“That was delicious, Molly, thank you.” Hermione leaned back in her seat at the large kitchen table, and sighed in contentment. She was full. So full her stomach almost hurt. It was a regular Sunday lunch occurrence, because everything Harry’s foster mother turned out was always so enticing that she couldn’t say no. Harry, sitting across the table from her, was in the same state.
“You’re very welcome, dear.” The bustling redhead patted Harry fondly on the shoulder as she walked past him with a scraped-clean serving bowl. “You’re looking far too thin.”
Hermione smiled. She wasn’t sure if Molly had been referring to her or Harry or both of them, but it probably made no difference. Molly Weasley always worried. She worried about everyone whether they were family or not, and after several years of close friendship with Harry, Hermione had found herself definitively counted as family. She didn’t mind. Her own parents were happily enjoying their retirement in Australia, and regular Sunday lunches cooked by Molly Weasley were as good a substitute as she could have hoped for.
“Hermione’s been going to yoga,” Harry winked at her. “Maybe it’s more athletic than they make out.”
“Hardly,” Hermione scoffed. “Or at least, the others in the class might be but I’m not. I can still barely touch my toes.”
Molly Weasley winced from the sink. “Good luck with that, dear, but it sounds like purgatory to me. I never was one for sports. I’m not sure where Ginny gets her love of football from.”
“Is Ron around at all today?’ Harry asked after his foster brother, the only one of the five Weasley boys still living at home, and Molly nodded.
“He was on an early shift, so he should be…”
But she hadn’t finished her sentence before they heard the front door opening and then slamming shut, and the sound of boots being kicked off and a jacket slung carelessly over a hook in the hallway. Ron was never quiet. Molly rolled her eyes fondly, and went to fetch the plate of lunch that she’d kept aside for him.
“Hi Harry, Hermione.” Ron came into the kitchen, already pulling the tie from his policeman’s uniform. He gave his mother a kiss before flopping down on a spare chair at the table. “Something smells good.”
Hermione got up to do some of the washing up while Molly fussed around Ron, but she was pushed firmly back down into her seat with a motherly hand and twinkling eyes.
“I can manage, Hermione. You sit and relax.”
She did as she was told. The Weasley’s large, rambling kitchen was the perfect place to sit, warm and content, after a large meal, and let the afternoon drift away as Ron shovelled chicken and roast potatoes into his mouth and talked about his shift. He hadn’t bothered to get changed, and his sergeant’s stripes stood out sharply on his blue shirt. Hermione had been almost as proud as Harry when he passed his exams. She had a soft spot for Ron, partly because she knew how fond Harry was of him: being plucked from the care system at the age of eleven and deposited with a family like the Weasley’s had been incredibly lucky, but had also taken a lot of adjustment. Harry never talked about those first years much, but Hermione knew that Ron had made a real effort to help.
“…and so this guy’s on the bridge, car stalled, blocking the entire one way system because he took a wrong turning and he’s a new driver and he’s having a panic attack at the idea of being lost on the wrong side of the river, and then…”
“Poor man,” Molly tutted.
“Waste of police time, if you ask me,” Ron grumbled into what was left of his broccoli. “They had traffic cops, us, a mediator because we didn’t know if he was going to jump or try and drive over the barrier…all because he took a wrong turning.”
“Imagine,” Molly shook her head. She took Ron’s empty plate away and replaced it with a bowl full of rhubarb crumble and ice cream. “The poor man needs help. I hope you made sure he was all right.”
“Course I did, Mum.” Ron rolled his eyes, and smirked at Harry. “He got the once-over by the paramedics, then got blue-lighted back to the road he should have taken in the first place.” He swirled his ice cream around the warm crumble, waiting for it to melt. “What have you two been up to?”
“Big new case,” Harry replied. “An estate. Not sure how much we can say?”He raised an eyebrow at Hermione, who shrugged.
“It’s been in the papers. Tom Riddle. I’d never heard of him but apparently he was a musician back in the seventies…”
“Tom Riddle?” Molly interrupted from the last of the washing up. “Not Tom Riddle of The Death Eaters?”
Harry’s eyes went wide. “Don’t tell me you were a punk fan too. It was bad enough finding out the boss used to headbang.”
“No, but your father was,” Molly chuckled, and Ron’s mouth dropped open around a spoonful of crumble.
“Oar oking?” He swallowed. “I never knew that!”
“Close your mouth, Ronald, no one wants to see your half-eaten crumble,” Molly admonished him. “Yes, Arthur was a fan in his time. Not me, I preferred a bit of gentle country rock myself. But Arthur had all the albums on vinyl.” She smiled fondly as she remembered. “He used to insist on playing them to me. Ghastly things. I think he’s still got them somewhere, you should ask him.”
“So this guy’s dead?” Ron asked, and Harry nodded.
“And the estate’s a mess. Andromeda and I are dealing with the properties, Hermione’s dealing with the song rights.” He smirked, and Hermione groaned inwardly. “With Narcissa.”
“Ummph.” Ron grimaced around the last huge mouthful of pudding. “Howth at goey?”
Ron swallowed again and grinned. “How’s that going?”
“It’s not, yet.” Hermione glared at Harry. She deeply regretted the evening she’d got drunk enough to confess her attraction to the blonde lawyer to Harry and Ron. “She’s been too busy finishing off another case to start this one. I’ve been going through some of the stuff Andromeda passed across, but I think it’ll be the end of this week before she can look at it too.”
“And it’s not like you’re hurrying her along,” Harry laughed. “You usually avoid her like the plague. If I didn’t know better I’d say Andromeda put you two together on purpose for a bit of fun.”
“I don’t avoid her!” Hermione protested. “I don’t usually have a reason to work with her, that’s all. And of course I’m not hurrying her, Harry, you don’t hurry Narcissa Black…"
“You’ll have to get over the open-mouthed awe if you’re gonna work with her…hey!” Ron laughed as Hermione plucked a grape from the fruit bowl at the end of the table and threw it at him. “Just saying it could get awkward if you’re stammering all the time, that’s all.”
“Oh for goodness sake, Ron, Hermione doesn’t stammer!” Molly looked horrified at the very idea. “It might not be her first choice, but I’m sure she’ll do a very good job with whatever it is they need to do together.”
Both Harry and Ron smirked behind their mother’s back. Hermione never could do much wrong in Molly Weasley’s eyes - she suspected it was because of all the times she’d sat up late studying with Harry at university, dragging him kicking and screaming through his exams - but she was grateful that Harry and Ron had never let slip about her crush. She was also thankful that she hadn’t mentioned the disastrous meeting with Narcissa at the yoga studio to them. They would have teased her about it for weeks. But just as she was preparing herself for more innuendo about what she and Narcissa would need to do together, the front door slammed again and Ginny appeared, filthy and tired and grinning after football training, and she breathed a sigh of relief.
The afternoon disappeared in laughter and conversation and gentle bickering just as it always did. Hermione left late, happy and content, just as she always did. This time, though, she had Narcissa on her mind, and Ron and Harry’s teasing hadn’t helped her decide whether she was looking forward to working with the woman or not.
It was towards the end of the week when she finally had an email from Narcissa, asking if she would be free to start work on the Riddle estate later that afternoon. She replied almost immediately saying that would be fine, and spent the rest of the morning trying to distract herself with other work. She had several smaller cases ongoing: a couple of straightforward divorces, an adoption, and a domestic violence case which Andromeda had taken pro bono and which Hermione had asked to take the lead on. While Harry was determined to focus his efforts ultimately on juvenile law and child protection, Hermione had found that her interests really lay in the junction of family and criminal law, and it was an area Andromeda seemed keen to encourage.
She was just in the middle of an application for a non-molestation order that she doubted would have any effect whatsoever, when the sharp ring of her desk phone made her jump. An internal number showed on the display, and her stomach flipped when she realised which one it was.
“Narcissa?” She quickly checked her watch. “I’m not late, am I?”
“Not yet.” Narcissa sounded amused. “I just wondered if you wanted coffee. Katie’s popping out to the place on the corner.”
“Oh.” Hermione breathed out. She hadn’t managed to get lunch today, so… “Please. One of their mocha lattes with an extra shot?”
There was a pause, and she could almost hear Narcissa’s smirk on the end of the phone. “Another fussy coffee order. Clearly my sister is rubbing off on you. Okay, see you in a bit.”
And with that Hermione heard a click and the dial tone, and she blew out the rest of her breath so slowly it made her feel a little dizzy.
She managed to get the non-molestation application to a point where she could save it and leave it. Then, checking her watch again, she quickly ran her fingers through her curls and swiped some balm across her lips. She didn’t want to admit that she’d been making more of an effort with her appearance for the last few days, taking extra care with her makeup and selecting the clothes that always made her feel good. She did not want to feel cobbled together when she met with Narcissa, and yet now, despite the light touch of eyeliner and the softly scented balm, and the trouser suit that usually made her feel like she ruled the world - and so was usually kept for court appearances only - cobbled together was exactly how she felt. But then, as she grabbed the Riddle file and headed out into the corridor, she thought she probably would always feel like that in Narcissa’s presence.
Ron and Harry had been right. She really had to get over this if she was going to work with Narcissa so closely for the next few weeks.
She climbed the stairs and turned down the corridor that held Narcissa’s office, right above Andromeda’s, and was greeted with a smile from Katie Bell, Narcissa’s secretary.
“One mocha latte, extra shot.” She handed Hermione a takeout cup, and Hermione took it gratefully.
“Thank you, Katie.”
“No problem. You can go on in, she’s finished on the phone.”
Hermione took a deep breath, balanced the file under her arm and her coffee in one hand, and pushed open the door.
Despite being exactly the same size and layout, Narcissa’s office couldn’t have been more different from Andromeda’s. There wasn’t a file out of place, and Hermione could see that the books on the bookshelf were all in alphabetical order. Where Andromeda had pens scattered across her desk, Narcissa had a beautifully painted ceramic pot full of them. While Andromeda’s pot plant was clinging on by a thread, Narcissa’s was thriving. There was nothing on the floor of Narcissa’s office except a very expensive carpet, and Narcissa certainly wasn’t sitting on it like Andromeda often did. She was sitting behind her desk, blonde hair loose over her shoulders and coffee cup in hand, and for a horrible second Hermione’s breath caught in her throat as she realised that Narcissa’s cream blouse was sleeveless.
“Take a seat.” Narcissa pointed to the chair on the other side of the desk, and Hermione obediently sat down. Long hair trailed over exposed, pale shoulders as Narcissa put her cup down, reached into a drawer for a legal pad, and picked up a pair of reading glasses. She’d taken the lid off her coffee and Hermione could smell the strong black liquid inside. No wonder she’d said Hermione’s latte was fussy.
“So. What do we have?”
Hermione grimaced and held up the bulging file she was carrying, and Narcissa swore under her breath.
“Well, I suppose too much is better than nothing at all.”
Setting the file down on the desk and flipping it open, Hermione forced herself to concentrate.
“I’ve divided it into five.” She picked up the first bundle of papers. “This is a list of all the band’s known recorded songs, together with official credits for music and lyrics. This…” She indicated a much smaller bundle, “is the paperwork from the record company - and he was only ever with one, so there shouldn’t be any contracts floating around anywhere else. These are Tom Riddle’s bank statements from the past three years - or at least the ones we’ve been able to get hold of, it’s not a complete record. These are copies of the claims from the other band members. And these….” She indicated the final, biggest bundle, “are the notated scores and lyrics that were found among his possessions. None of them were deposited with the bank or with the lawyers, but they are all dated.”
Narcissa looked like she was about to swear again, but took a large mouthful of her coffee instead.
“You don’t need to officially register a song to copyright it though, do you?” Hermione thought quickly back to the single university term that had been devoted to intellectual property, and wished that she’d gone back over her notes a third time before this meeting. “I thought most people today just emailed themselves a copy or something, so that they have a date on record.”
“No you don’t, and yes they do. Which is why he should have either sent himself a copy and left the envelope unopened - and made sure the post office stamp was clear with the date - or stuck his hand into his pocket and paid his lawyers to do it for him.” Narcissa sighed. “But at least you know something of what you’re doing, that’s a good start.”
Hermione wasn’t sure how to take the barbed compliment, and so drank some of her own coffee instead as Narcissa reached across the desk and pulled the file towards her. For a few moments there was silence as the blonde flicked through the papers. Hermione was aware of red nail polish, the gold-rimmed glasses, the subtle fragrance of perfume that drifted lazily around them. The window was open to muted city traffic and birdsong and a warm patch of spring sunshine, and she took a few deep breaths, trying to remember what Nicole had taught them in the Tuesday evening class. Inhale abdomen, diaphragm, chest; exhale chest, diaphragm, abdomen. The breath is like a deep wave. She was just starting to relax a bit and get into some kind of gentle rhythm that didn’t feel too forced or awkward, when Narcissa tapped the desk loudly with a fingernail.
“Okay.” The blonde nodded to herself, and leaned back in her chair. “We need to determine which royalties were legal and which ones weren’t.”
“You sound very sure he was scamming.”
“Of course he was.” Narcissa flicked to the bank statements. “The year before last he totalled over five million in royalties. That amount did not come from those contracts alone, the songs aren’t that popular any more.”
“But how?” Hermione wasn’t sure she understood. “If there was no contract, then surely he couldn’t have been paid?”
“You’re forgetting all this was set up forty years ago. Too many people were too lax on the paperwork; what mattered most was who you were and who you knew.” Narcissa turned to the contracts, and flicked one of them derisively with her fingernail. “Durmstrang - the record company - were tiny when they signed The Death Eaters. They grew together with the band, as it were. They were all friends, they all knew each other’s girlfriends and kids. All Riddle would have needed to do was to walk into the studio and say he wrote the song, and they would have taken his word. They didn’t bother with contracts until they had to.”
Hermione nodded slowly. Narcissa had clearly done some research.
Narcissa picked up the song catalogue, and split it in two. “You take half, I’ll take half.” She handed the first part of the bundle to Hermione. “We need to go through every song, and cross-reference the official credits with the royalty contracts and - most importantly - his own scores.”
Hermione’s eyes widened, but Narcissa was focused on the file.
“If his name is on the credits and there’s a corresponding contract, highlight the song in green and mark it with the contract number. If he’s on the credits and he has a handwritten score that’s dated, highlight it in orange and again, give both a number. If he’s on the credits but has neither of those things, highlight it in red. Obviously there’s the complication of songs having been jointly written and the contract or score being elsewhere, but it’s a start.”
“And the claims from the other band members?”
“We’ll go through those afterwards.”
“I assume we’ll need to speak to them at some point?”
Narcissa nodded. “Unfortunately. We’ll need to confirm any proofs of copyright that they have. But this will do for the moment. If you don’t mind working up here this afternoon and making a start, I can ask Katie to copy everything tomorrow so that we each have a set to work from.”
“Of course,” Hermione nodded, and took another deep breath. She was a little overwhelmed by the sheer amount of legwork; she’d known it would be a big case and Andromeda had warned them, but she hadn’t quite realised how tangled everything was.
“Don’t be put off,” Narcissa gave her a quick smile. “It’s one of those things that might never get completely finalised. We’ll just have to do the best we can with what we’ve got.”
“I know.” But she couldn’t help thinking of the domestic violence case waiting for her downstairs, and something of her reluctance must have shown on her face.
“It’s not your preferred area.”
It wasn’t a question, but Hermione slowly shook her head. “If I’m honest….no. Estates and property aren’t really my thing.”
Narcissa slipped her glasses off and eyed Hermione appraisingly. “You want to focus on the criminal element of family law.”
“How did you…”
“I do talk to my sisters.” Narcissa looked amused, and then her expression became serious. “Domestic violence, abuse, harassment…it’s tough.”
Hermione raised an eyebrow. “Are you trying to talk me out of it?”
“Not at all.” Narcissa leaned forward, and Hermione was pinned in place by blue eyes that she couldn’t look away from. “But remember that there are lots of ways to make a difference. You don’t particularly want to do this because you think the estate of a multi-millionaire musician isn’t a worthy cause.”
“I didn’t say…”
“You didn’t need to.”
Hermione felt her face flush. She hadn’t really admitted it even to herself. For the past week she’d been trying to focus on the challenge and the learning experience of the Riddle case, and had ignored the little dismissive voice in her head that said she could be doing far better things.
“You aren’t going to be saving anyone from an abusive husband, that’s true. But you are, hopefully, going to be bringing some peace of mind to a bereaved family and believe me, that is worth every hour you will spend on this. However obnoxious they are, at least some of them will be grieving in their own way. Beyond that, you will be getting compensation for artists who have likely been cheated for years out of what they were rightfully owed. Don’t dismiss it too quickly.”
Hermione flushed even deeper, but Narcissa was already reaching into her desk drawer. She retrieved a handful of highlighter pens, and handed three across the desk.
Hermione nodded, still feeling slightly ashamed, and they got to work.
Three hours later, Hermione’s eyes were swimming with song titles, contract numbers, and traffic-light coloured lines. Her neck was stiff. She’d shed her suit jacket and rolled her shirt sleeves up and finished her coffee long ago. Katie had brought them bottles of water. But when the clock struck six, even Narcissa sighed and threw down her highlighter.
“I can’t take any more tonight.”
“I don’t think I can either.” Hermione put the cap back on her pen and stretched her arms up to the ceiling, groaning as her spine popped. “What’s your half looking like so far?”
“Mostly red,” Narcissa snorted. “Yours?”
“About equal between the three.”
“Interesting.” Narcissa stood up and stretched, walking over to the window, and Hermione noticed that she’d slipped her shoes off. Her skirt was tight and clung to her curves, and Hermione tried not to stare. “I gave you the first half of the catalogue, didn’t I?”
“Yes,” Hermione checked. “And it’s done by date order, not alphabetical.” She looked up at Narcissa. “I guess he got more brazen as time went on.”
“It would seem so.”
Hermione hesitated, and then remembered her resolve to not be so awestruck around the blonde woman. “Did you really sneak out to go to a gig?”
She wondered if she’d overstepped, but Narcissa chuckled. “I did. I was only ten. I was so jealous of Bella going - although of course she didn’t have permission either. Both of us got grounded for three months.”
Hermione laughed. The image of a small Narcissa following her older sister to a punk gig was so unexpected and somehow so believable that she couldn’t help it.
“Have you listened to any of the music?” Narcissa asked, and Hermione shook her head.
“Not yet. I’m not sure where to start, to be honest.” She gestured to the song catalogue. “Three hundred songs and twelve albums?”
“The early stuff was the best.” Narcissa padded towards a tall cupboard in the corner of the room, next to the printer and scanner. “Try the second and third albums. They’re on YouTube.”
“Azkaban and…Nagini’s Tongue?”
“Very explicit lyrics, I would wait until your neighbours are out if you want to turn it up.”
“Oh.” But Hermione was no longer focusing on the albums. Narcissa had pulled open the cupboard door, and she was watching, almost mesmerised, as the blonde began to unbutton her blouse.
“Sorry,” Narcissa said, sounding totally unconcerned that Hermione was still in the room. “I told Andie I’d babysit and I want to change first.”
Her voice brought Hermione to her senses, and she almost squeaked as Narcissa slipped off the blouse to reveal a cream lace bra, the delicate floral pattern plunging low on her breasts.
“I’ll…uh… leave you to it?”
“No need, I assume I don’t have anything you haven’t seen before.” Narcissa smirked, and Hermione swallowed. Her palms were clammy and she felt flushed all over, and she wanted to say that of course she’d seen women in their underwear before, but none of those women had been Narcissa and so it was completely different. She turned back to the papers on the desk, and began gathering them loudly together as Narcissa pulled a t-shirt out of the cupboard. Out of the corner of her eye, Hermione could see the rail was hung with a suit jacket, a coat, several scarves, some tops, and a pair of jeans. A gym bag, the same one that she had seen Narcissa carrying in the changing rooms, sat at the bottom. Narcissa clearly spent a lot of time at the office.
“I’d like to get this first comparison of the records done in the next week.” Narcissa’s voice cut across Hermione’s increasingly frantic paper shuffling. She didn’t dare turn around as she heard Narcissa slipping her skirt down, pulling jeans on instead, zipping them up. “Is that manageable with your other cases?”
“I think so,” she croaked, and she sensed Narcissa’s amusement.
“I’m dressed, Hermione, you can stop hiding your blushes in song titles that are probably less decent than I am.”
Hermione immediately stilled her hands. Remembering, yet again, her resolve to not turn into another nervous wreck, she forced herself to turn around. It didn’t help much. Narcissa dressed in tight blue jeans and a black t-shirt was no less attractive than Narcissa in sports gear, and only marginally less appealing than Narcissa in lace.
“I’ll get it to you by the end of next week,” she confirmed, trying to sound more confident, but Narcissa shook her head.
“You won’t get it to me, Hermione, we’re working together. I suggest a check-in on Tuesday of next week, and then an afternoon meeting next Friday to go over what we’ve managed to do. Check your appointments schedule when you can and let me know if that suits.”
Wrong-footed once more, Hermione simply nodded. She knew she would make it suit. She didn’t know if she would end up dreading Tuesday or looking forward to it, but she already knew it was going to be a very long weekend, and that she was going to have serious trouble putting the image of Narcissa and the cream bra out of her mind.