Hermione woke in the moments just before dawn. Out the large windows she could see the first bit of light cresting above the countryside. She was still wrapped in the strong protective arms of her wife. Her body was sore in a way that she would be feeling it all day and would have to take care not to walk oddly in front of others. As usual the dark witch knew exactly how to handle her. Their nighttime activities took the edge off her anxiety and physical need. But in the early light of the morning she found her soul was restless. She slipped quietly out of bed and the warmth of love Bella provided. She was fairly certain that after what she did the night before that she didn’t deserve such treatment. She looked back at the slumbering form fondly. She felt such guilt at her need to leave the room, but trusted the dark witch would understand. She did everything else, hopefully this wouldn’t be an exception to the strength of their bond.
She didn’t bother with a wand, casting several cleansing charms before pulling her hair up and out of her face. She dressed simply in light clothes, the few muggle items she still owned. Silently she exited the room, taking one last peek at her lover. The word love didn’t even touch what she felt for the woman. Quickly she walked down the stairs. The house below her was silent. She knew that the elves were up and working in the kitchen, but it was so far removed from where she was that she felt entirely alone. Still feeling stifled and uncomfortable, like someone sucked all of the oxygen out of the house, she ventured out to the patio. The wind blowing across the gardens was soft and cool. She tugged her light sweater more tightly around herself. At the base of the steps she removed her shoes and left them on the bottom step.
Crossing the garden, she reveled in the feeling of the cool grass against her feet. Her connection to the green turf felt like the only thing holding her to the earth and keeping her from spinning off into nothingness. On a small hill beneath a tree, she finally lowered herself down. Laying on her back she would be able to watch the sun rise and listen to the silence of the waking world. She hoped that it might be enough of a reminder that the would keep on spinning inspite of her actions good or bad. In the distance she heard a bird singing signaling the impending dawn. She allowed her mind to wander through the events of the last day. She had greatly enjoyed the course of learning Snape set out for her. Gathering knowledge and skill had always been her driving force. But using it in such a way, knowing it was what she was trained for. She couldn’t wrap her mind around how she felt about it. She didn’t even know if she felt like herself. A firm feminine voice broke her internal dialogue,
“Miss Black, I believe we have discussed my feelings on your muggle clothing.”
Hermione turned her head to look at the blonde witch. She looked radiant in the first light of morning even so simply dressed.
“That was quite the memorable conversation, Cissa. I, however, was not expecting company this morning.”
“Do you wish me to go?”
“I never wish you to go, Narcissa.”
The blonde took the statement as an invitation, settling down next to the brunette and well within her personal space.
“What are you doing up so early, Hermione?”
The question was gently probing and lacked any of the blonde’s usual bite. The concern in her voice was palpable.
“I couldn’t sleep. I was trying to find a place I could breathe,” she answered honestly.
“Bella was being suffocating?” Narcissa asked clearly confused. Since the soulmates met they’d been virtually inseparable and when they were forced apart, both were rather difficult to deal with.
“No. I presume she is still resting comfortably in bed. I didn’t want to wake her.”
“Ah. And did she not take care of you last night?”
Hermione chuckled at the concern. “Oh, please don’t worry about that. I don’t imagine we will ever have a problem with that. I just… it…”
“Your mind still isn’t at ease?”
“Not at all. Sounds like you’ve dealt with this before.”
“A time or two. I cared for both Lucius and Bella on their first raids. And of course I spent much of the night with Draco.”
“Is he alright,” she asked guiltily. She hadn’t given much thought to how he might be doing.
“He will be fine, just as you will be in time.”
“If you were up all night, then why are you here now?”
“Even with so many people in my home, I like to know when others are up and about. And seeing you without my sister, I just had a feeling that all was not well. So tell me, little witch, what is on your mind?”
Hermione felt a shift at the last question. Narcissa rarely used Bella’s favorite vaguely derogatory nickname for her unless she was slipping into a dominant role. When she didn’t immediately answer, the blonde arched her eyebrow in a rather intimidating manner.
"I hurt people yesterday. I don't know how I can look myself in the mirror. I deserve to be punished. I shouldn't even be allowed a wand." She paused to suppress the tears that threatened to fall. "They were innocents. How are we any better than the Order?"
"Oh Hermione, you are old enough to know that there is no ‘better.’ There is only power and protecting those around you. We did what we needed to in order to destabilize the Ministry. And we did it with the littlest bloodshed possible."
"But I enjoyed it. It was an incredible rush...." She blushed furiously. She was truly embarrassed of how she behaved with her wife the night before.
"Battle lust is well documented in many cultures. You are aware that it is partially biological?”
Hermione shook her head no.
“It is in part your body’s reaction to a real threat. And out of fear of death and death of our kind, your desires come to the surface in order to promote procreation. In ancient times it was a very important mechanism to ensure the survival of entire communities.”
“I am not sure if that makes me feel better,” she said honestly.
“It’s true. It is how Draco was conceived. And perhaps someday when you are ready, it will be how you find yourself with child.” The blonde smiled triumphantly, knowing she’d just shaken the girl out of her melancholy.
“I don’t even know where to begin with all of that. First of all, being reminded that you birthed Draco is…”
“A bit awkward considering that you find sitting uncomfortable due to our last encounter.”
“That almost covers how I am feeling,” she said quietly.
“One of the drawbacks of you being raised by muggles,” the blonde breathed out with obvious frustration. “Your intimate relationship with me is not unusual for the ancient families. It is what binds us together. Especially in times of conflict it is important that loyalty is more encompassing than just between spouses.”
“I was not trying to say that I have regrets, Cissy.” She turned on her side and snuggled against her, resting her head on her shoulder for emphasis. Slender hands pulled her close, holding her affectionately. “But can we please not talk about me being pregnant for a few more years or maybe ever?”
The older witch chuckled. “Of course my dear, but you know you won’t be able to deny Bella if she asks.”
“I suppose I wouldn’t be able to, but don’t put ideas in her head.”
“Behave and perhaps I won’t.”
Hermione batted playfully at the blonde.
"But in all seriousness, You mustn't latch on to the negativity or you will not survive the war. And I promise you there will be peace."
“How can you be so sure?”
“Because we need hope.”
Hermione nodded. “How do I live with myself?”
“Just rest in the love you have. There is little else in life that truly matters.”
They laid quietly as the sun rose in the sky. The world transformed before their eyes. The night of blue and greys faded to pinks and yellows as the earth woke up. Hermione could breath again finally and sunk sleepily into the embrace. Neither heard Bellatrix approach them.
“So this is where you two ran off to. It’s not everyday I wake up alone and find sleeping beauties in the garden.”
“I’m sorry, Bella,” Hermione said sleepily. “I couldn’t sleep and I didn’t want to wake you.”
The dark witch sat next to her and began stroking her head soothingly. “Shush. I’m not upset. You are simply being a member of this family. It has long been Cissa’s job to care for new Death Eaters after the first raid. She has a gift.”
The blonde blushed at the compliment from her older sister. “We’ve probably dallied enough. Let’s go have breakfast and I need to check on Draco.”
Hermione stretched the stiffness from her limbs and took the hand her wife offered to lift her up. The dark witch didn’t releases the hand, instead pulled the young woman closer to her as they walked behind the blonde. She pressed a gentle kiss against the bare temple and said,
“Are you coping better now?”
“I think I am. I just…. I’m still so conflicted over my place in the war.”
“I can’t say that I am surprised. You were quite innocent when we met.”
“I was, but so much has changed. Not that I regret it, of course.”
“Of course,” Bella echoed laughing. “I’m quite proud of how you handled yourself. I watch you and can’t believe I am worthy to be bonded to you.”
“Nor would I be much without you, my love.”
“Come, little witch. Let’s go eat with our family, and then there is much to do. I believe you promised the Dark Lord a demonstration.”
“I’ll need a bit of help obtaining props.”
“I suspected as much. Lucius has many connections.”
The witches walked hand in hand into the house. They were met with the warmth of the Malfoy men and the all encompassing love of the family they were building. There was no denying that the day before changed them all deeply, but the silent agreement was to press on.