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Hermione took a deep breath in the almost eerie stillness. She hadn’t expected it to be like this in the aftermath. She had always thought the final battle, after the Death Eaters had laid down their wands, after Voldemort was finally dead, that there would be celebration, joy, relief. And there was some of that. She heard the whispers disbelief, “I can’t believe we actually won,” triumph, “Oh we did it! Of course we did! We won!” thankfulness, “I’m so glad it’s over. So glad. Thank Merlin, it’s over.” But that’s all they were, whispers. No whooping joy, no dancing in the rubble that had been the Great Hall, nothing like that. Looking back on her visions of how she thought it would be, they almost seemed childish. Of course it wouldn’t be like that. Not when... Well, there were far too many white sheets over unmoving bodies for it to be anything like she had thought.

She’d known it would be hard, the battle itself, how could she not? Her hand comes to rest on a still healing scar, kneading the ache away from it. The constant burn that had been her companion for as long as she’d had the word carved into her skin was gone. She supposed it had dissipated when the witch that had sat on top of her and gleefully inflicted it had died by Molly Weasley’s wand. She had grown too used to the constant pain, always buzzing, never debilitating, but always there. Without it now she felt all the other aches and pains of the wound for perhaps the first real time. With a scar like this, inflicted on her in the manner it had been, she’d known it would be hard. But a naive little part of her wanted her golden vision of a perfect future to come true, for everyone to live and then a celebration of epic proportions would happen on the spot, for how could everyone not be happy when the darkness was over and no one had to die to achieve it?

Foresight had never been her magical gift. If it had been she wouldn’t be as surprised by three blonde heads counted among the number of the living on the side of the light. Certainly wouldn’t’ve have been so surprised that Narcissa’s wand had been the one to deflect some dark curse that had been on a collision course for her, with no time left for her to react to defend herself alone. Even less surprised that the woman had thrown a killing curse, not at her, but the Death Eater who had tried to curse her the second before. Though after that she wasn’t surprised, even without foreknowledge, that she had saved both Narcissa and Draco once each. If they wanted to fight on their side, she wasn’t about to turn two decent duelists away, wasn’t about to see them hurt when she could help, regardless of former allegiances.

She finds herself walking towards the small group of survivors, waiting for someone to tell them what to do next. What did one do after a war was won? Things didn’t just go back to normal overnight. That was becoming clear enough as the minutes ticked by and captured Death Eaters fumed and injured combatants were taken slowly to the Hospital Wing for treatment. The Death Eaters would have to be put in Azkaban to await trial. The Ministry itself would have to be retaken and cleaned out of all old corruption. Hogwarts would have to be rebuilt. But those were all such big things to think about when the last spell had just faded from sight.

She finds Neville, standing quietly, sword still in hand, and stands beside him. “Did you ever think it would be like this on that first day, sailing across the lake on the boats?” she asks him.

“No. Did you?”

Hermione shook her head. “I think after third year, though, I had an inkling. It was always going to end somehow, and it was always going to be a disaster.”

“Yeah. Yeah, you’re right.” He looks down at the sword. “Gran isn’t going to believe this.”

She knocks him gently with her shoulder. “If she’s been paying attention at all these last few years, she shouldn’t be. You’ve always been Gryffindor enough to stand up when it counts.”

“Thanks, ‘mione.”

And then they stood in silence once again. The sun is beginning to rise on a new era and Hermione feels awake and alive and also the most tired she’s ever been.

“Did you ever think what you wanted to do after it was all done?” Neville asks, looking out at the trees of the Forbidden Forest.

“I want to be Minister of Magic. But for the short term? I think I really just want to find somewhere quiet and…” She shakes her head. It had been so long since she’s felt at peace. She wants to feel that again.

“I understand.”

Professor McGonnagall comes for the sword a few minutes later and Neville goes off with her to store it once again in the school vaults. They’d remained secure even through the siege, and such an important artifact should be stored away as soon as possible. Hermione’s left alone, looking on as Ron and his family huddle together over the body of Fred, of everyone and their mother fretting over Harry after his miraculous return from the dead. She feels so outside all of it now and she would love to go home and sleep. But where exactly was home anymore?

Someone else steps beside her. Hermione glances up to see Narcissa Malfoy standing beside her stoically looking out at the bridge to the castle, eyes fixed on roundabouts where Bellatrix met her fate. Her eyes are sad, but accepting. Perhaps she more than anyone had known just how twisted her sister had gotten. She remembers those blue eyes on her in the parlor of her own house, looking at Hermione, torn between horror and vindication that a mudblood was bleeding on her floor. Hermione thinks that if it had gone on much longer, it would’ve been just horror.

Narcissa’s eyes meet hers. The blue is the pale blue of a too cold winter’s day, but there’s a spark of something, a silent wish for forgiveness, perhaps. Hermione doesn’t know if she can forgive this woman, standing there silently and watching, even as it horrified her, but the fact that she does feel something over the act, the fact that this woman saved her from what probably would’ve been a painful death an hour before, well, maybe there was hope.

“Are you and Draco ok?” she asks. She supposes she could ask after Lucius, but she finds she rather doesn’t give a damn at all about him, last second turn to the light or no.

Narcissa nods once and looks away. “Draco informed me that you saved him from Greyback. Thank you.” And in the words there are a thousand things she’s not saying. That she would’ve loved her son no matter what, but the relief that he doesn’t have to live with being a monster is palpable, the relief that this is all over, that her family is safe, that maybe they’ll even get to walk away without having to see the inside of a cell, it’s all there.

“Thank you for saving me then.” Because her parents were sticklers for politeness, and honestly because she does feel grateful.

“We all owe you more than a well timed protego, Miss Granger.” Her eyes drift to Ron then to Harry. “I doubt this battle would’ve ended like it did if not for you.”

“Did you want it to end this way?” It’s an honest question. Narcissa Malfoy, always hard to read, never one of the Death Eater ranks, but wholly Slytherin, always out for herself and her family’s interests. What had she really wanted underneath it all? She’d heard stories from Andy about who Narcissa had been when they were young, and she had sounded much more loving than the woman Hermione had met in passing. What really was the truth of another person?

Blue eyes are on hers again, piercing and knowing, looking right through her and beyond. Hermione doesn’t drop her gaze. “Startling as it may be, I would’ve been more than happy if that man, if he can be called that, would’ve stayed in the ground the first time. The first war I believed in, the second...Draco.” And it’s all she needs to say really. She’d sacrifice anything for her son to be safe. Hermione understands even without a child of her own. “So yes, this is how I wanted it to end, despite appearances to the contrary.”

“And you only helped achieve this end now?” She arches an eyebrow. She supposes beggars shouldn’t be choosers, but honestly, it was no worse than questions that would be asked during the trials.

A ghost of a smirk flashes across Narcissa’s face. “Who says this is the first time I’ve made action against the Dark Lord?”

Hermione tips her head to the side and looks at the other woman. She seems to be honest, but really she’d never had a read on the older witch. Perhaps just this once she’ll take her at face value. The worst is over, what could really happen now that hasn’t already?

“And would I be a fool if I believed that?”

Narcissa looks her over carefully. “Well, Miss Granger, I think that’s more a question to ask yourself. But for a person like yourself you seem clever enough to figure it out.” She arches a carefully sculpted eyebrow and then turns to walk away. “Oh, and thank you for your own well timed protego for myself. I did have it though, if you had looked carefully enough.” And then she’s off.

Hermione looks after the woman for a long moment, confused. She wasn’t exactly certain what had just happened. That had been a decently civil and honest conversation until it wasn’t. What in the world had that backhanded compliment been about? She had no idea what had changed to close Narcissa off once more. Maybe there hadn’t been anything at all. Who knew. 

All she did know is that Narcissa Malfoy had actually thanked her for something and had meant it. As far as the beginning of a new era went, well, it could’ve been much worse she supposes.

 

--

 

Seeing Narcissa the next time was a bit of a surprise, but not truly in the scheme of things. She’s looking down at the band of her watch, synching it tighter around her wrist so it won’t move at all. She’s always been careful about hiding the words of her tattoo. She didn’t really believe that it was bad luck to keep them uncovered like the old wives tales said, but these days, with the press and hangers on that followed her, she didn’t want to give anyone ideas about trying to use those words against her.

 Soulmate tattoos were personal, it was rather unfortunate that hers was in a decently visible place on her body. She envied Harry and his on the back of his shoulder, easily hidden, same for Ron who’s tattoo had appeared just above his heart their third year. She’s had hers as long as she can remember. It’s not unusual, it just means her soulmate is older. Her parents had been rather mystified, she had too until her letter came and allowed her access to magical books. It hadn’t taken her long to find an explanation of the words on her skin. All witches and wizards had a soulmate. The words were those a soulmate spoke at the moment you both were ready to be together for the rest of time. Not long after that she’d started wearing something on her wrist to cover them. If someone was going to be her soulmate, well, she wanted the moment to happen organically, not because the person had read the words over and over again and used them over and over until the time was right.

When she looks up again, there Narcissa Malfoy is, in all her splendor, walking out of an elevator in long, sure strides, her expensive cloak fluttering along behind her. Hermione stands in the middle of the atrium, waiting to meet one of the witnesses needed for Dolohov’s trial and bring them down to the right room, watching the woman as she moves towards the floos. The crowd pushes Narcissa towards Hermione, the only clear space to walk in the right direction where Hermione is parting the crowd with her waiting. Narcissa catches sight of her, and Hermione is surprised to see a smile tug on the other woman’s lips before it fades away into the smoothness of her public persona again.

“Miss Granger,” Narcissa nods at her in greeting. 

“Mrs. Malfoy, how are you?” It’s been almost a year since the battle, Narcissa looks brighter, happier, more alive than Hermione’s seen her. She’s sure that her own sentence handed down four months prior certainly had something to do with that. The older witch only had to pay a fine, a hefty one, certainly, but that was all. Draco had gotten off with an age’s worth of community service and therapy. Lucius had been the worst, the week before, he’d gotten house arrest for three years, much to the grumbling of practically everyone in the auror team. 

“I am very well, thank you for asking. And you?”

Hermione’s eyes sweep carefully over the bustling morning crowd looking for her charge. “I’m doing good, just looking for Mathlide Winsweep. She’s due on the stand later today.”

Narcissa nods. “I’ve just come from there. Nasty man, it will be nice knowing that he’ll spend the rest of his days where he deserves.”

Hermione looks back at the woman whose expression shows no falsehood in her words. “For as much as you all spent time with one another--”

The older woman cuts her off. “It was a nest of vipers, my dear, not a group of friends. The only thing that tied us together was the rather ridiculous notion that since our families inbred for a millenia, we were special, more powerful, and more deserving than others. And then they were too stupid to see after the first war that it matters little, especially at the hands of a meglomaniac.”

Hermione doesn’t quite know what to say to that. Is there anything appropriate to say? “Well at least, uh, you realized?” That’s as close as she can get to something sensical and polite while half distracted.

“Yes. I did.” And Narcissa leaves that subject to lie before quickly changing to another one. “I hear congratulations are in order on your graduation.”

“Thank you.” She felt a bit of heat rise to her cheeks, though she didn’t know why. 

“Why not stay on for the full term?” And the question is honest, no edge of condescension to be heard.

“After seven years of being on the go?” She bit the inside of her lip wondering just how honest to be. “It felt wrong to just be at Hogwarts without something to do, no evil to plan for, no tasks to help Harry with, none of that. I hadn’t realized how much I associated Hogwarts and home with...well.” She shrugged, unable to really put it into words. Her normal had been that of a child soldier for so long, it was hard to unlearn, though being out in the real world now with a job, it was different enough that she was learning a new normal that she could live with without jumping at shadows and always having her hand on her wand.

Narcissa nods. “Draco felt in a similar vein and decided not to go back at all. He’s just passed his working from home.”

“Ah, congratulations to him then. They really live up to their full name, nastily exhausting barely begins to cover it.”

Narcissa snorts, the most unladylike thing Hermione’s ever heard coming out of her mouth. She wonders idly what it would’ve been like to know Narcissa before she’d become the ice queen matriarch of the Malfoy family. She sees softness underneath the cold and wonders what it would be like, to be included in the rather small number of people who get to see it first hand, not through so many careful layers.

“My seventh year after I was done, I think I slept two full days. They were rather terrible. Draco fared a bit better than I myself did, but he’s sworn off even looking at a book for at least a month.”

They both smile at one another in understanding of that impulse. She’d spent her whole Christmas break at the Weasley’s after her N.E.W.T.s  not doing anything but spending time with her adopted family and reading trashy romance novels. It had been wonderful and just the break she’d needed.

“And even with only having taken your N.E.W.T.s a few months ago and getting this job, Miss Granger, I’ve heard you’ve already sped up the trial process significantly. It’s nice to be getting them out of the way as quickly as possible while still maintaining the level of scrutiny needed. I’m surprised that someone…” she paused visibly for a moment, mouth moving, the slightest superior sneer flashing up before disappearing again, leaving behind an almost blank if...sincere look on her face. “Someone who didn’t grow up in the world of magic could find the regulations needed to power through this last little bit of trauma before healing as a society can truly begin. I wouldn’t even know where to begin.”

Hermione almost cocks an eyebrow at that, almost, but decides last second to not make a big deal out of the fact that Narcissa Malfoy had just been about to give her yet another backhanded compliment, but she didn’t. She had just...outright complimented her instead. What a strange place this post-war world was turning out to be.

“Thank you,” she says instead. “It’s both for the purposes of getting everyone tried in a reasonable amount of time, and the fact that, well, I don’t want to stay in the DMLE forever. This was just the place that made the most sense to start what with all the testimonies I’ve been required to give.”

“Where do you want to be, Miss Granger.” 

Hermione smiles at her for a second and tilts her head. “Where else would a know-it-all overachiever want to be in the ministry? The Minister of Magic, of course.”

“That doesn’t come as a surprise, not from Draco’s stories of you.” A fond smile crosses her lips at the mention of her son and his old school stories. “Nor will it surprise me to see you in that office. Contact me when you want to run, I’m sure there will be some wisdom I can impart to you that will be useful.” She takes a step back now that the atrium has cleared a bit as the top of the hour passes. “And Miss Granger?” She nods behind her left shoulder. “Mathlide Winsweep has been over there for the last five minutes, quite unsure of where to go.” And then she heads straight for a floo. 

Hermione looks where Narcissa had been nodding. And there was the witch she was supposed to be watching for. How in the world had she gotten past Hermione? The crowd probably. Or maybe she’d been watching Narcissa more than she’d thought. Whatever, didn’t matter, she had places to be and a witch that was visibly getting impatient waiting on her. She dashes off, shoes clicking on the stone of the atria rapidly.

 

--

 

It’s another two years before she sees Narcissa again. Her heart leaps and she decides to put that aside for later because, well, Nacissa Malfoy is coming out of the Marriage and Contracts sub-department, head held high and looking...free? Lucius comes out behind her, looking a bit sad, but he’s relieved too. It’s such an odd thing to see. Most people she sees walking out of that office are either thrilled because they’ve just gotten their marriage license, angry because they’ve just gotten a divorce, triumphant, or dejected for the same reason. But neither of them really read as normal. She finds herself walking towards them before she even knows what’s going on.

“I’ll owl you in a few days for lunch?” Narcissa asks Lucius with a smile.

“Our usual place?” 

Narcissa thinks it over and shakes her head. “I think something like this calls for something new, don’t you?”

“Something new might suit. So long as not everything changes.” His eyes drop to the floor and then back up, hopeful.

Whatever Narcissa says next is lost to the crowd as Hermione inches closer, not wanting to interrupt the moment or be caught eavesdropping like she so very much is at the moment. But Lucius smiles, small, a bit wistful, but the sadness is clearing some. He nods. “Until then.”

Hermione steps forward so Narcissa doesn’t stride off into the crowd.She rather needs to know what just happened, and honestly, she does want to talk to the other woman. There’s just something about her. There’s always been something alluring, but now Hermione finds she actually wants to follow the urge instead of roll her eyes gratefully as she did that one day in Diagon before sixth year when Narcissa finally left Madame Malkins. ‘If you attack my son again, I shall ensure it’s the last thing you ever do’ indeed. This woman and that woman seem to be almost completely different, the threat of war and loss not hanging over her head, no part to play to make sure Draco stays in one piece, just, lighter, happier, and weirdly complimentary to Hermione as of late.

Narcissa glances up and sees her and smiles. “Good morning, Miss Granger, it has been a bit. Busy?”

Hermione nods. “Very. I transferred over to The Department for Magical Creatures. Well on my way to where I want to get to in the department.” She smiles just thinking about how it had only taken her three months to get the department name changed. Regulation and control, Merlin, what condescension. Almost every magical creature had their own form of governance and sentience, why should wizards think they had any right to regulate them. Her next changes would take a bit more time though. House Elves were still a rather touchy subject, but she had a plan to get what she wanted. She always had a plan.

The older witch’s laugh is real, warm, and so welcoming Hermione almost takes a step closer before she remembers herself. “I had no doubt that you would be by this point. House Elves again? I heard of S.P.E.W. from Draco.” Hermione could see the woman was visibly biting her lip from the inside to keep herself from laughing more. So her school days crusade had been rough and preachy and exactly what activism shouldn’t be, she had been fourteen, well, according to her math more like sixteen by fourth year, what with all the time jumps from third year, but that was beside the point. She’d been trying to help, even if she did know a good amount better now.

“House Elves again, yes, but a bit less of a hammer to the head and a bit more actual input from the elves themselves on what they would want. I still want their ultimate freedom, but that will mean nothing if they don’t actually want it and end up in bad situations because of it. Slow progress will still be progress, after all.”

“And so it will be. Where are you starting first?”

“Days off. Two a month to start. Then pay of a sickle per week. Freedom to request a different assignment. A legal way to transfer households. Keeping families together. Then back to days off again to give them the normal amount of days we would get, and back through the cycle.”

Narcissa’s eyes sparkled. “Take a step forward says the unjust man, but you’re trying to be the just man using the same tactic.”

Hermione smirks and nods. “There are things that can be learned outside of Gryffindor brashness. Sometimes Slytherin cunning has its uses.”

“So it does.”

Hermione’s eyes dart back towards the door of the Office of Marriage and Contracts and then back to Narcissa. How to deal with all of that? She wants to know but also it would be rude and she certainly doesn’t want to go back to Narcissa insulting everything she’s ever done. Especially not now that the woman is chewing on the inside of her lip again and she has the strangest urge to kiss her and distract her from such things.

“From your manner I’d say congratulations are in order.” And then she tilts her head. “But also condolences at the same time.”

A bit of a mask descends back over Narcissa’s features, but not the whole icy thing she had been used to before. “You’re the first one to wish me both at once. And you’re the only one who’s been right.” She sighs heavily. “I still love Lucius, but we were never in love.” The mask slides off again and Hermione is so close to seeing that little bit of softness she’d seen two years before. This time she takes the step closer. Well, the Ministry is a public place and she doesn’t want Narcissa to have to speak that loudly of her private affairs. 

“It was arranged, right?” Hermione knew that most pureblood marriages were, how else would you make sure that blood ran true? It always seemed rather depressing to her, especially in light of the fact that they had literal soulmates just waiting to be found. How did a whole group of society just ignore that in favor of something as meaningless as blood.

“It was, but we were friends. It wasn’t a bad marriage all told. We did love each other. I would still go to the ends of the earth for him just as I did in the war, but, well, Draco is grown, both sets of our parents are dead, there is no real reason to remain together as a couple. Not when…” she trails off and meets Hermione’s eyes, looking for something, but she doesn’t know what. She keeps speaking though, so she must have found what she was looking for. “Let’s just say that I could never fall in love with any husband and leave it at that. This is a new era, a fresh start for all of us. And with Lucius free of house arrest there was no need to keep ourselves bound. I want us both to find more than love and friendship. I don’t want some stale ideology holding us back. Not when neither of us believe anymore. It’s time to love who we love.”

Hermione looks at the woman, standing tall and strong and regal, as always, but, “It’s still been over twenty years. It has to be hard to lose him being so close.”

Her head bows a bit. “And that’s where your condolences come in. It will be odd at first, I’m sure, but worth it in the long run. We’re determined to remain friends.” A knowing smile graces her face. “As you overheard we have lunch plans.”

She jolts a bit. Damn it she’d thought she’d been stealthy enough to get away with it. She should’ve known better, Narcissa was a Slytherin after all. They were the original lurkers. They knew exactly what to look for. 

Narcissa’s laughter at her expression makes her shock worth it though. It shakes her entire being and Hermione thinks that the woman needed to laugh like this, freely and open. It feels healing, even to her three feet away. The woman wipes her eyes and Hermione gets a glimpse of the glittering midnight blue ink of a soulmate tattoo on her shoulder before she pulls her dress sleeve back up to cover it. She wonders what Narcissa’s tattoo says and finds her own itching under the band of her watch. She frowns slightly, that’s never happened before, but quickly discards the thought for replying to Narcissa instead.

“Fine, fine, you caught me red handed. I just...saw you and wanted to talk to you.” She shrugs helplessly. “And maybe, perhaps, curiosity killed the cat?”

The older witch’s reply smirk was positively feline. “But did satisfaction bring you back, is the question, Miss Granger.”

Hermione takes a moment to think that over before nodding. “It did.”

“Has your curiosity ever disappointed you then?” Blue eyes glitter, now the happier shade of a summer sky and Hermione wonders if she could look into them forever.

“It hasn’t yet. In fact it’s saved me more often than not.”

Narcissa closes the distance between them, gripping Hermione’s lower arm with her hand lightly. She leans in to whisper in Hermione’s ear and Hermione catches a whiff of expensive perfume, jasmine and lavender, perhaps gardenia, it suits her perfectly and makes Hermione a bit light headed. Whether it's the perfume or the proximity, well, she doesn’t exactly have enough a handle on her brain right now to know the difference.

“Then I’m glad I don’t disappoint.” Her breath is warm on Hermione’s ear. “Next time, my dear, you need only ask. I won’t have the Golden Girl lurking in the shadows on my account.” She steps back again. “But I’m sure you have a great deal of important work to do and I should let you get back to it. It was lovely seeing you, Hermione.”

“Yes, same to you, Narcissa.” And Hermione finds she more than means those words. Narcissa gives her one last smile before slipping into the crowded hallways and back towards the atrium. Hermione watches her go with a warm weight filling her stomach.

 

--

 

Six months later, and she isn’t exactly expecting anyone to find her in this alleyway crying, let alone Narcissa Black. She’d been so careful to be as quiet as possible, tucking herself away, casting a disillusionment charm for good measure. The Prophet would have a field day if she was found crying alone in an alley and she rather didn’t want to trap Skeeter in a jar again. She’d been annoying enough the first time, but she would if it got her some gods be damned peace. But feeling her spell snap easily and then a blonde head of hair appearing had rather thrown her for a loop.

“Naricssa?” She gasps, turning away to try and wipe away the tears on her cheek.

“Hermione? Are you alright?” Her voice is actually concerned and for a long second Hermione wishes the other woman would come up behind her and hold her. She misses being held. Harry and Ron and Ginny are good for quick hugs and light affection, but she misses sitting wrapped in someone’s arms.

She swallows and turns to Narcissa with what she’s sure are bloodshot eyes and she can feel that she didn’t wipe away all the tear tracks. They burn, turning to ice in the cold winter air. “I’m...I will be fine. I just.” She swallows hard. It’s been hard to talk about ever since she did it, now almost five years ago. “Holidays have been hard for me ever since the last year of the war.”

And then Narcissa is stepping forward, not to draw her into the hug that Hermione desperately needs, but still, she places her hand on Hermione’s arm again and squeezes lightly. “Many were lost during that last year and the holidays draw that into sharper relief.”

Hermione nods. “It does, but…” She looks up into blue eyes that are still that light summer blue even now under grey winter skies. “The dead I have grieved and have let go. I remember them fondly and I have a moment of silence for them during the season, think just what ridiculous thing I might get them if they were around, and then the sadness is gone. I’m more haunted by my parents.”

“Were they killed?” Narcissa’s eyes darken with coming sadness, blue-green before a storm.

“No, I, I made sure they wouldn’t be found.” Her eyes drop to the dirty cobbles of the alley and she sighs. It really has been a long time since she last talked about this. How did she find the words the first time? “Before I set off with the boys seventh year I erased myself from my parents memories so thoroughly that I ceased to exist entirely on paper. They have no idea they have a daughter. They’re living in Australia now, happily as far as I know. They have their own little practice now.” She took a shuddering breath. “I knew when I cast that it was probably permanent, but at least they would still be alive somewhere. I could live with that.”

Narcissa’s fingers raise her chin gently so their eyes meet again. “Restoring their memories didn’t work, I take it.”

Hermione shakes her head. “No, I brought along someone from St. Mungos after the worst of the fallout died down but before I had to return to classes. We spent three weeks there, trying, but rebuilding is always so much harder than breaking. We might’ve tried, but the risk of damaging their brains beyond repair was over half. It wasn’t worth it. So they live happily in Australia. And I just try and make it through Christmas without them. The rest of the year is easier.”

“That must have been a hugely difficult choice. I’m sorry you had to make it, especially so young.” She drops her hand from Hermione’s chin and immediately she misses the warmth. “But...I believe it was the right choice. As I was, I didn’t hear much of the detailed plans, but if your parents had been easy to find…” she trails off and looks away, eyes the color of the winter sky now, grey, almost lifeless remembering a time in both of their lives that was more than a bit horrid.

“I asked Lucius once, before his trial, after one of his depositions if Voldemort had asked about them. He had. They couldn’t find them. I know it was the right choice. I do. But.” Tears well in her eyes again and damn it, she can’t stop them. They slip over her eyelids and down her cheeks in warm, then freezing cold lines. “Christmas was always my favorite when I was little because they made it magical. They went over the top with the cookies and sweaters and being an only child, I got basically everything I wanted, and it was beautiful and I never felt more loved. The Weasleys do their best and I love spending Christmas with them, I do, really, but it’s not the same.” She takes another, shuddering breath and more tears spill out. “And knowing they're out there alive still, it helps as much as it hurts.”

“Oh, my dear.” And then she’s in Narcissa’s arms. “They would be so proud of you. Never doubt that. Their love for you is unending, even if they don’t know it. As a parent, I assure you this is true.”

Narcissa’s words soothe her and she relaxes into floral scented clothing, now spiced with cinnamon and clove from the holiday cheer. More tears slip out and she cries, great sobbing, heaving cries, the kind of cry she hasn’t had since the war ended, and now that it’s happening again she realizes she’s sorely needed. The older witch just holds her through it all, rocking slowly back in forth in the cold, murmuring nonsensical comfort to her. She feels so safe it’s rather ridiculous. They’re in a seedy back alley, she shouldn’t feel safe, perhaps she shouldn’t feel safe in Narcissa’s arms either, but that’s a much smaller proportion of her feelings. The older witch had proved herself an ally long ago, intriguing not long after that, and if Hermione was being honest, alluring now. She could easily fall into this woman if she let herself.

She pulls back after a few long minutes and conjures a handkerchief, turning to wipe her face and blow her nose before setting herself to rights again and banishing the ruined piece of cloth to some corner of snot ridden hell. She turns back around again to see Narcissa watching her with soft eyes. She smiles at the woman and blushes, embarrassed. Not really what she wanted her next encounter with the other woman to be, but here they were.

“Sorry,” Hermione mumbles.

Narcissa waves her off. “Nonsense. Goodness knows after a war there are many things to grieve. Losing one's parents is perhaps the most understandable of those things. Anyone who belittles you for feeling so is not worth your considerably valuable time.” A soft smile comes to rest on pink lips. “I heard you already got promoted, Miss Granger, congratulations, assistant head after only a year.”

“I mean it’s more assistant to the assistant head,” Hermione corrects, blushing harder. The cold definitely isn’t going to explain the color in her cheeks anymore, which only makes her blush harder.

“Yes, but we all know he’s going to retire within the next two years and that your promotion means that you’re next in line. Am I wrong?”

No, she really isn’t, though how she knew that John was going to retire soon was a question. Just how many ministry connections did the woman still have after all these years?

“No, you’re not.”

“Of course not.” She holds out her arm. “Now come, I’m certain you came with someone to shop and I suppose they will rather be wondering where you are. That is, if you’ve come back to equilibrium. There’s no shame if you haven’t, but you seem to be on more even footing now, Hermione.”

She loops her arm through the other woman’s. “I am. And yeah, I came with Ginny and Ron. We’re shopping for Harry. I told them I was ducking into a bookstore and they just groaned and walked off and told me to catch up later.”

Narcissa snickers as she guides them out onto Diagon Alley proper and then up the street some. “They know not to get in-between you and a book, then?”

“I might be known to spend more than my fair share of time in a bookstore, even during the crowded holiday season.” She bit her lip. What could she say, being a bookworm had saved her life, she wasn’t exactly going to stop now. There were just too many interesting things to know.

“Noted for my future knowledge.” She leans in as if sharing a secret. “Though I’ve been known to do much the same. The fact that now books print reviews on the covers instead of synopsis is rather annoying and I want to make sure I’ll enjoy what I buy. It certainly adds time onto a trip.”

“Ugh, I know, right! It’s absolutely ridiculous. Like I can appreciate a pretty cover design as much as the next witch, but that doesn’t really tell me what I want to know.” Her eyes rove over the crowd, looking for her friends, trying to see a splash of ginger in a sea of thick black winter cloaks, but she doesn’t see anything promising. She’s beginning to wonder just how she’s going to find the others when Narcissa pulls her to the side next to a hot chocolate cart with a smile.

“Marshmallows fix everything, or so Draco told me many times when he was a child.” Her smile is soft as her eyes and it hits Hermione that she’s seeing that softness she’s always known was there but buried, now on the surface and directed at her. Her heart starts to pound rather mercilessly in her chest. What in the world does it all mean? Narcissa isn’t the type of woman to open up to anyone, why her?

“Draco can be smart when he wants to be.” She snorts. “And other times he’s a huge prat.”

“He gets that from Lucius, I had nothing to do with it.” A faux innocent expression pastes itself onto Narcissa’s face in an instant.

“Somehow I don’t believe that for a second. You probably spoiled him beyond words.”

“He’s my baby boy, of course I did.” She steps to the hot chocolate vendor with a smile. “Two if you would, sir.”

The man grunts and Narcissa pays for the drinks and a few seconds later their hands are filled with warm paper cups filled with chocolate and marshmallows. Hermione blows on the drink for a few seconds before taking her first tentative sip and humming at the taste of sugar. Her eyes slip closed and she remembers sledding with her father on the first big snowfall the winter before she went to Hogwarts. They’d come in half frozen and her mom had made them hot chocolate from scratch and it had tasted just like this. And yet this time the memory didn’t make her sad. It was fond, and it ached, but it wasn’t sad.

Narcissa steps closer again and the woman feels cold against her even with a warm drink in her hands. As skinny as the woman is, Hermione wonders how she ever stays warm, even with warming charms. She wraps her arm around Narcissa’s waist and pulls her in.

“Thank you,” the older woman says. “I was beginning to feel rather chilled.” She takes a big gulp of her drink and Hermione snickers at what she’s sure is a breach of pureblood etiquette. Narcissa looks at her like she knows exactly what Hermione is thinking and rolls her eyes. “Being a proper lady all the time is boring, my dear. Besides, it was implied that I was leaving a great deal of that behind with my divorce, was it not?”

Hermione shrugs one shoulder. “I suppose it was if you were reading the finer subtext. There was much more interesting subtext to that conversation than the fact you would allow a few improper actions to slip through here and there.” Yes, the other subtext had hinted at the fact that...well, she rather thought Narcissa had been implying that she was gay, and that maybe even Lucius was too? She wasn’t sure. She hadn’t caught it the first time around, she was rather struck dumb my the other woman’s prescence half the time, but later she’d thought about it and well, she wasn’t a bookworm for nothing. She knew subtext. 

She thought anyway.

“Mmm, I suppose you’re right.”

Hermione took another sip of her hot chocolate and sighs. She should probably actually go find her friends. Or maybe they could find her. She pulls out her wand and pulls up a happy memory. She’s used the same one since the war ended, her and Harry and Ron, all hugging in the Burrow about a week after they’d defeated Voldemort. It was the first time they’d all really realized what they’d done. They’d all been so happy they’d laughed until their sides hurt. And then they cried, but that wasn’t really what she was going for. They had been so happy for one shining moment.

But it’s sky blue eyes she thinks of this time, at the last second, and then a silvery otter is in front of her, chirping brightly, waiting for instruction. “Ron, Ginny, I’m at the hot chocolate stand by Florian’s whenever you’re ready to come find me.” And then she waves her patronus off. It scampers away towards wherever Ron and Ginny had found themselves. And she bought herself at least another few minutes with Narcissa tucked into her side.

“Shopping for Draco?” Hermione asks as they both kept on sipping their drinks.

“Mhm, and Lucius.” She swallows. “I think maybe Andromeda and Teddy too? I...we’ve talked but it’s been stilted. I’m not sure if I should or not.”

 “Buy Teddy anything that makes him happy and keeps him entertained for longer than a few minutes and she’d love you forever.” The kid is four, almost five and has the energy of an entire rugby team. She’s not sure how Andy keeps up. She and Harry can barely keep up when he keeps the little boy for a weekend.

Narcissa laughs quietly. “Draco went through the same phase. Got into everything, ran everywhere, I thought I was going to go insane, and I had house elves to help. But that’s good advice. Perhaps a spa day for Andy to relax…” she trails off thinking.

“Not a bad idea at all.” She squeezes the woman to her and lets her in on something perhaps Andy wouldn’t want her to share, but the unsureness in Narcissa’s eyes is enough to make her throw such considerations out the window. “And she loves you, it’s just hard. She wants to let you in, she’s told me so. Just don’t back down.”

Narcissa nods slowly, looking up at Hermione and biting her lip, breath smelling of sweet chocolate and Hermione finds her gaze wandering to those soft lips for half a second before darting back to blue eyes. There’s a knowing look there, and...is that hunger? Oh, Merlin, she shouldn’t want to be eaten alive by Narcissa Black, but Hermione finds herself wanting that rather a lot. She curses the fact that she sent her patronus off to find her friends. Clearly there’s more here that should be explored.

And yet of course that’s when Ron calls out, “Oi, ‘Mione! Over here!”

Hermione sighs quietly pulling a bit away from Narcissa to look up the street a couple shops to find Ron poking out a doorway for an office supply store. She idly wonders how he wound up in there if he’s looking for things for Harry, but discards the thought quickly. She turns back to Narcissa.

“Duty calls?” And it’s a question like if Narcissa wished it she would stay. She finds that perhaps she actually would. She blinks at that realization but lets it lie again as Narcissa smiles and nods.

“I suppose I should get on with my own shopping before it gets too late.” A smirk curls her lips up at the edges. “After all, I do have to spoil Draco mercilessly still, don’t I?”

Hermione laughs and nods. “Least he’s mostly grown out of being a prat and can appreciate it.” They stand entwined for another few seconds before Hermione finally pulls away with a sigh. “See you later?” And it’s the first time she’s asked such a thing, she knows she will, they keep drifting together again after all, but this time she wants to make sure.

“Yes, Hermione, you will.”

 

--

 

Four months later she finds Narcissa Black by quite literally running right into her and knocking them both down on their bums. Hermione looks up to apologize and there she is and her apology freezes on her tongue because she’s never seen Narcissa look quite so harried. She’d been carrying a dozen things, more levitating along with her and her hair actually looks like it might be a bit frizzed. The horror. Hermione laughs quietly at her own joke before she pushes herself up to start picking up the things Narcissa dropped in the fall. It’s all clearly stuff for Draco’s wedding which is in three days.

“Last minute prep work for the wedding?” Hermione asks, pushing herself up so she can offer a hand to Narcissa.

She nods. “I decided I wanted to do everything myself as something special for Draco and also as something to pass the time, and I rather understand now why wedding planners are often running around like house elves that have lost a valuable family heirloom.”

Hermione squints at that analogy. Definitely not one she would’ve used. Chickens and their heads cut off seemed a bit more her style, but did the wizarding world even use that one? She hadn’t really paid attention.

She hands over the things she’d picked up to Narcissa. “And to think I was worried about just finding a dress for the wedding.”

Narcissa snorts loudly, not having time to refine the noise into something more befitting a lady. “And yet I still have to do that too.” She groans. “There’s so much to do and I haven’t even begun.” Her stomach growls loudly enough that Hermione can hear it. 

She looks at the older witch with knowing eyes. “When was the last time you ate, Narcissa?”

The fact that she has to think longer than ten seconds on the matter tells Hermione all she needs to know. “Nope, ok, we’re going to lunch. You’re going to finish up whatever it is you were here for, and then I’m forcibly taking you to lunch. Or else I’m going to find you later passed out in some shop from a blood sugar low and I’m not about to do that. I’d take you to St. Mungos, but Merlin you’d never hear the end of it.”

“Hermione I don’t have time I really must be--”

She cuts her off. “No, no buts. Draco, I’m sure, would rather care that you have a hot meal than if the centerpieces are done up to the nines.”

“Fine,” she huffs. “I’ll be a few minutes straightening all this out.” She gestures around her to everything she’s holding magically or regularly. 

“I’ll be browsing the racks when you’re done. And don’t think you can just slip out the door without me noticing. Don’t you know I worked for the DMLE for a year and a half.” She cocks a teasing eyebrow but Narcissa just rolls her eyes.

“If I wanted to leave this shop without you knowing there’s nothing you could do about it.” She stalks off towards the service counter without another word. Hermione believes her words, but she also knows that Narcissa actually wants lunch and wants to talk, so she doesn’t have to worry about the other witch trying to pull some covert operation on her.

Twenty minutes later they’re out in the spring sunshine, Hermione carrying a dress bag. She’d found a dress two minutes after Narcissa had stalked off, light, springy, and rather innocently sinful looking on her, perfect for a wedding. She rather found that she wanted to see Narcissa’s eyes when she saw her in it for the first time. She rather thought the woman would look even better than her, whatever dress she picked out, but if Narcissa looked at her with anything like hunger, she would call it a win.

“So how many checklists do you have going to keep everything you need to do straight.” Hermione tugs the woman down the street to her favorite cafe and Narcissa doesn’t resist.

“Three, urgent, important, and saved for last minute,” Narcissa answers easily. “But I think the urgent list alone is going to take me three days.” She massages her temples lightly with the hand Hermione isn’t commandeering.

Hermione frowns and looks at the woman. “I mean I have the rest of the day off. If after lunch you needed some help, I’d be willing.”

The older witch looks at her like she might hang the stars herself. “Oh really, would you? That would be wonderful. I would actually trust you to make good choices. Lucius offered, but the man has exactly no idea about party planning.”

Hermione’s face scrunches. “I mean it’s not as if I do either?” She had to set expectations low early here before Narcissa gave her some super important task that she had no idea how to do because she wasn’t a pureblood, wasn’t a socialite, or paid little mind to how parties looked outside of books, perhaps all of the above depending on the issue. 

Narcissa waves her off. “Trust me, darling, the man is a brilliant person, but he’s rather useless with color and patterns.” Her eyes sweep up and down Hermione, lingering appreciatively on the legs Hermione’s baring with her cut off shorts on the warm day. “From how you dress, you understand color and pattern, even if some other aspects leave a bit to be desired. I could teach you to dress your way to success later easily, you already have the basics.”

Hermione wants to feel offended, but clothing and shopping beyond books and office supplies has never really been her thing. And if she wants to become Minister, well, fashion would be a part of that. People noticed such things.

“Lessons don’t sound like a bad idea considering.”

“Of course not, I had it, after all.” She smirks at Hermione and pulls her tighter against her side. “But to assuage some of your worries, I’ll give you some of the less pressured tasks, though I don’t see why you’re nervous, you’re the great Hermione Granger after all.”

“Har har,” Hermione fakes amusement. “Golden Girls aren’t allowed to be scared?”

“Not when there’s a damsel in distress to save.” Narcissa flutters her eyelashes at Hermione and Hermione has to stop herself from pulling them to a stop and kissing Narcissa Black full on the mouth. The thought doesn’t even begin to phase her. She wants this woman. Has for...years? Probably. At least this year definitely. But she keeps walking and pulls them into the cafe instead.

They pick a table in a sunny spot by the window and sit down perusing the menu. “You take me as a damsel who would rather save herself,” Hermione finally says after picking out what she wanted to eat.

“Normally, but there’s no shame in asking for help from someone trusted.” Their eyes meet and Hermione knows that Narcissa is both being truthful, and this is a woman who doesn’t trust easily. Of course she isn’t, Hermione had rather known that, but that carefully hopeful look in Narcissa’s eyes had confirmed it.

“A fair point. Glad I can help, even if perhaps you won’t be glad of it later when I accidentally make the wrong choice.”

“So long as nothing is pink, we will be fine. Draco detests the color. Always has. I swear to you any time I wore a pink dress when he was a baby he did his level best to sick up on it.”

Hermione laughs easily. “Pink isn’t a favorite of mine either, but I don’t think I’ve ever gone that far.” She looks at Narcissa, expression open. “How emotional are you that your little boy is getting married in three days.”

Narcissa holds up a finger and shakes her head. There are already tears at the corner of her eyes which she seems to be ignoring staunchly. “Don’t even begin to start. I’ve already cried at least twice, perhaps more, but I’ll never admit to it. I’m going to weep like a child on the actual day.”

“I’ll make sure to stock up on tissues for you.”

“A wise idea.” She sighs and her eyes fill with love so deep and pure it sets Hermione’s own heart to aching. “I’m so glad he’s found love after everything. All I’ve ever wanted him to be was happy and to have love for the rest of his days. He has that now. Seeing him, lovestruck, absolutely smitten, it’s a wonderful thing to see as a mother. It’s just seemed to come in a blink.” She shakes her head. “My father warned me of just how fast little ones grow right after I told him I was having Draco, but being rather miserable and pregnant I didn’t much listen. But he was right. He was always right.”

“Dads usually are, moms always are.”

That sends Narcissa to laughing again. “Of course we are.” She smiles at Hermione, just looking at her for a long few seconds. “He also said that love was the most important thing.” Her fingers drift up to her shoulder, the one Hermione knows bears her soulmate tattoo. She bites her lip and her look changes, taking in Hermione now with intent. She’s suddenly certain she’s not alone in this. They keep being drawn together and it’s not just her who feels the pull.

She reaches out and takes Narcissa’s hand gently again, lacing their fingers together. “He sounds like he was a wise man.”

Her smile is wistful, sad, longing. “He was. I wish he was here to see Draco get married. He would’ve loved him. Died not long after Draco was born. One of my fondest memories is him holding baby Draco and just looking as if he could fly a broom around the moon in that moment.”

Hermione sees a chance to flip Narcissa’s own advice from a few months before on her and can’t resist the impulse. “Wherever he is now, his love for both Draco and you is unending. I’m sure he’s smiling about Draco getting married too.”

Narcissa’s eyes slip closed slowly and she squeezes Hermione’s hand. It takes her a minute to regain her composure before. “Thank you, Hermione.”

She pulls their hands up and lays a soft kiss on Narcissa’s hand. There’s electricity running through them both now, Hermione can see it in the hairs on Narcissa’s arm standing on end. Whatever game of hide and seek, cat and mouse, whatever it was called, she wanted it to be over now. She knew what she wanted.

The waitress came back to take their order, breaking the bit of tension between them. She drops Narcissa’s hand to rearrange the menus back into their little holder and then looks back again to find the older witch still watching her with those summer blue eyes.

“Narcissa,” she breathes, word slipping out of her mouth before she can do much about it. “After the wedding would you like to go out on a date with me?”

A Chesire grin paints itself across Narcissa’s face. “One rather might call this a date, Miss Granger. You’ve already kissed my hand after all. It felt very romantic.” The words are teasing but her eyes, they’re always her giveaway, aren’t they, they always have been. Somewhere along the way she’s learned how to read this woman who’s so adept at wearing a mask.

“Well,” Hermione starts and then stops. “I mean you aren’t wrong, it certainly feels like a date, but dates usually require at least some forethought, not essentially a driveby knock over and lunch afterwards.”

“Who’s to say they can’t? This has been nice so far. Certainly better than a few other boys I went out with during my Hogwarts years.”

Hermione thinks of her awful dates with Cormac and the few she’d taken with Ron before she realized just why they weren’t working out as she hoped they would. She laughs and nods. “Yeah, that’s fair, I feel the same. The first date story would be rather amusing at least.”

Narcissa’s triumphant grin is something Hermione wants to kiss, but refrains. “Good, then this is a date, I’m glad we’re agreed.”

She had a feeling that she’s going to be bullied into agreeing like this more often than not. She finds she doesn’t mind. She’s sure she’ll argue her own way to victory just as often. Her eyes drop to the band of her watch, to the tattoo underneath and she wonders, oh does she wonder. Because she might be ready to fall right here and right now, but is Narcissa? Somehow it doesn’t feel right just yet, but almost, soon, she can sense it. She’s sure that Narcissa is the one, sure that the tattoo on her shoulder holds words that she’ll speak one day, certain that the ones on her wrist belong to the blonde in front of her. Just. Certain.

“Well then, would you like to go on a second date?” Hermione revises her question.

“I’d be delighted. Cogworth’s, eight o’clock, next Friday?” She holds her breath waiting for Hermione’s answer even though she’s the one who asked originally. She finds it rather endearing.

“I will be there. Probably fifteen minutes early knowing who I am as a person.”

That sets Narcissa to laugh again just as their food comes out. They dig in just as Narcissa charms the list of things to do between them and Narcissa lists off where Hermione needs to go and what she needs to do. She copies the list and circles the things in purple for Hermione’s ease of use of her rather massive checklist. No wonder the woman thought she would have a problem getting it done alone. It just confirms that she’d definitely made the right choice not to go into party planning as she takes the list and tucks it in her pocket.

They walk outside again after paying and Hermione faces Narcissa, lingering, not quite wanting to go. This has been the longest she’s spent in Narcissa’s presence and she wants more. But they do have so much to do, they really should get going. She hops from foot to foot in indecision. 

“Well, since this is our first date I think it’s only appropriate that this should happen.” And Narcissa is leaning forward slowly, looking between Hermione’s eyes and lips, clearly giving her time to duck out, but that’s exactly the last thing she wants right now. Instead, she leans forward and kisses Narcissa and gasps at the feeling of their lips meeting. She’s never kissed a more perfect woman, she’s sure. She could kiss these lips for eternity and back.

They break apart after a minute both of them with pupils blown wide. “Well,” Hermione said lamely, because frankly, that’s about the only word she knows at the moment.

Narcissa chuckles and leans in for another peck to her cheek. “I’ll meet you at Runhilda’s Stationery in three hours to go over what has been done and what needs to be done still, ok?”

“Ok.” Hermione might still be bringing her mind back online, it was fine.

“See you soon, my darling.” And she leaves in a whirl of jasmine, lavender, and gardenia.

Hermione isn’t embarrassed by the amount of time she spends standing there dumbfounded. She’s not. Really.

 

--

 

Three weeks later they’re on their third date, or fourth, depending on how you count it, really. Hermione is rather torn considering that first one did have an awful lot of wedding planning sprinkled throughout. She wouldn’t change it for the world, though. It was Narcissa’s turn to plan again and so they’re in an intimate little booth out of sight of most of the patrons at a high-end restaurant. Hermione finds she doesn’t much mind the fanciness of the place so long as Narcissa is by her side. She feels like she fits in anywhere with her on her arm. Of course it doesn’t hurt to be one of the Golden Trio, but that has never helped nearly as much as just looking at the blonde beside her and knowing that wherever Narcissa belonged, so did she.  

Narcissa takes a drink of what is probably far too expensive, if delicious, wine and looks at Hermione like she might just eat her alive. Hermione might get turned on from that look. It’s all still very fine, thank you very much.

“I find the way you look at me to be intoxicating,” she husks, voice low, almost lost in the low murmur of other patrons.

“Me?” She asks, incredulous. “Have you seen the way you look at me?” She thought there were wolves with less hungry looks out there, and yet she didn’t mind from Narcissa something that she would definitely slap a man for. Narcissa was different.

“I might have a clue.” Her smirk is delicious and Hermione wants to feel it against her skin. She’d already been planning on going home with Narcissa anyway. It’s a good thing. There’s no way she isn’t after this date. Not when...not when she wants her so much. 

Wants her for everything. Not just sex. Everything. And now seems like the right moment to tell Narcissa that. Her magic seems to be nudging her along. She just needs to open her mouth to let them out into the world.

“What?” Narcissa asks, noticing the change in Hermione’s expression almost instantly.

“I just…” Hermione trails off trying to find words. “I think I’ve always known it was you.”

She hears Narcissa gasp softly, her fingers on her shoulder again, a smile on her face, lighting up the room with its brightness. “I feel the same.”

This time it's Hermione’s turn to gasp. Those are the words on her wrist! Those are the words! Narcissa is her soulmate! She’s never been happier in her life.

Her wrist tingles and she takes off her watch, watching as the letters glow and warming until her whole body is covered in a soothing heat. She looks up to find Narcissa, her sleeve slipped down, looking out the corner of her eye at the same phenomena.

Her eyes meet Hermione’s again. “Well then, that confirmation is nice, if not needed. It was always you. For such bright witches it did take us a while to realize. But…” She smiles and shakes her head, and like this, it’s like she isn’t older in the slightest, she looks young and fresh-faced, almost innocent. Hermione wants to kiss her, so she does.

She leans forward and captures Narcissa’s lips easily and willingly. She pulls in a slow breath as she feels their fledgling soul bond strengthen with their touch. She shivers. If she had thought kissing Narcissa was intense before, now it’s ten times that. She melts into the other woman with little thought. It’s perfect, it’s easy, it’s like coming home. A few tears slip from her eyes unbidden. She can’t help it, after everything, to know that something has truly worked out, it’s almost too much.

Almost.

They pull apart slowly and Hermione opens her eyes to find the dark blue of the sea looking back at her. Narcissa’s eyes are deep and wild and scream of her need to take Hermione back to her manor and have her way with her. Hermione is willing to go along with it. She wants this woman more than she wants air, let alone food.

Narcissa tips back the rest of her glass of wine and gestures for the waiter to come. He does in short order, and sometimes it's nice to be a bit famous. Instant service right now is just what she wants. Because she needs to kiss Narcissa everywhere, but especially her soulmate tattoo, to read the words in elegant script she said to seal them together. She needs to feel their bond strengthen even more as they lie together, skin against skin, breathless, seeking release that only the other can provide. She needs to watch Narcissa come undone under her fingers, needs to feel Narcissa’s fingers in her. And then she needs to do it over and over again because her life will never be complete without this woman she loves again.

Their bill is settled quickly and Narcissa is drawing her out onto the street and apparating them both home. Hermione doesn’t even notice the usual twinge of sickness she gets from apparating even now, all she can feel is Narcissa’s lips on hers, and the feeling of having a real home, not just the four walls of an apartment, but that long lost feeling of home she hadn’t had since she’d left her parents' house for good.

She pulls them apart just for long enough to gasp. “I love you.” Before pulling Narcissa back to her and sinking her hands in golden hair. She feels magic pulse across her skin, Narcissa’s, and somehow she understands that it means “I love you too.” She smiles into the kiss and lets Narcissa lead her to a bed and sinks down. They break away for a moment more, panting, looking at each other with hungry eyes and something occurs to Hermione. 

“Oh god, I’m going to be Draco’s step-mom.” How in the world is he even going to take that news? Does she have to be there when he gets it? They were really just starting to get along well after all.

And Narcissa laughs, a full-bodied laugh and she has to sink down next to Hermione on the bed before her knees give out. She buries her face in Hermione’s neck and laughs some more. Hermione joins in because who would have even begun to think this is what would happen back in their school days. So she just laughs, and when she’s done she kisses Narcissa again and presses her back against the mattress, sinking into the feeling of the other woman and home.