For all of her skepticism about Andromeda, Hermione found that she was not an unpleasant research partner. She was certainly more interested in books than Bella. Though she was nothing like the blonde, Andromeda was fierce and motivated. She acted as though the library was her battle ground. And she had been entirely truthful about her lack of interest in the young witch. Though it was quite obvious that she respected Hermione's intellect, she hadn't made any attempt to be even platonically affectionate with her. Which after the year she had was frankly a relief.
The afternoon of working together was productive, far more than any other single day had been on this project thus far. Andromeda had known where all of the sources were in the Malfoy library were. The rare books were scattered across a large transfigured table opened to pages that held clues. Hermione sat near a particularly large stack, quill in hand furiously scribbling. She was recording half clues that she knew would knit back together to form a solution, but she wasn't quite sure how yet. She had set the other witch on writing a list of other rare texts mentioned that they did not have in the Malfoy or Black collections. Andromeda had already volunteered to make the trip to Hermione's castle to look for some of the list. But the young witch side stepped the offer. She wasn't sure that she wanted to give the middle Black sister access to her sanctuary when she didn't quite trust her. Andromeda had seemingly let the topic go easily allowing Hermione to redirect to the collection of a list of sources they were missing.
Hermione hadn't noticed the setting sun or the lowering of the natural lighting over the past hour and was startled at the arrival of one of the house elves. She started to grab for her wand until she heard his tiny voice.
"Dinner will be served in a half hour, Madames Black," he had squeaked before quickly disappearing again. Hermione nodded absentmindedly before turning back to her stack of books. Andromeda broke the silence,
"I'm going to go prepare for dinner. Are you…" her question trailed off when the young witch didn't look up.
"No," Hermione said without stopping writing. "I'll go as I am. But feel free." Truthfully, she wouldn't mind a few minutes of solitude to work.
Andromeda wanted to remind her not to be late, but thought better of it given the current state of their fragile relationship. At this point the witch knew Narcissa better than her wayward sister anyways and it was her risk to take.
Hermione was in the middle of taking notes on a particularly helpful section when her concentration was broken by the rhythmic, fast tapping of high heeled shoes on the wood floors. But she was too focused on her work to be overly concerned with the interruption. She was faintly aware of eyes on her, but pushed on scribbling as quickly as she was able. She continued on until a gentle hand rested on her shoulder. She paused her furious writing at the loving touch.
"Hermione, darling," Narcissa murmured in her ear. "Are you attempting to be late to dinner?"
Hermione set down her quill, closed her eyes and leaned back into the warm presence behind her. She breathed in the comfort of being home. She reached out to her wife knowing her presence wasn't far, though not imminently close either. Bella's love and warmth flowed through her. She stood slowly and moved into Narcissa's arms, nuzzling into the warmth.
"I'm sorry," she said into the blonde hair with more humility she had shown in many months. "I was caught up and on a roll. I just…" Hermione sighed deeply. "I just don't want to fail our family."
"Oh Hermione," Narcissa answered pulling her closer. "You won't. You couldn't possibly. But you must rest and eat to be at your best. Come with me. Let me care for you."
Hermione nodded, summoning her wand to her hand simultaneously warding her notes from all others. She slipped her hand into the crook of Narcissa's elbow and leaned into her strength, walking where she led.
The dinner gathering was blessedly small. She slipped into her seat beside her wife just as the first course was being served. The chatter around her didn't even pause, save a quick smile from her wife.
Much to Hermione's relief, there were no demands on their time after dinner. They had all retired to the library after dinner for a few hours together and a night cap. As they had entered the room, Bellatrix assertively challenged Lucius to a violent game of chess, which drew the attention of Draco and Andromeda leaving Hermione with Narcissa. The young witch looked hesitantly at the older woman gathering her courage. She gently touched the woman's robe at her sleeve.
"I feel like I am almost at a breakthrough that just won't let me go. Would you mind looking over it with me? Andromeda is fine," she rambled on, "but she doesn't know me like you do."
"I should hope not, little witch," Narcissa answered playfully. "Aside from your wife, I expect to remain your favorite."
Hermione pressed a soft sweet kiss on Narcissa's lips in response. No one could ever replace the blonde in her life. She tugged at her sleeve pulling her over to her work table and removed the wards.
"Did you even ward against Andromeda," the blonde asked with some curiosity.
Hermione blushed but didn't answer, opting to sort out her notes instead.
"Hermione," she said placing her hand under the young woman's chin and moving it to meet her eyes. "Truly we would not have left you with her if we did not trust her. I would never risk you. Ever. Every risk you have been asked to take I have been vocally against. I would keep you home safe for the rest of your life if I was able."
Hermione sighed while meeting her eyes. "I know you are right. I know you always seek to protect me. It's just hard to come down from the tension of the year. To really believe I can be safe anywhere."
"I don't mind you being cautious. But you need not be with family. And in spite of her atrocious decisions, Andromeda is family."
"I will try, Cissa. I promise."
"That is all that I ask, little witch. Now show me where you are," she said petting the pretty face soothingly.
Hermione turned and thumbed through the pages in front of her. "Well," she began, "I have confirmed the need for a strong magical center of power like we discussed during term."
"I am not surprised," Narcissa said thoughtfully. "There is a place on your property. It even has an ancient circle of stones. It has sufficient magic without you and Bella. It should be quite an event with that amount of power in one place."
"You overestimate us and are being overly generous."
"I assure you that I am not," Narcissa said in the first firm voice she had used with the witch in some time. "I would not put our family in danger with such folly."
"You are right. I am sorry. Forgive me, please Narcissa," Hermione said with a sheepish look on her face. She received a kiss on her forehead in return.
"Isn't this just so much easier when you know your place, love," a sultry voice whispered in her ear as Bella wrapped her arms around her from behind. "You aren't fighting with Narcissa, are you?"
"I assure you she is not. She has conceded where she knows I am correct," the blonde said smoothly.
"Don't let me distract you. Carry on," the dark witch said without removing her arms.
Hermione did as she was told, in spite of the fact that the witch was obviously fairly distracting just by being near. "I have what I believe is the correct recipe for the potion, but it uses a shorthand that I just don't understand. I need a few more references for the spell, but I believe they are in my library. Andromeda promised she would send an elf to retrieve them in the morning. I hope to be able to at least have a practice session by the end of the week."
"Let me see the potion," Narcissa said with outstretched hand. Hermione dug out the correct book and handed it over. The blonde focused on the page for a few seconds before looking up and catching Severus' eye. He came to her side without further request. "Severus, I believe that I understand the reference here. But I would like your thoughts."
He poured over the page with concentration and a bit of reverence for the ancient folio in his hands. "It's complicated, but I have nearly everything we need," he said after only a few minutes. "It will take 3 days to brew. We can work on it tomorrow if we can fit in a supply run in the morning," he finished looking at Narcissa.
"Do you have time in your schedule," Hermione asked quietly. "The Dark Lord made it sound like you were all too busy to work with me." She realized she vaguely sounded like a petulant child. But she had been relegated to working with her least favorite Black sister all day long and was foreseeing it being a long term arrangement much to her displeasure.
"We can fit this in," Severus said matter of factly. "It is a complex potion. And while you are gifted beyond your years, I can save us time and reduce risk with a few hours of work. It would be my honor to assist you. You did all the hard work with your research already."
Hermione weighed her options. Her pause gave Bellatrix space to intercede.
"Excellent, Severus. That will give us the day finish and practice the spell." She turned to her young witch continuing. "I have a day off tomorrow and I would like nothing more than to exercise my powers with you at our castle."
"That sounds… like quite a complete plan," Hermione said slowly. There was really nothing to disagree with. They were all correct about this being the most economic use of everyone's time.
"Yes, I believe it is. And now that we have made such progress, I do believe it is time for us to retire," the dark witch said, already leading Hermione toward the door.
The young witch went with her willingly appreciating the solid confident presence of her wife. The humming magic and regular beating of the woman's heart was a reminder of everything good in the world. Her sharp mind and frank brilliance would have attracted Hermione with or without the presence of ancient magic.
As the bedroom door closed behind them, Hermione stepped into the witch's arms placing a lingering kiss on her red lips. Her wife responded without hesitation immediately deepening it and holding her close.
"I missed you," Hermione whispered in between placing kisses on the face she loved beyond measure.
"And I you," Bella's husked in return. "You are terribly attractive when you have been locked up in a library all day."
"Have you been thinking about me? And my attractiveness then?"
"Oh yes, little witch. You are rarely out of my mind."
Hermione hummed savoring the crackling desire between them. She took her wife's hand and led her to a rather opulent chair in front of the fireplace in their room. She enjoyed how the dark witch sat on it like a throne. Hermione knelt in front of her, conjuring a pillow at the last minute. Without looking away from the captivating dark eyes, she worked flowing black skirts out of her way. She lovingly caressed pale legs with both of her hands working up gradually. Bellatrix allowed her full access scooting to the edge of the chair and spreading her legs. Hermione chuckled at the movement and the lack of under garments. It was impossible to tell if they had been magicked away or if they were never worn to begin with.
Her thoughts were not interesting enough to keep her from her goal. From the moment her lips softly touched the inside of a soft knee, demanding hands were in her hair attempting to guide her movements. She resisted their insistent upward tugging in her attempt to caress and love every centimeter of skin in front of her.
"Oh love," Bella groaned from above her. "It's been such a long day. Don't tease me. I need your mouth on me. And then I need to be inside you."
The request was breathed with such heartfelt intent that Hermione couldn't resist. She placed her mouth in between the witch's legs and allowed her tongue to express every bit of love and longing that had echoed in her heart that day. From her place on the floor, she watched her wife. She was enraptured with how her head was thrown back exposing her long neck emblazoned with a familiar tattoo. The complex beautiful woman above her was still everything she could ever want. She gently pressed two fingers inside her love without slowing the pace of her mouth, watching triumphantly as the body over her moved to higher pleasure. And finally when all the muscles tensed and a silent scream left her lover's mouth, she felt a sense of completion that only being with her wife could provide.