Hermione couldn't help but shiver. Meeting up in the middle of the night in a Scottish autumn could be challenging. If the temperatures in late November were anything to go by, they were headed towards a rather cold winter this year. Though snow had yet to fallen, temperatures in the evening and at night had often fallen below freezing point. At least it wasn't raining today; yesterday, the both of them had sat next to the pool in the pouring rain, having donned raincoats and umbrellas while the downpour ruined all the clarity of the magic pool.
Thankfully, today was merely phenomenally cold.
It was hard to believe that it had been five weeks since autumn break: time did fly, as they say. Life continued on at Hogwarts and Hermione found herself going through the motions of academia while, in the evenings, Hermione would still head over to the Fae Mirror and neither girl had missed a single day. Cold temperatures nor rain would not stop Hermione from seeing her friend: having donned a thick winter jacket, an ushanka on her head and armed with a thermos filled to the brim with scolding hot tea, Hermione made her way through the Forbidden Forest, her breath condensing in the cold air.
The cold did cause her to move a little slower and she arrived a few minutes after three. When she arrived at the clearing, the pool already shone brightly with its magic glow. Glancing in the magical waters, Hermione found that, as usual, Bellatrix was already there waiting for her to arrive. The curly haired girl smiled brightly while Hermione propped herself up against the tree next to the pool.
Apparently, the temperatures in 1968 weren't all that much better, as Bellatrix was wearing a thick coat and a scarf while her long curly hair spilled out from under a winter beanie. A pair of earmuffs finished the image. Hermione took in the look of Bellatrix, her pale skin a bit reddish in the face from the cold: the curly-haired witch looked beyond stunning, and Hermione always got this strange, warm and fuzzy feeling in the pit of her stomach whenever she saw Bellatrix's face in the pool after a long day of school.
"Good evening, Trix," greeted Hermione as she unscrewed the top of her thermos to pour herself a cup of tea.
"Hey Hermie," replied Bellatrix. "Merlin, what a day. That idiot Prewett made a cauldron explode today in potions. I don't think I've actually seen that happen before ever."
"Goodness, was anyone hurt?" asked Hermione.
"Bunch of us got splashed with corrosive potion residue, including me," said Bellatrix. "Luckily, nothing got in my eyes or on my skin, but the stuff did start to eat through my robe to the point that I had to rip if off. So here I was, stood in potions in my underwear yelling and cursing at Prewett who rather miraculously never got a single drop on him even though he was standing right next to the thing! Dirk got the worst of it, though. Had a big piece of metal shrapnel sticking out of his leg. Visited him in the medical wing. He's fine and is bragging about his scar."
Despite the apparently nasty accident, Hermione was oddly gratified to know that Bellatrix had taken the time to visit a rival at Quidditch and even a muggle-born at that. She liked to think that was her influence in action.
"My day wasn't nearly as exciting as yours," replied Hermione. "For me the problem started right after dinner and his name is Cormac McLaggen."
"Still?!" Bellatrix chuckled. "After that dressing down you gave him last time? He's persistent, I'll give him that."
"Tell me about it, Trix," Hermione sighed. "He's been strategically placing mistletoe in the Gryffindor common room. It'll be like trying to navigate a minefield come Christmas Eve."
"Already?!" blinked Bellatrix. "It's still five weeks until Christmas!"
"And I'm going home for the holidays," Hermione said, fully intending to spend the holidays with her parents again. "So there's at least that. What about your stalker?"
"Rodolphus?" Bellatrix shrugged. "He's keeping quiet. I think he's just biding his time since he knows…. he knows the wedding is coming anyway. At least he'll leave me alone until then, I hope."
"Working on Herbology project," said Hermione, eager to change the subject as she saw in Bellatrix' expression that she was not happy to talk about Rodolphus at the moment. "Trying to grow some Fluxweed, but I'm not having much luck. I don't know what I'm doing wrong, but I've followed all the proper instructions and all I get are tiny stems which die off the next day. Maybe I just lack a green thumb."
Bellatrix thought a moment. "Have you tried planting them during a full moon, Hermie?" asked Bellatrix.
"I have and... nothing," sighed Hermione. "I'd hate to have to wait for an entire month before I get another try."
Bellatrix seemed lost in thought for a moment and then suddenly snapped her fingers. "Alright, I have an idea. Go to the lake and search the edge of the Forbidden Forest for a patch of Glow Grass."
"Glow Grass?" Hermione frowned. "Isn't that a weed?"
"It is," replied Bellatrix. "So you can transplant it easily to anywhere. Just plant some Glow Grass in a pot and put it right next to the pot where you planted the Fluxweed. The light coming from the Glow Grass closely resembles moonlight and you'll be able to fool the Fluxweed into growing. Works one hundred percent of the time. Just make sure the Glow Grass is isolated from the rest of the greenhouse, though. It spreads like wildfire if you're not careful."
"Thanks, Trix. I'll give that a try," Hermione said. She was woman enough to admit that, while she had learned a great deal about the wizarding world and magic from books, she lacked the sort of knowledge and experience one could only have from growing up in the wizarding world: knowledge and experience Bellatrix had in spades.
"Hermie," Bellatrix started. "You're going to be very, very smug. I've actually gone to a muggle studies class, like you've been bugging me to do for weeks."
"You have?!" Hermione felt her eyebrows raise to her hairline. Like Bellatrix said, she'd been trying to convince her to just go to a class, something which her friend had stubbornly refused to do to a point that Hermione was about to throw in the towel. It seemed persistence had paid off. "What did you think?"
"I was always taught that muggles were sad pathetic creatures, but some of the things they came up with are really clever," said Bellatrix, her tone of voice betraying that this was a rather reluctant admission. "I'd like to fly on one of those muggle airplanes one day. They go much higher than brooms, even, and I'd love to look down upon the Earth from that high up."
"Maybe you'll get the chance one day," Hermione replied.
"And give my poor parents heart-attacks?" Bellatrix raised an eyebrow.
They chatted a bit more about the usual things: school, happenings, family. Until Bellatrix casually mentioned something which made Hermione's blood run cold.
"So Cissy's going to drag the three of us to some sort of rally tomorrow," said Bellatrix. "It's all very hush-hush and on invitation only. Cissy heard it from her boyfriend Lucius, he got it from Mulcibur, who in turn heard it from Macnair and who heard it from Rodolphus. Lestrange has been pestering me to go to that rally for weeks now and moved on to convince others instead. Almost all of Slytherin is going, so I might as well join them and turn it into a day out. The three of us will be going shopping at Diagon Alley afterwards, so it's all fine."
And then the people she mentioned?
Voldemort. She was talking about Voldemort.
Hermione took a deep breath This was it. This had to be the moment Bellatrix's life would take a turn for the worse: by all accounts this rally was where Bellatrix fell in with the future Dark Lord, despite her expressed reluctance now. And Hermione was right there to witness it all happen. If she didn't act, she would lose her friend to darkness.
"Really?" Hermione said, feeling the blood drain from her face. "Anything more?"
"If there's new magic being taught, I'm game," replied Bellatrix. The expression of her face was an eager one. "I'm not a stranger to the dark arts. You know this. And it's not as if they teach that at Hogwarts. And if it's all the load of bollocks, well, then there's always the shopping trip. Win-win, I say."
"Don't go," Hermione whispered softly, before she caught herself.
"Why not?" asked Bellatrix.
Hermione thought for a moment. How to breach this subject carefully? Perhaps she shouldn't tell Bella not to go outright: she'd known the girl for some time know and realized that telling her not to go would just give her more incentive to go anyway. But perhaps…. Perhaps she could prime her a little. "Bella, have you ever heard of Jim Jones? Oh, wait, no, how silly of me, of course you haven't. It hasn't happened yet."
Bellatrix seemed intrigued. "Is this Jim Jones a powerful wizard? I thought we agreed on not discussing future events."
"This happened in the muggle world," replied Hermione. "He was a wizard, in a way. A wizard at manipulation, you could say. Jim Jones was a faith healer and the leader of a cult who built a commune with his followers in French Guyana. He cut them off from the rest of the world and enslaved their minds. He had complete mental control over all his followers and they did everything for him without question. Eventually, all his followers either committed suicide or were forced to commit suicide on his word. Parents willingly fed their own children poison on his word alone."
Bellatrix had listened intently. "Bonkers. You think this is something like that?"
"How does he present himself?" Hermione asked.
Bellatrix rubbed her chin. "Well, he does call himself a 'Dark Lord'. That's not exactly normal, I'd say. What should I look out for?"
"Just be careful, alright?" Hermione said. "He'll try to present himself larger than life, paint a picture of a world that is full of problems which only he knows how to fix. He'll try to appeal to your vanity, praise your talents and tell you that you will be the key to the future. He'll preach about the good old days and how the world has become decadent compared to the old days. He'll probably spin some nonsense about muggle-borns stealing power from true wizards and witches… and then say you are a true witch whose powers are being stolen. He'll create a problem in your mind and then offer the solution to it. And the solution is following his orders to the letter, complete subservience. You won't be allowed to question. You'll be shamed if you do. He'll ask you cut those out of your life who won't follow him as they will 'stray you off the path'."
"Alright," said Bellatrix. "Ah, it's almost four o'clock already. We'll talk tomorrow again, okay?"
"Okay," smiled Hermione. "Bella? Be safe, alright?"
"Hey, you know me, Hermione," chuckled Bellatrix. "Safe is boring. Still, I guess I shouldn't play with fire. Catch you on the flip side!"
The pool's powers faded and the clearing was once again bathed in darkness, but Hermione wasn't left with the usual fuzzy feeling inside she felt after a long evening of talking with Bella. Instead, her heart constricted with worry.
"Be safe, Bella," Hermione whispered. "Please be safe."
The next day was complete agony for Hermione. It was a Saturday, so she had no classes to distract her mind. She found that she could not concentrate on any of her school work either. How could she? Right now, back in 1968, Bellatrix and a bunch of Slytherins would have their introduction to the man who would become Lord Voldemort. Some would fall under his influence and, if history was to be believed, Bellatrix was one of them. Her friend could cease to be her friend and turn into a pure-blood fanatic the likes of which the world had rarely seen.
Hermione couldn't eat. She was literally sick with worry and could not keep anything down.
Had it all been futile? Could she change nothing? Was history already written? Was she helpless to save her friend?
Restless and weary, she found her hands too shaky to hold her quill, so out for walks she went in hopes of clearing her head. Instead, she only came back more worried.
Eventually, she decided to skip dinner and headed straight to her dorm after preparing a Dreamless Drought in the potion lab, She knew herself well enough that a day of worries would lead to the most heinous of nightmares and she really didn't want to think of Bellatrix in that light at the moment... she didn't want to think of Bellatrix as the woman she became, but rather as the friend she was so desperately trying to save from her herself.
She took a glance at the clock Bellatrix had gifted her, still stood on her nightstand and ticking like there was no tomorrow. In fact, she used it as an alarm clock these days, perpetually set to 2:30. Though it was still lights out, she hoped just sleeping the hours away would help her.
Of course, she was way too tense to actually catch a wink of sleep, so she lay in bed with her plush tiger on one side and stared up at the ceiling. This wouldn't do.
Hermione kicked off her pyjama bottoms and settled underneath the duvet. She was alone in her room and didn't have to be careful anymore. Still, there was still a slight sense of embarrassment about the whole thing, so she kept herself covered by the duvet. Hermione was a healthy nineteen year old girl with healthy desires and was no stranger to pleasuring herself: one couldn't get through the night with books alone, after all, and pleasuring herself often helped her sleep better. Perhaps it would relieve some tension here as well.
She let her hand slide over her stomach and let it slip between her thighs. She closed her eyes and settled in, her fingers working their proverbial magic. Her breath quickened with every rub. With her free hand, she undid a few buttons on her pyjama top and slipped her hand inside. Her nipples were already hardening and she quickly set to gently kneading her breast.
Quickened breath led to sighs and brief exclamations as she quickened the pace of her rubbing, feeling the heat of her center.
Almost without wanting it, she imagined Bellatrix. Not the Bellatrix whom had tortured her, but the younger Bellatrix: the girl whom had become her friend. Hermione imagined the weight of her naked body on top of her, her lips pressed on hers. In her mind, Bellatrix was such a good kisser.
The hand on her breast was not her own, but it belonged to Trix. The hand rubbing her most sensitive parts was not her own, but belonged to Trix, playfully teasing her as pressure started to mount within her abdomen.
She imagined Trix kissing a trail down her body, lips on her neck, her breasts, her stomach, lingering at her navel and licking her skin. She imagined impossibly soft curly hair between her thighs while Trix lovingly pleasured her with a tongue that was playful and cruel in equal measure. She imagined Trix looking up at her with sultry eyes. She imagined Trix's fingers slipping deep inside of her, treating her to gentle strokes.
Release came far swifter than Hermione would have liked, accompanied with an orgasmic exclamation.
The young witch rolled to her side with cheeks red and sweat covering her brow. She pulled her legs up in a fetal position, her mind filled with embarrassment, wondering just where the hell that fantasy had just come from.
Suddenly, there was now a second worry to the mix. God, how was she going to be able to look Trix in the eye the next time she'd see her?
Hermione did end up catching some sleep and once she got up she practically ran all the way from the castle to the Fae Mirror. In fact, she was still panting when she almost collapsed next to the dead tree. She had arrived ahead of time and the pool was not yet active.
And when it did become active, Hermione got the fright of her life: Bellatrix wasn't there.
"Trix?" she asked.
That never happened. Bellatrix was always on time, always there waiting by the pool when it became active. Anxiety gripped her by the throat. Bellatrix had been first and foremost on her mind and now? She wasn't there yet and every minute of waiting by the pool seemed to last an eternity.
For a moment, she was worried that Bellatrix wasn't coming. She closed her eyes and shook her head: had it all been pointless? Had it been the last time she had seen Bellatrix?
"Oh, Hermione! You're already here!" sounded from the pool. After opening her eyes, she found the smiling face of Bellatrix looking back at her. She had apparently just arrived and quickly settled herself. "Do I have a story to tell you!"
Relief washed over Hermione: Bellatrix was there and seemed to be in good spirits all round. "How did it go?" Hermione was almost afraid to ask. "At the rally, I mean?"
"Oh sweet Merlin, Hermione!" Bellatrix raved. "It went exactly like you said it would go!"
Hermione closed her eyes and let out a sigh while Bellatrix started to tell her story, a smile etched on her young face. "So, the three of us come to this magical tent set up in the middle of this field in the read-end of Cornwall, right? We were late because Cissy wanted to try out different colours of shoes for some reason and most Slytherins were already present. When we arrived, we were funnelled through this long corridor and there was this sense of magic going through it. It was sort of designed to make use feel as if we were approaching a powerful source of magic and Andie and Cissy were really impressed until I took out my wand and roved it around looking for charms and it turned out there were charms in the air to make it feel as if the magic was swirling around the place."
Bellatrix paused for a moment. "So we meet the 'Dark Lord'," she said while making air-quotes in front of her. "Now he was attractive and charming, black robe and everything, I'll give him that. Did his little speech about how the world was going to hell in a hand-basket, just like you said. Then he came to us. Asked if we were the infamous Black sisters he had heard so much about."
"Intriguing," said Hermione. "He knew who you were?"
"Not impressive," said Bellatrix. "My family is part of the sacred twenty-eight and he is looking to recruit pure-bloods, so it's not a surprise that he'd done his homework. See? I used my brain, Hermione," she said while tapping the side of her head. "I have one, you know?"
"Nice to see that at least some of the things I told you didn't go into one ear and right out of the other," Hermione smiled warmly.
"Oh, pish-posh," Bellatrix pouted for a bit. "Anyway, he tried to appeal to my vanity, like you said he would. He told me I was a talented young witch with so much potential for power and offered to teach me. So I started to ask a few questions, right? Simple questions like what his plans were and how exactly the muggle-borns were stealing magic without anyone noticing. If he was so convinced of this, he should have an answer. And then he started shaming me in front of the others instead of answering my questions. He said that I was part of the problem because I doubted his word, and then graciously said he would forgive me for the impetuous of youth. Then came the promises of power and a better world if only I'd would follow him. That smile he gave me was just so… false."
"So what did you do next?" asked Hermione.
"I told him that he was yet to answer my question," Bellatrix pursed her lips. "Never did get an answer either. When he saw I wasn't biting, he almost immediately lost all interest in me and moved on to his next target."
"I'm glad," said Hermione. "Uhm, not that he shamed you, I mean… Glad that you didn't fall for his tricks."
Truth be told, Hermione was positively elated. Bellatrix was smart; very smart. And just by putting a little bit of doubt in her head, Hermione just might have managed to keep the girl whom had become her good friend from making one of the biggest mistakes of her life.
Bellatrix chuckled. "Come on, Hermie, what do you take me for? Expect me to fall for some charlatan's honeyed words? I grabbed Andie and pulled her out of there. By that point, she'd seen through him as well. I just… I…"
"What it is?" Hermione asked with some concern.
"I'm so worried about Cissy, though," Bellatrix sighed, her eyes downcast. "She was completely taken in by him. Merlin, you should have seen the starry eyed look on her face. Andie and I tried to get her to leave with us, but she wouldn't. She's… she's young and impressionable. And she has that idiot boyfriend of hers who's also taken in by that 'Dark Lord' which is certainly not helping. I... Andie and I are going to have a talk with her later."
A terrible feeling came over Hermione: she had, perhaps, rescued her friend from a terrible fate, but by doing so, had Hermione condemned another person to go off the deep end instead?
"I'm sorry to hear that," replied Hermione.
"Don't worry about Cissy," smiled Bellatrix. "It's two against one."
"I would love to meet your sisters one day," replied Hermione.
"I know Andie would like you," Bellatrix bit her lip. "Cissy, though? Doubtful."
Now that the tension was ebbing away, something else came to the surface. Mainly, the fact that she had imagined her friend naked and pleasuring her the night before. Seeing the cheeky grin on Bellatrix' face had brought all of that back front and center. Instantly, shame and embarrassment overcame her as she lowered her head while her cheeks turned bright red.
"Hermie?" Bellatrix frowned from the other side of the pool. "What's wrong?"
Try as she might, she simply couldn't look Bellatrix in the eye. "Trix, I..." she croaked, her voice tiny as she swallowed hard.
"Oh, you did something naughty!" Bellatrix cackled. "Come on then. Share!"
"I... I..." Hermione gulped, desperately looking for a way to change the subject.
This was going to be a long night.