Today could have been a very uninspiring morning at Transfiguration. Conjuring a cup of water. In a seventh year Transfiguration class? Seriously?
Bellatrix supposed such a spell could come in handy when in a pinch, but still... a seventh year class? Worst thing still, it was an embarrassment to see some of her classmates actually struggle with it. Even the pure-bloods. Especially the pure-bloods. She'd known how to conjure up water since she was five! How come these louts were even struggling with this?! The quality of magic-users had really gone downhill.
Bellatrix stepped through the hallways of Hogwarts with her book-bag slung over her back. It would be time for lunch soon and thus she was making her way to the Great Hall. Her robe swished around her body as she moved with a self-satisfied step in her stride.
Though she and McGonagall had often been at odds, she found that now in her final year, McGonagall was fast becoming her favourite teacher. 'Maybe if I actually give you something challenging to do', McGonagall had told her, 'it'll stop you from getting so bored in class you start setting your fellow students' hair on fire!'.
That was the crux of it, really. Bellatrix didn't have many challenges at Hogwarts, often got bored and started making her own jollies by being a 'troublemaker', as McGonagall put it. Of course, she didn't see herself as a troublemaker. So what if some of her schoolmates awful coupes were treated to a bolt of flame? Hair grew back, after all.
And so McGonagall was the only teacher whom had actually started giving her special assignments which were extra difficult, to keep her mind and wit occupied. Today's assignment was to take a simple log of wood and transfigure it into a mechanical clock. A working mechanical clock. Basically, the challenge was to take a single, solid lump of wood and turn into into objects with many interlocking smaller moving parts made from different types of substance... and while having no idea how a mechanical clock even was supposed to work or how it would fit together. McGonagall had also smiled that surprisingly wicked smile of hers when she had also told Bellatrix that it was a timed assignment: she had a total of three hours to figure it out.
Her first few attempts had been disastrously embarrassing: she ended up with bits of wood flying everywhere as her lack of understanding of how a mechanical clock was supposed to work turned into a hampering factor.
The answer, ironically enough, was in the Muggle-studies section of the library. Bellatrix had left the class, made a rapid search through the library and managed to track down a book which included cut-out diagrams of muggle mechanical clocks. She took note of all the parts: the springs, the dials, the gears, the weights and spent two hours forming a mental map in her head of how all these components would move and fit together and applied the mathematical formulae and measurements to make sure that what she had mapped in her mind would actually be able to accurately tell the time.
Armed with that knowledge, she returned to the classroom and got to work. Her first two attempts were close, but were failures. After some adjustments, and about five minutes left before the deadline, Bellatrix quite proudly and in front of the class, managed to transform the log of wood into a beautiful, working mechanical table-cock in a wooden frame with a beautiful and shiny copper plate.
If she didn't know any better, Bellatrix thought that McGonagall had actually been impressed. The clock had been carefully placed in her book bag and she couldn't wait to tell Hermione all about it tonight.
As she was cutting through one of the smaller courtyards, she heard a bit of commotion instead. This particular courtyard was smaller and lay a bit off the more travelled areas of Hogwarts. One student seemed to be yelling and three others laughing. Curious, Bellatrix steered towards the source of the yelling and found it to be a muggle-born first year... surrounded by three seventh years. Lestrange, of course, and two of his toadies. The three of them had the first year dangling upside down in the air above a fountain and Lestrange was rather animatedly dipping his head into the water by raising and lowering his wand.
Normally, Bellatrix wouldn't have bothered with this. She'd simply have shaken her head, walked by and continued on her merry way. But this pathetic display gave her somewhat of an idea, thinking back on Hermione's words.
"What is all this then," Bellatrix approached, announcing herself.
"Ah, my future bride!" Rodolphus Lestrange replied, repeating a fact he loved to remind her of in front of his pathetic snickering hyena-like friends. "Come to see how we're punishing this mudblood? We're teaching him what happens to thieves who steal their powers."
"My my, " replied Bellatrix, crossing her arms and giving him the most mocking grin she could muster. "What a big, strong man you are! Such an effort it must be to bully an eleven-year old. And you even need two of your friends to help you."
Bellatrix put her hands together and clapped rather slowly. Rodolphus frowned while his friends, sensing the changing mood, had no idea how to respond and turned to look at each other.
"What are you playing at, Bellatrix?" Rodolphus narrowed his eyes.
"I'm not playing, but you fucking are," Bellatrix snorted. "Bullying a first year. This is how you show your superiority? This is how you show you power? By picking on someone who's clearly weaker than you and can't fight back?! Such a big, strong macho man! Do you need me to hold him for you just in case he escapes and makes a swing at you?"
"Are you a mudblood lover now?!" Rodolphus was bristling now while his friends started to snicker. Bellatrix grinned and went in for the kill.
"Hardly," she snorted. "But picking on someone weaker than you doesn't prove your strength. It only shows your own weakness. Maybe you aren't worthy of me. Maybe I should tell my father to find me someone else. Someone with more spine than you."
Rodolphus grit his teeth as his friends laughed.
"I dare you," Bellatrix interrupted. "Prove your worth to me. Prove it by trying to do what you did to to that boy to Dirk Jones instead."
Dirk Jones. Dirk was a muggle-born Welsh Hufflepuff whom she had faced off with at Quidditch plenty of times. He was their team star beater and in her seven years of playing Quidditch for the Slytherin team, she had never seen a beater slam a bludger harder than he could. He was a boy of inordinate size, earning himself the nickname 'The Welsh Mountain' and was surprisingly quick with his wand... and his fists. Even Bellatrix had to admit a grudging respect for him.
"I know," said Bellatrix, grinning. "I shall lure him here, into the open. Then, you can pounce and try to take him down and dip his head into the fountain."
Rodolphus blanched. "That... that won't be necessary."
"What?" Bellatrix raised an eyebrow. "Why not? I thought you were a big strong macho man. I thought you were a superior wizard. Surely you can take on a single mudblood. I shall go fetch him..."
Just as Bellatrix was about to turn, Rodolphus shot forward. "Wait, no!" he spoke quickly. "That won't be necessary! STOP!"
Bellatrix chuckled when she turned around. "What? You can't seriously be scared of little Dirk, now can you?"
More snickering from his friends. A snapped gaze from Lestrange shut them up for now. "What are you trying to pull, Bellatrix?"
"Pull? Me?" Bellatrix feigned innocence. "I just want to help my future husband to prove his manhood. Or don't you want to prove your superiority?"
Lestrange almost growled as his friends snickered again. "Bird has a point, Rod," sounded one of them.
Rodolphus crossed his arms and glared at her. "Well," said Rodolphus. "I don't see you aching to take down Dirk to prove your superiority."
That was a tactic Bellatrix had been prepared for: Rodolphus wouldn't be able to shift his way out of this one. "I already have!" Bellatrix giggled. "You saw me last match. I knocked him clean off his broom with his own bludger and took him straight out of the game! And need I remind you, Slytherin won that match! Afterwards, Dirk approached me and bought me a pint. If that's not recognizing and submitting to my superiority, I don't know what is."
"Yeah," said one of his other friends. "Bella is right. She doesn't have to prove a thing. Come on, man, you can take him."
Yes. He could take his fists. Dirk would wipe the floor with him and Lestrange knew it. The boy-child looked like a deer frozen in the woods while a hunter was approaching. There were no snappy comebacks, no smug grins, not even a hint of bravado. And his friends knew it. They snickered. They mocked. They laughed. Face now red with embarrassment, waved his hand and caused the boy to fall to the ground. The young mudblood scrambled to his feet and quickly rushed towards the door. "Thanks," he whispered to Bellatrix.
Bellatrix snapped her head towards him and gave him a death-glare. "Fuck off!" she hissed. "Don't talk to me, mudblood!"
The stricken boy, now even more confused, said nothing more and rushed into the corridor eager to be away from them all.
"As for you, Lestrange," Bellatrix mocked. "I can handle Dirk just fine. If you even balk at the thought of handling Dirk, how do you even think you can handle me?"
One of his friend, the greasy haired blonde, let out a big laugh. "Oh, you gonna be so whipped, mate!"
"I'm thinking he'll be spending his wedding night on the sofa," Bellatrix winked at the blonde man. "As well as practically every other day of the year."
Rodolphus' head looked like it was about to explode. He let out a frustrated grunt and rushed past her, into the corridor with his friends in tow.
Quite pleased with herself, Bellatrix continued on her way to fetch lunch at the Great Hall, walking off with a grin. Rather than simply throwing a tantrum or yelling at him, she had used her brain, found a soft spot and managed to embarrass him completely in front of his friends.
Another thing she looked forward to telling Hermione about.
Hermione sat at the writing desk of her empty dorm, just putting the finishing touch on a report for Herbology. With a flourish, she signed her name underneath the parchment, rolled it up for hand-in tomorrow and reached over to check her next assignment… only to find out all the work for the evening had been done and there was nothing more on the list.
These were the moments she dreaded. These were the moments when she'd be left alone with her thoughts as she sat there in her empty dorm room. It was only eight in the evening… far too much time left in the evening to be alone with her thoughts. She glanced around the room, regarding the empty, immaculately made beds. All unoccupied except hers. Curiously, really, as in her earlier years she had wanted nothing more than to have the dorm all to herself. Her roommates had all been noisy, messy and irritating at the time. But now that none of them had elected to return for their seventh year, empty just felt so… empty.
Deep down Hermione realized quite well that she was not… alright. Not really. Oh, she tried to hide it by throwing herself on her school work, but that didn't change the fact that she suffered from frequent nightmares to the point that there were days when she preferred not to go to sleep at all until she'd eventually collapse from exhaustion. The Dreamless Drought only went so far to block out the night terrors. There were times where she wondered if it all had meaning. The world chugged on, old prejudices still existed and nothing was really changing. What had it all been for? Why had she even bothered? Wouldn't it have been better to just give up her wand and move back into the muggle word? What if she had? Maybe she wouldn't have magic, but she'd be happy. What even was happy?
More than any of that, Hermione was lonely. Sure, she'd had made many friends during her early years, but where were they now? Deep in her heart, she knew it wasn't fair to think this way. Her friends simply had different priorities after the war: Harry and Ron wanted to be aurors. Luna wanted to travel Europe with her father. Ginny wanted to start her new life with Harry. Despite knowing all that, Hermione couldn't help but feel that she'd been abandoned.
Even Crookshanks had run away. She had left him with the Weasleys in the early days of the war and when she had come back Molly had tried to carefully and diplomatically tried to tell her that nobody had seen Crooks for over a month. Hermione let out a wry laugh: not even her own goddamn cat wanted to be anywhere near her!
Teardrops started falling onto her desk. She hadn't even noticed she had started to cry.
Hermione hated feeling like this, hated being so helpless. She let out an angry grunt and roughly shoved all her books onto the floor. They weren't helping.
Nothing was helping.
Hermione decided to grab her robe and go for a walk across the parapets to clear her head. She'd have a dreamless drought ready for bed. Funny how talking to Bellatrix had become the highlight of her day. It almost frightened her just how much she looked forward to talking to her.
After grabbing her robe, she headed out into the courtyard. This far into autumn, twilight was already setting in. A few younger students were still mulling about in the halls and the courtyards and Hermione steered around them until she climbed the stone steps leading up onto the parapet. Once there, she leaned onto the stone to watch the lake beyond.
Abandoned. Maybe that's how Bella had felt too. Forced into a loveless marriage, feeling betrayed by Andromeda and then seeing her youngest sister starting a life of her own. Maybe that's why she threw herself on her work for Voldemort, sucking in his vile ideology like an empty sponge.
But now that she had gotten to know the young woman whom she had been, Hermione was certain that she deserved better. The young Bellatrix whom had become her friend deserved so much better than the hand life had dealt her. She wanted to help her. And through helping her, help herself.
Unfortunately, her train of thought was roughly interrupted by a certain someone who leaned onto the parapet with one elbow, stood a little too close to her. Cormac McLaggen, that cheeky grin spread over his annoying face, was ready to make his move. "Interested in making some magic together? My wand is at the ready."
Hermione felt her jaw muscles tighten as the double-entendre of his awful pick-up line fully landed. At least this was a new one in his repertoire, for whatever small mercy that was.
When Hermione gave no reaction, Cormac pressed his luck. "Your smile is like Expelliarmus. Simple but disarming. Come on, Granger. You know you want to."
Feeling her hands trembling, Hermione kept her gaze towards the lake. "Fuck... off..." she muttered, taking on a rather dangerous tone of voice. Normally, Hermione wasn't someone who'd consider swearing, but perhaps Bellatrix had a point: she'd have to be a tad more forceful here.
"Harry might have been the Boy Who Lived, but you're the true cho..."
He never got to finish his sentence. Hermione whipped around with wand in hand and eyes blazing with fire. Before McLaggen could react, he was blasted off his feet and was flying off into the courtyard. With a single flick of her wand, Hermione plucked him out of the air and with further flicks, sent him rag-dolling back and forth above the courtyard with speeds that weren't healthy for the human body to endure. "ENOUGH! ENOUGH!" Hermione shouted in sheer rage. "GET IT INTO YOUR THICK SKULL THAT I'M NOT INTERESTED IN YOU, YOU DISGUSTING LITTLE CRETIN!"
McLaggen let out some pathetic screams as he was being rag-dolled. And for once, Hermione was in complete control of the situation. This time, she didn't have to rely on Ron throwing a punch on her behalf.
"NEXT TIME YOU SEE A LADY LOST IN THOUGHT!" Hermione shouted. "YOU WILL LEAVE HER THE FUCK ALONE!"
By now, she had started to attract quite a bit of attention. The younger students were flocked towards the scene and either laughing or looking on with awe. Of course, they all knew who she was, all knew what she had done in the war. Hermione Granger: destroyer of horcruxes, companion of the Boy Who Lived, war-hero and living legend.
Hermione Granger, who was now completely losing her shit and letting it all loose on Cormac McLaggen.
"YOU ARE SO FAR OUT OF MY LEAGUE IT'S NOT EVEN FUNNY!" Hermione shouted. "I'M NOT GOING TO KISS YOU BECAUSE OF SOME MISTLETOE MALARKEY TWO YEARS AGO. SO TAKE YOUR LIMP WAND, STUFF IT BACK IN YOUR TROUSERS AND NEVER TALK TO ME AGAIN!"
With that said, Hermione cancelled her spell. This, naturally, caused the forces of gravity to take hold on McLaggen and tore him down back to the ground with a little more force than looked comfortable. He lay there groaning on the ground while in the background, some fetched teachers were now running into the courtyard. While Flitwick rushed over to see how McLaggen was doing, McGonagall hurried up the stairs towards a still irate Hermione.
"Miss Granger!" she exclaimed, more out of concern than anger. "What happened? Why is mister McLaggen lying face down on the ground?"
"Well," Hermione replied, anger still soaring through her. "If he didn't want to be airborne, then maybe he shouldn't have messed with me!"
McGonagall blinked, then crossed her arms. "Miss Granger, what on Earth has gotten into you?!"
Hermione snapped her head towards McGonagall. "Maybe I should be thinking about myself a bit more than I have in the past! Maybe I should focus a bit more on the things I want instead of what others want! Haven't I sacrificed enough for this damn wizarding world of yours?! IT STOPS TODAY!"
McGonagall blinked at first, but soon narrowed her eyes.
"... and then she gave me detention!" Hermione told Bellatrix as she sat besides the glowing pool in the darkness of the Forbidden Forest. "ME! Hermione fucking Granger! Detention! I'm the smartest person in that whole damn castle and they know it!"
In the pool, Bellatrix let out a chuckle. "And clearly the most humble."
Hermione not catch the hint and continued on her tirade. "I'm a fucking war-hero and now I'm stuck writing 'I will not cause a fuss in the courtyard' a thousand times on a piece of parchment for seven days!"
"Whoa, whoa, whoa," Bellatrix raised her hands. "No talking about future events, remember?"
Hermione realized her faux-pas and closed her eyes, forcing herself to calm down. "Sorry, I..."
"It's alright," Bellatrix smiled. "Regardless of the consequences, how did it make you feel?"
"Good. So good. It was liberating," Hermione smiled, her voice much calmer now. "I was holding that in for weeks and to let it just go was a complete discharge of the pent up rage."
"See? Worth it," Bellatrix winked. "You have no idea just how many pieces of parchment I've filled with the same sentence over and over. It goes by quicker if you find a tune to it."
"How did it go with you and Rodolphus?" Hermione asked. Bellatrix took a moment to recount her adventure with Lestrange and his friends and Hermione listened carefully.
"Well, sometimes letting out pent off rage isn't enough or not the right tactic. Sometimes you have to be more smart and tactical about it, I've learned. He's steaming and seething. He actually started to avoid me in the hallways! It was a sport for him to make me angry, I can see that now," replied Bellatrix. "So now I'm not playing that game anymore and he simply can't adjust to it. He's not nearly as smart as he thinks."
"Some people just live for that," Hermione said. "Picking on others, I mean."
"Oh, I meant to show you," said Bellatrix. Hermione watched in the pool as her friend was rummaging through her bag. It was a bit hard to see, but it seemed as if she was holding up some sort of contraption.
"Is that a clock?" Hermione asked.
"I've made this," smiled Bellatrix. "From a log!"
Hermione listened to Bellatrix as she told the tale of her assignment by McGonagall. How she had studied the inner workings of a muggle device and managed to emulate it magically through transfiguration. Hermione could hear the pride in her voice. Mostly, what Hermione heard, though, was the fact that Bellatrix had spent two hours doing an in depth study of a muggle device and considering that, perhaps, McGonagall had had an ulterior motive with this assignment.
"I have to admit, it is a clever little device," said Bellatrix. "I never really thought about how clocks worked until today."
"Hm, what are you going to do with it?" asked Hermione.
Bellatrix seemed lost in though for a moment, then grinned slightly. "Hold on, I have an idea," said Bellatrix. A few moments later, Bellatrix stepped away from the pool. From her vantage-point, Hermione had no idea what she was doing, but it sounded a bit like she was shifting things around. The flash of a magic spell lit up the darkness of the night for a bit and, a few seconds later, Bellatrix returned with a broad smile on her face.
"Okay, Hermione. Look to your right. Find the second root on the other side of the gnarled tree and look for the knothole."
Curious, Hermione did so. After looking around for a bit, she found a knothole the size of a small cat. When she reached inside, she felt her hand brush against a smooth static bubble of a magical preservation spell. A whispered word cancelled the spell, allowing her to reach down further until she felt something. Pulling her hand back, she was now holding the clock Bellatrix had shown her in the pool.
Though it seemed to be the design of an antique table clock, it looked and smelled completely new: a lovely wooden frame and a shiny copper plate. Hermione smiled as she wound the key and heard the mechanism inside starting to tick. All she had to do was to set the proper time and perhaps add a self-winding charm.
"You like it?" Bellatrix asked expectantly.
Hermione smiled as she regarded the clock. "It's lovely. Thank you."
"Look at the back," said Bellatrix.
Hermione turned the clock around and found a small inscription which Bellatrix apparently had made with her wand before putting the clock in the knothole. 'For Hermione from Bellatrix', it read.
"Now I feel bad that I can't send you a nice gift," Hermione replied.
Bellatrix chuckled. "It's not as if you can send stuff back in time. But... well, it's, uhm... I'm just glad I have someone to talk to," she stammered softly. Apparently, this was a rather difficult admission.
Hermione wasn't sure how to respond, but was forced to when the pool started to shimmer once more. Damn, had it already been an hour? Perhaps people were right when they said that time flies when one is having fun.
"Same time tomorrow?" Hermione asked.
"Absolutely!" Bellatrix replied just as the pool's magic shimmered away. Hermione was left watching her own reflection in the pool for a few moments after Bellatrix's face had morphed into that of her own.
Then came the trek back to Hogwarts through the secret tunnel. Hermione had gotten adept at leaving and entering the castle this was surprisingly quickly. Once she was inside, she rushed through the three corridors back to her dorm room: studying common patrol routes and the prefect schedule helped a lot. As usual, she made it back to her room undetected and got ready for bed.
She'd fallen into a good pattern: go to bed early, wake up at around 2:45, sneak out of the castle to speak to Bellatrix and then be back in back around 4:15 to sleep the rest of the night.
Tonight, however, she took a little extra time with Bellatrix's gift. It was a very nice clock and quickly settled on putting it down on the nightstand near her bed. After positioning it and winding it up, she undressed and crawled into bed, turning her head to watch it after putting out the lights.
Hermione saw none of the evil in young Bellatrix which her older self would gleefully display and commit. The young she had talked to was simply a normal teenager. A troubled teenager, yes, but, really, which teenager wasn't?
Her young friend wasn't evil, she couldn't be. Hermione was completely convinced of that now. The young witch was now more determined than ever to find a way to help her. To prevent her from ruining her life.
If only she could figure out how.