In The Glass of a Mirror
Hermione sucked in a trembling breath and it clattered across dry tongue and down a throat squeezed tighter than a guitar string by the unrelenting, crushing fist of Anxiety. Mentally, she shook her head; no, no she was not ready for this, she would probably never be ready for this. Her papery hand fluttered to clutch that of the man beside her and with the other, she smoothed down the jungle of curling hairs that would insist on breaking free of the slightly more peaceful entirety of the mane dominating her scalp.
"Positive," she said.
Making a vain attempt to clear her throat from its own walls, which Anxiety had so kindly decided to punch inward to block out all the oxygen struggling to get through, she gave her companion a brave nod that fooled neither of them.
"I'll have to reacquaint myself with your parents eventually, and anyway, you know what they say: it's better not to put off 'till tomorrow what can be done today. Besides. It's only your mother this time."
What she didn't say, but what she meant and Draco heard, was that at least they wouldn't have to deal with Lucius yet- stubborn Lucius, cold Lucius, still-prejudiced-even-after-losing-two-wars Lucius who would as soon punch a Muggleborn's lights out as look at one.
Bracing herself, Hermione rung the impeccably shiny little bell on the impeccably crackless stone pillar lining one side of the gates. They swung open without sound or aid, shifting air around their bars, breathing it into the couple's faces.
She raised her eyebrows at Draco and he nodded, once, and then they were crossing the path and approaching the place that she'd been trying for two years to block from her memory, and then one of the massive front doors was opening, opening…
A frail, white form stood in the gaping entryway, just a fleck against a looming cave. Hermione couldn't help it. She stared.
It wasn't a long stare, just a few seconds' worth of one. But it was a stare all the same. A taking-in, analyzing sort of stare. Not analyzing the way you'd think on first hearing the word, not in a calculating way or anything like that, just… it was like how an artist observes their subject. Tracing the lines of them and pulling meaning from the subtleties that make that person a person. Translating a strand of hair or the sparkle of an eye into feelings, stories.
She read Narcissa Malfoy as if she were reading one of her books.
In the perfect, painstaking way the Madame Malfoy had coiffed her hair, letting not one silken strand fall out of place, Hermione saw her own carefulness. She saw herself buttoning the precious pastel cardigan that all her female friends told her was hideous and went completely against the very nature of fashion itself but that she loved because her mother had bought it for her, doing it up precisely, slipping every single pearly disc into its proper slot because she needed order, needed something perfect and regulated and making sense in her insane hurricane of a life. She saw herself straightening the one slightly skewed quill on her desk and switching the positions of a leather-bound tome and its partner because they weren't in serial order. Saw herself meticulously planning out every week, every day, every hour, just so she could pretend that was how they'd actually go, that by writing down what she wanted to happen, she could prevent her endearingly chaotic best friend from whipping all that scheduled neatness into madness.
In the tiny, flickering motion of Narcissa moistening her lips, and in the fact that her eyes were slightly wider than they should've been, like those of a doe caught in a beam of light, Hermione understood that she was the lesser of two icebergs, in terms of Draco's parents. She wasn't quite so aloof and held together as her sneering spouse, at least not anymore, and if Draco was to be trusted, she never had been, really, when she was out of the piercing public eye and in the comfort of her own home. Hermione looked at her and felt afresh all the times she'd wanted so badly to mask her emotions but hadn't been able to; would've given anything to seem bold and fearless and wild and stormy, like Ginny, when she was faced with peril. But that wasn't who Hermione was, and apparently, it wasn't who Narcissa was, either.
There was another version to the nervous light wavering in the eyes of her boyfriend's mother, though- a stronger version, mingling in underneath it, just peeking out for someone observant enough to spot. Wariness. Mrs. Malfoy was on her guard. Skepticism and suspicion were sensations of the realist, and ones that her beholder, too, had a very long acquaintance with.
In the snowy grip of the hand discreetly clutching a slim wand behind folded robes, Hermione heard her own fingers scratching nervously against wood as they slid up and down another wand, a vine one, sliding in their own sweat to the beat of the prayers exiting her mouth. Prayers for her family's lives, her friends' lives, hell, her own life. Begs and noiseless screams to save us, please don't damn us to this, give us something, get us OUT. A second rhythm almost audible in the background, that of the devil's drums pounding their funeral anthems.
And then beyond all this, all these mimics of Hermione's breakability, how very glass-like she was, there was something else. In the steady way Narcissa held her fragile frame, the elegant elevation of her head. A strength. A quenchless flame, burning underneath all the insecurities. One that couldn't be stamped out by all the hopelessness and darkness in the world. Words, old words, faint, tickled up a breeze inside Hermione's ears: 'You said to us once before that there was time to turn back if we wanted to. We've had time, haven't we?'Cautious, heavy silence clouded the air, thick as butter.
The more Hermione looked at this woman, this chipping china doll, the more of a mirror Narcissa Malfoy seemed to be. A distorted mirror, in many ways. But there was a strong shimmering of reflection about her despite the deviances and individualities that made Hermione just shiver.
She looked at her… and she saw herself.
All these contemplations were made in the space of a few stretched moments. It was enough.
A sincere, compressed, London-smog-weighty smile and a look that communicated volumes without the use of a single syllable was passed from young warrior to older one. The elder sent the same gaze back, and Hermione knew, then, that she'd undergone the same scholarly scrutiny and been diagnosed with a similar result.
She extended a hand.
"I believe it's time we got to know one another."
The expression on Narcissa's face answered her more clearly than words could've. The nearly imperceptible lift of an eyebrow, the lowering of a chin. The softening of eyes that had so few opportunities to be soft.
I think we just did.