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 all around really. 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/Andromeda, Hermione/Narcissa.
A/N: We've reached the end, so I hope you'll forgive me breaking my note-at-the-bottom rule again for goodbyes. I'd rather say my piece, then leave you with the story. It's been quite the adventure, hasn't it? This fic went through a lot in six years - six years of writing styles, six years of character growth, six years of being scribbled everywhere from class notes to the backs of grocery lists and recorded in cringe-worthy audio memos on fourteen-hour solo road trips - and it never would have gone past chapter one without you guys. There have been so many incredible compliments from the usernames in these reviews over the years, and I promise, I've been grateful for every single one, even if I'm quitting before I begin trying to actually thank each of you by name.
But for a few eleventh-hour dedications -
To Preciceclu, for starting it;
To Kraken, for finishing it;
To laxbabe3, for being my first real-world reader;
To Boss, for subscribing and printing it out even though you'll never read it (it's all for the best);
To Gruff and the Plant Plant, for putting up with the bulk of the rants;
To Nin, Levertov, and Millay, for posthumous inspiration;
To superfluouskeys, greyella, beforeyouspeak, and pocketsfullofart, for the living, breathing kind;
To livingrandomreality, Uniquely Named, and blueforu (blueforu - from your reviews, I can tell you and I both grew out of high school and into adulthood with this story: thank you so much for coming along for the ride), for being here since the early days;
To Lil, Gothic Rain, dormideira, NightOfMine, SixPerferfections, ScOut4It, Mldcmx, NB, darkness fear, and Carelyn, for practically writing me novels of your own;
To Blissful Abyss, Mandy, Draco Oblivion, Darkshadow-lord, saphique, Dragul, and FaBbEr0oZ, for writing often;
To Gmonq, Thewaspscankles, TheSickenerHits, Sgt. Mehoff, AlsethGosia, Talia345, spacekadet, and farihah989, for writing during this hectic final week;
To citizen99, elfbs, fakenthalh, DarkSnow3, approximationOfhumanity, Anastasia The Goddess of Drama, Teddie, Forbidden Blck Roses, trained2love, DaVinci99, EternityDragon2610, Gemma, unserendipitous, Ivanolix, Kali-blue, TiAdoro914, Chemical Dreamer, ChimericSoul, BexCatchingFire, and kali07, for compliments and motivation at one time or another, and for pushing me over that crazy thousand review finish line;
To the guests, for making me smile without giving me a name to thank;
And to everyone else I've neglected, for being here just as too-long as I have.
I hope you all find your mad, perfect place in life, and the people who fit in it.
All my heart,
"It's been eight years, Bella. We should go."
Bellatrix continued to glower at the fancy roll of parchment in Hermione's hands. "It's too dangerous."
Hermione rolled her eyes. "When has that ever stopped you before? We went back to the Manor five years ago for your favorite mint plant, for Merlin's sake. This is your sister's wedding."
Bellatrix's scowl deepened. "The invitation didn't even come from her. She doesn't want me there."
Reluctantly, Hermione nodded. "True. I recognized Narcissa's owl, but you and Andy are going to have to talk again someday." She set down the invitation and slid around the table until she could bump into Bella's side. "You know how much it would mean to Narcissa if you were the one to reach out."
Hermione slid an arm around the grumpy witch's waist, leaning in to press quick, cajoling kisses up the column of her neck. "Pretty please?"
"I won't even complain when you make all sorts of inappropriate comments about us…" Hermione added, her secret weapon.
Bellatrix's grumble turned into a growl. "And when Andy decides to hex me into oblivion? Will you complain then?"
"No," Hermione said with a giggle. "Though if you disfigure her on her wedding day in response, I might have a harsh word or two."
A reluctant smile flickered about Bella's lips. "What about a bit of a polyjuice game?"
Hermione shook her head. "No need. The entire guest list can be trusted; Narcissa promised."
Bellatrix's smile widened. "Oh, don't ruin my fun. One hair, and I bet I could trick that spoiled little Hogwarts teach into marrying me instead."
Hermione offered her most affected pout, a habit she had definitely acquired from the woman across from her. "I don't sleep with married witches, you know. That particular prank would put a few dents in the plans I had in mind for after the wedding." She reached out and stole the mug of tea from its resting place between Bella's elbows. "Whoever would go sneaking about with me to find the most dangerous, daring places to desecrate after dark?"
Hermione choked on Bellatrix's tea. While years of tense cohabitation had tuned their sharp banter to near perfection, Bellatrix still had the occasional ability to utterly silence her younger companion. This time, her spluttering attempt to find a repartee was cut short by the startlingly weighty expression on Bella's face.
"What?" Hermione finally stammered, setting down the cup.
When Bella merely shrugged and couldn't seem to meet her eyes, Hermione drew in a deep breath. "Is that what this is about? I—I mean— neither of us have seen her in years! You're not really thinking— You can't possibly be worried about—"
Bellatrix picked up her wand from the windowsill beside her, dragging the tip across the wood of the table in a nervous gesture Hermione hadn't seen in years, fine scorch-marks trailing in intricate, looping curls over a thousand similar grooves left in her same well-worn corner. "Can't I? You were never supposed to wind up with me, you know."
"What on earth are you talking about?" Hermione spluttered.
"I just—" Bellatrix blew out an errant flame in exasperation. "This is me we're talking about! If not for… timing… your bloody magic… Why me, hmm? You and Cissa were—are—a match made in heaven. Your, your books and your art and your pretty things. Even the other one, engaged or not. Andy would never have… she never hurt you." Her voice grew quieter. "Not like I did. She would have been… safe. The first time I saw her necking with you like she hadn't aged a day since Hogwarts I knew… I knew you could fill the holes in each other's lives." Bella snorted then, a self-depreciating sound that made the hairs on the back of Hermione's neck stand on end. "Somehow though… you're here. With me. It was never supposed to end up like this. You know it. I know it. They know it."
Hermione stared at the figure sitting beside her, dark, wild curls draped over one shoulder and rioting against the pale dawn gleaming in the window behind her, red lips still slow with sleep and faintly swollen with morning kisses, eyes at half-mast with a strange, fierce insecurity Hermione had never seen before in all their years together. "I think I was always going to end up with you," she whispered.
As though drawn against their will, Bellatrix's eyes rose to meet her own.
"Andy… needed to be needed. She wanted someone who needed her more than I ever would. Narcissa never needed anyone at all." She let her voice fade, unsure how even a Bellatrix this wary and introspective would react to where her thoughts were leading her.
Bella's eyes fluttered closed, as though bracing against the coming words, but before Hermione could find the ones she wanted, a breath of a half-formed thought ghosted from Bellatrix's lips. "I need you."
Hermione was glad Bella's eyes were closed, then, because she would not have appreciated the warm, knowing smile dancing on her lips. Those words filled her up as she drew in a shuddering breath, feeling something bright and shining—warmer than the heat of sex, warmer than the heat of healing, the heat of summer—clawing its way through her chest. "Mmhmm," she whispered.
"I hate it, you know," Bella added, opening her eyes with a hint of her earlier bite. "But it's true. If I have to have a reason to… to care about being free… you're not the worst one I can imagine."
Hermione laughed, finally feeling the conversation had returned to familiar enough waters that she could brave another sip of Bella's long-cold tea. "That's all I'd ever ask for," she said after she swallowed. "See? That's it. That's why I was always going to end up with you. You don't make it easy, but… you make it worthwhile."
"So. Not another professor after all?" Hermione asked, greeting Andromeda by the reception table. It had been a beautiful, intimate service, a touch of white, a splash of color, a small gathering of people, and the incredibly striking woman standing beside the middle Black at the altar. "When I heard you were marrying in the Hogwarts family, I somehow thought it would be an academic."
"Never guessed it would be the Quidditch coach we stole from Durmstrang?" Andy offered with a smile. "I'm so glad to see you, Hermione. I wasn't sure you were going to be here."
Hermione answered with a smile of her own. "I wasn't sure, either. That one—" She jerked her head towards Bellatrix's spot against the wall. "—isn't the easiest to coax anywhere, and you did threaten her with a restraining order when we came for her plants, but here we are."
Andromeda took one glance at Bellatrix, then looked away, shaking her head. "Let me introduce you to Sanna. I think you'll like her."
She placed a hand between Hermione's shoulder blades and ushered her between the tables towards her new wife. Sanna Bolrathter-Black was a striking figure: tall, with close-cropped auburn hair and sharp, high cheekbones softened by an abundance of freckles. She wore large, artistically curved glasses that Hermione wasn't sure anyone else could have pulled off, but perched on her narrow nose, they merely leant an air of respectability to her somewhat roguish bearing and the untidy array of hair that peeked over their rims.
The two greeted each other with a quick kiss. "Sanna, I wanted you to meet—"
"Hermione Granger." Andromeda's wife said her name with a smile and a faint Scandinavian accent. "I do still see the posters now and again."
Hermione chuckled nervously. "Every time I think we've pulled the last of them down, I see a new one. Farther down the numbers these days. What is it…? The People's Undesirable Number Three Hundred and Four? Anyway, it's lovely to meet you."
She extended a hand, and Sanna shook it. Her grip was firm, calloused. She opened her mouth, but Andromeda interrupted. "You invited Relyn Colt?"
Both Hermione and Sanna followed the direction of Andromeda's gaze. She had spotted someone across the way, a young woman with long, blond hair and dress robes cut low enough to border on licentious, if not true indecency, chatting with two older wizards Hermione didn't know. One of them handed her a piece of parchment, and she seemed to be signing it.
"Did you even read the guest list, dear?" said Sanna with placating smile.
"She had a crush on you!" Andromeda spluttered. "She's an insufferable flirt, she—"
"—Had a crush on both of us, Professor Black."
Hermione had never seen Andromeda quite so tongue-tied. "She… I…"
"She's not our student anymore, you know."
"Are you trying to talk me into a threesome on our wedding night?"
Hermione's eyes widened, and she choked on the squeak she was doing her best to swallow.
Sanna laughed. "Not at all, dear."
"With the captain of the Gryffindor Quidditch team?"
"Who was in Gryffindor?"
"I don't play House favorites."
"Who was our student?"
"Just for one year."
"Oh, one and a half. She left to join the Harpies not long after Ginevra."
"Wedding night," Andromeda repeated.
Sanna sighed. "Some other time, then."
"That's why you're marrying me."
The two exchanged another quick kiss, and Hermione slipped away, unable to stop smiling, even if she was a bit red about the ears, too. She found Bella at the back of the room, blending even more thoroughly into the shadows than she had been before, scowling at the surrounding festivities with great enthusiasm.
"They're perfect for each other, you know." She snagged them each a glass of punch from a passing waiter.
"Yes," Bellatrix snapped. She took a quick sip. "And it's sickening."
Hermione snaked her way under the irritable witch's arm and installed herself firmly by her side. "It's adorable."
"If you wanted adorable, you should have stayed with Andy."
"Not a chance. They're planning a threesome. You know that's not my style."
Bellatrix spewed punch across the nearest two tables. Luckily, both were unoccupied since the dance floor was full. Bella eyed Andromeda and her new wife with an appraising eye. "I didn't think she had it in her."
"With an ex student," Hermione added.
Bellatrix's eyes narrowed further. "She wouldn't."
Hermione shrugged. "Maybe, maybe not. Besides—" She stole a quick kiss, taking advantage of her lover's slouch, which put her lips in tip-toe distance despite the heels on Bellatrix's boots. "—you're adorable, too."
Bellatrix growled, but Hermione was already pulling her away from the wall. "Come on. You don't get to hide here all evening. If you say hello to everyone you're related to, then we can go."
"I think I'll just stay in the corner until you pass out if it's all the same."
Hermione pouted, even batting her eyelashes. "Can't have much fun if I'm passed out, can I?"
The threatening, pointed stare she got in return told her just what Bellatrix thought of that excuse, but she didn't fight the tow. Andromeda spotted them halfway around the dance floor. Seeing her stiffen, Hermione almost expected her to flee, but Sanna rested a hand on her forearm, and Andy visibly calmed. It had been a complicated decade, and Hermione never grudged Andromeda's wish to have Bellatrix as far away as possible, but she also knew Andromeda sometimes missed her, at least a little bit. Her Christmas cards always came addressed to both of them, not just Hermione.
With only two sets of tables left between them, Hermione was waylaid by a hand on her elbow.
"Not to bring work into such a festive occasion," McGonagall murmured, low and conspiratorial, "but I just heard there's been movement on representation."
"Oh!" Hermione exclaimed, dropping Bellatrix's arm, all designs on family conversations instantly forgotten. "An allocation?" Behind her, she heard the delicate snort of amusement that meant Bellatrix knew she had indeed lost her, for the moment, to work. Out of the corner of her eye, she was pleasantly surprised to see her continue on her way towards Sanna and Andromeda.
McGonagall drew her attention back with a shake of her head. "One seat. Elvish participation in the election only, though." The headmistress appeared regal and relaxed in loose, stately emerald robes, the dark cane in her right hand nearly invisible in the folds of an airy cloak. "They were never going to agree to your quota."
Hermione sighed. "Oh, I could only dream of it, I know. It was a threat more than anything. Still! A seat! That's a start, and it's better than an open election."
She earned a stern glance. "I'd be cautious not to count your hippogriffs before they hatch, Ms. Granger. You know the vote won't come through until tomorrow."
Hermione offered a fierce smile of her own. "I'm counting. This is exactly the opportunity I wanted for Winky."
McGonagall, who also knew the plucky elf, smiled. Hermione had been much surprised when, less than a year into her tenure at the Ministry, an internal memo had arrived bearing the return address of one Harry J. Potter, Auror Division, Level Two, Department of Magical Law Enforcement. In it, she'd found a recommendation for a meeting with a friend of a friend. Part of her had desperately hoped she finally meet the elf she'd been praying for, a revolutionary who truly wanted equality and an end to enslavement at the hands of wizardkind, but what she'd found instead was that the revolutionary had lived, died, and left behind someone else: just that, a friend of a friend. But this was a friend who had been through a long, slow battle with defining her own unwanted freedom, and who felt a debt was owed to the friend she had lost, a friend who had died free.
Winky, Hermione had come to realize, was a far better face for her work than someone like the late and inspirational Dobby might have been. The worst of the wizarding elite could stomach her, deferential and freed against her will from a household of madmen and traitors; other elves understood her, respected her work at Hogwarts, her recovery from post-dismissal depression, her stand in the final battle of the war; and, most importantly of all, she was driven to stand for the value of elvish lives because she had lost one whose life had meant something to her, and whose freedom had meant something to him.
Hermione had spent the past two years trying to get her into the Wizengamot.
"Don't worry," she added. "I won't start helping her draft an announcement speech, but I'm thrilled. Thank you for the heads up."
"Of course." McGonagall returned her hand to Hermione's arm and cast a less-than-subtle glance to her left. "She's not still trying to help, is she?"
Hermione laughed, loud and full, drawing a few stares. "Of course she is!" Bellatrix never stopped trying to insinuate herself in Hermione's projects, no matter how many times she'd been told by Hermione, by McGonagall, even by Modesty, that she wasn't doing them any favors throwing her weight around the small, delicate balance they were working to achieve for elvish justice.
"Do I need to have another word with her?"
Hermione offered a softer chuckle, patting McGonagall's hand. "Probably. No, no, I'll handle it. She's kept out of the debate around representation this far, likely because of the reparations fiasco. I think she has bigger things on her mind. She'll keep offering to make a seat open up, and I'll just keep declining her… kind offer."
McGonagall let out a breath that was part laugh, part long-suffering sigh, and Hermione caught Bellatrix's eye. Her conversation with Andromeda must have been brief, if it had happened at all, as she'd already found herself another nook of shadow to cranny herself into. This time, she was half Bellatrix, half potted plant, leaning against the wall behind a curtain of green leaves. She speared Hermione with a sudden, deadly grin, white teeth sparking in the glow from the fairy lights dangling in an arc above her head.
Hermione recognized impatience in Bellatrix's smile. She stiffened, bracing herself, and turned to give a hasty end to her current conversation. "Speaking of, I seem to have misplaced her. Do you mind if I—"
With a shake of her head and an amused smile, McGonagall waved her away. "Please, go. I'll come by your office Monday to celebrate."
Hermione turned away just in time. She watched Bellatrix's hand curl around her wand, watched her eyes film gold, and became suddenly breathless, trapped in a vortex of incredible power that caressed the very center of her being. Dark eyes probed her mind and laid claim to her limbs. Heat flooded her senses and she ached for long, warm fingers on her skin, hungered for a touch, eager to be devoured. She saw Bella's parted lips flush crimson, the tip of her tongue a just-visible glint between blindingly white teeth. Deaf to the world, she wanted that mouth, wanted it on hers, on her— Gravity became her instinct, pulled her forward, urged her to sink into the shadows, the waiting pleasure.
Knowing the game, Hermione struggled to walk towards her slowly, knowing the compulsion couldn't be fought, knowing she would lose if she tried, but knowing she could go one foot in front of the other, a steady stride, without drawing attention to the flush on her cheeks, the goosebumps all over her skin.
"You called?" she breathed when there was only the plant between them.
Bellatrix laughed. The sound rained across her skin like sunlight, drawing a shiver from the tips of her fingers to the curl of her toes. "Really, pet," she murmured, sliding back into the open, knowing exactly how much harder it would be for Hermione to maintain her reticence without branches in the way.
And just how much harder Hermione would try, now that they would both be in full light.
She ran her fingers over Hermione's arm, grazing them pointedly over the crook of her elbow. "I know you find something compelling about older women," she teased. "But there's older…" She tucked her wand behind her ear, curls pushed back, but her concentration on the spell never broke, and Hermione could feel her presence through her, yearned to be closer. "...and then there's old—"
Hermione glanced left, glanced right, then yanked her into a kiss. Her lips broke the compulsion, sent it scattering through them, showering her in fragmented glimpses of fields, a phantom caress over the surface of her mind, the scent of juniper whirling through her magic. She rested her forehead against Bellatrix's when she needed to breath, wishing she had her alone. Instead, she struggled to compose a glare. "I don't have a thing."
A snort over Bellatrix's shoulder made her head snap to attention. There, she found Andromeda, hidden in the perfect blind spot behind Bellatrix's head, the hand over her mouth doing very little to hide the chuckle shaking her shoulders. Sanna stood beside her, holding her other hand. She stared at Hermione and Bellatrix with an amused, appraising eye.
Hermione turned ten shades of crimson. "I don't," she muttered, starting to pull away.
Andromeda shrugged as though to say If you say so in the least convinced way possible.
Bellatrix leaned in, whispering in her ear, "I only have seven more years to make you Minister, remember?" She tugged the lobe between her teeth. "You really must be more decorous in public. No flirting with anyone who isn't me, especially the esteemed headmistress of Hogwarts."
Hermione slapped her arm, laughing. "Stop it." She'd forgotten all about her silly demand, thrown away to save face after she'd given in too easily to having her back, given in without extracting a real promise that she wouldn't have to see death at her hands ever again.
Bellatrix's fingers closed over hers, tugged her back into the circle of her arms. "What? Did you think I'd forgotten?"
Hermione tried to laugh again, but it came out a little strained. "I'd forgotten, myself."
"It's rude to whisper, you know," said Andromeda.
Hermione had almost managed to forget they had an audience. She felt the flush return.
Bellatrix waved a hand, the other still wrapped around Hermione's waist. "Politics."
Andromeda grinned. "Ooh, do tell."
To Hermione's surprise, she could feel Bellatrix's body relaxed against her own, seemingly at ease despite being in sudden conversation with the woman she'd done her best to avoid all night. "This one seems to be under the impression I won't keep my word about a little bargain we made."
"Politics? Hermione?" Andromeda laughed.
It was a kind laugh, but Hermione was indignant despite herself. She straightened. "I'm very politically engaged, I'll have you know. I founded the Institute for Elvish Welfare after less than a year at the Ministry, and we've been listed as one of the most successful mergers of research and charity work in all of Wizarding Britain. I've secured over three billion Galleons in reparations, rewritten the laws which rewarded coercive illiteracy among household elves and replaced them with fully-funded Elvish education, set up a fund for future generations of free—"
"See?" Bellatrix cut in. "You'll donate, yes?"
Andromeda's laugh had turned into a gentle, surprised smile. "Oh, absolutely. Won't we, darling?"
Sanna offered an indulgent smile of her own, kissing Andromeda on the cheek. "Of course. I'll even be able to vote for her, after today."
Andromeda's smile sharpened. "I admit, I lost track of Hermione's career once she stopped show up in the tabloids every week. Will she be starting with an elected undersecretary position or going straight for the Wizengamot?"
"Excuse me?" Hermione spluttered. "I'm right here!"
Rising on tip-toe to rest her chin on Hermione's head, Bellatrix chuckled. "Wizengamot. She's almost ready."
"I'll happily give my endorsement." Hermione turned, stunned, as McGonagall entered their little circle. She smiled kindly. "It would be wonderful to have a few more witches with brains in that chamber."
"Bellatrix hasn't been enough?" Andromeda teased.
McGonagall laughed. "Ms. Black hasn't so much joined the governing of our society as she has yanked it up by the roots." She turned a stern eye on Bellatrix, who seemed thoroughly un-chagrined. More seriously, she continued. "No, the Wizengamot hasn't been the same since poor Amelia passed, bless her. And if it's the stepping-stone I imagine it must be for a witch of Ms. Granger's caliber, well… My endorsement won't expire before Doldrun's turn as Minister does."
Hermione felt rather like she'd become the subject of some large, conspiratorial joke. "I—I'm not—"
"Did you think I wouldn't do it?" Bellatrix said.
"No!" Hermione spluttered. "I didn't! I don't, I—I never actually wanted to—"
McGonagall reached out and patted her arm reassuringly. "And that, my dear, is exactly why you should."
All at once, Hermione had the strangest sensation, as though her life had suddenly caught up to her, and she had only just now started living it.
"They're right, you know."
This time, all heads turned, as did Bellatrix's body, allowing Hermione the full about-face needed to watch the end of Narcissa's slow, measured approach. Until now, Hermione had only seen her from afar, a few passing glimpses of white-blond elegance in a distant seat in the intimate crowd. She shimmered in silver, dark enough to the edge of gray she wouldn't outshine Andromeda's white, but even so, it was a close thing. Her hair had gotten longer, so long it passed her breasts even in a single long, loose plait that curled over her bare left shoulder. Her gown had only one sleeve. Modern and sophisticated; debonair and dangerous.
When she stopped beside Bellatrix, it seemed the gathering was freed from a spell. Collective exhalations pooled in the air. Tonight, Narcissa was radiant in a way that defied speech, drifting as though her feet tread a higher plane. She smiled, and Bellatrix's arms tightened around Hermione's waist.
Shaking her head, smiling her own easy welcome, Hermione slid her hand beneath Bellatrix's, twining their fingers. "Not you, too," she said. Her voice was steady.
Narcissa laughed. "The day you came into my office campaigning on behalf of the ancestors of my last two house-elves, I knew you'd end up in a mess like this." Her voice was soft, whimsical. There had been letters; many, over the years—good times, bad times, setbacks and misunderstandings penned in the wake of one of Bellatrix's less comprehensible rages, old secrets and new truths and unintended enlightenments… Narcissa had shared news with all of them, and with Hermione, had even shared poems: Hermione's silly and sappy and poor or quoted just for the occasion; Narcissa's like the unveiled art of the muses themselves, eerily beautiful French translations her latest work—but this was the first time in eight years that Hermione had heard her voice.
It sounded like the voice of an old, dear friend.
This close, Hermione could see the delighted liaison she'd had with age; she was now four years older than Bellatrix had been at their first meeting, and she'd gained the delicate wisdom of laugh lines beside her eyes, the faintest whisper of bygone smiles beside her lips. Hermione felt her own smile driving a fierce sort of pride into her gaze. She was so, so glad, that Narcissa had been marked by eight years of happiness.
She was so busy basking in the simple sunlight of Narcissa's joy, she forgot to voice another protest.
Narcissa matched her smile. "I would offer my support, but I somehow doubt you'll need it."
"She won't," Bellatrix said, voice jarringly sharp.
Hermione frowned, turning towards her, but a shake of Narcissa's head made her pause. "Bella, please." She reached out and took Bellatrix's hand, pulling it gently away from Hermione's stomach. "We're too old to go at each other like children."
Just like that, Hermione felt all the fight go out of the figure at her back, tension she hadn't felt building gone in a blink.
Andromeda's breathy, human laugh fractured what remained. "I'll drink to that," she said, and commandeered a passing tray of champagne. "Anyone else?"
Hermione took two, handing one over her shoulder to Bellatrix without prompting. With a chorus of assents, the tray emptied, and their circle slowly clustered itself into smaller, lighter conversations. McGonagall was offering her own congratulations to the new couple. Bellatrix was whispering her seven-year plan in Hermione's ear like dirty-talk, and really, Hermione had no new designs on the Minister's seat, but she did have a new trail of worry that she might very well end up there, anyway. For now, that was alright. Yes, she'd accomplished everything she'd ever set out to on her own, thank you very much, but did she really want to be limited to fighting for only one set of rights forever? When there were other old laws she'd wanted to unravel for years... when disgusting handfasting ceremonies were still being performed with Dementor witnesses in place of nights like this, full of love and light and mutual consent... Perhaps there was something to be said for governing, after all. She and Bellatrix could have a real conversation later, alone.
Where you'll end up naked and agreeing to anything.
Bellatrix gave her a little smile, as though she'd heard the thought. It was entirely possible that she had.
Narcissa drifted half a step beyond them, her back to the circle she'd barely joined. She held her untouched champagne in one hand at shoulder-height, elbow braced on her other wrist which draped across her waist. Her silver-gray gown reflected splashes of light and color from the handful of witches and wizards dancing in the middle of the patio, prancing and spinning upside-down through the liquid in her glass. In one quick, fluid motion, she upended the flute, swallowing back gold and bubbles like a shot of firewhiskey. Banished, the stemware disappeared as she turned, locking eyes with Bellatrix and extending a hand. "Dance with me?" Narcissa asked.
And Hermione watched in stunned surprise as Bellatrix laughed, grinned, and took it.
They made their way easily to the periphery of the barely-crowded dance floor. The music had strings and high, whistling woodwinds, but it wasn't slow. Bellatrix set a hand on Narcissa's waist, Narcissa's draped over her shoulder, their others clasped together, and they set about in the easy steps and whirls of a cotillion dance, two witches who had learned both to lead and to follow in the cloistered halls where young women were taught everything they could not be and learned exactly how to be all of that and more.
Watching, smiling, Hermione drifted closer. They laughed together, girlish and carefree, taking turns to be the bracing hand, the twirling flourish. Andromeda came up beside her, grinning to herself. "At it again," she murmured, and Hermione imagined this scene fifty years ago, in the midst of a Black family ball, a stolen moment away from endless courtship and the looming threat of the bargaining chips they knew they were destined to become, a moment no one could grudge them in its innocent joy. Hermione felt her smile turning bittersweet. She'd have fallen for her even then, she realized. If her first glimpse was endless waves of midnight curls, stardust skin, airy smile, and dark, secret-keeping eyes… She'd have wanted to tell her all of them, to hide under the covers and whisper late into the night, to fill her with quiet mysteries and never let her walk back out into the keeping of the wolves that waited.
She glanced up at Andromeda, thinking about that temptation, the temptation to stop people from becoming what they needed to be to survive a hostile world.
"Thank you," she said unexpectedly, surprising the both of them.
Andromeda turned towards her, question in her eyes.
Hermione shook her head. "For bringing us all together again," she said.
For setting me free.
"Thank you," Andromeda echoed, reaching out to squeeze her hand.
Narcissa's eyes met hers across the stretch of movement and light.
And she knew all had heard what needed to be said.