Despite a moment of sheer panic in the night, Hermione did sleep quite well next to Bellatrix in the sleeping bag, as did her friend. The next day, however, their almost kiss wasn't a topic either girl were ready to discuss and they had their breakfast in relative awkward silence, broken only by the sound of a curious wasp buzzing and teleporting around as he checked out all the different types of camping equipment with surprising amounts of curiosity.
After breaking camp and setting off, the two witches found themselves standing at the edge of the forest scant fifteen minutes later. As this land was not travelled, there were no paths. They would literally be the first humans to enter this place. Still, there were some signs of habitation: a series of hoof-prints led into the forest as it seemed some of the animals of the grasslands sometimes entered the forest by this route. The trees itself looked pretty much like regular trees, even if their leaves were so green it almost seemed as if they would give off neon light at night. The trees were densely packed together, bathing the forest in a dusk-like darkness underneath a thick canopy high above.
"Ready for more adventure?" Bellatrix asked with a smirk.
"Ready to traverse a cool forest," said Hermione, wiping the sweat off her brow. "Especially after those devilishly hot grass-plains."
Meanwhile, the wasp had, of course, been following them, merrily buzzing along with Hermione eyeing it warily. Until it became clear to the wasp that they were going to enter the forest. From that point, the wasp seemed to get a bit agitated and started hovering in front of them.
Getting a bit miffed at this buzzing annoyance now hovering in between her and the coolness of the forest, Hermione swatted at it with her hand. "What's up with that thing?!" Hermione muttered, swatting at it again.
"Huh," replied Bellatrix. "If I didn't know any better, it almost seems as if he doesn't want us to go into the forest."
"It probably just wants to eat more of our chocolate," Hermione crossed her arms. "Especially after a certain someone has been feeding it. There's only a finite amount of chocolate I brought, Trix."
Bellatrix shrugged. "We have enough."
"That's no excuse to feed three of our precious chocolate bars to a giant wasp!" Hermione protested. "You're only encouraging it to hang around us."
Bellatrix gave her a slight grin and reached over to tap her on the nose with her index-finger. "I think you're just covering for your nasty chocolate habit. Just... say... no..."
Hermione huffed. "Oh, shut up! Chocolate for breakfast gives a good energy boost on a hot day!" she added, earning herself a giggle from Bellatrix. Together, the two of them brushed past the hovering wasp and entered the forest. Looking over her shoulder, Hermione was surprised to see that the wasp wasn't following them. It kept hovering just outside the treeline, giving the both of them what seemed to be a rather forlorn look. If Hermione didn't know any better, at least.
The wasp was quickly forgotten when Hermione enjoyed the coolness of the forest, in stark contrast to the grasslands. Bellatrix walked next to her, big smile on her face as she took more steps towards the unknown: it only endeared her further to Hermione. Meanwhile, the young witch took in more of the atmosphere of the forest, the chirping of birds and crickets... well, she assumed they were birds and crickets, but couldn't be sure, of course. What did strike her was just how dense and dark this forest was. There was some sunlight breaking through the canopy far, far above their heads, but down here among the broad tree-trunks, it was almost as dark as it would be in the evenings. It certainly went a long way to explain why there was so little underbrush.
Bellatrix did complain about a lack of proper lighting to take photographs in, but that was a minor complaint. After about two hours of walking, they came to what seemed a be a clearing. A large tree had fallen and had dragged a few of his neighbours down with it, causing a bit of a break in the canopy. It was a perfect place to set up camp, which the girls did. After having a cup of tea inside the tent, both girls studied the map and decided on a direction to walk in. Unlike in the grasslands, they had no landmarks to rely upon, so a compass became their lifeline.
Hermione was left inside the tent and had just come out of the bathroom. After washing her hands, she stepped into the larger sitting area of the tent again and froze. After first she didn't know what to make of the large shadow cast against the side of the tent. It was almost two meters high and four meters long, but distorted in such a matter that she could not make out what it was. The shadow moved slowly along the canvas of the tent and it disappeared. Hermione waited for it to appear again, but it did not.
Curious, she stepped outside the tent where she found Bellatrix humming a song while rummaging through her pack. Hermione made a walk around the tent to see what she could see. There were the rows of trees surrounding the clearing, as well as the fallen tree trunks and the dead branches sticking out. There was the opening of the canopy above, of course, and the lightfall might have cast some strange shadows upon the tent.
She walked back to the front end and saw that Trix had found what she'd been looking for: another conch on a stick, which she promptly stuck in the ground. Another beacon to light their way home and in this thick forest, they would undoubtedly need it.
"Trix," Hermione asked. "Did you see something odd?"
"Yeah," Bellatrix laughed. "This entire forest. This entire realm. You have to be a bit more specific, Hermie."
"No, I meant something just now," said Hermione. "Did something pass the campsite?"
"I think I would have noticed," replied Bellatrix. "Didn't see a thing."
"Huh," Hermione rubbed her chin. "Maybe it's just me, then."
"Ready for more discovery?!" Bellatrix grinned.
Hermione grinned in response: Bellatrix' sheer enthusiasm was more than a little infectious and she walked beside her as they made their way deeper into the forest. Today was day four of their two week expedition and Hermione reminded herself that she was yet to think of a strategy to 'break the cycle' as Achille Rosier had told her to do. How would she even go about it? She did have one idea, though. This idea was to break the cycle by convincing Bellatrix to join her in her own time-line. If she wasn't around in 1968 to join the Death Eaters, she obviously never would. And if the Fae Realm really existed out of time, she could break the time-loop without consequence... or so she hoped.
The key to this plan was to convince Bellatrix to join her. But how to do it? Facts and logic might help: she couldn't marry Lestrange if she were to leave her time-line. The argument of potentially escaping her loveless arranged marriage her worked well enough when Dumbledore had recruited her as a spy so it might be enough to convince her again.
Or, she could simply tell her the truth: 'if you go back to 1968, you will become the insane servant of a cult leader who will make you do horrible things. Come with me to 1998 and claim a future free of him'. Perhaps that would be the best scenario. But she didn't know how she'd respond.
Or, she could simply say. 'I love you, Bella. And I think you love me too. Come with me. Be with me in 1998'. Though the thought of confessing her love to Bellatrix made her a little weak in the knees, she was savvy enough to realize that it might actually end up pushing Bellatrix away if it turned out she wasn't interested after all.
Alternatively, she might just knock her out and drag her into 1998 against her will. But she knew for certain that Bellatrix would likely never forgive her and that if it ever came to a one-on-one confrontation between them, she was unlikely to win a duel with Bellatrix... and then she'd lose her forever. No. That wouldn't do.
She'd have to strategize a bit more. Perhaps an opportunity would yet present itself.
"Look there, between the trees," Bellatrix pointed out. "There's light up ahead."
"Hm," said Hermione. "Have we reached the other side of the forest already? Let's investigate."
They approached the edge of the forest and stepped out into the sunlight, only to find themselves quite literally at the edge of the world. In front of them was a rocky edge and beyond that, a steep drop into nothingness. Near the edge were a few more smaller floating rocks. "Whoa," said Bellatrix, her gaze following the edge to either side. It followed along the forest for as far as the eye could see, making a bit of a bend to the side much further along. On the other side, they could see a bit of a grasslands where a similar rocky edge ended the world.
"Whoa indeed," said Hermione. "More confirmation that we are standing on yet another one of those floating islands like the one above."
"You think this world consists entirely of floating islands?" Bellatrix asked.
"Well, I don't think this is a flat planet," Hermione replied. "Though I know a few muggles who would be really happy to have their flat-Earth theory confirmed somewhat."
"Wait, what?" frowned Bellatrix. "Muggles actually believe the Earth is flat?"
"Some muggles," Hermione stressed. "And by some I mean a tiny minority. Whom are mostly ignored and considered quite barmy by the general populace," she was quick to say. The last thing she needed was to give Bellatrix more ammunition to look down on muggles.
They wandered along the edge of the floating island for a bit until they came to a large hole in the rocky side, looking much like a pool or a lake, but instead of water, it contained nothingness. Keeping a respectable distance, Bellatrix peered into it.
"I seems to go on forever. I wonder what happens to anything that falls into this."
"Careful," said Hermione. "I'm not sure you want to find out."
The curly-haired witch picked up a stone and dropped it into the void. It started falling. And falling. And falling. Eventually, Bellatrix took out her binoculars and followed it. "I can't see it anymore. I think it's still falling, though."
Somehow gazing into the void started to make Hermione feel a bit uncomfortable, especially now that she knew it was also below her. "Could we go back into the forest, please?"
Bellatrix smiled at her, apparently sensing her discomfort. "Sure," she said. "Let me just snap a few photographs first."
Hermione waited patiently as her friend did so and was beyond relieved when they returned to the forest. They walked through the dense trees once more until they heard the rush of water in the distance. It was revealed to be a small clear stream not unlike the one they had seen in the grasslands. They followed it and, to their delight, found the most idyllic of scenes. Inside what seemed to be a gathering of vines and trees was a rocky drop-off: a waterfall pouring down into a basin from which the stream continued on its way. A cool, refreshing pool of water formed underneath the waterfall. Above them there was another opening in the canopy, bathing the fresh and clear pool with radiant sunlight.
"Wow," said Hermione while Bellatrix snapped a few more pictures before putting down her camera.
"Hey, Hermie," grinned Bellatrix. A rather wicked grin. "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?"
"With you I can never tell," chuckled Hermione, earning herself a stuck-out tongue from Bellatrix. But when Hermione saw that Bellatrix was starting to unbutton her jacket, she froze. "Trix," she bit her lip. "What are you doing?"
A smirk. A wink. "What do you think?"
Hermione felt all the blood rush towards her cheeks when she realized what Bellatrix was about to do. God. Was she really... A jacket fell to the ground, next to her backpack. A pair of boots followed. Hermione had to look away when trousers and, eventually, underwear joined the pile. She only dared to peek after hearing a splash.
Hermione swallowed hard and looked back to the basin, where a rather playful Bellatrix was swimming in the water. The water might be clear, but it was not clear enough to show anything but the contours of Bellatrix's body which was both a blessing and a curse. "Come on in!" Bellatrix giggled. "Hermie, the water is great!"
Hermione started shaking her head vigorously.
"Oh, yellow chicken!" Bellatrix yellowed back, bobbing up and down in the water. Good god, the only thing she was wearing was that silver necklace of hers. Hermione was so torn between desperately not wanting to look and desperately wanting to gaze upon what would undoubtedly be Bellatrix's magnificent body. "Come on! Who's gonna know?!"
"I will!" Hermione retorted. "And you will!"
And finally, Hermione did dare to look. And when she looked, she found that Bellatrix was standing underneath the waterfall. Like a siren of old, she let the water fall upon her, throwing her head back and letting out a hearty laugh. "This place is beautiful!" she let out a yelp when she almost slipped and steaded herself by putting her hands on the rock-face.
Hermione let her eyes rove over her pale skin, following the curves of her body. "You're beautiful," she whispered, almost inaudibly.
"What?!" Trix yelled out over the sounds of the falling water.
By now, Hermione's breathing had gone a bit shallow, her hands were trembling a bit and her loins, god, her loins were on fire. Lust gave her courage it seems. "Sod it, I'm getting in that pool," muttered Hermione and started to unbutton her own jacket. A splash of water sounded again, and judging from the sounds Bellatrix was swimming over to her. Immediately, her courage faltered again, but it was too late to turn back now. Her jacket ended up on the pile of clothes.
"Ahah!" Bellatrix let out a sultry chuckle. Oh dear god... sultry?!
However, when Bellatrix got a little closer, she seemed to go a little quiet. Just as Hermione was about to ask what was wrong, she turned her gaze from the magnificent sight of her friend's exposed breasts until she saw that Bellatrix was transfixed on her forearm.
"Trix?" Hermione asked.
"Who... who did that to you?!" Bellatrix demanded, her voice one of sheer indignation. Then she realized what Bellatrix meant: the word 'mudblood' had been crudely carved into her flesh and had left an ugly cursed scar behind. Of course, Bellatrix had never seen it as Hermione had only ever worn long sleeved jackets or pyjamas around her. Bellatrix's eyes were transfixed on the scar and she suddenly lashed out to grab her wrist with surprising gentleness, after which she let her eyes rove over the scar in an intense study.
"This... this is a cursed wound!" Bellatrix exclaimed. "It'll never go away!"
Hermione closed her eyes. "It happened... during the war. I was captured. My captor wanted to make a statement," she said, omitting one vital detail.
Bellatrix turned her gaze upon her, lip trembling with rage. "Hermie. This... this is vile!" she spat in anger and condemnation. "I know I might have done some awful things to muggle-borns and others in the past, but I've never done any permanent damage! I never would! The person who did this..."
Hermione cast her eyes downward. "She'll... she'll never hurt anyone ever again."
"GOOD!" Bellatrix replied. "I can't imagine doing something like this in a million years! Hermione, I... I'm so sorry someone did that to you."
And that was it. Two things happened to Hermione in that very moment. For months, Hermione felt like she had been on the slow decline, having been plagued with nightmares and trauma. But hearing Bellatrix's condemnation and apology for an injustice she had yet to do to her and, in all likelihood, would never do to her, caused a great weight to fall off her shoulders. The second thing was that the younger Bellatrix had confirmed to her beyond a shadow of a doubt that she was indeed a very different person than the one she would eventually become. Her body started to shake as tears started to rolling over her cheeks.
"Hermie?" Bellatrix asked. "Are you alright?"
"I'm fine," Hermione laughed through her tears. "I've never been better."
"Doesn't look like it," Bellatrix adopted a pouty expression. Add that expression to her being naked in a pool on an alien world made her the cutest thing ever.
Hermione knew what tactic she was going to use: she was going to tell Bellatrix that she loved her. After what had just happened, she couldn't tell her anything else.
She was emboldened enough by this turn of events that she was quick to shed the rest of her clothes and ended up in the pool very quickly after that. The water was cold, but refreshing and it had been a long time since she had taken a swim. No longer minding being naked in close proximity to an equally naked Bellatrix, a warm and fuzzy feeling was accompanying the lust still soaring through her body. She was treading water while Bellatrix swam over to her. Hermione quickly dipped her head into the pool, running her hands through her hair while Bellatrix offered her a smile so warm and sultry that it made her lusts burn at a full blaze once more.
"Are you sure you're alright?" Bellatrix asked again. Both girls were facing each other now, shoulders just above the waterline.
Hermione said nothing. Instead, she slowly reached out with her hand to gently wipe a lock of curly black hair from Bellatrix's cheek. Then, she lay the palm of her hand on her cheek and gently rubbed her cheek-bone with her thumb. God, her skin was so soft.
But what even better was that Bellatrix's pale skin showed a distinct reddish discolouration in her cheeks. Was... was she blushing?! Hermione took another look and could only conclude that indeed she was.
Their eyes met. Brown stared into dark and vice versa. Hermione felt a shudder go through her body when she felt a hand graze her side while Bellatrix floated towards her. Their bodies were so close now they were almost pressing together, while Bellatrix' other hand found a perch on her shoulder and gently rubbed back and forth. For a moment, Bellatrix adopted a stony expression, which quickly transformed into a cheeky smirk which seemed to be telling her 'Hermione, I'm absolutely going to kiss you now.'
Hermione had no idea what her own expression was telling Bellatrix right now, but she was reasonably sure it was something along the lines of 'Trix, if you don't kiss me within the next ten seconds, I'm going to hex your tits off!'
Bellatrix tilted her head slowly while closing her eyes. It was coming. It was happening! Hermione closed her eyes and eagerly awaited lips on hers.
And then. Nothing.
In fact, a disappointed groan followed when she heard a splash and felt a rush of water indicating that Bellatrix had swam away. She opened her eyes and was about to give Bellatrix a piece of her mind for being such a horrible tease when she saw Bellatrix had stood up near the edge of the pool, a few meters away, the waterline coming to her belly-button. Hermione, eyes transfixed on her friend's body, drank in the sight of her: water-droplets running down her pale skin, the slight musculature on her arms, her wet curls as they clung to her back, the loveliest of breasts with nipples slightly hardened from the coldness of the water. She watched Bellatrix with an equal mix of shame, arousal and awe. But when her gaze finally shifted from a lovely pair of breasts to Bellatrix's face, Hermione froze.
Bellatrix's stony expression was one of concern as her gaze betrayed an intense study of the dark forest beyond.
"Hermione," said Bellatrix in a hushed voice, not looking at her but making a hand-gesture at her to remain quiet. "Do you hear that?"
"I don't hear anything," replied Hermione.
"Exactly," Bellatrix hissed.
And then Hermione noticed it too. It was almost hard to notice over the sound of the waterfall, but when she noticed it, she froze: the forest had good completely quiet. No bird. No insect. Not even the wind. All Hermione could hear were the subtle sounds of the waterfall and the beating of their own hearts.
"There's something out there," Bellatrix whispered. "And we've been making far too much noise."
"Something's out there?" Hermione asked. "What is out there?"
"Something that's been stalking us. And clever enough to figure out when we're most vulnerable," Bellatrix hissed.
Hermione nodded. Vulnerable as in out of their clothes and backed up into a grove with only one real exit.
"We need to get out of this forest as quickly as possible," Bellatrix said while slipping out of the water and making a grab for her clothes. "Get back to camp, pack our stuff and bug out."
Hermione followed suit, making a grab for the towel. "Leave it!" said Bellatrix, taking charge of the situation. "Just get dressed and get going! I've read enough horror stories to know how this'll play out. Hell, I've written about this particular scenario before!"
Together, the two young witches ran through the forest trying to make as little noise as possible. Bellatrix had her wand out, pinging the conch-beacon at their camp every so often to make sure they were still headed in the right direction. Hermione still heard or sensed nothing, but she did notice that Bellatrix was getting increasingly tense and nervous. Perhaps that could be because she was more attuned to dark magic? Or perhaps it simply was that this was basically something that only happened in horror stories?
There was a sigh of relief as they saw the light beyond the trees which led towards the clearing and their camp. They had to gather their belongings quickly and then make their way to the other beacon just outside the forest. Relief, however, quickly transformed into terror. A large shadow jumped from the trees and slammed its bulk in front of them, cutting off their route to the camp.
No. Not a shadow.
It was the black unicorn. Though calling it a unicorn would be a bit of a stretch, as this lumbering thing in front of them was only resembled a horse in the vaguest possible terms. Its skin was as black as coal, its eyes as blue as ice: six baleful eyes, three clustered together on each side of its head all focused upon them. The creature had the vague profile of a horse, but it was much, much larger. A scarred, muscular frame and thick legs, befitting the ancient and massive apex predator which it obviously was, instead of hooves it had sharp talons at the end of its legs. In the middle of its head was a large curved, blood-stained and serrated horn, at least 90 centimeters long, accentuated by a fiery red mane. A horn now aimed squarely towards them. Worst came when the creature opened its maw: its jaw stretch open far into its neck, much further than a maw should be able to open. Inside were multiple rows of jagged teeth. Most horrifying was the massive bellow it let out: the unholy mix of a horse's whinny and a lion's roar.
"Run!" Bellatrix shouted as she and Hermione skidded to a halt and turned as quickly as they could, dashing off back the way they came. Behind them, the ground shook as the creature started to give chase, its massive bulk navigating the dark forest which obviously was its home with disturbing ease. Both witches drew wands and tossed spells over their shoulders blindly, hoping beyond hope that one of them would manage to hit the creature and do some damage to slow it down. Neither of them dared to look back, but both knew it was futile to blind-fire at that thing.
Panic gripped Hermione by the throat as she suddenly felt herself being lifted into the air and let out a scream... but the expected agonizing end of being crushed in that monster's jaws thankfully never came. Instead, she found herself being hoisted up into the air by an invisible hand which deposited her high into a tree ahead of them. A few moments later, there was a pop of an apparation as Bellatrix appeared beside her. The moment Hermione realized what had happened, she allowed herself to breathe a sigh of relief.
Next to her, a panting Bellatrix checked herself. Upon receiving a questioning look, Bellatrix bit her lip. " Apparating while in a panicked hurry is a good way to get a branch stuck up your arse."
Hermione nodded and looked down. Far below, some eight meters down, the now frustrated monster started to pace circles around the tree. "You think it'll leave if we wait long enough?" Hermione asked in between breaths.
"No," Bellatrix shook her head. "Absolutely not."
"Could we apparate back to camp?"
"We've got the determination," said Bellatrix. "But not the deliberation. And certainly not the destination. Do you know where the camp is from here?"
"No," Hermione sighed, knowing that if they were to try they would likely end up somewhere in the middle of the forest where the creature still had all the advantage.
"What about the killing curse?"
"What about it?"
"Do you think it could work on it, Trix?"
"Why do you keep thinking that I actually ever cast the killing curse?!" Bellatrix hissed angrily. "I've dabbled in the Dark Arts, sure, but I've never touched an unforgivable! There's more to dark magic than the killing curse! For Merlin's sake, stop being so judgmental!"
"Right, right, sorry I asked," said Hermione, feeling a bit embarrassed.
Below them, the creature bellowed, but not in frustration. It almost sounded like a mocking tone. It knew it had them. It knew they could not escape.
Next to her, she suddenly heard the snap of a camera along with the tell-tale flash of light. Slowly, Hermione turned her head to Bellatrix. "Trix?" she muttered, her voice low and accusing. "Seriously?!"
Bellatrix shrugged, still holding on to the camera. "What? When will I get another chance?"
Below them, however, there was an angry and anguished bellow, following up by some more thundering as the creature started pacing again.
"Hey, did you see that?" said Bellatrix. "It didn't like the flash."
"Hm," muttered Hermione. "With six eyes, that's not exactly surprising."
Apparently, the creature was enraged enough to run a few meters back, only to jump forward and hurl itself right into the tree. The entire tree shook while Hermione yelped when she hung on for dear life. Below them, the creature was either to trying to knock them out of the tree or trying to bring the whole tree down to get at them. She supposed it didn't matter which.
"We need to do something and fast!" Hermione pressed.
"Got an idea," Bellatrix grinned. "Get ready. And cover your eyes!"
Before Hermione could even ask what Bellatrix was going to do, the curly-haired witch was already doing whatever she was planning. Her curved wand aimed downward, from the tip started to glow a bright light. As Bellatrix whispered words of a spell she didn't recognize, the ball of light started to grow larger and brighter, becoming more and more unstable. Hermione did what she was told and covered her eyes.
She only heard, not saw, what happened next. A whoosh of released magic, an explosion below, a flash that was brief and almost blinding even through her covered eyes. An agonized bellow sounded. Hermione was grabbed by the wrist and felt like she was being forced through a rubber tube. She landed on her two feet and was so disorientated that she almost fell over when Bellatrix grabbed her by the wrist and started dragging her along.
The two witches ran into the forest, trying to put as much distance between them and the monster as possible. Indeed, the anguished bellows sounded further and further away as they ran, but she knew it would be looking for them.
The two girls collapsed when their legs couldn't carry them anymore, slumping against the trunk of a tree to catch their breath. "Okay," Hermione panted. "That was quick thinking."
"Now what?" Bellatrix said.
"We need to get to the camp," said Hermione. "All our supplies are there."
Bellatrix motioned her to be quiet and scanned the forest. "I don't hear it. Or sense it."
"You didn't sense it?" said Bellatrix. "I felt his thoughts from a distance. I'm not as good as legilimency as I'd like, but that creature's intentions were hard to miss. It's smarter than it looks, Hermie. Way smarter than it looks."
Legilimency. Of course. Bellatrix Lestrange's skill with it was legendary. Bellatrix Black, on the other hand, was not quite as practised, it seemed. She reminded herself to guard her thoughts somewhat.
"I've never been good at legilimency," chuckled Hermione.
"It and occlumency are basically required skills in Slytherin," said Bellatrix, her voice a whisper. "Though I have always been far better at occlumency. Trust me, that's the better skill to have anyway."
Swiftly and quietly, the girls tried to make their way back to camp. If Hermione had been a religious woman, she'd thank God on her bare knees that Bellatrix had brought those magical conch-beacons. Every tree in this damn forest looked alike and they had ran in a seemingly random direction. Bellatrix's wand found the beacon and the girls headed in the direction it pointed as quietly as possible. Curiously, the path back to the camp seemed a bit on the long side, but then again they had no idea how long they had been on the run.
More disturbing, however, was that they hadn't heard the creature in quite a bit and the forest once again had gotten eerily quiet. Once they got to the camp, they'd pack up their goods, get their packs and get the hell out of the forest, hoping against hope that the creature wouldn't follow them into the grasslands.
"Look!" Bellatrix whispered at the light between the trees while holding her wand. "There's the clearing!"
The two girls smiled at each other as they quietly but quickly rushed forward. Only the didn't find themselves in the clearing, but rather at the edge of the forest, now suddenly facing the void beyond the confines of the floating island.
"What?!" Bellatrix hissed. "How did we end up here?! We followed the beacon!"
Hermione closed her eyes and let out a horrified shudder while slowly raising her hand towards a large rock at the very edge of the plateau. On top of it lay the uprooted conch-beacon which had once stood in front of their tent.
Almost immediately, there was the sound of heavy footfalls coming from behind them as the black unicorn emerged from the forest. And by god, it even looked more terrifying out in the daylight. Tall and muscular, this creature of nightmares was the undisputed king of the Fae Realm. Muscle rippled underneath scarred skin as it let out a whinnying bellow, almost sounding like laughter.
Indeed, not only was it smarter than it looked, it was cruel as well. It was mocking them after having toyed with them.
The King had a craving for exotic meat... and witch was apparently on the menu.
"Right," Bellatrix steeled herself, wand in hand. "Hermie, it can't be in two places at once. You run towards the grasslands, just follow the edge of the forest. Don't stop and never look back. I'll lure it away from you and give it a merry chase."
"Don't be stupid! You can't outrun that thing!" Hermione pressed. "What if it catches you?!"
Bellatrix squared her jaw. "Then I hope I'll give it the shits!"
"That's not funny, Trix!" Hermione shot back.
"IT WASN'T MEANT TO BE!" Bellatrix shrieked back. "Go, Hermie. Be ready."
Bellatrix grinned at the advancing creature. It knew it had them. Or at least one of them. It was taking its time. But Bellatrix was not someone whom would go down lightly. Hermione could feel the air charge with magic as Bellatrix was going to use every spell and skill she had in an attempt to survive. "Smile, you son of a bitch," Bellatrix snarled at it. "You and I going to have some fun."
Oh, she tried to hide it, but Hermione could hear on her voice just how scared Trix was.
Then it hit her.
'Smile, you son of a bitch', sounded through her mind and it gave her an idea. For once, all those Sundays spent watching crap films with her father was good something more than simple family entertainment. If only she still had it in her sidepack...
The creature was really getting closer now and if she wanted to execute her plan, she would need a distraction. Thankfully one came from an unexpected source: the sound of angry buzzing drew closer and a few moments later, their giant wasp friend came rushing in to help. When flying towards the creature, the wasp used its momentum and pointed its abdomen downward, stinger fully unsheathed. It plunged into the black unicorn's side, causing the creature to bellow and snap angrily at the buzzing wasp, whom immediately withdrew only turn and attack again.
This was the moment Hermione needed. While the creature was distracted, she rummaged through her sidepack and took out one of the small propane tanks meant for their camp's cooking stove. It was the one where Bellatrix had rather foolishly tried to open by slamming a rock against the safety pin. Though it wasn't leaking it seemed, Hermione didn't deem it safe for normal use anymore. So now she would use it for something else entirely.
"HEY!" Hermione shouted, holding the propane tank high. When the creature turned, Hermione threw it into the hair and then magically propelled it towards the black unicorn. Almost on instinct, the black unicorn bit down upon the tank, puncturing it.
With a yell, Hermione unleashed a fireball unto the creature. Normally, that would not have done much damage to this beast, but as soon as the magical fire touched the escaping gas, it set off an explosion which knocked both girls off their feet.
Hermione had the wind knocked out of her when she landed on her back, but sported a triumphant grin while slowly getting up. She expected to see a mass of torn, mangled and charred flesh, but was dismayed to see the black unicorn looking to be very much much alive.
And very angry.
The creature had lost half of its face and three of its eyes. Its lower jaw was shattered and dangling, while exposed and torn flesh hung from its neck. But skin was regrowing, bones cracked as they re-knitted, and flesh was reattaching itself to its face. It was regenerating. And at a disturbingly fast rate. One of the eyes had already reformed in the time Hermione took to share a look with Bellatrix.
"OH, COME ON!" Hermione let out a cry of frustration.
Now it was Bellatrix who stepped forward with grim determination. "Hey!" she shouted. "Ugly! Here I am! Come and get me!"
That attracted the creature's attention. The black unicorn's four remaining blue eyes focused on her while its body was still healing. "Come and get some juicy and succulent pure-blood witch meat! Yeah, come here! It's me you want! Muggle-borns taste like mud anyway!"
For a moment, Hermione felt a bit angry, until she realized that Bellatrix was projecting thoughts to the creature to make her seem to be a more enticing target. Bellatrix took a few steps back, standing at the very edge of the rocky plateau. "Yeah, that's it. Tasty, tasty witch. Right here."
The enraged black unicorn lowered its head, its long single horn poised to skewer Bellatrix like it had likely done with so many creatures of this realm. With a bellow, it rushed forward to claim its prize. At the very last moment, right before the horn would plunge into Bellatrix' chest, she apparated a meter to the side.
Too late did the black unicorn realize what Bellatrix had been trying to do. It tried to correct its charge but its bulk and momentum caused it to keep its forward motion and then toppled over over the edge of the world. It let out an angry and mournful whinny when it started to plummet into the void below, falling and falling and falling.
Breathing a sigh of relief, both girls stood at the edge and looked down.
"I don't see it anymore," said Hermione.
"Good riddance," smiled Bellatrix as both sat down on a large rock. As the adrenaline started to wear off, they started to feel their exhaustion and the pain of their many cuts and bruises. But they were alive. Hermione couldn't help but smile as the wasp buzzed over and landed right next to her: obviously feeling she had misjudged it, she carefully patted the wasp on the head. The creature seemed happy and rewarded her efforts by giving her a few play-bites to her wrist with his mandibles.
"Oh, wow," Bellatrix shouted to the heavens. "What an adventure!"
"An adventure, she calls it," Hermione snorted. "I didn't sign up to be chased by monsters!"
"Bollocks!" Bellatrix snorted. "I should have taken more photographs!"
"Yes, I agree," Bellatrix pouted. "I should have prioritized photographing that beast a bit more. Now I'll never get the chance!"
Hermione first gave the curly-haired witch an incredulous look. Then smiled. Then started laughing. Bellatrix soon joined in and both girls laughed and laughed as if it was the last time would be able to. They slumped against each other while still caught in a gale of laughter and, honestly, Hermione didn't recall the last moment she had felt so alive.
Then, they both stopped laughing. Both witches sat so close to each other now, gazing in each other's eyes. What happened next was almost purely driven by instinct. There was no more doubt, no more hesitation. Hermione's heart skipped a beat when Bellatrix's face inched closer to hers, tilting slightly. Hermione did the same, closing her eyes just before their lips finally touched.
So incredibly soft.
Their first kiss was chaste. Gentle. A promise of more to come.
Hermione could smell Bellatrix, feel her close. Her heart pounded in her chest. Even though this was only a brush of lips, it was already so much more than Hermione dared to dream. She wanted this moment to last forever.
Alas, time was a cruel master and she almost groaned in disappointment when Bellatrix broke the kiss. She opened her eyes only to find the curly-haired witch staring into them while gently swiping a lock of hair from her face with her thumb after having lain a hand on her cheek. Hermione repaid Bellatrix back in kind, laying a hand on hers and gently stroking her up and down.
"Again..." Hermione demanded... though it was less of a demand and more of an eager croak.
Bellatrix chuckled and leaned in again.
Their second kiss was even more glorious. It started chaste again, but Bellatrix soon got a bit more daring. Hermione whimpered when she felt Bellatrix part her lips and gently started probing her mouth. Careful and slow, she tasted her lips, but when their tongues touched it was a feeling stronger and more intense than pure magic.
In that moment, there were no concerns about family, time-lines, futures, pasts. There was no Fae Mirror, no Far Realm. There were no war trauma's, no arranged marriages or dark lords looming over them. There were no floating islands, no black unicorns, no monsters in the dark. No worries. No concerns. No dangers.
There were only the two of them. And the feelings they had for each other.
And when Bellatrix once again broke the kiss, they held each other tightly and smiled at each other. But Hermione had gotten a taste of the meal and hungered for more. "Again!" she demanded.
Bellatrix chuckled briefly and was only too happy to indulge her. Hermione went on the offence this time: though she lacked Bellatrix's skill at kissing, she certainly didn't lack for enthusiasm. She snaked her arms around her curly-haired friend and held her tightly, while Bellatrix ran a hand through her hair and lay it on the back of her head, keeping her firmly in place.
They kissed hungrily and aggressively as if their lives depended on it. Tongues wrestled for dominance and Hermione almost lost it when Bellatrix moaned into her mouth. This was it... this was the moment she had dreamed about... the moment she'd been waiting for ever since she figured out she was in love with her friend from another time. Hell, she had pleasured herself to fantasies about this at an almost daily basis, but in this case reality was so much better than a fantasy.
The kiss was again broken, but they still held each other as she sat on the ground and leaned against the rock.
"Trix," Hermione whispered, her voice a hoarse croak. "I..."
"Sssh," Bellatrix put a finger to Hermione's lips. "You don't have to say anything, Hermie. I feel the same way."
In that very moment, Hermione felt happier than she had ever felt before in her entire life.