When are we?
That was a question which was becoming more and more urgent as the two girls made their way through the Forbidden Forest. As the adrenaline soaring through their veins was starting to wear off, both of them noticed two things about their surroundings.
First, it was daylight. The Fae Mirror had never opened during the day.
Second, there was no snow on the ground. I had been snowy both in 1968 and 1998 on the days they had left. Now the ground was barren, but the air was still cold. It could be autumn, or winter or even spring. All prior rules had been broken by whatever Achille did to corrupt their blood-rite. Hell, they could be a thousand years in the past for all they knew! Or a thousand years in the future.
At least Zipper was having a good time. The wasp was flying around merrily, exploring his new surroundings by moving from tree to tree and rushing back and forth, buzzing contently without a care in the world.
Next to her sounded a grunt of pain. Hermione turned her head to see Bellatrix grimacing while cradling her arm, followed by a shiver from the cold. Worries about being lost in space and time bled away for a more immediate concern. Hermione stopped in her tracks, putting a hand on her girlfriend's shoulder.
"Trix," Hermione said. "Let me carry your pack."
"It's fine," Bellatrix shrugged, immediately wincing again. She looked paler than usual, with beads of sweat running down her temples. "I'm fine. It's… I'm just tired."
"Trix," Hermione replied, her voice more stern. "You're obviously in pain, you're tired and you're cold. You don't have to act tough in front me."
"I am not acting tough! I am fine!" Bellatrix muttered angrily, only to yelp when her broken arm shifted.
"I'm taking your pack whether you like it or not," Hermione crossed her arms.
Bellatrix let out a frustrated groan, snorting through her nose. But she still relented. Carefully, very carefully, she pulled her broken arm through the strap of her pack and let Hermione lighten her load for her. Though she would probably never admit it, she seemed much relieved.
"I'm not weak," Bellatrix protested. "I've had much worse, you know? I once broke both my legs after jumping off a bridge into the lake."
Again, Hermione stopped dead in her tracks, spun around and gave her girlfriend an incredulous look. "Whhhyyyy?" she spoke in an exasperated tone.
"To impress a girl! Why else?!" Bellatrix challenged.
Perhaps it was best not to ask any more questions. The two girls were almost near the edge of the forest now. It was a bit unwieldy with two packs slung over her shoulders, but she was happy to leave the forest behind her. The nerves had come back: scant two hills away, they would be able to see Hogsmeade. Or they would be able to in either time-line. What would they see? An empty field? Some hovels? A muggle suburb? Futuristic Jetsons style houses underneath floating glass domes?
Subconsciously, Hermione had picked up the pace. Great was her relief when she finally went over the last hill and saw the familiar sight of Hogsmeade.
Or... was it familiar? Truth be told, she barely had paid much attention to the town's layout and it was hard to tell if there were any buildings missing or new ones built. It didn't help that wizards were staunch traditionalists which barely changed anything. Though, she supposed, that was more of an English thing than a wizard thing. Wizards just exacerbated it.
"Slow down, Hermie," she heard a grunt behind her. Bellatrix was breathing hard now and in a lot of pain, even if she was far too proud to ever admit it.
"We're almost there, Trix," said Hermione. After a thoughtful moment, she whistled and motioned for Zipper to join her. Thankfully, the wasp was intelligent enough to understand that when she held one of the packs open, she expected him to slip inside and rest for a moment. The giant wasp did exactly that.
Bellatrix gave her a questioning look, while Hermione gave her a reassuring look. "We don't know how some of the villagers may respond to a giant wasp. They might try to hurt him."
Bellatrix nodded, grimacing in pain once more.
They made their way into the streets and, frustratingly enough, it was hard to tell what decade they were in. At least they weren't thousands of years in the past, but even seeing clothes and names on stores she recognized didn't give her much of a frame of reference. If only she had paid more attention during her trips here, she might recognize some faces.
"I like the Hog's Head more," Bellatrix muttered. "Aberforth always lets me drink alcohol."
"I keep a room at the Three Broomsticks," said Hermione. "And I have all my belongings there. I need to get them, change into something warmer and then we head straight to the hospital wing in Hogwarts. That is… if my belongings are even there."
The first thing which struck Hermione when she entered the Three Broomsticks, was just how wonderful it was to be out of the cold and let the warmth of the nearby hearth wash over her. The second was relief when she saw Rosmerta: she was the clearly the right age which meant they had landed safely in 1998.
Then there was a third thing. The Three Broomsticks was packed with wizards and witches from around the area enjoying drinks, dinner and chatter. It was Friday, so the weekly pub quiz would be in full swing this evening. And the moment they entered, a hush went over the crowd. Both young wizards found all eyes aimed at them, looking to be completely gobsmacked.
Bellatrix leaned in to whisper to Hermione. "I'd ask if it was something we'd said, but we haven't said anything yet."
Disturbed, even moreso when all the heads followed their path to the bar where Rosmerta was cleaning glasses. "Hiya," she greeted without looking up. "What can I ge-"
The glass almost dropped from her hands the moment she looked up. "H-Hermione?!"
"Yes," Hermione raised an eyebrow. "It's good to see you, Rosmerta. You don't know how glad I am to see you."
A grunt sounded next to her as Bellatrix was starting shiver. The curly-haired witch was starting to look really bad now: pale and haggard, obviously in agony. Rosmerta turned her head towards Bellatrix. And this time the glass did drop out of her hand. Behind them, the people were still looking at her. Some were starting to whisper and murmur. Someone actually snapped a photograph.
"Why are you looking at me like that?" Bellatrix hissed to Rosmerta. "Why are they?"
Rosmerta stammered in response. "Merlin. Are... are you who I think you are?" she asked carefully.
It only made Bellatrix snap. "How the bloody hell am I supposed to know who you're thinking of?!" she yelled, only to grasp her arm again. "Fuck, this hurts... Hermie, I... I don't think I can make the rest of the way to Hogwarts. I need to lie down for a spell."
"Rosmerta," said Hermione. "My girlfriend is hurt and needs help. Do you mind if I lie her down in my room for a bit? Trix can rest then and I'll go to Hogwarts to find some people to fetch her."
"Trix..." Rosmerta gulped. "So it is true. You're Bellatrix Black!"
The moment that name was spoken out loud, the crowd's murmurs became louder. More pictures were being taken, much to Bellatrix' chagrin. "ALL OF YOU!" she shouted. "Stop looking at me! It's weird!"
"I'm afraid your room has been rented out," said Rosmerta. "But you can lay her down on the cot in the backroom. It's really quite comfortable."
"Rented out?" Hermione frowned. "But it's been paid for through the end of December."
"December 1998, Hermione," said Rosmerta. "That was three years ago."
Hermione stiffened, feeling as if her blood had been snap-frozen in her veins. "W-what?" she stammered.
"It's December… 2001," said Rosmerta. "You've been missing without a trace for three whole years. Bellatrix Black has been for thirty-three."
Hermione blinked and let out a sigh. Three years. Whatever Achille had done, had caused her to move three whole years forward in time. Worse than she'd hoped, better than she had feared.
"I... I need to lie down," said Bellatrix, who looked as if she was about to faint at this point. Rosmerta was quick to rush from behind the bar to support her and guide her to the backroom where the cot was waiting. Bellatrix let out a contented groan after being lain out. Rosmerta fetched a bottle and uncorked it. Judging from the smell, it was fire-whiskey. She knelt next to Bellatrix, supported her head and put the bottle to her lips. "Careful. Small sips."
After Bellatrix was done drinking, she lay down and closed her eyes. Her breathing settled into a shallow rhythm.
"For the pain," said Rosmerta. "Stay with her. McGonagall has given me clear instructions. I am to warn her and the Hogwarts staff immediately the moment you'd turn up. Funny thing though, I remember McGonagall distinctly saying you wouldn't be alone."
"Truly?" Hermione raised an eyebrow.
It didn't take long for the Hogwarts staff to turn up. A group of house-elves arrived and switched Bellatrix to a stretcher. It all went very fast after that. Bellatrix was carried off into the floo and Hermione followed. Next thing she knew, madame Pomfrey was fussing over Bellatrix after a quick examination. "Oh, you poor dear," said madame Pomfrey. "The bones in your arm have been shattered in several places. I'm afraid this is going to hurt a lot, but we'll do our best to make you comfortable."
Hermione knew what was coming when madame Pomfrey put a hide-rod in Bellatrix' mouth and took out her wand. Re-knitting bones with magic wasn't any less painful in the wizarding world. The wail from Bellatrix was heartrending once the magic settled on her arm and did its work, slowly resetting and re-knitting the bones inside her flesh.
Hermione felt some movement in one of her packs and she quickly set it down. When she opened it up, the head of an angrily buzzing Zipper poked out. "No, no, it's fine. Trix is fine. Go back to sleep," she hissed and pushed him back into the pack. It wouldn't exactly help right now to have the medic being chased out of the hospital by an angry wasp.
Thankfully, it was over in about fifteen seconds. Bellatrix lay panting on the bed, pain ebbing away from her expression. She breathed normally now, relieved as she was.
"There you go," said Madame Pomfrey. "Rest now."
"Madam Pomfrey?" said Hermione. "May I stay with her?"
"I want her to stay," Bellatrix demanded.
"Certainly," said madam Pomfrey. "Hermione, you may sit with her if you like, but keep in mind that she needs rest."
And so Hermione sat with Bellatrix, reaching over to run a hand through her curly hair. Quickly enough, Bellatrix grabbed her other hand and smiled at her. "Bit of a shitty end to a great adventure, no?" she spoke, her voice a little weak.
"Not at all," Hermione smiled. "Of course, it's not the triumphant return home we've hoped for, but we still have all our samples and our photographs."
"Hm," Bellatrix chuckled. "Still, it was a great adventure regardless."
"The best," Hermione said, reaching over to kiss Bellatrix on the lips. It had merely meant to be a brush of lips, but Bellatrix gently kept her head in place by folding her good arm strategically before deepening the kiss. Their tongues touched and Hermione was in heaven.
Until someone scraped her throat behind them.
A startled Hermione tore herself from Bellatrix and spun around, only to be faced with Minerva McGonagall who had a rather bemused look on her face. "Miss Granger," she spoke. "I suppose you will have a very good explanation as to your disappearance. And you, miss Black..."
"Yes?" Bellatrix spoke with raised eyebrow.
"It is good to see you again, safe and sound. Both of you," spoke McGonagall. Bellatrix was obviously not expecting that and was seemingly at a loss for words. "The three of us have a lot to discuss. And, frankly, I am not surprised that the two of you re-appeared together. Let us have a chat in my office."
"This place hasn't changed much," said Bellatrix as she looked around the Headmaster's office. Even with her arm in a sling she seemed to be her defiant self. Both girls were sat opposite to McGonagall at her desk, and Hermione got the distinct impression that Bellatrix had been summoned to this very office many times during her academic career. "Where'd old Dumbledore go? Did the old git finally retire or is he just counting worms?"
That made Hermione cringe. Of course, Bellatrix was ignorant of what had been happening the past thirty years.
McGonagall was less than amused. "Miss Black," she said, sternly. "Though I do welcome your safe and sound return, your usual crassness is considerably less welcome. Especially on this topic."
"So, he did join the choir invisible. And recently," Bellatrix muttered, then looked up. "Sorry."
"You couldn't have known," McGonagall replied. "But this rather illustrates a prudent point. The both of you have missed a lot during the time you were... elsewhere and we need to bring you up to speed."
Hermione was about to ask how she knew that they had gone 'elsewhere' as she had put it, until she realized that they were still wearing their safari outfits. McGonagall was no fool: neither girl was dressed for the weather this time of year, nor in anything resembling normal clothing. "Professor," Hermione said. "In the infirmary, you said that you weren't surprised to see the two of us turning up together."
"Yes," Bellatrix leaned forward. "From the way you said it, it almost seemed as if you were... expecting us."
McGonagall said nothing. Instead she reached over to a shelf behind the desk. Hermione followed her and recognized the item. It was the clock which Bellatrix had gifted to her. "When you disappeared, we gathered your belongings to send to your parents, miss Granger. This clock was among them and I recognized it as something resulting from a rather special 'impossible' assignment I had given miss Black over thirty years ago. And yet miss Black managed to impress me... not an easy feat."
Next to her, Bellatrix looked proud as a peacock, a smile as broad as can be plastered on her face.
"And yet, somehow a thirty year old clock found itself into your possession, miss Granger," she said, turning it around. The inscription 'To Hermione from Bellatrix' as clear as could be. "Considering this revelation, I decided to keep this clock rather than sending it home to your parents. Unethical, yes, but… prudent."
McGonagall looked at her expectingly and she knew an explanation was due. "I found a Fae Mirror in the woods," both girls spoke at the same time, only to turn their heads to each other to smile.
McGonagall nodded. "A Fae Mirror," she replied. "I was aware. Thank you for being honest with me."
"You know of it?" asked Bellatrix.
"Of course," McGonagall scoffed. "Such phenomenon are exceedingly rare, but not entirely unknown to those well-versed in esoteric ancient magic."
"I found one, in 1968."
"And I in 1998."
McGonagall raised an eyebrow. "Of course, the reason why I already knew is mostly because of your research notes gathered at your room at the three broomsticks. It was obvious that you found a way to storm the gates. Mister Weasley was kind enough to secure your room for me and gather all notes and books before anyone nosey could involve themselves. The documentation was thorough and revealing, as per your usual work, miss Granger. You used a blood ritual."
"You won't believe the things we found!" Bellatrix grinned broadly.
Hermione nodded. "We exchanged information, which was easier to Trix to do than for me. She buried books for me to find in 1968, which I dug up from the roots of the dead tree in 1998. That how she gifted me the clock as well."
McGonagall rubbed her chin. "It does fit the picture. Back in December 1968, both your sisters came running into the castle in the dead of night in hysterics. They claimed that miss Black had been 'swallowed' by a magical pool in the middle of the forest at the base of a petrified tree. Naturally, we searched the area, but there was no sign that anything magical had ever been there. No pool. No tree. And no miss Black."
"But... we buried items among the roots of the tree," Bellatrix frowned.
"Every Fae Mirror described is nestled among the roots of a petrified tree," said Hermione. "It might have been part of the entire system and disappears and reappears along with the pool every thirty years. It explains why all our items were kept safe for thirty years. They just... skipped through time time along with the pool."
McGonagall poured herself another cup of tea. "Considering the circumstances, I would like to keep you separate from the student body for the time being. Both your reappearance is going to raise a lot of questions and you both have a lot of catching up to do. We need to gradually ease you into the world... and the world into you. I will have guest-rooms prepared. It is, perhaps, fortuitous that winter break has started and most of the students have departed.
"Oh, professor!" Bellatrix spoke up. "We would very much like to share a room!"
"Oh?" McGonagall folded her hands into a tented shape. "It is not necessary to share. With all the students gone home, we have plenty of rooms free regardless."
Bellatrix elbowed Hermione in the ribs, causing the young witch to catch on. "Oh, yes! Very much so. We've, uhm, gotten used to each other's company on the road, you see?"
"Yeah!" Bellatrix raved. "We would also like a nice big single bed! If it's not too much trouble, that is."
McGonagall was no fool, as Hermione could tell by the raised eyebrow. Immediately, she felt all the blood rush to her cheeks. "T-trix..." Hermione muttered under her breath while shrinking two sizes underneath McGonagall's gaze.
"What?" asked Bellatrix. "We do like to sleep in a nice big single bed!"
"Right," McGonagall looked over her glasses. "You are both of age, so I am not against it. Very well, I will ask mister Filch to make the arrangements. Any more surprises you wish to share with me?"
McGonagall froze when Zipper suddenly emerged from Bellatrix's pack, staring with open mouth while the cat-sized wasp nonchalantly flew over to her desk and landed next to the tea service, where he promptly stuffed his head into the silver chalice and started to devour all of her sugar cubes.
McGonagall never spoke when her gaze shifted first to the girls, then to the eating wasp, and then back to the girls. A single eyebrow was raised... either in amusement or annoyance. It was always hard to tell with McGonagall. Next to her, Bellatrix simply shrugged. "His name's Zipper. He's always hungry… as you can clearly see."
The professor rubbed her temples for a moment. "Once a troublemaker..." she muttered.
McGonagall leaned forward. "There is one thing you must know, however," she said. "Miss Black's disappearance thirty-three years ago is a well publicized and one of the most infamous mysteries of this century. For decades, it has kept journalists, writers, pundits, criminologists, aurors and politicians speculating. Dozens of theories surround your disappearance, but none have come close to the truth you have just told me in this very room."
Bellatrix' expression changed a little. "For thirty-three years?" she whispered, seemingly losing herself in thought.
"You have become a household name, miss Black," said McGonagall. "Prepare yourself, for questions will be asked. Of course, we will shield you as best we can. Questions will be asked of you as well, miss Granger. Suffice it to say that your name has become linked to miss Black as you vanished under the same mysterious circumstances at the thirtieth anniversary of miss Black's disappearance. And, well, there have been… more recent developments."
"Oh?" Hermione raised an eyebrow.
"In due time, miss Granger," said McGonagall. "It is late and we will continue this conversation tomorrow."
"What... are you not telling me here?" Hermione asked. "I get a sense that it's serious."
"It is," replied McGonagall. "As for you, miss Granger, you have become a household name as well, for a very different reason, but we will discuss that to a later time, as I said."
Hermione thought back to that fateful day, meeting Bellatrix in the strange pool in the wood. So far they had come. There were challenges to come still, if McGonagall was to be believed. But, Bellatrix had come to the future with her. Hermione had done what she had set out to do: save Bellatrix from being murdered. Trix had a future to look forward to now.
That wasn't right.
The story of Bellatrix flood into her mind. A mysterious disappearance, thirty years ago. Nobody knew exactly what had happened, but the most prevailing theory was that she had been murdered by her betrothed Rodolphus Lestrange and buried in the Forbidden Forest after he discovered she'd been spying on Voldemort for Dumbledore.
No. No. That's not right. She had convinced Bellatrix to come with her to the future to prevent her from becoming a Death Eater. But not any Death Eater: the Death Eater whom would later torture her.
Memories started to blend together. One... one of those things could not be true. But... but both rang equally true.
Save a fierce, but troubled girl from being murdered. Save a fierce, but troubled girl from going insane.
Images flashed through her mind with the speed of light. Bellatrix snarling at her at the Department of Mysteries. Rodolphus Lestrange snarling at her at the Department of Mysteries. Bellatrix torturing her on the floor of Malfoy manor with the cruciatus curse. Rodolphus Lestrange beating her on the floor of Malfoy Manor, landing punch after punch after punch. Hermione breaking into Gringotts polyjuiced as Bellatrix. Hermione needing weeks to recover at the Burrow after the severe beating from Rodolphus while Ron broke into Gringotts polyjuiced as Rodolphus. Bellatrix gloating over the corpses of Tonks and Lupin. Rodolphus gloating over the corpse of Lupin. Bellatrix duelling with Molly Weasley at Hogwarts and meeting her end. Rodolphus duelling with Molly Weasley at Hogwarts and blasting her across the room before making his escape.
How could both series of events be true?!
Saving Trix from being murdered. Saving Trix from going insane. Saving Trix from being murdered. Saving Trix from going insane. Being murdered. Going insane. Being murdered. Going insane. Murdered. Insane. Murdered. Insane.
A wail sounded in the distance. A voice that was her own and was not. It felt like someone had shot hundreds of hot needles into her brain. God, the cruciatus curse was nothing compared to this.
Why... why was she on the floor? What… what was happening?
Close her eyes. All she had to do was to close her eyes and the pain would wash away.
… wash away.
When Hermione woke up, she realized that she was in the infirmary. It was dark outside, so she must have been asleep for several hours. Her head still hurt a little, but at least she could think clearly now. She found her situation of earlier today quite reversed: now it was she on the bed and Trix sat by the bed holding her hand.
"Hermie," Bellatrix gasped. "You're finally awake! We were so worried. What happened?"
"Somehow," Hermione grimaced, bringing her hand to her forehead. "I have memories of both time-lines. I have no idea how that is even possible, considering I've only lived one. I think that crossed some wires in my brain for a moment. God, it hurt."
She felt Trix squeezing her hand tighter. "Will you be alright? If simply remembering things causes this..."
"I'll be fine," said Hermione. "It's just when... I try to think of certain events where the time-lines clash. I think... If I don't try to remember those clashes, I think I'll be fine."
"If you're sure..."
Bellatrix looked decidedly unsure. What Hermione was sure of, however, was that Bellatrix had been crying. The tears still streaked her cheeks. The young witch brought up her hand to wipe some tears away. Though she expected Bellatrix to deny ever having cried, the curly-haired witch simply lowered her gaze. "I... it just sank in... my... my poor sisters!" tears started to flow again. "I... I wanted so much to at least say goodbye to them. Explain to them why... why I needed to go. Why I wouldn't be there for them. Hell, when we found that device in the Fae Realm, I was still hoping that we could set up a permanent portal so I could travel between different times and still see my sisters. It's... stupid, I know."
"It's not stupid," replied Hermione. "You love them."
"And now I left them all alone. For thirty-three years," Bellatrix sniffed. "And what about maman? What about my oncle? What about father?"
Hermione squeezed her eyes shut when she too realized that she too had vanished without a trace, and for an entire year. "Dad. My dad," she sniffed, her own tears fall. "Oh god, he'll be devastated. Mum..."
Yes. They were together. Yes, they had a future. But there had been a price to pay. Perhaps Bellatrix' price had been much higher, but that didn't mean that Hermione didn't feel the pain when the full weight of the consequences of their choice bore down upon both of them.
Bellatrix crawled onto the bed with her and the girls found solace weeping together in a firm embrace. Even so, Hermione was certain that she was the only person whom Bellatrix would allow to see her cry.
Zipper, being as sensitive as a giant wasp could be, had been flying around the room checking out the myriad of smells until he noticed his friends were upset and landed on the bed. The warp simply curled up in between the girls after nestling himself on the cot with them. At least it made Bellatrix laugh a little.
In between tears, they brushed lips and kissed for mutual comfort.
Tomorrow would be another day.