HP: The Good Side of Black pt. 10
Later, after Bellatrix had gone and the dark had settled like a cloak on the sky, Hermione considered what she wanted to say versus how it ought to be said. The more she knew Narcissa, the more she understood that the older woman could think five levels deep, at least. This did not mean, however, that the younger woman felt totally obliged to follow blithely along without thought herself.
They lay in bed, curled closely. Cissy reached and cupped Hermione's face, caressing her gently. "What?"
"I don't know if I can forgive her," Hermione said, surprising herself with the bluntness, though, really, that was her way.
"Ah," Cissy exhaled and she drew her lover even closer. Silence drifted between them for a moment, then she said, "Forgiveness is not necessary. I certainly don't require it."
"No," Hermione's mate said gently. "You have an innate kindness and courtesy, save when you think you are the most right, that serves in its stead."
Despite herself, Hermione grinned. "Well, when I'm right..."
"Still talking, love."
"What I need, however, may take more strength than mere forgiving, more cunning than most ever display, and a courage that you already have."
"And you need...," Hermione led, though she could guess. She wondered, if she had a sister, if she might do the same. Actually, considering Ginny, she knew she would. So she finished, "... to save her."
"Yes." Narcissa nodded, then she sighed. "At the very least, I need to try."
The next day dawned grey and shadowy. It had nothing to do with the interior condition of the manor, but the usual movement of the weather. Banks of fog settled outside. Cissy might have thought it related to her mood, except that aside from a few necessities, she felt lighter inside than she had in years; almost irrepressibly so.
She and Hermione dressed for the wet conditions, cloak and hood to cover their robes, and sealed boots to cover their feet. All could be whisked away with a sweep of the wand, but in a way, the extra cover suited and worked well for Cissy's plans.
They embarked on their small quest, with a few changes made by Cissy in regards to destination. Hermione trusted her and so made no offside comments, but rather played her part, enjoying the long route simply because she was with her mate. In a few hours, they arrived at one of the bleakest places on Earth.
They sensed the place far before their arrival. The prison was an old fortress, set upon a mountainous island at its topmost point. Surrounding the island was a scourge of Dementors, magical creatures of skeletal nature, robed by darkness and fiercely awful to behold. These floated about the islands, both as guards and 'hopefuls,' as their meals were made of the prisoners - their emotions and if they were very, very bad, and sentenced thus - their souls and life.
It took great will and luck to 'survive' Azkaban. It was usually, no matter how short the time assigned, a life sentence of one sort or another. No one remained unchanged by a visit there; not the prisoners, not the guards, not even the visitors.
This was not Cissy's first visitation to the Wizarding prison. She knew what to expect and had quietly coached Hermione before they had embarked on the small quest. They would not have to give up their wands, as they were not prisoners. However, as at the Ministry, the wands were not to be used without permission or order from the guards. The only instantly allowable spells from wands were the Patronus and a single emergency broadcast.
Hermione considered that it was a little odd that no one mentioned wandless magic, but kept her own council. She supposed it was assumed, but it wasn't an assumption she would have made herself.
The ship arrived, lifting out of the constantly choppy water and onto a prepared dock that would keep it from dashing against the rock. Narcissa and Hermione debarked, along with several other visitors to the dark prison. Azkaban did not forbid visitors, but it took a person imbued with an inner will and stamina to make the trek. Dementors watched hungrily, floating like baleful nightmare ghosts above and around, as the two women and other visitors debarked.
Then, like predators scenting a kill, the Dementors stilled dangerously. The air chilled even more. Frost gathered on the ground, ice broke against the ship and climbed. A dark pressure seemed to chill its way around Hermione's feet as soon as they touched ground. She marched forward, grimly determined to follow Narcissa, thinking this was normal. Of course it would be cold and bleak. The dementors trailed. If they were dogs they would have yipped with hunger. Hermione's attention wavered from her mate, turned slightly inward, as memory of other encounters with dementors gave cause to remind her of Harry, which reminded her of the last time she saw him, which reminded her of how she'd been pinned to the manor floor. She felt a pull, cold and deadly, towards those grim memories. It was so terribly strong and subtle.
Then she saw a flash of blue, heard a beloved voice gone ice and growl. "Mine!" Despite the darkness, Hermione smiled.
A light bloomed suddenly and squeals of supernatural pain broke through the air.
"So nice of you to finally do your job," Narcissa snapped.
"Beg pardon, Lady Malfoy." The guard waved his wand feebly. "Was a bit of surprise."
"Really? At Azkaban. You must be easily startled then." The guard flushed, but by then Narcissa's attention was on Hermione.
"Fine. Truly. Fine." Still, even as she reassured Narcissa, Hermione wrapped her arms around herself, feeling chilled to the bone..
The blonde appeared skeptical, but kept her own counsel and turned back to the guard. Accepting a thick piece of chocolate from the guard, she gently passed it along to Hermione even as she snapped, "Well. Lead on. We haven't got all day."
So they continued, following a path surrounded by twisted, empty trees and weathered rock and ground devoid of even moss.
They entered the fortress, the body of the prison, through a gatehouse, where they were stopped, magically searched and signed in. Then they were led to one of the few "bright" rooms in the place, aside from the guards' temporary homes; the visitor's center. It was magically warded from the effects of the Dementors, and one could physically feel the pressure to succumb to their cold greyed out influence ease, even if the sense of constant chill without a fire remained. It was here that families and friends might visit the incarcerated in private booths, but very, very few actually did.
Narcissa Malfoy's body language had subtly shifted as they'd drawn closer to the prison, becoming somehow sterner, straighter and much, much colder in posture. Her aspect was different than when they'd visited the Ministry, somehow even more fearsome. The guards of Azkaban did not necessarily cower or cow-tow, but there was a definite respect with which they seemed to deal with Narcissa that Hermione did not observe with the few other travelers. That Hermione was with Narcissa led to a sort of fall out effect, where they also treated the younger woman with a careful distance.
"Go fetch Lucius," Narcissa ordered and the person she spoke to, a hardened guard, actually scurried away. Then she turned those cold blue eyes to Hermione. "You will wait out here, until I call you."
The younger woman bristled, but not at the tone of voice, though that had been like ice to the spine. It was the thought of letting Narcissa out of her sight in this place. Hermione's expression compressed in an effort to hold her own tongue and she stiffened, staring for a few brief moments at the older woman as if it would make some sort of change. Then, because it didn't and it would not, she turned abruptly, stomping less gracefully than usual to the available waiting room seating.
Amusement softened Narcissa's expression for the sparest of moments as she watched the back of her lover, before the cold mask fell over her eyes again. Hermione was aware of the whys. She had been informed of the necessity. She also knew that Narcissa had been to Azkaban far more often than she. It was actually, in its own way, an act of trust.
Narcissa moved toward one of the rooms attached to the waiting area and waited, head held high, ignoring the others as was her habit.
It didn't take long, as the appointment had been made in advance. The door swung open and she walked into a grey room marked with green-glow sigils designed to suppress magic, fit with table and chairs, and chains to lock around the ankles and wrists of the prisoner.
He looked roughed up in delivery, and his prison garb hung drably upon him, yet Lucius still sat like a king. He was more gaunt and his blue eyes more haunted than last time, but he still managed a smile for her. Because he was essentially trapped against chair and table, he did not stand in courtesy. She made up for it by kissing him on the cheek, as was her habit; a moment's happiness was something she could give, if nothing else. He leaned into the press of her lips and sighed when it ended.
Then she took her place on the other side of the table, facing him, letting the silence fall for a moment. His gaze took her in, assessing her with a familiarity that would have once brought a blush to her flesh. She might appear the ice queen, but she did not start out that way.
"Something has changed," he finally offered, and not just because of her early arrival. He knew the schedule of her visits, as it was layered upon his inner world like a beacon.
She nodded once, gracefully. "It has," she confirmed. Her expression remained firm, unflinching.
He sighed. "I expected something sooner. These walls hold secrets, but they tell everything awful so easily. Do I know him?"
"Him?" And, despite herself, a flash of hurt flickered behind her eyes. She refused to let it stay; refused to wield her own knowledge as a weapon, just yet. "Hardly. Though there are and were reasons to consider it. The Blacks teeter on the edge..."
"Potter." He spat out the name.
"Indeed. Something had to be done."
His exhale was sharp, like a gut punch. "And it had to be you?"
"Bellatrix can't. Andromeda won't. The wars previous cut my family down as much as anyone's. And I have found my house full of company more than willing. You may be sure the offers have been... provocative."
He had the grace to flinch, which made her feel oddly better. She was beginning to wonder if he really cared or if it was all posturing. "You'd never let them..."
"Let...," she didn't bother to laugh. He knew better.
"This is starting off badly. I did not mean to..."
"Yes. You did, because you don't really want to talk about consequences during our rare meetings. Nor hear what I have to say, during this particular one. So much easier to strike first... but none of that matters any more. I came here to offer you a chance, a choice."
He sneered. "A choice..."
"More than what you've given me..." He looked away from her. But she went forward. "You felt it, I know, as it was hardly avoidable. Even though you've let our link become a frail thing and took another's mark and oath in its place. I will not say what I think of allowing our son... Our son!... be taken in by that..."
"Careful, Cissy." He whispered sharply, warningly, "The walls..."
"... thief..." She exhaled a heated whisper in return.
"And, truly, you come to tell me how I let someone else..."
"Do not even begin. It does not compare. You wanted power..."
"And you didn't..."
"I wanted you," she snapped.
He graced her with a rare flush and looked at her again. "Ciss..."
She held up her hand. "The family has and will be growing again. You will no doubt hear of my new companion. She is, of course, more than a companion, but I wanted you to know who it was from me first..."
"You let that mudblood touch..."
"Oh please. As if I don't have the names and bloodline of every single person you've dallied with..."
He blanched. "Impossible."
"Hardly. Do you think honestly I am a fool, that I wouldn't know what was going on in my own House. After all, if it increased, I needed to know of it and prepare accordingly. No child of yours would have ever wanted, if you had only trusted me."
He flinched, again and guilt painted his features. "I cannot change what was done..."
"Or lost. Do you even know where they are now?"
She grimaced. "We will come back to this, another time, as even the House Malfoy must be managed properly. As for Hermione, she is a remarkable witch and you might consider what it might mean that her name is Black..."
"Her name is Granger ..."
"It was Granger. Now it's Black, though she has chosen to keep her original name for her parent's sake in the middle; a choice I approve. And even that is not pertinent to this discussion as she is not your concern. I said you had a choice and I'll lay it out for you. You can choose me, our family. Or you can choose him. And while my name remains Malfoy, your status as head of my house, has been fundamentally altered. I simply give you the option to be part of, to remain part of... my heart, Lucius. While I can still leave it open and protect you..."
"Protect me! I'll have you know..."
"You, of all, should know better than to underestimate me. True, I have played the position you've wished me to play, but you would do well to remember who I am and what attracted you in the first place."
"Come now, Cissy, don't be ridiculous..."
"Have you enjoyed having a private cell Lucius? It can be arranged otherwise, if you'd rather."
He abruptly blanched. "You..."
"Do not think I haven't been watching out for your interests, just because it has not been wholly visible. After all, I've had to learn to work in the shadows because of your choices."
His exhale was sharp, cold. He closed his eyes against the stern vision before him. "Narcissa, I..." His shoulders slumped. "...apologize, but... I don't know what you want from me. My options are limited..."
"As I well know. However, that does not mean there are no options and it does not mean you can not choose. Once you chose me. Us. Our family. You simply have to do so once again."
"And you would have me include..."
"She's mine, Lucius. She made the choice. As did I. The Black bloodline will be saved and I will inevitably, if not already, bear a child. I simply am giving you the option to decide what roles will be available to you... Do you still want that family you claimed you desired so long ago? Do you even remember that it was you who yearned to hear children gracing the halls of the manor."
"May I suggest you have your counselor do some preliminary exploration..."
"I already had her looked up..."
She exhaled. "Things change, Lucius. And if I thought it would help, I'd have her brought in. But I don't think I want to chance what might happen. She's a bit territorial right now."
"Territorial." He blinked.
"Our bond is... still fresh."
He changed color again, "Bond..."
Narcissa waited for him to regain his equilibrium, as she knew he was exactly aware of what she spoke. While he had not been present in a physical sense, there was no way he hadn't at least felt a reverberation along the thin magical ties remaining of their marriage. She was almost proud of the fact it did not take him long to regroup.
He leaned forward in his seat, expression intent. "You said manage the Malfoy line..."
Narcissa flicked a glance at the walls and then back at him. "Again, however, that is not the point..." Narcissa slowed and retraced that thought. "Or, perhaps it very much is... all of this..." She glanced away suddenly as if seeing something to his side, and then she returned her attention to him. "There is much that could be done, but if you trust me to handle it, then yes, I believe I could make both lines thrive. I have discovered many things since you've been … away."
"Trust." His tongue seemed to trip over the word, taste it like foreign element. Suddenly, his expression softened, turned slightly rueful, and his hand extended forward a tiny bit and he turned it, so his palm faced up.
She hesitated, and then laid her hand in his and the clasp was unexpectedly gentle.
"You know my steps are precarious and that my choices have become very skewed of late." He squeezed her hand then, "But you have been the one thing, the one person that I could have faith in." He swallowed. "I want to, but I can not promise..."
"Then make no promises, just..." Narcissa shifted forward, "...lean in a certain direction."
"I did try to protect our family, Cissy. I did." He grimaced. "And I can not regret my choices, as it would make me a fool."
"And you are no fool."
"I am too much of one. Or I would not be here. But Malfoys have our pride, even if we are caught in a spider's web ..."
"I gave an oath, Narcissa, one dipped in blood and deed. You and I both know that Azkaban is the least of my..."
"...our... worries." He sighed, eyes sharp. "I believed in him. I know this excuses nothing, and that it was my fault you were compelled..." He swallowed then and let go of her hand, straightening his posture again. "No need to review the past."
"No," Narcissa said, almost gently. "But it must be owned, before things may change."
He gazed at her silently, his expression almost forming a scowl, given the intensity of his thoughts. She did not try to read him. It wasn't necessary, even though she knew that whatever he said next might tip the balance.
Finally, he spoke and the words seemed to drag out of him as if pulled unwillingly. "I need to see her, Cissa. If I must … trust this new thing you bring to my attention ... I must have a vision of it."
Narcissa easily recognized the stoic expression fixed upon her husband's face. It was the one he used when he was having difficulty processing what he was seeing; not quite slack, as that would lack grace, but a kind of faux-neutral that either led to tantrum or revelation. Either of which response could lead to upheaval.
The younger woman prowled into the visiting room, taking in everything, nostrils flaring as if catching a scent; though nothing hinted at what she thought of it.
Hermione came to stand behind Narcissa, who still sat, regally at the table. She could understand his response to Hermione. The last time he had seen the young woman, she had been in Bellatrix' deadly grasp, her screams piercing the air. That wild animal sound lingered in all of their psyches in one way or the other, but the strength of Hermione's gaze was piercing, dangerous. And, as she had warned, territorial.
A sneer flickered across his handsome face, but he caught himself at it, and straightened in his seat.
"Hermione," Narcissa began, extending her arm. The younger woman placed her hand over the top of her forearm. "May I present my husband, Lord Lucius Malfoy. Lucius, I present to you my Bonded Mate, Hermione Jean Granger Black. She may currently be addressed as Mistress Black."
Lucius eyes narrowed. "Mistress Black?"
"Her bloodline has proven true. But there are issues of state to be addressed in regards to her actual title." She smiled tightly. She did not mention that, when Hermione's new bloodline was proven, the Goblins had instantly begun looking into the validity of Sirius' will, which according to Dumbledore had left everything to his Godson. These walls had many ears, none of which are friendly. The problem was, however, that the will had not been validated by the Goblin solicitors or even by the Wizard solicitors. It had simply been stated by a man who had vested interest in it being true and it was assumed to be correct due to Harry being the boy-who-lived. Meanwhile, Sirius had had very little time to be Lord Black. He had not even managed to reclaim his seat in the Wizengamot before he'd been thrust through the veil.
"Are you telling me this, this," Lucius struggled for a moment to find a word that might pass without offending, at least for the moment, and to understand what Narcissa was telling him, "person is a possible heir to a pureblood station."
Narcissa managed not to roll her eyes. "You are missing the point, Lucius."
"No, I do not believe that I am." Lucius ears were turning red, though his outward expression retained its iciness. "You cannot possibly expect that you can pass this girl off as one of us."
Narcissa gritted her teeth and wondered what step she had missed in their previous discussion. Then she realized she hadn't. He was being deliberately obtuse. "Lucius, you do remember our discussion previous. You must trust me..."
"Trust," Lucius grimaced, "I trust that you believe that you have my, our, best interest at heart, but I cannot..."
"You mean will not," Narcissa stated icily. "I see now that you choose to be blinded by an irrational..."
"There is nothing irrational about wanting fidelity from my wife..."
"Fidelity! Shall we begin with Lady Zambini, Lucius?" He flinched. "Or shall we start with a much more, shall we say, mundane young woman. Does the name Flora remind you of anyone?" Narcissa's voice was a sharp, cold whisper of ice, which grew ever more frigid as she spoke, "We shall not bring up issues of consent next, as that would be detrimental to the length of your stay in this humble location."
"Stop it! Both of you." Hermione spoke sharply, cutting through the thick, cold in the air. "It doesn't matter what should be or ought to be or any of that. It is what it is. You either accept it or you don't, Lord Malfoy, but it doesn't change a thing. She's mine and I am hers. It is an unchangeable. Technically, by all standards, we are as married, possibly more so, as you and she. What is left is to decide how your, this, family is composed. Personally, I don't care who is an heir of what. I don't care about nobility or blood or even revenge at this point. I cannot say I care about you at all, as you have always been arrogant and unkind to me. I, do, however care about her and that means her happiness is important to me. So tell me, Lord Malfoy, what is more important to you? The so called purity of my blood and it's nearness to you or her? If I thought it would make any difference, I would spill all of my blood, pure or tainted, for her. Would you?"
He gaped at the girl like a fish. He stood, as much as the chains would let him. "You don't know what I have sacrificed..."
"Oh, but I do," Hermione snapped. "Your honor and your pride. Not just sacrificed, Lucius Malfoy, but given away. And look what you have gotten in exchange for it. Perhaps you ought to think on that."
His lips compressed and his eyes flashed. Anger got the best of him. "You think this little girl can protect you. You want the Black line to thrive so much. Then take her and go. I renounce you."
Narcissa went rigid and cold shivered down her back. She tried for a reasonable tone, but it came out with more chill than she intended. "Lucius, stop. Think of what you are saying. I won't be able to protect you..."
"Oh, your vaunted protection. What? A bribe here and there? A lawyer's words. I have my own lawyers. I can protect myself." He hissed. "So, you want this creature, then have her. Let us finish this. I renounce you, Narcissa Black. I renounce our marriage. I divide you from me. Be thou cast away from me!"
Narcissa's teeth clenched and she stood. "You have made a grave error, Lucius. I believe you will realize it soon enough, but I do and have loved you, so I will honor your choice. I regret your choice, but accept it." Then she said with dire formality. "I leave thee with thy stone bed and thy cold heart, Lucius Malfoy. I cleave thee from my heart and my fortunes, good or ill. I leave thee to thy sentence, free of me and my influence. I leave thee thy name, but all else belongs to me and my kin, rank and right, as it is written in the contracts and codicils. I, Lady Malfoy née Black," she corrected him carefully, "do hereby free thee to thy fate, Lucius Malfoy, to do as you will, as much as a prisoner of Azkaban may accomplish." Then she said, less coldly, and very sadly "You forgot the contracts you signed previous to your capture and sentence. Insurance, you said, since you feared what the Ministry might do. I agreed because at the time... Well, it doesn't matter. It is done, by your word. The nobility, the lands, the property and the fortune falls to me, to shepherd for our heirs and my purposes. Now, by necessity, both the Malfoy and the Black line must flow through me."
Lucius' eyes widened suddenly and he made to leap over the table, but fell far short.
Her only reaction to his attempt to attack her, was to restrain her young mate as Hermione moved to intercept. Narcissa continued. "However, I will see to it a financial trust is set aside for your comfort. I cannot, in good conscience, leave you entirely destitute or too vulnerable to the whim of your master. It will be enough to cover your life and some sundry expenses, but no more. You were once a good husband." She stood and gently turned the twitching, dangerous young woman towards the door. "Come with me, Hermione. I'm afraid some of our plans for today need to be changed, but there is no reason not to have our lunch."
They left to the sound of Lucius shouting Narcissa's name, fury in his tone and aspect. They did not see him dragged away by his chains.
The Lady Malfoy moved quickly into the empty visitor's room, nearly into the middle of it before stopping. She didn't look at Hermione, though the young woman's arm was wrapped around her waist, for both comfort and support. The blonde's gaze remained outward, as she stood, breathing heavily for a moment.
"Is there anything I can do?" Hermione said plaintively, the worry very apparent. The stoicism that she showed the world had been peeled back at this sudden turn of events. She gazed up at the taller woman, not sure if she should expect an answer or if she should offer a hug or what she should do.
But then Narcissa's attention turned to her and her fingertips touched the bottom of the scars on the younger woman's face. "My Hermione, so brave and fierce. Do not come undone at this, my darling. This is, unexpected, but not unplanned. Lucius has always had a hot temper. I can hope that this was an act of self sacrifice on Lucius' part, but I fear it was simply anger. It is the dragon's blood in his veins and very possibly, soon to be mine. I do apologize."
"I don't understand."
Affection colored Narcissa's expression. "You will as soon as we are away from Azkaban, my lovely Beast. The keywords have been spoken. They will take effect as soon as we set foot off this island. My one regret is that this means we will be on a boat, but what must be must be. As you know, magical contracts can be quite," she expelled a breath, "life-altering." She patted Hermione's hand, her smile tight with grief and fear. "It's best we get this over with."
Hermione searched Narcissa's face and then nodded. Then, together, they exited the room.
"Keep those vile things on their leashes," Narcissa commented to the guard as they passed by. "I will not be held accountable if those creatures get loose."
"Of course, Lady Malfoy."
Hermione had expected it much sooner, but instead they'd gotten on the boat and nothing had happened. Even when they cast off from the island, the only thing that had happened had been that Narcissa had tightened her grip on the railing and stared at the towers of Azkaban with a forlorn expression. Hermione had resisted pulling her into a clasp, but had settled for putting her hand at the older woman's back.
They had stayed that way, with Azkaban and its dementor filled clouds fading back and back as they crossed the choppy, unfriendly waters back toward safe haven.
The gloomy clouds followed them and then, abruptly, parted, bring blue sky and warm sun. The waters calmed.
Narcissa's feet lifted away from the boat, as a bolt of light spread over them both, but clothed her in its form. Her hair spread out, like rays of sunshine. Her head tilted back and she could not avoid opening her mouth. It was filled with light, with substance, even as another light, faded, but wound tightly inside her began unraveling.
Ribbons unfurled, the myriad hues of silver and sparkle, and her arms lifted above her head, palms up. She cried out, a cut to the heart and near sob, as the marriage bond severed, even as the blessing of the house Malfoy was bestowed fully upon her.
Hermione caught the woman as she fell. Her expression was as shocked as the boatmen's who witnessed the whole thing. Lifting her precious burden into deceptively strong arms, the young woman briefly glanced at the others and then, with a loud crack, they were both gone.
A/N - I usually try to avoid these sorts of interruptions in a story. I prefer to read straight through, usually and I intend to come back and erase this as soon as certain criteria are met. But I felt it only fair to say that this update is more of a Christmas gift than an update per usual. Usually I like to have at least two chapters in the bank before I post a next part. In this case I have maybe an eighth of one and so it may be a little while before there is another update. I just felt forewarned was forearmed, so to speak.
That said, I hope you all have a Merry Christmas or Holiday of your favor. :)