Voice of Reason
The week’s events had left Hermione feeling emotionally raw and confused. Work had thankfully kept her busy for the most part, but things between she and Draco seemed more strained than usual - well normal for them at least.
At first, Hermione had tried to quell all the feelings in her head with sex, but Blaise had let her know he couldn’t do it. Well, after the first two days, where he had angry fucked her multiple times and she had enjoyed the angst and bruises and the deliberate use and manipulation of both of their feelings, he couldn't do it. She had been thankful, though, for that first couple of days.
The soreness was what she needed. The sting to her ass from the slaps Blaise had given her while pounding her from behind helped her. It wasn’t something she was sure she could convey to anyone else, because who would really understand that Hermione wanted or needed the pain or that Blaise needed the release as much as she did?
She had groaned happily as he twisted her hair into his hand as he bent her over the arm of the sofa, tugging her hair as he arched her back, pounding her deeply and without mercy. The bruises on her hips made her smile, and she didn’t begrudge either of them the need to forget.
These thoughts naturally led to Draco, and when she had asked for something softer and slower, Blaise had refused her. “That’s not my job, Cara Mia. You know that. I adore you, I do, but that’s a line we can’t cross.” She had known he was right, of course, which brought another level of guilt. It was never a line they had crossed. They were friends with benefits for sure, but making love wasn’t what they did. That was for passionate love and romance and relationships.
The feelings of guilt only grew as she worried that she had crossed a boundary in their relationship, only for Blaise to floo over the next afternoon. A bottle of her favorite wine in one hand, and the unexpected addition of his mother just behind him.
Hermione squealed when she saw Arabella and rushed to hug her. Arabella held her tightly, understanding suddenly why Blaise had insisted she join him for lunch at Hermione’s. Her daughter in all but blood was not sleeping well, as the bags under her eyes proved. The condition of her hair was any indication of her mental state; she was confused and neglecting her self-care. Hermione burst into tears in the comforting embrace of the only parent she had left, Molly’s howler proving that she was yet again a disappointment to the Weasley Matriarch, and Arabella moved them away from the fireplace and towards the sofa so she could comfort the young witch properly.
Blaise, having witnessed his mother’s healing magic of being present at work on his friends on more than one occasion, took the opportunity to call Po and Lala. He quickly explained that Mia would need lunch but also needed to take some time to take care of herself. Lala, knowing that it would be Po’s first time seeing Missy Mia in this state, set about showing the younger house elf what comfort foods she loved and how to draw a bath, filled with the oils Hermione liked, and which products she would need to revive her beautiful curls. Blaise laid out a new scarf for Hermione’s hair for after her bath, and an outfit he knew she always felt comfortable in. He may not be in a romantic relationship with the witch, but he still cared deeply for his friend and worried about her.
Arabella waited until Hermione’s cries had subsided to random sniffles and the occasional hiccup before she rubbed her hands up and down the younger woman’s arms. “Now, then my love. You need a nice soak in the tub and a glass of something delicious. How about you take some time for both and a hair and face mask. It’s Selfcare Sunday after all. We’ll talk when you get out and see if we can’t sort all this out together.”
Hermione hiccuped and nodded, knowing that as much as she thought it might be rude to take a bath, that Arabella wasn’t so much suggesting that she go clean herself up as nicely ordering her to. Hermione scratched her scalp absently, realizing it had been several days since she had worn her scarf to sleep and that her curls were once again dry and frizzy from neglect. Not to mention the way her scalp itched from product build-up. Wizarding charms just weren’t meant for Ethnic hair she thought to herself yet again as she left the room to head to her bathroom and clean herself up.
Emerging nearly an hour later, Hermione felt more like herself. Her skin glowed and smelled of the shea butter and jasmine she loved. Hermione wrapped her damp hair in the beautifully patterned scarf Blaise had left on her bed, her tresses feeling silky once more after being properly cleansed and moisturized through Arabella’s tried and true curly girl method. The reds, golds, browns, and creams in her scarf perfectly complemented the outfit she was wearing. The long sleeve shirt was a deep burgundy with golden tan elbow patches, and a curved hem was always a favorite, and Hermione had had these black skinny jeans for so long that there was a tear in the knee that would no longer stay closed even with a reparo or a thread. She remained barefoot and kissed Blaise on the cheek for her new scarf when she entered the kitchen to refill her wine glass.
Blaise smiled, “I saw it and thought of your silly Gryffindor shirt.” His eyes were indicating the shirt she was currently wearing.
“Hey, I love this shirt! And it's only kind of Gryffindor.”
“Uh-huh. Maman’s on the porch swing.”
Hermione nodded, heading out to the back porch to join Arabella. The older witch smiled brightly at Hermione, lifting the blanket from her lap to allow Hermione to join her on the swing, covering them both with the tartan throw to stave off the chill of the crisp November day. “You look much better, Cheri.”
“Merci, Maman. I feel better.”
Arabella gave her nod, casting her eyes out towards the pond, wandlessly setting the swing to move gently back and forth as they sat together. “So, shall we discuss what is on your mind, Cheri?”
“Oh, Maman! I feel like everything is such a mess. My head and my heart just don’t know what to do anymore.”
Arabella smiled. Hermione was a brilliant witch, the smartest of her generation, it was true, but nothing, absolutely nothing, undid her like matters of the heart. Arabella, having been married multiple times, understood more about love and marriage, sex and relationships in general than most.
“And what is that is bothering you?”
“I feel so guilty!”
Hermione sighed deeply, drawing a long pull from her wine glass before starting, “I keep thinking about Ronald and all the terrible things he said. How I didn’t love him as I ought to, and then I find myself wondering what life would be like if Fred hadn’t been the one that died during the battle and Ron had instead. I mean, how terrible is that! What kind of person wishes someone she loved that kind of ill will?”
“An honest one,” Arbella replied with a shrug, garnering a shocked look from Hermione. “What? Given all that I know of Ronald, and all you have shared about Fred, and his brother George, I’m not surprised to hear you saw that. I certainly have no love lost for that horrible git Ronald, and I know neither of my sons does either.”
Hermione snorted, muttering, “That’s an understatement,” under her breath.
“You know that I was married to two brothers as well.”
Arabella nodded. “Blaise’s father was a twin.”
“I didn’t know that.”
“Oh, yes. Well, we must go back. I attended Beauxbutons first. My mother determined I would be a proper young woman, and to her, that meant French and only French. I met a boy there. Oh, but he was lovely. We were in the same ballet company together.”
“Alicorn Ballet Company, right?”
“Oui. I had been dancing since I was a small child, and took lessons from tutors and was always there for the camps. We met one summer, and he was my first crush and my first kiss. He was Italian. So muscular and strong and his accent..” her tone took on a wistfulness, "I adored Étienne so much."
“The Christmas of my fifth year, my mother died, and my father did not want me to continue in France. He brought me home as soon as the school year ended. I was devastated - no Etienne, no ballet, and my mother were gone. My father was still grieving and unsure about how to handle an emotional teenage girl. I was refined but not prepared for British society in the way he wanted, so he sent me to spend the summer with some friends - the Blacks.”
“Oui. Narcissa and I hit it off immediately. She took me under her wing and helped me see what it was to be a proper British Belle. Our friendship though was far deeper than any realized by the time we made it to Hogwarts.”
“You fell in love with her.”
“She fell in love with me,” replied Arabella with pride. “She was a great comfort to me during that time, and I could see the way she looked at me. Cissa was very easy to like and even easier to fall in love with. When I went to Hogwarts that fall, I asked the hat to put me in Slytherin so that we could stay together, and for over a year, we were delighted together.”
“Bellatrix.” Hermione gave an involuntary shudder at the eldest Black sister’s name. “Andromeda had just run off to marry Ted, and Cissa was devastated. She loved both her sisters but Dromeda was who she was closest too. Andromeda had left her a note telling her to follow her heart and not accept an arranged marriage the way Bella had. I was comforting her when Bella discovered us.”
“Oh, no! What happened?”
“Let’s just say Cissa and I both understand the pain you felt at Bella’s hands.” Hermoine gasped, understanding instantly that Bellatrix had used an unforgivable on her sister and friend. Arabella took a drink from her forgotten wine glass, her hands shaking steadily. “I was sent back to France for the rest of the summer to Alicorn, but Etienne had become betrothed while I was gone, and when I returned Narcissa and Lucius were betrothed. No one could prevent us from being in the same dorm or classes, and we took what comfort from each other when we could. We remained secretive and stalwart in our friendship in public, and when we graduated, she was immediately married to Lucius, and my father found a business associate to marry me off too. I was 17, and he was 45.”
Hermione choked on her wine. “You’re joking!”
“I wish I was. Rene was kind to me and thankfully looked nothing close to that age. He also had a secret.”
Arabella’s eyes twinkled as she leaned closer to whisper in a scandalized tone, “He liked men.”
“Oh, yes. Rene was a widower with deep pockets and the right connections. My father was proud of the match, but the joke was really on him - Rene didn’t want a traditional wife, he wanted a cover so he could continue to enjoy his liaisons but have the perfect society wife to take to parties and things that mattered. It was a role that I was uniquely suited to, and I asked Rene only for one thing in exchange.”
“What was that?”
“To let me go back to France and dance with ABC.”
“Did he agree?”
Arabella nodded, her eyes distant. “He was proud to see me dance. He donated large sums to the theater and the company and then sent my pictures to friends. One of them asked Rene if I could model. So that’s how I spent the first five years of marriage - dancing with ABC and modeling throughout Europe. On my 5th wedding anniversary, one of his former lovers murdered him - incensed that he had broken it off years earlier. He thought Rene had broken up with him because of me and wanted to hurt me, but he poisoned the wrong goblet at the dinner party.”
“Oh, Maman! I’m so sorry.”
“Aw well thank you, Cheri. Rene was a friend. I did adore him, but I was not in love with him. I was 22 and widowed and set to become the Prima Ballerina at ABC. I was content to have my career and nothing else. My father had no control over me any longer because I was of age, and Rene left me everything.”
“Were you happy?”
“I thought so for a time, but then I ran into Etienne after a performance one night. His wife had died two years prior during childbirth, and their son had followed shortly afterward. When we were together, I suddenly realized that my life had been missing something, and when he proposed only a couple months later, I said yes.”
“That was Etienne," she replied with a shrug. " His lifestyle was grand, and everything he did or said always sounded romantic. He was an Italian that split his time between Paris and Venice. He used to say romance was in his blood. Born out the language of love and grounded in the City of love. ” Arabella giggled. “He proposed to me after one of our performances - we were dying a revival of Anthony and Cleopatra one of the first Shakespearean ballet pieces from the early 18th century. I was taking a bow as Cleopatra when suddenly he was on the stage dressed as Shakespeare himself.”
“Oh! Did he quote one of the Sonnets?”
“Worse! Hamlet!” the two women erupted into laughter. “It was so sweet and romantic, though, and the entire audience cheered.”
“You had to say yes.”
“Of course! We married within the year. I was touring as the Prima Ballerina for ABC when I fell pregnant with Blaise a few months later. Etienne insisted we move to Venice then. I wasn’t keen to give up my career, but the Dark Lord was in the midst of his first war, and his followers were moving across the borders. We were young and rich and purebloods.”
“The perfect targets.”
Arabella nodded. “We wanted nothing to do with the lies that man was spouting and so I agreed to move to Venice. It was far removed from the fight, and we would be protected in Italy. My pregnancy with Blaise was wonderful, and Etienne was incredible. He wanted nothing more than for me to get very fat and to spend his days feeding me and rubbing my feet and my belly. He was worried though that like his first wife I would pass during childbirth and he spared no expense to have midwives and healers there with us. His family elves never left me alone, and one of the family elves that was bonded specifically to the family magic slept in our room.”
“That must’ve been scary.”
“I was content to be spoiled, and to do anything to keep my wizard happy,” Arabella replied with a shrug. “I gave birth to Blaise that August and Etienne was overjoyed! Blaise was healthy and beautiful, and everything seemed so perfect.”
“What happened Maman?” asked Hermione tentatively. She knew that Blaise’s father had passed before his first birthday, though neither he nor Arabella had ever said how.
“Narcissa was due with Draco the year after Blaise was born and I wanted to see her. We hadn’t seen each other since we graduated, but we continued to write to each other weekly. Our friendship had never faltered in that regard. She had so much difficulty conceiving and had lost two children before Draco, so when her due date was approaching, I wanted to be there for my best friend. Etienne went ahead to secure a home in England for us. He didn’t want us to continually have to floo back and forth with Blaise being so young, and an international portkey wasn’t available due to Blaise being under 5. I knew at that time that Abraxas Malfoy, Lucius father, and my father were very heavily invested in the Dark Lord so staying with either of them was out, but I hadn’t thought to mention it to Etienne. He accepted a dinner invitation with my father and some others, only for Abraxas to arrive with the Dark Lord.”
“Death eaters killed Blaise's father?” gasped Hermione.
“No one knows for sure,” said Blaise stepping out of a shadow that he had been standing in, letting his presence on the porch be known for the first time.
“My father, Etienne and several others were killed that night. Abraxas was heavily injured but was jinxed so that he was unable to discuss the evening’s events with anyone else.”
“That’s terrible!” remarked Hermione glancing from mother to son and back again.
“I was devastated. Etienne’s brother, Jean-Paul, went to England to claim his brother. He would not allow me to go. When he returned, we read Etienne’s will and discovered that he wanted to ensure that I was taken care of in every way.”
“That was nice of him,” said Hermione softly. Blaise snorted, earning him a glare from his mother. “Uh-oh, that wasn’t nice of him?”
Arabella sighed. “Etienne was afraid that I would be too heartbroken to care for Blaise if I was left alone, and his will stated that for Blaise to inherit, I must remarry immediately.”
“Well that’s presumptuous,” scoffed Hermione, causing Blaise to snort again. “Sorry,” he muttered to his mother as she once again glared at him.
“Who did you have to marry?”
Arabella nodded, “His twin, oui.”
“Well, that doesn’t sound awkward at all.” Blaise started to snort but wisely turned it into a cough at his mother’s look.
“It was… unexpected. Jean-Paul and Etienne physically looked the same, but they were as different as your Ronald and his brothers. Etienne was romance and monogamy, and grand gestures and Jean-Paul was hot-headed and angry and happy to sleep with anyone and anything that would allow it.”
“Sounds like someone else I know,” replied Hermione with a pointed look at Blaise, who had conjured a wing back chair to sit in facing the two women.
“Hey! I resemble that remark.”
Hermione giggled at Blaise, happy that despite everything he still retained his sense of humor.
“Jean-Paul was happy to marry me. I was bred to be a society wife. I was beautiful, fluent at that point in three languages, and eager to return to the spotlight in either modeling or ballet. But whereas Etienne and Rene both encouraged my dreams and were happy to see me perform, Jean-Paul was terribly jealous of all the attention I received. No one else should be able to look upon his wife so publicly.”
“That sounds familiar. Fred was always really proud of how smart I was. He thought it was great that I always knew the answers and that I loved to research. Research and development is the heart of any new products, and it gave us common ground. The fact that I loved to help him and was happy to be secretive were all good things to him. He never understood why Ron would get so angry at me for the simplest of things! And Ron hated how diligent I was, what a bookworm I was. I didn’t like chess or quidditch, and those were all things against me to him, but Fred never made me feel like I was less than for those things. He embraced them.”
Arabella nodded. “I became very resentful of Jean-Paul, wishing that he was the one that had gone to England instead of Etienne. I missed the man who made me feel special and doted on our son.”
“Kind of how I feel about Ron being the one that survived.”
“Very much so. I would feel waves of guilt for wishing Jean-Paul harm when he was nice, and then would silent wish that he had been the one to die when he was cruel.”
Hermione sighed, “So you’re saying the sweeping feelings of guilt that I have for being unfeeling and unkind, however brief, don’t make me a terrible person?”
“No, Cheri, they do not.”
“That’s not to say that if Fred had lived, you probably wouldn't have dated Ron at all, and then you’d never have had to deal with his jealousy. You’d probably be happily married to Fred without having to deal with all this guilt and drama Ron caused,” added Blaise thoughtfully, “Then again, you also probably wouldn’t have come home with me 8th year and then where would you be? A Weasley and stuck with Manipulative Molly instead of this lovely lady.”
Hermione smacked Blaise’s arm and called him a prat as his mother smiled and called him a shameless flatterer. “But what happened with Jean-Paul?”
Hermione looked between the two again before Arabella quietly told her that he went to avenge his brother’s death, only to threaten the wrong people and end up in a duel that he did not win. “Thankfully I had seen the idea coming, so I called our solicitor to ensure that Jean-Paul’s will included Blaise and me as heirs should anything happen to him. When he died, I decided to return to France with Blaise. The Dark Lord was gone, and Venice held too many memories.”
“How old were you?”
“I was almost 27 when I returned to France with Blaise.”
“You were widowed three times by 26!”
Arabella shrugged. “Such is life, Ma chérie.”
The trio sat in silence for several minutes drinking their wine before Blaise suggested they head inside to eat. The meal was delicious and conversation light, but Hermione remained quiet and seemed distracted.
"What's the matter, Bella?" asked Blaise, observing her.
"I'm… it's just… what I…" Hermione felt her face flushing from embarrassment as she tripped over her words. Her emotions were bubbling so close to the surface. Slowly tears began to run down her face as the words left her mouth, "What if I've missed my chance? What if it's too late? What if I'm not good at a relationship and that's why I just continue to fuck Blaise?" across the table. Blaise choked on his wine as his mother glared at him, but Hermione seemed to pay them no mind as she continued to cry and babble. Her words poured out like a giant run-on sentence. "I don't know what I'm doing anymore or where I'm going. I'm a doctor AND a healer. I work for a quidditch team for Merlin's sake. I hate quidditch. I hate to fly. I hate to see people I love get hurt. My longest relationship was with an absolute git, who routinely proved that he was insensitive and unobservant and never satisfied me in bed. And yet I stayed. I didn't listen to my gut, and I continued to stay. And the only two people I ever thought I loved both died. And I miss them both so much, and I wish one of them were here so I could just choose them, and be with them because it would all be so much easier. But that makes me feel guilty, and Viktor is coming, and I wonder if this is another chance with him, and that makes me feel guilty because Draco is right next door and we're dancing around each other, and you two are hinting pretty deeply, and Ginny is just being Ginny and now they're friends again and he's dancing with me and touching me in these ways that are so much more than a friend would be but look like nothing more than a friend would do. I mean I hold hands with Harry for goodness sake, but every time he's near me I feel like I can't breathe, and sometimes when he touches me it feels like electricity is coursing through my body and standing next to him sometimes just feels so right, but we're coworkers! You and co-workers shouldn't dip from the company pond because I mean if I was going to I could take my pick basically, because God knows I've had enough offers and some of them are just so damn sexy but if I say yes to one and not another what will that do what kind of trouble will that cause and what if we try and it's terrible? Like JJ is gorgeous, but what if he kisses funny or he slurps when he eats. I mean I've already dated one idiot without table manners-"
"Hermione." Hermione's eyes flew to Blaise’s across the table. "Take a breath, love."
Hermione felt herself blush clear back to her hairline and down her chest, but Arabella took her hand, giving it a slight squeeze of comfort along with a soft smile. "It's OK Hermione"
"Is it? Is it normal to feel this way? I mean I almost crossed a well-established boundary with Blaise this week, and that's just not like me."
Blaise chuckled, "No, it's not, but nothing this week, hell this month has been normal. And with all that swirling in your head, it's not surprising that you're feeling unsure. How do you cope every day with all that on your shoulders?"
"I don't. Obviously." Blaise snorted at the nod to their former Potions Master.
Arabella gave a small chuckle. "Mia, love, relationships, even life, do not always go as we planned. You are a passionate woman. You feel deeply," Hermione ducked her head at her words. Arabella placed a finger under Hermione's chin and tilted her head back up, "These are not things to be ashamed of Mia. Your passion is a strength. It's one of the things that draws others to you."
"Viktor I'm sure, and Draco."
"Surely you've figured out by now, Bella, that sometimes he riles you up just to see the fire in your eyes ignite," added Blaise casually from across the table. Hermione shook her head no. "Merlin, witch, are you that blind to his affections?"
Hermione opened her mouth to respond but promptly closed it again. Was she blind to it? They had been flirting, dancing around each other for weeks. She had even told him so the night Harry got shot. He had told her he wanted to kiss her for years and years, but was that it? Did he just want to kiss her? To sample what his best friend already had? Did he like her? Care for her? Would he be willing to take the step Blaise wouldn't and make love to her? Could this, dare she think, be love? And if it wasn't, could it grow to be that?
Hermione groaned and put her head in her hands.
"What about Viktor?"
"What about Viktor?"
"He's coming this week. Tomorrow. He'll be here for the whole week before the game for various events and press conferences and goodwill promotions."
"And he's staying here?"
Blaise’s eyebrows rose into his hairline. That would not go over well with Draco he was sure. Even if they weren't exclusive or even dating, his jealousy would be through the roof "HERE?!"
Hermione's face shifted as she realized the implications of her words, " No not here here, as in my house, but here as in the Magpie Estate."
Blaise let out a breath he didn't know he was holding and a glance of his eyes towards his mother confirmed she was just as relieved as he was with Hermione's answer.
"Are you planning on anything happening with Viktor, Ma Chérie ?" asked Arabella softly.
Hermione opened her mouth and then promptly closed it again. Mulling the answer in her head for a moment before answering. "I-I… I don't know. We've talked about getting together for dinner to catch up, and he knows that I'm single again, and he was - he was excited about that, I think."
"And were you excited about it?"
Hermione hesitantly nodded. "A little, I think. But-"
"That was before."
"Before Draco! Before he got under my skin and into my head. Before he started intriguing me and showing me who he was. How gentle and kind, considerate, and thoughtful. And not at all biased and so - so - so-"
"NICE!" she exclaimed, pounding her fist on the table. "He's been so bloody nice and genuine and just bloody perfect. Flirting with me and teasing me and giving me just enough to entice and confuse me!"
Blaise stared at her wide-eyed for a moment before he started to chuckle. Arabella, too, was laughing softly into her napkin though she was trying to be far more discreet than her son.
"It's not funny, Blaise!"
"I know. I know but, Merlin, Mia. You're so flushed and upset because you what? Just realized the Tin Man has a heart?"
Hermione once again groaned into her hands "Why do I introduce you to muggle things?" she lamented as Blaise continued to chuckle.
"You have to admit it. It is a perfect way to describe him.
"And what does that make me hmm? Dorothy looking for the wizard? "
"I was thinking more like the cowardly lion."
Hermione narrowed her eyes at her friend. "You take that back!" she hissed through her teeth.
Arabella laughed softly before placing her hand, reassuringly on Hermione's arm. "You have to admit Chéri, that you lack a bit of courage right now."
"Ugh not you too, Maman!"
Taking her hand into her own, Arabella turned Hermione body gently toward her, "Do you know why I've been married so many times?"
"Because you're a glutton for punishment," supplied Blaise, who suddenly found his wine glass fascinating as both women leveled him with a glare.
"No, Maman, I do not know, but I have always wondered."
"Not all were my choice, as you now know, but some of them were. I wanted to be in a relationship. I wanted to be loved and loved in return, and when the opportunity presented itself, I didn't question, I didn't think, I just lept."
"With disastrous results."
"Son, if you cannot refrain from commenting on things you do not understand, I will silence you."
Blaise held his hands up in supplication, indicating between the two women for his mother to continue. Arabella nodded at him. "Thank you." Returning her attention to Hermione, she continued, "I have not been lucky in love it's true. I have been widowed four times, divorced twice and had one annulment -" she paused, glancing at her son, daring him to comment. Blaise, for his part, wisely mimed zipping his lip and throwing a key. "I am lucky to finally be allowed to love the one my heart longed for. There are no longer walls and barriers in our way. There are still those who would shun and shame my choice because the world can still be a cruel place filled with narrow-minded idiots, but it doesn't matter to me any longer. I have paid my dues and done what was asked of me. And now it's my turn to live - not for them, but for me. Do you understand Ma chérie?"
Hermione nodded slowly, taking in Arabella's words, allowing them to sink into her heart as she mulled them over in her mind.
"So what do I do?"
Arabella's smile was radiant, as she stroked the cheek of the woman she called daughter, "You follow your heart, Ma Chérie. And you pick the person that gives you courage and strength to fly free."