As per usual Bellatrix woke up around midnight after only a few hours of sleep. She turned her head to the window and found the full moon out above a clear sky. A smile tugged at her lips as she carefully slipped out of bed. Bellatrix had done this dance so many times before now that she'd gotten quite adept at silently getting dressed and had already prepared her pack. In less than two minutes, Bellatrix was ready to leave her clueless roommates behind in their beds and silently stalked through the corridors.
Left. Left again. Up the stairs. Hard right.
The painting of Shifty Pete loomed at the end of the corridor: a rather roguish black clad sorcerer tipped his hat when he saw her approach. "Evenin' Bella," he greeted with a whisper.
"Evening Pete," replied Bellatrix, keeping her voice down. "Unxmaal."
"'Ave fun," he winked as his frame slid aside, revealing an opening in the wall and a spiral staircase leading down. Bellatrix quickly entered the opening and rushed down the stairs just as the painting replaced itself.
Ahead of her was a long, dark and dank corridor which led all the way underneath the lake. From here on, it was smooth sailing. Bellatrix calmed walked through the corridor, its magical torches bursting to life as she approached and going out behind her when she'd crossed enough distance. Finally, she arrived at another set of stairs leading up and, after a short climb, a hatch opened itself and Bellatrix emerged on the shores of the Black Lake. Behind her, the hatch closed and to anyone not in the know, the passage would only look like a small collection of large stones lain on the shores of the lake.
Bellatrix closed her eyes and took in a deep breath, taking in the smells of the lake, the sounds of the forest and the coolness of the night air. This is what it meant to be free.
She checked her watch and found she still had plenty of time until the witching hour. First, she was drawn to the lights of Hogsmeade and, after a five minute walk, entered town. Still, she had to be on her toes a bit: she'd rather not run into a teacher here so she avoided the high street until she came to the Hog's Head.
She found the Hog's Head in a bustle with quite a lot of wizards and witches around. As per usual, she did a quick scan of the room to make sure there weren't any teachers in sight. By now, the proprietor of the Hog's Head had already spotted her and waved her over. She gotten know the bearded man quite well over the past few months and he would usually give her a hand-sign if there was a teacher in the common room. Today he did not, so the coast was clear.
Soft music played from a visiting band while she plopped herself onto a barstool and listened to two witches arguing about the current prices of frost tubers. Aberforth Dumbledore stood behind the bar cleaning glasses. He held up a mug and studied it. Finding it clean enough, he put it in front of Bellatrix.
"Ah, how's my favourite under-age drinker doing?" he asked.
"Thirsty," Bellatrix replied and tossed a few coins on the bar.
"That's what I like to hear," the man who was, ironically, Dumbledore's brother, chuckled heartily. "Remember what we agreed upon. One drink only. I don't want a repeat of the last day of school back in June."
Bellatrix grimaced. She'd celebrated the end of school a bit too... enthusiastically. Waking up with a pounding headache in a pen while a goat was licking her face had been quite the experience. Seeing Bellatrix was still underage, she'd had to promise Aberforth to limit her intake to one drink per visit until she'd turn 18.
So, ale or fire whiskey? What a choice. Fire whiskey was always good, but she'd be meeting Hermione again later on the other side of the magic pool and she wanted to be lucid for that. "Pint of ale," Bellatrix finally decided. That would make her just tipsy enough for some inspiration to work on her next story.
"Ale it is," Aberforth smiled and poured her a pint of Ole Fishy Green Ale, a local speciality. Minty, cinnamon tinted ale laced with eggs of lake sturgeons. She found the drink soothing and refreshing while the alcohol shot right to her head. Bellatrix thanked Aberforth and, now sufficiently emboldened, stepped out of the Hog's Head and practically ran into the Forbidden Forest straight towards the location of the magical pool: her alluring secret adventure with the mysterious girl from the future.
Of course, once she arrived at the pool, she found it to still be inactive. The young Slytherin simply unpacked her backpack and produced blankets and a pillow to prop herself up against the gnarly dead tree: she would kill some time by working on her story, having decided that the creature that would kill the Rodolphus Lestrange lookalike would be the most vicious, meanest and ugliest skinwalker she could imagine.
Time passed as she worked, her quill sliding over the scroll effortlessly as the words came to her by the most inspiring mug of Old Fishy Green. In fact, she almost didn't notice that the magic of the pool had activated and was bathing the clearing in bluish magical light. Delighted to be able to talk to Hermione again, Bellatrix finished her sentence, rolled up the scroll and turned to... not see Hermione there.
That was odd.
She put away her quill and waited rather impatiently. Had something happened? Where could she be?
The answer came soon enough when a panting Hermione emerged in the pool. She was red in the face and looked like she had been running. "S-sorry. Sorry I'm late!" Hermione took a moment to catch her breath.
"Whoa, take a few breaths," Bellatrix smiled. "What happened? Did something chase you?"
"You could say that," Hermione took a few deep breaths. "I was almost caught trying to sneak out of the castle. I did what you said and followed the route to the painting hiding the secret passage. I almost fouled it up. I left my book-bag by the door, tripped over it in the dark and fell flat on my face right in the corridor. I still can't believe the prefect patrolling in the next corridor didn't hear the noise."
"Hah," Bellatrix chuckled. "Always remember where you put your things when you sneak out in the dark."
"It didn't help I couldn't find all my clothes at first," said Hermione. "That cost me precious time. And when I stepped out of the tower, I almost ran straight into the Hufflepuff prefect."
"Ouch," replied Bellatrix. "Bad timing!"
"And then when I was near the painting, I almost ran into a prefect again! Ravenclaw this time!" Hermione muttered. "Seriously, they're never around when you need them, but when you want them gone they're all over you."
"Sounds like my first and only boyfriend," Bellatrix snorted.
"Once I got through the painting, it was smooth sailing," said Hermione.
Bellatrix raised an eyebrow. "Was that... your first time trying to sneak out of the castle? Oh, it was, wasn't it? Hah, the first time is always the best. Exciting, isn't it?"
Hermione let out a brief laugh, showing that she quite agreed. "Oh, you could say that," Hermione replied. All I could think of was all the detention and lectures I'd get if I'd get caught and dragged back to the dorm. And then to get away with it. God, such a rush!"
"Don't let it go to your head," chuckled Bellatrix. "Remember, you still have to get back inside your dorm later. Getting out of the castle is only the first half. A successful reentry is the second."
"I'll worry about that later," said Hermione as she settled herself down next to the pool. "For now I just want to bask in my success."
That made Bellatrix laugh again. "Escaping is something you'll get better at the more you do it."
Hermione seemed thoughtful for a moment. "Tell me about your first and only boyfriend."
Bellatrix shrugged. "Not much to tell. Puppy-love romance in my fifth year. Everett was a Ravenclaw. Nothing really came out of it. Just kid stuff. Peck on the cheek and holding hands. That sort of thing. You? Is there a man in your life?"
"There used to be," Hermione cast her eyes downward a little. "Ron. We were really good friends and went through a lot together. It eventually developed into a romance of a sort, but... it just got really awkward really quickly. I'm not sure which of us was the most relieved when we just decided to break up. We've gone back to just being really good friends and I'm grateful for that."
Bellatrix nodded. "Sometimes it just doesn't work out," she said.
"His mum still blames me for it, I think," laughed Hermione. "That's one woman you don't want to be angry with you. It's a shame, really, I would have enjoyed spending some time at their house."
"Hah, I'll keep that in mind," Bellatrix snorted, her mood falling more than a little. "The man in my life, if you could even call him that, is Rodolphus Lestrange."
Odd. She could see an involuntary cringe go through Hermione's body at the mere mention of his name: perhaps Hermione had heard of him in some way? Part of her wanted to ask, but then she remember she'd rather not know about the future. Regardless, that was no reason not to tell Hermione exactly what she thought of Rodolphus.
"What a disgusting little turd he is. And I'm supposed to marry him a few weeks after my graduation," Bellatrix spoke, sounding more embittered than she'd wanted to. "He already treats me as if he owns me! A man of wonderful pure-blood pedigree, Father tells me. Well, that may be, but he still has the manners of a particularly dim-witted troll and the dignity of a pill-bug! And saying that is an insult to pill-bugs! And to think I'm going to have to spend the rest of my life tied to that prat and share his bed!"
Hermione gave her a sad smile. One of sympathy. Though Bellatrix never did liked the idea of being pitied, this felt different. It felt as if Hermione understood. "Arranged marriage?" she asked.
"Yeah," Bellatrix muttered softly.
"I'm sorry," Hermione replied.
"Not your fault," Bellatrix shook her head.
Hermione pursed her lips. "There's a rotter like that in my life as well," replied Hermione. "And his name is Cormac McLaggen! He's been stalking me ever since the start of the school year! Yesterday, he cornered me in the corridor and refused to let me pass. That man is just so... romantically assertive and it's annoying me to no end!"
That made Bellatrix chortle briefly. "By romantically assertive, you mean he's trying to get inside your knickers, right?"
"And then some!" Hermione bristled.
Bellatrix shook her head. "Men, eh?"
The pool shimmered a little when Hermione gave her an indignant look. "It's not men! Some of the best people I've known are men… and some of the worst. It's just pathetic blowhards like McLaggen who never grew up and think they're entitled to everything. Infuriating little boys. No scratch that! I've known little boys with more maturity in their pinkie finger than McLaggen has in his entire body!"
Bellatrix raised an eyebrow. "Are we still talking about McLaggen or are we talking about Rodolphus Lestrange? Because I can't tell the difference at this point."
"Well, then you understand why I'm so frustrated!" Hermione huffed. "He won't take no for an answer. God, how could I have been so stupid?!"
Bellatrix frowned. "Why do you call yourself stupid while he's the one harassing you?"
The brown-haired witch bit her lip for a moment and let out an embarrassed sigh. "I... I might have asked McLaggen out on a date to a Christmas party two years ago purely as a tactic to make Ron jealous because he really hated McLaggen."
Wait. What? Did she really hear that correctly? Bellatrix blinked once. Twice. "Yeah, that really was stupid," Bellatrix sighed, speaking honest truth. "What were you thinking?!"
"I was thinking Ron was less oblivious than he turned out to be," Hermione grimaced. "Regardless, I am now stuck with McLaggen. Worst thing yet, I at one point during the evening, stood under the mistletoe with him and he... got very forward."
"He tried to shove his tongue down your throat and stick his hand up your skirt," Bellatrix helpfully translated.
"Exactly!" Hermione's tone was one of disgust. "And he's still on about that missed kiss from two years ago! As if it was some sort of raffle prize!"
Bellatrix put her finger to her lips and thought a moment. "Hermione?" she started. "I think you need to be a bit more forceful here. Obviously he hasn't taken the hint and if he hasn't by now, he never will."
Hermione cocked her head sideways. "You think that'll help?" she asked.
"Oh, definitely!" Bellatrix smiled broadly. "Really put your foot down. Take out your wand. Hex him for good measure. Tell him you've got quite enough of his antics and don't be afraid to back it up with magic if he's still not listening!"
"Hm," Hermione rubbed her chin, but from her expression, Bellatrix could tell that her friend was very much liking this idea. "Mostly, I just want him to leave me alone. If I can achieve that by being more forceful, I will give it a try."
"It doesn't always work," Bellatrix sighed. "I try to be forceful to Lestrange, but... I don't know, it just makes things worse. Last time I got so angry I ended up duelling him. Actually disarmed him and got ready to hex him something fierce, when he just looked up and chuckled how he was going to 'tame' me when we'd be married. Turn me into a proper wife."
A shudder went through Bellatrix at the mere thought.
"Hm," said Hermione, considering her tale."How about being less forceful in your case? You're only egging him on and emboldening him. How about… being a bit more subtle. You're smart enough, use your brain a little more. Figure out how to hit him where it really hurts. That might get him to leave you alone for a while."
Bellatrix nodded, glancing up at the sky for a moment. "His pride," she whispered. "I could take him down a notch by wounding his pride. I'll have to think on how to do this."
"Well, there you go," smiled Hermione.
"Hm," replied Bellatrix. "Well, aside from the McLaggens and Lestranges of this world, do you have any other prospects?"
Hermione shook her head. "Too busy studying to really focus on boys, really. Perhaps I'm just not looking right now."
"What about girls?"
"What about them?"
Bellatrix found that a rather odd statement. She bent forward, looking into the pool to better study Hermione's expression. It surprised her that Hermione had a baffled expression on her face.
"You... you've never been with a girl?" asked Bellatrix.
"No," Hermione frowned. "Why do you ask?"
"Oh, Merlin!" Bellatrix chuckled and shook her head. "Hermione, you've been missing out something fierce!"
"Have... have you?" Hermione asked, stammering the words.
"Oh yeah," Bellatrix grinned broadly. "Multiple times, in fact. Spent the latter half of my sixth year in a relationship with Evelyn Greengrass. Beautiful girl... though more woman than girl. One year above me. I had the passion, she had the fierceness. We were not friends, but… I think rivals is the best way to describe it. Yes. Rivals. For a long time, in fact, until, well, something developed. Evelyn and I had a deeply sensual relationship."
Bellatrix almost chuckled when she saw all the blood in Hermione's body rush to her head, causing her to look like a freshly cooked lobster and, oh my, did she just gulp?! Still, Bellatrix could tell that Hermione wasn't used to talking about sex and not wanting to scare off her new friend, she decided to tone it down a bit. Still, it was curious: this was 1968 with the sexual revolution in full swing. Would people become more prudish again in the future, or was this a more personal thing?
"W-where is she now?" Hermione asked.
"Married," Bellatrix shrugged. "Like me, she was funnelled into an arranged marriage immediately after graduation."
"I'm sorry," replied Hermione again.
"Don't be," Bellatrix shook her head. "We both knew it was coming. We both knew it wouldn't last forever. That made the time spent together more special. When it's finite and short, you treasure every moment. I've… lost sight of her since then."
"That makes sense, I guess," Hermione said.
"A lot of pure-blood girls have relationships with other girls at some point in their lives," said Bellatrix with a smile. "Almost all of them, in fact. It's an opportunity to be adventurous without chance of a pregnancy which can ruin a carefully cultivated blood-line. And, really, girls are just fantastic."
Hermione still blushed while she cocked her head sideways. "W-what's it like?" she asked carefully.
Bellatrix bit her lip to stop from chuckling. Though Hermione wasn't much comfortable about sex, she could tell that friend was still very curious.
"Girls are fantastic," Bellatrix closed her eyes and smiled to herself. "So soft. Imagine wrapping yourself in soft, warm velvet while relaxing at the warmth of a fire. Soft long hair sliding over your skin and gentle, nimble hands massaging your back. In my experience, Hermione, girls understand a lot better just exactly what other girls like. Much better than boys. The kisses..."
There was that gulp again.
"You should try it!" Bellatrix winked.
"I... I don't know."
"One way to get rid of McLaggen is to kiss a girl right in front of him," chuckled Bellatrix. "Just imagine the look on his face!"
"Name the first girl that comes to mind."
"Luna?" Hermione replied, before catching herself and gasping.
"Right," said Bellatrix. "Your assignment: find this Luna and kiss her."
"I... I can't do that!" Hermione gasped.
"And why not?!" Bellatrix crossed her arms, challenging her.
Hermione gulped again. "Because... because... Luna is strange enough to actually probably be up for it!"
"And how is this a problem?!" Bellatrix raised an eyebrow.
"It... it just is!"
Bellatrix held up a hand. "I'm just teasing you, Hermione. If you're not interested in girls, that's more than fine."
Hermione was looking really uncomfortable now. "There's nothing wrong with liking girls, it's just... I... I'm not sure it's for me... No. Wait. I am sure it's not for me. Completely sure. Completely and utterly sure!"
There was just a little too much self-doubt in that statement to be any way convincing to Bellatrix, but for now she would have to stop teasing. She was clearly making her new friend uncomfortable and that was not what she had intended. Besides, she wanted to talk more and this might scare Hermione off a bit. "Tell me, Hermione," Bellatrix asked. "Do you have any siblings?"
"Hm?" Hermione replied, but judging from her expression Bellatrix could see that her friend was grateful for the change of subject. "Oh, no, I'm an only child. I must admit, I've often thought what it would be like to have a brother or a sister."
"Oh, you're missing out again," replied Bellatrix. "I have two younger sisters. Andromeda is two years younger than me and is in her fifth year. Narcissa is four years younger and in her third. We're all in Slytherin together. That fact alone makes school bearable."
"Are you and your sisters close?" Hermione asked.
Bellatrix raised an eyebrow. "Are you kidding? We're the Black sisters. We have a bond that is unbreakable. We look out of each other, have each other's backs always. You need people you can trust in Slytherin and the only people in Slytherin we Blacks can trust is our own family."
"Is it really that bad in Slytherin?" Hermione frowned.
"Oh, you have no idea," Bellatrix chuckled. "Put a bunch of the most ambitious people in the wizarding world together in a small confined space and they'll eat each other alive until only the strongest survive. Well, figuratively speaking, of course, not literally. But only because literally eating each other alive would get someone into a lot of trouble."
"I had no idea things in Slytherin were that awful," Hermione frowned. "No wonder Slytherins are always mean and angry."
"Hah," Bellatrix chuckled. "It's not that awful. But then again, I am one of the strongest ones. And I do look out for my sisters always. Steer them around the bend, you see? Make sure they don't fall into the same traps I fell into when I was younger."
"You are your sisters are very close from the sound of it," said Hermione. "Have you told them about us? And the pool?"
"Nah," Bellatrix shook her head. "Andie wouldn't be able to keep her mouth shut about it and Cissy? Well, I think she might look for a way to exploit the power of the pool for her own gain. She'd have you find out next week's lottery numbers for her or some such. And, well, as close as we sisters are, sometimes I want something secret for myself, you know?"
"So I'm your secret?" Hermione laughed. "I don't know if I should be flattered or afraid. Maybe both. A question, though."
"Hypothetically speaking," Hermione asked. "If one of your sisters were to do something you vehemently disagree with, would you still stand by her?"
She considered that that was a rather oddly specific question for Hermione to ask. Still, at least she wasn't doing any more boiled lobster imitations. Bellatrix settled next to the pool and thought a moment. "Yes," said Bellatrix. "Depending on what it might be, I would likely yell, kick and scream, but ultimately I would stand by my sisters, no matter what. Blood is thicker than water, Hermione, and pure-bloods know this better than most."
A rather warm smile crossed Hermione's features. "I'm so glad to hear you say that, Bellatrix."
Just then, the pool started to shimmer once more, the light slowly fading. "Oh, bother," said Hermione. "Have we already been talking for an hour?"
"Seems that way," said Bellatrix, disappointment clear on her voice. "Same time tomorrow?"
"Absolutely!" Hermione replied cheerfully just as she face started to fade and eventually morphed into Bellatrix's own reflection in the moonlight as the water of the pool turned back into regular run-of-the-mill water. Bellatrix let out a sigh and started to pack in her things to sneak back into the castle and head back to bed. Tomorrow, she would speak to her new friend again.
And she couldn't wait.