It was the last Friday before Christmas break, and the last school day of the year. Both in 1998 and 1968, the students of Hogwarts were excited for having some time for themselves or simply spending it with their families over the holidays. But in both time-lines, two girls were very much excited for a very different reason.
Today, right before both girls would leave before their perspective family homes the next morning, would be the start of a very special adventure. Preparing for it had taken a few more days than, Bellatrix at least, would have liked. Aside from the need of gathering the supplies required for a prolonged stay in what had been dubbed the Fae Realm, Hermione insisted... much to Bellatrix's chargin... that they needed to do more tests to confirm their initial findings. The blood rite had a repeatable result, which was gratifying, but of more concern was that the flow of time in the Fae Realm appeared to be different than in their own world. Passage of time in the Fae Realm was barely noticeable when compared with their own world, if at all. For every hour spent in the Fae Realm, the time passed in their own world was negligible. If Hermione's calculations were correct... and they always were... they could stay in the Fae Realm for weeks on end and emerge maybe a few minutes after they left in the real world.
Satisfied, their expedition could begin and Bellatrix and Hermione divided their duties to gather supplies. While Bellatrix would handle logistical and scientific equipment, Hermione was in charge of the other supplies. Here is where Hermione had to admit that she didn't have all that much money to spend: most of her small stipend went towards renting the room, after all.
So Bellatrix buried a literal treasure chest for her: a wooden box the size of shoe-box filled to the brim with galleons which was more than enough for what Hermione had in mind. The ease with which Bellatrix had given her the equivalent of a credit card with no limit along had startled her a bit: she had plenty left after buying all the supplies and even felt a bit guilty about investing some of the excess money into a new pair of walking boots. It was easy to forget just how obscenely rich Bellatrix' family was: for her friend this was nothing but pocket change and she didn't even to want any of it back.
"I'm excited!" said Bellatrix on the other side of the pool. Hermione couldn't really make it out, but noticed her friend was dressed differently and was wearing some sort of hat. Hermione put the dagger down and prepared the now painstakingly memorized ritual chant in her head. Next to her were all the boxes of supplies set next to the pool, ready for transport. "Aren't you?!"
"Heh, I am," chuckled Hermione. And that much was true. There was something special and magical about setting foot in a strange new land. Suddenly, Bellatrix' head snapped to one side.
"Something wrong?" asked Hermione.
"Nah," said Bellatrix after scanning the woods for a moment. "Thought I heard something. Let's just get too it."
As the previous days, the girls met up at the pool and performed their ritual. Blood was shed, chants were done and, like before, they ended up on the brightly lit Black plateau.
After applying some healing unguent to her palm, the first thing Hermione spotted was that Trix had donned a very different attire. Though she had an inkling when looking into the pool earlier, she couldn't quite make it out in the dark until she stepped into the daylight of this Fae Realm. Bellatrix looked as if she had stepped off the set of a 1920's silent safari film: a brown jodhpurs, snug around the calf and flared at the hip, above high dark leather boots. A cotton blouse with a lighter shade of grayish-brown was closed up with oversized buttons while a curly mane of black hair cascaded over her shoulders from underneath a white pith helmet. Hermione had never seen Bellatrix outside of a dress and soon realized that her friend had caught her staring. Trix, for her part, didn't seem to mind.
"Like what you see?" Bellatrix chuckled, giving her a bit of a wink while putting her hands on her hips.
"Uhm," Hermione looked away. "Sorry, Trix. I... I was just surprised to see you wear anything else than black," she muttered, hoping her excuse would work.
"Hah," replied Bellatrix. "I followed the example of Eleanore Snowbell. This is the kind of attire she would wear on an expedition with this kind of climate."
Of course, Hermione was dressed for the occasion as well. Her new walking boots were only an accessory to a more modern exploration attire: a blue cotton shirt and brown trousers. Rather than a pith helmet, Hermione had opted for a far simpler white beanie with a visor knitted on to keep the sun out of her eyes.
"You look great, Hermie," replied Trix, a compliment which set Hermione's heart aflutter. "Come, let's go set up base camp."
In the muggle world, an expedition of this kind could never be completed by two people alone, but magic was a great help. An entire campsite with months worth of supplies could simply be carried in two enchanted backpacks to offset the bulk and weight. Hermione was first to show her bounty: with one yank on the strings of her backpack, she produced an entire pallet of food and water. A collection of square five litre bottles stacked up, enough to last them for two months if need me.
"Whoa," Bellatrix blinked and approached the pallet, placing her hand on the clear bottles. "Wait, this isn't glass?"
"It's plastic," said Hermione. "Clear, thin plastic. Easier to carry, less likely to break and see that little faucet over there at the bottom? You don't even need to pour it. Just fill a cup and drink."
"This is... strange."
"What were you expecting?" Hermione asked.
"Barrels," replied Bellatrix. "Wooden barrels. But I have to admit these seem a mite handier."
"Well," Hermione joked. "If you can stand to be around muggle-bottled water..."
"Muggles created these?!" Bellatrix turned to her. For a moment, she thought Bellatrix was angry at the thought of having to deal with something made by muggles, but she seemed more intrigued than anything. "Well, at least that's the water taken care of. So what about the food?"
Hermione pointed to a gathering of tins. "We've got a wide variety of tinned foods, ranging from fruits and vegetables to meats, beans and fish. Everything was hand-picked and balanced out for a completely healthy diet including all food groups. Even got some spicy chili in the mix. Enough to last us for two months, should we stay as long as that."
"We were only planning to stay for two weeks max," Bellatrix frowned.
"It's best to be prepared," said Hermione. "Imagine if the portals close all of a sudden and trap us here for a bit. We'll have plenty of supplies should that happen."
Bellatrix nodded in understanding and picked up one of the tins. "What's this? It says 'Spam'. Never heard of that."
"Oh, of course, she picked up one of those," Hermione rolled her eyes. "Those are only for dire emergencies," she said, snatching the tin out of Bellatrix's hands and replacing it with another filled with more appetising content.
"Hm," said Bellatrix, studying the label. "Pine-apple slices."
"Of course, plenty of teabags," said Hermione, pointing at a big wholesale box of mixed flavours. "Didn't forget those."
"Of course not!" Bellatrix spoke in approval. "Always English!"
"Now, this might be a bit controversial," Hermione said and pulled a 4 burner flat camping gas stove from the bag, along with a few propane tanks. Bellatrix looked on warily as Hermione demonstrated the device. Bellatrix looked on warily and in silence while Hermione hooked up the tank with a hose and startled Bellatrix by making the burner catch flame.
"That's... that's a muggle device!" Bellatrix raised her chin imperiously, looking at it as if it was an infectious leper and kept her distance.
"I'm a muggle-born girl," Hermione reminded Bellatrix after shutting down the burner. "What were you expecting? How were you planning to cook our food?"
"Well..." Bellatrix bit her lip and crossed her arms, offering Hermione somewhat of a glare. "A campfire cooking pot, obviously."
Hermione raised an eyebrow. "And have you actually ever cooked something over a campfire?"
"Well... no," Bellatrix pouted slightly.
"Trust me," said Hermione. "If you had, you'd be thanking me right now."
That didn't make Bellatrix any less wary, though she did seem to stand down somewhat. "Alright," Bellatrix said carefully. "I trust you."
From her tone of voice, Hermione surmised that she would be doing the cooking for the duration of their adventure. Still, that suited her more than fine: cooking on campfire was a complete nightmare so avoiding that was a major victory in itself. "Just keep in mind, propane is highly flammable and explosive. If this tank gets punctured or too hot, it'll basically be a bomb."
"Right," Bellatrix took involuntary step back. "How about I show you our home away from them, after you put that propane-thing back in the deepest, darkest part of your backpack."
By the time Hermione had repacked the supplies, Bellatrix stood proudly next to a pitched tent. Outwardly, it looked much like a normal run-of-the-mill canvas camping tent. Of course, when it came to wizarding tents, looks were definitely deceiving. Much larger on the inside, Hermione was quite happy to find a spacious expedition tent with all the comforts of home.
"Right," said Bellatrix. "My sisters and I have spent many a night in this tent. Let me give you the grand tour. First of all, look at that sunroof." Pointing above, Hermione could see that the largest part of the tent's roof was made from transparent canvas, letting the light from the sun pour into the tent. "It's amazing to watch the stars at night."
Bellatrix presented a dining area, which consisted of a table and three chairs and was located in a cozy nook near the back of the tent. Three lazy sofa-chairs were a platform lower around a coffee table and Hermione imagined the three Black sisters hanging around in those chairs chatting about the affairs of the day. More impressive was the office area where the expedition's essentials lay. Bellatrix was committed to document every aspect of their adventure, much like her hero Eleanore Snowbell would have done: there was a rather expensive model camera which, while resembling an old-timer model, had a rather large lens attached to the front. Two pairs of binoculars with equally large lenses lay next to it, along with a series of yet-to-be-filled travel logs and a magical cartography set: the map would draw itself in as they explored their surroundings, saving them both precious time.
Bellatrix had spared no expenses.
"Right," said Bellatrix as she pointed to another section of the tent. "You can put your clothes in the dresser over there and change behind the flap. The toilet is right at the back, right next to the shower. Don't worry, we won't have to use our drinking water: the tent is enchanted to convert rain-water... provided it even rains here. Still, we can always scourgify ourselves."
Which left the sleeping arrangements. The tent's bedroom was in the central part of the tent, right underneath the sunroof. It was a rather cozy looking big mattress, but she was rather startled by what lay on top of it.
A sleeping bag.
A single sleeping bag.
"Uhm," Hermione gulped. "Is that..."
"A sleeping bag, yes," said Bellatrix. "I suppose this tent fits a bed. Several, I'd wager, but that wouldn't be very rugged and outdoorsy, now would it? We always wanted our camping experience to be authentic."
"Right..." Hermione gulped. "So... where do I sleep, then?"
Bellatrix frowned. "In the sleeping bag."
"So... where you do sleep?"
"Also in the sleeping bag," Bellatrix raised an eyebrow. "Hermie, are you alright? Did you have a poor landing and hit yourself in the head?"
"No! I.. I... So... we're sleeping together then?" Hermione blurted out, instantly regretting her words and blushing profusely. "I... I mean..."
"You'll have to cook me dinner first," Bellatrix winked, a flirty joke which Hermione didn't quite appreciate at the moment. Or did she? God, what a mess. "Still, you don't have to worry about it. It barely fits me and my sisters, but seeing there's only two of us, it'll suit us fine."
At that moment, Hermione's mind was reeling: in a few hours, she'd be... in bed with Bellatrix... spending the night with her... very close... together... Immediately, she chastised her mind for going places she did not want it to go. To think about laying next to Bellatrix. Holding her. Being held by her. Her lips on hers. Her hands on her body, her skin, her cheek, her breasts. She fought to keep her breathing under control.
Bellatrix was her friend. Nothing less. Nothing more. She needed to get those unruly feelings of hers under control.
"Are you alright?" asked Bellatrix. "You seem a bit flustered."
"It's, uhm... I'm just still wearing my winter coat and it's far too hot for that," lied Hermione while unbuttoning her coat.
"Sure," said Bellatrix. "You can put it in the wardrobe I showed you."
Seizing the opportunity to flee this bit of the tent and put a bit of distance between her and Bellatrix to hide her deep shame. A few weeks back, she had felt similar shame when she had pleasured herself while thinking of Bellatrix... since that first time, however, it had become a nightly re-occurring flight into fantasy.
And, by Merlin, Hermione found herself hunkering for the real thing a lot more than she'd care to admit to.
The first hurdle to be overtaken during their grand adventure was actually getting down from Black Plateau into the plains below. But Bellatrix wouldn't let a six meter drop dampen her spirits. It is the very reason why she had brought plenty of magical rope. When she dropped the end of the rope, it automatically bound itself to the nearest structurally sound object that would hold her weight, in this case a large boulder, while she attached the other end of the rope to her pack. She then carefully lowered her down the side of the drop-off. After she landed on both feet, she looked up to see Hermione looking up at her warily.
"Come on down, it's perfectly safe," Bellatrix called up, and adjusted her travel pack.
"If you're sure," Hermione replied, biting the inside of her cheek. Breaking both her legs on the first day of the expedition would make for a poor end.
Bellatrix put her hands on her hips. "If I didn't know any better, I'd say you've never used a magical rope before."
"Of course I have!' Hermione replied, more than a bit too quickly. "Many times before!"
"Uh-huh," Bellatrix raised an eyebrow. "Just attach it to your belt and let the rope do the work."
And so Bellatrix became witness to the epic struggle of Hermione trying to descend a cliff-side despite being aided by a magical rope which should make such an effort impossible to fail.
Yet Hermione managed to achieve the impossible, first by somehow managing to descend upside down while flailing all her limbs and then by unceremoniously plummeting down with a yelp when she had only two meters left to go. She landed on her back with grunt and, due to the size of her backpack, was unable to get up on her own. With a smirk, Bellatrix stood over her and extended her hand. "I see you've used magical ropes many times before," she giggled while Hermione narrowed her eyes before taking her hand.
"Oh, do shut up," Hermione replied while patting herself down a bit. Bellatrix gave the rope a few shakes, causing it to release itself, coil up and attach itself to her belt.
"Good thing you weren't holding the camera, though," said Bellatrix as she took the camera which hung from her neck and took a few snaps of the grasslands.
"So what's our strategy?" asked Hermione. "And I can't believe I didn't ask that before we actually went down that cliff."
"Well," said Bellatrix. "Eleanore Snowbell always has a base-camp when she starts out and as she explores the surrounding area she sets up forward camps along the route. But with only two people in the Black-Granger expedition, that doesn't make much sense, now does it? So I'm thinking of doing the opposite: we fully explore the surrounding area and look for suitable sites for camps. Then, when we're doing exploring one area and have decided where to head next, we move our entire base-camp forward."
"How do we find our way back?" Hermione asked.
"With these!" Bellatrix said, producing what looked to be a conch-shell on a stick. "Magical beacons. They're linked to our map and always show up. We can always find our way home using these."
She planted one of the beacons in the ground and it started glowing for a bit. Hermione did check her map and was seemingly pleased to see a red dot appear on it. Oh, Bellatrix certainly liked Hermione well enough, but for a Gryffindor, Hermione certainly was being overly cautious.
"How about we explore the grasslands first?" Hermione suggested. "Everything is in plain view and there's a few landmarks already. Should fill out our map quite nicely."
In front of them stretched the grasslands, a mostly flat area of land with some copses of trees dotted around them, reminiscent of a mix between the rolling hills of the midlands and the savannas of Africa. In the distance, they could see a thick forest before a mountain range much further back. Indeed, it would be a good place to start.
Bellatrix wrapped an arm around Hermione's shoulder and found the other girl stiffening under her touch. "Exciting, isn't it?!" Bellatrix raved, and she was excited. Exploring this strange new world was, perhaps, the biggest adventure of her life and she was sharing with her best and only friend she had ever had... who was from another time-line entirely. Nothing about this situation was in any way regular or normal, and the curly-haired witch loved every moment of it.
"Yeah," Hermione almost whispered. When Bellatrix was about to withdraw her arm, Hermione quickly grabbed her wrist, leaving her arm draped around Hermione's shoulders. Hermione's other arm wound its way around her waist. Ah, a moment of shared celebration.
"I named the plateau," said Bellatrix. "So it's only fair you get to name the grasslands."
Hermione turned her head towards her, her expression one of reserved joy. Bellatrix watched as Hermione let her eyes rove over the rolling plains. "Tranquillity," she finally spoke.
"Tranquillity," smiled Bellatrix, taking in the atmosphere. "Fitting. Shall we go?"
"Wait, before we go," Hermione put her hands on her head. "Trix... that hat. Honestly, that hat..."
"What?" Bellatrix instinctively raised her hands to the pith helmet. "What's wrong with it?"
"You honestly have no idea just how silly you look?" Hermione raised an eyebrow.
"But... Eleanore Snowbell always wears these," Bellatrix could hear the pout in her own voice.
Hermione shook her head. "In the twenties, Trix. She always wore those in the twenties."
Bellatrix was someone who never cared about what others thought of her: she knew she was more powerful, more clever and more capable than everyone who talked behind her back or even to her face: such things were born out of jealousy more often that not, and Bellatrix was far superior to all of them. But... Hermione? That was someone she trusted. Someone she cared for. And sure, they had had plenty of banter before, but this felt different.
Was this really happening? Was Hermione... making fun of her? And her childhood hero to boot?
It surprised her just how much it stung. Just how embarrassing it was. A twinge of anger welled up in the pit of her stomach.
Apparently, all that showed in her expression as Hermione's mocking grin softened into a gentle smile. "Here," she said, snatching the pith helmet from her head before she had a chance to respond.
"Hey!" Bellatrix protested, but Hermione quickly stepped out of reach, yanked her own hat off and put the pith helmet on her own head.
"This is how silly you look," said Hermione, doing a brief curtsy bow with the pith helmet on her head. Bellatrix couldn't help but giggle at the oversized white hat above the brown tresses of Hermione's long mane.
Giggles turned into laughter. "Merlin," Bellatrix snorted. "You look like you have a tit on your head!"
Hermione stepped forward and put the beanie-hat on Bellatrix's head and adjusted it for good measure, pulling the visor down to shield her eyes. "There," said Hermione. "I'm fine with wearing the silly hat for now."
And so started their grand adventure, wandering away from the plateau and finally starting to explore this strange new land with its bright colours, clear sky and floating islands above.
After an hour of walking, they came across a shallow lake about forty feet in diameter and, judging from the many footprints, it saw a lot of traffic from the local fauna. More striking, however, was a large field of red poppy-like flowers north of the lake. The colour red was almost painfully bright, much like all other colours in this strange realm. Hermione took an interest in the flowers, as Bellatrix knew she would: her friend had a keen interest in herbology, after all.
"Look! Wildlife!" Bellatrix proclaimed as from over the hill approached a small herd of creatures. She counted fifteen of them while they calmly approached the lake for a bit of a drink. The creatures were decidedly odd: from a distance they resembled horses, but on their long snout they had short rounded beaks. They had strong, muscular shoulders and long front legs, but their back haunches and hips were decidedly smaller and shorter. One of them, the largest, sported a large set of horns while the rest had none. There were five more adults and the rest were calves. Bellatrix and Hermione watched them come surprisingly close when they sifted their beaks through the water or grazed a little near the water's edge.
"They're not afraid of us," said Bellatrix.
"Why would they be, Trix?" Hermione replied. "They've never seen humans before."
Bellatrix took her camera and got in a good position to snap a few pictures. "We need to give them a name too."
"Hm, whose turn is it?" Hermione muttered. "Let's see, you named our entry point, I named the grasslands, you named mountain range in the distance, I named the lake... your turn."
"Hm," Bellatrix put a finger to her lips. "That's a tough one. Beak-horse... Borse? No, that sounds wrong. Hippoduck? They do look like someone took parts of a duck, a horse and a gorilla and smashed it all together. Dipporilla?"
"Well, you think about it some more," said Hermione. "I'm going to take some samples of those flowers over there. I suppose I get to name those."
After Hermione left to fetch her samples, Bellatrix hunched to her knees to get a few more pictures and watched the creatures enjoy their drink- and bath time. They really didn't seem to mind her at all, though she did keep an eye out for the horned one. Curiously, though, it seemed like they weren't interested in the flower field to the north. The creatures were undoubtedly plant-eaters and those flowers seemed like an easy meal... so why weren't they going for it?
Her train of thought were interrupted when one of the calves turned out to be a bit more curious than the others and sauntered over to her. At first it seemed a bit wary, but when Bellatrix plucked out some long stems of grass and held it out for it to eat, the small creature came so close she could touch it.
"Hello there. Do you like to be named a 'borse'?" Bellatrix greeted as the tiny creature started eating out of her hand. She gently patted and rubbed the creature's head and it let out a purring bray in appreciation. So far, the rest of the herd didn't seem to mind. What did puzzle Bellatrix, however, was that the horned one was chasing away one of the calves from near the field of flowers.
"Hey, Hermie!" Bellatrix called out. "Come pet this little one!"
"Hermie?" Bellatrix called out again.
Now concerned, Bellatrix rose to her feet and scanned her surroundings, letting out gasp of breath when she saw Hermione lying prone on her stomach, having fallen into the field of flowers. Immediately, the curly-haired which sprinted towards her. "Hermie!" she shouted. "What's wrong?!"
When she got nearer, she skidded to a halt when still a few meters away from Hermione. From her vantage point, she could see there were sun-bleached piles of bones lying among the flowers. Duck-billed piles of bones. Above the flowers itself was a fine haze of white dust in the air: spores, she realized. Well... that explained why the borses didn't want to be anywhere near this field.
"Heeeeelllpppp," sounded the tired and drawn-out voice of Hermione, as if it had taken every bit of effort left in her body to actually speak that single word.
"I'm coming, Hermie!" Bellatrix yelled back, but knew that she'd be doomed to end up on the ground right next to Hermione if she wasn't careful. Shit, shit, what to do?! Shit!
An idea came to her. After drawing her wand, she quickly applied the bubblehead charm to her face and rushed in to help her friend. She had to be quick: go in, grab Hermione and drag her out as quickly as she could muster. The moment she entered the field, she could feel the spores stinging her skin and her eyes, causing her to hiss in pain. Though the bubble-head charm did help, it only delayed the effect of the spores. She already felt her arms grow heavy and her mind started to fog up with fatigue. Still, she grit her teeth in grim determination, grabbed Hermione by the belt and started dragging her out of the field of flowers.
Dead weight was a good way to describe Hermione right now: she was completely incapable of moving on her own and Bellatrix wasn't as strong as she had wanted to be in this situation. Dragging Hermione and her pack out of the field took much longer than she would have liked. After making sure her friend's body was completely out of the field and rolling her towards the lake, Bellatrix staggered over to the water to dip her face into the lake to get the spores off her exposed skin. Almost immediately, she felt much better.
Clutching Hermione to her chest, she splashed water in her friend's face and put her canteen against her lips. That should get the spores out of her mouth. Hermione's breathing started to get even again and it didn't take long for her eyes to flutter open. "Feeling better?" Bellatrix asked.
"Hm, thanks, Trix," Hermione took a few deep breaths. "I... I don't think I can move just yet."
Bellatrix sighed in relief. "That was close. I guess this realm is more dangerous than we first thought."
"Have to be... more careful..." Hermione struggled to speak. "... didn't... pay... attention... Saw the bones... too late."
"Rest a bit," Bellatrix said while still holding on to her.
For her part, Hermione nestled her head against her chest while being held. "I... I like... where I am... right now..."
Bellatrix frowned. She wondered if Hermione might still be a bit delirious.