With a resounding crack, both Hermione and McGonagall were magically deposited in a quiet spot in Hampstead Heath wild park. From here, it would only be a brief walk towards her childhood home. Together, she and McGonagall walked side by side in silence, but with every step Hermione would feel her anxiety growing.
"You are worried?" asked McGonagall with an uncharacteristic soft tone.
Hermione nodded briefly. "What... what am I even going to say to them? How will I explain falling off the Earth for three whole years? I've kept so many secrets from them all my life. I altered their minds, while I fought a war. The whole 'I'm gay now and I have a girlfriend, by the way' seems like a small thing to pile on top of that. Except for the fact that she's from another time-line. Where do I even start with that one?!"
McGonagall gave her a thoughtful look. "Miss Granger... Hermione..."
Hermione gave her a look. "I do believe that is the first time you have ever called me by my first name, professor."
The two women stopped near a bench and McGonagall motioned for her to take a seat. Hermione sit so and the two women watched some nearby ducks for a while. "I don't think you'll have much to worry about. Your parents love you very much, that much is obvious. They love you enough to start an improbable court-case against the Ministry, Hogwarts and the entire Wizarding World to get justice in your name. I still remember the day when I told your parents that you had gone missing. Your father, especially, was utterly furious."
Hermione gave her a questioning look. McGonagall let out a sigh. "You won't have to tell them the truth, Hermione. I have already told them most of it. I've told them of your sacrifices and your courage. Mister Weasley, I understand, has visited them often and filled them in on the finer details."
"But... if they already know..."
"What kind of sick, broken society has children fight their wars for them?"
Hermione thought a moment. "Professor?"
"Your father's words, not mine," said McGonagall. "Spoken to me almost three years ago. To this day, I have found no satisfying answer."
"My dad has always been a passionate man," Hermione smiled in spite of herself. "Rather un-English, in a way."
"Did you know I almost resigned after you were declared missing?" McGonagall said, not meeting her gaze, but rather staring right ahead.
"Why?" asked Hermione.
"Albus... was a good man," said McGonagall. "I will never dispute that. But neither will I dispute that he was manipulative and had a tendency to exploit people to his own benefit, even if the cause was good and just."
"Bellatrix..." Hermione said.
McGonagall nodded. "Albus exploited her desire to be free of her arranged marriage to have her spy on You-Know-Who for us. For the longest time, I was convinced we were to blame for costing poor Bellatrix her life. Worse yet, it didn't end with her. Over the years, we sent more and more young people to their deaths. Bellatrix became the face for all of them, in my mind. She was a brilliant, headstrong, but troubled young woman who deserved better. And when you disappeared..."
"You thought history was repeating itself?" asked Hermione. "After I..."
"Your father was right," McGonagall lowered her head slightly. "We did not help you after the war. Because we didn't know how to help you after the war. Depression and mental health... are just not talked about in the wizarding world. We didn't contact your parents either. We just... let you muddle through and hoped for the best. To my ever-lasting shame, I actually saw you sliding down a slope and did nothing."
Hermione shook her head. "It's not your fault," said Hermione. "The entire wizarding world was in shambles. There are those who lost their entire families. Loved ones. Children. Who'd be worried about one little muggle-born girl?"
"What kind of sick, broken society has children fight their wars for them?" McGonagall let the words roll over her tongue. "I would like to say that I'm part of a society which gives proper care to their heroes, which heals their wounded children. But I'm sad to say those in power care for neither and drag one of their greatest heroes through the mud when their families speak out against injustice. Whenever I read some of the things written about you, I feel ashamed to be a witch."
"Is it really that bad?" Hermione pursed her lips.
"Remember, Hermione," said McGonagall. "There is hope. Both you and Bellatrix reappeared. After finding Bellatrix' clock in your room, I knew you two would both turn up together. It was just a question of when. I hoped it would be during my lifetime."
"Is that why you decided against resigning after all?" Hermione asked, but it was rhetorical. "Funny. I never expected to fall in love with Trix. We're much more alike that I'd care to admit."
"You are alike in many ways and nothing alike in others at the same time," McGonagall replied. "But something tells me the two of you will be growing a lot closer over the coming days. Come now, your parents have waited long enough."
Together they walked the path out of the park where Hermione felt the lead in her shoes grow heavier with every step. On the one hand, it would be wonderful to be home. On the other, the circumstances would be better. Though she was grateful for McGonagall to accompany her, she would have liked Trix to be here with her: Bellatrix would know just how to encourage her... or just to give her the kick in the arse she needed.
When she rounded about the corner, she could already see her childhood home in the distance. In fact, she could see someone standing in her front yard and it didn't take her long to realize that it was her father... especially since he came running towards her the moment she came into sight. Immediately, Hermione burst forward, running towards him with tears streaking over her cheeks. The moment the two met, her father took her in a massive hug while, over his shoulder, she could see her mother running over to join them.
"Oh, Hermione," her father sniffed and she could feel the love in his embrace. Hermione felt her hands tremble as she held on to her father.
"Dad," she whispered. "Mum..." she added as her mother joined the hug.
"Where have you been?" her father asked without a shred of accusation on his voice while he lay a hand on her cheek before hugging her again.
"It's... it's a long story," Hermione smiled. "But I promise you, it's the kind of story you like."
McGonagall nodded. "Well, I won't intrude on this private moment. Miss Granger... Hermione... contact me if you require anything. Though I'm quite certain the set of two-way mirrors which miss Black stole from the storeroom will also serve you well."
"Heh," Hermione chuckled. "Nothing escapes your notice, does it?"
McGonagall almost smiled. "I have learned the hard way to keep a close eye on girls like miss Black... or you for that matter."
Coming home always felt surprisingly good, even though it had happened precious little times to her during Hermione's tenure at Hogwarts. But when sat on the sofa in between a set of teary-eyed parents, this homecoming felt more surreal than most.
"They didn't even bother to inform us until you'd already been missing for almost a week," said her father, spite clear on his voice.
"Ministry officials did come to visit," her mother spoke. "They said such... awful things about you. McGonagall was nice. That nice boy Ron too. He's been coming by more often."
"There are good people in the wizarding world," said her father. "I never doubted that. But the people running it are corrupt to the core. They weren't even going to go looking for you. The wizarding police, or whatever it's called, did everything in their power to not do anything."
"Really?" Hermione asked. "Not anything at all?"
"Nothing," he shook his head, obviously still embittered by the whole thing. "'Kids go missing all the time', they said. 'Traumatized by the war, poor things'. I didn't accept that answer. Then they tried to play it off as not having enough resources because they were still recovering from the war. Another excuse."
"They assumed you went back to the muggle world, so they suggested we contact the muggle police if you wouldn't turn up as they had no jurisdiction to look for you in the muggle world," her mother replied. "A single muggle-born girl wasn't so much of a blip on their radar."
Her dad shook his head. "That's when I lost it," he sighed. "I yelled in their faces that you'd been good enough to fight their war for them, but not good enough for them to lift a finger for you after the war had been won. The wizarding world never helped you with your traumas or depression either. It was as if they were just expecting everyone to accept 'okay, war's over now. Go back to normal and resume business as usual'."
Hermione gave him a half-smile. "Is that why you're suing the Ministry?"
Jack Granger chuckled. "It's been a struggle, I'll give it that."
"They started saying even more awful things about you, Hermione," her mother said, tapping her knee. "So much slander. Things that hurt me to read."
"For the Ministry," Hermione snorted. "Embarrassment is worse than death. Funny. I actually thought things might change under Kingsley Shacklebolt."
"Enough about the Ministry," her father demanded. "Hermione, where have you been? Why did you have to go? Why didn't you tell us?"
Though her father didn't actually speak it, there was a sense of silent accusation underneath his words and tone which broke Hermione's heart. "First of all, I am so sorry," she sniffed, feeling her eyes grew watery. "I... I never meant to hurt either of you. What happened I never meant to happen. If I had known... If I'd even suspected... I would have at least let you know... I..."
"Hermione, dear," her mother smiled, squeezing her knee. "Why don't you start from the beginning?"
"You see," Hermione smiled briefly, getting ready to tell her tale. "It all started when I found a strange magic pool in the woods..."
And so a grand tale of adventure was spun and she told her parents everything which had happened while they listened with baited breath. About the pool. About meeting Bellatrix. About wanting to save her from her dire future, their budding friendship. Though she was a bit bashful about revealing her growing feelings for Bellatrix at the time, she dropped a few hints. Then came wanting to meet up, researching the Fae Mirror together and finally breaching through to the other side. Their grand adventure in the Fae Realm, exploring and finding many creatures, their encounter with the murder-unicorn and, finally, the ancient computer. Especially at this point, her father perked up and was at complete attention. She did leave out the bit about Achille sacrificing himself, but sold the catastrophe which caused her and Bellatrix to be flung into 1999 as an accident. Her parents seemed to buy this.
However, there was one more thing she would have to tell. Hermione swallowed hard, finding it odd just how difficult this was. These were her parents and they had always loved her. So why wouldn't they accept her even if she was into women?
"I... Bellatrix and I..." Hermione smiled briefly. "We're... we're more than just friends. A lot more. We... I..."
"You're gay," her mother broke in. "And Bellatrix is your girlfriend."
Hermione blinked. "W-what?! But..."
"About bloody time you figured it out," her father smiled. "Only took you fifteen years."
"Wait..." Hermione blinked. "You knew?"
"We knew," Jack Granger laughed. "We didn't know if you did, though."
Her mother smiled at her. "We supposed you would tell us when you felt ready for it."
This made Hermione's head spin a little. Frowning, she crossed her arms and adopted a slight glare. "How long have you known?"
"Since you were a pre-schooler," spoke Jack Granger. "You kept trying to kiss all the girls at Reception. And you kept on about wanting to marry Janie from number twelve down the road. She was an older girl, you know? All of eight years old. You were into women twice your age. Oh, the scandal."
"Jack!" her mother batted against her father's shoulder. "Point is, we love you, sweetie. We always will."
"And I would very much like to meet this Bellatrix of yours," spoke her father. "She sounds like a laugh."
The idea of Bellatrix and her parents meeting was more than a little surreal, but considering they were girlfriends it was pretty much inevitable. She just hoped Trix and her father would get along, but the signs were good so far.
"You have no idea how wonderful it is to simply hear your voice again, puppet," Jack smiled as he held her. "I didn't want to admit it to myself at first, but as the months dragged on I was struggling with the thought that I'd never see you again."
"I'm so sorry," replied Hermione. "I never meant for any of this. But, chin up dad. You get to show me all the new things you've added to your collection. It's been three whole years, so it must be a lot."
Hermione smiled despite herself: her father was an aficionado of collectibles from all manner of franchises, to a point that it often made her mother give out exasperated sighs. Hermione's own fairy-figure collection was a bone of contention in the household as her mother feared there'd be another collection monster to contend with. Her dad's hobby room was bursting at the seams as it was.
Her father simply shook his head. "I sold all of it, puppet," he spoke softly.
Hermione blinked. "Sold it? Why?! You've been collecting figures since before I was even born."
"Justice is expensive," her father chuckled. "Especially when you're taking on the government."
"Sweetie," spoke her mother in a tone which instantly made Hermione fear for what she was about say. "We might have to sell the house too."
"What?! No!" Hermione wailed after the weight of that statement sank in. "You can't sell this house! I grew up here! And where are you going to go?!"
"We'll be fine, sweetie," said her mother. "We still have the practice. It doesn't matter where we live as long as we're together."
Hermione pursed her lips, now close to tears. She had caused this. It was her fault. Perhaps if she had given her plan to bring Bellatrix to the future more thought, this unintended three year time skip could have been avoided. She was about to speak her mind about this, when there was a tell-tale green flash from the living room fireplace.
Odd. She had never known their parents' house to be connected to the floo network. Yet a fourth person had now entered their home. A woman.
The woman whom had emerged from the floo was obviously witch, but Hermione had rarely seen one this… slick. The witch in question was immaculately dressed in what looked to be an elegant white blazer on top of a knee-high skirt. Over her shoulders was draped a satin white travel cloak which almost looked a size or two too large for her while an elaborate silver clasp kept it in place. Her blonde hair cascaded over her back while a thick layer of make-up attempted to hide that she was about to hit her forties.
Instantly, the white witch was upon her. "You haven't spoken to anyone, have you? Tell me you haven't spoken to anyone…" she asked with an American accent. Hermione wasn't really in well-versed in her accents, but if she had to place it, she would have guessed Boston or somewhere northern east coast at least.
Hermione wasn't sure how to respond. "Uhm, only Bellatrix and McGonagall. I guess. Haven't gotten much of a chance to speak to anyone else yet."
"Good, good, this is good," spoke the white witch. "We can still control the narrative, then. The defense will try to claim your parents have no case now because you've turned up, but they won't realize that fate has given us our greatest weapon in this fight."
Hermione crossed her arms. "Excuse me, but who the bloody hell are you?"
"Puppet, this is Emily," said her father, standing up from the sofa and moving next to her. "The solicitor whom has taken our case."
"Solicitor," the white witch smirked. "You limeys have the funniest words. Emily Watson, of Watson, Watson and Watson Attorneys, situated in Providence, Rhode Island. Attorney at law, and representing your parents in their fight against the UK Ministry for Magic. Pleased to meet you."
Hermione never took the extended hand: instead, she crossed her arms and glared. "So you're the parasite who's been bleeding my poor parents dry!"
"Puppet, it's alright. We..."
"No, it's not alright!" Hermione retorted. "Whenever there's people in pain, there's some vulture lurking in the shadows to take advantage of them!"
"Hermione!" her mother protested. "Don't be rude. Emily has been waiving almost all of her usual fees and has been nothing but kind to us during these trying times."
Emily held up her hand. "It's quite understandable, Emma. I imagine young Hermione is not aware of all the things that have been happening. Your mother is quite right. I've been waiving my usual fees and shielded your family from the worst of the costs. Alas, some of the fees are unavoidable. It is, in fact, the Ministry who's been bombarding your parents with extraneous legal fees as a tactic of discouragement. It is actually one of our areas of attack in the lawsuit."
Hermione let that sink in for a moment, nodding briefly. "Fine. I apologize. But that doesn't quite explain what's in this for you. Last thing I heard, solicitors were costly. I'm betting that hasn't changed in the years I was gone."
"Career, of course," smiled Emily. "A more important currency for any lawyer worth her salt is reputation. And I stand to gain endless amounts if I win this case for your family. Rest assured, I will do my utmost to achieve the justice your parents… and you… deserve. Think of the most vicious and tenacious Hollywood lawyer from your favourite movie. Double that for me."
"Good old enlightened self-interest," Hermione spoke with an edge of sarcasm.
Emily nodded. "Expected reaction. Young. Idealistic. History of activism. Self-righteous. Good. Good. We can use this!"
"See, puppet?" her father smiled. "We are lucky to have her on our side."
"I suppose," Hermione grumbled, her glare never relenting.
Emily was not bothered by this. Instead, she simply seemed lost in thought. "Hm, Bellatrix Black. Famous girl for all the wrong reasons. Just as troubled as you. Charismatic. Impulsive. Passionate. A tale of star-crossed lovers. Surprisingly loving and dedicated girlfriend. You think she'd be interested in taking the stand for us? It could be a good optics."
Hermione narrowed her eyes. "How do you know all that?" she asked, but instantly knew the answer when she felt just the slightest crawling sensation in the back of her head. Immediately, her hackles were raised and though she was hardly an expert on occlumency, what little barrier she had she swiftly put up.
"Hm," Emily smiled. "You almost didn't notice it. And it's still the best way to quickly exchange information. Such a shame legilimency isn't allowed to be used in court. It would make my job so much easier."
"Next time… ask first!" Hermione demanded.
Emily ignored her, put her fingers to her lips and thought. A few moments later, she snapped out of it. "I will put together an official statement for the press and have it ready for your approval this evening. Remember, Hermione, no talkie to anyone! Jack, Emma, we'll do lunch..."
Then, as quickly as she had appeared, she was gone, leaving Hermione to stare at the fireplace with an open mouth. Finally, she threw her hands up into the air. "What kind of clown world have I ended up in?!" she exclaimed. Then, she turned to her parents. "I'm back now, you can call this lawsuit thing off!"
"No," her father shook his head and stepped over to a bookcase to fetch what looked to be a thick scrap-book. "Puppet, that you've returned now doesn't mean that you've not been mistreated and that your plight has not been ignored. And once you see all the nasty things they've been saying about you, I'm sure you'll agree that the lawsuit needs to proceed."
"Jack," smiled her mother. "Let's not spend this moment with Hermione discussing the lawsuit. I just want to us to spend some time together as a family."
"You're right, of course, Em," Jack sighed. "Oh, puppet. It's Friday. You know what that means, right?"
Of course, Hermione knew exactly what that meant: take-away evening. Junk food and a crap film to celebrate the end of the week. Though she remembered some earlier iterations of these lazy Fridays to be frustrating and embarrassing, today the thought of spending a silly evening with her parents sounded like just the thing she needed.
Today's take-away was quickly decided upon: burger king. Not exactly upscale food for inhabitants of Hampstead Heath, but Hermione wasn't complaining. While her father was ordering a delivery, Hermione picked out 'Silent Night Deadly Night 2'. A crap film appropriate to the season.
Scant half an hour later, she was nestled on the sofa in between her parents, burger in hand while a truly godawful film was playing on the family TV. Oddly enough, she was loving every moment of it. The moment she sank her teeth into her double whopper, she felt as if she had taken a bite out of heaven. And being so close to two people she loved dearly was exactly what she needed.
Still, she wondered what Bellatrix was doing right now. Bellatrix had yet to contact her over the two-way mirror and she hoped she was having as much of a good time with her family as she was.
After a lovely evening with her parents, went upstairs for a much deserved rest. After brushing her teeth, she passed her father's hobby room and couldn't help but step inside.
Empty. All the shelves were completely empty. Such an odd sight. A depressing sight, even. Her father had been collecting figures for longer than she'd been alive and he had some truly rare pieces. To think all of them gone, sold to pay for a lawsuit for her sake. The guilt overwhelmed her for a moment. There was nothing left in the room but a chair and two boxes full of papers. Then, from the corner of her eye, she spotted a lump underneath a dustcover. It was her dad's old ZX Spectrum.
She removed the cover and ran her hand over the old plastic. Good memories of sitting in her father's lap when she was a little girl and the two of them playing some games washed over her. Even though it hardly saw any more use, her dad had taken good care of it. A ZX Spectrum in a pristine condition could still fetch a pretty penny on the collector's market, but thankfully her dad didn't have the heart to sell it.
Good. She'd made sure that he wouldn't and carefully replaced the dustcover.
A by now mentally exhausted Hermione staggered into her room and threw herself on her bed. Today had been gruelling to say the least. Thankfully, being in her house, her room and her bed did her so much good.
Until she realized that if things went sour, there was a distinct change that this room wouldn't be hears anymore.
Hermione pursed her lips grimly: this was no time for sleep. There'd only be nightmares anyway.
The first thing she did was rush over to her desk to pen a long letter to both Harry and Ron, partly to let them know what was happening and partly to simply get things off her chest. When done with her writing, she put them in the letter box next to the window for the owl-post to come pick it up.
Then there was the scrap book. She picked it up and lay down on her bed to read it. Among her belongings which had been delivered from her dorm to her parents was the life-sized tiger plushie her dad had bought for her now three years ago. Hermione propped it up on the bed where as it served as a pillow and cuddle-cat while she read.
The scrap book contained a lot of articles from different sources, but most of the things she read made her blood run cold. The Daily Prophet had been especially unkind to her, putting everything about her into question: her academic achievements and her role in the war were both being downplayed. And as the months progressed into years and the lawsuit started taking shape, the disparaging got gradually worse and worse. Her character was being besmirched at every turn. She'd become a scarlet woman, an attention seeker, a glory-hound, a thief, an arsonist, a social climber and a fraud in a span of about six months.
Oh, she had her ardent defenders: Harry and Ron spoke out against this smear campaign at every opportunity, mostly in other publications. And she loved them for it. Draco, to his credit, had declined any form of comment to, quote 'vicious rumour-mongers'… though she supposed he'd know a thing or two about bad press. Luna had, surprisingly enough, been particularly colourful in her response to the papers. However, it was rather surprising and hurtful to know that many of the other people she had called friends, some of the people she had fought side-by-side against Voldemort with, had stabbed her in the back. The Patils, Cho Chang, Zacharias Smith, to name a few. Well, Zacharias wasn't exactly a surprise, but still…
One interview did make her seethe with furious hellfire. Cormac McLaggen, of all people, did a tell-all interview and aside from several of the usual comments of his family 'being big in the Ministry', questions about her led to none-too-subtle allusions to having slept with her on multiple occasions as well as spouting the infuriating quote 'She simply got around a lot'. So aside from being a complete tosspot in the first place, he used this opportunity to flex at her expense. Oh, if she'd ever see him again, she was going to give him a piece of her mind for sure.
Other, smaller publications such as Witch Weekly took a more neutral stance. The quibbler was very kind to her, but… it was still the quibbler.
This was getting depressing, to be honest. The most hurtful thing of them all, was ironically, related to Bellatrix. One op-ed suggested that Hermione's disappearance on the thirty-year anniversary of the disappearance of Bellatrix Black was mere attention seeking and a cynical attempt for Hermione to attach herself to the legend of a more famous witch. It almost made her throw the scrapbook across the room.
But things were starting to look up when she came to the international publications. Those were either far more neutral or even quite positive. The prestigious Salem Witches' Institute was very critical of the Ministry's handling of her case and gave a thorough analysis of their general response to the accusation of negligence. 'If the UK Ministry for Magic had bothered to spend even one iota of their efforts to drag Hermione Granger's name through the mud to actually giving her the aftercare she desperately needed to deal with her mental health issues, none of this would have ever been necessary'. The influential Canadian based 'International Society for Muggle-born Rights' celebrated her and condemned the UK Ministry. Their bi-monthly publication had a rather flattering photograph of her on the cover, along with the words 'Justice For Hermione!' spread on the cover.
In fact, this was a recurring slogan many publications had picked up on. Hermione had become the poster child for muggle-born rights, the poster child for those who claimed that the Ministry was just as corrupt as it had ever been, the poster child for those who claimed that the Ministry had to be reminded of their duty to its citizens and the poster child for those who claimed that Ministry had basically relied on child soldiers to solve their problems for them, only to drop them like a stone when the crisis was over.
Others were more critical. There was the usual apologetic drivel: the UK Ministry was in shambles and did not have the resources to spare, as was claimed or Hermione was not the heroine people made her out to be. Generally, though, international opinion was more in her favour. With International pressure mounting, the Ministry had apparently chosen the tactic of turtling up and doubling down, casting Hermione in a negative light at every turn and using every dirty tactic they could use in the face of her parents' lawsuit.
One thing became clear: the wizarding world, both international and internal, was deeply divided on this whole issue. Hermione had ardent defenders and fierce detractors. Such a difference three years could make… it only made her wonder what kind of things Trix would be faced with.
Even more crushing was that any and all plans she had made for her future could be thrown out of the window. The Ministry career she had wanted would never happen; the changes and reform she had promised herself to initiate were things she'd be never able to do. No wizarding employer would even hire her now that her name was tainted with controversy. Even companies on her side would be reluctant to hire her for fear of backlash interfering with their bottom line.
A bitter chuckle escape from her lips as tears streaked over her face. Even though she had saved Bellatrix' future, she had ruined her own by doing so.
Before she could reflect on this any further, Hermione was surprised to hear an odd repeating sound, matched by a strange glow of light. After searching for a bit, Hermione found that the source of both was her backpack which she had put next to her bed. She reached over to open it and fished out the two-way mirror. The moment she had the mirror in hand, the glass surface faded and the familiar face of Bellatrix appeared. Good lord, she was sight for sore eyes right now as she smiled at her.
"Well, this brings back old memories, doesn't it?" sounded the slightly distorted voice of Bellatrix.
"It does," smiled Hermione.
"Hermie?" Bellatrix frowned suddenly. "Have you been crying? What's wrong?"
"Nothing," was Hermione's first response. A lie. Instantly, Hermione felt disgusted with herself: she'd been looking forward to talking with Trix all day and the first thing she did was to lie to her. Instantly, the crushing loneliness, the abandonment and the depressing came back in full force to a point that she couldn't take it anymore. She'd been lying to herself, she'd been hiding from it for months now. Being with Trix had made her almost forget about it. But after what she had been told, what she had seen today… she could lie no longer.
"Everything…" she squeezed her eyes shut as tears started rolling forth. "Everything is wrong…"
Despite all that had happened during her three year long absence and before, she smiled. Though Bellatrix' expression was one of concern, one look at the girl on the other side of the mirror made her feel so much better. "But it was worth it," Hermione sniffed. "Because you're worth it."
Bellatrix raised an eyebrow. "You're not making any sense right now, Hermie."
"Just… tell me about your day," Hermione asked softly.
"Well…" said Bellatrix, looking away briefly. "Had a long chat with my family and… it made me think about you. A lot."
"You see, it all started to make sense when father told me that the most common theory behind me going missing was that Lestrange had murdered me and buried my body in the Forbidden Forest and… while I'd like to say that I would have seen it coming, there's a thousand-and-one ways to get rid of someone by surprise. You see, at first I thought it was just a convenient way to explain my disappearance, but then I remembered… you kept trying to warn me to stay away from that charlatan with his circus tent. Now I know why."
Hermione squeezed her eyes shut as the headache came back. Memories of Hermione indeed wanting to try to save Bellatrix from being murdered mixed with those of Bellatrix becoming a violent Death Eater. Both were true, but how could that be? It was becoming harder to tell what the reality was. Instead, Hermione pressed the memories away.
"You were being so stubborn," Hermione chuckled.
"Merlin, how difficult it must have been for you," said Bellatrix, her expression somewhat grim. "I mean, you knew what was going to happen to me and despite your promise kept subtly trying to warn me. While I was being a complete cow and not listening at all."
"If I had flat-out told you," chuckled Hermione. "Would you have believed me?"
"Probably not," Bellatrix admitted. "Or it might have made more cocky and led to me being murdered even sooner. I still can't believe Lestrange would have pulled it off. Bit of an embarrassment, really."
"Believe me," Hermione smiled. "It was frustrating."
"I bet," smirked Bellatrix. "I'm a bit of a cunt, after all."
"Just slightly," winked Bellatrix, before her expression turned serious. "Thanks, you know. Just… thanks. Despite all what happened, I have a future now. And I want you to be in it."
"Same," said Hermione. "Now how about we talk about something else, hm? Something less depressing."
"Hah," replied Bellatrix. "Murder not cheery enough for you?"
And so, like in the olden days, she and Bellatrix would talk for long hours into the night. And it gave Hermione so much comfort.