Hermione woke on Christmas before even the first tendrils of light peaked over the horizon. She conjured a fire in the fireplace to warm the frozen air of the room. The dancing light allowed her to see the relaxed face of her wife. Sleep soothed away the ever present vigilance of the waking hours. The past several days had been pleasant. After carrying out the mission, the little family settled into the holiday traditions Hermione was introduced to the year before. This year was, of course, different. Gone were the days of the shy hesitancy that defined the young witch’s life before meeting Bella. The sweet family that surrounded her accepted her more wholly than she could have ever imagined even in her best dreams. And the aching emptiness that she had lived with since she was a small child simply disappeared. And in its place a wild, powerful woman had firmly rooted herself.
The day before the entire family had a wonderful trip to Diagon Alley to shop for one another. The character of the shopping area had changed with the coming war. Bella had thoughtfully warned her that she led a few raids to the area. The young witch knew her wife well enough to read between the lines. She was pleasantly surprised to find that her favorite shops were still in tact. The dark witch had smiled and winked. Lucius informed her that the “right kind” of people ran their favorite establishments. She looked to Narcissa for interpretation as had become such a habit over the past few months. The blonde quirked her lips slightly at the familiar reliance and stepped closer to be able to speak quietly. She patiently explained that they were pureblood run and were in no way funding the rebellion.
The small group playfully shopped for their gifts, pairing off and repairing off until they had purchased everything they needed. They spent the evening ensconced in the library together. Draco, Lucius and Severus spent hours involved in some sort of wizarding chess tournament, which at times included a lot of shouting. The witches sat on the large leather couch in front of the fireplace. Hermione snuggled into Bella’s arms. For hours they listened to Narcissa read to them from a book of ancient celtic magical myths. Finally they’d all succumed to exhaustion and retreated to their respective bedrooms. As relaxed as Hermione felt downstairs in the company of her family, once her wife was asleep she became restless.
Hermione gently ran her fingertips over the strong features of her lover’s face. The touch was light enough it didn’t wake the slumbering woman. The young witch craved the closeness, but wasn’t ready to face what she was feeling out loud. There was a distinct ache in her chest that just wouldn’t let her rest. For all of the great joy in her life, the feeling of deep permanent loss crept into her heart. It had almost been an entire year since she walked into her childhood home and taken the memories of the people who raised her. She shuddered at the idea that she no longer thought of them as her parents. It wasn’t because they hadn’t earned the title, in the countless hours of love and care they could not have treated her better. No. It wasn’t the behavior of the Grangers.
It was Hermione who was unworthy to refer to them in such a manner. The course of her life had meant the need to destroy theirs. She believed, hoped really, that they were still both living and well. She trusted Narcissa and Lucius would tell her if the worst had occurred. They wouldn’t keep such a thing from her. But the young witch hadn’t dared to even inquire about the Grangers. She feared the truth. She feared losing the new family she formed, knowing the question alone might appear as though she was ungrateful for all that she had now. She felt the deception of that night when she sent them far away. They were warm and curious about her year. They were kind about things they didn’t understand and could scarcely believe. With disappearances and deaths at the Order’s hands, she didn’t feel like she had any other options. It wasn’t as though one could just bring muggles home to Malfoy Manor.
She wasn’t aware of the shaking sobs coursing through her body until warm soft hands started wiping them away from her face. The still sleepy body pulled her into the crook of her neck. Hermione could never resist any offering of love from the dark witch. She sunk into the embrace, holding on tightly even as she continued to sob. Fingers sifted silently through her hair.
“You will be ok, my darling.”
“How can you be so sure, Bella? How can you even stand to be near me? How can you trust me not to betray you in the same way?”
“Oh, little witch,” she breathed out. “You are the other part of my soul. The trust comes naturally. And I will never let you betray me. I will go wherever you go. Being apart simply isn’t an option.”
“I am not worthy of this,” the young witch cried softly.
“And I am? Hermione look at me. Remember who I am. What I have done. What I have survived to get to this moment. I am no innocent.”
“Perhaps not, but you are perfect,” she responded reverently running a finger over the soft red lips.
“For you, perhaps, but not in general.”
A sharp knock at the door halted the playful fight that was about to erupt. The blonde witch strode in quickly, but paused a few steps into the room.
“I didn’t expect to find you two awake so early.”
“What were you planning, Cissy? To sneak into our bed?”
“I’ve certainly heard worse ideas,” the blonde declared, closing the distance. She dropped her outer robe and slipped between the sheets in a sinfully short silk nightgown. Placing a slightly possessive hand on Hermione’s warm stomach she continued,
“What is wrong that has you both awake and talking so early? Have you been crying?”
Hermione took a deep breath before whispering. “I haven’t been able to stop thinking of the Grangers over the last week. I feel terrible.”
“They are safe, you know,” the blonde answered the unasked question while tucking a stray hair behind the young witch’s ear.
“She still feels suffocatingly guilty,” Bella interjected. “Trust me.”
Narcissa rolled her eyes indulgently. “As least you are learning some breadth of emotion, dear sister. But Hermione, you cannot cling to guilt. It will destroy you from the inside out. You made a terribly difficult decision. Without a doubt it saved their lives. Though they don’t remember you, they are incredibly happy and they will never be found or in danger. That was a selfless gift. You gave up your relationship with them so that they would live. The fact that your life has improved by becoming a part of my family has nothing to do with that. You would have been ours even if the Grangers remained where they were. This,” she said gesturing to the two women in the bed and then around the opulent room. “This was inevitable. You are where you were always meant to be. You had to live through a number of things to find your way here to us, but you would have found your way regardless. Even if I had to come and drag you personally to Bella’s bed.”
“Cissy is right, love. You are where you belong. I need for you to be able to move forward with us. You must let go of this pain. It can only fuel you so far. Trust me I have tested the limits of its motivation personally.”
“I will try,” Hermione finally answered.
“That's all we are asking,” the dark witch replied quickly. Deftly she turned Hermione in her arms so that she was facing Narcissa. The young witch quickly tucked her head into the neck of the blonde and wrapped her arms around her torso, pressing impossibly close to the beautiful witch. She exhaled deeply when Bella’s arms encircled her from behind.
“Sleep, little witch,” the blonde whispered soothingly. “We will wake you in a few hours.”