With a groan, Hermione's eyes fluttered open. After a moment of disorientation, she realized she found herself in the sleeping bag in their tent, staring at the sun pouring in through the canvas skylight.
Curious. She didn't remember returning to the base-camp. Nor being put to bed. The last thing she remembered was... lying in Bellatrix's arms as she clutched her tightly and pressed her head against her chest. Almost instinctively, Hermione closed her eyes and felt a smile creep over her face. That had been so nice. So very nice indeed. It was almost worth being poisoned by flowers and dying to an endless sleep.
She had slept in her clothes, obviously, though they seemed scourgified and Bellatrix had removed her boots before putting her to bed. Hermione did feel very much rested and fully recovered from the many blood rites she and Trix had performed the days before. She stretched and got up. Bellatrix herself was nowhere in sight, so Hermione quickly made the sleeping bag and sauntered into the bathroom area to splash some water in her face.
Once she left the tent, she found that the location had changed. Their base-camp was now located somewhat near the lake, but thankfully far away from the field of red flowers which had almost done her in the previous day. The beaked creatures were still there, leisurely sifting through the water with their beaks. It was a sunny day again, warm and welcoming, though the lack of actual day-star in the sky was still a little disconcerting.
"Ah, good morning, sleepy-head!" greeted Bellatrix. Her friend was sat on a fallen look while looking rather out of her depth. She had apparently unpacked the camping stove and a tank of propane to put a kettle on for morning tea. Unfortunately, she didn't quite know how to work it, but had managed to fasten and connect the tank properly, at least. Next to her stood one of the five-litre square water bottles and she had apparently decided to drink some water instead.
"Morning, Trix," Hermione yawned. "How long have I slept?"
"Almost fifteen hours," smiled Bellatrix.
"Explains why I feel very relaxed and energetic. How about I fix us some breakfast, hm?"
"Good," said Bellatrix. "I'm witch enough to admit that I can't for the life of me figure out how this muggle contraption works."
Which was probably a good thing, though Hermione didn't say that out loud. Hermione started to turn on the camping stove, when she realized something was off with the tank. "Trix?" she asked. "What happened to the safety lock on this tank?"
"Oh, the red thing?" Trix called over from her perch. "I couldn't get it to disengage, so I knocked it off with a rock."
Hermione blinked. "You… you… knocked it off…"
"With a rock!" Bellatrix added cheerfully.
Right. Hermione couldn't smell any gas, but decided not to take any chances. She put the small tank away in one of her sidepouches for disposal later and went to fetch another propane tank from her pack just to be on the safe side. The camping stove was operational a few minutes later. After putting the kettle on for tea, she decided that since she hadn't eaten the previous evening, it was time for a hearty and filling full English fry-up breakfast. Baked beans, bacon, sausages, mushrooms and tomato, all from tins. While eating rather ravenously, both girls did have a bit of a conversation between bites.
"Hm," said Hermione before taking a bite of bacon. "So explain to me how the tent got here."
"Oh," said Bellatrix, taking a bite from a sausage. "I went back to fetch it."
"You... left me here while I was sleeping?" Hermione raised an eyebrow.
"Oh, don't look at me like that," Bellatrix pouted. "I charmed you with a shield and covered you with an illusion. Besides, I sprinted for the most part and was back in little over an hour. I think it's for the best if we change our plan and bring out base-camp along instead of leaving it behind in case, you know, something like this happens again."
"Maybe you're right," shrugged Hermione. "Wait... you put me to bed?"
"I figured you earned a rest," said Bellatrix. "Oh, this realm definitely has a day-night cycle. You should see the sky at night. It's beyond gorgeous. There's a great view from the sleeping bag through the sky-light, but you slept through it all."
Hermione felt her heart skip a beat: she and Bellatrix had shared a bed last night and she had slept through it all. "Hm, sorry I missed it," said Hermione, muttering wryly.
"You'll get another chance soon enough," smiled Bellatrix.
"I'd better," Hermione spoke before she caught herself and quickly focused to devouring a particularly hearty bit of mushroom. "So, what did you eat last night?"
"Oh, this," said Bellatrix and held up an empty tin of spam. Hermione blinked. Somehow, the mental image of someone whom was basically a wizarding aristocrat used to eating delicacies from golden plates eating raw spam from a tin with a plastic spoon was deeply comical. "I don't know why you're so negative about it. It was really nice."
Truth be told, Bellatrix never ceased to amaze her.
After a hearty breakfast, the two witches broke camp and, after saying their goodbyes to the grazing borses, decided to follow the stream feeding the lake further north. The stream ran parallel to the forest and led further into the grasslands, which give them more of an opportunity to explore. There were also more fields of the red flowers, much larger than had been at the lake. The two girls wisely decided to give those a wide berth, but it limited their options somewhat.
After losing some time by walking around a particularly large, seemingly endless field of large flowers, they found the stream again and followed it further north.
Every so often, Bellatrix would put down another magic conch on a stick to serve as a beacon. All in all, there was a nice path to follow back to the exit of this Realm should they need it. They came to a location near the stream where the plant-life was noticeably larger. The flowers they encountered looked like run-of-the-mill dandelions, though they stood as tall as sunflowers, with stems as thick as mooring ropes and flowers the size of a serving table.
"Nice bit of shade," said Bellatrix, taking a sip from her canteen while sitting down. "Bit of a break?" she asked while handing the canteen over to Hermione. Hermione took a sip and agreed: the non-existent sun was bearing down on them and the weather was rather stiflingly hot midday. A bit of a rest would do her wonders. She sat down and leaned against one of the giant dandelions, wiping the sweat from her brow.
"I suggest we go to that forest tomorrow," said Bellatrix. "The canopy should give us some cover."
"Hm, sounds heavenly," replied Hermione.
Hermione closed her eyes: she was used to hiking, certainly, but this was a distinctively un-British climate. Bellatrix didn't seem to be comping much better, though she seemed to be driven by pure enthusiasm. Funny thing, really: she had never expected to be exploring a strange new alien magical land with the younger version of an insane dark witch. Such wonders the universe could hold.
Though, she supposed thinking of Trix as insane wasn't fair. Bellatrix Black wasn't Bellatrix Lestrange and should not be judged so unfairly.
She suddenly felt a weight on her head. That was odd. Did something just drop on her? Still, though the weight was there, it hadn't heard it and it wasn't falling off either.
"Uhm, Hermie..." Bellatrix started to say while Hermione looked up to see two antennae poke over the brim of her pith helmet... along with a pair of mandibles. It didn't take long for her to put two and two together, especially after she recognized the shape.
"Trix..." she hissed through clenched teeth, trying to remain as still as possible. "There's a giant wasp on my head!"
"I see it..." Bellatrix replied with a hushed whisper.
The giant wasp turned around slightly, giving Hermione a full view of its abdomen and, more disturbingly, the stinger at the end of it. A stinger the size of a butterfly knife, even while still mostly sheathed. Her body betrayed her by way of involuntary shudder. Thankfully, the wasp didn't seem to be agitated by it.
"Hold on," Bellatrix sounded, followed by the tell-tale sound of a camera snapping.
"What?!" Hermione blinked. "There's a wasp the size of a large house cat sat on my head and the first thing you do is to snap a picture of it?!"
"Well, what do you expect me to do about it?" Bellatrix shrugged.
"Get rid of it, of course!" Hermione hissed. "Just... avada kedavra it!"
Bellatrix blinked in response. "That's... a bit excessive."
"Excessive?!" Hermione balked. "You're not the one with a giant wasp sat on your head!"
The wasp was shifting again now, turning around on top of her head as if it was a turret. Meanwhile, Bellatrix drew her wand and sort of aimed it at the wasp. "Alright," said Bellatrix. "Let's see if I can lure it away with a bit of light."
Before Bellatrix could say anything else, there was a loud crack and, to Hermione's relief, the wasp was gone. The relief didn't last long, however, as the wasp was now sat on Bellatrix' head instead. So... a giant teleporting magical wasp the size of a house cat. This was just getting better and better. Bellatrix, for her part, seemed frozen but more curious than afraid.
For the first time, she got a good look at the wasp. It was indeed the size of a particularly large cat, but much resembled the yellow-jackets from home, though its adornments were more of an orange-yellow. A big set of compound eyes were on either side of a head which also sported a small set of mandables. So far, the wasp was yet to make an aggressive move, but with a stinger that size it wasn't worth the risk.
"You were saying?" Hermione hadn't meant to sound quite as smug as she did, but felt it was a deserved payback. She took out her own wand and aimed it at the insect.
"What are you doing?!" Bellatrix said without moving a muscle.
"Have you ever even cast the killing curse before?!" Bellatrix hissed. "You don't strike me as a particularly dark witch, Hermie."
"Well... no..." Hermione replied.
Bellatrix bristled. "Then don't! You'll either fail completely, fry your wand core, accidentally hit me with it, or all of the above! No killing curses if you have no experience with it! I have a better idea. Hermie, open the bag with the provisions and fetch a chocolate bar."
Hermione did so, holding it out. Bellatrix made a bit of a motion with her fingers and the chocolate bar levitated towards her. Once she had it, she gently and awkwardly undid the wrapper with one hand. Slowly, but surely, she brought it up towards her head. The wasp, now having picked up on the sugar content in the air through its merrily twitching antennae, seemed supremely interested and shifted towards it. It reached out and carefully took a bite out of the chocolate bar with its mandibles. The taste was apparently enjoyed quite much, which was what Bellatrix had been hoping for. She held the bar away from her and the wasp took off, wings buzzing. It hovered around the chocolate bar and quickly gobbled up the rest of it. After the bar was consumed, it hovered in between the two girls.
"See?" Bellatrix smiled. "He's just hungry."
"Trix!" Hermione hissed as she watched her friend reach out again. "What are you doing?"
By now, Bellatrix was patting the flying wasp on the head, gently rubbing the chitin between its eyes. "See?" Bellatrix said. "He's friendly."
Hermione mood turned towards exasperation. "Trix! It's a wasp! They lay eggs in still-living paralysed creatures! They eat caterpillars! Have you seen the size of the stinger on that thing?!"
Bellatrix raised an eyebrow. "Don't be so bigoted, Hermie. It's unbecoming."
Hermione blinked. Once. Twice. "Bigoted?! Me?! You are calling me a bigot?!" Hermione retorted, causing Bellatrix to cross her arms.
"Yes, I do, in fact," Bellatrix countered, eyes narrowed. "This creature has done nothing to us and all you've wanted to do is kill it. It hasn't attacked us. It hasn't stung us. It's hasn't made a single aggressive move. Why does it deserve to die?"
"What's next? You telling me I'm racist against wasps?!" Hermione muttered back. "It's a wasp. They are aggressive pests!"
Bellatrix' expression never changed. "It's a witch. They are irredeemably evil. They deserve to be burned at the stake."
"What's that got to do with anything?" Hermione asked, already knowing the answer to it.
"It's a mudblood," said Bellatrix. "They are wicked and untrustworthy thieves. They don't deserve to wield magic. There was a time when I held that as an unshakable truth. Hermie, you taught me to open my mind. Before I met you, I never would have willingly associated with a muggle-born."
Hermione shook her head. "Are you comparing me to a wasp?"
"That's not the point," said Bellatrix. "And you know it."
Hermione closed her eyes, now well and duly chastised. After a few deep breaths, she spoke softly. "An oak and a reed were arguing about their strength. When a strong wind came up, the reed avoided being uprooted by bending and leaning with the gusts of wind. But the oak stood firm and was torn up by the roots."
Bellatrix frowned. "What does that mean?"
"Aesop," replied Hermione after slinging her backpack to her back. "Something I'll do some catching up with once our expedition is over. Seems I can still learn from it."
"Enough of a break?" smiled Bellatrix. "We still have some ground to cover."
"Yeah," said Hermione, watching as the wasp hovered around the dandelions while the two girls went along their way.
Thankfully, the rest of the day was rather uneventful. There were no more fields of poisonous flowers, giant wasps or anything else unsavoury. The witches spent most of their time chatting as they traversed the grasslands, cataloguing and naming several more types of, thankfully benign, flowers and observing another flying creature in the distance with binoculars. Bellatrix added plenty of more photographs to her collection and by the time the light of the sun started to dim, it was time for the girls to set up camp. Tomorrow, they would explore the nearby forest.
They had dinner by the campfire. Not that a campfire was needed, but now that the non-existent sun was apparently setting, it was just a pleasant addition to their camp. And then, finally, came the moment Hermione had been dreading: her first conscious night in this realm... and spending it sharing a sleeping bag with Bellatrix. After dousing the fire, Bellatrix cleaned up the campsite and went inside. With a lump in her throat, she made her way inside only to find Bella already in the sleeping bag, looking up at the sky through the canvas skylight. Hermione washed up at the sink and exchanged her clothes for a set of pink pyjamas. Girly, she knew, but it was comfortable and she made no apologies for it.
When she emerged from the dressing area, she rushed towards the sleeping bag, only to dive into it and lay on her back, stiff as a board. Even so, she could feel Bellatrix's closeness as she lay next to her, staring up at the sky.
"How amazing is that?" said Bellatrix, referring to the light about. Stars... or whatever they were supposed to be, shone brightly in the deep purple night sky. Though it all, ribbons of green light shone among wispy strands. "Aurora Borealis in this alien world," smile Bellatrix, eyes fixed above. "Beautiful."
Hermione's gaze was not on the sky, but on the girl next to her. She couldn't help but smile when gazing upon her countenance, an expression of childlike innocence upon in. "Indeed. Beautiful," whispered Hermione.
Why was she doing this? Telling herself that it was to help herself by helping Bellatrix, but undeniable truth: she had feelings for Bellatrix. Romantic feelings. Hermione was open-minded enough not to be shocked by being romantically attracted to a girl.
'Say it for what it is, Hermione.'
She was in love with Trix.
Perhaps she had been ever since Bellatrix mentioned she had dallied with girls in the past. Perhaps learning that little fact got the ball rolling. Part of her yearned to confess her feelings for her, but... she wasn't sure how Bellatrix would react. Certainly, she seemed to be more accepting for muggle-borns now, but friendship and romantic relationships were two very different things. Worse yet, it might impede her attempts to save Bellatrix from becoming her future self.
So for now she would keep her feelings to herself and gazed upon the sky. A day of walking had tired her out enough to quickly slip into mires of sleep. Unfortunately, sleep decided not to be kind of Hermione.
Hermione was once again on the cold floor of Malfoy Manor, a heavy weight shifting on top of her. Bellatrix Lestrange, her face twisted in a frightening mask of abject rage, lowered her head to scream in her ear. "FILTH! LIAR!" she shrieked, causing Hermione to attempt to shy away from her. Apparently, Bellatrix found this amusing, and made a point of it grab a fist-full of hair and slam the side of her head into the hard tiles.
Pain exploded through her skull, the sudden move leaving her more than a little dazed. Hermione cowered underneath the wicked woman's terrifying form. "Tell me... TELL ME! WHEN DID YOU TAKE IT?! WHEN WERE YOU IN MY VAULT?!"
"I never was!" Hermione felt tears run over her cheeks. "Please... please, I didn't take anything."
Hermione screamed as the woman literally bent down to take a bite onto the nape of her neck. "Please... please... don't hurt me anymore," Hermione cried.
Apparently, the begging amused Bellatrix enough to let out a fierce cackle. "Oh, it'll end. But not before I get my answers. And not before you scream so hard your vocal chords will tear. Filthy, filthy little mudgirl. You think you can walk among your betters, strut around thinking you are our EQUAL?!"
"Please... I haven't done anything to you!" Hermione trembled when the cold blade of a knife was dragged over the soft skin of her cheek.
"Hm," Bellatrix chuckled. "I wonder how many bits I can cut off your body before you'll faint. I'm guessing four. Shall we find out together, hm?"
Hermione had never felt so terrified. So helpless. This wasn't something she could reason herself out of. This wasn't a problem she could solve with her smarts. This woman was relentless and merciless.
"Oh!" Bellatrix giggled like a little schoolgirl. "I have such a lovely idea!"
Hermione felt Bellatrix roll up her sleeve and once the tip of the blade carved through her flesh, she could do nothing else but to close her eyes and scream through the blinding pain.
"Hermione?" sounded in the darkness. "Hermione!"
The voice of Bellatrix Lestrange and faded into that of the younger Bellatrix Black. Malice giving way for concern and worry. Hermione's eyes shot open and found herself drenched in sweat while staring up at the alien sky through the canvas skylight above, intensely colourful even at night. She was... not in Malfoy Manor: she was in pyjamas in the big sleeping bag she shared with... with...
Bellatrix's much younger face hovered over her, her expression in stark contrast to that of her older self Full dark curls fell down the side of her head. The girl, also clad in her own sleepwear, gently lay her hands on Hermione's cheeks. "You were having a nightmare," said Bellatrix. "You were screaming."
Hermione fought to keep her breathing under control, panting as she tried to push the nightmare far into the back of her mind. "Trix..." Hermione muttered. "I... I'm sorry I woke you, I... Just a dream. It's nothing."
"Didn't sound like it was nothing," Bellatrix pursed her lips. "You were screaming for someone to stop hurting you."
Hermione sighed. "You're right," she replied softly, sitting up while Bellatrix starting running a hand through her brown hair. "It wasn't 'nothing', I... that person can't hurt me anymore. Ever."
"Good," replied Bellatrix, her expression one of determination. "Because if anyone or anything even thinks about hurting you, they're going to have to get through me first!"
Hermione regarded the seventeen-year old Bellatrix. Though the girl whom had become one of her closest friends had her moments of fool-hardy bravado, this was not one of it. From her expression, Hermione was certain that she had meant every single word.
"Trix," Hermione smiled warmly and gently flowed into the other girl's arms, embracing her tightly. The embrace was soon returned, with Bellatrix parking her chin on her shoulder and snaking her arms around her back.
At that very moment, Hermione felt more safe than she had ever felt before. She trusted Trix as much as she hated the woman she could potentially become. She felt ever more determined to try to prevent that from ever happening.
"I'll save you," Hermione whispered softly.
"What?" Trix frowned and let go of Hermione to look her in the eye. "That doesn't make any sense at all. I thought I was comforting you."
"I was just saying," Hermione replied. "That I'd do the same for you."
Bellatrix smiled briefly. "Well. I don't feel like sleeping much at the moment. How about we just watch the stars for a bit. Or, well, whatever passes for stars in this strange realm."
After some moments of chatting and watching the stars together, Hermione had calmed down enough to try to catch more winks. Only to wake up again in a tent barely illuminated by starlight above. By now, Hermione had gotten over her initial fear and embarrassment over sharing a sleeping bag with Bellatrix, especially after what had happened earlier in the night. Apparently, it was around two-thirty in the morning... according to her watch at least. This Fae Realm did have a tendency to mess with her sense of time, after all. Still, this was the time she usually got up to make her trek into the Forbidden Forest to talk to Trix for the past few months, so it was no surprise her body was still used to that pattern.
More to the point, Bellatrix still lay sleeping next to her, on her side and head smushed against the pillow. She looked so... peaceful. So innocent.
Hermione supposed that everyone had the potential to become a monster under the right circumstances, but if there was one thing she had learned, was that monsters were once perfectly normal, well-adjusted people.
Well... in case of Trix, mostly normal and mostly well-adjusted, when looking at her from a certain angle.
And right now, Hermione was definitely looking at Bellatrix from a certain angle. She was sleeping, right? What was the harm? And, well, it was Bellatrix whom had suggested the two of them would share a sleeping bag. It'd be hard not to look, wouldn't it? And look she did.
Carefully and quietly, Hermione lifted the top of the sleeping bag ever so slightly, letting enough light in to sneak a peak. Unlike her own pyjamas, Trix had decided to sleep in a top and shorts, giving Hermione an excellent glimpse of her toned legs: the legs of a Quidditch chaser. Hermione swallowed hard as her eyes followed every curve. Bellatrix was a combination of brains and brawn. Funny really, earlier this night she had been too upset to notice, but now? Bellatrix was given all of Hermione's undivided and lustful attention.
Seriously, Trix really was good at everything she did... well, except for social situations, Hermione supposed.
Eyes roved further to her belly and her abs. And her chest. Oh dear god and what a chest it was. Rising and falling slowly with every rhythmic breath. Hermione felt her own breath quickening, her cheeks reddening and her body tingling. Trix' breasts were a tad bigger than her own, which caused her a slight pang of jealousy.
And then, finally, her face. Her strong jawline, her curly mane and her intense countenance. God, even while sleeping, young Bellatrix had such an unbelievably strong presence. It was no wonder that Voldemort had wanted to recruit her for the Death Eaters and considered her such a valuable asset.
Well, not if Hermione could help it. Trix was her friend. And Hermione was going to make damn such that Voldemort wouldn't get his claws inside her head.
No, Hermione wanted Bellatrix all to herself. All of Trix. All to herself. Every bit of her.
Immediately, Hermione paused. That was on odd thought to have. Where did that come from? Still, she had to admit the attraction was undeniable at this point. All those feelings soaring through her she had yet to make sense of.
She dared a touch. Gently, slowly and methodically, Hermione slowly raised her arm and reached towards Trix. Slowly, ever so slowly, her fingers reached for curly dark hair. And with the tips of her fingers kissed silky softness, she gently started stroking back and forth.
God, so soft.
The tips of her fingers buried ever deeply into a silky soft ocean of curls.
"Hmmm," sounded from Bellatrix, a smile spreading on her face while her eyes were still closed. Her friend shifted a little closer to her. Then, all of a sudden, Hermione gasped when her friend's eyes fluttered open and Hermione literally felt like she had been caught with her hand in the till. Even for a sleep drunk Bellatrix, it was hard to miss that Hermione had her hand in her curly hair.
Thankfully, Bellatrix wasn't angry or repulsed, but merely smiled.
"Sorry, I..." A blushing Hermione started to say, but Bellatrix chuckled.
"It's alright," Bellatrix replied softly, but shifted a little closer to her, startling Hermione when she raised her own hand.
"Quid pro quo. It's only fair," Bellatrix smirked when she noticed Hermione's discomfort and reached out her hand, far less slowly and carefully than Hermione had. A shudder went through Hermione when she felt fingertips sliding through her hair. Back and forth, back and forth. Once again, Hermione's breath quickened, especially when Trix's smirk transformed into a soft smile.
Her hand stopped her stroking motion, only to rest her palm on Hermione's cheek and gently rubbed the skin with her thumb. Again, Hermione blushed profusely as wicked thoughts once again made her way through her lust-fogged brain. Bellatrix shifted a little closer to her. Was she... Was she going to?
For a moment, Bellatrix looked very unsure of herself. Dark eyes spread wide open. Searching. Questioning. Doubting.
Then, determination. A slight smirk. A slight tilt of her head. A slight but sure shift towards her.
Was she… going to kiss her?! Sweet merciful god, Trix was actually going to kiss her!
Hermione whimpered slightly, closing her eyes and preparing herself mentally for something she had only dared to dream been about for weeks.
But instead of Bellatrix' soft lips on hers, there was... the sound of buzzing and a slight weight dropping on her side. When she opened her eyes, she was confronted with the sight of a giant wasp walking over their sleeping bag.
"AH!" Hermione exclaimed and shifted away from Bellatrix, all sense of romance now completely ebbed away.
"Oh!" sounded Bellatrix, a bit more cheerful. "Our friend's back!"
The romantic moment now well and truly lost, Hermione rolled her eyes, curling up her body while the curious wasp was seemingly exploring the outside of their sleeping bag. "Wonderful," she sighed with a sarcastic edge on her tone of voice. "Did he teleport inside?"
"No," said Bellatrix. "The canvas is enchanted with an anti-apparition charm. Standard security, really. Hm..."
Bellatrix pointed towards the doorflap and, following her gaze, Hermione could notice that the bottom half of the doorflap was parted. "Hah," laughed Bellatrix. "He must have figured out how to work the zipper. You're very clever, aren't you?"
Hermione didn't know what was more disturbing... the fact that a giant wasp had managed to zip open the tent to crawl inside or that Bellatrix was cooing over a giant wasp while it was merrily play-biting at Trix' wrist with his mandibles.
No, scratch that. The most disturbing thought what that she could have been snogging Bellatrix right now if it hadn't been for that goddamn wasp interrupting them!