thank you for all the wonderful reviews! i've been a little busy moving halfway across the world and getting used to a new life, but i haven't given up on finishing this fic for you
They had not gotten it out of their systems, Narcissa realized somewhere around the moment a groan escaped her at the feeling of Hermione's mouth finding her breast.
"Be quiet or Andromeda will hear," Hermione warned her, pausing in her path downward.
Narcissa flushed at the unusual feeling of being told to hush. It was supposed to be an ordinary Scroll delivery night. A quick job, in and out. Narcissa had instead again found Hermione sitting in the kitchen having a laughter-filled chat with her sister. When Andromeda eventually went to bed, Hermione was supposed to leave. She wasn't supposed to look down at that green silk robe, which Narcissa may have deliberately worn again knowing it showed off her assets rather well. Hermione certainly wasn't supposed to pull the robe open, pinning Narcissa against the kitchen counter and kissing her way down the V of exposed skin.
"Really I should go home," Hermione said.
"You should," Narcissa agreed. Everything would continue to be perfectly normal at work. She could admit that she felt little twinges here and there, pleasant flashbacks every time Hermione glanced a moment too long at Narcissa's desk when discussing work matters. It didn't mean they should do this again. It was absolutely unnecessary.
"But you're going to make me stay." Hermione said. She gripped Narcissa's bare thighs, fingers teasing the tender skin on the undersides.
Narcissa wrapped her legs around Hermione's waist and pulled her closer. "And what am I going to do with you?"
Hermione grinned and whispered a few suggestions.
Every Friday that month, they ended up in the same situation despite Narcissa's best efforts to keep her desires under control―although, was it really so terrible to have regular stress relief with no attachments to worry about? As Hermione's teeth nipped her inner thigh, she decided it could continue. But somewhere more comfortable.
"I do have a bed, you know," Narcissa pointed out. "No need to do this against the counter like barbarians."
"Barbarians don't have marble countertops," Hermione retorted, but obligingly took Narcissa's hand and followed her out of the kitchen. They tiptoed up the stairs past Andromeda's suite to reach Narcissa's rooms. Hermione looked around at the elaborate silver and green decor and hesitated at the foot of the four-poster bed.
"Well?" Narcissa prompted.
Hermione swallowed. "Um... lie down."
"Against the headboard?"
Narcissa stretched out in a way that ought to be tantalizing, but noticed Hermione idly biting her lip. "Is there a problem?"
"I―I'm feeling a bit out of my element. I mean, you've got all these really nice things and I'm just... me. You don't think I'm the most boring, least sexy person alive? And you actually enjoy me bossing you around?"
Narcissa held in an impatient sigh and took the time to set the record straight. "Érmioni, I didn't invite you into my bedroom out of pity."
Hermione nodded and took a deep breath before climbing onto the bed, back in the moment. Good. Narcissa didn't like to be kept waiting.
Afterward, both were so exhausted that they lay there a little longer, breathing in the dim light of the bedside lamp. Just for a minute.
Narcissa woke to the sound of pots and pans in the kitchen. She felt groggy but gradually realized it was the weekend: no work to do until she couldn't stand lazing about anymore and started working anyway. She stretched out and felt a warm body against her. Hermione.
It should have been startling. It should have been downright alarming. But Narcissa laid there, unusually relaxed with all of that soft skin pressed close. Hermione seemed so peaceful in her sleep, breathing evenly, no stress drawing her eyebrows together, no frown as she concentrated, no ever-observant eyes. Narcissa could look as long as she liked without suspicion.
She shook her head. She was staring at someone who couldn't stand her. Had she lost her mind? Breakfast smells wafted upstairs, but instead of feeling hungry, Narcissa felt nauseated. She sat up and shook Hermione's shoulder briskly. "Get up."
Hermione's eyes flew open, immediately back in stress mode. "Oh my god. I didn't mean to fall asleep. What time is it? Are we late for work?"
Hermione collapsed back against the pillow. "Phew. I thought I was in big trouble."
"You will be, if Andromeda sees you leaving my room."
Hermione gulped. "Right. Okay. Should I climb out the window, or..."
"Are you a cat burglar? Use the door and a charm, for goodness' sake. I'll distract my sister with conversation while she's cooking breakfast."
After gathering her clothes, Hermione looked back at Narcissa. "Are you mad at me or something?"
Narcissa frowned slightly. "I don't think so. Why would I be mad?"
"You seem more... brusque this morning."
"As opposed to my usual gooey and cheerful countenance?" Narcissa deadpanned. She got dressed and left the room to check the route to the front door, then returned and waved a now-dressed Hermione onward. They parted ways at the bottom of the stairs, and Narcissa joined Andromeda in the kitchen.
"It's nice having Hermione come by each week," Andromeda commented.
Narcissa froze, thinking they'd been found out. "How so?"
Fortunately Andromeda was busy halving grapes for Teddy and didn't notice her reaction. "She's kind, smart, and passionate about her interests. I see why you like her."
"I don't like her," Narcissa said automatically.
"Sure. Whether or not that's true, she's really not living up to her potential as your 'arm candy' assistant. I understand why Minerva wanted her to have a year outside of academia, but it's obvious Hermione will be so much happier doing research, don't you think?"
With a jolt, Narcissa glanced at the date on this morning's Daily Prophet. The rest of the year had flown by, already January, and it would only get worse with the rush of preparing for Fashion Week in February. Hermione would presumably leave in May. The nausea returned. Narcissa swallowed and fished around for an appropriate, neutral response. "Yes... everyone knows she's very bookish."
"Mm. Sometimes I miss my more intellectual days. Maybe she'll keep visiting after this job is over and get me back into books. I barely even read anymore."
"Nonsense, I saw you with a book not so long ago," Narcissa remembered. After this job is over. She looked around for something to occupy her and saw Teddy making a mess of his oatmeal. She sat down and helped him with the spoon.
Andromeda pulled plates from the cabinet. "How hungry are you?"
"I don't feel so well. A spot of heartburn? Possibly something in last night's dinner didn't agree with me."
"Was it me?" Andromeda snarked before softening. "I don't think we ate anything unusual or bad. But maybe you should only have these gentler foods. Oatmeal, eggs."
"Bland mush with bland mush," Narcissa griped as each was served onto her plate.
"By all means, eat something strong enough to upset your stomach."
Narcissa sighed in resignation and dutifully thanked her, compelled by upbringing to mind her manners even if the food was supremely unexciting.
At work during a rare quiet moment, Narcissa opened the desk drawer where she had stashed each of the various fashion essays Hermione had written for her. She selected a scroll at random and unrolled it to read it again. In the past she had given each one a perfunctory lookover, scoffing at the vast ignorance still evident, but now she slowed down. Despite a lack of knowledge about the industry in general, Hermione was extremely observant and reached some insightful conclusions. Her latest essay even raised questions that were at the cutting edge of wizarding fashion, such as why needle and thread are often still used instead of purely magic. She decided to take Hermione along for a visit to one particular designer who was grappling with such matters hands-on.
Hermione seemed surprised when told to dress up. "There are no publicity events scheduled, but you want me to be your date?"
"After a fashion," Narcissa said. "It's simply something I believe you'd benefit from."
"Something only to benefit me?" Now she looked even more surprised.
"Don't be absurd. I've been meaning to visit Sherman for some time now, to see his progress on the spring line. Having you there is a bonus. Draco is coming along as well." Narcissa smirked a bit. "Sherman is newly single."
Hermione closed her eyes as if it could hide the fact that she was rolling them, but at least her face stayed neutral. She had something to say about it, or worse, a question. Narcissa tried to evade any judgment by striding away, but it came anyway. "Why do you try so hard to set him up with these random wizards?"
"They're not random, they're hand-selected by me as excellent candidates. If Draco is too timid to find someone himself, it's my job as his mother to make sure he won't end up alone as well."
Hermione shook her head with an odd expression. "Nothing. Go on."
Narcissa frowned and continued to the Wardrobe.
"Sherman, what a pleasure it is to see you again," Narcissa crooned, resting her hand on the up-and-coming designer's shoulder. "Draco was so impressed by what you're doing with magical stitching."
"Was he," Sherman replied, blushing a bit under the attention.
Draco turned red and looked away. Curse his shyness. If only he could approach eligible bachelors with the same confident swagger he had back in school.
Narcissa went on, "Be a dear and show us your latest line, and―if you dare―share the details of how you accomplished each piece."
"For such a renowned editor, anything," Sherman agreed with enthusiasm, escorting them to sit down while he hurried into the back of his shop.
Once they had a seen a few current projects, Draco loosened up enough to ask the curious questions he was clearly dying to ask. "How did you figure out which parts of this dress could use charms without sacrificing shape?"
"I experimented with tailoring on simpler designs to get a feel for it," Sherman explained, showing some examples from a drawing pad. "Now I can estimate what will work on more complex pieces."
"I don't understand," Hermione jumped in. "Why not just use charms for all the seams? You could make the dress magically fit everyone."
Draco scoffed, "You might as well wear clothing made of elastic!"
"He's absolutely right," Narcissa agreed, making no effort to hide how horrifying she found the prospect.
Sherman looked equally horrified, but was at least magnanimous enough to explain, "The fit of clothing depends on a careful touch! Tight here, loose there, to hang just right on the human form. Imagine a ballgown that's supposed to have a flowing skirt instead clinging to your legs."
Narcissa complimented him, "Only a sufficiently expert wizard such as yourself with attention to detail and a clear vision can do it well. Don't you think so, Draco?"
"Yes, Mother," Draco agreed, looking like he wanted to crawl under a rock.
"I'm not sure I'll ever understand all of this," Hermione said, shaking her head. "It's so subjective. What if people disagree on how something should look? Who decides which designs will succeed in fashion?"
"I do, obviously," Narcissa said.
"Please don't throw away my designs, Narcissa," a blond woman sobbed, blowing her nose in a most unappealing way. "I'm sorry I was out of office this morning."
Narcissa kept working and didn't spare a glance at the nameless employee weeping in front of her. "Sorry doesn't erase deadlines. We can't have employees leaving on a lark."
"It was pre-approved by my supervisor, just a few hours here and there for my doctor's appointments. They're only open during business hours. I make up for it on other days. My designs will still be done in time."
"Do you know who else is open during business hours? We are. I pay you to be here when I come downstairs to take a look at what you've been working on. If you can't fulfill the most basic requirements of your job, perhaps that should impact your salary."
"Please, Narcissa," the woman pleaded. "I work the same number of hours as everyone else, or more."
"Everyone is working overtime for Fashion Week. If you want full pay, I expect you to..." Narcissa trailed off, feeling something warm by her ankles. Bright blue flames danced around the hem of her robes, and she almost shrieked in a most undignified manner before she realized they were harmless. She glanced around angrily for the source of such a brazen prank and spotted Hermione glaring at her from the nearby assistant's desk. Narcissa tilted her head and glared back in a silent query. Hermione wrote fiery words in the air: If HR doesn't destroy you, I will.
Narcissa gritted her teeth, hating to admit that Hermione had a point. HR would surely have something to say on this matter. "Ahem. I expect you to make sure you're keeping accurate count of actual hours worked. That's all."
The blond employee swayed in shock as if a tornado had just passed by without blowing her away. "Ye―yes, of course, ma'am. I'm keeping careful account. You'll see how hard I'm working, ma'am, I promise!" She ran before Narcissa could change her mind.
To Hermione, Narcissa growled, "Do not pull a stunt like that again. I won't hesitate to fire you, 'dating' ruse be damned." She felt cramps coming on and gripped her pen, trying to remember if she had any Period Pain Elimination Elixir with her. "Human Resources," she spat. "Bunch of useless, bureaucratic Hufflepuffs."
"Oh, I'm sure some of them are meddlesome Gryffindors," Hermione said with a smug smile. Then her eyebrows drew together, and she held Narcissa's shoulder. "Is it that time of the month? Do you need something for the pain?"
"How did you guess? I'm even more stone-hearted than usual?" Narcissa snipped.
"You're white as a sheet, and you're about to break that quill pen."
Narcissa released the pen and leaned back, annoyed that she was doing such a poor job of keeping her composure, and confused about why Hermione would not only notice but... care? Pansy had never offered to bring her pain relief, merely fetched things when ordered. Her confusion grew as Hermione reached for a hideous purse and started pulling out potion ingredients, whipping up a dose of elixir right there in the office.
"Do you carry around an apothecary on your shoulder? What in Salazar's name is that?" Narcissa asked in dismay.
"My beaded bag? It has an Extension Charm. Definitely comes in handy going on errands for you."
"Couldn't you have charmed a fashionable bag from a real designer instead of the most raggedy pumpkin-shaped sack I've ever seen?"
"Hey! This bag helped us stay alive in the war! It's been through a lot!"
"You are so..." Hermione grumbled, stirring more vigorously than needed, then adding a little pinch of hyacinth for a better aroma. Irritated, yet still thoughtful. Bewildering.
"So...? What am I?"
"Drink this." Hermione shoved the small bottle into Narcissa's hands and stalked back to her desk as Pansy walked in with her arms full of parchment.
Pansy set the stack down on Narcissa's desk. "She looked pretty mad. Are you sure she didn't add a nasty ingredient to give you the runs? Anyway, here are some finished designs from downstairs."
Narcissa paused with the bottle in hand. She wasn't a gullible person, yet it hadn't occurred to her that the potion could have something wrong with it. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she knew Hermione wouldn't poison her the way a Slytherin might. Outmaneuver her, sure. Set her robes on fire, certainly. But Narcissa trusted her in a way she had rarely felt before, and it made her current confusion even worse.
"Mm," she said noncommittally, making a show of tossing the bottle in a drawer. She sorted through the first few pieces of parchment, trying to focus through her cramps. "At least these are better than the rubbish they tried to give me yesterday."
Pansy agreed with a snide laugh. The moment she was gone, Narcissa retrieved the potion and downed it in one gulp. It soothed her pain within moments, and her tense muscles relaxed. Hermione was an audacious pain in her arse, but at least somewhat useful at times.
Outside her office, Hermione asked Pansy, "By the way, what's Fashion Week?"
If not for the potion, Narcissa would've gotten an instant headache. She pinched the bridge of her nose while Pansy let out the longest sigh she'd ever heard.
Though Pansy gave a good explanation, at their end-of-day meeting Narcissa made sure to reiterate its importance to Hermione. "Fashion Week in Place Cachée is the biggest fashion event of the year for our world. We have less than 2 months left to plan everything, create the templates for our special edition, make our reservations everywhere, meet with designers, snoop on competitors, arrange interviews―Pansy can't possibly do it all alone, so you will need to step up."
"I've already stepped up," Hermione assured her earnestly. "I'm doing everything I can to be helpful."
"And yet you still cannot tell the difference between cotton and linen."
Hermione shrugged apologetically. "It's never been important before. I'm trying. But it's a lot to learn within just one year here."
Just one year. Narcissa felt something unpleasant rising up again. Frustrated with herself, she dismissed everyone from the meeting except Hermione. "Fetch our coats and gloves."
Once they were dressed warmly enough, Narcissa offered her arm in the customary side-along invitation.
"Are we apparating somewhere?" Hermione asked. "What if you splinch your pretty dress?"
"It will be out of style soon enough. Come on then."
Once Hermione had a good grip around her elbow, Narcissa turned on the spot and disapparated.
"Yorkshire, textile capital of the UK since the Industrial Revolution," Narcissa said, gesturing around them.
"Do they offer historical tours?" Hermione asked.
"If they do, I'd be bored to death. Let's go on to the shops." She pulled Hermione along to some of her favorite markets. "They specialize in wool here, but you can find everything. You can recognize wool, right? There are different kinds, as well. Merino, lamb's wool, angora―even camel hair wool exists, though it's hard to find in England obviously. Here, touch this angora."
Hermione dutifully touched the fabric, then grinned in delight. "It's so soft!"
Narcissa guided her around all evening, showing her the factories turning raw materials in fabrics, explaining their differences and what each type was most often used for. Hermione took notes as they went, absorbing the knowledge in her own way.
Soon they reached the end of what they could find in Bradford and Huddersfield, and it was getting quite late, but Narcissa still felt some kind of restless dissatisfaction. She offered her arm again.
"Where are we going now?" Hermione asked, taking hold.
"You'll see." She rested her hand over Hermione's to keep it in place, and brought them to the coast of Cornwall, where there was a beach full of sand dunes. Without letting go, she guided Hermione toward the moonlit sea teeming with gentle waves. "I don't expect you to learn everything in a year," she started.
Hermione laughed. "Yes, you do."
"Yes, I do," Narcissa admitted. "But I'm trying to say, if you forget everything else and only learn one thing, you should learn not to be so dismissive of fashion. It's not important to you because you obviously care nothing for your appearance."
"Hey! I care about looking clean and decent."
"But fashion is about so much more. It's an art, a science, an entire industry, a field of study. You saw how Sherman is investigating the attachment properties of materials. You might find something interesting to research too, instead of going off to turn fezzes into frogs in a dusty ivory tower."
"That's not at all the kind of transfiguration I'll be―"
They both looked startled by her real name escaping, not an insult or a shiver-inducing Érmioni.
Narcissa felt shaky, but she forged ahead and gestured around the beach. "Tell me what you see."
"Well, I see you. And water. The tide seems to be going out."
"Can you see the texture of the waves? How they rise and fall like a great billowing sheet? Do you see how the wind is blowing sand over the tops of the dunes and reshaping them?"
Hermione watched the landscape for a few moments. "It is fascinating. The leeward side keeps its angle because of how the sand falls."
"Yes, fascinating, and beautiful isn't it? Can you appreciate beauty?"
Hermione turned to look at her in confusion. "What is going on with you today? Did you really take me to a beach to talk about how beautiful it is? Are you dying or something?"
Narcissa swallowed her reflexive rude response. The resulting lump lodged in her throat. She should have let it out and held in everything else. She shouldn't have brought Hermione here at all. There was no room in that bookworm's brain for anything but facts.
"I'm being completely dense," Hermione said, face alighting with realization. "This isn't just about fashion, is it." She took Narcissa's hands in hers. "Miss Black, you're beautiful. Honestly the most beautiful woman I've ever seen. I can appreciate that."
Relief fluttered like a small bird in Narcissa's chest. She wasn't entirely sure what her own intentions had been with this little getaway, but it didn't matter when she felt Hermione pull her close and capture her lips. Narcissa held on tight, knees nearly buckling when Hermione's hands brushed down her sides to follow her hipbones, grazing sensitive skin.
Narcissa murmured, "We should take this somewhere more private."
"Irrelevant," Narcissa said. "Tell me what you want tonight."
Hermione considered for a moment, toying with the sash around Narcissa's waist, then got a playful grin. "Well, I've learned a lot today. You could test me."
"Oh? What do you have in mind?"
"Would there be anyone in the Wardrobe at this time of night?"
"Hmm. No, the only people working this late are in their offices, not handling clothing."
"Then I have an idea."
The Wardrobe was like the most marvelous walk-in closet one could imagine, filled with rack after rack of the latest robes, dresses, shirts, trousers, and accessories. Though Narcissa had walked through it many times, she had never felt quite so electrified.
Hermione led the way, carrying a chair to an out-of-the-way nook. She tucked her fingers into Narcissa's sash and tugged until the ends slipped free, then sat down and held it out on one finger. "Tie this over my eyes and ask me to identify each fabric."
With a racing heart, Narcissa grasped the soft silk of the sash. "You'd like me to blindfold you?"
"If I answer correctly, I expect praise. And if I do well, a reward at the end," Hermione added.
"A reward," Narcissa purred, getting the idea now. She eased closer and stood before Hermione. The balance of power had shifted again. Even as she leaned over the seated witch, even as she tied the blindfold, she was not in charge of this―whatever this was.
"I'm ready, bring me the first item."
Narcissa looked around for inspiration and found something easy to begin with. "Here, what is this made of?"
Hermione only needed a few moments of feeling it. "Denim!"
Obviously, Narcissa thought, then remembered her instructions. "Ah, well done."
Hermione smiled at the positive feedback. It wasn't an unpleasant effect to watch. "Next, please."
Cotton, linen, satin, three different types of crepe, and more. Her fashion-oblivious assistant correctly answered almost every detail.
Narcissa was enjoying this more than she cared to admit. Seeing Hermione eager to touch all sorts of fabrics, Narcissa felt like perhaps she'd gotten through to her at least a little. But was Hermione equally enjoying this, or just putting up with it while waiting for the real fun to begin? Maybe she was waiting for Narcissa to make a move already. Narcissa leaned down and held Hermione's hand open, then gently kissed her palm.
Hermione's breath hitched, and her primly crossed legs opened ever so slightly. Despite this positive reaction, Hermione scolded, "That wasn't a fabric. I'll tell you when I want to feel your mouth on me."
Narcissa blushed hotly, and her mind relaxed again in the certainty that she didn't have to handle everything and make all of the decisions. All she had to do was follow instructions. She went and found more fabrics to test.
Hermione wrinkled her nose. "Rough. That's got to be burlap."
"Correct. Now this?"
Hermione's hands moved over the material and gripped it experimentally. "Wool!" she announced. "Specifically, lamb's wool?"
"Outstanding. You were clearly paying attention during our little excursion today."
Practically glowing at the praise, Hermione shifted in her seat and said, "By Merlin, you have no idea what this does to me. I need you to take me."
"What shall I use?" Narcissa asked, blushing again as she thought of using her mouth, which she hadn't yet tried, and how Hermione might writhe against her in pleasure.
"Remember the one you conjured that night when I came three times? Could you..."
Narcissa smirked and raised her wand. "By all means."