"Today has been heaven," said Bellatrix. Hermione smiled as she leaned on the tree, having brought a pillow and a blanket. It'd been getting a bit colder as autumn was progressing. She'd thought about doing some more preparations such as making a small hutch so she could leave her pillow and blanket there so she wouldn't have to bring it along every trip. Perhaps put in an umbrella too. So far they'd been lucky not to have had rainy or windy weather.
"Oh?" Hermione asked. "He's not been giving you any more trouble?"
"Not a peep!' replied a grinning Bellatrix. "I actually caught him ducking away into another corridor when he saw me approach. Heh, if only I could make him disappear before it's time for the wedding, that would be great. But I'd definitely say that the balance of power between us has shifted. What about you and this McLaggen chap?"
"Cormac has shifted to leaving passive-aggressive notes in my books. Progress, as far as I'm concerned," Hermione shrugged.
"Whoa," replied Bellatrix. "He must be really slow in the head to think he still has a chance with you after all that."
"Well, he was held back a year," said Hermione. "At least I'm out of detention for the time being. I should never have been in it in the first place."
"Eh, wear it as a badge of honour," Bellatrix chuckled. "Regardless, I had some free time to work on a new story today so I used my time productively for a change."
"Hm, Bellatrix?" said Hermione. "It occurs to me that I've never actually heard one of your stories. Would you read one to me?"
"Uhm..." a slight blush came over Bellatrix's cheeks. "It's... it's just some scribblings. Nothing special, really."
Good lord. Could it be? Could it actually be that Bellatrix was being self-conscious about something? Though she didn't quite know why, Hermione found that to be very endearing. "Come on," Hermione pressed. "You know I won't judge you."
In the pool, Bellatrix still seemed unsure of herself. "Okay," she spoke with a somewhat demure voice while rummaging through her pack. She produced a leather-bound notebook and opened it "This one I wrote a bit a ago and has been revised twice now. I call it, 'The Experiment'."
Hermione leaned against the tree while a rather demure Bellatrix got comfortable and started to read.
"My name is Jean-Phillipe Artois, once an unspeakable and senior apparation researcher for the French Ministry of Magic. For years I have remained silent on the events which ended my career and the lives of four of my esteemed colleagues. Now, in my old age, fear and guilt have caught up with me, and I can hold my tongue no longer," sounded Bellatrix. What made Hermione smile was that Bellatrix was reading the story with a thick French accent. Of course Hermione guessed she would have likely heard this type of accent daily from her own mother's voice, so it came to her naturally.
"Back in the forties, right after the fall of Grindelwald, I was part of a joint venture between the French and English Ministry. The Grindelwald crisis had made it painfully clear that, despite our advances in magical travel, sending troops and supplies across a large distance still posed a problem for the wizarding world. Carrying cargo by flying carpet was slow and cumbersome, while the international portkey hub had a tendency to quickly become congested due to the war effort. Our focus lay on extending the range of apparation. After months of research, we had finally cracked it: our solution was as simple as it was elegant. To extend the range of the teleportation, objects were enchanted to give any teleportation spell a boost. Think of it as a magical slingshot: the enchanted items would simply push the spellcaster along, extending the range. Unlike a portkey, these items were not bound by having a set destination and we felt we were on the verge of a revolutionary discovery."
Hm, a story about a secret government project. She supposed the concept was just as relevant in the sixties as it was in the nineties. Bellatrix had created a good setup and was building up towards the inevitable disaster. Meanwhile, now that she was certain that no mockery was coming her way, Bellatrix had gained more confidence and brought more power to her accented voice.
"Testing facilities were built in both Calais and Dover, which is the shortest distance to travel between France and the United Kingdom and yet still comfortably out of apparation range. We set up a system with these enchanted objects, which we called Portboosters. For the next few weeks, we tested with apparating objects from Dover to Calais. At first we only had minor success with small, solid objects. Objects over a certain mass would invariably appear above the North Sea and sink to the bottom of the channel. It took months of tweaking and testing, and the mood was generally high."
Ahah, Bellatrix had done her research too. The distance between Dover and Calais was indeed just out of apparation range.
"We had a good working relationship with the British team. Mirrors were set up for communication and we were very talkative: those were some of the best moments of my career. We'd run experiments, discuss the results and talked about every little detail in our lives in between. Clive Conebush, the oldest member of the British team, always talked about his grandchildren. Franklin Mistle, who would be getting married soon and was waiting for the bonus payment he would get from this project so he could throw the wedding of the century. And then there was Gina Juniper. Gina, a junior unspeakable, brilliant and brazen, was excited to be on what was her very first project. I won't lie, I was utterly enamoured by her and the feeling was completely mutual. She joked that once they had figured out how to properly teleport humans with boosted apparation, I would have to take her out on a date in Paris. If only it had ever come to that..."
By now, Hermione had already figured out that the people she had mentioned were likely all going to die. Establishing a relationship between them and the main character would make their deaths more meaningful to the reader. Indeed, while Hermione wasn't a writer, she was definitely a reader.
"After a month of work, we managed to bring over inanimate objects without a hitch, but the problem started when the test-rats we started to send over all arrived dead. Of course, we adjusted and while the rats arrived alive with the newer settings, they were... different. Apparated rats cowered in the corner of their cages. We didn't think much of it at the time. Apparation can be traumatic, after all, and rats lacked the mental strength to deal with the stresses. We were so focused on our success that we didn't even consider anything else. The UK team was so eager to apparate themselves over..."
Researchers ignoring obvious signs of 'wrongness'. She'd fallen for that trap herself in the enthusiasm of discovery.
"And so they did. Clive went first. Through the mirror, we saw him apparate. We were all cheering, so excited. We were going to change the world."
Ah, here it comes.
"The first sign that something went wrong was that it took Clive much longer to arrive than our previous test subjects. For a moment, I feared Clive had materialized above the North Sea. At first I was relieved when Clive appeared in front of me... until I took in the full brunt of the state he was in. Bloodied gashes covered all parts of his body, covering him from head to toe. The man fell to his knees, sobbing. 'We went too far!' he yelled. 'I'm so sorry! We went too far! We went too far!'
Something had obviously went terribly wrong. While my assistant rushed over to help Clive, I ran back to the mirror and shouted for Franklin and Gina to stay where they are. But only silence greeted me: they had already teleported and were on their way here."
Slow dawning horror. Waiting for the inevitable to come.
"Franklin emerged next. And mon dieu, it would have been more merciful if he hadn't. His limbs were twisted, his head was hunched forward and his torso bent sideways at an impossible angle. Franklin reached out to steady himself with one of his misshapen limbs he no longer knew how to move properly and the scream... that scream will haunt me until my death. It came out as a gurgled cry of horror with blood spurting from his mouth. He... fortunately... did not live long after that."
Oh, body-horror. Yep, that sounded fitting for a teleportation research story.
"Gina would come in next. My heart constricted when I felt another magical burst starting to take shape. With a crack, Gina appeared in front of me, back turned to us. At first I was relieved, of course. There were no signs of any of the slashes or mutations. But Clive... Clive started sobbing and crawled away from her in a panic. And when she turned around, I saw why.
Whatever had rematerialized, it wasn't Gina. It was some sort of a vile creature with eyes as black as coal and an inhuman grin on her face which was too wide to be natural. My heart constricted in my chest as I knew that the young woman I had grown so attached to was no more. Whatever she was now, it simply took us all in and raised her arms. Magic exploded all around us and my memory is hazy. All I remember is the pain and the horror as the facility went down in flames. The last thing I saw before darkness took me, was whatever it was which now wore Gina's face apparating away."
Possession by something living outside of reality, freed by the hubris of man. It was a theme as old as humanity itself.
"I was the only survivor and spent months in recovery. Dark magic had burned away almost all the skin off my body and healing was slow and painful. Both Ministries were quick to respond. They seized all research and locked everything away in the deepest of holes. For a moment, I was afraid they would make me disappear too, but instead I was visited by a Ministry representative. I was to be given an early retirement with enough money to live comfortably for the rest of my life on the condition that I would be sworn to secrecy. Considering the state I was in, I took the offer. I still don't know why they didn't obliviate me: perhaps the Ministries would want to restart the experiment at some point, though I truly hope they won't.
Now that I am older, I fear that the thing wearing Gina's face is still out there. I swear that sometimes, in the darkest of nights, I can see her sitting at the edge of my bed, that awful inhuman grin aimed at me. I abide this no longer. Tomorrow I will walk into the woods and never return. So heed my warning: do not go too far. I fear the thing we have unleashed upon the world.
I fear there might be more of them, wanting to be freed."
"The end," Bellatrix concluded. "What do you think?"
"That was really good," said Hermione. And she meant it. Though the story didn't actually bring anything new to the table, it was well-crafted for what it was. As a horror story, it was short and too the point.
"Y-you really think so?" Bellatrix asked warily, as if she was used to people sucking up to her with empty praise. And, honestly, they probably did. Hermione offered a genuine smile and a brief nod.
"It's a well-crafted short story with a clear beginning, middle and end. It establishes relationships, has a nice build-up of suspense and has a good reason for happening. Horror works best in short bursts, I think. That's my personal opinion, though," said Hermione.
"T-thank you," came a genuinely grateful response from Bellatrix. "You're only the second person I've shown this to. McGonagall wanted to read one after my last career advice appointment. I think she actually liked it."
"Heh," Hermione chuckled. "You should talk to my father sometimes. I get the feeling him and you are going to get along fine."
"How about another one?" said Bellatrix as she leafed through the book. "My uncle Achille really liked this one and I've done a few revisions already. Hold on. I call this one 'The summoning'."
Hermione settled in again for another story. She had to admit that Bellatrix was actually quite a good storyteller. That the stories she told were her own original work was just the icing on the cake. After clearing her throat, Bellatrix started to read.
"Filomena was a big girl. A big girl who could stay at home when her mother was out to fetch more ingredients for her experiments. And why shouldn't she? She was almost eight, after all. That was practically adult! Filomena skipped through the drawing room with a smile on her face. Her magic had awakened within her and mother would take her wand shopping soon. She couldn't wait to get her very own wand. Maybe it would be ash or beech or oak! She had spent many times lying awake dreaming about her soon to be given wand.
When she skipped through the hallways on the way back to her own room, Filomena suddenly stopped dead in her tracks. She heard... something. It sounded like a whisper, but she couldn't quite make out what the words were. One thing was certain, though. The whispers were coming from her mother's lab.
Now, little Filomena knew she wasn't supposed to enter her mother's lab: she'd been warned it was dangerous. Still, that had never stopped her before. She'd snuck in plenty of times and nothing ever happened to her. The lock on the door would do nothing to keep her out either, as Filomena was an enterprising young witchling. She simply lay her hand on the lock and whispered her spell. The lock on the door opened with a satisfying 'snick' and the curious little witchling pushed the door open.
Immediately, the whispering stopped, but the source became very clear the moment Filomena entered. All the furniture in the lab had been shoved to one side and in the center of the room had been drawn large circle surrounded with arcane symbols Filomena didn't recognize as well as eight lit candles. A large book stood on a pedestal near it, but that wasn't the strangest thing little Filomena saw. The strangest thing was that in the middle of the circle stood a little girl her age.
The little girl smiled at her, wearing a black dress while fiery red hair cascaded down her back. Something about this little girl made Filomena's hair stand on end. There was something off about her. Her eyes were... so strange. And something about the way she moved wasn't quite right, though little Filomena couldn't explain what, however.
"Hi!" greeted the little girl.
"Uhm, hello?" Filomena asked. "What are you doing in my mum's lab?"
"Your mum brought me here," said the little girl. "For you! So we can be friends."
"Okay..." Filomena frowned. "Why didn't mum tell me?"
"She wanted it to be a surprise!" smiled the odd little girl. "What's your name?"
"Filomena," the young witchling replied warily. "What's yours?"
The little girl gave her an odd grin. "You may call me Lucy."
By now Filomena noticed that there was something off about the girl's voice. She couldn't quite put a finger to it, but it sounded as if this little girl like Lucy was actually two people talking at once. One being a little girl, the other was... something else. Something much bigger and angrier."
Hermione was quite enjoying the tale so far. What made it even better was that Bellatrix again did voices, using magic to change her voice into that of a little girl when speaking as Filomena and doing the rather eerie double-speak effect for 'Lucy', which really did rather creep her out. There was something decidedly unsettling about hearing the same words spoken simultaneously in the voice of a small girl and an unknown entity.
"You shouldn't be in mum's lab," said Filomena. "It's dangerous here."
"Oh, I know. It's so scary!" Lucy pouted. "But I can't leave! Look!"
Now, for the first time, little Filomena noticed that the little girl named Lucy was fully surrounded by the circle of ash and salt. Apparently the little girl didn't dare to step near it. "Just step over it," Filomena said.
"I can't!" the little girl sounded close to tears, sniffing loudly. It sounded quite odd in that weird double voice of hers. "Please help me. All you have to do is rub a little bit of that ash and salt away. If you help me, we could play together! We'll have ever so much fun!"
"I don't know," said Filomena as she studied the powdery circle, remembering her mother's words. "It could be dangerous. Mother always did warn me about not touching anything in her lab."
"I could give you things!" Lucy said, opening her palm and revealing a few precious gemstones. "Look. Shinies! They're yours if you help me."
Now, Filomena and her mother weren't very rich and she did know they could use a little bit more money. But what good was money if she accidentally exploded herself in her mother's lab? "Let's just wait for mum to come back. She'll find a way to release you."
"NO!" shouted the little girl, her smile turning into a snarl for the just the briefest of moments, before it softened again. "I'm scared, Filomena. I'm really scared. What if... what if I get hurt before your mum comes back? You have to help me."
Filomena bit her lip. "I don't know. I..."
"If you don't like shinies there are other things I could give you," said Lucy. "Knowledge. Power. All you have to do it rub some of that powder away with your foot. That's all! Don't you want me to be your friend? Is there nothing you want?"
Filomena cast her eyes downward. "All I want is for mum to be happy again," replied Filomena. "She's never been the same after dad..."
"Yessss," replied Lucy. "I know just the way to cheer her up. We're going to surprise her!"
"Like... a party?" Filomena asked. "With cake and sweets and music?"
That odd grin returned on Lucy's face. "Oh, yes... the sweetest of symphonies. The most precious of dirges. An anthem of agony! We will give your mum an experience like she's never had before!"
"I want to make mum happy!" Filomena stepped forward and slowly, but carefully, rubbed a little powder away, leaving a small opening in the circle. Lucy noticed this, and an unnatural grin formed on her little face.
"Thank you, Filomena," spoke Lucy with a voice laden with… with… Filomena didn't quite know how to place it.
"Come on," giggled Filomena as she turned around to walk out of the lab, happy that she could do something for her mother. "Let's get mum's party ready!"
"Yes," sounded Lucy, her second deeper voice now starting to drown out her little girl voice. A hand lay on Filomena's shoulder and she yelped a little when she felt nails dig into her skin with more force than a little girl should have. "Your mum is in for quite a surprise indeed."
"The end," concluded Bellatrix
Hermione let that story sink in a bit. "Oh, that was good," said Hermione.
"You think so?" Bellatrix smiled again. "I wanted to leave the ending a bit ambiguous."
Ah, it seemed that Bellatrix had figured out that imagination could always do much worse than spelling things out. Her friend was a horror writer in the making, it seemed. "I bet it's nothing good, though. Reasonably sure who 'Lucy' is meant to be," said Hermione.
"And he's not very nice," Bellatrix chuckled and started to rummage through her pages until she found something. "Another one? This one is more of a work in progress, though. Still a bit rough and doesn't have a title yet," she said, sounding far more confident about her abilities than earlier.
"Certainly," replied Hermione.
"Okay," Bellatrix cleared her throat and started reading. "Dorolphus was out in the Forbidden Forest at night because he's a stupid git doing dumb things."
Hermione raised an eyebrow. "Uhm, I think you have to work on his motivation a bit more."
Bellatrix shrugged. "Yeah, I wanted to get to the good stuff first, so I kinda rushed that bit. Think of it as a placeholder. I actually made him into a unicorn poacher, so let's continue from there."
"Yes, I hunt unicorns. Don't judge me. Every part of a unicorn is used for something in this world of ours. And you want your unicorn hair as your wand core, you want your unicorn hoof grindings in your anti-headache potions, you want your unicorn steaks in your fancy restaurants and you want your unicorn horns to adorn your mantlepiece. You're as guilty as I am," Bellatrix read.
Hermione nodded as Bellatrix had managed to touch on a sore subject: unicorns were rare magical creatures, but there always seemed to be enough components for everything, far more than the few unicorns bred in captivity could ever provide. There was a dark underbelly in the wizarding world and it was rarely addressed.
"Besides... there's always demand for unicorn blood on the black market," Bellatrix read on. "Not a single bit of my catch goes to waste or remains unsold. And money is something I desperately needed. My bitch of an ex-wife, product of an arranged marriage, left me high and dry and took everything I had. I need to do this to survive! So don't you judge me!"
That almost made Hermione laugh: Bellatrix was obviously expressing a hope and dream in her story.
"I have my ways of catching these creatures," read Bellatrix. "It is as simple as studying their patterns, going to their favourite drinking places and simply lying in wait in the underbrush. They are skittish creatures, but if you are quiet enough, they will approach the glen without suspecting a thing. From there it's a simple killing curse and you've bagged yourself a unicorn. Then you take it home... my cellar has been outfitted to strip a unicorn bare. You start with sawing off the horn and hooves, removing the tail and mane, then draining the creature's blood... all 34 litres of it... liquid gold as far as I'm concerned. After that it's skinning the hide, processing and curing the meat. Everything can be used, from tendon to skeleton. One unicorn can bring up close to eight-thousand galleons. I'm surprised more wizards aren't doing this."
So far this was quite bone-chilling already. Bellatrix had apparently been doing her research and was aware that there was a lively poaching trade in magical creatures and their... parts. The mental image of someone sawing up a unicorn in their cellar was disturbing enough, but realizing that this was not something Bellatrix had made up and rather something that could be happening right at this very moment meant that 'disturbing' not an inadequate description.
"I was making my way to the new drinking place I had tracked the herd to," read Bellatrix. "When I came to a most peculiar sight. Though I was still a few yards away from the drinking place, I spotted the corpse of a unicorn ahead of me. At first, I cursed under my breath. The herd was skittish and whenever one of them was killed, they moved to a different part of the forest. I'd have to track them again. However, there were still things I could salvage: horn, hooves, tail, manes, bones. It meant the effort wasn't a complete loss. However, as I approached the fallen creature, I froze. I was expecting to see the telltale signs of a natural kill by a predator: a claw mark, signs of feeding and struggling. But when I got close enough, I could see that the creature had been... torn apart. Its legs had been broken, neck had been twisted and it looked as if the creature had come just short of being ripped in half."
Bellatrix took a moment to take a sip of water from her flask before continuing. The grin on her face showed Hermione was she was quite enjoying herself, and apparently tormenting an expy of Rodolphus Lestrange was quite a bit therapeutic.
"No predator I know of would do such a thing. At first I thought there might be a troll nearby, but those aren't exactly subtle and would have left tracks. Furthermore, the corpse was warm and the blood fresh: whatever had done this, it had done it just moments ago. Then, for the first time, I noticed the forest had gone completely and utterly quiet. The forest is never quiet: from crickets to the wind blowing through the trees or the hooting of an owl, the forest was always bustling with activity. But now? It was as silent as a tomb, as if something was absorbing all the sounds nearby. Dark unnatural shadows cast down from the trees and then... I saw it. It was standing on the opposite side of the glen... I almost didn't see it as it was clouded in shadows... No. Not clouded. One, with the shadows. Two grey pinpricks of light almost swallowed by the darkness, staring me down. I experienced a depth of fear I had never felt before as I stood there frozen for a moment when the... whatever it was... shot towards me. I yelled and turned to run, tripping over the corpse and covering myself in its blood. I tried to get up, but I slipped in its gore. In a final act of desperation, I grabbed hold of my wand and squeezed it tightly, apparating away before it could get to me."
Bellatrix took a moment too look up from her scroll and into the pool. By now, Hermione was picturing everything which was happening in her mind: that she was sitting in the middle of a very dark and potentially dangerous forest didn't help much either. Apparently, her expression pleased Bellatrix and she continued on with the story.
"I should have known that escape wasn't that easy," read Bellatrix. "You might not notice it, but shadows surround us everywhere there is light. In your home, in your pub, in the streets, in the day and in the night. And it was everywhere. I am here now, in my cellar, where I always plied my trade. I tried to get away, to flee, but it was no use. Here I am now, in the dark of my cellar with a single oil lamp for company, surrounded by shadows. Everywhere I turn and look, I see those eager eyes. The shadows come closer every moment and whatever is in them hungers for their prey. But it will not get me. I will take fate in my own hands. I take hold of the noose and step on the stool. As I feel the chafe of the rough rope around my new, take swallow hard and hesitate for a moment before kicking away the stool."
Bellatrix paused a moment. "And that hesitation became my doom. Just then, the lamp went out and the two grey bluish eyes are upon me in an instant. An impossibly cold clawed hand grasps my head with untold force and hoists me up into the air as the noose is ripped away. I scream and I scream as I am dragged away to die in the shadows. But I don't die. I never die. I am its plaything. I am torn apart and reassembled... not always correctly. I have become a sculpture of flesh, dancing to its whims. It uses me for parts: sometimes it takes a bone, a pint of blood, or patches of skin. Could it be poaching me as I have poached the unicorns? Are these creatures, whatever they are, using human bodyparts as spell components in their world? Is my flesh the core of an unearthly wand? I do not know. I do not want to know.
The blood of the unicorns I've slaughtered sustains me through this unlife. I hope and pray for the merciful release of death, but it never comes. I know I will spend eternity in darkness. No hope. No mercy. No release."
"The end," said Bellatrix.
"Yikes," Hermione bit her lip, feeling the unease wash over her. "You've got a dark mind."
"Thanks, Hermie," Bellatrix winked at her. "You know just the nicest things to say to a girl."
"Hermie?" Hermione raised an eyebrow.
Bellatrix pursed her lips. "Yeah. Isn't that what friends do? They give each other nicknames, right?"
"Hermie..." the young witch nodded. "I suppose I could live with that. But don't you dare start calling me 'Mione! I hate that!"
"Fair enough," smiled Bellatrix. "What'll be your nickname for me?"
Bellatrix looked at her in anticipation, waiting for Hermione to come up with something. Hermione thought for a moment, thinking that Bellatrix had some odd ideas about friendship: they both had perfectly good names, so why not use them? Still, if this was what Bellatrix wanted, why not? "How about... Trix?" Hermione suggested.
"Trix... Trix..." Bellatrix let the name roll over her tongue and eventually gave her a rather satisfied smile. "I like it! Everyone else just calls me Bella, and I do mean everyone. I love it that you have a somewhat unique way to call me."
"Come to think," Hermione chuckled. "You're first person without a mental handicap to ever call me Hermie."
"There you go," Bellatrix raised her chin imperiously. "Unique!"
Just then, the portal started to shimmer again. The girls said their goodbyes and Hermione found herself sitting alone in the Forbidden Forest.
A very quiet, dark and foreboding forest. Hermione wasn't someone who took stock in urban legends and ghost stories, but suddenly found herself rather jumpy. Did that shadow over there next to the tree just move? What was that sound? That was not an owl! Did... did she just hear a twig snap?
"Is someone there?" Hermione called out.
No answer. Of course, there was no answer. But the forest was quieter than before. In her mind, she was being stalked by all manner of ghost, hag, troll and demon for just a moment until the logical half of her brain took over and reassured her nothing was there. She packed her belongings and returned back to the secret passage... though walking quite a bit faster than she usually did.
To say Bellatrix was over the moon was an understatement: she'd been giddy on her way back to her dorm, through the secret passage, the hallways and the dungeons. In fact, she'd been so distracted she'd almost been caught by a prefect due to be being careless and more noisy than she should have been.
But how could she not be? Hermione liked her stories! Hell, she even looked scared by that last one, a work-in-progress no less!
Maybe her writings were better than she thought. Maybe she could actually be an accomplished fiction writer one day. It made her even more determined to focus on her stories: only through practice could she become better and better. There was still a smile on her face as she slipped into bed after silently undressing without waking her hapless roommates.
However, once she lay in bed, she found sleep hard to come and elation made way for concern. Once again, she lay staring either at the ceiling or at the large window looking out upon the unearthly landscape of the bottom of the lake beyond while shafts of moonlight broke the surface of the water above.
Bellatrix didn't want to know about the future and, really, she couldn't blame Hermione for accidentally letting something slip. Unfortunately, it had something rather big.
War. Somewhere in the future, there'd be a war. And Bellatrix couldn't stop thinking about the implications of that.
Though she hadn't been alive at the time, Bellatrix was certainly aware of the deep scars Grindelwald's insane crusade had left on the wizarding world and her own family. And yet another war was coming. Bellatrix once again stared at the ceiling, wondering what would happen in the future that could lead with it and who could possibly lie at the heart of it.
The young Queen Ealdwynn of Iceland came to me. She and her savage Nordic warriors had claimed Iceland, Greenland and great swaths of frozen wasteland of the Arctic as their own territory. The self-styled Frozen Queen of the North and the raids she led with her neo-viking mages had been a consistent problem for Northern Europe. Ealdwynn been yelling about expanding her territory, but, really, nobody wanted to challenge her claims to the frozen North and she'd like to think these neo-vikings weren't really big enough of a group to kick off a large scale war that would involve the UK.
The Japanese Mahou-Shogunate then? They'd been banging drums about expanding their influence through the Far East for decades now. Though that should only worry China and Korea for the most part. Even if the Mahou-Shogunate would invade China, how would that affect Europe and the UK?
Warlord Yesufu Koroma, perhaps? Same as with the others, he was more of a problem for Africa and African muggles had much more to fear from him than wizards ever could.
Honestly, Bellatrix couldn't see it. Perhaps it would be someone new? Or perhaps Grindelwald would escape and would try to finish the mess he started?
Bah, speculation was useless.
Whatever would happen, that fact that a war was in the future certainly explained a lot about Hermione's mannerisms. After more than six years in Slytherin, Bellatrix had gotten to be rather adept at reading people… not even through magical means. These days, she could tell people were lying to her the moment they opened their mouths. Even with their minds shielded, small quirks in mannerisms could easily give them away.
Though Hermione was friendly and jovial for the most part, Bellatrix noticed she was almost always skittish and easily startled by loud or unexpected noises. She often looked over her shoulder and Bellatrix had noticed that Hermione would nestle herself at the pool in such a way that it would give her the widest possible view of the forest beyond, as if she was afraid that someone might sneak up on her at all times. Hermione might not even be aware she was doing this. But Bellatrix had seen it just fine.
Then there were… certain moments. Moments of lull during their conversations where Hermione's expression would become distant, and she would become lost in thought. Moments where her eyes became unfocused, as if staring miles into the distance without actually looking at anything. In that moment, Hermione became dull and lifeless, as if she were a porcelain doll sat on a shelf while gathering dust. Moments where Bellatrix would have speak up louder to yank her friend back into reality.
Bellatrix had seen that look many times before on the face of her own father.
Years before she was born, before her father was even married, he and her uncle Alphard travelled to the Americas to fight against Grindelwald, against the express wishes of their family. The both of them believed strongly that Grindelwald's mad crusade to establish wizarding rule over muggles and subsequent exposure of magic to the muggles would lead to the doom of wizards and witches everywhere.
Merlin, her father had been around Hermione's age when he went to war. He and her uncle linked up with the American branch of House Black, native Americans from Montana, to join the fight. They were there for years, waging magical guerrilla warfare on Grindelwald's many followers.
Bellatrix remembered one particular night back home, she must have been something like eight or nine years old at the time. She'd been roaming the house in the dead of night as she often did when she couldn't sleep. Usually the house was quiet and Bellatrix would either slip into the library to pass the time or try to raid some sugary snacks from the kitchen. That night, she came upon her father. He was simply sat on the sofa in one of the sitting rooms, simply staring into the fireplace and the roaring fire beyond.
Bearing that same distant look on his face Hermione often had.
Her father wasn't angry with her. Even as young as Bellatrix was, she realized that whatever was happening with her father was very serious. The cuddle she offered had been very much welcomed, in fact.
Her father never liked talking about the war or the darker things that happened. Still, his memories of the war was an odd mix of good and bad. As much as he hated to talk about the fighting itself, he loved to talk about other things that happened when in the right mood: stories of camaraderie, stories of the American Blacks or the time he and her uncle's had a frightening encounter with skinwalkers on the Blackfoot reservation grounds while on leave back in Montana. Or cursing her other uncle Orion's short-sightedness for breaking off all ties with their American cousins.
At the end of that long night, she had made a promise to her father: fight for what you believe in, fight for family and loved ones, but never fight someone else's battles.
It was a promise Bellatrix intended to keep.
And so Hermione returned to her thoughts. Hermione had been through a war. Had it been her choice? Had it been forced upon her? Did that even matter?
Some quick math in her head and Bellatrix calculated that she'd be in the tail-end of her forties in 1998. It was no point worrying about cause and effect: whatever would happen that would cause that future war, it would happen whether she'd want it to happen or not. She shouldn't be worried about it and she'd only have to wait to learn more and have it happen on her own.
So there was no reason to lie awake and worry about it. Right?
Bellatrix continued to stare at the ceiling until it was time for breakfast the next morning.