Autumn break was coming up. The weather was changing and the nights were getting noticeably colder by the day. This particular night, Hermione had decided to wear a thicker jacket, had covered her legs with a blanket and had brought a thermos-flask with hot tea. She had just poured herself a cup while Bellatrix was talking about the upcoming autumn break for the both of them.
"You're not staying at Hogwarts?" Hermione asked. Though students would be allowed to stay at Hogwarts over autumn break, few actually did. Both she and Bellatrix would be going home and though she would love to see her parents again, she would miss talking to Bellatrix. And judging by Bellatrix' expression, the feeling was absolutely mutual.
"No," Bellatrix let out a sigh. "Going back to the manor. Normally I'd love to spend some time with my sisters, but my parents have other plans. Wedding rehearsals! Fucking wedding rehearsals!"
Bellatrix crossed her arms, looking much like the angry pouting teenager she, well, currently was. Hermione supposed she couldn't really blame her. "But your wedding is a year away."
"10 months and 17 days," Bellatrix muttered, sighing the words as if she was reading the time off some sort of death clock. "And then my happy life comes to a close."
Dramatic, perhaps, but for Bellatrix that was true.
"Tell you what," said Bellatrix, her expression a devious one. "We could use this to our advantage, though. When maman came over from France, she took grand-père's entire library of esoteric magical works with her. It's all at the manor, mostly for display sadly. But if there is some knowledge out there on what this pool actually is, it will be in one of my grand-père's books. I am sure of it!"
Hermione nodded. The past two weeks the both of them had been looking at the school library trying to do some research on the pool they had found, but unfortunately turned up empty handed in both their time lines. She supposed the library at Hogwarts had texts on a lot of different subjects, but disappointingly little focus on specialized magical research, something the Black family library was supposed to have in abundance.
"I'd love to see that library one day," said Hermione. "You've certainly been piquing my curiosity with it."
"Biggest collection on esoteric magic, dark and otherwise, this side of the continent," Bellatrix smiled. "And it's put on display. Grand-père would turn around in his grave if he knew. What about you?"
"Just going home," replied Hermione, her gaze drifting upon. "I haven't been home for a long time. I... I regret not spending more time with my parents the past seven years. There was always something else to do, never enough time for the simple things, you know?"
"I get that," replied Bellatrix. "It's easy to get caught up in school work or projects or whatever. Makes you forget about the simple things."
"That's why I'm spending the entire week with them," Hermione smiled to herself, her thoughts drifting away. She had always put her family on a second place and had done so for too long a time. No longer. Her parents deserved better. She deserved better. "Just... simple things. Family dinner. A night of theatre. Or just staying in and having a pizza and having the worries of the world just slide off your back. Like old times."
"Hm, sounds nice."
"There's already so much of my magical life they can't be a part of," Hermione sighed wistfully. "I don't want us to drift apart more than we've already have."
Bellatrix remained silent for a bit, giving her an odd look. "Wait," she asked carefully. "What do you mean?"
"Hm?" Hermione looked down at the pool to see Bellatrix giving her a scrutinizing glare.
"Why can't they be part of your magical life?" Bellatrix narrowed her eyes now. Hermione froze. She'd just made a bit of a faux-pas and hadn't even realized she was making it. She kept her expression as neutral as possible and looked at Bellatrix, thinking of some what she might salvage the situation.
"Your parents are muggles," followed the accusing statement. "You're... you're a mudblood!"
There it was.
And Bellatrix had figured it out within seconds from a single faux-pas. Hermione should have figured. Hermione hadn't been quick-witted enough to find a way to turn this situation enough. Bellatrix was clever, after all, and her mind worked fast. By the time Hermione was still trying to think of a response, Bellatrix had read her expression, weighed her choice of words and had already come to a singular, damning conclusion.
In a way, Hermione knew it would be coming at some point, but the anger and indignation in Bellatrix's once so gentle face told Hermione everything she needed to know. Her expression reminded her of her older self: that angry self-indulgent glare. The face, though younger, of the woman whom had tortured her. Flashes of being thrown onto the ground at Malfoy Manor shot through her mind, causing her to square her jaw to try to push those memories down again.
Bellatrix' breath quickened, her jaw squared, her voice was low when she next addressed Hermione. "Why didn't you tell me you are a mudblood?!"
Hermione felt anger soar through her very being. With gritted teeth and voice laced with poison, she replied. "You never asked."
Bellatrix' eyes were still narrowed, while a torrent of emotions shot across her face: anger, sadness, shock... but one stood out: the way Bellatrix looked at her screamed of one thing. Betrayal.
That was the worst one of all.
Seemingly at a loss for words, Bellatrix was staring her down through the pool. For a moment, Hermione felt as if she was being carefully studied. Still, she'd had plenty of sadness of her own at this moment.
"I should have known all of this was pointless," Hermione spoke softly, gathering her blanket and her flask, sad and angry for having wasted her time on a fruitless effort. "It always comes back to blood purity, doesn't it? After all we've shared, after all the talks we've had this stupid blood purity thing still outweighs it all. I really thought we could be friends. I had hoped... No. I'll waste no more words on you. I'm done," she said while getting up. Bellatrix gave her an incredulous look on the mirror end of the pool.
"You know what? I feel sorry for you," Hermione hissed through clenched teeth before stomping away towards the edge of the forest.
"Hermie!" sounded from the pool behind her. "Please! I didn't mean it! Please come back!"
Hermione wasn't swayed. With grim determination, she kept walking away.
That made Hermione stop dead in her tracks. Had she heard that correctly? Slowly, Hermione turned around and looked towards the pool. During her chats, she had gotten to know Bellatrix quite well. She had become a friend yes, was often jovial and funny. But also prideful and arrogant. To hear those words from her mouth, of all people.
And then there was the way she said it. From her position, Hermione could only see the pool from an angle, meaning Bellatrix wouldn't be able to see her either. She stood there for a moment, wondering what to do.
"I'm sorry," sounded from the pool again, softer this time. Laced with… was that regret? Goodness, was Bellatrix... crying?
"Come back... please come back... I didn't mean it... Please... come back..."
She was crying! Hermione could hear it clearly. Slowly and silently, she approached the pool. When she looked into it, she saw a genuinely upset Bellatrix, her eyes downcast while tears ran over her cheeks. This surprised her more than anything.
"Trix?" Hermione asked softly.
Bellatrix' head snapped upwards, peering into the pool so close to the water that Hermione feared Bellatrix was about to tumble forward right into it. Through her tears, she let out a broad and happy smile. "You... you came back..." she stammered.
Still, Hermione wouldn't let her off the hook just yet. "How would you feel," started Hermione, her voice soft. "If you were constantly being judged for something that was never your choice and is something you could never change?"
Bellatrix sniffed and lowered her gaze slightly, letting Hermione's words sink in a little. "Pretty shit," was her soft-spoken response.
Hermione let out a sigh, sitting down at the pool again while pulling her blanket over her legs. "You pure-bloods have it so easy, you know. You have everything in spades and everybody just assumes you're better because of your blood status. You don't even realize what kind of privilege you enjoy."
"Oh?" sounded from the pool. Hermione looked down again to see Bellatrix drying her tears, looking back at her, eyes shining with renewed intensity. "You think pure-blood life is easy?! To have to give up your hopes and dreams for the sake of some sort of abstract ideal? The pressures put on you? Wealth isn't everything. I'd give it all up if it meant I could forge my own path. And you know what's even worse? It's the loneliness. I don't have any friends! I never know when someone is genuine or is looking to use me as a tool to further their own goals or position. If I didn't have my sisters I would have gone absolutely bonkers by now!"
"I..." Hermione stammered, but falling silent again.
"So besides not being able to fully trust anyone, I'm forced to marry a man I detest! All that so called privilege comes with a lot of strings attached!" Bellatrix bristled. "So yeah, you may assume that I'm generally quite aware of the things that are happening around me, Hermie! Or haven't you been paying attention during our heart-to-hearts?!"
Hermione closed her eyes and sighed. This time, it was her turn to feel like a heel. Assumptions were dangerous and this was once again proved. "You're right. I'm sorry too, Trix."
Silence took hold for a bit. All they could hear were the sounds of the forest at night. Crickets. Nightbirds. The wind in the trees.
In the pool, Bellatrix nodded in acceptance. Hermione did the same.
Bellatrix lowered her gaze, looked up again and smiled briefly. "I don't think you're inferior, Hermione."
Hermione accepted that with a nod. "And I don't think you're a privileged bitch."
Bellatrix snorted. "Well, you're half right."
Both girls shared a brief laugh. And there it was. The miracle of mutual understanding.
"Hermie? Can we get past this?"
Bellatrix' voice was soft. Apologetic. Hopeful. Even a little bit scared. Funny how all the arrogance and self-assuredness had simply fled her at this moment.
Hermione closed her eyes and smiled. The fact that Bellatrix had even asked this question told her just how wrong Hermione had been to write her off immediately. Friends could have arguments and still be friends afterwards. Friends could and should forgive each other. So Hermione gave her friend the only answer she could.
"Of course we can, Trix."
Bellatrix let out what could only be described as a sigh or relief just as the magic of the pool started to fade. At least it has left them enough time to properly exchange their apologies.
"Right," smiled Bellatrix. "I'll see you next week, Hermie. Hopefully, with some knowledge of this pool. Have fun with your family, Hermie."
"And you with yours, Trix," said Hermione. "Until next week."
After the magic had faded and Bellatrix's visage had morphed into her own reflection, Hermione gathered her belongings and strode towards the edge of the clearing, this time with hope renewed.
Bellatrix was not beyond saving.
That fact alone made Hermione have a smile on her face all the way back to the castle, only to fade once sleep claimed her back in her bed.
Bellatrix suppressed a yawn as she stood on the platform waiting for the Hogwarts Express to arrive. She and her sisters would soon travel and take the stop at Leeds where they would take the portkey back to Manchester where their ancestral home stood proudly. Bellatrix had been glad to toss her uniform and exchange it for a stylish black knee-high dress, warm cloak and matching floppy pointed hat. She would have liked to have worn a mini-skirt, but her parents wouldn't approve as it would be too muggle. Best to avoid conflict for now.
Besides, it was a bit too cold to be out with bare legs.
She checked the clock above the platform, only to sigh when she realizes that her sisters were late, as per usual. That left her alone with her thoughts as other students were starting to gather on the platform with her. With her reputation, nobody really dared to approach her and that suited her fine at the moment.
Bellatrix considered she had spent plenty of time with her thoughts already, since she hadn't caught a wink of sleep this night. Her mind was too busy thinking. Of Hermione.
The plucky young dark witch was the first one to admit that she had led a somewhat sheltered existence. During family meetings, it was often her uncle Orion, the head of House Black, who would hold bombastic orations that that mudbloods were the lowest of the low. Thieves who stole their magic. Unintelligent, drooling fiends who had no semblance of manners, good breeding or redeeming qualities and would stab you in the back and steal your magic as you lay bleeding. The Blacks would stem the tides, would keep the Barbarians out of the gates and would preserve wizarding purity for generations to come.
Uncle Orion had a way with words. And a way with family members who didn't agree with those words. So naturally, Bellatrix had attempted to avoid all association with mudbloods. To do so was to invite death and betrayal. Just like she had been taught.
And that was the thing. She had spoken at length with Hermione before finding out she was a mudblood and found that she was a perfectly normal girl. Well, not exactly normal, that would be an insult: Hermione was intelligent, witty, knowledgeable and polite. She had listened to her stories and had given her honest feedback. Their conversations were things Bellatrix looked forward to every day. Hermione was nothing a mudblood was supposed to be. She wasn't a thief. She wasn't a liar. She wasn't a traitor.
Hermione was her friend. The only real friend she'd ever had.
It had made her think. Dirk, that mountain of a boy, had been her main rival at Quidditch for years. A mudblood, yes, but thinking back he had always treated her with respect and joviality. Bellatrix then glanced over to a pair of students waiting for the train. Three sisters, actually, known mudbloods. The dark-haired witch watched the three of them for a moment. They were joking, messing about, chatting, smiling, laughing. They were eager to go home to see their families again. Just like herself and her own sisters.
These were... three normal girls.
How come she had never even seen this before? Had she simply never bothered to look?
Mudbloods... being not so different than pure-bloods. The very thought alone was anathema. Heretical, even. But she couldn't deny what was right in front of her. She couldn't deny the truth that her friend Hermione was... just a normal witch like any other.
A terrifying thought came over her: if this one thing she had been taught was false, then what would that mean for all the other things she'd been taught? What if those were false too?
She felt her breath quicken and swallowed hard. What was true and what was false? She simply didn't know what to believe anymore. Bellatrix tried to calm herself, trying to keep her heretical thoughts from overwhelming her, when something heavy suddenly jumped on her back.
Startled, Bellatrix shot forward, only to realize that Cissy had jumped her and was now giggling while she was riding her back. Bellatrix cursed and tried to throw her off: carrying her worked fine when Cissy was eight and tiny, not now that she was thirteen and a lot bigger and heavier.
Andromeda stood by the side and laughed a bit. "You were miles away, Bella!"
"That no invitation to jump on my back!" Bellatrix challenged while Cissy's feet found the ground again.
"That's no invitation to not jump on your back either," Cissy giggled.
"Come on," said Andromeda as the Hogwarts Express stopped at the station. "Let's board."
The Black sisters boarded the train and quickly claimed a compartment in one of the front cars for just the three of them. The girls folded out the table and set out their prepared snacks, sweets and games they had prepared for the three hour trip. All three of them used their wands to float their hand-luggage to the racks above and settled on the leather seating.
While Bellatrix was eyeing a rather delicious looking bag of Fiery Black Pepper Imps, she noticed Cissy had her face pressed against the windows. "Look at them," Cissy muttered. "Bunch of mudbloods looking gormless. You can just see the drool gathering in pools on the ground."
From her position, Bellatrix could see that Cissy was looking at the three sisters she had witnessed earlier. And then she noticed something else which she never had before: the people passing their compartment in the corridor were all pure-bloods. People she knew for a fact weren't there waiting on the platform when the train arrived. Meanwhile, the half-bloods and the mudbloods which had been there waiting alongside her were still stood on the platform. She could clearly see Dirk towering above the rest beyond the window.
She realized they were letting the pure-bloods board first. Something she simply never noticed before.
It was then that Cissy blew a raspberry at the three mudblood sisters.
"Cissy, don't do that," Bellatrix admonished, almost automatically. It left her to wonder why she had reacted so strongly.
Cissy turned her head around and gave her elder sister an odd look, while Andromeda laughed. "Yeah," Andie jumped in. "Don't gob all over the window! I'd rather not stare at your spit all the way to Leeds."
Cissy made a face while Bellatrix was grateful for the distraction. It didn't take long before the train started to move. Bellatrix was mostly deep in thought during the first leg of the trip, left to ponder unless addressed. At first, her sisters didn't seem to notice much as Cissy was raving about her boyfriend Lucius, while Andie mostly bragged about her high marks in potion class.
"Hey," said Andie while laying a hand on her shoulder and shaking her a bit. "You've been awfully quiet, Bella. That's not like you."
"Yeah," said Cissy. "I'd expected at least one macabre tale by now."
Bellatrix forced a brief smile. "I've just... got a lot on my mind, that's all."
Andie and Cissy shared a look. "The wedding stuff?" Cissy asked.
Bellatrix thought a moment. That would do. "Yes, among other things," Bellatrix pursed her lips and ran a hand through her curly hair.
Cissy scooted over and grabbed her by the hand. "Hey," she spoke softly. "It's not all going to be wedding stuff. We're going to have some fun together."
"Just the three of us," said Andie. "Why don't we go camping together? Spend the night out in the tent and just enjoy the quiet of the night."
Bellatrix smiled briefly, but was still conflicted. Once she had felt like she could share everything with her sisters, talk to them about everything. They'd been there for her when she'd been told about her upcoming wedding. She had cried and screamed and cursed and wept... and her sisters were there for her to listen, to hug and to console.
But to tell them about this? About her... doubts? About Hermione? No. She couldn't. She wouldn't. Bellatrix simply didn't dare. How would they even react?
As much as it pained her, it was for the best to keep the secrets for now. And so she did.
Bellatrix simply sat next to the window while her sisters carried on about their next topic, while she stared out across the passing countryside and found her thoughts wandering towards Hermione.