Disclaimer: All characters and the wizarding world used within this belongs to JKR blah blah …. You know the drill! :D
A/N: I have combined with a best friend of mine to write this FF, hope you enjoy!
"There's a grief that can't be spoken.
There's a pain goes on and on.
Empty chairs at empty tables
Now my friends are dead and gone."
The dull ache behind Hermione's cheek bone made her grumble slightly as her eyelids fluttered open. Swinging her legs off the side of the bed she padded her way into the bathroom, the rising sun catching her honey curls in its early morning rays from the gap between the curtains.
Raising her eyes to the bathroom mirror she exhaled slowly, tracing the purple bruise on her left cheek with her fingertips. How she wished he would stop doing that, she knew a part of Ron did love her; he just couldn't control his anger, nor his desperation for things to be different. Hermione lifted her arm to perform several glamour charms on her cheek bone, when a shooting pain went through her ribs. Hissing behind her teeth like an angry cat, she lowered her wand and caught the hem of her tank top, pulling it up high enough to reveal several sickening coloured bruises; combined with what appeared to be a broken rib. Tears brimming her eyes, she worked her appearance so that she was presentable to the outside world, without anybody seeing the signs of the beatings behind closed doors.
Putting her emotional turmoil into a figurative box within her mind, Hermione stepped out of her flat somewhat ready to face the day. Her hair was pinned loosely up, with a few curls falling around her face. Light iridescent, sophisticated make-up graced her features whilst her tight pencil skirt, white blouse and tall black stilettos accentuated her hourglass figure and long, shapely legs. Giving a satisfied Hmmm at her reflection in her front window, she turned on the spot.
Pulling a copy of 'Advanced Transfiguration' off of a self at 'Flourish and Blotts' and paying for it, Hermione turned it over in her palm, desperately trying to locate one of the small alcoves in a shop, so that she could sit and sip her hazelnut latte whilst reading. Her eyes traced the corners of the shop, finally realising that the only free space was in the Muggle section.
Clicking her way across the shops, she plonked herself down at a rounded table, set apart from the rest of the shop and peacefully out of the way of any other shoppers. Sipping her coffee delicately she opened the cover and began to read. Quickly becoming totally immersed in the knowledge that the book was giving her and enjoying the theory provoking statements it was making.
Reaching for her coffee, Hermione was subconsciously weighing up the idea of giving the title of this book to Headmistress McGonagall, using it as one of the books she would use to teach the 7th years at Hogwarts in the coming September. McGonagall had asked her to return as a teacher, once she had finished her NEWTS last year. She had accepted it instantly, and Ron had punished her severely for it. Nonetheless, she was returning as Transfiguration teacher and Ron would not stop her!
Hermione cringed as the hot, sickly taste of a Vanilla late tricked down her throat. Fighting hard not to pull a childish face, Hermione looked down at her hands, which were indeed, clasped around a large coffee cup with the words 'Vanilla Late'.
"Not a fan?" came the musical sound of a woman's voice, warm and tender with a hint of amusement.
Hermione looked up, directly into azure coloured eyes that dazzled her. Narcissa Malfoy quirked an amused eyebrow at Hermione's apparent speechlessness. Hermione swallowed and put the cup down onto the table, realisng that she had obviously picked up Narcissa's late instead of her own, which sat slightly to the left of where Narcissa's had been.
"I'm so sorry Mrs Malfoy, I didn't realise … I." Hermione stammered.
But Narcissa placed a delicate hand onto Hermione's and smiled in earnest.
"No worries, it doesn't matter." Narcissa smiled again before lowering her eyes to the book in her hand.
She had obviously been sitting next to Hermione for some time, not that Hermione had noticed, she had been far too engrossed in her own book. Glancing down at the title of the book that lay in the blonde woman's hands, Hermione frowned in palpable confusion. Narcissa Malfoy was reading 'Pride and Prejudice', a Muggle romance classic.
It had been some years since Hermione had last read 'Pride and Prejudice', but her memory filled with thoughts of the love story, the trials and struggles that came with the gentry back in the 19th century.
Her mind wandered onto the feelings of romance that had long since gone from her marriage, the loving feeling, the feeling of safety. She looked down at her coffee and sighed deeply. As she went to take a drink, reaching her hand across the table, she realised it wasn't her coffee and snapped back to the present. Her pale cheeks flushed gently as she remembered she wasn't alone at the table.
Narcissa watched Hermione from across the table. She knew that sigh well. She could see the young woman's eyes filled with emotion, and as Hermione's eyes met Narcissa's, she caught a glimpse of the pain. The pain Hermione was so desperately trying to hide. Narcissa reached her hand over to the Vanilla Latte and picked it up. Gently taking a sip, Hermione followed suit and drank from her own coffee cup, the Hazelnut kick this time sliding down her throat rather than the sickly vanilla.
The two women sat there, in silence for a few moments, neither knowing what to say to the other. Hermione gently smoothed one of her curls back behind her ear, looked up into Narcissa's eyes and held eye contact.
"Again, I'm sorry I took your coffee Mrs ..." Hermione began, but Narcissa waved a hand softly, cutting her off mid sentence.
"Call me Narcissa, Mrs. Malfoy sounds so .." Narcissa said, trying to think of any reason as to why she didn't want to be reminded of her married name.
Hermione was surprised. She looked at Narcissa, taking notice of her sleek blonde hair, so very controllable in comparison to her own wild curls. She looked at her face, the sincerity of her words was apparent from her expression.
"Ok, Narcissa ..." Hermione said cautiously, in case the invitation was revoked.
Narcissa simply smiled, a stunning smile, but as Hermione looked, it appeared Narcissa's smile may have been on her lips, but it wasn't in those eyes. This time Hermione saw emotion in Narcissa's eyes, a desperation being suppressed.
The silence between them was broken by a muggle dropping a book onto the table beside Narcissa. It fell with a thud, making both Hermione and Narcissa jump a little. Hermione hurriedly closed her book, slipped it from the table and into her bag. The one trouble with sitting in the muggle section, the constant chance that a magical book would be noticed.
Narcissa smiled again, this time in amusement.
"This is why a classic is a good idea in here, even if the inside is somewhat different" Narcissa observed, sliding her copy of Pride and Prejudice across the table. She watched as Hermione took the book with an inquisitive look flash across her face. Narcissa continued to watch the range of emotion cross Hermione's face as she read what was in fact Curses and Counter-curses.
Hermione looked at Narcissa in disbelief. It was so simple, yet so very clever. She smiled a genuine smile at Narcissa and said:
"This is genius, its brilliant ..."
The muggle at this point growled something about this being a quite reading table and hoped the two ladies were finished. Narcissa and Hermione looked at one another, and smiled.
"Would you like to come back to mine, where we can talk properly?" Narcissa asked, and without another word Hermione collected her bag and followed Narcissa from the small corner of the muggle shop they had found themselves in, watching her long coat billow in the gentle breeze.
Hermione was somewhat surprised when Narcissa did not stop to apperate, instead she lead Hermione through London to an elegant set of flats on Sloane Square. Climbing the steps behind Narcissa, the younger witch was acutely aware of a pounding in her chest, nerves combined with a reflex fear she supposed.
Stopping outside a flat door, no different and no more luxurious than any other, Narcissa pulled out a key from within her cloak and unlocked the door, gesturing for Hermione to enter.
Stepping into the hallway, Hermione marvelled at the stylish interior of the flat she now found herself in, it put hers to shame! The walls were white with small silver birds on the walls, which dived and flew graciously across the wallpaper. The look was very modern muggle and Hermione was pleasantly surprised to find a large flat screen T.V in the front room, to which Narcissa had just led her to.
"A flat?" Hermione queried.
"yes, I prefer it to Malfoy Manner. Lucius and I, well, the divorce is nearly done and I like my own space away from that bastard." She replied, seemingly at ease.
The blonde witch stepped out of her heels and put them in a corner, Hermione followed suit, agreeing that heels would not be a good thing on the carpet. Her feet felt the warmth of the soft carpet and she exhaled, feeling somewhat more relaxed, though still a tad awkward.
"Take a seat Hermione, can I get you a drink? A glass of wine maybe?" Narcissa asked casually whilst pulling the clip from her long hair and running her hands through it, sauntering into the kitchen.
"Rose if you have it please?" Hermione answered softly.
Narcissa turned back to look at her with a devilish grin on her face, "of course I do!"
Hermione found the smile infectious and smiled coyly in return before contemplating sitting on one of the plush leather sofas. Instead, she decided she would sit on the floor and curl her legs underneath her. Looking down at her hands, Hermione's eyes filled with unshed tears as the sunlight caught her wedding ring, reflections of its gold and diamond qualities playing across her face. Narcissa choose that moment to re enter her front room, carrying two glasses and a cold bottle of rose wine.
The older witch cocked her head slightly at Hermione's decision to sit on the floor, but promptly shrugged her shoulders and joined her on the carpet. Hermione watched as Narcissa closed her fingers gently around the neck of the bottle and the cork instantly flew off.
"Wandless, and non-verbal. Pretty impressive Narcissa" Hermione remarked, somewhat astonished.
The older woman laughed slightly, a rich but musical sound, and continued to pour two glasses of wine, handing one to Hermione and keeping the other loosely in her grip. Raising it to her lips she noted how Hermione watched the light shine through the pink liquid in her glass, as the contents moved gracefully. The younger woman had a distant, pained look in her amber coloured eyes. The flecks of gold in them that should have sparkled, were dull, and the darker rings to them that should have been dazzling her with their affluence of colour and knowledge, remained lifeless.
A soft frown edged Narcissa's face as she looked at the young woman before her:
"So, I heard you were returning as Transfiguration mistress and teacher this year? Head of Gryffindor House too?" Narcissa prompted carefully.
Hermione sat up a little straighter and she smiled brightly, but it didn't reach her eyes:
"Yes, Minerva asked me to return a little while ago, I go back in September."
Narcissa took another swig from her glass and Hermione followed suit, relishing in the strong burn as it slipped down her throat. She had forgotten how much alcohol used to help her stress levels, so her eyes briefly fluttered shut at the pleasant surprise of its relinquishing of her nerves. Opening her eyes again she was faced with the sight of Narcissa Malfoy, frowning in concern.
"You do know your marital problems won't go away, no matter how many bottles of wine you drink?" Narcissa asked bluntly.
Hermione was gobsmacked. There were no words for her to come back with, so she just sat there gapping like a fish at the woman in front of her. That is, until a bird flew through the open window and dropped what looked to be a red envelope into Hermione's lap.
She cocked her head to the side and flipped it over, noticing what it was and who it was from, she instantly started to panic.
"I need to go, I err…. Sorry but-." Hermione went to spring to her feet but fingers encircled her wrist, preventing her from doing so.
"Hermione open it, Howlers just get messy if you don't open it. " Narcissa answered softly, her other hand upon Hermione's shoulder, keeping her seated.
"No I really shouldn't-" but it was too late.
Ron's voice came crashing upon them as the howler exploded, causing Hermione to visibly shake.
"Hermione Weasley! …" Ron screamed. "I come home to find no dinner on the table and you have completely disappeared! Off with some bloke I bet, you filthy whore! You best come home this instant else you will get the hiding of your life woman! You are at MY beck and call not the other way around! I want you home. NOW." He roared at her, before the envelope promptly burst into flames and Hermione was sat opposite Narcissa once more, deathly pale and shaking all over.
Narcissa's clear azure eyes looked at Hermione. A once strong young woman, who was now half the person she used to be, or indeed could become. Narcissa remembered well the feisty witch as a young Hogwarts student with wisdom and ability beyond her years. She looked now at the shell of person, stunning on the outside, but filled with torment and pain inside. Narcissa was furious. She lifted herself gracefully from the floor and moved next to Hermione, gently sitting next to her.
Hermione was shaking, her neatly manicured nails pressing into her knees. He breathing was loud and irregular and her eyes fixed to the point in mid air where the howler had been moments ago. Her eyes filled with tears, one fell, followed by another, until her face was covered. She let out deep sobs, releasing the hurt, fear and pain she was keeping hidden inside.
Narcissa sat beside her, thinking fast about what she should do, how she could help this poor woman. She knew as well as anyone how cruel men could be, how easily they can change and how quickly it can destroy even the liveliest of spirits.
Narcissa reached out her arm, towards Hermione's shoulders then drew back. Could it be too soon? Another minute past, and Hermione continued to sob. Empathy began to flow through Narcissa's veins, and more boldly extended her arm this time. She delicately touched Hermione's shoulder, and felt Hermione flinch. Hermione looked up in surprise and looked at Narcissa.
Hermione had nothing left to lose, and the tears began again. Narcissa gently slid her arm around Hermione's shoulder and pulled her close. Narcissa could feel the soft silkiness of Hermione's blouse, and gently stroked her fingers along her arm in an attempt to comfort the poor woman.
Hermione clung to Narcissa, finding she felt safe for the first time in such a long time. She had missed the touch of someone who actually cared, rather than someone who was going to hurt her. Hermione suddenly winced, and cried out in pain. Her nails had broken the skin on her knees, causing a small amount of blood to be drawn from several little marks.
Narcissa moved to sit in front of Hermione, and took her hands. The tissue box from the coffee table moved and landed itself next to Hermione. Narcissa took a tissue, handed it to Hermione, then took another, wiping the blood from Hermione's knees and finger nails.
With red bloodshot eyes, Hermione looked at Narcissa. The older woman sat as Hermione wiped her eyes, took a deep breath, and gently squeezed Narcissa's hands. Narcissa released one of Hermione's hands, and gently brushed a rebellious curl of Hermione's hair out of her eyes.
Only to draw back and gasp, it seemed that the emotional outburst had broken the glamour charm the young Gryffindor had placed on herself earlier that day. And now the bruise had extended, swelled and given Hermione a glorious black eye, as well as a deep cut where a ring appeared to have slashed across her nose and cheek. Narcissa growled slightly and stood, offering a hand to Hermione and helping her stand, noting the wince of pain as the brunettes arm elevated and pulled at her ribs.
Narcissa raised an eyebrow, her eyes turning to slits. "Let me look."
The words had come out harsher than intended and she watched Hermione draw back slightly, fear and apprehension in her eyes. Narcissa lowered her head, making a conscious effort to regain a comforting composure she tried again,
"I'm not going to hurt you Hermione, I just want to see if I can heal it."
Hermione looked like a deer caught in the head lights, her eyes wide and frightened, her limbs shaking and her teeth sinking into her plush red lips. Without dropping her gaze Hermione untucked her blouse and unbuttoned it with difficulty, the briefest flashes of pain gracing her features. Swallowing hard she pulled the blouse off, revealing her body from the hips upwards to Narcissa Malfoy. The idea of it was crazy, and in any other mindset Hermione would have run a mile, but Narcissa seemed to have change, she seemed to genuinely care.
Indeed, said woman was now cautiously approaching the brunette, one hand delicately placed in front of her mouth, preventing the gasp that threatened to overcome her. Hermione averted her eyes when Narcissa bent to her knees before her, and began tracing the deep gashes and fresh, purple bruises that covered her body, tracing them dexterously with her fingertips. Looking down at the blonde woman kneeling in front of her through her eyelashes, Hermione saw Narcissa close her eyes and felt the hand on her abdomen heat up, watching it glow golden as it passed over her skin.
Astonished, Hermione felt a warm, tingly, beautiful feeling spread through her entire body, wrapping itself around her ribs and settling in her stomach. Her amber eyes watching overwhelmed as her skin began to return to its normal milky colour underneath Narcissa's glowing hand.
After Narcissa had finished, she looked up at Hermione with tears threatening to overthrow her composure. The empathy she felt for the young woman in front of her was incredible, she had never been able to show anything but disdain for the young woman until her court day. But now, the young witch was here in here flat, covered in bruises from domestic abuse, and Narcissa wanted to never let her go.
"Thank you" Hermione breathed in amazement.
Standing Narcissa clicked her fingers and Hermione's blouse re-buttoned itself and a zip up hoodie came flying through the door to the bedroom. Narcissa handed it to the younger woman, who looked at it confused.
"It's cold outside. And You'll freeze, plus it might bring you a little comfort. I will always be here Hermione. To listen, to heal you, to provide wine if its needed. Whatever it is, don't hesitate okay?"
Narcissa seemed so sincere. Her eyes blazing with a fire Hermione had never seen before, it drew her to the older woman. Gently leaning forward she put her arms around the older woman and hugged her, resting her head on Narcissa's shoulder.
"I'm so scared. I don't want to go home" Hermione whispered into Narcissa's golden hair.
The older witch tightened her grip around the younger woman, drawing small circles on her back in a comforting manner.
"I'll always be here. I promise" she whispered back.
The brunette steeled herself and pulled back, pushing her feet into her shoes, she walked to the front door, whispered a few glamour charms and turned back to Narcissa, as beautiful as when she had arrived, no signs of a hysterical melt down on her flawless features.
"I'll see you in September, if not before Hermione." Narcissa smiled.
"September?" Hermione queried, now outside the door to Narcissa's flat.
"Yes I am returning to teach Defence against the dark arts, and I will be head of Slytherin house. I think they need, a woman's touch." Narcissa was watching Hermione carefully, but the only true emotion shown in her amber eyes was a shy happiness.
Hermione travelled home. Every step she took closer to that flat made her stomach turn. By the time she reached the driveway, she could hardly think. Her heart pounded, and her hands were shaking. She fumbled in her pocket, trying to find her key. Her hand trembled as she slipped the key into the lock and turned. The clunk of the door unlocking was followed by a gulp. She took a deep breath, and stepped into the lobby of the building.
She looked around the space, muggle bicycles and an umbrella holder by the door. She knew if she took another step across the dark wooden floor her shoes would give her away. Ron would come to the front door, and everything would become very public. In her mind, there was the option of simply turning around and walking away, but in her heart she knew that wouldn't work. Ron would find her, and when he did, it would be so bad; too bad to imagine. With a final deep breath, an attempt at composure, she took fast, purposeful steps up the single flight of stairs to her flat.
She used her second door key, turned it and entered her lounge. She instantly wished she hadn't. She faced a room full of damaged, broken or destroyed furniture. Meaningful keepsakes strewn carelessly across the floor, and the photo of their wedding day lying with shattered glass and a cracked frame.
As she remembered that day, she thought of her dress, how happy she felt and how much she wanted to spend the rest of her life with Ron. She felt the stab of guilt as she realised she didn't want that anymore. She didn't like the person Ron had become, and as much as it hurt her to think it, she wasn't sure how much she loved him any more.
The door slammed behind her causing her blood to run cold. She stood so still, afraid to breath. The footsteps came slowly, getting closer. She felt Ron's hand skim past her back, and onto her hair. He spread out his hand across her head, rested it for a moment, then gripped and pulled backwards.
Hermione let out a gasp as she was dragged backwards. Ron pulled her head level with his shoulder.
"Where were you ..." he snarled slowly, in barely more than a whisper
"Out. Just at the book shop" choked Hermione, desperately holding the tears back.
"Thats not true is it!" Screamed Ron, his face flushing to match his vibrant red hair. He threw Hermione towards the floor. She looked up at him,
"How dare you look at me? How dare you? You unfaithful little whore! Why did I marry a mudblood? Of all the things to do ..."
Mudblood. Mudblood. Mudblood. The word rang in her ears. He used it. He called her that name. It hurt so badly, like being stabbed. Hermione realised she couldn't take any more. Risking another broken bone, she looked into her husband's eyes and saw the anger and violence bubbling there, like she had so many times before. Finding all the strength she had left, Hermione got to her feet, slowly removed her wedding ring, dropped it to the floor by Ron's feet and walked quickly to the bathroom.
Locking the door, she felt a little safer. Moments later that feeling dissolved as Ron began pummelling on the door. Making sure she had her wand, Hermione apparated out of the bathroom, and she only had one place in the world she wanted to go, and only one person she wanted to see.