Hermione wanted nothing more than to curl up in her armchair one last time and begin to translate Bellatrix’s final diary. However, her afternoon was already booked.
Ginny was returning to Ireland that evening via Portkey, and Hermione was supposed to join everyone at The Burrow for a farewell dinner for both of them.
However, before she could even be distracted by a home-cooked meal, Hermione had an appointment at the Ministry, and it would have been silly to miss it, no matter her misgivings about the plan, or her swimming mind that badly needed to be left alone to think.
There was paperwork that needed to be filled out to document her new address out of the country. It was no surprise really that there might be a few forms to sign, although the heavy stack of parchment the Ministry witch handed to Hermione had still managed to catch her off-guard.
By the time it was finally all done, she hurried towards the exit. She had been there far longer than she had expected, and all she wanted was to get outside again. She was just about to join the queue for the fireplaces when something stopped her dead in her tracks.
“Granger, what a surprise,” she heard a familiar voice drawl from beside her.
“Malfoy?” Hermione said, turning towards him. She thought he still seemed a bit deflated even though days had passed since their last conversation. Something of his smarmy charm had disappeared, and despite his glum eyes, it still felt like an improvement to her.
“How have you been? It’s been strange not seeing you around every day,” he said with a tight sort of smile.
Hermione shrugged. Her heart fluttered in her chest as she remembered those first mornings of confusion at waking up in her own bed with thoughts of rising early to get to the Manor in time. “I’ve been all right,” she lied. “How about you? How have things been with your mother since… well, you know?”
“Oh, well, we’re muddling through, I suppose,” Draco said with a shrug of his own.
Hermione frowned. She could imagine that “muddling through” only meant a worsened version of their awkward silences, their one-sided conversations. It was probably the same as ever, only without Draco able to kid himself that his mother was buying all his lies. Her heart ached for both of them.
“If I’m honest with you,” Draco continued, “my mother’s been in a right state since we fought. I suppose that I said some things I should have and…” he trailed off, guiltily. “She’s barely talked to me since except when she has to.”
“Draco, I’m so sorry,” Hermione said, and she meant it. He deserved this stony silence from his mother undoubtedly, but it still wouldn’t do either one of them any good if it went on too long.
Draco smiled, but it failed to reach his eyes. “We’ll get through it,” he said with a stiff nod. “She’s been seeing a lot of Aunt Andromeda lately though, did she tell you about that? Well, I suppose it’s probably very good for her, not that she’d tell me either way.”
As if realizing that he was getting into far too emotional territory for a conversation in the Ministry atrium, Draco cleared his throat and seemed to collect himself. “I have to admit, I do miss having you around the house though. I think Mother misses your company as well, not that she’d ever admit it, of course.”
Hermione managed to smile, but her stomach twisted into knots. That look of pain flashing through Narcissa’s eyes returned to her and made her anxious. It made her want to run to Narcissa’s side, but she didn’t know if that would end up being the best choice of her life or her biggest regret if it turned out she was reading too much into all of this.
Draco shifted awkwardly at Hermione’s pensive silence. “Well, I’ll see you around then. Good luck in Ireland,” he finally said and turned to be off.
“Wait, Draco, before you go, can I give you a piece of advice?” Hermione said, hesitantly.
Draco raised his eyebrow in confusion, but waited to hear what she had to say.
Hermione took a steadying breath and figured that even if this went badly, she really had nothing to lose. “You should tell your mother about you and Harry,” she said simply.
Whatever aura of calm that Draco had managed to cloak himself in before fell away in an instant. He looked shocked enough that a single Bowtruckle might have knocked him flat. He struggled to speak for a few moments, mouthing the beginnings of words that never materialized.
“Did he tell you?” he finally asked in an angry whisper. “Merlin, I should have known that Potter couldn’t keep a secret if his life depended on it. I’m surprised that all of England doesn’t know by now.”
“Don’t blame Harry,” Hermione said. “He didn’t tell me; I guessed, and he didn’t deny it.”
Draco still looked livid and embarrassed. His expression reminded Hermione of when they were in school and one of his pranks wouldn’t turn out the way it was supposed to.
“But never mind that,” Hermione continued. “I’m serious; I think you should tell her. You’re only making things worse by keeping it a secret, and doing far more harm to your relationship by pushing her away. I know you fear she’ll react badly, but you ought to give her a chance to prove you wrong. She won’t take it as badly as you think.”
“No offense, Granger, but you can’t possibly know that.”
Hermione wanted to scoff at that, given that she knew far more about the situation than Draco did, but she was trying to improve the situation for Narcissa, not make it worse.
“I’ve spent a lot of time with your mother over the last few weeks. More than you have,” she said defensively at the annoyed look on Draco’s face. “She loves you, Draco, and she’s only upset because she thinks she’s losing you. If you started talking to her again, you could probably tell her that you’re swearing off magic and becoming a Muggle and she’d still be happier than she is now.”
Draco sniffed and shrugged noncommittally, but Hermione thought she might have gotten through to him, at least a little.
“I’ll keep that in mind,” he said. “But when I tell her I’m becoming a Muggle and she burns the house down, I’m telling her that she has you to blame.”
Hermione laughed and rolled her eyes. “Thanks for the warning,” she said.
With that, they parted ways, and Hermione could only hope that for once, her meddling would do a bit of good, and that he might find at least an ounce of Gryffindor bravery to follow her advice.
Maybe she’d even be able to find some herself.
That evening, Malfoy Manor was silent enough that Narcissa heard footsteps on the stairs all the way from the sitting room. It was likely Draco, about to leave again for the evening. He’d been going out for dinner every day now without even a warning, which was just as well seeing as how the silence during the meal would have been downright grating.
Only an hour earlier, he had come home from work, not that Narcissa had seen him then either, but she had heard the front door as it closed with a heavy thud. Neither one had sought out the other, as was their new habit of avoidance.
To anyone watching from the outside, it would have looked like their relationship had gotten far worse than it had been before, but that wasn’t true. Nothing substantive had changed; only the acts that they had played out to hide the truth. The fight had pulled away the curtains, which had been growing desperately thin as it was. It was almost a relief to see it disappear at last—her polite tolerance, his sickening bravado. The acts had been draining, on both their parts, and they gave little comfort in return.
She expected Draco’s steps to pass the sitting room door on the way out, but instead, she heard them stop. The pause was heavy and expectant as he apparently weighed his options from the hall, giving himself a last moment to escape without seeing her, as he’d done so many nights this week.
Narcissa watched the door as it stood still, and wondered what he wanted badly enough that he would consider ending the stand-off, even when he clearly wasn’t eager to do so.
Abruptly, the door swung open, and her son slunk into the room, barely looking at her as he passed. Ever since he’d stopped his phony charm, he seemed to have shrunk four inches, and he looked younger to her, more like his sullen teenage self than the young version of his father that he had become. Although right then, he looked like a man sentenced to the gallows.
She watched him in surprised silence as he crossed to the sideboard, poured himself a glass of something and silently moved to a chair across from her own. He downed the drink in its entirety without looking up from his knees.
Even angry with him as she still was after their fight, after everything that had happened, Narcissa couldn’t help but be worried. He was still her son, and she loved him; that would never change no matter how much he pushed her away.
“Draco…” she began, breaking the silence.
At the sound of her voice, he popped up from his chair and returned to the bottle, pouring a second glass and downing it without even sitting down again.
Although he looked like he would have liked a third glass, he turned to Narcissa and raised his eyes to hers for the first time since entering the room.
“Mother, I have something to tell you,” he said in a voice that quavered slightly as he spoke.
She held her breath, and wondered what in Merlin’s name was left to say. “All right,” she replied. “But wouldn’t you rather sit down first?”
He nodded and returned to the chair, struggling not to fidget with his empty glass as he took a heavy breath. “I’ve been seeing someone,” he said suddenly, practically shouting the words as if he couldn’t convince them to come out without a great deal of force. “That is, romantically… And it’s… well, I think it’s serious.”
Narcissa’s heart stuttered in her chest. “Oh? And who might this someone be?” she asked, not knowing if she was bracing herself for the truth or another lie.
“They’re a he ,” Draco said quietly.
Her lips fell open for a moment in surprise, not at the knowledge she already possessed of course, but only that it was being told to her at last and willingly, no less. A hesitant smile began to bloom on her lips. “All right, and who might he be, then?”
Draco’s eyes widened, and the firm set of his jaw seemed to slacken. He looked confused, thrown-off by her easy response, as if he had been so prepared for an outburst that he wasn’t sure what to do now that he wasn’t getting one. “That doesn’t upset you?”
“No, Draco, it doesn’t upset me, not in the slightest.” Narcissa barely dared to move; she felt sure that if she breathed too hard or spoke too loudly, she might shatter this fragile moment. She took a chance and reached out her hand to clasp Draco’s fingers within her own. “I just want to know who it is.”
Draco shifted in his seat, and for a moment he looked like he wouldn’t be able to say it. “Well he’s… well the thing is that… well it’s Harry Potter,” he said, the final confession spoken far too quickly. The look in his eyes seemed to say that this must still be going too far, that she would drop his hand and start the tirade he’d been waiting for.
But Narcissa only let out a relieved laugh and gave his hand a comforting squeeze. As disbelieving as he was at her reaction, she felt she could have topped it. She couldn’t imagine what might have sparked this honesty after all this time. “That’s wonderful, darling. I’m sure you two are a splendid match. Nothing like a Gryffindor to keep a Slytherin in line after all,” she said, feeling a few misty tears forming in her eyes.
Draco stared at her so intently he might have burned holes into her skull. He looked like he was thinking it might be a dream or a trap even. “You’re sure this doesn’t upset you, or even… surprise you?”
“Darling, I just want you to be happy, and if Harry Potter is the one who makes that happen, then I think it’s wonderful. And as for surprising me,” she took a breath, “I think I know you better than you give me credit for… and certainly far better than you’ve wanted me to lately.”
At that, Draco sniffed, blinking back tears of his own with effort. “I was so sure that you’d be disappointed in me,” he finally said in a voice that was barely more than a whisper.
Narcissa rose from her seat and joined him on the sofa, cupping her son’s cheek in her hand. “Draco, I’ve never been disappointed in you. I’ve been incredibly proud of you since you were a little boy, and that’s never going to change.”
He shook his head. “You don’t like the choices I’ve made, to join the Ministry, to—”
“That’s not true,” Narcissa cut in. “I am proud of how you’ve been able to create a new life for yourself, darling, and I’m incredibly grateful that you were able to start over again the way you have. But there’s a difference between respecting your choices, and letting you make mine. Perhaps for the first time, the life I do or do not create for myself is my choice, not yours or anyone else’s. But just because we’re taking different paths does not mean that I can’t support you in my own way. And it certainly doesn’t mean that you have to lie to me, and keep me in a corner, and try to control me in order to keep me happy with you.”
Draco stared into her eyes, and Narcissa thought that for the first time in years, he was truly seeing her, truly hearing what she was saying. A tear began to slide down his cheek. “I’m—” he took a shaky breath, “I’m so sorry.”
He collapsed against her shoulder, blubbering incoherent apologies about how he’d made such a mess of things, how he’d made assumption after assumption that each proved more false than the last, how even Harry was at his wit’s end with him, and more.
All the while, Narcissa ran her hands through his hair, making shushing, soothing sounds. She felt like something inside of her was melting. It had been so long since she had been allowed to touch her child, at least not without a cold, distant formality. She clutched him closer, and hoped that this could be a turning point for them.
After what might have been an hour of back and forth, Draco finally sat up and wiped at his cheeks. Now with the rush of emotion behind him, he looked abashed by his behavior, and he gave her an awkward smile.
“Wait,” he said suddenly, furrowing his brows in apparent thought. “What about you? The person who was in your room that morning. Aren’t you also secretly… involved?”
He said it with a small laugh, and while she supposed the symmetry had at one point been ironic, she couldn’t bring herself to join in. She was too busy biting back the jolt of pain that hit her at his words, at the thought at how nice it might have been if she had been able to make a similar confession. She cleared her throat.
“I was,” she admitted. “But it’s over now, and nothing worth talking about anymore.”
“I’m sorry,” he said, but she shook her head.
“But I promise that if I should start a relationship with someone again, I won’t hide it from you.”
He nodded and stared away for a moment. “So, are we all right?”
“I think we have a lot of work to do yet, darling, but I think we will be.”
They exchanged teary smiles, and Narcissa rose from the sofa, smoothing out the fabric of her dress. “Now that that’s all settled. Why don’t I invite Mr. Potter for dinner sometime so the two of us can get acquainted properly.”
Draco beamed back at her. “I think that’s a very good idea,” he said.
He too rose from his seat and began to walk towards the door, leaving to clean himself up. Before he could leave the room, however, he chuckled softly to himself, and muttered under his breath, “What do you know, she was right again.”
“Hermione. She told me I should tell you. Salazar knows how she figured it all out in the first place, but with that big brain of hers… She was right again.”
Draco walked into the hall, leaving Narcissa alone, staring at the closed door.
Hermione had talked to him and told him to do it. Narcissa wasn’t sure if she wanted to laugh or cry to think that she was in fact still on Hermione’s mind. At the very least, it was yet another thing that she felt she had to thank her for.
Hermione got back late from her dinner at the Burrow. It had been nice to see everyone again, and to hear the warm wishes of everyone who truly hoped she would be able to find happiness in her endeavors. She was still distracted by a thousand other thoughts, but she tried to force herself to stay in the moment where she could appreciate all of her friends.
Although, it had taken a good deal of willpower not to cancel on dinner and stay home, reading the journal that was waiting on her bedside table, especially once she found out that Harry wouldn’t be coming.
Just as she’d started to put on her outfit for the evening, a dark brown owl, whom she’d recognized immediately as Harry’s, had fluttered to her open window with a letter attached to its leg.
It had taken a good deal of strategic positioning to make sure her back was to the wall so Ginny wouldn’t be able to peek over her shoulder as she started to read.
I don’t know what you said to Draco, but whatever it was, I have to thank you for it. I just received an invitation from Narcissa Malfoy asking me to join the two of them for dinner—tonight, if I’m free—and Draco assures me that he not only told her about us, but that she’s supportive. It seems they had some long talk and are trying to work things out between them.
I’ve told Mrs. Weasley that I can’t make it because of work. I’m sure she’ll understand, but I was worried if I tried to reschedule with Mrs. Malfoy, I wouldn’t get a second chance.
I really think this is going to be a big step for the two of us, but Merlin, I’m nervous. I have no idea what I’m going to say to her, but I only hope you were telling the truth when you said she wasn’t really so difficult to get along with. Write me some tips if you have any, even a book she likes or something that can give me something to say.
The joy and pride of feeling like she’d finally done something useful had been enough to buoy her spirits all night. No matter what happened, she’d at least be able to feel that she had brought Narcissa this happiness and helped those two brooding Slytherins finally say something honest to each other.
Molly had been understanding, but she couldn’t resist commenting with a disapproving cluck of her tongue that “they do keep you boys busy.”
To that, Ron, always the master of subtlety, had let out a small snort. “Especially Harry,” he said cryptically.
Hermione wondered whether Harry had broken down and told Ron at last, or if he’d somehow figured it out on his own. She wanted to get Ron alone and ask, but that was hardly her place. She’d meddled enough already, and she assumed that if things went well with Narcissa that evening, Harry and Draco would likely start telling other people; Hermione’s curiosity would have to wait until then.
Besides, finally alone in her flat with a warm cup of tea beside her, Hermione had a different curiosity to satisfy. Her heart was beating so hard against her ribs that the sound of it was deafening. She had long ago given up hope that Bellatrix might be good enough to actually tell her how to solve this riddle, but a terrifying hope was now lodged in her mind.
Trying not to get too attached to that fantasy, Hermione cracked open the spine of yet another black book.
Immediately after opening the cover, the journal gave a clear explanation as to why those last few pages of its predecessor must have been destroyed.
There was a newspaper clipping attached with a sticking charm to an early page, and it proclaimed the engagement of Calliope Fawley and Jasper Selwyn, Bellatrix’s lover and the boyfriend she couldn’t stand. The short blurb gushed over the Pureblooded match and how perfect the couple looked together. Calliope was very pretty, and even in this photograph, you could see a certain spark in her eyes, traces of the attitude that captivated Bellatrix all along.
Hermione wondered how the situation must have played out. However it ended, it must have been painful enough that Bellatrix couldn’t stand to remember it in detail. And yet, she hadn’t been able to suppress it altogether, keeping this one painful memento, even after she had destroyed the rest.
Unwillingly, a small part of her heart ached for Bella. It was terrible to lose someone, especially someone that seemed so special. Hermione even wondered what might have changed about the course of history if the woman had been allowed to be with the person she loved, being forced to shun her own family in the process, and all the places those ties eventually led…
She knew that Narcissa would tell her it was a futile thought experiment, one that would only bring pain, but it was hard not to wonder.
As Hermione began to read, she found it even sadder that Bellatrix acted as if the entire affair had never happened. She never mentioned Callie, even though they must have been forced to see each other day in and day out with all of their classes side by side. However, something had changed in Bellatrix’s writing. She seemed angrier than before, harder somehow in the way she spoke about everything.
Hermione was halfway through the book, the evening fading and with it, what was left of Hermione’s hope, when an entry caught her eye.
As I thumbed through my potions book, looking for our assignment, it fell open to the recipe for Amortentia. I scoffed and flipped it shut. Love never seemed to do anyone’s life any good, I couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to create it if they were lucky enough not to be plagued by it in the first place.
Love is merely a weapon, a trap, something to lure you in and leave you bleeding.
Like that prissy little Malfoy boy that Cissy was dancing around for so long this year. He’s seemed positively suicidal since she turned him down. Of course, I don’t think I improved anything when I told him the only logical reason she might have been interested in him in the first place was that they have the same hairdo.
I’ve made fun of him endlessly, but really he’s no different than anyone else caught in the snare of a pretty girl.
That’s when I got the idea.
It was a realization I had had once before: even the worst of wounds heal and the scars fade into surrounding skin, but love, the twisting pain of it… It was a wound that would almost heal, would almost close but then, the smallest thing could send it clenching and dripping as fresh as the day it was made. The only thing that could never really be cured.
It was perfect. It was just what I wanted. I hadn’t realized what I was after until I saw it. It wasn’t really about doing more damage with the cut, it was about being remembered.
I pulled my knife from the side desk and stared at my reflection in its shining silver surface.
Hermione pulled herself up straighter in her chair, reading the details of Bellatrix’s experiments with avid attention. She couldn’t decide whether she was more saddened by the proclamation that love was indeed the most powerful force, but only because of the way it could break you, or sickened by the way she’d decided to use that pain to her own advantage.
But judgment of either kind quickly flew out the window when Bellatrix declared that her experiments had worked. Amortentia, a slightly modified recipe, mixed with a variety of poisons: a venom of love. A body wounded by this love, would bleed and ache long after a normal wound would have closed; less deadly but more maddening than a simple poison to keep the skin from knitting. Vicious, twisted, and unquestionably unique; it was everything Narcissa had predicted it might be. Not only unique, but undoubtedly quite personal, almost a memento of what had happened to her in her final school year. Bella might not have feared physical pain but her love affair had hurt her in a way that scared her, and she had forged her fear into a weapon.
Bella had tried it all on herself, making small incisions, tracking their progress until it was perfect. And now it was there on the page before Hermione’s nose at long last. The knife, its makeup, the antidote that Bella used to heal her own wounds.
Hermione let the book fall into her lap, and she hardly knew what to do. After all this time, after all these journals, she never really thought that this one would help, no matter how grateful she was that Narcissa had dropped it off. And yet, after all of that, finally in black and white before her was an answer and a cure.
It was almost funny how close they had been. Narcissa had known it was a potion, but as they had looked through potion books, at the sight of a love potion, they had flipped onwards without giving it a second thought.
It wasn’t just that Bella was clever, she saw the world differently than anyone else and neither Hermione nor Narcissa would have considered love to be a weapon, especially not when they were so deeply involved in their own affair.
And yet… Bella did make a point that Hermione agreed with: love was the one wound that never truly healed. Perhaps it was poetic in a way that love should leave such a permanent mark. That no matter how much time had passed, it would always be there to wound you again, lurking in the forgotten caverns of your mind. You could lock it in a cage, hide it deep, obscure it from view but in the depths of night, you could always hear the rattling of the door.
More than a week had passed, and yet Hermione felt as if every minute of that time had been spent dragging herself back into the past and choking back tears over chess sets and winter roses, and haughty barn owls or whatever else had the misfortune to spark a memory of what she had lost.
No, not lost, given away.
No, Narcissa hadn’t stopped her from leaving. Yes, she had told her to go. And yet… that dark grey flash of pain that had flickered through the woman’s eyes the other day. That flicker of loss, like looking into a mirror. A wound that wouldn’t quite heal.
Bella had had no choice to let love wound her in that way, but perhaps Hermione did. Perhaps she had an opportunity to heal herself twice that night.
Without questioning it for a moment longer, Hermione apparated herself to the front steps of Malfoy Manor.