Disclaimer: J. K. Rowling is our queen, undisputedly. I'm just a petty thief who enjoys tinkering around in another's world.
Rating: M/NC-17. Graphic femslash in future chapters. Shhhh. Just go along with me and pretend it's permissible on this site. I'm hardly the only one.
Warnings: Sex. Violence. Quite possibly some of both together; I mean, we are talking about Bellatrix Lestrange, here.
Pairing(s): Hermione/Bellatrix, Hermione/Narcissa, Hermione/Andromeda. And possible combinations therein, depending on my whim or the desires of my darling readers.
A/N for the story: If you want a frequently updated, short, or fast-paced fiction, go elsewhere. I have plans for this to be a lengthy piece, with actual reasons for our favorite ladies to jump in bed together, rather than the usual: pshhh, the attraction is totally there and that's all that matters attitude I often run across. Also, I am a busy person, with at least three-quarters of my mind existing in the real word at all times, which doesn't exactly make me an ideal fanfiction writer in terms of update speed. Still, it will be completed, all of my work is. And just to mention it, this is unbetaed. I hate rereading my own work, so more than likely there will be typos, but nothing so serious as to detract from the story, I should hope. Is that a long enough, rambling enough author's note? Don't worry; it's only on this one chapter.
Hermione Granger did not destroy a Horcrux. In fact, Hermione Granger did not ever set out to destroy Horcruxes. Beyond this, Hermione Granger never actually became friends with Harry Potter or Ronald Weasley. How? Why? Because in a different reality, in a different time, Harry Potter and Ronald Weasley somehow managed to scrape by alone to defeat the Dark Lord, and they were forced to do this alone because of one small inconsistency in the timeline of the day: Hermione Granger's parents died when she was three years old. She spent a single month in a Muggle orphanage, followed by one year in a Wizarding orphanage, where she was then adopted by a wizarding family with much in the way of good intentions but little in the way of income and means.
And so, Hermione Granger did not attend Hogwarts. Her adoptive parents taught her the minimal spellwork to keep her own magic in check and spells to help them with the upkeep of the small inn they ran on the outskirts of Diagon Marketplace, but nothing beyond that. When her acceptance letter arrived by owl on the eve of her eleventh birthday, her family sat her down, told her that she didn't need a fancy education to be happy, and proceeded to put an end to any dream of such learning before it could begin. Instead, Hermione cooked, stripped bedsheets, cleaned linens, swept floors, stocked pantries, scrubbed showers, and ran errands to keep her second mother and father from going broke altogether. She knew that they loved her, and she came to love them in return, and logic told her perfectly well that if she were not there to help her new parents, the inn would close, and even if she insisted on attending Hogwarts, they had no money for spellbooks or robes or fancy equipment. She hadn't even her own wand, using instead a splintered hand-me-down from a great-great-grandparent she wasn't even related to.
She tried not to begrudge her family. But it was hard, watching the children she befriended in the summer disappear each fall and return with eyes full of wonder and stories of magic she may well never see. She learned to read cookbooks and two-knut fiction scrolls sold by the vendor in the corner stall, but the shop selling spellbooks was far beyond her earnings, and the only library was too far to walk. On a few precious occasions, her mother would Apparate with her to that end of the district, but she could only browse and read in the few hours they spent, as there was no guarantee she could return the books before a late fee was incurred. Still, she taught herself what she could from the other children, and her parents helped where they could.
She was always a bright girl, and grew up street-smart if not book-smart, with a constant longing to know more, to understand everything.
When her father grew ill shortly after her seventeenth birthday, her mother was too stressed and overworked to make household decisions, leaving Hermione to sell the inn, using the money to set up her mother and herself in a small but sanitary apartment only a block from St. Mungo's, where she had her father admitted for an indefinite time. The next thing to do was to find a new job. She vowed that she would continue to support the family who raised her until she had worked herself past the point of endurance.
For a year, she truly had to. The war was on, and Voldemort's shadow seemed determined to bleed the very life out of every wizarding household and business. Hermione had to work three jobs to keep her mother living in relative comfort, while her father was quickly fading despite the best care she could afford for him. On weekdays, she worked as a cleaner in the Ministry of Magic, keeping her head bowed as she scuffled in and out of conference rooms and private offices. She learned much about the war, then, absorbing gossip and politics and more information than she had ever had about the world beyond Diagon. After dragging herself exhausted from the Ministry at nightfall, she headed over to the Leaky Cauldron to bartend, having to falsify her age as well as escape the lecherous eyes and wandering hands of drunken patrons. On weekends, she was a nanny and chauffer for a wealthy pureblood family whose three children were still too young to attend Hogwarts.
Each of her jobs was degrading in its own way, and the vibrant young woman she had been growing into was quickly being crushed under the weight of so much exhaustion, so much pain, and so little time to herself.
Then, in a single day, the war had ended. While most of the world celebrated, Hermione once more found herself out of luck. The pureblood family fled the country without even giving her a final paycheck, the ministry decided that—as part of their new, progressive stance—they would do their own upkeep, and routine employee background checks which had been neglected during Voldemort's reign of terror suddenly revealed Hermione to be three years too young to bartend. Her employer, a friendly man, simply muttered as he handed over her last earnings, "At least you were legal. But Seventeen's only legal for magic, dearie, to handle wizarding booze you know you've got to be twenty."
Trying not to cry, Hermione was thankful that at least he hadn't gotten her arrested.
Back in the apartment, Hermione summoned what newspapers she could from the garbage bins in the alley out their window and began scrounging for job opportunities.
She was interviewed by a family looking for a full-time nanny, but the hours would leave her no time for a second job, and the pay just wasn't enough on its own. She trekked to the far corner of the marketplace for an interview at a large owlery, but the position was filled before she arrived. Back at the Ministry, she saw two separate employees about secretarial positions, but without schooling she simply wasn't qualified in their eyes.
Stepping into a crowded lift, she was on her way out of the ministry, preparing to attempt another bartending job in one of the less savory pubs out of sheer desperation. She almost got out when the majority of the others did, walking in a daze, but caught herself, noticing that she still had three floors to go.
Left with only one other occupant, they were between her floor and the one below it when the lift shuddered, jittered, made a strange, almost hiccup-y sound, and stalled.
The figure behind her, a tall woman with fair brown hair and solid black robes let out a curse and kicked the side of the lift.
By contrast, Hermione's reaction made the woman's seem mild. The events of the past days finally coming to a head, she let out a strangled cry and crumpled, sliding down the wall and starting to sob into the sleeves of her best, interview-only robes.
With her face buried in her arms, she couldn't see the other woman approach, but she did feel gentle fingers come to rest on her shoulder. "Are you alright?" For some reason entirely unknown to herself, this only made Hermione cry harder. "Of course you aren't alright; you're sobbing in the lift. What am I thinking?" She felt the other woman slide down beside her and put an arm around her shoulders. "You haven't got claustrophobia, have you?"
Somehow, Hermione found this strangely comical, and her sobs became mixed with half-hiccupped laughter. "N-no, it… I'm alright, or, I will be—"
"Come off it. If it isn't the lift, then you may as well get it off your chest. Talk to me. I'm a stranger, what could it hurt?"
Allowing her tear-streaked eyes to pear up from the crease of her elbow, Hermione truly looked at this woman for the first time. She had a kind face, and a striking one, with aristocratic features softened by full lips. But her skin was beyond pale, and dark shadows hung heavy beneath her eyes, the slight wrinkles there belaying her otherwise youthful beauty. Her hair was longer than Hermione's and a shade paler as well, but the long curls looked oddly unkempt, as though she had rolled out of bed without fixing them. Altogether, she looked quite as tired as Hermione felt. "I'm sorry," Hermione started. "It's just… It's been a rough few days."
The arm tightened around her shoulders for a moment as the older woman replied, "That's it has."
Hermione blinked for a moment, somewhat surprised to run into someone else who wasn't still in the midst of celebration and revelry regarding the Dark Lord's fall.
"So I'm not the only one, then?"
A chuckle. "Hardly," the woman said dryly.
Hermione sniffed rather indelicately, and watched as a wand was pulled from the woman's sleeve before she briskly conjured a handkerchief. Vaguely, Hermione found herself missing the comforting warmth of that arm about her shoulders.
"Thanks," she murmured, dabbing her eyes and blowing her nose. Without a word, the handkerchief was banished once more, leaving two tired women settled on the floor of a broken Ministry lift.
"We're likely to be stuck here for some time."
Hermione nodded, well aware of the famous fail that made up the Ministry maintenance department.
"So. If you don't mind, could I pry again? What happened in your life? You look like you could use an open ear…"
Looking into warm eyes – dark, that shade between chocolate and black – Hermione felt a flood of words and emotions claw their way up her throat and to her own surprise, she talked.
"I'm stuck," she started, her voice cracking. "I lost my job—hell, I lost three jobs in a single day, and no one will hire me now that the war is over. I'm too young, and too inexperienced, and I don't even have a formal education. My father is dying at St. Mungo's, and I've been barely scraping up enough each month to pay his fees. Not to mention, I can't let my mother know that I've been working three jobs, because she's too emotionally unstable over dad to hold up a job, but she'd insist on it if she knew what I've been doing."
"What have you been doing?" the woman asked, her voice compassionate, but firmly inquisitive.
"I was a cleaner here at the ministry from five to ten, and then I worked the bar down at the Leaky Cauldron till it closed. Weekends I was a glorified nanny for three young children. Now, the ministry does its own cleaning, I was ousted from bartending for being too young, and the pureblood family I worked for fled after the war."
She couldn't meet the other woman's eyes any longer, afraid any pity or repulsion she saw there would bring her to tears again. After all, most people's reactions to an uneducated cleaning girl ranged only in the spectrum of disdain or disgust. She hardly ranked higher than a house-elf to the average witch or wizard.
For a moment, the woman was silent, then she murmured, "Five in the morning? By Merlin, you can't have gotten out of the Leaky Cauldron till three at the earliest, and having to rush to the Ministry a mere two hours later? I dare say you're lucky to be alive, living on that little sleep."
Daring a look up, Hermione could see only compassion in the older witch's eyes. "I slept on my lunch break," she hesitantly continued. "And sometimes in one of the offices if I knew there was a meeting going on. And supper hour, most days. I told my mum that I've been working a nice, cozy secretary job here, and that they give me an apartment to stay in. That's why I'm 'never home'."
Looking down once again, Hermione noticed her hands were shaking. She squeezed them together, but the woman had already seen, and she gently took one from Hermione's lap and encased it protectively between her own. "No one should live like that," she said softly. "You're tiny. You've been practically starving yourself for a spot of sleep! How long has this been going on?"
"Roundabouts a year now, I suppose." Hermione was beginning to feel safe with this woman, far safer than she had felt in a long time. When her next question led Hermione further into the tale of her upbringing, it took little coaxing to speak of why she didn't attend Hogwarts, her life at the inn, even the tale of her first parents dying in tragic plane crash.
"They were Muggle dentists. I hardly remember a thing about them, but I knew they were good people; they were in Africa, working with Operation Smile—it's a Muggle thing where people volunteer or donate money to help surgically correct facial deformities in children. They were on a small private plane traveling from a village to one of the cities. Engine failure. I had no living family members, and since most of their work had always been nonprofit, the small sum I inherited went to the Muggle orphanage I was first put in. Nothing went with me to the wizarding children's home. When the Tearsons adopted me, they asked if I wanted to keep my last name. As a three year old, it was like asking if I wanted to keep my teddy bear. So I'm still a Granger."
Suddenly, it crossed Hermione's mind that not only had she been subjecting this woman to her entire life story without a second thought, but she didn't even know her name.
"I'm terribly sorry, I didn't mean to go on and on," she said, a blush spreading across her cheeks. She started to withdraw her hand from where it lay contentedly between two comforting palms, but the witch subtly tightened her grip, and Hermione didn't fight the contact again. "I-I don't even know your name… I'm Hermione Granger."
Without letting go of Hermione's fingers, the woman turned to face her, only to find Hermione once more staring down at her own lap. A gentle finger placed beneath her chin coaxed Hermione to look up, meeting a gaze she couldn't quite make sense of.
"Don't apologize, Hermione. That's the first thing. Don't let anyone have a power over you that they haven't earned. In this lift, who is to say that you're any less important than me? You have so much unchecked potential… I think it is well beyond time that someone helped you take control of your own life. If you'll hear me out, I may have a job for you."
Before Hermione had a chance to sort through that information, the lift jerked to life, resuming its upward journey with the ominous clanking that clearly meant all was as well as could be expected.
Andromeda rose from the floor and offered Hermione a hand. Hermione took it and stood as well. Before she could take back her hand, the woman used her grip to draw Hermione's attention once more. "I'm Andromeda. Andromeda Black. Allow me to get us lunch and we can continue this conversation over a cup of tea and some food."
It clearly wasn't a question. All the same, Hermione responded, "Alright, that sounds – Alright."
Andromeda chuckled, squeezed Hermione's hand once more, and dropped it as the grate slid aside to reveal the Ministry Atrium.
Hermione followed the older woman just a step behind until they reached the Floo chamber. Hermione hesitated as Andromeda joined one of the queues. She had cleaned the soot from this floor many a time, but had never actually used it to travel. Only official Ministry workers and high-status guests were permitted here.
Seeing Hermione's reluctance, Andromeda returned to her side. "What is it?"
Hermione blushed. "I've never… I haven't actually used the Floo before. My apartment isn't even connected to the network."
The other witch's eyes widened a fraction, but she took charge, not allowing Hermione time to feel any more embarrassed. "Come along then, here, take my arm…" She guided Hermione's hand to the crook of her elbow. "…and just don't let go. The only bad part of Floo travel comes if you breathe too much. Magical soot is right unpleasant for the sinuses."
The joking comment served its purpose, distracting Hermione as they reached the front of the line and stepped together into one of the giant fireplaces. "And keep your eyes closed." Casting down her handful of powder, Andromeda spoke with precision, "Diagon Alley!"
Green flames obscured Hermione's vision just long enough to remind her to close her eyes. Then, she felt the world begin to spin around her, feet no longer touching anything resembling solid ground, wind roaring past her ears. Her fingers tightened around Andromeda's elbow, the only thing keeping her remotely grounded. As quickly as it had started, the motion halted, and she staggered as her feet hit ground that seemed to be in a distinctly different place than before her journey. Luckily, the other witch caught her with a gentle arm about her waist, giving her a moment to let her head stop spinning.
"Blimey…" she muttered. "I hardly see why anyone would choose to travel like that…" she added, collecting herself enough to take a step away from Andromeda.
She gave a slight laugh. "I find the toilets rather more distasteful."
Taking a moment to consider the spinning heads she had seen disappearing down the Ministry drains—another form of transport she had never been given an opportunity to try—she decided that perhaps Floo was the better choice. Herself, she preferred to travel via the personal, cleaning staff phone booth, even if it was often cramped with three or more people and was located in a distinctly shadier part of the city.
Walking again, Hermione stayed a step behind her odd acquaintance, studying her, trying to make sense of her. She noticed once again that Andromeda was taller than her, and seemed to walk with… purpose. No, more than that, she walked with presence. Her confidant strides said, "Notice me," in the same way her patrician features said, "I'm something beyond you." Her robes were clearly tailored; the heeled boots Hermione caught glimpses of beneath the hem of the robes were probably worth more than her yearly income. She felt the hopeful feeling that had come over her in the lift begin to fade. What could someone so clearly a member of high society want with a cleaning girl? Why had she been so kind to her in the lift?
Before she could talk herself out of it, though, they had reached a café beside Flourish and Blotts, one of the more popular lunch destinations, but an affordable one, where Hermione had eaten numerous times… before her father had fallen ill… before everything had gone to pieces…
Andromeda held out Hermione's chair for her like a proper gentleman, and it brought a smile to the younger witch's face once more.
While they waited to order, neither witch seemed ready to break the silence, but after the waitress had left, Andromeda propped her elbows on the table top and began her own tale.
"Since you haven't seemed to change your opinion of me since I told you my name, I'm guessing you haven't had the time to follow the news in this past week."
Hermione shook her head; sipping absentmindedly on a cup of tea she couldn't quite remember ordering. She hadn't been paying any attention to the goings on of the world in these two and a half weeks since the Dark Lord's end. The first week she was still working, the second she was being fired…
"Then it's of little surprise you haven't heard my name before. I've had a… low profile life. I had a husband and a daughter. She was an Auror, and a good one, but like so many others, she wasn't quite lucky enough to survive the war. My husband died as well; they didn't even know who he was – just a routine raid made by Snatchers."
Hermione held a hand over her mouth in shock, trying to understand how this woman remained so kind and collected after such recent tragedy. "Merlin, that's… I'm so sorry, I…"
Andromeda waved away her words. "What's done is done. In some ways, it was for the better. My husband and I were preparing for a divorce, and it would've hurt my Nymphadora so horribly… We had only stayed together so long for her sake. There was no love left between us… he was a wonderful, kind man, but he couldn't reconcile the fact that I grew up in a different world than him. I was not interested in any sort of blind devotion, neither the sort he had for the Aurors and Dumbledore, nor the sort my sister had for Voldemort."
Hermione's eyes widened at the casual, biting tone with which she spoke his name. Even after his fall, very few took the chance that his name might still bring death to their homes.
Andromeda continued without pause. "I escaped from one sort of madness into another, when I married Ted. I thought I was freeing myself, but…" she visibly shook herself. "But that is hardly relevant. Either way, at least my daughter died without having to grieve her father, and she died in the arms of her own husband, who she loved very much. However, it was still the wrong time for her to die. They had just had a child."
Hermione stifled a noise of surprise.
"And they left me to raise him. But I… I am not cut out to mother again." Her face closed. "I visit him often, I give him what love I can, but he is better off where he can be surrounded by love. With the responsibilities I now have, it was only safe for me to let his godfather raise him, with the help of the entire Weasley family, of course."
Hermione was having a bit of a hard time following at this point, but she didn't interrupt. Clearly, Andromeda had given up her grandson to be raised elsewhere, but seemed to have taken care that he was raised well. She could not grudge her that. Andromeda seemed to be at a pause in her story, and Hermione wondered why the other witch felt she deserved to know all this about her.
With a soul-deep sigh, Andromeda continued. "Now, the important part, I suppose. I'm sure you've heard the name Bellatrix Lestrange?"
Again, Hermione nodded. Yes, she had heard of Bellatrix Lestrange. The Dark Lord's right hand. A mad Death Eater, escaped from Azkaban with her equally mad husband.
"She is my sister."
For a second, Hermione took this in stride, as she had every other word from Andromeda's mouth. Then, the words hit home. "What? She's your – you're related to –"
"Yes. Bellatrix Black was one of three sisters. Myself and Narcissa—Narcissa Malfoy, now—being the other two. But I left the family; I was disowned, for marrying a Muggle-born. I had no contact with Bellatrix and very little with Narcissa until this past year.
"Now, there are two things that you must know about Bella. She's insane. That means she's absolutely illogical, absolutely unaware of common sense. But she is also the most resourceful, devious, cunning survivor I've crossed paths with. Everyone, literally everyone thought she had been killed by Molly Weasley in the final battle. It wasn't until she stood up three hours later and asked –" she cringed at the recollection "—where the party had gone… that we finally realized Molly Weasley had never been capable of a Killing Curse. By then, the only ones left in the room were the dead and the grieving families. Thinking back now, I'm not sure what possessed me to do it, but when wands were drawn and curses began flying at her, I yelled for everyone to stop. I reminded them that there was to be no more killing. The battle was over, those left on the losing side were to get a trial. I personally took Bella's wand and chained her, personally led her over to the other prisoners, while all the time she laughed in my ear and taunted me that she had been right all along – that blood was the only thing that mattered, that I couldn't kill her because she was my blood…"
Andromeda was clearly lost in her own world, reliving those moments, and Hermione was equally entranced by the smooth, aristocratic voice gone hoarse with memory.
"But she was wrong. It wasn't any of her misguided notions of pureblood supremacy that made me save her, it was my own humanity. And perhaps just a bit of… vindictiveness. I wanted to prove that, for once, I had more power than her. Now, she's in my debt and regardless of right or wrong, that feels good."
Andromeda's eyes were unfocused but burning with an almost frightening intensity. Hermione found herself wondering just how much the sisters may have had in common had Andromeda not been so isolated.
"Both she and Narcissa went to trial, and I attended. I expected Narcissa's acquittal. A few nonsense words about acting in protection of her son, the fact that Harry Potter himself testified in her favor, and she got off scotch-free. Her husband, Lucius, is under house arrest; only three years, which is a light punishment for one of the most longstanding Death Eaters. They announced that Rodolphus had died of wounds inflicted in battle, which could easily have been true, since he dueled against my daughter. Then, it was Bellatrix's turn. To understand what happened next, I had to realize that, with Azkaban indefinitely rendered inoperative, the Wizengamot was grasping at strings. They had no options. There was nowhere even remotely as safe as Azkaban had been, and Bellatrix had escaped from there already. None of the foreign prisons would have admitted her, and nowhere in Britain would hold her for more than a day. More than anything, the Ministry needed to save face. They've become something of a joke since the war. So what do they do? Without giving me as much as a by-your-leave, they announce that she has been declared, 'unsuitable for imprisonment due to her mental state', and sentence her instead to lifelong house arrest. And who is to be her warden? Me. I've been tasked with keeping my dear sister imprisoned in the upstairs of Black Manor. Beyond that, Narcissa has also claimed her share of the old property, since Malfoy Manor was destroyed, and her nightmare of a husband moved in as well, though she wants nothing to do with him at the moment. It's a bloody family reunion, and I'm expected to be the peacekeeper, the mediator."
She laughed bitterly. "And Merlin knows I've never been a peacekeeper. I suppose it's a good thing my life had already gone to hell, the distraction was almost welcome. Bellatrix has been shockingly… cooperative, and I'm willing to bet she will continue to be, so long as it serves her purposes. Cissa spends all her time skulking around avoiding Lucius and writing to her son, who left the islands, hoping to find a new future in France. And me? To be quite honest, I'm dreadfully bored. I feel as though I'm living in a ghost house, with Bella confined to the upper floor and everyone else avoiding each other as though the world will end if anyone has a bloody conversation!"
Hermione's soup had long gone cold, and she had yet to take a bite. She was utterly frozen; unable to do anything but try to understand the life this woman had been pressured into. The only thing she could think to say was, "But, couldn't you have just said no?"
Andromeda flinched, as though Hermione's words had slapped her in the face, only then seeming to remember that she was speaking to another person. "If I had said no, they would have had to kill her," she said flatly. "There was no other option. And that is one thing the Ministry has never, never done. They will drain the soul from you," she said bitterly, "but they will never take a life in punishment." The tone of disdain in her words and the haughty expression in her eyes made her look like a true aristocrat, a true pureblood. "And while I don't give a rat's ass about the Ministry, I do care about Teddy, sorry, my grandson. And I don't want him to grow up in a world where the people he's supposed to look up to are murderers, and where his mad great-aunt has been turned into some sort of martyr in the eyes of a government-hating generation."
Hermione stared at the woman across from her with nothing but admiration in her eyes. "You've really thought this through, haven't you?" she said, awe clear in her tone.
Andromeda's gaze mellowed, and a small smile quirked the corners of her lips. "I've had quite a bit of time to think about it. Now, just the fact that you haven't run off screaming yet makes me feel that I didn't misjudge you in that lift. See, I need help. I was at the Ministry today getting permission to hire a cleaner—every change made in the household has to be Ministry-approved. Honestly, I don't need a cleaner. We have two house-elves, and much of the house takes care of itself, but neither of the elves will venture near Bella, and no one in the household, elves included, can cook. At all. Hearing that you worked in an inn, I assure you, you're overqualified. But more than anything, I'd like to hire you to be… company. I need someone around who will talk to me like a person, rather than any of my old acquaintances who either won't come within a hundred yards of the Manor, or only want to bemoan my life at me when they do visit. I need someone to keep me sane. And the pay would be excellent. It would more than support your mother; easily cover any bills St. Mungo's could charge. To be frank, my sisters and I have more money now than we could use in a lifetime. Wait—don't answer yet."
Seeing words on the tip of Hermione's tongue, a protest that she wanted to earn her keep, not be paid out of pity, Andromeda held up a placating hand. "Beyond that, I can teach you. I'm a skilled healer, and I was top of my class at charms. I went through two years of pre-Auror defense training before my pregnancy put an end to that. And I would be beyond happy to teach you what I can."
Hermione's hands were shaking again, but it wasn't from exhaustion any longer. Working in a Manor, being paid to cook a mere three meals a day and clean a single floor, while being taught by a skilled, educated witch? Learning. How tempting it was.
"I understand if you say no. I know, it's a hard thing to ask of someone to live in the same house as a convicted Death Eater, a murderess…"
"No! No, I mean, yes, I mean." Hermione swallowed audibly before continuing. "I would be beyond privileged to work for you, Ma'am."
Andromeda's face broke into an ear-splitting grin. "Yes? Truly? Well that's a relief, or I might just have had to cast a memory charm, with all that sensitive information I just told you." The tone was light, but Hermione felt a slight chill down her spine all the same. "But none of this, 'Ma'am' business. It's Andromeda, or even Andy, and we'll get on just fine. Save the ma'am-ing for Cissy."
Hermione fought down a "yes, Ma'am." It was an ingrained response to anyone above her.
"How soon can you move in?"
Andromeda quirked an eyebrow. "Merlin's beard, you didn't think I'd make you commute, did you? You can have your pick of the guest bedrooms. Of course, you can come and go as you please; visit your parents, take care of any other affairs, but it would be impractical for you to live elsewhere."
"Ma'am, that's too much," Hermione started. "You can't mean for me to live in your home! I-I don't belong in a Manor. I'm a cleaner, and not much beyond!"
"Rubbish," she replied, voice firm. "You are a beautiful, bright young witch, who has been unfairly abused by life. Let me help you, Hermione." She reached across the table and took a firm grasp of the younger witch's hands. "I'm not asking this of you out of pity, I'm asking this because I genuinely like you, because I genuinely need someone to help me, and because I genuinely believe my time won't be wasted if I spend it with you, spend it teaching you."
The sincerity in the other woman's voice brought Hermione close to tears again. "T-thank you. I'll try not to let you down," she whispered. Andromeda gave her hands a squeeze before letting go and leaning back in her chair.
"So. How soon can you move in?"
A/N for the chapter: Bellatrix will be here soon enough. Bear with me. I just love how open to interpretation Andromeda's character is… Also, if a few of you were lost on the part about Teddy Lupin, the godfather in question is none other than Harry Potter himself—sticking with cannon, though I can't for the life of me imagine why—and since he is really too young to raise him alone, I thought it plausible that the Weasley's would take him in, so long as Andromeda financed his upbringing. Just tying up loose ends before the story can really begin… *wink*