It was around midnight when Hermione arrived at the pool in the clearing, yet she found it to be a perfectly normal pond. There was not an iota of magic in the air like she had felt emanating from the pool the previous night, nor was there any kind of glow. For any passing individual, this would just seem like nothing more than a regular pool of water. Naturally, she waved her wand over to cast a few detection spells but came up with absolutely nothing.
Curious. Even if the magic had gone inactive, there should be residual traces.
Hermione sat down on one of the petrified branches to think. Had she just imagined it? She hadn't been sleeping well, after all, and the nightmares hadn't been kind of her.
It wasn't encouraging to think about, really. If she had all imagined it, that would mean she had some serious psychological issues. And, truth be told, what had happened was so outlandish that she had spent a lot of hours lying awake in her bed wondering if her sanity had slipped so far that she had started seeing people who weren't there.
She had debated with herself if she should have returned at all. If it had been all in her mind, there was no point. But if this was the real Bellatrix somehow, would she with messing with the time-line simply by talking to her? Was that how time even worked?
Temporal shenanigans aside, she asked herself if she really even want to talk to Bellatrix at all. Hermione had suffered greatly at the hand of the evil witch, who now regularly featured in her nightmares. The scar on her arm still hurt sometimes, the old wound opening up and dripping blood down her sleeve at inopportune moments. Did she really want to talk to the person who did that to her? Even if she was younger and seemingly more friendly?
Still, in the end, curiosity had won out. She was curious if what she had seen was real or not. If it wasn't, that would be a signal for her to seek more professional help. If it was real, well, then she'd have an interesting mystery on her hands. Despite Bellatrix being involved, she still preferred the latter over the former.
Hermione decided to wait besides the pool, wrapping her legs in a blanket and reading a book. She found it rather soothing and lost herself in the text. When she checked her watch, it was almost three in the morning.
Hermione let out a sigh. What was she doing? She'd been sat here in the dead of night next to a still pond in the middle of a dangerous forest for almost three hours now. The fact alone didn't speak wonders for her mental state.
"You're losing your mind, Hermione," the young witch sighed to herself and snapped her book shut. "Time to go back to Hogwarts, crawl into bed and forget that all this nonsense ever happened."
She was about to get up when she felt a gust of magic in the air and found the previously still pool radiating light and magic. Instantly, the hairs on the back of her neck stood up now that the air was suddenly charged with magic. Hermione turned her head towards the pool and found the smiling face of Bellatrix staring back at her.
"Hermione! You came back!" exclaimed Bellatrix, excitement on her voice. It almost seemed as if she hadn't been expecting that.
"Good evening, Bellatrix," greeted Hermione, sounding far more apprehensive than she would have liked.
"Don't you mean 'good morning'?" Bellatrix raised an eyebrow.
That was a good point. What time was it? The young witch checked her watch and saw that it was deep within the night. "Hm. Exactly three in the morning," she muttered, almost suppressing a yawn.
"Yeah, same here," replied Bellatrix. "Curious."
"Three AM," said Hermione, rubbing her chin. "The Witching Hour."
"That is no coincidence," Bellatrix nodded.
The Witching Hour, the time of day when all magic was at its strongest, and when supernatural events were more likely to occur. This was a well-known fact within the wizarding community and the very reason who so much magical experimentation took place in the dead of night.
"Did you happen to catch the time yesterday when the pool's magic abruptly cut out?" said Bellatrix. "I'm willing to bet it was four in the morning."
Hermione nodded. "I did not," she replied. "But we're likely to find out today. Have you been waiting long?"
Bellatrix smiled briefly. "Since about seven in the evening, right after dinner."
This made Hermione blink. She herself had arrived at midnight, and thought that had been long while Bellatrix had been sitting besides the pool for almost eight hours straight. "Wait," she said. "You've been here since early evening?"
"Hm," Bellatrix nodded. "I don't need much sleep, I got all my homework done and have been working on a new story so it's not time wasted. You?"
"Since midnight," replied Hermione, settling her back against the tree after propping her blanket between herself and the bark and getting comfortable. "Though if it's really only the Witching Hour when the pool is active, we could plan out chats better."
A brief smile crossed Bellatrix's young features. "So you'd like to chat more?"
Hermione bit her lip. Did she really? She supposed she did, for now at least. "This whole situation is fascinating, isn't it?" she responded, and that was definitely not a lie.
"I know!" replied Bellatrix. "I looked for you, you know? I've spent some time at the library looking through old yearbooks and photographs. The only reference to the Grangers I found were the Dagworth-Grangers from Kent. Not members of the Sacred 28, but a prestigious magical line nonetheless. Founders of the Most Extraordinary Society of Potioneers. That's a lot to live up to, Hermione. You must be so proud."
It was rather disturbing to hear that Bellatrix had been looking for her and into her personal history. Likely, there was actually a connection between her family and the Dagworth-Grangers, but she figured it was probably a good idea not to correct her on this assumed connection. "Well," said Hermione. "I try to be my own woman as much as possible. Sometimes, you have to make a name of your own."
"I can certainly respect that," replied Bellatrix through the pool. "But hear me out, right? I have a theory. The design of your uniform, it's different. Not like any design I've seen or managed to track down into the school archives. And then there's the matter of the dead tree behind you, while the same tree behind me is standing proud and fierce. It might be the same time, but I'm guessing it's not the same year. I'm guessing you are in the future. Well, for you it's the present, but from my perspective, I mean. So, what year is it on your end?"
Hermione bit her lip. She supposed that Bellatrix was smart enough to figure it out eventually. Should she say it? Or shouldn't she? There was really no reason to lie, she supposed. "1998," she responded, only to almost immediately regret saying it.
A gasp came from Bellatrix. "Wicked! No wonder I didn't recognize the name of your house or that I never saw you at Hogwarts! It's 1968 here. That's a difference of thirty years! That's amazing! What's the date?"
"The 30th of September."
Bellatrix grinned. "Same here."
That did make Hermione think, though. "Three AM? Thirty years? On the 30th day of the ninth month? I don't think that's a coincidence either."
"I doubt it is. My grand-père was a magic researcher and unspeakable for the French ministry before my mother's family came over to the United Kingdom," Bellatrix rubbed her chin. "When he was still alive, he told me stories that there were inherent magical traits to the number three and its multiples, like thirty, six, nine, or three-hundred. The reason why is not really understood, but grand-père devoted a lot of his life to the study of magic in numerology. He believed it was related to the Pareto principle, you know, where 80 percent of effects come from 20 percent of the causes? It's one of those mathematical rules you find everywhere in the universe."
"It is an intriguing mystery," said Hermione. And it was. What was this pool? Where had it come from? Why was it only active during the Witching Hour? How long had it been here? How long would it be here? She had to admit that, at an intellectual level, her curiosity had been more than piqued. "After all that had happened the past year, I'm all up for a more intellectual challenge."
Bellatrix fell silent for a moment, which caused Hermione to start to look down into the pool. The younger face of Bellatrix was there still, bright in the moonlight. She seemed rather conflicted about something.
"Hermione?" Bellatrix started. "If you're really thirty years in the future, there is… a good chance that I'm still alive."
Of course, she wasn't. But Hermione felt it wasn't her place to tell her that. She did her best to keep her expression as neutral as possible as she peered into the pool.
"I don't want to know what happens to me," said Bellatrix, her voice resolute.
"It might be good, but it might also be bad. Or something in between. I don't want to… to lose hope. I don't want to live towards a bad future," Bellatrix cast her eyes downward, the sadness clear in her expression.
"But what if it's good?" Hermione asked, instantly cursing herself for asking that question. Bellatrix's future, as it stood, was anything but good after all.
Bellatrix looked up again. "You see, that's the thing. Good and bad is in the eye of the beholder. I… just don't want to take the risk, Hermione. So promise me. Promise me you will never tell me about what's going to happen in my future. And not even the future in general. I just don't want to know. I want to live in the now. I don't to live worrying about things that might or might not happen."
Hermione nodded. "I promise. And I promise to be careful."
"Good," smiled Bellatrix. "We can chat about everything else. School. Life. Family. Hobbies. Anything."
"Hm," said Hermione. "It helps to have a guideline. How about... we don't talk about anything that could be in the Daily Prophet? Things like local or world news, I mean. Does that make sense?"
"That does makes sense," smiled Bellatrix.
"I can't promise I won't let anything small slip in casual conversation, but I'll do my best to be very careful," Hermione promised. Perhaps sharing too much with Bellatrix' about her ultimate fate would be terribly cruel indeed.
"I won't lie. I have thousands of questions, but it's for the best that I don't ask them," replied Bellatrix.
They spent some time chatting about minor things, mostly school work related, until Bellatrix apparently checked the time and found it to be 3:55. If their theory was correct, the pool would soon stop working again. "Will you be back tomorrow?" Bellatrix asked, again oddly hopeful.
Hermione thought a moment. "I'll have to find another way to get permission to be out late. I can't keep telling Professor Sprout I need to go out to find more glowcaps."
"Permission?" Bellatrix blinked. "You asked permission?"
"Yes. Didn't you?"
"Pfft, no," Bellatrix raised an eyebrow, slightly Hermione a slightly mocking expression. "I go where I please, Hermione, and I have my ways," she leaned forward and grinned. "You know the painting of Shifty Pete Bivander, right? On the ground floor some two corridors away from Gryffindor Tower and about three from the Slytherin dungeon entrance?"
"Yes," replied Hermione. The painting was that of a famous wizard, called trickster by some and con-artist by others. He was a rather cheeky fellow who stole money from the rich but unfortunately never got around to actually give it to the poor. A scoundrel, yes, but also a master at Alchemy and Transfiguration.
"Just whisper the word 'Unxmaal' in his ear and he will allow you to pull the level behind his frame to reveal a secret corridor leading out underneath the lake right into the Forbidden Forest, near Hogsmeade," said Bellatrix. "It's just one straight walk to freedom. That's how I get in and out of the Hog's Head for some good old fashioned underage drinking. Or if I just want to be by myself out here to write or some such."
"Unxmaal," Hermione repeated. "I don't know if I should. It sounds rather..."
"Oh, come on, Hermione," Bellatrix pouted slightly. "I'd love it if we could chat more."
Hermione sighed. The pool started to shimmer as the magic was once again fading away. "Alright, I'll give it a shot. What's the worst that could happen?"
"Good!" Bellatrix replied. "See you tomorrow!"
"Goodbye," Hermione said, the last thing she saw in the pool being Bellatrix's smile. Hermione sat there for a moment, staring at the now still waters showing her own reflection and thinking just how surreal all of this was becoming.
Oddest thing was that Hermione was actually looking forward to talking to Bellatrix again and she didn't really know why.
As it stood, she simply gathered her things, folded up her blanket and gathered her basket full of glowcaps. Hermione headed back to the edge of the forest until she hit the bank of the lake and then steeled herself for the long trek towards the main entrance of the castle. Supposedly if this secret entrance came out near Hogsmeade it would mean far less of a walk. She promised herself she'd scope it out tomorrow.
When she arrived at the castle, she suppressed a yawn: the sky was clear and she could see the sun starting to rise from the east. Thankfully, it was Saturday so she could sleep in late. She knocked on the gate and after a glaring Filch let her in, she headed straight to the dorm. Her bed was very welcoming after she had tossed off her clothes and went for a quick wash. After lying down, she let the tiredness wash over her. Still, Hermione was curious.
Bellatrix seemed... nice. So innocent, enthusiastic, even. Hell, when not shouting in her face or blabbering on about magical purity, she actually seemed like an honest to goodness person.
But Hermione also remembered the vile woman she'd become: the scar on her arm was a clear indication of that. What could have happened which turned her from that cheerful teenager into the insane and deluded Bellatrix Lestrange whom had so cruelly tortured her?
Hermione was ever more determined to find out.
By now, Bellatrix had become an undeniable expert at sneaking in and out of Hogwarts. In all her years at this school, she had only been caught once and even then managed to get away with it by claiming she'd been sleep walking. Which the prefect on duty, rather miraculously, actually believed.
It never did stop being exciting. Just going out on her own, sneak into town, into the forest and whenever she wanted to go. She navigated the halls expertly and had gotten it down to an art. Slinking along the walls, she made her way back to the Slytherin dungeon and crept back to her dorm room. Her three hapless roommates had no idea she'd even been gone and, after applying a spell to herself which would muffle any sounds, changed into her night clothes and crawled into her warm bed.
As she lay staring at the ceiling, her thoughts immediately drifted to the girl in the pool.
She was interesting. Smart. Funny.
A smile crossed her face: cute. She was also cute.
Then, her finely tuned Slytherin instincts kicked in again. Bellatrix wondered why she was so trusting of this girl? She usually wasn't, after all. At Hogwarts she couldn't trust anyone but a a very few select individuals: all others would use her for their own devices, either as a means to gain access to her prominent family's influence or her own considerable skills. In her fourth year, there was a boy whom had thought up an staggeringly complicated multi-level scheme for the mere reason of wanting to copy her homework on the regular.
Bellatrix still lay staring at the ceiling, new-formed doubts gnawing at her.
Would this girl be any different? She could just be another parasite with the desire to latch onto her, after all?
But how would that make sense? Bellatrix was in the past. Hermione was in the future. There was thirty years of time in between them, very much a unique situation. And, being from the future, how could Hermione actually benefit from trying to exploit her? What could she possibly gain? If anything, Hermione should be far more distrustful of her. Bellatrix could stand to gain more with future knowledge than Hermione could from past knowledge.
One thing that struck her that Hermione might be trying to influence future events, but how could that even be? From Hermione's perspective, all of this would have already happened. Hell, if the Warlock Paul Manheim was correct, and she was sure he was, the immutable aspects of time flows could mean that Hermione was supposed to contact her from the future to make sure that whatever happens in future actually happened. Damn… this stuff was complicated.
Either way, it meant very little to her in the present. There was no harm in talking to Hermione. Hell, she even seemed rather wary when Bellatrix had mentioned her prominent family name, which was a rather rare reaction.
Of course, there was the question of the magic pool itself. What was this pool? How could she speak to someone so far in the future? It had all been a pure chance meeting, but that made it all the more special. A friend... from the future.
This was different than sneaking out for some under-age drinking or practicing dark arts in the forest. This was... an actual adventure. A secret adventure. Something that was for her and her alone. Bellatrix decided that she wouldn't even share this with her sisters. She couldn't. Andie was too much of a blabbermouth and Cissy would try to find a way to exploit knowledge from the future. No, she'd have to keep it a secret.
This was excitement. Perhaps even… the last adventure she would ever experience before fulfilling her duties to wizarding society as a pure-blood witch. One last chance before…
A grim thought crossed over her and, really, she didn't want to think about it. For now she would sleep and, perhaps, dream about the mysterious girl in the pool.
For the few hours left in the night, Bellatrix had slept exceedingly well. After a refreshing shower, she twirled her wand through her hair and ended up with curls which were just a tad puffier than usual. This suited her fine for now.
She changed into a uniform which she, at least, couldn't wait to ditch at the of the year and left the Slytherin dungeons for the Great Hall for breakfast, her bookbag strapped over her shoulder. Students were already pouring in by the time she got there.
Bellatrix strode over to the end of the Slytherin table, where three seats next to each other were free. Three seats which every Slytherin knew were reserved. Bellatrix took the middle seat and waited a while. It didn't take long for her sisters to arrive. Andromeda, an eager fifth year with soft brown hair and Narcissa, a plucky third year with stark blond hair, were chatting merrily as they entered the Great Hall, immediately making a beeline for their seats.
"Well, good morning you two," Bellatrix said, greeting the only two people in the world she fully and completely trusted.
"Hey there," Andie returned.
"Bella, have you seen what happened near the Hufflepuff common room?" Cissy giggled.
Bellatrix frowned. "I only just got out of the shower. What did I miss?"
"Some gormless arse set up some stink-hexes near the door," Andromeda rolled her eyes. "So when the first students came out this morning, they exploded and made the whole corridor… and all the people in it… smell like absolute shite. Then a few of the students ran back inside the common room and carried the curses with them, where they spread to the rest of the puffs. Every single puff has it on them now."
"HAH!" Bellatrix laughed. "I'm sorry I missed that."
"I know!" Cissy giggled. "Best start of the day ever!"
Come to mention, there had been a rather… intrusive whiff coming from the Hufflepuff table. Whoever devised that prank had intimate knowledge of the many smells of the English countryside. Instantly, Cissy started making faces at them.
"Don't do that, Cissy," Andie huffed, giving a few of at the Hufflepuffs a sympathetic look.
Bellatrix shrugged. "Well, for once, they can't blame me for it. I was at the dorm when it happened and I have witnesses."
"Oh, they already dragged the culprit off to the Head Master's office," said Narcissa. "Gryffindor. Upset about a lost match. Seriously, if it had been a Slytherin, they wouldn't have gotten caught in the first place."
The three sisters were quickly drawn to see what the house elves had on the menu for today and there was a plethora of choice. "Hm, nutbread!" exclaimed Andie, glad that her favourite food was on today. Cissy went for scones and clotted-cream, while Bellatrix went for a full-on fry-up. Bacon, eggs, baked beans and sausages. Bellatrix could certainly do with some hearty bangers right now. Almost full nights up required a hearty refuelling at the start of the day.
"Transfigurations first," sighed Andie after chewing and swallowing a piece of nutbread. "McGonagall hates me."
"If you're not wearing red, you're on her shit-list immediately," Cissy rolled her eyes.
Bellatrix shrugged after popping a bit of sausage in her mouth. "Eh, she's alright. It's not as if other teachers don't have favourites. We don't depend on others. We only depend on ourselves. That's how it's always been."
The curly-haired witch took a moment to wrap an arm around both her sisters' shoulders. Not only for a show of much needed affection, for the three sisters had an unbreakable bond, but also to subtly signal to the other students that both her sisters were under her complete protection.
A signal that if someone were to do harm to them in any shape or form, there would be… consequences. And it always worked. Few people dared to mess with Bellatrix Black, after all. So for her sisters, life was relatively easy at Hogwarts when it came to interactions with other students.
"Bella?" asked Cissy, being somewhat embarrassed. "Will you help me with my Arithmancy assignment? I just can't wrap my head around some of these calculations."
"Sure," said Bellatrix. "I think I already know what problems you might be having. Drop by at the seventh year dorm later and we'll figure it out."
It was then that Andie gave her an intense look.
"What?" Bellatrix frowned.
"There's something different about you today, Bella."
"You're less dour, smiling more, there's a twinkle in your eye. And you didn't even roll your eyes once when Cissy asked you to help her with her homework. What's going on here?" Andromeda chuckled, crossing her arms while giving her a knowing smirk.
Bellatrix shrugged, keeping her expression neutral. "Who can tell?"
"I can tell! I'm going to find out, you know?" Andie winked.
"Good luck!" said Bellatrix, right before blowing her a raspberry.
Andie promptly made a face. "Oh, that's nice!" she rolled her eyes.
Bellatrix chuckled and offered her a grin. "Don't think I haven't seen you glaring at the Hufflepuff table. New rivalry, huh?" she said. Instantly, Andie was on the defensive, her hackles definitely raised.
"I don't know what you're talking about," she huffed, raising her chin slightly.
Oh, now Bellatrix knew for certain something was up. She wondered what it could be about this time. Someone speaking insult to Andie's face, gloating about getting a better grade or simply blocking her path once would be enough. The three sisters, though they loved each other dearly, were very different in character and demeanour, after all. Bellatrix would react to slights instantly and viciously. Cissy was a consummate backstabber for whom almost everyone was fair game. But Andie? Andie held grudges. She was an expert at playing the long con, striking when least expected and often months after the initial slight. Andie never forgot or forgave. In fact, there was a definite case to be made that, of all three Black sisters, Andromeda was the most dangerous.
The three sisters chatted a bit more until breakfast was done and class was about to begin. Bellatrix rose from her seat and sighed before following her sisters into the hallways.
Time for more mind-numbing boredom for a couple of hours.
The real moment she was looking forward to, was talking to Hermione again later that night.