It had been a tough year for Hermione. She had not wanted to be parted from Narcissa. She had not wanted to be separated from her children. She wanted them both in her live. But it turned out soon enough that Narcissa had been right. As long as she and Narcissa were together, Ron was sabotaging the co-parenting they had agreed on when the divorce was spoken. So it was with a heavy heart that she agreed to move out again. With Narcissa's help, she had found an apartment on the outskirts of London. It wasn't overly big, but it was okay. It had two bedrooms, one for her and one for Rose and Hugo, and a small balcony.
"Take your time," Narcissa had said. "Take however many time you need to sort things out and fix it. I'll be waiting." She had hugged her. "I just hope it won't take you too long," she had whispered. "I'd miss you terribly."
It had been a very tearful goodbye and Hermione wondered, not for the first time, whether she'd handled things right.
That night, she lay awake in her bed, staring up to ceiling and crying for everything that she'd messed up. It was weird to be in the apartment all by herself. She had never actually lived on her own before. There had always been other people around. First, she'd been living with her Mum and Dad of course. At Hogwarts, she'd spent her nights in the dorms, along with the other Gryffindor girls in her year. During the holidays, she'd be with her parents or at the Weasleys'. After Hogwarts, she'd shared a house with some of the other Ministry trainees. Then Ron and she had bought a house and lived there until their divorce. Before moving in with Narcissa, she had stayed at Luna and Rolf's. So really, Hermione had never lived on her own.
Maybe she needed this. Maybe she had rushed moving in with Narcissa. But she didn't like this feeling of emptiness at all.
True to his word, Ron brought over Rose and Hugo the morning after she had moved into her new apartment. "Nice place you've got," he commented like nothing had happened between them. Then he Disapparated. Rose and Hugo ran over to her and she hugged them for dear life. Tears flowed freely as she hold them close to her. "Oh darlings, Mummy has missed you so much!"
Once she held Rose and Hugo, she started crying and couldn't stop. It was like a dam had been opened, pouring out all the emotions she had cropped up for a while.
"Mummy, are you okay?" Rose asked concerned.
"Yeah, yeah, I'm sorry sweetie," she tried to smile through her tears and hugged them even tighter. "I'm just really happy to see you again. Mummy will never leave you again," she whispered to them. "I'll always be there for you."
She lifted Hugo in the air and took Rose by the hand. "Come, I'll – I'll show you the room." She took them to the room she had prepared for them. It had a bed on either side of the wall and she had painted it a light shade of green.
"This is we're you'll sleep when you're with Mummy. Together, isn't that nice?"
Hugo bumped on the bed. He turned around to Hermione. "When will you come back home?"
"Daddy misses you," Rose added. "And Hugo and I too."
Hermione felt a lump in her throat at their words. She sat down on Hugo's bed. "Come here, both of you," she said. She padded the place beside her and Hugo crawled onto her lap.
"This is a little difficult to explain," she began. "Do you remember when Mummy and Daddy were fighting all the time?"
Rose nodded her little head.
"Well, sometimes Mummy's and Daddy's fight. And sometimes…" her breath hitched. "Sometimes Mummy's and Daddy's decide it's better if they don't live together anymore. You know, so there will be less fighting."
They were silent for a moment.
"But are still our Mummy if you're not living with Daddy anymore?" Hugo asked in a tiny voice.
Hermione pulled them both firmer into a hug. "Of course sweethearts. Even if I'm not living with Daddy anymore, I'll always be your Mummy."
"Then it's okay," Rose sighed and curled up against her.
Hermione felt the tears well up in her eyes again. I should have talked to them earlier, she thought. I've really handled things terribly. They must have felt so abandoned…
Hermione had thought that things would be better now that the contact with Rose and Hugo was re-established. Instead, just when her life seemed to be back on track, the stress of the past months caught up with her and came crashing down without mercy. She could sleep ten hours and still feel tired. She would cry over the tiniest things. She would want to stay away from everyone and hide indoors, when at other times she just wanted someone to wrap their arms around to comfort her. Sometimes, her hands would start shaking for no reason. Even though she tried to deny it, she, Hermione Granger, brightest witch of her age, war heroine and Ministry depute, suffered from a nervous breakdown at the age of twenty-eight.
She didn't know what to do or how to handle and that was new to her. She had always known what to do. She couldn't talk to anyone about it. Luna was the only one of her friends who wasn't judgemental, but she was still on her research tour. For a moment, she considered talking to Minerva, but she immediately cancelled that out. Minerva had been a terrific mentor, but they had never really talked about their personal lives. She couldn't just get drunk and tell her story to a bartender. She was Hermione after all, one third of what people referred to as the Golden Trio and she knew for sure that if she did such a thing, it would be all over the Prophet in no time. She was simply too well known in the wizarding community. After a couple of months without any real progress, she reached one conclusion: if she wanted help sorting herself out, she needed to go outside of the wizarding community.
So she went to a Muggle psychologist.
"Good evening, my name is David Baldwin."
She looked up the kind eyes in the slightly balding face. David Baldwin radiated confidentiality and she knew instinctively that he wouldn't judge her. She shook his outstretched hand. "Hermione Granger."
"Please take a seat," David said. "Tea?"
She nodded, suddenly unsure as to where to begin.
"Perhaps you'd like to start with tell me a little about yourself? Who are you, what do you do for a living, what are your hobbies…"
She swallowed. "Well like I said, my name is Hermione Granger. I work as an official at the Ministry." She bit her tongue. Don't say 'magic', she thought to herself. "I love reading, going to the theatre and spending time with my kids."
"So you're married," he concluded.
"I was." She hesitated.
"Divorced, then. What happened?"
She started telling him about how she she'd met Ron and how they were high school sweethearts. Ste started telling him about Rose and Hugo and about she and Ron drifting further and further apart.
"And then I met this woman. She was smart and funny and we had the same taste in theatre and such. But she was older. She was the mother of a classmate I didn't particularly get along with at school. And we were both still married."
"I have a feeling that that's part of the reason why you're here, isn't it?"
She nodded shyly.
"Do carry on," David said invitingly.
It took her several settings to actually start feeling a little better again. She had poured her heart out numerous times, revealing bothers that she wasn't even aware of having. A couple of weeks after she'd reached that point, David ended their session with: "I think there is not much more I can do for you. What you need to do right is make up your mind. What is your life going to look like for the next years?"
"I don't know what the future will bring me," Hermione replied, "but I know that I want Narcissa to be a part of it."
"Good," David nodded. "But before you contact her, I think you need to have a talk with Ron, to really close off what you had and clear the air between you, so there won't be any new fights and you and Narcissa can have a new start. Also, when was the last time you've been away on your own?"
As she was on her way to see Ron, she thought back on David's words. Actually, taking a break didn't seem such a bad idea. She decided that, indeed, she would a break of a couple of days. She already knew she'd wanted to go: Rome. She had never been there, but she had read a great deal about it and it fascinated her. But first there was this talk with Ron she needed to have.
A bit uneasy she knocked on the door of what once used to be her own house.
Ron opened and gave her a puzzled look. "Hermione? What are you doing here? I thought you wouldn't pick Rose and Hugo up until Friday?"
"I didn't come for them, I came for you. I want to talk."
Ron raised an eyebrow, but stepped aside nonetheless. "Sure."
She sat down on the couch and Ron took the seat opposite her.
"So, what did you want to talk about?"
"About…everything that has happened the past year."
Ron shuffled uneasy, but she gave him no time to object. "It has been a rough year, for both of us. Let me start by apologising again for cheating on you with Narcissa. I can't change how things happened, but I wish I had handled things differently. I should not have started something with her while I was still married to you. I should not have lied to you. I should have told you myself that I was moving in with Narcissa. It had been better if I had waited a while with moving in altogether. I should have done all those things, but the fact is, I didn't and I want to apologise for that. You didn't deserve the things I did."
She stared at her hands. The next part was a bit more difficult. "You'd probably figured it out already, but I had a nervous breakdown the last couple of months. I've been to a Muggle psychologist to find myself again."
"What's a psychologist?"
"It's someone who talks with you when everything feels like a mess inside your head, when you can't cope with problems you're having."
"Oh, like my Mum?"
Hermione smiled, despite the situation. "Your Mum is a great listener, but a psychologist is someone who does that for a living. I went to see one and he helped me immensely. But he said we needed to clear the air between us. And I want to."
"Well, let me say something too then," Ron said, fidgeting with a pillow. "I should not have kept Rose and Hugo from you, that wasn't fair. I was pissed and offended, but they had nothing to with it. I know how much you care about them, and keeping them from you… I'm sorry that I didn't see that earlier."
"Thank you," she whispered. "That means a lot to me. It was a really hard time."
"It was for me as well."
There was moment's silence between them. Not the awkward or angry silences, but a more consoling one.
"Ron, I have to tell you something and want you not to get mad."
His facial expression hardened. "What is it?"
"I'm going to take a break, see Rome, and when I get back, I intend to get back in touch with Narcissa. I know that's not what you'd hoped for, but I want to be honest this time."
"Is it that big?" he asked softly.
"It's that big," she admitted. "I'm sorry."
"Love sometimes sneaks up on you, right? I get it now," he said. "I still don't like the fact that we broke up, or how you went behind my back, but I get it now. I recently met someone too and…well…I get it," he repeated.
Hermione stared at him.
"What? It's not like you're the only one who can meet other people," he said, a little offended.
"That's great! I am happy for you Ron." She hesitated a little. "Would it be okay if I gave you a hug?"
"I guess so."
She hugged him and that one moment felt like old times. She knew then that in time, they might grew back to being friends again. She left on a friendlier tone then she had come in and she was almost at the door, Ron said:
"Hermione? Don't be a stranger to my parents. They miss you, you know."
She knew what it must have cost him to say that, so she smiled at him. "Thanks Ron. That means a lot. I will remember it."
Ron had offered they could switch weeks, so Hermione could have her trip to Rome. It was early March and spring was announcing itself already in the Italian city. Hermione had booked a simple hotel just a little out of the centre. Rome really was as beautiful as she had pictured it to be.
She wandered through the streets, over Plaza's and Piazza's. She sat on the Spanish Stairs and bought fruit on the market of the Piazza di Fiore. She dwelled through the Forum Romanum and took in the beauty of the ruins of the Coliseum. She went to Vatican City, spent hours in Saint Pete's cathedral and stared at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. It was beautiful, so detailed, so full of colour still after all these years… When she came out, she blinked at the daylight, which was too bright after the shadows in the Cathedral.
She went for a coffee on one of the many terraces and let the early rays of sun warm her face. She loved Rome, but with every architectural highlight or famous artistic work, one thought kept popping up in her mind: Narcissa would have loved this too. And as much as she enjoyed Rome, she knew she would have enjoyed it even better if she had been able to share it with Narcissa. Perhaps I should have contacted and then part to Rome with her, she thought wryly. But there was nothing to be done about it anymore. She figured that she could always come back later, with Narcissa, but the first time discovering a new city was an experience on its own and no matter how many times you went back, that first time would always stay the most special.
She went to the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica and dwelled amidst the ancient Greek and Roman frescos and statues. She was still amazed at what artists from those times had accomplished. She gazed at a replica of the Venus by Milo, whose original could be found in the Louvre. The statue was a sight of perfection, even if she had no arms. She admired the gentle curves her body and the way her eyes seemed to be full of emotion.
"You know, Venus was the Roman goddess of love," she heard a soft voice behind her say and she spun around, her heart beating fast. She would recognise that voice anywhere.
"Narcissa! What are you doing here? I mean…Merlin, it's good to see you!" She hugged her and felt Narcissa's arms around her. "I've missed you."
"I've missed you too."
"What a coincidence that we should run into each other, here, in Rome…" She inhaled and took in Narcissa's perfume. Still the same, she thought and smiled.
Narcissa smiled too. "It wasn't really a coincidence. Do you know how hard it was to find you in a city of millions?"
"I don't understand…"
"Ron came to see me the other day," Narcissa said.
"Ron came to see you?" Hermione echoed.
"Yes, he did. And he basically told me that I needed to move my arse and go to Rome, because that was were you would be. In about those terms."
Hermione laughed. "That does sound terms Ron would use, but I can't believe he actually told you to come here."
"I guess it's his way of saying it's okay," Narcissa said.
"How did you find me?" Hermione asked, a little curious.
"I knew I had no chance of finding you out there, but I knew that one day you couldn't resist the urge to visit one of the Galleria. And since this is biggest and most well-know…"
"That was clever of you," she sighed.
"But how are you doing right now? Have you sorted things out for yourself? Have you found what you were looking for?"
"I have now," Hermione smiled. "Narcissa, if there's one thing I've learnt in the past couple of months, it's that I want a future that has you in it." She looked at the older witch. "Being apart made me realise how much I missed you."
Narcissa bent down and kissed her, soft and gentle. It was a reassuring and comforting kiss, familiar but filled with promises for the future. Her heart skipped a beat and as she kissed Narcissa back, she felt enveloped in love and she knew that finally, she could feel whole again.
A/N: Well, that's it! It feels really weird that it is completed now. I greatly enjoyed exploring both of Hermione and Narcissa's personalities and giving them dept. It was fun finding artwork to match with the story and the characters and writing about those works had me fall in love with them once again. Thanks to all of you for following Hermione and Narcissa and letting me know your opinions on the story. : onecelestialbeing; Black Rose Blue; Headless huntsman; I lie because I love you; Lavinia Swire; lunalestrange4; Yellow 14; HedwigBlack; Fire the Canon; Keep my issues drawn; AriesAriels; cherryredx; Unicorn20089; Michi the Mischievous; Sangkar; LilMissRockDance; TattoodSappho; Greyella; DoctorDonnaObsessed; TamariChan; Ninja Potter; Eliza Spootkitten; Wynnebat; Fridizh; dsrtchck; The Nudge Channel; ColdGreyEyes; liidg; MadameCissy; Amaranta316; TwistedTale; Doors; McDyke; Ryoshu; "Guest"; xThe Painted Lady; singing like blue; MissingMommy; Askara; Jemennuie; selenehekate; neverstoplove; silvernightstorm; reminiscent-afterthought; Cadid423; WeasleySeeker; ShadeXFeather; whether you reviewed only one chapter or all of them, your reviews are very useful and they helped me to continue writing, even if my updates weren't always consistent and sometimes you had to wait quite some time for a new chapter. Also thanks for all the alerts and the favourites. There's too many of you to mention in this A/N, but that doesn't mean it is less appreciated. It's incredible to see how many of you supported me throughout this. You guys are all amazing!