone else is family, we’ve simply never bothered.”

“I wasn’t expecting one.” She genuinely hadn’t been. Her pay was more than enough and besides, she’d only been there three months. But she was curious. Narcissa was clearly building up to something else. 

“Instead of all that, we usually go away together for the first weekend in January, down to the house - my house - in Wiltshire.” Narcissa paused and Hermione raised an eyebrow.

“You want me to look after the shop while you’re away? You do know I haven’t even opened up on my own yet…”

“No, I’d like you to come.”

“What?”

Narcissa fiddled some more. “It’s usually me, Bella, Andy, Draco, Harry. And you, now, if you’d like to. We’ll drive down on the Friday night and leave the shop shut on the Saturday. We’ve done it so many years now that all the regular clients know about it, and for the rest of them one day doesn’t matter.” She paused. “But have a think about it and let me know.”

Hermione was astounded. Already she felt a fizz of excitement run through her, alongside a little tingle of nervous dread. She had an invitation to stay with Narcissa for the weekend. At Narcissa’s second home - because of course the woman owned a second home. Already Hermione was wondering how she would manage to be around Narcissa so intimately for an entire weekend; already she was looking forward to it even though she hadn’t said yes yet. But before she could speak, the queue had moved forward again and Harry was coming out from behind the counter to greet them. 

“I keep telling you not to wait, Narcissa.”

“And I keep telling you I don’t mind.”

“Hi, Hermione.” Harry grinned at her. “Nice to see you here instead of at the shop.”

“Harry, this place is incredible!” Hermione was looking around her at a space that was much larger than it looked from the outside. One side was taken up with a cheese counter, while the sandwich and salad counter ran along the other side. Staff were busy at both, and she saw at least one other person on the shop floor helping customers to choose. At the back were rows and rows of shelves, stacked with crackers, chutneys, olives, oils, artisan breads and cakes, with yet more behind the counters. Harry looked delighted at her reaction. 

“There’s a cafe upstairs too. You’ll have to come back one day and sit in. But what can I get you for now?”

“Anything. I can’t decide.” Hermione gazed at the spread of the deli counter in front of her, ignoring Narcissa’s amused look and Harry’s laugh. “Something I haven’t had yet.”

“Okay. Narcissa?”

“Greek salad, please. And something for Bella and Draco.”

“Alright, won’t be long.”

They stepped to one side to allow the people behind in, and Hermione found her eyes drawn to the shelves. Her eyes ran down the jars of olives, the different kinds of olive oil that reminded her of Italy and France, the wrapped salamis and chorizos that smelled peppery and spicy even through their packaging and that made her think of sunshine in Spain. She would have to come back here for some Christmas shopping; she knew her mother would love all of it. Narcissa was checking her phone, and so Hermione took the opportunity to look at some of the prices, making a list in her head. They were actually very reasonable. She could get her mother some of the olives and a bottle of oil, and perhaps some cured meat and wax-wrapped cheese to make a little hamper. Her father would love the fruit cake to go with the Scotch that she always bought him. She’d already planned to get Ginny a handbag that she knew the redhead had been coveting for months, but she thought she could pop a couple of packets of biscuits in there as well, for treat days when her friend wasn’t training. She smiled to herself. Maybe Christmas shopping this year wouldn’t be so bad. 

“Here you go.” Harry appeared beside them with two paper bags, and Narcissa tucked her phone away. “Greek salad in there, and Hermione, I did you a Brie, cranberry and walnut salad. Hope that’s okay.”

“That sounds wonderful.”

“Pasta for Bella and Draco’s turkey club in there.”

“Thank you, Harry. Can it go on the tab?”

“Course.” Harry pushed his hair off his forehead, only for it to fall straight back again. “I chucked in some muffins, too. New recipe for Christmas, so let me know what you think.”

Hermione peered into the bag she was carrying as they left the deli, letting Harry get back to working. She could smell the muffins already. A warm, spiced scent permeated the paper bag they were in, rich in orange and cardamon and nutmeg, and she almost moaned in anticipation and pleasure. She wondered how bad it would be to leave her salad until later and just eat the muffin. 

Narcissa walked quicker now, her heels tapping on the pavement. Hermione had to hurry to keep up with her, through the little back streets down to Oxford Street and across to the top of Bond Street, now heaving with shoppers. As they walked, her mind replayed Narcissa’s invitation over and over again, and each time she felt her chest become a little bit warmer, her smile become a bit wider, her stomach flutter with yet another butterfly. When they reached the corner of Bond Street and Emery Row, she reached out and touched Narcissa’s arm. She didn’t want to do this once they were back at the shop, with Bella and Draco and lunch and customers. 

“I’d love to come to Wiltshire.” Hermione looked into blue eyes, and saw a flicker of something pass across them. Relief, pleasure, and something else that she couldn’t grab hold of before it disappeared. “Thank you.”

Narcissa looked at her for a few seconds before she nodded, her face softening into a smile. “Good. Then that’s the other thing settled.” She looked down the street to the shop. “We’d better rescue Draco.”

“From the clients or from Bella?”

Narcissa chuckled. “You do learn fast. Both.”

 

~

 

“You okay, pet?”

Bella looked up as they walked into the office, and Hermione smiled. Narcissa had reassured her earlier that neither Bella nor Draco needed to know where they were going, but Hermione felt the truth was the least they deserved if they were going to cover for both her and Narcissa all morning. She’d given them an edited version and had discovered that protectiveness, too, seemed to run in the family. Draco had given her a bone-crushing hug, while Bella had been almost as angry as Andromeda, muttering something about shoving an umbrella up McLaggen’s arse and opening it. 

“Fine. Thanks, Bella.”

“She did well,” Narcissa said quietly, placing the bag of lunch on the desk and giving Hermione a quick smile. “Pasta and muffins. Don’t eat them all at once. And we need a proper contract, please.”

“You’re staying?” Draco poked his head in from the shop. “Excellent. Does that mean you’re coming to Wiltshire?”

Hermione glanced at Narcissa, who was leaning over Bella’s shoulder to check some emails. She could tell the blonde was listening. “Yes, I’m coming.” She smiled at Draco. “Harry too?”

“Of course.” Draco looked genuinely pleased at the news she would be there. “He always takes that weekend off from the deli.”

“And it’ll be a double celebration this year.” Bella looked gleeful. “Now that I’ve got you all in one place - Cissy, that means you too….” 

Narcissa stopped halfway to the stairs, muffin in hand. “Bella, I already know. We decided together, remember?”

“Not the point.” Bella’s glare fixed Narcissa in place, and the blonde delicately rolled her eyes. But a smile hovered around her lips as Bella turned back to Hermione and Draco. “The perfume will be ready in the new year. Given the name, “ she flashed an appreciative smile at Hermione, “we’ve decided to wait until the February new moon to launch it. That’s on the 12th. So keep it free, both of you.”

Hermione felt the excitement bubble up in her stomach. She still couldn’t quite believe it. She had named a perfume. She would be at the launch of it. She would be selling it, because she would be staying. 

And then something else occurred to her. 

“Isn’t that the same week as the play opening?”

Narcissa nodded, slightly ruefully. “Don’t worry, I wasn’t planning on sleeping.” She laughed at the looks on both Hermione’s face and Draco’s. “Relax, both of you. The costumes should be finished by then.”

“Are you taking work away to Wiltshire?”

“I’ll try not to, Draco.”

He didn’t look convinced, but let it slide. “And what’s the other celebration? You said it’s a double one?”

“I did, didn’t I?” Bella looked even more pleased with herself this time, and Narcissa looked warily at her sister. Hermione realised she had no more idea of what was coming than they did. “By then, blondie, you will be looking at the latest Black divorcée.”

There was silence for a few seconds, and then Narcissa’s eyes widened. “He signed the papers?”

Bella nodded. “The first ones, anyway. The ones he should have signed three years ago.”

“Thank fuck for that.” Draco heaved a sigh of relief, and Narcissa didn’t even reprimand him on his language.

“For once I agree.” She leaned over and wrapped Bella in a hug, and Hermione heard her whisper. “I’m proud of you, darling.”

Bella didn’t reply, but Hermione saw her arms tighten around her sister. She felt a little awkward, wondering if she should stay during what was so clearly a family moment, but Draco smiled at her and she relaxed a little. She knew that Bella wouldn’t have mentioned it if she’d minded Hermione being there. But Hermione couldn’t help wondering what the woman’s ex-husband had done for the whole family to be so relieved that the divorce was going through. 

The gathering was broken by someone coming into the shop, and Hermione spent the next hours grabbing mouthfuls of salad - and the most delicious muffin she had ever tasted - in between clients, telephone orders, and helping Draco re-stock the perfumes from the delivery that had come in the previous day. Narcissa had disappeared upstairs. Bella stayed in the office, and occasionally Hermione heard a snatch of a hummed tune coming through the doorway. It made her smile. When Draco joined her in a quiet moment behind the counter, she nodded towards the sound. 

“She’s happy,” she said softly, and Draco nodded. “I guess she’s relieved.”

“We all are.” He grimaced. “She won’t mind me saying that Rod was a prat. I have no idea how they ever got together in the first place, but when you told us about that professor earlier….well. Let’s just say that the two of them sounded similar, only Rod had a real violent streak. Bella’s been fighting for a divorce for years.”

Hermione’s eyes widened, but she didn’t have a chance to ask further before someone in the shop needed help and the telephone rang. Standing in the fitting rooms, she found her mind wandering from the questions of green versus black and dress versus trouser suit, and back to Bella. She thought of what Draco had said and suppressed a shudder. No wonder Narcissa had seemed so pleased. 

By ten to six, without the chance for another breather, they were both exhausted. 

“Don’t they have homes to go to?” Draco muttered as a last-minute customer pushed open the door. He plastered on a smile, but Hermione could see his relief when the woman headed straight for the perfume, picked out a bottle, paid and left within five minutes. She felt bad. He’d been working all day with no break in order to cover for her. 

“Thanks for today, Draco. I’m sorry you got left with the shop.”

He waved her apology away. “No worries. Bella helped…kind of.” They both smiled. “But I will be pleased when this whole Christmas shit show is over.”

“You don’t enjoy it?”

“Not particularly.” Draco leaned against the counter. “Do you have plans for the big day?”

Hermione shrugged. “Same as usual, I suppose.” She hadn’t thought much about it. “Term finishes next week, but I’ve got loads to do. I’ll go to my parents’ Christmas Eve and stay until Boxing Day. Apart from that, I’ll just be in the library and here and at home. You?”

He shook his head. “Nothing special. We usually go to the deli on Christmas Eve once Harry’s closed up, and have a meal all together there. Mother and Bella will probably come over Christmas Day.”

“Only if Harry’s got more of those muffins.” Bella stuck her head out of the office door, clearly having heard the conversation. “Got a minute, Hermione?”

Hermione followed her into the office, where a new contract was waiting on the desk for her signature. Bella pushed it towards her and handed her a pen. 

“The usual, pet,” she drawled. “Check I haven’t made any dozy mistakes, make sure your details are still correct, sign on the dotted line. No need for it really, since Wiltshire makes it more official than this ever would, but I suppose we need a paper trail.”

Hermione scanned it quickly, and scrawled her signature with the date. She couldn’t help a smile as she did so. She knew it would be difficult in the months ahead, as her PhD work was due in and she prepared for her viva exam, but she had grown to genuinely love the job. The pay alone would have made it worth staying on - it hadn’t escaped her notice that Bella had added a small hourly increase - but then there was this family that somehow she felt she was becoming part of. 

There was Narcissa. 

She handed it back to Bella, who gave her a smirk and filed it away in one of the cabinets. 

“Thank heaven and hell that day’s over.” Draco walked into the office and tossed the keys down on the desk.

Bella tutted. “Such a drama queen.”

“You taught me everything I know, Bella.” He unlocked the safe and pulled out his jacket. “I’m out of here. Harry’s promised me a drink at that new bar on Grosvenor Street. Are you leaving now too, Hermione?”

She hesitated, checking her phone. She had a message from Ginny asking if she was going to be at home tonight, but she didn’t want to leave right away. “No, I’ll pop up and see Narcissa quickly. I want to thank her for today.” She tried to ignore Bella’s amused look, and Draco shrugged. 

“Okay. Ask Bella nicely and she’ll let you out.”

“Will I?”

Draco rolled his eyes and Hermione waved to him, slipping up the stairs before Bella could really get going on teasing her. 

It all felt so familiar to her now, after last night: the slant of light from the studio that lit the stairs, the drift of soft music, the sense of letting the rest of the world fall away with each step. This time, before going in, she leaned against the doorframe and watched. Narcissa had the jumpsuit laid out on the desk and was slowly, carefully, hand-stitching the lace insert onto the back. Her hair was pulled back, her feet bare, her glasses on. Her eyes were narrowed as she concentrated, the corner of her bottom lip held in her teeth. She glanced up at Hermione, but she didn’t stop sewing and Hermione didn’t move. She waited until Narcissa had finished. 

“Everything okay?”

“Fine.” She stepped into the studio. “I just wanted to thank you.”

“What for?” Narcissa stretched and took off her glasses. She slipped her shoes back on before walking towards Hermione. 

“For the contract.”

“Technically you have Bella to thank for that, not me.”

Hermione inclined her head. “For the invitation to Wiltshire.” She paused. “And for coming with me today. It made it a lot easier.”

“You’re welcome. For both.” Narcissa’s eyes softened. “Come prepared for a celebration in January. Bella doesn’t do things halfheartedly.”

“No, I can’t imagine she does.” Hermione hesitated. She knew she shouldn’t ask. It was none of her business, and she certainly didn’t want to gossip while Bella was just downstairs, but it had been bothering her all afternoon. “Draco said that McLaggen reminded him of her husband.”

Narcissa raised an eyebrow, and Hermione hastily shook her head. 

“Never mind. It was just…at the station this morning, I had the feeling you’d done it all before, that’s all, and when Draco said that I thought it was maybe…” She smiled apologetically. “I’m sorry. It’s none of my business.”

But Narcissa effectively quieted her by holding up one finger, close to Hermione’s lips but not quite touching, and simply nodding. 

“Oh.”

Narcissa smiled softly. “So you see why we’re all celebrating.” She paused, before moving her finger to brush a stray curl back behind Hermione’s ear. The touch sent a warm shiver across Hermione’s skin. “First weekend in January. Pack something warm.” 

Chapter Text

“Hermione?”

The front door slammed, and from her bedroom Hermione heard the sounds of Ginny hanging up her coat, kicking off her shoes, and throwing her keys down on the hall table. 

“In here,” she called back. A moment later Ginny bounced into the room, wearing her favourite sweatpants and hoodie and with her hair still tied back in a tight bun, the way she preferred it when she ran. She’d clearly come straight from her morning’s training with only a cursory dive in the athletic ground’s showers, but she stopped and raised her eyebrows at the sight of Hermione standing in the middle of chaos. 

“Did your wardrobe explode or something?”

“Very funny,” Hermione groaned. “What time is it?”

“Two fifteen.”

“Shit.” Hermione looked around her in despair. She was due to meet Narcissa and Bella at the shop in less than three hours to drive to Wiltshire, and she’d been trying to pack all morning. Almost every single item of clothing that she owned and that she could conceivably wear in January was scattered around her on the bed, on the floor, on the desk chair. She’d picked things out only to put them back. She’d actually packed her bag twice, only to tip it all out and start again. She couldn’t even decide on which pyjamas to take. She had always been so good at packing, quick and efficient and never leaving anything vital behind, but now, for a simple weekend away, she had no idea even where to start. 

“You really are in a state.” 

Hermione glared at her friend’s smirk. “I am not in a state. I’m just having a little trouble deciding what to take, that’s all.”

“Okay, well, let’s start with the basics.” Ginny rolled up her hoodie sleeves. “Underwear. Which drawer?”

Hermione didn’t even bother objecting. She simply pointed, and let Ginny rummage through until the redhead found something she deemed suitable. 

“Hermione, you really need to branch out a bit. My mother wears cotton knickers from M&S and she’s well over twice your age.”

“They’re comfortable!” Hermione looked over at what Ginny had pulled out from the bottom of the drawer instead. A simple black lace set, and a deep plum set that she’d bought in France, neither of which she had ever worn.  Now, though, she had to admit they looked nice. “It doesn’t matter, Ginny, no one’s going to see them.”

Ginny snorted. “I will bet a month’s supply of Ben & Jerry’s that she at least catches a peek.”

“Who?”

Her flatmate rolled her eyes. “The woman you’ve been thinking about for the last three weeks non-stop, is who. Quit pretending and get a grip.”

“I have not!” 

But she had, and Ginny knew it. Hermione had really tried to keep her meandering thoughts to herself over the Christmas break, especially after she’d returned from her parents’ house on Boxing Day to find her flatmate curled up on the sofa and miserable after a Christmas Day row with Dean. The tears hadn’t lasted long, and it had been fun spending time together after both being so busy that they’d barely seen each other for weeks,. But still, Hermione had been careful not to mention her growing attraction to Narcissa too much. 

Not that there was really anything to say. She hadn’t seen the woman at all in the week before Christmas. When the shop finally closed at lunchtime on Christmas Eve, the blonde had joined them for a drink in the office before disappearing quickly back upstairs, and Hermione had barely had a chance to speak to her. And in between Christmas and New Year, Hermione had only worked one day and hadn’t seen anyone except Draco. It had felt strange. She had never been a fan of the extended holiday, and once January came was always more than ready to get back to a routine. This year she’d been even more impatient than usual. Although she’d tried to temper it, it had clearly been obvious to Ginny. 

“Take them. What are you wearing to travel in?”

“This?” Hermione looked down at her jeans and black v-neck jumper, and Ginny shook her head. 

“Nope.”

“Then what? All I’m going to be doing is sitting in a car.”

“In a very posh car.” Ginny plucked a pair of jeans from the bed, considered them, and then shook her head. “No, perhaps not to travel in. Take them though, you look good in them.”

Hermione took the jeans from Ginny’s hand. They were her blue Levis, a little faded and softened, but still a perfect fit even after several years. “Really?”

“Really,” Ginny confirmed as she started rifling through a pile on the floor. “Even I want to slap your arse when you wear them. Take this top as well…” She started handing things to Hermione, one by one, and Hermione gave in. She had to admit, Ginny had good taste outside of athletics gear. She also seemed to know what Hermione looked and felt good in, which was a judgment call that Hermione herself had been struggling with all morning. She took two long-sleeved t-shirts, simple and a snug fit. A thick cream cable-knit jumper. Two vest tops with lace trim, one in burgundy and one in black, and a light pink hoodie that was her favourite to snuggle down in. Another pair of jeans, skinny fit and tight and that she hadn’t been convinced she could still get into until Ginny made her try them on, and a silky black top to go with them if she needed to dress up a bit. She watched as Ginny pulled out pyjamas, more underwear, socks, dark brown leather ankle boots and a pair of deep green ballet flats. Even makeup went onto the pile. Finally Ginny disappeared into the bathroom, and emerged clutching Hermione’s toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo, and a tub of moisturiser. 

“There.” She looked at her handiwork with pride. “It’s only a couple of nights, that should be enough. Do you need proper boots for walking in, do you think?”

Hermione shook her head, feeling a little dazed. “Draco sent me a message saying to bring wellies, then he sent another one saying not to bother because there are spare pairs at the house. So I guess wellies will do.”

“Then you’re all done.” Ginny nudged Hermione’s small, carry-on style suitcase towards her. 

“I need a book.” Hermione reached over to look through the pile on her bedside table, and Ginny burst out laughing. 

“Are you fucking kidding? You’re going on a weekend with the Black sisters. You will not need a book, trust me.”

“I know, but I refuse to go away without one. It’s a matter of principle.” Hermione picked out a battered copy of Virginia Woolf’s The Years that she had read and re-read over and over again and still loved, and a new poetry anthology that her mother had given her for Christmas. “Which coat should I take?”

“Oh, for heaven’s sake. Do you even have more than one?”

“I have that one.” Hermione pointed to a black down jacket that she hardly ever wore because it was generally too warm for London, and because her wool coat was so much smarter. “It might be more practical.” 

Ginny considered, head on one side before shrugging and tossing it onto the pile. “Oh! We need to find you something to wear now.” She started rummaging again. “Okay….these and this.” She held out a pair of black leggings and a long, dark green jumper that had a soft cowl neck. “Wear your gold hoop earrings, they look cute.”

“Is that everything?”

“I can’t believe I’ve just had to pack for you,” Ginny shook her head, laughing. “Go and get in the shower, I’ll put the kettle on. You’ve got time before you go now.”

“Thanks, Ginny.” Hermione stood and enveloped her friend in a hug. “I don’t know what was the matter with me.”

“I do,” Ginny snickered, and Hermione slapped her lightly on the arm as she released her. 

“Are you sure you’ll be okay? With Dean and everything?’

“Oh gods, yes.” Ginny nodded firmly. “He can call and apologise if he wants to, but otherwise I’m really not bothered. Not worth it. And you’re only away for two nights, Hermione!”

“I know, I just feel bad…”

“I’m a big girl, you don’t need to worry about me. Go. Shower. Put some makeup on.”

Hermione did. She used her almond oil again, and left the bathroom in a steam of sweet fragrance that clung to her skin. The jumper and the leggings were soft and comfortable, and she wondered why she didn’t wear them more often. She ran some curl cream through her hair, enough to be able to leave it down, and began to tidy up everything that hadn’t gone into the suitcase. 

Then she remembered Narcissa’s cardigan. She’d never taken it back, and had felt terrible at Christmas when she realised she had forgotten. Smiling, she took it from the hanger in her wardrobe and folded it slowly. She’d washed it after she’d slept in it, carefully checking the care label and feeling grateful it wasn’t dry clean only, but something of Narcissa still clung to it, and she felt a bit reluctant as she placed it into the case. 

“Wow.” Ginny looked up as she entered the kitchen. “For someone who’s just going to sit in a car for hours, you look hot.”

“A posh car, Ginny,” Hermione laughed, tossing her friend’s teasing back at her. She was starting to feel a mixture of excitement and nerves churn in her stomach, and took the tea that Ginny offered her gratefully. “And I’m only wearing what you told me to.”

“Clearly I have good taste.” Ginny sat at the table with her own tea, and sighed. “I need another shower myself, training was brutal.”

“Don’t push too much.” Hermione knew that Ginny was working hard in preparation for her team trials. “You don’t want to get injured.”

Ginny shuddered. “That I don’t. But I’ve decided to drop the high jump and concentrate on the 400 and the relay. That makes things a bit easier.”

“What did your coach say?”

“Hooch? She was the one who suggested it.” Ginny shrugged. “I’m ok with it. I mean, I love high jump, but I’m better at the others, and if it gives me a better chance of being selected then great.” She slurped her tea. “But enough of that. Remind me what the plan is for Wiltshire?”

“I’m not entirely sure.” Hermione fiddled with the handle of her mug. “All I know is that Narcissa’s driving me, Bella and Andromeda down tonight, and Draco and Harry are coming in the morning. I suppose they have things that they usually do when they’re down there, but it all seemed pretty relaxed when Draco was talking about it.”

“Isn’t it gonna be kind of weird, going on a weekend away with your supervisor?”

“I don’t know that either,” Hermione admitted. “I don’t think so. She’s more like a friend now anyway, especially since McLaggen.”

“That jackass.” Ginny’s expression darkened, and Hermione shrugged. 

“He’s suspended pending an inquiry. I don’t need to do anything for that, though, they’ll just take the police report.” She didn’t feel much towards him anymore beyond a vague disgust, but knowing that he wouldn’t be there when term started again had filled her with relief. 

“That’s the least he deserves. And Narcissa?”

“What about her?”

“How are you feeling about being with her for the weekend?”

“It’s only two nights, and there’ll be enough people there…” Hermione caught Ginny’s disbelieving expression. “Okay, I’m nervous. I like her. Sometimes I think it’s mutual, and then I think that’s impossible and I’m dreaming it.”

“Why?”

Hermione raised an eyebrow. “Because she’s Narcissa Black?”

“And she clearly does like you otherwise you wouldn’t have been invited.”

“Maybe.” Hermione shrugged. She wanted to believe it. She just couldn’t quite bring herself to. “Or maybe she just did because it’s a shop thing and I’m there permanently now.”

“A shop thing that also involves Andromeda and Harry, and is therefore a family thing.” Ginny glanced at the clock on the wall. “You should go in a minute. Want to call a cab?”

Hermione hadn’t realised that it had become dark outside, but now she looked at the clock and saw that Ginny was right. “Yes. I’ll get one down the street.” She drained the rest of her tea. “Thanks, Ginny.”

“Message me if you need.” Ginny’s eyes were laughing. “Including details. I want details.”

 

~

 

In the end, she walked. The cold air soothed her nerves, and the steady beat of her footsteps and the trundle of her suitcase on the pavement steadied her. She arrived at the shop just as Bella was locking up, but there was no sign of Narcissa.

“You didn’t chicken out then,” Bella smirked by way of greeting. “Good. Happy new year.”

Hermione smiled, her nerves dissipating slightly with Bella’s familiar brusqueness. “Happy new year, Bella.”

She felt a hand slip into the crook of her arm. She followed the dark haired woman further up the street, and then round a corner into the dead-end where Narcissa had parked the car, the engine already idling. Hermione glimpsed the distinctive Audi insignia on the boot as it swung open seemingly of its own accord, and she self-consciously placed her case in with the two already there. Ginny had been right, of course. It was a very posh car. 

“You sit in the front, pet. Cissy’s driving makes me queasy.”

“Stop exaggerating.” But Narcissa was smiling in the driver’s seat, and already she looked more relaxed than she had done before Christmas. Hermione slid into the front passenger seat, feeling the dark leather smooth underneath her leggings, and the blonde gave her a quick wink that set a cloud of butterflies away in her stomach. “Bella thinks I drive too fast.”

“You do,” Bella complained, settling herself in the back behind Hermione. 

“This coming from the woman who used to ride a motorbike.” Narcissa glanced at Hermione. “All set, Hermione?”

Hermione nodded, returning the smile, and slipped out of her coat. She already knew she would be far too warm in it. “What about Andromeda?”

“Picking her up on the way.” Narcissa backed up, twisting to see behind her and resting one hand on the back of Hermione’s seat in the process. “She lives in Fulham, it’s not far off the road.”

The car’s engine barely made a noise as they turned off Emery Row, and when Hermione stretched out her legs they didn’t even reach the front of the footwell. The dashboard lights and the streetlights outside lit up Narcissa as she navigated the back streets, avoiding the crush of Oxford Street on a Friday night, and Hermione tried to be discreet as she glanced over. Narcissa’s hair was loose around her shoulders, dark streaks tucked behind her ears. She wore her usual black slacks and the cream cashmere cardigan, and Hermione was very glad that she’d listened to Ginny about what to wear and what to pack. 

She lost track of where they were going. She only knew that they were heading south towards the river, but it wasn’t long before Narcissa pulled into a residential street and stopped in front of a house about halfway down. Like the others, it was set back a little from the road behind a low brick wall, with a large bay window and a short path leading up to the front door. 

“I’ll go.” Narcissa left the engine running as she got out, but before she could walk up the path the front door of the house opened, and a small boy came barrelling out. 

“Cissy!”

“Teddy!” Hermione watched as Narcissa caught him and swept him up off his feet, planting a kiss on his nose. “How’s my favourite great nephew?”

The boy giggled as Narcissa put him down, and in the light coming from the house Hermione could see that he was dressed in his pyjamas and a dressing gown, big fluffy dragon-shaped slippers on his feet. “I’m your only great nephew, Cissy.”

“That’s true. But that doesn’t mean you aren’t also my favourite. Now, is grandma Andy ready yet?”

“Andromeda has a grandchild?” Hermione turned around to Bella, too surprised to think about what she was saying, and Bella smirked. 

“Doesn’t look old enough, you mean? Yes, Teddy’s her grandson.”

“She just said she had a child at home,” Hermione turned back to the doorway, where Andromeda had now appeared with an older woman behind her. “I assumed…”

“Most people do.” Bella waved at Teddy through the window, and opened the car door as he came running towards her. “Whoah, little man.” She chuckled, and got out of the car to give him a hug. “What have we taught you about running into the road?”

“It’s dark, Bella,” Teddy explained patiently, “and I could see there were no big lights coming. Are you going to drink too much again this year?”

Hermione spluttered, and Bella laughed. “Probably, Teddy, although your grandmother will tell me off.” 

“She will,” Teddy nodded. “She tells me off for drinking too much orange juice too.” The boy looked curiously towards the front seat of the car, and Hermione twisted around to smile at him. 

“Hello, Teddy.”

“Teddy, this is Hermione.”

Teddy waved cautiously. “Hello, Hiomie.”

Hermione laughed. “Close enough.”

“Teddy! Come here,” Andromeda called from the front door. She waited until he had given Bella another hug and run back to the house, before crouching down in front of him and pulling his dressing gown tighter around his small body. “Be good for Helen, yes?”

The boy looked up at the older woman, and nodded. 

“I always am.” He looked a bit sulky for a moment, and Helen ruffled his hair. 

“You are. And we’re going to have fun, aren’t we? Far more fun than grandma’s going to have.”

Teddy nodded uncertainly, and Andromeda gave him a kiss on the forehead. “Good boy. You know what to do if you need me.” She stood up and gave Helen a hug, accepting the stuffed holdall the older woman handed her, and gave Teddy one more kiss. The little boy stood with Helen in the doorway, watching slightly forlornly as Andromeda followed Narcissa down the path and back to the car, dumped her bag in the boot, and slid into the back seat next to Bella. 

Andromeda waved all the way down the road until the house was no longer visible, and then slumped back in her seat with a sigh. 

“Thank god for that, I thought he was going to throw another tantrum like last year. Hi, Hermione.”

“Hi, Andromeda.”

“Oh, for heaven’s sake call her Andy, pet. You can’t call her Andromeda all weekend, you’ll tie your tongue in knots.”

Hermione twisted in her seat and saw Andromeda smirk. “As long as you remember to revert once term starts. Has anyone got any sweets?”

Narcissa, waiting for the junction lights to change, reached across Hermione and opened the glove compartment to pull out a bag of wine gums, tossing them into the back in Andy’s vague direction just as the lights turned green. 

“It’s like having toddlers in the back,” she complained, but Hermione could see she was trying not to laugh. “Give it half an hour and they’ll be saying they need the toilet.”

“If you’d let me drive…” Andromeda - no, Andy - reached forward to offer the open bag to Hermione, and she nearly stuck her hand in at the same time as Narcissa.

“No one else drives this car, you should know that by now.”

“Cissy is very protective over her precious Audi,” Andy explained to Hermione, smirking at her sister.

“Since Bella crashed my last one and you haven’t driven in almost ten years, I don’t think you can blame me for that.” Narcissa dropped a sweet into her mouth, and swore as a car pulled out in front of her, forcing her to brake. “Idiot.”

Hermione let the teasing and the banter wash over her as they made their slow way out of London. Rush hour was waning, but there was still plenty of traffic around. She watched as unfamiliar streets slid past, the dashboard satnav beeping softly every so often to alert Narcissa to upcoming roadworks or speed cameras - which was probably a good thing, Hermione thought, as Bella had been right. Narcissa was a fast driver, always pushing the top end of the speed limit, nipping in and out of different lanes depending on which one was moving and which one wasn’t, nudging the red lights. But Hermione still felt completely safe. The car purred under Narcissa’s hands, and she wriggled down a little further into her seat. She had never been in anything so comfortable.

“Are you warm enough?” Narcissa said softly, ignoring Andy and Bella in the back, and Hermione nodded. 

“Yes, thank you.”

“Once we get past the M25 it doesn’t take long. A couple of hours.”

“Honestly, I could sit in this car all night.” Hermione ran her hands along the side of her seat, and Narcissa chuckled. 

“I have done. After about six hours, the comfort level starts to taper off.” She quickly swerved into another lane as they approached the Hammersmith flyover. “Draco and Harry will be coming in the morning.”

“Draco said,” Hermione nodded. “He didn’t say why they weren’t coming tonight, though.”

“He didn’t tell me why either…” She tapped the horn sharply as another car cut her off with inches to spare, and Bella swore in the back seat as the noise made her jump. 

“Jesus, Cissy, give a girl some warning.” 

Narcissa ignored her. “…but I have a hunch.”

“A hunch about what?” Andy leaned forward.

“Why Draco isn’t coming until the morning.” Narcissa tapped her left hand on the steering wheel, and Andy almost squealed. 

“Seriously? Finally? He’s going to ask…”

“No, of course not,” Narcissa scoffed. “This is Draco, it took him almost three months to ask Harry on a date. No, I think Harry’s going to ask him. He came to pick Draco up from the shop earlier and he was jumpy as a kitten.”

“Could be going to dump him,” Bella offered, and Andy thumped her sister on the arm. “Hey! It’s a possibility…”

“He had a ring box in his pocket, Bella.”

“You went through your future son-in-law’s pockets?”

“I did not!” Narcissa defended herself. “I simply waited until Draco had gone to the bathroom, and then asked Harry if the box-shaped lump in his coat that he kept fiddling with was a miniature bomb or an engagement ring. He went bright red and nothing exploded, so I’m assuming it was the latter.”

Andy did squeal then, and Bella cackled with laughter. Hermione smiled, thrilled for all of them but especially Draco. She’d grown so fond of him, and she knew how much he loved Harry. 

“That’s so exciting!” She looked at Narcissa, who was still smiling. “You really think he’s going to do it?”

“I bloody hope so,” Andy said. “If he does, can I have my twenty quid back?”

“No,” Narcissa said, as the line of lights in front of them crawled forward. “The bet was that Draco would ask Harry on their anniversary, not that Harry would ask Draco on a random day in January.”

“Harsh, Cissy.”

“I spent it on sweets for you for the journey, so don’t complain.”

“Did you get anything with chocolate?” Bella asked as she rummaged in her handbag and pulled out her phone. But Narcissa gave Hermione a look as if to say I told you so, and fixed Bella with a glare in the rearview mirror. 

“No chocolate, and it's half an hour until the motorway. Not until until then.” She turned back to Hermione as Bella huffed. “I can only take so much of Bella’s music.”

It was more like forty five minutes before they were cruising down the slip road onto the M25. The traffic was still heavy, but Narcissa breathed a sigh of relief as the speedometer crept above fifty for the first time. 

“London traffic kills me,” she muttered, and put her foot down on the accelerator. “Alright, Bella, hand it over.”

But Hermione reached over to take Bella’s phone from her instead, her hand brushing Narcissa’s as they met in midair. 

“I’ll sort it. You concentrate.”

“Worried about my driving?”

“No.” Hermione felt warmth spread through her at the soft, teasing tone. “But at least I have my eyes free to censor the music.”

Narcissa laughed. “Good luck with that.” Her hand lingered until she had to slow down and change down a gear, and Hermione focused on the phone to try and control the trembling that she was sure must be obvious. 

“Fourth playlist, pet. Put it on shuffle.” 

Hermione obediently found the fourth playlist and pressed shuffle play, and Bella whooped as Guns N’ Roses filled the car. 

“Really, Bella?” Andy groaned. “Oldies?”

“You love it, little sister. Some of these songs are nearly as old as you are.” 

By the time they turned off onto the M3 Narcissa had really put her foot down, and both Bella and Andy were singing loudly. Take Me To Church, Sweet Home Alabama, Go Your Own Way. Hermione couldn’t help laughing, and Narcissa, although grumbling, was smiling. Bella was actually a good singer, and when she said as much to Narcissa the blonde laughed and nodded.

“I know. That’s how she gets away with playing so much crap in my car. This is one of her better playlists.” She cast a sideways glance at Hermione. “Do you regret coming yet?”

“Absolutely not.” Hermione returned the smile, and her breath hitched as Narcissa’s hand rested on her knee and squeezed gently. 

“Good.”

She still wasn’t sure she would survive it, but she definitely had no regrets. 

The motorway was emptier now, and Narcissa was pushing the speed limit. Town lights drifted past. The headlights coming towards them were hypnotic. Hermione only knew that they were near Reading by the satnav on the dashboard, but soon she stopped looking at it and gazed out into the darkness instead. Narcissa was quiet, and when Hermione glanced over she saw the woman’s strong profile, blue eyes on the road, a peaceful look on her face that Hermione guessed was rare. Despite the speed, she was a good driver. The low hum of the car was soothing, and Hermione lost track of the miles and the time. The music subtly changed tempo, and as the towns grew further and further apart and Bella’s singing grew quieter, she felt her eyes closing.  

She didn’t know how long she was asleep. The first thing she was aware of was gravel crunching under the car tyres, and the feeling that they had slowed down considerably. The music had stopped. The car pulled to a smooth halt, and she heard the back doors open, sighs of relief as backs and legs were stretched. Then she felt a warm hand on her cheek, and her eyes flickered open as the music stopped. 

“Wake up, sleepy one.” Narcissa’s hand dropped, and Hermione saw her smile. “We’re here.”  

Chapter Text

When Hermione first woke, she didn’t know where she was. It was still dark outside, and she was wrapped in a thick duvet that smelled of lavender and vanilla. The pillows underneath her head were unfamiliar and soft, the bed turned the wrong way to the door. When she stretched out her legs, her feet touched a hot water bottle that had gone cold. 

There were no streetlights casting a glow over her bed, and when her half-asleep eyes adjusted to the darkness she saw a long, low window stretching across the wall, covered with heavy patterned curtains that definitely weren’t hers. Then she remembered. 

She was in Wiltshire. 

She closed her eyes again and snuggled down, her mind already replaying every moment from the previous evening. It had been almost ten when they had arrived. She’d climbed out of the car and breathed in cold, fresh air, heavy with the scent of earth and frost, and looked up at a sky studded with stars. There were no lights visible apart from the welcoming glow of the house. They were in the middle of nowhere. She’d heard an owl hooting somewhere nearby, and the sound had sent a pleasurable shiver down her spine as she breathed in once more, feeling some of the weight of London fade away. 

Inside, she’d found one of the cosiest, most comfortable houses she’d ever been in. Narcissa had given her a quick tour as Bella and Andy headed straight for the kitchen, but she hadn’t really taken much in. There was a huge living room with an open fire set in an exposed brick fireplace, squashy sofas, and cushions and curtains and throws in creams and deep reds. A brick archway led through to the kitchen, with light pine worktops and pale blue tiles. Narcissa had waved towards a study, a downstairs bathroom, and a formal dining room that she said was never used, and had then taken Hermione upstairs to show her to her room. The stairs weren’t level, and the walls sloped; Hermione had realised how old the house was when she saw the original beams, black and cracked and rambling over the ceilings. She’d expected something grand and this was certainly large, but it was also lived-in and homely and full of character. She loved it. 

Her room was tucked away down the far end of the landing. Narcissa had pointed out the others as they passed - her own master suite, Draco and Harry’s room, the one Bella and Andy were sharing. When Hermione had tried to protest at that, saying that she would be happy on the sofa or something, she’d been gently cut off with a hand on her lower back, urging her to lift the old latch on the door and go inside. She’d found a beautiful, low-ceilinged room that must have been right in the corner of the house, with a huge king-sized bed, windows on two sides, and an old fireplace that had been filled with a vase of fresh flowers. A dressing table held a variety of guest toiletries, all luxurious, and the wardrobe had plenty of hanging and shelf space and a stack of spare blankets. 

“It can get cold overnight, so turn the radiator up if you need to and help yourself to blankets,” Narcissa had said, and Hermione had remembered the cardigan, carefully folded in her suitcase. She’d tried to give it back, apologising for keeping it so long, but Narcissa had just smiled. 

“Keep it for now. You might want it later on.”

Then they’d gone back downstairs, where Bella and Andy had made cups of tea and toasted cheese sandwiches. They hadn’t bothered with the fire in the living room, even though it was made up: Hermione had realised that Narcissa must have someone looking after the place when she wasn’t there, and preparing it for their arrival. They’d sat around the large wooden table in the kitchen instead, eating and drinking and talking. Hermione couldn’t remember now what they’d talked about. It had become a blur of teasing and laughter and quieter conversation until all the cheese sandwiches had gone, and one by one they had all started yawning. Andy was the first to give in, then Hermione. She’d left Narcissa and Bella downstairs, tired but wondering how she would ever sleep with her body still humming from Narcissa’s presence, and the slightly unsettling quietness that surrounded the house when she was used to London traffic and noise. She had finally drifted off listening to the owl in the distance, and the unfamiliar but somehow comforting creaks of the house as it settled for the night. 

Now, she got up and padded to the window, the soft carpet cool on her bare feet. She could make out the shapes of trees nearby, dark against the softly lightening sky. She saw the stone walls that surrounded a garden, and the fields that rolled away beyond that into the distance. Streaks of grey and silver in the east slowly revealed the frost that had settled overnight. It was beautiful, and after using the bathroom Hermione settled in on the windowsill to watch the sunrise, wrapping herself in Narcissa’s cardigan over her pyjamas. 

An hour later, when the sun was barely up and the sky was tinted with the cold pink of a winter morning, she heard the creak of another door further along the hallway and footsteps heading downstairs. She was torn between following them in search of tea and staying to look at the view a bit longer, but she was thirsty. Rummaging for a pair of socks in her suitcase - and shaking her head at herself once again when she thought of Ginny packing it for her - she slipped them on and quietly went downstairs. 

She found Andy in the kitchen, all curly hair and big flannel pyjamas, the kettle already softly whistling. 

“Morning.” The older woman gave her a sleepy wave, and Hermione returned it. 

“Morning, Andy.”

“Mugs are in there, and tea, coffee, whatever you want, all over there.” Andy gestured around the kitchen. “Just help yourself to anything.” She padded to the fridge, its door disguised to look like one of the cream panelled cupboards, and pulled out a bottle of milk. “I’ll be more helpful once I’ve had a coffee.”

Hermione smiled. She found herself a mug - Denby china, sturdy and smooth in a pretty speckled blue - and made herself a strong cup of tea. Andy was already nursing her coffee, sitting at the table with her hands cradled around the mug, and Hermione joined her.

“Sleep well?”

Hermione nodded. “It’s so quiet. It was a little unnerving at first, but then yes, I slept like a log. Did you?”

“Once Bella settled down and stopped kicking like a toddler, yes, I did.”

“You know I really don’t mind sharing with someone, or sleeping on the sofa.” Hermione really did feel guilty that she had a room to herself while Bella and Andy were sharing, but Andy shook her head. 

“Cissy won’t let anyone sleep on a sofa. And you could either share with me - still your supervisor, could get awkward - or Bella, who really does kick and also sometimes snores.“ She paused, and smirked. “Or Cissy. Is that her cardigan?” 

Hermione felt herself flush at the knowing look on Andy’s face, and buried her face in her tea. “I still feel bad.”

“Don’t worry, I’m used to Bella.” Andy smiled. “Well, I’m more used to Teddy now, I suppose, but there isn’t much difference between them.”

Hermione smiled back. Then she hesitated, blowing on her tea. She was so curious, and Andy seemed to sense her reluctance to ask. 

“You can say it, you know.”

“Say what?” Hermione looked up, worried that Andy was upset or offended in some way, but the older woman simply looked amused. 

“That I’m not old enough to be a grandmother.”

“Oh,” Hermione laughed, relieved. “Well, since I don’t actually know how old you are, I can’t reasonably comment…hey!” She ducked, still laughing, as Andy tossed a sugar cube at her. It fell on the table, and she picked it up and popped it in her tea. She didn’t usually take it sweet, but this morning she fancied the extra kick. “You certainly don’t look it.”

“Nicely saved.” Andy took another large mouthful of coffee, and sighed in pleasure. “Oh, that’s good. Cissy always gets the decent stuff. Anyway, Teddy….”

“You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to,” Hermione said quickly. She didn’t want Andy to feel uncomfortable, and it was clearly something that her supervisor kept private.

“No, it’s fine.” Andy shrugged. “It’s not exactly a secret in this family. I had Dora - Teddy’s mother - when I was sixteen. Ran away from home and eloped with her father.”

Hermione’s eyes widened, and Andy chuckled. 

“It caused quite the scandal. Our parents told me not to bother coming back, so for fifteen years I didn’t. I stayed close to Cissy and Bella, but Dora grew up not knowing her grandparents - or her father, really, we divorced by the time I was twenty five. I don’t regret her, but we were far too young.” She smiled at Hermione, who was still astounded. “I didn’t pass my stupidity on, fortunately. Dora was twenty five when she had Teddy, and she had the good sense not to marry the father.” 

“Wow.” Hermione blinked, and sipped her tea as she tried to take in the fact that by the time her supervisor had been her age, she’d been married, divorced, and was caring for a thirteen year old daughter - presumably as well as studying for a degree. It made her own life seem childish in comparison. She wanted to ask what had happened to Dora and why Andy was now looking after Teddy instead, but she couldn’t think of how to do it tactfully. 

Before she could try, she sensed someone enter the kitchen behind her. Andy waved a hand. 

“Morning.”

Narcissa smiled and headed straight for the tea, laying a hand lightly on Hermione’s shoulder as greeting and dropping a kiss on top of Andy’s curls as she walked past. Hermione smiled. It seemed as if none of the sisters were morning people. But the blonde still looked beautiful. Hermione watched surreptitiously as Narcissa flicked the kettle, fetched herself a mug and a packet of looseleaf blend that smelled strong and smoky, and scooped some into a strainer. She wore a pair of light blue silk pyjamas, the camisole low on her chest, and a black robe that was open at the front. With her hair still mussed from bed and her eyes still sleepy, Hermione had to work hard not to stare. 

“Did I interrupt something?”

Andy shook her head, and reached for the cafetière of coffee that still had a few dregs left in the bottom. “No, just telling Hermione some of my life story.”

“That’s a bit depressing for this early in the morning.” Narcissa carried her tea to the table, and Hermione saw the small, intimate smile that passed between the two sisters. It made her slightly jealous. “Bella not up yet?”

“Course not,” Andy snorted. “She’ll be at least another hour. What time are Draco and Harry getting here?”

Narcissa yawned, and stretched before peering at her tea and plucking the strainer out of the mug. “Sometime this morning. Assuming Harry’s proposal didn’t go horribly wrong, of course, in which case we might not see them at all.”

Andy laughed. “It won’t have done.” She wriggled a little in her seat and a smile spread over her face. “I wonder where they’ll have the wedding?”

“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.” Narcissa sipped her tea, screwed up her face, and reached for the milk. “Too strong,” she muttered. “Did you sleep well, Hermione?”

“Yes, thank you.” She saw Narcissa eye the cardigan and felt herself flush a little, but the blonde just smiled. 

“Looks good on you,” she murmured. 

Hermione felt the now-familiar rush of warmth to her stomach, and returned the smile. For a few moments they were all silent, the only noises the sipping of hot tea and coffee and a lone blackbird outside the window. Hermione could see the gravel drive, the black Audi parked outside, a part of the garden where it wrapped around the front of the house and gave way to a patio. Oak and beech trees clustered around the drive, and there were some low outbuildings off to one side. One of them, she noticed, was a log-store, full of freshly-cut wood in neat piles. Yet another surprise. She had never imagined Narcissa hauling logs for an open fire. 

Narcissa must have seen her looking. 

“I’ll show you around outside later.” 

“The garden looked beautiful from my window,” Hermione said. 

“A couple from the village look after the place when I’m not here - which is most of the time now. They're much better at gardening than I am.”

The kitchen was certainly well-stocked. There was fruit, toast and jam, and fresh local yogurt; Andy made the three of them toast while Hermione chopped apples into slices and Narcissa topped up their drinks. It was intimate in a relaxed, casual way, and it made Hermione feel instantly at home.

She was just helping herself to a spoonful of yogurt and some more fruit when she heard Bella finally come downstairs. 

“You started breakfast without me?” She rested her hands on Narcissa’s shoulders, and kissed the blonde on the head while leaning over to grab the half-slice of buttered toast from her plate. Narcissa lightly slapped her hand. 

“Get your own toast.”

“Fine, fine.” Bella sighed dramatically and set about making herself coffee and breakfast. Her pyjama shorts showed off muscled legs and the pair of fluffy slippers on her feet, her curves hidden underneath an old university hoodie that Hermione guessed was a cast-off of Andy’s. “Anyone else want more?”

“More toast,” Andy nodded. “Not your coffee. It’s like sludge.”

“Nothing wrong with my coffee.” Bella carried her mug full of steaming black liquid to the table, and smirked at Hermione. “Nice cardigan, pet.”

Hermione spluttered as a piece of apple went down the wrong way, and Andy reached over to thump her on the back. Bella laughed. “Lend her something less distinctive next time, Cissy. What’s the plan for today?”

Hermione glanced at Narcissa, who was shaking her head at her sister and trying not to laugh. There was a slight tinge of pink to her cheeks, though. It made her eyes look even more blue, and Hermione quickly looked away. She definitely wouldn’t wear the cardigan again tomorrow. 

“Whatever you want,” the blonde shrugged, picking up an apple slice and biting it delicately. “We can walk up to the river and the swing, or down to the village, or stay here. I don’t know what time Draco and Harry are arriving.”

Bella’s eyes glinted as she got up to rescue the toast, and Narcissa held up a hand in warning. 

“I need you all to promise that you will not say a word before they do. It might not even have happened.” She looked sternly around the table. “Andy?”

“I won’t say anything.”

“Bella?” 

“My lips are sealed, little sister.”

“I doubt that. Hermione?”

Hermione nodded. “Of course.” She found she was looking forward to seeing Draco, and couldn’t help a little smile at the thought that he might now be engaged. 

“Good.” 

They finished their breakfast, the sisters bickering and teasing and Hermione mostly quiet, watching Narcissa as much as she dared. The blonde kept herself a little apart, content to let Andy and Bella do most of the talking, listening with an amused smile and interjecting with a sharp comment every now and then. Often, her gaze drifted to Hermione. Hermione tried to look away, embarrassed to be caught staring, but blue eyes held hers longer and longer each time and she felt her nerves and worries melting away. It was easy here, in the kitchen, surrounded by Andy and Bella and the warmth of family. It felt right in a way that nothing else had for a long time.

 

~

 

Cold air stung her cheeks, and she burrowed her hands deeper into her coat pockets. It was invigorating. The frost still hadn’t lifted, and drops of it glinted in the winter sunshine like fairy lights. She’d dressed warmly in her Levis and the thick cream jumper underneath her coat, and a pair of Narcissa’s wellies were snug on her feet. The sisters had unanimously decided on walking to the river, and Hermione had been happy to follow along. She felt as if she hadn’t had a proper walk in ages. Draco and Harry had arrived not long after their late breakfast, and now the six of them were making their way through the garden to where a path ran into a small patch of woodland. 

“Do you think he asked?” she said quietly to Narcissa, who was walking next to her. The blonde nodded, her eyes sparkling. 

“They can’t keep their hands off each other.”

It was true. They were always an affectionate couple, but since they’d arrived at the house Draco had barely let go of Harry’s hand. Hermione smiled as she watched them. Not saying anything was harder than she had anticipated, and more than once already she had been tempted to tease them about suddenly being joined at the hip. 

“Fuck, it’s freezing.” Bella caught up with them, her cheeks red and her dark eyes bright, and her curls squashed under a woolly hat. She dropped her voice as she linked one arm with Hermione and one with Narcissa. “He definitely did it.”

“And Draco definitely said yes,” Hermione agreed.

“Not a word, Bella,” Narcissa warned again, and Bella tutted. 

“I know, I know. But let me just squeal quietly.”

Hermione laughed as Narcissa led them onto the path, and Bella dropped their arms as Andy caught up. When they reached the woodland, their way was blocked by a wooden gate and a small sign that said Private land. 

“Ignore that.” Narcissa opened the gate and held it open for Hermione, who looked questioningly at it as she walked through. 

“Are we trespassing?” 

Narcissa shook her head, and at her slight smile Hermione’s eyes widened. 

“You own it.” She laughed then, and shook her head. “Of course you own it.”

“Only to the other side of the woodland.” They were a few steps ahead of the others, who were chatting together as they walked. “It came with the house and I never bothered to portion it off. Whoever bought it would likely use it for shooting or trapping.” Narcissa wrinkled her nose. 

“How long have you owned the house?”

“Ten years.” She paused. “Since I divorced Draco’s father. I needed to get out of London for a while, and this place came on the market. I don’t get down here as often now but I can’t bring myself to sell it.” She glanced at Hermione, her blonde hair and dark streaks framing her face under a sage green beret. She wore thick leggings and a long burgundy jumper under a Barbour jacket, and Hermione thought that casual country Narcissa was something she could easily get used to. 

“It’s beautiful.” Hermione gazed around her. The woodland was old, and even though they were on a recognisable path, she still had the sense of treading on ancient ground. Trees wrapped around trees, intertwined trunks blanketed in spongy green moss. Branches twisted towards the ground and towards the sky. Bushes of holly and laurel crept in between, berries still bright, and even on such a cold day a few tiny treecreepers and robins were busy, fluttering in the branches above. “I can see why you don’t want to sell.”

Narcissa looked at her for a long moment, and then asked, “Does it make you uncomfortable?”

“Does what make me uncomfortable?” 

“This.” Narcissa gestured around as they walked. Hermione could hear Bella and Andy and Draco and Harry laughing at something behind them, but she was focused on the blonde. “All the money.”

The question surprised her, but Hermione thought for a moment and then shook her head. “No. It’s just different, that’s all. Sometimes at the shop, I get the feeling that I’ve landed in a completely different world and I’m not sure I belong, and then other times it feels normal. But I didn’t grow up with money so I guess I’m just not used to it.”

She bit her lip, wondering if she’d perhaps been too honest, but Narcissa nodded thoughtfully. 

“It’s not why I do it.” She stepped over a tree root, her wellies crunching on fallen leaves and frost. “It’s nice, of course, but I’d still do what I do even if the business hadn’t been a success.”

Hermione looked at her curiously. “Draco said you started in the theatre.”

Narcissa smiled. “I fibbed my way into a job at the Almeida when I was at college, claiming I had far more experience than I actually did. Then I freelanced for a couple of years after I graduated. Until just after Draco was born, actually. I don’t ever regret setting up the business, but I miss the theatre sometimes.”

“Is that why you took Medea?” 

“It’s not the first freelance theatre work I’ve done since The House of Black, but it’s certainly the biggest.” Narcissa pushed her hands further into her pockets, and breathed in deeply. “I always dreamed of working at the National. The timing wasn’t great, but I couldn’t say no.”

“You love it.”

“I do.” Narcissa smiled softly at her, and hesitated, but before she could speak the others had caught them up and Andy was asking which route they were going to take. They’d reached the edge of the woodland, and Hermione could see the path meandering along the sides of fields that were stubby and brown and studded with ice. She could imagine how beautiful it must be in summer, when there would be nothing but waves of wheat and barley all the way to the horizon.  

“It’s up to you. We can either follow the path around the fields and up, or cut through to the road and walk along the top of the valley and then down.” 

“Across to the road,” said Draco. “Then we can come back the other way.”

As they walked, Hermione chatted to Harry and Draco. She hadn’t seen Harry since before Christmas, when she had returned to the deli to buy Christmas presents for her parents, and she’d been wanting to tell him how much they had loved them. He flushed with pleasure at the praise Hermione quoted back at him word for word, and went even redder when Draco planted a fond kiss on his cheek. 

“I keep telling him he’s too modest about it.”

Hermione laughed. They really were adorable. Once again, she had to stop herself making a teasing remark about being invited to a wedding sometime soon, but was saved when Draco began telling her stories from previous years at the house. Almost every local landmark that they passed had a story: the corner of the road where Andy had slipped one year and fractured her wrist, the tree that they’d watched get hit by lightning one summer, the field where the locals held a bonfire and fireworks every year on Guy Fawkes night. The two miles along the road passed quickly, and then Bella was leading them off down another path that led up to a softly curving ridge. From the top, in the clear cold sunshine, Hermione thought she could see a glimmer in the distance. 

“You can see the sea, look.” Andy pointed. “You don’t often get such a clear day.”

The views from the ridge were spectacular. Hermione was sorry when the path began to curve down, along the hillside towards another patch of woodland, but now they were following a small stream that slowly grew the further down they got. A short way into the trees it blossomed out into a deep pool, before tumbling further down the hill in a series of small waterfalls and disappearing round the bend it had carved for itself. Over the pool, in the little clearing that surrounded it, someone had rigged up a large wooden swing that dangled from a sturdy branch. As soon as they saw it, both Bella and Draco broke into a run. 

“I’m first!” 

Bella cackled. “I can still run faster than you, blondie!”

Bella and Draco reached the swing at the same time and jostled before both squeezing on, Bella half-sitting on Draco’s knee. 

“They do this every year.” Narcissa rolled her eyes, but smiled as Bella beckoned her over. She gently pushed Draco’s back, and Bella clutched his shoulder as they swung out over the water.

“I never thought I’d still be pushing you on a swing when you were twenty five.”

“Never too old, Mother…watch it, Bella!” He grabbed hold of Bella as she slipped a little, and Narcissa stilled the swing by holding the ropes. 

“Okay, one at a time. I’m not fishing anyone out of the pool in this freezing weather.”

Both Bella and Draco got off the swing and Narcissa immediately took their place, her blue eyes laughing. 

“Cheeky, Cissy.” Bella moved behind her, and Hermione watched as Andy joined her in pushing Narcissa on the swing. For a moment, she saw not three adult women but three girls, the youngest squealing with delight as her sisters pushed her higher and higher, blonde hair flashing over the water. “Never thought I’d still be pushing you on a swing when you were forty six, either.”

“Never too old, Bella.” Narcissa slowed the swing herself by pushing the heels of her wellies into the ground, and shifted up on the seat, raising her eyebrow at Hermione. “Want to try it? We’re both smaller than Bella and Draco.”

“Hey!” Bella slapped her sister’s arm. “I’ve got twenty years on her, I’m allowed a little extra round the middle. Squeeze on, pet.” 

Hermione accepted the challenge. Settling herself gingerly on the swing, one side of her body pressed flush against Narcissa’s from knee to shoulder, she clutched the thick rope as Andy pushed. She could feel Narcissa’s body even through all the layers of clothing. Warmth radiated from her, along with an intoxicating happiness that drew Hermione even closer. Cold air rushed against her face, and she could smell the swirls of thin ice on the pond, the damp soil, the earthy bark of the trees. She felt hands pushing on her back, perhaps Bella’s or perhaps Andy’s, but it was Narcissa’s closeness that left her giddy, laughing, feeling high. Her heart thudded and her skin tingled even under her coat as she realised, mid-swing, how easy it would be to lean just a few inches and kiss her, and blue eyes caught hers. So easy. So close. 

“Mine and Harry’s turn.” Andy slowed them, holding onto the rope, and Hermione clutched at Narcissa as the swing lurched to one side. They tumbled off together, only just keeping their balance, and Andy and Harry swiftly took their place. Hermione watched, catching her breath, as Narcissa pushed the swing, and then squealed as she felt a hand brushing down her backside. 

“Leaf dust on your jeans, pet. I’d leave it for Cissy, but it stains if you don’t brush it off.”

“Oh. Thanks.” She blinked, and shook her head. Images of Narcissa’s hand brushing off her jeans instead of Bella’s flooded her mind, and she saw Bella trying not to laugh. Damn sisters. “You do know there’s, uh, nothing…”

“Right. I know.” But Bella was openly chuckling now, and Hermione was only saved by both Andy and Harry toppling off the swing and landing on the ground next to the tree, shrieking with laughter. Narcissa and Draco pulled them to their feet and brushed off the worst of the mud, and Narcissa decided it was time to go.

“Before someone falls in the pool, and before it gets dark.” She stepped over to Hermione, smiling softly and Hermione froze as she felt a hand lightly brushing her hip. “Bella missed a bit.”

“Oh.” She could sense Bella’s smirk even though the dark haired woman’s back was turned, and she shook her head. “Thank you.”

She wasn’t sure who would be the death of her first, Narcissa or one of her sisters with their teasing, but she couldn’t help smiling. At this point, she wasn’t sure she cared. 

 

Chapter Text

They’d cut back to the house through the fields, in fading light that turned the countryside into a patchwork of pale gold, pink, and deep blue shadows that hung heavy with the promise of another frost. Hermione’s legs had ached from the walk. Her stomach and chest had ached from laughing, her cheeks had ached from the cold, everything ached from Narcissa’s proximity. She had walked as close to the blonde as she dared, a sudden careless confidence pushing her to brush their arms together, to hold out her hand for balance as she clambered over a stile. She’d almost been sorry when they reached the house, but it had looked beautiful in the low light, the old-fashioned deep pink of the outside walls glowing in the last of the sun.

Now she was lingering in the shower, letting the hot needles of water pummel her skin. She had fluffy towels, shower gel that smelled softly of shea butter and freesia, and a robe that she’d hung over the heated towel rail to warm up. It felt like some kind of dream, but the scent and the heat and the happy swooping of her stomach told her it was all real. 

When she finally emerged and dried herself off, it was fully dark outside. She could see the quarter moon hanging low over the fields, the outline of the trees almost invisible against the black of the sky, and she only reluctantly pulled the curtains and set about finding something to wear. Pulling on the skinny blue jeans that Ginny had insisted on packing for her, she eyed herself critically in the mirror. They looked okay, she supposed. She liked the black silk top with the loose, three quarter sleeves and the neckline that plunged lower than she normally dared to wear. It wrapped around her waist before sitting snugly over her hips, and she had to admit it made the most of her curves. With her gold hoop earrings and a simple chain necklace, she felt presentable enough, and a little bit of makeup enhanced the glow from the afternoon’s walk. She ran her hands through her hair, noting with a smile that Narcissa, along with the usual guest toiletries of shower gel and body lotion, had left a small tub of the most expensive curl cream Hermione had ever seen. She carefully unscrewed the top and dabbed a bit on her fingers, working it through her curls. It felt light, not sticky like her own sometimes did, and it quickly transformed her frizz into something manageable. The brand was French. Of course. Hermione shook her head. She really had landed in a different world, but she had no complaints. 

She heard singing from along the hallway, and then Andy’s voice shouting up the stairs. 

“Bella? Get your arse down here, we’re cooking!”

“I’m not chopping onions!” Bella shouted back, but a moment later Hermione heard her bouncing downstairs. After a little more deliberation on her hair - down, she decided,  since the curls looked so good for once - she gave herself a last glance over in the mirror and followed. 

When she entered the kitchen Bella was indeed chopping onions, the sleeves of her deep red top rolled up and the knife flying through at an astonishing pace. Andy was breaking up mince in a pan, while Narcissa had a pile of tomatoes and other vegetables on another chopping board. Hermione paused. The blonde wore wide-legged trousers that hugged her hips before flowing to the floor, and a deep blue, sleeveless top that clung to her body. Her hair was loose around her shoulders, and a delicate silver choker swirled around her neck and ended in a cluster of stars between her collarbones. It was striking and beautiful and Hermione knew she was staring, but she couldn’t help it. 

She gave herself a mental shake and looked around the kitchen. “What can I do?”

“These onions,” Bella stood back and handed her the knife. “They’re making my eyes water.”

“Such a drama queen,” Draco teased as he came through the brick archway from the living room. Hermione could see the flickering of flame from the fireplace, logs crackling behind a wire fireguard. “Harry’s filling up the log basket, but you’ll need something else to keep him busy after that.”

“I’m actually done with the log basket.” Harry staggered through from the hallway, carrying a huge pile of logs in a wicker tub, and disappeared with it into the living room. “And bolognese does not count as cooking, Narcissa! I can at least help to chop…”

“Forget it!” Narcissa called back. She winked at Hermione, and lowered her voice. “He always does this. I have a rule that when we’re here he has a break and doesn’t cook, but he always tries to get round it.”

“That’s why it’s all cheese toasties and spaghetti bolognese,” Andy laughed. “None of us can manage anything more exotic.”

Narcissa turned to Harry, who was now standing in the doorway and looking longingly at Andy’s pan. “Get the champagne out if you want to be useful, but no cooking.”

Hermione finished the onions just as her own eyes started prickling, and scraped them all off the chopping board into the pan. One by one everything else went in - vegetables, sauce, herbs, a couple of stock cubes and a huge slug of red wine - and Andy put the lid on the pan for it to simmer just as Harry popped the cork on a bottle of champagne. 

“Is anyone not drinking?” Draco asked as he grabbed the first glass from the table, and Bella snorted. 

“Don’t be daft, blondie.” She held out two more glasses for Harry to fill, and passed one to Narcissa and one to Hermione. “Everyone through in the living room for this bit.”

She looked conspiratorially at Narcissa, who nodded and smiled, and Hermione looked from one to the other warily. She knew all three sisters well enough by now to know that look meant that they had something planned, and the smirk on Bella’s face as the older woman handed her the champagne made her wonder whether part of it involved her. 

Feeling grateful that she had alcohol, she followed them all through to the living room. The flames danced in the grate, sending shadows swaying around the fireplace, and the room was softly lit with lamps. On the dark oak coffee table that sprawled in between the two sofas, Hermione saw a small box wrapped in black paper and tied with a cream bow, a label propped up beside it. On it, she recognised her name in Bella’s spidery handwriting. She raised one eyebrow at Narcissa, who stood leaning against one side of the fireplace with her glass in hand, but the little smile she received in return gave nothing away. 

“I though you said we didn’t do Christmas presents?” She felt a little jolt of panic run through her, but Bella shook her head and chuckled.

“That’s not a Christmas present, pet. Go ahead.”

Hermione slowly sat down on one of the sofas next to Draco, and picked it up. It was quite heavy, the paper and ribbon satiny underneath her fingers, and she carefully slipped off the wrapping. Inside she found a sturdy black cardboard box, the same kind that they used at the shop to put the perfume bottles in, and her heart thudded into her throat. 

“It’s not…” She looked at Bella, her eyes wide, but Bella shrugged innocently and gestured for her to continue.

The bottle that she pulled out was small and rectangular, made of black glass, with a curved back and a delicate black atomiser pump jutting from the top. Etched in cream on the front, in simple capital letters, were the words Black Moon. 

Hermione almost squealed, and slapped a hand over her mouth. She couldn’t believe it. Somewhere in her mind, underneath Draco’s wolf whistle and Bella’s laughter and Andy’s amazed I never thought you’d get it done in time, she remembered Narcissa’s voice. If you can think of a decent name for the perfume, the first bottle of it’s yours. She spun round in her seat and looked over at the blonde, who lifted her champagne glass and smiled. 

“I always keep my promises, Hermione.”

“This is the first bottle?” 

Narcissa nodded, and gestured for her to open it. 

Hermione twisted the top off the atomiser and took a deep breath in. It was faint but unmistakeable: the scent that now made her think of the frost outside. Sandalwood and lemongrass and black pepper, and that hint of something she had never been able to place, but that now reminded her of the fire crackling in the grate. 

“Wait, is that…. ?” Hermione inhaled deeply as Narcissa took the bottle from her, lifted her wrist, and sprayed a tiny amount on her skin. The blonde’s fingers lingered as Hermione breathed in again, her senses inhaling the perfume and Narcissa and…

“Cypress?”

“Damn, she’s good,” Bella chuckled, and Hermione laughed in sheer delight, bringing her wrist up to her face to smell it properly. It was everything she remembered and more, and she was suddenly overcome with the idea that this was the first ever proper bottle, and it was hers. She put the bottle down and was about to get up and pull both Narcissa and Bella into a hug, when Bella cleared her throat quietly. 

“One more thing.” She stood up. “Is it in the study, Cissy?

Narcissa nodded, and Bella beckoned to Hermione. Leaving the others chatting loudly and admiring the perfume bottle, Hermione followed the dark haired woman along the hallway to the study. She had expected Narcissa to come with them for whatever else it was Bella wanted to show her, but the blonde had stayed behind in the living room, and Hermione suddenly felt curious and nervous all at once. 

Bella flicked on the light in the study, revealing a solid wood desk with a window overlooking the garden behind, and floor-to-ceiling bookshelves that made Hermione gasp. She wandered over to one of them, running her hands down the spines. There were some that she recognised, some that she’d read, some that she hadn’t. Some of them were business books. There were plays and poetry, classic novels and contemporary ones. She could have spent the entire weekend just in here. 

She heard a tap on the desk behind her, and spun round with a guilty look on her face as Bella laughed. 

“Time for that tomorrow.” She nodded towards an envelope on the desk. “Sorry for dragging you in here. I wanted to do this tonight, but not in front of everybody. Go ahead and open it.”

Hermione wrinkled her brow in confusion and picked up the envelope. Slicing quickly into it, she pulled out two pieces of paper, and after scanning the first one her mouth dropped open.

“Bella, what is this?”

“It’s a bank transfer receipt, pet.” Bella chuckled, and Hermione almost rolled her eyes.

“I can see that. Why is it for me, and why does it have so many zeros?”

“You gave us the name of the perfume,” Bella shrugged, as if it were an obvious explanation for the surprise transfer of thirty thousand pounds. “That’s two percent of what I expect the profits from Black Moon to be in the first two years. Least I could do, given that without you it wouldn’t be launching at all. That,” she pointed to the other piece of paper that Hermione hadn’t even looked at yet, “is a contract allowing for one percent to be paid per year - after those first two years - for as long as the perfume is in production. That stands whether you’re working for us or not.”

What?” Hermione flipped the paper open. “Are you serious?”

“Deadly.” Bella handed her a pen. “Sign it, pet, I left my champagne in the other room and I don’t want it getting warm.”

Hermione was stunned. She hadn’t even dreamed of anything like this. Logically, she knew that it wasn’t a lot; given the amounts that The House of Black dealt in every day it was actually small change, but to her it was huge, and she swallowed as she took the pen. She knew Bella would never let her refuse it. Competing emotions churned in her stomach, and she picked through gratitude, disbelief, happiness, and a hefty stab of guilt that all she’d done to earn it was toss a name into the air. 

“Are you sure?”

But Bella just raised an eyebrow, waiting. After a few more seconds’ hesitation, Hermione scribbled her signature on the dotted line, dated it, and passed it back to Bella with a slightly teary laugh.

“You’re not going to cry on me, are you?” Bella tucked the signed contract back into the envelope, looking at Hermione warily, and Hermione shook her head and then nodded. 

“Probably,” she admitted, and then pulled Bella in for a hug, feeling the older woman’s throaty laugh against her ear. 

“Thank you,” Hermione whispered. 

“Get used to the zeroes, there’ll be more of them next time.” Bella patted her on the back, then took the receipt and tucked it into the pocket of Hermione’s jeans. “We’d better get back, or Cissy’ll be in here wondering what I’m doing to you.”

Hermione followed her back through to the living room, still feeling dazed. She didn’t think she’d ever had that much money in her bank account at once, and she felt overwhelmed with the suddenness of it, at the generosity that she hadn’t expected, at the idea that the perfume was now officially partly hers. When they entered the living room she saw Narcissa turn round and raise her eyebrows at Bella, who nodded. The blonde smiled and lifted her glass. 

“To Hermione, and Black Moon.”

Everyone repeated the toast, and Andy handed Hermione back the bottle of perfume with a wink. The first sip of champagne bubbled on her tongue, dissolving into a dry sweetness that sent a pleasant buzz through her body, and she felt laughter bubbling up with it. She took another sip, and turned to Narcissa. 

“You knew about this?”

Narcissa smiled. “Of course.” 

“Thank you.” Hermione didn’t think twice before slipping her arms around the blonde. She felt Narcissa’s arms wrap around her back, holding her tight, all slender curves and soft skin, and lips pressed a light kiss to her cheek. Warmth flooded through her and she felt her hands tremble a little. She wanted more. She turned her head, feeling Narcissa’s soft pulse, and her stomach fluttered at the feel of the blonde so close. 

“The perfume suits you,” Narcissa murmured in her ear before releasing her, and Hermione reluctantly sat back down and picked up her glass, taking a long mouthful this time before being enveloped in another hug by Draco.

“How long til dinner?” Bella asked over the general chatter, and Andy smirked, draining her glass. 

“You’re like a toddler. I’ll go check it.”

“Actually, I already did.” Harry appeared at the archway, looking slightly guilty. “Another half an hour.”

“You were supposed to be getting more champagne!”

“I did that as well.” Harry waved the bottle, and smiled at Draco. “We’ll need it.”

Narcissa sat down next to Hermione and leaned in to speak softly, unable to keep the triumphant lilt out of her voice. 

“I give it ten minutes.”

It was fifteen minutes later, when Harry had topped them all up and emptied the bottle, that Draco cleared his throat to interrupt the conversation. He looked a bit flushed and nervous, but Harry gave him an encouraging nudge. 

“Can I make another toast before dinner?”

They all fell quiet. Hermione felt her insides squeeze, and she looked at Narcissa. The blonde was an incredible actress. The lightly raised eyebrow gave no indication that she had any idea what her son was going to say. 

“Go on, blondie. Make it quick though, I’m hungry.” Bella smirked as she sat down on Andy’s knee, making herself comfortable and looking at Draco expectantly. Hermione saw Andy squeal silently behind Bella’s curls, and she had to work hard not to do the same herself out loud. 

“Uh, we….Harry and I…some news…” He looked at Harry, who pushed his hair off his forehead and rolled his eyes affectionately as he took Draco’s hand.

“What Draco is so eloquently trying to say - and what I think you all guessed anyway - is that I asked him to marry me and he said yes.”

“That’s wonderful!” Narcissa stood up and hugged her son and then Harry. Hermione couldn’t help bouncing up and down a little in her seat, her smile wide and her congratulations heartfelt, and Andy finally let loose her squeal of excitement. Bella just rolled her eyes, smiling.

“Finally. Congratulations, both of you.”

“Wait.” Draco looked at Harry. “What do you mean, they all guessed?”

Bella snorted. “You two aren’t exactly subtle.”

“Narcissa saw I had the ring last night.” Harry smiled at Narcissa, who looked at her son fondly, all pretence gone. 

“I know both of you too well by now.”

Draco shook his head in exasperation. “I fretted all day over telling you! I meant to do it earlier, just you, but chickened out…”

“Why?” Narcissa wrapped him up in another hug. He was a good three inches taller than she was without her heels, but Hermione felt herself almost tearing up again at the way he still tried to bury his face in her shoulder. “I’m so happy for you. Both of you.”

“Seems like a big step, you know?” he admitted quietly. “I know you regretted getting married so young. Same with Andy. I thought maybe…”

“Stop it.” Narcissa squeezed him tight. “I never regretted it, darling, because I had you. And you have something with Harry I never had with your father. Don’t be afraid to enjoy it, okay?”

He nodded, blinking, and Narcissa kissed his cheek. 

“Now, where’s the ring?”

Draco smiled, pulling a platinum band with a single, tiny, inset diamond out of his pocket and slipping it on his finger. It glinted in the light, and once it was on he could barely stop looking at it. 

“Beautiful.”

“Yeah, lovely. Is it time to put the pasta on?”

Andy laughed, and slapped Bella on the backside as she pushed her older sister off her knee. “You really know how to ruin the moment, Bella. I’ll go and check. Anyone want salad?”

“I’ll help chop.” Hermione stood up to follow Andy through to the kitchen, and stopped on her way to hug Draco and Harry and to admire the ring. She felt so happy. The champagne lingered sweetly on her lips. She still felt Narcissa’s arms around her. She still breathed in the perfume. And she had the rest of the evening still to go. 

 

~

 

“What do you think Lucius will say?”

Hermione was in the kitchen, helping Andy and Narcissa clear up after dinner. The meal had been delicious, and she was still basking in the warmth that lingered from being surrounded with people she was fast coming to think of as some kind of family. Bella and Draco and Harry were already in the living room, and she heard music pulsing seductively through the archway, shadows shifting in the lamplight as the three of them danced and laughed and flicked through playlists. Andy was washing up, while Hermione dried and Narcissa put away. As she took the last plate from Hermione, the blonde shrugged at her sister’s question. 

“Who knows with that man. I think Draco would prefer to not tell him at all.”

“That bad?”

“He’s too preoccupied with himself these days to bother much with anyone else, even his own son,” Narcissa snorted. “I don’t think Draco’s spoken to him for months. There’ll be some excuse as to why he can’t come back from France for the wedding.”

“Jerk.” Andy handed a clean, dripping saucepan to Hermione, who dried it quickly and passed it on. “Sometimes indifference is worse than anything else.”

“I honestly wouldn’t blame Draco if he decided to just tell him afterwards,” Narcissa said. “You know he’s got Instagram now? Lucius, I mean. I took a peek the other day, it’s full of pictures of those damn peacocks. And himself.”

“Is there a difference?”

Narcissa laughed. “Not enough of one.” She grimaced at Hermione. “He wasn’t my best judgment call.”

“It can’t have been all bad if you got Draco out of it,” Hermione said teasingly, but then squealed in surprise as she felt arms wrap around her waist from behind. 

“Actually…” Bella’s curls dripped over her shoulder, “I like to think of Draco as a Black sister collaboration. Apart from the peacock’s initial contribution, of course, which according to Cissy here wasn’t up to much.”

“Bella!” Narcissa’s cheeks tinged pink, and Andy burst out laughing. 

“You did keep complaining that he was too wrapped up in himself to….”

“Stop, the pair of you,” Narcissa swiped Andy with a tea towel, glancing at Hermione. “The less said about that part of the marriage the better.”

Hermione laughed, feeling as if Bella’s cheekiness was somehow infectious. “As I said, if you managed Draco it can’t have been all bad.”

Bella cackled. “Cissy’s a little touchy about the fact that she had no sex life for fifteen years.”

“Stop!”

“Hey, neither did I.” Andy finished the last pan and left it to drain. “Still don’t.”

“Can we move the conversation on, please?”

“Come through.” Bella took hold of Hermione’s hand to pull her towards the living room, and she hurriedly tossed the tea towel to Andy. “You two as well. My nephew is draped around his fiancé and isn’t much good for anything, and since we are celebrating the Black sister divorce hat trick as well…” Andy whooped, and Narcissa smiled as Bella took a mock bow, “…I want to dance.”

Dancing with Bella was easy. The music was sexy, a little sultry, a little jazzy, and the beat was perfect for swaying her hips against the older woman’s. She was very aware of Narcissa leaning against the fireplace, blue eyes on them, but she’d never felt so reckless or so carefree. Maybe it was the champagne, or the perfume, or the receipt that was still folded in her pocket, or Bella’s influence rubbing off on her. She didn’t really care. 

“You’re giving her a good show, pet,” Bella whispered teasingly into her ear, and Hermione spun round in her arms.

“I don’t hear you complaining.”

Bella laughed, a deep throaty rasp, and Hermione smirked. “No complaints.”

“Although I suppose you are still my boss.”

Bella twirled her around again, and pulled Hermione back flush against her body. “Are there rules against dancing with your boss?”

“While your other boss watches? No, I don’t think so.”

Bella smirked against her cheek. “Just as well.”

The song ended, but Bella kept hold of her hand and beckoned Andy and Narcissa over. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Draco and Harry dancing together off to the side, and she smiled as Draco winked at her. The three sisters were all incredible dancers. Hips pulsated with the music, and Hermione found herself spun between Bella and Andy, then Narcissa, back to Bella, then to Andy. But it was Narcissa who she seemed to keep coming back to, Narcissa whose hands ran down her waist to her hips and held her closest before spinning her away, Narcissa whose body her own gravitated towards. 

She lost track of time and songs. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d danced so much, but eventually, one by one, they all dropped out to take a breather. She and Andy flopped on one sofa, Draco and Harry on the other, while Narcissa stood by the fire. Bella continued dancing, slowing it down. She looked good. None of the sisters were self-conscious, but Bella could perform while making it seem as if she was totally oblivious to anyone else’s presence. Pleasantly buzzed from the alcohol and adrenaline, Hermione found it hypnotic. 

When the song finished, Bella reached for her phone and flipped the playlist. It was slower now, lighter and lilting and mellow, and she held out her hand to Andy. 

“Fuck off, Bella.” Andy laughed, but allowed herself to be pulled up from the sofa. 

“You’re my little sister, that means I’m allowed to slow dance with you.”

“She’s your little sister too,” Andy pointed to Narcissa, who was watching them with an amused smile on her face, and Bella shook her head. 

“You were my first little sister,” she said patiently. “So I’ll dance with you first. Cissy was my second little sister, so I’ll dance with her next.”

“You’re so logical when you’re drunk.”

Hermione laughed as Harry pulled Draco up, the blond protesting but quickly settling into his fiancé’s arms, laughing softly at something Harry whispered. Hermione watched the two couples for a moment and felt a surge of contentment, along with butterflies in her stomach as she sensed warm blue eyes resting on her. Taking a deep breath, she looked up at Narcissa. 

“That leaves you and me.”

“It seems so.” Narcissa put down her glass and held out her hand, and Hermione took it without hesitation. 

For a few seconds, all she could think of was how soft Narcissa’s skin was. A hand laced with hers while Narcissa’s other arm slid around her shoulder, leaving Hermione to rest her own free hand on Narcissa’s waist, and her senses were caressed by light perfume and soft skin and something that was just Narcissa herself. They were the same height, she noticed again; it always surprised her. If she turned her head, her lips would brush Narcissa’s cheek. She breathed in deeply, feeling a faint pulse from the blonde’s heartbeat, a slight intake of breath as her hand slipped down to rest on Narcissa’s hip. Her thumb rubbed slowly across Narcissa’s hand, and she felt fingers slip into her curls, lightly skating over her neck. 

The song was over all too soon. Hermione didn’t want to let go, and she was grateful that Narcissa kept hold of her, adjusting their pace as the beat changed. When she turned her head she saw Draco eyeing them curiously, and she felt a sudden jolt of nerves. She didn’t want to do anything to jeopardise her friendship with him or to make things awkward, but…

“Are you okay?” Narcissa’s murmur was soft against her ear, and after a few seconds she saw Draco shrug and smile, as if to say whatever. She smiled back, and felt herself relax. 

“Fine.” She closed her eyes. The fire was crackling, the music quiet. She was. She’d never felt this good with someone in her arms. “Better than fine, actually.”

Narcissa laughed softly. “I owe Bella the next one.”

Hermione hummed quietly. “Yes, you do.” She turned her head so that her lips brushed Narcissa’s ear, and the blood pounded through her chest. “You two look good dancing together.”

“So did you.” Narcissa smirked against her cheek, and her hand tightened around Hermione’s. “It was hot, I have to admit.”

“Good,” Hermione whispered. She felt a wave of recklessness again, a sense of throwing everything up in the air and not really caring how it came down. It was so unlike her, and yet it felt so good. “It was meant to be.”

But at that moment the song changed, and Hermione felt Narcissa gently disentangle their hands, slipping away to Bella while Andy, and then Harry, and then Draco took her place. She danced with them all until she felt like she couldn’t dance any more, and still her body missed Narcissa’s. When Andy flopped down on the sofa and Harry went to put the kettle on, she slipped out to the bathroom. She was starting to feel tired, all the celebrations and the unexpected surprises catching up with her, and still her whole body was alive, tingling from Narcissa’s touch. 

She splashed some water on her face and walked slowly back down the hallway. She could hear the music still drifting from the living room, Harry asking who wanted tea, Andy chucking another log on the fire. The lingering coolness of the water on her face felt good, and when she got to the kitchen she quietly opened the side door. 

The night slipped around her like a cold blanket. She knew it would penetrate quickly, but for a couple of moments it felt like a balm on her overheated skin and she breathed in deeply, letting it bring her down a little from the high she had been riding all night. Wrapping her arms around herself, feeling the chill prickle through her thin top, she moved away from the door to sit on the steps that led down from the patio to the garden and the drive. The stone was freezing underneath her. When she tilted her head back she could see hundreds of stars, more and more appearing the longer she looked, and she felt her breathing slow in wonder. She didn’t notice her body shivering. She heard the door open quietly and then close again, but she didn’t look round. She only let her eyes fall away from the sky when she felt a thick cardigan - Narcissa’s cardigan, the one that she had borrowed - being wrapped around her shoulders. 

“You’ll freeze out here.”

The blonde sat down close beside her, their knees touching, and Hermione noticed that she’d had the good sense to throw a coat on. 

“I just came out for some air, but…” Hermione gestured to the sky, slipping her arms into the cardigan sleeves and pulling it closer around her. “You don’t see this in London.”

“No, you don’t.”

“I always thought of myself as a city person,” she continued softly. “I like the countryside, but I could never imagine living in it. Now I’m not so sure.”

“I always thought I would live here one day.”

Hermione looked at Narcissa. Her blonde hair stood out in the darkness, and Hermione could see the contours of her face in the light and shadow from the kitchen window, blue eyes looking up at the sky. Slowly, heart pounding once more, she reached over and touched Narcissa’s cheek, and Narcissa’s gaze dropped to her lips. 

“I would ask if this is a good idea,” the blonde murmured, leaning a little into Hermione’s touch, “but I think we’re a bit past that.”

“Way past it,” Hermione agreed. Her hand trembled a little, although whether from cold or anticipation or nerves, she wasn’t sure. Narcissa caught it, turning her head and pressing her lips to Hermione’s palm. 

“You don’t have to…”

But Hermione leaned forward, her fingers tilting Narcissa’s lips back towards her. Music drifted faintly from the living room, and she recognised something low and smoky. She saw the heat in Narcissa’s eyes, even in the darkness, and when their lips touched all too briefly she felt a sharp intake of breath. 

“Please don’t stop,” she whispered, her hand clutching at Narcissa’s coat. 

Soft lips pressed against hers. They were gentle to start with; exploring, teasing, pulling little sighs from both of them. Narcissa’s fingers on her face and neck left hot trails in their wake, and Hermione pressed closer. A moan escaped her as Narcissa’s tongue flicked lightly against her lips, and she felt a jolt run all the way through her body as the kiss deepened, as hands tangled in hair, as she slipped her hands under Narcissa’s coat. An indecent groan spilled from Narcissa as Hermione’s hands wrapped around her back; another when Hermione gently nipped her bottom lip in response. It was too much and not enough, and she clung to Narcissa’s body and her lips as if they were the only things keeping her tethered. All she could think was how good it felt, and how she wanted more. 

“Fuck, Cissy,” she breathed. “I…”

“Hermione, do you want your tea inside?”

It was Harry’s voice, and they pulled apart as if they’d been stung. Hermione saw that Narcissa looked as dazed as she felt, and she was grateful that Harry just had the door open a crack. Enough to call through; fortunately not enough to see them. 

She bit her lip, and nearly moaned again in frustration. But they couldn’t very well sit out here all night. 

“Yes please!” Her voice didn’t sound anything like her own. 

“No worries.”

She heard the kitchen door shut again, and let out a long, slow breath. Narcissa chuckled, and rested her forehead against Hermione’s.

“We should go in anyway. You’re freezing.”

“I feel like I’m burning up.”

“Come on.” Narcissa took her hand, and tugged them both to their feet. “We don’t want Bella out here wondering where we are.”

Hermione leaned against her for a moment, breathing her in, before following her back inside and trying to act normally. She picked up the tea Harry had left her, and drank it without tasting much. She relaxed on the sofa in between Andy and Draco, and laughed and talked and yawned, and didn’t really take any of it in. Narcissa was constantly in her line of vision, and all she could think about was those lips on hers, those fingers on her skin, those hands on her body. Every so often, she caught a flash of heat in the blonde’s eyes, and she knew Narcissa was thinking the same. 

It was almost one in the morning by the time they all went to bed, climbing the stairs together and leaving the fire to go out by itself. Hermione said goodnight to Draco and Harry, to Bella and Andy, to Narcissa, trying her best not to let her lips linger on the blonde’s cheek, and let herself into her room. Slowly, she got ready for bed. She heard noises from Bella and Andy’s room; a door opening and footsteps heading down towards the kitchen and then back up again, and then the house fell silent. She sat on the edge of her bed, wondering. She didn’t know whether she had the nerve to go and knock on Narcissa’s door. A kiss was one thing - admittedly a heated kiss - but bed was another, and she knew how badly she wanted it but she didn’t want to push.

Yawning, unable to think straight, she reluctantly pulled down the covers and crawled into bed. When she closed her eyes, Narcissa echoed through her mind. Lips, hands, eyes, laugh. Drifting off, she thought she heard footsteps outside her door, pausing for a moment before quietly slipping away, but she was already half-dreaming. 

Chapter Text

The sun was already up when Hermione woke. She’d subconsciously buried her head underneath the duvet while she slept, and now, peeking out and squinting over in bright light, she saw that she’d forgotten to close the curtains the night before. She lay in bed for a moment, slowly allowing herself to wake up in the pool of sunshine, soaking in the quiet birdsong, letting the bits and pieces of the night before come back to her. Dancing. Champagne - too much champagne, she had a headache. Perfume, and a ridiculously large amount of money now in her account. More dancing. Draco and Harry. Narcissa. 

She closed her eyes again. Memories flooded her body: of kissing outside under the stars, the way the blonde’s lips had felt against hers, of the way their bodies had fit together so perfectly when they danced. She squirmed against the sheets. With the memories came little explosions of nerves, of pleasure, of excitement, of dread. She had no idea how Narcissa would feel this morning.

When she finally pulled herself out of bed and went downstairs, she found Andy, Draco and Harry already up and in the kitchen. Draco waved, Harry said a cheery good morning, but Andy simply nodded limply and buried her head in a mug of coffee. With her hair mussed and a hoodie zipped all the way up to the neck over her pyjamas, the older woman looked like a walking hangover. 

“Morning,” Hermione smiled, and Andy winced. 

“No talking,” she mumbled.

Harry laughed - quietly - as he made Hermione a cup of tea. “Apparently Andy and champagne don’t mix very well these days.”

“They never did.” Draco looked amused at his aunt. “Her three-day hangover after Bella’s wedding is legendary.”

“Don’t mention that.” Even the thought of it made Andy look a bit queasy. “Going to go lie down.”

She walked gingerly through to the living room with her coffee, and Hermione exchanged a silent laugh with Harry and Draco. 

“Here,” Harry passed her a tea, and she took it gratefully. “I’m making French toast if you’d like some?”

“I thought you weren’t allowed to cook?” she teased him, settling herself at the table opposite Draco, and Harry winked. 

“Narcissa always relents by Sunday.”

“Aren’t she and Bella up yet?” Hermione asked, trying to sound casual, and Draco shook his head. 

“Bella’s not, of course. Mother went out. I think she’ll be out for the day, she’s taken the Audi.”

Hermione felt her heart give a single, hard thud in her chest, and she clutched her mug tighter. 

“Out for the day?”

“She often does when we’re here.” Draco was giving her that curious look again, but once more he simply shrugged. Hermione wondered how much he’d guessed. “She goes to the gorge, or walking on the Downs. Says it helps her to think.”

“Oh.”

“She’ll be back when she’s sorted through whatever it is that’s on her mind. Usually business stuff.”

“Draco and I are going to walk down to the farm shop in the village,“ Harry said, flipping the bread expertly in the pan. “I sometimes pick up some ideas for the deli. Come along? Bella usually stays here and reads or watches a film, so there’s that option too.”

“No, another walk would be nice.” Hermione forced herself to sound cheerful, but her stomach felt suddenly heavy. When she sipped her tea, the milk settled at the back of her throat like a suffocating film. Of course, she tried to reason, Narcissa had a lot on her mind. There was the play, there was the perfume launch. There were a hundred things Narcissa could be thinking about as she walked high on the Downs, breeze blowing her blonde hair and the cold biting her cheeks. Kissing Hermione didn’t have to be one of them. Regretting kissing Hermione, and not wanting to face her this morning, didn’t have to be one of them. 

She watched as Harry served Draco a plate of French toast, and shook her head at his raised eyebrow. 

“No thanks, Harry.” She didn’t think she could eat anything. “I’ll pass.”

“I’ll have Hermione’s!” Andy’s voice called through from the living room, and Hermione took the plate from a grinning Harry and walked through the archway.

“That was a quick recovery,” she teased, putting it down on the coffee table with a fork, and Andy squinted one eye open. 

“Years of practice.” She sat up slowly, still looking a bit pale, and pulled the plate towards her. “Sure you don’t want any?”

“No, I’m fine.” Hermione sank back against the cushions and breathed in the steam from her tea. It was another glorious day, all blue sky and icy sunshine. On the back patio, she could see a robin hopping from stone to stone, pecking at some invisible crumbs and puffing its red breast out against the cold. She thought yet again of lips. Her hands clutching at Narcissa’s coat. Please don’t stop. Narcissa hadn’t. Was she now wishing she had? 

“Are you alright?” Andy was watching her carefully, a forkful of French toast halfway between the plate and her mouth. 

Hermione nodded, but she could tell Andy wasn’t convinced. “I should go and have a shower, wash this headache away.”

She left Andy with the French toast and climbed the stairs to her bedroom. Turning the water temperature almost as hot as it would go, she stripped off her pyjamas and stood under the spray, letting it mingle with a few tears that escaped, stinging and salty, from her eyes. She let them fall, furious with herself for getting upset. She was tired, that was all. What had happened was no big deal. They had known it would complicate things, and they’d both wanted it anyway. If one kiss was all it would be, then surely she could deal with that. Surely Narcissa could deal with that. 

She hoped so. 

By the time she got out, her skin bright pink and smelling softly of freesia, she felt a little better. Foregoing her jeans in favour of the comfortable leggings and jumper she’d worn to travel down in, along with a spritz of the new perfume, perked her up even more. By the time she ventured downstairs, book in hand so that she could read while she waited for Draco and Harry, she felt as if she could smile without having to force it. She was in a beautiful house in beautiful countryside. She was with friends. She had more money than she’d ever had in her life, and she had Draco and Harry’s wedding to look forward to. She wouldn’t let anything spoil it, at least not for the rest of today. 

Andy’s place on the sofa had been taken by Bella, who lay sprawled in her pyjamas, her curls mostly hiding her face. 

“Morning, Bella.”

“Too perky,” Bella grumbled from beneath her curtain of hair, and reached out a hand in Hermione’s vague direction. Hermione took it, pulling Bella up to a sitting position, and then Bella patted the sofa where her head had just been. Once Hermione had settled herself, Bella lay back down with her head on Hermione’s lap. 

“You okay, pet?” 

Hermione smiled. Even hungover, the Black sisters were perceptive. And tactile. 

“Yes, I’m okay.”

“Cissy always does this when she’s got something on her mind.” Bella cracked open one dark eye to look up at her. “Just give her the day to work through all the crap, and then she’ll be fine.”

Hermione hesitated, and then inwardly shrugged. At least she could rely on Bella to be honest. 

“What if the crap’s me?”

“Of course it’s you, pet,” Bella chuckled. “She kissed you, didn’t she? Trust me, she won’t be getting her knickers in a twist over anything else this morning….although that was maybe a bad choice of words.”

Hermione’ s eyes widened, and then she groaned. “Nothing happened! At least, not that.” She flushed furiously. There was no point giving half a story to Bella; she should have known. “And actually it was more like me kissing her. To start with, anyway.”

“At least one of you had the good sense to do something.” Bella tutted. “Sometimes, I swear, I don’t know how Cissy and I are related.”

“What if it’s messed everything up?” Hermione asked quietly. She wasn’t sure that she even wanted an answer to that, but the dark haired woman shook her head emphatically. 

“You’re both adults, aren’t you? If she doesn’t want to take it any further, then she won’t let it get in the way of work or anything else.” Bella wriggled a little to get more comfortable, and grabbed a cushion to put behind her head. “But she does. She’ll just be having a wobble about something stupid.”

“Like the fact she’s my boss?” Hermione couldn’t help a little smile, and Bella snorted. 

“When her other employees are her sister and her son? I doubt it. Anyway, I’m the one who signs your pay check.” She smirked up at Hermione again. “Any conflict of interest is with me, pet, not her.”

Hermione laughed, beginning to feel better with Bella's gentle banter and matter-of-fact reassurances. “I thought you said there were no rules against dancing with your boss?”

“Dancing, no. Grinding on? Possibly.”

“I was not!” 

“You weren’t what?” Andy entered the room, freshly showered and dressed in jeans and a fitted green jumper, her curls pulled back in a loose ponytail. 

“Nothing,” Hermione said at the same time as Bella said, “Grinding.”

“Is anyone in a fit state to grind after last night?” Andy lifted Bella’s legs, and sat down at the other end of the sofa with her sister’s feet draped over her lap. 

“Such a lightweight,” Bella teased. 

“Says the woman still flat out on the sofa.” Andy looked at Hermione’s book, lying on the coffee table. “The Years? Is that what you call light reading, Hermione?”

“It is after Medea.”

Bella reached over and picked it up, opening it at the first page just as Draco and Harry came downstairs. 

“Who’s coming, then?”

“Not me, blondie.”

“You never do, Bella.” Draco smirked at his aunt. “Andy?”

“Sure, I’ll come.” Andy seemed to have recovered remarkably well after breakfast and a shower. “Are we walking, or are you driving?”

“No, we thought we’d walk if that’s alright with you?”

Both Andy and Hermione nodded, and Bella protested as both her head and her legs were shifted to allow the two women up off the sofa. 

“You could have done one end at a time,” she groused. “Mind if I read a bit of this while you’re out, pet?”

“Of course not.” Hermione smiled. “Andy’s right, though, it’s not really light reading.”

“My other alternative is Keats, it’s about the only book in the study I haven’t read. I’d rather take my chances on this.” Bella settled the cushion back behind her head. “Have fun.”

“Try and behave, Bella.”

Bella stuck two fingers up at her sister without raising her eyes from the page, and Hermione laughed. Hurrying up to her bedroom, she collected her boots, coat and bag, and tried to ignore the pang of worry and upset she felt at seeing Narcissa’s cardigan, still lying over the chair where she had left it the night before. 

 

~

 

It was a couple of miles down the road to the little village, along single track roads that were barely passable for one car. They were lined on either side by high hedges that were stripped January-bare, their inner twisted limbs and meshes of twigs exposed, but occasionally Hermione still heard a bird chirping from deep within, or a rustle as a mouse or a hedgehog moved. She thought how pretty it would be in summer, in full bloom with dog roses and hawthorn blossom. She was also glad they hadn’t driven. Every so often the road swelled out to accommodate a passing place, but there weren’t that many of them and a surprising number of cars drove by. Ridiculous though it was, she found herself looking each time one approached, wondering whether it would be the Audi. 

They chatted along the way, mostly about wedding ideas. Hermione felt almost as excited as she had been last night, despite the lingering cloud at the back of her mind, and the closeness and comfort of Andy’s arm linked through hers also helped. Draco still groaned and said it was far too soon to be planning it properly, but he and Harry had clearly already been talking about it. They were thinking of September or October. They didn’t really want it in London. They wanted something small. 

“You could have it here,” Hermione suggested. “This place must be beautiful in the autumn.”

Draco nodded. “We wondered about that. I think Mother quite liked the idea too, when I mentioned it last night.”

“She’d agree to have it on the moon if you wanted it there,” Andy laughed. “Teddy’s going to be so excited when I tell him.”

“Have you heard from him?” Hermione asked, remembering Andy’s reminiscences of previous years when Teddy had thrown a tantrum at her leaving, or - when he was old enough to use a phone - bombarded her with calls all weekend. 

“No, thank goodness,” Andy shook her head, pulling them back into the hedge to let a car drive slowly past. “He’s used to staying alone with Helen now, and he’s just hit that age where he thinks he’s old enough to do everything by himself anyway.”

Hermione looked at her, curious again, as Draco and Harry walked on a bit ahead. 

“Go on, love, ask.” Andy looked amused. “You have that same look that you get when you’re about to quiz me on a journal article you just read.”

“Sorry.” Hermione grimaced, and Andy nudged her.

“Don’t be. Like I said before, there aren’t many secrets in this family.”

“Who’s Helen?”

“Live-in nanny,” Andy glanced sideways at her. “I did say last night I had no sex life.”

Hermione laughed. “I thought that was the champagne talking,” she teased, and Andy shook her head. 

“Sadly not. Cissy and Bella help out in paying her, but Helen has been a lifesaver. I would have had to quit work altogether - or at least stop teaching - if it hadn’t been for her.”

Hermione hesitated. She badly wanted to ask what had happened to Andy’s daughter, but - despite what Andy had said - she wasn’t sure if that would be a welcome question or not. She opened her mouth and then closed it again, and Andy noticed. 

“You want to know about Dora?”

Hermione nodded reluctantly. “But not if you don’t want…”

“She had a breakdown when Teddy was three.” Andy squeezed her arm, letting Hermione know she didn’t mind talking about it. “She’d had postpartum depression that the doctors never treated properly, and it escalated. She couldn’t cope. She spent two years in treatment, mostly in-patient.”

“Oh,” Hermione breathed. She couldn’t imagine how difficult that must have been for Andy. “I’m so sorry.”

“I took official guardianship of Teddy when it was clear she wouldn’t be able to look after him even after she left hospital. I offered to have her live with me too, but she refused -  which I understand. She wanted some semblance of her own life, and she manages well by herself now. She sees Teddy every week.”

“Does he know she’s his mother?”

“Oh yes,” Andy nodded. “He knows what happened, even though he’s too young to properly understand. We’ve never kept that from him. I don’t know whether he’ll ever live with her, but we’re hoping she’ll feel up to having him for a few days at a time sometime soon.”

“I’m so sorry,” Hermione said again, and Andy smiled. 

“Don’t be. It could have been a lot worse, at least she’s still with us. She’ll probably come to the wedding, so you’ll meet her then if not before.”

They’d reached the village, which was little more than a few well-kept houses clustered around a green, with a quintessential duck pond and steepled church completing the picture. Hermione saw a pub, several cars parked outside already for Sunday lunch, and a tiny post office and newsagents that was shut. Off to the right, a dirt track wound up a gently sloping hill. Only when Draco and Harry turned up it did she spot the sign at the bottom that said ‘Hollow Trees Farm Shop’.

Another half mile up the track led them to a bustling little shop built in the style of a log cabin, an almost full car park indicating how popular it was among the locals. Tables full of plants for sale lined the entranceway, and a sign pinned to the side of a giant wooden sheep told visitors of that day’s specials in the cafe. Harry immediately disappeared, and Draco laughed. 

“He’ll be ages.”

The place was far bigger than it looked from the outside. They wandered among rows and rows of local fruit and vegetables, and homemade cakes and biscuits. There was a rack of bread from a local bakery, a cheese counter, an olive bar, a deli-style counter with pies and pasties and quiches, and hundreds of bottles of local cider. Hermione’s stomach started to grumble, reminding her that she hadn’t had breakfast, but she didn’t really know where to start. She wanted some of everything. 

Eventually, with some help from Andy and Draco, she settled on a piece of quiche, a bag of local apples, and a packet of rich, spiced slices of fruit bread, and left them browsing while she found a bench outside in the sunshine. Alone, eating the warm quiche that flaked and melted in her mouth, she found her thoughts drifting to Andy and her daughter. She was glad Andy had trusted her enough to tell her. Not many secrets in this family. Was she really considered part of the family now, then? She thought she probably was, and the thought made her feel pleasantly warm despite the January chill. But thinking about family made her think of the previous night. Her mind filled with Narcissa, and she felt her mood slip a little as she wondered where the blonde was, what she was doing, what she was thinking. Memories of their kiss flooded back; she could almost feel Narcissa’s lips on hers again, and hear the moan that had fallen from her own mouth as cool hands tangled in her hair. 

She sighed. Her stomach grumbled once more, letting her know that she wasn’t going to get away with not finishing her picnic, and she popped another bite of the quiche into her mouth. When she’d finished that, she started on an apple. It was pink all the way through, tart and only slightly sweet, and she closed her eyes in pleasure as the sharp tang cleared her senses. 

“Good, aren’t they?”

Hermione looked up and smiled at Draco and Andy, offering them the bag. Draco took one, but Andy shook her head. She carried a hessian bag that clinked when it moved; when Hermione peered inside she saw two bottles of cider, a slab of toffee cake, several pieces of quiche in a paper box, and two bags of apples. 

“Isn’t all that going to be too heavy to carry back?”

Andy shrugged. “I’ll probably eat the cake on the way, that’ll help.”

“Bella will be grumpy.”

“Then she should have come and got her own toffee cake.” But Andy smiled as she said it, and Hermione knew the cake would still be intact when they reached the house. 

Eventually they prised Harry away from the cheese counter, and the walk back didn’t seem to take them as long. It had clouded over somewhat, a grey haze clinging to the horizon, and Hermione felt a shiver of cold through her coat. She ate another apple, feeling the flesh of it squeak along her teeth, and chatted for a bit to Draco about what the perfume launch might be like. Neither Narcissa nor Bella had given any hints so far, but he told her all about the previous events: the hundreds and hundreds of spring flowers that had filled the show space for Amortentia, the heady 1920s jazz club style of Felix Felicis, the simple but stunning black-and-cream scheme for Toujours Pur. 

“I think they’re going to go for something darker on this one, given the name of it.” Draco looked excited. “Bella will be loving it.”

When they reached the house, there was still no sign of the Audi. Hermione felt her stomach sink a little more with each measure of time that passed: they took off their coats and shoes, still nothing. Andy gave Bella a piece of the quiche and the toffee cake, and the Audi didn’t appear. Bella returned her book, saying it was the most depressing thing she’d ever read but that she loved it, and still no Narcissa. They made cups of tea and played cards, and one by one drifted off to pack, and there was still no sign, and Hermione felt all her doubts and fears creep back until they were raging. 

When she finally did hear the soft crunch of gravel against tyres, she was up in her bedroom reluctantly gathering her things, and she felt her heart leap in her chest. Nerves flooded her body, reminding her of the times at school before an important exam, and she sat down on the edge of the bed for a moment to compose herself. Breathe in, breathe out. Then, slowly, thinking all the while of Bella’s reassurances and Andy’s supportive arm, she picked her case up and went downstairs. 

Narcissa was in the kitchen, making herself a cup of tea and eating the last piece of the quiche before the drive back to London, and for a moment Hermione stopped in the doorway and just looked. The blonde’s cheeks were pink from the cold, her hair pulled back into a loose ponytail at the nape of her neck, and she wore leggings and an oversize jumper that made her look tiny. Hermione swallowed the sudden lump in her throat. 

“Hi,” she said softly, and Narcissa turned. 

“Hi.” 

They looked at each other. Hermione was aware of Narcissa’s blue eyes softening, of the hesitant, apologetic smile that curved the corner of the blonde’s mouth, but she wasn’t sure what to say so she kept quiet. 

“Hermione, I…”

“Are we nearly ready?”

Narcissa cursed under her breath, and looked up at the clock. “We’ll have to be,” she called back to Bella, glancing once more at Hermione with an unreadable expression. “Who’s driving with who?”

“Probably best if you take Andy and Bella and Hermione again, if that’s okay.” Draco appeared in the kitchen. “The car made a few funny noises on the way down here. I’ll get it looked at tomorrow, but just in case…”

“Okay,” Narcissa nodded. “Are you sure you’re happy to drive it?”

“Oh yeah, it’ll be fine. If anything happens I’ll just call the breakdown people.”

“And me.” Narcissa looked worried, and Draco laughed. 

“And you, But really, Mother, you’re worse with cars than I am.”

“I can at least change a tyre,” Narcissa retorted, finishing her tea. “All right. Bella, Andy, get your shit together.”

After clearing up the last few mugs and plates in the kitchen and checking round to make sure that no one had left anything behind, they piled their things into the cars and Narcissa locked up. Hermione felt a pang at leaving the house. It looked so beautiful again, in the late afternoon light. As she slid once more into the front passenger seat of the Audi, pushed there by Bella, she felt the same kind of emptiness as she always did at the airport after a holiday. The journey home curved ahead of her, and she didn’t want to go. 

Narcissa let Draco drive out first. Hermione suspected that, after he had mentioned the car, Narcissa would be driving behind her son all the way back to London in case it broke down. She looked out of the window at the sunset, the hills and fields tinted a deeper and deeper pink until it dissolved into violet, and all the while she sensed Narcissa beside her. There was no music this time. Bella and Andy were quiet in the back, and by the time they reached the motorway and it was fully dark, both of them seemed to be asleep. 

Hermione looked over at Narcissa and the blonde glanced back, not taking her eyes from the road for too long. Hermione saw the apologetic look again. Once more, Narcissa seemed to want to say something, but changed her mind. They drove on in silence, Draco’s lights ahead of them on the dual carriageway; he was just as fast a driver as Narcissa. Once or twice, Hermione noticed Narcissa’s hand lingering on the gear stick, even though they were set at just over seventy and  there was no need to change up or down, and she wondered. It was so tempting. 

Her heart thudding in her throat, she hesitantly reached over and touched Narcissa’s fingers. The blonde didn’t pull away as Hermione had half-expected. Instead, a soft sigh escaped her as she gently took Hermione’s hand, entwining their fingers properly. Her thumb rubbed lightly on Hermione’s, and Hermione leaned back in her seat, suddenly and overwhelmingly relieved. 

Neither of them noticed Bella open one eye in the back seat and take in their joined hands, the unspoken tenderness and apology in the touch. The dark woman didn’t say anything. With a small, satisfied smile on her face, she snuggled further down in her seat and fell asleep properly as they drove towards the London lights, already glowing on the horizon. 

Chapter Text

“I don’t believe it.” Ginny’s eyes popped wide. “Lemme see that.”

Hermione passed her the bank transfer receipt, and sat back against the sofa cushions. Ginny hadn’t been home when she’d arrived back late the evening before, and had left a message to say she was staying at her brother’s for the night. Today, though, Hermione had got back from the library to find her friend sitting on the sofa, wrapped in a hoodie and a blanket, with one foot resting in a washing-up bowl full of ice water. Two changes of water later she was still there, having fallen in training and bruised her foot. She seemed remarkably unbothered about it, saying that she had had far worse injuries and had barely taken a week off, and had instead demanded to know every single detail about Hermione’s weekend. 

“Fuck me,” she whistled as she looked over the receipt. “They really don’t mess around. And you get…what did you say? One per cent a year?”

Hermione nodded. Going back over it, in her small flat with the poor heating and the dripping kitchen tap and the mountain of reading waiting for her in her bag, made it seem even more surreal. 

“Hermione, that’s gonna be fifteen thousand a year without you even lifting a finger.”

“More than that.” Hermione sipped her tea, still too hot to drink properly. “Bella reckoned this was two percent of the first two years’ profit, but she also said it’s only going to go up.”

“Wow.” Ginny handed the receipt back, a disbelieving smile on her face. “Good for you. So then what happened?”

“What makes you think anything else happened?” Hermione stalled a bit, not really sure how to talk about Narcissa just yet. “That was enough…oh! I didn’t mention yet, Draco and Harry got engaged. So there’s a wedding later in the year, too.”

Ginny smirked. “Lovely news, and I’m sure they’re really happy, but that wasn’t what I meant.”

Hermione sighed, and blew on her tea. “We kissed,” she eventually admitted. 

“And?”

“And nothing.” She stared at the floor, picking out shapes in the weave of the carpet as her mind drifted, yet again, to Narcissa. They’d dropped Andy off first the previous night, and then Narcissa had brought her home. There had been no chance to talk, and goodbye had been restricted to a kiss on the cheek and a sleepy hug from Bella in the back. Hermione had thought about sending a message before she went to bed, but hadn’t. She’d thought about it all day as well and still hadn’t, but it hadn’t stopped her checking her phone obsessively, willing the blonde’s name to appear on the screen. She didn’t even know if she would see Narcissa tomorrow at the shop, and the no-man’s-land of wondering how things would be between them was beginning to grate on her nerves.

She looked up, finally, to see Ginny staring at her, her eyebrows raised and her mouth slightly open. 

“And nothing? What do you mean, and nothing?”

Hermione sighed, and quickly told her what had happened. The dancing, the kiss, Narcissa’s absence the day before, the almost-apology, the drive home. 

“She held my hand almost all the way back to London.”

“Driving one-handed. Nice,” Ginny smirked, and then became sober. “But you haven’t heard from her since?”

Hermione shook her head. 

‘And have you messaged her?” Ginny shook her head. “Forget that. Of course you haven’t.”

“What am I supposed to say? Hi Narcissa, that was the best kiss I’ve ever had in my life, want to do it again sometime?”

“Anything would do!” Ginny gestured in exasperation, and water slopped out of the washing-up bowl onto the towel it rested on. “For heaven’s sake, Hermione. I bet you that month’s supply of ice cream - which you owe me, by the way, because a kiss definitely counts as getting a peek…”

“It does not!”

“Does. Anyway, I can almost guarantee that she will be holding off because she doesn’t want to push you and make you feel awkward. You work for her and for one of her sisters, you’re now friends with her son, her other sister is your PhD supervisor…”

“Thanks, Ginny,” Hermione groaned. When her friend listed it all like that, it sounded awful. 

“None of it needs to be a problem, I’m just saying she might be feeling wary of complicating things even more for you. Which means you’re going to have to grow a proper pair of tits and make the first move.”

Hermione looked at her friend in amazement. “Have you been spending time with Bella and I didn’t know?”

“What?”

“Nothing.” Hermione huffed out a laugh. “You sounded exactly like Bella then, that’s all.”

“Well, if two of us are saying it…”

“She didn’t exactly say it, it just sounded like something she would say….never mind.” Hermione shook her head. “I don’t know. I’ll wait and see what happens tomorrow. If I don’t see her, then I’ll send a message.” 

She looked down at Ginny’s foot, determined to try and change the subject. She wanted to believe that Ginny was right, but there was a small part of her that still wondered whether it had just been a weekend thing; a combination of celebrations and champagne and being away from London. If it was, she told herself she would be fine with it. She just didn’t really want to dwell on it. “Want some more water and ice?”

Ginny narrowed her eyes, but seemed to sense that Hermione genuinely didn’t want to talk about it anymore, and she nodded as she peered down at her foot. 

“I’ll get it,” Hermione said quickly, when her friend made to stand up. “Stay there, don’t put any weight on it.”

She took the bowl into the kitchen and emptied it down the sink, running the tap until the water was properly cold and fetching the last bag of ice out of the freezer. She dumped half of it into the bowl and topped it up with water, and carried it carefully back through. The foot did look painful. It was already bruising purple down one side, although it wasn’t too swollen. Hermione hoped that was a good sign, and it wouldn’t just flare up later in the week instead. 

“How did you manage it?” she asked as she slid the bowl back onto the towel, and Ginny lowered her foot into it with a hiss. 

Fuck, that’s cold. I honestly don’t know. She had us doing bleep tests, and I was almost there…I think maybe I turned too quickly at the beep or something. Next thing I know I’m arse down on the track.”

“It hasn’t swollen too badly.” Hermione peered through the water and ice. “But you’ll need to keep off it for a few days.”

“I know,” Ginny groaned. “Hooch said she’d come by tomorrow, to check it over and bring me some of the strong arnica cream that the physio uses. Hopefully that should help it. I’ve still got plenty of time, it won’t throw the trials off.”

They sat talking for a while longer before Hermione fetched one of her research books and Ginny flicked the TV on. The film she found was an old romcom, and although Hermione could usually do at least some work with background distractions, tonight she found she couldn’t concentrate on anything. After half an hour her book remained open on the same page, but she had no idea what was going on in the film either. Her tea had gone cold. Her mind kept drifting back to Narcissa, no matter how hard she tried to stop it, and several times she had to stop herself from going to her bedroom and checking her phone. She was determined to wait until tomorrow to see if she could talk to the blonde face to face, but it didn’t stop the nervous, antsy feeling that crept over her in waves, and she stayed up later than she would normally have done, knowing that she wouldn’t be able to sleep. 

When she eventually did go to bed, after making sure that Ginny could hobble alright to her own bedroom, she lay awake, staring up at the dull glow of the streetlamp on the ceiling, remembering the call of the owls and the deep darkness in Wiltshire and wishing she was there instead. 

 

~

 

She arrived at the shop slightly early the next morning. After struggling to fall asleep, she’d then woken up so many times that in the end, at five thirty, she’d given up and had a long, hot shower instead. Walking to the shop instead of taking the bus had cleared her head a little. London was cloudy and damp after Wiltshire, a dull greyness hanging low over the city and penetrating everything with a raw chill that made her shiver. And she still hadn’t heard from Narcissa. 

“Head recovered, pet?”

Hermione nodded at Bella, who was already settled in the office and looked like she had been for some time. 

“Just about.” She shrugged out of her coat and stashed it in the safe along with her bag. “What are you working on?”

“Perfume launch.” Bella quickly covered the computer screen with her arms, chuckling as Hermione tried to peek over her shoulder. “No chance. Top secret, pet, even to you.”

“About that.” Draco walked in from the shop. “Mother was talking about it this morning. She said to tell you, absolutely no…”

“Pfff.” Bella waved a hand dismissively.

“…real snow, fire rings, or horses,” Draco finished with a smirk at Hermione. 

Horses?”

“Just one idea,” Bella said breezily. “And Cissy would come around.”

“No, I wouldn’t.” Hermione spun on her heel as Narcissa appeared in the doorway from upstairs, back in her shirt and black slacks and with her hair pulled back in a messy bun, looking warily at her sister. “I want my house intact at the end of the night, Bella.”

“And it will be.” Bella closed down the internet screen with a satisfied smile and pushed back her chair. “I’m going to the florist’s, I want to run through a few things in person.”

“Nothing scented.”

“I know.”

“And order the black orchids, they’ll need plenty of notice for those.”

“I know.” Bella looked at Narcissa with a mixture of fondness and impatience. “Relax, little sister. I promise I will just follow orders. For now.”

“That’s what worries me,” Narcissa muttered as Bella grabbed her coat and disappeared through the shop with a wave. She shook her head. “Draco, I need a favour.”

“You want me to talk Bella out of piling snow drifts up the stairs next door?” 

“No, worse.” Narcissa grimaced. “Emilia’s coming in again this afternoon. She left a message on my phone last night. Could you deal with her?”

“Oh, fuck,” Draco groaned, and Narcissa didn’t even reprimand him for his language. “Really?”

“I have too much to do. Just tell her I’m with another client or something. Please?”

“Okay, okay,” Draco grumbled, heading out into the shop to open up properly as the clock ticked to 10am. “But you owe me.”

“Thank you.”

Narcissa looked at Hermione. A small, tentative smile tugged at the corners of her mouth and Hermione couldn’t help but return it, even though her heart was suddenly thudding uncomfortably hard in her chest.

“Would you be able to stay for a bit after work?” Narcissa’s voice was quiet, hesitant. “I know it’s short notice…”

“It’s fine,” Hermione nodded quickly. Even if she’d had something on, she would have changed it. “I can stay.”

“Okay,” Narcissa looked relieved. “Just come up when you’re done.”

For the rest of the morning, Hermione tried hard to focus as Draco disappeared to help Narcissa upstairs. Despite it being so soon after Christmas, there was still a steady stream of people through the door, and they all seemed to need help. She spent an hour and a half in and out of the fitting room with one customer, relieved when the sale made the time worth it. Another spent almost an hour agonising over perfume. Hermione was used to that from her time at the shop in France, and she patiently went through tester stick after tester stick, finally persuading the woman to try Amortentia on one wrist and Felix on the other and then to buy a bottle of each. 

All the while her mind kept wandering to later, to Narcissa, to what might happen. She wondered what Narcissa would say. Maybe nothing; maybe the blonde just wanted more help with the costumes. Dear god, Hermione hoped not. She didn’t think she would survive being touched all over, pinned and adjusted in the jumpsuit again. 

She barely managed lunch. Her stomach wouldn’t let her eat much, twisting in alternate waves of anticipation and dread. Draco raised an eyebrow when she offered him the second half of her salad, but shrugged and took it, diving in with her cast-off fork. 

“What time is your grandmother coming?”

“Who knows,” he groaned. “If I’m with someone else when she does, just take over from me. You shouldn’t have to put up with her again.”

In the end, it was almost four when the woman arrived. She looked just as arrogant and haughty as Hermione remembered, wrapped up in a fur coat that Hermione doubted was fake, her heels clicking on the floor, and the bright red of her lips like a slash in her pale face. It made Hermione wonder what Draco’s father was like. She remembered what Narcissa had said about him in Wiltshire, and how contemptuous all the sisters had seemed. If the man was anything like his mother she didn’t think she blamed them, and then felt instantly guilty. Clearly Narcissa had seen something in him at some point, although what it was she wasn’t sure. And she was grateful Draco was there this time. Emilia aimed straight for him and didn’t even acknowledge her presence. 

Surreptitiously, she listened in on their conversation. It was quiet now in the shop, the light already starting to fade outside and the clouds turning misty, and Emilia’s strident voice echoed through the whole space. Draco was coolly polite, his manner giving no indication that he was related to the woman who plucked dress after dress off the rails, tutting at some and begrudgingly admiring others, raising her eyebrows at tops made completely of lace, and fingering silk suspiciously as if she thought it might be polyester in disguise. Hermione was impressed at his composure. He only came close to cracking once; Emilia commented tartly that perhaps Narcissa had brought too much of her “old greasepaint and circuses” into the latest collection, and Hermione fought back a laugh as he made a childish face and stuck his tongue out behind his grandmother’s back. She gave him a subtle thumbs-up, and he rolled his eyes. 

Finally, an hour later, she was gone, and Draco slumped dramatically against the counter. 

“She owes me big time,” he muttered darkly, and Hermione knew he was talking about Narcissa. She laughed and patted him playfully on the shoulder. 

“You didn’t tell Emilia about the wedding?”

“Heavens, no,” Draco shuddered. “I haven’t even told my father yet. I’m not sure how to, given that I haven’t spoken to him for over a year and I’d rather he didn’t come. I can hardly call out of the blue and say, hey Father, guess what, Harry proposed but you’re not invited, and the same goes for her.” 

“Ouch.” Hermione grimaced. Narcissa had hinted at Draco’s poor relationship with Lucius, but she hadn’t realised how bad it actually was. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be, I’m not. Although he probably wouldn’t come anyway. He’ll be too wrapped up in the latest woman and the latest peacock.”

“Peacock?” Narcissa had mentioned peacocks too, and Hermione had visions of a middle-aged aristocratic type, holding court over an estate in France that was swarming with strutting birds. 

As it turned out, she wasn’t far wrong. Draco smirked and pulled out his phone, clicking through to Instagram and showing her some of his father’s photos. Hermione saw a man with hair as blonde as Draco’s, long and perfectly groomed and tied back in a ponytail, his face pale even under the French sun. He had the same nose as Emilia, the same strong jawline, the same imperious look in his eyes. In most of the photos he was posing - beside a wine barrel, next to a Porsche, beside a fountain with Greek-style statues that Hermione guessed was actually in his back garden. There were pictures of an enormous chateau-style house, surrounded by formal landscaping and a moat. And in every photo of the grounds there was a peacock. 

“Fifteen at last count.” Draco shook his head, looking amazed at his own father. “I really don’t get it.” He shoved the phone back in his pocket. “The last time I was there one of the fuckers pecked me. They’re vicious.”

“When did you last visit?”

“Five or six years ago, I think it was.” Draco shrugged. “He tried to persuade me to move over there and join him in the Malfoy business instead of working here - because, can you believe, he didn’t think design and retail was a suitable career for a man. This coming from the person who loves vintage Valentino and Gucci. I don’t know who he thinks designed them…Anyway, it got a little heated, I ended up telling him to fuck off, he accused me of always siding with my mother, and here we are.”

Hermione shook her head, but didn’t say anything. She couldn’t imagine having such a poor relationship with either of her parents. They weren’t exactly close - she often went for three or four weeks without calling them, something that she continually felt guilty for but at the same time never did anything about - but she loved them and knew they loved her. The idea of not seeing them or speaking to them for years, of not wanting to tell them if she ever found anyone she loved enough to marry, was almost inconceivable. And she also knew they would never, ever reject her over her choice of career, even if they didn’t wholeheartedly agree with it. 

“You head off early if you like.” Draco looked at his watch. It was twenty to six, and no one had come in since Emilia had left. Outside, Hermione could see the mist had descended, turning the pavements into murky pools of muted light and shadow. Car headlights shimmered like they were underwater, and the few people walking past were buttoned up, hunched over, hurrying against the chill. “It’s horrible out there, it’ll be dead now.”

Hermione’s heart gave a flip. “Actually…Narcissa asked if I could stay for a bit, I suppose to help with costumes again or something. So I might as well wait and go up at six.”

“Ah.” Draco nodded slowly, a knowing smile spreading over his face. “So that’s why she was so distracted earlier.”

“What?”

“I’m not blind, Hermione. Neither of you was exactly subtle at the weekend.”

Hermione’s eyes widened, and then she groaned. “Oh, shit.” She felt her face flush and her stomach sink. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean…”

“Hey, it’s fine.” Draco chuckled at her discomfort. “Slightly weird, but fine.”

She raised an eyebrow. 

“You’re both adults, you can see who you want.” He shrugged again and leaned against the counter, looking at her appraisingly. “And I can see why you two like each other. Just remember she’s my mother, I don’t want any details.”

Hermione blew out a long breath, feeling relieved and embarrassed all at once.

”There aren’t any details to give. But if there were, I promise you would be the last person to get them.”

“So go on,” Draco nodded towards the ceiling. “I’ll scoot out as soon as I’ve locked up. I need a drink after grandmother, and Harry’s promised me lasagne.”

It was ten to six. Hermione felt her nerves return full force, not helped by her lingering blush, or the knowledge that Narcissa’s son was already well aware of something that even she wasn’t sure of yet. She offered to help him cash up but he shook his head firmly, saying he would come in early in the morning and do it then, that Harry didn’t like his lasagne to be kept waiting. The look on his face said that her delaying tactics were obvious, and it reminded her so much of Bella that she almost laughed. 

Slowly she gathered her things from the safe,  said goodnight, and started up the stairs. 

 

 

******

 

 

Walking into the studio felt a little bit like coming home. 

Everything was almost exactly the same as she remembered it from last time, and the time before that, and the time before that. The same curtains were drawn across the windows, not against sunshine any more but against the January darkness that was now so thick it might as well have been midnight. The same soft music was playing. There were the same clothes rails in the same place, piled with material; the same large desk covered in A2 sheets of paper and pencils and pins and scissors and chalk. There was the same sense of untidiness everywhere, which Hermione knew wasn’t untidiness but Narcissa’s creative thought processes left scattered through the room behind her. There were the same nerves exploding in her stomach that she had felt the very first time. It was all the same, and she couldn’t help a small smile. 

But there was something that didn’t sit right. She only placed what it was when she stepped into the room and saw Narcissa with her back to the door, working on the jumpsuit. On a mannequin. An unreasonable flash of jealousy pulsed through her as she stared at it. It looked just as perfect as she remembered from the mirror, only this time it was lifeless.

“I thought you didn’t like working on mannequins.”

Narcissa paused for just a second, before tweaking one last bit of the deep v-neck and slowly turning around, plucking a couple of pins out of her mouth as she did so.

“I don’t. But I didn’t think putting it back on you was a good idea,” she admitted quietly. “I was barely professional last time.”

Blue eyes gazed at Hermione almost warily, as if Narcissa was worried about what she might do or say. The blonde looked tired. She was little paler than usual, her mouth a little tense, her shoulders held tight. A small scratch on one hand, where she had nicked herself with the sharp material scissors, testified to the truth of what Draco had said about her being distracted. Unthinkingly, Hermione stepped closer and reached for the hand. 

“You should put something on that,” she murmured. The scratch was light, flaring bright red and then dying away near the fingernail. It was the first time she could remember seeing Narcissa without nail polish. 

“It’s fine. I do it all the time.”

Hermione skated her thumb lightly over it, and felt Narcissa shiver. Her own heart was thumping so loudly that she was sure Narcissa had to be able to hear it, and the touch of Narcissa’s hand felt cool on her suddenly hot skin. “If not the jumpsuit, then why did you ask me to stay?”

Narcissa took a deep, slow breath. 

“To apologise.”

Hermione felt a heavy knot begin to tie itself in her stomach. She’d known it was a real possibility. She’d just allowed herself to hope that she wouldn’t hear it. She tried to let go of Narcissa’s hand, but the blonde held on. 

“For kissing me?”

“No.” Narcissa shook her head and Hermione looked up at her. Narcissa suddenly looked open and vulnerable, as if Hermione’s touch on her hand had wiped away a mask. “Not unless you want me to.”

“No. Never.” She wound her fingers around Narcissa’s again. “I just thought, after Sunday…”

“That’s what I need to apologise for.” Narcissa rubbed the bridge of her nose with her free hand. She suddenly looked exhausted, and Hermione instinctively reached up to cup Narcissa’s cheek, to run her fingers through the blonde and black strands that were escaping from the band holding them back. Narcissa leaned gently into the touch, and closed her eyes with a sigh. “I panicked.”

“About what?’ Hermione asked softly. Her thumb ran lightly, daringly, across Narcissa’s cheekbone, leaving another shiver in its wake, and her other hand trembled slightly as it held Narcissa’s. 

Narcissa opened her eyes and grimaced. “I didn’t know what you wanted,” she said, so quietly it was almost a whisper. “I almost came to your room on Saturday night, but I wasn’t sure I’d be welcome. I woke up on Sunday in a bit of a mess. I left before anyone was up because I didn’t want to see you regret what happened.”

“You thought I’d regret what happened?”

Narcissa shrugged, and gave Hermione a brief, wry smile. “We’d had a lot to drink. Bella had just given you a thirty thousand lump sum, my son had just got engaged. I knew what I wanted, but….yes, I wondered whether it would be one of those things that you’d want to forget the next day. I didn’t want to complicate things for you any further if it was.”

Hermione blinked, and shook her head. It took a moment for it to sink in. “Didn’t you think about the other alternative?”

“At the time? No, not really.”

“And now?”

“Like I said, Hermione, I knew what I wanted. It hasn’t changed.” Narcissa sighed quietly. “I just wanted to apologise for doing that on Sunday, and to let you know that I would love this to be more than a tipsy kiss in the freezing cold. But I really do understand if you don’t, and it won’t affect…”

Hermione had heard enough. A hard, fast wave of relief made her feel slightly giddy, and she placed one finger over Narcissa’s lips before leaning forward into a gentle kiss. Her hand came up to cradle Narcissa’s head, pulling the blonde closer, and she was enveloped by light scent, by soft lips that were so responsive to hers, by the lingering taste of sweet coffee and apples. She sensed Narcissa’s hands hesitate and she pressed a little closer, encouraging Narcissa to hold her. Everything was so warm. There was no frosty air to take the edge off.

Eventually she pulled back a little, slightly out of breath, and rested her forehead against Narcissa’s. 

“Does that clear things up for you?”

But Narcissa was quiet, her eyes hesitantly questioning, and Hermione smiled. “I did not regret it. I’ve wanted to kiss you again ever since. I know things are more complicated than they should be, but I want more too. Does that make it clear?”

Narcissa nodded, slowly, and she slowly returned Hermione’s smile. 

“Just…” Hermione huffed out a laugh, and shook her head. “Please don’t ever do that to me again. At least not without some warning.”

“I will try.” Narcissa chuckled, but then her expression became serious. “I’m sorry. Really.”

“It’s okay.” Hermione slipped her arms around Narcissa’s shoulders, holding the woman to her, feeling the slender curves against her body and the softness of hair against her cheek. Relief still coursed through her like a drug, only now it was mixed with desire and joy and the overwhelming need to be close. “You would have been welcome, you know. On Saturday night. I thought about coming to your room, but had the same problem.”

Narcissa smiled against her. “Maybe it’s just as well. That would have really pushed things along.”

Hermione nodded. Her eyes flickered around the studio, to the mannequin and the desk and the books that lay open on the floor next to the shelf. She knew, from Draco, that Narcissa rarely left the studio these days before ten or eleven at night; on the evenings when Hermione had stayed behind, Narcissa had always let her out and then returned for more work. Remnants of all the different projects she was working on were scattered around. The play, the next collection, couture designs and commissions for a couple of regular clients. Hermione held Narcissa tighter. 

“You’re working too hard,” she murmured. “You have too much on.”

“Not too much.” 

“But you want to take things slowly?”

Hermione felt Narcissa hesitate before nodding, and she pulled back so that she could look the older woman in the eyes. 

“It’s fine, Cissy,” she said softly, the nickname slipping out without her really thinking about it. “Really.” Her fingers stroked pale skin, tracing cheekbones and eyebrows and lips. “We can take it as slow as you like.”

“It’s not out of choice, it’s just…” Narcissa gestured behind her, and Hermione soothed the grimace with her fingers. “It’s crazy at the moment. You don’t deserve to get only what’s left at the end of all this.”

“And you need to get some sleep.”

“Things will be easier after that February week.”

“The perfume launch,” Hermione nodded. 

“And the play.”

Hermione smiled again, and tilted her head up to press her lips to Narcissa’s forehead. She didn’t care. She knew she would happily go however slowly they needed to go, and she whispered as much in Narcissa’s ear before holding the other woman tight. 

“Do you have more work to do tonight?”

She knew the answer even before Narcissa nodded in her arms. 

“Would you prefer me to leave you to it?”

Narcissa shook her head. “No, I want you to stay. If you’d like to.”

“I would. But will you at least let me get you dinner?” Hermione rubbed light circles on Narcissa’s back. “I could pop out and get us something. You need to eat, and I didn’t get much lunch.” She wasn’t actually sure that she could eat anything even now, not with her stomach doing so many emotional twists and turns, but she was determined that Narcissa would. She doubted whether the blonde had eaten much all day. 

Narcissa shook her head again, and pulled back. “If you like…” she hesitated again, and then shrugged. “I don’t know what food I’ve got in at home, but I’m sure I can put something together if you want to come back for a bit. I won’t be long here now, I can catch up in the morning.”

Hermione raised an eyebrow. “Is that taking things slowly?”

Narcissa laughed, and she leaned in to press her lips lightly, teasingly, to Hermione’s, as if she couldn’t help needing to touch any more than Hermione could. “It’s dinner, darling. We’re both adults, I’m sure we can manage it without ripping each other’s clothes off.”

“Speak for yourself,” Hermione muttered, but smiled. “Okay, if you’re sure. That would be lovely.”

She settled herself by the window, in the same spot that she and Narcissa had sat in all those weeks ago, when they had eaten tabbouleh salad in companionable silence, when she had wrapped herself up in Narcissa’s cardigan and never wanted to let it go. She still had it. She hadn’t been able to give it to Narcissa on Sunday and she hadn’t wanted to leave it in Wiltshire, so she had brought it home yet again. She wished she was wearing it now.

Watching Narcissa work on the jumpsuit was its own special kind of torture. Even with Hermione there, Narcissa quickly got lost in what she was doing. Her eyes became concentrated, her brow furrowed slightly, pin after pin was held in her mouth before being plucked out again. But it was her hands that held Hermione’s attention. She’d never been able to watch before, not properly. She knew what every touch felt like, knew how light and delicate and precise Narcissa’s hands were, but watching the long fingers as they skated over the material was something different altogether. Narcissa worked with such tiny proportions. She pinned widths of material that were barely there, seeing things that were almost invisible to anyone else, her hands seeking out the exactness that she needed to make the whole thing perfect. It was like a dance. Hermione could barely take her eyes away. 

“Are you looking at the jumpsuit or me?”

Hermione blinked, jolted out of her daydream, and laughed at herself. “Both,”she said honestly. “I like watching you work. Sorry.”

Narcissa hummed, a quick smile in Hermione’s direction letting her know that she didn’t mind. “It’s almost done.”

“Is that the last one?’

“For Medea herself, yes. I have a couple to finish off for Jason, and one for Creon.” She glanced up once more at Hermione. “I have fittings at the theatre soon. I’ll need some help.”

Hermione raised an eyebrow. “You want me to come with you?”

“Only if you’re free. It’s on a Wednesday. I know you usually do your teaching prep then, so if not Bella can…”

“No, it’s fine.” Hermione shook her head, already planning to shift her prep to the Monday and her own research back to the Sunday - usually the one day when she allowed herself some time off, but she wanted this far more. She guessed the cast would be rehearsing bits and pieces while Narcissa was there, and she felt a thrill run down her spine at the thought of seeing it all backstage. And of course, it was time with Narcissa. “I’d love to.”

“Okay,” Narcissa smiled. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” Hermione replied softly, and she felt her skin tingle at the warm gaze between them. 

“I’ll leave this tonight.” Narcissa stepped back, contemplating it for a moment, and then nodded. “Are you ready to go?” 

 

~

 

Narcissa led her through the courtyard, and into the next door building by the same entrance that Hermione had used to go to the photoshoot all those weeks ago. They climbed the same back stairs that led out onto the sweeping curve of the main staircase, only instead of following it down to view the ground floor, they now went up. The staircase ended in a set of ornate wooden doors, old-fashioned except for the gleaming key fob reader set on the wall to one side. Hermione raised an eyebrow as Narcissa swiped a black key. 

This is your flat?”

“It’s not as grand as the outside makes it look.” Narcissa smiled as she pushed open one of the doors and Hermione followed her in, letting Narcissa take her coat and following the blonde’s lead in slipping off her shoes. 

She found herself in what had once been a long hallway, with a huge living room off to the right and a kitchen off to the left. Someone - perhaps Narcissa, or whoever had owned the building before - had knocked three large archways into the living room wall and two into the kitchen wall, so that the space now straddled the line between open-plan and traditional. In the living room area Hermione could see parquet flooring, rich and shining; large cream sofas draped in colourful blue and green throws and cushions; several cream bookcases stacked full. The space was dominated by the windows. Just as in the studio, they stretched floor to ceiling, with wrought iron Juliet balconies that reminded Hermione of Paris. Sage green curtains hung at each one, and Narcissa slipped past her to pull them against the darkness, tapping a couple of light switches as she went. Lamps flared softly, and the small chandelier overhead - a smaller twin to the one downstairs - glowed bright before Narcissa turned the dimmer switch down. Prints of old French fashion magazines, from the 1930s heyday of fashion illustration, dotted the walls in simple black frames, and a long, low coffee table was scattered with books and papers. 

It was grand, in one sense. But, like the studio and the house in Wiltshire, Hermione had the sense that it was also lived in and loved, and Narcissa’s essence filled every corner of it. 

“Make yourself at home for a moment?” A soft hand briefly touched her cheek. “I just need to make a quick call. Bella left a message earlier.”

“Of course, don’t worry,” Hermione nodded. She was still half-gazing around the living room. “Can I do anything?”

“No, I won’t be long.” Narcissa smiled, and padded in her bare feet towards the hallway, gesturing towards the kitchen as she went. “Help yourself to anything to drink, there’s teas or coffee. Might even be some white wine in the fridge.” She disappeared towards the end of the hallway, where Hermione assumed the bedroom was, and a door shut softly as she dialled her sister. 

Hermione wandered slowly through the living room, taking in everything around her as she went. The tall, narrow tables that stood to the side of each archway, each one with a pot plant in a painted ceramic pot. The old fireplace, now home to an array of photographs on a ledge; Hermione saw several of Narcissa with Draco through the years, and more of Narcissa with her sisters. She crouched to look at them. There was toddler Draco clutching his mother’s hand as she led him towards an impossibly blue sea, perhaps in the South of France. A slightly older Draco, fast asleep on a younger, softer Bella’s lap; the resigned look on Bella’s face made Hermione smile. Narcissa and Bella and Andy laughing on a rooftop in Paris, the Eiffel Tower clear in the distance. Narcissa in the most stunning black dress Hermione had ever seen, radiant at the opening of The House of Black. Draco and Harry, hand in hand, shirt necks open in a warm summer garden in Wiltshire. And a group picture in a snowy Hyde Park, Narcissa at the centre, surrounded by Bella and Andy and Draco and a young woman who looked so much like Andy it had to be Dora, holding a baby Teddy in her arms. Hermione traced Narcissa’s laugh lightly with one finger, lingering on that photo of her bundled up in the cold, before standing up and stretching her legs. The photos gave her a strange feeling, as if she hadn’t quite earned the right to be looking at them yet - not when there was so much about Narcissa that she didn’t know - and yet at the same time they drew her in. They were Narcissa as a sister and mother, two sides of the blonde she’d already seen, but which looked so much more intimate here.

The kitchen was sleek and modern, with cream marble-effect work surfaces and smooth black cupboards, a large island in the middle with six stools around the outside. Hermione filled the kettle and opened cupboard doors until she came to one filled with mugs, packets of tea, and various different sizes of tea strainer. She smiled. Narcissa clearly hated teabags. 

After inspecting several, she finally decided on an Earl Grey blend that smelled of lavender and smoke, and scooped some out before going back to the living room to retrieve her phone from her bag. Tapping quickly, she sent Ginny a message saying that she wouldn’t be home until late and asking how the bruised foot was. She didn’t say where she was - although she thought her friend would guess easily enough. Just as she finished, the kettle boiled and Narcissa came back through, looking a little exasperated. 

“Is everything okay?” Hermione asked, and Narcissa rolled her eyes. 

“Yes, I think so. I’m sorry about that.” 

“It’s fine, don’t worry.” Hermione fetched Narcissa a mug, and smiled when the blonde selected the same tea. “I needed to message my flatmate, anyway. She’s an athlete - I think I mentioned it? - but she hurt her foot the other day. I just wanted to let her know I wouldn’t be home until later, and to check whether she needs anything.”

“She’s not injured seriously, I hope?”

“No, it’s just a bad bruise. Her coach was supposed to be going over today to check on her.” Hermione inhaled the scent of the tea, pleasantly aware of Narcissa beside her. It was so strange, realising that she no longer had to hold back as much. The thought that she could reach out and tuck Narcissa’s stray hair behind her ear made her smile, and she did exactly that, soft dark strands slipping through her fingers. Narcissa turned her head to catch Hermione’s palm with her lips. 

“Are you hungry?”

“Not particularly,” Hermione said honestly. She was still a bit shaky, still a bit emotional, and all she really wanted was the tea and Narcissa’s arms. “But you should eat.”

“So should you.” Narcissa opened the chrome fridge and looked for a moment at the contents, pursing her lips. “Pasta it is, then.”

Hermione took the courgette, French beans, lemon, and feta cheese from Narcissa, and began to chop while the blonde put some pasta on to boil. It felt a little surreal, and yet strangely familiar; intimate in a way that helped her relax. When Narcissa had seen to the pasta, she plucked another knife from the block and joined Hermione in chopping. 

“So what’s the plan for the launch?” Hermione asked, reaching over Narcissa for another handful of beans. She guessed that was what Bella had been calling about. “Draco said something about Bella wanting horses, but I wasn’t sure if he was joking or not.”

“She won’t - at least, I don’t think she will,” Narcissa shook her head, tossing the chopped vegetables into a pan with some oil. “She just likes winding me up, and she looks at too many of the Paris shows on YouTube.”

“Real snow?”

Narcissa looked pained. “She might get away with that.”

Hermione raised her eyebrows. “Fire rings?”

“Hell, no.” Narcissa grimaced, and Hermione laughed. “I did say I want my house still standing at the end of the night, which limits her crazy ideas somewhat.” She sliced into the lemon, digging out the pips with the tip of her knife. “It could be worse. When we launched Amortentia she wanted a full carousel, a replica of the one opposite the Eiffel Tower, and she nearly did it. It was only when she realised how long it would take to put the thing together - because of course it would have had to be brought in in pieces - that she decided against it and bought up twenty thousand pounds’ worth of flowers instead.” 

“Wow.”

“And people have the nerve to say I’m the theatrical one.” Narcissa stirred the vegetables, and added a tiny drop of lemon juice. Hermione leaned back against the counter and sipped her tea. Now that she could smell everything cooking, she felt her stomach grumble a little and realised she was quite hungry after all. Leaning over Narcissa, she picked a piece of courgette from the pan. It was browned nicely, tangy and hot with oil and lemon, and she licked her fingers slowly as she swallowed. 

A soft hiss from Narcissa made her smirk. 

“Taking things slowly isn’t going to last very long if you do that,” the blonde murmured, her eyes hot on Hermione’s. 

“Sorry.”

“No, you’re not.”

“No, not really.” Hermione leaned in to kiss Narcissa’s neck gently, just below her ear, waiting until the blonde sighed in pleasure before nipping her earlobe lightly. The little gasp made heat pool in her stomach, and she reluctantly pulled back. 

“Too much?”

“Not enough,” Narcissa huffed out a laugh. “Do that again and you can forget either of us getting any sleep tonight.”

Hermione put down her tea and wrapped her arms around Narcissa from behind, pressing another, more chaste kiss to Narcissa’s neck and resting her hands on a slender stomach, warm through the thin material of Narcissa’s shirt. The blonde fit against her perfectly and she sighed, filled with a wave of quiet happiness. 

“I don’t want to rush,” she said softly. “This feels too good to risk messing it up.”

Narcissa turned in her arms and caught her lips in a searingly gentle kiss, light and hot, that left Hermione breathless. 

“It does,” she agreed with a small smile, which widened as Hermione’s stomach grumbled again. “Hungry after all?”

“It seems so.”

Hermione watched as Narcissa tossed the hot pasta with the vegetables, the rest of the juice from the lemon, black pepper and crumbled feta, and divided it between two bowls. They ate in comfortable silence at the kitchen island, pulling their stools close enough that their knees were touching; Hermione didn’t think she’d ever tasted anything so good. After they’d finished and cleared away, Narcissa took her by the hand and led her through to one of the sofas in the living room. 

“Is this a good idea?” Hermione murmured as Narcissa’s lips met hers, but she gently tugged Narcissa’s hair free of its band, running her hands through it as she deepened the kiss, and Narcissa moaned. 

“Probably not.”

Hermione had no idea how long they stayed there, kissing, taking it right to the edge of where they wanted to go and back again. She’d never wanted to kiss anyone like she wanted to kiss Narcissa. Hands wandered, but not too far; she was content to explore like this for now, every breathy moan that she pulled from the blonde making her smile, every little noise that escaped her own throat making Narcissa gasp. She didn’t know when she shifted so that she was straddling Narcissa’s lap. When they finally pulled apart, breathless and dark-eyed and with slightly swollen lips, she cupped Narcissa’s face in her hands and rested their foreheads together. For several moments, they were quiet.  

“How late is it?” she whispered eventually, and Narcissa checked her watch. 

“Almost eleven.”

Hermione nodded reluctantly. “I should go.” She smirked. “Otherwise this is going to end up in the bedroom, and we both have too much to do tomorrow to be up all night.”

“I know.” 

But neither of them moved. Only after another kiss did Hermione push herself off Narcissa’s lap and allow the blonde to call her a cab. As she pulled on her coat and gathered her bag, she felt a sharp, bittersweet pang. She still didn’t want to rush anything, but it was harder than she thought to leave. 

“Will you message me when you’re home safe?” Narcissa asked quietly, and she nodded, pulling the other woman close. 

“I will.” 

In the back of the cab, she watched the streets slip past, murky and empty. A siren flared in the distance. They passed other cars, other cabs, shop fronts lit up, a few people braving the weather to walk. Tiredness hit her hard; once she started yawning she couldn’t stop, and she hoped that Ginny hadn’t waited up. She wanted nothing more than to climb into bed, and she longed to hold Narcissa while she slept. 

Half an hour later, in bed and with the rest of the flat in darkness, she picked up her phone and typed a quick message, sending it before she could talk herself out of it. 

Home. Do you think we could ever manage to share a bed without…? I wish you were here. Just to hold.  

A couple of minutes later, her screen lit up with one new reply, and then a second. 

I nearly asked you to stay to see if we could try. But somehow I doubt it. 

Sweet dreams, Hermione. 

Chapter Text

Hermione checked her watch as she waited in the corridor outside Andy’s office. She was right on time, but raised voices from inside the room sounded as if they weren’t going to be finished anytime soon. She dropped her bag and crouched down against the wall to wait. Her boots squeaked against the floorboards, and she felt prickles of sweat under her breasts; she’d run all the way down Holborn, thinking she was going to be late and knowing that her closeness to Andy wouldn’t excuse her from that particular offence. Despite the cold outside, it had left her warm and out of breath, and she rolled up the sleeves of her jumper, fanning herself with her hand. 

Thinking about Narcissa didn’t help. In quiet moments over the past couple of weeks, her mind had drifted to the blonde almost of its own accord, and she knew that every time it did the same soft smile crossed her face. Ginny had teased her about it mercilessly, and Hermione was grateful that her friend’s foot had healed enough for her to attend some training sessions again. Trying to work and to concentrate was hard enough without the redhead being at home all the time.

She hadn’t seen Narcissa much. She had known she wouldn’t. They’d both been far too busy to meet up properly in the days since their dinner; Hermione with her research and teaching, and Narcissa with the last costumes that needed to be finished before the fittings at the theatre. Hermione had stayed for a while after work but tiredness always  got the better of both of them, and each time she’d left while it was still reasonably early. As a result, text messages flew backwards and forwards between them multiple times a day. She’d already got used to hearing her phone beep while she was making tea in the mornings, which was the time Narcissa arrived at the studio and switched on her phone. She knew Narcissa’s occasional, irregular coffee breaks, her quieter moments, the times when the blonde was mulling something over in her mind for a new design, because there would usually be a message. In turn, she knew that Narcissa would already have worked out her self-imposed schedule of reading and research, her teaching hours, the time she usually got home after the library. It was intimate, in a strange kind of way. It wasn’t ideal, but Hermione found she didn’t mind it at all. 

They’d messaged a few times late at night, both in bed and unable to sleep, and one of those nights had got so heated that Narcissa had called her, voice husky, to halt it. 

I’m turning my phone off. 

Why?

Because, darling, I want to actually be there the first time I make you come, not stuck on the end of a phone in Bond Street. 

Hermione was beginning to wonder whether taking things slowly wasn’t proving to be more of a distraction than not. 

She quickly shook that train of thought out of her head as the door to Andy’s office opened slightly, and the voices became louder through the crack. It would be her first supervision meeting since Christmas, and she’d felt unaccountably nervous that morning. Not because she thought she had anything to worry about in terms of her research - she was very happy with how that was going - but because she wasn’t sure how things would be with Andy. It would be strange, going back to the more formal relationship of student and supervisor after the closeness of the past few weeks. Hermione had grown used to thinking of Andy almost as family, but she decided that she would simply have to follow the other woman’s lead. It was only for a few more months. 

She scrambled to her feet as Amelia, the department head, left Andy’s office looking a little flustered. After saying a quick hello, Hermione slipped into Andy’s office and shut the door. 

“Hi, love.” Andy looked a bit frustrated, but waved her towards the seat in front of the desk, and Hermione smiled as she sat down. Maybe things wouldn’t be so different after all. 

“What was that all about?”

“Budget cuts,” Andy scowled. “As always at this time of year. We now have almost a third less than the sciences do.”

“I didn’t realise it was that much.” Hermione knew that the department struggled for money every year. They had roughly the same number of students as the sciences, in both undergraduate and postgraduate, but their research wasn’t considered nearly as important or relevant. It frustrated her. She knew it made Andy furious. Sometimes, combined with all the other bureaucracy that she knew came with a life in academia, it made her wonder whether she really wanted to go down that route after her PhD. 

“We’ll manage with it, same as we always do.” Andy shrugged. “Sometimes I think it might actually be better if we didn’t. If they thought they were in danger of losing the whole department, they might put their hands in their pockets and come up with something other than mothballs.” She sighed, and smiled at Hermione. “But that’s not what we’re here to talk about.”

“One thing before we start?”

Andy raised an eyebrow, and waited for Hermione to continue. 

“Do I need to go back to calling you Andromeda?”

Andy laughed, and shook her head. “No, don’t bother. Too much of a mouthful. Just not outside these four walls, please, I don’t want all the undergrads suddenly thinking they can call me by my childhood nickname.”

“They’re all too scared of you anyway,” Hermione teased, suddenly feeling much better. “It’s Professor Tonks or nothing.” Something struck her then, and she looked at Andy with a quizzical expression. “You kept your married name.”

“Only for work. On everything personal, I’m a Black.” Andy shrugged. “By the time I finally got around to changing it back after the divorce, I’d already done my PhD and written one book as Tonks. It was easier to keep publishing and working under that name.”

“Oh.”

“Satisfied your curiosity?” 

“Yes, thank you.” She returned Andy’s smirk, and settled back in her chair. 

“So. Medea.” Andy pushed up the sleeves of her blazer as she slipped her glasses on and turned to her computer, clicking through to the chapter Hermione had sent her. The jacket was a sandy beige, and the contrast with the black top and dark jeans made Andy’s green eyes sparkle as she adjusted the screen precariously on top of Shakespeare’s Collected. 

Hermione waited. She knew Andy would already have read it several times over, and was simply teasing her. “Well?”

Andy chuckled. “It’s good.” She nodded. “Very good, in fact. I’ve made a few suggestions - there are a couple of places where you could expand the point a bit more - but with another round of edits I think it’ll be done.”

Hermione let out a long sigh of relief. “Thank heavens for that,” she muttered. “I thought for a moment you were going to have me rewrite this one too.”

“No, you didn’t.” Andy turned to her, taking her glasses off and leaning back in her chair. “You knew this one was good. You loved writing it. I could tell.”

Hermione nodded. She had. Something about the play had caught hold of her imagination more than any of the others, even more than the Ibsen that had inspired the whole thesis in the first place, and she had written with a passion that had surprised her. She’d spent hours seeking out different translations, watching different interpretations of the play online, looking back at old theatre posters, and scouring the internet for interviews with actors and directors, as well as reading the more traditional criticism and interpretation. A soft smile crossed her face as she thought about Narcissa again. She’d discovered that she loved talking to the blonde about her research, even over text message, and Narcissa was interested, intelligent and perceptive. There had already been several times she’d asked questions that had forced Hermione to think more around the point she was trying to make, and the chapter had ended up far better as a result. 

She looked up to see Andy watching her, an amused smile on her face. 

“Your mind just drifted.”

“Sorry.” Hermione felt herself flush a little at her supervisor’s knowing look. 

“Have you been to the theatre yet?”

“Not yet,” Hermione shook her head. “But Cissy’s asked me to go with her tomorrow - she’s doing the first fittings then - so I might see some of rehearsal. And if she doesn’t need help afterwards then I might stay and use the theatre archive for a bit…what?” 

Andy had raised her eyebrows, and was clearly trying not to laugh. 

“Tell me,” she leaned forward, her eyes dancing. “Was she Cissy before Wiltshire, or did that come afterwards?”

Hermione’s eyes widened, and then she groaned as she realised she’d let the nickname slip without thinking about it. Covering her face with her hands, she felt her face heat up as Andy let out a deep, throaty laugh. 

“Afterwards,” she mumbled through her fingers, and found herself starting to laugh too. “Don’t you dare start, though, I’ve had enough teasing from my flatmate.”

“Honestly, I’m amazed it took this long. I did tell you she’s hard to resist when she wants something.”

“Nothing’s actually happened yet.” Hermione flushed a bit deeper at Andy’s look of disbelief. “I mean it has, obviously, but not like that…never mind. Too much information.”

“You mean in the two weeks since Wiltshire, you haven’t slept together?”

“Andy!” Hermione groaned again. “Can’t you switch back to being my supervisor?”

“This is pastoral care.” Andy seemed totally unconcerned that Medea had so quickly been abandoned in favour of her sister. “And that is…unexpected.”

Hermione shrugged. “She wanted to take it slowly. And so do I, to be honest.” She felt her stomach flip over at the thought of the text messages from the other night. “Most of the time.” She looked at Andy, who still seemed to not quite believe it. “Why?”

“It’s not like Cissy, that’s all.” Andy sounded thoughtful, suddenly serious. “She separated from Lucius over fifteen years ago, long before the divorce, and since then she’s been almost totally focused on her work and on Draco. She hasn’t had a proper relationship, at least not as far as I know. She has flings. She has fun that lasts a few weeks or months at the most, when she has the time for it.” Andy paused. “But you don’t take it slowly with a fling.”

Hermione felt as if someone had punched her gently in the gut, spreading warmth through her body and leaving her a bit weak and a bit shaky. She hadn’t realised that what Narcissa had asked of her was so unusual. She’d had no idea that she was probably the only one in over fifteen years that Narcissa wanted something more from, and suddenly she understood better why the blonde had panicked in Wiltshire. It left her elated and terrified all at the same time, and with a sudden, violent desire to wrap Narcissa in her arms and kiss her senseless. 

“No,”she said eventually. “I suppose you don’t.”

“Does Draco know?” Andy asked. “Only so I don’t put my foot in it unintentionally.”

Hermione nodded, still feeling a little dazed. “He told me we weren’t exactly subtle, that he was fine with it, but that under no circumstances did he want details.”

Andy laughed. “He’s a good kid.” She shook her head at her own choice of words. “I still think of him as a kid. Makes me feel old. I was there when he was born, and now he’s twenty five and getting married.” She gave Hermione a long look before slipping her glasses back on, indicating they were getting back to research, and Hermione forced herself to try and concentrate. 

“So. Lady Macbeth.”

 

~

 

On Wednesday, Hermione left the university at lunchtime to go to the theatre. Narcissa had messaged her saying that the theatre fittings had been pushed back to the afternoon, and so she’d planned to spend the morning in the library revisiting her notes on Lady Macbeth. After talking over it again with Andy, and having had the more positive experience of writing her Medea chapter, she felt more ready to tackle the one that she’d struggled with for so long. But she’d woken up that morning with a stiff pain across her shoulders, so severe that she could barely move her neck. She’d had it before when she’d spent too much time reading and studying and worrying. It had been a regular occurrence during her undergraduate exams, and she knew from hard experience that the only thing she could do was to ditch her library plans and take a bath instead, and hope that the heat and steam eased it before it got worse. She’d soaked for two hours, topping up the hot water and turning it into a kind of working bath by taking her copy of Macbeth in with her, and had emerged with bright pink skin, wrinkled toes, and a neck that she could just about move without wincing. She only had time to call into the library to drop back an almost-overdue book. 

As she walked down Kingsway towards Aldwych and the Strand, she felt her phone vibrate in her bag.

Are you on your way, or do I need to come and fish you out of the bath?

She smiled. 

Tempting as that is, I’m on my way. Just going to jump on the bus.

She broke into a run, seeing a number 52 pulling up at the stop ahead, and squeezed on just as the doors slid shut.  

Shame. I have some lovely massage oil. It would have done wonders for your neck.  

Hermione swallowed her laughter, delighting in the little butterflies that fluttered in her stomach. She still hadn’t got used to flirting so openly with Narcissa. She also still couldn’t believe that when Narcissa had asked what she was doing for her neck, she’d replied with a picture of her legs and feet surrounded by bubbles in the bath. All the while, Andy’s words had echoed through her mind. She has flings. You don’t take it slowly with a fling. 

Balancing the phone in her free hand as she held on to one of the safety loops, she hit reply. 

Can’t I have the massage later instead?

I said I had the oil, darling. I never said anything about giving you the massage.  

The bus pulled up by Aldwych, disgorging half of its passengers before letting the waiting people on, and Hermione felt herself jostled as she stood. She didn’t bother to make a scramble for one of the briefly-empty seats. It was only another couple of stops. 

It’s only my neck. No clothes need to come off. 

She peered out of the window as the bus slowed again and the river came into view, lightly covered in mist and traffic fumes. A few tourists got on at Somerset House, braving the late January weather with cameras and selfie-sticks, and then they were rolling smoothly over Waterloo Bridge, the full sweep of the Thames disappearing into greyness somewhere around the Millennium Wheel. 

‘Need’ doesn’t come into it. 

Hermione jumped off when the bus reached the other side, threading her way through the swarm of pedestrians heading for Waterloo Station, and cut off down the steps that would bring her out onto the South Bank by the main entrance of the theatre. She hadn’t bothered to dress in work clothes. Narcissa had told her to wear something comfortable, and so, after plenty of deliberation, she’d decided on her leggings and a tunic-style top underneath Narcissa’s cardigan. She was starting to go off jeans. She blamed the blonde’s influence. 

I have your cardigan on, though. Want it back?

The steps brought her out right by the river, almost underneath the bridge, and she turned right to follow the path past the complex of arts buildings that made up the South Bank centre. Stirrings of real excitement were beginning to bubble in her stomach. She’d been looking forward to seeing backstage; she’d seen so many productions at the National that she almost felt as if she’d grown up with it, and she’d never seen behind the scenes. But she was even more excited about seeing Narcissa working in a completely different environment. She’d seen the light in the blonde’s eyes whenever she talked about the theatre. It was clear how much she loved it.

With something on underneath it?

Narcissa had said to meet her at the front entrance, which surprised Hermione. She had assumed Narcissa would be bringing the car with the costumes and would need help unloading at the delivery entrance round the back, but as she hurried towards the angular grey-brick foyer, she saw Narcissa walking towards her from the opposite direction. A slow smile spread across her face. Narcissa was dressed in her usual black slacks, high heels, warm coat, a thick green scarf wrapped around her neck and her hair loose, turning heads as her heels tapped quickly on the pavement. She slowed as she reached the entrance, and conspicuously tucked her phone back into her bag with a smirk. 

“Hi,” she said softly. 

‘Hi.”

Arms slipped around Hermione, pulling her into an embrace, and Narcissa’s lips lightly brushed her cheek before releasing her. 

‘Sorry, darling,” she murmured. “There are often paparazzi down here.”

Hermione nodded. She’d expected that Narcissa would want to be discreet in public, at least for a while, and she was happy to go along with it. “You can make it up to me another time.”

Narcissa smiled, and briefly brought her hand up to caress the back of Hermione’s neck.

“Is it still sore?’

“A little,” Hermione admitted, rolling her head gently from side to side. “The bath helped.” She shook her head at Narcissa’s concerned look. “It’s fine, really. I used to get it a lot. It’ll ease off in a couple of days.”

Narcissa hummed as she led Hermione towards the entrance, and through the huge sliding glass doors into the foyer. 

“Let me know if it gets painful again. We’ve got a busy few hours.”

“You know I could have met you at the shop to help bring the costumes down.”

“There was no point in you coming all the way to Bond Street, only to then come back here.” Narcissa steered her past the bookshop and through a set of double swing doors. “And Bella and I brought everything down in the car last night. The set designers have a big delivery today, we wouldn’t have been able to get anywhere near the back entrance.”

Hermione followed Narcissa through a maze of corridors. She would have got completely lost, but Narcissa seemed to know exactly where she was going. There was something different in the blonde already; something more relaxed in the way she carried herself, something even more vibrant and alive in her eyes. It was intoxicating, and Hermione couldn’t help but reach for her hand as they walked. She squeezed it lightly and Narcissa suddenly stopped, turning to press her lips hard against Hermione’s. 

“Do you really have my cardigan on under here?” Narcissa’s voice was sultry in her ear, her fingers brushing the front of Hermione’s coat, and Hermione swallowed. This particular corridor was deserted, but still….

She nodded. “With something underneath it.”

“Another shame.” Narcissa’s lips grazed her cheek. “I was looking forward to wearing it after you’d had it next to your skin.”

Hermione groaned, and Narcissa chuckled. 

“Sorry, darling. Consider it payback for the bath photo.”

Narcissa slipped her hand into Hermione’s, more laid-back now that they were in the confines of the theatre, and they walked through another round of corridors. Eventually, just when Hermione was starting to wonder exactly how big the place was, Narcissa let go of her hand and pushed open a large door marked ‘C&P’, stepping back to let Hermione in first. 

Hermione’s eyes widened as she took in the scene. The room was cavernous. It was divided up into sections by cabinets full of tools and artists’ materials and electrical outlets, with wooden work stations dotted at regular intervals. Bright lights hung from the ceiling on thick, industrial-style chains, and a steel walkway ran high above the floor space along one entire wall. There were tables laid out with material and cutting boards and scissors and sewing machines, much like Narcissa’s at the studio, but there were also others with paints and brushes, saws and lathes, computers and printers. She saw tools for jewellery making, and a papier-mâché wolf’s head taking shape. Almost every work station was occupied, and the buzz of energy in the air was almost overwhelming. 

“Costume and prop design,” Narcissa pointed to the sign on the door, smiling at the look on Hermione’s face. “This way.”

Hermione followed her through the room to the far end, towards an area that was separated off with another block of cabinets, and marvelled at the way Narcissa seemed to blend right in. Despite her heels and despite her dressier clothes, she looked as if she belonged, and several people waved as they passed.

When they reached the costume area, a short dark-haired woman hurried over to greet them.

“Narcissa! You’re early, they haven’t finished in rehearsal yet.” She kissed Narcissa on both cheeks, and turned to Hermione expectantly.

“Hermione, this is Flora Malkin.” Narcissa slipped off her coat, and smiled at the woman. “Best costume designer ever to work the West End.”

“Now we both know that’s not true.” Flora held out her hand to Hermione with a smile. Hermione liked her instantly; she had sparkling eyes, a firm grip, and there was a vibrancy about her that was infectious. “First time backstage?”

“First time in here, yes.” Hermione gazed around her once more, and Flora chuckled. 

“Welcome to the madhouse. Not much to do yet I’m afraid, we’ve already done the chorus fittings and Pansy and Blaise are still on stage. If you want to go through and take a peek, feel free.”

Hermione looked at Narcissa, who shrugged and nodded. “Nothing we can do until they finish.”

“You know the way, love.” Flora patted Narcissa on the arm. “I’m going to make a cuppa. Would either of you like anything?”

They both shook their heads, and Flora left them to it. Hermione shed her coat, a pleasant ripple of satisfaction running through her at Narcissa’s hot eyes on the cardigan, before she followed the blonde through a set of double doors at the back of the room. Turning off down a corridor marked ‘Stage Left’, they soon came to another closed door, a ‘Rehearsal in Progress’ sign in glowing red above it. Quietly, one finger to her lips, Narcissa pushed it open, and they emerged into the vast wings that ran either side of the stage. 

Hermione smothered her gasp. It was huge. She’d never appreciated it before from the cheaper seats at the back that she’d scraped her pocket money together for as a teenager, but from this level she could see the scale of it. It was at least twenty metres long, slightly less wide. Several interconnecting walkways ran high above, and without any sets in the way she could see the intricate cable systems and rigging for the lighting and sound systems. Excited shivers ran down her spine as she heard voices filling the space, a woman and then a man. 

Go on, insult me - you have a roof over your head. I am alone, an exile. 

It was your own choice. Blame no one but yourself. 

My choice? What did I do? Did I make you my wife and then abandon you? 

The woman’s voice paused. “Sorry. Is this too much?”

Hermione moved to one side so that she could see the opposite corner of the stage. The woman was in the man’s arms, her body pressed against his as she looked questioningly towards the seats, and another, older woman’s voice came from just out of view. 

“You’re supposed to still be in love with him.”

The man released her as the director - a thin, sprightly older woman with a shock of grey hair - stepped forward and rested her forearms on the stage. 

“It’s really up to you how much you want to push the sexual tension, but I think it’s working. You’re desperate for Jason not to leave you. You’re furious, bitter, about to be banished from Corinth with nothing. The only weapons you have are your mind, your anger, and your body. You might as well use them all.”

Hermione felt Narcissa’s hand light on her back, and she leaned in to whisper into her ear. 

“Who are the actors?”

“Pansy Parkinson and Blaise Zabini,” Narcissa whispered back. “She’s new, but I’ve seen him before. He played Romeo the other year at the Adelphi.”

Hermione remembered seeing the play advertised, but hadn’t been able to make it. 

“And the director?”

“Minerva McGonagall. Terrifying but brilliant.”

“All right, take a break.” Minerva McGonagall clapped her hands together. “Back here in two hours after your costume fittings to run through that scene again, please. Pansy, you might feel better about flaunting it once you’ve seen what you’ll be wearing.”

Hermione raised an eyebrow at Narcissa, who smirked before turning back towards the stage door. “She’s a very hands-on director. Wanted to see the all the possible designs before I went ahead. She chose the jumpsuit.”

Back in the costume and prop room, Narcissa kicked off her heels and got to work. There was another large room just off to the side where all the costumes were stored; rail after rail of them from productions past and present. Fitting rooms lined one wall. Narcissa wheeled the nearest rail towards the door, and Hermione helped her unzip the costumes from their protective bags. 

“Will you be taking the costumes back to the studio after this?”

“No,” Narcissa shook her head. “I can do any alterations here, or Flora can do them if there aren’t many. There shouldn’t be.” She ran her eyes down Hermione’s body. “I was right. You’re almost an exact match for Pansy.” 

Hermione turned as the two actors walked through the door. Pansy’s eyes were already on the jumpsuit, and Hermione felt a simultaneous rush of pleasure and jealousy at the thought that this woman with the dark bob would get to wear it from now on, not her. 

“Oh, wow. Is that mine?”

“Well, it’s certainly not his,” Narcissa replied dryly, nodding towards Blaise - tall, dark, good looking in a bad-boy kind of way - and they both laughed. 

“Just as well, I couldn’t pull that off.”

For the next couple of hours, they worked almost solidly. Hermione fetched and carried and helped Pansy - and occasionally Blaise - in and out of the costumes, and she’d been around Narcissa enough to be able to do a bit of basic pinning on the legs of the jumpsuit, still slightly too long for Pansy even in her heels. Blaise was easygoing and clearly used to it, whereas Pansy seemed a little bit more nervous and excited, and Hermione found herself chatting more to the young woman as she worked. When Pansy asked if Hermione worked full time for Narcissa, the conversation shifted to Hermione’s research and thesis, their respective thoughts on the characters, and Pansy’s concerns about how she was playing it. 

“Did it look too much from backstage?”

“I didn’t see that much,“ Hermione answered honestly, leading Pansy into one of the changing rooms and carefully undoing the clasp at the back of the jumpsuit to help her out of it.  “But no, I don’t think so. I mean, I’m no actress, but personally I think the director’s right.”

“Go on.”

“Medea is sexy.” It was one of the points she had raised in her chapter, and one of the ones Andy had wanted her to expand on. She let Pansy step out of the pool of silky cream material, handing her the burgundy dress in its place. A smile crossed her face as she remembered Narcissa fitting it on her, all those weeks ago. “She’s a sensual, feminine woman. Strong. Powerful. She’s still in love with Jason even at this stage - she has his children, she’s already killed to protect him. She’s furious, desperate, bitter. I think it makes sense that she would use whatever last-ditch means necessary to persuade him not to leave her, including sex.”

By the time they had finished, Hermione’s neck was sore again and her head was beginning to ache, but she was so happy and satisfied that she didn’t really care. All of the costumes had been done. There were, as Narcissa predicted, very few alterations; Flora cheerfully said that she and her team could probably manage whatever needed to be finished off and that she would call Narcissa if she needed her. The only things left to be brought down from Emery Row were the original patterns and sketches, which Flora requested in case she needed them for reference during the show’s run. Pansy and Blaise were thrilled. And Narcissa herself looked tired, but also more alive than Hermione had ever seen her. 

When they finally gathered their things and left, it was well past four. The low clouds had cleared and a weak, hazy sun was dripping the last of its light into the river. Hermione took a deep breath, letting the cold afternoon air clear some of her headache. 

“That was amazing.” She looked at Narcissa. The blonde’s eyes were still shining as she stood next to Hermione, their arms resting on the wall above the water, the lights of the theatre behind them. 

“You enjoyed it?”

“I loved it.” Hermione smiled, lifting her hand to lightly, briefly, touch Narcissa’s face. “And so did you. Why did you leave the theatre?”

“Lucius.” Narcissa sighed, and looked out over the river. “I married him quite young - although not as young as Andy. I assume she’s told you about that?”

Hermione nodded, and Narcissa continued. 

“He inherited his business from his father. It meant we didn’t need to worry about money - it was hugely successful even then - but it also meant that the theatre didn’t quite fit with the image he wanted to project.” She snorted. “I gave up designing altogether for a while before starting the business. He still didn’t like it, but haute couture seemed to sit better with his family and I still loved doing it. It’s still an art form, and in a way I’m still designing costumes. It wasn’t my first choice but I wouldn’t change it now.”

Hermione nodded, slowly. She’d never thought about it like that before - that, in a sense, all the clothes Narcissa designed were masks of one form or another. Whether they were for a play or a ball, an actor or a socialite, they were made for projecting certain personas, certain images. People changed when they slipped into a haute couture gown just as they changed when they donned a theatrical costume. The differences between them weren’t so big as they appeared. 

“How’s your neck?” 

Narcissa’s concerned question brought her out of her reverie, and she couldn’t help wincing a little as she rolled her head from side to side. “Sore,” she admitted. “I might have another bath when I get home, take Lady Macbeth into it again.” She felt her mood slip a little as she remembered, after a few blissful hours of focusing almost entirely on other things, just how much work on the chapter she had to do. 

“I wasn’t joking about the oil, you know.”

Hermione raised her eyebrow, and Narcissa smiled. “I’m not offering to massage you naked in the bath…”

“Don’t put images like that in my head.”

“…but if you want to come back to the flat, you can try a bit yourself.” She slipped her hand discreetly into Hermione’s. “You can talk me through Lady Macbeth while I make dinner. I’ll have to go back to the studio later, but…” She squeezed Hermione’s hand. “I’d like to have some time with you first.”

Hermione smiled. She wanted time with Narcissa too, even if they did both have work to do afterwards. 

“That would be lovely - if you’re sure it’s okay.” She still remembered Andy’s words. You don’t take it slowly with a fling. She had no intention of rushing Narcissa into anything, or making it harder than it needed to be for either of them. Besides, she was almost beginning to enjoy the wait. She didn’t want to hurry when they both had so little free time, and when she cared far too much to risk spoiling it. 

Narcissa nodded, knowing what Hermione meant. 

“I can cope if you can,” she teased, leaning close to murmur in Hermione’s ear. “When I finally get you into my bed, darling, I am not going to let you out of it until I’ve done everything to you that I want to. And believe me, that will take far longer than we currently have. I’m going to wait.” 

Chapter Text

Hermione leaned against the back of the sofa and closed her eyes. She was warm, full, and starting to feel sleepy. A periwinkle-blue throw felt soft under her head, and she resisted the urge to curl her legs under her and rest her head on the cushions. She could hear Narcissa’s footsteps, padding about at the end of the hallway. The kettle had just finished boiling for tea that neither of them particularly wanted. The remnants of their dinner were still scattered over the island in the kitchen - boxes of spicy falafel and hummus and fluffy pitta bread and salad from the Lebanese takeaway that Narcissa loved and now Hermione did too - but Narcissa had said to leave them for the moment, and Hermione’s body was far too heavy to obey her commands to move. The light in the living room was low, the lamps bathing the room in soft outlines of sepia and shadow. Her neck still hurt, and her muscles were starting to ache from the long afternoon at the theatre, and she was so comfortable. Maybe she could just sleep here on the sofa for the night…

A low chuckle interrupted her drifting, and she opened one eye to see Narcissa walking back into the living room with a small bottle of oil. 

“Sorry.” Hermione reluctantly sat up. “I got sleepy for a minute.”

Narcissa didn’t reply, but gently scooted Hermione forward on the seat so that she could slip behind, her legs wrapping around Hermione’s hips. Pulling Hermione back against her, she pressed a soft kiss to Hermione’s neck. 

“This might be easier with you on the floor,” she murmured, and Hermione raised an eyebrow. 

“Massaging your neck.” Narcissa looked amused as she held up the bottle. “It’s still hurting.”

It wasn’t a question, but Hermione nodded. Instead of moving off the sofa and onto the floor, though, she leaned back, turning her head, her lips searching for Narcissa’s. She tried to shift her body to make the angle easier, but Narcissa held her firm. 

“Not a good idea, darling,” she said huskily, but her lips were trailing soft, hot kisses down Hermione’s cheek and her hands rested on Hermione’s stomach. Hermione closed her eyes again, tilted her head to one side, moaning quietly when Narcissa moved down to her neck, loose hair tickling Hermione’s ear. 

“And this is?”

Narcissa hummed, slowly lifting her lips from Hermione’s skin and smiling at the brief, exaggerated pout Hermione gave her. Hands moved up to Hermione’s shoulders, and Hermione felt the cardigan being slipped off her body. 

“You should take that back.”

“Keep it,” Narcissa’s fingers tangled in Hermione’s hair, gathering up the curls into a bun high on her head. “It looks better on you.” She reached around and swiftly undid the top button of Hermione’s tunic top, pushing the neckline a bit further down, and Hermione felt a sudden rush of heat at the deftness of it, at the hands so close to her chest. “I’ll try not to get oil on this. Do you want a towel just in case?”

Hermione shook her head. She couldn’t really have cared less about the top. She slid down to the floor, taking a cushion with her, as Narcissa popped the top from the bottle and poured a little oil into her hands, rubbing it between her palms. The scent enveloped Hermione almost immediately. It was warm, herby, soothing, with a current of sweet citrus running through it that made her think of spring. 

“Clary sage, geranium and orange, and sweet almond oil base. You’re not allergic to anything?”

Hermione shook her head. She knew clary sage was supposed to be good for sore muscles, although she’d never used it. She felt Narcissa close behind her, perched on the edge of the sofa seat, and then strong fingers began to gently probe the muscles in her neck. 

“You’re tense,” Narcissa murmured, and Hermione couldn’t help the wince as the blonde’s fingers found a particularly tight knot. “Sorry.”

“It’s fine.” The oil was warm on her skin. She could feel it slowly penetrating down to her muscles as Narcissa began to work in circles, her fingers holding Hermione’s neck still while her thumbs pressed up and down, massaging and kneading along the very top of Hermione’s spine. It was soothing, and relaxing, and sensual - too sensual. She could feel herself arching backwards a little into Narcissa’s hands, wanting more, feeling her shoulders crying out for the same devoted attention, but Narcissa’s legs on either side of her body kept her where she was. 

“Lady Macbeth.”

“What?” Hermione winced again as Narcissa’s fingers found another knot and zeroed in on it, carefully working the tightness out. “You really want to talk about my thesis now?”

“Distraction, darling.”

“Oh.” Hermione tried to think. She knew she should just tell Narcissa to stop, but it felt too damn good and it was genuinely helping her neck. For the first time in weeks, Hermione could feel the muscles starting to truly relax, and while it might have been selfish, she had no intention of calling a halt. “Okay.”

Slightly hesitantly at first, her body pulling in her one direction and her mind now trying to pull her in another, she began to outline how she had approached the chapter before and why Andy had felt it needed a complete re-do. After a while, she found herself concentrating. She was still all too aware of Narcissa’s closeness, of the fingers that sought out knot after knot and moved further down her neck, but the calming fragrance of the oil and the low light ironically helped to focus her mind. She talked about how she was thinking of approaching the chapter now, having done Medea, and the concerns that she still harboured about how to frame her arguments. 

“Lady Macbeth is the only one of the three who could actually have been a man…owww.” She groaned as Narcissa hit a particularly tight spot, and the blonde paused. “No, keep going. It feels good.”

“Not too much?”

“No,” Hermione shook her head, and Narcissa resumed a gentle kneading around the sore spot. 

“Go on,” the blonde prompted. 

“Well…it only occurred to me properly today. But there was no way that Medea could have been a man. The play simply wouldn’t have worked - to have a man kill his own children isn’t nearly as shocking. Horrific, yes, but not the same.”

“The bond between a mother and child is supposed to be inviolable.”

“Exactly. Even if Euripides had twisted it so that a man bore the same burdens of exile and abandonment - which would have been an unlikely scenario anyway - it still wouldn’t have worked. And Hedda Gabler’s the same. No man would ever have been in her position of being trapped in a marriage without any escape whatsoever. But throughout almost the whole of this play, Lady Macbeth is the instigator. She’s not a victim of being a woman like the other two are, and Shakespeare portrays Macbeth as the one going slowly insane from guilt, not his wife. It could so easily have been him sleepwalking and scrubbing his hands raw before committing suicide. But it’s her,  simply because she’s a woman and can’t be seen to get away with the things she did.” She paused. “Am I going on too much?”

“No,” Narcissa shook her head. “It’s interesting. And I think you have a good conflict there, between the three plays. The outcomes are all the same, of course, but you have a very different way of getting there with Macbeth.”

Hermione smiled. Talking about it always made things clearer in her own mind, and she appreciated Narcissa’s patience. But the mentions of Medea sent her mind drifting back over the afternoon, and the all-too-brief glimpse she had had of the actors on stage. 

“What do you think of Pansy?”

“In general, or as Medea?” Narcissa asked. 

“As Medea.”

“She’s good.” Narcissa paused. “I’ve seen her in more rehearsals, and she has something. Sometimes I’m not sure whether it’s enough for Medea. That part needs real depth and experience to do it night after night, I don’t know of many actresses that young who’ve played it. But McGonagall wanted her, so she clearly believes she can do it.” The blonde tipped a little bit more oil into her hands before returning them to Hermione’s neck. “You know, I do have first night tickets.”

Hermione blinked, and then laughed as she remembered her fib at the departmental meeting all those months ago. “You mean I didn’t actually lie to McLaggen when I was trying to put him off?”

“No, although calling me backstage crew might have been pushing it a bit.” Narcissa smiled. “Would you like to come? I thought they’d only given me three, but I have four. You’ll have to put up with Bella and Andy, but….”

“I’d love to.” Hermione nodded, and twisted her head to smile back up at Narcissa. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

Narcissa’s fingers were lower now, working around the top of her shoulders, and Hermione shifted slightly. Now that she was no longer talking, she was very aware of her body: the tension in her shoulders now that her neck was more relaxed, the heat on her skin from the oil and Narcissa’s touch, the slight, sharp pains whenever Narcissa caught a knot, and the hitch in her breathing when the blonde’s fingers skimmed a sensitive spot under her ear. She knew she shouldn’t, but she desperately wanted more. Her shoulders ached, and Narcissa couldn’t get to them properly with her top on. 

“Take it off,” she whispered, and Narcissa paused. “Please.” She cleared her throat, and tried to speak normally. “If you’re not too tired to do a bit more on my shoulders…I can wrap a towel round me or something, so it’s easier to reach underneath.” She knew she wasn’t making it sound any better at all. Guiltily, a voice in her mind whispered that she was just making excuses, that she could deal with sore shoulders perfectly well by herself in another hot bath at home, but she felt Narcissa’s hands lift slowly from her neck. 

“Go on then.” Narcissa’s voice was throaty, and Hermione felt a rush of heat pool in her stomach. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea. Did she really need a shoulder massage this much? Narcissa had to go back to the studio and she had reading to do… “I can’t do it, I’ve got oil all over my hands.”

Hermione’s heart started hammering in her chest, in her throat, in her stomach. Her entire body felt like it was pulsing as she reached down to the hem of her top, pulling it over her head and letting it drop to the floor. She wondered whether it was a curse or a blessing that she hadn’t worn a strappy top under it like she usually did when it was cold; she only had her bra, simple and black and not particularly sexy, but still revealing. She told herself Narcissa had seen most of it before anyway, when she’d worn the jumpsuit. The blonde was already familiar with the curves of her body. But she still jumped a little when warm hands rested on her newly-exposed shoulders, thumbs already tentatively exploring the outline of her shoulder blades. 

“Okay?” Narcissa murmured, and Hermione nodded. She didn’t know whether she was or not. Her whole body was heated from Narcissa’s touch already, her nipples pebbling in her bra as the blonde’s fingers slipped under the straps, working the oil into her skin. Longer sweeps of Narcissa’s hands now took in her neck as well, working from the base of her shoulder blades up to the top of her spine. Hermione felt more knots beginning to dissolve under the probing touch, but now there was an edge. Sharp pangs of arousal flooded her body as Narcissa’s hands drifted around to her collarbone, the top of her chest, dipped lower towards her bra. Every breath she took pushed the tops of her breasts into the blonde’s palms. When Narcissa moved back to her shoulders she almost moaned, shifting her body back towards Narcissa’s and meeting no resistance. Lips brushed her ear, and she shuddered. She wanted to turn her head but didn’t dare; if she kissed Narcissa now she wouldn’t be able to hold back. 

“We should stop,” Narcissa breathed. “I can’t not touch you, darling.”

Hermione nodded hazily, but didn’t move and neither did Narcissa. The blonde’s hands still stroked her shoulders, softly, almost lazily. The scent of the oil wafted around them, and their cheeks pressed together as Narcissa’s lips drifted over her skin. She wanted desperately to touch the blonde, but knew Narcissa was right. They should stop. They both had more work to do tonight, and they both had early starts in the morning. But it was only when Narcissa’s phone rang, a harsh intrusion from the kitchen, that they reluctantly pulled apart.

“You should get that,” Hermione murmured. She didn’t know whether to be grateful for the interruption or not. 

“I should,” Narcissa chuckled. “Good timing.” She slid back on the sofa so that she could move her legs and get up without disturbing Hermione. “Take your time. There’s a towel in the bathroom when you want to wipe the oil off.”

Hermione watched as she walked into the kitchen, checking the display on the phone as she went to the sink. It had stopped ringing. 

“Andy,” Narcissa said, turning on the tap. She looked composed enough. It was only because Hermione was looking for it that she could see the dark heat in the blonde’s eyes, the slight shake of her fingers as she reached for the soap to wash the oil off her hands. “I’ll call her back in a minute.”

Forcing herself to her feet, feeling shaky herself, Hermione picked up her top and headed to the bathroom. Large, luxurious, with pretty sage green tiles lining the huge shower, a free standing marble sink and a corner tub, it was just as beautiful as the rest of the flat. Running her hands under the cold tap, she splashed her face and neck and let the water drip down her back, before drying herself off with the towel Narcissa had left out. But she didn’t linger. Guilt was starting to creep in. She wanted to make sure Narcissa was alright with what had happened, and she quickly pulled her top on and made her way back down the hallway. 

She needn’t have worried. Narcissa had just started to dial Andy’s number, but she reached for Hermione with her free hand, a soft smile on her face, nodding in response to Hermione’s mouthed are you okay? 

“Andy?” Her fingers reached up to tuck a stray curl behind Hermione’s ear. “Sorry I missed you….what?”

Hermione could hear Andy’s voice on the other end of the phone, indistinct and patchy, her words indecipherable, but Narcissa’s hand suddenly froze on Hermione’s cheek. Her face slowly drained of colour as she listened, and Hermione took hold of her arm. The blonde looked as if she might keel over. 

“Shit,” Narcissa eventually muttered faintly, and Hermione felt something heavy and cold lodge in her stomach. “Which hospital?”

Hermione gripped her harder. 

“Okay. I’m on my way.” She put the phone down, face white, and looked at Hermione. “Bella,” she whispered. The name seemed to snap her out of her daze. “I have to go.”

Chapter Text

Later, Hermione would remember almost nothing tangible about the cab journey or their arrival at the hospital. There were lights, blurring and flashing and rolling past in some kind of surreal kaleidoscopic show. There was a siren screaming, echoing across the river, that made her feel sick. There was the clock on the dashboard of the cab which made no sense, as if time had flipped itself inside out. The noise of the radio sounded dull, muffled, as if it was coming from underwater. Even Narcissa’s hand in hers felt too light, too fragile, as if it wasn’t really there. 

Somehow she found her card to pay the driver; somehow she got both of them to the A&E entrance. And then there was glaring brightness, controlled chaos, a buzz of noise that felt like a fly on her ears, and an all-pervasive stink of antiseptic that stung the back of her throat. An endless strip-lit corridor, lined with cubicles, following the swift footsteps of a nurse who seemed no more substantial than a hologram. The first real, solid thing she would remember was Andy’s arms, enveloping Narcissa and then reaching out for her as well.

After that, it was like her ears had popped clear after a flight, or a dive into the deep end of the swimming pool. Everything was too loud. Everything seemed jumbled. Andy was talking and she could hear the older woman’s voice, but the words sounded like gobbledegook. She felt Narcissa’s hand tighten in hers, and forcing her voice up from somewhere in her body that was still functioning, she put her other hand on Andy’s arm. 

“Sorry, Andy, but you’re going to have to start that again. We’re both a bit…” She gestured aimlessly and Andy nodded, leading them to the cluster of plastic seats where she had been waiting. 

“According to the paramedics, she walked out in front of a black cab.”

Walked out in front of?”

Andy grimaced. “Poor choice of words. It wasn’t deliberate. Apparently the cab driver said she appeared out of nowhere on a corner, never even looked. He was going slowly but didn’t have time to stop. The police are with him now, I think.” She hesitated. “It happened in Chelsea, Cissy. Near Rod’s.”

Narcissa’s eyes widened. “What the hell?” Her face was white, and her voice shook. “She had a restraining order, for fuck’s sake! I know it ran out when they started the divorce, but…” She stopped, breathing deeply, trying to gather herself. “How is she?”

“The doctor didn’t tell me much yet, only that she was conscious when she came in, and was raising holy hell with the paramedics for cutting her shirt open to check for damage before they moved her.”

Hermione swallowed a sudden hysterical giggle. It sounded so typically Bella that she felt a wildly premature sense of relief wash over her and then disappear, and she clung onto Andy’s words in its place. If Bella was raising hell, then she wasn’t seriously hurt. She began repeating it like a mantra. If Bella was raising hell, then…

Narcissa nodded, and stood up. “I need to phone Draco.” Something had switched off in the blonde, Hermione realised. She’d moved from shock into auto-pilot, focusing only on what needed to be done, and just as at the police station all those weeks ago, Hermione had the distinct feeling she’d done this before. Moving a few paces away, Narcissa pulled her phone out from her bag and hit a number, jaw set and blue eyes almost blank. 

“Thank you for coming with her.” Andy took her hand, and Hermione shook her head. 

“I was hardly going to leave her.” 

She didn’t say that she would have wanted to be there anyway, that she knew she wasn’t family but that, regardless of her feelings for Narcissa, they all felt like it to her now. She shifted closer to Andy and put an arm around the older woman’s shoulders. “Did the doctors really not say anything?”

“Not yet,”Andy shook her head. “They’re in with her now, though.”

“When did you get here?”

“Not that long before you. Apparently Bella’s phone was smashed up and mine was the only number she could remember.” Andy huffed out a laugh that sounded almost like a sob. “Who the fuck remembers their shirt is Chanel but can’t remember more than one sodding phone number?”

Bella had remembered a phone number. It was another thing to hold onto, another little bead on the strange little rosary she was building for herself. If Bella had remembered a phone number, then she wasn’t seriously hurt. If Bella was…

“Draco’s on his way.” Narcissa walked back over, but didn’t sit down. Instead she leaned against the wall, next to a poster highlighting the dangers of smoking. Tipping her head back, she looked up at the ceiling and blew out a long breath. 

‘Here we are again,” she muttered, and Andy looked at her before standing up to wrap her sister in her arms. 

“No, little one,” she soothed quietly. Hermione watched, feeling helpless, as Andy rubbed calming circles on Narcissa’s back. She remembered what had been said and implied about Bella’s marriage and her abusive ex-husband, and felt sick all over again. Clearly, Narcissa had been here before. The blonde was tense, ramrod straight against Andy, only slowly relaxing when it was clear that her sister wasn’t going to let go, and then suddenly it seemed as if Andy was the only thing keeping her upright. 

“This happened so many times, Andy.”

“I know, sweetheart. But not now. And she might not even have seen Rod, there could be a hundred other reasons why she was in Chelsea.”

“Not for Bella…”

Narcissa broke off as a woman in a white doctor’s coat rounded the corner and aimed for their little cluster of seats, and Hermione stood up. Almost automatically, Narcissa reached for her hand. 

“You’re with Bellatrix Lestrange?”

It sounded so strange to hear Bella called by her full name - and her married name. Almost, Hermione thought, as if it was another person. Perhaps that was it. There’d been a mix-up, and…

“She’s Black now, but yes.”

“Okay.” The doctor was brisk, middle-aged, with greying hair scraped back into a ponytail. A tag pinned to her lapel said that her name was Dr Pomfrey. “First of all, she’s going to be fine. She had a lucky escape, but she’s going to be fine.”

Andy sagged a little, and Narcissa briefly closed her eyes. Hermione felt another surge of relief, only this time it felt heavier, more real, less likely to blow away with the puff of air from an opening door. She’s going to be fine. She squeezed Narcissa’s hand, and the blonde’s eyes snapped open. 

“She has bruising on the legs where the bumper hit her, a twisted shoulder from when she fell, lacerations to the hands and a sprained wrist.” Dr Pomfrey reeled it off as if it were a shopping list. “But there’s nothing broken. It seems as if her handbag dropped and cushioned her face and head against the road, and the driver couldn’t have been going more than fifteen or twenty miles an hour round the corner. She really was incredibly lucky.” She said it again, as if she couldn’t quite believe it herself. “We’re waiting on the results of her bloods, but we won’t get those for another few hours yet. I want to have her admitted overnight for observation, and we’ll do an MRI in the morning to check there’s no internal bleeding that we’ve missed. Assuming that’s all clear, then once she’s patched up she’ll be free to go.” 

“Thank you.” Narcissa sounded beyond relieved, and Hermione couldn’t blame her. Her head was spinning. She had no idea even where to start sorting through everything that had just been said, but before she could try Andy was speaking again. 

“Can we see her?”

“One at a time, and only a few minutes. I want to get her transferred upstairs so she can at least get some rest tonight, and then we’ll see where we are in the morning.”

“Okay.” Andy nodded. “Thank you.”

Hermione loosened her grip on Narcissa’s hand, assuming that she would want to go in and see Bella, but Narcissa held on. 

“You go first,” she said to Andy.

Andy gave her a long look, but then nodded and followed the doctor round the corner. Narcissa watched them go as if in a trance, before she suddenly seemed to snap out of it and squeezed Hermione’s hand. 

“Give me a few minutes.”

Hermione nodded, and Narcissa walked swiftly back towards the toilets that they’d passed on their way in. Hermione watched as the blonde disappeared through the door. Then she sank down on one of the seats and rested her elbows on her knees, her head in her hands. Bella was fine. She was going to be fine.

“What the fuck happened?”

She looked up to see Draco, pink in the cheeks from running and looking panicked, Harry a couple of steps behind him. She stood up, but before she could say anything Draco threw his arms around her, holding onto her like she was a life raft. 

“Please tell me she’s okay.”

“She is.” Hermione felt her body sag as she finally spoke the words out loud, as if some lead weight had been lifted. She squeezed him tight. “She’s beaten up, but she’s going to be fine.”

“Thank god for that.” It was Harry who spoke, the worry and relief clear in his voice, and Hermione let Draco go as Harry reached for his hand. “Are they in with her?”

“Andy is. Narcissa went to the bathroom for a moment.” Hermione looked worriedly towards the toilets, wondering if she should see if the blonde was okay, and Draco followed her gaze. 

“Is she alright?”

“I don’t know,” Hermione said honestly, and Draco nodded as if he’d been expecting it. 

“It’ll have brought back a few bad memories.” He shuddered. “For all of us, but especially her.”

He didn’t elaborate, not that he really needed to. At that moment Andy came back along the corridor, her face a little blotchy from crying, but looking happier. She hugged Draco and Harry and turned to Hermione with a questioning gaze. 

“Bathroom,” Hermione said. “I’ll go check on her in a minute.”

“Okay.”

“Can I see Bella?” Draco asked, and Andy nodded. She led him back along the corridor, leaving Hermione alone with Harry, and for a moment they both simply looked at each other. Hermione felt a closeness to him then that she hadn’t felt before. They both, she sensed, had had the same feeling of helplessness, the same horrible feeling of not being able to save the ones they loved from pain and having to watch it all unfold from the sidelines. 

“I should go and check on Cissy,” she said softly, and Harry nodded. She realised suddenly that she hadn’t seen him since Wiltshire, but he didn’t seem in the least bit surprised that she was there with Narcissa. Draco had obviously told him. 

“Do you want a coffee or anything?” he asked. “There was a machine back there.”

“No, I’m fine,” she shook her head. “Thank you, though.”

He nodded and smiled, and sat down on one of the seats to wait for Draco while she walked hesitantly along the corridor to the toilets. She didn’t know if Narcissa would want her there, but she needed to know the blonde was alright. 

She pushed open the door. Narcissa was leaning over with her hands resting on the edges of a sink, her eyes red-rimmed and her face pale. Her eyes saw Hermione in the mirror, but she didn’t move. 

“You okay?” Hermione asked softly, even though it felt like the world’s most idiotic question, and Narcissa nodded, sucking in a deep breath. 

“Thought I was going to be sick.” She flashed Hermione a brief, weak smile. “It’s easing off, don’t worry.”

Hermione came close, resting one hand on top of Narcissa’s on the sink and rubbing the blonde’s back with the other, soothing and slow, up and down. “Breathe,” she murmured. 

Narcissa did, trying to match her breath to Hermione’s. Her jaw was tense, and one or twice Hermione saw her swallow hard as a wave of nausea and emotion washed over her. She wanted desperately to hold Narcissa, but instead she continued rubbing her back, stroking her hair, stroking her thumb over the back of the blonde’s hand. 

“This happened so many times,” Narcissa whispered, and Hermione brushed a few strands of black and blonde hair back. “I’d get a call in the middle of the night. Bella, another row, she’s out on the street, can I pick her up. Bella, in A&E because they’ve been throwing things at each other and he caught her arm with an empty bottle. Bella, he’s drunk and brought his secretary home and somehow forgot his wife was there. Bella, back in A&E because she told him it was over and he punched her in the face. Andy did what she could, but Dora wasn’t well and then she had Teddy too.” Hermione wrapped an arm around her back to hold her, but Narcissa didn’t let go of the sink. “I picked her up, I sat with her in hospital, I had her living on my sofa. I took her to the police. This…” She took a deep, shuddering breath. “It was like going back in time.”

She leaned into Hermione then, her grip on the edges of the sink less fierce, and Hermione held her as close and as tight as she could. She felt Narcissa shaking as the blonde tried to hold back the tears. 

“She’s my sister, and I couldn’t do anything.”

Hermione reached down with one hand, gently prising loose Narcissa’ grip, and slipped her own body in between Narcissa and the sink. Wrapping her arms around the blonde properly, Hermione felt tears fall from her own eyes as she held her close, soothing her, rocking her slightly as she would a small child. She’d never ached for someone else like this before, but there was nothing she could say. She couldn’t imagine what it must have been like, and Narcissa already knew that Bella, now, would be fine. But Narcissa wasn’t really there in the present. Narcissa had drifted back ten years, and Hermione sensed that all she could do was to hold the blonde and wait for it to pass. She had never felt so powerless. 

Slowly, she felt Narcissa’s breathing settle. The blonde’s body felt more relaxed against hers and she was no longer trembling, but Hermione still held her. She didn’t even turn around when she heard the door to the corridor open, and hesitant footsteps walk in. 

“Cissy?” It was Andy’s voice. “They’re going to move Bella soon. Do you want to see her before we go?”

Narcissa took a last deep breath and nodded, and Hermione felt the blonde’s arms squeeze around her back before she let go. Stepping to another sink, Narcissa washed her hands and splashed her face, letting the water drip down her cheeks before reaching for a paper towel from the dispenser. 

“Is Draco here yet?”

Hermione nodded. “And Harry. Draco went in to see Bella after Andy.”

“Actually, I went back in with him,” Andy looked a little guilty. “The nurse who was cleaning her up seemed to be far less bothered about the whole one-at-a-time thing than the doctor.”

Narcissa looked at Hermione. Her blue eyes were open and vulnerable in a way Hermione had never seen before. 

“Come with me?” she asked, quietly. 

Hermione felt something inside her crack wide open. She couldn’t think about it then, or try and pinpoint what it was. She simply nodded, not trusting herself to speak. She took Narcissa’s hand and Narcissa held it tightly as they ventured back into the corridor, only letting go to hug first her son and then Harry. 

“It’s the last cubicle on the right round the corner.”

“She’s okay, you know.” Draco put his arms back round his mother. “She’ll be home tomorrow.”

“I know.” Narcissa patted him on the back, and smiled weakly to try and reassure him. “I know, darling.”

Hermione walked with her along the corridor, to where the last cubicle was closed off with a curtain, and sensed the blonde hesitate. 

“Okay?” she asked quietly, and Narcissa nodded. 

Bella was on the bed in a hospital gown, her head resting against the pillow and her eyes shut as a nurse wrapped a bandage around her right hand. Hermione took in the line of bruises, already violent and purple across her legs; the support bandage on her right wrist; the angry cuts still visible on her other hand where it had scraped along the uneven tarmac of the road. She felt another wave of queasiness as she saw it all play out before her - lights, shouts, brakes screaming - followed by another surge of relief as she realised for herself just how lucky Bella had been. Everything was superficial. Everything would heal. 

“C’mere, little sister.” Bella had opened her eyes and seen Narcissa, and held out her left arm. “I’ve seen worse.”

“For fuck’s sake, Bella.” Narcissa leaned over the bed and into her sister’s embrace, burying her face in Bella’s neck as her sister held her with her one good arm. Her next words were muffled in Bella’s curls. “What were you thinking?”

“I wasn’t,” Bella huffed out a laugh as she let go of Narcissa and pulled herself more upright. “That was the problem. Hi, pet.”

Hermione tried to smile. The nurse finished the bandage on Bella’s right hand, and, with an apologetic glance at Narcissa, moved around to the left. 

‘Won’t be long,” she said cheerfully. “I’ve already picked the gravel out.”

Bella winced, but obediently held out her hand. She squirmed a little under Narcissa’s unflinching gaze. 

“I had a message from Rod,” she said quietly. “He said he’d signed the last form - the financial agreement one - and that he’d get it to me by the end of next month through the lawyers. I thought, fuck that, I’ll go round and get it myself and file the damn thing tomorrow. He was only stalling.”

“And?” Narcissa looked like she was ready to murder, but Bella shook her head. 

“Nothing, Cissy. It was my own stupid fault. He didn’t need to do anything except wind me up like he always did, and I was so angry by the time I left I couldn’t think straight. I didn’t even know where I was going. I chain smoked the whole way, I hadn’t eaten, I got giddy.” She shrugged, forgetting about her injured shoulder, and squeaked in pain. “Next thing I know I’m flat on my back in the middle of the road.”

“Jesus, Bella.” Narcissa rubbed her hand over her face and pinched the bridge of her nose. “You got that restraining order for a reason. He knew exactly what to say and do, he always did.” She shook her head. “Did you at least get the form?”

Bella nodded, and chuckled weakly. “In my bag - if it hasn’t been ripped to shreds. And it’s the original one. The one that gives me half of everything, that he spent two years refusing to sign.”

“Bastard,” Narcissa muttered, reaching for Bella’s bag. The leather was scraped and dirty and one of the straps was torn, but she rummaged through and picked out an envelope. “This it?”

Bella nodded, and Narcissa tucked it into her own bag. “I’m taking that to the lawyers first thing in the morning. I need this thing finished almost more than you do.”

“Cissy?” Bella reached out her hand, and Narcissa took it, holding tight. “I’m sorry.”

Narcissa leaned down to hug her, a few tears finally spilling over. “Don’t ever do this to me again, Bella.”

“You’re safe there, little sister. Getting hit by a cab isn’t high on my list of must-do-agains.” 

After another few minutes, the doctor came back in and announced that Bella would be moved to a ward for the night. Bella grumbled a bit but acquiesced under Narcissa’s stern look, and managed to sign the paperwork herself with her bandaged hands, refusing to let Narcissa act on her behalf. Before she was wheeled out, she reached up to give Hermione a hug, and Hermione almost felt herself break as she inhaled Bella’s scent, her curls, the warm arms that still felt strong. Bella was going to be fine. 

“Look after Cissy, pet,” Bella murmured in her ear. “Stay with her tonight.”

Hermione nodded. She hadn’t had any intention of leaving Narcissa, even though she knew that Andy and Draco and Harry would most likely return with them to the flat, at least for a while. She stood with Narcissa, watching as Bella disappeared into a lift, and took her hand again as they slowly walked back to rejoin the others. 

 

 

~

 

 

They got a cab back to Bond Street, all five of them, Hermione and Narcissa and Andy squeezed in the forward-facing seats and Draco and Harry on the flip-down seats opposite. The roads were quiet. The city’s usual high-octane buzz had lowered to a quiet hum, and Hermione realised that she had no idea what the time was. When they got back to the flat, she saw the takeout cartons still on the kitchen island and stared at them, unable to comprehend that just a few hours ago she had been eating. Andy put the kettle on, Hermione wrapped the dinner remains into a plastic bag and put them in the bin, Draco and Harry put the living room lights on and found mugs and tea, and none of it seemed quite real. Normal had become disjointed. Normal had split in two, into before and after, and Hermione wondered how long it would take for the rift to heal. 

“I need to call Helen.” Andy said, suddenly looking exhausted. There was chamomile tea for all of them and they sat round the island, clutching the mugs, inhaling the comforting steam but not drinking. None of them could face the taste of anything yet. “The poor woman was about to go to bed when I dropped everything and ran out the door.”

“Go home, Andy,” Narcissa rested a hand on her sister’s arm. “Teddy will worry if he wakes up and you aren’t there.”

Andy looked torn, and Narcissa nodded firmly. “Really. I’ll be fine.”

“Do you want to stay?” Harry looked at Draco tenderly, concern etched on his face, and Draco looked at Narcissa.

“No, darling. You go home too, I think everyone needs their own beds tonight.”

Draco nodded reluctantly. “What do you want to do about the shop tomorrow?”

“Leave it.” Narcissa shook her head. She looked exhausted too. “I’ll be out all day, you can’t do the whole lot by yourself. You wouldn’t even get a bathroom break.”

“I can help out,” Hermione offered quietly. “I’m teaching in the morning, but Parvati’s taking the afternoon seminar so I could be here just after lunch. If you want to open, that is. I don’t think anyone would blame you if you didn’t.”

“All right,” Draco nodded. “If you’re sure you don’t mind. It’d keep my mind off things.”

“Of course not.”

They lapsed into silence. One by one, they lifted their mugs and sipped; one by one they drifted off. Andy left first, with strict instructions to Narcissa to call her first thing in the morning before going to the hospital, and then Draco and Harry. For a moment Hermione thought that Draco would change his mind and stay, but Narcissa spoke quietly in his ear as she hugged him and he nodded, allowing Harry to take him home. And then it was just the two of them, slumped on the sofa in the living room, both desperate for sleep and both too tired to move. 

“You don’t need to stay either, darling.” Narcissa sounded almost asleep, and Hermione shook her head. Lifting her legs onto the sofa, her back against the armrest with a cushion under her neck, she pulled Narcissa down until the blonde was lying on top of her, her head on Hermione’s chest.

“Not going anywhere, Cissy,” she eventually murmured, stroking Narcissa’s hair.

“Then you should at least move to bed. This sofa will ruin your neck.”

“And you put so much effort in.”

“I don’t want it wasted.” Narcissa lifted her head, her smile soft. “I can lend you whatever you need.”

“You’re coming too.” She shook her head as Narcissa opened her mouth. “Neither of us is in a fit state to even be thinking about that tonight. Besides…” she pressed a gentle kiss to Narcissa’s forehead. “I don’t want to let you go. I’d really rather not sleep in the spare room.”

Narcissa hesitated, and then nodded. Hermione sensed that, whatever the blonde said, she didn’t really want to be alone either. 

They got ready for bed in silence. Hermione was too tired even to take in much of Narcissa’s bedroom, only the softness of the sheets and duvet, the sage green accents that matched the bathroom, the hugeness of it. She could have slept in the bed quite easily with Narcissa without ever touching her, but when they climbed in she wrapped her arms tentatively around Narcissa’s back. Narcissa shifted closer, holding the hand that Hermione had draped over her stomach, her breathing already slower.

“Thank you,” she murmured, the words half-slurred with sleep. Hermione pressed her lips to the back of Narcissa’s head, sensing a splinter in her chest, the same crack that she had felt at the hospital. She closed her eyes. The emotion danced around the edges of her consciousness, undefinable but inescapable as she felt herself drift. 

“I love you,” she whispered drowsily, but Narcissa was already asleep. 

Chapter Text

Hermione sat in a café, an empty mug of hot chocolate in front of her and her phone on the table next to it. She’d chosen a seat next to the window and facing the door, her favourite spot to be in as the rain dripped down the glass and splashed on the pavement outside. People hurried past under umbrellas and bundled up in raincoats, swerving to avoid the sloshing of puddles as taxis and buses drove too close to the pavements. Her own umbrella sat, still wet, on the floor underneath her table; her coat was draped over the back of her chair. She’d been trying to concentrate on some reading while she waited for Ginny, but every few lines she found herself glancing at her phone. 

At the hospital. They’re going to discharge her.  

Narcissa had already been up when she’d woken that morning. In the soft pre-dawn darkness, they’d sat in the kitchen in companionable silence, Narcissa with a strong tea and Hermione with an even stronger coffee. Hermione had felt remarkably refreshed after so little sleep, but she’d hated the thought of leaving Narcissa and had even considered cancelling her teaching in order to go with the blonde to the hospital. Only the promise that Narcissa would keep her updated during the morning had persuaded her to leave for the university, just as it started to drizzle. Narcissa had given her the umbrella; Narcissa had made her take some fruit in lieu of breakfast; Narcissa had kissed her a long goodbye in the hallway. Something had shifted between them after all the emotion of the evening, and the chaste night they had spent together. Even simply sitting with coffee had felt charged with a new, deeper kind of intimacy, and Hermione had found herself almost wishing Narcissa had been awake to hear her whispered confession the night before. She knew it was soon. She knew the timing was bad. But she had never been so sure of anything in her life. 

That’s great. How is she?

Sore and grumpy and being a pain in the ass. 

Hermione had called Ginny that morning on her way to the university, hoping that she might catch her friend in a break from training. She’d completely forgotten that it was one of Ginny’s extra days off, imposed on her by her coach while her foot was still tender, and she’d almost started crying again as she recounted what had happened. She’d no longer felt refreshed but exhausted, and when she had told Ginny she would be home very quickly at lunchtime to get changed into some work clothes before heading to the shop, Ginny had told her firmly not to bother. Don’t waste time coming all the way up here. Get yourself some lunch and I’ll meet you with your clothes.

She hadn’t eaten lunch, but she had satisfied her craving for chocolate, sweet and milky and swirled with cream. Not the healthiest meal she’d ever had, but it woke her up a bit and, more importantly, warmed her up. She felt a bit shivery and a bit fragile, as if she might fall to pieces at the slightest touch, and she knew it was simply tiredness. 

She’s almost back to normal, then. How are you?

She waved as Ginny entered the café, collapsing her umbrella and shaking it out in the doorway before making her way to Hermione’s table. A small tote bag was clutched in her arms, and she handed it to Hermione before wrapping her up in a hug. 

“Thanks, Ginny.”

“No problem.” Ginny stripped off her coat and slung it over the chair. Her jeans had been splashed just above her boots, and Hermione guessed that she’d walked all the way down. Ginny was never very good at resting, even when ordered, and Hermione knew that she’d been getting more and more frustrated with her coach’s insistence on still being careful with her foot. Walking everywhere on her supposed days off had become her little rebellion. Hermione just hoped it didn’t backfire. “Want another drink?”

“I’ll get them.” Hermione put her book back into her bag, her marker still on the same page as when she had started. “It’s the least I can do.”

Just dropping Bella back at the flat, she’s staying with me tonight. Then I have to take the patterns to the theatre for Flora. 

I didn’t ask what you were doing, I asked how you were….?

She went up to the counter and bought two more hot chocolates and a bottle of water. When she got back to the table, she handed Ginny the mug with marshmallows on and took a peek inside the bag. Ginny had packed her favourite black dress, tights, shoes, some makeup, fresh underwear, a toothbrush and tube of toothpaste, and Hermione’s little tub of curl cream. 

“I wasn’t sure what you’d been able to borrow.” Ginny shrugged as she sipped her chocolate. “Can’t sweet-talk posh socialites into buying ridiculously expensive clothes with yesterday’s breath and frizzy hair.”

Hermione laughed, but she was touched by her friend’s thoughtfulness and said so. Ginny waved it off, and for a moment they concentrated on their hot chocolates. 

I’m fine. How did your teaching go?

No, you’re not. I can tell. 

Then why ask?

Hermione took a deep breath, trying to swallow the sudden, involuntary lump in her throat, and didn’t reply straight away. Clearly everything was starting to catch up with Narcissa as well. 

“How is she? Bella?” Ginny’s expression turned serious, and Hermione dug her spoon into her second lot of cream. 

“She’ll be fine.” She licked the spoon, and stirred the rest of the cream into the smooth, dark liquid underneath. “She’s being discharged today, and staying with Narcissa tonight.”

Ginny shook her head. “It sounds awful. What a nightmare…and crappy timing, too. Isn’t the first night of the play next week or the week after?”

“Thursday next week,” Hermione nodded. “And then the perfume launch the middle of the week after.”

“Shit.”

“Yep.” Hermione hadn’t actually thought about the perfume launch. She suspected that Bella would work from home on it, even when she was meant to be resting, but it was still something else for Narcissa to be worried about. Once again she was tempted to see if she could get cover for some more of her teaching, just so that she could help out a bit more at the shop over the next couple of weeks. She and Parvati, a fellow PhD student, had always got on well, and shared the Thursday afternoon seminar and class on an alternate-week basis. She was sure, if she explained what had happened, that the other woman wouldn’t mind covering an extra week. 

I’m sorry. I’m tired, snappy and ready to strangle my idiot sister. I have to go to the lawyers on my way back from the theatre because I didn’t have time this morning, then I should work to catch up from today, and quite frankly all I want to do is crawl back into bed with you. 

It’s ok, sweetheart. I know.

I’d really like to see you later. 

“Speaking of crappy timing, I had a message from Dean yesterday.”

Hermione raised an eyebrow, her spoon halfway to her mouth and dripping with chocolate and cream.  “And?”

“Says he misses me and wants to give it another go.” Ginny snorted, but her expression had softened a little. She looked as if she might be considering it. 

“What exactly happened between you two?”

“He was being an arse about me not moving in with him. I mean, we’d only been seeing each other a few months, and he knows I like my space. He kept saying that I lived with you with no problem, I kept telling him it was completely different. We had a massive row on Christmas Day about it, and I told him where to stick it.”

“And you think he’ll be okay with it now?” Hermione paused. “Or are you thinking of moving in with him?”

“Gods, no!” Ginny looked horrified. “Not unless you desperately want your spare room back.” She shrugged. “But I kinda miss him too. He was good fun, and he’s the only guy I’ve ever been with who just took my training in stride, you know? He never complained about the early alarms or the early nights or the fact that I wouldn’t go out drinking with him and his mates. I don’t know. I’m thinking about it.”

“Well, if you miss him and you think he’ll have come around to waiting a bit longer for you to move in, then go for it. Why is it bad timing?”

“I just have to concentrate on training. I’ll finally be back on full schedule next week, and it’s only going to get more intense the closer the trials get.”

“If he really loves you, Gin, he’ll understand. And you already said he was willing to accommodate it before.”

“I know,” Ginny nodded, wiping some chocolate off her lip. “I’m seeing him later, just for a sandwich somewhere. I’ll see how it goes.”

Hermione smiled. She already knew her flatmate probably wouldn’t be home that night at all. 

I could stay after the shop closes. Sit with Bella until you get back. 

Good luck with that. She’s like a petulant child. I know she’s angry at herself, but it’s pissing me off. 

You’re just exhausted. 

You’ll be exhausted too, darling. Wouldn’t you rather go straight home?

Hermione checked the time, and downed the rest of her chocolate. “Sorry, Gin, I’m going to have to get changed and then head off. I said I’d be at the shop by two.”

“No worries. I’ll wait and walk out with you.”

Not really. I’d rather see you for a little bit, even if I have to brave Bella to do it.

Hermione took her bag and went to the bathrooms, getting changed swiftly and splashing her face with water. It felt good to put a little bit of makeup on and freshen herself up; she’d showered that morning at Narcissa’s, mostly to wash the lingering smell of hospital away, but putting the same clothes back on had somewhat spoiled the effect. 

Okay. But if you get too tired and I’m not back, promise me you’ll just go home. Or go to bed at the flat. 

I promise…although I’m not sure I can manage another night like last night, however tired I am. 

Me neither. 

It’s just as well you were already up this morning. 

That was why I scooted out at the crack of dawn, darling. We’d still have been in bed now. 

Hermione quickly sorted her hair, running some of the cream through it and pulling it back into something resembling a bun, and left the bathroom. The rain had eased off to a vague drizzle that hung in the air, insidious and damp and just there, and she didn’t bother putting her umbrella back up as she and Ginny emerged onto Holborn. 

“I’m going that way for the bus.”

“You can afford taxis now, you know,” Ginny teased, and Hermione laughed. The lump sum from the perfume hadn’t actually lasted very long in her account. 

“It’s already mostly gone, Ginny, I paid off my student loans with it.”

“So horribly sensible,” Ginny rolled her eyes. “Okay, bus it is then. Want me to take your clothes back home?”

“Do you mind? Just dump the bag in my room, they all need washing anyway. I can still smell hospital on them.”

“Okay.” Ginny reached out to hug her, and smirked. “I may or may not see you later.”

“Good luck with Dean.” Hermione hugged Ginny tight, feeling tears inexplicably prick her eyes. She blinked them back; she was more tired than she thought. “And please don’t walk all the way home, Ginny, you still need to be careful of that foot.”

She pushed her friend onto a bus instead, and then jumped on a number 55 that would take her up to Oxford Circus. It was crowded, given the weather, and she grimaced at the sour smells of wet coat, steaming skin, and damp shoes. 

I wish we were. Still in bed, I mean. 

Me too. But speaking of the flat, Bella’s there now. She’ll probably ask you or Draco to fetch her up the work laptop as soon as I’ve gone. Try and hold out as long as you can. 

You know that won’t be very long? Your sister is fucking terrifying when she wants to be. 

Believe me, I know. I grew up with her. 

The bus trundled slowly along New Oxford Street, grinding to a halt by Tottenham Court Road. Hermione pressed herself back against the hand rail, trying to keep herself out of the way of bumping arms and dripping bodies as more passengers flooded on. 

Is that where you and Andy get it from?

I am not terrifying… Am I? 

You terrified me when I first started work. 

I was attracted to you even then. I was just trying not to make it obvious. 

Hermione peered out of the window, through a gap in the steamy fog that clouded the glass. Shop fronts blurred in the rain, and the pavements looked even grimier than usual. It always made her laugh when she read romantic descriptions of rain washing a city clean; she always felt like it simply washed out the cracks, leaving the dirt swimming in gutters and puddles for everyone to step in. One more stop. 

Well, it worked - for a while. I don’t think I was so successful.

No, you weren’t. 

Did you think I just had a crush?

I thought we both did. Even I’m not immune when a beautiful 29 year old looks at me like she wants to fuck me in my own studio. 

Now there’s an idea…but I did not look at you like that. 

Yes, darling, you did.

As soon as the bus pulled up at Oxford Circus Hermione elbowed her way out, desperate suddenly to get out of the claustrophobic space and away from the crush of other people. 

Deftly avoiding a puddle, she weaved her way through the passengers waiting to get on, through the crowds that clustered at the pedestrian crossings, and ducked into a side street that she knew would bring her out on Bond Street, almost opposite Emery Row. 

Does the age difference bother you?

No. It should do, but it doesn’t. You?

When a stunning 46 year old looks at me like she wants to fuck me in her own studio? Last thing on my mind.  

She looked up just in time to avoid walking into a group of tourists, clad in bright poncho-style waterproofs and clearly lost, and gave them quick directions back to Regent Street. By the time she arrived at Emery Row the rain was starting again in earnest, and she ran the last stretch to the shop, pushing open the door just as the increasing drizzle suddenly turned torrential. 

“Good timing,” Draco grinned at her, and she smiled back as she walked through to the office. 

“It’s horrible out there.” She stripped off her coat, leaving it over the back of the desk chair to dry before she put it in the safe. “How are you doing?”

“Okay.” He looked tired, but no worse than any of them. “Harry brought me some lunch round. Mind if I get it now?”

“Of course not.” Hermione surreptitiously slipped her phone out of her bag and took it with her to the counter, making sure it was on silent. She knew Draco wouldn’t mind. He did it himself often enough. 

There’s a theme emerging here. You know it would be damned uncomfortable. I’m too old for a hardwood floor.

I wasn’t thinking of the floor. There’s the table…

She put the phone down as a customer ducked in out of the rain. It was a woman who came in fairly regularly about once a month, and Hermione spent the next fifteen minutes chatting as the woman browsed, quickly settling on a relatively simple black dress that she said she wanted for work. Hermione still had no idea how anyone could wear a thousand-pound designer dress to work, but hid her raised eyebrow. There were some things she thought she would never get used to however long she worked here. 

Pins, darling. 

Good point. I guess that leaves the wall.  

Fuck. Don’t put ideas like that in my head when I’m trying to fix a costume.

“That’s better.” Draco reappeared, and Hermione quickly turned the phone over. Draco didn’t miss it though, and smirked when he saw her faint flush. “I don’t want to know.”

“How’s Bella doing?”

Draco rolled his eyes. “Mother left half an hour ago, and she’s already messaged me twice to ask for the work laptop and a couple of files. I’ve ignored her so far.”

“How long before she comes and gets them herself?”

“An hour, max. I’ll take them up before then.” Draco shrugged at her sceptical look. “I know Mother said not to, but which would you rather, death by Bella or death by…?” He immediately grimaced. “Forget it. Don’t answer that.”

“Silly question, blondie.” They both turned to see Bella walking through the office, limping on her right side and with her shoulder in a sling, shaking out an umbrella with her good hand. She smirked at Hermione. “We both know which one she’d choose.”

“No way, Bella.” Draco shook his head in a last attempt at putting his aunt off. “You should be resting.”

“This is resting. I should have had two meetings today already.” Bella handed Hermione the umbrella before picking up the laptop. “Can you bring the files for me, pet?”

“Bella…” But she relented quickly when she saw Bella’s face. If she didn’t, she knew the dark-haired woman would simply settle herself in the office instead, where she would be far more uncomfortable and unable to put her feet up. “Okay. But you’re explaining this to Narcissa, not me. Which ones?”

“The two on top,” Bella gestured with her head to a pile of files on the floor next to one of the filing cabinets. “And what Cissy doesn’t know won’t hurt her.”

Hermione followed her down the corridor to the open back door, and grabbed the keys from the hook to lock it again behind her, tucking the files under her arm. “I’m not lying to my…” She paused. What exactly was Narcissa? Girlfriend didn’t sound quite right. Partner sounded like a business deal. Lover wasn’t technically accurate, not yet anyway. She settled on the nickname instead. “I’m not lying to Cissy to cover your ass.” She covered both of them as best she could with the umbrella as they crossed the courtyard, and barely managed to balance the files as she opened the door for Bella. “Can you even type with that wrist?”

“I can do more with one hand than you can do with two, pet.” Bella smirked again as they climbed the stairs towards the flat. “Key’s in my pocket.”

Hermione rolled her eyes as she reached into the pocket of Bella’s hoodie, and scanned the key against the reader. One they were inside, she slipped off her shoes and put the umbrella carefully on the mat, before walking through the living room and putting the files down on a side table. 

“Sit.” She pointed at the sofa. “Do you want tea?”

“She’s rubbing off on you already.” But Bella was grimacing a little from the climb up the stairs, and Hermione noticed her limp was more pronounced. She sighed. Ignoring Bella’s protests, she slipped her arm around the woman’s waist to help her to the sofa. 

“I didn’t spend half of last night in A&E only for you to hurt yourself again by not resting. I really don’t think you should be working.”

“Distraction, pet.” Bella sank into the sofa with a sigh, and lifted her legs up so she was sitting lengthways. “I need something to think about other than my own stupidity.”

Hermione’s face softened, and she perched on the edge of the sofa. To her surprise, Bella leaned into her careful hug without a murmur. 

“Wasn’t your fault, Bella,” she said softly.

“I shouldn’t have gone.” Bella tried to sound matter-of-fact, but Hermione felt the little tremble in her voice. “I know what the bastard’s like.” She pulled back, and smiled at Hermione to cover the brief moment of emotion. “Guess I learned my lesson. Is tea still on offer?”

Hermione made her a cup of tea, and was just looking for a snack she could leave with it so that Bella didn’t have to move too much if she got hungry, when Bella called through from the sofa. 

“She keeps a stash of chocolate in the third cupboard along from the fridge. Right at the back.”

Hermione smirked. Sure enough, she found three large bars of Galaxy in the cupboard, one of them open, and she carried it through to Bella with the tea. 

“Sure you don’t want a sandwich or something?”

“No thanks. This’ll do nicely.” 

“I’ll check on you after work.” Hermione hovered for a moment, but Bella had already opened the laptop and was scrolling through emails. 

“Just leave the door on the latch then, pet. Save me finding you the spare key.”

Hermione hurried back to the shop, conscious that she’d left Draco on his own again almost as soon as she’d arrived, but when she returned she found him scrolling through his phone, looking tired and bored, the shop empty and even the street outside quiet. The weather was really putting people off. 

“I’ve got a hundred and one things I should be doing, and I can’t be bothered with any of them.” He tossed the phone down with a sigh. “She didn’t give you too much grief?”

“No, she’s fine,” Hermione chuckled. “I left her with chocolate and tea, that helped.” She paused. Draco really did look tired. “You know, I can finish up here if it stays quiet. You could go home early, get some rest.”

“I’ll see how it goes. Thanks.” 

“Of course.”

“Mind if I work in the office for a bit? I’ve got a shitload of order paperwork to do.”

“Go ahead.”

The rest of the afternoon was quiet. There were no more messages from Narcissa, and Hermione didn’t send any more. She didn’t want to completely distract the blonde when she was trying to work, but she found herself smiling as she scrolled through their conversation, in between the few customers who braved the rain. Draco didn’t leave early, and Hermione helped him to lock up and cash up. Back at the flat, she found Bella still on the laptop, papers spread out on the sofa and the floor around her, typing furiously with one hand and the empty chocolate wrapper screwed up next to her mug. When she saw Hermione, she shut the laptop and gathered together the papers that were on the sofa, letting Hermione pick up the ones from the floor for her. 

“Perfume launch, so no peeking. Cissy’s on her way back, by the way. You won’t have to wait long.”

Hermione ignored the tease. “Do I need to hide the evidence?” She gestured to the laptop and files, and Bella laughed. 

“No, I already confessed.”

Hermione busied herself in making more tea, drawing the curtains against the rainy darkness, fetching Bella a pillow because the older woman suddenly looked wiped out. She’d just dug out another bar of chocolate from the cupboard when she heard the front door open. 

“Hi.” She walked into the hallway and leaned against the wall, smiling at the first sight of Narcissa she’d had since that morning. The blonde laid a dripping umbrella on the mat and shrugged out of her coat, dumping a carrier bag on the floor. She looked beyond exhausted, but her face softened at Hermione’s greeting. 

“Hi, darling.”

Hermione stepped forward and reached up to take Narcissa’s face in her hands. The kiss was slow and deep, and she sighed a little as Narcissa relaxed into her arms. 

“Sorry,” she murmured as she finally let go. “I’ve been wanting to do that all day.”

“I’ve been wanting you to do that all day.” Narcissa trailed a thumb over her cheek. “I’m sorry I snapped earlier.”

“No need,” Hermione whispered, kissing her again. “I wish I could have been with you to help.” 

“Cool it down,” Bella called from the sofa. “Some of us are trying to rest.”

Hermione chuckled as Narcissa rolled her eyes. “Honestly, I’m surprised she hasn’t been worse.” She picked up the carrier bag from the floor. “Dinner?”

“Afraid so. I just grabbed some things from the supermarket on my way back. Are you hungry?”

“First Galaxy chocolate and now a supermarket?” Hermione teased. “You always surprise me.”

“I can slum it when I need to,” Narcissa smirked, and looked through to the living room. “At least you got her to put the laptop away.”

“She was so determined not to let me see anything to do with the perfume launch that she shut it down as soon as I came back.”

“I can hear you, you know.” Bella huffed. “It’s my shoulder that’s fucked, not my ears.”

Narcissa walked through to the living room while Hermione went to fetch plates, and to make Narcissa a cup of tea. She found a selection of large salads in the bag, couscous and beetroot and tomato and cucumber, along with a big lump of French Brie and a seeded baguette. Quickly, she divided the salads and cheese between the plates and sliced up the bread. She hadn’t realised how hungry she was until she saw it. 

She carried one through to the living room for Bella, along with a fork and Narcissa’s tea. 

“Go and get changed.” She dropped a kiss on Narcissa’s head, ignoring Bella’s eye roll. “I’ll see to this.”

They ate in the living room, piled onto the sofa with Bella, her bruised legs cradled carefully in Narcissa’s lap and Hermione curled up on the other side of the blonde. The sisters bickered and talked work, careful not to give too much about the launch away, and Hermione smiled as she listened. Narcissa’s closeness felt so good after the day apart. She didn’t even mind Bella’s teasing as Narcissa’s hand rested on her knee, as she shifted closer, as Narcissa’s hand lazily caught hers and stroked her fingers. She yawned constantly. She couldn’t help it. The relaxation, the warmth of the flat, the food after not having eaten all day, and her exhaustion all combined to make her body and eyes heavy, and eventually she knew that if she was going to go home she needed to move.

“I should go,” she said quietly. Bella’s eyes had closed at the other end of the sofa, and Narcissa looked torn. Hermione gently kissed her again. “You should have some time with Bella.” She smiled softly. “Besides, you agreed earlier that we wouldn’t manage another night.”

“Careful, pet,” Bella cracked open one eye. “That sounded suspiciously like a challenge, and Cissy never turns one down.”

“Bella, if you weren’t already injured…”

“You’d boot me off this sofa, little sister, I know.” Bella smirked. “So I’m going to make the most of my vulnerable state while I can.”

“That’s my cue to leave,” Hermione laughed. In a way, she was grateful to Bella for making it easier. Tiredness was clouding her thinking, and while she wasn’t looking forward at all to going home in the dark and rain and leaving Narcissa here, she knew it was best if she did. 

In the hallway, Narcissa pulled her close. “You know I don’t want you to go,” she murmured. 

“I know.” Hermione kissed her again, long and slow. “It’s probably best, though. Could you cope with Bella’s teasing in the morning if I didn’t?”

Narcissa chuckled, and shook her head. “Message me when you get home.”

When Hermione got home, she didn’t go straight to bed as she had intended. The flat was empty, because - as predicted - Ginny was still with Dean, and she took advantage of it to spend almost an hour in the shower, letting the hot water run over her body, washing away the last dregs of the last twenty four hours. She couldn’t believe it had only been that long; that it had only been yesterday she had been at the theatre, eating takeaway, talking about her thesis while Narcissa massaged the pain out of her neck. By the time she had finished, dried her hair, and climbed into bed, it was almost midnight and she was exhausted but feeling better. She’d already let Narcissa know she was home safely, but now she pulled her phone towards her again. She wasn’t sure if Narcissa would still be up. 

I miss you.  

Less than a minute later, her phone lit up with a reply. 

I miss you too, darling. Sweet dreams. 

Chapter Text

Hermione gazed critically at herself in the mirror before applying her lipstick. In the warm light of Narcissa’s bathroom, she saw a version of herself gazing back that she didn’t quite recognise: sophisticated and sleek, a long way from the scruffy student she had always believed herself to be. She liked it. Her dress was deep emerald green, tight fitting, with a sweetheart neckline that wrapped around her breasts before plunging into a calf-length skirt with a long slit up the side. She’d bought it, along with the fitted wool coat she was going to wear over the top, with the last of her lump sum payment, deciding that tonight - the opening night of the play - was worth splashing out on. Her makeup was simple, her lipstick dark. She’d tamed her curls and left them loose, and she wore her amber teardrop earrings. The excitement showed in her eyes, dark and sparkling back at her in the mirror. She felt good. 

She hadn’t seen much of Narcissa in the previous week. She’d stayed behind after work on Saturday and Tuesday but there had been no time in between, and she didn’t think she’d ever been so attached to her phone. She knew Bella was back home and healing well, she knew the last preparations for the perfume launch were well underway, she knew Narcissa was alternately exhausted and high on adrenaline. She knew how the blonde’s voice dropped a register when she called late at night and was half asleep, and she knew the chocolate supplies had already been restocked when Narcissa confessed to eating it for breakfast. But no message or phone call was the same as actually being together, and more than once she’d thought about putting herself through the torment of sleeping in the spare bedroom at the flat. Anything to have a bit of extra time, another kiss, another morning coffee, but she’d known she wouldn’t be able manage it and she still didn’t want to push when they both wanted so much more than a couple of snatched hours. 

She’d swapped her teaching and worked at the shop that afternoon instead, helping Draco with a large delivery and covering while he sorted out more paperwork. Her plan had been to change quickly in the office after closing. But Narcissa had insisted that she use the flat, and had bundled her off with the key at precisely 6pm. For the first time, Hermione had let herself in alone. She’d made herself at home with tea and a few squares of the dwindling chocolate, and had laid her things out on the bed in the spare room that she guessed used to be Draco’s. She’d changed quickly; the play started at eight. Narcissa had come in around six thirty, calling out a greeting and disappearing into her own bedroom, and Hermione had deliberately not popped her head out. Knowing Narcissa was getting changed in the next room was hard enough without giving herself any extra visual temptation. Now, though, she wondered whether she ought to go and check if the blonde was ready. Bella and Andy would be arriving soon, and then they would have to leave. London traffic was too unpredictable to take any chances. 

“Did I leave my earrings…oh.” Narcissa stopped at the bathroom door, her gaze hot and frank as it swept over Hermione. “Could have warned me, darling.”

But Hermione wasn’t focused on what the blonde was saying. She was focused instead on the tight, sleeveless black dress that hugged every slender curve on Narcissa’s body and ended just below her knees, and the elaborately patterned, black and white, sheer satin cardigan that fell to mid-thigh. Deep navy eyeliner had turned the blonde’s blue eyes smoky, and the slightest touch of red lipstick accentuated her pale skin. Her hair was up in a simple, smooth ponytail. Hermione didn’t think she had ever seen anyone look quite so stunning. 

“Same,” she managed, slightly throatily. “Looking for these?” She picked up the delicate silver-and-pearl ear threaders that had been lying on the sink, and handed them to Narcissa. The simple brush of hands, a touch she had become almost used to, now ignited something in her stomach that felt like butterflies on fire. 

Narcissa slipped them in, her eyes never leaving Hermione, and then walked slowly to stand behind her. There was something in her gaze that was almost predatory, and it made Hermione’s heart thud in her chest, her body throb, her skin tingle with anticipation.  Hands rested lightly on her shoulders. Lips brushed her neck. She shivered, closing her eyes and leaning her head back, and let out an involuntary moan as Narcissa nipped the skin before soothing it with her tongue. 

“Dangerous dress, darling,” she murmured, her voice husky against Hermione’s ear. “Do you really want your first time with me to be up against the bathroom sink?”

Heat flooded every corner of Hermione’s body, and she gasped at the jolt of arousal that shot through her. Her legs felt shaky, and she leaned against Narcissa. Hands drifted downwards, from her shoulders down her arms to her stomach, and Hermione was aware of the light, teasing touch, the burgundy nail polish that made her think of wine, the large silver ring with an engraved serpent that matched the twisting pattern on the cardigan. Lips trailed along her jaw. Fingers skated over her breasts, so ghostlike that only the sharp pebbling of her nipples under the fabric told her she hadn’t imagined it. 

“At this point, I’m not really bothered.” Hermione’s voice didn’t sound like her own. When Narcissa’s hands dropped to her hips she arched into them slightly, earning a hiss from the blonde, before turning in Narcissa’s arms and kissing her hard. “But your sisters will be here in a minute.”

“Yes, they will.” Narcissa pulled back a bit, her eyes dark and heavy. “And there’s something I need to talk to you about first.”

“Oh?”

“Not here. Too distracting.”

Hermione turned back to the mirror as Narcissa slipped out of the bathroom.  She wiped away a small smudge of lipstick in the corner of her mouth with shaking hands. Her legs were shaking. Everything was shaking, and the faint flush on her cheeks mirrored the heat she’d seen in Narcissa’s eyes. She ran her hands under cold water, dabbing a little on her face, and took a deep breath. This, she reminded herself, was why she didn’t stay over. 

In the kitchen, she found Narcissa leaning against the counter with a glass of water. 

“I need to ask you something,” she said quietly. “I left it until now because I didn’t want you to overthink and worry about it too much.”

Hermione raised an eyebrow, and fetched herself a glass too. Her throat felt a bit dry and her body still felt like it was gently smouldering, but she tried to focus. Clearly whatever Narcissa had to say was important. “Okay.”

“You know there’ll be press there tonight.” Narcissa looked a little uncomfortable. “A lot of press, and a lot of cameras.”

Hermione nodded. She’d never been to an opening night before, but she knew they were also the press nights, the first chance the critics and reviewers would have to see the play, and she also knew that this play was attracting a lot of attention. 

“I won’t be their sole focus, but there will still be a lot of attention. I have to go in the front entrance. There’s a side entrance which will be open for people the press isn’t interested in, to put it bluntly, and Bella and Andy will use that. What I need to know is whether you would prefer to go with them or whether you want to brave it with me.”

Hermione almost choked on her mouthful of water, and stared at Narcissa. 

“It won’t make any difference once we’re in there. Our seats are together, I’d just meet you…”

“You do realise what you’re asking?” Hermione said, her eyes wide, and Narcissa nodded. “If I’m photographed with you…”

“Then most of the theatre-going world and half the gossip pages will know by tomorrow that we’re together, yes.”

“Wow.” Hermione let out a long breath, and sipped her water carefully. Her mind was whirling. “But last week, when we were at the theatre, you were so careful when we met outside.”

“Yes, I know,” Narcissa gave a small, apologetic smile. “And I will probably always be careful in public, Hermione. It’s something you’ll have to get used to if…” She left the sentence hanging, and Hermione nodded slowly. “But official events like this are slightly different. Yes, there are paparazzi and cameras and reporters, but there is also a lot of security. They’re tightly controlled. I feel more in control. They get what I give them and no more. They don’t get private moments, they don’t get to make assumptions.” She paused, her gaze on Hermione. “I wasn’t careful last week because I didn’t want to be seen with you, I was careful because I didn’t want an intrusion.”

Hermione sipped her water again, feeling a slight giddiness as it sank in. “Would you really be happy for me to be seen with you?”

“If I wasn’t, I wouldn’t have given you the option.” Narcissa shrugged. “But I completely understand if you’d rather not. I’m not actually expecting you to, but I wanted to give you the choice. I didn’t want to just pack you off with Bella and Andy and assume.”

Narcissa looked a little nervous, and after a moment Hermione leaned forward to kiss her gently. She knew what she wanted to do. 

“Then can we compromise?”

Narcissa raised an eyebrow. 

“I don’t know that I can deal with that tonight,” she said honestly. “I don’t care who knows we’re together, the whole world can know as far as I’m concerned, but I don’t know about facing so many cameras and so many other celebrities and the red carpet when I don’t know the protocol and I don’t know what I’m doing.”

“Okay, that’s fine,” Narcissa nodded, and smiled softly. “That’s what I expected you to say, to be honest.”

“And you’re not upset?”

“Of course not, darling. But what’s the compromise?”

“The compromise is that we appear together at the perfume launch instead.”

Narcissa’s eyes widened. “You do know that the press interest in that isn’t much less?”

Hermione nodded. She had thought as much, but she’d also been thinking about this, at the back of her mind, for several days. She hadn’t wanted to broach the subject with Narcissa just yet, not knowing how the blonde would feel about being seen together. But she knew it was what she wanted. 

“I know. But I feel quite attached to that perfume,” she smiled, “and I’ll feel much more confident with the launch being here. This place feels like a second home to me now. I don’t know what you have planned, but I know I want to be next to you for as much of it as I can be. If you’d like that too, of course.”

A slow, tender smile spread across Narcissa’s face, and she cupped Hermione’s cheek with her hand. “I’d love you to be,” she said softly. “And I promise I’ll look after you. I won’t let them go crazy.”

Hermione nodded. “I know.” 

They both jumped as the front door buzzer went, and Hermione chuckled as Narcissa swore. 

“Don’t they have a key?”

“Of course, but they know you’re here.” Narcissa smiled wryly. “They probably don’t want to interrupt something.”

She went to the front door to let Bella and Andy in, and Hermione finished off her water before heading back to the spare room to get her heels and her coat. She left her work clothes tidily on the bed; she could pick them up another day. A last glance in the mirror reassured her once more, and she saw the new current of warmth and happiness in her eyes. She was glad she wouldn’t be in front of the cameras tonight. But she couldn’t wait for the perfume launch. 

“Looking good, pet.” Bella gazed at her appreciatively from the hallway, and Hermione smiled, giving the older woman a quick hug. 

“Not so bad yourself.”

Bella wore a perfectly tailored black suit, the tight-fitting jacket plunging low and giving a glimpse of a black lace top underneath. Her spiky heels were at least three inches high, and Hermione wondered how on earth she was walking in them with still-sore legs. Curls fell loose over her shoulders, and the only colour was the dark red lipstick and matching nail polish. She’d dispensed with her sling, and Hermione reached for one of her hands, grinning when she saw that the cuts and scrapes had almost all healed. 

“Are you two ready?” Andy appeared, wearing high waisted black trousers, so wide-legged and flowing that they looked almost like a long skirt, and a simple cream cowl-neck top that hugged her curves. Her heels rivalled Bella’s, and the sharply fitted leather jacket and chunky silver jewellery gave the whole thing an edge that was, quite frankly, incredibly sexy. 

“Nice.” Hermione smiled at her. “Where’s my supervisor?”

“Out for the night. Where’s my student?”

“She sexed herself up a bit.”

“Clearly,” Andy smirked. “Looks good on you. Where did Cissy disappear to?”

“I’m here.” Narcissa reappeared in her heels, a long wool coat slung over one arm and a clutch bag in her hand. “Ready?”

 

~

 

The cab dropped them in one of the side streets just round the corner from the theatre. As she climbed out, Hermione could hear the noise; the calling of names, the pop of flashbulbs, the buzz of a crowd. Other people were also climbing out of cabs, making their ways towards different entrances. The energy in the air was palpable and Hermione breathed it in along with the smell of river water, and cold darkness that was turned back to dusk by all the lights. 

“Okay?” Narcissa squeezed her hand as they rounded the corner, and Hermione nodded. “I’ll leave you three here. I’ll meet you inside at the private bar.”

Hermione thought she knew where Narcissa meant. She’d seen it before, up on the first floor, a space where VIPs and cast gathered without intrusion by cameras, but she’d never been in. 

Narcissa kissed her gently. “I won’t be long.”

She handed Bella her coat and bag, shivering a little at the cold, before walking towards the riverbank and the front entrance. Hermione glimpsed what looked like hundreds of people on either side of the foyer entrance, held back behind barriers. There was no actual red carpet, but there might as well have been. A steady stream of well-known theatre faces - actors, directors, writers, designers, as well as the critics and reviewers - walked through the front doors, each one taking their time, giving the press a few photos or a few words on the upcoming performance along the way. It reminded Hermione of the film premieres she’d seen from a distance in Leicester Square, and she felt a sudden, inexplicable urge to run, to catch up with Narcissa and tell her she’d changed her mind. Not because she wanted to be in front of the cameras herself, but because she wanted to be by the blonde’s side as she navigated the grasping crowds. 

“Want to see her in action, pet?”

“Could have phrased it better, Bella,” Andy tutted at her sister, but guided them to a spot by the river, far enough along from the entrance that they wouldn’t be swept up in the press. Narcissa was hanging back a bit. A tall security woman stood next to her, dressed all in black and wearing an earpiece, keen eyes scanning the entranceway and the three people who were already making their way inside. Hermione recognised one of them, a West End actress currently starring in a production of Les Misérables. She was taking her time and posing with her boyfriend, signing a few autographs, giving the cameras what they wanted. Narcissa was only waved forward once they had disappeared inside. 

As soon as she stepped out in front of the cameras, the blonde’s whole bearing changed. It was so subtle that if Hermione hadn’t know her so well she would never have noticed, and even now she struggled to pinpoint what it was. She was reminded, forcefully, of an article she’d read about Marilyn Monroe, walking down the street with a reporter as plain old Norma Jean and being ignored by everybody. Would you like to see me turn her on? Marilyn had asked, and of course the reporter had said yes. Within moments, and without any obvious differences, they’d been besieged. Now, watching Narcissa slip not just into Miss Black but into powerful fashion designer who owned the walkway, Hermione felt her breath hitch. She was entranced. She couldn’t look away. 

The cameras were going mad. Hermione guessed that they didn’t get Narcissa that often, and voices called at her from all directions, asking her to turn this way and that, asking for her thoughts and expectations for the play, asking what had inspired the costumes and what it was like working in the theatre alongside haute couture. The blonde smiled, stopping to let them have the pictures, hand resting lightly on her hip as she laughed at something someone said. Her hair caught the light as she moved, and the cardigan shimmered around her body. Blue eyes held each camera’s gaze. All the while she was moving subtly towards the entrance, not blocking the walkway for the person behind, finally disappearing inside after what felt like forever but could only have been two minutes.

Hermione let out a long breath.  

“For someone who claims to hate it, she’s damn good at it,” Bella chuckled. “Rather her than me. Come on, I’m freezing. We’ve got time for a drink if we get in there now.”

They made their way in through the side entrance, left their bags and coats at the cloakroom, and headed upstairs to the private bar. After showing the passes Narcissa had given them along with their tickets, they were waved in, and Bella turned questioningly to Hermione. 

“What’ll it be, pet?”

“White wine, please.”

Bella ordered white wine for her and Andy, and red for herself and for Narcissa when she arrived. As she sipped, Hermione scanned the room. It was plush, all shining mahogany and red velvet, rows and rows of bottles glistening behind the bar and a long window that looked out over the river and the London skyline to the north. Hermione could see the dome of St Paul’s, and the lights of the bridges shimmering in the black ribbon of water, all mingled with the reflections of the bar in the window. She recognised several faces, and only the dry sweetness of the wine on her tongue told her for certain that she wasn’t in some kind of strange alternate reality. Only a year ago, she had come to a production here and had booked the cheapest seat that was left for a matinee. Now she was here on opening night in the VIP lounge. She bit her lip to stop a slightly hysterical giggle. It was surreal. 

“Thank goodness that’s done.” Narcissa appeared behind her, taking the red wine from Bella gratefully and dropping a light kiss on Hermione’s lips. “These things are always a circus.”

“Do you need to check up on anything backstage?” Andy asked, but Narcissa shook her head. 

“Flora said she’d call if she needed anything.” Her phone, Hermione saw, was clutched in her hand. “Minerva wanted me out there. Said it would be good publicity - as if they needed it.”

They finished their wine, chatting and people-watching, Narcissa pointing out several faces that Hermione had recognised but hadn’t been able to put a name to, and introducing her to the ones that came over to speak. When the ten-minute warning came over the tannoy, asking them to take their seats in readiness for the performance, she drained her glass and slipped her hand into Hermione’s. 

“This way.”

Their seats were good ones, close to the front and central. Hermione sat next to Narcissa, Bella and Andy flanking them, and Hermione got the sense that it was a well-practiced move to protect their sister from any unwanted conversations or attention from the next-door seats. Narcissa’s hand was still in hers, and Hermione squeezed it gently. 

“That was incredible, out there,” she said softly. “It was like watching you transform into someone else.”

“I do. I have to.” Narcissa glanced over, her thumb stroking Hermione’s hand. “It’s not a side I bring out very often, I promise. Events, shows, the occasional interview. Meetings with the accountant.”

“So I’ll be standing next to Miss Black next week at the perfume launch, then? Not Narcissa?” Hermione raised an eyebrow, and Narcissa grimaced. 

“I’ll try and tone it down.”

Hermione chuckled. “No, don’t.” She pressed her body a little closer in the seat, and gave the blonde a smirk. “I quite like it.”

Narcissa shot her a sharp, heated look, but was saved from replying by the sinking of the lights and the sudden, expectant hush that always accompanied the start of a performance. Hermione turned her eyes to the stage, her hand still in Narcissa’s, and felt a shiver run down her spine as the play began. 

If only they had never gone! If the Argo’s hull had never winged its way through the grey-blue clashing rocks…

For the next hour and a half, she sat mesmerised. She didn’t think she had never felt so completely involved in a play, so immersed that she forgot everything and everyone around her, including Narcissa. She barely recognised Pansy as Medea, face twisted in anger and grief as she pleaded with the chorus to leave her alone, smoked a cigarette as she plotted, battled with herself in one violent swing of emotion after another; Hermione could hardly believe it was the same actress who had seemed so hesitant just ten days ago. There were moments when she was chilled all over, when something in Pansy’s eyes hit deep inside, and she didn’t notice herself gripping Narcissa’s hand or the blonde squeezing back. In between, her eyes soaked in the set; the clever two-level design that brought Medea’s house to the forefront, with misty woods behind and a mezzanine level above for the palace, and sweeping stairs coming down one side in a curve that reminded her of Emery Row. And she devoured the costumes, amazed at just how perfect they were on stage, on the set, on the actors. She’d known they would be, but seeing them come to life gave her a buzz that surprised her. For the first time she really understood, with an almost visceral clarity, why Narcissa did this kind of work on top of everything else. 

By the time the play finished, a howling Medea dragging her children’s bodies off stage through the trees and crying out for her ancestors, Hermione felt stunned. The lights dragged her unwillingly back to the theatre, and she sensed the rest of the audience in the same kind of haze before the cast started to come out and applause started to thunder. When Pansy walked on stage last, dazed but smiling, still shaking off Medea and coming back to herself, she was greeted by a standing ovation, and Hermione clapped even harder as she saw Blaise take her hand in support. 

Out in the foyer, Hermione took a moment to adjust to the sudden burst of movement and people and noise all around her. The play was still echoing in her ears, Medea’s fury was still etched behind her eyes, Jason’s own grief was still haunting her body. Narcissa, meanwhile, was enveloped in hugs.

“You outdid yourself, little sister.” 

“Stunning,” Andy agreed, and then Hermione found herself drawn into their arms too. 

“Thank you.” She heard Narcissa’s voice whisper in her ear. “You helped with this more than you know.”

“Are we staying for the after party?”

“I don’t know.” 

Narcissa looked at Hermione, who shrugged. For the first time in days, she didn’t feel tired. She felt high on a combination of adrenaline and excitement and the emotion of the play. She knew tomorrow she would regret it, that she had to go to the library to make up for working at the shop earlier instead, but she knew that even if she did go home she wouldn’t sleep. She could tell Narcissa felt the same. 

“I should go for a short while, even just to see Flora and Minerva,” Narcissa said. “If you three would rather go home, that’s fine. But I need to go to the bathroom before anything.”

Bella looked at Andy, and something passed between the two sisters that Hermione couldn’t catch. 

“I’ll come with you.” Bella took Narcissa’s arm. “Andy, make your mind up.”

“Are you staying?” Hermione asked, and Andy glanced to where Bella and Narcissa were just disappearing down the steps that led to the toilets. 

“No, I don’t think so. But you should. The after parties are always fun.”

“I don’t know. I’ve got a lot of work…”

“Hermione, do you ever take a day off?”

Hermione raised her eyebrows, but Andy simply looked at her and waited. 

“Not for a while,” Hermione said cautiously. “Too much on.”

“Then take one tomorrow.”

“Andy…”

“I mean it.” Andy did indeed look like she meant business. “Have fun tonight, and then tomorrow you can sleep, walk, watch crappy TV, whatever you would normally do on a day off. But if I see you in the department or within a mile of the library…”

“You and Bella look exactly alike when you’re trying to be tough.”

Andy didn’t break stride. “I know. Who do you think taught me everything I know? I mean it, Hermione.” Her face broke into a sudden grin. “Who knows? You might even get to spend it with Cissy. Put us all out of our misery. I’m sure half of her bad mood last week was not seeing you.”

“Andy!” Hermione felt her face flush lightly, knowing what the older woman meant. “Can’t you be less perceptive for once?”

“With you, maybe, but I’ve been around Cissy too long not to realise.”

At that moment Bella and Narcissa returned from the bathroom. The blonde looked a little stunned, as if she’d just had the same kind of stern talk from Bella, and Hermione raised a subtle eyebrow. Narcissa just shook her head. 

“Decided, pet?”

Hermione shrugged. She knew Andy wouldn’t really be angry, but she also knew the older woman was right. She was ahead of her own schedule with her thesis. She had no teaching for another two weeks. She needed a day off desperately, and she also deserved a bit of fun. 

“I’ll stay.” She looked at Narcissa. “If you don’t mind.”

“Of course not.” Narcissa smiled at her. “Bella’s not staying. Andy?”

“Nope.” 

“Okay.” They hugged and kissed goodbye, Andy reiterating her vague threats to Hermione about not working the following day, and Hermione and Narcissa turned to head upstairs to the bar. When they reached the top of the stairs, Narcissa paused. 

“Was that Andy persuading you into taking a day off tomorrow?”

“Yes,” Hermione chuckled. “She’s right, though, I could do with one and I’m ahead of myself with research. Why?”

“Because Bella just talked me into the same thing. Said she had everything under control, that she’d need my help next week but not over the weekend, and that she didn’t need me turning up to the launch on Wednesday looking like an exhausted wreck because I hadn’t had a day off for months.” Narcissa looked a bit affronted at the idea. “She ordered me to relax and have fun. Told me I might even get to spend it with you.”

“Andy said exactly the same to me.” They looked at each other for a moment, and then Hermione burst out laughing. “Why do I get the feeling we’ve just been….” She searched for the right word.

“Set up?” Narcissa offered, smirking. “Victims of a conspiracy?”

“Yes.”

“Because we have been, darling.” Narcissa laughed, shaking her head. “I will kill both of them.”

“Leave Andy for me, please.”

Narcissa took her hand and led her into the bar, where the cast and crew and various members of the audience were beginning to gather. Hermione couldn’t see Flora or Minerva, nor could she find Pansy or Blaise yet. They bought another couple of glasses of wine and Narcissa steered her towards a quiet spot by the window, where they could stand and watch both the room and the view outside. 

“You know, “Hermione said carefully, her heart beating hard in her chest, “if we’re both obeying orders and taking tomorrow off, we could spend it together. Unless you’d prefer not to, of course, or unless you’re going to work anyway.”

“No, disobeying Bella when she’s in that mood isn’t worth it.” Narcissa smiled wryly. “And she’s also right. I’ll be a mess by Wednesday if I don’t have a day to recharge.” She looked at Hermione, blue eyes warm. “Don’t let them pressure you though, darling. I’d love to be with you, but if you have things you’d rather be doing…”

“No, I don’t.”

They were interrupted by a cheer as Pansy and Blaise appeared, both looking exhausted, happy and high on the buzz of a good performance. They were swiftly followed by Minerva McGonagall and the rest of the cast, and Hermione found herself swept up in the party. She congratulated Pansy, who gave her a genuine hug and said that the insight Hermione had offered at the costume fittings had been really helpful. At some point she ended up separated from Narcissa, the blonde talking to Flora across the room while Hermione chatted to Blaise and some of the cast of the chorus. She talked and laughed, feeling herself relax properly for the first time since Bella’s accident, and when she finally made her way back to Narcissa she was surprised to see that two hours had already passed. The party had thinned out, and both their wine glasses were empty. 

“Ready to go?”

Hermione nodded. They said their goodbyes, collected their coats, and headed outside, and the first waft of cold night air on Hermione’s face made her laugh with happiness.  

“Thank you.” She touched Narcissa’s arm briefly, and smiled. “Tonight has been amazing.”

Narcissa stopped in the shadows by the river, and turned to face her. 

“Come home with me.”

Hermione looked at her, feeling something swoop in her stomach. She desperately wanted to say yes, but…

“Are you sure?” She searched Narcissa’s face. “We don’t have to, I can…”

“I don’t want to just meet you in the morning, Hermione.” Narcissa interrupted her, eyes smoky in the light that drifted from the theatre. “Neither do I want you to sleep in the spare room.” She stepped closer, and Hermione felt lips briefly brush her ear. “I heard what you said to me when you slept over last week. I love you too, and I don’t want to wait any more. Please.”

“You heard?” Hermione’s voice came out as a horrified squeak, and Narcissa chuckled softly. 

“Is that all you took from what I just said?”

“Yes. No.” Hermione trailed off, not trusting herself to speak any more. So many things that she wanted to say were churning inside her, but she couldn’t find words for any of them. Instead, she simply nodded, and Narcissa took her hand. 

Chapter Text

Time seemed to be suspended. Somewhere over the river, in the cab, with Narcissa’s hand still tight in hers, Hermione started to wonder whether it was hours or seconds that had passed since she had been standing by the water with Narcissa murmuring in her ear, since she had been drinking at the after party, since the play, since the red carpet, since she’d been kissing Narcissa in the bathroom. Every single one of those moments in her mind carried an image, and she couldn’t believe that they all came from the same evening. They passed Embankment, Charing Cross, Piccadilly lit up in garish flashing lights. Narcissa’s hand was warm in hers, and when she slid her fingers up she could just about feel Narcissa’s heartbeat, steady and faint in the blonde’s wrist. She held onto it, feeling as if it was a much more reliable measure of reality than the dashboard clock, which now said almost midnight. 

When they pulled up outside the flat, Hermione took deep breaths of cold air. London was still buzzing, and the noise and the chill steadied her a little as Narcissa paid the cab driver, found her keys, keyed in the alarm code. The blonde’s hand slipped back into hers as she pushed open the bottom door.

“Okay?”

Hermione nodded. 

When they reached the third floor, Hermione stopped Narcissa before she could swipe the key. She leaned up against one of the heavy doors and pulled the blonde gently in for a kiss. It was deep and slow, the warmth of Narcissa’s lips and body bringing her back down to earth a little at the same time as giving her butterflies, and she moaned a little as Narcissa pulled back, smiling softly. 

“I know we have the entire place to ourselves, but I’d rather get inside first.”

“I was just making sure this isn’t some crazy dream or elaborate hoax that I’m going to suddenly snap out of,“ Hermione said honestly. “This whole evening has been a bit surreal.”

She followed Narcissa inside and allowed the blonde to hang both their coats up. They both slipped out of their heels, and Narcissa drew her close once more. 

“Not a dream, darling,” she murmured, her hands cupping Hermione’s face. Her lips were gentle, still tasting sweet from the wine. “But if it’s too much, then…”

“No.” Hermione slid her arms around Narcissa’s waist under the satin cardigan, feeling the slight shiver that ran through the blonde at her touch. “Not too much.” She leaned into another kiss, drawing a soft moan from Narcissa as she darted her tongue against the blonde’s bottom lip. “Just slightly hard to believe.”

Narcissa hummed softly, lowering her lips to Hermione’s neck, peppering tiny kisses along her jaw and ear and making Hermione gasp. Every single one sent a little spark of arousal straight through her, and she felt a tingling warmth all over. 

“What do you want to do?” Narcissa whispered, her voice low and husky. “We don’t have to…”

“Bed,” Hermione replied hoarsely. Narcissa’s kisses were now leaving hot trails over her neck, and her whole body leaned into the touch of Narcissa’s hands on her hips. She had no intention of waiting any longer. “Please.”

Silently, Narcissa took her hand. She didn’t bother turning on the lights until they reached the bedroom, where she flicked on the bedside lamp that cast a soft glow over the room, soothing in cream and green.

“Let me know if you want it off.”

“No.” Hermione shook her head. Lightly, she trailed one finger along Narcissa’s cheekbone, down her jaw, along her lips, and blue eyes softened and darkened with desire. “I want to see you.”

She leaned forward and captured Narcissa’s mouth with her own, gently at first, deeper and harder when she felt Narcissa’s tongue, hot and needy against her lips. Narcissa’s fingers tangled in her hair, and Hermione swallowed a low moan at the tug that pulled their lips apart and tilted her head back, allowing Narcissa to kiss her neck. Her own hands ran freely over Narcissa’s hair, her shoulders, her arms, the curve of her waist, down to her hips, back up to her ribs. Slowly, deliberately, she grazed her thumbs over Narcissa’s breasts, catching nipples that were already stiff under the fabric of the dress. The blonde hissed against her ear, and Hermione felt a rush of desire that made her giddy. 

“No bra?” she murmured, and Narcissa nipped her neck, making her gasp before soothing it with her tongue. 

“This dress is far too tight, darling. Haven’t you learned anything working for me?”

Hermione smiled. Running her fingers down the low neckline of Narcissa’s dress, she teasingly ran her palms down, cupping each breast and flicking one nipple lightly with her thumb. Narcissa groaned, and arched into her touch. 

“You sewed something in,” Hermione whispered into her ear, and Narcissa nodded. “That’s cheating.”

“Any complaints?”

“None whatsoever.” 

“Good.” Narcissa lifted her head and kissed Hermione again, bruising this time, lips hot and demanding. Hermione responded with a moan, her hands dropping to Narcissa’s waist to pull her even closer. She could feel the blood pounding around her body as their hips touched, as Narcissa’s breasts brushed her own, as she felt the blonde’s fingers slipping around to her lower back. Every touch was charged. Hermione could feel her skin, oversensitive and tingling under her dress, every bit of her body aching to be touched, and she whimpered a little against Narcissa’s lips. 

“Too much?” Narcissa whispered, pulling back a little, and Hermione shook her head. 

“Not enough.”

Narcissa stepped back. Hermione saw blue eyes darkened to smoke, before hands on her shoulders turned her around. 

“This dress is beautiful on you.” Narcissa found the hidden zip with one hand, and lowered her other hand to Hermione’s hip. Her voice was husky, her fingers splaying over Hermione’s abdomen, and Hermione felt the zip coming down exquisitely, tortuously slowly. “It’s almost a shame to take it off.”

“Thought you’d like it,” Hermione murmured. Narcissa’s hand slipped lower to tease the top of her thigh, and she let her head fall backwards, resting her cheek against the blonde’s, and felt lips press lightly against the corner of her mouth. 

The zip sank a little bit lower. 

“Move your hair for me.”

Hermione obeyed the request without thinking about it, shifting her curls over her shoulder, and Narcissa’s lips dropped to the newly exposed skin on her back. Hot, delicate kisses dropped onto her spine, following the zip as Narcissa slid it down, her other hand back on Hermione’s hip and holding her steady. Every kiss felt like it set a nerve ending on fire, and by the time Narcissa had reached the bottom of the zip and Hermione’s lower back, Hermione felt as if she could barely breathe. 

“Turn around.”

Again, she obeyed without question. Narcissa was crouching down, her hand now running up the slit in the skirt of the dress. Hermione’s heart thudded as Narcissa skimmed her thigh, thumb teasing the inside and skating higher, hot gaze holding Hermione’s. 

“Take it off.”

Slowly, Hermione lifted her hands to her shoulders. The material was loose now and the thick straps slid easily down her arms, revealing the black lace bra that she’d worn underneath, the cups plunging deeply over her breasts. A tiny smile crossed her lips as she saw Narcissa’s lips part slightly. She took her time in moving the dress down, over her stomach to her hips, letting Narcissa give it the gentle tug it needed to pool to the floor, and she stepped out of it, shifting it to one side with her foot. 

“Stunning,” Narcissa breathed, and Hermione closed her eyes as she felt fingers trail up her legs, stopping just short of where she really needed them. She was throbbing now. Every sense was heightened; she could smell Narcissa’s perfume, the wine lingering on their lips, the soft linen smell of the bedroom, something headier and darker that she knew was arousal. Lips pressed against the top of the scrap of black lace that matched the bra, and she moaned, running her fingers lightly over Narcissa’s hair. Warm breath brushed along her stomach. She knew Narcissa had to be able to sense how wet she was becoming, and she didn’t care. Usually it made her embarrassed, but there was something so tender, almost reverential, in Narcissa’s eyes and touch that it never even crossed her mind. 

“Up,” she whispered to the blonde, and Narcissa slowly rose to her feet, her hands coming up to cup Hermione’s breasts. Hermione kissed her again before sliding the cardigan off Narcissa’s shoulders, and Narcissa shifted her hands to allow it to fall to the floor. 

“You’ll need to hang that up,” Hermione teased, and Narcissa bent down to pick it up. She walked over to a cream panelled door, taking her time, knowing Hermione was watching her every move in the dress, and pulled it open to reveal a walk-in wardrobe that ran the length of the room. Carefully hanging the cardigan up, she shot a glance back at Hermione before stepping out and closing the door. 

“Seems you have learned something after all.”

“More than you might think.” Hermione slipped her hand under Narcissa’s arm, where she had already felt the zip hidden underneath the seam of the fabric. It moved smoothly, and Hermione felt Narcissa breathe in sharply as her fingers skated over skin. “I know there must be another one on the other side.”

Narcissa nodded, and Hermione smiled. Her fingers found it swiftly. As she reached up to lower the now-slack dress from Narcissa’s shoulders, the blonde caught her hands, her lips capturing Hermione’s in a heated, slow kiss. Hermione felt her hands being guided to the shoulders of the dress, their joined fingers pushing it down, and she felt desire flood her all over again as she let go of Narcissa’s hands to cup her breasts, skin to skin, nipples pebbled against the palm of her hands. 

“Beautiful,” she murmured, and Narcissa let her head fall back with a moan as Hermione lowered her lips and took a nipple in her mouth. Her tongue swept teasingly over it, her lips sucking lightly before she let go with a tiny, gentle bite, and turned her attention to the other one. 

Her hands dropped to Narcissa’s waist, where the fabric of the dress was bunched up over her hips. Somewhat reluctantly, she moved her lips back up to Narcissa’s neck, and the blonde let out a small moan of frustration. 

“I also know…” Hermione murmured, smiling at Narcissa’s impatience, “that, under a dress like this, you either have to wear silk - no visible lines - or nothing at all.”

Narcissa hummed, her own hands moving to Hermione’s breasts, teasing them through the lace of the bra. 

“And how do you know that?”

“There’s a dress in the shop.” Hermione’s voice was low. She nipped lightly at Narcissa’s ear, chuckling at the hiss she received in return. “I’m sure you remember it. Green. Lace back.”

“I do.” Narcissa palmed her nipples under the bra, and Hermione sucked in a breath. The blonde’s voice was barely above a whisper. “But even silk wouldn’t save you with that one.”

“Noted.” Hermione fingered the dress, her hands grazing Narcissa’s stomach, her lips still teasing the blonde’s neck. “So which is it?”

“Darling, it’s February.” Narcissa groaned as Hermione’s tongue found a particularly sensitive spot. “Tempting as it was…”

Slowly, Hermione pushed the dress down, over the curve of Narcissa’s hips. She had to bend down to push it all the way off; the fabric was so tight and clinging that it didn’t fall, and she ran her hands all the way down Narcissa’s legs to her ankles. Milky skin felt smooth under her fingers, and she couldn’t resist running her hands back up as she stood, stepping back to take in the woman in front of her. Her breath caught in her throat. Narcissa was even more stunning than she had imagined - and she’d spent a lot of time imagining. 

Almost involuntarily, she reached out to run her fingers over the top of the light blue silk. 

“Good,” she whispered. She raised her eyes to Narcissa’s, and saw her own raw need mirrored in the blonde. “Do you know how jealous I would have been if you’d walked out in front of those cameras with nothing?”

“Noted,” Narcissa murmured, the possessive hint in Hermione’s voice making her eyes spark. “I assume, though, that you also know how easily silk gets ruined.” She reached for Hermione, pulling her closer and moving her hands around Hermione’s back to the clasp of the bra. “And these are well on the way.”

Hermione groaned, a low sound deep in her throat as Narcissa swiftly undid her bra, letting it fall to the floor, and lowered her lips to Hermione’s breasts. She was conscious of a deft tongue sweeping over first one nipple and then the other, teasing and licking and biting and sucking, until, just when she thought she really couldn’t take any more, Narcissa lifted her head and claimed Hermione’s lips in a deep, hot kiss. Hermione felt shaky, trembling with arousal, her body suddenly on a knife edge. She pulled back a little, breathing hard.

“Cissy…” 

Narcissa released her and nodded towards the bed, a silent order this time that Hermione had no trouble obeying. She lay down on top of the duvet, the cool linen soft and balmy on her overheated skin, and watched Narcissa slowly follow her. The blonde’s gaze never wavered, even as she slipped off the silver ring on her finger, unthreaded her earrings, snapped the clasp on the delicate silver watch she always wore. Hermione felt her chest rising and falling hard under Narcissa’s eyes, but she didn’t move. She didn’t feel self-conscious either; she was too far gone for that. She watched, heat pooling in her stomach, as Narcissa laid the jewellery on the bedside table, and then turned to the bed. Resting one knee on the mattress, the blonde leaned over slightly, and trailed one hand slowly all the way down Hermione’s body, from her neck to her breasts to her waist, over her hip and down the inside of her thighs and back up again. 

“Please.” Hermione heard the edge of desperation in her own hoarse whisper, and she felt Narcissa’s hand, slowly, far too slowly, inch back down towards the inside of her thighs and the edge of her knickers. 

“Is this what you want?”

Hermione moaned and tried to arch her hips, but Narcissa’s hand kept her firmly on the bed. “Yes. Please.” She knew she was on the verge of begging, but she didn’t care. 

Without another word, her gaze never leaving Hermione’s face, Narcissa dipped one finger under the lace, and Hermione let out a small cry as she felt the blonde slip between wet folds and skate over her clit. She was so sensitive. It was too much and nowhere near enough, and she whimpered as Narcissa stilled her hand.  The whimper almost turned into a cry of frustration as she felt Narcissa’s fingers shift away, but it was replaced with a long, low moan as Narcissa brought her finger to first her own lips and then to Hermione’s. Tasting herself on Narcissa’s skin nearly brought her over the edge, and she squirmed a little on the duvet. 

Narcissa slipped forward onto the bed, kneeling so that she could gently pull the lace down. And then Hermione felt Narcissa’s hand, finally, exactly where she needed it, deft fingers already searching for the places that would make her come undone. 

“Look at me.”

With an effort, Hermione opened her eyes. Narcissa hovered over her, one hand propping herself up and the other teasing, stroking, working some kind of magic, and the look of open, heated desire on the blonde’s face was almost too much. 

“So responsive,” the blonde murmured, dipping her head to Hermione’s breast. The sharp flick of her tongue made Hermione gasp. “You are perfect, darling.”

Hermione arched her hips a little, pushing herself into Narcissa’s touch, and the blonde smiled against her skin. 

“What is it you want, Hermione?”

“You know what I want,” Hermione managed. She couldn’t think straight, couldn’t find the words to articulate how desperately she needed more, and Narcissa lifted her head. 

“This?” she murmured, sinking two fingers suddenly, deeply, inside, and Hermione cried out in pleasure. “Or this?” She moved back, trailing her lips slowly down Hermione’s body to the inside of her thighs, her fingers still moving, fucking Hermione gently while her thumb traced almost lazy circles over her clit. 

“Yes,” Hermione could barely speak. “All of it.”

Narcissa chuckled. “Greedy,” she whispered, her breath hot on Hermione’s skin. “You feel exquisite.”

Hermione felt her body clench as Narcissa’s tongue swept lightly over her clit. She was too close. Way too close. She didn’t want to come this soon, but god, Narcissa was good at this, and she’d already waited so long. Her nipples felt tight and strained, and she unconsciously palmed one breast, trying to soothe it with her own fingers. 

“I can’t…”

She had been going to say that she couldn’t last much longer, that she needed Narcissa to slow down, but the blonde cut her off with another light flick of her tongue. 

“I don’t want you to.” Her fingers curled inside Hermione, and her thumb and lips alternately soothed and assaulted her clit. “We have all night, darling. This isn’t the only time I’m going to make you unravel.”

Narcissa’s words sent a throbbing wave through Hermione, and she knew she was gone. Another few flicks of Narcissa’s deft tongue, another curl of her fingers, another sweep of her thumb, a whispered order to come because the blonde needed to see her fall apart, and Hermione felt her body convulse into an intense orgasm that left her limbs shaking and her body tingling. Wave after wave washed over her, and she knew she cried out but she didn’t know what. Maybe Narcissa’s name, maybe a curse, maybe something incoherent. Narcissa’s tongue and fingers continued to caress her through it, soaking up every last ripple of pleasure, until Hermione had nothing left and simply lay there, breathing hard, her eyes closed and her body limp. Blindly, she reached out her arms for Narcissa, and felt the blonde move up the bed. 

“You are perfect, darling,” she whispered again, her arms wrapping around Hermione and her mouth pressing kisses to Hermione’s face. When Hermione sought out her lips, she tasted herself and gave a little moan. She was warm, heavy and satisfied, but as her hands roamed Narcissa’s body, taking in every inch of pale skin and smooth curves, she felt a small twinge of renewed arousal already. 

Opening her eyes, she sat up and flipped them over, pushing Narcissa gently down on the bed below her. The blonde’s blue eyes sparked, and Hermione lowered her head to kiss her again while slipping one hand in between Narcissa’s legs. 

“You do know I haven’t got the patience to take this slowly,” she murmured, and Narcissa’s breath hitched as Hermione’s fingers trailed across silk, feeling the dampness seeping through the thin material.  

“Neither have I.”

Hermione felt a fresh wave of desire shoot through her as her fingers found Narcissa’s clit under the silk, and the blonde let out an indecent moan, reaching down to take the knickers off. Hermione caught her hand, her heart thudding in her chest. She held it, firmly, while she used the other to work the silk down, before slowly moving their entwined fingers into the heat between Narcissa’s legs. 

Fuck,” Narcissa groaned at the same time as Hermione, as they both felt how wet the blonde was. “This isn’t going to take long…

Hermione silenced her with a kiss. “We’ve waited long enough,” she whispered, and smirked a little. “And this isn’t the only time I’m going to make you come tonight.”

She lifted their hands, and brought both her finger and Narcissa’s to her lips. Narcissa’s eyes turned impossibly dark, and Hermione moaned at her first taste of the blonde, sweet and salty and intoxicating. Shifting herself down the bed, she gently pushed open Narcissa’s legs and settled herself in between them. 

“You are stunning,” she whispered. 

She kept her eyes open, watching Narcissa. Each touch of her fingers, each swipe of her tongue brought a different reaction from the blonde, a breathy moan or a shift of her hips or a little scrunch of her face as she tried to keep control. When Hermione slipped inside, Narcissa cried out softly, tight wetness already clenching around Hermione’s fingers, and when she sucked lightly on Narcissa’s clit the blonde swore, her hips jerking. Hermione couldn’t get enough. She’d never wanted anyone so much, never wanted to do this with anyone so much, and every taste of Narcissa was making her more and more turned on herself. Without thinking about it, she whispered it against the blonde’s thigh, and Narcissa lifted her head, her gaze scorching.

‘Then touch yourself too.”

Hermione’s eyes caught hers, and the blonde nodded, once. 

“I want to watch you, darling.”

Hermione thought she would come undone just from the look on Narcissa’s face. Shifting her hips so that she could reach herself, she kept teasing Narcissa’s clit with her tongue, kept slowly pushing her fingers inside, and moved her other hand down to her own clit. She gasped as she touched herself and Narcissa at the same time. Pleasure so acute it was almost pain swept through her as she heard Narcissa’s moan, felt the blonde become even wetter, and she tried to focus, to think of something, anything, to delay her own orgasm until Narcissa came. 

She didn’t have to wait long. She flicked Narcissa’s clit with her tongue at the same time as flicking her own with her fingers, and the spasm it sent through her made her moan deeply against the blonde. Narcissa shattered, all control gone. Hermione moved her hand so that she could hold her, soothe her through the shocks of pleasure, watching as Narcissa slowly came down from the high, and she thought she’d never seen anything more beautiful. 

After a few minutes, Narcissa’s eyes opened, and she smiled at Hermione as she slowly sat up. 

“Come here,” she whispered, and Hermione moved so that she was straddling the blonde’s lap. Narcissa’s arms were gentle around her, her lips soft against Hermione’s breast, her fingers tender as she moved them down between their bodies, to the spot between Hermione’s legs that was still throbbing with need. Her touch was slow and loving, and it wasn’t long before it sent Hermione spiralling into another orgasm that came from somewhere so deep inside her it left her exhausted. She clung to Narcissa, breathing hard, and let the blonde lower them both back to the pillows. 

She didn’t know how long they lay in each other’s arms, savouring the warmth and closeness, drifting in a haze, but eventually Narcissa shifted, her lips pressing a kiss to Hermione’s head. 

“I need to go to the bathroom and get this makeup off.”

Hermione groaned at the thought of getting up, but nodded reluctantly. She needed to do the same. Narcissa handed her a robe, a silk one with a deep pink floral pattern, and Hermione left the blonde to use the bathroom first while she padded, dazed, into the kitchen, getting herself a glass of water from the tap. She gulped it down in one go, suddenly thirsty, and refilled the glass before getting one for Narcissa. 

“Bathroom’s free.” Narcissa came up behind her, wrapping her arms around Hermione’s waist and pressing a kiss to her neck. “Come back to bed when you’re done, darling. I’m not finished with you yet.”

Chapter Text

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.”

 

Chapter Text

“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.”

“No worries.”

“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.”

“No need.”

“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?”

Hermione nodded. 

“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. 

“Beautiful.”

“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.”